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2019 in review: A sea change in San Juan County, Utah, governance …by Bill Keshlear

In 2019, longtime tribal activists Kenneth Maryboy, left, chairman of the San Juan County Commission, and Willie Grayeyes, District 2 commissioner, faced cultural and political fault lines in governing the county. (Bill Keshlear)

Last February, I asked “Who’s the Boss in Utah’s Bears Ears Country?” The following six-part essay is an attempt to partially answer that question after a year of watching events unfold there.


From Part One…

San Juan County, Utah, comprises a splendor of canyons, cliffs and castles of sandstone. Anyone who has made a random discovery of 1,000-year-old artifacts of human habitation, trekked to the top of a Canyonlands National Park overlook at sunset or spent a deathly silent, crystalline night starring at the canopy of Creation can attest to its unearthly beauty.

However, representative government in the county, which will play a critical role in preserving that landscape, seems intractably bogged down by ideological dissembling, undemocratic “outside influences” accountable to no county voter, opaque tribal politics, lawyers and judges making public policy and environmental profiteers.

Part 1: Rule by resolution. Kenneth Maryboy and Willie Grayeyes took their oaths of office as commissioners a little under a year ago after what was described as a “historic” election. They immediately staked their claim to power by choosing to govern primarily through resolutions written by their longtime private attorney and approved without advice or informed consent of virtually anyone in the county.

Part 2: The power of environmental nonprofits. It’s hard to overstate the influence of Utah Diné Bikéyah, the tribal-affiliated nonprofit founded and run by Grayeyes and Maryboy until they took office. They’ve succeeded as leaders in attempts to create Bears Ears National Monument in a way that took results of a presidential election and proclamation to derail.

Part 3: Open-records stonewalling. Numerous requests for public records filed under GRAMA were generated in 2019 due in part to the climate created by the new commissioners’ evasiveness and open hostility toward many constituents and those constituents’ forceful, if sometimes rowdy, responses. The county (Grayeyes and Maryboy) was ordered to produce records in three cases.

Part 4: Gutter rhetoric. Unfiltered comments of public figures were part and parcel of 2019’s hard-edged politicking in San Juan County. It was on full display in the weeks and months leading up to November’s special election that asked voters whether they wanted to form a committee to study possible changes in county government.

Part 5: A defeat for good government. A full-court press of a campaign mounted by the San Juan County Democratic Party, its allies and prominent Navajo Nation politicians defeated an ostensibly non-partisan effort to change the way the county works. Results of November’s special election hinged on rhetoric of retribution and the politics of payback. An alternative story line — charting a path toward better democracy — was a non-starter.

Part 6: But can they fix the roads? To a certain extent the new commissioners’ relationship with officials of the Navajo Nation will determine their success in office. They’ve played an insider’s game of reservation politics for a long time, but so far they’ve been unable to leverage that experience into discernible benefits for county residents.

Click Here to Read the Full 6-Part Essay…

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Zephyr Best Stories of 2019: The Contributors…

New Year’s Bonus

of 2019!

Part 2: The Contributors…

The past year was the best yet at the Zephyr. In 2019, we released six creative, thoughtful and informative issues of the Z, and thanks to you, the articles in them have reached a wider audience than ever before. So this week, in addition to our regular Zephyr Stories email, we want to highlight some of the favorite and most-read stories we published in the past year. Last week, we revisited the top 5 articles from the Z publishers–Jim and Tonya Stiles. This week, we’re spotlighting the top 10 articles of the year from our contributors–Harvey Leake, Paul Vlachos, Bill Keshlear, Stacy Young and Damon Falke.    

Also note: every author photo is a link to that contributor’s archive of Zephyr Articles!

As always, thanks for reading…

The New West and the Problem of Affluence

…by Stacy Young

From the Article…

The New West is also where virtually every successful company that comprises what we might call the Recreation Industrial Complex (RIC) now primarily sells sanctimony and only secondarily sells the good or service that keeps its owners and executives well-fed. In a way, it’s an ingenious twist on Robinson Crusoe: we should speak only of our arduous journey toward self-actualization but, yeah, by the way, we also happen to be fabulously wealthy thanks to the Brazilian plantation we own.

In canyon country, specifically, we can observe how the RIC manufactured both the demand for “Bears Ears” and the satisfaction of that demand. In statistical terms, approximately no one seemed to need to visit “Bears Ears” before December 2016, but now every outdoor athlete with a shoe contract and a Personal Brand to burnish — an “influencer” in the postmodern vernacular — seems determined to make an Insta-pilgrimage to “Bears Ears” or to at least engage in a bit of slacktivism from afar. The hoi polloi cannot be far behind.

It certainly cannot be said with a straight face that the urgency to both produce and consume “Bears Ears” originated with any of the thousands of people who had never heard of it before it showed up in their social media feed thanks to their status as “follower” of their preferred gear manufacturer (and who immediately felt sufficiently well-informed to voice their very strong opinion on the matter).

And finally, also in canyon country, we can look at Moab or Springdale or Torrey and see the logical endpoint of the counterculture-neoliberals’ unflinching manufacture of demand for evermore New West.


The 1891 Gustaf Nordenskiöld Explorations: Part I—Mesa Verde

…by Harvey Leake

From the article…

The Wetherills they soon realized that their effort to protect Mesa Verde was too monumental for the family to handle by themselves. In December, 1889, B. K. wrote the Smithsonian Institute, requesting their help and proposing a government-sponsored research expedition guided by his sons and son-in-law.

“…I would like for the party to work under the Auspices of your institution, as I expect them to make a thorough search, and get many interesting relics, particularly from a number of Cliff houses discovered by my son, R. Wetherill, during the past summer, while guiding tourists over the mountains to view the dwellings.

“Would like to hear from you in regard to the matter. I think it desirable that the things found should be collected in one place as near as possible, and not be scattered all over the country in small lots…. I think the Mancos, and tributary canons should be reserved as a national park, in order to preserve the curious cliff houses….”

The letter was received in Washington, D. C. by Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Samuel P. Langley. He sent a cordial, but inconclusive, reply:

“I am quite of your opinion that collections of relics from the Cliff dwellings should be brought together in one place. This seems to be necessary, in order that the greatest possible advantages may result from their study. The Smithsonian Institution, however, is not directly engaged in any explorations of this character. Such matters are rather within the scope of the Bureau of Ethnology, of which Major J. W. Powell, is Director. I have referred your letter to him for consideration and have no doubt that you will soon hear from him on the subject.”

John Wesley Powell, the Colorado River explorer, was at that time Director of the Bureau of Ethnology. He forwarded Wetherill’s letter to a staff member, William Henry Holmes—the same man who had visited Mesa Verde in 1875 and was now serving as archaeologist with the Bureau. Holmes also replied to Wetherill.

“Of course I would be very much pleased if as you suggest we could in some way direct the work laid out by you, but it does not seem practicable at present to do so…. Of course it is a pity that they could not be reserved and preserved, but when their multitude is considered—they cover a good part of four States and Territories—it seems a Herculean task…. I would be much pleased to hear from you occasionally and if we can manage to go in there again we may desire your services.”

Unknown to Wetherill, Holmes had decided to end the dialog with that letter. “There seems to be no need of other communication with him,” he recorded in a private note.


Vlachos’ Views: HOME

…Words and Photos by Paul Vlachos

From the article…

I’m going to grab a coffee now, then just get on I-95 and head north. I’m heading home and ruminating on what that means. The most beautiful, poetic, and amorphous version, the one that resonates with most people, is “home is where the heart is.” That sounds good and it actually makes sense, just so long as we don’t get too far into the meaning of “where the heart is.” There’s a lot to explicate there and “the heart” is one of those topics that begins to wilt as soon as you try to explain it. Which is why we have poetry, of course. It also raises the question of whether you can live in one place and your heart can reside in another place…

Home may be where the people are. When I was away from New York for a month, on a cross country trip many years ago, I realized that it wasn’t the city I missed, it was the New Yorkers – the people. Perhaps home is where you are when you’re not traveling. That may be a little too facile, but I just turned to Santo in his dog booster seat behind me, before we started north from tropical Florida to frigid New York. I said, “We’re going home.” I wonder if he sees it that way. It could be that home is wherever the two of us are together. Home is with the pack…

We got an early start today, not because I planned it that way but, when I’m heading home, that’s usually the way it is. I open my eyes and think “No reason to linger.” So the same force of gravity that often makes it difficult to leave town is what pulls me back in. Maybe it’s not the same force, but I think it is. And there is always the moment when I come over that rise on Interstate 78 and all of Manhattan rises up before me. Home….




…by Bill Keshlear

From the Article…

THE LETTER JOINTLY SIGNED by seven Democrats prominent in party circles was missing important details. It did not indicate who exactly was complaining about what or even if each had first-hand knowledge about anything claimed. Who were the alleged victims? Who witnessed the alleged misconduct? When and where did each supposed incident occur?

For example, allegation “G” charged that “Mr. Miller appeared to be harassing a female volunteer at a campaign office and was told to stop.” He “appeared to be?” What comprised the harassment? Which of the signers personally witnessed the incident? Was the volunteer one of the signers? When did this supposedly happen? What campaign office? Can anybody corroborate the allegation?

Only accusation “F” rises to the level of possible criminal conduct. Again, signers of the letter offered no evidence. There’s been no public indication any of the signers filed a complaint with police. Civil rights advocate and former Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson, Miller’s pro bono advocate, sent documents to members of the Executive and Central committees to rebut the charge. Included in those documents were screen grabs from a private conversation on Facebook that depict a close, platonic relationship between Miller and the supposed victim.

Virtually every news media outlet in Utah that covered the story and even a few from out of state and country reported the signers “said they witnessed several instances of sexual misconduct” — a broad brush that can mean dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. In fact, the signers did not say that. At least two signers even admitted they had no personal knowledge of any claims. No signer said in so many words, “This is what I witnessed or experienced.”


At a Year’s End

…by Damon Falke

From the Article…

When I realized the worlds where I grew-up had changed beyond what I knew or had foreseen, I left. I packed my gear and truck and went fishing elsewhere. Perhaps from the start I desired to find substitutes for what I thought was gone. After all, much of this began in the shadow of a break-up, when the nineteen-year-old me, unexpectedly wounded by love and sad, took off for New Zealand, where, I had read, there were bigger trout and the islands were far, faraway. But “substitutes” is not the best word. Neither is replacement. Perhaps reflection would be a better word. Perhaps echo. Reflection and echo at least hold a glimmer of enchantment. In truth, there is no place to replace our loves, just as there are no words to describe who or what we love.

...The idea of an unchanging, better place is easy to conjure, and the fishermen I admire seem to have lived through halcyon days and fished on perfect waters, though odds are they didn’t really…did they? But the creeks and rivers I stumbled through in my youth were not removed from time. The landscapes they shaped could not remain home. Yet, in a way, faraway became my home.



… Words and Photos by Paul Vlachos

From the article… 

So, noise has been on my mind lately and I keep thinking of one of my private guilty pleasures – of when I finally get out west to the desert, find a place to park, turn off the engine and then just sit back and let the quiet envelop me. The emptiness expands and something shifts inside. It’s the same feeling I get when I slide into a primitive hot spring. But I realize now it’s not quiet and noise that are really on my mind. What’s really on my mind is solitude. I have felt a bit alienated lately.

A wise man once told me that “isolation is when it’s forced on you, solitude is when you choose it.” He was the same guy who told me that “sanity speaks in a whisper,” so I believed him when he first told me that, 30 years ago. I believe him now more than ever. Sonny was the first guy I knew who played computer solitaire. He played it obsessively. This was in the early 1990s. He had already seen a child of his die a horrible death. He ended up in a long-term care center for the last 15 years of his life, having lost his legs to diabetes – and he was powerless over his own isolation by that point. He had no choice.

Solitude, isolation, silence and loneliness. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell what’s what. Another wise old guy used to tell me how he would go to the desert when he felt scrambled up inside. “The desert will take you apart, Paul, but then it will put you back together again.” This was Jerry, another guy who knew how to be alone. But, as with all people who spend too much time by themselves, Jerry could talk your ear off. If you ran into him on a street corner, you might be standing there for 40 minutes before you could engineer an escape. Still, he was always kind and he always would listen, as well as talk. Jerry would ask me to take him along on one of my road trips – he was getting too old to drive on his own – and I always put him off. I have trouble with too much human company. He is gone now and I wish I had taken him up on the offer. At the time, though, I was too busy to slow down for anybody.


Back to Fishing

…by Damon Falke

From the Article…

I once asked a friend while we were fishing what he thought about when he fished.
“I think about fishing,” he said. After a pause he asked, “Don’t you?”
“Sometimes, sure. I mean, I am a fisherman.”
“But do you ever think about life, love and our collective failure and misery?”
“No, not really, not when I’m fishing.”

I tried this approach for a couple of years and realized that thinking about fishing while fishing usually caused me to think about something else. Efforts to think also caused an unexpected turn in my fishing life. I discovered that fly fishing could not be the sun, so to speak, around which all other experiences rotated. For more than 20 years I had made decisions about where to live, what to drive, when to work, and when not to work all in relationship to fly fishing. But something in me had changed, which is a vague and rather cliché claim, though nonetheless true. Something in me had changed…

For all that changed, I didn’t stop fishing the big river, but I went to the water less and less. I didn’t have the heart to throw flies at stressed trout. Instead, I returned to the high country streams I had fished as boy, including the creek where Uncle Lloyd and I had first fished together. More than ten years had passed since I had trekked with Lloyd into the mountain creek. I returned with an awareness that our lives are often essentialized by moments of before and after. I wanted to see those willows lining the banks of the stream. I wanted to look over the meadow spreading across the valley and see the mountains on the other side of the valley rising above the dark timber. I wanted to learn if I had kept well those earlier days and kept Lloyd, too, Lloyd wearing his floppy hat, his shirt untucked, and an expression on his face framed perpetually between skepticism and amusement.

There was no trail. I walked up a hill and through a few stands of aspen and across a few meadows before reaching the place where I could look over the valley and the creek below, the willows and the mountains. They had not changed. They all remained in a country I had nearly imagined, touched by the agreeable sunlight of a high country summer. I had carried a rod and a few flies, but I don’t remember fishing that day. I don’t remember casting a line.




…by Bill Keshlear

From the Article… 

When Willie Grayeyes and Kenneth Maryboy took their oaths of office in January, San Juan County became the first in Utah to have a local governing majority of Native Americans and, importantly, one that comprised activists who have played a leading role in a bitter multiyear, multimillion dollar political campaign to create and now litigate Bears Ears National Monument. 

Its “historic” status has survived a legal challenge that alleged Grayeyes was not a resident of Utah and therefore ineligible to hold public office in the state. In a controversial ruling on Jan. 29, 7th District Judge Don Torgerson cited, in part, the commissioner’s “rich cultural history” and his observance of “traditional cultural practices” in Navajo Mountain, Utah, community as forming the basis of residency.

Neither Grayeyes or Maryboy has publicly signaled an intent to curb their activism regarding expansion of tribal sovereignty beyond the Navajo reservation into Bears Ears country in order to represent the interests of conservative Navajos and ancestors of Mormon pioneers – a bloc of constituents that convincingly demonstrated in November’s election the county as a whole remains deeply red…


The Slovenly Wilderness

… by Stacy Young

From the Article…  

The process of drawing boundaries on maps and reducing a vast area to a single label “Bears Ears” was akin to placing a jar upon a hill in Tennessee. What once was simply an off-brand canyon country backwater — surrounding nothing, bearing many names or none at all, used for purposes both quotidian and sublime, only sparsely visited by tourists — became a discrete, commodified thing useful for the advancement of all manner of political and commercial agendas…

Subtract humanity from the equation altogether and naming something “wilderness” makes little sense. After all, the very term is meant to describe a place undisturbed and uninhabited by humans. Wilderness, in this sense, is white space, defined through its contrast with places where humanity’s influence is undeniable. But without humanity, it would all be white space and “nature” would need no label to connote a distinction between itself and “non-nature.” This is to say nothing of the fact that the symbol “nature” is itself a human construct; nature would never name itself. The same goes, obviously, for “Tennessee.”


The Desert is Home:

Rediscovering a Frontier Heritage

…By Harvey Leake

From the Article… 

Although my hometown of Prescott, Arizona has a rich frontier heritage, I had a vague feeling growing up there that my true home was in some even wilder place. While my schoolmates talked of houses, toys, parties, television shows, movies, and the latest singing sensations, my thoughts drifted toward the granite boulders, scrub oaks, ponderosa pines, and rough terrain of our backyard and the freedom of spirit that the natural landscape offered those of us who went to the trouble of getting out and seeing it.

My mother, Dorothy Leake, told my brothers, sister, and me about her childhood visits to Kayenta, the home and trading post of her grandparents, John and Louisa Wetherill, way up north on the Navajo Reservation near Monument Valley. To her it was a magical place, far away from the ruckus of the city, where people seemed more authentic and the pristine countryside provided limitless space for her and her sister, Johni Lou, to explore and play.

She told of her grandparents’ lodge and the visitors who came there from far away to experience the untrammeled terrain surrounding the little settlement and the ancient ways of the cliff-dwellers and resident Navajos. During meals, served on a long dining room table, her grandmother would regale the guests with pioneer tales and native folklore, and her grandfather unraveled some of the mysteries of the sandstone wilderness, telling of his explorations and the archaeological treasures and natural wonders he had found out there.


And, as always, feel free to VISIT OUR HOMEPAGE and see all the articles currently posted!

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Zephyr Best Stories of 2019: The Publishers…

New Year’s Bonus
of 2019!

Part 1: The Publishers…

This has been our best year yet at the Zephyr. In 2019, we released six creative, thoughtful and informative issues of the Z, and thanks to you, the articles in them have reached a wider audience than ever before. So this week and next week, in addition to our regular Zephyr Stories emails, we want to highlight some of the favorite and most-read stories we published in the past year. Next week, we’ll be listing the top 10 articles from our incredible contributors–Damon Falke, Stacy Young, Paul Vlachos, Bill Keshlear and Harvey Leake. This week, we’re spotlighting the top 5 from the Zephyr publishers, Jim and Tonya Stiles… 

Thanks for reading…

Edward Abbey Needs No Defense:

A Response to Amy Irvine’s “Desert Cabal”

… by Tonya Audyn Stiles

This article has received more comments than any in Zephyr history…

From the article…

The subsequent media promotion for Desert Cabal unleashed Irvine to dig even deeper and more personally into her sentiments for and assessment of Abbey and Desert Solitaire. She had been enlisted to offer a 21st Century assessment of a man who has been dead for more than three decades. In her interviews, she didn’t pull any punches:

In an interview with Orion Magazine‘s Nicholas Triolo, Irvine declared, “Abbey’s take on wilderness was a useful construct at a time when the nation needed to lay the brakes on Manifest Destiny. But his views were just as colonialist. The way he wrote about wilderness normalized what was actually a narrative about white male privilege and dominion.”

To Adventure Journal‘s Katie Klingsporn, she remarked that Abbey’s views “helped to elevate the white, ‘lone wolf’ male supremacy at the heart of the modern day wilderness movement he helped inspire.”

And speaking about Ed’s book to Pacific Standard magazine, she professed, “Somebody asked me the other day if I thought Desert Solitaire would be published today. Certainly not in its existing form—I think there’s enough racism and sexism and just exclusivity, which I referred to as the ‘ivory cabin’ syndrome.”

When Desert Cabal received some criticism from other Abbey readers and friends of Ed’s like Doug Peacock, who were uncomfortable with the Irvine’s prominence in the 50th anniversary commemoration, Back of Beyond’s Andy Nettel dismissed them. He told Outside Magazine, “Amy’s run into a couple of old-school white males who have taken her to task. I sense that there was this very protective feeling, of protecting Ed, protecting Ed’s legacy.” And Irvine told her interviewer at The Paris Review, “Whatever reasons Desert Cabal’s critics give for being so opposed to its publication, their opposition looks an awful lot like an attempt to preserve their places at the table inside the ivory cabin.”

“The pushback,” of people like Peacock, she maintained, “has come from a select few who belong to an older generation of wilderness writers and activists—all of whom are very white and privileged, all of whom have been at the center of the wilderness movement for decades.”

Publishing Desert Cabal was an interesting choice, certainly, for a bookstore that has profited so well over the years by the popularity of Abbey’s books and reputation. Releasing a Desert Solitaire remembrance by a woman who accuses its celebrated author of “colonialism” and “white supremacy” was certainly not what most Abbey readers would have expected.



(Ranger Stiles #6 1975-1986)

…by Jim Stiles

From the article…

For reasons that I have never been able to fully grasp, some men are destined to search for holes in the rock. I don’t know if this is some kind of affliction—with all the New Disorders facing American Society, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time until arch hunting is diagnosed, given a name and a treatment is developed—but certainly, something happens to some men when they come to Arches National Park (note: I do not mean to exclude women–I simply don’t see this illness affecting the female gender).

I was unaware of this phenomenon, or affliction (depending on how you look at it) when I first assumed my duties as a ranger at Arches National Park. For many of us, the arches were more of a distraction than an attraction. After all, it’s the absence of rock that actually creates the arches in the first place. We often wondered, if we could fill up the holes with rock, and convert them into simple Entrada sandstone walls, would the people still come? Or would they find all this un-holey scenery boring? Would the arch-less Arches lack the cachet it needed to be popular? By today’s standards, with social media driving Industrial Tourism and the ignominious demise of our culture, it’s difficult to say.

In 1976, however, there was an unshakable cadre of “born-to-be-arch hunters” that had mystically made their way to Southeast Utah…


The Other Lonely Rangers:

The Forgotten Lives of America’s Basque Sheepherders

by Tonya Audyn Stiles

This article has been read more than 10,000 times in the three weeks since it was published. Our thanks to all who shared it via Facebook or word of mouth! Sharing Z stories is the best way to help us reach more readers…

From the Article…

It was the trial of the year in Moab, Utah. The courtroom was packed full by Ten in the morning, November 18th of 1921. Tensions had been brewing a long time between the cattlemen of Southeast Utah and the encroaching sheep herders from the south. The previous February, one sheepherder had crossed the line. Or so the defense attorney argued before the assembled crowd.

Young Felix Jesui had brought his sheep onto land he knew belonged to the Lazy Y Ranch, near Cisco. The ranch was owned by the powerful Oscar L. Turner. When foreman Charlie Glass warned Jesui to withdraw his herd and cease his illegal grazing, Felix drew his gun. Glass, in defense of his own life, returned fire. He quickly turned himself in to the local sheriff, and was now under trial for the murder of Jesui.

Charlie Glass was no ordinary defendant. The foreman was widely respected in the small communities of Western Colorado and Eastern Utah for his skill with horses, his bronc-riding courage and his intimidating build, which he used to great effect in subduing the sheepherders who threatened Turner’s large cattle operations.

But Glass was an oddity. He was a black cattleman with a gun. And while highly regarded by his bosses and fellow ranch hands—Mr Turner had paid his bail and now financed his defense—it was difficult to predict how the local jury would treat him.

If Jesui had been another kind of victim—a fellow cattleman, for instance, or a white man—then Glass’ fate would have been sealed. But Felix Jesui was neither. And Charlie Glass was soon acquitted of the charges against him. Glass returned to his work on the Lazy Y Ranch. He returned to his bronc-riding and his regular poker games. And probably, for him, the matter seemed safely in the past.

For sixteen years, both the trial and the sheepherder were forgotten. Until the night Glass found himself in a poker game with two cousins of Felix Jesui. These two men knew precisely who sat across from them at the table. After the game had finished, that late night in Cisco, Utah, the two sheepherders offered Glass a ride home. Charlie happily accepted.

The next morning, Charlie Glass was found dead, with a broken neck, after an apparent rollover accident in the pickup truck, which somehow left those two Basque men unscathed. And though no one could prove it for certain, the citizens of Moab wondered whether Felix had found his posthumous revenge.




(And now…their ‘solutions’)

…by Jim Stiles

From the Article…

“The problem with the conservation movement is that it has clear conscience.”  –Wendell Berry 

For 20 years, Utah environmentalists have managed to deny or ignore the impacts of “Industrial Strength Tourism,” and have even been some of its biggest supporters and promoters. They are Big Green Money’s enablers. The environmental mainstream has partnered with recreation industry giants like Patagonia and North Face and have advocated for tourism as a clean and sustaining alternative to other types of economies. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence of environmental destruction from recreation, the mainstream environmental community has mostly stayed shamefully silent.

…But finally, in the Spring of 2019, , as Industrial Tourism wreaks havoc on the Moab community and the lands beyond the city limits, and as other communities across the American West buckle under similar stresses and impacts, it’s interesting to note that some of these same devoted “green” Utah spokespersons finally…FINALLY… are starting to hedge their bets, if even in the most tepid and milquetoast of ways. They have finally “come out” and agreed that maybe their beloved “clean and sustaining” the tourism/amenity economy has some drawbacks. And they come with some “solutions.” 

Let me offer some recent examples…


And For More From 2019 on Moab’s Transformation, Click Here…


…by Jim Stiles

Our Most Read Article of the Year!

From the article…

Abbey’s unflinching willingness to contradict himself confused and bewildered many of his admirers. Consequently, his readers have increasingly preferred to to edit and even sanitize their favorite author, instead of honestly weighing and scrutinizing his conflicting perspectives.

Now, as we approach the end of the second decade of the 21st Century, the Spirit of Abbey Lives (sort of). But can Abbey still be Abbey?

Consider this recent post by The Grand Canyon Trust. On what would have been Abbey’s 89th birthday, GCT Communications Associate Ellen Heyn wrote:

“In honor of Edward Abbey’s birthday, we’re celebrating his cult classic book The Monkey Wrench Gang—not as a guide to sabotage, but as a guide to some of the Colorado Plateau’s most spectacular places. Here we retrace the steps of George Hayduke, Seldom Seen Smith, Doc Sarvis, and Bonnie Abbzug in their crazy chase around the plateau.”

Fearful the Trust might look too radical, but still wanting to “honor” Abbey, they chose to take one of his most controversial but highly respected works and turn it into—god help us all—a travel guide. What could be more dis-honoring than that?


And, as always, feel free to VISIT OUR HOMEPAGE and see all the articles currently posted!

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(June 1992 Zephyr Archives) Facts & Opinions: A Summary of the Month’s News…by Ken Davey

Ken Davey.


“We need to get control, because right now, it’s out of control.”

“Where are the guidelines?”

“We need direction.”

All the above are quotes from Moab City Council members during a May 5 discussion of the impacts of bed and breakfasts, overnight accommodations, and the influx of visitors to Moab during the spring of 1992.


The council is right that certain aspects of tourism are out of control. But they fail to acknowledge their own role in that development.

More people are pouring into town than ever before. The record-breaking visitation numbers at Arches National Park in 1991 now look puny compared to this spring so far. In addition, the number of people coming who never go near the park, but spend their time on BLM land. There were groups camping in parking lots, lining up at City Market, pitching their tents in back and front yards, occasionally without the permission of the homeowners.

Understandably, the council does not want to shut down the flow of visitors; too many local residents make their living from out of town guests, in the restaurants, gift shops, and tour businesses. But at the same time, council members want to be in a position where they can direct some of the changes that, right now, are taking place with no planning at all.

But council members have had opportunities to make statements, in words and in action, that they truly want to gain that control. And in almost every case, they have pulled back, because they didn’t want to appear to stand in the way of development plans.

CASE HISTORY #1—At the north end of the valley, an RV park has been built right along the highway and just south of the river bridge, outside the city limits. As always, zoning for the area was changed by the county commission because as a group they don’t believe in zoning and, without any deliberation whatsoever, they turned the grazing area into a commercial zone.

That area is not part of the sewer system, and the county gave permission for a septic system to serve the campers and trailers. But for water, the developers had to come to the city and request a hookup.

Council members could have asked how the development would affect the groundwater, or how it would affect the future visual quality of the north end of the valley, or the impact on the wetlands preserve, or the effect on any other services needed by a couple of hundred campers on the rim of the city. But, rather than seem anti-development, they held their collective tongue. In fact, they even told the developers that if the city ever annexed the area, they would not be bound by the rules and regulations regarding curbs and gutters that the rest of the city must follow.

CASE HISTORY #2—The Canyonlands Motel construction project at Center and Main streets wanted to tear out the mid-sized trees fronting Main Street as part of their building effort. The city’s Shade Tree Commission said, well, if you tear out the trees spread about 40 feet apart, you should plant new ones 20 feet apart. The trade, from the Shade Tree Commission’s point of view, was more trees in exchange for shorter trees over the next decade or so.

The developers didn’t like that idea, but went along with it. But not before they complained to the council that it cost them, out of a total budget of probably at least $2.5 million, as much as $200 more than they wanted to spend.

Council members did not ask why the developers had to tear out the original trees, and did not talk about the need to keep shade in the most central area of the city. Instead, in the main, they went out of their way to explain to the motel’s general manager that the Shade Tree Commission would not get out of line again.

CASE HISTORY #3—The State of Utah has, as part of its Unified Building Code, a provision that excavation work on large amounts of dirt should require certain pre-construction licensing and engineering requirements. In the past, Moab neighborhoods have been damaged by inadequate planning for drainage and runoff, and residents along Hillside, for example, have been paying for those inadequacies after every major storm, with cleanup bills and damage to their properties.

The city building inspector and the city’s planning department were both in favor of adopting the new code. But at the public hearing on the ordinance, one local contractor said, in essence, we don’t need any more regulations.

And the council members in their majority agreed. By golly, you can’t actually make people do engineering before they change the drainage for vast areas of the city, that’s just more than we can stand.

Those are just three examples from the last couple of months when the council had golden opportunities to “take control,” to set “guidelines,” to determine “direction.” And in each case the council decided to pull back from taking a hard position.

In truth, the council doesn’t need “control.” It already has it, if it chooses to exercise it. The council doesn’t need “direction.” It needs political will.

And anti-development view is not what is required, nor is it likely. But if elected officials defer and demur from taking action every time a developer or contractor complains, they are letting down the other 99 percent of the city’s residents, who want to feel that city leaders are taking their concerns into account.

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The Canyon of the Little Colorado River. Summer 1969. by JO Stiles Sr

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GLEN CANYON DAM, under construction. 1959. by CHARLES KREISCHER

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SUNSET. 2014 San Juan County, Utah.


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(From the Aug/Sep Z) Vlachos’ Views: Roadside Memorials…Photos and Captions by Paul Vlachos

Vlachos’ Views: Roadside Memorials…Photos and Captions by Paul Vlachos

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GLEN CANYON CAMP. October 1962 Morning. Upper Rincon…photo by CHARLES KREISCHER


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