REMEMBERING PHIL HYDE
My first image of Glen Canyon was through the eyes and camera lens
of Philip Hyde. He was already a legend when I became familiar with
his work. I also came to appreciate Phil Hyde as a decent and self-effacing
I met him quite by accident in the late 70s at Arches. Two men contacted
me at the Devils Garden one cold spring morning to report an abandoned
campsite. Known only to me at first as "Phil and Art," they
had come across the site while leading a photo workshop in the backcountry
beyond Landscape Arch.
We hiked out to their discovery and it was just as they’d described
it. It appeared as if the occupant had walked away for a moment and
never came back. A copy of Desert Solitaire even lay open on the sand.
It was a mystery and we speculated on the fate of the man or woman
who had failed to return (We learned a few days later that the missing
hiker had been unable to find his own campsite and had deliberately
abandoned it...when we caught up with him, he was back in Illinois.)
It was a couple days later that I learned the other half of Phil’s
name. I told him how I’d once spent my last $25 on a hard copy
of Slickrock, the book he shared with Abbey and he almost seemed embarrassed.
Phil gave me his business card and I put it away in a safe place. Eleven
years later, when I started The Zephyr, I still had that card, so I
signed up Phil Hyde as a complimentary Lifetime subscriber. Over the
years, he’d drop me a line, words of encouragement or support,
and always a note of appreciation for his subscription.
Then, about six or seven years ago, a short letter from Phil arrived.
He wrote, "I’ve always felt a bit guilty that I’ve
never paid for my subscription to The Zephyr over all these years.
I was wondering if I might re-pay you in some way. Would you consider
one of my photographs as a trade?"
I was speechless. A week or so later, a large black portfolio arrived
by mail. In it was a spectacular image of the Needles country in Canyonlands.
It’s one of my most cherished possessions.
Phil Hyde passed away on March 30 at the age of 84. He leaves behind
a stunning collection of images, of a land he loved for a lifetime
and beyond. I will remember him equally for his gentle manner and his
"SUBDIVISION FRENZY...WHY WORRY NOW?"
(He uttered in a tone reeking with sarcasm)
When I left Utah almost 20 years earlier, in 2002, much of the open
space in Spanish Valley had already given way to subdivisions, but
I was not prepared to see virtually all of that open space now under
condo developments and high dollar subdivisions.
From "Return to Moab: 2020 AD
By.....me, in 1995
Yes, it’s beginning to look as if 2020 is arriving early. Each
month brings another big subdivision proposal to Moab and Grand County.
It’s all the politicians seem to deal with these days. Let’s
see...what’s the latest? The Lion’s Back plan would add
170 new homes and a lodge, I think, and some commercial opportunities.
The developers simply need Moab City to annex the State Institutional
Trust Land (SITLA) property so they can move forward. But they assure
the city fathers (there are no ‘mothers’ on the city council)
that it’s a good thing for everyone.
I’ve learned to recognize the keywords that developers use to
assuage the governing bodies. They love to promise "open space" and
the term "trail systems" has become popular lately. They
all promise to help create "affordable housing" for the wretched
but necessary working class. And of course, a development like the
Lion’s Back will certainly "increase the tax base."
In the county, SITLA is offering another big chunk of land, hundreds
of acres, for sale as a residential development. It will be built just
up the road from Rim Village which now spreads itself all the way from
Spanish Valley Drive to US Highway 191.
County Councilman Rex Tanner has his own 35 acre subdivision to promote
and, god knows, there’s no ethical conflict there!
There are, in fact, subdivisions popping up like toad stools from
one end of the valley to the other.
Both the city and county councils appear to be as gentle as lambs
when it comes to "mitigating" the problems that might arise
from these building projects. (And there are a few ‘mothers’ on
the County Council.) Even the most progressive of them thinks they’re
getting radical when they go out on a limb and try to deny a developer
his "bonus density" option. That’s as wild as these
politicians are going to get in 2006. And maybe at this late date,
that’s about all they can do.
But I do know this. Years from now, as I’m driving along 191
and see yet another subdivision, if there’s even room left for
one, I’m not going to sigh and say, "If ONLY they’d
built just 38 houses, instead of 45, I could have really felt GOOD
about that subdivision!"
Nope. It’s too late to whine. Realistically, at least.
On the other hand...
Moab and Grand County governments, working with the Chamber of Commerce
could wage a state and national public relations campaign to actually
discourage more residential and commercial development. They could "just
say NO." Or how about "Enough is enough!" They could
spend all that transient room tax revenue to inform the world that
the invasion of Grand County by urban migrants in numbers unimaginable
just a decade ago is now destroying the very qualities that these migrants
are seeking. That the Moab they remember is the Moab of their past.
A Dream of a time long gone. That Moab is just one more formerly funky
town, now a victim of the New West, killed by its own former goofy
Recently, I’ve almost detected a pulse among the citizens—an
almost audible sound of protest about all these new subdivisions—but
I realized that the objections only came when their own backyards were
threatened, not the back yards of "neighbors" across town.
One of these days I’m going to print Jesse Jackson’s incredible "Patchwork
Quilt" speech from the 1988 Democratic Convention.
"You’re right!" he said. "But your patch isn’t
Environmental organizations might finally realize that the amenities
economy is backfiring in their pristine faces and that they have a
legitimate position to at least oppose these SITLA projects. Whether
it’s the latest SITLA plan in Spanish Valley or whatever version
of Cloudrock we’re looking at, a development within sight of
proposed wilderness areas and Arches National Park, or any of the other
proposed SITLA schemes, surely they can see the connection between
these projects and a degraded wildlands future. A few enviros have
acknowledged the threat but we need a chorus of dissent, not a few
Moab City could just say NO to annexation. They might consider whether
annexation is good for all its current citizens at the risk of turning
away future citizens.
And there...there is the rub.
In the New West, a community’s ‘leaders’ no longer
exist to serve the town that is...they work feverishly to shape the
town it will become. Whether the Lion’s Back development is ultimately
a good thing for Moab in 2006 is irrelevant. Will it be good for the
town of 2010? Or 2015? In their minds, you bet. It’s an ironic
tragedy that the futures of communities are left in the hands and minds
of planners...the problem is, they’re always PLANNING something.
Show me a planner (or a politician) who can leave something alone and
I’ll show you a man or woman held in low regard by the rest of
And yet..surely there must be politicians and planners and professional
environmentalists and a united citizenry who will someday take the
time to resist the mind-spinning changes that we struggle with each
day, changes that lead us inexorably to a world we won’t even
Realistically, I said.
EGO CLIMBING AT DELICATE ARCH
Recently the print and electronic media in Salt Lake City, Utah reported
the first ascent of Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. Delicate
Arch is one of the most revered and recognized features in Utah. If
any natural feature deserves to be called an icon, it’s Delicate
Arch. On a recent Sunday morning, A rock climber hiked the 1 ½ mile
trail from Wolfe Ranch and began the first of several ascents. He brought
a High Definition video camera to capture this historic moment and
even carried the camera with him up the arch, established photo points
and staged his climb again and again, just to be sure he got all the
camera angles he needed.
Salt Lake media received news of the climb from the Patagonia outdoor
clothing store in Salt Lake City, and advised them that HighDef video
of the dramatic first ascent was available. She also provided the climber’s
contact information for interviews. And the media, always looking for
good "visuals," came running. The climb was featured on Salt
Lake television stations and made page one of the Salt Lake Tribune.
The climb should also have been illegal. It was illegal for decades,
but when the NPS took the teeth out of its own climbing regulations
in 1988, this kind of stunt was bound to occur. Three years ago, then-NPS
SE Group Superintendent Jerry Banta called the Arches policy the "weakest" he
had ever seen. But the climber read the regs closer than the rangers—the
wording only said that named arches "may be closed" by the
superintendent. So a bureaucratic misstep allowed the climb to occur.
Reaction to the ascent has been mixed. FOX13 News interviewed a sales
person at a Moab climbing shop who had nothing but praise for the man
and his achievement and suggested, "He deserves our respect." However,
Arches Superintendent Laura Joss was not impressed and told the Tribune, "I'm
very sorry to see someone do this to Utah's most visible icon." The
next day she strengthened Arches’ climbing policy and banned
climbing on all named arches. No "may be" this time. The
climber was also interviewed by FOX13. He talked about "cherishing
the moment" and being "close to Nature," and that he
viewed the arch "with great reverence." His name is Dean
Potter and he is known among his peers as a world class climber. I
Googled Mr. Potter and found his footprints all over the web. He is
best known for the speed with which he scales rock walls. His speed
climb up a particularly difficult route on El Capitan in Yosemite is
chronicled in an OUTSIDE magazine story. He did it in 3 hours and 24
minutes. Not much time for spiritual connections and cherishing the
moments on that ascent, eh Dean?
Potter is also a paid "climbing ambassador" for the outdoor
clothing company Patagonia, who, we now know, leaked their representative’s
feat in the first place. However, as his climb draws unwanted publicity,
Patagonia seems to be distancing itself from Potter’s dubious
For myself, I have to wonder...is there anything off-limits to a climber
like Dean Potter? To paraphrase the great David Brower, who was also
a world class climber, would Dean feel the need to scale the Sistine
Chapel to pay tribute to the Ceiling? When they finally build the Freedom
Tower in New York, will he be compelled to scale its 1776 feet in order
to honor the 3000 who died on September 11? Should he climb the Washington
Monument to pay homage to the Father of our Country? Is there anything
so tasteless and inappropriate that it might give a stunt climber second
Increasingly, this is what a wilderness experience has become. It’s
not about solitude and quiet and peace. Solitude is actually a legal
component of wilderness as it was written into law by Congress in 1964.
The problem with "solitude" is that it’s not an easily
marketed commodity. Potter’s stunt is not an isolated incident
and reflects a growing recreational culture that lives for speed, not
serenity. In 2006, these kinds of experiences have little or nothing
to do with the beauty of the land or any spiritual connection with
it. This was just another adrenalin ride in an outdoor jungle gym,
taped in HighDef, perhaps to sell some more outdoor gear, and for self-glorification
at a later date, just to make sure the ego ride never ends.
A POSTSCRIPT FOR CLIMBERS...
And what about the rest of you climbers? Is there any outrage out
there over this incident? I’d love to hear from you. I’ll
give 500 words on the POINTBLANK page to the climber who will actually
condemn this stunt and use his real name. And I’ll give another
500 words to one of Potter’s allies who wants to tell me why
it "deserves our respect.".
I look forward to hearing from you.
AND A POSTSCRIPT FOR ENVIROS...
Do any of you dare speak up? Is this still the kind of non-motorized
recreation that you think represents a huge wilderness advocacy group
or is it finally sinking in that these kinds of exploits have nothing
to do with wildland protection? In response to a heretical notion (I
suggested a short press release from environmental groups, condemning
that kind of outdoor behavior) one leader replied in part: "He
was an asshole to climb Delicate Arch and I would have arrested him
happily if I was a ranger... But, if you got there five minutes after
his desecration, there would have been no visible trace. So, should
the enviros, who really are just a few people, prioritize going after
him instead of dealing with the largest oil and gas lease sale in Utah
history, or the fact that Norton's parting gift was to declare that
all the county road claims everywhere are valid, or Bennett's proposal,
or Hatch's seprate one, to sell off large blocks of public land to
provide funding for water pipelines and roads and utility corridors?"
No, I replied. I didn’t suggest they abandon any of that. I
proposed "a three sentence press release."
It still bewilders me.
I believe this is the first time I’ve featured an insect on
the Zephyr cover. It may be a sign of desperation ("NOW what am
I going to write about?’) or maybe it’s just a fear, aggravated
over the last 25 years, of the little biting bastards themselves. Whether
you call them biting midges, or gnats or no seeums or something unprintable,
they are a force to be dealt with in the canyon country in the early
summer. I’ll never forget the first time I encountered gnats,
at the Devils Garden campground, where I watched dozens of unsuspecting
tourists practically go mad from the itch. The gnats loved to crawl
inside the hairline and do their thing. It was an ugly sight to witness.
But I must admit, I heard a hilarious story, which may be nothing
more than that, but it makes the gnats a bit more bearable. It’s
the tale of a well-known developer, who discovered that Johnson’s
Up on Top was a haven for biting midges, and that, in a panic, he wondered
if the mesa could be fogged with insecticide, before would-be rich
weasel clients showed up. One thing’s for sure, I wouldn’t
try to sell high end lots in May and June, ol’ buddy.
That’s the kind of sale that could come back and bite you on
the ass, and everywhere else to boot.
After 17 years, I’ve finally written something longer than 3000
words and hopefully something that won’t fit into your bird cage.
But I did it a page at a time and some of it will sound familiar to
regular and longtime Zephyr readers. For the last two years, particularly,
I’ve used you unsuspecting readers as guinea pigs of a sort...trying
out some themes and ideas that will now appear in:
BRAVE NEW WEST:
When Green meets Greed in Moab Utah
It’s a theme you’ve grown accustomed to hearing from me
but I’ve finally assembled my version of the last 25 years in
Moab, from the Uranium Capital of the World, to the Mountain Bike Capital
of the World, to...whatever the hell it’s become today, in one
250 page rant.
It will be published by the University of Arizona Press, but you won’t
see it until early next year. I’ve discovered that the process
of a producing a book is nothing like cranking out a newspaper.
And I’m hoping that a painting by the Great Artist John Depuy
will grace the cover.
Whether anyone will buy the damn thing, and whether, once you’ve
read it, you’ll still want to jam it into the bird cage, remains
to be seen.