Once upon a time, substantial chunks of Utah, Wyoming and Colorado were to be the scene of massive industrial development. Oil shale, aka the "rock that burns," was to be mined and crushed, with the resulting hydrocarbons liquefied and then refined, freeing the U.S. from servitude to the Middle East.
It was to be gargantuan. In western Colorado, Exxon proposed diverting part of the Missouri River into the Colorado River, and scattering 50,000-person cities across the landscape. The residents of these shale towns were to service huge, rectangular pits. These pits were to literally "roll" across the West, because dirt would be dug out of the leading edge of the pit, processed, and then dumped at the rear of the pit.
Western Colorado was to be a "national sacrifice area," but those who lived here would live happily ever after, because we'd have well-paying jobs and every acre of land would be worth at least $10,000. It was the Western dream come true.
In response to the threat posed by oil companies backed by Jimmy Carter-era federal subsidies, most environmentalists concentrated on either all-out opposition or attempts to divert these moving pits from their favorite places.
Kevin Markey was an exception. The Grand Junction, Colo., staffer with Friends of the Earth under David Brower took the radical step of attempting to understand the inner workings of the energy industry, always with an eye to showing how things could be done better, or not done at all. He was a big-picture person who gloried in details, and he soon knew more about oil shale and its regulatory structure than most of the oil company executives and government officials he dealt with.
Perhaps thanks to his work, oil shale died a quicker death than it would otherwise have. In any case, that was long ago. Oil shale is now an arcane subject, flaring only occasionally in proposals to use it to pave roads.
The death of oil shale, at the hands of Exxon's board of directors on May 2, 1982, sent Kevin back to school, and when he came through Paonia recently with spouse Candice Miller in early January, he was Dr. Markey, an employee of Berdy Medical Systems, Inc., in Boulder, Colo., and a specialist in voice technologies.
Does he miss activism? No, says Kevin. He is not enthusiastic about much of today's environmental scene except for his former colleague, Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute, who continues to take an analytic approach to energy problems.
But Kevin does not rule out a return to environmental work. First, however, he needs to develop a system that may someday allow doctors examining a patient to dictate their observations, diagnoses and prescriptions to a computer for immediate transcription.
Jeff Lucas is a reader but not a subscriber, and that's been weighing on him. So when the Boulder resident found himself near Paonia, he came in to contribute to the Research Fund, "like paying your dues to public radio." He is a seasonal employee of the United States Forest Service.
Eliot Gerth and Kendra Robinson, along with Keith Kistler and Katie Cecil, stopped by for a quick chat while on their way to Crested Butte to ski. Their hometown, Roslyn, Wash., was the scenic backdrop for the television show "Northern Exposure." It may also have a new claim to fame: a 7,000-acre resort called "Trend West."
Harry "Skip" Edwards is one of two persons to receive the 1997 Sol Feinstone Environmental Award. The former river ranger for the Bureau of Land Management on the Westwater Canyon stretch of the Colorado was honored for his protection of an 1,800-acre piece of land threatened by mining (HCN, 10/16/95). Westwater is part of the larger struggle over the fate of wilderness lands in southern Utah. Friends of Westwater Canyon can be reached at: P.O. Box 2011, Grand Junction, CO 81501; 970/245-7613.
Margaret Murie of the Jackson Hole, Wyo., area was one of 15 Americans who received the Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton on Jan. 15. Her work helped bestow federal protection on millions of acres of Alaska wilderness.
Sharing the sheep
John and Diane Josephy Peavey (Diane is an HCN board member) are busy turning lemons into lemonade in the area around Ketchum, Idaho. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the couple is concerned that their sheep drives through the urbanizing area will be banned eventually because of traffic delays and road apples. So this fall, the Peaveys' created a "Trailing the Sheep" program, and more than 20 people "bundled up in winter clothes and walked for miles in chilly dawn temperatures behind a flock of 1,700 sheep."
The Peavys hope the event will become an annual one in the Wood River Valley. The 1997 event included a showing of photos and paintings of sheep at a local gallery.
But traffic is only part of the problem, said Diane, a few weeks after the couple had to go to an upscale house to retrieve a sheep that had tumbled through a window into the basement, doing some damage to a plush carpet. Sheep have a reputation for not being overly bright, but Diane believes this one may have been seeking refuge from a predator. So the next time you see a big house way out in the country, don't think of it as a trophy home: Think of it as a safehouse for sheep.
Cold weather intern
Winter intern J.T. Thomas gets around. "My symbol for the New Year is a stick of superglue," he says. "It will remind me to anchor my butt to a chair and write about the places I love to explore." After graduating from the University of Colorado in Boulder, J.T. taught wildlands studies field courses in McCarthy, Alaska, and wilderness canoeing for the Chewonki Foundation in Wiscasset, Maine. As a member of the International Honors Program, J.T. also spent a year traveling in Europe, Asia, New Zealand and Central America, where he studied sustainable development, sampled as many beers as his jet-lag would allow and collected antique tools.
Last summer, J.T., the Connecticut native visited High Country News on the way to an 18-day hike along the Continental Divide. The hike took him through the La Garita and Weminuche wilderness areas, and it was then, he says, that he decided Paonia would be his next adventure. Waxing poetic, he calls himself a "metaphorager," someone who deviates from a trail to forage for words in the backcountry. J.T. says this winter he's also looking forward to cooking in an actual kitchen and brewing a strong winter stout.
* Ed Marston for the staff