By the mid-1990s, Moab and Grand County citizens—especially voters—were worn out. So was I. Beginning in 1987, with Moab’s economy in tatters and its elected officials proposing a toxic waste incinerator at Cisco to boost property taxes, it was one crisis after another.
A forced referendum in 1988 put an end to the incinerator, tossed out the incumbents, and installed a Democrat majority. The lame duck Republicans created an independent special service road district, with its own mineral lease funding, and moved forward on a massive highway project.
Two years later, the Republicans gained the majority on the three-person commission and appeared to be unstoppable for the next four years. But by 1992, Moabites, especially angry tourism-related business owners, were infuriated by an ill-advised Travel Council appointment. They rebelled and gained the momentum and public support, via yet another referendum, to toss out the entire form of government and install a new 7-person council.
In November 1992, the county approved the change and as of January 1, the commissioners who had been elected just two years earlier for four year terms were gone. In February a special election was held to fill the seven vacancies on the new council.
You’d think we were done, but later that year we endured another special election, a recall vote this time to throw out the new councilmen. The recall failed, but in 1994, another election tossed out at least one of the original council and others chose not to stand for election again. Power shifted yet again.
A weary citizenry, by this time, hardly noticed or cared.In what would be our last year as a monthly publication, the big battles that had dogged Moab for years—the toxic waste incinerator, the Book Cliffs Highway, the Change of Government Vote—were behind us. Now, the effects of tourism began to show, but after a big bump in 1993, when Moab saw seven new motels built in the span of a few months, the changes were slower…more incremental. How did one effectively combat that kind of transformation? More fast food franchises came to Moab and in the spring of 1995, we learned that Wendy’s had not only decided to add a franchise on Main Street, they decided to take a good chunk of a Moabite’s backyard as well.
‘WENDY’S’ TAKES ON DAVE LYLE
Longtime resident Dave Lyle owned a home on 200 North, just off Main, and had put great effort and investment into making his yard one of the loveliest in town. But Wendy’s believed the historic boundary that separated their property from Dave’s was wrong. By over nine feet. Dave tried to settle the dispute without legal action, and several times he thought a resolution had been found. But in late January 1995, Dave discovered a fax on his windshield, advising him to vacate the disputed property in 24 hours. The next day, the realtor handling the Wendy’s acquisition, Randy Day, and a backhoe operator showed up and removed Lyle’s fence, part of his patio and several 40 foot trees. Dave called his lawyer.
Months later, Judge Lyle Anderson issued a summary judgment in FAVOR of Dave Lyle. Wendy’s had to restore the original property line and pay damages. A victory for the little guy (for a change).
‘ECO-CHALLENGE,’ WILDERNESS & UN-STOPPABLE GROWTH
But those kinds of ‘wins’ were few and far between. In March 1995 we also heard about “Eco-Challenge” for the first time. A cross-country triathalon-esque extreme NON-motorized sports extravaganza, to be televised on MTV was strongly opposed by SUWA and Scott Groene led the charge. An appeal was filed with BLM to stop the race and among those groups listed on the appeal, in addition to SUWA, were Red River Canoe, Tex’s Riverways and this publication.
But the Utah congressional delegation cleared the way for the race and parts of BLM’s environmental assessment that discussed the negative impacts were deleted from the final draft. According to Groene, “The good folks at Eco-Challenge responded to the appeal by claiming they had received telephone calls and electronic mail threats from ‘eco-terrorists.’ Race promoters accused SUWA of inciting these threats.”
Twenty years later, it’s difficult to imagine ANY environmental group opposing ANY event like this, which was promoted, in part, as a way to boost the economic advantages of a tourist/recreation non-motorized economy. But in 1995, SUWA’s concerns still included this kind of activity.
Later in the spring, wilderness hearings were held in Moab and a standing room-only crowd turned out at Star Hall. Then, as now, the opinions were as diverse as the community expressing them. The Zephyr covered the hearing and included long quotations from many of the citizen speakers. In the following issue, I explained my own views on wilderness, noting, “If I had my way with wilderness, I would protect it in ways that would avoid even the possibility of commercial exploitation. I would prohibit any outfitter or guide company from leading tours through wilderness areas for profit. And,” I added, “if wilderness lands began to show signs of impacts from overuse, I would support the idea of closing such areas to everyone.”
I knew my ideas would not be taken seriously, but it was my hope that at least my readers would understand that ‘wilderness’ was for more than providing a recreation-based economy—that our real purpose was to save the land for ITS own sake, not ours. At the time, not one member of the mainstream green community took exception. Years later, everything would change.
(For a detailed account of that change, look for Part 3 of this series—“The Fork in the Wilderness Road”— coming in August.)
But Change was already coming. At Arches NP, we finally saw the paving of the Delicate Arch road, all
the way to the overlook. Former Canyonlands superintendent Pete Parry had resisted the asphalt for years, but now Pete had retired. With visitation exploding and the old road frequently closed to flooding at the Salt Valley Wash crossing, monies became available to realign the road, build new bridges and pave the three mile section. The cars and the motorhomes and the tour buses rolled in. Great effort had been made to camouflage the parking lot at the view point. But the vehicles parked there could be seen for miles, their steel and glass glimmering in the desert heat.
In Moab and Spanish Valley, pastures and alfalfa fields began to vanish. For years we had feared the worst and now Reality finally caught up. In the early 90s, local resident Venice Denny had offered to sell some magnificent acreage along Mill Creek, just across from Dave’s Corner Market, to Moab City for a relative pittance. I wrote a heartfelt plea in The Z, urging the city council to act quickly, to do something bold, something that we would all be grateful for, years and decades later. It would have been a wonderful addition to the Mill Creek Parkway, a green oasis in the middle of a very busy town.
But the city failed to act. Venice finally had no choice but to sell it to private investors. Now, in the late 90s, the land was finally developed as the “Mill Creek Pueblos.” All that open space was transformed into condos.
Even with a more ‘progressive’ governing body, there was the sense that not much could be done to halt what already appeared to be an un-stoppable transformation. The council attended growth workshops and talked about better planning and imposing more “impact fees,” but no one seriously opposed the kind of upheaval that awaited us. Years later, in an essay called “A Reluctant Remembrance,” outgoing County Councilman Bill Hedden noted, “My four years on the council convinced me that there is very little that can be done to successfully control growth…It is possible, though, to plan for and manage growth, and if we don’t do that we are climbing on a greased slide to the worst of all possible worlds.”
As I’d note 20 years later: Resistance was Futile.
A LAUGH OR TWO & GOODBYE TO THE MONTHLY
For me, after years of feeling my little rag was making a difference, even if in only some small way, now I felt utterly helpless. A feeling of resigned complacency gripped the town, though to suggest most of us felt ‘gripped’ is an overstatement. But attendance on public meetings declined and Zephyr interviews with public officials seldom stirred emotions. After all, a relatively ‘progressive’ bunch of public officials was now directing the future of Moab/Grand County.
I sought refuge in humor. In August, thanks to the morphing mastery of computer genius Dan O’Connor (who had also introduced The Zephyr’s “Twisted Tabloids” series, we offered the first “Zephyr Swimsuit Issue,” in August 1995.
And we held a contest to create a new Zephyr Slogan. I was bored with our old “Clinging Hopelessly to the Past” banner and proposed to the readership that they come up with some new ideas. The pickings were slim until one day I discovered a passel of brilliant alternatives, each sent separately on its own post card. Their author was Moab’s own Kaki Hunter, Hollywood star and Every Man’s Dream Girl. We received a couple other late entries, but Kaki’s multiple contributions won hands down. Among her gems were:
“Moab, Utah…Looks like Hell, and it’s hot too.”
“Moab, Utah…Where Nirvana is a dirty word.”
“Moab, Utah…No composting toilets allowed.”
“Moab, Utah…Future sandbag house capitol of the world.”
“Moab, Utah…Where 99.999% of everything is absolutely nothing..
So why bother?”
“Moab, Utah…Where everybody is naked under their clothes.”
“Moab, Utah…One billion T-shirts sold.”
and my favorite
“Moab, Utah…We’re all DOOMED!“
But by November, I had lost my sense of levity. In a page 2 essay for that month, I barely managed to put words together. It began with this warning: “What you are about to read might best be described as ‘filler material.’” In that regard, I was true to my word. I was seeking to fill two pages with text, usually about 2500 words, and I ranted about a variety of subjects, from the deadfromtheneck state of politics in Moab, to a brief description of a woman I met on the Upper West Side of New York City, who called me “Mistah Millionaire.” This total stranger had become mad at me in the checkout line of a local market because I failed to heed her advice regarding the availability of a cheaper toothbrush at the Duane Reade pharmacy. I explained that I was a tourist and in a hurry and she retorted, “But it’s just a block away! Sixty-six cents! You’re paying a buck eighty-nine!!! If you’re not a millionaire, then I have to think there is something WRONG with your HEAD!”
She was right, of course, but for the wrong reason.
In the same issue I even mocked the superintendent of Capitol Reef National Park for creating something called “a web site” on some contraption called the “World Wide Web.” I suggested that the park super “had been dropped on his head at an early age,” and I could not see the value in his offer to post important park documents on their web site. I just didn’t think this internet stuff would catch on. Still, a friend of my pal Restauranteur/Madman Mike Marooney persuaded me to buy the domain name www.canyoncountryzephyr.com. For years, it sat there unused–an utter waste of money, I believed.
By Christmas, I had begun to consider a big change. Though I had great writers and someone to help now with the subscriptions and distribution—all 2000 copies—The Zephyr was still a one-man show in many regards. I did all the ads, most of the stories and interviews—though Ken Davey was a great
help to me in those years—and I drew all the cartoons and took most of the photos. I did the layouts, all using a hand waxer, layout boards and a pair of scissors. On press day, always the first Tuesday of the month, I rose at 5 AM to travel 125 miles to Cortez where Larry Hauer and the gang printed the latest issue. I’d get home by 5 PM, drop off the subs and the local distribution-Zs, then, the next day, I’d haul a couple hundred to Grand Junction. I’d rest for three or four days and then start the process again. I was tired.
Finally, I considered my options. I could quit, of course. Or I could hire a staff and try to figure out how to pay them. Everything I considered required a huge increase in revenues which meant charging more for ads and even the cost of the paper (which in 1995 had risen to 75 cents from 50). The problem with depending on newsstand sales was that hardly anybody paid for them in the first place. On the ‘honor stands’ which constituted the vast majority of my distribution, about 75% of the Zephyrs were stolen. I was happy to see them read, but the payback was awful.
I once sat at the Broiler and watched a family at a nearby table. The husband saw the stand and said to his wife, “Honey, get me one of those Zephyrs.”
She walked to the display but saw the price. “But it’s seventy-five cents,” she said.
The man glanced around. He half-whispered, “Just take it.”
“But it’s….” he cut her off.
“Nobody will notice. Just give me a paper. I need something to read.”
So the wife reluctantly pulled a Zephyr from the stand and gave it to her deadbeat husband. He opened the paper to page two and it’s hard to say which of them first noticed that the grainy black and white image in the upper left hand corner bore a remarkable to the man sitting at an adjacent booth. But there was that unmistakable moment of ‘oh shit’ recognition.
The Broiler was a tiny place and of course I could hear everything.
“What should we do? I heard the wife say with just a hint of restrained panic in her voice.
He thought a long while. “Just put it back on the rack. I’m not paying 75 cents.”
They returned the now mustard-stained Zephyr to the stand. I did not press charges.
And so it went. I needed to do something different. Finally, knowing I could not significantly raise ad rates and that I’d never consider hiring a staff and complicating my life with those kinds of employer-type responsibilities, I came up with one viable option…
THE ZEPHYR GOES BI- (NOT ‘BYE’)
I would end the monthly grind of publication. After seven years, I couldn’t keep up the pace. I’d replace it with a bi-monthly version (every other month) and shift the focus from purely local issues to broader themes that would appeal to a wider readership. And by doing that, I planned to increase the circulation from just 2000 per issue to 15,000. And we’d distribute them not just in Moab, but also in Grand Junction, Bluff, Blanding, Monticello, Salt Lake City, Flagstaff, even my old home town of Louisville, Kentucky.
I’d need to increase ad rates but not enough to drive many of my Zephyr supporters away and, in exchange, their ads would be seen by more than seven times as many readers as had viewed them before. I took a deep breath and proposed the idea personally to each of my advertisers. Incredibly, virtually all of them decided to stay with me. It was a gratifying moment.
I notified my friends at Cortez News where the Zephyr was printed. The chief press man, Larry Hauer, was delighted. Larry was a perfectionist and was always frustrated by our short press runs. He’d shoot a couple thousand copies through his five-web press before he thought the quality was good enough to start counting. All those trees—I used to agonize over the waste. Now, with 15,000 copies to print, he could really get the presses humming. But the larger count meant I also needed to find a better way to transport the Zs. Until now, incredible as it might seem, I hauled all 2000 copies of the old monthly in my 1963 Volvo 544–‘Moby Dick,’ I called her. Now I needed something bigger and my buddy and computer whiz Charlie Peterson agreed to sell his 1986 GMC pickup for $1500. Finally, I owned a truck and the new ‘Zephyr Transportation Fleet.’
The first bi-monthly Zephyr appeared on newsstands March 15, 1996. What I liked best about the new schedule was that it gave me more time to hone my skills. My writing didn’t feel rushed anymore and even my cartoons improved. I no longer had to capture the essence of a face in 10 minutes. If I had more time, I was less likely to render an unflattering portrait of people I was really trying to please (albeit for money!). Still, complaints from toon victims declined and I was grateful.
But they didn’t vanish altogether. One night, I stopped by Back of Beyond Books to take a photo of the woman then working the evening shift (I’ll leave her name out…no sense in causing trouble twice).
She was a friend of mine and was actually pleased top learn I planned to cartoon her; she willingly posed for the shot. But each time I took her picture, my friend tended to widen her eyes, as if she had just seen a ghost. I told her I was worried she might look a bit bug-eyed if the photos came out as I feared. But she laughed and said, “Oh who cares? That’s the way I look.” I was relieved and grateful to find somebody who didn’t take my tooning so seriously or think I was trying to be insulting.But a few weeks later, after the issue came out, she stopped me as I was walking along the street, in tears.
“How could you?” she cried. “Why did you draw me bug-eyed?”
I reminded her of the conversation and she admitted she hadn’t been particularly offended when the paper first came out. I realized it was her ‘friends’ who had riled her up. She told me how several of her comrades had “offered their sincere condolences” for the way I had “maliciously” misrepresented her and “embarrassed her before the entire community.”
“We are so sorry,” one friend opined, “for what ‘he’ did to you.”We had a very long talk and when we were finished, we both concluded it was her friends who’d been malicious, not me. I was glad she’d brought up the issue instead of just seething about it. For once, I got to clear my name.
The slower pace also gave me time to plan issues ahead, reach out to new writers, and best of all, to broaden our themes and the scope of our stories. The next four years were especially gratifying as The Zephyr took on issues that affected all of us in Moab and southeast Utah and across the West. And sometimes around the planet. And we were often able to showcase remarkable individuals who never received the recognition they deserved.
A PLETHORA OF ‘THEMES’
I enjoyed the next few years, though it was clear Moab and the World were rapidly changing. The Zephyr’s bi-monthly issues were built around themes that I had always wanted to pursue. It may be that I’m simply not the best or most organized planner in the world and that I needed more time to put these kinds of topics together than others might. But finally, starting with that first issue, I felt good about the work we were doing.
The first bi-monthly Zephyr included essays about over-population but also offered profiles of local artist/hermit, one-of-a-kind Nik Hougan; writer Barry Scholl celebrated the lives of Glen Canyon legends Cass Hite and Arth Chaffin. And as always and in keeping with our unshakable belief that ALL sides deserve a voice at the table, I introduced a column called “Radical Boneheads,” which offered contrasting views on a variety of subjects.
In the premier bi-monthly writers David Swift (from the Left) and longtime Moabite Jerry Stocks (from the Right) took on the issue of federal management on public lands. The views from each might have been predictable but I felt good that we were providing the contrast.
Over the next several years, The Zephyr featured multiple-stories about the future of Glen Canyon Dam and the future of the water-buried canyon that waits upstream for its own return to dry land.
In ‘GLEN CANYON: Can We Restore a Masterpiece?’ I wrote:
“Glen Canyon is not destroyed. It’s all still there, under 27 million acre feet of water. What was it Abbey liked to say? “Glen Canyon still exists; it’s just in liquid storage.” And “the Colorado River is still there–it just flows under the reservoir.” Something like that.”
It’s easy to forget but it’s true. Staring at the flat expanse of dead water, we can convince ourselves that the world does not extend below the surface of the lake. That places like Hidden Passage and Dungeon Canyon and Cathedral in the Desert and the Crossing of the Fathers and Music Temple have simply ceased to exist.
“But we’re deceiving ourselves. Perhaps because it is easier to cope with the loss that way. Perhaps because it is too frustrating to think for very long that the difference between a polluted reservoir and a living canyon is a few hundred feet of water. But rest assured Glen Canyon is down there in the cold and inky blackness. All those magical and mystical places that I never saw but only heard of are treading water and waiting for salvation.”
And when an ugly racist incident occurred in Moab—an interracial couple was attacked by a couple of self-proclaimed skinhead racists, we devoted an entire issue to the subject of intolerance.
“If you do not live in Moab, and certainly if you reside outside of Utah, you are probably unaware of an ugly incident that occurred here on New Year’s Eve. Two young local men allegedly assaulted an interracial couple with racist epithets and one of them was charged with a third degree felony, based on Utah’s new hate crime law…Whether the man is found guilty of the alleged crime is up to a jury of his peers to decide. The fact that the incident underscores a nasty racist and bigoted underside to this community is undeniable. A few weeks after the incident, stories of an underground white supremacist subculture in Moab persist.”
INTOLERANCE IN UTAH:
BEING GAY IN UTAH:
RACISM & THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES OF THE WORLD
The Zephyr honored women who were making a difference in the West, though my title still drew groans from the politically correct: ‘BROAD VISIONS: Women of the West,’ including this tribute to San Juan County rancher Heidi Redd, by Anne Wilson. Anne wrote:
Heidi is well-spoken about her beliefs and she is polished, but her passion belies any feeling that her words are simply rhetorical. Lest you think she is a closet “tree hugger”, read on. During her 31 years in red rock country, Heidi has seen a change in the visitors who come by this place that is the gateway to Canyonlands National Park. She has as hard a time with some of them as she does folk who use the land irresponsibly in the more traditional exhaustive ways. In the early years, days would go by without a car kicking up dust on the dirt road that led to Canyonlands. When they did, tourists would often stop by the ranch to chat or have a drink, and to share delight in the desert. Today, the road is paved and visitation is skyrocketing.
“They don’t come for solace anymore,” Heidi says. “They are as frantic in their recreation as they are in their jobs.” She concurred when I remarked that the land seems like a giant outdoor gym to many “soft” recreationists – mountain bikers, climbers, etc. – who most probably would self-classify as environmentalists. “It’s something additional for them to conquer,” she agreed.
And we raised a few pioneer hackles (the white kind of hackle, that is) when we devoted an issue to Native Americans in SE Utah called: ‘THEY WERE HERE FIRST.”
We examined the way we humans have a history of annihilating other species of animal, and whether or why it even matters. It included essays on the North American Wolf, the American Bison, the Condor…
‘FROM THE BRINK OF EXTINCTION: Trying to Survive the Follies of Man’
I contributed a story called, ‘Where the Buffalo Roamed.’ and recalled this observation from Army general Phillip Sheridan:
“The hide hunters will do more in the next few years to settle the vexed Indian question than the entire regular army has done in the last 30 years. For the sake of a lasting peace, let them kill, skin, and sell until the buffaloes are exterminated. Then the prairies can be covered with the speckled cattle and the festive cowboy, who follows the hunter as the forerunner of civilization.”
And in 1996, when President Clinton created Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument by proclamation, I stuck my neck out a bit, questioning the wisdom of the decision in a piece called, “Taking the Long View.” We also offered pro- and con- opinions from SUWA’s Ken Rait and The Zephyr’s “token conservative” Hank Rutter.
THE NEW MONUMENT…TAKING THE LONG VIEW
And while I’ve scribbled the same admonition in the last few months, at least I’ve been consistent. In that 1996 essay, I warned:
“The people who will profit from such booms, whether they are coal mine-generated or urban exodus-generated fall into two groups. Foremost, they will be the out-of-town investors who will see a profit to be made and will have the resources to exploit the opportunity. They will have the cash and the capital to invest in new business. Second, there is always the small group of local citizens who are already wealthy, who will have the resources to take advantage of the boom.
“But for the most part, remember this: When the governing body of an economically-depressed community sets a course of action to improve it, the advantages of those actions will mostly fall upon the citizens of that community’s future, not the ones who are struggling to survive in the present.
“One thing is certain. All those millions of displaced/relocated Americans who will move to the rural West in the next century will descend on places like Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in droves. It may take a while. It may be decades before places like the Kaiparowits start to feel crowded. But it’ll happen…someday it’s going to happen.
“And so I’m ambivalent about the Monument. I’m grateful for the protection it will offer in the short-term. I hope it puts an end to ridiculous notions like Andalex. But I worry what damage the spotlight of such a designation means when we look a bit farther down the road.”
But the issues weren’t always painfully serious. We celebrated Moab’s tendency to collect ‘stuff’ when we devoted an entire issue to, ‘MOAB’S BELOVED JUNK,’ though we still managed to stir up controversy by annoying all the good folks in Moab who wanted to clean up the ‘surplus assets’ so many Moabites clung to.
We celebrated our great friend Kelly Stelter and his uncanny ability to befriend some of Hollywood’s best and beloved celebrities. We called it: ‘KELLY STELTER: Mingling with the Twinkling Stars:” Hopefully, in a future issue, I’ll re-post that great series of stories about our pal Kelly.
At the end of each year, as we wound down and prepared for our month-long hiatus, we combined several themes that we’d used over the past decade to create the ‘LAME ALIEN SWIMSUIT ISSUE.’ Once again, our graphics/computer man Dan O’Connor put his magic to work and created some of our funniest/edgiest issues. No one was spared from dan’s morphing fingers, but most took the experience in good stride.
And for all our gloom and doom, we even produced an edition called ‘THE GOOD NEWS ISSUE.” Some thought I’d had a breakdown or something, but no…that would come later! I seemed inexplicably optimistic for a brief window in time as we approached the New Millennium. In fact, if one looks closely at a few of the covers from that period, a subtle change can be detected….instead of proclaiming, “Clinging Hopelessly to the Past since 1989,” it reads, “Clinging Hopelessly to the Future. In retrospect, and in light of a string events that began in late 1997, I wonder if I wasn’t just trying to create a false hope–for me and my readers.
But while the fun lasted, it was also the Age of Marooney. Mike Marooney came to Moab in the mid-90s to open the “Dos Amigos Cantina.” He was like no other. He was larger than Life Itself! Magnanimous! Bellicose! Tender! Vulgar! Crude…Sensitive! Good friend and pain in the Ass!!! Marooney contained Multitudes.
The UPS representative asked Marooney if he had indeed acted inappropriately and Mike could only say ‘yes.’ But, he argued, it wasn’t gender-driven. I had just arrived for lunch and stepped into the middle of this confrontation, so I wasn’t full aware of what was happening.
“Stiles!” Marooney called out. “Did I goose you yesterday when you were here with Benge.”
I thought a moment. “Yes,” I sighed, now that he’d reminded me, “You DID goose me and I wish you’d stop doing that.”
“THERE!” Mike proclaimed. “You see? I may be a stupid f*ck and I may do inappropriate things on a daily basis. BUT they are NOT driven by gender bias! I’m merely a non-discriminatory idiot. I goose everybody, even my little buddy Jimmy.”
“I hate it when you call me ‘Jimmy,’” I added.
The UPS man chuckled, though he struggled to hang tough. “Okay, Mr. Marooney, we’ll let you off with a warning this time, but never again. Understand?”
“Yes,” Mike said meekly. “No more goosing.”
“That goes for me too,” I said. “And Benge has grown a bit weary of it as well.”
“Yes,” Mike snarled. “But I assume you still want me to provide you special privileges at the ‘Big Shots Table’ and give you, Benge, Till and Mulligan great deals on lunch.”
“That goes without saying,” I said.
Mike’s ‘right-hand’ person in all this, the Rock that Mike needed to counter his Madness, was his chief server/troubleshooter/ voice of reason/salt-of-the-earth and good friend Holly Dinsmore. Imagining the Dos without Holly was never a remote possibility. She kept everything on as even a keel as was possible under the conditions. I could go into the Dos, alone and grumpy, and know that Holly would be there to offer a kind word and a friendly pat on the back. Nobody could feel lonely when Holly was there.But Holly’s life changed forever on the night of November 24, 1997 when her husband, John, was shot to death by a Moab police officer.
THE DEATH OF JOHN DINSMORE
This is a long and difficult story to tell, even all these years later. At the time, it appeared that no one in law enforcement wanted to talk about it either. John had been depressed, had been drinking, and had expressed thoughts of suicide. Holly called the police for help. Several Moab City officers and Grand County deputies arrived on scene and surrounded John on his own driveway. John confronted the officers and was wielding a kitchen knife; he alternately threatened himself and the officers. Fifteen minutes later, John would lay dying from the blast of a 12 gauge shotgun.
I waited for an investigation, heard a variety of stories and wondered which version was true. Or closest to the truth. When it appeared there would be no official investigation, I decided to conduct my own. It took me months to review the testimony and re-interview some of the witnesses and participants. Finally, in June 1998, I reported my findings. They appeared in this story and with a page 2 introduction:
AN EDITORIAL COMMENT ON THE DEATH OF JOHN DINSMORE
THE DEATH OF JOHN DINSMORE
And finally, Dirk Vaughan, a Moab business owner, and a 14 year veteran of the Denver PD, weighed in with his own thoughts. He was reluctant at first but when I’d finally gathered all the information available for him to view, and after a visit to the shooting scene, Dirk offered his own take on the shooting. Here is the link:
‘HE DESERVED A CHANCE’
The officer who fired the fatal round was never disciplined and remains on the force to this day. If there was anything positive that came from the tragedy, the Moab PD did acquire some non-lethal weapons to deal with incidents like this. But while a shorter version of my story appeared in ‘Salt Lake CITY WEEKLY’ and received a Utah Press Association award, the story was never officially acknowledged by any government entity or elected official in Moab/Grand County. Today, Holly Dinsmore still lives in Moab and is as admired, loved and respected now as she was then.
Just a few months later, my dearest of friends, Herb Ringer, began to decline. Since 1994, deteriorating eyesight from macular degeneration had forced herb to give up driving. It was his most cherished pleasure–to hit the road. Herb had lived out of his 1970 Ford EconoLine Camper for almost eight months a year. Now, confined to his little trailer in Fallon, Nevada, he had made the best of a bad situation. So instead of Herb visiting me, I went to him, though I could not make nearly the trips I wanted or he needed.
When Herb realized his traveling days were over, we were also able to provide some assistance for him, via the social services people in Nevada, that he didn’t know were available. His macular degeneration allowed the government to boost his social security check, and for the first time, Herb was able to collect food stamps. With his eyesight almost gone, he needed help maintaining his home and a woman from Nevada Social Services named Becky (sorry to say I no longer recall her last name) came by three or four times a week to cook and help Herb with the cleaning. But more than that, she was somebody to talk to. Herb enjoyed Becky’s company immensely and for a couple years, he did well. But when Becky’s husband was transferred to another city, Herb never found anyone to fill her shoes.
In June, Herb experienced something of a breakdown and was placed in state hospital. I headed for Nevada the next day. He was quickly released but, for the first time, Herb started to wear out. He began to lose his most precious gift—his memories.
He decided to give up his little house trailer of 46 years and move to a nearby retirement home. Somehow I knew it would be his un-doing; Herb cherished nothing as much as his freedom, but, to Herb it seemed like the only logical next step. I made another trip to Fallon in late July, to help him move a lifetime of memories from the ‘Smoker’ trailer. He gave me almost everything he had–the rest of his photographs, his journals, his model trains, his pots and pans and his dishes. Even the wooden spoon that had belonged to his great-grandmother. We sold the trailer to another man who lived at the trailer park and, in early August, Herb said goodbye to his old life and moved to the Silver Rose Manor.Within weeks he began to decline. They had found a voice-amplified phone for Herb and we struggled through a few calls. But by October, he no longer recognized my voice. In December, he took a turn for the worse. Herb Ringer died on my birthday, December 11.
Of all the people I’ve met, I cherish my friendship with Herb more than just about anyone. Now, more than 15 years later, I still think of him almost daily and, at the very least, his work and his memories and his remarkable life live on in the Zephyr.
CHANGES IN THE WIND (AND NOT ZEPHYR BREEZES)
Earlier in 1998, I finally embraced the internet. I’d purchased the domain name a couple years earlier, but had done nothing with it. But, in April 1998 we finally started posting a limited number of features and images from each issue. The web site was as basic and rudimentary as one might imagine a 1998 page to be, and you’ll see for yourself as you follow many of the URLs in this story to the original links. The quality improved only slightly over the next decade, until we finally gave up the print edition in February 2009. Still, I didn’t take the web site very seriously at the time, though I wish now we’d posted more of the stories and articles. But I made sure to include my Page Two editorials and the more important essays.Those archived posts would prove to be handy reference tools, fifteen years later, as I try to piece together the flow of events that shaped The Zephyr’s future (and mine). In barely a year, starting just a few months after Herb’s death, three events would forever change the direction of this publication. I had no idea what was about to happen…
In July 1999, I was contacted by environmental activist David Orr, who was interested in forming a Sierra Club ‘group’ in Moab. It would be called The Glen Canyon Group of the Utah Chapter and its purpose would be to support and embrace the national board’s recent resolution to support the restoration of Glen Canyon. Orr was a provocateur, for sure, and had crossed swords with other green organizations before, but I knew, in the beginning at least, nothing of this. And while Orr did seem to rub people in the wrong places, I could find nothing wrong with his premise—that a grassroots group supporting the resolution to decommission the dam was a logical and worthwhile gesture. I thought we were all good, crusading knights of justice, trying to make the world a better place. We were going to do good deeds and save the world….YES. At times I was that stupid.
In an introductory Zephyr/Page Two essay, I wrote about the creation of the Glen Canyon Group and I did express some doubts. “I have often found myself at odds with the Sierra Club,” I explained, “who sometimes seems more interested in doing upscale and expensive outings for rich and trendy yupsters than really fighting for issues….But now,” I continued, “all that seems to be changing. With Ken Sleight (here he comes again) as chairman and longtime Moabite John Weisheit as vice-chair, the Glen Canyon Group offers a chance for all of us to get involved in the battle to save the canyon country in a very personal way.”
THE SIERRA CLUB COMES TO MOAB
I probably should have kept my doubts and ‘yupster’ references to myself, but it would not have made a difference in the final outcome. Here was the problem–for reasons that were beyond me, the hierarchy of the Utah Chapter had opposed the national board’s resolution about Glen Canyon Dam. They were adamant and our efforts to bypass the state chapter infuriated them even more. Even within the Group, opinions varied and tempers frequently flared. Mike and Jean Binyon, recent transplants to Moab from Salt Lake City, supported their friends at the Chapter. Mike even suggested that the resolution to decommission the dam came—incredibly–as the result of a bribe from Sierra Club legend David Brower. (If one thing good came out of all this, it’s that I was blessed with the opportunity to speak with Brower himself. He adamantly denied offering a “bribe.”)
The rhetoric got hotter and with the group’s blessing, I wrote about the growing gap between Salt Lake and Moab.
SIERRA CLUB UPDATE:
A GROUP WITH NO NAME…AND A GAGGED VOICE
“It was with uncharacteristic hope,” I wrote, “that, in the last issue, I spoke of an opportunity that many believe could make a positive difference here in southern Utah. Briefly, a group of citizens in Moab decided to create a Sierra Club Group…to be called the Glen Canyon Group. Working under the umbrella of the Utah Chapter, this group would become the only grass roots Sierra Club organization in the canyon country”
But then we learned that the Chapter had unanimously passed a resolution, with us in mind. It said:
“…it shall be the policy of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club not to initiate public discussion or debate on the issue of Glen Canyon restoration at this time. ‘Public discussion’ includes (but is not limited to) press releases, mailings, electronic communications, contacts with media, and events to which the public is invited. Should such public discussion be initiated by the media or other parties, those who speak for the Chapter shall endeavor not to participate in any official capacity. Direct questions from the media may be answered factually.”
We called it a ‘gag order,’ plain and simple. My brain had a hard time even grasping language like that; Just the term, ‘It shall be,’ gets my hackles up. As an environmentalist, I had never experienced anything like this particular brand of authoritarian rule and it was the first time I understood just how bitter, toxic and divisive the mainstream environmental movement could be. They kept trying to say WE were being divisive, but all we were trying to do was DO something.
And we all seemed ready to at least go down swinging. One ‘canyoneer’ wrote, “We voted at the last meeting (Binyons present) that we would not accept the “gag resolution” or a name change. Now is the time to go the next step. Let the Chapter know at this time we don’t accept this condition and that if an appeal is necessary we are willing to take this to the National Board (impending date I believe). Sound like a threat? Well, it is!”
But in November, just before Thanksgiving, the ranks fell apart. According to our story, ‘Sierra Clubbed,’ that Ken Sleight and I wrote jointly for the April 2000 Zephyr…“…two members of the Moab Group, John and Susette Weisheit, attempted to break the deadlock by negotiating a compromise with the author of the gag order, Dan Schroeder. Schroeder blamed the Chapter’s refusal to proceed on two factors: first, the ‘in your face journalism’ of The Zephyr, which had criticized the Utah Chapter’s tactics and had printed the restrictive resolutions Schroeder had penned for the ExCom. Second, he was critical of Ken Sleight’s inflexible leadership. These, Schroeder claimed, were the major stumbling blocks to group approval.”
SIERRA CLUBBED (The Story):
That was about as hard a day as I can ever recall. I had always asked for the group’s blessings before I wrote about the ongoing controversy, and none of my peers, except the Binyons, had ever been anything but enthusiastic when the articles came out. Now suddenly it appeared as if Ken and I were the only obstacles in the way of a smooth and happy bonding between the Chapter and the Group.From a journalist’s perspective, there was no way I could now put a gag on myself. So I resigned. Later, so did Ken. In April, Sleight’s and my ‘Clubbed’ piece appeared and we caught more hell from another Utah Chapter rep, Gordon Swenson:
‘SHAMEFUL, INACCURATE AND DOWNRIGHT SHAMEFUL’
The Sierra Clubbed fiasco would be the first of many difficult and disturbing conflicts that pitted me against people I thought were my allies. In the aftermath of Swenson’s rant, I learned from Scott Groene that Swenson wanted SUWA to “publicly repudiate” me and end their Zephyr ‘Watchdog’ column. Groene refused but it didn’t make me feel much better. “I told him,” Scott explained later, “that we would never repudiate anyone who gives SUWA two free pages in their newspaper.”It wasn’t the kind of passionate ethics-based defense of Sleight and me that I was hoping for.
Still, when Sleight and I decided to write about the experience, Scott was supportive. “It’s your paper,” he noted, “and you should obviously run whatever you want—to have any integrity you should challenge whoever you think needs challenging.” It was good advice and greatly appreciated,
As for the Glen Canyon Group, it still exists. While one member, Sarah Fields, has worked tirelessly to oppose the transportation and storage of nuclear waste at the White Mesa Mill in San Juan County, the group has been silent on the issue of Glen Canyon for most of the last 10 years.
One of the disadvantages of a bi-monthly schedule, and one of my great worries, was that a ‘Big Story’ would fall upon us, just after the most recent issue had gone to press. That’s exactly what happened in the autumn of 2000.
It was called ‘Cloudrock.’ Though I still can’t identify my ‘deep throats’ after all these years, a Moab couple had surreptitiously discovered and then copied a remarkable document. We subsequently obtained a copy of the Mesa Land Company’s Development Proposal to the State Institutional Trust Lands Administration. It was amazing and, in their own words…
“Our intention is to create a world-class wilderness destination resort community in the American Southwest for people who enjoy the natural beauty and cultural legacy of this region…The centerpiece of this community is Cloudrock Desert Lodge, an intimate luxury wilderness lodge that will set the tone and standard for the entire development. Our initial marketing efforts will focus on establishing an international awareness of Cloudrock and its location in Southeastern Utah…We expect our guests to return time and time again, finally deciding that this is they want to own a second or third home (sic). The high-end positioning of the lodge and its associated service amenities will serve to deliver top prices for the homesites and condominiums…We plan to spend the time, money and creative energy necessary from the inception to create real estate development that will deliver top prices.”
The developer promised that Cloudrock, “will be marketed as a vacation community for affluent families and individuals. The Moab real estate market does not currently serve this segment well, with most developments targeted to a somewhat lower economic bracket.”
They added, “the client base of Butterfield & Robinson represents an impressive cross-section of high-net-worth individuals, including corporate CEOs and executives, lawyers, bankers, entrepreneurs, entertainment executives and a growing number of Silicon Valley professionals.”I was so eager to get this information out there that I bought a full-page ad in the weekly ‘Advertiser,’ and called it a ‘Zephyr Extra.’ It would be weeks before I could pen anything in my own paper. But I was happy to spend the money and inform my fellow citizens what was happening behind their backs.
LINKS TO ZEPHYR CLOUDROCK STORIES
For once, the response of the community was loud and passionate. Many Moabites expressed concern about the project and what it might do to property taxes. A group of mostly young and relatively new Grand County residents formed the Moab Citizens’ Alliance. They were particularly comforting to me. I still remember going to their first meeting. I think Howard Trenholme, the owner of the Red Rock Bakery, was moderator. Other leaders included Mark Sundeen and Matt Gross. Matt especially assumed the role of spokesperson for the group and I had high hopes. I sat quietly in my seat, watching these new young activists; it was like looking at the future, I thought. I was encouraged and later several of the MCAers commented that they’d never seen me smile before. One insisted that previous to that evening, he never knew I had teeth.
For the most part, I felt it would be better if I stayed out of the process they were working their way through. My job was (and still is) to provide information and sometimes offer an opinion. How that information is used…that’s completely up to the readers. But I was grateful for their enthusiasm and their intelligence and hopefully, their persistence. It was one piece of advice I offered freely: Be ready for the long haul. This issue wasn’t going to be resolved overnight.It was wintertime and I was on my hiatus, away from all things Moab. But I left town with high spirits.
When I returned, something felt different. The MCA leaders spoke cautiously, warily, and without the kind of fire I had seen two months before.On a web site called ‘believermag,’ MCA activist Mark Sundeen describes the work he and Gross did to fight Cloudrock. They had been involved in the 2000 presidential campaign but with Bush in the White House, they wondered where they might next exercise their skills. Here are a couple excerpts:
“…a New York company announced plans to build a thousand-dollar-per-night luxury hotel on a mesa just outside of Moab. The developers were allied with rich investors and with the state of Utah, and they arrived in town with a team of powerful lawyers…It was to be called Cloudrock, a name that dripped with fake Native American spirituality and back-to-the-earth opulence. Here was Big Money incarnate.”
In a small town like Moab, Utah, the levers of power are within the grasp of just about anyone willing to reach for them. Matt and I got ourselves appointed to something called the County Board of Adjustments…Matt discovered that the Board of Adjustments existed to hear appeals of land-use code decisions. For instance: the Cloudrock decision…We formed the Moab Citizens Alliance. We held meetings and hung fliers….We were a team. Matt had the ideas, and I had the words. Our press releases were picked up by papers in Salt Lake City and Colorado. Cloudrock was mentioned unfavorably in the New York Times. Matt was interviewed on the local news. We had an audience. My vanity, wounded by the tiny readership of my book, sprang to life. We fancied ourselves like Robert Kennedy or César Chávez, standing up for the little guy, staring power in the face and giving it the finger…But the town elders did not applaud our civic enthusiasm. The Moab Citizens Alliance was roundly denounced….“We were defeated. (But) Matt quickly moved past our Cloudrock bruises.”
‘THE CLOUDROCK ANGER REDIRECT
I never doubted their passion, while it lasted, but their persistence failed them early-on. And my memories of the early MCA Cloudrock Days differ from Sundeen’s. To me, by April, it seemed the fire was waning for the new activists; I sat at a public meeting one evening, to hear Gross explain again and again, in effect, ‘It’s not that we are against this project. We just want to be sure it’s done properly and according to the law.’ I think the MCA folks were intimidated by the opposition and failed to understand what a long fight this would be. Had the MCA movement caught on, I believe it might (might!) have altered the direction of the town. The problem with Cloudrock was, it would be all or nothing. Often there is some room for compromise, but here, either you supported this massive development or you didn’t. It was that simple. They were not going to downscale the project to reach out to the middle income people. This was supposed to be an exclusive high-end resort community and, if built, that’s what we would get.
A Great Debate, of sorts, was planned for the public radio station in Moab, KZMU, between Matt Gross and pro-Cloudrock (and anything else that can be promoted) supporter Rex Tanner. The program was moderated by fellow MCA supporter Howard Trenholme. I had just pulled into my driveway when the program came on the air. For the next 30 minutes, I sat quietly in my car, with my head and arms draped around and buried over the steering wheel, as Gross and Tanner somehow managed to agree on practically every aspect of the Cloudrock plan. It was all very civil and cordial.Even Trenholme was surprised and I can still recall his words. Howard said, “Well, I expected there to be a lot of fireworks for this interview today, but you have both managed to find far more common ground than I would have imagined.”
It sounded as if he was congratulating them.
As Sundeen notes in his narrative, “Matt quickly moved past our Cloudrock bruises,” but the issue lingered for years. MCA, as a broad-based citizens group faded into history, almost as quickly as it came. But the group name was adapted by a handful of Moabites, mostly from the environmental group Living Rivers, and including Sundeen, who pursued Cloudrock in court. MCA lost its bid to stop the annexation of the state owned lands into the Spanish Valley Water and Sewer Improvement District in 2005. But efforts to thwart the project continued into 2008. Finally, the Great Recession of 2009 did what no one else could accomplish: it stopped Cloudrock in its tracks. For now, at least.
Other environmental opposition was negligible. Early on, as the Cloudrock development became better known and was required to submit itself to governmental and public scrutiny, my old friends at Glen Canyon Group of the Sierra Club weighed in on the issue.
On behalf of the group, Jean Binyon addressed its concerns to Michael Liss in a February 2001 letter. Binyon made it clear that, “It is our consensus that the best thing for Johnson’s is no development at all.”
Having said that, however, it was also obvious the Sierra Club had no intention of putting up a fight. “We realize you are making efforts to ensure that Cloudrock meets standards above and beyond Grand County’s….We realize you are well on your way to completing the preliminary plan, and incorporating changes becomes more difficult with the passage of time. Nevertheless, we hope you will be receptive to our concerns…”
What kind of concerns did the Sierra Club have and what were their requests? Besides setting structures farther back from the rim of the canyon, Binyon made the following demands: “coloring roads to match the surrounding soil…parking lots colored to match the surrounding soil…utilizing medium to darker earth-tones, and non-reflective materials on all structures…outdoor lighting should be kept to a minimum…” They were literally cosmetic in nature.
Binyon also encouraged restrictions on OHVs…”Next to cows, (this is) the most damaging thing currently happening on the mesa. Please be explicit in not permitting their use on the mesa.” Apparently, keeping out cows and OHVs was an acceptable trade-off for a massive multi-million dollar “wilderness” resort lodge and scores of condos and homes built on $600,000 lots.
Liss’s reply could not have been more accommodating, “I would be happy to discuss our project with you and members of your Chapter,” and added enthusiastically, “I am a member of the Sierra Club and greatly respect the work being done around the country.” No other environmental group in Utah even chose to express an opinion.
I was grateful that eventually Cloudrock faded from view, hopefully forever, and whether it was due to the Recession or the work of a handful of devoted Moabites, well, you can argue amongst yourselves. What discouraged me was the lack of wide-spread, broad-based participation in the process. The ‘Moab Citizens’ Alliance’ failed to live up to its own expectations. Its young leaders discovered how difficult it was to rub against the grain of conventional thought. Difficult and time consuming. And discouraging.
Moab had dodged a bullet, but years later, longtime resident Lance Christie and sometime Zephyr contributor noted the changes that had occurred in five years without Cloudrock. In a letter to the Times-Independent, Lance wrote, “People who opposed Cloudrock have had their fears about land and housing price inflation come true without any help from Cloudrock. In 1998, there were an estimated 399 houses in the county which were not owned by or occupied by Grand County residents. By 2005 we added 1,199 residences in the county, an average rate of increase of 4.6 percent per year, 55 times as fast as the county resident population and number of households, both of which increased by 0.84 percent per year. In 2005, about 1,029 residences, 20.8 percent of our total housing stock, is not owned or occupied by Grand County residents.”
In the same letter, Lance praised Cloudrock’s point man Michael Liss and suggested, “we should invite Mr. Liss and his associates to help us address the moderate-income housing problem in Grand County. They might well turn out to be able and willing to help us address a housing affordability problem they did not cause but which Cloudrock could make worse.”
Lance was right about the price rise and the growing number of absentee owners, but I began to wonder if just the idea of Cloudrock with its promise of $600,000 lots and $5 million homes had created its own pork belly boom effect. It was in that short period, from 2000 and 2007, that housing prices in Moab went insane. If Cloudrock wanted to come here, others would too. And they would pay whatever price. It would become a purely speculative market. Moab was for sale to the highest bidders.
Just a month before the Cloudrock development plans came to my attention, I was having coffee with a friend of mine at the Red Rock Bakery. She’d just been on a complimentary ‘canyoneering tour, a commercial cross-country outing at my old stomping grounds in Arches National Park. She told me that a new business in town was offering one day tours into the Arches, to a remote part of the park and the edge of a deep narrow canyon. The trip leader had then set up belay points and the group rappeled to the canyon floor. Arches had been my home for a decade and I knew its backcountry like an old friend’s smile; what she was describing sounded familiar. Was there also an arch there, right on the edge of this canyon? Yes! She said.
My heart sank. I knew instantly she was referring to one of those ‘secret places’ that a few of us knew of, but had pledged an oath of silence to protect. All the official protective designations the government can place on a cherished natural feature can help, but if nobody knows it exists at all…well, that’s the best protection of all (and thus I also loathe backcountry guide books).
This was the arch that Ed Abbey had discovered in 1957. He had even referred to it in the old monthly reports and had named it. Twenty years later, my friend Reuben Scolnik and I would find it again. For the next 20 years we did our best to keep it as anonymous as this little corner of Arches had been before. But a book listing all the arches in the park went to press in the late 1980s and we knew, sooner or later, that our secret canyon would be visited by others. Still, as late as 1989, Abbey’s arch was untouched. A couple months after Ed Abbey died, we put together a memorial service on the mesa above the park’s west boundary. Among the speakers was Earth First! Founder Dave Foreman.
After the service, I took Dave to the arch and we spent a long hour on the canyon’s edge, remembering Abbey and wondering what was coming next to our beloved West. The canyon was as pristine and untouched as it had been a decade earlier. Not a footprint.Foreman’s life would change dramatically. Just two weeks later, he and other Earth First! leaders were busted in a long-planned FBI sting. Lawyers and long trials and plea bargains and prison awaited them. The timing could not have been more chilling—the end of an era in so many ways.
But I was sure Abbey’s Arch would stay safe. That its remoteness would at least spare it from the crass world of commercialism. I turned out, yet again, to be very wrong. And none of my allies saw a problem. The strategy for ‘saving’ wilderness was changing…
NEXT TIME: “The Fork in the Wilderness Road”
Jim Stiles is Founder and Co-Publisher of the Canyon Country Zephyr
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