Saturday, October 31, 2009

Backcountry ski season is here! And with that 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

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

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:

It's heeeere ...

Guess I won't have to take in that laundry until May ...

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 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.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fort Lewis prof featured in new Ken Burns documentary on national parks

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

Read the entire article here.

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


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 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.