“Too often we have bartered away not only the land, but the very air and water. Too often we have sacrificed human values to commercial values under the bright guise of progress. And in our unconcern, we have let a crisis gather which threatens health and even life itself … Today, environmental questions are matters for architects and laymans alike. They are questions, literally, of life and death. Can we have a building boom and beauty too? Must progress inevitably mean a shabbier environment? Must success spoil nature’s bounty? Insistently and with growing volume, citizens demand that we turn our building to a sensible, human purpose. They are asking, literally, for a breath of fresh air.”
–Lady Bird Johnson
Not long ago, I reviewed Terry Tempest Williams Refuge on this blog: in short it was amazing and it made me cry. Back in December I also read When Women Were Birds which was similarly amazing (and I completely neglected to write a review here, I’m sorry!). I’ve been wanting to read The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography since it was released last year in time for the National Park Service centennial.
My personal relationships with the national parks is complicated given my love for lonesome spaces and lack of regulation combined with my dedication to adventuring with Sprocket. Because of that, I didn’t get deeply into the centennial. I adored Ken Burns’s documentary of the National Parks and I highly value them as an American asset, I’m just more personally connected to our National Forest and BLM lands. After our election, however, the differentiation between land management agencies seemed to matter a whole lot less than preserving our public lands—all of them.
While standing in Seattle’s glorious Elliot Bay Book Company (that I might be starting to forgive for moving from their Pioneer Square location), I caved and bought two hardcover books. It wasn’t really in my budget after Christmas but 2016’s book buying freeze was hard guys! I mostly stuck to it but oh man, there is little I like spending money on more than books. The Hour of Land was one of the books I picked up.
I waited until I was back in Colorado to start the book. On Martin Luther King day, after rambling around on some BLM land near Uravan, we got home in time to make lunch. Days off at home are not something I have very often any more so I built a roaring fire, grabbed a blanket, a pillow, and a cup of tea and cracked a new book.
This was one of those books that you alternately want to savor and one where you just want to just keep turning the pages because it is so good.
Tempest Williams speaks about a wide variety of national parks, monuments, recreation areas, and historic sites from Grand Teton to Alcatraz to Effigy Mounds to Gettysburg. Each of the parks can almost stand alone and they still fit together in a way that matches the despair about how our parks are handled and also the hope and awe inspired by them.
I jokingly said that my one hope for the book was that it wouldn’t make me cry. Of course it did. The Hour of Land is a beautiful look at the diversity of our parks and also the diversity of people who love them. As I probably should have expected, I loved this book. Our public lands are incredibly important and this book captures their beauty.
When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,
this man, superb in love and logic, this man
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives
fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.
I actually had a day off for Martin Luther King Day. I wasn’t needed at the coffee shop and school was out. I’d pretended to create some grand plans for hikes but I just wasn’t motivated. I was a little burnt out after a week of shedlife and some extra work after Christmas and I was just ind of coasting on fumes. So rather than having a grand plan, Sprocket and I took advantage of some warm weather and headed towards Uravan to see where we could hike.
I was sure all of the roads would be muddy and that we’d wind up just hiking a canyon directly from the highway. Instead, right at the site of Uravan, I noticed that the road climbing the cliff to the east looked pretty dry and decided to give it a try.
Our hike was just a few miles of meandering around. I hadn’t loaded Uravan onto any maps on my phone so we were just wandering around. We drove past some old mines on the way up. We scrambled down small muddy washes, we shimmied up little ledges, we found our way back down the cliffs towards the Jeep.
My handsome old dog was all about the sniffing and being outside. I don’t think the hike was long enough for him but that was okay.
There were pretty rocks and lots of just being happy to be outside.
My views out towards the La Sal Mountains wasn’t too shabby either.
I needed that. A lot.
Last Tuesday, the planning and zoning commission in Ridgway decided that my plans for the house were okay with them even though they differ from the home design standard a little bit. It was nerve-wracking although clearly it turned out okay. I treated myself to takeout Thai in order to celebrate.
That means that I spent the rest of the week giving the draftsperson the go-ahead to finish up with the plans, lining up an engineer, and starting the loan application process. I spend almost 30% of my nights in a shed and the other 70% in a rental house, I would really like to get this process going, you know?
This all feels so surreal. It also feels strange to talk about publicly because so much at this point leans on my finance and in America we don’t talk about finances because people feel bad about money and it’s “impolite.” (I’d argue that dollars are just facts/numbers not value judgements but alas…) So, here goes, if this whole house plan grinds to a halt at this stage, it’s because it’s tied up with my financial situation.
In the meantime, here’s the elevations and floor plans. Architect is … me.
Sprocket and I made the long haul from southwestern Colorado up to Washington for Christmas. The trip was fairly short to give me some time back in Colorado to unwind (and also to work!) once I got back. While I was there though there was lots of #auntybeth time with my nephew, some Pokemon hunting in downtown Tacoma, and a hike with Andrew (Junior and Will were sick and couldn’t come).
Andrew made sure to snuggle with Aunty Beth as much as possible:
He also tricked me into buying donuts. I tricked him into going inside to get them while I waited with Sprocket.
Then he tried to trick me into buying him a book the day after Christmas. He’s cute but #auntybeth is strong. He did steal my hat though.
Then we went hiking in Pack Forest. It was a little rainy, a little overcast, and really green. Just like winter hiking in Washington should be.
Sprocket did not dig Andrew wanting to lead the pack:
Here’s hoping that on my next trip home all three boys can come!
“Walk tall, kick ass, learn to speak Arabic, love music and never forget you come from a long line of truth seekers, lovers and warriors.”
–Hunter S. Thompson
After reading Ouray my interest in learning more about local history was piqued and I dove right into Otto Mears and the San Juans by E. F. Tucker. I knew that Otto Mears was involved in the Rio Grande Southern and in the building of a lot of toll roads including one up and over Red Mountain Pass. Outside of that I’d heard that he was a little bit eccentric and that was all.
Otto Mears was into everything. Mears was born in Latvia (then part of Russia) before he was sent to live with family members in England and then to another family member in New York. When they sent him to San Francisco to live with yet another family member at age 11, he arrived to find that the relative had departed for Australia. From then on, Mears was on his own.
Mears eventually became an American citizen and served in the Union army during the Civil War. He was discharged in Northern New Mexico and used his money to enter business as a merchant. Mears slowly migrated north towards the Saguache area where he continued to operate businesses and became more and more involved with local politics.
As I’d learned in Ouray, Mears also got involved in Native American policy by both by accepting government contracts for supplies but later in helping negotiate treaties with the Ute Nation. As with most actions of whites towards Native Americans Mears actions when seen through a modern lens are really problematic. E. F. Tucker makes a good argument that while Mears was involved in the final expulsion of the Uncompaghre and Weeminuche bands from Colorado that he pushed for them to move directly to the reservation in Utah rather than settling near what is now Grand Junction because he believed that they’d be asked to move yet again.
Mears briefly served in the Colorado legislature but didn’t stay long, opting to operate behind the scenes and start building his famous toll roads first over Poncha Pass and most famously over Red Mountain Pass, now the route of the “Million Dollar Highway” US 550. Later, he progressed to railroads including the Rio Grande Southern and a handful of smaller railroads servicing mines in the Silverton area.
Mears worked most of his life and only slowed down a little bit towards the end of his life. In his later years, as his wife Mary suffered from ill health, he traveled back and forth from Silverton to California. Aside from a couple of short stints in Louisiana and Washington, D.C. Mears spent most of his adult life in Colorado.
I loved reading about Otto Mears. I drive Red Mountain Pass regularly to access recreation and have come to love and appreciate the ridiculousness of its precarious position above the Uncompahgre Gorge. While Mears never stopped looking out for his own business ambitions, he was instrumental in the development of the San Juans.
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. Any money I make via Amazon goes to buy more books about the West so I can read them and tell you all. All opinions are my own.
I know this is belated but honestly, although I try to keep my personal photo files organized, this blog is actually better indexed and it’s easier to find things.
Because we’re lucky, we headed up Red Mountain Pass to find our tree just shy of 12,000′ above sea level. There had been some fresh snow and there was lots of powder around–we hadn’t been snowshoing much so Sprocket and I definitely felt the burn on our ramble around before we selected our tree.
I’ve learned my lesson in the past and was sure to 1) find a tree not too far from the road and to 2) find one uphill of the road. We succeeded this year unlike last year where I learned a quarter mile uphill is a long way if you’re alone and your dog is not willing to be a sled-tree dog.
Alpine trees just have the right look, their branches are strong: they’re the perfect Christmas tree. Don’t you agree?
I have a weird relationship with museums. Sometimes there are things there that are cool enough to justify going but usually I just find them expensive and wish I’d applied my entry ticket to buying a book that would have given me deeper information than I got on the informational posters in the museum. That being said, since 2017 is going to be busy with non-travel stuff, I’ve decided that I should at least visit the Telluride Historical Museum, the Ouray County Museum, the Ute Indian Museum, and probably the Ouray County Ranch History Museum.
Luckily, for the cheapskate in me, the Telluride museum is free to locals on Thursdays! It was really important to me to make it there this winter because they had a special exhibit called “Treasure Maps: Cartography of the American Southwest.” Since I love maps and history it seemed like a match made in heaven.
Not to bury the lede: I loved it. The maps were arranged in chronological order and I poured over them seeing the deepening understanding of the Southwest’s geography. Some of the maps were particularly amazing, the Bernardo de Miera y Pacheco map of the Dominguez-Escalante expedition was probably my favorite. I’m not sure how old each of the map prints were at the exhibition but I loved the whole thing.
The other exciting piece of the museum was seeing the Telluride Blanket, an intact Anasazi blanket dating from 1041-1272. The only known intact Anasazi blanket in the world, the blanket was in gorgeous condition. (For lots more information on the blanket, check out this PDF from the museum.)
I really enjoyed the Telluride Historical Museum. I saw some awesome historic local photos that I hadn’t seen before. The museum was easy to navigate, it was fresh and modern. The museum is only $5 (and for locals, it’s free on Thursdays!). It’s definitely worth a visit.