Tag Archives: Off-Roaders

Protect Gold Butte

Most of you have never heard of it, but northeast of Las Vegas, in one of the least-visited parts of the continental United States, a desert treasure in Nevada needs your support.

I visited Gold Butte for the first time in 1997. I was just passing through, heading for a tiny outpost in the Arizona Strip called Pakoon Springs, which later became part of the Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument. A fire there had damaged a Joshua tree forest some years before, and I wanted to take a look at the recovery so far. My old truck carried me up over the slopes of Virgin Peak and across the state line, where I took some photos that turned out to be abysmally fuzzy. Joshua tree near Pakoon Springs, AZ (The fire had burned patches of the landscape, but not all of it. Much of it looked intact. In this shot, taken facing eastward into the Arizona Strip, the long ridge in the background is the Grand Wash Cliffs escarpment. The notch in the Cliffs toward the right? That’s the downstream end of a rather famous natural landscape feature. )

My old truck was a four-cylinder 2WD, so my relief at not getting stuck in the Pakoon’s washes was considerable, and I headed back across the line into Gold Butte to explore the Whitney Pockets area for a little while. I’ve always meant to get back to Virgin Peak and do some hiking, like these folks did:

It’s one of the best places I’ve ever been. It’s wild, wide, open, and spacious. Gold Butte is a botanical, geological, and archaeological treasure. It’s priceless habitat for desert tortoise and bighorn sheep. It’s also within a couple hours’ drive from two fast-growing cities — the metastasopolis of Las Vegas, and the smaller but even more enthusiastically desert-defacing St. George, Utah — and the almost-city of Mesquite NV. As a result, those who use the desert as a blank slate across which to scratch their grubby fingernails pose a significant and increasing threat to the landscape:

And unlike the Pakoon and other adjacent lands across the Arizona line in the Parashant NM, Gold Butte is essentially unprotected.

Nevada environmentalists and land managers are working with local elected officials to change that. Last year Representative Shelley Berkley introduced HR 7132, a bill that would have given Gold Butte National Conservation Area status, like the Red Rock Canyon area on the other side of Las Vegas. The NCA would have covered 362,177 acres, with 200,000 more acres of BLM and Park Service lands in the area declared wilderness. The bill did not pass, and must be reintroduced in this theoretically more receptive Congress.

The Nevada Wilderness Project has an action site where you can find ways to help them protect Gold Butte, from writing letters to sharing your hard-earned cash.  The Friends of Gold Butte has a website and a companion blog where you can stay informed, and if you’re in the area, there are events listed in which you can take part.

And if you’re not a local, you can still let people know Gold Butte exists. It’s one of the last best places, a forgotten puzzle piece in the Grand Canyon biome, and it deserves protection.

1,000-mile OHV atrocity in Nevada: more info

Basin and Range Watch has the authoritative description of just how destructive the so-called “Best in the Desert Vegas to Reno Off-Highway Race.

Talk about your insult to injury, with that title. These yahoos wouldn’t know the best of the desert if it pitched them off their motorized phallus replacements and into a patch of cholla.

A thousand-mile swath of destruction?

The ORV boosters are pushing an event that could be more destructive than the infamous Barstow to Vegas Race, banned a dozen years ago.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Tonopah Field Office, will conduct an environmental review and hold two public meetings to gather public comments on a proposed off-highway race.

The race, planned for August 20-22, 2009, is called the “Best in the Desert Vegas to Reno Off-Highway Race” and covers 1,000 miles of Nevada’s high desert. It begins north of Pahrump and runs through Beatty, Tonopah and Hawthorne before finishing southeast of Dayton.

The Best in the Desert Racing Association, which is seeking a special recreation permit from the BLM to conduct the race, bills it as the “greatest long-distance, off-road event in this decade on U.S. soil.”

As many as 350 vehicles could be entered, including motorcycles, ATVs, dune buggies, high clearance SUVs and 4×4 trucks. The race route uses a combination of existing smooth and rough dirt roads on public lands in Nye, Esmeralda, Mineral, Lyon, and Douglas counties.

The full press release, from the pro-ORV Blue Ribbon Coalition, is below the fold. Some of the proposed route would apparently follow the Amargosa River, under consideration for Wild and Scenic status.

Kinda gives the lie to the whining from the ORV set about how they’re being squeezed off our public lands. Apparently they want every square inch.

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Keep ORVs out of NV wilderness areas

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Yes, this is Nevada. Castle Lakes in the Ruby Mountains Wilderness.

From our friends at the Center for Biological Diversity. The link on “please submit your comments” goes to one of those automated letter-sending sites. It’ll take less than two minutes of your time. (But feel free to take more and customize the letter.)

     

  The northeastern part of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest is nothing short of spectacular, with rocky peaks soaring over 11,000 feet that contain stands of white-bark pine and limber pine, pristine wet meadows, and springs. The lower elevations harbor piñon and juniper forests and diverse sagebrush meadows.

        All this could change if off-road vehicles are allowed to rip up the landscape.

        Your voice is needed: More than 1.1 million acres of national forest lands in northern Nevada are threatened by off-road vehicle abuse. The Jarbridge, Mountain City, and Ruby Mountain ranger districts are conducting travel management planning to decide where off-road vehicles will be allowed to roam. There are three designated Wildernesses in these districts -the Jarbridge, East Humboldt, and Ruby Mountain -and they are among the most wild and least visited in the Wilderness system. Abutting and protecting the character of these Wildernesses are dozens of Inventoried Roadless Areas, at risk of being destroyed and degraded by the decisions made in this planning effort.

        Please take action now by telling the Forest Service that you are one of many who care about protecting our national forests and reducing the number of roads in the Humboldt-Toiyabe. A sample letter is below [below the fold-CC], and we urge you to add a personal story, example, or concern to your message so that the Forest Service is compelled to listen. Please submit your comments by February 20.

 

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Thrillcraft: The threat of motorized recreation

Via Terry Weiner of the Desert Protective Council, this short documentary by George Wuerthner on the threat to our public lands of dirtbikes, off-trail 4X4s, jetskis, quads, dune buggies, and other expensive playthings of the lazy elite. The documentary serves as promotion for Wuerthner’s book of the same name.

(NB: Late in the documentary is a short but unnecessary reference to the “obesity crisis” in the US, a false note and beside the point. Able-bodied skinny people need to haul their lazy asses out of the driver’s seat too.)

 

 

Coyote Crossing’s floors are getting knuckle-scuffed

Coyote Crossing has been discovered by a couple of off-roader sites, and I’ve had to throw comments into moderation to keep the worst and most badly misspelled comments from sullying our comment threads. I’ve been approving the ones that are merely completely wrong. And even though it didn’t make the cut, I had to admit I enjoyed the one from “4X4Life” that started off:

Congratulations your a moron.

The down side of this is that comments from non-yahoos will be sent into moderation as well. I apologize for this and will approve your comments as fast as I can.

The up side is that every visit to this site boosts its rank on the Nature Blog Network’s toplist, and so by linking to Coyote Crossing, the off-roaders are making this site more prominent, thus bringing a realistic viewpoint on this insanely destructive, utterly indefensible pastime of sociopaths to far more people. Funny, that. 

In Hagen Canyon

It makes no sound. If it did the wind would mask it, keening through the sere canyon. Look the wrong way and your mouth fills with dust, with flecks of gravel. It is constant, the wind, and it raises whistles across the crenellated canyon walls. One must almost shout to be heard above the wind.

It does not shout. It does not whisper.

It does have a voice. There are times that voice is the loudest thing around. The skies open up, they glower, and a sheen grows on the cliffs. The whole valley gathers it and it rages, drowns the canyon floor, drowns the wind. It carves the rock like clay slip under a knife. It churns up bones, the remains of monsters dead 13 million years, and scatters them down toward the dry lake. Sometimes its voice is the world ending.

Today is a bright dry day in March, and the Hagen Canyon watershed is mute. Rain has not fallen for some weeks.

Hiking in the canyon is not as deadly as a few timid souls would claim:

How many of you desert riders have ever seen a hiker anywhere????  If you are on foot, you are going to die out there!

…but it is thirsty work. The sand in the bone-dry wash shifts beneath your feet, and walking uphill is strenuous enough as it is. The wash is braided, the ghosts of floods long past marked in old scours, fossil plunge pools.

It flows silent, unseen, an unremembered dream beneath the desert’s harsh waking surface.

Once the rock here flowed like water. It seared the grassland, incinerated the old river delta, killed everything in its path. It cooled and the earth healed over, built new lake above the old. Basalt is harder than the lakebed sediments. Its outcrops run for miles across the desert, cliffs of dark rock exposed as their mantling sediment is washed away. A basalt outcrop cuts this canyon in two, a sheer hundred-foot wall and narrow chokepoint separating lower canyon from upper.

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Basalt is impervious to water. The chokepoint is a dam across the dry wash, and the Hagen Canyon Watershed—unseen, untasted save by those that live beneath two meters of sand—is forced to the surface. It finds the lowest point in the wall of basalt, a niche in the clifftop above a precarious sandy shelf.

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It flows over the wall, one drop per minute.

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Stand there long enough and you will see it carve the canyon deeper, the seep’s slow rasp and the flash flood’s scour in turn. Ten thousand years should do it.

The management of Red Rock State Park is weighing the possibility of opening more of its lands to those timid souls, like the one quoted above, who fear meeting the desert on its own terms, who cannot venture out into it without their gas-powered security blankets. Whether or not Hagen Canyon is open to them legally, they would come here. One would need to strain to hear the constant wind over their din. Their exhaust stench would mask the fragrance of sun-warmed basalt, the wind-driven smell of baking rabbitbrush fringing the wash at the base of this dry fall, stretching downhill and east toward the dry lake.

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[To do something about it: go to Larry Hogue’s post here.]

No. Just… No.

Via Larry Hogue and DesertBlog:

California’s Red Rock Canyon State Park, a resource-rich and stunningly beautiful park in the El Paso Mountains of the Mojave Desert, is now threatened with becoming yet another ORV-ruined landscape. These desert canyon-lands, which were supposed to receive “maximum protection” when they were transferred to State Parks in Senator Dianne Feinstein’s 1994 Desert Protection Act, are about to become ground zero in a face-off between traditional park users and off-road interests.

I’ve written about Red Rock Canyon a few times. It’s a beautiful place. It needs to be left alone.

Larry has more info.

Surprise Canyon

There’s snow on Telescope Peak right now. We saw it from the spot we hiked to in Red Rock Canyon State Park this afternoon, my first visit in years. (The Raven and I sat for a time where Zeke and I sat one night long ago.) And then a few hours later on the road near Randsburg we saw it again, snow mantling the highest point in Death Valley National Park, eleven thousand feet and change. The peak looks down to the flat at Badwater, 282 feet below sea level.

The western Mojave is oddly green right now. Snow settled on the ground last week and melted slow, feeding the grasses and the exotic filaree, the tickseed. The snow on Telescope Peak may melt this week or not until March. Some of the meltwater will run down Hanaupah Canyon toward the floor of Death Valley, will mingle with the hypersaline groundwater there. And some will run off toward the Panamint Valley through Surprise Canyon, which holds one of just a few perennial streams in the DVNP.

Surprise Canyon, copyright Center for Biological Diversity

What do you see when you look at this photo of Surprise Canyon? A place to sit and rest? Rugged walls on which to clamber? I see an oasis, a cool moist island in a sea of creosote and desert varnish. A desert hiker might see rescue in the water.

Off-roaders see a place to drive.

It takes less time and effort to walk this canyon than to force your way through by vehicle, leaking motor oil and antifreeze into the water, digging up silt beds and damaging the plants. The only possible reason to drive the canyon instead of walking it is to express one’s contempt for the canyon as it is.

Each vehicle winched up those falls is a mechanized “fuck you” to the desert.

The canyon has been closed to vehicular traffic for some time, and earlier this month the Interior Department reaffirmed the ban after appeals from off-roaders. The off-roaders are predictably upset. On one 4X4 discussion board, the first post in reaction to the decision threatened violence:

Its looking like we are going to have to break the law and just on the trails we want to and do it armed.

They will defend their claimed right to literally run over a desert oasis at gunpoint.

It gets clearer and clearer to me, though I fight the festering conviction in my heart. Two species of human, Homo sapiens and Homo phobiens. One tries to understand the world it lives in. The other indignantly defends its god-given right to shit where it eats.

Review: Trespass, Amy Irvine

It’s not surprising that Amy Irvine’s erstwhile neighbors in Utah’s San Juan County have supplied some of the harshest online reviews of her book Trespass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land, released earlier this year.  They don’t all come off well in Irvine’s retelling. San Juan County, nestled down in Utah’s slickrock southeastern corner, is one of the hardest-ribbed conservative parts of the US. The county is essentially a theocracy. If non-Mormons are not actually shunned there, neither are they really able to become an accepted part of the community.

Irvine is herself at least technically a Mormon, the child of a Jack Mormon mother and an atheist father, long-since lapsed but not yet excommunicated. Even she had trouble fitting in when she moved there in 2000, reeling from her alcoholic father’s suicide, hoping the desert would offer healing, or at least solace. As other not-exactly-shunned locals put it to her, if your ancestors didn’t come through the Hole In The Rock — hadn’t been part of the original Mormon pioneers who blasted an unlikely road through the Escalante — you’re unlikely ever to be accepted in Monticello or Blanding, even if you have an impeccable Mormon pedigree. Irvine’s alienated tenure in San Juan County proved this true, in a way. Her great-to-the-nth grandfather, Howard Egan, was Brigham Young’s right-hand man, or at least one of a few. His descendant was still an outsider in San Juan County.

Of course, her profession didn’t help. When she moved from northern Utah to Monticello, Irvine worked for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. An effective advocate for the redrock wilderness, SUWA enjoys much the same regard among rural southern Utahns that PETA does in the dogfighting community. Add into the mix that Irvine’s paramour is an environmentalist lawyer specializing in land use, and you pretty much have a recipe for shunning.

Irvine did in fact encounter a communal cold shoulder of varying politeness in San Juan County, and Trespass is in part the story of that evolving interaction. But Irvine rises above the predictable and cloying denouements to which most Stranger in a Strange Land storytelling succumbs. There is no climax to the conflict here, and no cloying realization of the other side’s humanity presented as a happy ending. Irvine does present her neighbors as fully human. The laundromat cowboy who launches into an anti-environmentalist tirade at Irvine proves friendly when Irvine refuses to back away from the argument. A neighbor apologizes within minutes for an “unChristian” outburst on meeting her. Another neighbor drives up to Irvine and a hiking friend all smiles, then explodes in derisive anger when the friend mildly suggests he refrain from further driving on the pre-Columbian archaeological site on which he’s currently parked.

She isn’t an innocent victim in the community’s regard for her. Irvine can be abrasive, if perhaps rightly so. After a lifetime of ambivalence toward the Mormon patriarchy and growing bitterness toward the Church’s sexism and the conformity it encouraged, Irvine berates a pair of condescending Mormon “elders” — youth missionaries — who arrive at her door in Monticello:

“… Come back and preach at me,” I bellow, “when you’ve made love — to someone other than each other. When you’ve seen death. When you’ve walked — not driven — across the desert”

(“To someone other than each other” was Irvine’s jab at the widely-alleged circle-jerk sexual explorations of the elders, who are officially forbidden romantic pairing.)

Irvine takes pains to distinguish among the diverse “other side.” The irascible ranchers aren’t the same as the energy industry behemoths, and neither of them are the same as the Mad-Max-style ORV thugs who run down another friend of Irvine’s while trespassing on private land. When a rancher finds a mining proposal would dry up his grazing allotment, he pleads with Irvine’s partner to stop the mine in court, but refuses to sign onto the suit for fear his name and the environmentalists’ will be linked in the local public eye. Irvine offers a clear look at the shifting politics in this corner of the New West, and Trespass is worth reading for this reason alone.

There’s much more to the book, though, than a simple memoir of moving to a new neighborhood.

Irvine is a seeker, one of that annoying breed of people who insist on mining everyday interactions for deeper meaning. Those interactions can be interpersonal, or between a person and a community, or between a woman and her remembered past, or between a human being and the non-human landscape: to a seeker, the superficial context of the interaction doesn’t really matter. There is thus no clear line, in Irvine’s writing, between the landscapes outside and inside her skin.

The result is prose of surprising depth, an intimate honesty. There are simple, unadorned declarations throughout the book that provoke double-takes, then open up chasms in the reader’s gut: A straightforward mention of moments of violence in her relationship. A neutral observation about her realization that her father’s suicide followed not too long after she’d published, in a national magazine, an article that cast him in a less-than-favorable light.

There are also a few passages in Trespass that make a person want to sit down and have a long talk with Irvine about the assumptions she hasn’t questioned. A reflection on her alienation from her past and concurrent and (she decides) connected hormonal imbalance veers into a gender-essentialist mini-rant on androgyny as a byproduct of toxic civilization, concluding with the revelation that the macho thug who ran her friend down was actually female. It’s no revelation that women can be thugs, after all. The brief meditation on this particular thug’s androgyny is disappointing, coming as it does from a writer who would seem, as a feminist and sorta-Mormon, an environmental radical and scion of ranchers, predisposed to sensitivity toward people who don’t fit neatly into externally imposed categories.

Irvine is more useful in her description of the ORV mob when she describes the role they play in the landscape:

“These people are not the hardworking, mild-mannered, modest, and polite version of Mormons that I grew up with, nor are they like the folks of San Juan County.  These are hybrids—the new West…They may or may not go to church, but they lack my father’s genteelness, and they definitely don’t ride horses or run cows.  They are extreme recreationists—the same type who own the big powerful boats and high-powered personal watercraft that now dominate Lake Powell.  And, more than any rancher, they hate environmentalists.  I can’t help thinking that they embody what may be the Last Days in Deseret—not in a Christ-returns kind of way, but in terms of what the landscape can withstand.”

The occasional and unnecessary blind spot aside, the result of Irvine’s commitment to gentle honesty is that her writing is every bit as critical of the writer as it is of people like the San Juan County rancher she describes who — without saying a word — drew a gun and shot a dog belonging to one of Irvine’s friends, who’d been been hiking peacefully on public land just a few feet away from its master.

There’s a tendency in environmental writing these days, and in fact in much writing in general, to identify enemies and blast away at them. It doesn’t matter whether those enemies be people, groups, or schools of thought. Sometimes the temptation to hold forth on absolute right and wrong is too much to bear, and shooting from the hip seems the only appropriate response. Irvine gets this, and reminds us that there are very few easy answers, and very few people who are completely right. In Trespass, she offers a remarkably courageous honesty and self-examination as an alternative to such overwhelming self-righteousness. It doesn’t matter how justified you’re sure you are: there’s always the chance the dire enemy of the moment will turn out, in retrospect, to have been a happy dog on a hike.