To add a further cautionary note to the previous post on desert travel, here’s another piece from Desert USA that demonstrates how quickly a casual day’s expedition into the back country can turn into a life-or-death adventure. The story is more striking because the author, Jim Hatt, was no inexperienced tourist but a seasoned desert rat who had spent years exploring the Superstitions. In this case, familiarity bred not contempt for the terrain but feckless overconfidence, leading him to make several mistakes that combined with bad luck (not one but two flat tires!) to cost him a rough 24 hours.
Speaking of Death Valley, here’s some guidance on climate acclimation for those venturing out into the Southwestern deserts this time of year. With all national and state parks and various public recreation areas closed, I expect some folks will be pushed deeper into the back country in search of a little peace and quiet. Air conditioning (Thanks, Willis Carrier) opened the Southwest to mass immigration but left us all confined in climate-controlled comfort, watching the world outside through double-paned glass. We forget that doesn’t have to be. Nana and his people lived in this country year-round.
I’ve found some temporary escape from house arrest by looking back over old notes on past travels. I posted notes on a trip to colorado 8-10 some time ago, and I want to add Death Valley to the archive as one of my favorite memories. I had been looking forward to a return trip this spring but the Park Service, like the BLM, decided visiting our “public lands” is hazardous to our health.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
I’ve composed, rewritten, edited and finally discarded dozens of posts since I last updated this site. But when you have nothing worth sharing to say, fall back on the words of a better writer. Tolkien, like Churchill and Marcus Aurelius, conveys both cold comfort and much needed resolve in facing difficult and uncertain times.
Although I haven’t written anything worth sharing, my thoughts have frequently turned to Nana over the past month. In researching and writing the old man’s story I not infrequently found myself wondering how I myself would react faced by the same daunting circumstances. Not as well, I’m afraid.
A dangerous question to raise in today’s climate. where even amateur historians are justifiably reluctant to offend ethnic sensibilities and professionals can risk their reputations and careers on one unguarded comment. But the recent debate over the passing of the late Quessam Soleimani at least briefly focused attention on the question of definition: what is terrorism and who can be justifiably viewed as a terrorist?
Retroactively applied to the Apache Wars, the question might be immediately dismissed on the perfectly rational grounds that we cannot judge another, past culture according to today’s ethical and moral standards. But many of today’s historians don’t hesitate to apply their own value judgments to the antebellum South, the “Lost Cause” and the entire history of the American people. If we’re to truly understand our shared history here in the American Southwest, we need to honestly confront the past.
I don’t believe I directly applied the label to Nana himself in my book, but I certainly described his Raid as classical terrorism: the application of violence against a civilian population to exert pressure on the society’s leadership.
Terrorism is inherently a political act, and “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” In that sense, Nana would certainly to prefer to be known as a terrorist rather than considered a common criminal, which is how he was viewed by most of his white contemporaries.
Here’s a new hero in the ongoing struggle against man’s nearest competitor for North American “Apex Predator” title. A dad who takes on a coyote bare-handed to protect his son deserves something more than a Hallmark card on Father’s Day. The same coyote apparently attacked a woman and her two dogs earlier the same day, according to the news story. The dead coyote is being tested for rabies, which would be bad (and painful) news for the victims if the test proves positive but would be somewhat comforting in explaining the animal’s aggressive behavior. Note too that this all took place in a small town in New Hampshire just a few miles from the Atlantic coast — more evidence of the now continental reach of canis latrans.
Here’s a “Lost in the Woods” story with a happy ending. Colorado family returning from vacation in California detoured off I-15 into the Arizona Strip for quick visit to North Rim, bogged down in mud and snow 40 miles into the backcountry. Father and son hiked 20 miles back out to call for help and local Sheriff’s deputies, BLM and Park Rangers combined to locate and rescue the rest of the family. A couple of lessons here. First is “inquire locally.” Don’t venture into unfamiliar terrain without stopping by nearest convenience store, bar or preferably the local ranger station to ask for directions, road conditions and weather report. (On that last point, I would expect Coloradans to be familiar with the relationship between altitude and temperature. Might be sunny and warm in Southern California, but the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is up above 7,000-7,500 feet. As a rule of thumb you can expect temp to drop about 5 degrees Fahrenheit for every 1,000 foot gain in altitude.) Finally, as a hidebound old paper map & compass geezer, let me caution you youngsters about becoming over-reliant on your new-fangled electronics. This Colorado family was misled by their “smartphone” mapping, which led them onto an unpaved road impassable in wet weather. Then, when their SUV got stuck, they found themselves out of cellphone range.