Ode to the World's Best Traveled Man

Bruce Hayward Editor’s note: Dr. Bruce Hayward (1928-2011) was a long-time professor of biology at Western New Mexico University (my alma mater) in Silver City (my current home town). He was known in professional circles as one of the world’s foremost chiropterologists. As such, he was often referred to as “Batman.” Dr. Hayward was not only renowned, but very, very cool. He was a professor who got invited to student parties. More importantly, he was an educator who inspired those he taught, to the degree that many of his students opted to major in the sciences solely because of Bruce’s influence. At his outdoor memorial service last fall, on prominent display was the last in a long line of Bruce’s passports. As I as thumbing through it with a combination of awe and jealousy, Mark Erickson, a close friend of Bruce’s, said words to the effect of, “If you think the passport is impressive, you should see his journals.” Ends up that, as Mark indicated, Bruce had spent a lifetime not only visiting an estimated 150 countries (!!!) in all, but recording his journeys. By the time he passed away, those meticulously crafted journals filled seven giant file-cabinet-sized boxes! And that was just the first batch. Few professional writers produce that quantity of verbiage. Those journals would take first form by way of notes handwritten by Bruce while he was in the field. Upon returning home, he would transcribe his notes into typewritten form. Then he would bind the typewritten pages and add photos and memorabilia. The notes covered everything from scientific observations to observations about a given country’s culture. On the way home from Bruce’s memorial service, my creative juices started percolating. I borrowed a copy of Bruce’s last passport, which was set to expire this year, and my wife scanned in several of the more captivating pages. Then my friend Cat Stailey, a biology student at WNMU, spent many hours reading journals from trips that corresponded to the various stamps in Bruce’s final passport. Though it is an understatement to say the following package represents only the tip of the iceberg, we feel it satisfactorily represents the travels and the mindset of the world’s best-traveled man, a term I believe needs a bit of elucidation. Sure, there are people who have visited more countries than Bruce did, at least partially because there are lots of folks who collect passport stamps the same way peak-baggers collect mountain summits. But, Bruce’s journals show that traveling for him was more than just an effort visit as many countries as possible. Travel for Dr. Bruce Hayward was about making deep connections with people and places. He was not just well traveled, he was WELL traveled. A big thanks to Cat Stailey, for taking the time to put all this together. — MJF  Pitcairn Island, October 2006 “As usual, I look out my window upon getting up. I see a big olive-green chunk of rock 1100’ high, 1.75 square miles in size looming out of the choppy sea… This is an impressive, formidable island; landing will not be easy. Today will be an interesting set of events. I’m looking forward to going ashore on Pitcairn, it should be exciting.” “Pitcairn, population 51 people, has a police presence (from New Zealand). This surprises me. There’s a stern police sergeant, a more mellow constable. He’s bummed out at the moment — no beer (and none till 5 Dec).” Armenia, May 2005 “This area is the heart of the integration of Neanderthals (who never got to Africa) and Cro-Magnons who came north from Africa. The hypotheses of why Cro-Magnons replaced Neanderthals are many and fascinating.” “So few people realize that the works of Nature far surpass the works of Man. The ugly monastery is supposed to be pretty; I don’t think so. The stream in the canyon, the birds in the rushes — that is the scenery worth seeing.” Trinidad, March 2006 Caroni Swamp: “Clouds threaten behind us. Mangrove branches arch overhead forming a tunnel. Aerial roots dangle overhead like Christmas tinsel. Out of the swamp, we enter an open lake. Now I see the herons and scarlet ibises flying over in flocks of 2’s and 6’s. I glance left. Wow! An island of red and white spots. This is the famous roosting area, an island of mangroves.” Asa Wright Refuge: “Honey-creepers come within a foot of me — boy! Such intense colors! Shiny cowbirds are the antithesis of the other birds, solid black with a hint of iridescence. A golden-winged woodpecker spends all day digging a new hole on the underside of a dead branch in the distance.” “Once we leave the refuge, large homes blot the landscape, clearing the forest and planting ornamental shrubs. Having seen the Rainforest at Asa Wright, I feel sad to see what civilization has done to this place.” Georgia, June 2005 “The homonid fossils found here are older than any site in Africa. These people made stone tools for 2 million years!” “A plaster statue of Stalin stands majestically against a far wall, almost lost in the dim light. It hasn’t been maintained. Yet it seems to shed ‘a light’ or presence of its own, being separated from all this trash around it. It must have been elegant once.” Pakistan, August 2006 “I’m standing on a pass 15,520’ in elevation, higher than any mountain in the Continental U.S. by a thousand feet. The Himalayas are immense in every respect.” “The road to Eagle Nest is probably the worst road I’ve ever been on. I think of all my friends and relatives who would freak out on this road. It’s not for flatlanders!” “The valleys and white Himalayan Peaks surround me; it’s like being in a theater with wide screen projection. I feel almost like that. The river is a tiny line below us. Farther along, the curves, potholes, rough surface never seem to end. On and on!” “In Gilgit the number of armed guys wandering around with assault rifles is a bit puzzling. I am told that these guys keep the Shiites and Sunnis from molesting each other. Aha! We’ve gotten to the edge of the nasty region of Pakistan!” “I wake 18 August 2006 at 0645 in Gilgit, Pakistan, a very far corner of the world. I often ponder this wonder — where I am, why I am here. Isn’t this a privilege? It beats being in Silver City this morning. There’s time for veranda sitting.” Ethiopia, Jan./Feb. 2005 “Lalibela, Ethiopia has the longest archaeological record in the world. Some say it is the cradle of humanity. The australopithecine fossil, Lucy (50 bone fragments and teeth), which I saw in Addis yesterday, comes from here. It dates to 4.5 million years ago. ‘She’ was half man, half ape, 3.5 feet tall, weighing only 7lbs., possibly the earliest man-like character.” “St. Mary’s Church, in Axum, is supposed to contain the Ark of the Covenant. No one, let alone us, gets to see it. A guard watches the entrance 24/7/365. Does he get to see it? I doubt it. I wonder if it’s really there. Possibly this is a game. At any rate, I’m not impressed, except by the lovely Spring flowers that grow around us (bougainvillea, jacaranda, and some orange ones).” “A pair of kids have found a neat way to get tourists to stop for their pictures. They walk along the road on stilts. Tourists cannot resist the ‘cute index’. Well, the kids get their money, store it in their mouths since they don’t have any pockets. Original!” “[Name redacted] sure is a bizarre fruitcake or possibly a full-blooded idiot. The things she talks about and asks questions about are amazing. She begins a bizarre conversation with our guide, Girma. ‘Girma, these people don’t seem to be circumcised. Why?’ Poor Girma! From here she asks about castration, its uses, traditions, biological efficacy. Strange! Whatever brought this up? Is she truly a dirty old lady, going around looking at penises?” Canada, Alberta, September 2010 “A lady stops by my table to tell me how dapper I am (my Providenya cap and beard); she has been watching me all during her meal. People often tell me that I look very Muslim; I’ve not been called dapper before. Well, that’s an interesting way to start the day.” “We’re standing at the shallow end of Lake Louise. Overrated. Suddenly, a short-tailed weasel, rich brown with a white belly runs over the rocks in front of us. I’m stunned! One seldom sees these animals in the wild. While we’re exclaiming and rejoicing, it comes back, closer this time. It explores under rocks no more than 6’ away… ignores us completely. This is the highlight of the trip.” Bhutan, Oct./Nov. 2004 Paro Valley: “The afternoon will be devoted to hiking to the Tigers’ Nest (Taktshang Goemba), a small monastery on a thin ledge about a thousand feet above our valley. Legend has that it was established by Guru Rinpoche, a re-incarnate Buddha, the guy who started Buddhism in this country in the 8th century. This story says that he rode a winged tigress which landed on this very narrow cliff. He declared it sacred and a monastery was built here (using the same winged tigress? Construction must have been very difficult).” “Thimpu is the only capitol city in the world without a stoplight. However, there is  a main intersection where a serious lady cop stands under an umbrella and waves cars through in several directions. Her white-gloved hands move rhythmically, almost as if in a dance.” Australia, Feb. 2007 Thursday Island: “In most places in the world you don’t drink the water. In Australia, you don’t eat the food.” Burma (Myanmar), Jan. 2010 Inle Lake: “What I am seeing is a large floating bog; called a floating garden by the locals. It’s a small village of sorts with houses on stilts. Steps lead up to the second floors where people live. They raise crops out here. The streets are waterways.” “The #1 reason for this trip is about to happen — an annular eclipse of the Sun. Locals drift in to watch the gringo watch the eclipse; a better show for them than the eclipse perhaps. They borrow the eclipse glasses, are very impressed by what they see. Little kids freak out.” “Bagan is the city of temples and stupas! A large lighted stupa provides an exotic introduction to this city. Ox carts block the streets at times; horse and buggies whip around; ghost like, bicycle riders w/o lights appear and disappear.” China, April 1999  “I sat in a park today; watched people and wrote notes. The Chinese watched me as well, and are fascinated by my cursive handwriting. In no time, there are 6 people standing around me watching me write notes.”

 

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Jail Time In Cell 4 In The Coconino County Jail

Jail Time in the Coconino County JailThe jail cell door clangs shut. I am in a tiny concrete room with a concrete bench and a concrete wall that shields the stainless steel toilet from a viewer’s eyes. The only viewers that will peer in through the thick window for the next long hours will be the detention officers of the Coconino County Jail. I am here on purpose. I am here alone.

The first thing I do is scan the room for something, anything I can write with. The officers have taken my jewelry, wallet, pens and notebook. They have left me my hearing aids and partial dentures. I’m grateful for that. At 71, my hearing is fading. I need to hear every sound and word that echo outside. And I might be able to use my dentures to scratch a message into the wall. Protect the Sacred Mountains. Stop Spiritual Genocide.

But the walls are flecked with brown spots and I am squeamish. I take notes in my mind. The choked howls coming from the cell next door. The thud of a body slamming against a thick door. The carving in my cell door, an Indian in a feathered head-dress and the letters NDN. My friend in a cell across the hall, tracing the words Protect the Peaks on his window; and the fact that he and I are the only white people I see in the tiny windows or being taken into a cell. Those not-so-subtle demographics are the same as the last time I was arrested twenty-five years ago to protest a breccia pipe uranium mine being drilled into sacred Havasupai land thirteen miles south of the Grand Canyon.

I am in this barren room because I’ve committed civil disobedience to protest a local ski resort’s plan to make snow with inadequately treated wastewater on the San Francisco Peaks, a high-desert mountain sacred to thirteen tribes. Because I have friends from five of those tribes, I refused to step away from the huge excavator that was gouging a pipeline trench in the living rock. I stood fast also because I am forty years older than the next oldest of my companions. Look, I wanted my action to say, you do not have to be young to be filled with passion. You do not have to be young to act. 

The howls next door have faded. Hours stretch ahead. With no pen, no paper. There is nothing but the dirty walls and locked door — and the knowledge that outside this county jail, my friends are collecting bail. They know I am in here. I’ve never in my life felt less alone. In that, it is more than my white skin that makes me different from the others locked behind these heavy doors.

I trace words with a fingernail on my forearm. I am here. I will remember every detail. And I will write.

Sojourner is the author of “Bonelight: Ruin and Grace and the New Southwest,” “Delicate: Stories,” “Solace: Rituals of Loss and Desire,” “Going Through Ghosts” and, most recently, “She Bets Her Life: A True Story of Gambling Addiction.” She lives in Flagstaff. Her blog, “Hoodoo,” can be found at mountaingazette.com

Mountain Media: Books #187

“The Straight Course: Speed Skiing in the Sixties,” by Dick Dorworth

The Straight Course

Nowadays, the average person will have approximately five to seven careers. Less limited than previous generations, the choices for careers are endless and, with that, finding the “right path” can be daunting, overwhelming and demoralizing. Which is why long-time MG senior correspondent Dick Dorworth’s latest book, “The Straight Course: Speed Skiing in the Sixties,” is so relevant 50 years after the events he describes. The ’60s were unsettled and challenging for the country and the world of skiing. Despite pressure to ski within a certain style, politics that could make any patriot of ski dissent and challenges with injuries and his personal life, Dick held strong to what he knew skiing did for his life and how it filled it with more meaning than if he gave up when his path appeared blocked. “More important was the hard (and hard earned) knowledge of something not right.” By staying true to his heart and path, he accomplished incredible achievements in speed skiing. Dick’s honesty about looking within to find that truth and, once found, never letting go, offers new generations a way to find direction through the confusion. After all, “a company job is not necessarily the best thing a man can do with the time in his life.” Time might be better spent skiing over 100kph down a fast, unrelenting speed track. “The Straight Course” is a fascinating look into the history of a pivotal time in skiing, while offering wisdom for finding our own way through the world. $15.95, westerneyepress.com

 “Fred Beckey’s 100 Favorite North American Climbs,” by Fred Beckey

Beckeys favorite climbs

Besides starring in the world’s most hideous climbing outfit (on p. 209), I spent two weeks with The Fred on three of these routes (Prodigal Son, Touchstone Wall and Crimson Chrysalis) while he was working on this book in 1996-98. His goal was to climb every route in this “guidebook,” a feat I’m pretty certain no climbing guidebook author has ever achieved; Fred didn’t quite either. But “guidebook” might not be the right term for this publication, which suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. It’s the size of a small table (13.2 x 9.4 x 1.3 inches) and weighs 5.2 pounds. It looks and feels like a coffee-table book, but when you read it, it describes climbs, with topos and photos and other basic information — yet, you wouldn’t stuff it in your pack and head out. In short, it’s a guidebook inside and a coffee-table book outside. So, to appreciate this book, you have to look at what’s in it. “Beckey’s 100 Favorite Climbs” (there are actually more than 100 — 29 of which were Fred firsts) is a catalogue from the jam-stuffed brain of the most knowledgeable, experienced and well-traveled climber in American history. Fred introduces readers to peaks like Ironman in the Adamant Range, Oubliette in the Ramparts and Golden Klattasine in the Coast Range. These aren’t peaks on the tongues of your typical Western U.S. climber — hell, I had no clue something like Gimli Peak existed until I started reading this book. This book is a mind-opener. It’ll make you realize why you started climbing to begin with, and that there’s a whole lot more to see out there than what you originally thought. After waiting 16 years, I am not disappointed. $79.95, patagonia.com

“The Pacific Crest Trailside Reader: Oregon and Washington,” edited by Rees Hughes, Corey Lewis

Pacific Crest Trailside Reader

This is not a guidebook, but rather a collection of writings about the Oregon and Washington stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail (there’s a companion volume for California). This means that the book is short on maps and “just-the-facts” information about flora and fauna, but large on firsthand experiences of folks who’ve trod the iconic trail. There’s blissfully little poetic navel gazing and plenty in the way of good stories about any aspect of the PCT experience you can imagine. Jogging the entire 2,600 miles. Figuring out/being given your “trail name.” Journeying with goats, children or painful injuries. Getting lost and being rescued. Hiking at night, or alone, or through the ash fall of the Mt. St. Helens eruption. Coming face-to-face with bears, lynx, huge toads, heart attacks and hypothermia. And always, through all three sections of the book — “Forests Forever” (Oregon), “Lava, Moss and Lichens” (Southern Washington) and “The Great White North” (The North Cascades) — folks suffer through chronic sogginess and all manner of precipitation, particularly toward the end, when hikers are racing Pacific storms and Old Man Winter to the Canadian border. The book itself might not change your life, but some of the essays within probably will, and, if nothing else, you’ll be inspired to shake off that dusty pack and seek out some adventure of your own. $19.95, mountaineersbooks.org


 

Letters #187

Envelope
Envelope: Zephyr

We’re in the market for decorative envelopes to help beautify our Letters pages. If you’ve got an artistic envelope bent, pull out your weapons-of-choice, decorate an envelope with our snail mail address on it, mail the resultant envelope to us, and, if we print it, we’ll give you a year’s subscription to the Mountain Gazette.

Jen Jackson Rocks!

Editor, I loved Jen Jackson’s piece on Moab (“When in Doubt, Pee on the fire,” MG #183). It really captured the spark that makes living here great despite being inundated by goobs most of the year.

Thx,

Bruce Dissel

Moab, UT

Sgt. Mike Rocks!

Dear Mr. Fayhee: Long-time reader, first-time writer here. Thank you for Mountain Notebook Dateline: Afghanistan. It’s the best thing I’ve read in years.

And to Sgt. Mike, how about this: Thank you for telling the truth. It may be the greatest service of all. Godspeed, Sergeant.

Sincerely,

Bennett Pollack

Gypsum, CO

Struck by thunder, premonition and synchronicity

John: In reference to your “The Bright White Light” (Smoke Signals, MG #181). For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been having what might have been a premonition. Out on this ranch in the San Juans by myself, I have a lot of time to think, and a lot of fence to fix, so much that I can’t always get it done before the afternoon storms of this summer monsoon. One thought repeatedly produced by the constant banter of my subconscious has been: what would it be like to be struck by lightning? If not fatal, would it be enlightening? Spiritual awakening has been described as like being struck by lightning, but it has also been said to be an interminable process. Enlightenment hasn’t come to me yet, through prayers for it or through meditation, so I had wondered if getting struck by lightning might actually bring a sort of enlightenment with it. Apparently not.

Lately I’ve been reading about synchronicity in James Redfield’s “The Celestine Vision.” Premonitions and strange coincidences, like thinking of an old friend and then running into him or her for the first time in years, are at the basis of this idea of synchronicity, important in Redfield’s philosophy and literature as well as that of the great psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Until now, I’ve been thinking that I’ve never experienced synchronicity, except for possibly a few occasions, nothing that could not be otherwise explained. Of course, it can always be explained — like being in the right place at the wrong time.

I had also been thinking about my friend Mark Volt, a kind of old-timer on the Gore Range. He is full of odd and funny sayings, mostly of uncertain origin, often of vague meaning and usually inspiring rolled eyes. Like “struck by thunder.”

The first of the rain was falling. I was standing next to a temporary electric fence of polywire, which is a kind of string with fine wire woven through it, an essential tool to manage the distribution of livestock grazing here in the High Country. It wasn’t electrified; I had built it and just hooked it up to a more permanent electric fence of high-tensile wire. I don’t think I was touching it, but I couldn’t have been more than a few inches from it.

The boom was not much short of deafening. For a moment, everything was black — except for a line of white, maybe slightly greenish-yellow, light where the polywire had been. Is that what the deer in the headlights sees? I was on the ground, half lying, half sitting, fully stunned. I have been shocked by electric fence before, and this was many orders of magnitude beyond that. Struck by thunder, indeed. I saw the thin, charred remains of the polywire on the ground next to me. My legs and feet hurt, but I couldn’t move them for the first 10 seconds or so. Then I could crawl. After maybe 30 seconds, I could stand on shaky legs and tingling feet. I willed myself to walk. At this point, I figured I was probably going to be alright. I got on the four-wheeler and rode it back down to the road.

My right thigh still hurt, and, for a while, so did my right shoulder and upper arm. Sitting on a log, I pulled off my right boot and sock and checked my tingling foot. No uglier than usual. I pulled down my pants and looked at my thigh. There was a light red mottling there, at the height of the polywire, and extending in a line down to my lower leg. It did not look or feel like a burn; the pain was more like muscle soreness.

Back on the four-wheeler, I raced the rain back down the mile or two to my truck. I lost. It came down hard, stinging my face and soaking through my light rain jacket. Shivering and dripping, I climbed into my truck, started the engine and turned on the heat and defroster. I drove off with the tailgate down, all manner of ranching equipment sliding out the back of the bed on the steep road. After gathering the tools and 50-pound salt blocks, and throwing the pry bar and spool of fence wire back in as quickly as possible, I drove into camp.

I started a fire in my cabin and heated water for matte and hot chocolate (the spicy kind with chile powder). I peeled off my wet shirt and jeans, pulled on dry ones. I realized there was a ringing, or a high-pitched electric hum in my left ear.

I sat by the fire, going over it again in my mind: the boom, the darkness, the white streak: struck by thunder. As the shock wore off, I considered that I may not be enlightened, but my earlier wondering might have been a premonition. If I weren’t such a skeptic, I would say this is a striking example of synchronicity. The thought gives me chills, but of course that could just be because I’m cold.

Matt Barnes

Storm on Willow Pass

John: Your lightning story was electrifying, a bolt of brilliance. Here’s a contribution.

Willow Basin is a gentle place, a hidden place. We are camped on the tundra above Willow Lake. We sip red wine from a plastic juice bottle before lighting the stove to boil water for pasta. We just sit on our pads and look at each other. In two years, we’ll be married, but we don’t know that yet, don’t even suspect it.

After a spaghetti dinner, we take a walk along a grassy bench, holding hands. Each of us makes a silent pledge that will not be translated into words for many months. There is no need to articulate the impulses of our hearts. We are content to have our bond unspoken, not wanting to formalize the undefined, the wonderful. This wild place invites freedom from words, from definitions, from spoken formality.

There is a flock of sheep grazing a mile or so down the valley. We hear their faint voices on the wind. We are happy to share the basin with them and their shepherd. As darkness brings us back to camp, we see the flicker of his fire, but we don’t return it. The stars are our fire. We huddle together in our own warmth. The flowers have closed their petals. The surface of the lake has turned flat and metallic. She leans her back against my chest and I fold my arms around her.

Later, we trade positions and I feel her warmth move into me. Her hands soothe my shoulders where the heavy frame pack gnawed. Muscles and skin respond to her touch, and I’m aware of a deeper feeling that her touch awakens. Our bed is soft that night on the spongy tundra that contours to tired hips and shoulders.

The morning dawns with gathering clouds, their undersides dark and glowering. Pancakes with maple syrup and sausage complement strong coffee with evaporated milk from a tin. We break down camp and hurriedly pack. Drizzle patters across the basin beneath a wisp of cloud that sweeps past. Behind it, to the west, dark clouds line up portentously, like a squadron of dirigibles.

“Wish we had another day,” she says wistfully.

“I wish we had a week, a month, a year.”

Envelope
Envelope: L. Wilson Hailey ID

A deep roll of thunder echoes across the basin. We sling on our packs and are soon panting up the switchbacks leading to the pass. The lake is slate gray and corrugated by wind. The shepherd’s camp is deserted; the sheep have moved down into the timber. A distinct black line marks the storm’s leading edge, with drifts of rain trailing behind. The storm moves over the basin and crosses the lake.

At the pass, we drop packs and pull on rain jackets. She takes the lead on the descent into the narrow valley while I pause a moment to face what’s moving in on the strengthening wind. There’s excitement in the latent power and dark fury menacing overhead. I feel my mood shifting like the weather. I regret returning to that other world where my soul can become deadened with disquiet and sorrow. The echoes of that world seem to emanate from the deep reverberations of thunder rolling over me, rattling my rib cage.

I hurry after her as the storm breaks. We’re hit by rounds of hail machine-gunned from a pitch-black sky. The hail pings off our packs and stings our legs. A lightning flash arcs like a missile, crashing onto the ridge above us. Half a second later, a sharp report splits the air. We make a dash for the sheltering trees, skip-jogging down the trail, ignoring the weight of our packs. The hail changes to rain and the rain turns heavy and drenching.

Heads down, rain running off the hoods of our jackets, we splash through foaming puddles. The trail becomes a rivulet of rainwater where pellets of hail gather in the eddies, a white crest against the muddy flow. Salvos of lightning strike the ridges on both sides. Concurrent flashes create a strobe effect. The thunder is continuous, a deep, sonorous booming. The air smells of rain-washed mountains, a bouquet of spruce pitch blended with grasses, sedges, flowers, the redolence of the earth itself. There is no sweeter smell.

I no longer hear her footsteps, so I stop and turn. She is a dozen yards behind, walking placidly down the trail in her wet and shining blue jacket, the hood shrouding her face. On one side of the trail is a yellow-green willow thicket, the leaves glimmering with raindrops. On the other is a spray of neon pink fireweed standing head-high and nodding under the rainfall. The ridges are misty with torn clouds ripped from the dark storm that still glowers overhead.

She looks up and smiles, and I am suddenly taken by how lovely she is in the pouring rain, how beautiful among the bright flowers. There are droplets of water on her cheeks and a sparkling light in her eyes. Perhaps we are seeing each other for the first time under this cloud of rain and fire. Here is our moment, our place in time. There is no reason to rush back to the known world, so we stand in the rain and let it wash over us.

Paul Andersen,

Aspen

Editor’s note: Paul Andersen is an author and columnist for the Aspen Times. This vignette is excerpted from his fiction collection of short stories, “Moonlight Over Pearl.”

North by Northwest

Hey Fayhee: In reference to your story, “North by Northwest” (Smoke Signals, MG #182): I do indeed remember where I was on 9/11 … in the Sawtooth Wilderness Area in northern Idaho. I was on a solitary backpack trip, which I have done often since my first backpacking trip with my father in 1972, near where I grew up in Colorado.

On Saturday, September 8, I arrived in Boise and rented a car and headed to Stanley, Idaho. I planned a five-day excursion just west of town and headed into the wilderness on Sunday afternoon. I did not run into any one during that time, the weather was great, and I was invigorated by the time I had spent in the woods, alone. On Thursday morning, I reached my car and went into Stanley to fill up my gas tank at the Stanley Lodge.

While my car was filling up I went into the little store connected to the lodge and asked the clerk (a young tattooed, pierced man) who had won the Monday Night Football New York Giants/Denver Broncos game, I being a lifelong Broncos fan. He looked at me like I was from Mars. I blew him off and, while I was pouring a cup of coffee, I looked up at the TV that was in the corner. On the screen was the image of the second plane going into the World Trade Center. I thought it was a trailer for a new movie. I asked the clerk, “What new movie is this?” He just looked at me with a blank stare and asked, “Where have you been?” I told him I had been backpacking since Sunday. That was when he told me what had happened. An older gentleman soon came in and talked with the clerk, while I was sitting in a chair in stunned silence. The gentleman came over and told me that I was perhaps the only person in America who had not known what happened, and sat with me for four hours as I watched in horror.

On my drive back to Boise, where I would be stranded for days, I thought that I had should of stayed in the woods, forever, instead of reentering an uncivilized civilization.

Dan Ellier Chapman

North by Northwest #2

Hello John: September 9, 2001, I started a job with the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps — their three-week “Fall Crew,” which found me camping and doing trail work in the Green Mountains. We set up camp that evening, only a mile or so in from the Mt. Worcester trailhead. Monday was spent learning the basics of trail maintenance, camping and the general dynamics of living and working with a new group of people.

Tuesday, September 11, we started our day by continuing to improve the worn-out lower section of the trail. It was a wonderful, sunny, warm, perfect late-summer Vermont day. There were no hikers early that morning, which did not seem out of place, considering we only saw a few on Monday.

As I was busily digging a new water bar mid-morning, a solitary hiker came by. All I remember is: He was an older man and seemed a bit odd. I think all he said to me was: “a plane flew into the World Trade Center” and kept hiking. He told each of my co-workers this fact and hiked on. We discussed this man, wondering if he was mentally stable, after he passed. I thought maybe he was telling us about a movie.

Our solitary hiker came back from the peak and told us the same thing. This time, he spoke to us longer and told us that a jet had flown into one of the towers and he decided to seek refuge in the woods, only to find a hapless, un-informed trail crew. None of us saw the indelible images that most of the rest of the nation saw. None of us knew about the mass hysteria that was taking over the nation at the time. None of us knew the enormity of the destruction of that day. We just went back to working on our trail.

Early afternoon, the supervisor from headquarters came out. He confirmed what our solitary hiker had told us, added the towers had fallen and a plane had crashed into the Pentagon. I don’t think he knew about the fourth plane in Pennsylvania. All we knew about the attackers was they were “terrorists,” whoever that was. Speaking for myself, the history of the situation still had not registered with me. The only electronic media available to us was the radio in the van, back at the trailhead.

We decided to hike to the top of Mt. Worcester, seeking the same refuge as our talisman. Mt. Worcester is only about 3,000 feet tall, but a hard slog straight up through the forest and over large granite blocks at top. None of us registered that there were no planes over our peak. We took in the sights of the Green Mountains turning into fall and lay around on the sun-warmed boulders until it was time to go back for dinner.

After dinner, we hiked out to the van to use the crew cell phone and call our loved ones. We listened to the radio in the van while each person was outside on the phone. We finally, definitely, learned what happened that morning. When I got a hold of my parents, all we discussed was the road trip I had just taken from New Mexico to Moab, Jackson, West Yellowstone and on to Vermont. There was no mention of the attacks, other than my Mom asking: “Do you know what happened today?” Which I answered in the affirmative.

Wednesday, we went back to work as usual. We certainly discussed the attacks and how they might affect each of us, with most of the crew calling the northeast home. We saw more hikers on Wednesday, all of them escaping to the woods to get away from what we would later lean was incessant televised carnage. Most of them talked with us and asked if we knew about the attacks.

We went back to the van later that week to listen to W. speak to the country. In my life, that has to have been one of the few Presidential speeches I have ever completely listened to. We again called our parents and I actually discussed the attacks and bin Laden with them.

Saturday, the 15th, found us moving our camp and stopping in Montpelier to do our laundry. Even though it is a small town, only about 8,000 residents, it had always seemed busy to me. That day, it was almost deserted. The laundry attendant told us the owner of the laundromat was from Lebanon and with the intense xenophobia that had taken hold, even in bucolic Vermont, had been out of sight since Tuesday.

Four days after the attacks, we still had not seen the television images that everyone else saw. By that point, the over-saturation of the media was beginning to slow, though we might have seen one image on CNN. We did get a hold of some newspapers, but again, four days later, they did not have all the images that certainly everyone saw in their Wednesday morning paper. I knew what had happened, how many were missing or dead and who the attacks were attributed to, but I am not sure if everything had soaked in by then. Ten years later, I have seen maybe an hour total of the televised insanity of that day because I was busily ensconced in the mountains, digging a water bar.

Adam Throckmorton 

Mountain Gazette welcomes letters. Please email your incendiary verbiage to: mjfayhee@mountaingazette.com.

 

Spring Fevah!

There’s hardly a dweller in the Mountain West who doesn’t vacate at some time during spring mud season. Sometimes it’s just an afternoon trip down the hill to get your feet on some steady turf. Or you can have the trip of lifetime and travel only 300 miles. Note that “trip of a lifetime” can be a good or bad thing.

1) Got Prozac?

If your spring travel plans mandate that you rub elbows with cheery people, you’re doing well to remain in the Mountain West, where only one city ranked in the top half of Travel + Leisure’s top-20 rudest cities for 2012. The Phoenix-Scottsdale area got tagged at No. 8 due to crabby locals. Evidently this edginess is due to snowbirds filling their space just as the weather gets nice enough to go outside. Three-time champion Los Angeles lost its spot to New York City this year, so we’re wondering if folks in L.A., now in fourth place, will get pissed off enough about that to reclaim their title in 2013. Other non-friendly spots in the top-10 include Miami, No. 2; Washington, D.C., No. 3; Boston, No. 5; and Dallas-Ft. Worth, No. 6. Las Vegas managed a semi-respectable 12th place, Seattle for some odd reason came in at 17th, San Diego in 19th, and — get this — Salt Lake City was 20th. FYI: You should know that T + L listed Vegas No. 8 for the worst drivers in the country, with Phoenix-Scottsdale at No. 10.

2) Gas pains

These days most people would rather go to hell than the gas pump. Spring travel usually has a lot to do with gasoline, unless you’re hitchhiking, teleporting or just staying on the couch and taking hallucinogenic drugs. We digress. As of Feb. 28, these were some of the prices found in the West: Colorado Springs, $3.11; Salt Lake City, $3.21; Santa Fe, $3.40; Phoenix, $3.79; Seattle, $3.99; and Santa Barbara, $4.40. The lowest price we found was at the Gasamat at Elk Street and Elias Avenue in Rock Springs, Wyoming, where a gallon put you back a scant $2.89. The U.S. average was $3.68.

3) Beats airport pat-downs

In the name of keeping it together, we’re not recommending the first teleporters to come off the assembly line. But if you’re looking for fast travel into another dimension (or just Rock Springs, for that matter) for your spring travels of the future, consider that quantum physicists at the University of California at Santa Barbara have developed a rudimentary teleportation device. In basic terms, it means that an object you can see in front of you may exist simultaneously in a parallel universe — a multi-state condition. See previous entry about hallucinogenic drugs.

7 hot spots in the Mountain West

4) What happens in these places

One of the absolute worst things to happen during spring travel is to arrive at a destination, only to find it is listed among the top places in the United States for illicit drug use. To help your planning, you should know that Iowa has the lowest rate of marijuana use (3.8 percent), while the District of Columbia, oddly enough, has the highest reported cocaine-use rate at 5.1 percent within the previous year. Closer to home, you need to know that it is not California causing all the problems, but rather, Colorado. A handy study we found from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of Department of Health and Human Services showed that a full 10.96 percent of Colorado residents over age 12 had used drugs within the previous month. That compares to 9.1 percent in California, 6.43 percent in Utah, 8.6 percent in Wyoming and 10.2 percent in Washington.

5) So many choices

The lead-in goes like this: “Would you rather eat ice cream that’s been sprinkled with dead bugs, or have a photo of yourself being disemboweled by aliens?” Portland’s Freakybuttrue Peculiarium Museum, established in April 2011, has a little something for everyone. We don’t know about you, but it’s on our short list of Spring Travel stops. There were rumors about a new exhibit on spontaneous human combustion, as well as one entitled “Star Wars fan, Star Trek fan fight to the death.” Does that mean both of them die?

6) A little dirt to clean you out

Three-hundred-thousand people can’t be wrong. Now, we can’t say that number of annual visitors have been healed by the famous dirt of El Posito, the sacred sand pit housed in El Santuario de Chimayo. But we have to say, the place known as the Lourdes of America has an eerie but good feel to it. Tons of people have attested to instant cures to incurable diseases after visiting the shrine and handling the dirt (one room is stacked with braces and crutches that have been cast aside). And if you’re not in need of a miracle, you can still go home with a refrigerator magnet from the nearby gift shop.

7) But it feels good, really

With spas becoming big business in destination travel, the things they offer have gotten substantially weirder/decadent in recent years. For example, if you want to add a plane ticket to the cost, you can travel to a spa in Israel that specializes in snake massages — letting the cool serpents slither over your tired muscles. If reptiles aren’t your thing, there’s a spa in New York that will give you a $180 facial with sanitized nightingale dung. Closer to home, you can travel to Santa Fe’s Eldorado Hotel, where a 24-karat facial (using a sheet of liquid gold) will erase fine lines and tighten your skin. It will make your wallet a bit looser, however — the cost is $475.

 

Tara Flanagan splits her time between Boulder and Breckenridge. 

Mountain Vision #187

The Road Nevada 1967
The Road, Nevada 1967

 

Desert rendezvous, westbound; destination Pacific Ocean. You can’t drive to the island, and it’s too far to swim. Time to make the Pierhead Leap. Start scanning the horizon. Feel the Earth turn as the Sun sets and stars come out. That’s where we’re going.

Where water out of an iron pipe is warm enough to shower. Where winter is two days with louvered windows closed and wearing socks. Where Christmas is a refrigerated ship container of trees, tied in bundles, and a stack of Coors beer in the entrance to the liquor store, which disappears before it can be stocked in coolers.

Where time is what you see in the sky. The Clouds of Magellan are where we’re headed, every night, standing South, South-by-Sou’west, a-quarter-South, and in the fo’csle bunk below, the sound of the sea rushing past.

But the Colorado River is “Closed to Navigation,” so we drive.

 

Senior correspondent Bob Chamberlain lives with his dog at 8,000 feet in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley. 

Big Bend

Open Sky
Photo cred: James H. Evans

I keep coming to Big Bend because other people do not seem to go there much. There are spurts of visitors in the spring and the fall and that is about it. In heat, I can own the whole place. This summer night is silent, no insect sound, just the occasional scream of a falling star. The rain has failed for eleven months. Big Bend is drying out. The terrain is a natural barrier and so in this zone, from Presidio down river to about Del Rio, human traffic has long been light. I once met a guy in a village in Mexico who had a bull get loose and head north. He crossed the river on horseback, trailed the bull over a hundred miles to Fort Stockton, lassoed it and somehow got it back home. What struck me about his story is that he didn’t think it much of a story. He was the kind of person Big Bend — on both sides of the river — seemed to breed.

The river is almost gone. Since the 1930s, the demands on the Rio Grande have exceeded the natural flow. Since about 2000, the river has failed to make it to the sea. With global warming and a drier weather pattern, it is certain to decline yet more. In the middle reaches of the Rio Grande in New Mexico, the annual floods ended in the early seventies when Cochiti Dam broke the back of the river. Now the cottonwood bosques are becoming senile and in a century will be gone if this management continues because there is almost no replacement by seedlings dependent on the yearly flood cycle of the natural stream. Which brings me to Big Bend, the only national park on the entire eighteen-hundred-mile river.

It was supposed to be half of an international park joining the Sierra del Carmen with the Chihuahuan Desert on the U.S. side, or at least that was FDR’s notion. This never happened. Now there is talk of walling off the river lest some Mexican come north and terrorize us with decent food. Big walls are the new form of American installation art. The federal government is also building new housing for Border Patrol agents within the park to catch a non-existent flow of migrants. This is becoming a problem on the frontier of the empire. Last fall, I had drinks with some Border Patrol people on the Arizona chunk of the line. Their station had 350 people and bagged only 300 migrants a month. They were a little concerned that the public might some day learn what it cost to catch a poor person seeking work.

I come to Big Bend to be alone. For years, people have told me why they do not come here. It is in Texas. It is a dead end with a long drive in and out. It can be very hot. It is a desert. One guy told me it was the commodification of the natural world. Yes, and be sure to tell others.

I avoid the river with the two major campsites and also avoid the Chisos Mountains with their forests and facilities. I prefer to dry camp at various primitive park sites. So far, I have never run into anyone at such locales, but there is no guarantee my luck will hold. Like all fine places, there is nothing to do. And as a bonus, in Big Bend there is not a lot to see by conventional standards. If one is careful, one can find a patch of creosote and dry ground that does not pester one with vistas. At night the stars make a lot of noise but I have gotten used to that.

I seem to blunder about aimlessly and then get tired and sit down for a spell. I have never had a big idea in Big Bend and of course I am very grateful for this fact. There was a time in my life when I would hole up in Marfa writing books and periodically would become insane because of marauding art galleries, a serious menace in the area. I would drive to Big Bend and sit down very quietly and these seizures would pass. Also, I am here to tell you that one of the best roads in the United States runs from Presidio, Texas, to Big Bend, a two-lane slow path along the river through little canyons. Don’t bother to take photographs in Big Bend. James Evans owns the place and frankly you should simply buy his books and save yourself some time. He not only has what it looks like, he has what it feels like and means. This is a very rare thing.

Big Bend is a place to be. And not much else. To my knowledge, anyone having an epiphany there is summarily executed. I cannot prove this but I am a creature of hope.

Lately, I have realized I have spent my life surrounded by two kinds of professional liars — the normal Chamber of Commerce felons and the pious trolls of academia. They have always said there would be enough water, they have always said you can’t stop people from coming here, they have always said national defense was job number one, and that if we simply had some more meetings, it would all work out. They have always lied. Big Bend, for me, is a haven from this talk. It is pretty much uninhabitable and the Mexican side is equally isolated. I have a friend who ran dope in this area for years — he’d bring it north through Panther Junction. One of my first visits to Big Bend was when he showed me his former haunts and routes, including where in the beginning he’d crawl through the bosque on his belly dragging a burlap bag of grass. He soon advanced to better days and was doing about $750,000 a month when he made a fatal error: he refused to pay a bribe to a U.S. Custom agent because of his prejudice against crooks in law enforcement. This moment of integrity cost him five years in a federal pen.

Three javelina root around in the brush by the river. The sky is overcast and soon comes the first rain in months. The arroyos run here and there from desert showers. The walls of the wash are red and lavender and yellow. The water rolls over the rocks and the ground comes up and slaps my face with scent.

Just across the river is the village where they killed Pablo Acosta.

He’d come back from the United States in 1976 and found disorder. The man in charge of the plaza in Ojinaga just upriver had quit his post and no one knew exactly who to contact for payoffs. Drugs were small time, a sideline in a poor area. Acosta grew with the industry and soon things were big enough that the Mexican federal police set up a headquarters in town to collect their cut. Acosta also shipped money to the Mexican army. By 1983, Acosta was big time and bringing planeloads of cocaine in from Colombia. He once considered executing my friend.

And then he was gone. He was murdered by a Mexican commander with the help of the FBI.

That happens in that business and in this place.

Just to the west is the gouge of Santa Elena Canyon, the river now a latte color from the waters rushing in from the flooded arroyos. The thunder is near now, and lightning slices the sky. Steam rises from the road as fresh raindrops fall.

A couple pulls over by the suddenly rising waters, she carefully wades out a short bit and he takes photographs and this is right across the river from the machine-gunned building where they took down Pablo and my God life is good at this moment and I suck down the breeze and believe, well, if only I knew what I believed.

Chisos at Night
Photo cred: James H. Evans

The Chisos Mountains loom like gods in the mist and across the river the Sierra Carmen walls off Mexico. Los Diablos stand around and chat. They are a firefighting group formed in Boquillas del Carmen, the Mexican village just across the river. The Diablos fight fires in Big Bend and elsewhere — last spring, they were up to save Los Alamos, NM, America’s city of scientific death. On the rocks are small wire creations of scorpions, roadrunners and ocotillo cactus. They go for five or six bucks a piece and a hand-printed sign says the money helps schools in Boquillas. Traditionally, visitors to the park went across the shallow river for breakfast and to buy little bits of Mexico. 9/11 ended that for Boquillas and Santa Elena a ways upstream and both villages fell apart. The small wire figures are contraband and the government warns against such commerce. The Federal authorities also ask visitors not to give water to any illegals they may encounter in the desert but to promptly call 911.

The sign says that God will bless for any donation.

The creosote is brown. Dead prickly pear heaps dot the floor of the Chihuahuan Desert. The diggings of the javelina show desperation. I woke up at gray light on the ground and listened and there was nothing, not the dawn song of the coyote, not a single note of birdsong. Nothing.

A ranger says in time this place will be like the Sahara. He goes off on how the U.S. has the habits of a cancer cell and is killing the earth in general and Big Bend in particular.

The fresh air is suddenly rich in scent after the first slight shower in eleven months.

Down by the river, the government has posted a warning: “Beware of Javelina! Protect Your Property. Javelina in search of food may rip up your tents.”

At the mouth of Dog Canyon, a javelina bolts. The early camel corps came through in 1859 as they tested the Middle Eastern beast for the War Department, an early foray in national security. The experiment was cut short, when the Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, decided to quit his job, and lead a movement to destroy the Union. Before things settled down, 600,000 Americans were dead.

Back at the Boquillas crossing, Los Diablos laugh. Their caps sport the flags of the U.S. and Mexico, plus a big red devil.

There’s talk of reopening the crossing in the spring of 2012. But I am not sure my fellow citizens can bear such a risk to their safety.

There was a moment in my childhood when I realized my family and my school and my friends and my neighborhood all meant death. I took to sleeping on the roof until my parents outlawed this behavior.

But when I roll out my bag in Big Bend and look up I remember this and know, at least for a little moment, why I am here.

The sky has always meant freedom to me.

Big Bend still has sky.

Charles Bowden is the author of many books, including “Down by the River: Drugs, Money, Murder, and Family,” “Some of the Dead Are Still Breathing: Living in the Future” and, most recently, “Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields.” Bowden’s last story for MG was “The New Colossus,” which appeared in #184. He lives in the Chihuahuan Desert. 

Read about one man’s journey through climbing and divorce in Where It Ended