Its effects are nearly as devastating as global warming and more immediate. We see its consequences in our own lives, yet struggle connecting the dots to describe it as the cause. It is the reason we resent billionaire transplants. Mapping its destruction throughout society transforms concerns over affordable housing into something greater than petty griping. The wealth gap is displacing people throughout the social strata and raising the poverty line through homelessness.
We are lately focusing on the Entrance to Aspen over the aging Castle Creek Bridge. Yet, there is a wider, deeper chasm challenging local residency and there are no detours around it. When a resident leaves Aspen today, the wealth gap all but ensures they will never return. A working person arriving now has almost no chance to call it permanent home.
Some insist that the displacement of locals is happening everywhere. They say this to make it seem like no big deal. They might as well sugarcoat global warming, too. That’s happening everywhere.
We acknowledge COVID-19 attracting the ultra wealthy to the relative safety of mountain communities. Technology now enables white-collar workers to do their jobs remotely and that has brought copious new wealth to town. Global warming plays a part in driving those who can afford it toward the luxurious escape of cool breezes, verdant landscapes and the fountainheads of water sources in places like Aspen. But, what facilitates all of these causes of skyrocketing costs and displacement of workforce is the burgeoning wealth gap transforming the planet. And we thought it only affected the poor.
According to Talmon Joseph Smith and Karl Russel in a New York Times story on the great generational wealth transfer looming in the U.S., total family wealth in this country grew from $38 trillion (adjusted for inflation) in 1989 to $140 trillion in 2022. They point out that the richest 1% in our country possess as much wealth as the bottom 90%.
The effects of the wealth gap are perhaps more obvious in Aspen than anywhere else, even if not with as dire direct consequences as in other parts of the world where the phenomenon is moving the line between life and death. Skeptics need only ponder how a handful of billionaires have simultaneously displaced thousands of local workers in Aspen while at the same time demand more services than ever from them, forcing them to commute daily from homes 50 and more miles away.
Billionaires need no longer to be satisfied with a single mansion in town. The Federal Reserve reports that through 2021, the richest 1% of Americans added more than $12 trillion to their net worth since the beginning of the pandemic. This astonishing sum is literally enough to buy all residential and commercial property in Pitkin County 1,800 times over. The ultra rich could easily buy all 525 U.S ski resorts and the entire towns around them with only the windfall they’ve accumulated since the outbreak of COVID-19. And, it appears they are in the process of doing just that.
The ultra rich are not selling in Nantucket to buy in Aspen. They are adding to their real estate collections. It’s why prices are rising everywhere. With money in bulk, it’s not even a decision to buy another mansion across the river to tear down because it’s blocking the view. If you want more privacy in the West End, you simply buy all the houses surrounding yours, just as medieval aristocrats built walls around their castles.
This process leaves far fewer houses around for the multimillionaires to showcase. What’s a merely filthy rich person to do? Well, they buy houses from the working second-homeowner to remodel and bring up to snuff. This leaves the wealthy vacationer in a bind. They are left to remodel dilapidated shacks and condominiums: You know, the places workers used to call home. These former citizens then use their windfalls to buy something downvalley. The domino effect displaces people in Basalt who then displace people in Carbondale and the transience continues to Glenwood Springs, then Rifle, and on and on. The ripples of housing displacement travel all the way to the oceans of poverty where the poor are pushed off the seaside cliffs to drown in the turbulent seas where desperation foams into despair.
This is true trickle-down economics at work.
As an incubator for the wealth gap, Aspen is hosting a major global force of destructive displacement. With our outsized carbon footprint, we are facilitating another. If we only construct a missile silo in the center of the roundabout, we would contain the trifecta of existential threats to our planet.
It took awhile. It is now clear that my angst over the burgeoning presence of billionaires throughout mountain towns and the sadness over what our town has become is not only a superficial lashing of my ego. It is finally recognizing that my beloved Aspen has been brought by greed and excess to the headwaters of some seriously bad stuff.
Roger Marolt acknowledges that billionaires pay for our bike paths. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s big news, but probably won’t be enough to save the river system
The News: Arizona, California, and Nevada have come up with a landmark agreement to slash their consumption of Colorado River water by 3 million acre-feet in coming years. The Colorado River and its reservoirs are saved!
The Buzzkill: Nope. Not quite.
Yes, the three Lower Basin states came up with an agreement to cut water use substantially. Yes, it’s a breakthrough (as any such agreement would be). But no, it won’t be enough to save the Colorado River if the climatic conditions of the last couple decades persist or worsen. Plus, the proposed cuts are only for the next few years. What then?
The Background: For those who may have forgotten, the 1922 Colorado River Compact divvied up the river between the Upper and Lower Basin states (Mexico was included in the 1940s). The problem: The 16.5 million acre-feet pie they parceled out was bigger than what actually existed—even back then. They assumed the river carried about 20 million acre-feet each year, on average. In fact, it was more like 14 million acre-feet, so they were already in debt to reality when the Compact was signed. Oof.
In the decades since, the population of all of the states burgeoned and water consumption also increased. Meanwhile, after the wet and wild 1980s, long-term drought and warmer temperatures diminished the river and the reservoirs that were supposed to carry the users over during dry years. Last summer it looked like Lake Powell might drop below minimum power pool, or the level needed to allow water to flow through the hydroelectricity-generating turbines, within a couple of years. Losing hydropower is one thing, but losing the ability to release water through the penstocks is another, with its own dire ramifications.
That prompted federal water officials to call on the states to cut consumption by 2 million to 4 million acre-feet per year, or else they would implement the cuts themselves. The states blew past deadlines without an agreement until finally, last month, the Bureau of Reclamation presented two alternatives:
Cut Lower Basin use according to the concept of priority (meaning Arizona would take the biggest cuts); or,The matrix for the Bureau of Reclamation’s priority-based alternative, which would burden Arizona with the biggest cuts and barely lean on California at all. USBR.
Cut a flat percentage of each state’s water use (meaning California would take the biggest cuts).The matrix for the Bureau of Reclamation’s flat percentage-based alternative, which would result in larger volume cuts for California. USBR.
The prospect apparently was enough to scare the bejeezus out of the states, pushing them back to the negotiating table where they came up with this week’s deal. Details so far are sketchy, but here’s what we know:
The Lower Basin states together will cut consumption by 3 million acre-feet over the 2023-2026 period, with at least 1.5 million acre-feet in cuts coming by the end of 2024 (there is no indication of how these cuts will be distributed across the states, but the Washington Postreports California will bear about half the cuts);
Up to 2.3 million acre-feet of those cuts will be federally compensated by about $1.2 billion in Inflation Reduction Act funds. Most likely this means that farmers will be paid not to irrigate their crops.
So what’s wrong with this deal? I’ll admit that when I first read the stories on this, I was pretty damned impressed: 3 million acre-feet is good! Thing is, all those cuts are spread out over three years, meaning it’s only about 1 million acre-feet per year. That’s only half the minimum amount of cuts the feds say are needed to shore up the river system and its reservoirs. It just won’t cut it, so to speak, if the drying trend continues.
Furthermore, the deal clearly is meant only to be temporary — a stopgap, a band-aid — that runs out in three years. What happens then? Even if the agreement were to be extended, where would the billions of dollars come from to keep paying the farmers not to irrigate? What if the Republicans’ obstructive ways nix the payments? And what about the additional 700,000 acre-feet of cuts promised? Where will they come from? Or will that require a whole new round of negotiations?
I don’t want to be a party pooper. It’s great that the states came to an agreement and, yes, it is a solution, of sorts. But it’s not the sustainable, permanent one that’s necessary.
But who knows? Maybe this past wet winter and huge runoff isn’t an anomaly. Maybe it’s the new normal and big rains and snows will come regularly over the next 20 years, filling up the reservoirs, saturating the soil, and swelling the Colorado River into the muddy monster of yore. Maybe we won’t need these cuts after all. But I sure as heck wouldn’t bank on it.
Arizona, California and Nevada have agreed to take less water from the drought-strained Colorado River, a breakthrough agreement that, for now, keeps the river from falling so low that it would jeopardize water supply for major Western cities like Phoenix and Los Angeles as well as for some of America’s most productive farmland.
The agreement, announced Monday, calls for the federal government to pay about $1.2 billion to irrigation districts, cities and Native American tribes in the three states if they temporarily use less water. The states have also agreed to make additional cuts beyond that amount to generate the total reductions needed to prevent the collapse of the river.
Taken together, those reductions would amount to about 13 percent of the total water use in the lower Colorado Basin — among the most aggressive ever experienced in the region, and likely to require significant water restrictions for residential and agriculture uses.
The Colorado River supplies drinking water to 40 million Americans in seven states as well as part of Mexico and irrigates 5.5 million acres of farmland. The electricity generated by dams on the river’s two main reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, powers millions of homes and businesses.
But drought, population growth and climate change have dropped the river’s flows by one-third in recent years compared with historical averages, threatening to provoke a water and power catastrophe across the West.
California, Arizona and Nevada get their shares of water from Lake Mead, which is formed by the Colorado River at the Hoover Dam and is controlled by the federal government. The Bureau of Reclamation, an agency within the Interior Department, determines how much water each of the three states receives. The other states that depend on the Colorado get water directly from the river and its tributaries.
The agreement struck over the weekend runs only through the end of 2026, and still needs to be formally adopted by the federal government. At that point, all seven states that rely on the river — which include Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — could face a deeper reckoning, as its decline is likely to continue.
The negotiations over the Colorado were spurred by a crisis: Last summer, the water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the two largest reservoirs along the river, fell enough that officials feared the hydroelectric turbines they powered might soon cease operating.
Just as the proverbial Phoenix rose from death smoke and embers in rebirth so has el museo Sibley and other buildings such as the workshop and the coop (formerly chicken coop apartment lived in by famous dirtbag climbers for 50 years) on Marshall Road. Stopped by this weekend for an official inspection and the Acres was well along in its metamorphosis …
The story Susan Behery tells about dust blowing into Colorado from New Mexico and Arizona sounds almost Biblical, like cows dropping dead in their owners’ fields or swarms of locusts devouring their crops.
A hydraulic engineer for the Bureau of Reclamation in Durango, Behery says she once saw dirt falling from the sky in the manner of rain. It was so heavy, she said, it splatted when it hit the ground. When the storm that brought it moved on, a brown residue covered Behery’s car, her lawn furniture, her house. In fact, it covered the town of Durango, the town of Silverton and the San Juan Mountains, where Behery’s colleague, Jeff Derry, does the bulk of his work as the executive director and lead scientist for the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies and its Dust on Snow program.
Behery says she and Derry work closely together. This time of year they talk by phone almost daily. That’s because Derry studies dust that travels to Colorado from northern New Mexico and Arizona. When it arrives here, in storms stopped short by the mountains, it settles in a distinct brown layer on the snow.
Derry’s main job is monitoring the dust layer (or layers) for water managers like Behery, because dust on snow is a major contributor to how much of the water in Colorado’s snowpack reaches the creeks, rivers and reservoirs that serve our state, and when the flows of those creeks and rivers reach their peak. That, in turn, impacts how Behery and her colleagues in water management control things like the levels of river water flowing into and out of reservoirs, of which Colorado has many.
The primary stem of the Colorado River has 15 dams and its tributaries have hundreds more. Each major tributary flows out of a river basin reliant on snow. “But we’ve been having these sporadic good precipitation years with lots of drought in between,” Behery says. And drought years lead to low snowpack, which, when coupled with dust, disrupts rivers.
When that happens, millions of people, animals and fish are directly impacted, says Behery. The vast majority don’t know it, Derry adds, but maybe they should.
According to a 2010 paper about the history of dust on snow by Thomas Painter, Jeffrey Deems and Jayne Belnap, climate models at that time predicted runoff losses of 7%-20% in this century due to human-induced climate warming.
Additionally, Derry says long-term trends based on data he has collected since 2003 show dust-on-snow is also wreaking havoc on flows in the Colorado River’s headwaters. But we can’t really stop dust from piling up on Colorado’s snowpack. And that’s a problem Derry says more people should know about.
Dust origination and politicization
The paper showing those haunting statistics about runoff losses also shows that by the late 1880s, decades prior to allocation of the Colorado River’s runoff between seven Western states in the 1920s, “a fivefold increase in dust loading from anthropologically disturbed soils in the southwest United States was decreasing snow albedo and shortening the duration of snow cover by several weeks.”
Understanding snow albedo takes some mental gymnastics. But as Derry puts it, when a dust layer settles on the snow, like a dark T-shirt, it absorbs the sun’s light and heat into the snowpack. And when the snow is free of dust, it reflects the light and heat back into the atmosphere. So high albedo leads to slower snowmelt and lower runoff, while low albedo leads to faster snowmelt and a higher runoff.
The paper also mentions dust shortening the duration of snow cover, and that’s a different process. Derry says as dust causes earlier snowmelt, plants and soil are exposed earlier in the spring. Increased exposure to the air and sun causes the soil to dry out through evapotranspiration, or the process by which water is transferred from the land to the atmosphere by evaporation from the soil and plants exhaling water vapor. “And that could have been water in the snow that would flow into streams,” he says.
The anthropologically disturbed soils of the 1800s and 1900s, however, were coming from poor farming techniques and vast numbers of cattle chewing up the landscape, Derry adds.
Jayne Belnap, a retired USGS soil ecologist with expertise in desert ecologies and grassland ecosystems, says those problems continue. “All low-elevation desert surfaces are stable until you disturb them,” she says. But when disturbance occurs —“by animals, bikes, cars, plows, feet,” she adds — the extremely fine soil that surfaces is perfect for flying on the wind to Colorado.
Desert surfaces aren’t naturally dusty places; they’ve just been grazed, plowed, recreated and prodded for oil and gas reserves to sandy soil devoid of nutrients, Belnap says. One solution to keep more soil intact is a change in government policy that holds whoever is degrading the soil accountable. Belnap says this includes anyone in the desert regions of northern New Mexico and Arizona who actively disturbs the protective surface of the desert. Derry adds that in the problem region, “there are a lot of federal land owners, and as far as I know, there’s no concerned effort to mitigate the problem.”
Then there’s the issue of liability, says Belnap.
“The soils between Tucson and Phoenix, which were plowed for cotton, went from coarse sand to silt. You can drive off the road, throw up a handful and it just hangs in the air,” she says. “When that’s disturbed, it blows across the highway and kills people. But in order to stabilize an area, the people in charge have to admit there’s a problem, and no one will. We finally got a congressman to get all upset about it, but if he says Joe rancher is creating a huge part of the problem, what’s Joe rancher gonna do? He’s gonna sue.”
What all of this amounts to, for now, at least, is people like Behery having to continue factoring dust into the way they manage Colorado water.
And in years like 2022, that meant being ready for some interesting flows.
Dust’s impact on Colorado’s water
In the spring of 2022, “the soil was ridiculously dry, the snowpack was terrible and windstorms blowing into Colorado from the south kicked all the dust up and deposited it all over our mountains,” Behery says.
That led to “snowpack running off early and in an extreme way, high-intensity, low-duration flows” and dropping river levels “that left us almost no base flows in the end of May-early June, when we had irrigation season coming online, which is when I have to release a lot of water,” she adds.
“So the severity of dust just really affects things. You never knew dirt could be so interesting, did you? People are like, ‘Dirt and dust. So icky.’”
But much rests on Behery’s releases of water from Navajo Reservoir, which spans the Colorado-New Mexico border southeast of Durango. Beneficiaries include endangered fish, which rely on certain flows to make it to their spawning grounds and to find food. Navajo Reservoir water also helps farmers downstream slake their crops and water their animals. And eventually, some flows into the San Juan River and on to the confluence with the Colorado River above Lake Powell, which with Lake Mead, serve millions of people who live in Arizona, Nevada and California.
That’s why Behery leans so heavily on Derry’s data from his main study site, in Senator Beck Basin, in the western San Juan Mountains between the towns of Silverton and Telluride.
Every winter through peak runoff since Derry took over the dust-on-snow study from his predecessor, Chris Landry, he has strapped on climbing skins and skied to the study site several times a week. Using a trusty shovel, a magnifying glass, a snow-water equivalent tube and a thermometer, he measures snow crystals, snow temperature and how much water the snowpack contains, before he checks the sensors of his backcountry climate station for albedo levels to provide an “albedo forecast.”
Since 2019, he has sent this information to Behery to indicate what she can expect to see downstream “in the next 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 30 days in the future,” he says.
The Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies is the only entity that monitors dust-on-snow conditions on an operational basis for the water community, researchers and stakeholders in the United States. The dust-on-snow program is a statewide effort, with 11 river basin monitoring sites from which Derry and a team of interns assess the density of dust on snow and report on local snowmelt and streamflow impacts to the corresponding watersheds.
Last year, with several major dust events, Derry’s data was especially prescient, Behery says. But this year isn’t so bad, “because we have a pretty wet situation in the Southwest. So even if we do have a lot of windstorms it probably won’t pick up as much dust in the past,” she adds.
But she’s still calling Derry, or he is calling her, daily or close to daily, and she’s using his data to help best predict peak flows. Water releases by Behery and other river managers from McPhee Reservoir on the Dolores River impact all of the normal stakeholders, plus Colorado’s boating and fishing communities. And Behery says for each type of release the hydrograph must have the “perfect shape.”
“For example, it needs higher flows (correlating to a different shape) on weekends when people are going to recreate,” she says. “The same goes for Memorial Day. And dust is always a part of the equation, because if it’s really dark and the sun is shining, we’ll have all of this runoff happening. And then we have a cool-down, and that will stop the runoff and we’ll think it has ended. But if you look at Jeff’s data, it hasn’t ended. There was just an inch of snow on top of the dust, which increased the snow’s albedo and slowed down the runoff. We’ll still have more coming, so we’ll know what to do with the boater spill. We can keep it coming. We don’t have to shut it off.”
But managing water like Behery does “is real-time fuzzy science,” she adds. “It’s what I call riding the dragon, because you’re just trying to stay on it. There are lots of decisions and lots of Monday morning quarterbacks.”
Behery’s water updates go out to 450 people,“internal, external, public, stakeholder and private,” she says. She coordinates with Derry to make the best-informed decisions. “Our goal is to make sure everyone is getting their fair share of water,” she adds. And this year is no different, although the snow is deeper, the temperatures cooler, the winds calmer and there’s less dust.
A dust scientist’s plea to Colorado senators
In fact, of the six Colorado dust events so far this season, the only major one occurred April 3.
Most of that event bypassed the Senator Beck study site and continued north, toward Aspen. There, at Grand Mesa and at Beaver Creek, people reported seeing a “gritty, dark layer” that even after new snow had covered it, skiers’ tracks resurfaced. But in Derry’s dust-on-snow update for April 6, he wrote, “I guess we all knew [a significant event] would happen eventually.”
The event turned out to be widespread and nasty in terms of the amount of dust deposited on a relatively pristine snowpack that had essentially reached maximum accumulation, he reported. “It just takes one bad dust event to change things — this one will change the characteristics of snowmelt and runoff for the duration of spring dramatically.” The dust put places that received it in the “average” category.
But in the San Juan basin, which Behery manages, even given this event, things are looking a little better than normal.
“In a year like this where we have a good snowpack, the dust cycle continues but we can have a reset,” she says. “Still, we need subsequent years of snowpack and runoff that are either average or above average to make a lasting impact. People think one year can do it, but we’ve had 20 years of drought with a few little good years in between.”
Derry told The Sun that he’s part of a “small, loose group” of scientists, landowners, land managers and others working to build a coalition that can define the problem with and potential solutions for dust and then encourage those who own the lands dust originates on — including the BLM and Bureau of Indian Affairs — to take action through policy and support. His motivation for helping start the coalition “is when I give talks to groups — doesn’t matter who — and explain what I do, always, the first question I get is, ‘We know what the problem is, why don’t we fix it?’ And I am like, ‘Yeah, why don’t we?’ so this is my attempt.”
At the end of his April 6 update, he also addressed Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet, who were traveling through Colorado with senators from other Colorado River Basin states to see and discuss river issues and solutions. “It would be valuable if the group were to swing through the Southern Colorado Plateau and discuss the imperative need to restore soil health for the benefit of the land itself, the quality of life and livelihood of the people who live in the region, and of course to minimize dust transport to the Colorado snowpack,” Derry wrote.
It would seem impossible to forget or minimize the Cultural Revolution in China, which lasted from 1966 to 1976, resulted in an estimated 1.6 million to two million deaths and scarred a generation and its descendants. The movement, which under Mao Zedong’s leadership sought to purge Chinese society of all remaining non-Communist elements, upended nearly every hallowed institution and custom. Teachers and schools long held in esteem were denounced. Books were burned and banned, museums ransacked, private art collections destroyed. Intellectuals were tortured.
But in China, a country where information is often suppressed and history is constantly rewritten — witness recent government censorship of Covid research and the obscuring of Hong Kong’s British colonial past in new school textbooks — the memory of the Cultural Revolution risks being forgotten, sanitized and abused, to the detriment of the nation’s future.
The Chinese government has never been particularly eager to preserve the memory of that sordid decade. When I spent six weeks traveling in China in 1994 — a slightly more open time in the country — I encountered few public acknowledgments of the Cultural Revolution. Museum placards and catalogs often simply skipped a decade in their timelines or provided brief references in the passive voice along the lines of “historical events that took place.”
But in her new book, “Red Memory: The Afterlives of China’s Cultural Revolution,” the journalist Tania Branigan notes that under Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, efforts to suppress this history have intensified — with troubling implications for the political health of the country at a time when it looms larger than ever on the world stage. “When you’ve had a collective trauma, you really need a collective response,” Branigan told me recently. “I can see why the Communist Party wants to avoid the rancor and bitterness, but when you don’t have that kind of acknowledgment, you can move on — but you can’t really recover.”
The actor-director’s follow-up to Easy Rider was going to change Hollywood. That is, if he could get the damn thing made.
BY JOSH KARP
OCT 1, 2018
Courtesy of Areblos Films
Henry Fonda wasn’t holding back. Not even a little.
It was October 1970, and the 65-year old Hollywood legend had recently watched his son Peter on The David Frost Show.
Peter wasn’t the problem. Fonda’s son had come out, shaken Frost’s hand, and taken his seat—like a goddamn normal person. No, the thing raising Fonda’s blood pressure was what happened next, when Peter’s friend, Dennis Hopper came on stage.
“Dennis came out floating,” Fonda later told a New York Times reporter. He demonstrated what he meant by flouncing about the living room of his Manhattan apartment with arms spread wide and head tossed backwards. “And every time Frost asked him a question, he began giggling… Dennis is stoned out of his mind. He’d have to be to act that way.”
“Put that in your story,” Fonda told the reporter. ‘This is not off the record. Dennis Hopper is an idiot. Spell that name right D-e-n-n-i-s H-o-p-p-e-r!”
Reached at his home in Taos, New Mexico, Hopper laughed when told about Fonda’s rant. “Henry Fonda said I was an idiot?” Hopper said. “Well, I guess it goes to show you what the establishment view of me is.”
Courtesy of Areblos Films
Hopper could afford to be amused. After years of being regarded by much of the old guard as an ill-mannered, drug-addled lunatic, he was now possibly the hottest filmmaker in Hollywood. Easy Rider, which Hopper had made for less than half a million dollars, was the surprise smash of 1969, grossing $60 million and seemingly striking a death blow to the studio system that nourished the elder Fonda.
Hopper’s overnight transformation from unemployable fuckup to Wellesian genius was made exponentially more aggravating when Universal gave him total control over his next picture, on which he was currently in post-production: The Last Movie, which Hopper wrote, directed, starred in, and edited. He declared it “the first American art film.”
Hopper was keenly aware that the project would determine the course of his future, as he told the endless stream of reporters who visited him on the film’s set. “The Last Movie is the big one,” he told one writer. “If I foul up now, they’ll say Easy Rider was a fluke. But, I’ve got to take chances to do what I want.”
And, true to his word, that’s exactly what he did.
The idea for The Last Movie came to Hopper in 1965 at a wrap party for the John Wayne film The Sons of Katie Elder in Durango, Mexico, a popular location for Hollywood westerns.
Katie Elder was Hopper’s first Hollywood movie since the 1958 western From Hell to Texas, also directed by Henry Hathaway, who had effectively blacklisted the actor after his Method approach slowed down production. Things came to a head one night when Hopper turned the set into his own personal Actor’s Studio, trying every possible approach other than Hathaway’s for eighty-five takes before bursting into tears of frustration and begging the director to give him his line readings one last time. When they were done, Hathaway threw an arm around Hopper and said, “Kid, you’ll never work in this town again.”
Courtesy of Areblos Films
For the next six years, Hopper didn’t appear in a single Hollywood film and struggled to find work even in television. But in late 1964, Hathaway and Wayne decided that the 28-year-old actor—who was then married to Brooke Hayward, the scion of a prominent Hollywood family, and had a young daughter to support—had suffered enough.
On his best behavior throughout the Katie Elder shoot, Hopper became fast friends with 22-year old actor Michael Anderson Jr. “We were the only two people under 100,” Anderson said. When the film wrapped, Hopper and Anderson attended a party thrown by a stuntman who’d rented a house in Durango. They spent the evening smoking pot and staring into an outdoor fireplace in relative silence, until Hopper turned to Anderson and said, “Hey man, I just had the best idea for a movie. It’s about making movies and the effect it has on people, and what they do when a movie company leaves town.”
Hopper teamed up with screenwriter Stewart Stern. Stern’s personal papers—containing everything from his high school academic records, correspondence with Joan Crawford and Paul Newman, and scripts for pictures like Rebel Without a Cause, his best-known movie (and Hopper’s film acting debut)—make up 22 boxes located in a special collections library at the University of Iowa. For years, only one of those boxes was unavailable for public view: Box 22, which contained the materials for The Last Movieand was placed under seal until after both Hopper and Stern were dead. Its contents tell a portion of the story of Stern’s collaboration with Hopper, which began when Hopper returned to Los Angeles and settled in at Stern’s house to write a treatment for what they were calling The Last Movie, or Boo Hoo in Tinseltown.
“Dennis would stride back and forth in the room and we’d spitball ideas,” Stern said. “I sat at the typewriter and he’d walk behind me with his joint and he’d be raving, ‘I bet you could really write if you had a little joint.’ I said, ‘Well I just won’t do it, it makes me hallucinate.’ So he said, ‘There’s something called a bong, you just inhale it over water.’”
As Hopper blew smoke down the snorkel of Stern’s scuba mask, the pair wrote a 98-page outline for the story of a broken-down stuntman named Tex who shacks up with an indigenous girl and stays behind in a small Latin American town where a western has just wrapped. After watching the film company shoot their western, the natives begin to reenact its making as a religious ritual using the old sets, as well as cameras and other equipment they’ve made out of sticks. Tex, meanwhile, plans to seek his fortune by developing the town as a location for future productions. “He’s Mr. Middle America,” Hopper said. “He dreams of big cars, swimming pools, gorgeous girls. He’s so innocent he doesn’t realize he’s living out a myth. Nailing himself to a cross of gold.” The natives, however, do understand, and create a passion play of “greed and violence” using Tex as the doomed Christ figure in their deadly ceremony.
Rated R for for strong violent and disturbing content, some graphic nudity and pervasive language.
On Dennis Hopper’s birthday Wednesday (May 17), the Rebel Film Festival, Taos Center for the Arts, and Hopper Reserve present a free screening of David Lynch’s 1986 classic surreal mystery. Festivities begin at 6 p.m. with food vendors and Hopper’s commemoration birthday cake celebration.
The film begins with a young college student named Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) who finds a severed ear near his home in the quiet town of Lumberton where he helps out at his father’s hardware store. Jeffrey is puzzled when the cops take the ear but brush him off as they investigate.
Intrigued, especially after befriending the cop’s teenage daughter, Sandy (Laura Dern), Jeffrey decides to find out more when Sandy, in an overheard conversation at home, learns that the ear has something to do with a nightclub singer named Dorothy Valens (Isabella Rossellini). From there the story takes a strange turn, very strange, especially after Jeffrey decides to sneak into Dorothy’s apartment.
While Jeffrey hides in a closet, he witnesses a visit by Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper.). This performance hit new levels of depravity, even for Hopper who was already well known for pushing the envelope while depicting cinematic oddity. Be forewarned: this scene includes extremely difficult to watch sexual violence.
According to imdb.com, several of the actors who were considered for the role of Frank found the character too repulsive and intense. Hopper, by contrast, is reported to have exclaimed, “I’ve got to play Frank. Because I am Frank!”
Hopper and co-star Dean Stockwell, who both lived in Taos, offer performances that are truly memorable. Highly recommended. However, this film, while edgy in an artistic sense, is designed to confront psycho-sexual norms, while creating some of the most suspenseful visuals ever filmed.
After nearly a year wrestling over the fate of their water supply, California, Arizona and Nevada — the three key states in the Colorado River’s current crisis — have coalesced around a plan to voluntarily conserve a major portion of their river waterin exchange for more than $1 billion in federal funds, according to people familiar with the negotiations.
The consensus emerging among these states and the Biden administration aims to conserveabout 13 percent of their allocation of river water over the next three years and protect the nation’s largest reservoirs, which provide drinking water and hydropower for tens of millions of people.
But thorny issues remain that could complicate a deal. The parties are trying to work through them before a key deadline at the end of the month, according to several current and former state and federal officials familiar with the situation.
Participantsare discussing cutting back about 3 million acre-feet of water over the next three years, the majority of it paid for with federal money approved in the Inflation Reduction Act. But the parties are still negotiating how much of those water savings will go uncompensated. In meetings over the last month,representatives for the three states, which form the river’s Lower Basin,have also raised doubts about the federal government’s environmental review process that is now underway to formally revise the rules that govern operations at Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
State officials have suggested they could make a deal on their own and are resisting a May 30 deadline to comment on the alternatives the federal government has laid out in that process, according to people familiar with the talks. The review process is intended to define Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s authority to make emergency cuts in states’ water use, even if those cuts contradict existing water rights.
These developments represent a new phasein the long-runningtalks about the future of the river. For much of the past year, negotiations have pitted California against Arizona, as they are the states who suck the most from Lake Mead and will have to bear the greatest burden of the historic cuts that the Biden administration has been calling for to protect the river. But these states now appear more united than ever and are closing their differences with the federal government, even as significant issues remain unresolved.
The Interior Department declined to comment on the status of the private negotiations. The Colorado River commissioners from Arizona, California and Nevada also declined to comment.
The Colorado River runs through seven states and supplies more than 40 million people with water, and is a major resource for agriculture in the western U.S. But the river has been drying up for decades, and water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead — both reservoirs on the river — hit historic lows in the past year.
A combination of chronic water overuse and historic drought, accelerated by a warming climate, is draining the river. Snow has been abundant in California this year, and while the snowpack helps replenish the reservoirs, it won’t solve the Colorado River crisis or reverse the effects of a 23-year drought.
Some water authorities in the West want to ensure that any deal that emerges would entail binding commitments among the Lower Basin states, which draw from Lake Mead and consume more of the river each year than the states of the Upper Basin: Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
“We want to support the Lower Basin if they have significant additional reductions, verifiable, binding and enforceable,” said Becky Mitchell, Colorado’s commissioner for the negotiations. “Are we going to make a choice to do better? If we don’t want the secretary to manage us, can we show we can manage ourselves?”
The Colorado River runs 1,450 miles from the Rocky Mountains to Mexico and is a vital lifeline for cities and farms throughout the West. But climate change has made the region hotter and drier, and exposed how rules made over a century ago to share the river among Western states are inadequate to keep it from drying up.
In June, with Lake Mead and Lake Powell about a quarter full and nearing levels where the hydroelectric dams could no longer produce power, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton testified before the Senate that states needed to stop using 2 to 4 million acre-feet of water — up to one-third of the entire average annual flow — or the federal government would step in to protect the river.