By Robert Hass September 10, 2020



Where to begin? I am sitting at a desk, looking at a first edition of Gary Snyder’s The Practice of the Wild, and looking out the window at San Francisco Bay.

San Francisco Bay is the largest estuary on the West Coast of the North American continent. I grew up around the bay, spent hours as a young man fishing and boating on its waters, hunting ducks in its marshes, and much more time over the years later learning the birds and the flowering plants of the marsh ecosystem, a lifetime’s study. California was formed by the massive uplifting of the Sierra Nevada range, which makes a boundary to the Pacific Coast watershed about four hundred miles long, running north to south. California has a Mediterranean climate, with wet winters and dry summers. The winter storms deposit snow in the mountains, spring initiates a runoff, and two great rivers—the Sacramento in the north, the San Joaquin in the south (notice the Spanish names: part of the human history of the place)—flow into San Francisco Bay. Throughout the late nineteenth and much of the twentieth centuries, dams were built on all the rivers that feed the Sacramento and the San Joaquin to store fresh water for the cities and for the agriculture in California’s Central Valley.

California’s agricultural economy was valued at $47 billion in 2017, with another $100 billion in the services that support the agricultural economy. So it will surprise no one that the waters that flow into San Francisco Bay are argued over—by farmers, by the thirsty cities (especially by the cities of Southern California, which, in the twentieth century, turned its semiarid desert landscape into a vast garden). And by a third group, which the late nineteenth and the twentieth centuries brought into being, a group called conservationists at first, and then, after about 1960, environmentalists. (Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published in 1962.) 

At least since the withdrawal of the glaciers ten or twelve thousand years ago, San Francisco Bay has been an immense and critical—I’m looking for the word—incubator? engine? (our language for the dynamism of ecosystems has been impoverished) source for the life of all the inhabitants of and visitors to this coast. In some other culture, the energy of the delta would have a name and perhaps a human form, and children, dressed appropriately, would dance its power on the spring equinox or the summer solstice (which would call the stars in the heavens and the rotation of the earth into play).

Even now, something like three million ducks and a million geese pass through this region on the Pacific Flyway. Another creature of the Pacific Flyway is the sandhill crane. Sandhill cranes as a species are at least 2.5 million years old. I haven’t seen any figures on the pre-Columbian population of the birds in California, but in the nineteenth century, their winter arrival was a common experience (though there is never anything common about watching the male cranes perform their courtship dance in a marsh as the sun is setting). In the forties, because of intense hunting for their feathers and loss of habitat, conservationists were able to count five pairs of cranes. The Audubon Society, working with farmers on conservation easements, had nursed the population up to 465 mating pairs in 2000.

But it was salmon I was particularly thinking about. Deltas breed life, particularly at the place where salt water meets fresh. Just how far inland the salt water spreads, just how far out the fresh water flows, largely determines what kind of life it breeds and in what abundance. You can imagine the complexity of the trophic cascade that flows year after year from that fact—the years when there is not much snow and the salt water seeps deep into the marshes, the years of heavy snow and spring torrents fresh water streaming into the bay.

The Pacific salmon, older than sandhill cranes, perhaps 4 to 6 million years old, has been swimming up California rivers to breed at least since the end of the last ice age. Salmon cultures rim the Pacific. The Ainu people, the original inhabitants of the islands of Japan, had a salmon culture, and so did the peoples of the Siberian coast from Kamchatka to the Aleutians. So did the Inuit peoples of Alaska and the Athabascan people, and the native peoples of the Pacific Northwest in Canada and the United States (whose cultures Gary Snyder studied at Reed College). And, it could be said, the Alaskan and Canadian and American coastal Euro-American cultures that depended on fishing had their own version. In my childhood, families still went to Fisherman’s Wharf on the day before the first day of fishing season to watch a local priest or bishop (usually Italian American) bless the boats. The ritual had to do with the safety of the fishermen, not the health of the fishery or gratitude to the fish or to the sea, but it at least made a gesture to the fact of a food chain that supported the life of the community.

A quick picture of the salmon population as it has weathered dams, pollution, invasive species, and the water diversion to farms and cities: in 1988, fisherman caught 1.4 million salmon in California; in 2018, they caught 175,000. There have been intense discussions and much planning as the human culture tries to parse out just how the waters will be distributed among contending needs and what the likely consequences will be. In the meantime, it seems clear that this extraordinary ecosystem is collapsing. Climate change—another human behavior being practiced religiously on California freeways—complicates the issue, of course. Water management as a profession depends almost entirely on historical records, and at the moment, because the future is unpredictable, all bets are off.

The farmers, municipalities, water managers, dam managers, environmentalists, engineers, environmental scientists, and environmental attorneys have been and will be arguing about solutions, and one can begin to understand their positions, representing the cities as economic generators. The farm economy is one of the most powerful on earth; the fishermen have their arguments, and so do the conservationists and the environmentalists. Our culture has not been very good at raising the questions that our economic and social practices have brought to us. Like, What is a 2.5-million-year-old species of wading bird worth? And wouldn’t it to be okay to raise a few specimens in captivity and put them in zoos and get on with it? And given the multiple demands on human communities and the prospects of aquaculture and farmed fish, wouldn’t it be good to figure out the minimum at which the Pacific ecosystem can survive, since the days of a million salmon in the boats of fishermen are over?

This is the California story—or one of the California stories—and every region in the country, every place on earth, has its own version. We can’t not think about these questions, but we don’t have a particularly good common language in which to think about them, which is why the tradition of North American environmental writing came into existence, why Gary Snyder’s book is called The Practice of the Wild, why the first essay is called “The Etiquette of Freedom” and why another is called “Tawny Grammar,” and it is also why it is a very good thing to have in hand the thirtieth-anniversary edition of this book.

Almost all the classics of North American environmental writing—Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, John Muir’s The Mountains of California, Mary Austin’s The Land of Little Rain, Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, the ocean books of Rachel Carson—have taken the form of a miscellany of essays. The Practice of the Wild, which was published in 1990, belongs to the genre. Probably the form has to do with the way the writers meant to address a public and to make an argument or to clarify the terms of an argument. The media in which to do that in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were the magazine or journal or the lecturer’s podium.

Thoreau, for example, wanted to tell his readers that they were too busy using the earth to be able to see it. Walden describes how he set about teaching himself to see it. And John Muir, after working long hours through his teenage years on his family’s farm, wandered into Yosemite in a search for freedom and for majesty, and a passionate curiosity about the geology of the western mountains. He taught himself to see the place. A touchstone essay in Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, I think, is “Song of the Gavilan.” Leopold went into the Southwest with his forestry degree from Yale. The forests in New Mexico territory had been seriously abused and the range lands of the ranchers who were his constituents overgrazed, and the young Leopold did not quite understand what he was seeing in that landscape until a hunting trip took him into the Sierra Madre and to the Rio Gavilan. There he came to realize that he was seeing a healthy, fully functioning natural ecosystem for the first time, and he wrote about that. The struggles Mary Austin and Rachel Carson faced in getting a formal education in the sciences because of their gender are well known and have become part of the story of the way that they educated themselves to become writers.

Gary Snyder’s self-education began early. He was born in 1930 at the beginning of the Great Depression and spent his early childhood on his parents’ subsistence farm in the Pacific Northwest. War work took his father to Portland, and Snyder went to high school and college there. The place and the time matter. If one were to illustrate it, a photograph of the snowy peak of Mount Rainier might do, looming up visibly from Seattle on a clear day, or farther south in the Cascade Range, the half-magical sight of Mount Hood, also snowcapped, presiding over Portland from some fifty miles away. Portland is situated at the confluence of two mighty rivers, the Columbia and the Willamette, and in the mid-’50s, in the middle of the postwar economic recovery, the surfaces of the rivers were full of rafts of the logs floated downriver from the logging camps that were cashing in on the construction boom. They were taking down the pine forests of the Cascade Range—the forests that Snyder had grown up in—and the river was thick with the story of it. At Reed College, studying Chinese poetry and the myths of the indigenous people of the Northwest forest and coast, reading classical and English literature and the Modernist poets Eliot and Pound and Williams, Snyder began to write about what he saw. His reading of the Chinese poets and his study of the myth world of classical Greece gave him a way to see it in epic terms:

The ancient forests of China logged
….and the hills slipped into the Yellow Sea
Squared beams, log dogs,
….on a tamped-earth sill.

San Francisco 2 x 4’s
….were the woods around Seattle:
Someone killed and someone built, a house,
….a forest, wrecked or raised
All America hung on a hook
….& burned by men, in their own praise.

And again:

….…..cut down,
Groves of Ahab, of Cybele
….Pine trees, knobbed twigs
thick cone and seed
….Cybele’s tree this, sacred in groves

There is this vast sense of elegy in the work, and also the sense of a time when the sacred was rooted in material processes. And the poems were full of his almost physical rendering of the rhythms of work in the logging business:

Crosscut and chainsaw
….squareheads and finns
….high-lead and cat-skidding
Trees down
Creeks choked, trout killed, roads.

The logging poems of his remarkable early book Myths and Texts were published in 1960 and came out of his summer jobs working on trail crews for the U.S. Forest Service, as a choke setter for a commercial logging operation, and as a lookout for the National Park Service. His first poems of that experience begin with a quotation from Exodus: “But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves.” At Reed College, he was also able to pursue his interest in Native American culture, and he did a senior honors thesis on Haida myth. The Haida are a people of southern Alaska and the northern coast of Canada, known to the world for the aesthetics of their monumental carvings that have come to define the art of the Northwest coast. At twenty years of age, Snyder was trying to understand the imagination of the Paleolithic cultures that preceded the great metropolitan cultures of Greece and Rome and Jerusalem and Xian. He was already thinking that it was there, in the first imperial cities, that something had gone profoundly wrong with the human relation to the earth.

His education next took him to graduate school in comparative literature in Indiana. That didn’t work. (One recollects John Muir’s experience of higher education.) So he enrolled in a graduate program in Asian languages at Berkeley and set to studying Japanese and classical Chinese. He was already interested in the sensibility of Chinese poetry, especially the monk poets of the Tang dynasty, and already interested in the spiritual traditions of Zen and of Taoism. Wasn’t Taoism a nature philosophy, the beginning of ecological thinking? And wasn’t the Zen Buddhist conception of a nature rooted in contingency and change a description of evolutionary biology? Once he was into his course work, he undertook the translation of an obscure eighth-century hermit monk, Han Shan, whose name, probably a pen name, translated as “Cold Mountain.”

It was in Berkeley that he met Allen Ginsberg, a graduate student in English, and Ginsberg’s college friend Jack Kerouac, and that was how Kerouac and Snyder came to go hiking in the California hills and how Kerouac came to memorialize those hikes in his novel The Dharma Bums, which had the effect of turning Snyder into a cultural hero for the young in the seventies. But in 1957, Snyder had decided to take Zen Buddhism seriously and to go to Japan and get some training. So he got into the International Seamen’s Union and, union card in hand, got a job on a freighter that took him to Kyoto. That would have been May 1956. In August 1957, he got a job in the engine room of a tanker, the SS Sappa Creek, which was going to get him back to San Francisco.

The Sappa Creek took him from Yokohama through the Persian Gulf into the Mediterranean, eventually across the Pacific—Okinawa, Guam, Samoa—and that was another stage of his education.

It’s interesting to consider this. That boom in suburban construction was fueled by President Dwight Eisenhower’s program to build a continental freeway system in the United States, four- and six-lane roads from Maine to San Diego. The farmland and the orchards that surrounded U.S. cities were being transformed into housing for commuters to the city, with land use designed—drive-in movies, drive-through restaurants—to celebrate the automobile and the idea of the freedom of the road that Snyder’s friend Kerouac had celebrated in his novel On the Road. In the mid-’50s, other poets were not thinking—in fact, social thinkers were not thinking—about a global economy or fossil fuels or a half century of wars based on fossil-fuel dependency and the long-range consequences of these social arrangements on the atmosphere of the planet. The Practice of the Wild was published in 1990. James Hansen, a NASA climate scientist, first testified before the U.S. Congress in 1988 and introduced them to the new term climate change. Here is Gary Snyder in the mid-’60s:


soft rainsqualls on the swells
south of the Bonins, late at night. Light
from the empty mess-hall
throws back bulky shadows
of winch and fairlead
over the slanting fantail where I stand.

but for men on watch in the engine room,
the man at the wheel, the lookout in the bow,
the crew sleeps. in cots on deck
or narrow iron bunks down drumming
passageways below.

the ship burns with a furnace heart
steam veins and copper nerves
quivers and slightly twists and always goes—
easy roll of the hull and deep
vibration of the turbine underfoot.

bearing what all these
crazed, hooked nations need:
steel plates and
long injections of pure oil.

When Snyder returned from Japan, his early books of poems—RiprapMyths and TextsThe Back Country—had appeared. Hard to convey—except that it is still available—the freshness and originality of his vision. The most striking voices in North American poetry in the fifties and early sixties—post-Hiroshima, post-Auschwitz, what W. H. Auden called “the age of anxiety”—wrote a poetry of psychological crisis: the ferocious poems of Sylvia Plath, the struggles of Robert Lowell and Theodore Roethke with bipolar disorder and of John Berryman with alcoholism and depression, and Allen Ginsberg’s hyperbolic address to a generation “destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked.” There was a slight shock turning from that work to Snyder’s evocation of the sheer energy of the living world:

Birds in a whirl, drift to the rooftops
Kite dip, swing to the seabank fogroll
Form: dots in air changing line from line,
………the future defined.
Brush back smoke from the eyes,
………dust from the mind,
With the wing-feather fan of an eagle.
A hawk drifts into the far sky.
A marmot whistles across huge rocks.
Rain on the California hills.
Mussels clamp to sea-boulders
Sucking the Spring tides

He came back from Japan married, with one son and another on the way. In 1969, the second son was born, and he published a first book of prose—journals of his time as a forest lookout and a student of Zen in Kyoto, essays with titles like “Buddhism and the Possibility of a Planetary Culture” and “Poetry and the Primitive.” The first book describing this education, it was entitled Earth House Hold, the title a rough translation of the Greek root eco that gave the science of ecology its name. He also wrote an essay published as a broadside entitled “Four Changes,” which proposed ways in which human beings needed to address four issues: population, pollution, consumption, and a fourth, which he called transformation. He meant the cultural transformation necessary to address the other three and described its term in this modest way: “A basic cultural outlook and social organization that inhibits power- and property-seeking while encouraging exploration and challenge in things like music, meditation, mathematics, mountaineering, magic, and all other ways of authentic being-in-the-world.” The next year, he headed to land in the Sierra Foothills east and north of San Francisco and built a house—powered off the grid—a study with a library, and eventually a meditation hall, which became Ring of Bone Zendo, a center for a rural Buddhist community.

The young Gary Snyder who studied Native American mythology loved the figure of Coyote, the mammal embodiment of the wanton, slippery, unappeasable force of life, the wily creature who kept his distance from the civilized center and its solemnities. An appropriate totem for a poet who, looking out across the high mountains, would write, “history / after the Jurassic is a bore” and “Agents: man and beast, beasts / got the Buddha-nature / All but / Coyote.” The Gary Snyder of 1970—father, husband, householder, citizen, and taxpayer—had become a public figure at a moment when the environment was suddenly on the U.S. political agenda. These were the years of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. As Snyder was moving into his new life, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Endangered Species Act came into being. In 1970, he was invited to speak—how poets patch together a living—by the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara. In 1972, he spoke at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm. In 1975, he was appointed by his friend Jerry Brown, the governor of California, to serve on the board of the California Arts Council.

The layers of the vision that he was exploring in his poetry and prose between 1950 and 1970 were intricate. First, a sheer love of the wild and the passion for natural history that comes with it. Then a socialist/anarchist sensibility picked up from the IWW tradition of the Northwest lumber camps. Then an interest in what he sometimes called the primitive and sometimes called paleolithic values: a sense of something like courtesy or formality in the hunter-gather relation to animals, wild places, and weather that survived into the classical mythology he studied at Reed College. And then the Modernist poets’ attempts to revive animist and polytheist mythologies in the early twentieth century. Also Chinese and Japanese literature and the philosophical traditions of Taoism and Zen, and the aesthetic of Chinese landscape painting that was going to be so important for the development of his poetry. The old mythologies were still alive there in the Noh drama of Japan and the mountain poets of Tang dynasty China. And ecology, the science of the entire set of living, constantly changing interactions in any given natural system. He had been interested in forests since he was a teenager. He had spent two summers as a fire lookout on a mountain peak. Having built a home for his children, he found that the idea of forest management, especially forest management with respect to fire, was no longer a theoretical issue. Here is his poem on the subject:

“Control Burn”

What the Indians
used to do, was,
to burn out the brush every year.
in the woods, up the gorges,
keeping the oak and pine stands
tall and clear
with grasses
and kitkitdizzie under them,
never enough fuel there
that a fire could crown.

Now, manzanita,
(a fine bush in its right)
crowds up under the new trees
mixed up with logging slash
and a fire can wipe out all.

Fire is the old story.
I would like,
with a sense of helpful order,
with respect for laws
of nature,
to help my land
with a burn, a hot clean
…..(manzanita seeds will only open
…..after a fire passes over
…..or once passed through a bear)
And then
it would be more
when it belonged to the Indians


In the essay “Ancient Forests of the Far West,” Snyder, the poet/scholar/citizen, is able to underline a point by referring to Plato’s fifth century B.C. dialogue Critias, in which the philosopher complains about the soil erosion created by clear-cutting in the mountain forests outside Athens.


So the nine essays that make up The Practice of the Wild are a record of Snyder’s education as an artist, thinker, and citizen in the twenty years between 1970 and 1990. There was then, as there still is, work to be done. The partial successes of the environmental movement in the sixties and seventies had bred their predictable reactions.

Ronald Reagan, running for governor in 1966, had this to say about the ancient forests of the far West:

I think, too, that we’ve got to recognize that where the preservation of a natural resource like the redwoods is concerned, that there is a commonsense limit. I mean, if you’ve looked at a hundred thousand acres or so of trees—you know, a tree is a tree, how many more do you need to look at?

And academics in the universities and environmental attorneys in the courts were asking, in the wake of the Wilderness Act—which passed in 1964—what was meant by wilderness. Wasn’t it a fairly arbitrary cultural construction? Wasn’t nature, like natural, a term used by the state to police and control human behavior? Snyder, who tends to think in geological time, seems to have had these issues in mind, even while he was thinking about the transformation of human societies since the end of the last ice age.

That work took him to Kobuk, an Inupiaq village in Northwest Alaska, in order to help the National Endowment for the Humanities think about what the humanities meant in a native Alaskan village and what values the people of Kobuk had been thinking in for the last ten thousand years. He tells the story of that experience in the essay called “Tawny Grammar.” It took him also to the Australian desert south of Alice Springs to get a sense of how the aboriginal people of that place, the Pintubi, think about what place is. That story gets told in the essay “Good, Wild, Sacred.” So it seemed useful to tell those stories, to try to work out definitions of nature and wildness and wilderness, to say what place is, to introduce the notion that we would serve the land more wisely by thinking in biological regions rather than in the political entities created by land surveys.

The Practice of the Wild, then, is itself an example of the practice of the wild, of thinking hard about our residence on earth. And about—as Snyder says in the first essay—how to cultivate a social and economic life that puts us in touch with the wild in ourselves and cultivates the wilderness around us as a place where “the wild potential is fully expressed, a diversity of living and nonliving beings flourishing according to their own sorts of order.”

Robert Hass is a Pulitzer Prize– and National Book Award–winning author and a former poet laureate of the United States. His books include Time and MaterialsSun under Wood, and Summer Snow: New Poems. Read his Art of Poetry interview.

Saludos desde el Centro de Avalancha Río Blanco

Rio Blanco Avalanche Interns Finn and Leighton on their lunch break.

Avalanche Center Director and Parol Officer Mark Rawstoned (wearing his old and faded CDOT headpiece) with his Avy crew.


September 10, 20205:13 PM ET


A baby turtle is released into the ocean in Bali, Indonesia, Tuesday, June 9, 2020, part of a campaign to save the endangered Lekang sea turtles. (AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati)Firdia Lisnawati/AP

Human activities have caused the world’s wildlife populations to plummet by more than two-thirds in the last 50 years, according to a new report from the World Wildlife Fund. 

The decline is happening at an unprecedented rate, the report warns, and it threatens human life as well. 

“The findings are clear,” the report states. “Our relationship with nature is broken.”

The Living Planet Report 2020 report drew on wildlife monitoring of more than 4,300 different vertebrate species – animals, fish, birds and amphibians – from around the world. It found that population sizes for those monitored species declined by an average of 68 percent from 1970 to 2016. 

In the American tropics, including the Caribbean and Latin America, population sizes decreased by a staggering 94 percent. 

Forest clearing for agricultural space was the predominant cause of the decline, the report says, noting that one-third of the planet’s land is currently being used for food production. Human-caused climate change is another growing driver. 

“We can’t ignore the evidence – these serious declines in wildlife species populations are an indicator that nature is unraveling and that our planet is flashing red warning signs of systems failure,” wrote Marco Lambertini, Director General of World Wildlife Fund International. 

The 83-page document, a collaboration with the Zoological Society of London, joins a growing and ominous list of academic research and international reports warning that human activities are causing a steep decline in global biodiversity. 

Protecting biodiversity amounts to protecting humanity. 

UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay

The United Nations published a sweeping report last year cautioning that 1 million of the estimated 8 million plant and animal species on the planet are at risk of extinction, many within decades, because of human activities. It made a similar plea for people to care, punctuated with a warning:

“Protecting biodiversity amounts to protecting humanity,” UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, said at the time of the report’s release. 

A subsequent United Nations report, published in July of this year, warned that biodiversity loss, and humans’ destruction of nature, would lead to an increase in animal-to-human diseases, like COVID-19. The pandemic has also reportedly contributed to an increase in deforestation in some parts of the world, amplifying the risk. 

Scientists have long-warned that the world is entering a sixth mass extinction, driven by humanity’s consumption of wildlife and wild spaces, and the burning of fossil fuels. Global warming will also cause ecosystems to shift faster than some species can adapt. 

Actions can be taken to slow the decline. An article published Thursday in the journal Nature outlined steps that the global community could take to “bend the curve” on biodiversity loss. People could rapidly cut greenhouse gas emissions, avoiding the worst climate change scenarios; vast tracts of land and sea could be conserved; damaged areas could be restored; and food production practices could evolve to lighten its impact on existing ecosystems. 

The World Wildlife Fund’s report says the planet’s ecosystems only have a limited ability to regenerate, a process that it says is essential to all life on Earth. 

The report’s authors compared ecosystems’ ability to regenerate with the ever-growing human population and found an ecological imbalance.

“The human enterprise currently demands 1.56 times more than the amount that Earth can regenerate,” the report says.


La Niña patterns favor enhanced hurricane activity over the Atlantic.

Current sea surface temperature anomalies in degrees Celsius. Note the cool waters in the eastern Pacific commensurate with La Niña. (Tropical Tidbits) 

By Matthew CappucciSeptember 10, 2020 at 2:15 p.m. MDTAdd to list

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared Thursday that a La Niña pattern had become established, having bearing on the remainder of the hurricane season and the upcoming winter. La Niña conditions are likely to continue through at least wintertime, potentially returning to a more relaxed “neutral” state by spring.

Seven tropical systems to watch, including longer term U.S. threat, on peak day of hurricane season

La Niña, which means “the girl” in Spanish, is the opposite of an El Niño. La Niña features unusually cool ocean waters in the equatorial tropical Pacific Ocean and can influence weather patterns beyond the Pacific.

The expectation of a La Niña pattern was a contributor in NOAA’s early August forecast of an “extremely active” hurricane season.

La Niñas and El Niños, which represent opposite phases of ENSO, or the El Niño Southern Oscillation, are major drivers of weather and climate trends in North America.

NOAA's estimated likelihood of La Niña to continue in the coming months. (NOAA/NWS)
NOAA’s estimated likelihood of La Niña to continue in the coming months. (NOAA/NWS) 

Much of late 2018 through early 2020 had skewed a bit more toward the weak El Niño side. Now, the pendulum is swinging in the other direction, which will have major implications in the months ahead.

What is a La Niña?

A historical chart of La Niña events (blue) and El Niño events (red). (NWS Tampa Bay)
A historical chart of La Niña events (blue) and El Niño events (red). (NWS Tampa Bay) 

A La Niña pattern is characterized by anomalously cool sea surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific. That’s the opposite of an El Niño, during which the east tropical Pacific is atypically toasty.AD

With a significant change in ocean temperatures ongoing and further in the offing, a La Niña alters several key circulation patterns in the atmosphere and can influence weather across the globe.

Most La Niña events last for at least several months but can occasionally stretch for years. Strong La Niñas occurred between 1973-1976, 1988-1989 and from 1998 to early 2001.

Winter weather

A typical wintertime La Niña pattern. (NOAA/NWS)
A typical wintertime La Niña pattern. (NOAA/NWS) 

NOAA forecasters have stated there is a 75 percent chance that La Niña will stick around for the entirety of winter. Generally speaking, La Niña typically increases the odds of above-average snowfall in the Pacific Northwest, northern Plains, Great Lakes region and northern New England. However, every La Niña is different, and other weather patterns can overwhelm its effects.AD

In the Mid-Atlantic, South, southern/central Plains and Southwest, snow may be more scarce. 

The impending La Niña is bad news for Central and Southern California, where potentially reduced snowpack at the higher elevations and fewer winter storms may prolong this year’s fire season, already a record, and set the stage for a challenging 2021.

Severe weather impacts 

A look at typical wintertime storm tracks during La Niña versus El Niño years. During La Niña years, the jet stream is typically farther north, with fewer storm systems passing directly over the South. (NWS Tallahassee)
A look at typical wintertime storm tracks during La Niña versus El Niño years. During La Niña years, the jet stream is typically farther north, with fewer storm systems passing directly over the South. (NWS Tallahassee) 

Because La Niña patterns shift the location of the jet stream farther north, there is generally less unsettled weather in the wintertime across the southern United States. This means drier, and subsequently warmer, conditions are likely for the Desert Southwest, South and Southeast.

It also limits the number of wintertime severe weather events in Florida and the South, commonly known as “Dixie Alley” by storm chasers. Disturbances in the jet stream can cause severe weather and tornado activity across the Interstate 10 corridor, particularly from Louisiana and Mississippi to Alabama, Florida and Georgia, between December and February. But with the jet stream retreating farther north, those chances are significantly diminished.

In fact, tornadoes in this region are only half as common during La Niña winters as compared with El Niño winters, welcome news for residents who live there.

A look at severe weather tendencies from March through May during El Niño and La Niña years. (
A look at severe weather tendencies from March through May during El Niño and La Niña years. ( 

Between March and May, however, a La Niña pattern can increase tornado and severe thunderstorm incidence for portions of the central and southern Plains, as well as into portions of Arkansas, northern Louisiana and the central Mississippi Valley.

It is unclear whether this La Niña will still be in place by then, though.


The Glen Canyon Dam at Lake Powell in Page, Arizona. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Jason Blevins

Decades of collaborative agreements between the states that rely on the Colorado River could be threatened by the Trump Administration plan to expedite review of Utah’s diversion project

For more than 20 years, negotiations among the seven states that rely on the Colorado River have avoided lawsuits, even as drought and population growth threaten the river’s flows.

That may change as a promise to rush the environmental review of a diversion project between the Colorado River’s upper and lower basins has six states suggesting lawsuits challenging the project could topple years of agreements. 

Colorado this week joined Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada and Wyoming in protesting a fast-tracked environmental review of the 140-mile Lake Powell Pipeline in Utah. Using special “national emergency” executive powers the president has during the pandemic, the Trump Administration in June ordered the Interior Department to scale back environmental reviews of major infrastructure projects.

“Antiquated regulations and bureaucratic practices have hindered American infrastructure investments” and slowed growth in construction and trade jobs, President Donald Trump said in the June 4 executive order.

“Unnecessary regulatory delays will deny our citizens opportunities for jobs and economic security, keeping millions of Americans out of work and hindering our economic recovery from the national emergency,” Trump wrote in the order, which did not cite specific projects. The Associated Press last week identifiedmore than 60 energy, environmental, natural resource and transportation projects slated for expedited review, including the Lake Powell Pipeline. 

The six states, in a letter sent Tuesday to Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, said the probability of multi-year litigation over a rushed approval of the 20-year-old Lake Powell Pipeline plan was “high.”

The Colorado River Basin states have been working with Utah on details of the Lake Powell Pipeline plan for years. The project would divert 86,000 acre-feet of Utah’s allocated water from Lake Powell — which is the largest storage bank for managing upper basin water — to fast-growing downstream communities in the Colorado River’s lower basin in southwest Utah. 

The headwaters of the Colorado River in Grand County. (Nina Riggio, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The issue is not necessarily the actual water. The project would move water that belongs to Utah. But the transfer of water from the upper basin to the lower basin has traditionally involved agreement between all seven Colorado River Basin states on details like accounting for the diverted water and how that fits into recent drought plans. The states were working on those details when the project was identified for a hurried final decision.

“This diversion and use of Colorado River water as currently described by Utah and the Lake Powell Pipeline Draft Environmental Impact Statement … raises significant questions” under 1922 and 1948 agreements, reads the letter, which notes that the basin states did agree to divert upper basin water to the lower basin in New Mexico with the under-construction Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project.

“As a result of the collaborative approach embodied in these successes and other efforts, we have not only limited the risk that the Colorado River system will crash, we have done so without introducing the unpredictability and untimeliness of having courts weigh in on Colorado River management,” the letter reads.

The six states have not spoken publicly about Utah’s Lake Powell Pipeline project until now. 

Colorado’s border with Utah. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Public comment on the Bureau of Reclamation’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement studying the pipeline ended Tuesday, setting up a final decision that could come soon under the Trump Administration’s order to fast-track the process. 

“The Lake Powell Pipeline’s prospects for success are substantially diminished if we are compelled to address such issues in the context of the current Lake Powell NEPA process rather than through the collaborative, seven-state process we have developed,” the letter to Bernhardt from the six states reads. 

The states also said the lawsuits likely would raise “certain Law of the River questions” that should be left to the states to resolve. Wrangling in court, the letter reads, “is not the recipe for creating the kind of meaningful and positive change needed to sustain the Colorado River in the coming decades.”

The line between the upper and lower basins anchors the complex arrangement among Colorado River Basin states known as the Law of the River, which dates back to 1922 and governs pretty much every drop of the Colorado River. 

The Law of the River has been forged through collaborative work among all seven states that rely on the Colorado River. As a now 21-year drought shrinks flows in the river while populations grow in each of the states, the compacts governing the Colorado River have been reached without the need for lawsuits or legal intervention forcing cuts or curtailments. Interim guidelines for lower basin shortages and last year’s “pain-sharing” drought contingency plans involved intense negotiations among the states as the volume of water flowing down the Colorado River failed to meet the demand. All of those negotiations revolve around storage and releases in the basin’s two impoundments, Lake Mead and Lake Powell. 

A rushed Final Environmental Impact Statement could establish protocols for moving water from the upper basin to the lower basin without basin-wide agreement on details like the accounting of the diversion, use of the water and other operational issues under the Law of the River. 

“Really what we were trying to convey in the letter is that the Colorado River Basin states have a long history of working together collaboratively and working toward consensus,” said Becky Mitchell, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board who signed the letter to Bernhardt. “These relationships have successfully guided the management and operations of the system for many years. That’s why we have requested the Department of Interior refrain from issuing the Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision until we have time to really reach consensus on the legal and operational issues.”

Todd Adams, the director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, said in a statement that he believed a resolution could be reached among basin states, pointing to water projects across the West that have been negotiated by basin states while under federal review. The project would use about 5% of Utah’s share of its Colorado River water and Adams said the water is “critical” to meeting the needs of Washington County. 

“Without the project, the economic viability and water security of one of the fastest-growing regions in the United States will be harmed,” Adams said. “As we’ve done in the past, we remain committed to working with the other basin states to mitigate their concerns raised by Utah’s intent to use a portion of its Colorado River allotment to provide water to Washington County. We will work diligently to address their concerns over the coming months.”


Do you ever wonder what meteorologists mean when they mention “models”, and how these models are used to forecast the weather? Here’s the breakdown.

What are weather forecast models?

Weather forecast models are computer programs that can help predict what the weather will be in the future, any time in the future from an hour to ten days out and even months ahead.

These forecast models take current weather observations collected from thousands of locations (such as wind speed, wind direction, air temperature, pressure, etc.), make an estimate about the current weather for locations where no actual data exists, and then use math and physics equations to predict what will happen in the future.

Below is an image from the “GFS” forecast model showing areas of high and low pressure as well as precipitation. We can use an image like this to know where storms may be at a point in the future.

There are many forecast models that cover the globe or smaller regions, and each model is developed with its own formulas in an attempt to be the most accurate.

Models that cover the entire globe

Two of the more well-known/used weather models are the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecast (ECMWF) a.k.a. the “Euro” model, and the United States’ Global Forecast System (GFS) model. Both of these models cover the entire globe.


  • Global Forecasting System
  • Produced by the US Government
  • Covers the entire globe
  • Forecasts out to 384 hours (16 days)
  • Updates 4x per day
  • Model resolution of 13km
  • Average accuracy score lags the ECMWF (but every storm is different)
  • Cost = freely available to anyone


  • European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts
  • Produced by a group of European Governments
  • Covers the entire globe
  • Forecasts out to 240 hours (10 days)
  • Updates 2x per day
  • Model resolution of 9km (more detailed than the GFS)
  • Average accuracy score makes it the best model (but every storm is different)
  • Cost = $250,000 for commercial license to host data. Personal license is available to access data with an individual subscription (see Paid Forecast Model Websites below).

Models that cover a smaller area

Then there are mesoscale (fine-scale) models, which hone in on more specific regions and tend to be able to forecast really small weather features better than the global models, like thunderstorms or snowfall within steep mountains.

The two most popular U.S. mesoscale models are known as the North American Mesoscale Forecast System (NAM) and the High-Resolution Rapid Refresh (HRRR) model.


  • North American Model
  • Produced by the US Government
  • Covers the United States
  • Two versions: Standard and High-Resolution
  • Standard = 12km resolution for North America out to 84 hours (3.5 days)
  • High-Resolution = 3km resolution for the United States out to 60 hours (2.5 days)
  • Cost = freely available to anyone


  • High-Resolution Rapid Refresh
  • Produced by the US Government
  • Covers the United States
  • Forecasts out to 18 hours
  • Updates once every hour
  • Model resolution of 3km
  • Cost = freely available to anyone

Examples model forecasts

Weather models provide gigabytes of forecast data each time that they run. What we often show, and what you often see, are graphics and charts that are created from this underlying data. Here are some examples. 

A 16-day snow forecast for the United States and southern Canada from September 24 – October 10, 2019, from the American GFS model.

A 16-day precipitation forecast for the United States and southern Canada from September 24 – October 10, 2019, from the American GFS model.

A 16-day forecast for the weather pattern at about 18,000 feet. Blue colors help to identify storm systems. This is for the United States and southern Canada from September 24 – October 10, 2019, from the American GFS model.

Why do different models provide different forecasts?

First, forecast models differ in how they collect the current weather conditions across the globe. Even with a sophisticated measurement network including satellites, radars, weather balloons, ground-based weather stations, planes and ships, forecast models must make assumptions to fill in the gaps between actual weather observations, in places like oceans, large forests, deserts, etc.

Second, forecast models differ in the math and physics equations that they use to move from the current condition of the atmosphere and turn that into a weather prediction. Small changes in these equations can lead to rather substantial differences in forecasts.

And third, forecast models have different levels of detail (resolution) and can struggle to properly account for steep terrain like the mountains where we ski and ride. This is where a local forecaster can help because they can adjust the model forecasts based on their experience of seeing when the model does a good job versus times when the model is less accurate.

All of these factors play a roll in creating different forecast outcomes even though the models are starting with mostly the same information about the current state of the atmosphere.

Which forecast model is the most accurate?

Below is a chart showing the accuracy scores for 5-day forecasts for the northern hemisphere from several of the commonly used forecast models over the past 23 years.

The ranking from most skillful to least skillful is based on the one-year average accuracy of five-day forecasts. A higher number means that the model is more accurate. All four of these models cover the globe. While any model can more accurately predict a single storm, the European model has been and continues to be the most accurate.

  1. European Model (ECM = 0.920)
  2. British Model (UKM = 0.902)
  3. American Model (GFS = 0.888)
  4. Canadian Model (CMC = 0.883)
model scores

What are ensemble forecast models?

Forecast models provide imperfect predictions because we do not know the current weather for every place on earth and because we do not know the perfect math and physics equations to use in these models.

To account for both of these shortcomings, models are run many times with slightly different current weather conditions and equations. This produces a range, or ensemble, of many forecasts rather than a single forecast.

If the range of forecasts is small, we have greater confidence in the prediction. If, however, the range of forecasts is large, then the confidence in the forecast is much lower.

For example, the GFS ensemble forecast model is made up of 21 versions, each of which uses slightly different current conditions. And the ECMWF (European) ensemble forecast model has 51 versions. All of these model runs can be averaged together (a “mean” model) which can provide a more accurate forecast. 


Weather forecast models are a guide to the future, but forecast models are only one part of a weather forecasters toolkit. To create a prediction, forecasters use a combination of models, experience in understanding the model’s biases, and knowledge of the fundamentals of meteorology.

Each model has its own pros and cons. Most forecasters will look at several models and will take into account their own experience with the models as it pertains to their region when making a forecast. They should also tell you their uncertainty when the models disagree.

The forecasts made by the models are usually most accurate within 1-5 days, and then they lose accuracy the further out in time they go. This is because of the chaotic nature of weather, in which very small uncertainties in the current state of the atmosphere have a “butterfly effect” on the future.

Weather models have become more accurate over the last few decades, but are still far from perfect. As computer technology and scientific knowledge improve, the models will become more sophisticated continuing to lead towards more accurate forecasts.

Want to create your own forecast?

There are now many websites that allow you to look at the output from weather forecast models. Below are a few of the sites that we use. The free sites tend to have fewer details and options for viewing the models as compared to the paid sites.

Free Forecast Model Websites

NOAA – National Weather Service


  • By Robert Nott
  • Aug 27, 2020 
Author, soldier, cowboy Max Evans rode off into cowboy heaven
Photo courtesy Lorene Mills and Max EvansMax Evans at the ruins of his ranch in the “hi-lo country” in 2002, photo David BowserMichael Abatemarco lThe New Mexican

Max Evans survived the D-Day invasion, countless barroom brawls, disappointing dust-ups with Hollywood — and, most important, the changing of the American West in the years following World War II.

On Wednesday, the former cowboy, soldier, artist and author died of natural causes in hospice care at the VA Medical Center in Albuquerque, just three days shy of his 96th birthday.

His wife, Pat Evans, said her husband rode off to the “great mystery in the sky,” which is how Max Evans liked to describe God, heavenly guardians, fate, curiosity and just about anything else he couldn’t quite define in life.

“He’s on a whole new adventure now,” Pat Evans said Thursday morning.

Max Evans was one of the last great American literary figures of the latter part of the 20th century. His works often addressed the challenges faced by men and women coming to grips with the postwar transition of the American West.

He broke into literary fame with his 1960 novel The Rounders, about two contemporary cowboys who just want to live, love and avoid trouble, but whose simple dreams are foiled time and again by a rambunctious, impossible-to-tame horse.

The horse, like Evans himself, survives efforts to abandon and kill it and proves to the two hapless cowboys that the spirit of the Old West is pretty hard to extinguish. Director-writer Burt Kennedy made a film version of the novel in the mid-1960s, with actors Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda as the protagonists. The movie was a sleeper hit for MGM.

Evans also is known for his 1962 novel The Hi Lo Country, a tale of two New Mexico cowboys returning home from combat service in World War II. They are thrust into another battle to save the West they once knew as progress — in the form of larger corporate outfits and trucks — envelopes the land.

Like the protagonists of that book, Evans came home from World War II to a changed New Mexico ranching landscape. The native of Ropes, Texas, who moved to New Mexico to start punching cows as a young teen, found himself edged out of the ranching business by the end of the 1940s.

Among other professions, Evans worked as a miner, smuggled gold and bat guano and dealt with enterprises involving people from the wrong side of the tracks — and the law. He often joked that he was a con man, and his life was one of bars, bunkhouses, typewriters and mishaps, often involving fights he continually lost and women perpetually intent of doing harm to him.

Living high and fast was part of Evans’ creed. In his 2004 autobiography, Ol’ Max Evans — The First Thousand Years, written with Slim Randles, Evans said he once figured he and a pal spent $100,000 on alcohol over the course of five years.

But he never let liquor get in the way of his work, and he was a worker, turning to writing full-time in the late 1950s after a bid to be a visual artist. Evans himself was not so much a larger-than-life character than a life-like character who liked to see how far he could push the fun to be had every day.

His sendoff catch phrase was always: “Have fun!”

Friend and Western fiction writer Johnny D. Boggs said, “Evans showed publishers and readers that the American West didn’t end by 1900. He told often-autobiographical fiction and nonfiction set during the Great Depression, World War II and beyond.”

And while he’s best known for contemporary cowboy tales, The Rounders and The Hi Lo Country, he also populated his West with an assortment of characters: artists and soldiers, mystics and misfits, widow-making broncs, starving coyotes and super bulls, madams and miners, drunks and crooks, a plumber and ballet star. “They all seemed real — probably because he really knew them, like he knew the land and the weather he painted with words.”

Producer and screenwriter Kirk Ellis, who wrote a screenplay based on Evans’ 2002 non-fiction book Madam Millie: Bordellos From Silver City to Ketchikan, said Evans drew inspiration for this work from the “working people of the land of the West.”

Evans’ characters, he said, were “the ordinary people, the downtrodden, the losers — he celebrates that.”

Evans rarely talked about his war experiences, but the personal, physical and emotional trauma he experienced during the Normandy invasion remained with him as he continually suffered from nausea, stomach pain and hearing trouble because of the injuries he sustained in combat.

“All of us who survived — who weren’t killed — came back, and we were all kind of crazy for a while,” Evans said in a 2017 interview with Pasatiempo. “People were always respectful and condoned a lot of nonsense from us. They put up with a lot of crap.”

Of his own drive to write, he simply said, “A real writer is someone who can’t help it.”

Evans’ forays into Hollywood led to friendships and sometimes feuds with the likes of director Sam Peckinpah, actors Fess Parker and Burt Lancaster and producers whose names he either forgot or didn’t wish to recall. He relished all the experiences and enjoyed telling and retelling them to friends and associates — even if his stories climaxed with him on the losing end of a Hollywood deal.

But he was proud of director Stephen Frears’ 1998 film version of The Hi Lo Country, mostly shot in New Mexico, saying he felt it was faithful to his book.

Evans’ other literary works include Bluefeather Fellini, a collection of animal stories, and his last novel, The King of Taos, which the University of New Mexico Press published earlier this year.

Stephen Hull, director of University of New Mexico Press, said Evans told him The King of Taos would be his last book.

“I didn’t believe him,” Hull said. “Max had so much energy and so much spark and so much life.”

He called Evans the best “chronicler” of the changes wrought on the American West when trucks replaced horses in the 1940s.

Shortly after the publication of The King of Taos, Evans — who moved to Albuquerque in the late 1960s — took a fall at his home and was hospitalized at the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center , where he died.

Survivors include Pat, his wife of 71 years, and their twin daughters, Sheryl and Charlotte. Pat Evans said her husband wished to be cremated and she will plan a memorial service at a later date.

Evans liked to say he already lived 1,000 years by the time he was 70. Now, his wife said, “He’s off on his second thousand years.”

Ellis said Evans’ passing will leave a void in the writing world.

“Max was connected to the land in a way people today are not — and probably never will be,” he said. “His tradition of writing — he takes it within. There’s nobody left like him, really.”


A Sage Voice of the West Still Has Plenty of Life ~ NYT

By Ralph Blumenthal

  • March 11, 2006ALBUQUERQUE, March 10 – No. 11 on the Western Writers of America’s list of the best western authors of the 20th century answers the door of his subdivision hacienda in jeans and cowboy boots, an ivory shirt, black wool vest and a black bandana fastened with a silver Indian clasp.

But don’t go expecting lightning draws and smoking six-guns from the pen of Max Evans, a hard-drinking and brawling ex-cowboy, painter, prospector, land trader, used car dealer, gold-smuggler and seer. He is where the old Wild West ends and the new not-so-wild-but-still-plenty-rough-and-surely-funny West begins.

It is a good time, and maybe high time, for the 81-year-old Mr. Evans, an arresting figure with a rakish pompadour and a flattened nose from numerous barroom differences of opinion. His West is the West of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s, when the horse gave way to horsepower and what happened to cowboys in town on a Saturday night in the way of drinking, fighting and chasing women made for better telling than anything that happened on the trail.

It is the West of zany characters, like the eager Japanese investors with their slick California agents out to buy a dysfunctional New Mexico ranch in the novella “The Orange County Cowboys,” or the irresistibly handsome half Taos Indian, half Italian-American Bluefeather Fellini, protected by a Native American spirit guide as he digs for gold, fights the Nazis, captures the hearts of women and discovers a mystic underworld realm of mineral riches straight from the pages of National Geographic.

Now, after years of relative obscurity, despite 27 books and two films, Mr. Evans is gaining recognition as an original stylist worthy of academic and commercial interest. He has two new books heading for publication next year — one on the film director Sam Peckinpah, the other a memoir told through the horses in Mr. Evans’s life — as well as three film or television projects. The Lea County Museum in Lovington, N.M., has installed a Max Evans Room. The University of Texas at El Paso has taken his literary archives. And Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., has an oral history of Mr. Evans’s gold-smuggling exploits that is locked up until 2020, by which time, Mr. Evans said, “If I ain’t dead, I should be.”

All this, despite the fact that, as Mr. Evans said, “I’m categorized as ‘western genre,’ which is dead in the world.”

For years, indeed, he was little known outside a circle of devotees most ardently represented by Peckinpah, who never did come through for Mr. Evans, although, he said, they had one heck of a good time failing to make pictures. Mr. Evans did, however, play a bit part in the director’s “Ballad of Cable Hogue.”

The recognition is long overdue, said Charles Champlin, a former Denver bureau chief of Time and retired film critic and arts editor of The Los Angeles Times. “He’s sui generis,” Mr. Champlin said. “He understands the present West better than anyone else, what it’s like to be there now living in two worlds of the pickup truck and the bronco.”

The assessment is echoed by Mr. Evans’s biographer, Slim Randles, an Albuquerque newspaper columnist and novelist and the author of “Ol’ Max Evans: The First Thousand Years” (University of New Mexico Press, 2004).

Mr. Randles called Mr. Evans “one of the best writers in the English language today,” with boundless verve. “Max,” he wrote, “could sell retirement plans on death row.”

Mr. Evans’s books have yielded two Hollywood films, one of which — “The Hi-Lo Country” in 1998 with Woody Harrelson and Billy Crudup as two cowboys in love with Patricia Arquette as the gorgeous young wife of their evil ranch boss — took only 37 years to make. The other, “The Rounders,” with Henry Fonda and Glenn Ford, came out in 1965.

Now, he has written a screenplay based on one of his novellas, “Xavier’s Folly,” about a country plumber in love with ballet, and David E. Peckinpah, the director’s nephew, is seeking to film a second script they wrote together based on “My Pardner,” Mr. Evans’s autobiographical novella about a boy’s painful apprenticeship to a scheming old cowpoke. A University of New Mexico history professor, Paul Andrew Hutton, is writing a screenplay for a four-hour mini-series based on Mr. Evans’s 2002 biography of Silver City Millie, a legendary New Mexico madam. And he is finishing two new books, which he is writing on yellow pads, having regressed from modern technology — his typewriter. His wife, Pat, a watercolorist, types the manuscripts on a computer.

The vanishing West is Mr. Evans’s obsession. For his last book, “Making a Hand: Growing Up Cowboy in New Mexico,” published in 2005 by the Museum of New Mexico Press, with photographs by Gene Peach and an introduction by a fellow western writer, Elmer Kelton, he followed a group of boys and girls learning cattle-driving, roping, branding, rodeoing and the other dying skills of cowboying. “In the seven and a half years I spent on it, half the ranches we started with have gone,” Mr. Evans lamented.

His paternal grandfather, a cattle rancher, founded Ropes, Tex., now Ropesville, near Lubbock, and his maternal grandmother was part Cherokee Indian, with what Mr. Evans said were psychic powers that she passed on to him for a time, enabling him to read fortunes and making him hard on electric appliances, which have been known to blow in his vicinity.

He was brought up — “or more properly kicked up” as he wrote in “The Hi-Lo Country” — by old-time cowboys, whose own roots reached back to the 1880’s. On a ranch near Santa Fe he found, of all things, a bookshelf of Balzac, a life-transforming experience. “To me he was the greatest who ever lived,” Mr. Evans said.

Enlisting in the Army after Pearl Harbor, he ended up on the beaches of Normandy on Day 2 of the invasion, in hellish fighting recounted in “Bluefeather Fellini.” After the war, Mr. Evans studied painting with Woodrow Wilson Crumbo, a Potawatomi Indian artist, who also became his partner in prospecting. The two made a fortune in copper and uranium mines, Mr. Evans said, millions they just as quickly squandered and lost when prices plunged.

For a time, he said, he became a middleman in an operation smuggling gold out of Mexico through El Paso to China and India — a tale, Mr. Evans said, that best remains untold until the Fort Lewis College archive is opened 14 years from now.

In 1957, having painted 300 canvases, Mr. Evans said, he decided to give up art for writing, a shift, he said, that coincided with the loss of his psychic powers after a peyote-induced dream in which he saw a curtain close off his mystical gift. Then, in 1987, Mr. Evans said he was going through notes for 40 books, agonizing over how he was going to write them all, when the revelation struck: he would write them all into “Bluefeather Fellini.” The epic with its sequel, “Bluefeather Fellini in the Sacred Realm,” written on 21 legal pads, was published in two parts in 1993 and 1994 by the University Press of Colorado, the house’s first fiction.

The writing comes harder now, Mr. Evans said. “I would write until I couldn’t see anymore; now I can only last four or five hours. When you age as a writer, you do slow down. Your brain shrinks, despite what science tells you. But the core gets knowledge. All you have to do is realize that. I’m slower, but it doesn’t bother me because I know where I’m going.”