A mammal menagerie ~

 

Of all the animals I saw at the Denver Zoo (and I didn’t get around the entire zoo), only the eland was bold enough to stand right at the front of its enclosure, getting a great deal of pleasure from rubbing its chin and neck against the scratching post and the enclosure cable. The okapi, with its gentle-looking eyes, beautiful brown coat, and modernist black-and-white legs, is one of my favorites. In-between shots, this one was munching grass. A check of Wikipedia reveals that okapis, which are endangered, are quite solitary, are most closely related to giraffes, and are “generally tranquil.” This female seemed pretty unperturbed at my presence.

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The river horse ~

This hippopotamus wrestled her ball all around her little pond, trying to bite it (apparently). She’d go underwater for several seconds and then re-emerge to engage the ball again. As I think I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I have mixed feelings about zoos. I used to think they were important for conservation efforts and education, but I recently read a New Yorker article that rather convincingly refuted that argument. The obvious boredom of many of the animals, despite “enrichment” items such as balls and other toys, pains me. I don’t so much mind seeing fish or reptiles or amphibians in tanks (some photos of those later), but for mammals the Denver Zoo strikes me as a rather sad place.

I don’t actually know that this hippo is a female; I’m just guessing. Her/his teeth, especially those tusk-like lower canines, serve as a reminder that hippos are the most dangerous animal in sub-Saharan Africa (other than people) in terms of the number of people they kill. So I’ve read, anyway.

 

A plea for public lands ~

near-Capitol-Gorge-IMG_1914

My blog is sagging under the weight of so much rock. For today, I’m posting just one Utah photograph, taken at Capitol Reef National Park. (It’s an iPhone panorama—I hadn’t experimented with this feature until now.) Aside from the highway that cuts across the north end of Capitol Reef, the park has only one paved road, which travels south just a few miles. At its terminus (shown here), a dirt road will take you about two miles east, through a narrow canyon called Capitol Gorge.

That road also leads me to a political note. The first time I visited Capitol Reef was in 1991. That visit was in May, before the full-fledged summer tourist season. My then-husband and I had the place to ourselves. We drove on a dirt road—probably Capitol Gorge Road—that was so rough I worried our little compact car would be shaken to pieces or get hung up on a rock and we’d be stranded for hours or days. Our vehicle was the only one on that curvy road, and we felt isolated indeed winding among the towering cliffs bordered by trees. It was beautiful, and it felt very remote.

This time around, at the same time in May, Capitol Reef was jammed with cars. The dirt road, it seemed, had been improved—still a little rough, but nothing like what I remembered; still beautiful, but heavily traveled.

The Trump Administration wants to declassify a number of national monuments, many of them long-established ones and a number of them in southern Utah, to open them to oil and gas drilling. This, I believe, would be a terrible decision. Reducing CO2 emissions demands that fossil fuels stay in the ground, and blighting this spectacular landscape with more industrial operations would desecrate it. (To many Native Americans, such as the Paiute, it is indeed sacred land.) Oil and gas drilling are not a sustainable activity. Tourism and recreation, in contrast, are sustainable sources of revenue for the citizens of Utah if properly managed (this assumes that one is most concerned about the people’s livelihood and not the profits of Big Energy).

But therein lies a paradox: Tourism on the public lands of southern Utah has become so popular that it must be controlled. Already Zion National Park runs on a shuttle system, as does part of Bryce Canyon National Park. Arches National Park, a section of which was closed this past May, badly needs to move to a shuttle system as well; it was overrun with cars in every parking lot and people thronged all the trails we visited.

I recently re-read the iconic book about southern Utah, Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey. Even back in the late 1950s, Abbey, who worked for a couple of seasons as a park ranger at Arches, deplored the development of “industrial tourism,” wherein people experience Utah’s great parks and monuments only by car, and the government builds more and more paved roads to accommodate them. Glad as I was to see these places again, I felt sorry to be limited to industrial tourism myself, physically unable to do much hiking and contributing to the congestion.

Abbey predicted that the road-building he saw happening in the 1960s would continue, and it has…up to a point. Happily, though, much of southern Utah remains unpaved and relatively unspoiled, especially the vast wilderness of Grand Staircase–Escalante—a long-established national monument that the Trump Administration wants to allow Big Energy to exploit. The sheer ruggedness of this wilderness of rock, sand, canyons (combined with a shamefully reduced budget for the National Park Service) has protected much of the land and left it alone for hikers, boaters, climbers, birders, and other nature lovers. Local tour and adventure companies do a big business here, one that is sustainable provided that the land is left as it is.

The crowds at Zion, Bryce, and Arches still experience beauty. But to experience solitude in Canyon Country, as it’s called, you must travel on dirt roads to the vast bottom of Canyonlands or the south end of Capitol Reef and then get out on foot, for even the strenuous trails at the better-known parks are popular. Or you must turn to the national monuments, such as Grand Canyon–Escalante, where no paved roads penetrate. The monuments, more than the parks, offer the experience of spell-binding wilderness.

Abbey speaks eloquently of people’s need for wild places. Even city people, he says, benefit by knowing that such places exist, untrammeled and remote, though they may never visit those places.

He was right. Abbey often expressed himself harshly, but Canyon Country itself is harsh. To my knowledge no writer has described its character so beautifully and so powerfully. Read Desert Solitaire. Then, if you’re of like mind, contact your state and national legislators to let them know you’re in Abbey’s camp—perhaps quite literally, if you’re an intrepid soul.