I am stopped waiting for the highway crew to clean up a terrible accident on Highway 37A in northern British Columbia. The accident involved a car trying to avoid a mama bear and cub and consequently hitting another car in the process. As I pass the accident scene, there is a highway worker that looks more like a wild animal than a human being. He waves our car ahead, and our destination of Hyder, Alaska, is less than an hour away.
Hyder is not your quintessential tourist destination. There are 90 or so permanent residents, one hotel, two campgrounds, one restaurant, a general store and a gun store. By road, Hyder is a dead end, only accessed by BC Highways. There is a small dock that accesses the rest of rural Alaska.
We set up camp at the only campground that, due to the large grizzly bear population, allows tenting. Conveniently, the campground is right behind the only open restaurant and bar. The mountains engulf Hyder and our campground. We look straight up at 5,000-foot mountains. The general store owner drives by and notices our starry-eyed glares toward the top of the mountains. He tells us, some winters, there is over a hundred feet of snowfall.
We are now at the Sealaska Inn eating and drinking. After a while, we try the local shot famously known as the Hyderizer. This is not only a shot, but a challenge. The rules are: you can’t smell it or taste it; there are no chasers other than water; if you don’t finish it or if you spit it/throw it up, you have to buy a round for the whole bar and clean up the mess you made. Luckily, Frisco, Colorado’s Moose Jaw gave me training for these types of situations. My shot — which ended up being a double dose of Everclear — is successful, with a not-surprising firey tingle in the esophagus.
Shortly after, a local in the bar offers me some smoked salmon from a small Tupperware container. I tell him it’s the best fish I have ever had out of plastic Tupperware and maybe ever. As we continue to speak, the wild animal from the highway crew walks in and sits next to me. It turns out he is a very nice man and the sit-in mayor for the town of Stewart BC, right across the border from Hyder. Then again, I have always preferred people more like Wolverine from the “X-Men” than your typical Boulder Hipster.
As the night turns into the early morning, the bartender and I speak about Hyder. She informs me that, during the summer months, bikers like to come into town and follow no laws or ethical principals. This is the reason there is a double-barrel shotgun behind the bar. With no police in town, there are only citizens and guns to keep the peace. Before I head for my tent out back, the bartender makes sure I have bear spray. I respond with an affirmative shrug. “Good,” she says, “because, not too long ago, a friend of mine passed out behind the building and was eaten alive by a grizzly.”
“Yes,” she says with sadness in her voice indicating sincerity.
The next few days, we hike and explore the Coastal Mountains. Salmon Glacier might be the most beautiful sight I have ever seen. We skinny dip in glacial lakes, marvel at the enormous size of the grizzly bears and bald eagles and soak in the rawness that only wild Alaska can still offer.
Looking back at my visit to Hyder, the highway worker/mayor is a metaphor for the Last Frontier. Rural Alaska has a stereotypical gruff exterior, but once unraveled, the magic of such a magnificent place is revealed.
Salmon Glacier. Photo by Jake Frank
Pete Richmond lives in Frisco, Colo. This is his first story for the Gazette.
GPS route-finding has been enthusiastically accepted by drivers who don’t want the drudgery of piloting their vehicles or the tedium of orientation and navigation. Begging the question of why they don’t just take mass transit, most of us have heard really great stories that involve use of a GPS route finder, flat unbelievable cluelessness and acutely stressful motoring experiences. One blogger suggests that, since GPS is most prevalent in high-end cars, a good Google search is “Mercedes” plus “River” plus “Crash.”
I chose to try “GPS” plus “Idiots” and immediately struck gold — there are friggin’ doctoral papers and commissioned studies on the subject, and I soon learned that the Brits had long coined the more genteel term “satnav mishaps.” It turns out that the Euros, with their ancient, narrow streets and lanes, have been longest-vexed by satellite-misled drivers. Lorries are crashing into fences, sideswiping ancient stone walls, mowing down trees and sinking into muddy farm roads. Signs at the edge of besieged feudal villages plead “No Satnav.” English railroads cite a surge in damage by GPS-led trucks striking low or narrow bridges, and insurance companies in the UK say hundreds of thousands of crashes have been caused by “over reliance” on GPS.
A 2006 study suggested that watching a route guidance display is more “disruptive” than trying to read a paper map at the wheel. Other studies have found that drivers straining to hear and understand robo-spoken audio commands are equally distracted. As a result, many of the planet’s 800 million vehicles are driven into buildings, into rivers, along train tracks, into oncoming cars, forging against one-way traffic and making illegal turns. That’s before they get lost:
• July 2008: A Syrian lorry driver leaving Turkey went 1,600 miles in the wrong direction, arriving at the Gibraltar Point Natural Nature Reserve in England instead of his intended destination, the Rock of Gibraltar.
• A German motorist, when ordered to “turn right now” by his audio satnav, executed an immediate right turn into a building site, up a flight of stairs and into a portaloo.
• January 2008: “The Shropshire village of Donnington has suffered repeated invasions by 70-ton tanks and other armoured vehicles.” (A nearby military barracks has the same name.)
• June 2008 headline: “U.S. Tourist Stoned by Palestinian Mob After GPS Gives Incorrect Directions.”
• May 2006 headline: “Couple Arrested For Asking For Directions” (You can’t win!)
It’s a complete reversal of the old saw, “you can’t get there from here.” Now we each follow our own personal Star of Bethlehem and, yes, theoretically there is an ideal route from anywhere to anywhere. Part of the problem is summed up by another old saw, “garbage in, garbage out.” The GPS routes are devised by companies like Tele Atlas and Navteq using intelligence that can quickly become outdated: businesses move, new roads are built, old ones closed for repairs, and frequently, with no dialogue between global user and local inhabitant, the data is deficient or just plain wrong.
In my own neck of the woods, the southeast Utah desert, our satnav mishaps tend to have their own unique character and usually involve caravans of rental SUVs full of vacationing tenderfoot flatlanders being swallowed up somewhere in the Grand Staircase.
ABC 4 News: A group of 20, including 10 children, left Bryce Canyon for Kanab at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night in four shiny Renegades. They decided there is a short cut: “We have, like four GPS systems, and they all told us the same thing, that we were closer going ahead than backtracking.” After three hours and 75 miles on a remote and rugged dirt road, they cliffed out. Kane County Sheriffs said the group called 911, lucky to get a cell signal, “panicking to the point that they were really lost and no one was going to find them.”
Then there was the Pennsylvania couple stranded on Smoky Mountain Road for four days, and the family from Belgium on Four Mile Bench that was reduced to licking condensation off their mini-van’s windshield.
It takes me a while to wrap my head around the notion that visitors to the Utah outback would assume that each little dirt two-track is on some kind of systematic grid and eventually goes where they want to go, and their rented Cherokee will, like in the commercials, just sail over the peaks and canyons. But this obviously isn’t just a wilderness thing, case in point being the time I tried to drive the coastline of Los Angeles — an oriented person just knows that sometimes you really can’t get there from here. In surveys drivers say GPS makes them feel “more in control,” but they really want to just check out, and when they get the directions, most admit they are still confused. There has been much speculation as to why so many people seem geo-impaired.
Bats, cows, mole rats and all sorts of critters can sense the earth’s magnetic field, but apparently not Homo He Wrecked Us. Some psychologists believe that in fact many humans are extra-spatially twisted with an affliction they have named “Transient Directional Disorientation,” not a phrase easy to yell out at an intersection.
Senior correspondent Jon Kovash lives in Moab, where he plays saxophone in a band called Phil Dirt.
With Mud Season soon upon us, it’s customary for mountain folk, many who live and breathe tourism in order to dwell in the thin air, to take a temporary leave. Some of us will attempt to be learned travelers in the spirit of evolution. But given that only 37 percent of Americans have passports (half of which are used traveling to Canada and Mexico), a few of us will opt to be garden-variety tourons — not that there’s anything wrong with that. Embracing the endangered rubber tomahawk store, the fanny pack worn frontside and sturdy white walking shoes, here’s to all we do.
1. Pancho Villa, Gilligan’s Island and fizzled neurons I, uh, know some people who many years ago planned to see a professional wrestling gig in Denver. Let’s just say that the people who knew where the event was had ingested a substance with hallucinogenic properties, and let’s just say they got crazy lost and for reasons that have yet to reveal themselves, ended up at Denver’s venerable Casa Bonita. The copious servings of assembly-line Mexican food can have a satisfying and sedative effect, depending on your needs, but depending on what else is going on in your head, the headhunters and the guys who high-dive into the 35,000-gallon lagoon every 15 minutes can make things neurologically dicey. “Man!” someone reportedly said, “Are they going to make us do that?” But seriously, if you’re on a Colorado stay-cation this year, put the “World’s Most Exciting Restaurant” in your game plan. There’s a reason Cartman was willing to kill Butters to get a chance to dine here.
2. Forget the Grand Canyon For the price of a couple tanks of gas (let’s hope you’re not driving the Santa Fe for this) and the $5 admission fee, most of us are close enough to enjoy the world’s biggest hole at Utah’s Bingham Canyon Mine. For a century, the Kennecott Copper Corp. has been digging 250,000 tons of rock out of the mine every day. “A mountain once stood where this huge bowl is now,” a sign boasts. Two-and-a-half miles wide and a half-mile deep, the hole could seat 9 million people if it were a stadium.
3. Whorehouse for the ages The Oasis Bordello Museum in Wallace, Idaho, made the quantum leap from whorehouse to history one night in 1988, when rumors of an FBI raid sent the ladies running out the door for good, leaving everything, down to the packages of red light bulbs, cigarette butts and kitchen timers for each room — in their original places. On your tour, you’ll get a first-hand glimpse of the lingerie that had to stay behind, the price list on the wall (“Eight minutes, fifteen dollars, straight, no frills”) and the frequent-flier rug collection (repeat customers were asked to BYO to facilitate cleanup). In the Oasis’s heyday, the staff made upwards of $2,000 a week, although the museum owner says she doesn’t show the price list to children.
4. Wanderlust? Not so much With 1,939,159 passport holders in 2010, California holds the U.S. record for people who think they might want to cross the border for whatever reasons. Meanwhile, folks in Wyoming are staying put. Perhaps the winds in Rawlins and Casper blow people around enough to kill any wanderlust, but only 19,738 Wyomingites have passports (yeah, yeah, we do know that California has more people). Compared to Americans at 37 percent overall, 75 percent of the residents of the U.K have passports, as do 60 percent of Canadians.
5. Don’t be them Actual tourist questions at Grand Canyon National Park: “Was this man-made?” “Do you light it up at night?” “Is the mule train air-conditioned?” “Where are the faces of the presidents?”
6. Class it up a little I know most of us are tent and pension folk, but in the event that we might do something classy for a change, here’s the deal: The Prevost 2012 Santa Fe motor coach is what you’ll want to be in as you summon the highway ghosts of Hunter Thompson and Jack Kerouac. With an MSRP of $1,920,896, it will likely boast (they’re still working out the details, and most coaches have custom additions) a residential refrigerator, mini wine cellar, king bed with a power recliner, master closet with suede-lined shoe racks, power sliding kitchen island, touch-screen monitors all over the place, integrated doorbell with audio and visual components, heated floors and his-and-hers bathroom sinks. There’s more: You can get it for $1,439,000 if you work the right deals, bringing your monthly payment down to $12,150.78. If you want to bring a car, consider the Vantare Platinum coach, which has its own slide-out garage that holds a small car. The 235-gallon gas tank costs a mere $1,000 to fill, and for all this, a mere $2.5 million.
7. Lonely out there Fodder for Stephen King’s “Desperation,” Highway 50 through Nevada is better known as the Loneliest Road in America. In the 409 miles from Fallon, Nev., to Delta, Utah (roughly the distance from Paris to Zurich), you’ll encounter just three small towns: Austin, Eureka and Ely. Years ago, an American Automobile Association spokesperson famously warned the traveling public “not to drive there unless they’re confident of their survival skills.” Naturally, all this attention about Highway 50 being lonely has given it plenty of company over the years, so while you might drive until you hallucinate, you won’t be the only one on the road.
8. Avalanches, roadkill and motorhomes We have the recession to thank for the historic decline in highway fatalities (people are commuting to work less and otherwise traveling by car less). True enough, but that doesn’t take the natural hazards out of some of our most dangerous stretches of highway. Topping BuyingAdvice.com’s list of most dangerous roads is U.S. Highway 550 from Ouray to Silverton, Colo. The two-laner has wooze-inducing S-curves through three passes in the San Juans, contains major avalanche zones, is a popular place for RVs to travel at perilously languid speeds, and is a great place for some really big roadkill. Highway 550 outpaces the 101 and 405 freeways in Los Angeles, as well as Atlanta’s I-285 at I-85 interchange, which occupy the second and third places as most dangerous pieces of U.S. road.
Welcome to MG’s new poetry page, Way of the Mountain.
That was the name given to the earth-centered, outdoor-templed spiritual path of Dolores LaChapelle, high peak guru who lived, wrote and wandered the San Juan Mountains near Silverton until her recent passing.
Her books on deep ecology have influenced mountain folk all over the world, particularly “Sacred Land Sacred Sex Rapture of the Deep.” Her alpine first ascents and deep powder skiing remain legendary. And her love of the High Country was an affair that lasted all her life.
Plus, she championed bardic poetry — lyric stories that speak for place — as one of her seven pathways to get our koyaanisqatsi (out-of-whack) society back in balance with the natural world.
Come hike MG’s Way of the Mountain with a selection of bardic poets from around the Rocky Mountain West.
— Art Goodtimes, Poetry Editor
Just finished first hike.
Feet sore but the mountains.
The mountains. — Jim Rosenthal Porter tester extraordinaire Port Townsend, WA
Whirling barefoot in the icy grass
with open palms reaching up through the dark
what’s a woman to say except
whole oceans are moved by the moon,
why should I be any different? — Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer San Miguel County Poet Laureate Placerville, CO
In Spring, We Break Up
In spring, the ice breaks and water runs free.
Everything starts to move.
In spring, we break up
and head to Utah
green with mountain state plates.
Soak up the sun
bare skin on bare sandstone.
Should have known what felt right
through bitter winter nights
is not what we need in this extended light.
We move. Pack our trucks.
Drive with no thought of ice.
Our quick frozen-face kisses, hunched on the lift.
The too-many nights spent in the bar.
The heat we made
in our too-small bed.
All of it
melts away. — Danielle Desruisseaux Host of KSJD’s “All Lit Up” Mancos, CO
Le Sacre du Printemps
Hops spark us nobly this spring
Old hopes not banked nor yet aflame
Sufficiently floral to herald summer’s wild leap
Bitter enough to honor winter’s bite — Bill Nevins “Committing Poetry in a Time of War” (film, 2007) Albuquerque, NM
Walking Like Water
at the high end of the arroyo
you abandon your feet to gravity
you avoid straight lines
you are drawn to the outside of the curve
you inspect all cutbank holes
you waltz below boulders humming softly
your feet etch lines in the sand but
you never look back
in town others will talk as
you follow the grade into traffic
your curves confuse other pedestrians
you look for burrows where there are none
you walk in circles below trash cans
and even when you drag your feet
the ground will not receive
your passing — Peter Anderson MG Editor Emeritus Crestone, CO
Europe is known for its mountain ranges and for its extensive web of rail networks that spans the continent. In that web are some two-thirds of the world’s mountain railways, lines that employ special technologies to climb and descend steep grades. And mainlines crisscross landscapes at lesser grades.
It’s long been that way. Many of today’s rail lines that take people to mountains are among the oldest in continuous service. My favorite three, now celebrating their centennials, are the Train Jaune in France, the Jungfrau Line in Switzerland and the Bergen Line in Norway.
The Train Jaune (“Yellow Train”) is named for the color of its rolling stock, one of the two of the flag of Catalonia through which it runs, connecting the mountain towns of the Pyrenees with the cities of the flatlands to the east. It’s a narrow-gauge line, yet technically not a mountain railway, as it works on conventional rail traction alone. But the building of it, from 1903 to 1910, required solving all the problems of mountain-line construction save grade. The tectonic claw that gave birth to the mountains left a comb of spurs and ravines that it had to cross, requiring 65 major civil engineering works, one for every six-tenths of a mile of its 39-mile length.
At the time, there were no power lines nearby, so power plants were built on the Têt River to supply it. Today, it’s a year-round tourist attraction, as well as a ski train, serving the Font-Romeu ski area complex. Motor vehicles on roads have taken over much of its original traffic, but it remains a commuter line. And when infrequent winter snows close roads, as they did in March 2010, it stays open, because it has plows, which are not commonplace road-maintenance gear in predominately sunny southern France.
The Jungfrau line is named for the peak above its end station at the Jungfraujoch. Though just 5.8 miles long from its valley-end station at Kleine Scheidegg, it probably is the most-known rail line in mountaineering, as it lies mostly in a tunnel that spirals upwards within the Eiger, the peak known for having one of the most awesome north faces of the Alps. Construction started in 1896 and finished in 1912, for the efficient Swiss, a long building period, due to the extensive tunnel works involved and due to the design and fitting of the cogwheel and rack traction that enables the trains to go up and down grades of up to 25 percent (an inclination of about 14 degrees).
The initial purpose of tourism remains, as the Jungfraujoch now has about half a million visitors per year. But it also has a scientific observatory and has become a center for mountaineering and Alpine skiing. The entire area around the Jungfrau now is a UNESCO World Heritage site, as it’s the most-glaciated part of the European Alps and has long been important in the art, literature and outdoor life of central Europe. The views are impressive in all directions, not least from the Eigerwand stop on the rail line, where you can stroll out to get a view of the Alps from the north face of the Eiger.
The Bergen Line is part of the standard-gauge mainline rail network of Norway and connects Oslo, the capital and the country’s largest city in the east, to Bergen, the largest city on the west coast. The Line was first proposed in 1870, principally to speed travel between the cities, as Bergen then was closer by sea to Great Britain than it was to Oslo, a journey of several days and nights around the south coast of the country.
When completed in 1909, the Bergen Line was regarded to be one of the world’s most-daring feats of railway engineering, as 60 miles of its total length of 309 miles lie on the central mountain plateau, above timberline and subject to the fierce winters of the North. With one branch line from Myrdal down to sea level at Flåm on the Sognefjord, it offers some of the world’s most-scenic rail travel experiences. Its midpoint at Finse is a node in the two immense hiking and cross-country skiing networks of central Norway. Here, you can bring your own or rent mountain bikes for use on the haul roads used to build the Line. And here the terrain around the Line played the Ice Planet Hoth in the opening scenes of “The Empire Strikes Back,” the sequel to “Star Wars.” Look out the windows of a train, and you can see where intergalactic cowboy Luke Skywalker once romped.
M. Michael Brady lives in a suburb of Oslo and takes his vacations in France. By education, he’s a natural scientist. His Dateline: Europe column appears monthly in the Gazette.
The Yellow Train line at www.trains-touristiques-ter.com , with pages selectable in English; click on the southernmost red line icon in the map on the opening page to bring up the Yellow Train pages.
If sailor tales to sailor tunes,
Storm and adventure, heat and cold,
If schooners, islands, and maroons,
And buccaneers, and buried gold,
And all the old romance, retold
Exactly in the ancient way,
Can please, as me they pleased of old,
The wiser youngsters of today:
—So be it, and fall on! If not,
If studious youth no longer crave,
His ancient appetites forgot,
Kingston, or Ballantyne the brave,
Or Cooper of the wood and wave:
So be it, also! And may I
And all my pirates share the grave
Where these and their creations lie! – (Robert Louis Stevenson, “Treasure Island,” 1883)
The land was dry, and so was I.
Did you ever come to a place where your throat matches the landscape, both being drier than an old whor– (whoops … almost made anatomical reference here to a lady of the night, but won’t) — let’s make that “drier than an old dog’s fart?”
I had wandered out of the desert just before nightfall, lured to an Interstate by a lighted billboard promising food and beer (for this, I ask forgiveness from the ghost and disciples of Cactus Ed). I took the highway exit and arrived at a river that, like me, begins its life story within a few miles of the high mountainous spine of this long-abused land once known as Turtle Island. My old friend the river now sported a Disneyficated dream of a pirate cove/beach bar resort, where I wandered with my old dog on raked beaches of trucked-in sand, while ogling the cove’s only current (except for aforementioned travel-worn dog and ogler) visitors, a tethered float plane and miniature version of the vessel that might have carried any of Stevenson’s pirates to a watery grave, but didn’t. Seemingly, the developers had gotten the promotional cart ass-backwards (as me long-gone daddy might have said), and lit the billboard before the official grand opening ceremonies, thereby drawing unsuspecting travelers such as myself to disenchantment. A scattering of tracks from the parking lot, across the beaches and back told the tale.
The outdoor bar was there; the barstools and tables could have been full of the laughing, partying, big-spending resort patrons that fill any self-important PowerPoint prospectus presented to new-money venture/hedge/slush funders of such freebooter market enterprises, but they weren’t. Newly finished wood glowed darkly in the crepuscular air. The only sign of human habitation was, quite literally, a sign. A garishly painted bas-relief wooden sign, as I would’ve called it in my artiste days of carving and painting signs as a means of earning money for beans, beer and artiste supplies. But where was I? Ah yes — this sign depicted a bathtub with a seemingly quite naked pirate in it. He just wasn’t my cup of tea, though the comely wench depicted in the act of approaching said pirate was, shall we say, of some passing interest to my desert-dried eyes.
The overall effect of the deserted cove of the Naked Pirate was depressing, which is how, less than an hour later, I came to be perched on a barstool in a dilapidated riverfront bar on the other side of that very same river, nursing a Corona with lime while ogling an off-duty bartender’s snake tattoo, as it slithered down her scantily clad torso, only to get lost in the ever amazing crepuscular cove that forms just at the top of the bottom half of a string bikini, where a comely wench’s abdominal zone becomes, well, something else entirely.
Just then, a clutch of graying developer-types wandered in, faking friendly banter while power-slamming shots of something and slapping each other’s shoulders. The unintended effect of which was to emphasize the heaving paunchy evidence of better days gone by that hung like spare tires around their waists, barely covered by the pastel polo shirts that provided a uniform for their club. They slammed the now-empty shot-glasses on the bar, and one ordered another round. A gaggle of women, sagging in all the right places to denote spousal fealty in their ample two-piece bathing suits, moved around the bar pointing at almost life-size pictures of bikini-clad women and bare-chested men. I was coming to understand that some of these pictures were of the very developer- and wifely-types that suddenly surrounded my barstool. They seemed not to notice me though, so I continued my observations unmolested.
* * *
Now, before I get any deeper here, I will emphasize that nobody’s body parts touched yours truly in the making of this tale, though a wifely type did nod in my direction, and the comely off-duty bartender did stand within a few inches while slinging her arm over the shoulder of a graying developer-type birthday boy (thus providing a tantalizing vista of the snake’s tail hung over her shoulder, and the body going down, down), while she told the on-duty bartender (who was definitely not wearing a string bikini, being more of a “somebody’s mother someday” type of young woman) to pour her a shot of whatever Birthday Boy (who would later slam a “Muff Dive” [I swear, this is the name of an actual drink]) and his friends were drinking. By the label, it was tequila, a dangerous drink to be sure, and I pretended to concentrate on my Corona. The off-duty bartender with the snake tattoo saw through me though, and smiled. Then she sashayed toward the bar’s darkened riverside patio, there to engage in animated conversation with a swarthy young guy who probably was not the social equal of the developer and wifely types proceeding to get shit-faced all around me. Most likely the guy was, like me, a seasonally employed, part-time romantic type.
By now, this may seem a celebratory tale of an oasis of licentious behavior and unquenchable lust in the desert night, an honest-to-gawd American answer to tales of 1001 Arabian nubile nymphs in a harem fit for an oilygarchy sheikh’s night out. It isn’t, or won’t be by the time you read this, because at my elbow as I scribble away another perfectly good beer buzz while camped along a far-upstream stretch of that same anonymous river a few months later, I’m eying a brochure in which the dilapidated establishment that housed the tableau described above is replaced by a multi-story veritable fucking (here I quote), “Spa & Resort!” Gone is the sun-blasted face of the old bar, the creaking door, the slanting floor, the bar where I sat ogling the snake tattoo while idly wondering just where fangs and tongue had been etched by the inspired tattoo artiste. Gone are the darkened patio over the river, the romantic words between swarthy young seasonal worker-types and comely off-duty bartenders, gone even are the aging developers and their fading spouses, holding up pictures of themselves in smaller bikinis in more comely days, taken down from the ceiling of the now-vanished bar as ’80s pop-rock tunes played on the jukebox that stood against the wall that night. The brochure shows instead an “artist’s rendering” of a multi-story hotel and micro-brewery, waterfront teeming with speed-boats and jet-skis, an honest-to-gawdawful American dream of orderly decadence that one-ups the Naked Pirate resort cove for committing blasphemy on the dam-tamed river that was once too thick to drink, too thin to plow — and wild enough to sculpt canyons that defy description. This tale is, instead, a commiseration on some current misfortunes, and a hope that one day my old friend will regain its former glorious role in the art of carving a continent. Time and a river flowing, as one book named it long ago.
Peering closely at the grainy print of the digitally rendered future spa & resort, I spy the artist’s fantasy of just who will be lounging in the outdoor pools and hot tubs. There are requisite pectorally perfect pale young men accompanied by bikini-clad nymphs posing under palm trees. In the light of my headlamp, with my nose pressed close to the page, I examine the lower bellies of each of the digital dream girls on the cover of the brochure. Satisfied, I consider the fact that not one of the young ladies has any sort of a crepuscular cove at the top of the bottom half of her string bikini, much less the tell-tale ghost of a snake tattoo.
* * *
For the purposes of this story, remember that a “Muff Dive” consists of a shot-glass of tequila sunk to the bottom of a pint glass full of whipped cream. The main purpose of this drink seems to be as entertainment for an assembled clutch of developer-types and spousal units as the unlucky aging Birthday Boy meets the eyes of his loving wife, his teeth gripping the edge of the shot-glass, whipped cream dripping from chin to his once-fashionable alligator-logo polo shirt. “Oh my God,” he says weakly, “that was my fifth shot.” She laughs at him.
I finished the Corona, paid my tab, and left the bar by way of the darkened patio. The off-duty bartender with the snake tattoo and her swarthy cohort never looked up from their now-whispered tete-a-tete. I drove far, far up a dark and dry arroyo — out of sight of river, naked pirates, comely wenches and the dreams of spa & resort-tamed developer-types. Sometimes, in the desert of our ever-more Disneyficated New West, a little dryness is about the only oasis my old dog and I can stomach for more than one round.
“Stone Mountains” is 10 pounds of coffee table awesomeness. Photographer Jim Thornburg masterfully captures it all in this 320-page behemoth — in his photos, the rock is the star just as much as the climber. There are plenty of photos of climbers on moderate routes, which makes the book inspirational in a way — you might find yourself writing down names of routes and areas and planning your next trip around them. Thornburg’s photos truly span the continent, from Squamish to Potrero Chico and everything in between: Smith Rock, Tahoe, Yosemite, Tuolumne, Bishop, Needles, J-Tree, Red Rocks (and Vegas Limestone), St. George, Zion, Mount Lemmon, Cochise, Hueco, Horse Pens, Chattanooga, Obed, North Carolina, The New, Seneca Rocks, The Red, The Gunks, Rumney, North Conway, Devils Tower, Wyoming, Boulder, Rifle, Moab, Joe’s Valley, Maple Canyon, SLC and City of Rocks.
If you’re a climber, this book will make you count the days until spring, or go ahead and decide it’s okay to put a plane ticket to Joshua Tree or Red Rocks on your credit card. If you are buying a birthday gift for a climber, this book should be it. Jim Thornburg has spent 20 years of his life photographing climbing, and we can all be better off for it.
Stewart Green must have spent most of his adult life writing guidebooks. He has more than a dozen to his name, including five or so mega-guidebooks to climbing areas in Colorado, Arizona, Utah, New England and Europe. Typically the climbing books are overviews of a state or region’s more worthwhile areas and run about 500 pages and contain more than 1,000 routes. He’s back with a series of three books from Falcon Guides — “Best Climbs Moab,” “Best Climbs Denver and Boulder” and “Best Climbs Rocky Mountain National Park” — which are much more digestible overviews to throw in a backpack. Each book contains 140-200 routes at the better crags in each area, and clocks in at a much more svelte 145 pages. Those who own Green’s earlier guidebooks can consider these more focused, localized versions of their wide-angle predecessors — the Denver and Boulder volume covers 25 crags in seven geographical areas, including trad, sport and bouldering, from 5.2 to 5.14a. Those who are just visiting for a weekend or three a year, or someone just getting started climbing in an area, can find enough climbs in one of these editions to keep them busy. Full-color photo topos, beefy pages and a sewn binding keep these up to the higher standard of the later generation of guidebooks, and beat the hell out of some of the hand-drawn black-and-white topos in the guidebooks of old. These are pure beta, with a minimum of historical info.
“The Perfect Turn and Other Tales of Skiing and Skiers,” by Dick Dorworth
Dick Dorworth has probably been skiing longer than you’ve been alive. He raced for 15 years starting in 1950 all around the world, and set the world speed record in 1963. He coached the U.S. Ski Team and was director of the Aspen Mountain Ski School. Lucky for you, he can write about it, too. You may have read his stories in magazines such as SKI, Skiing, Powder, Snow Country, Men’s Journal, and your beloved Mountain Gazette — Chapter 6 of this book, “In Pursuit of Pure Speed,” appeared recently, in MG #173. If you liked that story, prepare for more tales from the heart of man whose life has been defined in large part by skiing and the people and places he’s encountered doing it. Dorworth, based in Ketchum, Idaho, fills these pages with striking narrative of skinning up Bald Mountain and the feeling of breaking 100 mph on skis; opines about the frustrating treatment of ski instructors in America; details the history of speed skiing; and reminisces about old friends (ski filmmaker Dick Barrymore) and chance encounters (the day he skied with Sen. Ted Kennedy). A great read on your way to make turns somewhere, in the middle of winter or before spring backcountry skiing.
The music world is full of stories about band members always getting laid — the allure of the fantasy has compelled many a young teen to pick up a guitar and spend hours strumming strings, only to later end up stroking his own instrument alone in his bedroom. But even musicians face sticky situations with the world of sexual magnetism; sometimes when they’re desperate for it — and feeling pretty confident –— they don’t get it, and other times, when they don’t want it, it comes on just a little too strong.
Sharone Digitale, an electro-pop, trip-hop group that dubs its sound as “baby makin’ music,” wasn’t so keen on the sex scene in its hometown of Nashville, Tenn.
Yes, I know, Life on the Mountain Music Road focuses on the strange and weird in high-elevation towns, but the (very loose) tie-in is, Sharone Digitale just rolled through Vail and Breckenridge on a national tour, and the artists were relieved to come home without any crazy stories for a change.
Writer Sharon Lang prides herself on penning music akin to rose petals strewn upon silky bedroom sheets that make listeners feel smooth, extravagant and sexy. But one night, her sound got a little too luscious for her to handle.
After a Nashville show, an apparent swinger couple told the band members that their music “made them so horny that they just wanted to smoke bowls and make out with us the whole time. Us, meaning, they wanted to basically take the whole band back to their place and ‘sexify’ us, as they so gracefully put it,” Lang said. “It was quite a hysterical moment in which we had to respectfully decline the offer, but it nonetheless added some interesting zing to the evening!”
If only that happened to Afro-Zep Afro-Zep drummer Marshall Greenhouse never got so lucky — in fact, quite the opposite, especially when he first played in Breckenridge (at the dark underbelly on Main Street formerly known as Sherpa & Yeti’s) 10 years ago with his Chicago collective of musicians who mash Led Zep classics with the grooves of Afrobeat and Afropop.
Greenhouse claims he’s “not really that coordinated (although somehow drumming comes easy to me),” so when he decided to try snowboarding the day of the show, it “ended in obvious results,” namely, three front flips through slushy snow, resulting in a separated shoulder.
“That night, the band played a pretty awful acoustic set, while I sat at the bar on tons of Vicodin and took advantage of the discounted booze,” Greenhouse said.
Though he doesn’t remember much more about the trip, one painful image remains burned in his mind: Being Unable to take his clothes off himself. He said, “Luckily Chris’ girlfriend at the time had a bunch of really hot friends that came on tour with us.”
“I remember going in a hot tub later that night thinking I was going to get lucky with this girl I met in Frisco the night before, but when I asked her to pull my pants off to get in, she kinda stayed far away from me the rest of the night.”
And in the end, he says never learned his lesson. This time around in Breckenridge, he’s snowboarding in-between his Breck and Vail shows.
“I’m gonna beat the mountain this time,” he said.
No word on how he’s gonna get laid, but I bet Lang has some silky sounds he can slip into his Afro-Zep beats.
Next issue: Leftover Salmon’s Vince Herman muses on ski towns and bums of the past — and pleas to get Mayor McCheese back, for god’s sake!
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.
Bad trip Hi John, Read “Bad Trip” (Smoke Signals, MG #175) with a sense of déjà vu.
After finishing training in family practice in the early ’70s, my then-wife and I were invited to look at small town practice in western Kansas, Oberlin to be precise. Like you, I figured not too far from Colorado, so we would give it a look.
So, on a cold November Friday, we headed east and lost sight of the mountains in the rear view mirror at Limon. There are two colors out there that time of year, grey and brown, which reflected our mood as we pulled into town. Oh yeah, the wind.
We were met by the “doctor search committee,” and I immediately sensed desperation on their part. The group of about five or six included the bank president, a Kiwanis leader, hospital administrator, board members and a very bedraggled looking physician who had lost his only partner six months ago to a Colorado mountain community. The town doc tried to put the best spin on the situation, but it was pretty clear from the onset that this place was meant for a physician committed to his patients but not much else, including family, recreation or sleep.
The next day was the town tour, which included prosperous farms, the grain elevator, Main Street and the hospital. Nice enough people, but we felt the pressure growing as the day progressed.
Scheduled that evening was the dinner in our honor. Held at the VFW Hall, my wife and I were a bit shocked to walk in to a room with about 30 citizens of Oberlin and environs. Unlike you, unfortunately, I had to face this whole ordeal sober. (I think Oberlin is dry). The search committee director gave a nice positive overview of a medical practice in western Kansas and abruptly asked for a decision yes or no will I come to Oberlin. I have no recollection of how we declined their kind offer, but I have ended up working in the mountains for next 35 years.
By the way, with age, I have learned to appreciate the wide open spaces and haunting beauty of the high plains and the kind, resilient people that live there.
Always look forward to the Mountain Gazette.
Say what? I’m hear [sic] at a bar. There is beer, and right now I’m too lazy to read, so thanks for these great photos … but if you ever have a little extra white space, maybe a crossword? And if you do, [sic] do a crossword, how about one that’s all about beer?!
Reader Number 082568 aka, Tee from Denver
Hitchhike Hard with a Vengeance Dear Mountain Gazette: I just finished reading “In Remembrance of ‘Boy’,” by Rosco Betunada (December 2010 issue). I have been hitchhiking around the United States for most of 14 years and it is amazing who picks you up.
Once I was hitchhiking in Idaho and this guy picked me up. He told me that his friend was hitching north of Twin Falls. This old pickup pulled over and he got inside and looked at the driver. The driver looked at him, smiled and said, “Yup, I am who you think I am.” It was Bruce Willis.
One time I was hitching in western Nebraska and these three guys picked me up. I got in the back seat of the car and we were going down the road when the guy sitting next to me looked at me and asked, “Aren’t you from Ames, Iowa?”
“How did you know that?!” I replied totally surprised.
“I picked you up a few years ago and you gave me a copy of your book.”
That guy later told me that he got a ride from Missouri to Iowa in the late 1970s with a guy named William Least Heat-Moon. Least Heat-Moon later wrote the best-seller, “Blue Highways” (first published in 1982).
If you are interested in my hitchhiking travels, you can read my book “High Plains Drifter: A Hitchhiking Journey Across America.” It was published in 2008.
My home base is between the Missouri River and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Tim Shey, Bozeman, Montana
A Matter of Pride Dear Editor: In MG #173, I find two new names on your masthead as senior correspondents — Richard Barnum-Reece’s and mine. On the behalf of now-dead Richard, I’d like you to know that he would be really pleased by this designation, as he and I always pictured your magazine as the ultimate in alpine truth-telling. This is the only publication we ever found that consistently understood what we thought it was all about.
He and I were introduced to MG when we first saw Dick Dorworth’s ’70s article “Night Driving.” We held (still do) his writing and accomplishments in the same esteem as that of Edward Abbey, Yvon Choinard and other big mountaineering names of the time. Thirty-five years later, that same sense is still true for me. That you would name a dead guy “(RIP)” as a senior correspondent (maybe a first in magazine journalism) validates MG’s courage, sense of humor and sense of what’s right.
For my own part, this mention is going on my resume with a great deal of pride. To be listed on your masthead with Dorworth and the others there is a major milestone. Thanks.
Dave Baldridge, Albuquerque, NM
Perfect To Human Companion Bob Welsh in Mountain Dog photo, MG #176: While a picture is worth a thousand words, the picture may not portray reality, but allow me to go off on my impressions of you and the picture you appear in on page 23. The photographer is identified as a woman. If she doesn’t love you, you are still lucky enough to have a woman who is gracious enough to at least put up with you AND your dog. Your dog loves you, is at ease and looks forward to working with you and is gracious enough to put up with you when your attention is diverted. The photo was taken at an out building. Its windows haven’t seen glass for a long time. These features, along with your clothes and complexion, mean that you work some land that comes with a personal history. The beautiful brace of birds came from that land, your land, from walking distance. You didn’t drive for hours on a Saturday morning to get in line at public land to chase birds that were stocked the day before.
Bob, if only so much as a word of this is true, your hat may as well be a crown. You are young and strong and king of your world. That’s what I see in that photo.
Charles Green, Boise
High Praise Indeed Hey M. John: I just picked up the latest issue, #176, of the Gazette: “4th Annual Mountain Dog Photo Contest.” Actually, as always I picked up two copies. One to leave in the shitter at work in an attempt to spread some appropriate perspective to my co-workers during their otherwise busy days, and one for home, which, incidentally, often finds its way to my shitter as well. Mind you, this business about the Gazette finding its way to the shitters that populate my life is not meant as an insult. Quite the contrary. Only the best of the best makes the cut. In my world, there’s no greater status reading material can attain than to cross the carpet/linoleum boundary and find a home atop “the oval office.”
Bathroom talk aside, when I got around to cracking open this latest issue, I couldn’t help but notice the issue month read “February/March.” In a panic, I rushed to the computer (don’t worry … I washed my hands), to check and see if the Gazette is going to an every-other-month publication schedule. I just don’t think I (or my relaxing co-workers, for that matter), could go a full two months between each issue.
So, what’s the scoop? Have I just somehow missed that the Gazette combines a couple months as in years past or is this a new development in the publication schedule?
Thanks for any clarification and thanks again for the fantastic mag.
Mike Gerhardt, Boise
Editor’s note: We now publish 10 times a year, with double-month issues appearing February/March and August/September. This gives our staff time to hit the road for a spell without falling even further behind than we already are and always will be.
Little Dog #1 Dear M.J. Fayhee: I’m sure my email is one of the dozens you have now received regarding your heart-wrenching article in the latest Mountain Gazette (“Little Dog,” Smoke Signals, MG #176). You may have already relinquished Casey by now, but I’m writing to contribute my unsolicited two cents worth.
I too had a “soul mate,” my little Ute, a red Aussie mix, only 35 pounds. He died in my arms at age 2 1/2. There have been two dogs since: Harvard, who eventually stayed with the ex-husband, and my current dog of 10-plus years, Willow. There will never be another Ute, no matter how short our time together was. And while I have loved both Harvard and Willow with all my might, the relationship is not the same.
I’ve also had some experience in the Land of Enchantment, which is not very enchanting for many of our canine friends. Notoriously the opposite. I lived for a short time in the village of Corrales, and heard various stories of how folks came by their pets. One fellow that I dated briefly got his dogs on one of the local pueblo lands where he was doing work. He coaxed the smaller, more feral one, out from under her bush and was successful at grabbing her after various attempts over a period of time. She domesticated somewhat, but once chased my neighbor’s cherished little brown hen and yanked out several tail feathers. Running down birds was probably a staple of hers out there on the res. Another woman had rescued her dog when she spotted it trapped in an irrigation ditch (luckily dry at the time) with the chain around its neck. No collar, mind you, just the chain. No one ever claimed him, so she kept him.
The fact that your Casey has still managed to maintain her sweet disposition after her eight months of wide-ranging experiences speaks volumes to her inner nature. She has not tried to viciously attack your cat, plays with other dogs and is up for new adventure. Can you teach her to stay closer on your forays to the woods, your deal-maker? That could take time.
I got my Willow when she was “3-5 months old.” Again, it was questionable. I adopted her from the Clear Creek Animal Shelter in Dumont, though she has a chip in her head from Denver Dumb Friends. My guess is that her original litter went to Denver and she was adopted out from there. For whatever reason, that lasted only a few months, and she ended up in Dumont. She has always gotten along well with other dogs, and even had a little cellmate at the overcrowded Dumont Shelter. Perhaps her other little incarcerated comrades had been more of a staple in her life than people had.
I adopted her on Halloween, 2000. She was my reaction to cancer — not mine, my friend Karel’s. Karel had died just two weeks before on October 19th. I had just moved back to Summit County after a six-year hiatus and was living in Wildernest. I wanted a dog to hike with me, though I had just bought a townhouse with almost white carpet. Not the most practical decision I have ever made. Karel had been 49 when she died. My mind set was, “Life is short. If you want a dog, get a dog.” So I did.
Unfortunately, Willow and I did not immediately bond, even though I was rather devoted to her. Had to be, actually. If she needed to go out, so did I. But there was something rather distant and standoffish about her. She didn’t need my constant attention, didn’t beg to be petted, didn’t really crave it. She tolerated it, but didn’t seek me out. I imagined that I had adopted a dog with attachment disorder like those sad eastern European orphans that can’t stand to be touched. She has always cowered from an outstretched hand, and still ducks her head when you want to stroke it. She especially hates the big gloved hands of winter, and it has been with constant vigilance that she does not bite those fingers. One very short-lived boyfriend once reprimanded her and she immediately squatted and peed on his polished wood floor.
Regardless, we became good roommates and pals, though she slept alone on the landing where it was tiled and cool, and I snuggled under my down comforter alone. We explored the trails of Summit County, played in Lake Dillon, but still, there was this gap. She would have gone along with anyone who had a dog, often did. Almost jumped into strangers’ cars. Anyone else with a dog was a good as me. Then, the following summer, June I remember, she suddenly seemed to look at me, really look, and I became hers. I have no idea what triggered it. It had been almost eight months since we met, and by my best guess, she was almost a year old. A gestation period, perhaps? I had outlasted the other humans in her life twice over by then.
She’s still my dog and the devotion goes both ways. We now have a man in our lives, have had for eight years. She’s always liked Alan. He ignored her growling when he first folded himself into my little Mazda, and fed her cheese from our trail lunch. He gives her confidence, and they’ve hiked many miles together without me.
I think Cali has spoken, you just haven’t quite gotten it. Your instincts led you to this New Mexico orphan. She’s not a Colorado dog — she won’t have Mayflower Gulch in her backyard. She’s in YOUR backyard, and feels safe there. So … I hope you will give Casey a chance. It sounds like she has so many good attributes that can be worked with. You’re right that she needs time to become her own dog. Then she’ll have the ability to become your dog. She’ll give you her undying loyalty, when you give her yours.
Best of luck with your decision.
Mountain Gazette welcomes letters. Please email your incendiary verbiage to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 2004, Tamarack Ski Resort, located across Lake Cascade from Donnelly, ID, became the first major new ski area to open in North America since Beaver Creek, CO, and Deer Valley, UT, back in 1981. The resulting spasm of real estate speculation, and associated influx of “far-ners,” many fleeing the more populated mountain towns of Colorado for the relatively underdeveloped paradise of Idaho’s Valley County, brought with them a culture and ideas that were a “mite differn’t” from those that had dominated these rural areas in the past.
Uninterested in sheep herding, the newcomers had ideas about recreation, recycling, education, public transportation and green living that hadn’t been given widespread credence in these parts before. They also brought with them a taste for something other than Olympia and PBR. Ten-year resident Matt Ganz, himself working full-time ski patrol at the resort, heard the call, and in 2009 with partner Matt Hurlbutt, founded the Salmon River Brewery in the nearby town of McCall, ID, with a 7Bbl brew system bought from the Wynkoop Brewery in Denver.
On the opening day of the brewery, it was announced that Tamarack would not be open the following year. The perfect economic shit-storm that had hit the rest of the country took an early toll, and the owners of the resort were in court, or on the run. Despite the news, the brewery and restaurant flourished, and sales of their Salmon River Quiver IPA and Udaho Golden Ale kept on strong. Now, two years later, a group of homeowners at the resort have worked a deal to get the lifts at Tamarack turning, and the slopes were open again this past winter. Rumors of possible investors abound, and all involved hope to see a stable operator at the helm soon.
At the brewery, the resort opening has helped the winter business some, but their focus has been the details of a possible expansion this summer to allow for a wider distribution footprint. According to Ganz, the current brew system and production volumes don’t pencil well with large distribution, and he is eyeing some 15Bbl fermentors and a new cooling system to fix this. In the meantime, expect to see a series of small-batch beers on tap where the brewers have taken a mainline offering and done something different, such as changing up the yeast strain, or adding some dry-hopping (post-fermentation addition of hops to increase floral aromas and flavors in the brew).
After the lifts have been stopped, but before nighttime temps in the High Country have quit turning barley-pop into beer-sicles, the weather is near perfect out in Utah’s Canyonlands. Moderate daytime highs make this one of the best times of the year to get out into the red-rock backcountry. And if, despite this, the rumor of Beehive State 3.2% beer laws give reason for pause, then you have not visited The Moab Brewery. According to head brewer Jeff VanHorn, the brewery maintains a rotating lineup on eight taps, spanning the spectrum of color and ABV. Additionally, he is bottling a series of imperial-strength beers (above 8% ABV) in bombers for campsite enjoyment. By press time, these should include a Scotch ale, a black imperial IPA and a Belgian triple. These, as he says, should help non-local beer drinkers to feel safe about coming to Utah. Spring of 2011 will also see the ground-breaking for a planned 5,000-square-foot expansion of the brew house to allow for more fermentation space and a new canning line. Plans for off-site distribution are not complete but a definite possibility for 2012.
From the back deck of Ska Brewing’s World Headquarters, located atop Durango, CO’s mighty Bodo Industrial Park, one is afforded an excellent view of the rocky craw of Carbon Mountain, less than a half mile distant. Azure afternoon skies are saturated with San Juan sunshine, and, generally speaking, the air is perfect for drinking. It was here one Saturday afternoon a few years back that I sat with some buddies and watched the ski club from Ft. Lewis College practicing their backcountry turns down the still-snowy north face of the mountain, while consuming the last barrel of Ska’s winter seasonal, Euphoria Pale Ale, punctuated by mugs of the first batch of their summer seasonal, Mexican Logger (look for a canned release this summer). A more perfect trifecta of spring rites in southern Colorado cannot be described.
Brewers! Got news about your brewery, your brews or beer-related events in the West that would interest our readers? Send email and a sixer to email@example.com. Cheers!