Saturday, December 20, 2008

Dock Ellis, the trippin' no-hit pitcher, passes

Everybody deserves a wilderness to traverse. Long-time pitcher Dock Ellis had many regions he explored and honored. But certainly the most ... elegant, perhaps, is his pitching a no-hitter for the Pittsburgh Pirates whilst under the influence of LSD.

Dock Ellis hath passed
. Long may he throw celestial strikes. With sparks trailing the pitches ...

Hear Dock tell the story himself:

Friday, December 19, 2008

The ice is always whiter next door ...

It's supposed to get cold this weekend -- below zero here in Durango, the weather prognosticators say.

For myself, that means a few strategic maneuvers: letting the faucets and toilet drip in the downstairs bathroom, so they don't freeze; throwing a big fatty log in the woodstove before heading up to bed; moving the mailbox down to the tree along the walkway so the mailman doesn't have to scale the glacier that bulges on our front step in midwinter (it is, I am fairly sure, the only glacier on Earth that is advancing).

Beyond that, though, I'm looking forward to it. I like to fully inhale the breath of winter's breadth, and now that I've had some nice deep gulps of snow (three most glorious powder days at Purgatory this week -- now that's the way to start a ski season!), I owe winter its depth of cold. Bring it on.

Of course, here on the southern flank of the Southern Rockies, even in the depth of winter the cold is pretty shallow. A few degrees below zero, maybe, for a week, maybe. Last year, if I remember correctly, winter managed to plunge us to double-digits below zero; still, though, for self-anointed mountain folk, Durango's so-called cold is a mere splash in a puddle.

For real submersion, you need to head to the deep end of winter's pool. There you'll find folks throwing blankets over the hoods of their cars, or plugging in electric heaters attached to the blocks of their cars' engines, or pulling their car batteries into the bedroom with them where they will hopefully awakened warm, refreshed, and ready to crank over a crankcase full of sludgy-cold tranny oil in the morning.

I learned those tricks and many more during the several years I spent living in the Fraser Valley, in northern Colorado, in the 1980s. In the Fraser Valley (which includes the town of Fraser, the self-proclaimed "Icebox of the Nation," even though the town lost a bitter trademark dispute with International Falls, Minn., over that moniker), an unusual geologic feature creates what is essentially a high-altitude sink where the cold pools in a fierce, dense, frigid pool that frequently submerges the towns of Winter Park, Fraser, and Tabernash in temperatures of 40 degrees below zero and lower.

The coldest temperature I, myself, experienced was in Tabernash, when it hit 62 degrees below zero. While I hitchhiked to work that clear, crystal, still morning, smoke from nearby chimneys snaked down off roofs and crawled to the ground, and snow fell from my breath.

After that, Durango feels tropical, and its week of single-digit sub-zero temps a cute little anomaly in an otherwise lovely climate.

Well, what Durango is to the Fraser Valley, the Icebox of the Nation -- whichever one you really believe deserves to be billed as such -- is to Oymyakon. Located in Siberian Russia, Oymyakon holds the record for the coldest temperature for an inhabited place in the northern hemisphere: -71.2 degrees Celcius.

In Oymyakon, according to the news segment below (recorded in 1996), birds freeze to death in flight, but the residents are tough as nails. It gets hard to breath at around 60 below zero, reports the grinning town "weatherman." And even the kids are resilient: At the Oymyakon school, students have recess until 40 below zero, and school isn't called off until the temperature sinks to minus 52.

I'll take Durango -- or even Tabernash -- any winter's day.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Purgatory finally sees powder ...

It's been a long wait (especially with a 13-year-old powder-hounding daughter daily asking the ski-bum's equivalent of are we there yet??), but we finally got up to Purgatory ... er, Durango Mountain Resort ... today.
From Purg 14 dec 08

And it was a good day to go: although only the front-side six-pack was open and only a handful of runs were open, the skiing that was there was excellent. Employees reported the area had at last received a foot and a half of light, lovely snow.
From Purg 14 dec 08

We spent most of the day hitting Paradise and Hades, and at midday patrollers opened Lower Pando and Lower Hades -- and we were lucky enough to be standing at the rope when they opened lower Hades, which led to a glorious back-country quality float trip down Hades' steep uncut face.

Changes at Purg? Well, the base area looked quite nice. The wide entranceway courtyard has a nice, cozy, throw-back ski-area feel to it, with it brick cobblestone
From Purg 14 dec 08
and classic lamp posts. And the new Purgy's is attractive and functional (although it seems crazy they didn't put an easy-to-access water fountain near the entrance to the restaurant and bar ...). Out in front of the restaurant, a bonfire gave cold folks -- and it was a cold day of alternating snow squalls and sun bursts -- a place to sit and enjoy a day in the hills.
From Purg 14 dec 08

But, rest assured: other stuff that classic Purgatory haven't changed. My favorite personal gripes were left in tact:
  • It was still that familiar unmanaged chaos at the six pack loading area - people trying to figure out how to merge the entrance lines, and six-seater chairs going up with one or two people while dozens wait below -- while at the loading area three employees, oblivious to the line-mess behind them, rake the snow and watch people load.
  • The lifts and base area are still aurally sterile -- devoid of the festive music that imbue powder-day spirit at the base area and the tops and bottoms of lifts at most ski areas. Even the soundtrack to Purgy's restaurant of was the indecipherable mumbling from the TVs broadcasting two different football games.
It's refreshing to know they're not improving everything at Purg.

And today, it would've been hard to improve the skiing.
From Purg 14 dec 08

It has begun ... Check out the slide show:

And more snow is a'comin' ...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Point of Interest: Durango high school students make their own damn ski movie

A couple of weeks ago we quenched our ski hungering for a while by going down to the Abbey Theatre and checking out Point of Interest, a ski film entirely shot, performed, edited, and produced by some Durango High School students.

I left hungrier than ever to get out on my boards -- and happy and chipper and feeling damn fine about the shape of the next crop of ski bums.

Filmed in and around Purgatory, and other familiar local San Juan locales, Point of Interest is imaginative filming of good action melded with cool music and laced with witty humor. Produced and edited by the talented Matt Mulligan, and starring the skiing and boarding of Mulligan and other students, including David VanAtta, Ben Southworth, Cedar Jocks, Aidan Sheehad, Jenna Mulligan, and Derek Macguffie, the film was full of spirit and creativity and good fun.

And it struck me as a good, healthy, mountain-town rite of passage: the kids taking over the terrain -- done watching, and out doing.

The future of the mountain culture, I think, is in good hands.

Check it out:


Friday, December 5, 2008

Craig Childs defends the modern forager

I've never been one to try to keep up with the Joneses. I just wait for them to have a yard sale.

As a long-time bum (fishing, ski, van, river, desert, mountain, etc. etc.), I've found there are few things in life that are worth acquiring new. And that there are many, many ways -- many underground economies, and even many sources of free pickings -- to get goods that are plenty good. And cheap.

Which is important when you have built your life around living in the hinterlands of the American West, and around building the time in that life -- generally (at least in my case) at the expense of a more abundant income -- to get out and enjoy it.

Want less; do more. Know what I mean?

Hotchkiss, Colo.-based writer Craig Childs (author of the excellent and engaging House of Rain) knows what I mean. And he waxes philosophic about it -- his own and others' adventures in 21st century scavenging -- in a recent column in the LA Times.

Read Craig Childs' "Man as Scavenger." Then raise a tin-cup toast to hunting and gathering in the modern world!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The ill effects of less habitat and fewer hunters

Every night lately when my dog and I head out to practice our before-bed ritual of sauntering the neighborhood, we've seen the new neighbors. Sometimes they're standing in the dark in the backyard next door, silently eyeing us. Other times, they're in the yard of neighbors on the other side, munching the last apples of fall that lay on the ground under the now-bare apple tree. Sometimes they're just moving down the alley in a gang sporting their (ahem) leather jackets, acting like they own the place.

The deer move as freely through our little city at the foot of the big mountains as do my teenage kids on their skateboards and bikes. We all share this space, even if warily. As do the other longer-term denizens of the Animas Valley, home and byway for wildlife since the glaciers went back to the hills for more rocks 10 millenia ago. Still wandering through our town's alleys and taking residence in our privately-owned backyard pastures are, along the with usual assortment of rodents and varmits, more wild wildlife: bear, elk, coyotes, and mountain lion.

And it's not just here in the remote San Juan Country where this is happening: Wildlife are moving into and squatting on suburban and urban landscapes all over the country. And not without consequence, for both human and non.

The causes and implications of this re-wilding of our urban habitat was the subject of an interesting discussion yesterday on NPR's "On Point," with host Tom Ashbrook. The show looked at the question, "Are animals crowding humans, or is it the other way around? Is hunting the way to solve problems between people and animals?"

Guests discussing the issue on the show were:
  • John Rocchetta, a land steward who manages properties on Long Island.
  • Brian Vincent, founder of Big Wildlife, an Oregon-based conservation group.
It's worth giving it a listen. There's an interesting discussion in the comments on the webpage, as well.

Here, too, is the recent excellent piece on the state of hunting by Matthew Teague in Sports Illustrated.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Group fights for southeastern Utah forests

Looking for a Christmas gift for that person who can't keep away from the wonders of southeastern Utah? Give that high-country canyoneer a membership with Red Rock Forests.

Red Rock Forests is a Moab-based 501(c)3 non-profit formed nearly 10 years ago, in 1999. Originally called "Friends of the Abajos," the group is now dedicated to the protection of southeastern Utah's unique and fragile high-desert forest lands in and around the Abajo and La Sal mountains.

The organization's staff of six (including Monticello wilderness activist and writer Amy Irvine-McHarg, author of Trespass: Living at the edge of the promised land), with the help of volunteers, is working on several campaigns, including an updated inventory of legal and illegal roads in the Abajo Moutains, monitoring and commenting on Manti-La Sal National Forest management plans and proposals, and an outreach and education campaign on oil-and-gas and mineral development in the Canyonlands area.

They describe themselves thus:
Red Rock Forests strives to protect the sky-island mountains and plateaus above America's Redrock Wilderness in southern Utah, emphasizing the La Sal Mountains, Abajo Mountains, and Elk Ridge in the Canyonlands Basin. We recognize the vital ecological role these ranges play in sustaining Utah's desert wildlife and waterways. For this reason, ecology is our guiding principle, though we use education, public policy, the law, citizen action, and collaboration with other organizations and agencies to achieve protection for these irreplaceable high desert oases.
Read more of their "about us" here.

Check out their newsletters and donate to join here.

Contact Red Rock Forests at

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

One last touch of the river

Today the air thickened and the sky paled with the welcomed sensual early symptoms of an approaching winter storm. And I feel all the better for winter's imminent arrival because I got in a last blast of river season over the weekend.

It was a cool blast, for sure. When the sun was out -- or was shining on the same side of the canyon I was paddling -- it felt like we were really in the desert outback of Utah's San Juan River. But when the sun's low near-solstice slant was sliced by the canyon rim or, more so, when it made its early-evening descent behind the sandstone landscape, the cold grabbed hold and was held at bay only by the thickest polyester shields and the primeval radiant warmth and security of a driftwood fire.

Colors, too, were subdued, robbed of the life of summer -- but offering up a purer, deeper sense of raw bone against the bottomless blue of the November sky. And at night? The stars were ridiculous.

We were too, probably, seven guys away rom work and family and the general demands of the daily business's busyness. But we sucked up every glorious minute of it -- three days of paddling and guitar playing and bocci throwing and beer drinking and talking and sleeping out for two glorious and treasured bonus nights alongside the river.

Remembering yet again why we live here. And love it here. And fight for here.

And now we turn our eyes toward that slow-building proto-river we call the Snowpack ...

Click on the slideshow below for mo' and biggah pics.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Selling public lands to pay off the national debt? Some think so ...

Ed Quillen, writing on High Country News' Goat Blog, says that the idea of selling public lands to help pay off the nation's bloating national debt -- now at more than $10.5 trillion -- is, like chronic heartburn, bubbling up again.

Quillen cites in particular a blog post on Marginal Revolution, in which economist Tyler Cowen argues:

The Federal Government owns more than half of Oregon, Utah, Nevada, Idaho and Alaska and it owns nearly half of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming … It is time for a sale. Selling even some western land could raise hundreds of billions of dollars — perhaps trillions of dollars — for the Federal government at a time when the funds are badly needed and no one want to raise taxes. At the same time, a sale of western land would improve the efficiency of land allocation.

Does a sale of western lands mean reducing national parkland? No, first much of the land isn’t parkland. Second, I propose a deal. The government should sell some of its most valuable land in the west and use some of the proceeds to buy low-price land in the Great Plains.

The western Great Plains are emptying of people. Some 322 of the 443 Plains counties have lost population since 1930 and a majority have lost population since 1990.

Now is the time for the Federal government to sell high-priced land in the West, use some of the proceeds to deal with current problems and use some of the proceeds to buy low-priced land in the Plains creating the world’s largest nature park, The Buffalo Commons.
The idea of whoring -- um, liquidating -- public land comes around whenever the Treasury seems in need of a quick and easy infusion of class. And there is some historical precedent for this, Quillen writes. "The only time in American history that the federal government was totally out of debt came on Jan. 1, 1835, during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, and it was land sales that provided much of the federal income that made this possible."

In another interesting instance, Quillen explains why Texas has so little public land:

Texas has very little federal land. That's a result of the Compromise of 1850. Recall that Texas was an independent republic from 1836 to 1844, and ran up some bills. It also claimed half of New Mexico and a strip that extended north through Colorado into Wyoming. In the Compromise, Texas agreed to its current boundaries. In return, the federal government agreed to pay off the old republic's debts, and the public lands inside the Lone Star State were turned over to the state government instead of being retained by the federal government. Texas managed to get someone else to pay off its "national debt," and got title to its public lands -- that's a better deal than we're likely to see if the federal government starts offering land for sale.

And in recent years, there have been similar, very serious (regardless of how preposterous) proposals. For example: The Forest Service planning to sell some 300,000 acres of public land to pay for a federal program; Sen. Richard Pombo’s proposal to sell some national parks to help pay off the national debt; and the Cato Institute, the highly influential free-market think tank, arguing in favor of selling the Grand Canyon to the Disney Corporation.

The reason this can happen today, Quillen argues, is that most people don't understand what public lands are or are for. And one of the reasons for that is that so much of the nation's federal public lands are in the West.

States with highest percentage of state area that is federal land:

  1. Nevada 84.5%
  2. Alaska 69.1%
  3. Utah 57.4%
  4. Oregon 53.1%
  5. Idaho 50.2%
  6. Arizona 48.1%
  7. California 45.3%
  8. Wyoming 42.3%
  9. New Mexico 41.8%
  10. Colorado 36.6%
While most of the states with the least federal public lands are in the East:
  1. Connecticut 0.4%
  2. Rhode Island 0.4%
  3. Iowa 0.8%
  4. New York 0.8%
  5. Maine 1.1%
  6. Kansas 1.2%
  7. Nebraska 1.4%
  8. Alabama 1.6%
  9. Ohio 1.7%
  10. Illinois 1.8%
(Stats from Strangemaps)

This, in my mind, is one of the greatest challenges to the long-term protection of our public lands: Not just fighting the legal and legislative battles, but also giving people -- everyone -- the whys to go along with the whats and hows. We need a re-engagement with the idea of The Commons, and a re-enchantment with the future generations that those Commons are held in common for.

We need to put the public back in our public lands!

More to come on this ...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Jim Stiles and Canyon Country Zephyr both enter new terrain

The new issue of Inside Outside Southwest features a lively profile of Jim Stiles, the rabble-rousing eco-muckraker, and his publication, The Canyon Country Zephyr.

Stiles has been the editor, publisher, columnist, illustrator, ad sales guy, delivery man, etc. for the Zephyr since he founded the monthly magazine in Moab in 1988. Since then, the Zephyr has been both bull horn and bull whip in Stiles' one-man-front in the battle for the Southwest and its beloved deserts and canyonlands.

As a career iconoclast, though, Stiles has managed to torque not only eco-bad guys (whether in business, government, or 36-foot, diesel-powered, rear-duellied RVs). The article, by Jen Jackson, explores how Stiles has in recent years also drawn the ire of big environmental groups, including SUWA, the Sierra Club, and the Wilderness Society, for his unabashed attacks on "Big Environmentalism."

Mostly, though, the article focuses on two big adventures: Stiles' getting married, having a kid, and moving from the American Southwest to southwestern Australia; and the Zephyr's move from a print publication to a web-based publication (somewhat ironic for a magazine whose tagline is "Clinging hopelessly to the past") beginning with the March 2009 issue.

Regardless of his relocation and new forum, Stiles has no intention of pulling back from personal jihad against defilers of the earth:

"If you read the very first issue of the paper, I said my goal was to make the Zephyr a forum for different opinions," Stiles says in the article. "I sought out people who had a different philosophy about land issues and politics so we'd have an interesting conversation. And that's what I've always tried to do, and that's what I'll continue to do."

"When we come online, it's going to start covering a lot more issues than just the Southwest United States," he explains. "I'll be living in the southwest of Australia, and it has a lot of similar problems that we have here. My dream is to put out a publication that covers the southwest parts of two different continents at the same time, in the same issue."

Check out the article here

It's worth noting, as well, that the Zephyr isn't alone in seeking a new route across the badlands of quality regional Western publishing. Mountain Gazette has recently been resold -- the second time in as many years -- and, even though a new issue recently hit the stands, its direction remains uncertain. (Its website hasn't been updated since August.)

Even Inside Outside itself, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, is moving to a format that will include both a small but more frequent (going from bi-monthly to monthly) print version, and a more dynamic and lengthy on-line companion version. The first monthly issue will be released in January 2009, and the new online Inside Outside Southwest is expected to debut in February.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A look at the after-effects of oil and gas development

High Country News has an excellent feature in its current issue, looking at answers to the title question, "Who'll clean up when the party's over?"

The article, written by April Reese, looks at the mixed -- and rare -- success of well-site reclamation, and the BLM's stepped up efforts to improve its poor record so far, following the passage of the 2005 National Energy Policy Act, which aimed to increase reclamation projects for energy development. Presently, the BLM estimates that less than 15 percent of the West's more than 15,000 gas well have been reclaimed.

The article takes a close look at the San Juan Basin, where the BLM oversees some 30,000 wells. The Basin is expected to see another 10,000 wells drilled in the next two decades.

Reese writes:

Even as the BLM struggles to clean up the past, it is racing headlong into the future. Currently, the BLM manages approximately 80,000 active wells on public lands in the West -- about 30,000 in the San Juan alone. In the next 15 to 20 years, the agency expects to permit an additional 126,000 wells, 10,000 of them in the San Juan Basin. The Wilderness Society estimates that more than a million acres will be graded, drilled or otherwise disturbed by new oil and gas development over the next two decades. When all of these wells run dry -- the average well has a lifespan of 30 years -- federal managers will have a truly massive reclamation job on their hands.
Read the entire article here.

Support or subscribe to High Country News here, or purchase a copy from your local newsstand.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Stalking the elusive autumn winter

I may not have been successful hunting elk this fall, but on Sunday, I did manage to hunt down some winter.

Of course, a good guide helps. Enlisting the services of those guys who found some stash of winter in October, I joined a group of four other dried-out ski-holics this Sunday (a day reserved for sacred rituals ... even Animistic ones) heading high into this San Juans in search of those elusive autumn tracks.

It was there. Cached up a distant alpine valley hid the stems and seeds of this season's sparse storms. It took only an hour or so of skinned-up climbing to summit -- a chance to also work on the dimming remnants of summer tans in the October glare.

From our lunchtime perch, we could look south and see the long line of the La Platas behind the close-by ragged ranges of San Juans, and then turn north and see the gray and flat table-top top of Grand Mesa, with the brown cloud of metropolitian Grand Junction stuffed up against its western edge.

Then we skiied. That sacred ritual thing ...

It was thin in places. There were rocks. P-tex will have to be applied, edges honed, and at least one core-shot repaired. There were patches and strips of wind-blown crust. But there were also several tasty carves through even, forgiving, relatively deep packed powder, and the day was topped by a long, zipping run out on fast Fall corn snow through an exhilarating obstacle course of boulders and krummholz brush.


This hunt was much more successful.

See more pics in the slide show below.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Tony Hillerman passes

The Associated Press has reported that Tony Hillerman died this morning. He was 83.

Hillerman died at a hospital in Albuquerque. In recent years, he'd suffered two heart attacks and bouts of prostate and bladder cancer.

Read the AP story here.

More about Tony Hillerman's life here.

Tony Hillerman's official website.

Watch Tony Hillerman talk about "The Art of Mystery."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Obama rally breaks out at McCain speech

McCain and his supporters had the floor -- or the field, anyway -- at Durango High School's football stadium on Friday night. But Obama supporters were happy taking the street and parking lot to hold their own rally.

Hundreds of Obama supporters lined North Main Avenue, carrying signs and wearing Obama t-shirts distributed by Democratic Party staff and volunteers. Centered around the traffic light in front of the school, they chanted and sang to the honks, cheers, and curses from passing traffic.

Police and Secret Service (one Durango police officer warned a couple on cruiser bicycles that if they rode on the sidewalk in front of the school, they'd be tackled by the Secret Service) stood in clusters around the area watching the action, forming a line only when the crowd moved toward the entrance where McCain's motorcade arrived.

Meanwhile, in the DHS parking lot, a cluster of Obama supporters yelled slogans and hooted toward the line snaking slowly into the stadium.

The event didn't likely change the course of the election; still, all in all, it was an interesting and unusual -- and exciting -- occurrence for Durango. And it was a great thing for the students and kids to see -- the town getting passionate, which ever side the rallying is for, and playing a part in national politics.

There were no arrests at either rally, reports the Durango Herald, although there was some jeering directed from each camp to the other. One 14-year-old girl in an Obama t-shirt reported being told by some McCain supporters that she might be swayed if she listened, while others chastised her for being there at all.

And then there was one group that asked her, "Why do you think they call it the 'White' House?"

Welcome to national politics.

See article, more photos, and video at the Durango Herald.

This post also appears on The San Juan Almanac.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Roads to Hovenweep still lead to the Out There

Webb's been coming here since he was less than a year old -- it was, I believe, his first camping trip. I, myself, have found myself out and about at Hovenweep National Monument for more than two decades now. It is, in a terra-erotic (terrotic?) sorta way, the navel of my personal homeland.

And it's an inny.

Last weekend the now-teenaged Webb and I and a friend of his made a quick 24-hour pilgrammage back to this sandstone bellybutton -- hiding behind the Sleeping Ute, swallowed up by the grander Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, a ways off McElmo Canyon and over the dome from the Dolores Canyon, and laying low and unnoticed, a sort of doormat to Cedar Mesa and Monument Valley and the greater Canyonlands over yonder. Hovenweep just ... sits out there, somewhere.

It used to be remote out here. Twenty-some years ago, when I worked at Natural Bridges National Monument, it was an adventure we directed to only those who wanted a backcountry 4x4 Four Corners experience -- just getting there. Even when the last road was paved to Hovenweep ten years or so ago, camping out here was a backcountry experience: a dirt circle with a few unimproved campsites -- aside from a picnic table and metal fire ring. No resident rangers. No visitors center. No water. Pit toilet. No fee. And usually no one else, especially in the cool of late autumn.

A welcome alternative to the surge of development in the movement to make the parks profitable.

I will admit: Last weekend we found that it's still a quick-yet-remote getaway. It still feels like out there -- with the campground's immersion in seemingly-empty broken canyon country and long views to the Sleeping Ute and the Chuskas and the Abajos.

But, of course, industrial tourism hath started to show its telltale boils and pimples, even here: Now, an official Visitor's Center, erected in '01. Permanant ranger residences, with water and sanitation. Pavement. Nice bathroom. Paved walkways. Finely groomed and adorned campsites (more than half of which were occupied -- more than I probably saw camped there in all the years total before pavement. Or so it seems ... )

And: $6 entrance fee plus a $10 camping fee.

Still. Still ... Still it was grand.

And recharging.

And fun.

And beautiful.

And terra-erotic.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

One more day to comment on Roadless Rule

The U.S. Forest Service is accepting comments on the Roadless Conservation Rule until Oct. 23.


The San Juan Citizens Alliance urges your comments to address the following:

1. Take More Time: The Bush administration is attempting to rush the process to a conclusion instead of taking the necessary time to comprehensively review the proposed rule for ALL of the effects it would have on Colorado’s roadless backcountry.

2. Support the 2001 Roadless Rule: This rule offered adequate protections for Roadless Areas and is the high standard necessary to protect all of our nation’s roadless lands - Colorado’s roadless backcountry deserves this measure of protection. More than 1.6 million public comments backed this rule when it was first proposed!!

3. Any version of a roadless rule enacted must provide these basic protections:

  • The cessation of road construction including the “long-term temporary roads” noted in the Draft Colorado Roadless Rule that would last up to 30 years!
  • Halting further oil and gas leasing and associated development such as pipelines and compressor stations.
  • A stop to logging, coal mining and powerline construction.
Learn more at the USFS roadless website here.

Learn more about San Juan area roadless areas here.

Send your comments to,
or submit comments online here.

Michael Pollan on creating a solar food industry

There was a truly mind-opening interview last night on NPR's Fresh Air that's worth taking the half-hour or so to listen to. In it, author Michael Pollan arues that "the era of cheap and abundant food appears to be drawing to a close."

Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History Of Four Meals and In Defense OF Food: An Eater's Manifesto, last week published an open letter to the next President in the New York Times Magazine. The letter urges the President to, among other things, create create a Secretary of Farming, to convert the White House lawn into a food-producing "victory garden," and to legally redefine "food" to exclude snacks with empty calories. (If Ronald Reagan can get ketchup legally declared a "vegetable," then it should be only easier to exclude certain things, Pollan argues in the interview.)

Pollan also wants to government to require developments to have to file "food system impact statements," and to convert failed golf courses and such back to small-scale, urban-landscape farms -- which, he argues, is truly the next boom small-scale, close-to-home, local-employing "solar industry" that politicians and business have been touting.

"We need to wring the fossil fuels out of our food system," Pollan says in the interview. "Farming is the original solar technology."

Pollan's open letter to the next President.

Pollan's "Fresh Air" interview.

Michael Pollan website.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ski bums finding the bumming hard

A good article on looks at an issue afflicting modern-day ski bums in Rocky Mountain ski towns: The bumming ain't cheap.

"Ski bum housing search grows desperate," by Michael Pearlman, examines how the days of living cheap in some lovely little mountain town so you can work a slave-labor job -- but one that comes with a ski pass -- so you can ski your arse off and hang with a tribe of other powder fiends have fallen victim to second-home and luxury life-style economics.
As gentrification extends to every back-alley cabin and shag-carpeted rental condo, it’s the workers on the lowest rung of the employment ladder that are most affected. When real estate prices skyrocketed in recent years, landlords and deep-pocketed investors cashed in, remodeling and selling older, low-end condominiums, the lifeblood of the rental market in most mountain towns. New owners who financed purchases with no money down had to increase rents to cover their mortgages, while skid housing was demolished to make way for new construction.
Personally, as a graduate of the School of Ski Bumming, this is tragic. College is fine; but for a real education in Life and How To Live It, nothing can beat a season, or seasons (or life, as some of us have stretched this portion of our educations) lived simply and scraping by in exchange for place and tribe and getting out and actually doing things.

And to do that, to experience that, to learn that, there must be places to do that. Entire micro-economies that feed that.

Maybe it's time for a ski-bum bailout, eh?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Back from the Hunt

Went elk hunting this past weekend, for the first rifle season. It was a grand and sometimes perilous, yet fully rewarding and thoroughly worthwhile venture. As long as you don't use actually hunting success as a measure.

No, neither I or my two buddies managed to "make meat," as hunting philosopher David Petersen calls this most ancient and human of endeavors. But just hunting itself is its own reward -- reigniting those senses of both place and presence that are practiced and renewed by spending time in the woods. And not just time in the woods, but long stretches of time moving through the woods, in the way the hunter does, and must. Slowly.Deliberately. Consciously. Fully aware. Often immobile, not moving the body, but still moving the senses: looking and listening and smelling and sensing without focus, focusing on it all.

Together we saw a deer and five elk, a large cinnamon bear (which we were able to watch munch rosehips for a while with the comfort of a chasm between us), and a 6 X 5 still-antlered skull that Bryan found up a remote dry wash.

Good stuff. And in a really good place: We were up on Missionary Ridge, on the backbone of land between the Animas and Florida river valleys. So our views were out over these two deep glacial valleys, and toward the sugared ranges beyond, those rocky waves of land comprising the westerin San Juans and the nearby La Platas.

Of course that white "sugaring" I refer to is from the blustery winter storm that blew through on Saturday. And blew hard while it was here, especially up near treeline, where we chose to do our stalking on opening morning.

We crawled out of tent and into the dark, gusty morning at 5 a.m., and walked into the Weminuche Wilderness to pass the day wandering some high country drainages in search of wapiti. And hoping to make some meat.

No meat, but the morning was real Rocky Mountain early-winter -- and a blessing to be out in (for who would get out and experience a tree-line autumn storm, unless they had a reason -- or excuse -- to do that? Not me). The wind swirled and groppel peppered us and salted the ground. The woods were perfect for camouflaging us, and the clouds were grayscale artwork, yet nothing was so intense that I never felt I couldn't see hundreds of yards or have my shooting ability hindered. I was warm, dry, and felt the self-assuredness that comes with feeling I was equipped to survive a night if I needed to.

More good stuff.

Until about noon.

At which time, I got caught in a two-mile-long stand of lodgepole that must've had just the right combo of exposure and wind gust, 'cause it just started getting uprooted all around me, for about 20 or 30 minutes. I only witness 15 or so trees -- both snags and living, healthy looking hulks -- actullay fall. But those seemed to be within arms reach. The other two or three dozen I only heard, because I dare not glance up from my narrow line that led out of there. I was something how I imagine combat to be like.

During that time, I trudged, scampered, trotted, crawled, and, when I could, downright ran -- mutiple-layered, backpack-strapped, rifle-toting and all -- through what seemed like a scene from some Lord of the Rings sequel. I panted and frothed like a rung-out horse, as trees creaked, then croaked with a crash, in every direction -- inlcuding several across the snow-covered trail that was my only path out of that surreal piece of nightmare.

Hey, it was scary! I wasn't whimpering, exactly, when I finally ran into one of my comrades as I walked warily down the dead-middle of a narrow valley that was the first save haven I found. I was, perhaps, though, drooling and speaking in tongues. It had been a powerful, surreal, and mildly terrifying experience. Through it, though, I have achieved a deeper -- nay, mystical -- appreciation for and understanding of life.

The next two days, though, were more like the October that is perhaps the finest, most magical time in Colorado's woods and mountains. As long as you're wearing blaze orange. We moved into a lower drainage, and passed two days walking aspen glades and conifer stands with ridiculous views of the Animas Valley and La Platas out yonder.

Defining "success" after that is a matter of broad interpretation.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Back to the Hunt

Heading out elk hunting tomorrow. Hallelujah.

When I think -- or feel -- what that means to me, what comes to mind is not something I've written (although you can read a piece about why I hunt in Traditional Bowhunter). What captures it best for me is a poem by Norwood, Colo.-based poet Art Goodtimes. This is from his collection As if the World Really Mattered.

Skinning the Elk

I can’t stop peering
into the glazed crystal
of those antlered eyes.
Two perfect rivets
welded to the girder of that
skeletal moment when
the bullet’s magic
cut life short.

after the carcass is hung
in a cottonwood tree,
I go inside to wash my hands.
But the blood won’t come off.

There’s no mistake.
I am marked for life.
I wear the elk’s tattoo,
as its meat becomes my meat
& its blood stains my blood.

Spirit leaping
from shape to shape.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Local boy goes to The Show!

Matt Kenna is headed to the top.

Well, the top of his field, anyway. This week the Durango attorney is leaving our little town in remote southwestern Colorado to go to Washington, D.C, where he will argue in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. The case is Summers v. Earth Island Institute, a legal challenge against the Forest Service's attempts to exclude public input and environmental reviews from timber sales. Matt has been involved with the case for more than five years.

River runner, skier, hunter, beer brewer, and general Durango-kinda guy, Matt is also an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center.

You can learn more about his grand adventure and how he has been preparing for it in "Mr. Kenna Goes to Washington," an article I wrote for the Durango Telegraph.

Rock on, Matt!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Postcards from the Four Corners' future

For Inside Outside Southwest's 10th anniversary issue, editor Jan Nesset asked all of us columnists to write our columns as though we were writing from 50 years from now.

That was fun.

I couldn't help but daydream ... I'd be 98 years old, traveling in a VW van -- pulled by two donkeys -- and out on a multi-week trek across the recently created Four Corners state of Powell (whose state motto is "Earn Your Turns") -- where pavement is outlawed, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe enjoys a cultural renaissance, and the "rewilded" landscape and outback economy has been trademarked as The Backcountry(R).

That would be fun!

Read my full fantasy here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Words I want to hear

It's a blustery time. And not just because it's fall.

It's an election year, and the we're rounding the bend into the home stretch (atlongfrickenlast, since the election cycle has turned into a multi-year-long forced march).

We finally have our finalists for the gold medal round, and we got the conventions -- those absurd and expensive spectacles where the already-done officially happens, the same trite already shoe-worn rhetoric gets retreaded, political celebrities get to preen, and where all those election-addicted political activists can get together and whoop it up. Everyone deserves a party on the public tab every now and then.

But after that, we're left with the wind of words -- that barrage of blustery, inflated, time-worn and focus-group-tested, value-laden and good-feeling terms that makes a candidate look like he stands for something, without really revealing the brittle stilts the nice ideas stand upon.

"Change," of course, is Sen. Obama's favorite. A time-tested term, especially in times of strife and economic uncertainly. Which is most of the time. The Senator is also fond of "hope," a word with the benefit of being monosyllabic -- easy to remember, easily slipped into even the smallest cracks in a conversation, even if it is rather passive an activity, implying a somewhat helpless reliance on some power or authority. A president, perhaps. Or a political party.

Sen. McCain is fond of "law" and "protection" -- phrasing that suggests a speaking from that position of power and authority, and that is well-established, fatty, rich language that's always good for hooking a large chunk of Fast Food America. Beyond that, rather than brandishing his own visionary lexicon, Sen. McCain seems to prefer spending his time disparaging the words Sen. Obama favors.

What I don't hear are words that say what we really need and want to hear today. I, myself, would like to for once hear someone take the initiative to whip out some new words that are truly suited to the realities of the 21st century world, and that perhaps really can work as compass bearings toward principles and programs our leaders need to be employing to guide us from those positions of power and authority in this still-new century.

"Enough." There's a word I'd like to hear. Just that word, as a guiding principle, a statement of position. You want change, Sen. Obama? A change would be a leader leading us by saying what we all need to hear, and won't from any industry or politician: "Enough! You know what? We're fine! We're there! We did it, and now it's time to slow down and see how long we can make it last."

Which brings us to another word I'd like to hear: "Share." It would work nicely with "enough," in fact, as in, "We have enough, and we're doing so well we're going to share what we have with those who don't have enough." For Sen. McCain, this might be a nice alternative to the more belligerent connotations of relying on "law" and "protection," offering the sense that perhaps we can find real hope and make real change (a chance for McCain to pull a judo move on Obama's own favorite handles) by changing how we interact with the rest of the world.

"Enough" and "share" also have the benefit of leading logically to a third vague but value-filled term: "Enjoy." Those three terms together (if Mr. Bush were running for President again, he might cleverly brand those three points "the Axis of Anti-Evil"), I argue, make a solid tripod of talking points on which to support a real "revolution" (another favorite political platitude) truly suited to the world we face ahead of us in the 21st century:

Let's enjoy and share and keep alive the good things we already have.

You want hope? Protection? Find a way to make that platform law.

And that's some rhetoric that really would make me say "hope."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Even the New York Times gets Roadless Areas

Seems often times that the East Coast doesn't get public lands -- what they are, what they're worth (I mean beyond mere money), and what it takes to keep them as they are with their worth in tact. This blindness exists despite the fact that many of the biggest decisions on public lands take place in the East.

But, today the New York Times came out in support of Congressional action toward making the Clinton Roadless Rule law, to get out of the legal limbo it sits in now -- a status, as the editorial says, that "leaves too much room for mischief." In regard to that, the editorial cites the Bush Administration's constant attempts to weaken the Roadless Rule, as well as the recent overturning of the Rule in district court.

"Last year, more than 140 House members and 19 senators introduced the National Forest Roadless Area Conservation Act," the editorial says. "It is past time to provide permanent protection for the forests by turning the Clinton rule into firm law."

When it come's to the West's last and irreplaceable stash of roadless areas, this can only help.

The editorial can be read here.

Everyone can -- and must -- help: You can make public comments on the Forest Service on the Bush Administration's latest, perhaps last, and blatantly lame-duck attempts to weaken the Roadless Rule (which, of course, was also introduced lame duck ... but it was good!).

Send your comments to
  • Rick Cables, regional forester, at
  • You can also submit comments urging Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter to give Colorado's roadless areas better protection via

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Housing woes in places worthing living

There was a good story on NPR's "Morning Edition" this morning. The story, titled Around Resorts, Boomlet Towns Thrive, Too, focused on Flagstaff, where the cost of living there -- the median home price is $350,000 -- is driving people out of town, to remote parcels of land and to once-decaying neighboring towns like Winslow. The piece looks at both the hardship and hard feelings this situation creates, as well as finding the positive in new communities that are arising around the West as these folks who can't afford to fit in carve their own niches.

It, of course, reflects the situation in Durango, where a recent report from the Region 9 Economic Development District says that 72 percent of households here don't earn enough income to purchase a home at the median home price in Durango -- which is also estimated to be $350,000. Around Durango, the towns of Bayfield and Mancos -- both 20 or 25 miles away -- are absorbing the economic refugees from the Animas Valley.

The NPR story also examines the plans for Northern Arizona University, in Flagstaff, to build affordable housing for its faculty and staff, who can't afford to live in Flagstaff on the school's salary. Fort Lewis College is also looking toward building such subsidized housing on the edge of the mesa south of the college.

Next: It'll be interesting to see where $5 -- or $8 -- per gallon gas takes this migration, its migrators, and the outlying towns that are the bases for these migrations -- and that is often fueled by a commuting economy.

Friday, August 8, 2008

It's my Van in a Box

I had a van for a while. But no more.

It was a bigt 1980s Chevy, a solid beast of a machine pulled by 360 horses. I had it for less than two years, but in that time is was both a grand experiment and a great teacher. But it also wasn't very practical -- expensive to drive and bulky to keep parked around neighborhood when it wasn't being driven. Which was most of the time. It had to go.

What I miss most about it, though, was the great escape at my fingertips it offered. I called it the RaVan, to honor the philosophy I acquired it to dabble in -- a raven-like philosophy, since I see a raven as a creature that has managed to stay wild yet be fully adapted to the world's modern circumstances. I used the RaVan to explore how feral I could become right here in the modern world, in my modern world -- out there, yet right there in my daily life with house and family and work.

What the RaVan offered was the ability to jump in and go. I mean "go" as more than just "go somewhere" -- I mean "go" as a philosophy in an of itself, an attitude, as a skill. To go, even if it's just over the hill for the night, or up some nearby Forest Service road, or on some scenic turnout that includes my own house and town in the scene. With the RaVan, I always had a tin tipi ready to go.

I remembered how cool this had been the other day when the kids and I elected to go. We decided to jump in the car and head down to Navajo Reservoir, camping along the remote north end of the impoundment, near where the still-wild San Juan enters its temporary pooling.

I remembered when I went to pack for our quick little foray to this neat little piece of nearby faraway and found that the packing was not quick. Since we do a lot of river trips, our camping gear is generally pretty together, still, it took me some three hours to gather all our crap and get it packaged and packed in the back of the truck. So much for just jumping in and just going ...

And I remembered then how much we used to do this kind of thing when the RaVan was there because it was always ready to go. Because we didn't have to spend hours rallying to go, we did just go because we could just go. And I remembered how healthy that going had been and still could be -- especially with the kids, still. Because they need it, too. Because I want to teach the skill of go onto them, too.

Well, I can't afford a van right now (even though a friend of mine just got a lovely 1988 VW Vanagon, giving me a major case of van envy), but I can still be ravenesque about this. So all the time on our venture to Navajo Reservoir, while my kids and I were lounging by the waterside, or inside the car riding out a vicious thunderstorm (another far more comfortable experience with a van), or sitting in our camp under that stars or laying in my sleeping bag in our tent (other chores that aren't necessary with a van ...), I was chewing on how to adapt to these circumstances today ... how to further develop those skills at go ...

And that's how I came up with my newest experiment. Call it, Van in a Box. I thought that if we were able to pretty much throw and go, then I and/or we would just go a lot more -- maybe not in the RaVan days, but certainly more than we do right now -- for just quick jaunts to those many nearby faraways we have right here, right around us. So ...

Taking our river kitchen dry box, and a big wooden footlocker left over my our kids' days at Colvig Silver Camps, I set up what is actually a Van in Two Boxes:

Food and cookware ready to go in the dry box. The dry box itself can also function as a workspace.

In the footlocker are:
  • sleeping bags (our small summer bags),
  • a tarp (for makeshift canopy or ground cloth),
  • rain gear, gloves, hats,
  • maps,
  • cards and games,
  • paper and pens,
  • dog food, a bowl, and a leash
  • a lantern and our headlamps, a set of maps for the area, and a potty shovel and t.p. (with matches in the paper to burn it in the hole).
Stacked next to those in my garage and also ready to throw in are the other essentials to quick and equipped going:

  • A stove and gas bottle,
  • a portable table,
  • a set of fold-up chairs,
  • the tent,
  • sleeping pads (if you're not gonna have a van, you gotta have Paco Pads),
  • fishing gear,
  • a water jug (one of those five-gallon barrel-like one with the push-button spout at the bottom).
Hey, it ain't a van. But it is in the spirit of the van, the raven spirit, the RaVan spirit. And it is a movement in that direction -- doing what I can with what I have.

And that, too, is going, no?

This blog was also posted on my other blog, The Backyard Frontline.

Monday, July 28, 2008

What is "community," anyway?

The 2008 Southwest Colorado index tells us what we who live here -- really live here, and really endeavor to make a living here -- already know: It's really hard. In fact, the report from the Region 9 Economic Development District says, a staggering 72 percent of households here don't earn enough income to purchase a home at the median home price in Durango (which is estimated to be $350,000).

The Durango Herald's front-page story is here. The report itself can be downloaded as a pdf here. (Click on "housing.")

Hard to live here? Well, financially, anyway. Living here itself it pretty freaken' easy, all in all. On the day the Durango Herald ran their story on the report, I jumped on my cruiser and cruised our little town. The morning was a stellar blue and not yet hot, and the town seemed to sit there like an old dog in a cool shady nook. I rode through our downtown neighborhood, Sunday quiet and empty. crossed the historic (and expensive) Boulevard, aka Third Avenue, and down to the Animas River.

There I rode the bike path that follows the river from one end of town to the other. I passed other Sunday bike cruisers, roller bladers, and lots of walkers and strollers. I rode past the new not-yet-finished library that overlooked a team of rafts and duckies floating by on the river. I rolled along the little park behind the high school, and under the canopy of summer-shady cottonwoods behind the fairgrounds, where I could hear the hooting and PA system from some Fiesta Days event. Behind it all, the La Plata Mountains glowed green -- well watered by our recent summer monsoons -- squatting patiently like some granitic buddhas.

A couple miles of this kind of Sunday morning cruising brought me to another park, on the north side of town, where my wife and kids and some other friends were rigging a raft and some duckies to join in the Sunday floating -- riding our hometown river right through the heart of our town.

This is good shit. Very, very good shit. So is it an irony, then, that it should also be expensive as hell to live here? No. According to traditional capitalist theory, it would be completely natural -- what's good and desirable and somewhat rare should be expensive.

I cannot and do not dispute this. But I also don't think it's right. I don't think something so rare and fine and blessed should be easy, but I don't think it should be expensive. And I certainly think it's wrong that it's unattainable to those who need it most: Those who can't afford to jet around to beautiful, powerful places (and stay there in their second and third homes).

So, I ask, why is it so expensive to live here? Who is making it expensive. If three quarters of the residents in a place want to live there but can't afford it, that, I believe, is not the purpose of a community. That is the sign of illness, in fact, in a community. A community, I believe, should be a place to live, not get rich. And you shouldn't have to be rich to live there.

I've said it before, and say again: We control two things that can, without regulation or prejudice and in a completely fair manner, control growth and shape our community: infrastructure and promotion. And these are in the public domain. So, in response to this report, I'd like to once again offer a modest proposal. Call them Ken's Guidelines to Community Affordability:
  1. Keep infrastructure rough. Make it hard to get somewhere and get around once you're there. And herein I mean in particular mechanical transportation. (Gas prices are already helping with this.) It's public money that have put in four lanes from Durango to Albuquerque (and is well on the way to do that through to Salt Lake City). Beware a big airport, too ...
  2. Don't hoar your community. Growth may be hard to control -- but the promotion of growth is very much in our control. Celebrate, but don't prostitute -- they're two different activities. Shun the shillers who want to sell your town and its amenities to those willing to pay the most.
A town should be for living. But we have to make it that way.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A deeper view of ANWR

A recent posting on GOAT, the blog from High Country News, offers a radically different view of the Bush Administration's recent and ongoing focus on opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development: It's a straw man. The author argues that it has nothing to do with increasing oil production or lowering gas prices -- and that the oil companies don't even really want to develop it because of the cost and difficulties of the region.

The Bush Administration, though, the blog contends, keeps pushing the issue to keep the big national environmental groups distracted and competing to save this popular, glamorous place -- keeping the big environmental groups' money, eyes, energy, and media off what the oil companies really covet: America's public lands.

Food for thought, there ...