Misdirection

Misdirection Illustration by Chad Bassett Off to the north of a trail I have hiked, biked, skied and snowshoed more times than I can remember lies the approach to a side/tributary gulch (I’ll call it Pilgrim Gulch), which is, if not exactly hidden, is at least not blatantly obvious. From below, the mouth of Pilgrim Gulch looks to be nothing more than a depression in a ridge finger descending from a massive headwall and lying perhaps 500 vertical feet above the main valley. Pilgrim Gulch is accessible from the trail — actually a rugged four-wheel-drive road that is one of the most popular backcountry destinations in the very busy Colorado mountain county I called home for almost two decades — only by crossing a willow-choked creek bottom, followed by an aerobically captivating bushwhack to the ridge finger. For many years, I had looked up toward that ridge and its tempting depression, but had never gone through the tedious process of actually visiting it. Then, one day, I found myself interviewing for a news story a local Forest Service employee who was talking about a recently filed application for a mining permit clear on the other side of the lofty mountain range in which this part of the story takes place. Knowing that the proposed mine site was essentially inaccessible except via self-propelled means along a sketchy section of single-track, I asked the Forest Service employee, “How would the applicants access their claim?” He then made mention of a gulch I had never heard of. I pulled out my maps and — lo and behold! — as far as I could tell, the Forest Service employee was talking about that depression in the ridge finger I had been eyeballing for all those years. He was talking about Pilgrim Gulch. I did not dally. Very next day, I hiked up the popular, rugged four-wheel-drive road to a point where it looked like the willow traverse would be easiest, or at least less skin-ripping. Then, while making certain no prying eyes witnessed my impending bushwhack, I began the trudge toward what ended up being one of the most astounding places I had ever visited in a county that boasts beaucoup astounding places. Though the mouth of the gulch, like I wrote earlier, was modest, it soon opened up to a broad expanse that included glacial tarns galore, expansive vistas, astounding rock formations, nearby mountain summits and thick wildflowers. It was like I had stumbled upon a mini-Shangri La that, stunningly no one seemed to know about. Pilgrim Gulch became one of my regular hiking destinations, and never once did I ever tell anyone about it. Never once did I ever consider the notion of telling anyone about it. Let the huddled masses continue on their merry way up the rugged four-wheel-drive road in the main valley below. Let them be blissful in their ignorance. Let them eat cake. Then, one day, I slogged up the steep incline to what I until that point considered my personal kingdom of alpine bliss. And what did I then see? I saw a series of diminutive rock cairns erected through a place where Pilgrim Gulch tightened up a bit as it followed a crystal-clear rivulet. My heart sank, for I knew what was next coming. It seemed like a form of corruption, not solely because other boot prints now existed in soil where I had seen literally none before, but because whoever it was who had traversed these parts since my last visit had felt compelled, even entitled, to leave behind near-permanent evidence of their passing. Fuck! But I did nothing, save sulk. During subsequent visits, the cairns became more numerous, larger and more elaborate. And the tundra through which those cairns were constructed started showing signs of wear and tear. Though I never saw another person in Pilgrim Gulch, it was obvious more and more people now knew about it. Then, one day, I saw some orange peels, eggshells and a candy bar wrapper next to one of the glacial tarns. And I lashed out: I destroyed every single one of those goddamned cairns. I mean to say, I obliterated the motherfuckers. This was no subtle carnage. I made no effort to aesthetically replace the rocks used to construct those cairns to their natural environment. As I kicked those cairns, I cursed the people who had built them. With regards to Pilgrim Gulch, I was likely too late. I ought to have disassembled the very first cairns I saw. I vowed then and there to never again make such a mistake. And thus began what to this day remains a love/hate relationship with cairns and all they represent, both literally and figuratively. Admittedly, what they literally represent is likely nothing more than some well-meaning person or persons who simply have a different opinion than do I regarding the placement of route markers upon heretofore-virginal landscapes. That person, or those people, likely feel it is better on all levels for folks out and about in the boonies to be both well oriented and following the same line of travel. But what they figuratively represent is the concept of order and management and linear thought — all concepts that, while perhaps valuable down in civilized realms, have little if any value in the heart of wild country — and, worst of all, the concept of encouraging and directing people to backcountry locales that, wherever period of time ago, were relatively unpeopled and untrammeled. The building of cairns in places lacking system trails is akin to guidebooks and magazine destination stories that reveal “secret places.” (One of these days, I swear I’m going to write a guidebook and/or a series of magazine destination articles specifically designed to get people lost. It would be the best favor I could ever lay on those people, though it might take them a few years to realize the good turn I have done them.) Before proceeding any further, let me be upfront and clear: Many have been the times in my long and extensive hiking/backpacking career when I have been mighty thankful for the existence of cairns. For instance, I was once on the Continental Divide Trail between Kite Lake and Stony Pass experiencing weather as bad as weather can be at 12,000 feet elevation in mid-August. It was blizzarding and blowing a gale, and there was not enough visibility to even measure. The only thing that kept my disoriented, teeth-chattering self on target was a series of six-foot-tall cairns delineating the venerable San Juan Stockway, which was contiguous with the CDT at that point. I likely would have been in trouble had those cairns not been there, as there was no shelter from the storm that I could see, or, in this case, not see. This is far from the only example of cairns saving my personal day. But — and this is a noteworthy “but” in this context — those cairns (I’ll call then the “good cairns”) have all been official, U.S. Grade-A trail markers, markers placed alongside existing system trails, trails that actually appear on maps, trails designed, as much as anything (in my mind at least) to keep the huddled masses on track and off whatever untrammeled (and, thus, more uninteresting) terrain that might lie nearby. The “good cairns,” in my considerable backcountry experience, are constructed by Forest Service and Park Service trail crews, who, presumably, know what they’re doing vis-à-vis trail location and construction. They were not constructed by Joe Blow the Ragman hiker who took it upon himself to expose a particular primitive route by building a series of “bad cairns” just because he felt like so doing. In this regard, the “bad cairns” are nothing more than litter and ought to be treated as such. I have long been perplexed, as well as red-faced angered, by the numbers of times I have ventured forth into the great outback untrailed unknown, only to find that someone has erected series of bad cairns to either direct those who follow (like, who’s to say that the cairn-builder actually knows where he or she is going?) or as a sign that Kilroy was here. These bad cairns were not constructed by Forest Service or Park Service employees; they were, rather constructed by people like me (but not like me), people who obviously were originally attracted to places sans official routes, people inclined to explore the hinterlands rather than simply following established systems of trails. What would possess people inclined to visit the untrailed unknown to then mark the way, to mark their passing, like dogs pissing on fence posts? What is this goddamned inexplicable attraction to orientation? Understand, please, that I am not herein castigating those who build bad cairns simply because they have visited a place I have also visited. Sure, I wish I were the only person to have ever interfaced with the myriad off-the-map destinations that over the years I have been blessed enough to interface with. But there is obviously more to it than that. Given my bushwhacking nature, I am happy that most backcountry enthusiasts most of the time access the forests, mountains and deserts via established, official, marked trails, many of which are delineated by cairns. I, too, generally access the backcountry via official trails, though, often, for reasons that have to do with both inclination and the influence of some sort of inexplicable metaphysical/gravitational/inertial force, it is not unusual to look down and notice that my boots have detoured their way into unmarked, un-delineated, sign-free, trail-free, cairn-free realms. One of the least-publicized and least-appreciated negative environmental impacts associated with the outdoor-recreation industry is the impact that simple, seemingly benign trails have upon the natural world. I once proposed a story on this subject to Backpacker magazine back when I was a contributing editor at that publication. The editor reacted in such a way that he obviously thought I had lost my goddamned mind. “Yeah, right, let’s make our readers start feeling guilty about the very trails upon which they hike into the woods. Our advertisers will love that.” I guess his response was understandable, if not somewhat lacking in the kind vein-opening honesty that I feel makes for good journalism, even if that honesty sometimes amounts to shooting oneself in the foot, or, worse, if it amounts to taking a long and hard look in the mirror. Still, based upon several peer-reviewed research projects I am familiar with, there is no denying that the existence of trails and trail construction results in many of the same kinds of negative impacts associated with roads and road construction. The clearing of trees to accommodate a trail causes more sunlight to hit the ground, resulting in the establishment of microclimates. New trails instantly up the erosion ante, especially if they are open to mountain bikes. Trails, not surprisingly, cause more people and, worse (from the perspective of the environment) dogs to venture forth into the backcountry. Species that do not take well to the presence of man (and dog(s)) start moving away from the trail, replaced by species that tolerate human activity. The habitat fragmentation that defines human kind continues unabated. There are certainly those who argue, and argue well, that, if you are going to have human visitation in the backcountry, it is better to concentrate that visitation on established trails, rather than having a whole bunch of stoned reprobates like me traveling in willy-nilly fashion hither and yon. There are also those who argue, and argue well, that the most significant impact a backcountry locale feels is when the first human passes through, and that every subsequent human visitation is incrementally relatively less impactful. (Taken out of context, this would be a salient argument against bushwhacking.) And, thus, if there is going to be human visitation in a given area, it is best for all concerned if those humans pass along the exact same route. (Taken out of context, this would be a salient argument in favor of cairn building.) That’s a great point and all, except that it does not entertain the impacts of aggregate visitation, which is often exacerbated by the existence of a trail, and which often in turn causes the existence of a trail. This is where we get back to the bad cairns. There are of course many ways that backcountry trails are born and raised. Many have historic roots — they were old pack train or livestock routes. Many were constructed specifically for recreational use. And many sprang into being via “unofficial” means. This latter category, often referred to as “social trails,” begin, for example, when someone — a hunter, maybe, or a bushwhacker, or a rancher on horseback looking for strays — comes across, as a random example, the biggest juniper tree anyone has ever seen. He takes a few of his friends out to see it. Those friends take a few of their friends, some of whom might be inclined to place a few humble rock cairns to help those who follow, and, before you know it, there’s what looks for all the world like a real trail to that tree, a trail that some people who have no idea it leads to a giant juniper tree start following just to see where it goes. Those people might start adding a few stones to the cairns lining the route. The Forest Service will sometimes institutionalize such trails, granting them “official, status” — meaning they get marked on maps, get trail signs, get regular maintenance and maybe even get a whole slew of cairns. Other social trails are established or even built in extra-legal fashion by mountain bikers or hikers. I recently heard of a lady who has been working tirelessly for years to build a new trail to the summit on one of our local mountains. (I would love to meet this lady, to give her a piece of my mind.) The national forest trail system I visit most often (because it is closest to my house) was started by a man who thought it was OK to go out onto public land, ax, adze and chainsaw in hand, and start blazing away, like Daniel Boone heading toward Cumberland Gap. Sometimes the Forest Service will come in and obliterate such ex officio trails. Sometimes — as is the case with the trail system I visit most often — the Forest Service throws in the land-management towel and institutionalizes those trails, and, in so doing, brings them up to construction standards. And, once those trails are institutionalized, they are publicized and, as a result, more and more people start using them, and more and more negative environmental impact results. Trees alongside the trails start to die. Birds move into less desirable areas to nest. Water hole accessibility is compromised. There is more to it than that, though. There is a certain difficult-to-quantify concern with the psychological repercussions of having more and more marked trails running through our mountains, forests and deserts, even if those markings take the form of modest sets of bad cairns along little-visited social trails. I believe it’s important for those of us inclined to tromp through the backcountry to get disoriented as often as possible, to have no idea where the fuck we’re going, to run the risk of getting lost and by so doing maybe finding something valuable that likely does not exist along a marked route. Most times, we find nothing, save experience and time alone with the trees and cactuses and birds and bears. And that’s fine. But sometimes we stumble upon something wonderful — a small natural bridge made out of Gila conglomerate, a new way to descend into a slot canyon, a cliff dwelling, a giant juniper. And whatever those wonderful somethings may be, they are made even more wonderful by the fact that we found them on our own. We did not follow a trail, and we did not torpedo the sense of wonder the next person who finds them experiences because we decided to build a line of cairns in our wake. The words “explore” and “adventure” are so over-used and misused in these days of ziplines, eco-tours and travel insurance that most folks, even those inclined to venture forth into the backcountry, have forgotten their true meaning. Whatever tattered remnants of their true meaning might still exist do not include guidebooks and destination stories and existing trails and even seemingly innocuous little systems of cairns constructed by people, even well-meaning people. This much I truly know and understand. These days, when I pass “good cairns,” I will often add a rock to them, if for no other reason than we have arrived at a time when cairns are being treated by passersby as art forms as much as directional devices. Whenever I pass “bad cairns,” I obliterate the motherfuckers, and I encourage you to do the same. I figure it’s my civic duty to help keep the backcountry as wild as possible. One of the best ways to do that is to play a small role in making sure that my fellow backcountry travelers have every opportunity to get disoriented, befuddled, discombobulated, bumfuzzled, bruised, battered and as scared as I have many times myself been while trekking through realms that lack trails and signs and cairns. And, in so doing, I hope those people, like I have, will find bear cubs frolicking in fields of wildflowers and pottery shards left by the Ancient Ones and entire fields of undisturbed crystals glimmering in the dappled sunlight.

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Sunset

Sunset A high percentage of those reading these words are still of an age where you correctly observe about yourself that you are indeed “bulletproof.” You can fall off a cliff and your only concern will be if the one-hitter in your shirt pocket managed to survive the impact. A high percentage of those reading these words are of an age where, despite the fact that numerous parts of your body are trying to subtly inform you that you are becoming less bulletproof, you can still limp you way through a rugged outdoors life in blissful physiological denial. A high percentage of those reading these words are on an age where the message is coming through loud and clear: You are not as young as you once were, but, still, you’re not as old as you’re going to get and, therefore, while you may no longer be bulletproof, you can still pretend that the fall off the cliff didn’t cause any lasting damage that you’re willing to admit in public. Then there is that percentage of the people reading these words — likely while donning glasses with very thick lenses — who have arrived at what many could argue is a liberating point in life: When you throw in the towel and admit, to others and even to yourself, that you no longer have a bulletproof corpuscle in your entire body. You can injure yourself in a way that lasts for the rest of your goddamned life carrying a load of laundry down to the basement. This, as those of you who are at that point in life know, sucks. If you don’t believe me, read this story by my buddy Alan Stark — a long-time Mountain Gazette contributor — which appeared recently in the New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/26/booming/running-hard-at-66-and-dealing-with-the-consequences.html?ref=booming&_r=1& This is a point in life where your adventures are no longer traditionally defined, where you think less about the vistas you will see once you drag your tired ass up the mountain or about the exhilaration you will feel once you make it through Nutripper Rapids mostly in one piece. You get to the point where you wonder, even as you are driving to the trailhead or put-in, whether you will even make it to the summit or to the take-out, whether some piece-of-shit part of your aching body will give up the ship and cause you to limp in shame back to the car. This is one of the main reasons why senior hiking and skiing clubs exist — so those of us who fall into this age/physiological-train-wreck demographic do not embarrass ourselves in front of those still young enough to be bulletproof, or young enough that they think they are or can still fake that they are. When you get to that can’t-even-fake-bulletproof age, you learn a harsh lesson: That one of the biggest adventures you will face for the rest of your days is the trip to the doctor for your annual physical. There’s always this pregnant moment when your doctor is slowly shuffling the results of the multi-page blood test, when you’re trying to read his facial expression the same way someone on trial tries to read the expressions of the jurors when they file back into the courtroom. And, of course, the doctor does not immediately blurt out that your have terminal brain cancer and that you will likely not live long enough to egress his office. No, there is an order to things, as he prods and pokes and asks you to cough and then finally puts on the latex gloves and tells you to assume what surely must be the most undignified position known to humankind. And the entire time, he’s asking seemingly vapid questions about how well you’re sleeping and how your balance is, and the whole while you’re wanting to grab him by his stethoscope and yell: “Just go ahead and tell me what horrible malady is wreaking havoc inside me?” We finally get to that point. He’s eyeballing the results of the blood test, and I’m trying to read the two-point type on the document upside-down, while trying to pretend that I’m not trying to read the two-point type on the document upside-down. He goes through all the arcane shit that’s NOT wrong with me — hmmm nanoserabellum (or some such) is well within normal parameters — which, thankfully, outweighs the shit that is wrong. Until, finally, he clears his throat (they always clear their throat when they’re getting ready to tell you, sorry, we’re going to have to amputate your testicles right here and now) and says, in something of a positive letdown, if there can be such a thing, that my vitamin D levels are way down. This, he says, might have some effect on the low energy levels I told him about right before the latex gloves came out. And here comes the sun. Apparently, the entire world is suffering from what is now being described as an epidemic of low vitamin D. I mean, I always thought an epidemic was when something palpable affected a sizeable population, like a virus or some kind of nasty bacteria with a 14-syllable name. But, no, here we have an epidemic defined by a decided lack of something. Turns out there are an estimated billion people in the world suffering from a vitamin D deficiency. My doctor told me that fully a half of all his patients are likewise afflicted. I talked a couple non-traditional health-care professionals I know, and they said the same exact thing. My doctor said the cure is simple enough: Eat 5,000 mg of vitamin D a day. But, what, I asked, is the root cause? After all, everything from yogurt to Lucky Charms these days boasts colorfully upon its label how fortified with vitamins and minerals the food item is, to the point that one wonders if there’s enough room for all the vitamins and minerals advertised on the package and the food item that’s supposedly also in that box. Well, my doctor said, he’s read numerous studies that indicate many manufacturers simply overstate, misrepresent or blatantly lie about the vitamin content of their products. Apparently, parents thinking their kids are ingesting 400 tons of vitamin D every time they down a glass of bovine juice are often being deceived. But there seems to be a more insidious culprit at play: a lack of exposure to sunlight. If memory serves, D is the only vitamin the body is able to manufacture on its own. By way of some form of inexplicable magic, exposure to sunlight upon the naked skin causes the vitamin D glands to start purring along. Thing is, we’ve all been programmed over the course of the past few decades to believe that the slightest exposure to sunlight causes instantaneous skin cancer. So, we cover up and slather on sunscreen by the bucketful. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that many of us live in cold climates, places where, for half the year,  we do not expose our skin because of concerns about frostbite, rather than skin cancer. It’s like we can’t win for losing. “Would you rather risk skin cancer or eat some vitamin D supplements?” my doctor asked, smugly and rhetorically. Here’s the thing, though: I am a sun person who dwells in a sun state. I mean, my ass is flat-out photovoltaic. Even in the dead of winter, rare is the day when I do not spend several hours outdoors. And it has to be mighty chilly indeed for me to totally cover every square inch of exposed skin. Still, sun worship notwithstanding, my vitamin D levels are low. As if all of that wasn’t enough to cause me to ponder mortality in a context that includes the undeniable realization that we were never meant as a species to live as long as I already have lived, there was more sun-related enlightenment to come. I have been an enthusiastic table tennis player for many years. We have a group, mostly old farts, who get together to smack balls twice a week. Unfortunately, the facility that the county government graciously provides to us is extremely dimly lit. I have long suffered from poor night vision, and I’m definitely one of the players most negatively impacted by the lack-of-luminosity in our low-rent ping-pong emporium. One of the other players, who likewise does not see in dim light as well as he once did, told me about a supplement that supposedly helps restore night vision. As soon as I got home, I researched it and learned that, indeed, there are numerous herbal concoctions that advertise themselves as being beneficial for senior citizens who have trouble honing in on orange three-star 40mm Nittaku balls coming their way at 50 mph. Upon further reading I learned something else: Poor night vision among Americans is also reaching epidemic proportions. The reason (or at least one of the reasons): We have become addicted to sunglasses. Same drill as the vitamin D deficiency epidemic. We have been, I don’t want to use the word “brainwashed,” so let’s just say sufficiently convinced by eyewear manufacturers that, if you so much as venture forth into the great outdoors to pick up your newspaper off the ground at dawn, your corneas and pupils will instantly start frying like a pan full of sausage. And I have been a lockstep adherent to that perspective my entire life. If I’m outside anytime besides dead of deep dark night, I’m wearing my prescription Oakley blades. The piece of gear I fear losing more than any other — to the point that I rarely travel without backup — is my sunglasses. When my dog was a puppy and she chewed a pair of sunglasses up, I seriously considered selling her to a pet laboratory. And here I learn that my sunglass mania has likely resulted in a degree of night blindness that is impacting my ability to hit a cross-table topspin forehand slam. Damn! Even understanding that there are circumstances where you can’t function without adequate, and generally stunningly expensive UVA/UVB sunglasses — like skiing in the High Country on a sunny day — this information caused a certain amount of teeth-gnashing and mental cud-chewing. The various websites I perused in my quest to help restore some semblance of ability to see in dim light outlined some exercises and strategies, not the least of which being to spend time outside sans sunglasses. There was even a suggestion that you stare at the sun with your eyes closed for several 10-second periods per day. Great. There’s hope. Still, my mind wandered from vitamin D and poor night vision to other aspects of our health and well-being, or lack thereof. There are those who believe that we have become so focused on cleanliness and sanitization that we have negatively impacted our ability to fight infection. I have heard the same thing about our fear of tainted water, that, by consuming sterile H20, we have made it so, when we do ingest water-borne maladies, we are less able to wage war against them. In all four examples — vitamin D, night vision, cleanliness mania and fear of water — it seems an argument can be made that we have come under the sway of companies that are fiscally well served if consumer society fears the thing their products supposedly protect us from. Our (some would say justified) fear of skin cancer has made it so we buy sunscreen. Our fear of the effects of UV rays on our eyes makes it so we invest in pricy eyewear. How many products are marketed to us to kill household germs? There are many bottled-water companies telling us that what flows from our taps is lethal. We have many companies telling us that, if we drink so much as a mouthful of untreated water from a pristine mountain stream, we will soon find ourselves writhing in agony on the side of the trail as our intestines are being devoured by some horrible microscopic creature. The argumentative problem here, of  course, is that there’s enough veracity to those concerns to make them real. Or at least real enough. People do get glaucoma. People do get skin cancer. People so shit their brains out because of giardia. These concerns are not made up. But neither are they ubiquitous or automatic. We can sit in the sun. We can eat food that has touched a kitchen counter that has not been sanitized in the past five minutes. We can drink water out of a mountain stream. Of course, we may die in so doing. But we may also die in not so doing. Now, excuse me, but it’s a nice day here in Gila Country. I’m going to sit shirtless and sunglass-less out in the sun. Maybe even smoke a cigar. Maybe even pick up a handful of deer-dung besmirched dirt off the ground and stuff it into my mouth. And I’ll wash it down with water from a mud puddle. I’m feeling bulletproof today.  

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The Peaks of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” Speech

Author’s note: For the past couple years, I’ve been toiling away feverishly on a book titled, “A Colorado Mountain Companion,” scheduled to be released this spring by Pruett Publishing in Boulder. One of the chapters examines Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, which is appropriate for the book, because it mentioned the Colorado Rockies specifically. With a respectful nod toward the recently past  Martin Luther King Day, I decided to revamp the chapter a bit and post it herein. On August 28, 1963, the Reverend Martin Luther King delivered what has come to be known as his “I Have A Dream” speech (1), justifiably considered one of the greatest examples of oration in American history. The speech was delivered to an estimated 250,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., during the March on Jobs and Freedom, one of the largest gatherings during the entire Civil Rights Movement. Dr. King went vertical as the speech reached its glorious crescendo: “So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that—Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and mole hill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring!” The rank of the mountains referenced directly or indirectly in Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech are:

  1. Mount Whitney, California: 14,495 feet
  2. Mount Elbert, Colorado: 14,433 feet
  3. Mount Washington, New Hampshire: 6,288 feet
  4. Mount Marcy, New York: 5,344 feet
  5. Mount Davis, Pennsylvania: 3,213 feet
  6. Lookout Mountain, Tennessee: 2,146 feet
  7. Stone Mountain, Georgia: 1,680 feet
  8. Woodall Mountain, Mississippi: 806 feet

(1) Segments of the “I Have A Dream” speech, part of which was prepared and part of which was extemporaneous, were given a test drive by Dr. King in June 1963, when he delivered a speech incorporating some of the same sections in Detroit, where he marched on Woodward Avenue with Walter Reuther and the Reverend C.L. Franklin. He had reportedly rehearsed other segments of the speech previously. The “I Have A Dream” speech was embroiled in controversy on two occasions. First, there were allegations that King had plagiarized at least 20 percent of the speech—most of the last two minutes—from a speech delivered at the 1952 Republican National Convention by the Reverend Archibald Cary, Jr. Second, because King had distributed copies of his speech prior to its delivery at the Lincoln Memorial, its copyright status was in dispute for 36 years! In 1999, the civil case, Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr., Inc. versus CBS, Inc., was settled out of court with the understanding that the King estate owned the copyright for the speech. Sources: The idea for this section, as well as much of the information, came from peakbagger.com. The details of the speech came from Wikipedia.

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Dog Names

One of my favorite aspects of sifting through the tsunami of submissions we receive every year for Mountain Gazette’s Mountain Dog Photo Contest is eyeballing the various dog names, which, needless to say, cover a wide gamut. There are always what I would call “normal— dog names — Sage, Spade, Blue, Ella, Nico, Seamus, Malibu. Always lots of names that end in a phonetic long “e” — Ozzy, Sophie, Kiki, Cali, Bertie. And there are usually lots of names that are mountain-specific — Tundra, Talus, Chinook, Summit. And non-dog animal names — Bear, Hawk, Lobo. And names associated with specific mountains and mountain ranges — Sawatch, Elbert, Denali, Shavano. Often, there are town names — Frisco, Dillon, Juneau. There are names from literature and popular culture — Gandalf, Frodo, Yoda, Stella, Homer, Zool. The most captivating (some would say strange) dog names I have ever come across, however, did not make their way into my life by way of our Dog Photo Contest. There’s one dog that visits our local dog park on occasion named, of all unappealing things, “Pot Roast.” This dog is a bulldog whose main attribute seems to be an ability to slobber so profusely that you have to wonder where all that liquid comes from. Pot Roast jumped up on me one time, and, in the point-five seconds it took me to move away from Pot Roast, his slobber had saturated the front side of one pants leg so profusely it soaked clear through — and here I’m talking about from upper-thigh to ankle — to my leg and, even in the bright New Mexico sun, that leg did not dry for two solid hours, most of which I sat in a local watering hole having people ask me if I had just pissed my pants. The whole time, I could not let go of the feeling that what had drenched my pants was not dog slobber, which is bad enough, but, rather, given the dog’s name, greasy gravy. I finally had to leave the bar to go home and change pants and bath my sticky leg. You can file this one under “Only in New Mexico.” I was walking up Sixth Street from the Silver City Food Co-op one hot summer day, and, from the inside of one of those kinds of cars that are literally held together by predicable, though ambiguous, hyper-liberal bumperstickers proclaiming that Peace is the Way and asking What Would Gandhi Do?, I hear a wild vocal ruckus. There was an aging hippie lady inside that car yelling at the top of her lungs in a way highly unbecoming of an aging hippie lady whose car is adorned with bumperstickers about Gandhi. What she was actually yelling made me ponder hiding behind a light pole, for I did not know the potential ramifications. She was yelling, “BAD KARMA!!! BAD BAD BAD KARMA!!!” Now, in a place as populated with wizards, witches and god-knows-what as is Gila Country, you can understand my immediate concern. I at first thought she was wishing bad karma upon me personally as I passed. I mean, in my grocery bags were indeed some items that, I guess, were one inclined t look at them thus, could be considered karmically less than pure. Even though it was grass-fed, free-range and hormone free, yes, there was some breakfast sausage. And, shit, I did have some tortilla chips, but, hey, they were completely free of GMO ingredients. Then, I thought that maybe the lady was doing nothing more than recognizing that some bad karma was right then visiting her for reasons I could not possibly — and had no desire to — fathom. Maybe she had recently purchased some non-free-range sausage. Maybe she had just eaten a whole handful of chicharrones purchased at a convenience store. Maybe her loud vocalizations were nothing more than paying some sort of penance-via-recognition-of-sins. When I finally mustered the courage the continue walking on by, I noticed that, cowering in the back seat of the car was a guilty-looking dog that had, more than likely, just chewed up a shoe or something. Turns out, the dog was named Karma. Now, who would name their dog such a thing, I don’t know. But there it was. Back when Mountain Gazette’s office was still in Frisco, Colorado, our then-sales manager hooked up with a lady who brought to the relationship a dog named Groovy. Groovy was a big Weimaraner whose eyes did not always point in the same direction. He was also an escape artist non-pareil. One day, my buddy Mark Fox was asked to watch Groovy while the sales manager left the office for a while. Mark’s focus must have wandered, and, next thing he knew, Groovy was gone. Mark dashed out onto Main Street, where, even in a part of the country inclined to cut people their eccentricity-based slack, I’m sure he drew perplexed attention as he ran down the sidewalk shouting at the top of his lungs “Groovy! Groovy!” My dog is named Casey. Occasionally, I am asked if it’s “K.C.” or “Kasey.” But, when she screws up, “Bad, Casey” is a lot better than “Bad, Karma,” and, when she runs off, at least I don’t have to run around yelling “Here, Pot Roast” or “Groovy!” Life in New Mexico is weird enough without having a weirdly named dog.

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Why then do we do it?

A few summers back, while walking along a section of the Colorado Trail near Denver, I had the opportunity to watch not one, not two, not three but — count ’em — four mountain bikers go posteriors-over-tea-kettles, all at the exact same spot, one right after the other. By the time the last rider tried, and failed miserably, to negotiate this particularly gnarly hunk o’ rock that was sitting smack-dab in the middle of the tread, there was a pile of writhing fat-tire aficionados pretty much stacked up at my feet. Can’t buy entertainment that good. As there were no injuries more serious than the kind of minor bruises, abrasions and contusions that mountain bikers seem to go out of their way to acquire and wear as badges of honor, I just stood there and watched as these gentlemen picked themselves up and dusted themselves off. (It was interesting to note that all four checked their bikes for damage before they checked themselves out. Good priorities.) Ended up it was a guided trip. The first man to crash was the guide, and the last three to crash were guests from somewhere back East. All four seemed happy as pigs in slop, despite, or perhaps because of, their mishaps. “Man, I crash at the same spot every single time I go through here,” the guide effused, shaking his head and smiling. As far as I could tell, this man physically consisted of but two substances: bone and muscle, with some extra muscle on top of his extra muscle. His calves were the size of watermelons, his quads the size of Jeeps and his biceps the size of refrigerators. As we chatted there on the trail, I tried sans success to suck my early-season paunch in. The man asked where I was hiking to, and when I told him Durango, his jaw dropped. When I further mentioned that I planned to be on the trail for six weeks, he just shook his head. “Man, I tried backpacking for the first time a couple weekends ago, and I could not believe how hard it was. It kicked my ass so bad, I don’t think I’ll ever carry a pack again.” Ended up that the trip he was describing was only 20 miles long. Yet, he went on and on about how sore his hips were, about how his back ached for days afterward, about how his shoulders felt like they’d been thrashed by a lead pipe. “The really hard thing was that, after carrying that damned pack all day, even though I was too tired and sore to move, I had to set up camp, cook, eat nasty dehydrated food, do dishes, bathe in a freezing stream and sleep on the ground. You backpackers are the toughest people I know.” Now, if this diatribe, this verbal ode to the difficulty of backpacking, had streamed from the mouth of some pudgy schlub from Cleveland, I would, of course, have taken it with a grain of salt. But the fact that the words were being uttered by a man who looked like he could bench press me while simultaneously riding his mountain bike up the side of 2,000-foot cliff face caused me, as I made my way up the trail, to scratch my noggin over the entire nature of backpacking. This was not the first time I have given thought to backpacking in the context of “why, then, if it is so damned hard, do so many of us continue to do it?” The mountain biker I passed on the Colorado Trail is not the first person who I have heard talking about the sometimes horrible difficulty of backpacking. My wife, as but one random example, has mentioned on more than one occasion as she’s following me along yet another seemingly endless wilderness trail how demanding she considers the entire process of schlepping a pack up and down mountains all day. She considers it worth the effort, though, because she likes camping in the deepest backcountry. My spousal unit deals with the discomfort of carrying a pack through the woods because getting to remote locales is worth the physical effort. To visit beauteous country is the most obvious answer to the question of why backpackers backpack. There are other fairly stock answers: We do it to get as far away from civilization as possible in a few days, to purge the foul stench of urban living from our bodies and souls, to re-connect with nature, to try to rid ourselves of our beer guts, etc. But, for those of us who can lay claim to the dubious label of “backpacking devotees/aficionados/bums/junkies,” there’s even more to the equation. Backpacking — especially of the long-distance, long-duration variety — is an activity that requires Zen-like, mind-over-matter-type discipline, the ability and desire to put one foot after another for mile after mile, day after day, no matter the conditions, the circumstances or how you feel. If you get up in the morning and it’s freezing, snowing and blowing and you’re running low on food and it’s 34 miles to the next supply drop, there’s no hitting the snooze button and going back to sleep. There’s no deciding to stay home today instead of hitting the trail, because the trail is home. No matter how poorly you slept, how many blisters you boast, how inflamed the tendons in your knees are, no matter that your hemorrhoids are acting up and that the only thing you’ve eaten for the last two days is plain instant rice, you’ve got to hoist that horrible thing known as your pack and make you way up the trail. Then, 15 or 20 miles later, you’ve got to find a tent site in the rain, wash up in a frigid river, change into your least-disgusting clothing, eat yet another tantalizing bowl of plain instant rice, wash your dishes in the dark while the mosquitoes have their way with your hide and crawl into a wet tent that smells like 400 YMCA locker rooms condensed into one small nylon abode. As I made my way along the trail after talking to that mountain biker, I realized why idiots like me backpack despite the hardships presented by backpacking: We do it BECAUSE of those hardships, because of the feeling we get from overcoming pain and discomfort, dealing with unfathomable filth and eating food your dog wouldn’t even look at. Things that are hard are things that we ought to seek out with a vengeance — especially if the reward is finding yourself atop a distant mountain that can only be reached by carrying a heavy pack and walking along a long, hard trail. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to ride my mountain bike. There’s this one damned stretch of trail near where I live that, try though I might, I have never been able to negotiate without mishap. By god, this is the year!

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Judgmental

It was an unexpected honor, after having lived back in Silver City for only a year, to be asked to serve as one of the judges for our annual Christmas Parade. The panel, I was informed, would consist solely of local media people, which I guess I was, though, truth be told, given my inclination toward living both off and below the radar in Gila Country, I was a bit surprised that the judge-selection folks even knew of my existence. Sure, we distribute Mountain Gazettes hereabouts, but not many, and only in a few locations. Still, I answered in the affirmative, telling the gentleman who had contacted me that I was a perfect choice, not only because of my media connections but also because I had considerable experience serving as an events judge. Therefore, I explained, I was well versed in how to surreptitiously pocket bribes without arousing any suspicion on the part of any parade participants who did not have the foresight to lubricate my decision-making process, or, for that matter, those whose attempts to sway my easily sway-able scoring were not up to satisfactory snuff. The man giggled a kind of nervous giggle I have heard many times in my life, a giggle that said, essentially, “I wonder what I just got myself into here dealing with the likes of Fayhee.” It was the sort of nervous giggle I heard from the man I hired to be the accountant for the Mountain Gazette when we first relaunched the magazine in 2000 when I asked, before we had even properly introduced ourselves, if he (a retired IRS employee, I should point out) charged extra for bribing the IRS. The first summer I lived in Summit County, Colorado, I was asked to be a judge for Frisco’s Independence Day parade, which is a major part of one of the biggest Fourth of July festivals in the Rockies. I was humbled, believing that such an invite was an indication that, after less than a year of local residency, I had achieved insider status. I did not learn till later that I was asked as a last resort, only because the first 43 people said ixnay. Still, being ushered to my seat on the judging stand, which bore a striking resemblance to an elevated, and well-used, bingo table, was cause for a certain amount of chest puffing on my part. And all the more so because, shortly after having been asked to be a judge, my inner diva requested — nay: demanded — that a quantity of beer sufficient to meet the rigorous demands of parade judging be made available to my august personage right there on the well-used bingo table. And not just any beer: Fat Tire, thank-you very much. And, much to my surprise and delight, when I ascended my lofty perch, there, right behind my chair, was not just Fat Tire beer, but an entire washtub filled to brimming with bottles of Fat Tire immersed in a sea of ice. Even better, since the other judges seemed disinclined to partake, that tub of cerveza was mine, all mine! And even better than that: The whole week before, I had been running stories in the Summit Up section of the Summit Daily News, for which I then worked, letting everyone know in unambiguous terms that I planned to be a judge very open to bribery. Now, I understand that, in many places, admitting in public to one’s proclivity toward overt corruption — especially in the context of something as holy as a Fourth of July parade — would likely have been received in a whole bunch of different ways, all of them negative. But in Frisco, such an admission was greeted with a veritable parade of folks apparently perfectly comfortable with the idea of bribing a parade judge. Schwag as diverse as boxes of cookies, cases of beer and baggies of weed streamed into my office all week, Then, at the parade itself, I could not keep track of the goodies being proffered. I felt like a low-rent Roman emperor getting trunks of tribute laid at my feet. It will come as no surprise to learn that I had a truly great time, though, sadly, by the time the parade ended, I was scarcely able to stand, much less remember who had bribed me with what for what. A couple years after that, I was invited to be a judge for Copper Mountain Ski Resort’s Eenie Weenie Bikini Contest, an annual rite of spring that fell victim to the ski industry’s lamentable devolution toward “family-friendliness.” Once again, I made what I thought was a very reasonable request for on-site beverages, and, once again, I let everyone know that my middle name forthwith was “Venal.” This go-round I was given movie tickets, a couple of casino packages, some ski gear and boxes of cookies, cases of beer and baggies of weed. A cooler filled to brimming with beer awaited me in the booth, which I shared with three other judges, all of whom were players for the Denver Broncos. One was a kicker (it might have been Rich Karlis) and the other two were back-up linebacker/special-teams types whose names I did not recognize (my sisters-in-law, die-hard Broncos fans since their pre-natal days, on the other hand, did recognize those names, and they were near-bouts mortified to learn that, since, I was the only one imbibing in the booth, I became almost stunningly inebriated in the presence of royalty). (The reason there were three Broncos in the booth with me (or, better stated, I was in the booth with them) was that the Eenie Weenie Bikini Contest was part of a larger event that John Elway had something to do with. (Though he owned a second home in Summit County for many years, that day marked the only time I ever saw Saint John in person).) By the time that Eenie Weenie Bikini Contest winners were crowned (they bore a striking, if not coincidental, resemblance to the people who had laid the best bribery packages on me), I was starting to think about becoming a professional event judge. Couple years later, I was asked by people who obviously were not students of recent local history to be a judge for Frisco’s annual Christmas Lighting Contest. This go-round, I did not even have to mention my need for at-hand liquid refreshment. Nor did I have to advertise my corruptible nature. The bribes started streaming into the Summit Daily’s office in almost stunning profusion. Matter of fact, there was enough in the way of bribes that I was able to re-gift much of the tribute, thus saving on Christmas season expenditures. This was great! There were three other judges and one town employee crammed into a car with a case of beer, which no one beside me was drinking. The way this contest worked was that home- and business owners entered themselves in advance, and we drove around visiting all the addresses, awarding points in several categories that now escape me. (They likely escaped me then and there as well.) It might have been the nippiness of the season, but I found myself consuming what very well might have been an inordinate quantity of beer. That not-exactly-stunning indiscretion caused me to have to request an abrupt pit stop. Sadly, we were right then in the middle of the kind of new high-class subdivision that, even before it is fully complete, spells sociological doom for one’s heretofore humble hamlet. The mortified driver pulled over and I hopped out of the car and relieved myself right in front of a gaudy residence that had entered itself into our Christmas Light contest with a strategy apparently based on the philosophy of “more is better.” This was a house lit up with holiday illumination to the degree that astronauts orbiting in the space station might look down toward Earth and wonder if there was not perhaps a nuclear power plant right then melting down in the midst of the majestic Rockies. That house produced enough in the way of lumens that the homeowner, looking out the front window to investigate the vehicle idling in the street, was easily able to discern a man urinating in the snow bank. There was of course no way that homeowner could have known that the urinating man was, of all things, one of the judges of the contest she had obviously worked so hard to win. Had she known that, perhaps she would have moved to a more civilized town. But she did not know, and, therefore, she did the only thing people who live in those kinds of subdivisions know how to do: she called the police. (The other thing she did not know was that the urinator-in-question was a member of the local Police Citizens’ Advisory Committee.) So, before we even get to the next lighted house on our list, we get pulled by one of Frisco’s finest, responding to a complaint of someone draining in one of the most well-coifed neighborhoods between Vail and Evergreen. The young cop was somewhat taken aback to see a town employee at the wheel, sitting next to what remained of a case of beer, with empties rolling unencumbered around on the floor, with a member of the police committee — who, it turned out, was the culprit — in the back seat. The look on his face bespoke a heartfelt desire to be anywhere else on the planet. We were sent upon our merry way without so much as a finger-wagging. This much I can tell you: The woman who called the cops on us (well, on me) did NOT win the Christmas Lighting Contest. Not long after, I moved back down to Gila Country, where I was asked to continue my event-judging career. (Word of my judging acumen had obviously preceded me.) Since I was new to town, I showed up at the appointed time carrying with me two six packs of New Belgium’s finest amber ale, figuring it would be tacky of me to make any demands on the parade organizers until they got to know me a bit better. When my fellow judges saw the beer, they arched backwards so significantly I thought they were going to tumble ass-over-teakettle off the dais. Their eyes were wide and their mouths agape. And I’m standing there smacking myself in the forehead, thinking, “Of course! This is New Mexico! I should have bought tequila!” I apologized profusely for my oversight and said that, since there was plenty of time before the parade commenced, I would be happy to run over to the Food Basket for some Patron. That’s when the parade organizer ran up to me so panicked, I thought he was going to choke on his tongue. “You … you … you … can’t have beer here!” he gasped, much the same way, I suspect, a priest would talk to the devil during an exorcism. With much in the way of befuddlement, I returned those two six packs to my vehicle. I poured a beer into a to-go coffee mug and returned to the dais. My fellow judges scooted their chairs as far away from me as they could without falling off onto the sidewalk. It was a chilly night. Finally, one of my fellow judges overcame her obvious aversion to my very existence and asked if she could have a sip of my coffee to warm up a bit. “Uh, it’s not exactly coffee,” I responded, sheepishly. She recoiled. Halfway through the parade, trying to thaw the ice, I said, “So, what kinds of bribes do you folks usually get from parade contestants?” I could have shit my pants and received a more cordial reaction. I was shunned. I was not even invited to attend the ballot-counting gathering after the parade, though I showed up anyhow. “We’re concerned that you might have accepted some bribes,” I was told, as the ballots were slid away from me. And I’m standing there thinking, “Well, I guess my event-judging career is now over.” Which is an irony, since this was the only event I had ever judged where I did not accept bribes and where I was pretty much sober. That experience might rise to the level of irony.

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Wildfires and a Complacent Media

When I was sent by Backpacker magazine to “cover” the Yellowstone fires in 1988, I opted, instead, to cover the media’s coverage of those fires. When I announced this deviation from the standard media norm to one of Yellowstone’s communications people — a lady who was literally frayed to the core from the two-month onslaught of interview requests — she was so appreciative, I thought she was going to kiss me right on the lips. She had been working day and night trying, and mostly failing, to make supposedly professional people, holding notebooks, microphones and cameras, understand basic wildfire dynamics, to make people understand, and then to relate that understanding to readers, viewers and listeners, that there are gradations and variations on the wildfire theme. She was trying to make people understand that, mighty though those wildfires were, Yellowstone was not incinerated. She would address the panting press masses, carefully articulating her obviously well-chosen words very slowly, saying something like, “And, within the fire perimeters, only 11 percent of the burn areas are of moderate intensity of higher.” And, ALWAYS, the first question out of the mouth of the first dumb shit reporter parting his or her lips would be something like: “So, Yellowstone is pretty much totally incinerated, huh?” The poor communications specialist would just bite her lip and sigh. As these words are being penned, the largest wildfire in New Mexico history is still active right on the other side of the ridge directly to the west of my house. There have been hundreds of homes burned over near Ruidoso and outside Fort Collins. It is still June, and the wildfire season is already considered “very bad.” Because so much fire has transpired so close to the town in which I hang my hat, I have found myself doing the erstwhile unthinkable: turning on the usually vapid Albuquerque TV news (if it bleeds, it leads) and reading local newspapers, trying to learn if I ought to be preparing for imminent evacuation. What I have found is that, in the almost 25 years since the Yellowstone fires, the media is as awful — and lazy — as ever when it comes to covering wildfires. I mean, what ever happened to the concept journalistic curiosity? Anyhow, while not trying to even a nanosecond to minimize the destruction to human habitat sometimes caused by wildfires, here are a few things to think about next time you’re tuning into a news report dealing with wildfire being delivered by a perky, well-coiffed teenager whose vocational ceiling ought to be, but, sadly, probably isn’t, very low. First things first. The acreage figures used to describe the size of wildfires are, in reality, areas contained within wildfire perimeters. Wildfire perimeters are calculated using Global Positioning System (GPS) technology combined with observations, mapping and photography gleaned from aerial overflights and ground-truthing. Fire size is then calculated using Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Thing is, significant areas within a given fire perimeter might not have actually been burned. Depending on the size of the unburned islands within a wildfire perimeter, they are usually counted in the total acreage for the fire. Therefore, fire “sizes” released to the public and regurgitated by the media are often inaccurate. Next, the public is often told, usually by a media that is little inclined to investigate further, that certain acreage within a fire perimeter has been “burned,” “scorched” or “destroyed” (pick your Armageddon-like synonym). Ignoring for a moment that wildfire is a perfectly natural component of ecosystem regeneration, those terms are inaccurate, or at least not accurate enough for use by fire scientists. After a wildfire is contained, the U.S. Forest Service, generally the lead federal agency when it comes to fighting wildfires — even if those fires move onto private land or public land administered by other governmental agencies — issues a Burned Area Report. On-ground observations regarding depth and color of ashes, size and amount of live fuels consumed, litter consumption, plant root crowns and soil crusting are all included in mapping what are called “intensity zones.” Areas within a wildfire perimeter are classified as either: • Low-intensity fire. These are areas that are minimally enough impacted by the fire that they usually do not even contribute to what the Forest Service calls an emergency watershed condition. As a matter of fact, areas of low fire intensity often act as buffers to moderate flood hazards that may originate in more intensively burned areas. Low-intensity wildfires usually occur on rangeland. Within low-intensity wildfire perimeters, duff and debris are only partly burned, soil remains a normal color, hydrophobicity (the soil’s inclination to repel water) is low to absent and standing trees may have some green needles. Land experiencing low-intensity fires can expect that root crowns and surface roots will re-sprout within one year, and water infiltration and erosion potential are not significantly changed from pre-fire conditions. • Moderate-intensity fire. This classification indicates that high-intensity burns are found on less than 40 percent of the affected area. A moderate-intensity rating alerts fire teams that the designated zone is a potential flood source area, as one of the biggest post-wildfire concerns is flooding due to a diminishment of ground cover. Moderate-intensity wildfires primarily occur on steep, lightly timbered slopes with grass, and they often cause some erosion. Within moderate-intensity wildfire perimeters, duff is consumed, burned needles are evident, ash is generally dark colored, hydrophobicity is low to medium on surface soil up to one inch deep, shrub stumps and small fuels are charred, but present and standing trees are blackened but are not charcoal. Land experiencing moderate-intensity wildfires can expect that root crowns will usually re-sprout, roots and rhizomes below one inch will re-sprout, and most perennial grasses will re-sprout. Vegetative recovery in a moderate-intensity wildfire zone is one to five years. • High-intensity fire. This rating indicates that high-intensity fire has occurred on more than 40 percent of the area within the wildfire perimeter. High-intensity wildfires primarily occur in unprotected drainages on steep, timbered, north or east slopes with a dense forest canopy. They are primarily defined by the ominous words: “natural recovery limited.” Within high-intensity wildfire zones, the duff is totally consumed; ash is uniformly gray or white; no shrub stumps or small fuels remain; hydrophobicity is up to two inches deep; soil is darkened two to four inches deep and often is reddish in color; the soil is crusted, crystallized and agglomerated; roots are burned two to four inches deep; and standing trees have been turned to charcoal at least one inch deep (meaning that they are dust from a mortality perspective). Land experiencing high-intensity wildfires can expect that soil productivity will be significantly reduced and that only roots and rhizomes located in deep soil will re-sprout. Vegetative recovery in a high-intensity wildfire zone is 5 to 10 years, and soil erosion is a significant concern.

Fayhee’s latest post: The Fire Rings of Halfmoon Creek

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Rolodexia

It would not surprise me one bit, as I sit here way off the cultural mainstream grid in southwest New Mexico, if most people under the age of, say, 40 (maybe 50) have no idea what a Rolodex even is anymore. In an age where digitized address books are located on electronic devices the size of credit cards, the notion of having a fairly large analog (to say the least) piece of hardware taking up space on one’s desk seems antiquated, inefficient and maybe even quaint. It will also likely surprise no one to hear that I have, directly to the left of my desktop computer, yes, an old Rolodex that does not just serve the purpose of reminding me that, not long ago, the world was not completely digitalized. I actually still use the bugger, which I bought when we first re-birthed the Mountain Gazette in 2000. For many years now, I have thought about simply moving all that information onto my computer, which would clear up my desk, which, when I’m ass deep in the middle of a big project, never seems to have enough surface area. I have trouble talking myself into doing that because I would likely then feel compelled to toss the Rolodex into the trash, and, between the “A” and “Z” tabs lie not just the usual business and personal information necessary to maintain connections with people that transcend Facebook quips. You see, within the confines of my Rolodex lies information about a slew of people I could not utilize in the traditional sense even if I wanted to. When I learned two weeks ago about the recent passing of long-time Mountain Gazette writer Cal Glover, I chalked up yet another deceased resident of the Fayhee Rolodex. Not to be morbid, but it’s getting to the point where the dead are outnumbering the living in my Rolodex. I now have 13 deceased people (and five deceased entities) listed in my Rolodex, and those listings amount to something of a Who’s Who? of mountain culture. • Though he passed more than a decade before we re-birth the MG, the first casualty listed in my Rolodex is none other than Edward Abbey, though it’s his last wife, Clarke, whose contact information I have. Clarke was more than gracious when we put together “When in Doubt Go Higher: The Mountain Gazette Anthology.” She gave us permission to use, “Where’s Tonto?” the article that, shortly after it first saw print in the 1970s, became a little tome you might have heard of: “The Monkey Wrench Gang.” • Karen Chamberlain was for the first five years of our resurrection MG’s poetry editor. She remains one of the most critically acclaimed poets in modern Colorado history. She was also the wife of Bob Chamberlain, the best black-and-white mountain photographer who has ever drawn breath and whose page, Bob Chamberlain’s Mountain Vision, appears in MG every month. • Barry Corbet is the man Mike Moore actually hired to write the introductory essay for the very first issue of MG in Sept. 1972. Corbet spent much of his adult life in a wheelchair, the result of a freak helicopter-skiing accident. He is perhaps best remembered these days as having Corbet’s Couloir ski run at Jackson Hole named after him. • Donna Dowling: The wife of Curtis Robinson, my partner in MG crime. Donna passed away only a couple years after we resurrected the MG. Among other professional feathers-in-her cap, Donna helped launch the Roaring Fork Sunday newspaper, which, until it was swallowed up by a corporate newspaper chain that eventually shut it down, served as one of the last true independent media voices in the Colorado High Country. Donna is also credited with helping Hunter S. Thompson come up with the idea of folding his voluminous stash of personal letters into book form. • Joseph Mills Fayhee, my dad, passed away literally one month before our re-launch issue hit the streets. I attended his memorial service in Tucson with my Jeep loaded to the rafters with copies of MG #78, the cover of which featured, of all things, a mock grave. Though my dad and I barely knew each other, we were just getting to the point where bygones were starting to become bygones when he died. • Cal Glover is the most-recent MG tribe member to pass away. The owner/operator of Callowishus Park Tours in Yellowstone, Cal was a mountain runner who is said to have logged 38,000 miles on foot. He also competed in several Pikes Peak Marathons. • John Jerome’s legacy with MG goes back to its days as Skiers Gazette. Jerome was the author of many books, including “Truck,” which was excerpted in MG in the ’70s. He was also the anonymous author of MG’s old NED column. • Kurt Logan was our Arkansas River Valley ad sales person for many years. An avid skier, mostly at Monarch, Kurt was the only real grown-up we had on our payroll back when I still owned the MG. • Marlene Walker was my mother’s younger sister. Whenever I went to England to visit family, I stayed with Auntie Marlene, who was, true to my mom’s clan, one wild lady. I often communicate with her three kids, my cousins. • Ellen Meloy, whose “Anthropology of Turquoise” was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, just had her first piece published in MG when she passed away. We had reached an agreement wherein she was to provide us with two subsequent pieces. I once did a reading at Back of Beyond Bookstore in Moab. After the reading a bunch of us retired to the Poplar Place for libations. Ellen dropped by and said how sorry she was that she missed the reading, but something had come up. Still, she drove all the way up from her home in Bluff just to pay her respects. • Dave Oskin was the owner of Big Earth Publishing in Boulder, which owns Johnson Books and Westcliffe Publishing. A few years ago, I signed a contract with Westcliffe to do a massive book project and it turned out, though no fault of Dave’s, to be the single worst experience I have ever had in my professional life. It got so bad, I finally pulled the project from Westcliffe. Many are the publishing company owners who would have made my life difficult at that point. Dave, though, was very understanding and what had been a suck episode at least ended amicably because of Dave’s great personality. • It would probably be inaccurate to say that Galen Rowell’s career as a photographer and writer got started with MG in the ’70s, but it’s probably not too big a stretch to say just that. Much of Galen’s early work, where he was just getting his voice as a photojournalist/essaying, appeared in MG’s pages. Indeed, the first excerpts from his seminal book, “In the Throne Room of the Mountain Gods,” were unveiled in our pages. When we resurrected, Galen was highly supportive and even let us use one of his photographs on the cover of “When in Doubt Go Higher.” • Many MG fans rightfully look at Edward Abbey as the biggest voice that has ever graced our pages. It surprises people to learn that we actually had a closer connection in many ways to Hunter S. Thompson. George Stranahan, the heart and soul of MG since 1972, actually sold Hunter the land the became Dr. Gonzo’s infamous Owl Creek Farm. George and Hunter lived next door to each other for years. George also used to own the Woody Creek Tavern, where Hunter often imbibed. Because of the friendship between Curtis Robinson/Donna Dowling and Hunter, we were able to get our hands on three original Hunter stories. According to Curtis, Hunter had a poster of one of MG’s covers on his kitchen wall (sadly, I do not know which; though I met Hunter twice, I never visited his house, though I was once invited). He was also a subscriber. My wife says it’s bad feng shui to keep death at close quarters. But I cannot make myself part with my Rolodex. The cards I have in my Rolodex serve as testaments, certainly, to my personal history, and certainly, to MG’s history. There are also a lot of connections to the literary history of the West. It’s my guess that I’ll keep my Rolodex as it is, knowing full well that, at some point, the cards containing connections only to the hereafter will one day outnumber the cards of the living. Perhaps it’s a tad macabre, but I like occasionally thumbing through my Rolodex and remembering the notes I got from John Jerome and Galen Rowell congratulating me on the MG’s long-awaited resurrection, and the time Ellen Meloy drove to Moab to say howdy, and the time Dave Oskin sincerely wished me good luck after a two-year book project tanked. Nothing wrong with that, methinks.

A bushwhacker’s lament

In the early ’90s, I was made aware, through my normal mud-covered journalistic channels, that what is now known as the Leave No Trace ethic/code/credo/religion was in the process of being formalized, institutionalized and, ultimately, canonized. Being a tried-and-true devotee of what had long been known generically as “minimum-impact” backcountry travel (carry your beer cans out; don’t pour your bong water directly into the stream), I was both enthused and made curious, even nervous, by the fact that, with the advent of Leave No Trace, for the first time ever, all sorts of entities — from our federal land stewardship agencies to wilderness education institutions to hiking clubs — would be landing more-or-less on the same philosophical page when it came to specifically telling folks how they ought to comport themselves while making their way through woods, over mountains, down rivers and across deserts. As the LNT gestation process was transpiring, one of the potential tenets in particular caught my attention: “Travel upon durable surfaces” — meaning, of course, if you’re going to tromp through the backcountry, do so only on designated trails, jeep tracks and roads. As the original LNT tenets — there ended up being six, out of a potential pool of at least 15 — were being debated, I sat in my office with the same feeling in my gut that some wife-coveter sitting at the foot of Mount Sinai when Moses made the world’s most-famous first ascent must have felt. “Please, don’t let the simple fact that I covet my neighbor’s wife be a Big Time No No.” Well, at the moment the “durable trails” tenet was chiseled into the original LNT stone tablets, I became something of an environmental transgressor, a backpack-wearing neighbor’s wife coveter. For, you see, I am, and have always been, an avid bushwhacker, one who goes out of his way to hike upon turf with a decided lack of “durable surfaces” (though, now that I ponder this, it seems to me that the main areas through which I have spent the last 36 years tromping — mainly the Colorado Rockies and New Mexico’s Gila Country — are pretty durable). Not only off the beaten track, but as far off as possible. Sorta like a hiking equivalent of off-off-off Broadway. As a matter of fact, time was when I considered backcountry terrain that contained anything even resembling a “durable surface” to be contaminated, a place appropriate only for the visitations of pudgy families-of-four from some wretched Ohio suburb. In those days, if I accidentally came across a trail while making my way through the hills, even if it was long-abandoned and adorned with the desiccated skeletal remains of the last passersby, I beelined in a completely different direction, grumbling about the omnipresent evidence of civilization. In those days, such an attitude was considered nothing out of the ordinary among my gnarly and unwashed backpacking compadres in southwest New Mexico, where I then dwelled and where I now dwell again. These days, however, bushwhacking is considered, if not a bona fide backcountry sin, then at least a major-league ill-advised decision, a decision that, in the eyes of the LNT Powers That Be, necessitates a visit to a re-education camp. Folks from Boulder (where, not surprisingly, LNT is now headquartered) who know (or even suspect) that you’ve been bushwhacking give you that nose-in-the-air disingenuous look that makes mountain dwellers want to skewer people from the People’s Republic with a trekking pole. Since LNT adopted its “durable surface” tenet, I have, out of a combination of guilt and obligation, cut way back on my off-trail forays, though, like addicts of all stripes, I have been unable to totally break with my habit of straying off the beaten path. I try to persuade myself as I’m making my way into the High Country nirvana that surrounds my home that I should keep my Vasques firmly planted upon designated trails, thus following in the footsteps of thousands of hikers before me. Yet, often, I look down and notice that my feet are straying, seemingly of their own volition, from anything even resembling a durable surface. Along trail-free ridges, up arroyos and drainages, down into canyons. Then, several hours or days later, I notice that I’m in the middle of some wonderful boondock place that sports little if any evidence that anyone has ever before been there. Like most sinners, I make my way through life with a combination of justification, rationalization, denial and a fruitless search for philosophical penance. I understand that, according to the high priests of Leave No Trace, the most significant impact a place feels is when the first bootprints blemish it. I understand that, in many places — such as the cryptobiotic-soil-rich regions of southern Utah — even one flirtation with bushwhacking can irreversibly harm a part of the natural environment. I understand that, by limiting our backcountry experiences to established trails and roads, we leave wildlife with islands of habitation relatively undisturbed by human scum, such as yours truly. Still, eyeballing the Leave No Trace tenets that are posted at near-bouts every trailhead these days, I know that, as I hoist my pack and begin making my way into the backcountry, there is a better-than-even chance I will stray — literally and figuratively — from the path of righteousness. And I reflect upon the experiences I have had in the backcountry that came about solely because I had left the trail. Like the time I came upon a bear momma and her two cubs frolicking in a sun-dabbled meadow in northern Arizona. The time I found a long-abandoned cave dwelling that had not been catalogued before in the Gila. The time I stumbled — almost literally — upon a wild tribe of skinny-dipping co-eds in Shenandoah National Park. I will always bushwhack; I can’t help myself. But, while so doing, I try to minimize my presence and my impact. (Or at least I tell myself I do.) If I’m in the Utah desert, I’ll avoid cryptobiotic soil like it’s acid (battery acid, I should say). In the tundra, I generally bushwhack by my lonesome, and I rarely relate my itinerary or destination to my muchachos. I avoid bushwhacking through riparian areas. I never build fires when I’m away from established fire-building areas. Etc. etc. In the end, of course, it all becomes a pain in the ass. We can only minimize our presence in the natural world so much. When bushwhacking, it’s important to be on our very, very best backcountry behavior. I know how lame that may sound, but, without bushwhacking, without straying from the trail (again, literal and figurative), there is no real exploration, and, without real exploration, many of us spiritually wither away and die. And, besides, rarely do wild tribes of co-eds skinny dip in close proximity to durable surfaces. Damned shame.  

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Recreational NIMBYism

There are two artificial urban-planning constructs/concepts that have integrated themselves so deeply into every development debate in the West in the past decade that one can scarcely remember a time when they were not invoked, scripture-like. The first, of course, is “New Urbanism.” The second is “sustainability.” You can propose building a new plutonium-waste-burning plant right next door to an elementary school, and as long as you tell your local planning commission that the facility will have such New-Urban mainstays as a faux front porch and a detached garage out back on the alley, then the would-be plutonium burners will get an automatic argumentative leg-up in every town from Kalispell to Bisbee. (Extra points for a white picket fence.) And, if the developer can find a way to add “sustainable” to the site plan, then all that’s left to do is to start hauling the plutonium. (“Yes, Mr. Planning Commission Person, every molecule of the plutonium we burn will be sustainable, as will the fake wood we import from Chile to make the front porches and picket fences.”) There is simultaneously a flipside construct/concept that likewise has made its way into well nigh every development debate on the face of the planet. Even if one is to limit his or her arguments against said plutonium-waste-burning plant to the obvious: That such a facility, like most other developments that lay claim to the term, has absolutely zero of the necessary components of true New Urbanism as defined and stipulated by the Congress for New Urbanism, and that there is no way on earth that anything save mud huts, hunting and gathering and primitive agriculture can lay claim to being denotatively “sustainable,” you will instantly find yourself on the receiving end of accusations based upon an abbreviation that has become much more than a simple acronym: NIMBY. It’s like the witch hunts in Salem: Once someone points a crooked finger your way and denounces your perspectives as NIMBY-esque in nature, then you might as well run down to your local body-art parlor and have the letter “N” tattooed on your forehead in bright red ink. At that point in the development debate, you can pull out scads of stats regarding the likely impacts of the burning of plutonium on the health and well being of the proximate elementary school tikes, and your assertions will be summarily dismissed as the self-centered (and maybe even lunatic) ravings of nothing more than an unholy NIMBYist. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest published use of the acronym/term, “NIMBY” — which, of course, means “Not In My Back Yard” — occurred in the “Christian Science Monitor” in 1980. Wikipedia states, “ … the term is usually applied to opponents of a certain development, implying that those opponents have narrow, selfish or myopic views. Therefore, NIMBY is generally used as a pejorative.” I was involved a few years back in a very contentious battle against the notion of having a Home Depot built in the town in which I then dwelled, and a significant percentage of the opposition to our opposition was centered upon the accusation of NIMBYism, despite the fact that, in a small mountain town of 2,400 people, there were very few of us who could not claim potential back yard status towards virtually anything that was being proposed within the boundaries of our humble hamlet and despite the fact that we actually graphed a town map showing where the members of our anti-Home Depot organization lived and — you guessed it — most of us dwelled on the complete other side of town. There are at least three contentious development debates I know of that are going on in Mountain Country right now wherein those who favor the developments are accusing those opposed as being NIMBYists. These days, it’s like a gag reflex among unrepentant land rapists. And here’s my take on it: First, any of us have the right to favor or oppose something — especially something noxious — for any reason or reasons we so desire. We do not have to couch our perspectives, or feel badly about having those perspectives, just because of generic accusations often made by unimaginative people who are operating under their own selfish agenda (usually an agenda that includes personal fiscal gain). And, second, NIMBYism is the most fundamental, rational and therefore justified response to any proposal in the world, regardless of the supposed “greater good” that so many people cite when castigating supposed NIMBYists. Yeah, there’s little doubt that almost every town could benefit mightily from having a new, state-of-the-art halfway house for (hopefully) reformed sex offenders. You propose putting it right in my back yard, or even my part of town, and I’m going to offer a counter-proposal: That we put in it YOUR back yard. The pejorative accusation of NIMBYism needs to cease and desist, especially in the small towns of the West, where, when you get right down to it, everything is in the back yard of all of us. The reflexive accusation of NIMBYism too often these days dilutes more-earnest public dialogue about the projects that most often have community-wide effects. And, more than that, the accusation is a flat-out insult that, by its mere use, makes a lot of people even more inclined to dig their heels in and fight for the sanctity of their back yard, the most important piece of real estate on earth.  

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