Who has access to the West?

… and how does it change our views of this place?

 

Paul Larmer/High Country News

“On the Road to 50” is an ongoing series of the publisher and editor's notes to our readers, as they travel the region and plan for our 50th anniversary – through community gatherings, individual meetings, and other listening sessions.

If you’re looking for solitude in the increasingly crowded West, I recommend avoiding interstates and airports, especially right before Christmas. That’s when I found myself motoring alone on Utah State Route 95 through Bears Ears National Monument, on a roundabout way from western Colorado to family in Tucson, Arizona.There was not another soul at Butler Wash, where I crutched a half-mile through patches of icy snow to the overlook. There, above a tree-lined creek, Ancestral Puebloan dwellings basked in the slanting afternoon sunlight. It looked downright cozy, but I imagined living here 800 years ago, and wondered whether I, a disabled middle-aged man, would have made it. Nope.

Later that day, I reached Natural Bridges National Monument, a geological marvel formed by the inexorable force of water cutting through stone. The two other cars at the visitor center must have belonged to the two Park Service employees inside. 

“How much to get into the park?” I asked. “$20,” said the cheery woman behind the desk, “but you may qualify for a pass.” She pointed to a sign that said, “America the Beautiful Pass, permanently disabled, free.” A free lifetime pass for every park? I have wandered the West for 40 years now, but this was news to me. And, she added, it was good for all kinds of discounts.

Sold. I used my new “access pass” card that day, and then the next at Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park, where rainbow-colored crystals from 200 million-year-old stone trees littered the dry hills.

But I’m conflicted. “For U.S. citizens or permanent residents,” the card says, “medically determined to have a permanent disability that severely limits one or more major life activities.” My condition, a congenital anomaly that has shortened and deformed my legs, is permanent. I have back pain from a lifetime of asymmetric sitting. I will never run a marathon or climb Mount Washington. Occasionally, when I see photos of myself, I think, “I really am short and funny-looking.” But all told, I’ve had it pretty damn good, with the help of a loving family, and the privilege of being a white male in America. I’ve had a great career and helped raise two healthy adult kids. I am fit, with no severe limitations in sight. Do I really deserve this card?

How do our disabilities and abilities, inextricably linked, change our views of the West?

In 2016, the American Communities Survey identified 12.8% of the U.S. population as disabled. People with disabilities are employed at half the rate of those without, and those who do work earn on average about two-thirds the salary. As I motored on, I wondered: Who deserves access to the wonders of this world? Who actually gets it, and why? And how do our disabilities and abilities, inextricably linked, change our views of the West?

High Country News has asked such questions for 50 years now, and we plan to keep doing so in the years ahead.  I look forward to the journey, and to everyone who helps us along the way.

Paul Larmer is the publisher and executive director of High Country News. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.

High Country News Classifieds
  • OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    We are a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration....
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Come work alongside everyday Montanans to project our clean air, water, and build thriving communities! Competitive salary, health insurance, pension, generous vacation time and sabbatical....
  • CAMPAIGN MANAGER
    Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to protecting, defending and restoring Oregon's high desert, seeks a Campaign Manager to works as...
  • HECHO DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVE, COLUMBIA CASCADES
    The Regional Representative serves as PCTA's primary staff on the ground along the trail working closely with staff, volunteers, and nonprofit and agency partners. This...
  • FINANCE AND OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    The Montana Land Reliance (MLR) seeks a full-time Finance and Operations Director to manage the internal functions of MLR and its nonprofit affiliates. Key areas...
  • DIRECTOR OF CONSERVATION
    The Nature Conservancy is recruiting for a Director of Conservation. Provides strategic leadership and support for all of the Conservancy's conservation work in Arizona. The...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • BIG BASIN SENIOR PROJECT PLANNER - CLIMATE ADAPTATION & RESILIENCE
    Parks California Big Basin Senior Project Planner - Climate Adaptation & Resilience ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is a new organization working to ensure that our...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • SCIENCE PROJECT MANAGER
    About Long Live the Kings (LLTK) Our mission is to restore wild salmon and steelhead and support sustainable fishing in the Pacific Northwest. Since 1986,...
  • HUMAN RESOURCES GENERALIST
    Honor the Earth is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate based on identity. Indigenous people, people of color, Two-Spirit or LGBTQA+ people,...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Colorado Trout Unlimited seeks an individual with successful development experience, strong interpersonal skills, and a deep commitment to coldwater conservation to serve as the organization's...
  • NEW BOOK BY AWARD-WINNING WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, BRUCE SMITH
    In a perilous place at the roof of the world, an orphaned mountain goat is rescued from certain death by a mysterious raven.This middle-grade novel,...
  • DESCHUTES LAND TRUST VOLUNTEER PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Deschutes Land Trust is seeking an experienced Volunteer Program Manager to join its dedicated team! Deschutes Land Trust conserves and cares for the lands...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Now hiring a full-time, remote Program Director for the Society for Wilderness Stewardship! Come help us promote excellence in the professional practice of wilderness stewardship,...
  • WYOMING COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS COORDINATOR
    The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is seeking Coordinator to implement public education and advocacy campaigns in the Cowboy State to unite and amplify hunter, angler,...
  • ASSISTANT TOWN ATTORNEY
    Town of Jackson, Wyoming, $66,700 - $88,000 DOQ, full benefits. Law Degree Required. Rental housing options available. For a complete job description and to apply,...
  • MOUNTAIN LOTS FOR SALE
    Multiple lots in gated community only 5 miles from Great Sand Dunes National Park. Seasonal flowing streams. Year round road maintenance.
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...