Friday, March 31, 2006

Desert rock, mmmmm.....

It's amazing how fast time goes when the busy things of life start to compound one upon another. The end of my winter term at Oregon State and the beginning of my spring season of Naturalists-At-Large has left little time for conversing on the Internet. I have two trips behind me at NAL and a big season ahead. And while I'd love to pin my latest posting hiatus on work and sickness, the last week can only be attributed to my immersion in the Joshua Tree climbing life.

I'm back in Hidden Valley campground. Here again, climbing harsh granite and routes steeped in history. Living in a community of friendly climbers and good people, where its not unlikely that a walk around the 45-site loop will reunite one with at least a handful of long-time seen fellow adventures. For those folks you don't see its time to get an update of their whereabouts from the kind mix of hearsay and gossip past through the informal fireside conversations of fellow educators, climbers, and thoughtful desert-rats.

Once one settles into the Hidden Valley camping life going to town in something that one dreads. A parked car is a beautiful thing and rare treat for me. So when I finally pulled the $1200 Subaru into the spacestation site of Hidden Valley I was content to resign myself to the internetless/phoneless life of desert dwelling. Awe... a short walk in any direction from home will deposit you at another Joshua Tree challenge. Climbing is all-around during the day, friends and fires and music is all-around at night. Bluegrass bands show up with an upright bass, old friends show up with a mission for the Chasm of Doom, food gets shared over a campfire, and the easy life of Jtree is again a part of my life.

Photos: (L) Sunshine in bigwall training mode on Hot Rocks.
(R) Scotty smiles at the rickety gear and a good stem on M & M's Plain.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The success of the Pit:

or What still makes Bishop rock

Photo: Mt. Tom (R) and Mt. Basin when I awoke this morning at the edge of the Pit.

We'll I've been pretty much mobile since the beginning of this term, with few problems in connectivity (wireless internet is indeed everywhere). Although I have been consuming my fair share of fuel lately I feel like my lifestyle does indeed exemplify "doing something with less". I am not the only one.

The Pleasant Valley Pit Campground is just outside of Bishop, CA. Pleasant Valley is the valley immediately down from Owen's River Gorge, where the river is/was free to finally meander across the high desert. From the pit's edge the views into the central Sierra are blocked only by the aforementioned powerlines and the striking summit of 14,000+ Mt. Tom is just miles to the west. This campground is something of an anomoly. It was created when the BLM and local climbing access groups saw the need to centralize camping and mitigate impacts on the fragile Tablelands area. The Tablelands is home to 1,000s of boulders of international rock climbing acclaim, though they also contain handfuls of amazing glyph sites and are of course home to many sensitive species.

Anyways, “the Pit” is just that - a pit from an old road building project. Climbers moved in and established trails and sites and basically an informal campground was born. This is when I first discovered it - around maybe 1997. Over the years the BLM has taken a larger part in managing the site. Adding bathrooms and dumpsters and a camp host. The fee is now $2 per vehicle - still a bargain though climbers did just informally manage the place for years. The addition of bathrooms spurred a heated debate at one time, so did the fee. Now a homeostasis has been reached. A 60 day limit has been imposed, very liberal since the FS still limits stays in any one place to 30 days. The camp host runs a recycling program. Now, climber's join Federal managers in trail building and clean-up days. Last fall, during an Access Fund sponsored native grass reseeding work party, I swung a polowski immediately next to the district ranger (in speeches later everyone championed how far up the chain the cooperation had gone).

Local climbers, that now live in town, have built a strong relationship with the FS and BLM, the Access Fund (a rock climber's premier preservation group) has aided locals with counsel and funding to make Bishop one of the most open-access rock climbing regions in the US. Other players like Los Angeles Power and Water and even local landowners have been quick to open discussions with climbers. All resulting in maintaining access and preserving the fragile arid Tablelands.

In our times of pessimistically musing about over-consumption and government inadequacy its good to remember the grassroots successes. Locally born and supported, these successful 'management consortiums' are indeed working. I've seen first-hand the collective preservation of both the ecosystems and the human experiences that are retained within our national natural resources.

First posted on an academic discussion board when I was asked: "How do you post from a campground?"
Other photos: (1)The Suby just above the Sad boulders with the impressive White Mountains in the background. The Pit and the Sierras are directly behind me. (2) Honestly I took this picture in the Tablelands. Looks like Arizona doesn't it. I'm not telling where these are.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Vagabond realities:

Replacing Mountain
Storms with Desert Sun

Time does fly when the snow is falling. Living life from the confines of a Subaru through winter storm after winter storm reduces one's life to what's important: keeping warm, drying gear, eating hot food, driving in nastiness, and skiing pow! That leaves little time to blog on and on about the intricacies of living out there. Though throughout my time chasing snow and free parking in Lake Tahoe I have come across some ' vagabond realities' or 'dirtbagian philosophies' – however you may call them.

First, gas is cheaper than a hotel. At first I felt bad about idling the engine to warm up or (more often) dry gear. Then I did the math. A gallon of gas for an hour of warmth is far cheaper than the price of a hotel in North Lake Tahoe (by about $88.45 in turns out). I also felt some remorse knowing I was consuming another bit of precious Middle Eastern or Alaskan fossil fuel. Again, that only lasted so long as I compared how each of your homes are heated. Besides my friends in the Pacific Northwest (who are blessed with ample hydroelectric power) most homes are heated with natural gas or electricity generated from coal-burning power plants. After many other comparisons my 2.2L gasoline engine started to seem pretty insignificant against the consumptive power of the US heating industry.

Second, a friendly restaurant or coffee shop with Internet access are well worth giving up a few federal loan dollars to. My classroom has become the local coffee shop, complete with local color and caffeinated busyness. But lately, what strikes me the most while sipping chai and debating the rigors of a federally mandated decision making structures is: how many other people are doing the same damn thing. In the Tahoe City coffee shop Syd's, peeking at screens revealed many other students focused in on online university websites near and far- the others are running a small businesses or managing their money or checking their e-mail or buying a car. What it all comes down to is that the Internet is changing everything.

Third, the station wagon is the smallest unit of shelter that can be comfortably managed as a home and living space. I've lived in a Volkswagen van, an Alta dorm room, and the smallest Bellingham studio in the world – all these places easily provided the needed shelter and warmth. The Subaru does little less, though I sometimes have to brave the elements to fire up the stove and cook. It has become so easy to lose sight of what is minimally needed to be comfortable and happy. I'm living proof that it doesn't take much. I will concede that my pricey synthetic wardrobe and bedding, coupled with the miracles of technologies (namely batteries and solid state electronics) make this lifestyle a lot easier. But, more important is the knowledge I will take from this part of my life when making decisions in the future. More space doesn't not equal more happiness.

A nice segue into the forth and last vagabond reality – more work equals more money, but rarely equals more fun, unless your fun is swimming in money like Scrooge McDuck. I can't help but come back to this topic again and again. Work gets in the way of a fulfilling life. People are often so amazed at my schedule (i.e. The last two weeks I have been skiing Tahoe without a care in the world). People are more amazed to hear I'm not family funded (&$%# my car costs $1200). More over, folks that know me well and get a look at my tax forms offer a quizzical look – how.... with an income like that? I say: easy. Refer to steps one thru three.