Kirsten and I drove from Torrey to Durango this week to see Scott Graham’s book launch of Mountain Rampage at Maria’s Bookshop. We hoped to catch up with Scott and his wife Sue, see Peter and Andrea the owners of Maria’s, visit some of our conservation NGO friends of which there are an abundance in Durango, and see some of the sweetest stretches of the Colorado Plateau that lay along the un-paralleled route from Torrey to Durango via Hite. We did all that and found new inspiration along the way.
Precious, gorgeous, fragile, contested land and the people who love it. This thinly populated landscape attracts and distills out controversy and passion. As Scott Graham said at breakfast (at Carver Brewing Co.), people live in Durango because they love the land around it. Jobs are harder to come by and pay less than elsewhere but the land more than makes up for it in lifestyle and soul. We met Scott and fellow author Chuck Greaves (at Carver Brewing Co.) for dinner the first night before Scott’s reading at Maria’s. Chuck is a guy from New England who practiced law in Los Angeles for 25 some odd years. But he has a homing beacon for the Four Corners area and has been a long time landowner first a second home retreat in the Disappointment Valley area and now permanently in southwest Colorado. Chuck told us an amazing personal tale of finding two human skulls on Cedar Mesa, probably those of local sheepherders, and of the man who murdered them. The murders happened at the same time Everett Reuss disappeared and in a place where there is ample evidence that Reuss visited. I could have listened all night. In fact, Chuck won the grand-prize Storyteller Award and Best Historical Novel in the South West Writers International Writing Contest writing as C. Joseph Greaves for his title Hard Twisted about some of the same. I am eager to read the now signed copy we picked up at Maria’s.
Just like they did for Canyon Sacrifice, Scott and the folks at Maria’s filled the store with fans again for the launch of our most recent title, Mountain Rampage. Scott is a gracious, generous man and the town loves him. It doesn’t hurt that his mystery series is a killer read–pun intended. As Scott read I was leaning against one of those very cool library ladders and looking up and around the store. Hanging from the walls and ceiling are vintage canoes, snowshoes, skis and soon a vintage Sears Roebuck Cruiser bike that Peter Schertz recently scored. Kirsten and I were in this store five years ago right before we started Torrey House and declared we would publish books that belong on such shelves. Now we are gratified to see dozens of our titles there. A big thank you to Maria’s for the support and embrace of Scott and our titles.
At breakfast the next day (at Carver Brewing Co.) with Scott and his wife Sue, Rose Chilcoat of Great Old Broads for Wilderness, and Peter Schertz and Andrea Avantaggio, the husband and wife team that owns Maria’s, we learned that Andrea is taking a sabbatical starting in about a week and backpacking 400 miles on the Colorado Trail which winds through the peaks from Durango to Denver. She told Kirsten that no, she is not taking any books and in fact as a true getaway her slogan is “no words.” Have a truly great trip Andrea.
Rose recently stayed with us in Salt Lake while attending the federal trial of San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman. Lyman was accused of conspiring to operate off-road vehicles on public lands closed to off-road vehicles, and operation of off-road vehicles on public lands closed to off-road vehicles. The Commissioner was found guilty on both counts, the conspiring and the doing, a verdict that brought a sigh of relief to those of us who watched outlaw cowboy Cliven Bundy running around free while conservationist Tim DeChristopher spent two years in federal prison. Rose was involved early in protecting the ancient archaeological sites in Recapture Canyon via her work for The Broads and was gratified to see the wheels of justice turn in a way that actually brought justice. Rose, thanks for your work and thanks to you and Mark for your gracious hospitality while we were in Durango.
Our second night in Durango we joined Tim Peterson and his wife Anna for dinner (at Carver Brewing Co.). Tim is the Utah Wildlands Program Director for the Grand Canyon Trust and brought us up to speed on the progress of Greater Canyonlands and Cedar Mesa toward better federal protection. It sounds like Rob Bishop has bungled his public lands initiative allowing the Utah county commissioners too much leeway to ask outrageous demands or to simply not care and drop out. It always looked like the backwards fear of President Obama creating a Greater Canyonlands was the bargaining chip and motivator for the rural commissioners to come to the bargaining table. Now it appears the momentum might be shifting toward creating a National Conservation Area or National Monument if necessary called the Bears Ears Cultural Landscape on the Cedar Mesa. There is a growing coalition of support for the idea including unprecedented Tribal support and cooperation of 24 Native American Tribes and Pueblos. The Tribal support is amazing news and is easy to imagine will have tremendous national appeal and political support. Tim has been working diligently and sincerely on the Bishop proposal but it looks like the Republicans sitting across from him are anything but honest and sincere. The Utah Senate recently declared that “the highest and best use” of the Cedar Mesa area is grazing and energy/mineral development. Caveman mentality. Keep fighting the good fight Tim, big monolithic obstacles do fall and in the end progress sweeps the political cavemen aside.
Before we left town on Thursday morning we had breakfast (at Carver Brewing Co.) with Dan Olsen, the Executive Director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance, a local and effective conservation membership. The Alliance had co-sponsored the reading at Maria’s with us and we were eager to meet Dan and hear what he was thinking about and working on. Dan is another one of these folks who moved to Durango because they wanted to live there and then found a way to put his talents to work to make a living while doing good for the world. His forte by experience and education is about making organizational and social change happen. Dan says that while he is not confrontational by nature he knows that sometimes to make change happen for the good and to protect the environment the outcome cannot always be win-win. Sometimes the big extractors have to be forced to stop or to pay for the damage and pollution they cause. He frequently writes columns for The Durango Herald including a recent one titled “Change requires becoming unreasonable.” I really like this guy and we will be keeping an eye on him.
Finally, on the way back to Torrey we sat down for coffee and ice cream with Kathryn (Kat) Wilder in Dolores (and not at Carver Brewing Co.). Kat and her friend TJ Holmes both graciously traveled to Scott’s reading and both are passionate activists for the wild Mustang herds in the area. TJ is a wonderful wildlife photographer and blogs almost daily about the Mustangs. Wild horses are an issue that Torrey House is very interested in and it was great to get a little education from someone with her boots on the ground. We look forward to more of such spirited conversations soon with Kat.
We drove home the rest of the way to Torrey wowed, tired and inspired. This delicate, exquisite landscape is ours to revere or ours to wreck. Right now with Republicans on the rampage public lands are again under assault. The land is being managed by the people the land needs protection from and is in grave danger of being sold to the highest bidder. Maybe we can do something via the power of pen and story to help protect what we have while we still have it.
And for those of you not counting that was four times at Carver Brewing Co. in two days. Just the way I like it. Kirsten, you can lower that eyebrow now.
-Mark Bailey, May 22, 2015, Durango.