Higher, Ever Higher

Cartographic Map

People and various critters aren’t the only things that climb or seek gratification via highness. And contrary to the core beliefs of the Mountain Gazette, higher isn’t always better. We’ve got climbing debt, climbing temperatures and climbing tempers for starters. And then there are the deathless arguments regarding all things marijuana.

1) Up with the climate

Washington stands alone as the only state in the U.S. that had below-normal temperatures for March, which was the all-time warmest on record. Twenty-five states reported record heat climbs, with Colorado, Wyoming and Montana scoring their third-highest temperatures for March and ranking “much above normal” by NOAA. Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico ranked as “above normal,” with California and Oregon coming in at “near normal.” The second-warmest March was back in 1910, well before all this hooey about climate change.

2) The lows of getting high

We saw this coming, no? Colorado lawmakers are recognizing that a) people smoke marijuana, b) they drive cars and c) sometimes there’s cross-pollination. Ergo, the state senate is once again (a similar measure failed last year) moving toward THC blood standards for drivers. Colorado, which already has drugged-driving laws that cover cannabis, is looking at a 5 nanogram THC limit. Activists say blood tests are invasive and inaccurate; proponents of the Senate Bill 117 are arguing what you’d pretty much expect — that stoned drivers are a menace. “I’m just sick of the abuse that the state of Colorado has taken from the medical marijuana industry,” said Sen. Nancy Spence, (R) Centennial. Adding to the chorus: “We are well on our way to a doped-driving epidemic that will match the DUI epidemic that we had 15 and 20 years ago,” said sponsor Sen. Steve King, (R) Grand Junction. Denver Democrat Pat Steadman, however, pointed out that some folks get up in the morning with 5 nanograms in their systems, but they’re not high. Such is the nature of the lasting, fat-soluble THC. Right now, 12 states have THC-limit laws. Other states have zero-tolerance policies.

3) You’d think Wyoming would use that space

While we’re on the topic, we’ll throw in this shocker: California produces more marijuana than any other state! The most-recent stats we found showed 21,667,609 plants produced in the state annually, and no, we have no idea whose job it was to count them. But interestingly, Tennessee and Kentucky hold their own in second and third place, and Tennessee wins the plant-productivity battle, with a stout $706.18 per plant, according to cannacentral.com. Not too surprisingly, Wyoming is one of the worst places for marijuana, with the 49th-worst stats for plants and pounds yielded, and the worst stats for plants and revenue per square mile. While Hawaii is the square-mile champion at $594,676.78, Wyoming’s wide-open spaces ain’t so much: $21.49.

4) Big spendahs

With a scant population of 127, the town of Brian, Utah, has some explaining to do for its $22.15 million in liabilities and the average debt per person at $174,409.45. What’s going on? Town honchos explain that Brian has had to pay for the infrastructure for 1,400 vacation-dwelling units, for starters. Evidently, water projects, public buildings and road improvements just cost a lot here, and with the really little population, those numbers can easily look out of whack. Park City comes in a distant second place in Utah’s climbing debt race, with just $15,427 in debt per person and liabilities of $116.6 million. In comparison, the pay-as-you-go city of Layton has a tidy debt per person of $352.

5) Touchy-feely and high

You can split hairs over this for hours — what constitutes a town or city and who’s the highest in the U.S. But all aside, it appears that Santa Fe takes the honors for the highest real “city” in the U.S. at 7,000 feet. Denver might get bent out of shape over this, since it’s the highest “major metro area” at 5,280, but we’re defining a “city” as a place that has a shopping mall, college, traffic, at least two entries in the racial mix, and a lot of places to drink. That precludes Alma (Colo.) at 10,578 and Leadville at 10,152.

6) Are we safe?

A study published in the Journal of Wilderness and Environmental Medicine analyzed 212,708 people who were treated for injuries sustained in Western outdoor activities. Snowboarding came in as the most dangerous, with 25.5 percent of all injuries, most of them among younger males. Rock and mountain climbing, however, accounted for a scant 4.9 percent. If you really want to geek out on this, get yourself the 2012 copy of Accidents in North American Mountaineering (available in August). That said, from a cardiovascular-numbskull standpoint, the 14-mile round-trip Half Dome in Yosemite National Park is arguably the most dangerous piece of terrain in the U.S. This is because it’s a hike (the label enlists far more participants than a climb) that’s actually a climb, requiring cables if you don’t want to take a major slide. The granite dome snares about 4 million visitors a year, with a very small percentage making it to the top.

7) A speedy little devil

At 867 feet from base to top, Devil’s Tower isn’t the biggest game in the West, but the igneous intrusion is not the easiest, either. It typically takes 4-6 hours for two climbers to summit the Durrance route, and another 1-2 hours to rappel down. So how weird is it that in the 1980s, Wyoming native Todd Skinner climbed the Tower (Walt Bailey route) alone, without ropes or other protection, in 18 minutes?

Long-time newspaperhumanoid Tara Flanagan splits her time between Boulder and Breckenridge, Colo.

17 thoughts on “Higher, Ever Higher”

  1. Albuquerque’s official elevation is 5,326′.
    Denver’s official elevation is 5,280′.
    Albuquerque is 46′ higher and is the highest major metro area in the country, not Denver.
    Another fact: Coloradoans have never been accused of being geographically knowledgeable.

  2. First: It’s Coloradans, not Coloradoans.
    Second: There’s significant debate about whether there even exists such as thing as “official elevation” for any town. There are two main reasons for that:
    A) There’s a matter of who is doing the measuring. (In many places, it’s the state department of transportation, which always has its own survey crews.)
    B) There is no set standard regarding where within a city’s boundaries measurements are made. For many years, there was a gentlemen’s agreement that “official” elevations were measured from city hall or the post office. That gentlemen’s agreement has been falling by the wayside recently as several Colorado towns have jostled for the title of the nation’s highest-incorporated municipality. (Verily, most cities and towns have several “official” elevations listed. Silver City, where I live, has one elevation on the city limits sign coming in from the south and a different one coming from the east. Even elevation-conscious Leadville has at least three different elevations listed on various signs and in various literature.)
    The most common source for this type of information, of course, is the USGS.
    That said, in the center of Albuquerque at Central Ave., (Route 66), and San Pedro Dr. NE, there is a USGS brass cap that states that point is 5,280′ – one mile high. (Understand that I utilize a secondary source on this, as I have never laid eyes on the cap in question.) I have seen at least three other elevations listed for Albuquerque online.
    There has even been talk over the years about Albuquerque legally challenging Denver for the right to use “The Mile High City,” as it is an older city.
    Third, nice a place as Albuquerque is, there is likely going to be contention about whether it can be classified as a “major metro area.”
    Sincerely,
    MJF (24 years in Colorado, 11 years in NM)
    P.S.: I consider myself to be fairly geographically knowledgeable.

  3. To many people geography is a fuzzy concept. In a region where elevation is a favorite topic it may be easy for misconceptions to be accepted as fact. Having lived in Colorado for eleven years I have heard many false facts about my home state of New Mexico. One question I have frequently been asked is about living at elevation. Since most of my life has been spent at or above 7000′ a good answer might be that living at a lower elevation doesn’t bother me at all.
    Now personally, I could care less about Albuquerque but when I’ve been asked about my green card status I get worked up (I lost that thing swimming the Rio Grande).
    The Albuquerque city gov website was my source for 5,326′ elevation I stated as official. It also lists the metro area’s population as 867,318 lowlanders in 2010. In 1980 the USGS listed it as the 44th largest and the given elevation is at the now defunct courthouse is presumably no longer accurate. The elevation of the city ranges from 4,946 feet near the Rio Grande to 6,700 feet in the foothills.

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