Thursday, April 27, 2017

Utah! National Monument Status isn't ...

Like ordering a meal in a Chinese Restaurant. 

"The State of Utah will take five National Parks from Column A. We'll also take six out of eight of the National Monuments from Column B. The last two Monuments upsets our stomachs and State's Rights sensitivities."

The two offending Monuments? Grand Staircase/Escalante and the recently added Bear Ears. I'll digress for a moment.

The state of Utah goes out of its way to promote its natural beauty. The Utah Office of Tourism has fostered "The Mighty Five" marketing campaign. This is in reference to Utah's National Parks. UOT purchases advertising space in the NY Times, LA Times, Outside, Fodors, Sunset and CBS This Morning. On the International scene, the "Beehive State" funds tourist bureaus in Japan, Germany, UK and France. Utah is on a mission to attract selfie-stick wielding mobs of hikers, sightseers, adventurers and wanderers. Some don't even speak English! The outsiders come, spend money and eventually leave. People don't come to Utah to go nightclubbing.

In 2012, tourists spent an estimated 7.4 billion dollars in Utah. They contributed 960 million in state tax revenues too. Definitely not chump change. Tourism is big business in Utah.

I'll digress again.

National Parks and Monuments are different in how they came to be. A NP is designated by an act of Congress. A NM is created by the President under the power of the 1906 Antiquities Act. 

From Wikipedia: "The Antiquities Act of 1906, (Pub.L. 59–209, 34 Stat. 22554 U.S.C. § 320301–320303), is an act passed by the United States Congress and signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt on June 8, 1906. This law gives the President of the United States the authority to, by presidential proclamation, create national monuments from federal lands to protect significant natural, cultural, or scientific features. The Act has been used over a hundred times since its passage. Its use occasionally creates significant controversy. On April 26, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order to review the Antiquities Act."

Could the fair people of Utah dislike the Grand Staircase/Escalante Monument because it was proclaimed by a Rhodes Scholar philandering Democratic President? Or in the case of Bear Ears, a Black (gasp!)  Democratic President? I would say a possible maybe, since the other six National Monuments are never mentioned in the debate. 

The politicians of Utah want to reduce the size of the GSENM and totally eliminate National Monument status for Bear Ears. They now have an Federal Administration who favors missiles, and mining over Monuments. The 111 year old Antiquities Act is now under fire. In our Nation's short history the President's use of this Act has been Fait Accompli. Well, there's nothing normal/usual about this Reality TV Administration. 

So back to the State of Utah. Why is it OK to be a whore for the National Parks within your boundaries but protest two Wild Areas which are now being saved and protected for future generations?  Create a National Monument and the tourists will come. They will spend money for the long term. Mines are finite, tourism is not. 

Utah! Are you in or out when it comes to conservation. There is no sort of being pregnant when it comes to making America Great. Poop or get off the pot. 

One more digression: An apt quote seen in the GSENM Visitor Center. 

"When some of us says, "look there's is nothing out there." What we are really saying is, "I cannot see." 

Terry Tempest Williams

We have an Administration who is blind.

All these photos are from GSENM. 

Think about this,

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Our Nation's Treasures are Under...


Back in November, 2014 I wrote a blog about Casey Nocket. 

She was the roving Bimbette who painted bizarre scenes in America's western National Parks and Monuments. She wasn't applying her acrylic paint to canvas. No! She was vandalizing the rocks instead. She took photos of her "works" and placed them on Instagram. Obviously, she wasn't a Valor Victorian at Stanford. 

Her posts elicited outrage on the social media scene. She pissed off a lot of people by dissing the places we love. It was a response she didn't foresee. Eventually, the Clueless One was sentenced to two years probation and 200 hours of community service. 

As far as I'm concerned, she skated. 

So...the other day, I took a hike in Zion National Park's Hidden Canyon. It's not really hidden since there's a marked trail there. But, it's still a cool canyon just the same. It was early and shadowy. All I heard were the sounds of my trail runners padding along the sand and rocks. Perfect! That is until I noticed #hiddenfreedom17 scrawled along a red-rock wall. Hmmm! That sucks. I took a photo of the crime scene to show and tell the NPS about it ASAP. Unfortunately, the graffiti was just beginning. The idiot art show spanned about 100 yards. I shot more and more pix, collecting evidence as I made my way up canyon. Crap! I was having such a wonderful morning too! I felt violated along with the canyon. 

A day earlier I was partaking in the sixteen-mile West Rim trail. Like so many trails, I see them once a year like old friends. All was good in my World until I saw piles of soiled toilet paper. Nearby was unmentionable human produce. What is wrong with people? 

Sure a New York City's amount of taggers and improper poopers are a nasty problem to our Nation's Wild Places. But wait! There's a more insidious attack about to occur. It comes from the enemy within.

It's the 2018 proposed Federal Budget. A nauseating and ruthless 12% cash slash to the Department of Interior. This includes the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service. 

For the sake of blog brevity, I'll concentrate on the NPS.

Here's the NPS's noble Mission Statement: "The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. The Park Service cooperates with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world."

It's hard not to like this outfit. The Park Service has been called America's best idea and invention for a reason.
These proposed cuts come at a time when the NPS's stock is on the rise. Record numbers of visitors (331 million in 2016) paid a call to  their 409 National Parks, Monuments and Battlefields, their 23 Scenic and Historic Trails and their 60 Wild and Scenic Rivers. The NPS has a large plate. If that weren't enough these Good Guys provide financial and technical assistance to our 49 National Heritage Sites. The proposed budget would eliminate that program. The damage wouldn't end there. The NPS already has a $12 billion maintenance backlog. With this slash and burn budget, things will go from bad to worse. 

Now, there's a new Sheriff in charge of the Department of Interior.. His name is Ryan Zinke. He is a President "You mean Central Park isn't a Wilderness Area?"  appointee. When at first pressed on the issue of budget cuts, he said he would be kicking and screaming at the thought. Now, not so much. He went Trump Toady, and said the $1.5 billion cut would be a tax savings. 

Mr. Zinke, that is an alternative fact. 

The tax $ is going to be reallocated to the Department of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs (no complaint from me on that one). 

America the Beautiful is being sacrificed to America the Badass. 

The concept of beauty goes beyond the "Ohhs and ahhs" of  skin deep. A country should be judged on how it treats its elderly, poor, handicapped and undereducated. Kudos go to countries who consider the non-voting elements: fish and wildlife, environmental issues such as clean air, water and uncontaminated soils. 

I cringe at the thought of an increased Military budget to the detriment of education, the environment, arts and humanities, proper housing and urban development, our wild lands and forests and Federal grant money for scientific research and development. 

Why are we building up our Military to protect this dubious Fox Network News notion of the American Way of Life? A Society based on fear and a "Watch Out for the Other Guy" mentality. Will the US become a soulless nation of strip malls, Big Box Stores, McDonalds  and subdivisions?  Are these superficial things worth fighting or dying for? 

True Greatness isn't measured in  shiny new tanks, fighter jets, aircraft carriers or multiple Mother Of All Bombs. It's about leaving this land/country in tip-top shape to our future generations who have yet to open their eyes or take a breathe of (hopefully) clean air. 

We owe that much to them. 
BTW. When I win the Presidency in 2020, it will be the "Greenest" Administration since Theodore Roosevelt's. 
The only thing Green about this current Administration, is their awareness that it's the color of money.

Happy Earth Day,

PS. Take note Casey, the last photo is art and not graffiti. See the difference? 

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Stigma of the Single Man...

in the White Van.

On April 1st, I unceremoniously passed my Four Year Homeless by Choice Anniversary. (It's not about the $). 

I'm still learning things along my journey. For instance: 

One) Perspective girlfriends have no sense of humor for a senior citizen who's address is a Van's license plate number. As rare as first dates are, second dates take on a Halley's Comet appearance time frame. In other words, not often. It's hard for me to get past the standard question of "where do you live?" I really squirm a lot when that subject comes up. On the "boy meets girl" issue, I could have chosen a more user-friendly lifestyle. 

Two) At times, things can get a bit feral. On stretches of what I call "rough camping" (no showers, no electricity and no flush toilets), I'll Solar Shower on some lonely dirt road. I'll expose myself to the elements while taking my daily ablution. I just hope no other vehicle ambles by. I might make YouTube in an awkward way. Please don't enquire about plumbing.

Three) I draw a lot of stares when I arrive in an RV park where everyone knows each other, but no one knows me. A fine example of this occurred in Lajitas, TX. I was driving a lap around the campground while looking for my designated site. Groups of manly cohorts were engaged in animated conversations. Upon seeing me and Barley the Van-SILENCE! They craned their necks while following me with their prying eyes. I parked, hopped out and gave them my toothiest grin. "Gentlemen! You have no need to worry about me. I will be the quietest neighbor you will ever have. You won't even know I'm here." The bull session resumed and everyone was happy. A few gents came by later on to check out the Barley Van. I gave them beers. I'm on a mission to win hearts and minds. 

Four) Families fear the White Van and probably the single man inside. On more than one occasion, I noticed young Moms and Dads pointing toward Barley while emphatically shaking their heads in the International "NO! NO! NO!" fashion. If the parents aren't getting through to their progeny, they wag their fingers too. Ouch! That hurts my feelings. 

This is why I never park near a school or playground. The local SWAT Unit would surely be dispatched with weapons drawn. 

For the above reasons and a few others, I've become more of an introvert/hermit. It's the price I'm paying for all this mobile freedom. Oh, I'll still say hello to strangers and wave, but I won't go further than that unless provoked. I'm definitely not the kind of guy who would stride up to someone, extend my hand and say, "Hi! I'm Jeff! Damn fine to meet ya." That being said, I'm pretty sure I'd still pass society's minimum standards of acceptable community behavior. 

I still consider myself to be a nice Jewish Boy from the Bronx.

What's to become of me? I haven't a clue. I'm still motivated to travel with and without The White Van. Barley won't fit in an airplane's overhead storage compartment, so I'll be leaving him behind in my future overseas travels.

Keep looking in, things will get interesting.

For further readings, check out these old posts. Maybe you'll see a pattern here.

BTW. I, still running for President in 2020. The First Lady slot is still open too.

Cheers while rolling into Year Five of Homeless by Choice,
Next to last photo: Yes, there are times I am living in my van down the river.

Last photo: Me in the Master Bedroom engrossed in an IPPY award winning book.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Hiking the Grand Canyon with...


I met a lot of characters in my 28 year career on the fire department. One of the more memorable (in a bad way) was a bald headed, opinionated, conversation domineering , fib-telling Dude nicknamed STAN. 

He was the guy you couldn't top. If you caught a three-pound trout, he caught a five pound Brown on a one-pound test line. Ran a sub-18:00 Five Kilometer race? He won his age bracket in 15:30. Hiked a respectable summit? He scaled Everest with no oxygen. He couldn't be beat.

BTW: STAN translates to S--T! That Ain't Nothing!

So...on my recent backpack with Brad 
and Max and Cassie (son and girlfriend) into the Big Ditch I was told a stranger (to me)  would be joining us on the second night out of five. That's fine. Buddy of Brad should be OK by me. 

On the second night, we were camped at Monument Creek. Brad and family were out exploring the tiny tributary. I was hanging out contemplating the rocks or reading. In other, words typical Grand Canyon activities for me. Out of the silence, I heard, "Brad! Brad! Where are you?" 

I called out, "You must be #%#%. (That's my way of not indulging his real name). "Hi! I'm Jeff. Brad is out with his family looking around. Here's the campsite he picked for you. I'll go back to my site and let you set up. See you later." 

Around dinner time, I rejoined the gang at the designated kitchen area of Brad's campsite.  %#%# was in full story telling mode. It went sort of like this...

"In the beginning, I was born to poor yet humble parents. I worked my way through Harvard doing pizza deliveries on my tricycle. I got my Doctorate in Mathematics at the age of six..." and on and on it went. 

Hmmm! This was going to be an interesting backpack trip.

A few days later, we all set off on a 15.5 mile amble from Monument Creek to Bright Angel campground. In all my years of hiking in the Grand Canyon, this would be my biggest mileage day ever. No matter how you spin it, that's more than a stroll to the neighborhood post office.

%#%#% charted out his game plan on where he would be and at what time. "I'll be on my way at 6:03 I'll pass Salt Creek at 7:13. I should be at Bright Angel by 2:08 give out take a minute. I'll be hiking at three-plus miles/Hour. You guys know what that's like. Don't you?" 

I broke camp after my usual morning dawdle. I was fueled by my secret weapon. Two Starbucks shots of strong instant coffee. Pure grind your molars, quick striding energy. My plan was the standard one. Crank out as many miles as I could until the caffeine runs out; then arrive at my destination on fumes. 

It was a beautiful day along the Tonto Plateau, flowers were out, the air was cool and crisp and the scenery was the usual Grand Canyon magnificent. After awhile I ran into Brad, Max and Cassie. They were moving at a loping just fine steady pace. All were well with these happy campers. 

"Hi Guys! I'm nice and wired from the coffee. Who knows? Maybe I'll catch %#%#. That might quiet him down a bit." 

They wished me luck.

After Salt Creek, I spied three backpackers. One was definitely the 6'5" #%#%#. When I approached I overheard a story. "Then there was that time I was physically removed from a Vegas casino. I guess I was doing too good a job at counting cards. Hey! I was only up $5,000 on the House!" 

He was surprised to see me. "You are moving well! I'll try to keep up with you." 

"Don't sweat it. No worries. Walk your own pace. I'm still lit up from the coffee. Enjoy your day. See you at Bright Angel."

My caffeine fix expired at Indian Gardens. There was still five miles to go. My pace became a relaxed mosey, with food and water breaks along the way. 

On the Colorado River trail, I saw the familiar sight of the iconic Silver and Black bridges. I'm sure I was grinning. Once in camp, I found a suitable campsite and went to work on a bagel and cheese snack. A few minutes later, #%#%# strode in.

I nodded and said, "Long day. Strong work. I'm glad we're done." 

"I dunno. I could've taken a break and been good for another five-ten miles."

I know I let out a audible sigh. There's no topping a STAN.

But Hey! It's the Grand freaking Canyon! It takes more than a STAN to muddle the experience. Besides, I was still hanging with my Bro from another Mo and his amazing family. All is good in the world (except I'm sick again!")

Moral of the blog? Don't be a backpacking blowhard. 

Cheers from windy Kanab, UT,
It's an R&R day to try to get over this latest bout of sinuous infection. Yes, I'm on drugs too.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

"What happens in Vegas, stays...

in Vegas."

So, I was in Vegas and I'll tell you what happened. 


I wasn't in Sin City for three painfully long nights to gamble, see a show, start smoking Marlboros, drink $1 specials of Bud Lite, inhale a $12 all-you-can-eat buffet or procure a Lady of the Night. I was stuck there waiting for Barley's sick transmission to be replaced. A well spent $150 bribe helped the project along, or else I'd still be trapped. Best $ for the value. One of the few 100% no smoking hotels available in Vegas cost more than the "palm grease" did. 

My escape route took me to the Mojave National Preserve for two quiet days and silent nights. The only smoke I dealt with was from my evening campfires. In didn't matter that I spaced the Ingredients for S'mores. I felt happy.

Today,  I'm in Joshua Tree National Park. It's more than invigorating windy. It's rock Barley the Van to and fro windy. I'm hoping that invisible force takes a sunset siesta. 

I want to Happy Hour with a campfire. Shucks! I still don't have S'mores ingredients. 

Photo below: I placed that square boulder on top of the heap to create a more picturesque photo op. No biggie, it's what a W W J does for his avid readers.

Last photo: I'm thinking of getting a playmate for Fido. I believe Horace the Tortoise would be perfect. No. I wouldn't do that. They need to live free and procreate.

BTW: Desert Tortoises are on the endangered species list. They get run over a lot my mechanically minded humans. Poor little guys can't sprint away. 

Fun fact: There are two sub-species of Desert Tortoises. One variety lives on one side of the Colorado River, the other on the other side. Apparently, they swim as poorly as I do. 

From windy Joshua Tree NP, CA

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Hubris of Hoover Dam...

For years I've driven past Hoover Dam en route to a better place called Death Valley National Park. As an American history buff, I've always wanted to stop, but the call to wilder places beckoned me. 

Recently Barley the Van chose to get temporarily sick in nearby Las Vegas. The timing was right to pay a visit (with a rent-a-wreck) to "America's Seven Modern Civil Engineering Wonders." I'll say it now, it was worth my time and $30 for the Dam Tour. 

After going through a security check point, me and the Wreck were permitted passage across the top of the dam. I parked in Arizona and walked back to Nevada. My first impression of the Dam was "there's a lot of concrete below me." 

Hoover Dam Fun Fact Number One: A two lane 4,000 mile highway (San Francisco to New York) could have been constructed with the concrete used to create this monstrous river impediment. 

After going through a second security check, similar to an airport screening, I purchased my tour ticket. (No AAA or AARP discounts). 

It's a one hour tour split up between the hydroelectric power plant and the Dam itself. The guides glazed over the historical significance of the Dam, so I'll fill you in.

Construction began during the Great Depression (1931). Folks were desperate for employment. (In other words, the opposite of me). Men were willing to chance it all for a livable wage. Over a 100 people died in the dam's construction. Most of them from working in poorly ventilated tunnels containing high concentrations of carbon monoxide. (OSHA wasn't established until 1971). Work went on around the clock like a Walmart Supermarket. The project came in under budget and completed two years ahead of schedule. 

The Bureau of Reclamation's voice boxes spoke the truth about the Dam's purpose. To provide cheap water for agricultural use. (80%) Sure, we all need to eat, but much of those precious acre-feet (the amount of water to cover an acre, one-foot deep) of liquid is wasted on low value water intensive crops. I.E. Cotton, hay and alfalfa. Pecan trees are wetted down in the desert too! That's just wrong! 

As far as hydroelectric generated capabilities, Walter the guide was honest as well, "about one million households" worth of electrons. Not that impressive a number when the lower basin states contains over 20 million electricity users. 

Please, don't get me going about the Dam's benefits of flood control. By placing homes, gardens and businesses in a flood plain, you are running a risk.The long term odds are against you. How long can you tread water?

On the Dam building portion of the tour, Hal the guide spoke about the spillways. "In case of big water years, the extra volume would  be diverted around the Dam. It wouldn't be overtopped. The spillways can move two Niagara Falls amount of water together" 

(About 400,000 cubic feet/second). There's speculation the Colorado River ran at half million CF/S in rare pre-Dam years. 

I then asked if the big water year of 1983 caused cavitation in the spillways. "Yes, there was damage." I know that's an understatement. The overflow spigots was spitting out concrete and chunks of canyon walls. Fortunately, the ridiculous flow abated before a catastrophic failure occurred. The photo below shows the 1983 "bathtub ring" watermark very well. 

BTW: The spillways bypass tunnels are 50 feet in diameter. That's a huge orifice. 

Moral of this blog? Anything mankind can do, Mother Nature is capable of undoing. She's patient and way more powerful than we are. 

For two great reads on this subject check out: John McPhee's "The Control of Nature."
And "The Emerald Mile" by Kevin Fedarko.

I could only aspire to write as well as these fine authors. 

Use water responsibly. In the Southwest of America, it's a highly prized commodity. 

Last fun fact: The Colorado River has been involved in more court battles than any other waterway in the World. In the Southwest, whiskey's for drinking, water's for fighting. 

I'm escaping from Las Vegas today.