Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"Mucking about with Mother Nature ... "

If you consider yourself any measure of a backcountry kinda guy, then you harbor at least a secret admiration for Survivor Man. Or Man vs. Wild. Or Dirty Jobs. Or any of those guys who -- at least in reality-TV fashion -- put their  self-reliance and so-called skills out there for all to see tried and tested. 

But for most of us, this is probably more like our true backcounty bad-assedness: The Wildeman.


WILDEMAN - watch more funny videos

Monday, December 14, 2009

Ski season, at last



So it finally got here.

Yeah, I'd gotten out in the backcountry. And, yes, Purg was open for a few days with a ribbon of man-made so-called snow. But that's not ski season.

Ski season, to me, is when winter finally arrives to deposit upon us those grand and glorious and deep San Juan dumps. And it's when we finally get up there to romp and ride that manna from the Pacific.

This is no small thing in my life. And my family's lives. And in our mountain-town tribe's lives. This is one of several potent and meaningful annual rituals in our lives. Along with the spring's first river trip, and ... well, that might be about it.

It's that big in our personal calendars. Seasonal rites and ceremonies for we mountain-town folk.

So this weekend we celebrated. Driving up the gorgeous gash of the Animas Valley in a driving snow. Gathering with those many other mostly local fellow snow acolytes. (Only in mountain towns does a blessing of "Praise Ullr!" rouse approval and agreement among strangers in a crowd.) And meeting up with other tribal members to practice our rites: Riding the chairlift, discussing and dissecting lines and powder stashes, cruising and carving and crashing and giggling with wintery glee down what were amazingly good early-season powder-skiing conditions this weekend.

And the kids? Oh, we crossed paths occasionally. But mostly they were off, meeting up with their own neophyte mountain-town tribal pals, finding their own lines. Forging their own mountain-town lives.

Damn good stuff.

Sacred stuff around these parts.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Some fireside reading


Snow, at last! So while you're sitting by the warming glow of the fire (or the computer screen), here are a few personally recommended articles of Four Corners interest for your winter-night mulling-over. Enjoy.

*****

"Dueling Claims," by Laura Paskus, from High Country News, looks at the repercussions of the creation of a "traditional cultural property" around Mount Taylor, in north central New Mexico. Mount Taylor, near Grants, N.M., is sacred to several Indian tribes in the region, and the U.S. Forest Service's designation could hinder a potential new uranium mining boom in the region still suffering from the bust of the last uranium frenzy. That last mining binge left a legacy of mine waste, illness, and post-boom poverty. But what the new TCP is creating is also toxic: anger between the pro-mining and pro-cultural resource groups. That anger may have also spilled over into a string of brutal beatings -- using bats, rocks, and brass knuckles -- of at least five Navajo men last summer.

Read "Dueling Claims" here.

Check out High Country News here.

******

"My Oh Mayan!" by Corey Pein, in the Santa Fe Reporter, is a lighter tale -- but with even farther-reaching effects. This is a fun and funny -- and not a little creepy at times -- romp through the hand-wringing over the upcoming supposedly-prophesied end of the world in the fall (or so) of 2012. Craziness or not, Plein -- who says that "2012 is the only year besides Y2K with its very own Library of Congress catalog" -- takes us on a ride with a few of the figures involved in the craze. That craze is generating no small change -- it has spawned dozens of books, seminars, videos, and recently a $200 million major movie -- and those who claim to have decoded the Mayan texts that reveal the prophecy aren't shy about bickering over the propriety rights to their "discoveries." And  in the meantime, a profile of a culture that gorges itself of such hype also emerges.

Read "My Oh Mayan!" here.

Check out the Santa Fe Reporter here.

*****

"Long To-Do List for New U.S. Parks Chief," by Todd Wilkinson, of the Christian Science Monitor (via the Flathead (Mont.) Beacon), is a nice look at the new head of the National Park Service, as he takes over the agency he has been part of for 32 years, and that in recent years has been underfunded, understaffed, and generally underloved -- and left with a $8-billion backlog in maintenance alone.

Read "Long To-Do List" here.

Check out the Christian Science Monitor here, and the Flathead Beacon here.

*****

Please support these publications that are still doing good reporting and offering fine writing!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Talk is cheap




Change ...

Hope ...

Nobel Peace Prize ...



"Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss."
         -- Pete Townshend







Check out, too, this response to Obama's announced troop surge from the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC. 

 



Tuesday, December 1, 2009

An Old Bum's manifesto


Check out this month's rather philosophical installment of my San Juandering column in Inside Outside Southwest, titled "Bum is not a Four-Letter Word."
Snow on the ground. The mountains pearly and pretty and just a'beckoning me to come play. As I walk through the neighborhood, I'm searching for little scenic glimpses of the glistening La Platas through the leafless trees. When I'm driving around town and up the valley, I'm craning and scanning, seeking panoramas of the deeper and steeper crystalline San Juans.

All because I'm aching to go.

That's what this time of year does to me. Still. And I will go up and get out there. Soon. After work and school and the usual slew of daily demands, we'll head up there ...

It's true, I do not fit the classic profile of the ski bum anymore. I'm no longer renting a cabin with five other ski-heads, or working nights so I can ski days, or hitchhiking to get around. Today, I got me a job (several, actually), kids (two), a house (one), and responsibilities and demands and a damned full Google calendar (much and many).

But that doesn't mean that those callings and cravings of the ski bum have dried up in me.
 Read the entire story here.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I'm thankful for ...


... a daughter who also could wait no longer for snow.

So Anna and I headed up onto Red Mountain for some early-season turns. And Anna's first backcountry ski.

Hope everyone's Thanksgiving was grand!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Spectacular meteor lights up Utah


A planetarium director says that Wednesday night's meteor over the Salt Lake area was probably traveling some 80,000 miles an hours, and torched 100 miles above ground. 

Cool!

You can read a story and watch video and a newscast about it here (KSL-TV).

(via BoingBoing)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Kicked out of Purgatory -- and into the Soviet Union


Wow.

I mean, what else can you say about today's front-page story in the Durango Herald, "Durango Mountain Resort pulls critic's pass." I checked: It was definitely the Nov. 19 paper, not April 1.

Wow. It'd be funny, if it wasn't so sad.

And I don't mean sad for the critic -- she called Telluride Ski Area, told them her situation, and got a pass over there.

I mean sad for all of us who care for and have supported Purgatory (a.k.a. Durango Mountain Resort, if you like lots of syllables) for so many years. I mean sad that this is what "leadership" at our favorite local ski area has come to.


Look, let's face it: We all who ski here, live here, and work here have a stake in helping Purgatory succeed. And that's why the local community has a right -- hell, a responsibility -- to discuss decisions and actions by the management of our local ski resort in public forums, including (and especially) the local newspaper. Because those decisions affect us all.

This includes controversial decisions -- like making post-sale changes to the conditions upon advertised and pricey products like season and weekday passes. (Read about the proposed changes to Purgatory's passes that started the bruhahah here.) I'm not saying that decision was right or wrong, good or bad -- but it is big, and people -- especially those who laid out the cash to buy those passes, thereby helping the resort -- have a right to question and discuss those changes.

But is this really the way to do it? To revoke the ski pass -- and in such a cowardly, adolescent way -- of someone voicing their questions and reactions in the paper? (Read the letter from the resort explaining the revocation of the season pass here.) Is this quality leadership? Is this good community-building? Is this shared investment in our local resort? Maybe -- in the Josef Stalin School of Business.

According to the Herald, DMR CEO Gary Derck "said that (critic) Lauren Slaff's comments to The Durango Herald caused 'concern and confusion' among employees and customers, and the management team decided it would be best to'"part ways.'"

Uh ... huh? Gary, you want confusion? Stand in the lift lines at the six-pack or quad on a busy day. You want concern? Try sitting, freezing and in a blizzard, on a stalled Lift 8 for a half an hour.

But I digress. Besides, those quaint aspects of the Purgatory experience give the place charm and character. It's what we love about it.

And we do love it. And you don't hear us complaining up those. Much. Because we need each other, Purgatory and its locals. So let me phrase it this way: You want confusion? Try laying out several hundred hard-earned (we're not all CEO's, Gary) dollars for a ski pass to your favorite local ski, and finding out the management has decided to change what you bought. Want concern? Try finding out that if you speak up -- in our proud American tradition of speaking up -- about your confusion, that management will arbitrarily and childishly just "part ways" with you and that product.

Now that's leadership. Soviet style.

Wow.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Paying for heath care the old fashioned way

According to NewWest. net, the Westerners are among the least-insured populations in the country. The reasons? Our service and other low-paying industries, our bum lifestyles, our overall youngish -- and so risk-taking -- ages in mountain towns.

I most certainly relate, given my piecemeal work life and bum-like lifestyle. And to deal with that, I have my own health care plan: Stay healthy.

Oh, I have insurance, sure. (Can't not have insurance in this, the richest country in the world, with damn-near the worst national health-care coverage in Western world, eh?) But with my "career" -- embracing that struggling-artist path -- I don't have and can't afford a nice full-blown insurance-coverage program. And in my Western lifestyle there ain't no benevolent employer stepping up to hand me one. So I have traded out the full-time work needed to pay for or be given a health-care package for paying for it myself.

Here's the path I have constructed:
  • Major medical coverage -- for those "stray bullets."
  • An emergency-visit insurance plan, that covers ER costs.
  • I stay as healthy as I can.
For that last one, I don't mean hoping I stay healthy: I work at it. Regularly. Persistently. Consistently. I consider it an indispensable and integral part of my daily life. I work to make myself as healthy as I can -- work time that could be spent, I suppose, at a "real" job, with real health-care benefits. But I prefer to use my time my way, toward my own Quixotic writing-life projects.

So my active, deliberate, sustained working out is not a luxury -- it is my real "insurance." And so far it seems to be working rather well.

Like everyone else, it's often hard for me to find the time to exercise. But I make it happen. Like most folks, I may not be able to afford the time to work out -- but I, myself, cannot not afford the time.

I work out nearly every day. It's as much a part of my daily schedule and routine as working and eating. My personal exercise-routine tool box consists of lifting weights, trail running, karate, and stretching. I endeavor to do at least one of these every day, either as single block of time or in small breaks woven throughout the day. This generally takes an hour, give or take, of each day -- time I set aside, pretty much guaranteed.

An hour to work out every day?? Lots of people might see this as a luxury, like getting a hot-stone massage or lounging at a spa each day. Other's might even see it as caving into immature craving -- don't I have anything better to do with my time?!? But I see it as a necessity.

I do this because I like it, yes. But I also do it because working out pretty much is my health-care plan.

So, if I can get good health for the cost of a mere hour a day (especially if you pro-rate it out to an hourly equivalency over my personal meager income), then it strikes me as something of a bargain, even. Especially considering the perks. Because, of course, there are benefits aside from the health maintenance and cost savings of working out:
  • First, working out regularly keeps me sane. The meditation time that comes along with working out is essential to my mental-health care -- time to think, or not think -- something that too few do too little of, yet that would alone likely also contribute a lot to our general health and quality of life. 
  • As for thinking, working out time is also time I spend thinking through ideas, sorting out issues, and strategizing projects.
  • And it's creative time: I generally like to work out in the middle of the day, around lunch time, or else in the late afternoon after working and before the dinner rush (two teenagers, remember?). So I'm always in the middle of something -- and getting out of the office gives me the space needed to move in some directions I may not have drifted whilst hacking away at the keyboard. I always work out with a notebook in my back pocket or close by.
The biggest perk, though, to this path of paying for my health care is just feeling good. I feel strong. I feel alert and sharp. I feel actually healthy -- not just health-covered. And these other benefits of this ad-hoc health-care program are also "luxuries" we too often have a hard time justifying in our busy days of business and busyness, earning that income or job we need to keep our health-care coverage covered.

The question, though, remains: Do I stress about not having a good health-care package? Well, yeah, sure. Yep. But I bet my overall stress level is less than it would be were I to have some good full-time career in some office somewhere, fully covered with insurance, but staring out the window wishing I could be out on a run ...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

When do the kids turn into adults?


Ah, life with kids. It's been my mission, my all-encompassing project, my focus and attention, my purpose, my meaning, my every day, and my everydays for a long time now. Sixteen-plus years, in fact.

So when does it end?

Working as a river guide I heard a bunch of times that silly tourist question that always arouses snickers around these parts: When do the deer turn into elk? Silly, but that, to me, is a lot like how we look at kids turning into adults.

But, seriously, when does a boy become a man? A kid an adult?

Not that I'm hurrying the end along. With that end in sight, I'm savoring every taste of those every days, and those everyday experiences of life with kids. But right now we're in an interesting transition zone around here: My 16-year-old son wants to be treated like an adult -- of course. But my wife and I find (or at least feel) we need to keep intervening in his life in the role of parents, because, well, in a nutshell, he's only 16.

And it's got me wondering, when, exactly, do those kids become non-kids?

There are several logical and easy landmarks proposed as marking the divide between adolescence and adulthood, including
  • Getting a driver's license. The first sort of "adult" thing kids have to opportunity to do -- and about the closest thing our culture offers as a socially recognized rite of passage. Seeing many of my kids' friends now doing this, and hearing my son talking it up, I'd say it it's a start, but hardly proves, or rarely even indicates, any sort of "adultness" of the bearer. 
  • Turning 18. This, of course, is the legal definition. Meaningless aside from a nice, clean -- and completely arbitrary -- number.
  • Turning 21. When you are old enough to drink. Which, I, myself, think, is stupid. Frankly, I'd rather see the drinking age at 18 and the driving age at 21.  
  • Graduating high school. 'cause then kids really get to see the fantasy they were living in high school. 
  • Entering college or the military or getting a  job. This, I agree, almost surely gets shifts a kid's psychic transmission into the adult range of gears. It still often takes a while to learn how to use the clutch to keep from grinding those gears, though ...
  • Getting married. Which is, as any married person can tell you, indicative of absolutely nothing related to being an adult. Except in the "adult film" sense.
All valid points of departure worth noting on the landscape between kidhood and adulthood. But none of them really are good, useful, or validating definitions of adulthood. None of them can offer some observable, viable, visible cue that a young person has moved from kid to grown up.

And as a parent, I'd like some measure. Something for myself, and that I can offer up as a compass bearing, a sort of psychic GPS, to my kids. 

So after much thought and observation, I'd like to propose the following two-point operational definition of "adult":
  • Adults control their attitudes. Only children think they can always do only what they enjoy. Adults seek meaning and enjoyment, and endeavor to do their best, at whatever they do, in whatever circumstances they finds themselves in. Even -- and especially -- in situations they don't control. 
  • Adults are responsible for their journey. Only a child thinks you can just float along and be okay. Adults actively, deliberately, strategically navigate their lives and their situations. It's like river running: adults learn to not blame fate or nature or the nature of things, they don't blame what got them where they are, and they don't blame others for where they are now. They act. They enjoy the float, but they also learn, observe, plan, and adapt. And if they flip, wrap or swim, they don't blame the river. They get back in and row again, wiser.
In short, adults know their lives are their true work and art, and that if they don't make it into something, others will.

I understand. This offers no nice clear number to mark this definition of "adult." You don't get any card. It doesn't even grant with any particular freedoms or abilities.

But it's still what I'm going to look for in my own kids as they get their driver's licenses, graduate from high school, move into the world, start their own families. Somewhere along those landmarks, I will be looking for real adults to appear.

And I will welcome them, as peers.

Monday, November 9, 2009

In a cabin in the (pinion and juniper) woods ...

Had the pleasure this past weekend of getting to get down to check out a friend's property, and the very cool adobe cabin he'd built on the place. Its isolation and desert location made it feel like a much more distant venture than just twenty minutes south of Durango.

The cabin is up a remote canyon near the Colorado/New Mexico border. Reminding us how of the dramatic climatic dividing line we dwell on, this short distance brought us into a wash valley lined with bluffy cliffsides and and rolling, rounded, sandy hillocks up and down the valley. A winding narrow lane through the p-j brought us to my friend's place alongside the dry wash.

It was even cooler than I'd thought from what I'd heard. My son, Webb, joined me on this trip. He'd been stayed out here a few times with my friend's son and their friends -- in the mythic "Jack's Cabin." Now, I was finally getting out to check out this teen getaway. And after getting to hang out here, I now hope it becomes a middle-aged getaway ...

My friend John had picked up forty acres of his own crumbling, water-carved chalk-colored piece of the San Juan Basin desert about fifteen years ago, for less than $20,000. Back then, his kids were young and he was working hard, but instead of buying a new truck or bigger TV or something, he picked up this land.

Tinkering over a series of summers (the place gets either snowed or clayed in -- too sticky to drive or walk -- several months of the year), he'd taught himself how to build an adobe cabin, and then built this fine one-room, wood-stove-heated, brick-floored place out here. It cost him about $3,000, he figures. The adobe bricks he made himself from the very soil where the cabin now stands. There's also a great stonework fire ring outside.

Smart thinking. Good work. A great and nearby getaway for his family and friends.

I know I plan on hitting him up for heading down there more.

Friday, November 6, 2009

How the Forest Service was saved -- and shaped -- by fire

There was a great interview on NPR's Fresh Air recently, with author and journalist Timothy Egan, on his new book, The Big Burn.

The book examines the largest forest fire in American history: in 1910, some 3 million acres of forest in Idaho and Montana, an area the size of Connecticut, burned in just a few days, killing 70 people.

The fire also saved the fledgling U. S. Forest Service, which was on Congress' chopping block. It also, though, argues Egan, shaped the future of the Forest Service, turning it into what he calls "the Fire Service." Today, half the Forest Service's budget goes toward "the fire industrial complex," he says.

It also, though, he argues, saved the modern conservation movement, and made it possible for the Forest Service to go from the brink of extinction to expansion, including the creation of National Forests in the East.

The story, though, is deeper than that, and is filled with drama and adventure, including tales of how the black Army forces, the Buffalo Soldiers, came in to help save day and were met with racism; of how Forest Service employees went from objects of scorn -- sarcastically called "Teddy's Green Rangers" -- to heroes in the eyes of the country; and how because of a complete ignorance of how to fight forest fires, both those heroic parties really just "became fuel" for the fire.

That 1910 fire still resonates, Egan argues, since today more than 20 million people live within a few miles of a National Forest.

You can read an excerpt from the book and listen to the interview on Fresh Air here.

You can also read an interview with Timothy Egan about The Big Burn in Smithsonian magazine here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hermosa Creek Workgroup releases draft management proposal

I had the chance to attend the Hermosa Creek Workgroup meeting last night, where a draft of the management proposal for the watershed was presented and discussed.

I thought the group was smart and cooperative and well-informed (guided by three mandates: defining "truth" as that which is supported by facts and data, transparency, and consensus). It also contained perhaps the greatest concentration of grey ponytails -- both female and male -- I'd ever seen in one room. Good folks.

The workgroup is an 18-month-old citizen group spun out of a regional initiative called the River Protection Workgroup, formed in 2005 by the San Juan Citizens Alliance and the Southwestern Water Conservation District. A broad and diverse coalition of groups are participating in the group, working under a consensus model.

The workgroup is looking at protections options in the Hermosa Creek drainage, northwest of Durango. Hermosa Creek contains the largest block of roadless land managed by the Forest Service in Colorado, and contains populations of genetically pure Colorado River Cutthroat trout.The group's consensual state of values of the region states:
The Hermosa Creek Area is exceptional because it is a large intact (unfragmented) natural watershed containing diverse ecosystems, including fish, plants and wildlife, over a broad elevation range, and supports a variety of multiple uses, including recreation and grazing, in the vicinity of a large town.
At this point, the group is focusing on generating a land-management proposal, and is holding off addressing issues related directly to water or the creek itself until workgroups complete looks at all the watersheds in the southern San Juans, since water development is best served by a basin-wide perspective.

Here's the core of what I got from the proposal:
  • Creation of a 100,000-acre Special Management Area. This management plan would be written later, with ample opportunity for public input
  • Creation of a 50,000 wilderness area, and on the west side of the creek
  • The 163,000-acre Hermosa Roadless Area will be kept roadless
  • Multiple uses-- from recreation to outfitting to grazing -- will be allowed where presently allowed (with barring mechanized vehicles in the Wilderness Area)
Here are the few "rubs," as they were called, that are still yet to be hammered out about the plan:
  • Wilderness area boundary. In particular, how close to the creek should the boundary should run. Proposals range from at the creek's edge (or center, or floodplain ...) to up to a quarter-mile set back to keep the potential for future water development.
  • What to do about areas with minerals and mineral claims that lie on the edge of the Wilderness boundaries.
  • What to do about a SWSI -- Statewide Water Supply Initiative -- site in the valley. These sites are identified by the state as potential dam and diversion sites, although there is no legally-binding protection, water rights, or set-asides for these areas. Given that, the question is whether or not to keep that area in or out of protected areas (especially since roads for a dam site would cut into the present Roadless Area).
That's a major nutshell of what is a detailed proposal from a long, involved drafting process. But it gives a sense of what's going on.

See photos of the Hermosa Creek drainage here.

Get involved: the Hermosa Creek Workgroup meets monthly. Learn more here.

Also, workgroups for other southern San Juan watersheds will be launched in upcoming months, beginning with a group for the San Juan in January.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Back in the pages of Inside Outside Southwest

Out today is the November issue of Inside Outside Southwest. And in it you'll find my new monthly column, San Juandering.

In February, I retired the Neanderthal Crossing column I'd been writing since 2001. Time for something new.

So I figured I'd wander my way to some new things -- wandering around our home land here in the Four Corners. In the meantime, mulling over the whys, the hows, the WTFs and they why-the-hell-nots of life here in this wild, wonderful, and sometimes woeful landscape of ours.

In this first column I confess the rationale behind my torturing my children by making them do hard, challenging things like climbing Mount Sneffels.

Which means: You'll be glad to know (even if if my kids aren't always ...) that some things haven't changed!

Check out an extended version of the print column here.

And a huge thanks for the San Juandering logo to my good friend and graphic-design sorcerer, Todd Thompson. Now move yer ass back here, Todd!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Backcountry ski season is here! And with it comes ...

This is scarier than anything Halloween has to offer.

Lest we forget ... Can't have too many reminders: a sobering avalanche video caught with a helmet-cam last April. The guy's Avalung and cool-headedness (pun sort of intended) saved his life.

Read the story here, on Freeskier.com.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Grand Canyon honeymoon mystery featured in Ken Burns' documentary

I recently picked up a book for the the winter reading queue that I've been eyeing for a while, Brad Dimock's Sunk Without a Sound.

Dimock is a fine historian and writer of very readable books on the Colorado River and the many characters who have plied its waters. (My personal favorite is his fascinating and fun profile of riverman Bert Loper, The Very Hard Way.)

Sunk Without a Sound tells the story of newlyweds Glen and Bessie Hyde, who in early December 1928 disappeared while on a solo river-running honeymoon in the Grand Canyon.

To write the book, Dimock and his then-wife made the journey themselves in a reconstruction of the Hydes' unusual fore-and-aft ruddered craft.

To this day, the mystery of the Hyde's disappearance remains unsolved, with some strange twists and clues.

A good five-minute overview video of the Hydes' story from the recent Ken Burns documentary "The national parks: America's Best Idea" is available here.

Ed and Bessie Hyde video.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Monday, October 26, 2009

Foray into the Great Outfront

This is a post I was planning on making a week ago, before I was slayed by the flu. But it's still worth putting out there, a week later. Because it deals with something I was feeling then -- and, trust me, after more than three straight days prostrate on my bed, drooling and hacking, watching Sigourney Weaver slay aliens and the Yankees slay the Angels and whatever other brain-slaying tripe I could find on TV -- something I feel even more now: Restlessness.

Snow lay on the ground today, but the weekend before last was a lovely, downright weepingly gorgeous, warm, screamingly-colorful October weekend. Remember? I do. Because for weeks my family and I had a circle around that Saturday as the day we were going to, for the first time this year, toss our skis in the rocket box and head up to our secret stash spot high in the gorgeous autumnal mountains and, as one big happy family, get our year's first turns together ...

Welp ... the weather more than obliged. But ye olde aforementioned Swine Flu had other plans. Before it decided to take up residence in my host body (why didn't Sigourney come pull that alien bug outta my chest??), it infested my kids. Yep, right on our perfect weekend.

I was, I say again, stir crazy. And I was taking everyone else with me. No Sigourney there -- think more Jack Nicholson a la "The Shining." All work and no ski makes Ken a dull sociopath.

I desperately, despairingly, direly needed to get out.

So, I did, anyway.

I grabbed my daypack and headed up. Not to the high country -- but higher than my neighborhood country. I drove three miles: up past Fort Lewis College and on through the once-ranch-like (now California-like) Skyridge/Jenkins Ranch, to the end of the road. There, above the city reservoir, I parked, let the dog out of car, grabbed my pack, and headed up the city's new Skyline Trail, built and maintained by Trails 2000.

I was out. Not far, but out.

And, I'm here to tell you (even if a week late), that it was a damn fine getting out. Way damn finer than I was expecting, or could've hoped for.

And it reminded me, once again, that Robert Louis Stevenson -- that old pirate-writer -- was right: "I travel not to go anywhere, but to go."

The Skyline Trail climbs steeply up the north end of Raider Ridge (named for Fort Lewis College's old moniker, The Raiders), to dived between the Animas Valley from Horse Gulch. The Raider Ridge Trail then follows the sharped-edged sandstone crest southward until it ends with a steep decent into downtown, near the corner of College Drive and 8th Avenue.

Took me about four hours to (very) leisurely walk the trail right back to my back door. And in that time I was soothed and becalmed by the stunning and sweeping views in all directions. Views that put both Durango and my life back in context: Oh yeah! This is where I live! And this is why I live here!

And it reminded me why I and we -- all of us who chose to struggle to get by in this remote mountain town -- want and need to have these public lands, these many lovely and communal places all around us, right near at hand -- these nearby faraways -- that, as always, need our protection. And appreciation.

And all it takes to be reminded is to slow down, wake up, and remember to look around, right around you where you are.

And to go.

Check out a slideshow from the walk below:



Also, here's a crazy POV video from this year's Singlespeed World Championships, which included the Skyline Trail and Raider Ridge Trail:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A message, from flu to you

Well, just in case anyone but myself reads this here blog (would that make me a masterblogger?), I'd like to explain my week-ish disappearance from this here particular cyber space.

Today, on the day the page-one headline on our local newspaper is about Obama's declaring the H1N1 virus a national emergency, I'd like to add my own recently humbled and still-frail voice: dudes and dudettes, ye so-called Swine Flu is an ass-kicker. I think and hope I have come out the other side of my own personal week of pig-wrestling, but I want to warn you all, this pig can flatten you.

Just ask Webb. My 16-year-old son got very ill last weekend -- high fever, violent retching cough, a grey pall over his flesh, general misery -- which led my wife and I to take the precaution of getting him checked out. Sure enough, the misnomered Swine Flu had come to our home, and brought with it early-stage pneumonia. The two doctors we consulted were alarmed, but glad we'd gotten him checked out as soon as we did. He was prescribed Tamiflu and antibiotics, and after a few long days and nights, seems to have recovered.

This pig of an illness, though, just moved to a new pen -- yours truly.

From Tuesday afternoon on, I have been pounded. Not violently ill, like some 24- or 48-hour blights and do -- but deep, low, full-body-sapping ill. An ill like getting sunken under a heavy, steady, slowly crushing weight. An ill like I have never been in my 50 years of experience.

A truly humbling ill.

No, I never thought I was going to die or anything. And I know that even a bad case of the flu is a far distance from those many more ailments and afflictions that can really make you wrap your arms around the Reaper's waist. But it offered at least jarring glimpse, like a face seen in a flash of lightning in the window, of what can happen to what has long been a reliable and dependable and strong body. And how easily it can happen.

And, according to my doctor -- who, the day before this virus decided to make its home in my body, gave me an "excellent health" thumbs up in my annual check up -- I'm supposed to be in the class of folks most resistant to the Swine Flu: those who were young during the flu pandemic of the late 1960s.

So let me say: If I'm "most resistant," then everyone else had better take this shit seriously. And it makes me damn glad we took it seriously with my son. For, folks, you're listening a newly and very humbled man. I've been blessed with good healthy and strength all my life, and, aside from a few token vices (my motto: "Everything in moderation, including moderation") have worked to maintain that good health.

But this ... was different.

I'm happy to say that, once again, the blessed and mysterious and divine Immune System seems to won the battle.

But now I know to append to that statement of victory: This time.

The question now, then, is: What to do with this new-found insight, this fresh -- and tangible -- reminder of mortality and temporality and inevitability? With this gift of humbleness?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Purgatory's latest plan for complaining skiers

After all the complaints from whiny locals who felt Purgatory was disregarding mid-week ski-pass holders with their announcement of possibly being open only on weekends early in the season, perhaps the number-crunchers could just get rid of skiers all together.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Fort Lewis prof in new Ken Burns "National Parks" documentary

Southwest Studies professor Duane Smith, who has taught Colorado and regional history at Fort Lewis College since 1964, gets his time in the limelight in the new Ken Burns documentary, "The National Parks: America's Best Idea."

Smith writes an occasional Durango-history column for the Durango Herald, and he is the author of more than 30 books. Six of those are specifically about Mesa Verde National Park, including Mesa Verde: Shadows of the Centuries and Women to the Rescue: Creating Mesa Verde National Park.

In the recently released six-part, 12-hour long PBS documentary series, Smith offers commentary on events surrounding the founding of Mesa Verde National Park.

The park was created in 1906, after its many ancient pueblos were discovered by cowboys-turned-archaeologists from Mancos, Colo. Smith describes how a Swedish aristocrat and amateur archaeologist was detained in Durango when he tried to take his plunderings from Mesa Verde back to Sweden, until authorities concluded he wasn't breaking any laws and had to let him go.

Smith also relates the unusually powerful political role for the time that women played in getting Mesa Verde National Park created.

The film is especially relevant and timely in light of the recent government arrests for pothunting, focused in and around Blanding, Utah. One of the reasons the busts so rattled the community in Blanding is that pothunting is a long-time multi-generational tradition, dating back to a time when it wasn't so taboo.

Tradition is important -- but still there's ... common sense -- meaning a sense of the common good. Slavery was a long-time multi-generational tradition, too. Traditions -- even family and community traditions -- must evolve along with appreciation and understanding, with an eye for the common good.

This same transition of perspective on the governmental level -- that led to laws that led to busts, including the ones that have hit the Four Corners area -- is really the core story of the Burns documentary.

Learn more about "The National Parks: America's Best Idea" here.

Learn more about Mesa Verde National Park here.

Read a very good AP story about the effects of the recent pot-hunting crackdown here.

There's also a rather funny review of the Burns documentary in this month's Outside magazine. Check it out here.

Below is a five-minute segment from the Mesa Verde portion of the documentary. Duane Smith appears at about 4:30.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

It's a family affair on KDUR's 35th anniversary pledge drive

Yep, that's me. On the radio.

Well, not yet, anyway. But Monday morning at 9:30 a.m. that'll be me, on KDUR!

I'll be on the air as part of KDUR's fall fund drive, Oct.16 - 23, the theme of which is "It's a Family Affair." Why? I have no idea. I'll make sure Bryant Liggett explains it on the air.

While there, I'll be on talking the praises of community radio, and community in general, and our grand, festive, friendly, and oftentimes pleasantly peculiar community in particular. And rivers. And skiing. And fishing. And public lands. And ... well, you get the idea. That's my definition of "family."

So call in and give money when I'm there. Okay? 970-247-7262.

This year is -- sort of -- KDUR's 35th anniversary. Below is the first few paragraphs of a story I wrote for the Durango Telegraph on the station's 30th anniversary that explains its two anniversaries -- fake broadcasting, and real broadcasting:

On May 13, 1975, a strange, melodic sound spilled out over Durango. It was a flute, and a singer, and folk music. It was, to be exact, “Because of Rain,” by Tim Weisberg. And it was the first song aired on KDUR, the public radio station on the Fort Lewis College campus.

Actually, very few people heard that first song on the KDUR airwaves. The semester had already ended and the students headed home. And the 10-watt signal broadcast at 91.9 FM didn’t reach very far: this was verified by a friend of the DJ who chose that Tim Weisberg song for that monumental occasion. That friend was driving north on U.S. 550 carrying a transistor radio to see how far the signal would carry.

In fact, even though this was KDUR’s first real broadcast, it wasn’t the beginning of KDUR radio. KDUR was officially birthed in 1974, when the college gave a small group of students a room in the basement of the College Union Building, some equipment that had been purchased years before, and $3,000 in student fees to found a campus radio station. The stipulation was that for the first year, KFLC (as they hoped it would be assigned by the FCC) was to “broadcast” through hardwired speakers in the CUB, so the staff could practice being responsible on-air personalities.

“We’re so used to the all the communications we have today, kids don’t realize we didn’t have those 30 years ago,” says Jim Vlasich, that Weisberg-playing DJ three decades ago, and KDUR’s first station manager. Vlasich today is a professor of history at Southern Utah University. “Music college kids were listening to back then wasn’t played on mainstream radio stations.”
Read the entire story here.

KDUR is Fort Lewis College's community radio station. Check it out at 91.9 or 93.9 in and around Durango. Or listen online at KDUR.org.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Monday, October 12, 2009

Go Rockies!

... pulling for the Rox to make it to the top -- from the top of Mount Sneffels, at 14,150 feet.


Check out a cool interactive panorama from the top of Mount Sneffels on photographer Jack Brauer's Mountain Photography website here.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

YUM!!

This was nice to wake up to over that first cup of coffee on a cold October morning.

The Durango Herald ran this lovely photo on the front page of some first-of-the-season tracks in 20 inches of the year's first fresh down Grande Couloir above Silverton. The run was made on Tuesday by a guide for Mountain Goat Ski Guides, at Silverton Mountain Ski Area.

You can check out a 2-minute video of the run here. If you're like me, it's sure to make you drool all over yourself ...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

ALP is not, unfortunately, the last of its kind

Durango-area resident and editor of High Country News JonathanThompson this week notes how the Animas-La Plata Project was for a long time called "the last of the great dams," but that today even grander, grosser, and crazier water-diversion schemes are being proposed through out the West.

The upcoming issue of the bi-weekly High Country News will look at a particularly outlandish plan: to divert groundwater from the Great Basin to feed bloated Las Vegas.

Here's what Thompson has to say about the topic and the story:
This summer, on the edge of my hometown of Durango, Colo., water started moving uphill. It was about a century ago that the endeavor to slurp water out of the Animas River and send it to the neighboring and often dry La Plata River was first conceived. After gestating for many decades (and taking on some pretty weird conceptual forms in the process), the Animas-La Plata project's giant pumping plant finally cranked up this June, and sent its first shipment of water to Lake Nighthorse, more than 200 vertical feet above the river.

In the early 1990s -- when its ultimate fate was still uncertain -- the Animas-La Plata project was considered to be the last big water project of its kind in the West. But today, a half-dozen new schemes are on the table, from pulling water out of southwestern Wyoming's Green River for Colorado's Front Range, to a plan to pull water from the dwindling Lake Powell, pump it uphill, and then back downhill to burgeoning St. George, Utah.

The Oct. 12 issue of High Country News focuses on what, for now, is the most contentious of the new generation of Western water projects: The proposal by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to pump water from rural Nevada aquifers, and ship it to Sin City and its sprawl. Acclaimed science writer J. Madeleine Nash takes us to the springs that could be affected by the plan, and introduces to the rare creatures that inhabit the Great Basin's oases. Our crack water reporter, Matt Jenkins, gives us an update on the politics of the plan. And I'm not shy about my opinion: It's time to rejigger the way we think about water -- and growth -- in the West.
You can pick up High Country News in Durango at Maria's Bookshop, Magpie's, and elsewhere. Check it out online at hcn.org. You can also subscribe to an e-newsletter, linking you to both free and premium content (that comes with a subscription to the magazine).

High Country News is non-profit entity offing award-winning investigative journalism and opinion about land issues in the West. There's nothing else like it. Check it out, subscribe, and support this and the many other (but never enough) good alternative media in the West.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Vibrant colors ...


of the autumn of the year and the spring of life, together.

This is a neighbor's yard, featuring the play equipment I built for my own kids in the mid-1990s. A couple of years ago, I dismantled it and passed over the fence to my neighbor, Sean, who rebuilt, expanded and refurbished it all, giving it a whole new generation of life. Death and rebirth ... death and rebirth. The theme of autumn ...

Friday, October 2, 2009

Last days for Roadless comments!

At his talk last night, Dave Foreman didn't talk about just saving wilderness and wild critters, who talked about rewilding -- creating full landscapes that can support the large carnivores essential to healthy wild ecosystems.

And key to rewilding, he insists, is maintaining the health of large core areas, and forging corridors connecting large core areas.

And at the core of good healthy core wild areas are roadless areas.

In Colorado, roadless areas are at a key juncture: Protected in 2001 as a lame-duck president, Clinton created his Roadless Rule that protected Western roadless areas. Then it was knocked down by the courts. Then-president Bush allowed Western governors to propose their own plans for their respective states, which Idaho's and Colorado's opted to do.

Idaho's plan was lame as "protection," of course. But Colorado Governor Bill Ritter formed a committee that held hearings around the state to carve out a plan for the state that Ritter called an "insurance policy" in case the Bush Administration or some following administration came up with a really bad law.

Good idea. But in August the Clinton Rule was since returned by the courts. And Ritter's Colorado plan is in several important ways weaker than the Clinton plan.

The idea, then, is to urge Governor Ritter to either accept the Clinton Rule, or bolster a Colorado roadless protection plan that is at least as strong as the Clinton rule.

Learn more here.

Send the Governor an email supporting roadless protection here.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dave Foreman in Durango tomorrow night

Thursday night you have a chance to see one of the great forces in the evolution of the environmental movement when Dave Foreman speaks at Fort Lewis College.

Foreman will talk on "The Rewilding of America" on at 7 p.m. on Oct. 1st in 130 Noble Hall. There will also be an informal discussion and Q&A with Foreman will also happen at 4:30pm, at the Center of Southwest Studies.

Read a quick bio of Foreman here.

The many flags Foreman has marched under in his eco-career -- from Wilderness Society to Earth First! to Sierra Club to Wild Earth to, today, the Rewilding Institute -- show his willingness to have a broad embrace of ways to embody what is his ultimate vision: putting the earth first in our society and culture and technology and lives. That's the true Earth First! -- a path and a compass bearing, rather than a mere group. No membership, just action. Whether that's politics, protest, science, or even personal silent solitude in the wilds.

In that sense, then, and equally importantly, in my mind, has been Foreman's role as not just enviro-meddler (as Ed Abbey called good environmentalists), or not even agitator, but as motivator. He's been a life-long cheerleader -- one who backs his cheerleading by reason and evidence and humor and the occasional howling -- who has hounded and cajoled and bugled others to take up the battle to put the earth first in whatever way each of us we can.

See and hear the show yourself on Thursday.

And check out this clip below of Foreman speaking at a Bioneers Conference in 2005:

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Neighborhood harvest!

Last night our friends and neighbors Matt and Janet hosted their annual neighborhood apple-harvest fest. It was an urban bounty.

They rented a cider press from Turtle Lake Refuge, and over the course of the evening -- from warm clear early sunset around the barbeque to cool first-quarter-moon-lit night around a back-yard campfire -- produced a few gallons of sweet and lovely amber cider. Some drank it straight, some punched it up with an assortment of harder liquids. All the apples were reaped from their own or other down-town apple trees.

We even got to see the International Space Station sprint across the early-night sky. A good omen, methinks, on a good night.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

That time of year ...


... when the summer's rafting-gear tarp and painting drop cloth are pressed into to the service of fall's home-grown tomatoes.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Last day of summer ...


... comes with winter's first touch.

Looking north from Carbon Mountain yesterday. Before this storm moved in, we could see a stip of fresh snow lining Mountain View Crest, and some more distant peaks. (Click image to enlarge.)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

One-gear minds ...

Started the day (well, partway through, after yard-saling) with a not-atypical, yet still-new, Durangotan spectacle. A typical, in fact, Durangotan fruit salad of humor, plenty of cross-dressing, and extreme athleticism.

At 10:50 a.m. we and some neighbors and our kids wandered down to the end of the block with coffee in hand, a few lawn chairs for the still-waking, and watched the start of the first-ever Singlespeed World Championships.

Check out some shots (click to enlarge). We were right where the roll-up ended and became a race, marketed by some lunatic in drag blaring a blow-horn. We watched this nutcase get very-nearly mowed down by two cars, three cyclists, and a disoriented and distracted pedestrian.

Several of these mono-gearheads have been camped in my neighbor's yard most of the week. I enjoyed talking to a few in the rain over a keg of True Blonde one night. When I asked them, Um, why singlespeed?

A well-pierced young woman from California said she enjoys it more than regular mountain biking it slows down the ride, and even makes it okay to walk in places. So she gets more out of the ride.

A closer-to-middle-aged guy from Durango with two kids said that since he started singlespeeding only a few months ago, it's like all the trails around here a new again, but you have a heightened awareness of the terrain. You have to, to plan for hills and use you one gear to its best advantage.

Both very astute and aesthetic answers -- not the sort of rage-rock/X-game/MMA-style-of-cycling grunt of a response I was rather expecting.

Still, and even though I love my cruiser for those very same aforementioned reasons and the pleasure they make getting around town like, I still have no interest. To my reverent, faithful, God-fearing mind, mountain biking is exactly why God made gears.

Bumper sticker seen at Irish Embassy Pub last night: "If you ride a single speed and nobody sees you, is it still cool?"

We'll soon find out. We're headed up to the mountains camping tonight -- and trying Sneffels tomorrow -- leaving these one-track minded folks to themselves to celebrate.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Get more culture for less at Walmart ...

I admit it: Every now and then, I go over to the dark side.

It is, after all, only a few miles from my house.

I mean, of course, the Box Store That Must Not Be Named. What you might call, if you were, say, a wizard, Valdemart.

Yes, I too loathe Walmart. I don't need a reason -- it's just reflexive. But at the same time, I must admit it holds this lurid allure for me. It's kind of like going to, say, a bull-fighting match -- I disagree with it, yet it is this fascinating cultural phenomenon that the traveler in me could not resist witnessing, exploring.

If you can enter that traveler's mind of the Prime Directive -- observe, experience, but don't judge -- then Walmart really can be its own peculiar cultural foray. Even right here in little Durango, pop. about 15,000. For when I walk around my little town's big Walmart, I can't help but walk around, gawking around, and mouth agape, wondering, "Who the hell are all you people?!?"

I mean, I live here, in a very small town, and have for so long that it seems that generally where ever I go I know at least a good chuck of the other folks there. But not so at Walmart. It's like a five-minute drive delivers me to this completely different planet, and a whole different culture. A whole little different country in a box down the road.

Most of that, of course, is the Box Store Culture itself. I mean the sterility and organization and predictability, the endless shit and sense of shameless consumer gluttony, and the routine familiarity -- the sense that every Walmart everywhere is a clone of some great Mother Of All Walmarts. And, of course, is generally what Walmart is so scorned for: for being devoid of culture, for even sucking away any trace of the variety that comprises culture and cultural differences.

Perhaps. But I'll give it this: At our Walmart you can get see fresh roasted chilies outside.

Take a little Walmart cultural trip for yourself: Check out this list from Seth's Blog of 11 observations made from a visit to a Walmart in China. His first four on the list are:

1. They sell live turtles.

2. A whole display case is devoted to sea cucumbers.

3. Like any upscale American or Beijing supermarket, they have a sushi case. The prices are half what they’d be in America, but the pieces of fish are much thinner.


4. They cut up meat in front of you. A whole pig was being butchered on a table. A roast duck was being sliced for packaging.


Also below is a slideshow of a visit to a Walmart in Beijing -- complete with the ubiquitous "More for Less" signs in kanji, but also featuring live turtles and carp -- killed and cleaned while you wait -- in the meat department.




How about you: Seen any other signs of local culture while traveling Walmarts around the world?

(via BoingBoing)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Aspen season

Ed Quillen, columnist for the Denver Post and publisher of the very fun Colorado Central Magazine, has a nice little post on the High Country News Goat Blog. In the post, he gives a great little nutshell natural history of the Aspen, including its tendency to turn yellow in the fall.

Actually, Ed informs, an aspen's leaves are always yellow, or even orange -- they just look green in the summer from the chlorophyll activity. So in the autumn the trees are merely proudly sporting their true colors.

For which we are all most thankful.

Read that and more cool facts about aspen in Quillen's post here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Today's forecast ...

In the pre-dawn morning, the moon floated luminescent above the pink morning glow like God's flung nailclipping. A lovely morning, warm yet sharp, rich with moisture from last night's rain, and clear and fair overhead.

Still, forecasts in the newspaper and online called for the potential of rain later.

Perhaps so. For walking above Durango later that morning, I could see news from the the real weathermen: The La Platas casting their own forecast for last today on the horizon, like nature's RSS feed in the great homepage of the sky.