Archive for the ‘Parks & Monuments’ Category

While we’ve been gone from our home state much has happened here on the coast to cheer about.

Jordan Cove LNG Terminal Permit Denied

LNG pipelinesPerhaps the biggest and brightest win here on the coast was the denial by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) of the Canadian-based energy company Verisen’s application for a permit to construct a liquified natural gas (LNG) terminal on Coos Bay’s north spit.

Through 14(!) years of shenanigans that began with the coy proposal that Jordan Cove would be for import (which local activists doubted from the start) and ended with the old switch-a-roo to export, ultimately the Jordan Cove project sunk when the company couldn’t prove the need for it. (Currently there are no potential overseas buyers for the LNG.) Additionally the company had been unsuccessful in securing the rights-of-way for the pipeline linking Wyoming’s gas fields to the oceanside facility. Verisen would have had to rely on eminent domain to seize the necessary land route (long, costly and likely to create very hostile [ex]landowners).

Both sides were stunned by the decision which came without warning Friday March 10. While local activists cheered, Verisen pledged to re-submit. But for now the terminal, located in a tsunami zone and near a school, is dead in the water.

For more information see: http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2016/03/feds_deny_jordan_cove_lng_term.html

There are also previous posts on this blog. Search “Coos Bay LNG terminal”.

Bandon Biota Abandons Golf Course Plans for State Park Land

Bandon Property Boundaries courtesy of the Oregon Coastal Alliance

Bandon Property Boundaries
courtesy of the Oregon Coastal Alliance

In September 2015 Bandon Biota LLC, the developers who brought the south coast Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, abandoned plans to use a piece of undeveloped state parkland south of Bandon in a land/money/gorse clearing swap that included helping to purchase land in Eastern Oregon for a new park. Folks in Eastern Oregon weren’t too happy about that, nor, it ended up, was the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) who originally passed the Bandon coastal land to State Parks. BLM nixed the deal because the original documents of transmission stated that the land would remain permanently undeveloped park, no matter the apparent enticements offered. Many had argued from the beginning that agreeing to swap state park land would set an unfortunate precedent and were greatly disappointed by the State Parks Commissioners April, 2014 decision to give the project the green light. Since it turned out it was really BLM’s decision to make, they untimately stepped in and stopped the project.

You can see more about it here: http://www.oregoncoastalliance.org/victories/bandon-biota-exchange-a-controversial-project-ends/

There are a number of previous posts about this “deal” also on this website. Enter “Bandon biota” in search.

Next Up: Oregon phases out Coal and the hottest February ever.

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All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West by David Gessner. WW. Norton and Co. New York. 2015. 354 pp.

To look at the rise in twentieth century environmentalism in the West, David Gessner chooses two formidable voices: Wallace Stegner, novelist who penned the Pulitzer- winning Angle of Repose, essayist and coiner of that most memorable of descriptorsof the West, the “geography of hope”; and Edward Abbey, the merry prankster author of numerous novels including most famously the Monkey Wrench Gang and the formative memoir Desert Solitaire.9780393089998_300

As Gessner ranges across the West in search of iconic locations these two authors have lived in and written about, he uses excerpts from their writings as well as extensive interviews with experts as well as people who knew one or the other as friends and colleagues. It’s a huge journey, starting at Edward Abbey’s childhood Pennsylvania, then dipping down for a visit to Wendell Berry in Kentucky who knew them both, then on to Saskatchewan where Wallace Stegner spent many of his most important childhood years. Then Gessner takes the reader deeply “Out West”, visiting ecological high spots which were critical to each writer’s world view, from Arches and Glen Canyon to Stanford and the University of New Mexico.

There is certainly a lot of meat to digest in this book. Gessner obviously did his homework and he brings the two characters into sharp relief, both personally and in how they inspired future Western environmentalists. Some may have chosen Abbey’s model of “monkey wrenching”, working outside the box by physically trying to stop odious development (think sugar in gas tanks). Others may be drawn to Stegner’s moderated voice, a call to work within the system by describing in heartfelt but restrained writings about what our country stood to lose by that development.

While Gessner presents the two in a “compare and contrast” mode (Stegner the “sticker”, Abbey the firebrand). It seems to me a slightly wacky stretch that emphasizes their personal temperaments and styles rather than what overarching truths they tell that sets them apart as two of the greatest voices for preservation of western wilds. Of course they are—it’s just that they make such strange bedfellows. The book seems to unnecessarily overreach to point out their differences—I take away “button-downed” Stegner vs. “wildman” Edward Abbey, neither especially enviable characters. I’d rather revere them both for their common passion for the West and their lifelong devotion to its preservation.

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We often visit Tucmacacori on warm spring days.IMG_1963 - Version 2

Last week when we visited the monument was quiet. No school groups or elder hostel outings were happening. The lovely woman who demonstrates tortilla making served with beans and salsa in a central courtyard wasn’t on hand. Too bad, I’d been looking forward to her hot sauce.

Still, this gave us a better opportunity to study the church itself. In the dark quiet of the sanctuary there is a sense of sacredness still and although ravaged by time, exposure to the elements (it lacked a roof for over 60 years) and bounty hunters, the church still shows some of its original glory. Faded walls and ceiling retain painted decorative motifs, especially in the sanctuary and around the altar beneath its domed apse. Originally founded by Jesuits in the 1690s, it was Franciscans who ultimately built this large church, completed in the 1820s, except for the bell tower whose dome was never finished. It became a part of the National Park System in 1916.IMG_4798 - Version 2

It’s fascinating to compare some of New Mexico’s mission churches with those here in Arizona. Franciscans founded New Mexico’s missions in the early 1600s. The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 finished off what was left at Salinas National Monument, while Pecos continued, at first thriving but then declining until its abandonment in 1838. These churches are built on a massive scale (especially Pecos) and show the standard pueblo-style architecture of adobes with unadorned brown stucco coverings, and buttresses to support the giant walls.

IMG_1966 - Version 2Nearby Arizona missions, in contrast, were, it appears, blinding white as San Xavier de Bac remains. The front of the Tumacacori church is said to have been painted in colorful red, yellow and black. The front columns appear to be Egyptian-inspired and, in fact, they were, influenced by the Moors who imported them when they arrived in Spain. Both were situated next to a then flowing river: the Santa Cruz.

And both these missions must have been in plain sight for miles, situated as they are in the Santa Cruz river valley. In contrast, New Mexico’s missions (especially at Salinas) seem to have been more hidden, perhaps in light of the marauding plains Indians just to their east.

Park brochures always invite the visitor to “imagine what it was like” when the missions were vibrant with life. Honestly, for me, it’s almost impossible. A life lived cramped in tiny rooms with no ventilation, being introduced (and pretty much forced to accept) alien religions from people who displayed little knowledge of the landscape, who brought guns and unknown diseases to tiny cities of people with too little food and no sanitation. With the luxury we live in, this is a scene just too difficult for me to place myself. I leave that to those with more imagination, or at least romantic visions.

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logoThe newest version of the Arlington Hotel and Spa was built in 1924. Its two towers and 560 rooms dominate Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs National Park. The Arlington has hosted everyone from Babe Ruth to Al Capone to Ronald Reagan. In the late 1980s it welcomed us and our dog Sparky.

When we arrived in Hot Springs (a town and a National Park) we asked the Park Ranger where to stay and he suggested the Arlington where he had stayed (with doggie) when he first came to work there.

In the Hall

In the Hall

At first it was hard to believe the Arlington would allow dogs. It’s a beautiful queen of the 30s era: wide hallways, stained glass, opulent bar and dining room. Sure the basic rooms are small; all hotels from that time were. Al Capone rented the entire fourth floor to house his entourage while visiting. And of course there are luxury suites if guests need more room. And it was easy to image that era’s luminaries dotting its lobby, as always, traveling with their dogs, from teacup terriers to Afghan hounds. Surrounded by the Arlington’s je ne sais quoi attitude, it began to make sense.

We hopped onto the elevator with other guests, one of whom made some disparaging remark about our “mutt.” Stan proceeded to lambast him throughout the ride up, beginning with “it had cost a pretty penny to import this Australian Station Terrier, one of only a handful in the US”. Sparks stood taller and taller as Stan continued on about pedigrees and royal lineages, rendering the insulter smaller and smaller with each passing floor. Sweet revenge continued when we shared the outdoor hot tub with the snob an hour later.

Most notable about the Arlington were the hallway fountains bubbling with hot mineral water to drink (Sparky felt rejuvenated herself after a bowlful) and the amazing bath/massage treatment I received. I even got into a steam box, fully expecting to see only Edward G. Robinson’s head, biting a cigar, in the closed box next to mine. We loved the Arlington, the whole crazy mood and pervasive sense of the past.

The Arlington

The Arlington

The next time we went to Hot Springs we checked in again only to have to check out when the Byzantine water delivery system broke down. With no plans to follow, plumbers spent days trying to find the source of the problem.

We were transferred to the Arlington’s sister, the Majestic up the street to the northwest. It was great but it just didn’t have the Arlington’s elan. I read that after being abandoned around 2005, the Majestic burned to the ground February 2014. What a loss.

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Just Askin" thanks to Daily Kow

Just Askin”
thanks to Daily Kos

Here’s a Voter Lookup Site:

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Mapping Wonderlands: Illustrated Cartography of Arizona 1912 – 1962 by Dori Griffin, U of AZ Press,. 2013. 218 pp.

16158084Mapping Wonderlands is an in-depth examination of how Arizona’s tourist industry was developed during its first fifty years of statehood. Griffin’s source material is “ephemera”— images that include post card maps, illustrated cartographs (visually more evocative and narrative geographic representations than basic navigational maps used to get from point A to point B) and chambers of commerce “come to our town” maps. While first encouraged by boosters with their early “Good Roads” program and later by Arizona’s Highway Department with their now iconic Arizona Highways magazine, these illustrated maps suggested a highly developed road system passing through a well-watered landscape of lush valleys, majestic mountains and mysterious historic sites.

Needless to say, these maps presented a highly romanticized view of Arizona. Ancient and modern Native Americans were often depicted sitting before looms in Navajoland (the current reservation which encompasses about 25,000 square miles in the northeast). The Spanish “Entrada” of the late 1600s and its subsequent influence on the state’s identity was represented alternatively by conquistadors, vaqueros, missionaries and sombrero-clad Mexicans on burros. 1800s Arizona miners, cowboys, artists, ranchers and business tycoons were added to Native American and Hispanics who called the territory home. Still, in most of these cartographs all of that linear history is collapsed into a single monolithic timeless whole.

Looking at these cartographs, all 66 of them presented in the book, gives the reader a glimpse into the remarkable manipulative power maps carry to invoke a vague sense of accuracy about landscape and culture which often has little “on the ground” truth. In one map for example, strong double lines, suggesting a four lane superhighway, in fact represent “roads under construction”, as noted in the fine print below. Cartoonish imagery evokes a land full of playful opportunity, much of it water-based, in fact a rare situation save man-made hotel pools and dam-created lakes. Time is flattened into a history without time: Conquistadors march alongside cowboys and grubstakers on their horses and businessmen in their motorcars, while Indians using a paint brush create “the Painted Desert.” A cowboy-hatted saguaro beckons with spiny arms to “visit the land of the sun!”

The Arizona imagists who made these cartographs (which often included vignette illustrations of both natural wonders and the built environment) wrestled with a big problem: Was Arizona a crowded landscape, safe and recognizable for tourists looking for a memorable “grand tour”, or the last of the “Wild West” available for adventurers looking for thrills? Was it filled with waving fields of grain and cotton, or thorny desert cactus? Was it friendly and accessible, or uncharted territory? Of course the truth is some of each but the desire to convey a tourist wonderland with something for everyone won out over some less cheerful Arizona facts: Never leave home without water; watch out for snakes; cactus spines really hurt!

The main point of the book, it seems to me, is that these map-makers, by their choices of what to present on their “maps” sent a wide variety of subliminal messages that played with reality to promote tourism. Unfortunately the book’s illustrations are not in color or clearly reproduced and the writing seems unnecessarily academic. That’s too bad, considering the subject is a fascinating one of overarching sociological as well as academic interest—how visual representations we call “maps” can and do manipulate our understanding of landscape and territory. This is a particularly challenging issue to contemplate as we come to rely more on virtual maps, viewed on computer screens, which provide detailed distance directions but little information about the world we’re passing through beyond isolated and isolating factoids like where to buy a pizza or gas.

Sure these earlier “maps” may have stretched the truth as did earlier maps with Terra Incongnito and oceans teeming with dragons and serpents lurking at their edges. Somehow though they seem so much more informative and colorful, not only about geography and territory but about the cultures that developed them. Our modern technological “just the facts maam” computer voice on the dashboard screen intoning, “In 1.6 miles turn left” portrays a colorless, homogonezied  version of our world.

But then, perhaps it’s appropriate for navigating the territory we have created.

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North Shore Promotion  courtesy of Salton Sea Museum

North Shore Promotion
courtesy of Salton Sea Museum

In the 1950s and 60s the Salton Sea was a favorite resort destination for Southern Californians who boated, swam and fished at its seaside resorts. Desi Arnaz and Dwight Eisenhower golfed there; Guy Lombardo and Frank Sinatra raced boats.

Guy Lombardo, Jerry Lewis and Frank Sinatra at the Salton Sea photo courtesy of the Salton Sea Museum

Guy Lombardo, Jerry Lewis and Frank Sinatra at the Salton Sea
photo courtesy of the Salton Sea Museum

But alarms raised about pollutants caused recreation to plummet and in 1976 and 1977 two tropical storms, both “100 year storms”, followed by seven years of increased rainfall, flooded the resorts and vacation homes, leaving veritable “ghost towns” behind.

At Desert Beach photo courtesy of Salton Sea Museum

At Desert Beach
photo courtesy of Salton Sea Museum

Since 1977, a group of dedicated volunteers, the Sea and Desert Interpretive Association, working with CA. State Parks and the Salton Sea Restoration Project have been working to clear up false rumors, address bad publicity and get on with the job of restoration. As the Sea and Desert Association’s brochure states: “There is no evidence of the sea being polluted or having any harmful chemical or sewage. It is said that the Salton Sea is cleaner than Lake Tahoe. While dead fish are not a real pretty sight or smell, we are experiencing  the life cycle in action. The fish remain plentiful and healthy…and the fishing is great.”

Still the Sea faces enormous problems, the major one being quickening salinity rises that are bound to occur once agricultural water runoff dries up. This is slated to begin in earnest in 2017 as the Imperial Valley begins to sell its ag water to San Diego. The plans to mitigate what will obviously be profound if not catastrophic results for the Sea and its avian and fish life, seem, to be either prohibitively expensive or too large scale to be realistic. Still there are promising technologies and potential economic uses for by-products of de-salination.

On February 27, 2014 a new way to generate dollars for restoration was put forward—Barbara Boxer, California’s US Senator and two southern California congressmen, Raul Ruiz and Juan Vargas requested, by formal letter, that the Department of Interior designate the Salton Sea as  a renewable energy development area, making it easier to extendi its geothermal generating capacity beyond the current seven plants, clustered in three facilities. Income from new plants could be directed toward restoring the Sea.

Salton Sea Geothermal Plants photo courtesy of Center for Land Use Interpretation

Salton Sea Geothermal Plants
photo courtesy of Center for Land Use Interpretation

The problems are large; the costs high. But the importance of the Salton Sea as a diverse and very rare mixed ecosystem on the Pacific Flyway makes finding a way toward restoration a high priority—for all of us.

For further information see:




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It seems like we’d taken every road available to cross southern California—all four interstates (yes we’ve even gone through Vegas on I-15) as well as backroads like State Route 62 through Twenty Nine Palms which we got to by driving through Joshua Tree National Park. While they’ve added distance as well as time to the journeys, the detours have provided ways to see backcountry SoCal that many people never experience.

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The Salton Sea © SR Euston

This trip we chose to return from LA via I-10 through Palm Springs and then head south at Indio. Looking for lunch we ended up at Mecca, a crossing of the roads where we continued south around the eastern side of the Salton Sea on State Route 111.

I’m not sure what I expected but it definitely wasn’t this: a beautifully glistening enormous lake, 228 feet below sea level, the largest in California with a 380 square mile surface compared to Lake Tahoe’s 193. This particular iteration of this inland sea, a sink which has been alternating between flooded and dry for thousands of years, was created by Colorado River overflow flooding which began in 1905 and was finally blocked off in1907.  Since being closed off from the river, the sea now receives water only from a few small rivers; its major source is runoff from the adjacent farmland in the Imperial and Coachella Valleys.  Consequently, salinity rises each year and is now 25% higher than the Pacific Ocean. In 1930 a National Wildlife Refuge was established; in 1955 a state park.

The ecosystem is a study in contrasts and conflicts. On the one hand, the fish, introduced tilapia especially, continue to thrive and the Salton Sea is considered by some to be the most productive fishery in the world. On the other hand, it’s so productive that periodically there are massive die offs, probably the result of overpopulation leading to oxygen depletion. The blazing summer temperatures don’t help either. Evaporation increases the Sea’s salinity and reduces the ability of the water to hold oxygen.

On the third hand, the Salton Sea with its mix of marine, freshwater, desert, wetland and agricultural lands, is considered California’s “Crown Jewel of Avian Biodiversity”, with over 400 species sighted, second only to the Texas Gulf Coast. Several million birds migrate through annually relying on its ready supply of food. On the other (fourth?) hand, major bird die offs have happened periodically, particularly in the 1990s when 170,000 eared grebes, as well as 1000 endangered brown pelicans and 15 to 20% of the white pelican’s western population died, probably from an deadly mix of avian viruses and bacteria.

From the crusty shoreline (which looks a little like Yellowstone’s mineral hot springs) we easily spot white pelicans and black necked stilts. Rather than sand, the beach is made up of millions of fan shaped translucent fish scales and a lot of dead fish.

Shoreline, Salton Sea © AME

Shoreline, Salton Sea © AME

An eerie feeling of abandonment hangs in the air.  Forlorn, almost abandoned.

What’s happening to the Salton Sea?

Next: Salton Sea past, Salton Sea future

For general park information see: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=639 and http://seaanddesert.org/facts.html.

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Gila Bend isn’t a particular hotspot for travelers on Interstate 8 through Southwest Arizona. We stayed there in the late 80s in a typical roadside motel. Like many always hard-up desert towns, Gila Bend seemed in a chronic state of poor economic health. Besides boarded up buildings along the main drag, all that was memorable about that stay was that at 10:00 pm it was 109°. When we went out through the motel’s automatic glass doors, the heat was startling, like stepping into the stove to check something broiling.

At Painted Rock

At Painted Rock © SR Euston

So this month when we exited I-8 just west of Gila Bend to visit the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Petroglyph Painted Rock Site and Campground we didn’t know what we were about to stumble on.

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Petroglyphs © SR Euston

The petroglyph site itself is an easily accessible jumble of rocks covered with over 800 symbols and pictures chipped out of the black basalt which overlays a granite outcrop. A short trail takes visitors around the mound and allows for up close viewing of the rock art. There is an adjacent dry campground with pit toilets, and for folks seeking desert isolation, a half-full campground and clear night skies this is just the ticket. It may not be as extensive as New Mexico’s Petroglyph National Monument or Three Rivers BLM site or Utah’s Newspaper Rock, but it is a remarkable agglomeration of mazes, natural symbols like lightning and the sun, animals, and stylized people that make it a fascinating concentration of southwest petroglyph art.

Petroglyphs © SR Euston

Petroglyphs © SR Euston

This used to be one part of a Petroglyph Painted Rock State Park which included a “Lake Unit” with camping and fishing about four miles north on Painted Rock Reservoir, formed by a late ‘50s Army Corps of Engineers dam. Now completely closed, the “Reservoir” is only an intermittent lake—in flood it has been (briefly) the second largest lake in Arizona, but with seepage and evaporation, the lake always dries it up. And due to large scale 1950s and ‘60s DDT use on surrounding cotton fields (one of the mainstays of Gila Bend’s shaky economy), this stretch of the Gila River which feeds the reservoir has the dubious honor of being one of the most polluted stretches of waterway in the nation. The only water we saw was one puddle of marshy standing water on Painted Rock Road’s shoulder.

Painted Rock Outcrop © SR Euston

Painted Rock Outcrop © SR Euston

For more info on the site see: http://www.blm.gov/az/st/en/prog/recreation/camping/dev_camps/painted_rock.html

To get to the site from the highway from I-8 involved taking Painted Rock Dam Road north about 10 miles. It’s on this road where the “new” Gila Bend takes shape.

Next: Sustainable Gila Bend

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Arizona has the most national parks and monuments of any state in the Union. This is one of the most delightful attractions of our other “home state”. At 21 total, Arizona beats out the second place California (eighteen) by three.

Of course California has ten National Parks to Arizona’s three, but those three are doozies: the Grand Canyon, Saguaro, and Petrified Forest. Among the National Park Service (NPS) managed National Monuments are: a Heritage Area (Yuma); a Historic Park (Tumacacori); two National Recreation Areas (Lake Mead and Glen Canyon); two National Historic Trails (the Old Spanish and the Juan Batista de Anza); a National Memorial (Coronado); two National Monuments which are also National Historic Sites (Hubbell Trading Post and Ft. Bowie); and one on the Gila River Indian Reservation (Hohokum Pima) which isn’t even open to the public. There are National Monuments which protect ancient cultural ruins, unique vegetation and habitat and a volcanic cinder cone. There’s one jointly managed by NPS and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Parashant Grand Canyon.


There are also four BLM-managed Monuments created by Bill Clinton’s Presidential Proclamations in 2000 and 2001. With the addition of these units, virtually all of desert Arizona south of I-8 is protected in some way be it military, reservation, national wildlife refuge, NPS or BLM.

While this is good, as a visitor looks around many of these desert preserves, it appears there is little money and/or people power to protect them. Two threats are tantamount: illegal off-road vehicle use and illegal immigration and drug smuggling. For example, large segments of dirt road access in the northern section of Sonoran Desert National Monument have been closed due to damage caused by off-road vehicles leaving even these off-road routes where tracks or dust got too deep.

And although illegal immigration numbers have dropped in recent years, the realities of borderland living (which also must now embrace widespread drug smuggling) remain. Some of the worst effects are in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, which abuts the US/Mexico border. Not only are many of the backroads now closed for safety reasons, Quitobaquito, an oasis of fresh water in the desert which we were lucky enough to visit in the 1980s, is no longer open because of water quality and trashing problems. The border fence has created its own problems in washes and arroyos. Sadly, visitation and back country permits at Organ Pipe have dropped since the 1990s.


Still, for all its problems, I love this borderland place. And all its public lands inviting us to visit.

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