Most everyone has arrived in the land of the Midnight Sun. The tour officially starts tomorrow, and the weather gods look to be cooperating so far.
Cat Herder doesn't enjoy the slog of commercial airline travel and all the gear it takes to kick off a tour remotely, but the 49th State, and all the Parkwest "cats", are worth it!
The Alyeska Resort is a great place to start this tour with its gorgeous mountain views, aerial tram ride to 4-star dining, and convenient location, just a 45-minute, scenic drive up the Turnagain Arm from Anchorage.. Tomorrow we hike, we brief, we get to know each other, and let the adventure begin!
Joshua Tree National Park's Oasis of Mara suffered some devastation this week at the hands of a suspected arsonist. Burned are the famed "29 Palms" planted by the Native Americans in the desert oasis, located at the Park's Visitor Center in 29 Palms, California. More at the Desert Sun.
This Monday, March 26, 2018 photo provided by Steve Raines shows a fire that broke out at Joshua Tree National Park, damaging a historical landmark. The National Park Service says the fire that broke out late Monday damaged the Oasis of Mara, a site settled by Native Americans who planted the 29 palm trees that inspired the name of the city of Twentynine Palms. (Steve Raines Photography via AP)
Cat Herder needed a boost today, and she got it. How?
She went for a long walk with her dog, Luna (dogs are much easier to herd than Parkwest "cats", by the way), wearing a jacket she hadn't used in a while. From the pocket she extracted a crumpled piece of paper, one that had been there for two whole years--to this very day!
It's the ticket that unleashed a wonderful mushing experience to a dozen Arctic Quest participants at the Chena Hot Springs Resort back in 2016. The sled dogs were amazing, the hot springs both soothed and scorched our bodies, the apple martinis at the ice bar hit the spot, and the aurora borealis gave us a once-in-a-lifetime show.
Making me wonder: should we offer this trip again??
So says the wall at Hostal Masaya in Bogota, Colombia. And Cat Herder couldn't agree more!
Thanks to the beautiful landscapes, friendly people, good public transportation, and decent food and lodging at decent prices, Colombia gave us a great vacation over the holidays. Happy to see that the country has a robust land conservation mentality with numerous National Parks nationwide.
And there could be nothing more therapeutic than "turning off" the North American news and settling into a different way of life. Happy to say that my Spanish skills are still there and, as usual, created as many problems as it averted. (I am finding that sometimes it pays to be an English-only gringo, especially in the big city where hawkers are trying to sell you everything from bus tours to soccer jerseys to magic brownies.)
Anyway, it's always nice to to be reminded that travel can be so much more than a passport stamp and a few photos. At its best it's a new pair of glasses with which to view the world, a different rhythm to your day, new friends who do not speak your native tongue. It's finding creative ways to stay cool in a sweltering, un-air-conditioned apartment, crossing a boulder-strewn river in a little taxi to arrive at the remote coffee plantation, drinking juice made from fruit you've never seen before, playing strange games like Tejo, made fun by the gunpowder blast and cheap beer that comes hand-in-hand with the experience.
Thanks for the memories, Colombia. And to my fellow Parkwest travelers, I'm looking forward to getting back to the "U" with you this year.
We had two lightening-fast registration events for the tours next year. Each opened, filled and closed in about 24 hours. We look forward to seeing Parkwest friends, new and old, in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.
Cat Herder encourages ANYONE who still wants to come to let her know to be put on a stand-by list. Last year's tour saw 3 cancellations, providing the opportunity for all waitlist names to move to the confirmed list. In other words, stuff happens!
On a personal note...If anyone had told me back in 2000 that we'd still be flying the Parkwest skies in 2018, I would have never believed it. What a treat and a treasure to still be doing this, if only on a limited basis.
Huge gratitude to everyone who helped make the last 18 years so fun and successful!
It seems the New York Times has caught up to what Parkwest has known for a few years: sledding at Sand Dunes National Park is AWESOME. So okay, our contestants might not have looked quite this professional or polished, but we sure had fun! Read the Times' article, and check out these 2015 sand sledders representing Team Parkwest below.
Long a favorite first stop on the Southwest Safari itinerary of yesteryear, the Page area hosted the most recent Half Marathon in the National Park series. Cat Herder and Collin escaped Spokane for a few days and flew the 210 down to Grand Junction. After visiting friends and family, we launched across the familiar flight path over southern Utah towards Lake Powell and Glen Canyon NRA to participate in this race. As always, the sky was a perfect blue, the smokestacks the ideal windsock, and sculpted red sandstone was gorgeous to behold. Collin beat his goal of 2 hours, and we'll just say that Cat Herder finished a good while behind him!
Longing for the days when we led a Southwest Safari tour twice/year, in May and September. It was this specific flight that led us to refer to good flying weather as a "Southwest Safari day."
Will Bears Ears Be the Next Standing Rock?
New York Times, Sunday Review, May 6, 2017
“Rising from the center of the southeastern Utah landscape and visible from every direction are twin buttes so distinctive that in each of the native languages of the region their name is the same: Hoon’Naqvut, Shash Jáa, Kwiyagatu Nukavachi, Ansh An Lashokdiwe, or ‘Bears Ears.’ For hundreds of generations, native peoples lived in the surrounding deep sandstone canyons, desert mesas … one of the densest and most significant cultural landscapes in the United States.”
— Proclamation by President Barack Obama establishing Bears Ears National Monument, Dec. 28, 2016
After seven years of organizing, the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition — made up of the Hopi, Navajo, Uintah and Ouray Ute, Ute Mountain Ute and Zuni Nations — played a key role in securing the protection of 1.35 million acres surrounding Bears Ears from development and resource extraction just before President Obama left office.
But in our climate of political myopia, President Trump recently ordered the Interior Department to review the size and scope of national monuments larger than 100,000 acres created since 1996. He complained that these designations “unilaterally put millions of acres of land and water under strict federal control,” called them a “massive federal land grab” and directed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review and reverse some of them.
There is a subtext here, as his order made clear. Monument designations, the document said, can “create barriers to achieving energy independence” and “otherwise curtail economic growth.” Among the likely beneficiaries of any reversals are the oil and gas industries, mining and logging interests and commercial development.
In issuing this order, President Trump — who has never visited Bears Ears — apparently chose to listen to the bellicose politicians of Utah and do the bidding of Senator Orrin Hatch and Representatives Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, who complain that Utahns were cut out of the process. Call that another alternative fact. The lawmakers claim it was an endgame move by the departing President Obama to create a “midnight monument.”
The truth is, the establishment of Bears Ears National Monument was a healing moment of historic importance. A unique agreement was reached between Indian tribes and the United States government for a collaborative approach to the management of Bears Ears. It was a clasp of hands across history. It was also about America looking into the deep future rather than into the narrow exhaust pipe of today. It was about drilling for hope and dignity, rather than fossil fuels.
But now Bears Ears could very well become another Standing Rock in both desecration and resistance — the latest example of a new colonialism, with the government bulldozing Indian sovereignty and privileging Big Oil. “If the Trump administration moves forward with their interests, they are taking us backward 100 years, rupturing trust once again between the federal government and Indian people,” Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, a former councilwoman from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, said.
No president has ever attempted to abolish a national monument, and it is unclear whether a president has the power to do it without Congress. And no president in the last half-century has reduced the size of a monument.
Bears Ears is a cradle of Native American history. Far from creating a “midnight monument” willed into existence at the slash of a presidential pen, the Obama designation provides these sacred lands with the protection that has long been in the prayers and dreams of tribal leaders.
“Bears Ears is all about Indian sovereignty,” said Russell Begaye, the president of the Navajo Nation.
The removal of one square inch from Bears Ears National Monument will be seen as an assault on the home ground of Native Americans in the American Southwest, a disrespect for their ceremonial lives and the traditional knowledge of their ancestors. Hundreds of thousands of artifacts are buried in the serpentine canyons and shifting pink sands of Cedar Mesa, hidden, until exposed by rain or wind or theft. The desecration of Indian graves has prompted F.B.I. raids and convictions.
But it’s not just about local desecration. So much of the American West these days is under threat of development and fossil fuel extraction. Our very sense of wildness and wilderness is at stake, from Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah to the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in New Mexico. “This is a war on our public lands,” said Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico. Our national parks and monuments and other public lands are breathing spaces for a society increasingly holding its breath.
“We are not just protecting these lands for our people, but all people,” Jonah Yellowman, a Navajo medicine person and spiritual leader, said.
As a Utahn, I have spent considerable time in the pinyon-juniper-laced mesas and sandstone canyons of Bears Ears. This is a landscape of immense stillness where ancient handprints left on red rock walls are a reminder of who came before us and who will follow.
If President Trump is successful in rescinding Bears Ears National Monument, it will be a breach of faith with our future and our past. Over 330 million visits were made to the national parks last year. One park or monument at risk means all are at risk. Pick yours: Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Big Bend, Acadia. The federal Bureau of Land Management has proposed issuing oil and gas leases just outside Zion National Park, one of the nation’s most visited parks. Forty national parks are vulnerable to oil and gas extraction.
A portrait of Andrew Jackson has been newly hung in the Oval Office over Donald Trump’s shoulder. The portrait might remind our 45th president of how Jackson signed the 1830 Indian Removal Act, which lit the match to America’s criminal treatment of native people. The Trail of Tears is just part of Jackson’s legacy. His face still remains on the $20 bill — fitting perhaps, since so much of the battle over land is the battle over the dollar.
No amount of money is a substitute for beauty. No amount of political power can be matched by the power of the land and the indigenous people who live here. If we do not rise to the defense of these sacred lands, Bears Ears National Monument will be reduced to oil rigs and derricks, shining bright against an oiled sky of obliterated stars.
Terry Tempest Williams is the author, most recently, of “The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks.” She teaches at Dartmouth.
Cat Herder (aka Marisa) has been guiding pilot tours in the American West for over twenty years. Keep tabs on your Parkwest pilot friends, National Park news and other tidbits here!