My wife, Kirsten Allen, and I spent the last weekend in January in the San Rafael Swell, BLM managed land in central Utah. Anywhere else in the country and this area would be a national park. But in the lineup of spectacular landscapes in Utah the Swell has not made the cut. Yet.
We drove in from Castle Dale, a Mormon hamlet northwest of the Swell. The road in is all but paved. Granted it was January, but we were still a bit surprised to have the place all to ourselves. And surprised to see a visitor center and Old Spanish Trail installation on the way in to Buckhorn Wash.
San Rafael Swell visitor center
One of the reasons the Swell is not a park is the resistance to public lands by rural county commissioners. Of course, Utah’s fundamentally zealous elected federal officials, all…
Here in the West it is cowboys and Indians again. Or still. I believe the battle will soon turn against the cowboys.
Cliven Bundy and his deadbeat cowboy clan remain free, still owing the United States over $1 million in federal conviction fines and grazing fees, and still illegally trespassing their cows on desiccated public land. Trump came to Utah in December and signed away some two million acres of national monuments, the largest rollback of federal land protection in the nation’s history. Utah has lost the lucrative Outdoor Retailer convention. As our politicians disgracefully cheer, Gallup reports that 61% of Mormons approved of Trump in 2017.
I keep telling myself to spend more time reading the stack of print magazines I subscribe to and to spend less time online. So on a trip this week to Seattle (destination Whidby Island) I grabbed an Economist, Harper’s and The Atlantic Magazine for the plane. I like Harper’s in particular because of the longevity of the “Easy Chair” column. The West’s Bernard DeVoto first wrote in the “Easy Chair” in 1935 about many of the same issues that remain today, like ranchers and other businesses trying to take and use up public land. In the August issue writer Richard Manning has an optimistic essay (here) that the political fortunes of environmentalists are already on the rise. In this seemingly dark hour of losses on many conservation fronts, I recommend reading it.
The public lands of Mt. Rainier, seen from the plane.
One would be excused if while traveling across the vast open spaces of the West, crisscrossed with barbed wire and with cows everywhere, one concluded that ranching and farming were a big part of the economy. They are not. Continue reading →
Earlier this week Kirsten and I were on our way from Cooke City, MT to Red Lodge via the incomparable Bear Tooth highway. A cold front had come through several days before and clouds were still hanging low and cold over the peaks. For two days, in the second week in June, the just opened high mountain road was closed again for blowing snow and ice.
Sudden drop from the top
I was in line waiting to use a Forest Service restroom when I asked a woman waiting in line with me if she had come from over the summit. With abundant animation she replied in the affirmative. “I am from Manitoba where it is so flat you can watch your dog run away from home for three days,” she said. “I know flat and let me tell you, this place is NOT flat! Add to that you can’t see twenty feet in the fog up there and I mean it when I tell you I need to use a rest room.” Continue reading →
No sooner had the Bears Ears National Monument been proclaimed than local Utah politicians launched a concerted effort to undo it. Kirsten Allen and her gang at Torrey House Press have gone to great lengths to help support the making of the Monument and may indeed have played a role in its creation by the President Obama and the Department of the Interior. They created and published Red Rock Testimonyand took hundreds of copies to Washington D.C. They simultaneously came out withEdge of Morning,a book of all Native voices in support of the Bears Ears. These are very nice people, why would they promote an outcome that local people don’t want? Continue reading →
In Torrey, we are blessed with an industrious neighbor, Mary B., who is working on getting the Torrey Town public lights, including street lights, modified to improve lighting and reduce light pollution. Mary is also working to make Torrey the first International Dark-Sky Association community in Utah. She asked us for a letter of support and we penned the following: Continue reading →
Last August I received a call from my 83 year old mother. “Your father wants to speak with you,” she told me. It is like that with Dad and me, not a lot of direct communication. I told Mom I would come over the next day after dinner. When the time came I was surprised to see my wife, Kirsten, grab her purse and head for the door with me. My father has a reputation for being difficult and there are rarely volunteers to join me in seeing him. Dad is in his mid-eighties and as his oldest offspring I am to be the executor of his will. I thought he might want to talk about some details or arrangements, but when we all sat down around the table together, including Kirsten and Mom, he asked me if I wanted his observatory. I thought he was asking if I coveted his belongings, which I surely do not. But in my own advancing years I may have gained adequate wisdom so that when Kirsten kicked me under the table I ceased my objections and turned to see her silently mouth, eyebrows raised, “This is an honor.”
Dad at his Alpenglow Observatory in Salt Lake City, August 2016
The other day I was compared to and quoted on the same page as Yvon Chouinard and Peter Metcalf. Chouinard has never heard of me and Metcalf might have to be reminded, but I will take it as my moment of greatness anyway. I guy now from Monticello, from Moab before that, and perhaps New Jersey originally, got worked up about a comment I made about not wanting a gravel pit in Torrey-Teasdale on a Facebook post of his and he dedicated an article on me (and Yvon and Peter) in a faux objective, compulsively contrarian piece. The unhappy guy refers to himself as a journalist and considered reporting about me his duty. So as not to seem too flattered by the attention, I admit he comes across more as a committed victim than he does as an objective journalist.
12/30/2016. The country is in a deep kind of trouble that requires a response from every thinking citizen. For the sake of my posterity I am jotting down my personal plan.
We have a Republican president-elect who is unfit to serve. I don’t say this just because my candidate lost in a normal election. I do not feel about Trump like I felt about George W. Bush. Certainly I do not feel about Trump like I felt about Romney. In fact, I have thought that it would have been better if Romney had won in 2012 so that white backlash would not have produced Trump. I proudly voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, the most qualified person to ever run for the office. That we would be electing a woman after electing a black man amazed me, and I was thrilled at my country’s ability to continue to mature and progress socially. But instead of electing the most qualified person possible, we elected the least. Misogyny, bigotry, and racism are constantly espoused by Trump, ripped out from our darkest closets and made to seem as acceptable. Ignorance and intolerance are praised. An anti-intellectual, anti-science, anti-environment cabinet is being put in place. The GOP, drunk on the prospects of unlimited power, continues to put party before country and will not provide check and balance.
Round about 2007-2008 my son had graduated from Prescott College with a degree in environmental studies and was searching for his place in the workforce. Judging by the magazine covers on my coffee table at the time, I thought Nick might be catching a wave. Going “green” was all the rage. Then the Great Recession hit, the smartphone came out, and the culture wars erupted, knocking the nascent environmental movement off the front page and on to the back of the bus, perhaps under the bus. “Environmentalist” weirdly even became a negative, dismissive epithet.