40 Years Outdoors

In 1972, I was living in the house on Niagara Street in Denver with the sandbox in the back where my dad would cut our hair. There was a flagstone porch as wide as a stage and the sour apple tree with the bucket beneath it where our big German Shepherd Toby would stick his head and think that he had become invisible because he couldn’t see us — and wouldn’t come — when we called.

It was the year I broke my nose in three places when I took a Flexible Flyer to the face sledding up above Lakewood on what we called “Motorcycle Hill.” I had to sleep for three weeks sitting up so the infection wouldn’t spread to my brain. And every time we drove by that hill, I would press against the window to watch for hangliders pushing off from their perch, falling at first like stubborn, stuttering birds. I would listen closely to the stories about whenever any one of them was fried like a barbecued hippie Pterodactyl in the power lines below.

“C’mon,” my father would say on the trail, as much coaxing as he was commanding. “There’s just another mile to go.”

I was just beginning to learn how to read and write, but I could already carry my own pack and smell the weather through the window. And I could start to see the difference between the world I was beginning to live in, and the world I was starting to know. The way we crossed little creeks on cut logs like they were rivers that fed the world. Those first flags that we planted in our minds with every view. And the way the gas stations excited us like malls out there in the mountains, with all of the baseball cards and Slurpee cups and sugar that they could hold.

It makes you who you are, the way the sun comes down through the aspens on the trail. The smell of pine so damp and sudden, and your initials carved onto your own camp cup so that the memory of Tang tastes like metal even now. That natural magic you could always imagine out there with the eagles and Indians all walking on clouds, and the proud wolf with his worried eyes, and the wise, curious black bear. How all of that stuff has always been better than any of the shit I ever learned in school.

If it changed, then it changed the way it always does, so that some barometer, both real and imagined, both media and mental, was always insisting that the experiences had to get deeper, and the stories had to get better, and that sense of danger you might find started to become more important — more awesome! — than all of the times you spent just sitting on a ridge staring into the infinity of a sky full of blue mountain air.

“Do you want to get high?”

“Do you want to race?”

“Have you ever tried other boots?”

So that the accessories become the biggest part of the conversation if you want them to. And all of the things that were inconsequential when you started, when all you knew was that you were outside, can begin to get bigger than the experience itself. So the spice becomes the meal.

In the 1970s, there were already people getting high on mushrooms and climbing the Flatirons on rollerskates wearing tutus. In the 1980s, there were guys in Adidas short shorts and Vuarnets talking about their heart rate like it was some scientific breakthrough, and the math of carbohydrates they burned going uphill. In the ’90s, there were the people who watched their watches instead of the view, accelerating each outdoor event into a kind of race with themselves, then going off to save the world with all of the time they saved, I suppose.

“It was a personal best, dude.”

I want to be clear when I say this, “I don’t really care.” That’s because what I do care about is something that we don’t seem to talk about enough anymore. Which is all of that magic out there — or that was out there — including those watchful wolves, those patient arcing whales and the mighty grizzly bears.

What I mean is that there are magical parts of our world that are literally getting the shit kicked out of them right now. From habitat encroachment (obliteration) to poaching to a vast array of vanishing natural resources, we are the cause, the agitator, the consumer and the disease in so many places on this planet, demanding no matter how much it hurts that every ecosystem provide more, more, more.

Maybe it’s naïve to think there was more hope for the natural world 40 years ago, long before we knew about things like climate change, tar sands, mountaintop removal and how with every tank of gas we buy we all feed the tyranny of big oil. If I could put a finger on it, I would say that we have lost our backbone, and the will to change or stand alone in protest of something that we know is wrong. And maybe the anniversary of this magazine provides one more chance to remind ourselves that we are all still here, united across the Rockies by our collective cherishing of all those pristine places

Maybe it’s one more reminder that it is really up to us to work to keep all of that natural, dangerous, breathtaking magic real. To keep working to ensure that the wilderness is wild, and to keep helping to decide how the future thinks of us all.

Editor-at-Large Peter Kray is a lover of dogs, beer, and pouring tall bourbons for his lovely wife. He is the author of “American Snow” and “The Monster,” and for the past five years (OK, 10), has been telling himself this is the year he finishes writing “The God of Skiing.” He may be right. Kray lives in Santa Fe.

A look at gear and the good old days over these past 4 decades.

Depravity? You’ve got the wrong war

Fake Budweiser

I joined the Army to see the world and live an adventure only to get stuck in a place stricter and squarer than my Jesuit high school. Afghanistan makes me nostalgic for the depravity of Vietnam.

A couple of Saturdays ago, a friend and I went to the most happening place on Kandahar Airfield, the Boardwalk, where we drank fruit-flavored slushies and split a bag of pistachios. We saw a few women, none dressed to provoke anything.

Forty years ago in Vietnam, we’d have been roaming Saigon’s Tu Do Street, where a soldier could tweak his head with the entire panoply of drugs, drink all sorts of alcohol and then catch a venereal disease from a prostitute.

Here in Afghanistan, where Allah runs the locals’ show and Jesus guides the invaders, pornographic internet sites are blocked. Soldiers have orders not to have sex, and to get high, they abuse over-the-counter allergy pills or take an ailment to the doctor and ask for something a little more magical.

In Vietnam, soldiers like my father mixed with the natives and were granted passes to visit Macau or Hong Kong where they could see some crazy shit.

In Afghanistan, we have walls separating us from the natives, and we don’t get a pass to go anywhere. We maybe the most sheltered, hen-pecked army in history.

A bunch of prigs and prudes dominate this war. No “Platoon” or “Full Metal Jacket” will rise out of Afghanistan. All of the animal wildness of the Vietnam War is suppressed here. Someone tuned in to the hidden tension, like Jane Austen, could write the great Afghanistan novel.

Soldiers, the younger ones in particular, look for adventure. They want risk because it’s fun, and if I were a young soldier in Afghanistan, I’d be pissed. They signed up for a big-budget action movie with sex and booze but wound up on a year-long Puritanical crusade in the desert. What a bummer.

Though fellow soldiers ask him what it was like in Vietnam, Sgt. Mike is not that old, although he was racing through bamboo slalom courses in the Colorado Rockies before high-speed, detachable quads existed.

Love, Part 2: Now


Love RockersIt was early September in 2009. I was a divorcee living in Moab, Utah. I was writing, editing, working at the thrift store and the library, trying to make meager ends meet in a tourist town known for its difficulty producing a living wage.

One Saturday night found me on a rare date. I had chosen not to see Moabites, as the dating pool was so small and the gossip mill so loud. The hotshot photographer from New York seemed too good to be true. And he was. After dinner and drinks, on a moonlight hike up Mill Creek Canyon, he informed me that he was married. With a little girl at home. He tried to convince me that we should practice the Buddhist notion of “nonattachment.” I think he misunderstood the teachings.

It seemed a less-than-auspicious reentry in the dating scene. The next morning, I was plunging into the wallow of self-pity generated by a life waiting for Mr. Right to get donated to the thrift store, when my warrior-for-all-things-love roommate, Hillary, offered a glimmer of hope. She lured me toward her laptop, toward the promises proffered by online dating. I’m not even on Facebook, but after giving my obligatory sanctimonious speech on the perils of artificial bonding and diminishing face-time, I relented. Those boys she showed me from Durango — just three hours away — were appealing.

After Hillary’s introduction to the wonders of shopping for men online, I began my editing work for the day. However, I was too distracted to get far. I eventually yielded to the urge and slowly typed m-a-t-c-h-.-c-o-m into Firefox’s address field. My finger hovered over the Enter key.


My life was forever changed by a keystroke.

I spent the morning engaged in the self-conscious and self-indulgent task of crafting a profile — Vox Deserto, The Back of Beyond is Better Shared — and uploading choice pictures. The whole process felt ridiculous, but I soldiered forward. I signed up for the three-day free trial. I wasn’t yet convinced that I wanted to shell out money to maybe meet someone special. I still believed in the starry-eyed notion of seeing my soul mate across the room, locking gazes and feeling the chill of destiny wash over me. Electronic winks and messages delivered by billions of binary numbers seemed decidedly less romantic. But I had nothing to lose with a free trial.

I ignored most messages, sent few. I noticed PondoPitch: 29, piercingly beautiful eyes, sweetly devilish smile. I saved his profile for later, unknowingly altering him to my interest with a mouse-click. I then conversed with a dentist from Vail, found it fun, but decided not to pay for an actual subscription.

One hour before my profile’s midnight expiration, I received a message from PondoPitch:

OK, I don’t know anything about the philosophy of spiral dynamics but your page has absolutely captivated me. You have an incredible smile, a passion for words, the cycles of weather, and the desert. Who are you???

Hi, I’m Tyler.

The message turned into a phone call — amazing for two telephobes — and the phone call turned into an invitation for Tyler Quintano to join me on a Westwater trip with friends. I figured there was safety in the distraction of whitewater. He would drive to meet me in Moab on Sunday night, and we would launch Monday morning.

My absent roommate — this story’s instigator — was the only person who knew of Tyler’s arrival. I was too embarrassed to tell any of my friends that I was engaged in the pride-squelching practice of online dating. Thus, I found myself in the somewhat uncomfortable predicament of meeting a perfect stranger in my empty home, with no one to hear my screams if he attacked me with chainsaws.

The day of his arrival was cloudy and cool. I was restless. I went for a bike ride and a run. I was a worthless editor. I got dressed five separate times, unsure of my appearance and myself. I even Googled the acceptability of wearing brown and black together. Not that my date would likely notice. Or care. I tried to meditate. And failed.

My nervousness was about more than greeting a strange man and entertaining him for a weekend. It was about understanding and embracing the fact that I wanted to fall in love again. And I wanted to do it right this time. To do right by me. It was about knowing that, even if Tyler wasn’t the one, I was now plunging into a world where my heart would once again be open to both happiness and hurt. And in the strange world of dating, the latter is more likely than the former.

My nervousness was also as much about fear of success as it was fear of failure. Sometimes, the thing we want most is the scariest to reach for. There’s less risk in wanting than there is in having.

I saw him pull up in his silver truck (unbeknownst to me, he did arrive with chainsaws; he’s an arborist). With the next beat of my heart, he was on the doorstep: a few days’ worth of red stubble, stature slightly shorter than mine, big barrel chest, beautiful forearms and legs, perfect hands — yes, I’ve always noticed men’s hands — and an enormous nervous smile.

Is that fate smiling at me?

The thing I wanted most was on my doorstep. And I was afraid. My heart sank as I told myself he couldn’t be the one. My first instinct was to apologize for my mistake and close the door, turning my back on my future because it felt so big and new. Like his smile.

But I opened the door. And I awkwardly hugged a man that now holds my being in the tenderest embrace I have ever known. I awkwardly brought Tyler’s heart close to mine. And there it has always stayed.

After a beat of self-conscious silence, I asked, “Wow, do you need a beer?”

“God, I thought you’d never ask,” he exhaled.

We sat down over PBRs, and after nervously emptying a few cans, two shy souls emerged and began to get acquainted. Who knew that beer could be a multigenerational catalyst for love?

Monsoonal rains engulfed our nascent story that night. We watched the lightning and rainbows from cliffs above town. We had our first kiss on his tailgate in the rain. We learned that the Westwater trip had been cancelled. We didn’t care. We filled the days, instead, with hiking and camping, conversation and wonder at the ease of our connection.

The next weekend, I went to Durango, met his parents. That followed with another Moab visit. The days that stretched between were filled with thoughts of his eyes, his hands, his smile. I told him I was falling in love. And so, he professed, was he.

One month to the day after our first awkward hug, Tyler purchased a 1971 Streamline travel trailer for us to live in. Two months to the day, he hauled it to Moab. And here we still reside, in 26 linear feet of paradise.

Nearly three years, two shared business ventures and one adopted Mexican dog later, I went on a backpacking meditation retreat. I walked through the wilderness for days, hands in pockets, head down, heart working overtime. I returned to Moab and asked Tyler to marry me. With a rare tear in his eye, he said yes. My name will be Jenny Quintano.

I have chosen a man with beautiful hands and a beautiful heart, just like my father. A man of striking eyes, a wonderful smile, and a soul that carries an abundance of love and devotion.

Our love was born online. In a way, we are the trend. And, as are all of us in love, we are so much more.

Senior correspondent Jen Jackson writes from Moab, Utah, where she is currently researching the life of Bates Wilson, “Father of Canyonlands,” for a book due out in 2014. Her blog, Desert Reflections, can be found at

Read about Jen’s mother and her experiences with love, in Love, Part I.

Love, Part I: Then

Parents in love

It was late January in 1974.

I was a sophomore attending a small liberal arts college in Ashland, Oregon. My major was Sociology. It was a popular major for the era. To make a difference in the lives of those in need — that really spoke to the tenor of the time on the Southern Oregon College campus. The “establishment” was failing us all.

One Friday night found me alone in the house enjoying a date with my new Singer sewing machine. While sewing a hippie-esque skirt, I reluctantly answered the telephone’s ring. It was not cool to be alone on a party night. I hated outing myself.

The caller was my sister Leslie, still in high school though dating and partying with men of my age set. She wanted me to get my butt up to Forest Hall, a dorm known for its Olympia-fueled community of all things male. Leslie was in a room filled with guys and wanted me to leave my sewing and solitude behind to come meet “Mr. Oregon.”

It seemed a less-than-great idea, but the lure of meeting the brother of the current reigning Miss Oregon (as in Miss America Pageant royalty), Nancy Jean Jackson, piqued my interest. I acquiesced and drove my ’66 Ford Mustang up to Forest Hall.

It became abundantly clear that Leslie’s currency with the group was procuring someone who had a car that actually worked. Unwittingly, I was to be the pilot for the beer run. And my co-pilot with the ID to buy alcohol was Bruce. It didn’t take me long to note his age, 22, and his piercing blue eyes, his sweet smile and his lovely hands. How was I to know that I was attracted to men’s hands?

We bought beer, lots and lots of beer. As it turned out, Bruce and I were both painfully shy. Beer was lugged up three flights of stairs and delivered. I hung out for a while, getting a contact high. I headed home. And I believed that the awkward evening would be a soon-forgotten memory. But I didn’t forget those eyes, those hands.

My roommate, Nancy, bet me a bottle of Boone’s Farm watermelon wine that Leslie and her boyfriend and Mr. Oregon would ask me to join them for a day in the snow up on Mt. Ashland. The stakes were high, but I took the bait. And I lost the bet. Bruce and I had our first official double date not long after, and I was eager to pony up Boone’s Farm money for the pleasure of his company.

Our second date found us watching “Kung Fu” on my television, my four roommates sitting in the kitchen drinking watermelon wine — four pairs of eyes checking out the new guy. Bruce cautiously entered the den of nosey and opinionated young women and gave me a crash course on all things Kwai Chang Caine and Master Po. He loved the show, and I loved getting to know this quietly intriguing young man.

Bruce was a year-and-a-half out of the Navy, having served two years of active duty on a ship off the coast of Vietnam. He was considered the wise and all-knowing guy in his dormitory. And his 22 years, his legal-to-buy-alcohol ID and his knowledge and access to all things drug-related, elevated his status in the often torturous caste system of dorm life.

I had an English Lit class two evenings a week winter term. I soon started walking back to Bruce’s dorm room after each class and began “getting to know” my new boyfriend. I was falling into something but kept questioning whether this attraction was love.,

Lust and drugs and rock and roll. If you weren’t studying, the music was loud, cigarette smoke created a purple haze and pot, patchouli oil and incense filled the air. I was a prodigious beer drinker, and that was my drug of choice. Bruce did, or had done, it all. I didn’t judge his use of drugs. Live in the moment, no worries, life is groovy.

But to be honest, I had one worry: Why was I attracted to this man … beyond the physical, beyond the fun? Why was I meant to eke out moments to be with him and capture small bits of getting to know him like trapping fireflies in a jar for their illumination? I would tell my friends that some larger force was compelling me to be with Bruce. And my best friends were confounded by my choice. “He’s quiet. He’s mysterious. He’s high a lot.”

One Sunday found me driving home to Medford to visit my family. As I turned the corner, there was Bruce, hands in pockets, head down, walking alone. He had the most erect posture but looked like the saddest man on earth. My surreptitious viewing haunted me.

That night, I raced up to his dorm to check in and learned that his oldest sister had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She was only in her late 20s. He started crying. Men who cry just undo me. It is such a window into their souls. I spent the evening holding him. No words. Just bearing witness.

Spring vacation loomed ahead and we both noted that a week apart might be hard. I had plans to go on vacation with my family to Disneyland — kind of a big-deal trip with all six of us on an airplane. Yeah, I would miss Bruce, but I was off to sunny California.

Friday of Spring Break found me back from the land of Disney, picking up the phone to hear Bruce’s voice ask if I wanted to meet him at the college. Dormitories were closed that week, but he’d found a way to sneak in.

Somewhere between walking through the rock-propped door and into his room, it hit me: I was totally, over-the-moon, freakin’ in love. And so, he professed, was he.

We shared classes that spring. He would ace tests without taking notes. I would take notes but study him instead. I had stopped wondering why I was with him and couldn’t imagine a day or night not being by his side.

The first Thursday night in May, we had his room for the entire night. We slept little, whispered much. There was a touch of wistful wonder about how far we had traveled in our relationship. I dozed. Bruce left the room and walked through the night for an hour. I suppose his hands were in his pockets, his head was down and his heart was working overtime. He came back to the room as the sun was rising. Bruce sat down on the bed, sober as a judge, and softly asked me to marry him. I cried. He cried. And yes seemed the only word we used for the next hour. My name would be Allison Jackson.

Love became our intoxicant of choice. We were married 16 months later. My handsome father took my arm in a church filled to overflowing and handed me over to my equally handsome betrothed. We will celebrate our 37th anniversary this August. We have worn marriage well.

Bruce still has those beautiful hands. They have rocked his newborn baby daughter, held her hand as she walked her first days to school, hugged his girls (Jenny and me), prepared food for his family with a need to provide. He still has lovely eyes, a wonderful smile and a heart that carries an abundance of love and thoughtful, steadfast devotion.

Our love was born in a time when longevity of relationship was not cool, when you just “loved the one you’re with.” It was a time of following your bliss and hanging loose, being cool, staying high, mellowing out.

We bucked the trend.

Allison Jackson writes from Medford, Oregon…usually at the urging of her daughter. And her daughter wishes she’d do more of it.

Now read Love, Part II written by Allison’s daughter Jen.

New Gear and the Good Old Days

When we’re on an old, classic climbing route, my friend Lee sometimes reminds me how bold our predecessors were compared to us: “Now remember, when Layton Kor first climbed this route in the ’60s, he didn’t use a No. 5 Camalot. Or any cams at all.”

I usually say something like, “I know. But I believe he used bigger balls than I’m carrying.”

Waterproof tents, synthetic clothing, lighter, faster, more comfortable, drier, warmer. Unlike previous generations, I did not figuratively walk to school uphill both ways through two feet of snow. My gear is arguably astronomically better than that of my predecessors. I’ve been hit on the helmet with rocks launched from 30 feet above me and walked away unscathed, flew 25 feet down a climbing route and didn’t break my back due to my dynamic rope stretching and catching my fall, and I have sat through an 85 mph windstorm on Mount Rainier eating candy and listening to music in a wonderfully engineered mountaineering tent that did not snap in the hurricane-force winds.

Give me a weekend made more fun because of all the inventions of the past 40-odd years, and I’ll take it. I’ll hike into the mountains in the rain, kept dry by Gore-Tex (1976) or some other waterproof, breathable fabric; sleep in a dome tent (1971) on my self-inflating sleeping pad (1974) after listening to a few songs on my iPod (2011); then get up the next morning to climb a route in my soft shell jacket (2000s), using my cams (1978), all the while taking photos without having to change film thanks to my digital camera (2004). And I’ll probably post those photos on Facebook (2004) when I get back to civilization — but that’s a whole other can of worms (and to be honest, I might upload one or two pics taken on my iPhone (2007) directly to Instagram (2010)).

Few gear inventions in the past 40 years have actually led to real change. The cam is one of them — one could argue that Indian Creek would still be nothing but a scenic backdrop to some sleepy ranch land in the Utah desert without it. Mostly what’s changed in 40 years is our relationship to gear: We review it, we take over Salt Lake City twice a year and fill the Salt Palace Convention Center to see what’s new, and some people even call themselves “gear junkies,” as if a penchant for buying items for use in the outdoors is some sort of identity badge of honor.

But what really makes a difference? Snowboards. Dynamic ropes. Even Starbucks Via. How far do you want to go back? You know what really shook shit up in the outdoors? The wheel. Your ancestors 5,500 to 10,000 years ago would have had to walk to the trailhead, not because they didn’t have a car, but because they didn’t have the wheel. How about fire? Do you like hot food? Thank the humanoid that discovered fire approximately 800,000 years ago. Enjoy your Mountain House Chicken a la King and your hot tea after dinner, and mull that one over. Yes, climbers who put up routes in the days before cams were tough, and bold. Climbers who put up routes in the days before dynamic ropes were bolder. But man, you know who was hardcore? Those dudes who were hiking and trail running before humans wore shoes. And before fire.

Brendan Leonard is a contributing editor at Climbing magazine. He lives in a car. His blog, Semi-Rad, can be found at mountaingazette.com. He maintains a personal website, semi-rad.com.

40 years outdoors and the adventures along the way…

The Tipping Point

One day last May, I walked around the Victorian mining town-turned-ski town where I live and asked locals in their 20s and 30s how they felt about development. Their answers included ample griping over rent and crowds, the occasional “rich motherfuckers” shoutout to the home-theater set and genuine fear of suburban sprawl despite being an hour-and-a-half from the nearest city. Though I didn’t frame it this way, each conversation seemed to revolve around a much broader and perplexing question: Has development made it harder or easier to live here?

To make his case, one particularly impassioned dirt biker told me, “I look at development as an invasion,” a sentiment that, ironically, may be our best parallel to the state of affairs in 1972. Up until then, development in Breckenridge and many like-minded towns around the West had been viewed as not only sensible but essential. Breck’s town board wanted to generate revenue and infrastructure to support what was then a fledgling ski area. Developers were lured from Denver with the promise of easy profits, and the locals — even the hippies, who formed a powerful constituency at the time — supported it.

Then came the Moby Dick of all condo complexes — or, as fifth-generation Breckenridge resident Robin Theobald called it, “the tipping point.” It wasn’t just that it covered half a block and stood more than three stories tall, it was that the block happened to be in the historic part of town, instead of across the river where all the other condo complexes had been going up. Imagine a shark entering the dolphin net. The town’s entire vibe changed. Hippies started running for office. Some of them won. For the first time, development — a word that symbolizes progress in every other use — took on a negative hue.

Of course, just like cold fingers never stopped a gold miner, the anti-development vibe didn’t stop speculators from turning open spaces into giant sardine cans. During the ’70s and early ’80s, Breckenridge approved so much density in condominium complexes — primarily to outside investors, since no city banks would loan to anyone from the High Country — that nearly every developer I spoke with lamented the entire era. Finally, in 1997, a valley-wide master plan was drafted to cap development and combat backcountry sprawl by drawing density back toward town, the very place it had worn out its welcome years before.

As it turned out, the hippies who launched the so-called “community development” movement never could have known what would grow from their resistance four decades later. A quantitative history has improbably given way to a qualitative future. Breckenridge now has a whopping 44 different land-use districts, each with special development codes. Victorian aesthetics, once an afterthought, are held sacred. Large-scale projects that were approved 10 years ago would never fly today. “Very frustrating” is how one developer described his profession’s current state.

On the other hand, a town-subsidized housing development just went up near the town-subsidized rec center. My 34-year-old friend bought a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath townhome with a two-car garage for $187,000, because he was poor enough and local enough to qualify. The government subsidized his house to the tune of $70,000. It’s a nice sidebar, but as build-out looms, the larger story remains: only one in four homes is occupied year-round.

Despite all the differences, a lot of things haven’t changed in 40 years. Developers, chiefly male, then as now, still want to be seen as white-hat cowboys, and they still covet political influence. Due to tightened belts and heightened public antennae, they’re held to higher standards, but if you can navigate the maze, you’ll still make millions.

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if there were no ski resort in our town … or, in a less crazy stretch, if our ski resort didn’t happen to be the most-visited in America. Would we be Estes Park, a gorgeous town with badass mountains that is jammed in the summer but nearly empty in the winter? Would life be better? Would my wife and I still be able to survive here?

Theobald, for one, thinks all the development made it easier to live in Breckenridge. “Certainly,” he said. But don’t get him started on Ullrfest parade floats. Time was, people who lived nearly two miles high could poke a little fun. Yet as soon as the party grew, newbies started taking offense and then the fun was gone, as if sucked dry by a vacuum. “I think the town lost its sense of humor,” he said.

I wondered if development might be partially to blame for that. Theobald, standing in a field of grass and aspens, pondered the question in his suspenders and bandana. “I suppose it has to be,” he said.

Devon O’Neil covers sports for ESPN.com and freelances for magazines ranging from Outside to Parade. He lives in Breckenridge. His blog, Brexico, can be found at mountaingazette.com.

Adventure People

Mountain Gazette was launched just as many of the crazy notions of the 1960s were going mainstream. One such notion was the realization that unregulated resource extraction and unbridled industry were taking a heavy toll on our planet, a situation that prompted, in short order, events such as the first Earth Day and the passage of the Clean Air and Water acts. Another was that, while good old Mother Nature needed some help via legislation and shows of power by the people, she also offered up the chance for spiritual sustenance, especially when under the influence of various plants and/or chemicals being sampled by larger and larger segments of the population — a cultural shift symbolized by John Denver’s iconic “Rocky Mountain High” breaking into the Billboard top ten in 1973, just a year after the founding of the Mountain Gazette.

As it happens, I was born the same year as MG, which meant that my childhood was colored by the themes many adults of the era were embracing. Toxic chemicals in canned baby food meant that my chow consisted of carrots stewed on the stovetop and thrown in the blender, a reflection of the rise of health food and organic farming. The fact that my mother thoroughly enjoyed reading “The Monkey Wrench Gang” meant that a picnic in the woods might also entail a long walk along the Denver Water Board road plucking out survey stakes. Changing attitudes toward the Earth went hand in hand with a reexamination of Native American culture, so I watched “Little Big Man” instead of “Gunsmoke” and grasped the evils of Manifest Destiny at a very young age. The rise of a sizable ski-bum culture meant that my friends and I learned to ski early, and we sat with our parents as they drank Coors and smoked a joint on the chairlift.

Suffice to say that the “back-to-the-land” ethic of hippie communes from Vermont to Hawaii was being lived out in less extreme ways by a huge chunk of “normal” American society, kids included. It was a big shift, and one that Fischer Price toy company was hoping to cash in on when they introduced the “Adventure People” in 1975. These were America’s first 3-and-3/4-inch action figures — the standard for more-famous versions that followed — and their rise and fall traces the arc of America’s first serious love affair with the great outdoors circa 1969 to 1981.

The first batch of these toys consisted of an “Emergency Rescue Truck” and “Air-Sea Rescue Copter” — more firefighter than mountain man, but in 1976 the company debuted “Wilderness Patrol,” a couple of backcountry rangers with search plane, sleeping bags and a motor boat, followed a year later by the “North Woods Trailblazer” — two rugged fellows (“Brad” and “Hawk”), a jeep, a tent and a canoe. Over the next few years, similarly themed sets were released: “Sea Explorer” (A boat, scuba gear and a dolphin, a la Jacques Cousteau), “Sky Surfer” (a “stuntman” with hang glider), a whitewater kayaker, mountain climbers and a skydiver, among others.

The toys were a big hit, but then came “Star Wars,” and action figures like Doug the Diver and Susan the Mountain Climber found themselves up against the likes of Han Solo and Princess Leia. By 1979, Fisher Price’s innovative and Earthy action figures had been left in the dust by the first-of-its-kind toy marketing juggernaut of the “Star Wars” conglomerate, so they countered by introducing a line of  motorheadish pursuits: a dirt bike team, dune buggy and a drag racer. When this failed to pull the kids away from their Millenium Falcons, the toy company jumped on the outer space bandwagon with a new round of Adventure People based upon robots and space ships, with some military swag thrown in for good measure.

It was a desperate move, and useless, for even the mighty “Clawtron” and his realistic, claw-like hands couldn’t compete with the array of movie-backed icons and ingenious spacecraft being churned out by the “Star Wars” machine (bolstered by two more blockbusters), and the military angle was soon eclipsed by the reintroduction of G.I. Joe — a scaled-down version of the American soldier that popular culture had rejected in the immediate aftermath of Vietnam but now embraced with open arms. By 1981, the same year that President Carter and his somewhat mindful “turn down the thermostat/wear a sweater” philosophy gave way to Reagan and his balls-out “morning in America”/James Watt (the original drill baby driller) regime, toy kayakers and mountain climbers had been phased out for good, while laser weaponry and machine guns were in full effect.

Looking back, the greatness of the early Adventure People was that they inspired play that hinted at the big experiences awaiting us in our own extended backyard. My friends and I would create dramatic scenarios with these toys then put them aside and invent our own adventures, perhaps climbing “Devil’s Mountain” at the edge of town or “kayaking” down the Fraser River on a raft made of milk jugs and plywood. Maybe we would have done some of this anyway, but the existence of action figures with names like “Hawk” or simply “Stuntman” surely led us to push our pint-sized selves to another level. Just as importantly, the toy sets also usually included at least one woman figure, which encouraged my younger sister to put aside her Barbie for an afternoon and join the fray, and none included any weapons, not even a spear gun for the deep sea diver … not due to any bleeding-heart liberal agenda, but because such weapons were simply unnecessary when exploring the great outdoors.

Fast forward a few decades. Much has been gained (Grand Staircase/Escalante for example,) but much more has been lost (gigantic swaths of everywhere else). Solar panels and organic farming are bigger than ever, but so are fracking and the acreage covered by chemically saturated Monsanto monoculture, and the whole shebang remains hopelessly addicted to oil. Closer to home, kids are spending, on average, over seven hours per day in front of some kind of electronic screen, and the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” has entered our lexicon, if not (yet) our list of official childhood maladies to be treated with pharmaceutical-grade medication — certainly the exact opposite of a Rocky Mountain High.

As born-again, halfhearted pagans, my wife and I do our best to instill our five-year-old daughter with some love for the Earth by checking out the critters in our neighborhood and the creeks in our mountains. She loves these explorations, but like any kid, she also plays with toys. Since we’ve been heavily influenced by the bygone era that inspired things like the Adventure People and the Mountain Gazette, we recycle our beer cans, invest in a weekly share of a nearby farmer’s harvest and buy our daughter’s toys from the local toy store, where there’s a variety of nature-oriented items to choose from.

But most kids in our town get their toys from the Big Box, often right out of a big box (assembly required), and THAT store doesn’t have much in the way of toys that might inspire kids to explore the outdoors. For the boys, just about everything appears to have stepped straight off of the electronic screen: Aisle upon aisle of comic-book or movie-themed weaponry, action figures and computer games, with the All Star Wrestlers (“Hurl your opponent!”) rounding out the media tie-ins. For the girls: Variations on the Disneyfied princess theme, with Hello Kitty and Barbie thrown in for good measure, and maybe some kind of winged “fairy” wearing a thong. Other than the bicycles, few of the toys look durable enough to leave the house, let alone inspire rough and rugged outdoor play in the non-existent sandbox.

But wait. Last aisle. Bottom shelf. Dangerously close to the books … a glimmer of hope. Cheap plastic, obviously. Made in China, of course. Not really built to last, but most assuredly meant to be taken outside: “BACKYARD SAFARI OUTFITTERS.”  Binoculars, a canteen, butterfly net, magnifying glass and, best of all, a “bug vacuum” that lets curious kids safely and gently suck insects out of their habitat and into a plastic jar with a magnifying glass built right into the lid. The Big Box doesn’t waste shelf space, so somebody’s buying this stuff. Somewhere in town, in every town, kids are flipping over rocks and searching out creepy crawlies to vacuum up and get to know a little better.

It ain’t the second coming of George Washington Hayduke, not yet, but it beats the hell out the “Special Forces Unit” or that pussy Hello Kitty, and it’s light years beyond sitting and staring at some form of the teevee. Not to mention the other possibilities … the strange things that can happen when a kid steps out into the sunshine. One minute, little John and Jane are peering closely at spiders and the next they’re all grown up and chaining themselves to the bulldozers, or at least taking in the view from the top of the mountain instead of the couch. Like the flap of the butterfly wing that churns up a hurricane, or the hope cradled within the last truffula seed of them all, a humble plastic plaything might end up being one of the threads that holds things together for another 40 years.

Senior correspondent Charles Clayton’s last piece for the Gazette was “Jesus and Joshua Tree, or How I Almost Became a Climber,” which appeared in #189. Clayton lives in Taos with his wife and daughter. His blog, Pagan Parenting, can be found at mountaingazette.com.

Mountain Gazette’s 60 Best Excerpts

Editor’s note: It is an understatement to say how complicated and time-consuming a process it was to distill the millions of words that have appeared in 191 issues of the Mountain Gazette into a mere 60 excerpts, which was going to be 50, except that I ran out of steam during the culling process and opted to throw in the towel upon hitting a wall that could not be conscionably surmounted.

It can certainly be argued that the concept of choosing “X” number of “best” excerpts from the Gazette was flawed from the outset. Fair enough. We went back and forth for several months regarding whether this was a task we should, or were willing to, undertake. The “no, don’t do it” side based its argument on the undeniable and unavoidable subjectivity of the endeavor, a legitimate perspective if ever there was one. There is no doubt that choosing a series of “best” quotes bears a strong resemblance to scoring figure skating in the Olympics.

The “yes, of course,” side, while certainly acknowledging the subjective aspects of the operation, argued (obviously persuasively) that this would be a perfect opportunity to showcase the long-term consistent quality of the verbiage that has graced Mountain Gazette’s pages since 1972 and to tip our collective hat to those who have contributed their creativity to our humble enterprise.

Once we decided to proceed with the “Best Excerpts” plan, the next task was to enlist a few lucky souls to spearhead what turned out to be an intense multi-month effort. I opted to go with a team consisting of younger members, the idea being to incorporate the viewpoints of the next generation of Mountain Gazette readers. To that end, I employed the services of Cat Stailey, Tim Eaton and Chloe Mydlowski, all science students at Western New Mexico University in Silver City (my alma mater) and all big Gazette fans.

It was interesting to interact with 20-somethings in this context, partially because they were not infected with the nostalgia-for-the-good-ol’-days virus that, despite our best efforts, often creeps into our pages. And partially because they did not bring with them much in the way of prejudicial baggage. Though Cat, Tim and Chloe — very well-read people — were all very familiar with the more luminarious of our past contributors — the likes of Edward Abbey and Hunter S. Thompson — and though they were all familiar with our current contributors, including those who have been with us since the beginning (George Sibley, Dick Dorworth and Bob Chamberlain), that familiarity is based solely upon work that has been published in the recent past rather than 1975. Before they embarked upon this journey, Neither Cat, Tim nor Chloe had ever heard of Galen Rowell, John Jerome, William Eastlake, Barry Corbet, Lito Tejada-Flores or Ned Gillette. While that may make greybeards wince, I found it refreshing to know that this project would be defined by the work itself, rather than by the names associated with that work, which is exactly what would have happened had I recruited more aged judges.

OK, here’s how the process went: I laid copies of every issue of MG onto Cat, Tim and Chloe, who divvied them up in their own way (I have no idea who focused on which years). They then proceeded to read through every single issue of MG! (I mean, goddamn!) They pulled one excerpt that spoke to them most out of each issue, then aggregated those quotes into one Word.doc and forwarded that document, which ended up being 10,000 words long, to me. Then I and I alone made the final decisions.

I should note that this admittedly contrived process was contrived even more once I got working on it. First, I tried to spread the wealth through the various iterations, incarnations and manifestations of the Gazette. Second, I limited each writer to one quote apiece (we could very well have filled this entire section solely with excerpts from Dorworth and Sibley.) Third, though Cat, Tim and Chloe were gracious enough (or political enough) to include several excerpts from work by yours truly, I felt it would be unseemly for anything bearing my byline to make the cut, yours truly being the final arbiter and all.

I know there are going to be disagreements, both of the “I can’t believe you included such-and-such an excerpt” and “I can’t believe you didn’t included such-and-such and excerpt” varieties. Fair enough. If you’ve got any input on this, please fire it off to mjfayhee@mounaingazette.com.

And there it is. Hope you enjoy the effort Cat, Tim and Chloe put into this.


Mountain Gazette issue #4: “In a world of tension and breakdown it is necessary for there to be men who seek to integrate their inner lives by not avoiding anguish and running away from problems, but by facing them in their naked reality and in their ordinariness.”

– “Anachoresis and Aggiornamento at St. Benedict’s,” by William Rollins

6: “While downhill gear is practically a science and Nordic gear is perfectly adapted for packed-track running, mountain touring gear is in approximately the archaeological state of fishing with a club.”

— “Confessions of a Novice Tourer,” by Galen Rowell

10: “The fib stalks fishermen from waterside to campsite.”

— “Catching the Hatch,” by Cortlandt L. Freeman

11: “Dressed for the climb in Bermuda shorts, a tee shirt, gym socks and canvas shoes, with my bulging day pack riding uncomfortably on my back, I presented an authentic picture of the greenhorn adventurer.”

— “The Ascent of Aorai,” by William Grout

17: “There are only two participatory ways one can react to riding in an automobile with a man who drives the way Clark does — you can get into it with him, enjoying the thrill and adventure and admiring the driver’s skill and courage; or you can sit rigidly in terror, wishing you were anywhere else but where you are. Roughly speaking, all human existence offers the same two choices to a man once he has agreed to participate.”

— “Europe: Fourth Time Around,” by Dick Dorworth

19: “Bars, too, serve as scenes for epic gross-outs and obscene displays. These are a specialty of the British. A rule of thumb to follow is, if you can’t be spectacularly offensive, then get quietly drunk in your corner. Anything in between is bad form, and smacks of seeking attention.”

— “Hanging Around,” by David Robert

20: “It’s hard to drag ourselves out of the tents on this dark and gloomy morning. But we do, and Glacier Bay says goodbye to us on her own terms. There is no real ending to the story here; just as there is no end to the process of waking up, or falling in love with a piece of land, or friendship. And there is no search for the end.”

— “Glacier Bay: Gray is Beautiful,” by Ned Gillette

22: “Someone learning to climb is hampered by strange mental spaces with regard to death. How much does the guy teaching him — or you, or your kids — know of the psychology of fear? Maybe he thinks you shouldn’t have any because what you’re climbing is not something to be afraid of — but that doesn’t matter to you because you’re scared shitless.”

— “Another Roadside Attraction,” by Bill Thompson

27: “I take a deep breath, then ease over the lip, trying to avoid swinging in against the rock. Then I’m free, dangling on this delicate-looking umbilical cord that ties me to the mountain. As the rope sings by I begin to spin slowly and a gradual, almost psychedelic, panorama unfolds: granite, sky, clouds, Idaho, Cascade Canyon, granite again. And then I touch ground.”

— “The Grand,” by Boyd Norton

30: “What the hell do they mean, ‘No Road’? It looks like a road to me. Anything with parallel tracks is a road, isn’t it?”

— “Desert Driving,” by Edward Abbey

32: “And the bar will be summit silent, except for a far-off piano chording in a minor key; and the man who has chopped bolts on every one of your first ascents will stomp toward the door, his crampons leaving werewolf tracks in the hard wood floor.”

— “Found by Hidden,” by Tad Hall

33: “His face shines with that great, old American territorial imperative, therein a ferociousness that one can just tell is going to take unkindly to shirtless thirty-year-old hippies standing around in the front yard.”

— “Cannon Mountain Breakdown,” by Geoffrey Childs

34: “Coming back from the bars (downhill) late at night (drunk), to your house (upstairs) becomes something of a game…. Do you take the direct route, pacing yourself up a grueling set of stairs that leads to a gentle traverse, or do you meander for an extra ten minutes, edging up by degrees?”

— “Bisbee 2: Another View,” by Steve Wishart

36: “Television is bad medicine. Making things accessible via media is a delusion very similar to the commonly accepted opinion that American agriculture is ‘productive’.”

— “A Short Talk With Gary Snyder,” Gary Snyder interviewed by Chuck Simmons

38: “No Nudes is Bad Nudes”

— “Breaking Free From the Human Potential Movement,” by Mike Moore

43: “Through this landscape we plowed like a miniature circus and freak parade, a great social event, a hippie Johnny Carson Show.”

— “River Tripping,” by Speer Morgan

45: “It’s just not right when you’re gazing up at Khumbu Icefall with old Jockey underwear packages scattered at your feet.”

— “The Last Bluet Carton,” by Nick Langton

53: “The police captain’s younger companion wore a South American imitation tweed suit, garish tie, and a blazing white shirt. To complete his natty apparel the young sleuth had a full bent briar pipe and a genuine hunting cap. One does not laugh at the secret police in Chile however; they take their business very seriously. We were sorry that we had become their business.”

— “Patagonian Journal,” by Richard Murphy

55: “Now the river spread out into a braided stream. A shaft of moonlight illuminated the canyon, revealing a maze of meandering rivulets and tiny islands. Carrying the skis in our hands, we hopped along the islands.”

— “Fireflies,” by Talbot Bielefeldt

64/65: “When day broke on our campsite, chosen after dark, we found the boojums and cactus dripping with witches hair and great orange parasitical hangings fed by the Pacific mists, as if we’d wakened into a dream by Poe.”

— “Baja,” by Bruce Berger 

70: “Someone is standing by the mouth of the Little Colorado. As I draw near, I see that it is an indian. He has painted himself black from head to toe. When we are close enough to talk, I learn that he has been waiting for some fort of sign to appear — presumably it is not me. He wishes me good luck and I paddle away.”

— “The Big Sneak,” by Fletcher Anderson

72/73: “Choosing rocks for a coffee-fire, searching flat rocks for the pot to rest on. Turning over rocks, I began to notice that under some were words. Since then, whenever my writing becomes speechless and groping, I saunter out and overturn rocks. Under some are strong words, under others are quiet and subtle words.”

— “The Pedler & the Black Pot Coffee Tree,” by Greg Harris

74: “The desert environment requires microcosmic vision, a major shift from the macrocosmic focus that suits me so well in the mountains.”

— “Six Moons: A Pacific Crest Journey,” by David Green

76/77: “I estimate the average ghost density at about 10^-4 grams per cubic centimeter. This is a conservative estimate. Ghosts cannot be made in a vacuum. This would violate the conservation of mass.”

— “Bubble & Squeak,” by Jeremy Bernstein

78: “I darted behind Robby’s antique ore truck — yanked off my Lycra, everything but helmet-socks-shoes, mounted the Trek, buckass, and pedaled furiously through the center of town…”

— “The Ride,” by Katie Lee

79: “Language can be a strange weapon. Unlike a sword or a bullet, its power is unpredictable.”

— “Politics & the “F-word,” by Hunter S. Thompson

84: “I was driving off the road right out across the desert. Woke up one morning lying in a patch of prickly pear ten miles from the dirt road. With a hangover. Realized I couldn’t be trusted with a four-wheel drive.”

— “Adventures with Ed,” by Jack Loeffler

86: “Throughout all the adventures there were several things that never changed. The equipment was minimal, the vehicles marginal, the food adequate at best. It was always about being there … We took pride in our minimalism, and were skeptical of paddlers with the latest, greatest, coolest new gear. It was important to out-paddle these people.”

— “The Old Man and the Sea of Plastic,” Brad Dimock

88:“The rain slows. Wilson once told me there’s male rain, which is fierce and hard, and female rain, which is soft and delicate. This monsoon seems to be a he/she.”

— “Risk,” by Mary Sojourner

90: “We had made a vat of yuppie soup out of one of the hot springs by slowly boiling our naked bodies for hours at a time. Only wine, chocolate, cheese and slabs of buffalo jerky sustained us. Nothing nutritious was consumed… In the end the mineral spring congealed into a tar pit. We had to move on or die.”

— “Sticky,” by Michele Murray

91: “This is how fairy tales would go if the patriarchy hadn’t rewritten them: Eastern girl gets fed up with the city and moves west, finds the right guy(s) … pretty soon she’s skiing, climbing and biking her brains out, pretty soon she’s better than he is at most of it.”

— “Woman with a Pulse,” by Nichole Gordon

94: “The river water is vodka. It’s served in ample consecutive shots on a moving aqueous bar. She makes you punch drunk.”

— “The Supreme Source,” by Lacey Story

96: “As we descended into the barranca, we left the 21st century back on the mesa, dropping through time to the centuries before, to the Rio Verde and the Stone Age Indians who still lived there.”

— “After the War,” by Doug Peacock

100: “Here, the winds come up, fire breaks through the crust of the Earth, the sky is deaf, the river is dry, the levee is about to give out, the ground shakes … and what you want doesn’t matter at all.”

— “Craps,” by Charles Bowden

101: “The sound of the water was in constant motion, whispering, murmuring, thumping like some distant drum. The water tugged persistently at my grief, sometimes dislodging a tiny shard of sorrow and tumbling it downstream.”

— “The Heart of Winter,” by Mac Griffith

103: “Trips such as he was proposing would often include unplanned auxiliary adventures. Like running out of food and water. Maybe thirty miles of compass-heading trail-breaking through deep crud. Three days of bushwhacking up the wrong drainage. Unrunnable waterfalls. That sort of thing. The stuff that really makes you feel glad to be alive.”

— “Black Box Revisited,” by Tim Cooper

104: “How can you talk with someone without discussing jobs, families, politics or sports? Float the river — it’ll come to you.”

— “Below the Rim,” by Cal Glover

105: “The antelope squirrels, chipmunk-like rodents about as big as a Twinkie, sneaked onto the deck, stole bright blooms from the wild primrose, then scampered off with silky yellow petals between their teeth like flamenco dancers.”

— “Trout Stream Through Mars — How to Combat Impending Desertification,” by Ellen Meloy

116: “Preparing for a day hike, I stop to admire myself in the mirror. It’s hard for me to believe that I was once a shabbily dressed service electrician, untutored in the ways of mountain fashion and accessory.”

— “Hiking,” by Mike Bressler

120: “Now, if you’re steering a block of ice down a twisty mountain road with only middling success, you might think this would be a bad time to pick up hitchhikers. You’d be wrong about that. As soon as I saw two innocently beaming skiers around a bend, I knew Dan would insist. He’s big on style points, and by this time, so was I.”

— “Courageous Pulls Through,” by Kevin McCarthy

123: “I’ve discovered many delightful things after stripping down and getting into the water.”

— “The Occupation of Floating Bodies,”  by B. Frank

126: “Remember all the names of the rivers you grew up paddling, and the Indians who once lived there and named those places. Remind yourself how the names sound like falling water: Chattahoochee, Chauga, Chattooga, Amicalola, Tallulah, Watauga … ”

— “How to Rebuild a Paddle,” by David Miller

129: “Despite claims of excellence, the U.S. Postal Service doesn’t deliver to the wilderness of logic.”

— “Fever Dreams and Tall Tales,” by Fitz Cahall

133: “There is a route that is invisible. It is a trick of the eye, a smooth cliff several hundred feet tall, with a ledge tucked out of sight. The only way the route became visible was years ago when a line of bighorn sheep, desert gods, appeared walking across the face of a cliff… We followed their trail.”

— “Men Naked in the Desert, Going Nowhere Fast,” by Craig Childs

134:“No one in Steamboat is spraying shit water on the mountains, but that doesn’t mean snowboarding there is good for the environment or an act free from repercussions … But, in truth, they (mountains) are still a front line for showdowns over Who Gets To Do What With Whom.”

— “Honk if You Love Real Snow,” by Leah Rogin-Roper

140: “Nothing burns like a love letter; hearts on paper; words on skin. I imagine every one of us keeps a stack of them, up in the closet like an unfinished novel.”

— “The Lost Art of Love Letters,” by Peter Kray

142: “All this altruism is making my plans for a Mountain Porn festival seem kind of shallow and self-serving.”

— “Fresh Focus: Behind the Scenes at the Mountain Film Festivals,” by Marc Peruzzi

146: “Take meth labs for instance. John Wayne never had to deal with those, or militias or cults or even those damn cocky Boulder bicyclists. He never had to deal with the internet either, or god forbid, maintaining a blog to better communicate with his constituents. Today’s sheriffs do.”

— “The Law: A Closer Look at the Men Who Wear the Badge in Colorado,” by Jay Cowan

147: “Across the ravine, coyotes cackle in the chorus of creation, and you lift your head above the fire following the smoke and aromas to see the stars in all their clarity directly on your fingertips. You say, ‘This is the life.’ And for me, right then and there, it is too good to be anything but the life. My search is over. In those moments I understand what the Lakota mean by mitakuye oyain, we are related to everything, we are all relatives.”

— “The Lost Art of Squatting,” by Peter Laws

148: “Surrender takes as much courage as trouncing, but requires more grace.”

—  “The Lost Art of Dying,” by Jenn Weede

150: “Something as simple as a new ski binding opened my eyes to wilderness, a quiet life, and kept me from marrying a Republican … ”

— “Passing Down the Telemark Boots,” by Suzanne Strazza

158: “A friend told about getting a ride home with someone who had baskets on each side of his rear wheel; the friend had a foot in each basket, standing up with his hands on the biker’s shoulders, kind of like a Roman chariot racer, which worked okay until the biker missed the driveway entrance by a couple feet and hit the curb.”

— “Mountaintownie Biking,” by George Sibley

162: “Pain is part of a universe in balance. Enjoy it up front in small doses, or defer it for convenience and experience pain accumulated with interest.”

— “Breathcicle,” by Daniel Hutchinson

171: “Guys: How may times have you been out on the trail, on your bike or hitting the links, when you’ve said to yourself, ‘WTF, I wish I’d had the foresight to wear a kilt?’”

— “Cartographic: Got Stuff?,” by Tara Flanagan

172: “He was old enough to be my Father, but his cut, posture, and handlebar moustache made him more like the unmarried, childless uncle that breezes into town to sleep on the couch and drink all your dad’s beer.”

— “Love & Loathing on the River,” by Jeff Osgood

174: “Will work for hookah.”

— “Life on the Mountain Music Road,” by Kimberly Nicoletti

178: “Again, dory cooks made Julia Childs look like a fast-food burger slinger.”

— “Dory Cooks,” by Vince Welch

180: “I was determined to ski in South America after two years of procrastination and, despite the slow progress … I was zooming in on Chile by ox cart, train, bus, car and plane at the rate of 200 miles a day.”

— “Making the Break,” by Richard Barnum-Reece

181: “Went to Albertson’s pre-trip, loaded up on EZ Cheez (re-christened ‘ain’t got shit to do with cheese’), crackers, sardines, jerky, beans-in-can, Pringles and some type of gummy substance in the shape of a foot. Backpacking food that ain’t got shit to do with freeze-drying. Also not light or remotely compact. Also damn tasty.”

— “Of Fire and Firewater: Canyoneering With a Dragon,” by Aaron Thomas Phillips

185: “We smugly think we’ve evolved into a kinder, gentler people, who treat animals in a civilized way, but really we’ve simply relegated the killing floor to some unknown place far removed from our daily lives, out of sight and out of mind, leaving the dirty work to immigrants whose names we’ll never know, and whose lives are as abstract to us as the meat that ends up on our plate.”

— “The Lost Art of Treating Animals Like Animals,” by Charles Clayton 

Now review a Mountain Gazette timeline over the last 40 years.

Me and Ed: (Remembering a man I never met but feel I knew)

Vintage Mountain Gazette

In late January 1963, I was in Sun Valley, Idaho. A recent college graduate, I was a 24-year-old ski racer who didn’t seem to quite fit into mainstream America. Through a friendship with Ron Funk, who cared even less about the fit than I did, I found myself committed to one of the more audacious ski adventures of my life, running the Diamond Sun down Sun Valley’s Bald Mountain. As I wrote in “The Straight Course,” “The Diamond Sun may be the most difficult standard race in the world. It is the fastest I know of and starts on top of Bald Mountain and finishes at the Wood River 2 3/5 miles below. The route is any way possible down Ridge, Rock Garden, Canyon and River Run.” The Diamond Sun had been run only twice since WWII and is fast, dangerous and scary, and I was appropriately cognizant of this reality.

I mean, the night before the race, I was scared shitless, filled with doubts about myself and whether I had what it takes and, more, whether it mattered that I address those personal doubts and questions. In order to relax and take my mind off such heavy toil, my friend Mike Brunetto and I went to the movie showing in Ketchum that night. The film, “Lonely Are the Brave” with Kirk Douglas and Walter Matthau, is, in my view, the best work Douglas ever did and is one of my all-time-favorite films. Among other things, it touches on the integrity of personal freedom and the freedom of personal integrity and the price one might pay for them.

At any rate, the film touched and inspired me and added a sliver of resolve to my scared-shitless mind and spirit. The next morning, we ran the Diamond Sun and everything went flawlessly for me. I set a new record (which still stands, as the race hasn’t been run since) of 2:21.0 for the 2 3/5 mile course. A fine memory of a good time, and I always thought of “Lonely Are the Brave” as an integral part of it. More important, the race gave me the confidence I needed to go to Chile the following summer with the intention of setting a world record for speed on skis. We went to Chile and set a record and that experience changed my life in myriad ways including better self-knowledge and the doors that open with a world record on the resume that would remain closed without it. The expanded awareness of my own human capabilities helped form much of my life and activities, including the writing, and, more important, the same commitment to writing as a path in life as dangerous and scary as the Diamond Sun, though slower of pace. Some of the doors that opened I probably shouldn’t have walked through, but self-knowledge is a process, not an accomplishment.

A few years later (1971), I began writing for Skiers’ Gazette, which a year later became Mountain Gazette and which eventually led to my work being published elsewhere. Mountain Gazette was as crucial to my writing as the Diamond Sun had been to my skiing.

By the early-’70s, I had read “Desert Solitaire” a couple of times and knew that Ed Abbey was a great writer and, in some ways, the spokesman of our times. I read his occasional pieces in MG and was impressed when then-editor Mike Moore told me that Abbey sent his contributions in accompanied by a check to help out the struggling publication. Since MG paid me for my work, I was grateful to Abbey for more than his fine writing, vision and personal integrity. When MG published my long essay/memoir, “Night Driving,” in 1975, it took up most of the issue except for a wonderful Abbey piece about desert driving, and I was thrilled to see my name with his on the cover. Good stuff.

That same year, Abbey’s “The Monkey Wrench Gang” was published. It is a very good novel that resonated with a large segment of America that didn’t quite fit into the mainstream and it nurtured all but the most pesticide-sprayed imaginations. After I read it, I gave it away as Christmas gifts. I was living between Truckee and Squaw Valley at the time and my neighbors, two New Jersey hippies whose son went to school with my son Jason, were among the recipients. A spacey friend of theirs was visiting from the east coast that winter and, one snowstorm morning, I went over to my neighbors’ home for a coffee. The spacey friend’s grin wouldn’t leave his face as he thanked me for giving “The Monkey Wrench Gang” to his hosts, and then he told me about his previous day. He had spent most of the day and into the night reading Abbey’s paean to the purposeful destruction of eyesores and pavement and machines that destroy the earth. He finished the book at 1 a.m. and was inspired to immediate action. Perhaps other, less literary influences were at play as well, but, despite the late hour and the storm, he hopped on a bicycle with a huge bow saw and rode the three or four miles to the freeway near Truckee and, under the cover of darkness and the storm, spent a couple of hours dropping a huge, offensive-looking, wood-supported billboard advertising one of the local ski areas. Then he rode the bicycle back home. He had taken Hayduke’s credo to heart (and action): “My job is to save the fucking wilderness. I don’t know anything else worth saving.”

The dropping of the eyesore billboard was the first eco-revolutionary act that I knew of in the Tahoe area, and though I was only one of a few who knew who had done it, I was only one of many who were amused, informed and inspired by it. Life went on and I read more Abbey and rightly thought of him as a giant literary and environmental and thereby societal influence of our time.

And then, some 20 years after the Diamond Sun, I was browsing in a bookstore and came across an Ed Abbey novel I didn’t know about entitled “The Brave Cowboy.” A quick glance showed that it was the basis of the film, “Lonely Are the Brave.” The novel is really good. I was and am amazed that I hadn’t put the two together, but knowledge, self and otherwise, is a process, not an accomplishment. A bit of research expanded my awareness that Dalton Trumbo had written the screenplay for the film, and if ever a Hollywood writer-type could be a soul brother to Ed Abbey, it was Dalton Trumbo.

I was bemused and informed and once again reminded of the ever-present connections and influences, known and unknown, that permeate all our lives, and I promptly wrote Abbey a letter of praise and thanks for his contribution to my life. He graciously answered and reiterated the worth and power of the written word and encouraged me to continue writing. We agreed to meet up sometime, somewhere in the Southwest desert, but it never happened and so, like most of his fans, I have the easy privilege of remembering and thinking of him through the greatness of his work, unencumbered by the rough edges of his person and the inevitable objections I have to some of his ideas.

Ed Abbey died in March 1989. As he requested, Abbey was buried illegally in a spot in the Cabeza Prieta desert of Arizona known only to his friends who buried him, Doug Peacock, Jack Loeffler, Tom Cartwright and Steve Prescott. It is reported that a large quantity of beer and hard booze accompanied the burial, some of it poured on the grave to help Ed on his way. In May of that year, a public memorial for Abbey was held near Arches National Park outside Moab, Utah. The day before the service, a friend and I climbed Castleton Tower in Castle Valley. It was May 19, my son Jason’s 18th birthday and I sat on top thinking that both Jason and Ed Abbey would have enjoyed the view from there. The next day, we attended the memorial, which was wonderful, moving and appropriate. Barry Lopez, Ann Zwinger, Doug Peacock and Dave Foreman were among those who gave beautiful eulogizes for Ed that day. Wendell Berry, who never met Abbey, recited a poem, calling him to Berry’s native Kentucky:

The old oak wears new leaves.
It stands for many lives.
Within its veil of green
A singer sings unseen.
Again the living come
To light, and are at home.
And Edward Abbey’s gone…

I think of that dead friend
Here where he never came
Except by thought and name:
I praise the joyous rage
That justified his page
He would have liked this place
Where spring returns with solace
Of bloom in a dark time,
Larkspur and columbine.
The flute song of the thrush
Sounds in the underbrush.

But for me the most moving, astonishing speaker at Abbey’s service on May 20, 1989 was a woman whose name I had never heard and whose work I had never read. Her name was Terry Tempest Williams and she spoke of her long hikes and talks with Ed in the Utah desert and of the importance of friendships and connections and the environment. Terry ended her talk by whipping out some post cards and waving them like a baton, intoning, “Keep in touch. Keep in touch. Keep in touch. Keep in touch.” With friends, with connections, with the environment. I was so impressed with Terry that I tracked down her work and have kept up on it ever since. As mentioned, knowledge is a process, not an accomplishment. As are awareness, friends, connections, the environment, work, life, the joyous rage, staying in touch. Thanks, Ed, for that and much more.

Senior correspondent Dick Dorworth is the author of “Night Driving,” “The Perfect Turn” and “The Straight Course.” He lives in Ketchum.  

The Mountain Gazette is 40 and damn proud of it!

Abbey and Thompson: Tribal Relations

Hunter Thompson

“Dr. Jeckyl” Hunter S. Thompson, Shooting / Woody Creets, Colorado / 1968, Photo By Bob Chamberlain

Part 1

A few years ago, my friend Ken Wright invited me to speak at a gathering at Maria’s Bookstore in Durango commemorating the 20th anniversary of Edward Abbey’s passing. It is a matter of record — rather than just yet another example of my faltering memory — that I attempted to decline. Understand, please: It does not take much to convince me to visit Durango, one of my favorite towns and the only place I know that successfully mates the alpine aesthetic with the Southwest/desert aesthetic. But to speak to a gathering of Abbey aficionados about, well, Abbey? That was a bit off-putting for several very compelling reasons, not the least of which being that, compared to the Abbey faithful, I am particularly unversed in Holy Scripture. I mean, I read several of his books like 30 years ago and am of course basically familiar with the man, his philosophies and his work via devotee osmosis. But, do I raise my arms toward the heavens while gyrating and singing praises of Cactus Ed? Sorry.

Not to worry, though, Ken assured me, all I’d have to do was wing it for a few minutes and mention that Abbey and I had once shared an enjoyable chitchat (about, of all things, Mountain Gazette) (I was tripping on acid at the time, which made the chitchat a bit more eventful in my mind that it likely was in Abbey’s mind) and everything would work out just fine.

So, OK, I make the eight-hour drive to Durango, hook up with a couple of cohorts in journalistic crime, consume a few pre-event beverages, show up at Maria’s at the appointed time, notice that the place is packed, settle in, consume another couple beers and only then eyeball the official program — where (and here I think it’s fair to say my bloodshot orbs popped out of their sockets) I learn the name of the featured speaker: Me! Fuck! You have got to be goddamned kidding!

Ahead of me are four other speakers, all of whom spend 10 or so minutes bearing knowledgeable witness about Abbey and the profound, DNA-level effect Abbey’s writings have had on their lives. They could all quote Abbey passages by heart! They all had tears in their eyes! Members of the audience, all of whom looked, from my inebriated vantage point, like they had just gone on a shopping binge at abbeyattire.com, were, likewise, tearing up and nodding their noggins contemplatively, reflectively and knowingly.

And I’m sitting there in the figurative green room soiling my decidedly non-abbeyattire.com skivvies. It was like one of those horrible dreams, where you’re on a stage, about to perform in a band in front of a large audience, but you don’t know any of the songs. You don’t even know how to play whatever instrument it is you’re holding.

To make matters worse, Art Goodtimes, who is now MG’s poetry editor, but who, until that point, I had never met, whispers into my ear words to the effect that he had talked to several people prior to the event about how much they were looking forward to hearing me speak about Abbey.

You want to talk about a mind that suddenly found itself racing, though, given all the beer I had consumed, “racing” at that juncture was decidedly a relative term.

Then, inevitably, the last of those four pre-M. John speakers starts winding down and Ken stands before the crowd and introduces me with a bit more fanfare than I deserved. As I took my place to a round of very courteous applause, I still did not know what I was going to say. Usually, I am a very prepared public speaker. Not this time. This time, it was pure extemporaneous discourse at its most rudimentary, delivered with a decided slur.

Fortunately, my ass was at least partially saved by the fact that this was not the first Abbey event I had interfaced with. Several years prior, I attended (as an audience member only) some sort of memorial service for Cactus Ed (maybe it was the 15th anniversary of his passing) at Ken Sleight’s astounding ranch outside Moab. (Ken is the person upon whom the Seldom Seen Smith character was at least partially based in “The Monkey Wrench Gang.”) There was some conceptual contretemps between the organizers. From what I remember (and forgive me if I don’t have this quite right), the event was supposed to have been a somewhat informal assembly, wherein numerous of Abbey’s old drinking and poker cronies would sit around the campfire telling Abbey stories. Somehow, it morphed (or was co-opted, depending on whose version you lean toward) (I lean toward neither) into a fundraiser for the Glen Canyon Institute, with an admission fee and a set agenda of speakers — some of whom barely knew Abbey — and such. This morph affected me personally not one whit. I had a great time and very much enjoyed hearing various Abbey tales related by the lofty likes of Katie Lee, Ken Sanders, Jack Loeffler, David Peterson and, most of all, the incomparable John Nichols, who is simply one of the most entertaining public speakers it has ever been my pleasure to enjoy.

What I brought with me from Ken Sleight’s ranch — besides a rum-induced hangover — was a keen awareness of Abbey-based sectarianism. More than that, as one of my friends — a Moab resident with a finger on the sociological pulse of all things Slickrock Country based — observed, the event was defined by intra-Abbey fractures. The Old Testament Abbey-ites versus the New Testament Abbey-ites. The Abbey fundamentalists versus the born-again followers of Cactus Ed. The drinking and poker-playing apostles versus the worshipful newbies. Though I did not comprehend the specifics, it was clear, even from the comfortable sidelines, there was some bad blood circulating in the heart of the Abbey tribe.

“Tribe” — that was the operative word/concept, and it sprang forth from my lips as I stood there, borderline speechless, in front of those Abbey fans at Maria’s Bookstore in Durango.

I began by relating some very hastily concocted (read: on the fly in very surreal real time) observations about the notion of tribalism as it relates to writers and their fans. I then asked those gathered if they knew the name of the only other contemporary Mountain Time Zone-dwelling writer whose work/persona resulted in the same kind of life-defining/re-defining influence that Abbey inspired, the kind of influence that makes people drop out of school, quit their job, leave Providence or Utica, buy a beater pick-up truck and head West sans plan.

Foreheads scrunched, but no answer was forthcoming.

I gave a hint: Recently passed away.

Dozens of hyper-literate faces contorted and mental gears turned.

Lived in Colorado for more than 30 years.


I was a bit surprised, because the name was so obvious that, when I finally answered my own question, people slapped themselves on the forehead.

Hunter S. Thompson was another writer whose power and influence was so inspiring that people, untold thousands of people, changed the way they looked at their lives and went about living as a result of that power and influence. With Hunter, fans, especially those aspiring to be writers, modified the cadence of their narratives, both literary and personal. People began to believe that, unless you drank huge quantities of alcohol and ingested significant quantities of recreational drugs, there’s no way you could ever truly be a wordsmith. The first person jumped headlong into the world of journalism, with every entry-level reporter from Findlay, Ohio, to Whitefish, Montana, trying desperately to cover school board meetings the way Hunter would. “We were somewhere around the approval of the agenda when the drugs kicked in.” Words like “screed, ”“gig,” “greedhead” and especially “gonzo” hit the lexicographic mainstream like a freight train. People started dressing in Hawaiian shirts, drinking Wild Turkey, even if they hated it, and venturing forth hajj-like to the Woody Creek Tavern in hopes of touching the hem of Hunter S. Thompson’s Bermuda shorts.

As I have already indicated, it was thus with Abbey also. Though I do not believe Abbey had as much stylistic influence over aspiring writers, he certainly greatly inspired the subject-based choices of many slingers of prose. “Nature” writing lost a lot of its nerdistic spin as a result of Abbey. You no longer needed to just opine about the beauty of mountains, deserts and rivers (though that still had to be part of the equation, often ad nauseum); you could also now write about drinking beer and chainsawing billboards amidst the beauty of the mountains, deserts and rivers! It may be hard to conceive now, but that was a big stylistic breakthrough, certainly as much as of a stylistic breakthrough as Hunter Thompson’s self-immersion within stories that, from the perspective of the old school, really had nothing to do with him.

Abbey’s influence was also gravitational, in that people actually packed up and moved to the places he wrote about, to the point that many folks now believe Abbey unwittingly contributed to the Californication of the West by way of his effusive verbiage. (Certainly, there was some of this with Hunter, but not as much.) Like Hunter, people adjusted their personal styles to mimic Abbey’s. They wore clothing that looked like what Abbey wore. They drove vehicles that would meet with Abbey’s approval. They tossed beer cans out of truck windows because Abbey did. They shot their TV sets, just like Abbey. I have over the years often wondered if Abbey had written and/or said that people ought to wear tutus and bang their heads against a brick wall, if we wouldn’t have suddenly found our emergency rooms filled to overflowing with perplexingly attired concussion victims. Likewise, if Hunter had written that he was now smoking Pepto-Bismol paste, I wonder how long it would have been before every Bloody-Mary-bearing hipster in Aspen was walking around with bright pink lips and a minty cough.

I asked the crowd at Maria’s that night if they knew of any other writers who boasted such tribal followings. Certainly, none in the Mountain Time Zone, at least not in our generation. Even expanding the search parameters yielded only a few possibilities. Some felt that perhaps Hemingway and his Lost-Generation cohorts had significant lifestyle-based followings that perhaps reached tribal-esque proportions. And maybe Salinger influenced a tribe of Holden Caulfield wannabes, though, by definition, a Caulfield wannabe would not be enthusiastic enough to form tribal bonds. Certainly, the Beat writers had near-tribal followings that moved along the road toward the same points-West that Kerouac and Cassady followed, but that was a bit before my time (though not by much). Contemporary to my aging corpus delecti would maybe be the late Bruce Chatwin, whose “In Patagonia” and “The Songlines” inspired a sub-generation of erudite, mostly Continental travelers with likely contrived interests if Sotheby-ish historic arcania to start buying and bearing Moleskine notebooks as they wound their way through the bleak Argentinean steppes and the parched Australian Outback.

And that was about all I could come up with.

So, the question, then, that begs asking is: What was it about Edward Abbey and Hunter S. Thompson that resulted in these tribal followings?

Before delving into the difficult process of attempting to answer that question, I guess I should point out that, more than any other publication, Mountain Gazette existed/exists at the nexus of the Abbey and Thompson camps. Abbey wrote literally dozens of pieces for the Gazette in the 1970s. To this day, we count among our bylines people who were some of Abbey’s closest friends — Bowden, Lee, Peacock, Loeffler, Peterson, among others.

And, though Hunter only ever wrote three pieces for us (all after our resurrection) (and even that’s something of an exaggeration, as those three pieces were all piles of disjointed notes that were frantically pasted together with deadline looming), the Hunter camp is intertwined into our ink-stained circulatory system even more than Abbey’s was. The man we list in our staff box as our Guardian Angel Emeritus, the man responsible for the very existence of Mountain Gazette, George Stranahan, sold Hunter the land that became the infamous Owl Farm outside Woody Creek. Stranahan used to own the Woody Creek Tavern, and, upon many occasions, helped Hunter out fiscally. MG’s second editor, Gaylord Guenin, was very close with Hunter, as were Curtis Robinson — who partnered with Stranahan and yours truly to resurrect the beast you now hold in your hands — and the late-Donna Dowling, Curtis’ wife, who was responsible for coming up with the idea for the compilation volumes of Hunter’s letters. Curtis was a regular at Hunter’s Monday Night Football gatherings and attended his final, cannon-based send-off into the hereafter.

Thus, I believe we have some karmic right, if not obligation, to presume to entertain, if not answer, the question already posed: What was it about Edward Abbey and Hunter S. Thompson that resulted in tribal followings? Tribal followings that continue to grow, 24 years after the passing of Abbey and seven years after the passing of Thompson.

I mean — and there is no tactful way to say this — I know of very few people, even the staunchest members of Thompson’s and Abbey’s respective camps, who would contend they were the best writers (whatever that means) of their generation and/or area. Yet, while there is no shortage of fans of Wallace Stegner, Cormac McCarthy, E. Annie Proulx, Terry Tempest Williams, Jim Harrison or Wendell Berry, I don’t believe we have throngs of groupies picking up and moving to Henry County, Kentucky, because Berry lives there or adjusting their clothing styles to meet those of Harrison when he’s wintering in Patagonia, Arizona.

Part 2

It might be interesting, if not illuminating, to compare and contrast some subject/writing-based perspectives of Abbey and Hunter, who, from what I have gathered, never met each other. Consider this a warm-up exercise for the real meat of the story.


One of the most-famous photos of Abbey was of him posing, self-satisfactorily, rifle in hand, next to a TV that he had just shot to death. Thompson was a notorious TV addict, with newscasts and sporting events being his on-air drugs-of-choice.

“How to Overthrow the System: brew your own beer; kick in your Tee Vee; kill your own beef; build your own cabin and piss off the front porch whenever you bloody well feel like it.”

— Abbey

“The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.”

— Thompson

“There are times, however, and this is one of them, when even being right feels wrong. What do you say, for instance, about a generation that has been taught that rain is poison and sex is death? If making love might be fatal and if a cool spring breeze on any summer afternoon can turn a crystal blue lake into a puddle of black poison right in front of your eyes, there is not much left except TV and relentless masturbation. It’s a strange world. Some people get rich and others eat shit and die.”

— Thompson

“The room was very quiet. I walked over to the TV set and turned it on to a dead channel-white noise at maximum decibels, a fine sound for sleeping, a powerful continuous hiss to drown out everything strange.”

— Thompson


I once sat on the hood of Abbey’s old pick-up truck, and Mountain Gazette once ran a story about his old Cadillac being auctioned off on eBay (there were no bids). Despite the anti-car-ism displayed in many of his wilderness-based writing, Abbey seemed very Cactus-Ed image conscious regarding his rides: Beat-up, gas-guzzling and large. Hunter was more of a performance guy. He liked fast. The opening scene in “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas” establishes some common ground with Abbey, in that it takes place in a Caddy. The one time I ever saw Hunter drive off into the sunset, it was on a motorcycle.

“The longest journey begins with a single step, not with the turn of an ignition key. That’s the best thing about walking, the journey itself. It doesn’t much matter whether you get where you’re going or not. You’ll get there anyway. Every good hike brings you eventually back home. Right where you started.”

— Abbey

“My concept of death for a long time was to come down that mountain road at 120 and just keep going straight right there, burst out through the barrier and hang out above all that . . . and there I’d be, sitting in the front seat, stark naked, with a case of whiskey next to me and a case of dynamite in the trunk … honking the horn, and the lights on, and just sit there in space for an instant, a human bomb, and fall down into that mess of steel mills. It’d be a tremendous goddam explosion. No pain. No one would get hurt. I’m pretty sure, unless they’ve changed the highway, that launching place is still there. As soon as I get home, I ought to take the drive just to check it out.”

— Thompson


“Whatever we cannot understand easily we call God; this saves wear and tear on the brain tissues.”

— Abbey

“God is a sound people make when they’re too tired to think anymore. There has got to be a God; the world could not have become so fucked up by chance alone.”

— Abbey

“I have never seen much point in getting heavy with stupid people or Jesus freaks, just as long as they don’t bother me. In a world as weird and cruel as this one we have made for ourselves, I figure anybody who can find peace and personal happiness without ripping off somebody else deserves to be left alone. They will not inherit the earth, but then neither will I… And I have learned to live, as it were, with the idea that I will never find peace and happiness, either. But as long as I know there’s a pretty good chance I can get my hands on either one of them every once in a while, I do the best I can between high spots.”

— Thompson


Here we have common ground. Abbey certainly seemed to enjoy his rifles. Hunter, of course, was into anything that boasted significant firepower.

“The tank, the B-52, the fighter-bomber, the state-controlled police and military are the weapons of dictatorship. The rifle is the weapon of democracy. Not for nothing was the revolver called an ‘equalizer.’ Egalite implies liberte. And always will. Let us hope our weapons are never needed — but do not forget what the common people of this nation knew when they demanded the Bill of Rights: An armed citizenry is the first defense, the best defense, and the final defense against tyranny.”

— Abbey

“America… just a nation of two hundred million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns and no qualms about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.”

— Thompson

“Do I have any illegal weapons? No. I have a .454 magnum revolver, which is huge, and it’s absolutely legal. One day I was wild-eyed out here with Johnny Depp, and we both ordered these guns from Freedom, Wyo., and got them the next day through FedEx. Mainly, I have rifles, pistols, shotguns; I have a lot of those. But everything I have is top quality; I don’t have any junk weapons. I wouldn’t have any military weapon around here, except as an artifact of some kind. Given Ashcroft and the clear blueprint of this administration to make everything illegal and everything suspicious — how about suspicion of being a terrorist sympathizer? Goddamn, talk about filling up your concentration camps. But, yeah, my police record is clean. This is not a fortified compound.”

— Thompson


No doubt, the preservation of the wild world was a large part of Abbey’s shtick. He could scarcely pen a paragraph without including some ode to nature untrammeled. Hunter was more against development, especially if there was greed involved, which there almost always is. He campaigned against the expansion of the Aspen Airport, using the wonderful slogan, “There is some shit we won’t eat.” One of his platforms during his unsuccessful run for sheriff of Pitkin County was tearing up the asphalt in downtown Aspen and restoring it with sod.

“Why this cult of wilderness?… because we like the taste of freedom; because we like the smell of danger.”

— Abbey

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.”

— Abbey

“It will be the policy of the Sheriff’s office savagely to harass all those engaged in any form of land-rape. This will be done by acting, with utmost dispatch, on any and all righteous complaints. My first act in office — after setting up the machinery for punishing dope-dealers — will be to establish a Research Bureau to provide facts on which any citizen can file a Writ of Seizure, a Writ of Stoppage, a Writ of Fear, of Horror … yes … even a Writ of Assumption … against any greedhead who has managed to get around our antiquated laws and set up a tar-vat, scum-drain or gravel-pit. These writs will be pursued with overweening zeal … and always within the letter of the law. Selah.”

— Thompson


Abbey, a flute player, wrote quite a bit of his love of classical music, while Hunter was more of a rock-and-roll guy.

“Music clouds the intellect but clarifies the heart.”

— Abbey

“Grand opera is a form of musical entertainment for people who hate music.”

— Abbey

“I feel the same way about disco as I do about herpes.”

— Thompson

“Music has always been a matter of Energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel. I have always needed Fuel. I am a serious consumer. On some nights I still believe that a car with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio.”

— Thompson


Both Hunter and Abbey were considered serous ladies’ men, though Abbey wrote more about women than did Hunter. Abbey was married five times, Hunter twice. I’ve met both Hunter’s widow, Anita, and Abbey’s, Clark. They both seemed like very nice and — dare I say it? — normal ladies.

“A pretty girl can do no wrong.”

— Abbey

“Sex without love is as hollow and ridiculous as love without sex.”

— Thompson


Serious differences here.

“Football is a game for trained apes. That, in fact, is what most of the players are —retarded gorillas wearing helmets and uniforms. The only thing more debased is the surrounding mob of drunken monkeys howling the gorillas on.”

— Abbey

“Baseball serves as a good model for democracy in action: Every player is equally important and each has a chance to be a hero.”

— Abbey

“I am more than just a Serious basketball fan. I am a life-long Addict. I was addicted from birth, in fact, because I was born in Kentucky.”

— Thompson

“There is a progression of understanding vis-à-vis pro football that varies drastically with the factor of distance — physical, emotional, intellectual and every other way. Which is exactly the way it should be, in the eyes of the amazingly small number of people who own and control the game, because it is this finely managed distance factor that accounts for the high-profit mystique that blew the sacred institution of baseball off its ‘‘national pastime’ pedestal in less than fifteen years.”

— Thompson


Here I fear to tread, because I both Abbey and Thompson zealously resisted categorization. I’m sure there have been doctoral dissertations penned about this. From the sidelines, it seems fair enough to say they were both individualists who loathed the centralization of political power and the corruption that centralization spawns. While Abbey would keep his distance from politics, Hunter jumped headlong into its midst, especially if there was any change of free booze.

“A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”

— Abbey

“Anarchism is founded on the observation that since few men are wise enough to rule themselves, even fewer are wise enough to rule others.”

— Abbey

“Civilization is a youth with a Molotov cocktail in his hand. Culture is the Soviet tank or L.A. cop that guns him down.”

— Abbey

“Grown men do not need leaders.”

— Abbey

“The brutal reality of politics would be probably intolerable without drugs.”

— Thompson

“All we have to do is get out and vote, while it’s still legal, and we will wash those crooked warmongers out of the White House.”

— Thompson

“I miss Nixon. Compared to these Nazis we have in the White House now, Richard Nixon was a flaming liberal.”

— Thompson

“Politics is the art of controlling your environment.”

— Thompson


Abbey and Thompson were known to imbibe.

“A drink a day keeps the shrink away.”

— Abbey

“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.”

— Thompson

“Good people drink good beer.”

— Thompson

“Crack is ruining the drug culture.”

— Thompson

Part 3

The previous section was more than just a gratuitous excuse to incorporate a slew of Abbey and Thompson quotes into this story. It serves — at least I hope it does — as Exhibit A regarding why these two particular writers have fan bases that almost resemble cults. Both Thompson and Abbey were masters of provocative bon mots, easily quotable one-liners that were more than just pithy examples of wit; rather, they were distilled versions of operational literary and lifestyle philosophy, palpable quips that were far more than the sum of their meager syllabic parts. When it comes to cult establishment and maintenance, nothing beats easily quotable material that can be transferred to T-shirts and posters, and both Thompson and Abbey were in a league of their own — and not just by contemporary Mountain Time Zone standards. I’ll put Abbey’s and Thompson’s aphorisms up against those of Will Rogers, Dorothy Parker, Ambrose Bierce and maybe even Mark Twain any day of the week.

There is, of course, much more to it than that; there is the substance of the quotes, the context of those quotes and what those quotes represent relative to the two men who transcripturally birthed them.

The above-listed quotes show several personality characteristics that I believe are critical components of the tribal mentality that defines the followers of Cactus Ed and Dr. Gonzo.

• Both these men had big balls. They were not just in your face at a safe literary distance; they were brave, even confrontational out in the real world. Sure, they each wrote some shit just to get a rise out of people, but they also wrote shit that needed saying, shit that few other people had the stones to put on paper. Abbey spoke in favor of wolf reintroduction to ranchers in rural Montana. Thompson hung with the Hell’s Angels. At the same time, they both enjoyed agitating the ants’ nest. Provocation was not just a moral calling for these two literary icons; it was also a form of recreation.

• They both redefined literary genres. For Abbey, it was the “nature” writing label he apparently disliked so much. For Thompson, it was mainly political reporting. Neither arena was ever the same again once Abbey and Thompson got done with them. I guess it can now be argued from the safety of temporal distance that their genre-bending/expanding was short-lived enough that, today, it might be referred to as “influence” rather than “redefinition.” But, as one who is old enough to remember the impact of these gentlemen, as one who can remember days when newspaper reporters still had to refer to themselves as “a visitor” in their own stories, I can’t stress enough the near-tectonic shift that Thompson and Abbey caused on literary styles we now consider status quo. Sure, both of them had their styles co-opted to the point of dilution by others, but that was not their fault.

• They both were creators of fiction and non-fiction, though, with Thompson, with the exception of “The Rum Diary,” the line was a bit more blurry than it was with Abbey. This versatility gave both writers the chance to cover more potential groupie ground. Many are the fans who count “Desert Solitaire” as their favorite Abbey book, while many are the fans who prefer “The Monkey Wrench Gang.” Many Hunter fans prefer “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas” — which even the Good Doctor admitted was mostly a work of fiction, while others prefer the more non-fictiony “Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.”

• Both of them were as much literary figures/characters as they were writers. The biographers of both Cactus Ed and Dr. Gonzo have spent considerable verbiage dissecting this pre-requisite for the cultish followings that gathered, and gather still, at their feet. I personally do not believe that either Thompson or Abbey set out with the idea of establishing their literary alter egos. Neither employed marketing firms to hone their image. Neither, to my knowledge, launched any lines of “Fear & Loathing” luggage or “The Monkey Wrench Gang” action figures. Still, at a certain point in their careers, Edward Abbey became, in the eyes of his followers, Cactus Ed, and Hunter Thompson became Dr. Gonzo. And these alter egos are perhaps the most crucial underpinning of the tribalism that separated Abbey and Thompson from writers of equal critical standing, from, say, John Nichols and William Eastlake.

Of course, not every writer wants a literary persona, especially if it comes with a cult following. Most don’t. But both Abbey and Thompson seemed to wear the trappings of Cactus Ed and Dr. Gonzo well. At least until those trappings became frayed. Abbey said he was done writing about the Southwest. Maybe he had simply run out of material. Maybe he had grown tired of always having Cactus Ed along for the ride.

And Hunter … shit .. can you imagine having to live up to the image of a man who snorted coke for breakfast? At least Abbey could still maintain his Cactus Ed image by simply walking through the desert and muttering something about development being like cancer cells. In order to keep Dr. Gonzo alive and kicking, Hunter had to maintain a physiologically unsustainable lifestyle, which he apparently did, until that fateful day in February of 2005. Of course, even his most ardent admirers will admit that his writing suffered greatly as a result of Dr. Gonzo’s inebriated presence. It’s painful to read in the various biographies how difficult it had become for Thompson to write anything. I guess, though, from the perspective of a devotee, all that is necessary is that, once upon a time, Hunter S. Thompson wrote a book called “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas.” That alone raises him to mythic proportions.

It is too easy to dwell upon endings, about Hunter being shot out of a cannon and about Abbey being carried off into the desert.

While those endings are certainly fitting, when it comes to the tribes that follow them both, the scripture was writ in stone well before those emblematic journeys into whatever’s next.

Edward Abbey and Hunter S. Thompson, though undeniably themselves influenced by the lives, works and thoughts of others before them, were their own men. They created iconic essays, articles and books on their own terms, and, as a result, their legends grew to the point that those legends defined them in the eyes of many. They blazed trails that every artist would do well to tromp upon, if only to understand that everything you create ought to be brave and honest.

But I think both Thompson and Abbey would want people to remember that influence and emulation are two entirely different things.

After that, a whole slew of us left Maria’s Bookstore and walked across Main Avenue to the El Rancho and drank more beer.

Read about Fayhee’s list of things we have won and lost since 1972.