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 gentleman.

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 quiet integrity.


(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, 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 charm.

But Realistically...

But then...

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 big enough."

But Realistically...

But maybe...

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 lonely voices.

But Realistically...

But perhaps...

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 his peers.

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 recognize.

Realistically, I said.


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 accomplishment.

For myself, I have to 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 thoughts?

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.


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.


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:


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.

Zephyr Home Page