I'm working on a City Weekly cover story based in Sandy. As I was driving by a strip mall, I crossed in front of the entrance to Smith's grocery store, slowing down for shoppers going in and out of the store. Suddenly, a figure of blue topped with gold flashed past by my windshield. The teenage girl wore an old-fashioned, heavy blue dress that fell almost to her ankles, her hair up in the trademark polygamy wave. The last time I was in Colorado City, I saw videos on how to re-create the hairstyle on the shelves of stores.
To live in Utah is to perhaps too easily forget that we live in a state where polygamy as a culture and a lifestyle—if that is an accurate description—thrives in some of the most distant corners, and, of course, around the corner -- at least, if you live in Sandy.
I've been looking for a story to tell about polygamy for some time. Recent events, notably the arrival of a second police force in Colorado City, suggested that tensions continue to rise on the dusty streets and behind the compound walls of homes on the Utah-Arizona border.
I recently went to a furniture-maker's warehouse, having had a tip that the company was run by a polygamous family who were staffing it with minors. Mostly, the employees seemed to be girls a little older than the ones in the Smith's parking lot.
Reporters who try to cover polygamy inevitably focus on one question—whether children are being abused. That's the hardest question to answer. As National Geographic found in a high-profile cover story on Colorado City last year, it's easy to be distracted by the strange beauty of polygamy, the bright primary colors, the exuberantly old-fashioned hair style, the natural defiance, and the way it all runs together in the determined stride of a teenage girl leaving a store.