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Traveling, living, loving, exploring and trying to make some semblance of sense out of this crazy world.  


Monday, December 31, 2012

"Your" National Forest: Volunteers Expendable

My wife and I are volunteer site stewards for the National Forest. We came here based on promises and descriptions from the Forest HQ and volunteer coordination staff, driving 800 miles from Colorado Springs to take a volunteer campground host position. 

We've been here since October 12 of 2012, and I've lost track of the broken promises, distortions, mis-information and outright lies we've been told, the interagency cluelessness and lack of cooperation, the incompetence, neglect, and apathy that are rampant in this patch of Public Lands. 

We've been shot at and threatened and had our subsequent 911 calls ignored or downplayed, been harassed and treated with contempt by cops who didn't know we were supposed to be there (both NF and local sheriff's patrols) even after a month of being "boots on the ground". We've watched Mexican-American families who have been here for generations- American citizens who have founded businesses, paid taxes, and lost children to war- harassed and profiled by the police, who managed, quite successfully, thankyouverymuch, to ignore rich WASPs doing double the speed limit with cocktail in hand, or the predominantly-white Boy Scouts who showed little or no embrace of the motto "Be Prepared" as they whined about not having gates opened for them, left bonfires unattended, scattered plastic and foil litter throughout the campground, cut down live trees, ignored no fire and no glass signs, and generally turned the facilities into a riot from Friday night to Sunday afternoon.

We have been moved from pillar to post, asked to inform the public then advised not to approach, asked to be "eyes and ears for law enforcement" and then directed not to call 911 unless it's a real emergency" (because gunfire and bonfires are not, nor is a group of drunks leaving with three toddlers in the car). 

After a month of swimming upstream and starting to get a picture of determined blindness to the true problems by the Powers That Be, we were told that it was not felt to be safe for us to be in this spot (although the concern seemed to be more for the safety of the status quo than the volunteers) and subsequently relocated to a steward site fourteen miles from town. Apparently, we are far safer where there is no police presence from 3 pm to 10 am through the week and next to none at all on the weekends, two miles from a biker bar on a road known for drunk drivers with nothing but wilderness at our backs. 

We were promised access to showers and laundry just two miles down the road from this newest spot, but arrived to find out that the facilities and services promised had, in fact, been closed since late August, something one would (perhaps unreasonably) expect the volunteer coordinators to know, when the orders for closure originated from an office in the same building where they work, an office in fact located no more than ten feet down the hall from their own.

We were promised access to electricity, but there is no 110 hook-up onsite, just a 30 amp plug for a trailer. Repeated requests have produced none of the materials I need to use my years of electrical experience to install a plug for our use or to fix the lights in the ramadas in our site, so we have not only no power, but no light. This springs from the fact that the NF keeps no maintenance stock for routine replacement and repair of lights, switches, receptacles, covers, door handles, hinges, etc. You have to get the part number and order them from a catalogue.

Of course, with a spending freeze in place, you might have to wait a while for those parts... say, 'til Spring?

We have a 150 yd walk to the pit toilet when we need to use the bathroom, because despite the fact that we are not using the sewer system, and thus saving the FS from having to pump it, they cannot spring for a port-a-john. The bathroom cleaning contractor doesn't fulfill his contract by giving the facilities more than a look and a promise, meaning our usual option is standing in urine and feces while hovering above a splattered toilet seat. 

The Forestry Service Law Enforcement has yet to show up to talk to us about the loss of over $500 worth of gear, despite repeated calls, and the coordinator's attitude was "We just don't know how this could have happened?" Of course, the thought of sharing these thoughts with us was never foremost in their minds, as it took a week for the VC to even show up and share this info.

It took that week and most of the next to get a lock put on the area we had been assured was safe to secure our personal belongings... the one from which they had been taken, apparently in broad daylight, while we were away on a climbing trip. The guys who put the lock hasp and combo lock on said they knew long ago that this NF "has a key problem, and knows it... Who knows how many thousands of keys are out there, since it takes one key to open most of the Yale locks in the entire Forest?"

(In all honesty, this is something I have seen across the country, an epidemic of unsecured gates and access points, with hundreds of keys, antiquated locks, and a vast gap between law enforcement capabilities and requirements.)

But the LEO and Volunteer Coordinator still have "no idea how this could have happened"? 

Follow-up to this; after a week without water supply or any of those "routine patrols" we were promised so long ago in Colorado, we drove 20 miles to the admin facility that is open to take showers and use the kitchen to cook a holiday meal.

No dice.

We had been locked out. 

Not out of the gate, which still opened to our combo, nor out of the laundry room, which is separated from the interior of the kitchen by a single, screwed-on sheet of 3/4" plywood covering a door frame. 

(So anyone with a brick, claw hammer or a good strong kick could have accessed the interior easily enough.)

It was a final straw on an already overloaded camel's back, and I was sorely tempted, but there was a sheriff's deputy tending the horses in the corral, and I didn't feel like spending the holidays in the pokey. 

There would be no hot meals, no hot showers or access to the Volunteer Lounge for the Gypsies for Christmas.

Happy Holidays..........

While I have spent most of my life doing volunteer clean-ups and trailwork and education in the National Forests across this country, I cannot strongly enough caution anyone against volunteering for any National Forest position without getting all promises and conditions in writing, because in the 21st Century, volunteering on your Public Lands is far more than a job.... it's the day-to-day reality of fighting inexcusable incompetence and rampant apathy.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Routing for Christmas in Devil's Canyon

We started out the week before, one day after the End of the World.  Having seen no sign of the Mayans, the Altasrians, the Pleiadeians, or the great black hole that would open with alignment, we resolved to ACT!

The day went well, if with a few set-backs and delays.  The hike to the Troll Hut was breezy, with a sharp, biting north wind breathing down our necks, which helped cool the sweat of carrying 60 pounds of drill, bolts, hammer, wrenches, rope, gear, snacks and food.  The feeder creek below the crag turned out to be running, necessitating an alternate high-water trail to the crag... one which I fortunately possessed the foresight to have constructed about a decade before.

Work soon proceeded apace.

The line was classic; the rock, solid... enough.  but cold weather, a few false holes, and an uncooperative first bolt put paid to our dreams of a first ascent... that day.

Gypsy Conditions, a sustained 5.8, stalled in progress by a single bad bolt and a dead drill battery.

Close-up of the traitor bolt.  Oh, well, a good day, regardless... not like it was the end of the world or anything... THAT WAS YESTERDAY!

We worked another partially-completed line, named in honor of my friend Mike, The Fisher King, before heading back towards lights and "civilization", which seemed doomed to continue for another millenium or so.

Three days later:

Christmas Day, 2012: 34 degrees F, 20-30 mph gusts, heavy overcast.

Full-on Gypsy Conditions.  An hour's drive east did nothing to change the picture.  Cindy looked at me, I looked at Cindy.

"We're already here," she said.  "We can freeze in camp, or freeze with a smile on our faces."

So.... we went out and bolted and climbed a new route, in the sheltered corridor of the Troll Hut, and started another new line on the opposite wall, just for good measure.

We ended the day with a smile and a last look into the canyon, where water rolled over the volcanic boulders, before hiking out to hot drinks and dinner with friends.

Gypsy Conditions, 5.8, 4 bolts and anchors, First Ascent: Michael and Cindy Gray, 12/25/12.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Superstitions Christmas

Ravens dancing in the wind above the fisted red volcanic stone, frosted in verdant green, saguaros stretching green arms towards a sky full of wind-torn clouds, Cindy laughing at my stupid jokes as the massive sentinel of the Superstition Mountain casts long shadows across the timeless, ever-changing landscape. Snow highlights the distant bastion of Four Peaks, a lenticular cloud stretching to the horizon, with flakes drifting to the barren, grateful desert denizens below.

We bump down a dusty road of trailers and adobe and cinderblock which will, with the coming of dusk, be transformed into an avenue of flashing, glittering holiday color and lights, saguaros and palo verde, acacia and palm trees standing in for their evergreen cousins in most, with the occasional traditionalist displaying their proud Scotch Pine or hilariously scraggly high-plains cedar. The madness of inflatables does not translate well into cactus country, so we are spared the more garish displays of holiday overkill, but the department stores and radio stations make up for any lack.

Driving times and nights around the camp table, talk inevitably drifts East and we reminisce about the Blue Ridge, the deep forests and green hills, the snow and the cold and the storms; our first hike, through 7 inches of fresh snow, with temps in the 20s and winds topping out at 45 mph, laughing in the lee of a fallen tree while sharing a smoke and a cup of hot coffee from the thermos; camping on the North Fork the Christmas my love decided to become Cindy Gray, proposing over a four course meal and drinks in the midst of a driving snowstorm; sipping Irish cream and hot chocolate beside the woodstove, while Prairie Home Companion took us through another two hours of music and comedy and the snow piled up past three feet for 28 days in a row, from December 18 through the first weeks of the new year. 

Comparisons are made, between this year's camp, living out of a 8 x 10 tent tucked in the folds of the Apache Lakes and Superstitions, to last year's crime-surrounded, bedbug-infested apartment in Flagstaff, and we have spent more than a few hours finding hilarious similarities and striking differences between operations at the non-profit Flagstaff Family Food Center and the fairly upscale Canyon Lake Restaurant and Cantina where Cindy is charming the community as a hostess and I am currently slinging burgers and Philly cheese steaks as a line cook.
Hearing reports of weather to the north, I think of the long hours spent in the tiny cab of a Bobcat, pushing snow all night through some of Flag's worst storms to earn a buck, piloting the little blue truck through conditions that were immobilizing huge 4x4s and returning saddlesore and exhausted to the warm hugs and hot food that always greeted me at the door to our little nest.  Cindy tells me stories of the weeks of holiday preparations and celebrations among the Mennonite families she grew up in and knew as a child, and of the Christmases spent in South America. 

Mostly, this time of year, we think of and pray for our far-flung families, and our amazing friends, and thank God for our incredible blessings and continuing fortune, the greatest proof of which is those very precious souls who grace us with their wit and charm, their foibles and sorrows, small talk and big doings and pet peeves.

If the world should end tomorrow (and I very much doubt that it will), no man or woman was ever given more grace and bounty in the way of wondrous, informative, generous spirits to light our way along the Path.

May the holidays and the coming year bring you laughter for every day you shake your head in bewilderment, sunshine to follow your every cloud, a hug for every hour you walk in doubt, and the priceless gift of love, shared among yourselves, filling every cup to overflowing. 

May we all find it within ourselves to give back more than we are given, to live IN THE NOW, true to our highest selves and beliefs in the face of adversity and change.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Don't Let Go, and You Won't Fall Off of The Fiscal Cliff, either.

Posting this again, because given Washington State and Colorado's recent VOTER initiatives to legalize cannabis and regulate it in the same fashion as alcohol and tobacco, I think it is a crime that NONE of the major news outlets on the right or left has shown much interest in a historical moment in American politics. Focusing on immigration due to Latino turnout? Millions of white, black, brow
n and red voters turned out , and in November, and a significant number of them spoke far more loudly to the issue of a trillion-dollar war on our own people than the rapidly-diminishing illegal immigrant problem, which is down to 10% of 2000 levels.

How about you focus on the issues, Congress and Mister Obama, and stop trying to win the next state elections before you deal with the current problems?


One simple step: Executive Order (like the one for Bin Ladin's execution) decriminalizing hemp and cannabis, releasing all non-violent offenders, dismissing all pending cases for simple possession with or without intent, legalizing personal production and growing co-ops.

Results: compassion and dignity for patients and caregivers, reduced stress for the same, lower Medicaid and Medicare doctor and prescription costs, lower infrastructure costs (hospitals and clinics), lower enforcement and incarceration budgets, no new prison costs, increased jobs and tax revenues across the country (Washington estimates 2 billion in the next 5 years just from new taxes, stores, patients, clinics, and dispensaries. I've estimated a savings of almost 2 million PER YEAR for Medicaid and Medicare; http://roninsroad.blogspot.com/2012/06/no-value.html).

Decriminalization also means exponential reduction of the profit margin of the cartels and black markets, reduction of inner city crime levels, revitalization of urban and farm communities, and an increasingly competitive America.

So how 'bout instead of partisan politics and special interest accomodation as usual, we all join in on a solution that offers immediate relief and forward momentum?  Or is that too much to ask from a group of lifelong bureaucrats?