Ryan Zinke Scores A Pyrrhic Victory In Yellowstone ~ Mountain Journal



ic_1529016626_780x_falseInterior Secretary Ryan Zinke on the doorstep of America’s first national park. Photo courtesy NPS

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo—There was a somber mood Wednesday wafting around the old 19th-century military barracks at Mammoth Hot Springs, the official administrative headquarters of America’s oldest national park.


As thousands of visitors hiked the travertine terraces and old cavalry grounds nearby, watching mother elk and calves grazing on the lawns, few were aware of what transpired that very morning. Word arrived early, mountain time, circulated via email from the US Interior Department in Washington, DC, that Cameron “Cam” Sholly would be the next Yellowstone superintendent. His new post is widely considered one of the most prestigious and high-profile non-military field jobs in government.


For Sholly, the announcement represents a joyous homecoming, a return to the place where, as a ranger’s son, nature left an indelible imprint.


Among the rank and file wearing the National Park Service green and gray, the news also landed hard, because it confirmed that Yellowstone’s existing and admired superintendent of the last seven years, Dan Wenk, was indeed being forced out.


After 42.5 years, Wenk isn’t receiving a gold watch from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for a career deemed extraordinary by any measure; instead, Zinke and a group of Trump Administration political appointees were serving him walking papers.


Zinke was a mere 14 years old when Wenk, today 66, began his journey in civil service, devoting four decades of his life to looking after national parks. A landscape architect by college training, he earned many of the highest honors for meritorious service along the way, working well with previous Democrat and Republican administrations, Congressional delegations and civic-minded corporate CEOs interested in supporting parks in times of budget shortfalls and growing needs.


Wenk, who served as deputy and acting national director of the 400-unit Park Service, oversaw renovation of the Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore, and brokered a land deal along with the families of 9/11 victims to establish a permanent memorial to passengers on Flight 93.


At the Denver Service Center, the construction arm of the Park Service, he restored battered credibility to an institution in crisis and under investigation for fiscal mismanagement. When he took it over, it was doing 20 percent of the work in a $60 million program that exists to chaperone building and infrastructure improvements in the Park System. By the time he left five years later, the Denver Service Center was blueprinting 80 percent of the agency’s total workload with a budget that had grown to $250 million.


A capstone to all of those experiences was being tapped, in 2011, to oversee Yellowstone where there’s no greater challenge to balancing fragile wonders with visitor enjoyment. It is under constant political assault by gateway chambers of commerce, governors and members of Congress in three states that converge on the park borders.


As a twentysomething fresh out of college in the 1970s, Yellowstone was the first parks where he donned the uniform and, with retirement looming to spend more time with his wife and family, he derived no small amount of satisfaction in knowing where his tour of duty would end.
Last week, Wenk got word from Zinke’s controversial acting Park Service director that he had just 60 days to vacate Yellowstone and report to Washington, DC, where he was ordered to oversee the Park Service’s Capital region. [Read Mountain Journal‘s story Forced Out Of Yellowstone]. A demotion, it was handed as an ultimatum by P. Daniel Smith—either accept it or face termination. Read how his options were spelled out in a check-one-of-the-boxes memo at the bottom of this story. Option four: “I decline the reassignment. I understand that I will be subject to removal under adverse action procedure.”


After the circumstances of the heavy-handedness circulated widely in the media, Wenk received an outpouring of sympathy, from active Park Service veterans and retirees to politicians on both sides of the  aisle. Were Wenk to answer them all, five at a time daily, it would take years.


Back in Washington, DC. Wednesday, as a reporter caught Zinke on the fly, the Secretary sang Sholly’s credentials (they are impressive) yet dodged questions asking him to explain why he had moved with hostility against Wenk in the 11thhour of his career.


While Interior officials claimed plausible denial that their motivations were punitive, the way that Zinke rolled out Sholly’s appointment, without even mentioning Wenk, cannot be construed any other other way. They are furious that Wenk dared question them—them having underestimated how powerful the idea of Yellowstone is, and having trustworthy stewards in charge of it, resonates with the public.

Former Aspenite Charlotte Fox, survivor of Mount Everest disaster, dies in Telluride home accident

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Scott Condon

Charlotte Fox and her dog Gus earlier in May: 

Fox was a longtime Aspen-area resident who served on the Snowmass Ski Patrol from 1982 through 2007.


Charlotte Fox survived a harrowing incident on Mount Everest in 1996 and became the first American woman to climb three 8,000-meter peaks, so irony wasn’t lost on her friends when the longtime Aspenite died Thursday from an apparent accident on the steep steps of her house in Telluride.

Alison Osius, executive editor of Rock and Ice magazine and a friend of Fox’s, wrote in an online piece Tuesday that house guests found Fox on the floor of her home when they arrived Thursday night. She apparently slipped on the hardwood stairs in her four-story house, fell and suffered fatal injuries. She was 61.

“Charlotte had survived so much up high, it was stunning and profoundly sad that she died that evening of May 24 in a household accident,” Osius wrote on RockandIce.com.

Fox was a fixture in the Aspen climbing and skiing scene from the early 1980s until she moved to Telluride in 2007. She worked as a ski patroller at Snowmass from 1982 through the 2006-07 season, according to Aspen Skiing Co. She also worked on the Telluride ski patrol but was retired.

San Miguel County Coroner Emil Sante said Tuesday he is waiting for results of a toxicology report and hasn’t yet released the cause and manner of death.

“We have no reason to believe that it was suspicious at all,” he said.

A representative of the funeral home serving Telluride said Tuesday that family members were arriving this week and arrangements for a memorial service or services were yet to be made.

Even though Fox left the Roaring Fork Valley more than a decade ago, she still has a lot of friends from her days here.

“I just looked up to her,” Andrea Cutter, a longtime friend and climbing partner, said Tuesday. “She was a mentor to me, for sure.”

Among the lessons Cutter learned from Fox was to live life uninhibited.

“She had a go-for-it attitude,” Cutter said. “With climbing there’s a sense of fear that would hold people back. I would see her get scared but she would work through it.”

When word spread among Fox’s friends that she died from an apparent household accident, there was a sense of disbelief, according to Cutter.

“It made me think, ‘Jeez, it’s just so wrong,'” she said.

Fox will forever have a place in climbing lore as a member of a party that ran into disaster on Mount Everest in May 1996. She and then-boyfriend Tim Madsen were in an expedition being guided by Scott Fischer. Fox and Madsen summited but a number of calamities affected the group’s descent. They were eventually part of an exhausted group that huddled in a blizzard, desperate to find their camp.

Everybody’s oxygen had run out and the wind chill exceeded 100 degrees below zero, according to Jon Krakauer’s best-selling book about the incident, “Into Thin Air.”

Fox is quoted as saying the cold had just about finished her off by the time they huddled.

“The cold was so painful, I didn’t think I could endure it anymore,” Fox said in the book. “I just curled up in a ball and hoped death would come quickly.”

Aspen’s Neal Beidleman was one of the guides on the mountain at the time and he attempted to get Fox and her group to safety. She was among four clients who were incapacitated. Madsen volunteered to look after them while Beidleman and others went to summon help in what was a do-or-die situation.

Eight climbers died on the mountain that day.

Osius wrote in her online Rock and Ice piece that Fox didn’t talk much, even with her friends, about the Everest experience.

Beidleman said he wouldn’t necessarily say the experience brought them closer, but he definitely knew her better from the incident. He said he had a “healthy respect” for her and believed she held him in the same regard.

“The Everest thing was very, very difficult for everybody,” he said Tuesday, “but Charlotte handled it with poise and grace.”

Beidleman knew Fox before the expedition on Mount Everest. Their paths crossed while climbing on Independence Pass east of Aspen.

“Eventually everybody’s paths crossed during that kind of thing,” he said. “She’s been a fixture in the climbing community.”

Fox was a native of Greensboro, North Carolina. She could “turn on the Southern charm” yet could also live the climber’s life out of a van, according to Beidleman.

“Charlotte could be quite fiery,” he said. “That’s part of being a good climber.”

Fox went on to accomplish several climbing feats, usually hiring guides to tackle the highest peaks. Osius wrote that Fox made her final Seven Summits ascent of Mount Elbrus in 2014.

Her bio on EverestHistory.com said she climbed Cho Oyu and was the first American woman to reach the summit of Gasherbrum II. In South America she climbed Aconcagua, Hauscaran and Chopicalqui, along with several 18,000-foot peaks throughout Peru, her bio said. “She has climbed Mt. Vinson in Antarctica, Kilimanjaro, Mont Blanc, and made many alpine ice routes in the Canadian Rockies. In America she has climbed the West Rib on Denali, Mt. Rainer and all of Colorado’s 14ers.”

Fox served as a board member on the American Alpine Club and on the Access Fund, which strives to preserve access to climbing areas.

Fox was married to Reese Martin, who was killed in 2004 in an accident during a paragliding competition in Washington.

Beidleman said Fox was “accomplished but humble.”

Her apparent manner of death was “shocking,” he said.

“It’s not one I ever would have thought of.”

Amy Denicke was a friend and climbing and skiing partner with Fox for 18 years and served as her personal trainer for a while. She said Fox had the unusual characteristic of getting stronger as she climbed higher in altitude.

“She was almost like a freak of nature,” she said.

Fox was fun to hang with because she was always up for adventure and trying new approaches, Denicke said, but she also will remember her friend for traits outside of climbing and skiing.

“Charlotte had this huge belly laugh,” she said. “You could always hear her laughing.”

Fox was known for her generosity to her friends, for always remembering birthdays and for sending thank-you notes, according to Cutter and Denicke.

“I felt like she was family,” Denicke said.

They were so close that Fox gave her an angel pin she had on the pack she used on Mount Everest. Fox told her it saved her life and she gave it to Denicke to provide safety and good fortune when undertaking an eco-challenge.

Fox also gave her a bracelet with the saying: “Leap and the net will open.”



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Telluride Daily Planet




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Charlotte Fox, one of the climbers who survived a disaster on Mount Everest in 1996, arrives at Kathmandu airport on May 15, 1996. (Binod Joshi/AP)

Charlotte Fox’s eyes were frozen behind her contact lenses. The snow had begun falling as she and her fellow climbers descended from the top of the world, the peak of Mount Everest, where she could see for 100 miles in every direction. But now, trapped in the middle of a blizzard with the force of a hurricane, in temperatures somewhere south of 40-below, she couldn’t see anything. She was out of oxygen. Her feet were numb with frostbite. No longer able to stay moving, she scrunched herself into the fetal position, huddled with her climbing mates in the ice and snow, and waited for it all to end.

“I didn’t see how we were going to get out of it alive,” Fox told Jon Krakauer in his book “Into Thin Air,” which recounted the famous 1996 blizzard that stranded climbers for one freezing night, leaving eight dead. “The cold was so painful, I didn’t think I could endure it anymore. I just curled up in a ball and hoped death would come quickly.”

Instead, she would survive through the night and live 22 more years to scale myriad mountains around the world. The experience on Mount Everest the night of May 10, 1996, may have made Fox and her fellow climbers celebrities for a time, but for Fox it was but a rung on the ladder in a life of great heights.

That’s why, when she died last week at home in Telluride, Colo., from an apparent fall from the top of her stairs, her friends were in disbelief. She had turned 61 on May 10.

“Charlotte had survived so much up high,” her friend Alison Osius wrote in a tribute for Rock and Ice magazine this week, “it was stunning and profoundly sad that she died that evening of May 24 in a household accident.”

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The Ultimate Trip ~ NYT


In the spring of 1964 the filmmaker Stanley Kubrick was very worried. NASA was about to fly the Mariner 4 space probe past Mars.

At the time he was deep in development of a blockbuster film about the discovery of alien intelligence. Word was that MGM had bet their studio on the film. What if Mariner discovered life on Mars and scooped them?

Kubrick looked into whether he could buy insurance against that event. He could, but the price was astronomical. Kubrick decided to take his chances, according to a new book about the making of the movie, “Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece,” by Michael Benson. (Simon & Schuster 2018)

That was 54 years ago. We still haven’t discovered intelligence or even believable evidence of pond scum anywhere else in the universe — not for lack of effort. A new spacecraft, TESS, designed to look for habitable nearby planets just vaulted into space, and an interstellar asteroid recently spotted streaking through the solar system was inspected for radio signals. Another robot is on its way to listen in on the heart of Mars. We still don’t know if we are alone.

Mr. Kubrick’s movie, “2001, A Space Odyssey,” finally debuted, late and over budget in April 1968, to baffled film critics and long lines of young people. John Lennon said he went to see it every week. It was the top-grossing movie of the year and is now a perennial on critics’ lists of the most important movies of all time, often the first movie scientists mention if you ask them about sci-fi they have enjoyed.

In honor of its 50th anniversary it is being rereleased at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday and then in various cities around the world in a shiny new version overseen by Christopher Nolan, the director of “Dunkirk” and “Inception,” among other films. He told The Los Angeles Times the original film had been a “touchstone” from his childhood.

The movie, written by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke (whose books and stories the movie was based on), and directed by Kubrick, is a multisensory ode to cosmic mystery, fate and the future. Long stretches happen with no explication or action except the zero-gravity ballets of spaceships immaculately imagined.

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Marcia Ball Looks Back On Her Blues Legacy: ‘I’m Perfectly Suited For The Job’ ~ NPR

Marcia Ball

Mary Bruton/Courtesy of the artist


When Marcia Ball sits down at the piano, the barrelhouse blues that jump out is enough to frighten any set of nearby keyboards. The 69-year-old has been playing Texas boogie and New Orleans blues for 50 years. Her latest album Shine Bright, available now, carries on the tune.

Over the years, the Louisiana-born performer’s skills have been compared to Professor Longhair, Memphis Slim or Fats Domino. By growing up near New Orleans, she got to experience the music firsthand. Ball says her vocal style is partially inspired by soul superstar Irma Thomas and that she is still amazed by Thomas’ performance ability today.

“I saw her last week and she opens her mouth just barely, she smiles and sings and that magnificent voice still comes out as it has since I was 13 and she was maybe 20,” Ball tells NPR’s Scott Simon. Her 12-track album, produced by Steve Berlin, pulls from that effortless influence.

“Everything about this record is light and bright,” Ball explains. She even insisted on wrapping up a piano in aluminum foil for the album cover art after being inspired by a similar piece of art from a preacher from Elloree, S.C.

“I’m perfectly suited for the job,” Ball says when describing her longevity in music — from the traveling to the engagement with her fans. And after 50 years of being in show business, Ball is candid when it comes to her favorite part about life on the road.

“Keith Ferguson — the bass player for The Fabulous Thunderbirds when they were first started out — when he went out on the road and people asked him what it was like, he said, ‘Different tacos,’ ” laughs Ball. “I think maybe as much as anything we just like to eat in different places.”

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Ticks Rising ~ Lyme, the first epidemic of climate change

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Mary Beth Pfeiffer, an investigative journalist for three decades, began reporting on Lyme disease in 2012 for the Poughkeepsie Journal. Her latest book is Lyme: The First Epidemic of Climate

Evolution has endowed the big-footed snowshoe hare with a particularly nifty skill. Over a period of about 10 weeks, as autumn days shorten in the high peaks and boreal forests, the nimble nocturnal hare transforms itself. Where it was once a tawny brown to match the pine needles and twigs amid which it forages, the hare turns silvery white, just in time for the falling of winter snow. This transformation is no inconsequential feat. Lepus americanus, as it is formally known, is able to jump 10 feet and run at a speed of 27 miles per hour, propelled by powerful hind legs and a fierce instinct to live. But it nonetheless ends up, 86 per cent of the time by one study, as a meal for a lynx, red fox, coyote, or even a goshawk or great horned owl. The change of coat is a way to remain invisible, to hide in the brush or fly over the snow unseen, long enough at least to keep the species going.

Snowshoe hares are widely spread throughout the colder, higher reaches of North America – in the wilderness of western Montana, on the coniferous slopes of Alaska, and in the forbidding reaches of the Canadian Yukon. The Yukon is part of the Beringia, an ancient swathe of territory that linked Siberia and North America by a land bridge that, with the passing of the last Ice Age 11,000 years ago, gave way to the Bering Strait. All manner of mammals, plants and insects ferried east and west across that bridge, creating, over thousands of years, the rich boreal forest. But in this place, north of the 60-degree latitude, the axiom of life coloured by stinging cold, early snow and concrete ribbons of ice has been upended in the cosmic blink of an eye. The average temperature has increased by 2 degrees Celsius in the past half century, and by 4 degrees Celsius in the winter. Glaciers are rapidly receding, releasing ancient torrents of water into Kluane Lake, a 150-square-mile reflecting pool that has been called a crown jewel of the Yukon. Lightning storms, ice jams, forest fires, rain – these things are suddenly more common. Permafrost is disappearing.

Such rapid-fire changes across a broad swathe of northern latitudes are testing the adaptive abilities of the snowshoe hare, however swift and nimble it might be. Snow arrives later. Snow melts earlier. But the hare changes its coat according to a long-set schedule, which is to say that the snowshoe is sometimes snowy white when its element is still robustly brown. And that makes it an easier target for prey. In 2016, wildlife biologists who tracked the hares in a rugged wilderness in Montana gave this phenomenon a name: ‘climate change-induced camouflage mismatch’. The hares moulted as they always had. It’s just that the snow didn’t come. Survival rates dropped by 7 per cent as predation increased.

In order to outwit its newest enemy – warmer winters – snowshoe hares would need something in the order of a natural miracle, what the biologists, writing in the journal Ecology Letters, called an ‘evolutionary rescue’. Like the Yukon, this pristine corner of Montana was projected to lose yet more snow cover; there would be perhaps an additional month of bare forest floor by the middle of this century, on which snowshoe hares would stand out like bright white balloons.

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In Cuba, the Castro era ends this week as Raúl steps down as ruler ~ An end of an era for many of us … The Washington Post


Through the Space Age, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Internet era, Cubans held one constant: A Castro ruled the nation.

That is about to change.

Raúl Castro, 86, is expected to step aside as Cuba’s president this week, ending the epochal run of two brothers who sent shock waves through 20th-century politics. Nearly two decades into this century, and less than two years after Fidel Castro’s death, his brother’s exit from Cuba’s top job leaves this insular island at a crossroads, weighing how fast, if at all, to embrace change.

“This is an important moment for Cuba, but the truth is, nobody knows what to expect,” said Camilo Condis, general manager of Artecorte, a community project in Havana. “I mean, other than Fidel and Raúl, who is there? You didn’t really know anyone else.”


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“It’s about Raúl Castro saying, ‘I am president, but I have a term, and then someone else is going to lead . . . . If you are someone who really wants the regime to endure, it’s what Raúl needs to do.”

The transition is happening at a time when a decade-long opening under Castro has already begun to alter the fabric of Cuban life. Access to the Internet is still subpar, but hotspots are more widely available than ever before. There are now more than 5 million cellphones in this nation of 11.5 million people. More than 550,000 Cubans work in the private sector. After years in which Cubans were forced to obtain permission to leave the country, Cubans these days can travel freely. It is now possible to buy and sell real estate.

Yet in a country where streets are still swimming in 1950s Chevys and Fords, Cuban life can feel stuck in time, and plagued with problems that never really went away. Locals talk of periodic shortages — eggs, potatoes, toilet paper. In a potential sign of discontent, turnout in recent municipal elections stood at 82.5 percent — the lowest in four decades, and a stunningly low number in a country where citizens face high pressure to vote.

Who Was That Masked Man? A Wrestling Priest


Fray Tormenta was a heroin addict when he was young. After getting clean, he enrolled at the seminary to became a priest and started wrestling to make money for the orphanage he founded. Credit Seila Montes

When it comes to professional wrestling, there are the famous American federations with slick promotion, well-paid stars and merchandise-mad, free-spending fans.

This story is not about that.

In Mexico, generations have grown up admiring the masked luchadoreswho, for a $50 prize, will flip and body slam opponents in epic fights in modest arenas packed to the rafters with screaming fans. Theirs is a world where nothing comes easily, and the struggle to support their families is often a never-ending battle. There must be an easier way to survive beyond the world of lucha libre, but don’t tell them that.

“What I saw was a love for the lucha,” said Seila Montes, a Spanish photographer based in Mexico who spent more than two years photographing the masked men (and women) outside the ring. “They’re not doing it for the money. The ones I photographed were not famous, and they only earned a little. But they transformed when they put on their mask and costume. That’s when the actor and showman comes out.”

India Sioux is married to Hombre Bala. She is now retired and works at home. Credit Seila Montes
Ray Mendoza Jr., formerly Villano V, is part of the Mendoza dynasty. Four of his brothers were fighters and he is the son of the famous Ray Mendoza. He is a dentist and also does acupuncture consultation. Credit Seila Montes

Those of us who grew up in New York still recall when these masked matches were a staple of Spanish television, as we gathered around the crate-sized Sears television and futzed with the circular UHF antenna to pull in a grainy broadcast of Mil Mascaras taking on all comers. And then there was El Santo — The Saint — who crossed over from the ring to movie stardom, becoming a pop culture phenomenon. With their colorful costumes and personalities, luchadores have long sparked the interest of photographers, too. None has been as prolific as Lourdes Grobet, who has spent decades chronicling these masked athletes who have become cultural avatars.