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Monday, November 18, 2013

Glen Canyon Dam and God

Earlier this month, I took a trip to Las Vegas to report on a story based out of there. I suppose I could have flown, but flights out of Durango are absurd: It would have taken nearly 9 hours by plane, assuming my flights were on time and I made my connections. Driving takes about the same amount of time, and takes one through some of the most spectacular country in the world, so drive I did. And, by pure chance, I drove through Page, Arizona during the peak of the Bureau of Reclamation's High Flow Experiment, during which unusually large amounts of water are released from Lake Powell in order to simulate natural floods in the Grand Canyon.

It was pretty cool to see. I went out on the crazy bridge (the highest/longest of its kind when it was built back in the early 1960s), and simply gazed out at the dam, letting the roar of the water blasting out serenade me into a tranquil state of awe. It inspired some thoughts about my sort of obsession with gargantuan infrastructure, about drought and climate change and, yes, about God. I wrote about it for High Country News. Read it. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Mr. Landman, Bring Me A Dream

Don't ask me what this one's all about, because I really don't know. I make these things to spark some alternative creative fires. Or at least hoping they will.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Poetry is for disasters, tears are for the drycleaners

Okay, so I don't really know where the name for this photograph/painting came from, but now that I'm an artist-type, I have to develop the temperament: broody, dark, intense, mysterious. This is the mysterious part, I suppose. In other work, I wrote about the Tea Party fringe holding the GOP and our nation hostage in hopes of killing the health care law. And I recounted my experience running in the Louis Tewanima footrace in Hopi. Enjoy.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Something entirely different

I can't paint, but I sometimes have the urge to do so. I make up for it by taking photographs and digitally altering them to look kind of like paintings. I'm messing with some Stanton Englehart inspired stuff right now, using photos I took when I lived in Boulder and tweaking tweaking tweaking until they start to look right. Which they never really do. But then, that's art for you, no? They're kind of like this:

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Images from a road trip: Winslow, Hopi etc.

For Labor Day weekend, my family and I hit the road, headed south. The harsh blue skies and dry, dusty land had given way to towering thunderheads and monsoonal rains and mud and green and tall, tall grass. It was part vacation and part work: I was reporting on a story about Winslow, Ariz., and another one about running in Hopi (coming soon). We're heading back down this weekend for more reporting, this time of the very cool art on rails project called Station to Station. Worth checking out if you can. This is a collection of images I captured during the trip. I love the way the light plays with the clouds and the land during the monsoon.

Amtrak conductor and train. Winslow, Ariz., Aug. 2013.

Picnic Area, Little Painted Desert, Ariz. Aug. 2013.

Amaranth and La Posada. Winslow, Ariz., Aug. 2013.

Lydia and the approaching storm. Little Painted Desert, Ariz., Aug. 2013

Moenkopi corn field. Sept. 2013.

Storm near Hopi. Aug. 2013.

All Star Krew and distant butte. Little Painted Desert, Ariz. Aug. 2013.

Rest Area, Little Painted Desert, Ariz. Aug. 2013.

Pigeons. Winslow, Ariz. Aug. 2013.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Movin' on up in the oil patch

This is an important story, I think, that I wrote for High Country News. It's about how oil fields are one of the last bastions of upward mobility. A lot of folks took it as a pro oil and gas piece, but it really isn't. If anything, it's an indictment of the rest of our economy and the income ladder in general, which happens to be missing a lot of rungs. Yup, the rich are getting richer and the rest of us, well, we're not.

Imagine a child born in or near Gallup, N.M. "Jonny" is an average, healthy kid, but life's not easy. His single mom works at a mini-mart and makes about $16,000 per year, putting the family in the state's lowest income bracket. At school, Jonny's underpaid, overworked teachers tell him that in the United States even poor kids can prosper if they work hard. Upward mobility, the collective rags-to-riches momentum, distinguishes us from the rest of the caste-confined world. It is, they tell him, the American Dream.

Yet across the nation it's getting harder to climb the income ladder. And in the Gallup commuting area, which stretches into Arizona and spans much of the Navajo Nation, the American Dream is all but dead. Jonny and other poor kids here have about a 6 percent chance of ever making it into a household in the top income bracket (earning more than $90,000 per year), according to data recently released by the Equality of Opportunity Project. The Project, headed by four prominent Harvard and Berkeley economists, ties geography to income mobility. And the picture it paints of Western places like Gallup, Albuquerque, Tucson and Phoenix isn't pretty: For the most part, kids who are born poor in these areas stay poor.

There's some hope for Jonny, however. If his family can afford to move to Vernal, Utah, or Williston, N.D., or Gillette, Wyo., his chances of reaching the top of the ladder by the time he's in his 30s increases fivefold. These are among the areas that are not only the most upwardly mobile in the West, but in the nation. And the common thread connecting them is energy extraction: They are all hotspots for coal, oil or natural gas production.
Read the rest of the story at 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

That many-tentacled, complex creature we call the Grid

Minutes before 4 p.m. on a sizzling September day two years ago, right at the time when they were most needed, San Diego's air conditioners suddenly died. Thousands of television and computer screens also flickered into darkness. Stoplights stopped working, gas stations ceased pumping, and traffic slowed to a snarl. Trains ground to a halt and planes idled on the runway. Wastewater treatment pumps shut down, spewing some 4 million gallons of raw sewage into the Pacific. Around 2.7 million "customers" -- amounting to anywhere from 5 to 7 million people -- lost their power, with some remaining in darkness for 12 hours or more.

As commuters extricated themselves from highway gridlock, and batteries faded away on millions of electronic devices, folks flocked to the handful of neighborhood bars that –– thanks to generators –– were able to keep their lights and refrigeration going. There, they could drink away the darkness and speculate as to what had caused this sudden plague of electrical impotence.

Many assumed it was terrorism -- San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station had been sabotaged, they said, or the North Koreans had set off an electromagnetic pulse that fried the grid, or maybe an Iranian cyberattack had crippled the computers that keep the modern world humming. Others blamed solar flares for disrupting the cosmic electromagnetic field, or suggested that a more earthly storm had caused distant wind farms to go haywire. Then again, perhaps a raven just landed on the wrong piece of equipment out in the desert and got fried, its death rattle reverberating through the transmission lines all the way to San Diego.

Their guesses weren't stupid or outlandish -- they all involved genuine threats to the power grid. But the biggest power outage to hit the Western Grid in a decade actually started hundreds of miles east, at a substation outside Yuma, Ariz. And it began not with a bang, but with a misplaced checkmark that ultimately crashed Southern California's electrical system.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Old School

I've been passing through the San Luis Valley on the way to somewhere for the last 42 years. And every time I traverse that vast, flat-bottomed space, ringed by the Sangres on one side and the San Juans on the other, I grow fonder of it. Recently, just after one of this winter's brutal cold spells had broke, I drove through on the way to Denver for a conference. Up on Wolf Creek Pass, it was sunny and relatively warm, at least for early January. But once I got down into the valley, the car thermometer started plummeting, and it was below zero by the time I got near Center. Saguache was a bit warmer, though, and I stopped to take a look around. Luckily for me, it was press day at the Saguache Crescent, where Dean Coombs puts out the paper each week on letterpress equipment, without the benefit of any digital computerized stuff.

I wrote about it for High Country News. And here's some photos.