The Standards Blog


Monday, August 29th, 2005 @ 12:39 PM
Contributed by: Andy Updegrove
Views: 2,764

Last Friday meant leaving the out of doors behind and returning home, but it also meant being reunited after two full weeks with the New York Times at Reno/Tahoe International Airport, which softened the transition. As I sat on the plane home, I saw an article on page that provides an appropriate theme upon which to end this series blog of entries.

The article is entitled Top Official Urged Changes In How parks Are Managed, and reports that a deputy assistant secretary of the Department of the Interior (and also a political appointee of the current administration) named Paul Hoffman has submitted 194 pages of suggested revisions to the policy document that governs the operation of the Nation’s national parks.

Sunday, August 28th, 2005 @ 12:41 PM
Contributed by: Andy Updegrove
Views: 3,020

One night this trip, I camped on a high plateau about a quarter mile from a generous spring that maintains its flow throughout the summer. The plateau is riddled with horse trails, so I decided to walk down to the spring early the next morning to see if I could find them drinking at the break of day.


There are tens of thousands of wild horses in Nevada (not to mention a smaller number of wild burros), the descendants of stock that escaped from Spanish explorers and settlers in the 1600s. Like antelope and deer, they compete for the grass that cattle eat. But unlike antelope and deer, they are not game animals, and thus are seen by many as a nuisance that competes with more desirable animals for available forage. Others, both local and from away, admire their beauty and spirit.

Saturday, August 27th, 2005 @ 12:42 PM
Contributed by: Andy Updegrove
Views: 2,719

If you spend any amount of time hiking in the Southwest, you will inevitably happen upon a scatter of lovely, multicolored stone flakes lying in the dust. In some areas, obsidian will predominate, and in others yellow jasper, but most often you will see a beautiful mix of red and yellow jasper, various colors of chalcedony and quartzite, light colored cherts, black obsidian and red petrified wood. What you are looking at are the remains of prehistoric tool manufacture.

Native Americans roamed the entire Southwest for at least 12,000 years, and perhaps longer. They were skillful at utilizing the materials at hand, superbly talented at creating flaked implements, and had a love for using the most attractive materials available in the process. One assumes that as they roamed throughout the landscape, they not only went out of their way to visit those places where suitable material was abundant, but also kept an eye out at all times for good quality material when it appeared wherever they went.

Friday, August 26th, 2005 @ 12:43 PM
Contributed by: Andy Updegrove
Views: 3,883

Cheatgrass is an innocuous looking grass up to 18 inches foot high that is omnipresent in the Great Basin, in particular, and in the Southwest in general. At higher elevations, it is a wispy occasional presence, while in the wide valleys between the mountain ranges it predominates, either filling in between the sagebrush, or forming wide homogenous meadows, often commanding all available space as far as the eye can see.


Yesterday, I drove the 118 miles from Battle Mountain south to Austin (both in Nevada), which prides itself on being the most isolated town in the lower forty-eight, with 100 miles, more or less, separating it from the closest towns at each of the cardinal points of the compass. Most of the time, I saw an endless carpet of golden cheatgrass, sweeping up to, and over, the mountains to either side. From the inside of a car, it looked attractive. But in fact, cheatgrass sucks the moisture from the soil, wiping out all other species, and forming vast, sterile monocultural deserts where little native wildlife can thrive. These vast savannahs of dried grass also become a fire hazard that ignites like a match upon any random lighting strike. Today, I drove through a modest thunderstorm that touched off five fires within sight that spewed huge clouds of opalescent smoke into the sky.

Thursday, August 25th, 2005 @ 12:44 PM
Contributed by: Andy Updegrove
Views: 2,963

One of the great appeals to me of the Southwest is the ability to see, appreciate and think about each individual element of the natural surroundings as I encounter it. Water and nutrients are scarce, so plants are typically at a distance from each other (some even have natural poisons to prevent other plants from establishing themselves within the reach of their roots). Hence, it is very easy to see each tree (or flower, or shrub) as it stands proud of other distractions. And without a thick covering of vegetation, rocks and other aspects of the terrain can also command attention.


I once designed and built quite a large stained glass window of a Japanese garden when making stained glass was what I was doing for a living. Before going to work on the design, I spent the better part of a week in the library learning about the aesthetics of Japanese gardens. I’ve forgotten most of it now, but recall that there were a limited number of stone shapes, miniature stone pagodas, plants, and sand and stone patterns, each of which had its own symbolism. Thus, for one wise in the ways of Japanese gardens, deeper meanings could be appreciated when meditating in such a place beyond the mere visual appeal of the garden, which in itself is considerable. Happily, anyone can appreciate the exquisite beauty of each element of a Japanese garden, as well as the serenity and appeal of the whole, even if they are ignorant of the symbolic meanings that lie behind the design.

Thursday, August 25th, 2005 @ 12:44 PM
Contributed by: Andy Updegrove
Views: 2,533

Had I the power to snap my fingers and transport myself to a favorite place at will, I am not able to think of a destination more desirable than almost anywhere isolated in the Southwest at sunset.


Each night of this trip I have picked up a book as twilight began to gather after a day of hiking, thinking that I would relax and read for an hour. And each time, I have invariably put the book down in my lap, and simply watched and listened as the colors of the setting sun took control of the sky and metamorphosed through infinite changes, the birds flew and called, the breeze faded, the insects hummed and buzzed, the light faded, the planets and then the stars emerged, and finally the moon asserted its cool, white dominance over sky and earth alike. It is a performance that cannot be equaled by anything else in the world, until the same time the next day.

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2005 @ 12:40 PM
Contributed by: Andy Updegrove
Views: 2,982

I decided to take my last post a step farther, and to look more deeply into the historical and current definitions of the word "Wilderness". You can find an essay I've just written on that topic in the "Consider This..." section of this site, where it finds a more natural home. It's a bit redundant with the August 20 post, but also, I hope, adds some new thoughts worth reading.

Saturday, August 20th, 2005 @ 12:46 PM
Contributed by: Andy Updegrove
Views: 4,045

Public land is just that - public. Who should be able to decide how it is maintained? One man's wilderness policy may be another man's folly.

John McPhee (one of my favorite authors) once wrote a book called The Control of Nature. His theme was man’s hubris in attempting to contain the power of nature, and his propensity for forgetting how limited his ability to do so really is. One of three examples that McPhee describes highlights the heroic nature of the quest, as the inhabitants of a small town on an Icelandic island try and save their homes and harbor by turning fire hoses against the lava flow that is about to overwhelm them. In another, he demonstrates the foolhardiness of those that build houses in California canyons that periodically are the site of flashfloods that hurl bus-sized boulders through anything that stands in their path.


Unfortunately (depending on your point of view), nature isn’t always that powerful, and submits with a whimper. All too often, it can be tamed with a tool as simple as a cow.

Thursday, August 18th, 2005 @ 12:47 PM
Contributed by: Andy Updegrove
Views: 2,645

If you want to really get away, you should consider Nevada. Esmeralda County is one of Nevada’s smaller and more populous counties (leaving the Reno and Las Vegas areas out of this equation). In 1996, its 1,344 inhabitants had 2,284,800 acres all to themselves. Nye County looks to be the size of Maine, and has far fewer (you can’t accurately include the headcount for the secret Air Force test facility in Area 51 that officially does not exist). In all, Nevada has more than 70 million acres, 60 million of which are federal, state or local public land. 50 million of those acres are owned by the federal Bureau of Land Management (the BLM).

"Public Land," though, doesn’t mean the same thing everywhere. In Nevada, it means that you’ve got 50 million acres to choose from when you’re looking for a place to wander during the day and unroll your sleeping bag at night. The landscape may be a bit repetitive, it’s true, but on the other hand no one puts up signs that say they’ll shoot you if you enter their "public" land, as they do a couple states over in New Mexico. Some of them mean it.

Wednesday, August 17th, 2005 @ 12:48 PM
Contributed by: Andy Updegrove
Views: 2,863

If you look at the Northwestern corner of Nevada, you’ll see that it’s bounded on the south by Interstate 80. Depending on the map you’re looking at, you may or may not see any roads at all in this quadrant. If you do, what the map is showing you are all gravel roads, with the exception of state route 447, which in turn converts to gravel at Gerlach.


Normally, Gerlach has a couple of hundred inhabitants in and around town (maybe). There’s a gas station, a small motel, a bar (of course with slots, this being Nevada, and that’s about it. But that’s enough to make Gerlach the hub of this neck of the woods (except, of course, there are no woods -- too dry), with only a handful of isolated ranches scattered across the whole corner of the state like buckshot. Stop at Bruno’s Texaco before you leave Gerlach, and take a look at the small photo tucked away on the back wall. You’ll see Bill, the man in charge, and a very impressive mountain sheep he’s just taken. If you look carefully down the mountain behind Bill in the picture, you’ll see the Gerlach. Probably Bruno’s Texaco as well, if you look hard enough. You have to be pretty isolated to shoot a mountain sheep in your back yard.