Snowplows in June
Summer in this 6,000-foot mountain valley unofficially arrived July 5; up until then snow fell and dusted the West Elk Mountains overnight, and something called rain dripped every other day. The air felt more like October. Finally, 90-degree heat moved in - this was more like it! - though we could still enjoy reading newspapers like the Hungry Horse News near Glacier National Park in Montana. It recounted stories of neighbors helping neighbors fight floods and community notes which began: "Don't you enjoy those sounds of summer this year? Like birds singing, lawnmowers mowing and snowplows plowing? ... That's right, mow the yard one day and shovel snow off it the next."
Beam them in
High Country News has something to crow about this year: surviving mostly on sheer grit for a quarter of a century. We're planning a 25th-anniversary get-together Sept. 9 in the paper's birthplace, Lander, Wyo., and need to invite those former interns whose whereabouts are unknown to us. If you can help locate the following interns, we'd be grateful: Annie Turner, pre-1979; Genny Dodd, 1979; Dale Roberts, 1981; Jennifer Walford, 1982; Jess Funk, 1983; Dan Gorham, 1983; Lisa McKhann, 1985; Jane Coumantaros, 1986; Michael Kustudia, 1986; Gus Wilmerding, 1988; Kevin Lee Lopez, 1988; Tom Mullen, 1988; Lisa Rathke, 1990; and Amy Onderdonk, 1991.
'I was a Sherpa for MTV'
Former HCN intern Shara Rutberg, now visiting home in Philadelphia, Pa., sent us a note recently about her experience as a Sherpa during the much-hyped EcoChallenge Utah '95. The 10-day endurance race, from April 25-May 6, combined biking, paddling and horseback riding, among other means of moving, for which Shara had a back-row seat as driver of a support vehicle. Here is her report:
Public protest had turned the volume up on sponsor MTV's desert assault; in fact, the Bureau of Land Management was pummeled by more comments than on any other issue in southern Utah. Protesters included presidents of the Audubon Society and Wyoming's National Outdoor Leadership School, writer Terry Tempest Williams and Patagonia company founder Yvon Chouinard. The outcry forced big changes in the original course, although public-land managers won't know for months about any lasting impacts.
From what I saw, the EcoChallenge didn't need to be run in sensitive sections of the Utah desert. But once state officials invited the race organizers in, outdoor recreation planners from the BLM were forced to scramble to keep up. Agency planner Jaynee Levy said race staff "had absolutely no idea of the environmental climate here," where wilderness designation is an issue explosive enough to warrant TV coverage on its own.
"The Los Angeles folks just helicoptered in with a set plan of where they wanted to go before consulting with us," Levy said.
Athletic teams came from around the world, and craving more pain than you can find in the average triathlon, paid $7,500 per team to tough it out Utah desert-style. For this was Edward Abbey land, famous for splendid rock shapes and eerie solitude. The solitude was smashed by 500 racers and crew members stirring up clouds of dust. Before the race began, organizers recommended Abbey's Desert Solitaire to the athletes. Their other helpful advice: Don't ride the horses over cattle guards.
During the race, I'd occasionally look up over the row of portable potties, the news vans' satellite hookups and the lawyers' recreational vehicles to enjoy a glimpse of the legendary desert scenery.
Few of the athletes found time. The running leg of the race resembled a MASH unit with army tents and choppers flying in and out rescuing dehydrated athletes, plus some members of the press. Medical tents were crowded with mangled feet as competitors, looking progressively worse, stumbled in limping and filthy. Athletes might better have sported sponsor patches from Pepto-Bismol than PowerBar. Diarrhea-suffering competitors stopped along the race often, but not to enjoy the scenery.
Who won? At the finish line at Bullfrog Marina on Lake Powell, nestled among RVs and houseboats, the first team to paddle canoes ashore was professional and French. Fewer than 20 percent of the 50 teams finished with all five members; many pooped out early.
As for Shara Rutberg, "I ended up with a sore back, some leftover turkey jerky and a story about how public outrage can lessen the damage from an event that shouldn't have been held there in the first place."
Middle school teachers Joel Gilbert and Jerry Appel from El Paso, Texas, stopped in just before an evening meeting of a community (no) growth committee. They were "driving through small towns on small roads for a week, with no wives."
That same week Ike and Sharon Eastvold talked to staff for a half-hour or so about the decade-long and continuing fight to protect Petroglyph National Monument from Albuquerque's subdivisions and road-building. Ike, who volunteers for Petroglyph full time, and Sharon, a school speech pathologist, were taking a four-week vacation through a very wet and green West. We assured the couple this was not normal.
Fresh from a straw-bale construction workshop in nearby Carbondale, Colo., Matts Myhrman and Judy Knox came by with several copies of the couple's newsletter, The Last Straw, based at their home at 1037 East Linden St., Tucson, AZ 85719. Matts makes no bones about his love of puns: The couple's publishing company is called Out on Bale (Un)Ltd., and ongoing columns in their fact-filled, 20-page publication include "The Baley Pulpit" and "Beyond Bales." The summer issue features profiles of dozens of women who decided to build homes with straw bales.
Lynne Horning stopped by to say she's opening a new bookstore in Telluride, Colo. Her son, John, a former HCN intern, works for the environmental group Forest Guardians in Santa Fe, N.M. On their way to Telluride for the Bluegrass Festival, came Annie Sirotniak and Jeff Berman from Boulder, Colo. Lisa Breckenridge and John Rodakowski stopped by on their way from New Mexico to Seattle, Wash., and former Paonia resident Don Johnston, son of Delta County Judge Dave Johnston and HCN staffer Rita Murphy, told us about his post-graduate work as a rafting guide down Chile's Bio Bio River, now threatened by a hydroelectric dam.
Reader Edmund A. Stanley in Oxford, Md., enclosed a note from Russell Train, chairman emeritus of the World Wildlife Fund, correcting a reference in Rocky Barker's reprise of the writing of the "endangered" Endangered Species Act (HCN, 5/15/95). One of the four officials drafting the act was not Charles "Chip" Bohlen but Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior Curtis "Buff" Bohlen. Chip, who served as an ambassador to Moscow among other posts, was Buff's uncle. We appreciate the correction.
Thanks and encouragement to writer Dennis Bitton in Idaho Falls, Idaho, as he plunges into a biography of novelist Vardis Fisher, who wrote 30-plus books, including a celebrated epic about Mormon Joseph Smith, called Children of God. Bitton tells us this is the 100th anniversary of Fisher's birth. And thanks to Butte, Mont., reader Larry Smith for sending HCN the Butte phone book and "a coupla issues' of Agri-News of Billings, Mont., which covers farmers and ranchers. He thanked us for skipping an issue of HCN.
And to publisher Siegfried Feller of Cartomania, thanks for the plaudits to our mapmaker extraordinaire, Diane Sylvain. He notes that her maps for Jon Christensen's special issue on the Great Basin avoided clutter and featured whimsical design. Cartomania, for map lovers, can be reached at 8 Amherst Road, Pelham, MA 81002 (413/253-3115).
* Betsy Marston for the staff
Snowplows in June