I helped shut down the logging in 1992. You can read all about it in my popular memoir "The Canyon Chronicles". I have no regrets that I helped expose the excessive harvesting and illegal logging activities that laid waste to the ancient forest. But as so often happens in America, we swing between extremes. There is rarely any middle ground. We either cut the hell out of the forest, or we don't cut anything. But the world of nature can not flourish on 4-year political cycles.
After the dust had settled from the federal court case, all logging ceased on the North Kaibab. And while it was only supposed to be temporary, the local environmental groups kept stringing things out, the mill in Fredonia soon shut down and moved to South America, and the nearest sawmill in Panguitch, Utah could not afford to log a forest over a hundred miles away. So the economics of logging ensured that the court action became permanent. Even to this day.
The enviros rejoiced. They hated all of the logging.
When you stop logging a forest like the North Kaibab that has been extensively logged for a long period of time, and remove controlled fire from the equation, the trees continue to die from old age and disease, and then they fall over on one another, creating the perfect conditions for a hot burn. Meaning that when a fire comes roaring through the old forest it has lots of fuel to play with. And that fuel burns really hot and climbs into the canopies of the living trees. In a managed forest, there isn't much dead woody debris on the ground, so the fire rolls through at about ten miles an hour, singeing the trees and then moving on in a matter of minutes. Ponderosa pine have actually evolved so that fires trigger the trees to throw out seeds. But where there are lots of down trees and brush, the fire burns every living thing.
On June 8, 2006 a lightning strike ignited the Warm Fire that barreled across the North Kaibab and wiped out most of the forest between Jacob Lake and the North Rim – more than thirty miles of charred woodland. I didn't even recognize the place anymore.
Wildlife biologists are always quick to point out that fire is a good thing. It burns off the dead woody debris and opens up the forest. The seeds of diversity are then spread far and wide. And that's all fine and dandy. But what I saw on the Kaibab was a complete disaster. The big yellow pines have been replaced by aspens that grow like weeds and completely take over an area, out-competing the pines, spruce, and fir. They are poping up as thick as the fur on a dog's back and in the future people will drive through a forest of pretty little aspens, all the same size, like rows of corn, and they will marvel at their beauty. But for me, I will forever remember the primeval evergreen forest that had survived wild fires for thousands of years but eventually fell victim to knee-jerk environmental nonsense.
But the thing that has really changed the face of the entire Colorado Plateau isn't natural. It is tourism. And I had a hand in that one too.
Every park we visited was packed to the gills, often resembling a major sporting event or a rock concert. And if managed properly, it will undoubtedly pump millions of dollars into the local economies for many years to come without too much harm to the golden goose. And unlike mining or logging, you can't use it all up. It is sustainable. But the size and scope of this kick-out-the-blocks, industrial strength tourism that brings happy visitors from all around the world in bus after bus to our national parks throughout the Southwest, takes a bit of getting used to when there used to be pretty much nothing except the parks themselves and odd little roadside services and attractions.
Little towns like Springdale, on the west side of Zion, are now bustling with hotels, gift shops, and trendy restaurants.
The area on the northern outskirts of Bryce, where Ruby's Inn used to be the only business has grown into a town – with a traffic light no less. In fact, it was incorporated as a full-fledged town –
There are lots of ATV and equestrian outfitters working the fragile park trails. And there are small companies led by handsome guides in snazzy vans hauling people around Canyon Country, providing specialized hikes and bike trips.
The Dixie National Forest has a new paved bike trail that parallels the highway from the Red Canyon campground all the way to Bryce National Park.
They have widened a lot of Highway 89 and put in passing lanes where there used to be annoying backups behind RV's and tractor trailers chugging up the big hills, so that now you can zip right along and easily get around the slower-moving vehicles.
All in all, while there is always the threat that we will love our national parks to death, I would have to say that in many ways, having high quality services, especially in poor rural areas like The Rez, is a big bonus. And it sure as hell beats coal or uranium mining.
Interestingly, the traditional Mormon towns like Orderville and Hatch, sitting quietly between Zion and Bryce along Highway 89 in Long Valley, are still pretty much the same. Brigham Young's vision of creating a buffer land between the Mormons and the Gentiles is still working for the most part. And tourism has barely scraped the surface.
Many people say they enjoy
As we were walking through Bryce Canyon and then back up on the rim, I noticed that every single tree had been hit by lightning at least once.
As a general rule, Asians do not hike. They mob the rim areas, and will venture down the trail into the canyon for a few hundred feet to snap a nice photo, but you rarely see them hiking a canyon trail for any distance. They seem a bit intimidated by stupendous nature.
Wherever we went, other than the Navajo reservation, there was no trash. The Mormons keep everything immaculate.
I climbed to the top of Angels Landing, and I hiked eight miles along the steep trails at the bottom of Bryce Canyon, along with some other stoner hikes, so I'm pretty proud of myself. But in addition to being older and fatter, the lack of oxygen at the 8,000-feet elevation really kicked my ass. I had a killer pain in the neck headache, along with constant shortness of breath, the whole time we were visiting the North Rim, Bryce, and Cedar Breaks – something I had never experienced in my whole life in Canyon Country. And the saddest part was that I realized I will probably never be able to hike down to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon ever again. RIVER TRIP!
What To Believe
Inna and I had many discussions during our long drives about religion and they essentially boiled down to two tough questions.
Which path is BETTER?
Inna is a Chritian and I am a lapsed Buddhist who believes in karma. As to which is the true way, I guess the only conclusion we can definitively reach is this: The big three – Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism – have merrily followed a technological path that often destroys our earthly paradise. While Animism has left little or no trace upon our precious blue-green planet.
I wonder which path the gods prefer?
As we were doing one of our treasured hikes at the end of our two week journey, just cruisin' The Strip, we came to a narrow slot along