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Know the West

Dear Friends


Now hear this

The half-hour Radio High Country News is expanding. Starting this month, the interview program that takes the West as its beat can be heard in Carbondale, Colo., on KDNK, Mondays at 4:30 p.m.; in Taos, N.M., and Alamosa, Colo., on KRZA, Fridays at 7 p.m.; and in Telluride, Colo., on KOTO, Tuesdays at 6:l5 p.m. The show is produced at KVNF, which covers Western Colorado, and can be heard there at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays. If you'd like to hear Radio High Country News on your public radio station, e-mail producer Adam Burke ([email protected]) with your station's call letters and location, and he'll send a tape to the station manager. Or call your station and tell them about us. Thanks for your help.

Summer visitors

Richard Furnoy of Granite Bay, Calif., wandered into Paonia over the Fourth of July weekend in an attempt to understand what High Country News was doing here. He had graduated from Paonia High School 70 years ago, and hadn't lived here since.

"I saw a copy of your paper years ago, and I couldn't imagine a one-horse town like Paonia having a progressive newspaper. But I see the town has changed. California, here you come."

The former schoolteacher stopped working 23 years ago, and he recommends retirement to those looking for a satisfying career. "It's the best job I ever had."

Laurel Jones and Liane Jollon, both from Tucson and both between jobs, came through, trying to escape their city's heat. After a hot day in Paonia, they decided to head farther north. Laurel had been a program assistant at a Tucson synagogue and Liane worked for the Desert Museum.

Carl and Irma Christenson of La Caûada, Calif., stopped by on their way to a family wedding to say hello, and to buy a copy of Charles Wilkinson's Fire on the Plateau and HCN's 30th anniversary T-shirt.

Richard and Nan Geer, newly of Blaine, Wash., came through on the way to their cabin above Eldora, Colo. Nan is a Free Church Unitarian minister.

Congratulations to subscriber Arnie Valdez on being chosen as one of 10 Loeb Fellows for 1999-2000 at Harvard University's Design School. He has been land-use administrator and planning director for Costilla County, in Colorado's San Luis Valley.

The Sullivan seminar

Don Sullivan came through the HCN office innocently enough, to pay $30 and extend his subscription by 30 issues, and then got trapped into giving a seminar on the geology and climate history of Colorado's Grand Mesa.

Sullivan, a professor of geography at Denver University, says the Grand Mesa is described by chambers of commerce in western Colorado as the "highest flat-top mountain in the world." It is high, at about 11,000 feet, but not because it has been uplifted by subterranean forces. Instead, the mesa stayed in place while the world fell away from it. Ten million years ago, this towering mass was the lowest-lying land in west-central Colorado. So when lava flowed out of rifts in the earth, the liquid rock accumulated over what is now the Grand Mesa.

During the millennia that followed, the parts of the valley that were not capped by the hardened lava eroded, and today the mesa stands 5,000 to 6,000 feet above the Gunnison River Valley to its south and the Colorado River Valley to the north.

The geology of the Grand Mesa is just background for Sullivan. He's interested in a few long-lived lakes on the top and sides of the mesa - lakes that have been accumulating pollen, mineral sediment and organic carbon and thereby recording the mesa's temperature and precipitation over the last 20,000 years.

To read that record, Sullivan and his students go up onto the Grand Mesa in the winter to drill through the ice that covers the small lakes and extract core samples from the lake bottoms. The cores are hauled back to Denver, where Sullivan and his students pry out their secrets. Thus far, they have found that the Grand Mesa's climate has been fluctuating strongly for all of the 20,000 years, somewhat in step with the earth's fluctuating path around the sun and the changes of the tilt of its axis relative to the sun.

The geometric changes, combined with interactions between the earth's atmosphere and its oceans, are believed to drive the earth's temperature. Cores taken from Greenland, for example, show that 9,000 years ago temperatures were about 5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer over North America than they are today. Sullivan is learning what the temperatures over the Grand Mesa were back then.

In addition to being a scientist, Sullivan is something of an entrepreneur. To supplement his science grants, he gets grassroots support from Harold Harvey, proprietor of the Mesa Lakes Lodge. When Sullivan and his students show up (Sullivan was accompanied on this trip by DU junior Chad Lane), Harvey provides them with sleds, skis, snowshoes and sometimes snow machines to get them to the lake through country that can get nine feet of snow, and back again to their vehicles.

Although the cores they extract from the lake bottoms are compressed data sources, with 1.5 inches representing a century, they are cumbersome.

The longest core thus far, Sullivan said, is almost 25 feet, and represents 20,000 years. While Sullivan is a patient person, he isn't so patient that he looks at every past year's temperature. Thirty-year intervals, he says, is close enough. The data should be useful to people who use computer models to predict climate change. They can use it to see how well their models predict past work before they set it to work on the future.


Gunnison, Colo., attorney Dick Bratton tells us that we had a number wrong in the July 5, 1999, article on wilderness developer Tom Chapman. The article said that Chapman paid $240,000 for 240 acres of land within the West Elk Wilderness. Bratton says he paid the land's owner, Bob Minerich, $960,000. Chapman then traded the 240 acres to the Forest Service for land in Telluride.

Bratton said he represented Minerich on the West Elk property, and that he worked hard for a year seeking to strike a deal with the Forest Service, including a trade for land on the edge of the West Elk, instead of within it. But the agency, in Bratton's view, was not helpful. In the end, Minerich, who Bratton said did not want to get into extended litigation, decided to sell the inholding to Chapman.

* Ed Marston for the staff