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 COcomments@fsroadless.org,
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 NewWest.net 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.