When Everybody Wants A Piece Of ‘God’s Country’

Located between Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has become a big tourist draw since its designation in 1996.


Three hundred miles south of Salt Lake City, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is at the heart of some of the most remote terrain in the lower 48. Famous for its red rock canyons, arches and fossil beds, the rugged land is punctuated by sites like Death Ridge, Carcass Canyon and Hell’s Backbone Road.

Those names staked on the old maps by the region’s first white settlers tell you all you need to know about how harsh, brutal — and beautiful — the land is.

“Them old cowboys back in those days, they were tough,” says Shannon Steed, a businessman and armchair local historian.

Steed comes from a long line of Mormon pioneers: the cowboys and loggers who helped tame this country, as locals put it, and scratch out a living from it.

His hometown Escalante, population 800, along the meandering Escalante River is ringed by mesas.

The town has long struggled economically, especially since its timber mill closed in the 1990s — Steed’s father ran it. Depending on who you ask, things got even worse, when President Clinton protected much of the area as a national monument in 1996.

Today, it remains a flash point for one of the rural West’s perennial and most polarizing fights – who gets to do what on federal public lands.

In December 2017, President Trump signed a proclamation shrinking the protected boundaries of the GSEM nearly in half. This summer, the administration is moving ahead with plans to open up parts of it to mining and expanded cattle grazing, despite legal challenges and a recent effort by Democrats to thwart the move.

‘E for Escalante’

The latest battle over the Grand Staircase is reigniting a decades-old debate about the future of the rural communities in and around the monument, which have lately seen an influx of newer residents setting up businesses around tourism.

On the outskirts of town, Steed points out a closed down timber mill his dad used to own. Up to his left is a large “E” painted on the side of a hill.

“It doesn’t stand for environmentalist,” Steed says. “It stands for Escalante.”

In some corners of this town, environmentalist is still a dirty word.

“We’ve always said it’s God’s country,” Steed says. “The people from out here said that’s because nobody’d have it but God, and now it seems like everybody wants it.”


Shannon Steed stands on land that used to house his father’s sawmill. The mill closed in the early 1990s due in part to a lack of available timber supply from nearby National Forest lands.


Georgia O’Keeffe’s Vision

The painter considers her life and work.

From the Faraway Nearby. 1937. Oil on canvas.—Bleached-white antlers branching from the dark skull fill most of the picture space. A range of low hills occupy what would be the foreground except that they are drawn in distant perspective—a faraway desert landscape over which the deer’s skull presides neither symbolically nor realistically, an image not susceptible to interpretation, an O’Keeffe. Years ago, she said she had no theories to offer. Her painting, she said, was “like a thread that runs through all the reasons for all the other things that make one’s life.”

Georgia O’Keeffe, who is eighty-six, spends almost no time thinking about the past. “You’d push the past out of your way entirely if you only could,” she said to me one morning last fall, sitting in the open patio of her house near the Ghost Ranch, in the New Mexican high desert, seventy miles northwest of Santa Fe. What interested her at the moment were the wild purple asters that grow so abundantly at this time of the year, when there has been enough rain. It was largely because of the purple asters that after lunch she asked Juan Hamilton, her young friend and assistant, to take us to the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, a seventeen-mile trip over barely navigable dirt roads. Although the asters at the monastery were less plentiful than she had remembered them, she spent a pleasant hour chatting with the Benedictine monks and admiring the chapel, built in 1965 by George Nakashima and furnished as austerely as her own house, with split-log benches, wood carvings by a local artist, and a gory wooden crucifix in the Spanish manner. Miss O’Keeffe had visited the monastery several times, most recently for the dawn service last Easter, and the monks were pleased to see her. On the drive back, bouncing imperturbably in the rear seat of her Volkswagen bus, she said that it would be a very simple thing for her to convert someone to Catholicism. “It has great appeal,” she said. “Not for me, of course—but I can see the appeal.”

Her voice is quiet and yet clearly audible. She was dressed entirely in white—a white jacket of some durable material, a full skirt of the same stuff, white shoes. Terrie Newsom, the woman who takes care of her and, in Miss O’Keeffe’s words, “keeps me alive,” told me that when people ask whether Miss O’Keeffe has only one dress, she explains that “Miss O’Keeffe has a hundred dresses, but they’re all alike, except that some are black instead of white.” The dress suits her, in any case. A slight, immaculate woman with white hair tied back in a smooth knot, she is as handsome today as she was at twenty-nine, when Alfred Stieglitz began his famous multiple portrait of her, now in the National Gallery, in Washington—a portrait that eventually included some five hundred photographs.

During the drive back from the monastery, she told me how she had discovered the Ghost Ranch. “I’d been staying down around Alcalde, east of here, for several summers in the nineteen-thirties. One day, the boy who was trying to teach me to drive said he knew of a place he thought I’d like better than any I’d seen, and he brought me up here. It was operating as a dude ranch then. Before that, it had been a working ranch. I think the story is that a family was murdered there, and that from time to time a woman carrying a child appears in the original house—that’s the ghost. Well, I came back a few days later, alone, and asked if I could stay. The owners said that I could stay the night but that unless some other guest failed to show up I’d have to leave in the morning. That night, a family moved out—the son had developed appendicitis—and I moved in. That was in 1934, and I’ve been coming up here on the plateau every summer since then. I knew the minute I got up here that this was where I would live.” She bought her own house, which is about two miles from the ranch, in 1940. Some years ago, the Ghost Ranch was acquired by the Presbyterian Church, which now uses it as a conference center. Miss O’Keeffe has given the Presbyterians a sufficiently wide berth. “You know about the Indian eye that passes over you without lingering, as though you didn’t exist?” she said. “That was the way I used to look at the Presbyterians at the ranch, so they wouldn’t become too friendly.”

Although she owns a larger and more comfortable house in the village of Abiquiu, sixteen miles south of the ranch, Miss O’Keeffe has always felt more at home up on the plateau. The solitude, the stillness, and the harsh, dry, splendid landscape are more her world. Animal skulls and bleached antlers hang on the walls of her patio, and rocks picked up on her walks and camping trips spill in profusion over low tables and shelves. A few years ago, when Miss O’Keeffe and several others were going down the Colorado River—a week in a pontoon boat, sleeping under the stars every night—her friend Eliot Porter, the photographer, found a particularly beautiful stone, which Miss O’Keeffe very much wanted for her collection. Porter said he was keeping it for his wife. Matters were a trifle touchy for a time, but then, a few weeks later, the Porters came to Miss O’Keeffe’s house for dinner and presented her with the stone. “When she wants something, she makes people give it to her,” Stieglitz once remarked. “They feel she is fine and has something other people have not.” Not that she wants many possessions. “I like to have things as sparse as possible,” she told me. “If you have an empty wall, you can think on it better. I like a space to think in—if you can call what I do thinking.”

Miss O’Keeffe sometimes feels that she ought to sell the Abiquiu house and live permanently at the ranch. “Last year, Jerrie and I were here in December,” she said. “Being up here is one of the best things I know. There is nothing in this house that I can get along without.”

Light Coming on the Plains, No. II. 1917. Watercolor.—An impression of endless dark space under a vault of sky. A narrow, ragged beam of white near the bottom suggests the horizon, but not specifically; in O’Keeffe’s work, nature is not so much analyzed as meditated upon, the result being an abstraction that does not look abstract. When she painted “Light,” O’Keeffe was living on the wide, windswept plains of north Texas, teaching school. “That was my country,” she wrote in 1919. “Terrible winds and a wonderful emptiness.”

There is little to indicate why O’Keeffe should have felt at home in such a landscape. She was born and brought up in the gentler, wheat-farming country of southern Wisconsin, the second of seven children in a moderately well-to-do family. “My mother’s and my father’s families had farms that adjoined and eventually my father bought mother’s property,” she told me. “They raised all kinds of things there, even tobacco. I can still see the enormous loads of hay coming into the barns in the evening—I’ve never seen loads of hay like that anywhere else.” On rainy days, their mother used to read aloud to her older brother, who had weak eyes. O’Keeffe always listened, even after she had learned how to read herself. Her favorites were stories about the Old West. “My memories of childhood are quite pleasant,” she said to me, “although I hated school.” Until she was twelve, she went to a small rural school near her home. For a while, she and two of her sisters also went into the town of Sun Prairie once a week for private lessons in drawing and painting Today, she says she can’t remember a time when she couldn’t read music (although she doesn’t remember taking music lessons), and it sometimes seems to her that she might have become a musician. The family was not a terribly close one, and she rarely played with her brothers or sisters. One day when she was ten, she told her friend Lena, the daughter of the woman who did the family’s washing, that she was going to be an artist. “I have no idea where that came from,” she said. “I just remember saying it.”

~~~  CONTINUE  ~~~

What’s next for D&SNG in $25 million federal lawsuit?

Case could take years to settle or go to trial, experts say

It could take years for a federal lawsuit seeking $25 million from the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad for starting the 416 Fire to play out in the courts, experts say.

Odds Favor Wetter than Normal July as Monsoon Season Looms ~ NWS, Grand Junction

Odds Favor Wetter than Normal July as Monsoon Season Looms


The Climate Prediction Center recently released their latest monthly temperature and precipitation outlooks for July 2018. Odds are favoring wetter than normal conditions developing across much of the southwestern United States, especially in the Four Corners area. The wet conditions look to continue through September as the CPC’s three month outlook (including the months of July, August and September) shows odds favoring above normal precipitation. As far as temperatures are concerned, odds favor warmer than normal temperatures across Utah and into far western Colorado for July with above normal temperatures favored across the entire western United States through September.

July 2018 Temperature and Precipitation Outlooks

July 2018 Climate Outlook

Three Month Temperature and Precipitation Outlooks

(Including the months of July, August and September)

Three Month Climate Outlook


What is the Monsoon?

The North American Monsoon Season typically begins towards the end of July and continues through early September. It is associated with a long duration weather pattern shift as the subtropical ridge of high pressure amplifies and moves to our east. This results in a shift in upper level winds with the flow turning to the south, allowing for moisture to be pulled northward from the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

Monsoon Schematic

What Led Peru’s Former President to Take His Own Life?

Once the bright young hope of the Latin-American left, Alan García was caught up in an epic corruption investigation.

Twelve hours before he locked himself in his bedroom and took his own life, Alan García, Peru’s two-time former President, gave an interview to the national radio-and-television station RPP, from a local university where he taught. It was a Tuesday evening in mid-April, during Holy Week, and the city was swirling with rumors about García’s imminent arrest. He had been implicated in a dizzyingly complex transnational corruption scandal that had already enveloped much of the Peruvian political class. Now, after months of silence in the face of mounting pressure from prosecutors and the press, he’d decided that it was time to talk.

Jenny Alvaro, a producer of the interview, was meeting García for the first time, but she thought she knew what to expect: the bombastic, theatrical, larger-than-life politician who had been a presence on the national stage for more than three decades. “I’d seen him on television, at rallies, and had always heard he had an imposing presence,” Alvaro told me. Instead, García that evening was calm, even subdued, with little of the bluster usually associated with his public persona. He wore a dark-blue suit, a white dress shirt unbuttoned at the neck, no tie. His black hair, with a wisp of gray in front, was combed back and thin compared with the wild mane he’d had in his youth. He had been dashing as a young man but had gained weight as he aged. He was known to be meticulous about his image, to have strong opinions about the fine details of his televised interviews—which camera angle suited him best, where he should be placed in relation to the interviewer. But now García was pliant, almost deferential. Alvaro told him where to sit and which direction to face, and when, for a moment, he seemed to doubt her she assured him, “It will make you look younger, Mr. President.” García laughed.

The interviewer that evening, Carlos Villarreal, had known the former President—and covered his exploits—for twenty years. García told him that he had just half an hour before he was scheduled to teach his weekly class on political theory, and that he liked to set an example for his students by being on time. (In a country that is, broadly speaking, agnostic on the importance of punctuality, his insistence on this point amounted to a personal quirk.) When the interview began, García frowned and nodded as Villarreal alluded to new allegations that might send him to prison. Finally, Villarreal asked, “Are you aware that this interview with RPP could be your last?”

~~~  MAS  ~~~