Letters – #180


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.

Little Dog lives!

Dear Gazette Readers: For those of you concerned about the welfare of Little Dog Casey (Smoke Signals, “Little Dog,” MG #176), rest assured, your concerns are unwarranted and needless. Having just spent several days with M. John and Little Dog, it is easy to see the Karmic Dog Gods were smiling on Casey when she landed in the laps of John and Gay Fayhee, literally and figuratively speaking of course. A couple trips a day to the friendly confines of the Silver City dog park, where she has already made several friends, more toys than one dog could possibly need or chew up and a comfortable dog bed at night! Inside, I might add. Having been a surrogate “uncle” to Cali for nearly a dozen years, I know what Fayhee dog love is all about and having just witnessed dog love part II, Little Dog has a wonderful home for the rest of her doggie years. If all dogs go to heaven, Casey is already there.
Fayhee does need to be concerned about one thing though — if he is not careful, Little Dog Casey is going to think her first name is Sweetie!

M. Fox,
Frisco, CO

Spreading our legs, er, wings

Hi, Fayhee: The recent issue of MG seemed like you are reaching out to other mountain places more. The piece on Bear Valley (“Terror and Wonder at the Mountain Roundup,” by Vince Welch, MG #177) struck me. We drove up that BV highway over and over seeking our caretaker winter paradise in our old Landrover 88. Her name was Galushka. She deserves to be remembered. I would buy her back for 5X.
Yes, reach out to these other island mountain worlds from which we look to the plush and verdant mountain lives on the Great Divide.

Sorry. The magazine means a lot. We still carry around these boxes of the primal Gazette magazine, never wishing to throw them out in spite of each year’s recurring, attempted self-stripping to the bone, to somehow become as light as we once were.

Love yuh. Don’t drink too much. Live On.

Dave

To go or not to go

John: Your piece on Bull Sluice rapids (Smoke Signals, “Deliverance,” MG #177) raises one of the essential ethical conundrums eventually faced by many non-solitary adventurers, particularly in the mountains — the question of whether to proceed in the face of exceptional hazard or to turn back/go the long way/portage around. A split group must address a variety of ethical dilemmas and psychological negotiations on the spot, often with rapids roaring/blizzards blowing in their ears and elevated adrenal production in their blood. The story is also a reminder that we never really leave behind the social politics of the playground, with its herding behavior, unspoken codes and uncompromising dichotomies. The field of avalanche safety and winter backcountry travel in particular is rife with case studies in these group dynamics.
Adventure Orgy Guy was right on script when he expressed disappointment in your choice to demur at the last minute. However, he overplayed his hand when he tried to pin the blame on you for his own decision to continue. In some such situations, the go/no-go question has implications for the entire group, as when it changes the route, or when each alternative entails risks of its own. But in this case, with portage as an option, Adventure Orgy Guy’s choice to run the rapid anyway does not give him the right to place the burden of his choice on you, and in particular does not absolve him of essentially ordering an employee to go in your place. As with those formative confrontations on the playgrounds, we indeed find ourselves replaying the dramas in our heads again and again, long after the fateful day.

On the other hand, a more generous interpretation of his comment would be merely as a wistful expression of regret for an opportunity missed.

It strikes me that this question of field ethics would be a fine feature idea for a future MG issue.

Malcolm McMichael,
Carbondale CO

Granite, schmanite

Dear John: Having read George Sibley’s article in MG #177 (“Sera and the Wildernext”), I have one small correction. Judging by his description of a magnificent marble entrance to a bridge in Lower Manhattan, one can deduce that this is the Manhattan Bridge, which connects downtown Brooklyn to Chinatown in Manhattan. This is the only East River Bridge with any monumental ornamentation. The columns, beaux arts reliefs and friezes are not of marble, as Mr. Sibley states, but granite, a much more durable material.
The frieze above the massive entryway to the bridge was sculpted by Charles Cary Rumsey. It depicts, oddly enough, a buffalo hunt by four Indians on horseback.

The urban wilderness has had for me, as well as Sibley’s daughter, a haunting draw for the unexpected and profound.

Well done.

Allan Cox,
Silver City NM

Editor’s note: Mr. Cox was a monument restorer for the Department of Parks, City of New York, from 1970 to 1996, and retired as the chief monuments restorer.

Dear Mom

John, You deliver again with the “Scar Tissue” story.  (Smoke Signals, MG #179.) My mom is visiting, and you’ve elevated my appreciation for the time with her. Your stories frequently hit home, I’d put you up there with the best writers to have graced this crazy globe. Thank you.

BS (serious)

Off the map

John: I too spend hours looking over atlases (Smoke Signals, “Injun Joe,” MG #178). I look at them both when traveling to new places, or occasionally even when going somewhere I have been dozens of times; actually, I think I might spend more time looking at them when I am going somewhere that I have already been to dozens of times. Atlases and maps are some of my most prized possessions; this may be partially due to the time I’ve spent backpacking and on paddling trips when maps are one of the few things along for the ride, but it is mainly because they, often more than photos, are tied in with memories — and anticipated further travel, of course. I have never tried using a GPS system, nor do I have any interest in them; maps are amazing things and it makes me sad to see someone looking to yet another display screen for direction.
The atlas is like a table of contents for trips. The atlas highlights an area and then I look over topographic maps for specific places to go. I am not much into following trails, though on family trips we usually do; I suppose I get my share of trails then. I enjoy seeing what is on the map on my own. For me, I like to look over the atlases and maps and tie my memories to them; a map of a region I have explored on foot or by kayak or canoe come alive when I glance at it. A map is like a beautiful work of art for me, I would rather have a map of one of my favorite regions hanging on my wall than nearly anything else.

I have an old atlas with random points of interest listed, but it does not say what the points-of-interest actually are or even assign names to them. Many of the highlighted points-of-interest are not located on roads; they are out in the middle of heavily forested areas or marshes. I have to wonder if some of these places are the sites of plane crashes, buried treasure, UFO landings or Bigfoot sightings. I recognized one of the places, marked along a creek several miles from the nearest trail,  as the location of a turn-of-the-century logging camp where smallpox had hit and every logger died. The place is now the site of the mass grave where the loggers were buried. Most of their family members, if they had any, were probably still living across the Atlantic when the men died. It was strange the first time, every time I guess, to see the small dot marked “POI” on that spot; the only reason I knew what the dot marked was that I knew the history of the area — it made me wonder what the other dots could be. The atlas presented many puzzles. I wondered if whoever compiled the atlas had wandered into small cafes and asked where interesting things had happened but had lost their notes before everything was marked.

Old mines and ghost towns in the mountains have always struck me as being of the sort of wilderness George Sibley wrote about in the April issue. The mines a century later do not seem quite so imposing; they are an altered landscape that sometimes make me think of post-apocalyptic movies when I stumble across them; finding places like that is something that topographic maps have helped with before too. There were many times when I picked a route and found an old cabin or two, or old mining works, and suddenly I was not just a lone man wandering through the wilderness, but a lone man wandering through an abandoned world too harsh for others to live in and could expect to encounter armed bands of cannibals at any time.

The mines and ghost towns are the rural Western equivalent of abandoned warehouses and factories in the long-inhabited cities and regions of the country. In the Twin Cities, where my brother roams, there is a strong vein of explorers that goes out to the abandoned buildings and especially the caves along the banks of the Mississippi. Many of the caves were used during Prohibition as speakeasies and distribution points along the river, and now abandoned warehouses holding large amounts of explosives back up to caves there also. This sort of new explorer is the subject of the documentary film “Urban Explorers,” which I recommend to anyone interested in the abandoned and decaying sections of cities. Some of these abandoned places are amazing to see, and I have to admit that they are quieter than some of the designated wilderness areas I have been to.

I cannot imagine this new sort of exploration becoming a huge new trend with special clothing and gear lines, mainly because the majority of the areas that are being explored are privately held and kids could end their adventures in jail (of course that happens when the kids head out to parties or the bars, so maybe it is not a very strong argument), but with scarcity of resources and a growing outspoken segment of society deciding to stay in their own backyards, there could be more kids taking to the abandoned factories and sewer systems in the coming years — where else can you go to be wild in a city surrounded by cities?

Bottoms up,

Joseph Van Nurden,
Gunnison, CO

Books: “The Quotable Chongo on How To Be Bitchin, Volume One” by Chongo

Charles “Chongo” Victor Tucker III is one of the most legendary dirtbags in the history of dirtbags, and probably the most-famous dirtbag in the history of Yosemite. I paid full price for his book instead of asking for a free “review copy” (as is the standard) because as Chongo says, “I live outdoors, which I guess you might call a homeless lifestyle.” He sleeps outdoors in Sacramento because, in 2005, a two-day court trial ended with Chongo being removed from Yosemite National Park, guilty of three misdemeanor violations of camping regulations.

As far as I know, this is the first-ever review of his book. What is the book? Somewhere between the “Tao Te Ching” and the “Tao of Willie”: An 89-page collection of maxims from Chongo on being bitchin’, one per page. Example: “The road to not being bitchin is paved with illusions of being so”; and “If it was bitchin once but not now, then it was never bitchin in the first place”; and “Pride derived from power is cowardice disguised as courage.” If you can’t meet Chongo — and I haven’t, besides reading his profile in the New York Times and the YouTube video on him from ad agency Ogilvy & Mather — I would guess this is the next best thing. Spiral-bound copies are $20 plus $3 shipping. chongonation.com

 

The Wild Side of Life: Roadhouses, Honky-Tonks and Dives

The Almont Resort, between Gunnison and Crested Butte. Photo: Dawne Belloise

You’re sitting on a stool in some mountain dive bar where the music is beyond the aural spectrum your ears can handle, which is OK, because the melodic nuances were lost at the bottom of that fifth pint and shot you ordered. In this scenario, it’s not likely that you’d be musing about the origin of your historic watering hole and the various music genres that have bounced around the dance floor, but it’s staggering in more ways than the obvious to visualize what may have come before. Tap into the collective wildness of its previous incarnations and perhaps in your elevated consciousness ask yourself, “Where am I?”

… a roadhouse, honky-tonk or just a dive?

According to Dr. Chani Marchiselli, a Colorado mountain native and now a Professor of Communications at New England College, “Roadhouses developed outside of municipalities that had been subject to zoning and regulatory acts put forward by Progressive Reformers who were interested in saving cities and towns from the scourge of noisy, drunken dance halls and their attendant business and prostitution. Roadhouses developed in the teens and 1920s when they wouldn’t allow dance halls and sometimes alcohol consumption so houses moved outside (of town and city limits) to avoid regulations. They were made possible by the invention of the autos.” Although given an understandably bad rap, Dr. Marchiselli explains that teetotalers shouldn’t be bashed since their main thrust was to curtail the exploitation of women. “They were interested in banning alcohol in cities because husbands would work in dank, dirty factories, get drunk and then beat the shit out of their wives. So a lot of the Progressive Social Reformers were concerned about how wives were treated.”

Honky-tonks came later, as did the music so associated with those venues that it eventually came to bear the name. Jazz came out of the brothels of New Orleans and the nastiest honky-tonks of the West. Dr. Marchiselli adds that honky-tonks get “blamed” for some of the raunchy influence on American music, mostly ragtime and jazz. “Roadhouses were out of town; honky-tonks were basically filthy folk-music saloons and, like roadhouses, were associated with prostitution and suspension of social order. Honky-tonks were usually associated with out West and a particular kind of music and they were really rowdy … and mountain honky-tonks were way off the maps (as far as unruliness). Hymnals actually influenced country and blues.” Country music didn’t show up in honky-tonks until the 1930s.

Craig McManus, a popular KBUT radio (kbut.org, Crested Butte) country music DJ and bass player in rock-and-roll bands for a couple of decades, thinks the true honky-tonk is either dying or just plain dead and, if nothing else, on its last breath in the mountains. “The road house is usually in between two small towns, like the Almont Resort between Crested Butte and Gunnison or The Sleepy Cat between Meeker and Buford,” both of which McManus has frequented. Although The Sleepy Cat was turned into a private residence by new owners, long-time owners of the original roadhouse, the Wix family, plan to eventually build another close by to appease the pleas from area locals who miss the joint’s good times. The Almont Resort, with some of its cabins dating back to the late-1800s, is still a place for a raucous evening of drinks, live music and dancing.

Between Bond and Wolcott, State Bridge was another off-the-beaten-path roadhouse with all the fixins’ of music, dance and rowdiness that unfortunately burned to the ground in 2007 when a vexed burglar doused the resistant ATM machine with gasoline and set it ablaze. Scott Stoughton, the current Social Chairman of the newly rebuilt Eagle County lodge, says it was once a haven for trappers, traders, miners and cowboys. “Before the fire, since the early days, it was a little hotel, a brothel, a trading post and later a speakeasy during Prohibition. It rebounded with rafting and music throughout the 1980s and ’90s for bikers, rafters, fisherman and hippies. It was rocking until the fire.” Its grand reopening last month (June 2011) included concerts and music on the newly rebuilt stages.

McManus observed that there weren’t really any rules for roadhouses and honky-tonks unless patrons went past the unwritten allowable, and you could get away with even more after midnight. “These were venues where the people living out in the rural mountain areas could meet, listen to live bands, drink and not worry about the laws and the rules. On most occasions, you could find a crap game or two going on in the bar.” Music that was played in more-isolated honky-tonks tended to be good-time country bands. “I talked to somebody who played rock-and-roll in a country bar and every time they played that type of song it would rain beer bottles. They had been hired by mistake because of a misunderstood name the band had. But if you’re musically inappropriate in a place like this, the audience will let you know physically that you’re in the wrong place. I have played behind a caged stage to protect bands from flying burgers and beer bottles.”

McManus feels the death of honky-tonks is because of several reasons, “One reason is the DUI, but that’s one of the reasons they had their own cabins. Secondly, country music — true country music — has lost most of its venues and there are less country bands regionally. People aren’t going out as much anymore, either. I remember the honky-tonks’ hardwood floor with sawdust, a lot of dancing and drinking and you wouldn’t dare ask for a martini because it was a shot-and-beer place … American beers, thank you. And you better not talk to any pretty girls unless you know who their boyfriend is or was because he may still be there and it doesn’t matter if he ain’t seeing her anymore — you ain’t.” McManus describes the basic difference between a roadhouse honky-tonk and a dive as, “The number of Harleys out front. If it’s a honky-tonk, there would be pickup trucks in the parking lot. If you see one SUV, move on … it’s been turned.”

Although true mountain roadhouses and honky-tonks have either transformed or disappeared into the setting sun, saloons with their odoriferous air of fermentation, dance floors and music are still alive and well at high-altitude locales and worth much exploration … which surely means a future Mountain Music story of its own.

Dawne Belloise is a freelance writer, photographer, traveler and musician living in a tiny cottage with a ginormous cat on an alley at the end of the road in Crested Butte’s paradise. A feature writer for the Crested Butte News-Weekly, her musings and photography have been published in numerous mags and rags around the planet. Contact dbelloise@gmail.com

I Am Climbing Granite Peak

I am climbing Granite Peak, the highest mountain in Montana, and sweat is pouring off my brow. I’m choking back vomit and my spine really hurts, yet I’m happily wallowing in this abject misery. And I think you’ll understand why.

 

But first a little about me. I’m a sport climber. And a lazy one. I belay off the bumper. If the approach to a crag crests 15 minutes, I seriously reconsider ever climbing there again. So, with no backpacking experience, borrowed alpine gear and poor cardio, I decide to take on one of the hardest summits in the country: dangerous climbing, consistently exposed positions, notoriously unpredictable weather and low odds of reaching the top. Aaron, my hardcore backpacking friend, stated my odds the most eloquently: “It will destroy you.” Perfect.

Why? Well, I’d left the International Climber’s Festival early to swing by my girlfriend’s house and surprise her. I did. Surprised her ex-boyfriend too. In crippling silence (the sound of hurried re-buckling and shallow breathing notwithstanding), we all stared at each other for the longest minute in history. Following that, I drove home, threw up, wondered why I’d been with her for two years and then got drunk for a week. (Or two. I dunno … Not important.)

After countless weepy trips to the bar and an endless barrage of apologies, I decided that I couldn’t wallow in my own bottomless self-pity forever and I needed appropriate catharsis: self-immolation, seppuku, pull a “Leaving Las Vegas,” etc. After careful thought, I determined the crippling mental and physical pain of mountaineering was a more reasonable outlet.

And I had picked a damned hard mountain at that. Remarkably climbed after Alaska’s Mt. McKinley and Wyoming’s Gannett, Granite Peak was the last state high point to be conquered. After multiple attempts from multiple parties, Elers Koch finally scored the first ascent August 29, 1923 — just two weeks after he found his wife Gerda in bed with his longtime friend, Bernard DeVoto. *(That’s not true. Could be though)

“I need you to promise me something, Dan,” I tell my climbing partner between labored breaths on the saddle overlooking Mystic Lake. “No matter what I say or do, make me summit. I’ve never done anything like this before, so I might feel like I can’t and try to quit.” I’m a junkie before a painful detox, making sure I end up clean no matter what desperate bargaining might take place. I want enlightenment, goddammit. And I’m not going to find it at this altitude. I stare at him and say, “I need to summit.”

We hit the Switchbacks From Hell, and I exist only one stunted, 12-inch step at a time. Slowly, with each mile traveled, cuckoldry is fading from my

consciousness. Despite a rapidly growing level of physical discomfort, I’m feeling better overall. It starts to rain gently as we approach treeline, and I can’t help but smile. With the deep blue waters of Mystic Lake majestically spread before me, flanked by massive lofty peaks, I slowly begin to understand why people go backpacking.

Kinda. My knees are really starting to hurt.

Next comes Froze-to-Death Plateau. Like some giant, boring treadmill, the flat miles inch along. We slog through marshy swamps and leftover snow banks on our determined march to the peak. Now my lower body aches deeply. Roving gangs of mountain goats circle us the entire way, hungrily lapping up any salty urine we leave behind. Piss vultures. Gross.

Just when I think I can’t, we finally arrive at a suitable bivy site, with the jagged summit of Granite peering at us over the ridgeline. I collapse against the stacked rocks. I am a sacred vessel of hurt. I am the holy martyr of suffering. I am Saint Gangulphus of Burgundy, the remarkably appropriate patron saint of deceived husbands, unhappy marriages and knee pain. *(That is true. Google it.)

Every joint is throbbing. Genuine, palpable, physical suffering has replaced all my petty emotional suffering. Perfect. This I can manage. My brain doesn’t seem to be functioning properly. Maybe it’s the elevation. I can’t think good. I can’t remember her “dog-just-got-in-the-garbage” facial expression when I walked in. I can’t even remember her face. She doesn’t exist at 10,000 feet. I feel a Zen-like calmness. I’m happy. Time for bed.

4:15 a.m. Cold dark alpine start. I awake to black and wind. Granite by moonlight.

10:15 a.m. Endless skies above. I’m on the highest mountain. Montana beneath.

3:15 p.m. Bivy site and goats. I pack the tents, pump water. Time to return home.

I’m pissed. While I was able to transcend the issue of indiscretion on the hike up, I can feel it start to (re)consume my consciousness on the hike down. I’m slowly dipping back into the Hot Tub of Emotional Torment. “Where’s my enlightenment? Where’s my damned inner peace?” I mutter as we finally get off Froze-to-Death and head back down the Switchbacks. Damn! I feel cheated. All this suffering for nothing. I’m waiting for something to happen — deep spiritual clarity, inner peace, a moment of realization, etc. I’m annoyed that nothing took place. And then something did.

Fifteen hours of constant effort begins to break down my doughy sport-climbing physique. My ambitious pace slows to a labored, waddling gait. Joints begin to scream. Every footstep sends lightning bolts of pain up my legs and my eyes start to well up. My climbing partners scoff and charge ahead around me, agreeing to meet me at the car, which is still six miles away.

A mile later, a stabbing muscle cramp clutches my right leg as I step down. I stand all of my weight on the side of my foot and then crumple. Grasping my twisted ankle and biting back tears, I finally feel like I can’t. Every joint is screaming and I can feel my ankle swelling. I’ve overloaded my pain circuits and blown the fuses. System failure.

I give up and cry like a bratty toddler. It’s all too much. What the hell was I thinking?

A few desperate minutes later, as I wipe the snot off my face with my forearm, it finally dawns on me: only I can get me the hell out of this canyon. Feeling bad for myself wasn’t going to do a damned thing. My friends were miles ahead. It was getting dark. I couldn’t change the fact that my ex-girlfriend betrayed me or how far away the car was. I could only change myself. I was going to get to the car and I was going to get over her because I had to. Simple. Why not do it right now?

I determined that the next few hours of my life would involve crippling pain and I decided to enjoy it. I spend the last six miles in complete nirvana, slowly limping with a massive smile on my face as every delicate inch of sinew in my lower body weeps from constant abuse. I can’t stop laughing.

Long, long after my friends arrived back at the parking lot, I finally hobble down the hill to join them. “What the hell took you so long?” Dan calls out from the parking lot. I’m so happy I could throw up.

I had done it. I had successfully returned from the highest mountain in Montana. I haven’t been this happy in a long time. I come back to reality with a renewed perspective, ready to face the onslaught of apology messages with icy indifference. Sorry, but you can’t hurt me. All this suffering is nothing compared to what I just put myself through. I just limped my sorry ass up a big damned mountain and back, so I can sure as hell blow you off when you come crying. I am at peace.

Then, in a tremendous display of karma, she got fired from her job, had to move back in with her parents and is generally miserable *(Bitch). Perfect.

Dave Reuss is the managing editor of Outside Bozeman magazine. This is his first piece for the Gazette.

Meander: A History

…Hope, Fear. Ruin, Rebirth

There is a buried and meandering channel of history moving unseen through the Moab Valley’s narrow, rimrock embrace. It curves through eras of rock art and warpaint, medical research and industrial warfare, salvation through service and damnation in detention. The substance of its serpentine events — now captured in history’s stony embrace — is infused with the elemental polarities of human nature: Hope, fear. Ruin, rebirth.

Though this channel of stories is now dormant beneath a newly laid desert floor, the curves and turns of yesteryear still tug at the paths forged today.

They are called paleochannels — abandoned streambeds from ancient landscapes, now buried under layers of sediment-turned-stone. Uranium miners followed them. Like ouzels, the birds that dive under cool canyon currents and walk submerged surfaces, these men dove below stone to the canyon bottoms of a previous age, searching for the sustenance that uranium might provide.

They mined around meanders and dug deeper-down pour-offs. They sought the phantom pool below the extinct waterfall for the logjam or dinosaur corpse providing the organic matter where uranium accumulates.

Uranium is a shape-shifting element. Ever lonely, it seeks the companionship of carboniferous deposits. It infuses tree limbs and bones with its essence, slowly replacing the dead matter with its elemental self. It is constantly on the move, from deep in the earth’s mantle outward, migrating on the wings of water. Driving plate tectonics. It is a vagabond. And it resists identification, hiding behind a multiplicity of hues and concentrations.

In this way, it mirrors humankind’s shape-shifting nature, each of us wavering on the tightrope strung between our hopes and our fears. With each falter and overcorrection, we shift the terrain of history. And we fashion the course of our lives.

“We inherit the warlike type,” said William James in his 1906 essay, “The Moral Equivalent of War.” “Our ancestors have bred pugnacity into our bone and marrow and thousands of years of peace won’t breed it out of us.”

In this way, tales of war act like uranium, seeking the companionship of our hearts and minds, seeping into our bones, remaking individuals and societies in its elemental image. Even when we are not at war, the metaphors and memories remain in our lives, livelihoods and literature. Are we ever truly at peace? Is peace an illusion? Is it simply a time of preparation, of readiness? A state of tension anticipating some red glow on the horizon?

“‘Peace’ in military mouths today is a synonym for ‘war expected,’” James continued. “[T]he battles are only a sort of public verification of the mastery gained during the ‘peace’-interval.”

Is peace a less stable element than war?

What is the half-life of peace?

In the years leading up to World War II, the Civilian Conservation Corps built 23,000 miles of hiking trails, 125,000 miles of new roads and 47,000 bridges. They stocked one billion fish in waterways nationwide, strung 89,000 miles of telephone lines and erected 3,470 fire towers. They spent over four million man-days fighting forest fires, dedicated seven million man-days to habitat restoration and worked for nine straight years on erosion control, water conservation, forest management and rangeland improvements. They are best known for planting over three billion trees.

It was the largest peacetime mobilization of men in our country’s history.

The CCC was phased out in 1942. We needed the manpower to go to war.

Fifteen short months after the closure of Moab’s Dalton Wells Civilian Conservation Corps camp with the advent of World War II, the site was converted into the Moab Isolation Center, a Japanese internment camp. The barracks that once housed men intent on building a better future for themselves and their country now detained Japanese Americans — “troublemakers” from other relocation centers. Prisoners were shipped to this remote desert outpost and held without due process, kept under military guard, given no warrants, no right to defense, no trial and no contact with family. Their mail was censored. The Japanese tongue was not allowed. They required military escort to perform basic bodily functions.

The head of the War Relocation Authority at the time — the agency responsible for Japanese internment — referred to the Moab Isolation Center as “nothing but a concentration camp.”

One man was held there for the crime of referring to a Caucasian nurse as an “old maid.”

The Moab Isolation Center was never publicized. The world was largely unaware of these desert detainees. All photo documentation of the camp was destroyed. It became a hole in the landscape, a gap in the deep history of Dalton Wells, an abandoned meander in its course of events.

The Japanese internment camp in Moab was officially referred to as a “rehabilitation center.”

Rehabilitation from what?

When detainee Harry Ueno was moved from the Moab Isolation Center to another internment camp, he and four other prisoners were placed in a blacked out, four-by-six box with a single air-hole. They were transported this way — in the back of a truck — across 11 hours worth of gravel roads.

What kind of rehabilitation is this?

In peacetime, Dalton Wells was a place of hope and regeneration. During war, the same desert silence, the same modest buildings, the same sage and redrock and dust and wind … these elements forged a hell for 49 Japanese Americans.

In the powdery soils of Dalton Wells today, we find that hope and fear are made of the same raw materials and supported by the same ground. Our collective consciousness and conscience determine the differing outcomes.

The landscape — just like the heart of a nation — is vast enough to hold both realities.

Individuals, too, are raw materials. We, too, can become infused with the elemental — war and fear, compassion and courage — as it emanates from the hot mantle of those in power.

It is a fragile division between peaceful pursuits and wartime atrocities, between the solace of a desert’s solitude and the despair of its isolation. It is a fine line we walk within our own hearts and in our collective capacities for kindness and contempt.

Not far from Dalton Wells, on a remote canyon wall, sits a millennia-old Barrier Canyon-style being who seems to catch comets. He is painted in red, outlined in gold. He is taller than I. This panel’s beauty is one that transcends the truth of its meaning — one which we will never know.

The same reds and golds that give life to the comet catcher are the ones once used as warpaint by the Ute and Navajo. The same reds and golds once used in war were later shipped east to color ceramics like Fiestaware.

This element from the desert that speaks in hues of red and gold was used by Madame Curie in her efforts to cure cancer. Some of her radium came from Moab-area mines. This same element that was used to end suffering also caused more of it than the world had ever seen in a single day.

When the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a member of the Enola Gay crew recalled that the mushroom cloud included yellowish clouds enveloping reddish clouds.

One-seventh of the atomic bomb’s radioactive material came from Moab.

Altruism and war. Beauty and suffering. Caught in the channels incised by our chosen leadership and our basic needs, we meander back and forth between the poles.

Of the men who worked in Moab-area uranium mines after World War II, many remained, many became sick, and many died here. Some sought a cure through nuclear medicine, bringing the element full circle. Uranium — a vagabond element, a shape-shifter. A killer and a redeemer.

These men — with their own shape-shifting stories — mined the raw materials of our sense of safety during the Cold War. They also invested in the Moab community. Uranium money built schools, neighborhoods, churches, roads and the necessary infrastructure to support a burgeoning population. Moab was blessed by war.

When the Atomic Energy Commission no longer needed uranium, Moab suffered. When the uranium processing mill finally closed in the early ’80s, Moab all but dried up and blew away on persistent desert winds.

“Global peace has been a disaster for the uranium industry,” wrote Tom Zoellner, author of a book on uranium’s deep history.

Global peace nearly killed Moab.

“A permanently successful peace-economy cannot be a simple pleasure economy,” wrote James. “So long as antimilitarists propose no substitute for war’s disciplinary function, no moral equivalent of war…so long they fail to realize the full inwardness of the situation.”

The Dalton Wells site, now on the National Register of Historic Places, is a ghost of its former self. The cottonwood trees that the CCCers planted remain. The concrete foundations scattered on the desert floor are buckled, cracked, submitting to the elemental forces that shape this landscape. The area is now used by recreationists. They set up their RVs across the foundations of another time, using the site as a staging area for their adventures — atop motorcycles, ATVs and mountain bikes. This forms the basis for Moab’s current economy: Industrial tourism. A pleasure-based economy. Our antidote to the boom-and-bust cycle of supplying the raw materials of war.

As the two-stroke engines whine across this storied and stony landscape, who follows the flow of stories just beneath the surface? Who studies the oscillations between hope and fear cradled in an unlikely and isolated space? Who studies these ancient, subterranean routes so that we — as a people — might learn to chart a new course?

Who will now walk the paleochannels? And for what reason?

Who will now wander the prison yard? And what will he dream for its tomorrows?

Who will now collect reds and golds? And for what purpose?

What is the half-life of memory?

Here and elsewhere, we continue to walk the tension between our conflicting potentialities, engaging in this daring-and-dreamy high-wire act that we refer to simply as life. And we also walk a subterranean route collectively cut into this earth, our footprints a soft attrition. It is a channel of ruin and redemption incised deeply in the shared landscapes of memory, heart and home.

On this walk, we carry with us our layers of kindnesses and faults — mirroring the rocky strata of the Moab landscape — allowing erosion to determine which echelon we act upon and which serves as counterbalance in our ever-meandering destiny.

Senior correspondent Jen Jackson’s last piece for the Gazette was “A Hiker’s Guide to the Desert,” which appeared in MG #177. Her monthly blog, “Desert Reflections,” can by viewed at mountaingazette.com. Jackson lives in Moab.

Making the Break

(Re-printed from Volume 1 Number 1 — Winter ’72-’73 — of Powder magazine. Thanks to Dave Baldridge for the transcription services.)

In the white brick courtyard of the 16th century Catholic church in Managua, Nicaragua, a dark mob of angry Central Americans were screaming two familiar epithets: “Yankee go home!” and “Vaya Gringo!” Inside the church, yours truly, a very blue-eyed, blonde-headed gringo ski patrolman from Stowe, Vermont, was kneeling down in sanctuary in one of the ancient back pews. Save for “Donde esta el baño, por favor?” (“Where is the bathroom, please?”), I did not speak Spanish.

My Indian hitching partner, Sincere Smiling Wolf, from the Sun Valley ski patrol, was last seen on the outskirts of Mexico City, wildly swinging his gold Scott ski poles in mock anticipation of our arrival at Portillo, Chile, and the end of an 11,000-mile hitch-hike. The Indian, as he was called, had not made our proposed meeting in Guatemala City. He’d either been abducted by guerillas in Guatemala or had grabbed a boat in Veracruz, Mexico, and was waiting for me in Panama City — our alternate “if-things-fall-through” plan. I did not know where he was. I did know that Portillo was still 7,000 miles away and that things were falling through.

Now, however, outside, the people in the courtyard were becoming more vehement. I pressed my head against the pew in front of me to supplicate the Norse ski god. An elderly silver-tressed woman stopped in the aisle next to me, reached out and gingerly touched my shoulder.

“Are you a North American?” she asked in English.

“Yes,” I replied.

“A tourist?”

“Yes.”

“How wonderful,” she said. “I pray that more North Americans come to our country as tourists.”

I moaned and moved my head back onto the wooden pew again. Maybe the Indian had joined the Cubco/Gresvig demonstration team and split for Hawaii, I thought. Suddenly, out of the ceiling an ominous resonant voice boomed, “Can I help you, my son?” I turned and looked into the eyes of a red-frocked priest.

“Yes,” I replied. “I’m going in the direction of Panama City and my ride let me out here somehow. Is there another way out?” I pointed sideways out the door toward the courtyard in an unnecessary explanation of my plight.

“This way,” he said, and led me through an enclosed compound to another exit, where he hailed a cab that took me to the outskirts of Managua and dropped me off on the Pan American Highway. At the highway, I stopped a bus full of chickens and chicken farmers (one chicken per farmer) and was again, I hoped, moving in the general direction of Portillo via Panama City and my scheduled meeting with The Indian. I was determined to ski in South America after two years of procrastination and,
despite the slow progress of the chickens and chicken farmers, I was zooming in on Chile by ox cart, train, bus, car and plane at the rate of 200 miles a day.

Sincere Smiling Wolf is a New Mexican Indian from Los Alamos who mysteriously jumped from the Thiokol Corporation onto the Sun Valley ski patrol one year because (he said) they needed a token minority group representative. He cannot ski. He takes pride in the fact that he cannot ski. He is, however, a very stable man with a toboggan. He can also speak fluent Spanish. His given name is David Baldridge, but he considers that name condescension to the neo-colonialism of the white man in “his country” and prefers his Cheyenne war designation. His name is fitting. He is not only the fastest Indian in Sun Valley with a pitcher of beer, but also can out-smile anyone there. He has a set of screaming white teeth that are the modus operandi of his persuasion. He is an Indian Diplomat out of place and time. He would have complimented Crazy Horse at the conference table. Too bad for the Indians; good for Sun Valley.

I met The Indian at Alta, Utah, where we both had journeyed for the National Gelande Contest. I had come from Stowe, where I had been a token Western Powder Hound the Mt. Mansfield ski patrol takes on for amusement each year. At Stowe, I had learned what ice REALLY was, and I was eager to recall the more prosaic ecstasy of powder and hitched out to Alta in hopes of finding some and maybe even making enough money to ski the summer in Portillo. That is, if I finished high enough in the Contest.

The Indian had come to Alta to laugh at the people who were jumping in the National Gelande Contest. One day, he helped me off the outrun after a practice crash that I had been perfecting. The other jumpers called it “burning out.” I was becoming very practiced at the art and The Indian had been watching my development.

“You’re insane,” he said as he waved the next jumper off.

“I know,” I replied, “but I like money.”

“What the hell for?”

“I want to ski Portillo this summer.”

“I’d rather walk,” he said.

“So would I,” I replied.

“One more of these and you won’t be able to crawl,” he pointed out.

“Yup,” I said.

“Have some wine,” he smiled.

I took the wine and one thing led to another as one step led to another and we were in Alta’s Shallow Shaft drinking beer and planning our summer escape to Portillo.

The round-trip airfare from Alta to Portillo is $1,268.41. That price includes the cost from Alta to the Salt Lake International Airport (about five dollars). At the Hotel Carrera in Santiago, the La Tour Travel Agency has a bus that goes to Portillo daily — weather permitting (about eight dollars). The Indian estimated that we could hitch to Portillo and back on about $200 each. It seemed feasible to me. We sent customary job applications to Portillo and soon received customary rejection slips and accompanying travel brochures. The brochures were effective. We decided to hitchhike.

The Pan American Highway is a long system of surface transportation extending from Canada to Buenos Aires, Argentina. It covers 12,000 miles; roughly halfway around the world. I had done extensive hitchhiking in the United States, Canada and Europe and did not feel that the trip was unapproachable. It was a highway and it stood to reason that any highway had cars and hitchhikers on it. The Indian and I spent a day in the library looking at the atlases to determine what we would be confronted with. The road went 30 miles past Panama City into the Darien Peninsula jungle, where it temporarily ended. In Panama City, it would be necessary to catch a boat or take a plane to Columbia and continue hitchhiking there. Barring unforeseen difficulties, we felt the trip could be accomplished.

May 15,, we shipped our skis to Santiago via air from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and then picked up our passports, immunization records, water purification pills and beaded rosettes (a symbol of good luck, The Indian said), which we sewed onto our packs, and began our journey.

The first instance of bad luck, which prompted me to throw away my rosette, was the five-hour wait for a ride on the highway out of Albuquerque. After the first two hours of waiting, we split up in hopes of getting a ride easier. Ten minutes later, I saw The Indian pass me in a silver sports car as I walked down the highway. Two days later, I met him in the student cafeteria at the University of Arizona. His first ride was from a young starlet in a Porsche 911 Targa who went 300 miles out of her way to take him to Tucson. My rides included two drunk drivers preparing for Le Mans; a grandmother who lectured me on the evils of hitchhiking, and a Mexican farm worker who could not speak English — a precursor of difficulties to come.

Mexico was a disaster. The Indian and I found it was possible to take a train or bus to Mexico City for $25. Why hitchhike? The Indian was right. On May 18, we sweat-boxed by Mexican National Railroad to Mazatlan, where we stopped to check out the fabled Mazatlan beach. It was infested with sand fleas. Despite our diligent search for a campsite, we were unsuccessful. The next morning, we were on a bus to Guadalajara.

To combat the “Revenge of Montezuma,” The Indian would drink nothing but Coca-Colas or mineral water. He was continually taking pills or reading a tour guide book that explained the local diseases. This was sound policy. However, his reasons were not to avoid being ill. I later discovered that he felt it was necessary to set a good example for me.

“I’m immune,” he said.

“How can you be immune?”

“Indians no longer fight each other; our enemy is the forked-tongue White Eyes. Los Coyotes Rubios, the blonde coyotes.”

In Mexico City, we split up to make faster time. We would meet in Guatemala City in a week, or if we got a through ride, send a note to the American Express there and meet in Panama City in two weeks. I felt I had picked up enough Spanish and local “machismo” to get along.

As I hitched to Veracruz, I realized I had made a mistake. A bus picked me up going toward what I thought was Puebla. It left me 20 miles from the road. In Veracruz, an eight-year-old Pancho Villa hustled a Swiss Army Knife out of my pack while teaching me the language. Later, I caught a bus in Veracruz that dropped me off in Villahermosa — 150 miles off my route.

At Villahermosa, I caught a bus that took me the circuitous route to the Mexican/Guatemalan border town of Tapachula. I arrived in Tapachula at midnight and managed to find an available room in a “pension.” The “pension” was a relief not only because of the Latin ambiance of the building’s open courtyard but also because Tapachula signaled the end of the Mexican segment of my journey.

At the Guatemalan border, I learned that, if anyone plans on hitchhiking to Portillo, he should first visit the embassies of each country he will pass through and obtain a visa. Many of the border stations do not issue visas on their own authority, and even though it is possible to get them in Mexico City, it is much easier to do so in the United States. Also, it is wise to have at least $500 in travelers’ checks as proof of self-sufficiency. In some of the countries, a ticket out is necessary before you can get in. Fortunately, I caught a ride with a fellow from Southern California who had immigrated to Costa Rica and told the border authorities I was his traveling companion.

Costa Rica has the worst roads on the Pan American Highway (which is called the Inter-American Highway in Central America). The rainy season extends from May to October and the roads are creamy with mud. However, equipped with the two indispensables of hitchhiking: a good rain poncho and much patience, I was able to make it past Costa Rica’s two large mountain ranges and reach the flatter country and better roads of Panama.

I found The Indian soundly entrenched in Panama City at a local yacht club. He was at the pool with a glass of lemonade. He told me he had swiftly traveled the distance from Mexico City to Veracruz and had there caught a ride with a university student who was going to Panama to visit his parents in the American-controlled Canal Zone. While he waited for me, he played tennis and had done some golfing and sailing at the invitation of his host. He thought it would be simple to get a job crewing on a yacht going to Argentina or Chile.

We looked for a boat going in the direction of South America for four days and then, because I was eager to be on my way before I spent all of my money on hotels, we split up again to meet in Lima or Santiago, depending on our luck.

We would write a letter c/o the American Express office to the other person in the event of catching a ride through to Santiago.

Panama City to Santiago is 5,500 miles. Most of the road is “all weather,” a broad euphemism for “travel if you’re lucky”— except for the Darien Peninsula between Columbia and Panama, where there is no road at all. In Columbia, the Pan American Highway is called the Simon Bolivar Highway. Regardless of what it is called, it is a thrilling experience, reminiscent
of being strapped into a roller coaster for the first time as a child. On a side excursion to Bogota, I was told by a friend in the Peace Corps that the greatest danger in Columbia is travel by bus on the country’s highway system.

From the Colombian border town of Ipiales, I hitched 750 miles along the mountainous route of the ancient Inca Empire to Quito. At places on the road, it was necessary to stop and back up when meeting another vehicle because the road was so narrow. In Guayaquil, I decided that my nerves could not distinguish between the old Inca road and the new “improved” Pan American Highway. I took a plane over the earthquake disaster area in northern Peru. I had gone well over my proposed $200 allotment by this time, thanks to the cost of visas and hotels and other unplanned expenses.

In Lima, I sold my climbing boots to a Peace Corpsman who needed them as desperately as I needed the money. I immediately purchased a ticket to Santiago via TEPSA. TEPSA is the Greyhound bus service of South America. Their buses carry more people than livestock. They have an accident rate that is so much lower than their competitors, I was actually able to sleep as the bus sped the 2,000 miles down the Pacific coast to Santiago, which I reached on July 10.

I expected The Indian to be waiting for me at the American Express in Santiago. I did not find him or a letter from him. I found a student “pension” that included three meals a day and light housekeeping for $40 a month. I made a pilgrimage to the American Express each day in hopes of greeting him.

One week passed and I had heard nothing. In the interim, I had gone to the airport and claimed our skis: one pair of which I immediately sold. I had to. Next, I took an excursion to the ski resort of Farellones, which sits high in the Andes Mountains overlooking Santiago. Just to yearn.

When I returned, I still did not have word from The Indian. I left a letter for him at the American Express in Santiago and sent another to his home in New Mexico. Then I packed my bags and purchased a ticket to Portillo.

I stayed in Los Andes, a small town 50 miles from Portillo, while the Chilean Army cleared the road of avalanches to a point where the tourists could get to the hotel by taking the lowest of Portillo’s seven lifts. That lift crosses over the lower switchbacks of the road and deposits the newly arrived guest steps away from the hotel’s registration desk.

I walked past the solitary yellow hotel 150 yards and pitched my bright blue climbing tent between two large boulders, which sheltered me from the wind, set up a cold storage for 47 cans of salmon that I had purchased in Santiago, unraveled my down sleeping bag and considered myself encamped.

For the next five weeks at Portillo, I rented my ski equipment, sold Chilean escudos on the black market and started a one-man underground ski school to make enough money to occasionally obtain a room in the hotel and leave my blue tent. When I did not have the money, I skulked around the hotel and ski slopes with Bryan Nelson, a racer from the University of Colorado, who was training for his winter jaunt on the Can-Am Circuit. We looked for ways to avoid the eventual boredom of a one-hotel ski area after two weeks.

On August 20, I finished fourth in Portillo’s South American Gelande Contest and won a bottle of Chilean wine. As Bryan and I were celebrating my moral victory (he had coached me out of my “burning out” predispositions), I received a letter from The Indian. He was not coming to Portillo and appeared to be safe in the warmth of the Caribbean.

“Sorry I couldn’t make it. Surf and suds as scuba diving instructor here at Bimini too much to pass up.” — El Indio

I decided that my Portillo Summer had come to a welcome end. I sold my skis, ski poles, boots and a pair of Levis (the Chileans purchase them whenever possible from tourists), returned to Santiago and boarded a plane for Miami, where I landed 12 hours later.

For next summer, The Indian has proposed a tour to Bariloche, a ski area in southern Argentina.

“Hitchhike?” I said. “No way. I’ll meet you there. I’m taking a plane.”

“El Coyote Rubio grows old like rusted metal ski,” he smiled.

Richard Barnum-Reece (RIP) is Mountain Gazette’s special correspondent to the hereafter. His last story for MG was “Skiing Naked,” which appeared in #175.

Mountain High

This month’s theme is High Summer, as you’ve noticed. Ergo, we look at marijuana and the Reefer Madness pandemic.

1) On the World-Wide Web
Colorado has a state law that prohibits local governments from disclosing the location of medical marijuana cultivation centers, which is a very good idea. With people desiring large quantities of bud and the money it nets, it ain’t prudent to let everyone know Where The Marijuana Grows. That said, in January, the City of Boulder accidentally published on its Web site a previously secret map disclosing the locations of 60 cultivation centers and 12 product manufacturing sites, along with a list of the city’s various dispensaries, the latter merely being free advertising. The SNAFU was cleaned up quickly, but left some folks scratching their heads. “The incompetence epidemic is so virulent and widespread nowadays that you never know whether to attribute an episode like this to political hostility or viral incompetence,” wrote Fred Gardner in CounterPunch (which contains some good reads, incidentally).

2) Big, giant piece-of-crap life
A Missoula man was sentenced in May to two years in the slammer for sharing a bowl of his medical marijuana. Matthew Otto gets to hang out at the Montana State Prison for passing the pipe to two passengers in his car, and because an off-duty cop saw the exchange. (He also should receive some form of recognition for having the worst timing of anyone on the planet.) Now, the actual sentence for distribution of dangerous drugs is 20 years, but the court is making him serve just two in the Big House with the remaining 18 under DOC supervision. While it sounds a tad harsh, the deputy DA reminded the court that Otto was a “persistent felony offender” who had racked up 30 convictions as a juvenile. Otto told the court that he was seriously rethinking his “big giant piece-of-crap life” when all this went down, and that he may require, um, medication and another chance to get things right. The judge told Otto he’d be spending a real 20 years in prison if their paths crossed again.

3) Should be interesting
More than 2,300 Arizona residents now have permission to cultivate up to 12 medical pot plants each in their homes, due to the passage of Proposition 203. The idea is to allow people to grow what they need until medical dispensaries get approved in August. Then, if you live within 25 miles of a dispensary, you need to pull the plug on your grow lights or face criminal charges. The thing is, local law-enforcement agencies don’t have the budgets or necessarily the inclination to check up on small-time growers, and cops are anticipating a lot of gray area while medical marijuana settles in. Meanwhile, marijuana looks to be good business. The Green Horizons University, one of several for-profit information outlets, has set up shop in Scottsdale, offering cultivation classes, as well as legal and auditing advice to dispensaries. Arizona is the 15th state to legalize medical pot, although U.S. attorney Dennis Burke has warned Arizonans that they are still violating federal laws by partaking in the state’s program.

4) Destruction
According to 2009 DEA data, more than 7.5 million marijuana plants were destroyed by law enforcement in California. That compares to 0 in North Dakota.

5) Pot Capitals
This year, The Daily Beast designated the country’s newest Pot Capitals on 4/20, putting Portland at No. 3 and at the top of the American West. The Beast gave the city a 9 out of 10 ranking for pot culture and reported that 10.93 percent of city residents are users. Boulder came in at No. 4; Bozeman, 9; Eureka-Arcata Calif., 10; San Francisco, 13; Laramie, 14; Santa Fe, 17; and Oxnard, Calif., 20. Tallahassee took the top honors this year. Evidently the Florida Supreme Court ruled that police must get a search warrant before using a drug-sniffing dog outside a residence, and hence the hard-won victory at The Daily Beast.

6) Shocker! Celebrities and reefer madness!
A deep and saddening investigation reveals that celebs such as Natalie Portman, Lady Gaga, Bill Maher, Babs Streisand, Prince Harry, Morgan Freeman, Whoopi Goldberg and maybe even Marilyn Monroe have smoked marijuana. We were beside ourselves to also learn that Goldberg was under the influence during her 1991 Oscar acceptance speech for “Ghost.” Her mom later scolded her for her “glistening” eyes, but Goldberg was nervous and said she just had to relax, okay?

7) Billion-dollar baby
In July 2009, law enforcement folks around Fresno rounded up more than 330,000 pot plants from fields hereabouts, making it one of the biggest marijuana busts in history and valued at $1 billion. Arrested were 82 suspects with links to Mexican drug cartels.

8) Bear mauling, weed and workers comp
The Montana Supreme Court ruled in March that a worker at a privately run nature park would be entitled to workers compensation from a 2007 bear mauling — even though he was stoned when the incident occurred. Brock Hopkins admitted that he smoked a joint before feeding the bruins at Great Bear Adventures. A grizzly named Red attacked Hopkins and messed him up pretty badly, and initially his workers comp claim was denied (the owner of the park said Hopkins didn’t truly work there and that he gave Hopkins money just to help him out). The Supreme Court had a different opinion and said that Hopkins was indeed working and deserving of compensation. The stonedness was not of consequence, the court said, because grizzlies are “equal opportunity maulers.”

9) You’d think they’d be higher
We figured California would be at the top of the marijuana-use stack, followed perhaps by Colorado. But according to StateMaster.com (we’d never heard of them, either), Alaska leads the country in pot users over the past year with a stout 15.83 percent. Elsewhere in the West, Colorado comes in 7th place at 13.32 percent; New Mexico in 8th place at 13.25 percent; and with Oregon and Montana coming in at 9th and 10th, respectively. California comes in at a scant 18, with Mississippi at the end, where 7.83 percent are pot users. On average, 10.9 percent of us, er, you partake.

Tara Flanagan splits her time between Breckenridge and Boulder, where she works as an equine massage therapist.

Don’t Know What You Got ‘Til It’s Gone

Jerry was way ahead. No slouch, he can usually be found near the front of the group talking smart and bad-mouthing his country. But today he was on fire. It was a crisp spring morning up on Red Mountain. A moderate climb with good grip, not quite corned up and far from anything fresh. He was two switchbacks up as we all cruised along in our own personal hurt dance. At the top, he had already de-skinned and was giving us the “Let’s go, Ladies” look. “Jesus, Jer, can’t a guy stop and take leak or eat a sandwich anymore?” I muttered (or something to that effect). I offered him part of my sandwich, thinking it might slow him down. “Sure,” he said through a shit-eating grin. “And some water, a transceiver, shovel and gloves, too, if you’ve got some. Cuz all of my stuff is down there.” We could just barely see his characteristically huge pack, about 2,000 vert below us, sitting on the hood of his truck.

We’ve all done it. You’re driving along, making anticipatory small talk about how great the powder/whitewater/single-track is going to be. Most likely, you’re past any town and definitely out of cell range. Wham! Your blood runs cold and a sickeningly vivid image pops into your head: your skins/paddle/front wheel sitting on your garage floor. The one key, essential thing that you need. Right now, right here, today. You spaced it, and you are screwed. Eeediot! You laid out everything you needed and you know exactly what you need because you carefully thought it out and you’re not exactly a rookie at this. Been to a couple rodeos. Guides have looked at your rig at the put-in and marveled as they made mental notes to bring what that guy has next time. Laid out on the floor like your collared dress shirt and clean underwear on school picture day and you neglected to bring THE most important thing!

Of course there is a consequence. Usually painful, expensive and/or time consuming. If you can, you simply drag out the too-thin plastic and buy your way out. “You know, I never did like that (fill in the blank). This new one is lighter and a much cooler color,” you will cheerfully rationalize. Everyone knows the best way to ride the Slickrock Trail is in flip-flops, not those fancy $200 clip-in bike shoes. If you can’t buy, borrow or otherwise purloin the missing item, you might just get the “See ya” from your buddies and the results of your brain fart will teach you never ever to do that again. Maybe. Maybe not.

Hopefully, it is just a low-impact, ha-ha lesson that will kick start the day’s banter. Forgot a corkscrew, or can opener, or maybe all of the silverware for a multi-day, 18-person filled-permit raft trip that includes a lot of soup on the menu. Now that’s funny. But not as funny as driving behind the guy, loaded for Baja with all of his toys and worldly outdoor possessions racked up and tied on top. And there it is, his coffee mug. You have to wonder why he left it up there. Obviously he did not have enough coffee that morning. Maybe he was checking the straps one more time. Maybe he spaced that, too. Empathy takes over and you tap the horn and flash the lights. Or do you wait for the S-turns coming up to test your theory and watch the material carnage unfold?

Forgetfulness may go way beyond personal suffering, developing into loathing and spite from your peers. Just try breezing through your shopping list and subsequently forgetting the coffee on your next hut trip. Or my personal favorite: ice. I was heading to a White Rim trip with a truckload of Colorado beer, not the unmarked 3.2 schwag you’re forced to drink if you buy it in the Moab City Market (ummm … but that’s another story). I had the sacred duty of bringing beer, and lots of it in many varieties. And the key to a refreshing beer in the stinkin’ hot desert is cold, cold, almost gloves-cold beer. The secret to cold beer is of course, ice. Not just ice, but big, 10-pound blocks of ice, which last longer and are available at the aforementioned mega-market. After a grueling day of sun, saddle sores and teeth grit, nothing says “I forgot” quite like a shook-up, tepid, 16-ounce PBR, nosirree. Note: Do not try to MacGyver your way out by digging a hole in the sand, which we all know is cooler than the ambient temperature, burying the canisters of beer, waiting, and then digging them up. The result would simply be a big swallow of slightly-cooler-than-tepid, sandy, cheap beer.

Just ran into my friend Bill Kees (not his real name), who confirmed a story I’ve heard multiple times around the Dutch oven, waiting forever for dinner. He went on a raft trip a few years back and forgot his — yup — he did not pack his raft. Getting a late start on his way to the San Juan, he pulled into Hovenweep to sleep a little and get a crack-of-dawn start to the put-in. He crawled into the back of his van, which seemed a little more spacious and comfy than usual. At first light, his eyes popped open and he sat bolt upright shouting out loud, “My boat is in the f—ing closet!”  Pulling himself to the driver’s seat, he pounded back home, hoping to sneak in under the radar, grab it and make it back in time to launch. His wife Susan was already up, shaking her head and laughing.

My friend Marie, who was born in Switzerland and spends half of every winter there, has a great story. It was a big powder day and she was in line, exactly on time with her husband Tom. In Verbier, you ride a series of funiculars, trams and gondolas, all linked together with fine Swiss efficiency. You get off one lift, walk up some stairs, get on the next until you are at the top. Everybody was pumped to be on top of the Mont Fort on that rare clear day. Avalanche danger looked moderate and everything was untracked as far as the eye could see. Marie zipped her jacket, put on her goggles, threw down her boards and was ready to click in and go. One small problem. She looked down. On her feet were her nice, comfy warm boots. Not ski boots — hiking boots. Marie just laughed and her friends laughed too — then they skied away.

Let us not blur the distinction between losing something and forgetting something. Obviously, there are many parallels. The remorse, the pondering, the “What-should-I-do-now-that-this-situation-exists?” scenarios formulating in your head. My wife Melissa and I were heading to a rendezvous birthday party out by Capital Reef for a little slickrock mountain biking. We had already ridden a day in Moab, so we knew that we brought all of the requisite equipment. We drove for a few hours, drove around for another hour or so looking for the obscure, killer campsite that we were all meeting at. Upon arrival, the site was fully decked out with balloons, food, cold beverages and a Tiki-torch-emblazoned obstacle course. We partook in the feast and pulled our mounts off the roof rack to check out the course. “Hand me my front wheel, can you?” I asked Melissa, as I held the fork up out of the sand. Big, long pause. A lot of scurrying around in the back of the truck. “Hey, ummm … you did pack the front wheels, didn’t you?” To which I did not reply, “No, I thought YOU packed them,” because I was sure that I put them in the back of the truck. Turns out that, when we left Moab, they went shooting out of the back of the topper. We found them at the bottom of a small hill at the Poison Spider trailhead, at the end of mysteriously zig-zaggy tracks nestled in the cactus and pricker bushes.

Spacing out does not necessarily involve material possessions. I skied into my cabin last winter for the afternoon, to get some fresh air, get the dog out and check up on things. Turned into a longer-than-expected tour, and, when we got back to the truck, we were beat. As I was driving the 45 minutes or so back home, I rummaged the floor searching for chips, old lunches and half-empty Pepsis. Found some pretzels and ate a couple and then turned around to give my dog Racer a couple. No dog. Not squished way down where I couldn’t see him. Not hidden under a bunch of jackets or truck cab flotsam — just not there. Yikes. It’s getting dark, so I pull an unsafe U-ey and head back to the parking lot, visions of him maybe on his way back to the cabin, maybe a crazed snowmobiler hitting him. I pull up, and there, at the point last seen, are those eerie glowing canine eyes. Sitting there, a little tail wag and slight cock to his head, he didn’t say a word. Didn’t have to. Hopped in the truck, looked at me and his eyes said it all — “Human, you so suck!” Maybe dogs have the whole thing figured out. They just go with what they have,
nothing more. Paws, fur, tongue and teeth. All set. Forgot the water? No biggie, I’ll just drink this puddle. No food? Nothing better than finding and eating dead things. You got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose. Maybe us humans just have too much stuff.

Mark Plantz lives and plays in Telluride with his wife Melissa and their two boys. He drives to town occasionally with his Rocket Box wide open.

Editor’s note: This may be the first time ever I have tacked an editor’s note onto the end of someone else’s tale. But this one I could not resist. We have all had equipment-remembering lapses. Like the time I realized halfway through the first day of a 10-day backpacking trip through Copper Canyon, in which I was guiding 17 constantly hungry teenagers, that I had somehow forgotten the lunches. Everyone was real happy. Or the worst one that ever happened in the entire history of gear forgetfulness: There was that awful YouTube footage a couple years back of the professional parachute photographer who realized after filming his cohorts during the freefall segment of the descent that he had left behind, of all things, his parachute! Splat! Anyhow, I’d like to see some such stories from our readers. Send them off to mjfayhee@mountaingazette.com.

Rabbits and Red Butte

Surviving the high desert nights of eastern Oregon for the Northern Paiute (Wada-Tika) people required that each member of the tribe own a rabbit blanket to keep them warm. Each blanket required a hundred or more rabbit pelts…

…Jack rabbit were plentiful in the old days…today it is difficult to make these blankets, due to the scarcity of jack rabbits in Harney County.  In the last 50 years the rabbit population has dwindled so much that it is difficult to get even 10 to 20 hides in the winter, when the fur is thick (and thus preferred).  Rabbit bounties in the 1950’s and other means of eradication have left few rabbits…”

— Minerva T. Soucie  (Burns Paiute),

“The Art of Ceremony: Regalia of Native Oregon”

“Dr. Bryce,” Newton said, “…To tell you the truth, it dismays us greatly to see what you are about to do with such a beautiful,
fertile world.  We destroyed ours a long time ago, but we had so much less to begin with that you have here.”  His voice now seemed agitated, his manner more intense.  “Do you realize that you will not only wreck your civilization, such as it is, and kill most of your people; but that you will also poison the fish in your rivers, the squirrels in your trees, the flocks of birds, the soil, the water..”

— Walter Tevis, “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” c. 1963

The little birds in the front yard are pale gray. When they arc through the evening, sunset turns their belly feathers to petals of flame. I’ve just read Thomas Newton’s prediction to Dr. Bryce. It had seemed important to look up from the book and see what was around me — the Engelmann Spruce, the apple tree, sunflowers on their way to autumn light. But, it is the underbelly feathers of the little birds that bring Thomas Newton’s words alive.

I remember the salmon feast at Warm Springs a few days earlier. The Warm Springs people invited friends and strangers to help them celebrate the opening of their museum exhibit, The Art of Ceremony: Regalia of Native Oregon. I arrived just in time for the Round Dance.

“Everybody dance,” the leader cried out. The drums began. Slow. Steady. The Warm Springs people and their guests linked hands. We stepped side-ways, going slowly and steadily in the direction of the sun. Fancy Dancers spun in smaller circles in our big circle. The drums began to slow. The Warm Springs woman who had led off the dance moved back the other direction, stopping to greet each of us with a handshake and a smile.

It had been twenty-three years since I had danced the Round Dance. The last time had been at a Havasupai gathering near Red Butte in Arizona. We had come together to pray for a little meadow a few miles from where we danced. Energy Fuels Nuclear, a Denver mining company, was planning to drill a breccia pipe uranium mine into the meadow. The Havasupai knew that the meadow was the belly of The Mother — the beautiful and fertile Mother.

The Havasupai and the rest of us did much more than dance. We demonstrated at the Grand Canyon, got arrested, filed legal appeals to the Forest Service Environmental Impact Statement. In the long run, there were three more prayer gatherings. In the long run, the price of uranium dropped and the minesite was abandoned. The fence still stands. Energy Fuels Nuclear no longer exists. And, because of the 1872 Mining Law, the belly of the Mother is not safe. The mining companies and their petitions to extract uranium are back.

The Warm Springs Round Dance ended. We went into the regalia exhibit. I came to the Wada-Tika rabbit fur robe. A white card read: Please don’t touch.

I’ll never hold the robe. I may never go back to Red Butte. And still, I contain the stories of birds with radiant belly feathers; of the roaring sage fire that lay at the circle of the Red Butte dancers; of the smiling Warm Springs woman who reached out to take my hand. I will hold the stories lightly and pass them on. That will not be enough. The times Walter Tevis envisioned are here.

Long-time MG contributor Mary Sojourner is the author of, among many other books, “She Bets Her Life: A True Story of Gambling Addiction” and “Going Through Ghosts.” She recently moved back to Flagstaff, after stints in the Mojave and the Pacific Northwest.

Going Big: My Court Date with Hunter S. Thompson

I only met Hunter S. Thompson once when either of us was sober. I was waiting to stand trial for crimes against the State of Colorado, County of Pitkin and City of Aspen. Don’t worry though (not that you are worrying) — the crimes were not actually mine. They were those of my compadre-de-los-moñtanas, a friend we’ll just call “Bob.”

I had memorized his identity details, and tried to look three inches taller in order to attend a court date on his behalf. He had used all of his allowable absences from the Colorado Rocky Mountain School for skiing, a few fall climbing road trips and the obligatory late returns from all-night parties at Penny Hot Springs. I was an underage dishwasher at the Merry Go Round restaurant at Aspen Highlands, less than a year out of high school. George only let me work part time — so the only real question (and it was serious) was if I would miss out on some ski days while serving another man’s time in the Pitkin County Jail. (The charges seemed to carry a possibility of three days in the can.)

We did not feel that the situation merited the involvement of any faculty, staff or other authorities. Why trouble them with the inconvenience and paperwork of kicking Bob out of school? And if they did boot him, then what? He would have to move in to our unfurnished, dirt-carpeted, basement potato-bin-slash-apartment in Carbondale. We already shared every inch of the floor with the sleeping bags of everyone who shared our mountain-loving lifestyle and a lot of skis.

So, I cleaned up as best I could and drove the treacherous old road to Aspen to stand in for Bob’s trial and sentencing. I guess such things can seem complicated from the outside. Down inside that great machinery of youth, however, morality is just that. This was a simple choice because it was a moral one. We were too young to cloud those waters with questions of personal convenience and comfort.

We had been climbing, skiing and working ranches together for a few years already. Bob had saved my ass from the very real perils of the old-school sharp end any number of times. I could face a bit of jail time in his name so he didn’t get kicked out of high school. It was not nearly as dangerous as so many of the worst troubles we had been in together. It certainly did not seem like the big deal my (attorney) wife made it out to be 25 years later when I accidentally mentioned this incident in passing.

This was Aspen, after all. The food and bedding in the Pitkin County Jail was legendary. It was sure to be an improvement from the aforementioned grungy Carbondale apartment. We even already shared home with a brain-twisted homosexual drifter, artist and obvious future serial killer (whom we recruited to pay a majority of the rent). Could a jail in downtown Aspen be worse?

I was to stand Bob’s trial and sentencing date for a clearly unfounded traffic accident rap. It would have been nothing, another slip-and-slide smash-up on a patch of black ice in the high mountains, but the incident had involved the daughter and the wife of the Snowmass police chief, and Bob already had a few prior point subtractions. I fully expected to serve three days in the basement jail in Aspen while pretending to be my almost-entirely-innocent friend. It was a tense hearing for me, but, after some lecturing, the judge let both Bob and I go free with fines and warnings.

There was one other outsider in the courtroom. A guy hunched up in the corner behind me as I waited my turn to face the bar. I was too nervous to look back much, but clearly this was also a person experienced in the lost art of projecting invisibility from the back of the class. When I was released, I turned to leave the Pitkin County Court, wanting to explode with nervous delinquent larceny. I saw that the guy in the corner was none other than Hunter S. Thompson. He seemed to be observing court — as a reporter or writer might — just hanging around waiting for a good story. He stared shamelessly and then from his troll-like bundling, a writing implement stabbed up and kind of saluted me.

I would have killed for the chance to talk to the skulking bald giant and share my story. By that time in my life, I had moved past Faulkner and Hemingway and Steinbeck and Camus and plowed through Thompson’s renegade words like a herd of buffalo through a snow bank. I revered his writing style, and I had some serious questions for him (of a literary nature, of course).

Here was the Master, the one person who would understand and possibly respect my story, if told properly. Yet, the circumstance required me to walk past, silently. Of all people, on all days, of all stories, I could not share this one with Hunter S. Thompson! I savored the irony while I carefully stepped out into the heart-warming embrace of the biggest whiteout snowstorm of that historical powder season. I had not before then, and have not since, felt as perfectly free as I did when I disappeared into the storm from the view of the Pitkin County Courthouse behind me.

Now look, I hate to be one of those annoying guys who writes all about “Me” and my special connection to the mountains. These things always get old very early in the paragraphs. Ninety-percent of these stories end up in the compost pile of mountain writers who only want to broadcast their “localism” to the world, without a hint of unique voice. So I apologize for taking your time.

Let’s just leave it at this: When I was 17 or 18 years old, in 1984, I made turns at Aspen Highlands every day the lifts ran. I almost missed a few days, due to the wild and dangerous roads, a spot of illness, one or two bad parties and, in one case, I almost missed a ski day because I was tempted to wait for a chance to talk with Hunter S. Thompson outside the Pitkin County Jail, which I had just escaped from while pretending to be someone else.

The thing is, the guy didn’t look like he skied much, and the sky was dropping clean white powder by the truckload at noon. I stood grinning madly, right in the middle of the main street through Aspen, for a several long beautiful minutes. I could feel Bob’s court order and suspended jail sentence icing up in one pocket and my Highlands ski pass burning a hole the other. All I could do was laugh openly at myself and speak the mountain lover’s mantra into the teeth of the storm: “’Cause if you’re gonna go … ”

Andy Dannerbeck is a 45-year-old ex-cowboy, ex-Republican, ex-Democrat, ex-boatman, ex-climber, ex-business owner, ex-husband, ex-student, ex-rigger, ex-poet, ex-guide and exile in general. A husband, a father and a child of the mountains, who is most recently found scribbling gibberish such as this in the whiskey-soaked shadows of the No Name Saloon, Park City, Utah.