Talking Interfaced Red State Blues

U.S. Drought Monitor

Moderate Drought

Outside, three Ponderosa pines shed needles onto a yard that is dry as an old man’s fart, despite the feeble stream pissing from my hosts’ garden hose — our “best practices” attempt to maintain a barely green buffer that just may keep the deep research facility from going up like a totally interfaced candle, if fire comes down from the ridge. Across the state, several dozen houses went up in smoke the other day. To the south, the Land of Enchantment set a new record for acres burned. Close to home, the headwater ridges two rivers east send impressive carbon-laden columns skyward. Meanwhile, a Rep-rat fingers dead trees on roadless public land as the culprit and Dem-rats take the bait, howling that politicization of natural disasters is unfair, to which all good Rep-rats respond … well, you’ll have to follow all this on your quote-mongering media super-corp of choice, ’cause it’s about time to move the garden hose again.

Last year, the U.S. Drought Monitor map showed Texas redder than the great decider’s favorite election-map wet dream, while my home range delivered soothing acre-feet of watery manna to the Colorado Basin’s fret-filled real estate schemes. A Texas forest I pass through a couple times each year caught fire, and a few hundred houses surrounded by decades-old tinder didn’t stand a chance. Now, it looks like our turn.

While most of Texas fades to a comparatively soothing “Moderate Drought” beige and fire-insurance windfall dream home speculators build new fodder on the ashes, ever-growing patches of the interior Mountain West turn “Extreme Drought” red. We’ve been through all this before, of course — try any year of the current century (the drought map first appeared in the lame-duck season of the Clinton era). If you compare the statistics, you’ll see that, most years, more of the Mountain West is in some stage of drought than not. Whether human-caused (or cyclic) global climate change is to blame is another quote-generating dream match entirely, and will be lightly skipped over in this consideration of humans’ recurring interface with forest fire reality.

No matter how many houses burn this year, with attendant personal tragedies aggregated into prize-winning tear-jerkers for our browsing pleasure, humans will want to buy houses in a forest next year — thereby ensuring that ensuing years will have ample quote-generating “natural” disasters, and I’m wondering whether it’s a case of nature or nurture.

When their state is on the fire line, governors across the political spectrum line up for deficit-deepening federal bail-outs, and despite election-year posturing over whether to insure humans with pre-existing medical conditions (even the arguably-not-quite-fringe-enough Rep-rat candidate for President now advocates a corporate profit-protecting option of not insuring people who’ve ever been un-insured), neither party questions the economic wisdom of selling fire insurance on new houses built in forests guaranteed by nature to burn some day.

While leaving the defense of “no federal aid for disaster victims” and “no insurance=death” positions to a certain seriously fringe failed Rep-rat presidential candidate (who also proposes selling off all public lands and closing the Department of Interior to help “Restore America”), and preparing myself for howls of outrage and accusations of insensitivity bordering on barbarity from those of the kinder/gentler persuasion, I do humbly question the widening support for “mitigating” swaths of public lands so that housing developments can keep pushing the suburban interface deeper into fire-dependant Ponderosa and Lodgepole pine forests. Maybe, just maybe, periodic wildfires visible to urban centers could serve as fair warning, even as they renew the forests from bug-kills and over-harvesting growth cycles.

Woody Guthrie Woody Guthrie

(World Telegram photo by Al Aumuller, courtesy Library of Congress)

Now, I know all rants should lead to a grand solution for politicos and pundits to argue unto dust, but the talking blues isn’t about solutions. The masters of the genre — Guthrie, Dylan, et al. — only described the problem as they saw it, and then laid out a poor man’s survival strategy. It worked for them, and I figure it’ll be good enough for an itinerant scribbler sitting in a mobile deep research facility in the southwest edge of a Ponderosa forest.

Yes, friends and enemies, the facility is on wheels for this summer of our drought. In talking blues tradition, I’m leaving solutions to those with more ambition than me, and less desire for personal survival. Most fires in my home range move east and north, most of the time, so I’ll be hitting the road at the first smoke coming over the ridge to the west or up the river from the south, collecting all living things that will fit into my research facility as I go. Not much of a strategy, I know, but then I haven’t bought enough insurance or political capital to afford many unnecessary chances.

To cut through aggregations of disaster-spin politics, and find out how close this year’s wildfires are to your own personal facilities, I suggest regularly checking the InciWeb page for your region. To learn about wildfire ecology, you could start here, check out Ponderosa and Lodgepole fire cycles, and then take a walk in your local woods. Right now, it’s time to move that hose again.

River-folk in Academia-land

Colorado River
April 1907. Mud cracks in clay deposited by the Colorado River in Baja California, Mexico. Photo: C.E. Grunsky, U.S. Geological Survey

Before greed, avarice, obsession and sundry other humanly traits got him banished, Sméagol was one of the river-folk populating the Anduin (Great River) landscape of J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.” Then his cousin found a golden ring in the river’s mud. Instead of tossing the damn thing back, the cousin showed it Sméagol, who then killed him and stole it. Eventually the ring was stolen from Sméagol too, and he kept chasing it long after he should’ve just tossed himself in the river for one long last float.

A recent account from a couple of recent Colorado College grads who’d paddled the length of the Colorado River toward the Sea of Cortez has gotten me thinking of Tolkien, hobbits and lords of the ring. The two, Zak Podmore and Will Stauffer-Norris, recounted their trip in Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project 2012 Report Card, which describes student-led studies of the effects of agriculture, climate, environment, diversions, recreation and water laws on the Colorado River basin. The entire effort is well worth a read, though Podmore and Stauffer-Norris definitely get my vote for most bad-ass senior project. (OK, post-grad — but they had to schedule it around Podmore’s Grand Canyon permit, for gawdsake.)

Starting in a snowbank in Wyoming, they paddled or portaged about 1,400 miles of variously human-impacted Rocky Mountain landscape, and four months later they climbed out of an irrigation ditch in Mexico to the bemused stares of some local fishermen (quoting Podmore here, “The fisherman smiled sadly at the confused gringo. ‘El Rio Colorado?’ He shook his head and chuckled. ‘No hay agua en El Rio Colorado.’”). Judging by Stauffer-Norris’ pictures, our hero pair looked only a little hobbit-like after four months of navigating the river’s obstacle course of dams, reservoirs, trip permits, disappearing flows and (Podmore again), “… between the source and the delta, the river also happened to take us through some of the most spectacular canyons in the world … ”

Colorado River
February 2005 Colorado River in Arizona. Photo: USGS

Humanly traits long ago stopped the Colorado from reaching its natural outlet, and the Rockies are no longer populated by simple river and mountain-folk satisfied to leave golden rings lying in the river’s mud, so it’s unlikely we’ll ever again see fresh mud deposits on the delta like the one from 1907 I found among the photographic gems of the USGS library, but the river still flows from the Wind River and Never Summer Mountains, through canyons described, photographed, interpreted and exploited to a fair-the-well. If you live in or below the Rocky Mountains, the reports put out by Colorado College since 2004 are a good resource for deepening your understanding of how our landscape is faring under our decidedly schizophrenic stewardship.

Gollum, illustration credit: Guillermo García-Ruiz Pimentel

“One Ring to rule them all. One Ring to find them. One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them,” says the inscription on Tolkien’s “One Ring” that led Sméagol to kill, steal, change his name to Gollum and hide inside a mountain until he finally met his end in a volcano, still fighting for the ring. Reading through the findings of this year’s State of the Rockies with “The Lord of the Rings” in mind, I’m tempted to end this little exploration by drawing a parallel to the tragedy of simple hobbits grasping for overweening power — but I haven’t taken time to parse the volumes of academic-speak that would allow me to discourse on the literary merits and demerits of Tolkien’s allegories, so I’m off to float another river.

On Traveling Local — Etiquette for the Dirtbag Diplomat

Look at the face. Make eye contact. Smile. Nod.

These four simple acts may garner a return smile, invaluable advice, a conversation or at least a wider piece of sidewalk or trail from which to observe the habits of the local fauna. While wandering the urbanized wilderness of our too-often-fearful empire, extensive personal research of the above techniques of diplomatic behavior has led to free meals, drinks, lodging and more than my fair share of opportunities to participate in activities best described as “of dubious legality.” (Except, of course, from members of a techno-benumbed control group of cell-phone tapping, ear-budded zombies. These are best avoided like a leprotic orgy-crasher on a Roman holiday.) Oh, and the life stories. There is something irresistible about a friendly stranger when life’s good or bad days breach walls of discretion and inhibition, which can sometimes lead to sticky situations. Artful dodging skills are best learned early, lest the peripatetic dirtbag become a sedentary bit player in someone else’s tragicomedy.

The Artful Dodger, by “Kyd” 1890

(The Artful Dodger, by “Kyd” 1890)

A minor, usually pleasant side effect of “traveling local” is being mistaken for an actual local by other (usually better-dressed) fellow travelers. Often, good-sounding information just gleaned from an actual local can be re-packaged on the spot to improve your questioner’s day, and in some few instances may change his or her life. Sort of like backcountry guiding, without the tips or glory. In recent years, as my travels take me mostly to locales visited at least once before, being misrecognized as a seldom-seen local has wrapped me in a diplomatic pouch of graybeard immunity from suspicion. Even the occasional enforcement type smiles at me when I least expect it, and except for a scattering of embittered aging males who assume I’m disappointed with life too, most tragedians seem to lean on other, younger, broader shoulders.

There is another complication though, that budding travelers a la “local” should expect. Among the chaff of smiles, nods and pleasantries are a few unforgettable kernels. A face, a voice, a story that will come back on you during long night drives between the leaving and getting there. You’ll wonder how a life has gone, whether the tragedy or comedy you unobtrusively slipped away from at intermission ever had a happy ending. Short of seeking out the players later (seldom a good survival tactic for one’s own emotional equilibrium), the odds of closure are slim, unless your unforgettable kernel was a storyteller, able to evoke just how it felt.

While slipping through the stage-sets of my earlier lives, these days I’m hunting stories. In bars and cafes, in the yellowed pages of old newspapers or books, in magazines with dead addresses peeling from the covers, in names overheard from casual passersby and in current publications that are worth reading. Occasionally, a story connects to a remembered face, or tells of a universe where a traveler’s life has paralleled some parts of my own. Now it’s time to note that the tribe has lost another of our storytellers, and learning of this has me remembering an extensive life list of long-gone faces and landscapes, and the winding down of seasonal jobs and well-spent lives.

Some reading reminds me that all the kernels have not been lived yet though, that ever more people are now playing out their own dreamed lives on mountains and in canyons some of us thought, for a while, to have made our own. Peripatetic young dirtbag diplomats are even now massing along the ragged edges (the wildernext) of the empire’s sprawling urban/suburban/New Urban chancres, and some younger fellow travelers are telling stories by turns lyrical, outrageous and all points in between, on pages my own stories are sometimes privileged to precede or follow, and in the conversations and returned smiles that sometimes reward practitioners of the ancient diplomatic arts.

This spring, when a seasonal job or school year ends and the faraway beckons, go traveling local, and then let your story run free as Toby T. Tyler and his namesake.

A Paradise of One’s Own

There is a small Colorado town that masquerades, most of each year, as a down-scale suburb to a meth-and-Tea-Party-plagued low-elevation haven for refugees from the “neo”-liberal/conservative herd that infests nearby ski-industry-dominated counties. Sometime each winter though, a blizzard followed by a cold snap turns the potholed streets to ice. Like a chrysalis opening, an old-fashioned mountain town emerges, and one is best served by a good pair of felt-lined, fur-topped caribou boots until the weather changes.

A certain winter not so long ago, I found myself snowed in on the edge of town, snug as one down-and-out writer/guide-type can expect, in a 1966 Alaskan camper perched on the back of a 1971 Chevy PU (known by me and a select few for the last 27 years as “Lucy,” but that’s another story).

I’d parked the rig in a campground space while attending a WFR recertification class, and a second blizzard made sure I had ample opportunity to read a stack of old National Geographic travel books the owners had put in the laundry room. The previous summer, someone had given me a bottle of high-test booze of uncertain pedigree that tasted not bad if mixed with enough instant cocoa and hot water, so, while snow piled against the half-buried tires and blew through cracks in the Alaskan’s armor, I sat in front of an admittedly unsafe but vastly efficient propane camp heater, and whiled away several long, dark nights in misty contemplation of lands many leagues more tropical than the temporary polar zone outside. On the pages of a couple well-read copies, mountains rose in the background beyond sandy beaches, with enough barely clad nubile fauna frolicking in the foreground waves to fog up a photographer’s lens. I fell in love again, though not with any specific candidates among the nubile fauna, since experience has taught that time changes nearly everything. No, the object of my affection was an old childhood friend, the rediscovered ability to defeat winter doldrums with idle visions of unexplored paradise.

Right now I’m in another landscape, a desert that last year went through a year-long drought that had local cacti re-assessing survival strategies. As I write, the rain has been falling since yesterday morning, is predicted to last through tomorrow or the next day, and while I’m glad as all hell for my succulent friends, personally I’m dreaming of a mountain range I’ll never visit. I’ve been contemplating these mountains for a couple of days now, and here is what I see.

They are jagged (“Teton-like,” say some who’ve had longer to contemplate them than I have), young-looking as mountains go, though old enough that if they resided on the same plane as most of us, they’d likely have eroded down to stumps of themselves. As it is, they seem to have vast, unexplored frozen lakes at their bases, and glacier-carved canyons radiating from peaks where nobody has yet scribbled name, date and profound thoughts in a tattered journal, or built a cairn to say, “I was here!” to all who follow. In fact, these mountains have never been seen by humans, though “discovered” almost 60 years ago. The only visible depictions now are computer-generated models based on measurements taken from planes and from on top of the ice that buries them. They are the Gamburtsev Subglacial Mountains, named for a Russian scientist who thought of a new way to explore the earth’s crust, and their Alpine topography rises into the underside of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, while their roots (no shit, mountains have ’em too) extend into the earth’s mantle like the unseen base of the iceberg that made Leonardo DiCaprio a disaster chic-flick legend.

The Gamburtsevs are in the news these days because that pesky bane of the right-thinking industrial/extraction complex, science, has reared its head with some new theories on how these unseen physical features of our humble planet came to be as they are where they are, even why they are where they are, in a billion years of mountain-building and erosion processes.

OK, now that I’ve chased away all believers in the hypothesis of a 5,000-year-old-earth, along with anyone put off by the long sentence above that almost became a palindrome for a skinny-assed second there, here (close as my limited understanding of structural geology and mathematic proofs allows) is how it works. Start with several large chunks of our little planet’s crust. If you imagine the next layer of earthly material, the mantle, as a pool of hotter, denser liquid in the hot-tub shared with your favorite ever-desirably nubile and/or virile (fill in personal preference here) fauna after a long day of wintry frolic, it’ll make the next part easier to follow.

The crustal chunks, aka continents, displace enough mantle “liquid” to stay afloat, but not enough to sink, because of the difference in density — just like old Archimedes laid out in his Law of Buoyancy. If you and your imaginary friend(s) set one continent’s edge on top of another, the underneath one sinks, while the top one rises. Looking above and below the surface, you’ll see that one edge of the top continent is highest, while an edge of the bottom one sinks deepest under it. Congratulations, you’ve made the ancestral Gamburtsevs and their roots, circa one billion years ago, and created a supercontinent from two smaller ones. Earth scientists call it Gondwana. Good time for a sip of beverage, if so inclined.

Now wear away the topside for say, 800 or 900 million years, and you could have a mostly flat plain, with a ridge of remnant roots under the long-bonded continents marking the mountains’ birthplace. Then Gondwana begins to break up and causes cracks in the continent near the roots, allowing mantle liquids to warm the old Gamburtsev roots. Heat expansion, structural weakness and buoyancy help create a rift and bend the continent (I know this shit seems weird, but let’s just go with it). The bending may not break what’s left of your supercontinent in two, but it can cause one edge of the rift to sink while the edge above the ancestral roots pushes up. Have another sip, because we have now re-created the paradise of these winter contemplations.

The unfeeling cycle of seasons aboveground starts the erosion process one more time. But (and this is why the Gamburtsevs are how they are where they are today), this particular chunk of crust just happens to float into a polar region of our planet, collects a snow load that puts to shame a ski bum’s wettest dream, and then a massive glacier that would cause even a caribou to think about trekking to the tropics come next migration. Keep adding ice, time and an eventual evolution of exceptionally curious and inventive mammals who have found a way to stop fighting and work together just often enough to parlay thinking some shit up (hypotheses), investigating said hypotheses into theories, testing theories for proofs and then presenting proofs in peer-reviewed journals read by other practitioners of the ancient craft, into a way for one down-and-out writer/former-guide-type to slip through yet another round of cabin fever during our planet’s darkest season.

The sun has broken through the clouds outside my window, and is bathing the western slope of one of my favorite mountain ranges. A monolithic rock I’ve contemplated during many seasons is jutting like the prow of a ship into the golden evening light. Snowcapped peaks glow in the background as I feel the rubble-filled rift below my winter quarters absorbing the life-giving rain.

(Click away for peer-reviewed science about Antarctic rifting and the Gamburtsevs; an educated opinion using Archimedes’ and Newton’s Laws to mathematically prove that a mountain range has roots; and contemplations on using the Law of Buoyancy to fly and float [yeah, the last one is mine, but unlike a lot of peer-reviewed science, you can read it free and only buy the book if the story sucks you in])

Confessions of a Down and Outer

No matter my security measures, a current trend has now breached the research facility, and it has me eyeing fellow patrons while wondering, “Does this one have satisfactory documentation?”

Surely, you’ve noticed the hordes edging closer, their eyes narrowed in acquisitive lust. One may have brushed just a little too close to your own private place, mindless of your discomfort, justifying the invasion with facile excuses of common good and homeland security. Maybe you handed over a few bills or an array of official-looking documents; maybe a copy of your property deed, or even (shudder) of your “rental agreement” to slip free of the invaders’ clutches, for a time — but for how long? How much will it cost you next time? Will your documents be enough, or will you have to disappear into the brush, covering your trail with the detritus of unfinished dreams and plans?

Of course (though this may be obvious only to that tiny minority who’ve been there, done that), I am speaking of the recent trend that raises a bar of documentation to an undocumented, lightly documented and intentionally vague underbelly of the red-blooded seasonal-workforce of American commerce. Some wash dishes. Some cook and serve. Others sweep and stock, while a lucky few figure out how to qualify for a coveted occupation that comes with cachet (and an increased chance of getting laid): backcountry and river guides, liberal arts students, poets, writers, soldiers, etc.

All are citizens (though some of some country other than the “Amurrica, Love it or Leave it!” “My country ‘tis of thee…” “…home of the brave” fantasy of a compliant citizenry of the sedentary empire), many are a bit unreliable in their personal chronology, some are deliberately evasive while trying to build a present unsullied by past indiscretions, and only a very few are of any danger whatsoever to anybody but themselves. When minions of sundry agencies and authorities ask for documents, some of these citizens are likely to get a “deer-in-the-headlights” look, and next be seen heading for the exit door.

Confession time here. For certain periods, at uncertain points in my checkered history of seasonal occupations, I have on occasion (for justifiable reasons and with no evil  intentions, I might add) found it expedient to fill in the “current residence” blank on application forms with a reasonable-sounding, if very temporary, location that established a sense of well-being in my interlocutor. Recently, while conducting routine maintenance on some necessary trappings of my current status as an ever-aging citizen of the empire, I was taken aback by a request for proof of residence (aforesaid deed and/or rental agreement). Another official agency demanded two forms of ID from my dearly beloved, with one being a credit card. I now read that the Colorado Secretary of State is trying to clear the chaff he calls “inactive voters” by refusing to allow counties to mail ballots to anyone who didn’t vote in the 2010 elections, leaving me asking if the biggest danger to participation in the noble experiment called “these united states” may be that amorphous demon, fear.

Fear of what, my friends? Of this and that — and of  “the other”; but if we succeed in eliminating a free-thinking fringe, what will the future look like? I imagine teeming masses crouched in political and behavioral knots, all afraid to move to the edge. Gone will be the scruffy, aromatic iconoclasts that test boundaries for a safety-conscious majority. The ones who’ll tackle an expanse of mid-summer desert with bad shoes and a water bottle, a 5.-next-to-fucking-impossible pitch with worn rope and bleeding fingers, a Class VI-rated river with paddle and personal choice of flotation device or the wilds under bridges and behind bushes in the midst of gentrified cityscapes. Some will not make it, but the survivors can remove boundaries, and maybe even alleviate nagging fears among those who will come along behind.

[Further reading on the many ways of being down and out can be found among the writings of Orwell, Tantric, Barnum-Reece, Dorworth, Welch and your humble correspondent, to name but a bit of available grist for consideration — and of course the edge is still out there awaiting all who dare to taste of the nectar for themselves.]

Incongruities of Place

Here I am, entering another small town after yet another week spent haunting a wild river and its scenic wilderness environs, this time with a now (mostly) wilderness-and-scenery sated group of fellow travelers. I just passed a sign that proudly proclaims this town (which shall remain mostly un-pilloried in this missive), with its 133-year history and ubiquitous Main Street lined with decaying buildings and dusty pickup trucks, to be THE WILDERNESS GATEWAY. No shit, here I look up through the bug-spattered window of my own dusty, dented and otherwise well-used truck, and see that this very town will be the site, this very weekend, of the IDAHO LIBERTY SUMMIT.

Now, my trusty Wiktionary traces liberty thusly: “Middle English liberte < Old French liberte < Latin libertas (“freedom”) < liber (“free”); see liberal.),” so imagine my chagrin upon realizing that I have foolishly made other plans, which in this case involves sitting my sweet ass down, driving another 800 miles and earning enough of the empire’s (rumored to be utterly worthless and filthy) lucre to finance my next exploration of wild and scenic backcountry.

I’ll miss the opportunity to be lectured about secretive “biggovernment” plots, by presenters specializing in “Righteous Indignation,” and the “UN Agenda 21, Wildlands and China in Boise.” (By the way, not staying for the speeches, I have no idea what the hell these titles mean. All hyperlinks in this paragraph are my doing, are offered in a spirit of fair play and/or fun, and were not approved by Summiteers, presenters or any biggovernmental handlers.) I’ll miss listening to a contributor to “Justice My Ass!” (please don’t ask), and I’ll not find out how wolves are eating all the elk before hunters can get a shot at them. (“Just who,” you may ask, “will get shot?” I dunno, but wolves, elk and enviro-friendly intermittently feral writer-types might want keep their heads down until the smoke clears.) Once again, I’ll be leaving town before the big event, living my mostly unfettered life in a swath of North America that seems irresistibly drawn to flaming causes that define the larger society as an enemy to be defeated on a battlefield strewn with slogans, strange bedfellows and the decaying hulks of formerly thriving communities gutted, abandoned or bypassed by the movers and shakers of corporatized American politics.


I saw the SILENT MAJORITY SPEAKS sign as I approached town. Saw the VOTE CORRUPTION OUT sign as I drove through a week ago, towing my 50-something-year-old raft trailer loaded with well-used gear, on the way to store it at the edge of town while I joined another trip. I should’ve known the haranguers were about to arrive, and made appropriate plans. It’s always this way, though. I missed the National Tequila Party Movement’s “kickoff rally” in Tucson, back in the spring when its website was injudiciously graced with a banner ad for a brand of tequila made in Mexico, thereby likely alienating a sizable chunk of the (now formerly Republican) founder’s donor base. I was on my way to the mountains and canyons of Colorado and Utah at the time.

I checked recently, and this movement still seems to be having trouble defining its goals, except for being some form of right-of-center leaning get-out-the-vote response to the spate of “Tea Partier” rhetoric that makes being brown in Arizona analogous to being black in Mississippi and points south, east (and too far west and north) a few decades back. Maybe it’s something about the name; though the founder tells a reporter that “It’s just a drink,” the group’s slogan is “your shot for change.” All this leads me by circuitous neural pathways back to catchphrases defining towns, events, people and their political movements. I’m a self-described well-groomed mountain man, with a history of spouting small-l liberal-leaning rhetoric spiced by anarchic actions never to be revealed in prosecutable detail, though mostly I stay under cover as a gray-bearded, amiable outdoorsy sort who never sits with his back to the crowd while in a dimly-lit bar that uses the words “Rod,” “Gun,” “Whitewater” and “Saloon” on a sign advertising its wares in a small Idaho town which, like The Wilderness Gateway loosely described above, will remain un-named in this piece.

I retrieve my river gear from the storage unit at the edge of town, am informed that all but one week of my storage fee will be returned since I didn’t use it (which makes me feel all warm toward ruggedly individualistic, libertarian-rhetoric spouting denizens of small Idaho towns). I decide to drive to the aforementioned Saloon to sip one more beer in front of the “SAVE AN ELK, SHOOT A WOLF” bumpersticker that graces the back-bar below lined-up bottles of cheap beer and rotgut tequila, and then to quietly slip through the “red state” bastions of Idaho and Utah on my way back to the left-leaning, downturn-shocked, teeming population center of my home range. Somewhere in the night, while sipping my last river beer, I’ll check in on the civilized world’s progress in my absence by the light of my failing laptop, and will see “natural” disasters, wars, riots, famine and angst. Studiously ignoring the attendant throng of pundits spouting rhetorical cure-alls from their respective political camps, with the last of my battery’s charge, I’ll also read that ’twas ever thus, courtesy MJF’s “Conservative.” Enjoy.

Why I run rivers, lurk in dark places, dawdle in secret oases

I just got off a river trip with a bunch of scientifically minded folk who are passionate about rivers. While we lived a wet dream of high-flow waves, sun, sand, camp games (and maybe a few good beers among those so inclined), they hooked me up with a raft of information on Colorado’s water needs and politics. Back in the research facility, bleary-eyed from staring at online documents, and stiff-necked from puzzling through a virtual tempest of predictions and planning processes, I figure that I shouldn’t keep all the fun to myself.

Let’s take a look at some boat-mates ridin’ the waves …

(Above photo courtesy Nathan Fey, Director, Colorado Stewardship Program, American Whitewater)

… and a cool slide show from the gang in green at Interior.

Flowing at 24,000 cfs (visualize a wall of 24,000 basketballs per second flowing through a canyon bottom), the Yampa River in Dinosaur National Monument is big enough to delight, drench, scare and otherwise satisfy the crap out of any self-respecting river-rat.

Uncontrolled by dams, the Yampa can seem more than a little alien to a lot of folk who regard rivers as a resource or a scourge, depending on where and how high the waters flow, and this is why I’ve been digitally lurking through the chambers of power for clues of just where the Yampa may fit into the grand schemes of water politics.

  • The Yampa’s yearly flow is a player in the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s strategy of using “identified projects, water conservation, agricultural transfers (both permanent and nonpermanent) and development of new water supplies,” to meet Colorado’s future water demands, as is laid out in the  Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI 2010).
  • A whole quiver of arrows is needed to mark current diversion projects on a Colorado Division of Water Resources map:
Members of the Yampa River Awareness Project were worried enough about the options for “development of new water supplies” to lure my distinguished river-mates onto the wild waters. They see a mighty straw sucking at the Yampa’s bounty; sure enough, one proposed trans-mountain diversion would create a pipeline-feeding lake in the brush-covered hills a few miles upstream from Dinosaur, and (proving how water crosses political and state lines) another straw is proposed for Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Green River. In politics, water tends to run towards power, so if you see yourself playing a role in where and how high your favorite rivers flow, it’s high time to decide which of the Initiative’s options will best float your boat.

If you’ve had about enough clicking, reading and fact-checking, watch these quirky Colorado River District films on water supply fun and games, and then go dawdle in some secret oasis in the nearby faraway.

(Courtesy: Nathan Fey again [sometimes, it’s good that somebody brought a camera])

Bright Enough for Ya?

Come in outta the sunlight, will ya? There’s cold beer an’ whatever else might strike your fancy over there in the shadows, but step over here first. On the subject of light, you got to take a look at some of this cool shit I’m finding. Your eyes’ll adjust.

You ever wonder just how much electricity you could make with the sunlight in your backyard? On your roof? On the patches of abandoned farmland and tailings piles on the edge of town? On the never-developed pieces of meadow, hillside, plain, brushland — the over-grazed and still-recovering rangelands and watersheds that make up the “mixed-use” designated public lands managed by the erstwhile minions of the BLM, NFS, FWS, alphabet soup? I can tell you soon enough.

With viral YouTube videos of the Gulf oil well spill still making the rounds, King Coal in a full duck-and-cover fetal “Clean Coal” subsidy-begging crouch, and the still-leaking nuclear power plant in Japan as incentives to finally, “Just fucking DO SOMETHING, ANYTHING!” to promote renewable energy production, we of the interior hinterlands have been asked by the Bureau of Land Management to weigh in on how they should allow/regulate/promote solar power projects.

It may not be too late to have your say, and in the process of finding out what you think about the BLM’s proposal you just might discover whether your favorite stretch of country (or backyard) is a candidate for helping save our sweet selves from continued domination by the globalized hydrocarbon cabal. Interested? Read on …

  • Currently, most utility-scale solar plants create steam to drive turbines that produce electricity, in a process known as Concentrating Solar. Information courtesy the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
  • Find out where the sun delivers the most kilowatt hours for the buck at the Solar Energy Environmental Mapper from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). Topo, relief and terrain maps, aerial photos; with overlays showing solar potential, agency boundaries, proposed solar development alternatives, streams and rivers, roadless area, protected resources, wilderness study areas, and more.
  • Take a look at BLM’s Solar Energy Zones in Interactive Panoramas. 360 degree images, with links to descriptions, then grab a cold one and walk a few of them for yourself.

Click on map for hi-res version.

(Courtesy: Solar Energy Development Program Information Center)