Recent comments

  • Fifty Year Ago Today, Warren Harding and His Buddies Conquered “Unclimbable” El Capitan   6 years 19 weeks ago

    Fascinating stuff, Owen. Thanks for clarification. I've tweaked the title and abstract.

  • Fifty Year Ago Today, Warren Harding and His Buddies Conquered “Unclimbable” El Capitan   6 years 19 weeks ago


    Here is what I was able to find in writing online at

    "The Life of Warren "Batso" Harding" by Burr Sneider (orignially published in the SF Examiner's Image Magazine, March 9, 1986):

    ".....Over Irish coffee he told us how the name “Batso” came about. When the film Midnight Cowboy came out, it seems, his friends decided that he bore an uncanny resemblance to the gritty Dustin Hoffman character, Ratso Rizzo. From that, combined with his penchant for hanging out on rock walls like a bat, came the moniker. And from Batso came B.A.T. – Basically Absurd Technology – Harding’s resolutely unprofitable mountain gear company, one of the products of which was the infamous “Bat tent,” designed to provide shelter on high walls."

    When I met Warren Harding in Yosemite during the time I worked in the Valley as a park ranger-naturalist (1969-71), I only knew him only as Warren, not "Batso." I'm sure that nickname grew on him over time.

    Owen Hoffman
    Oak Ridge, TN 37830

  • Our Only Privately-Owned National Park Celebrates a Birthday and a Vital Conservation Easement   6 years 19 weeks ago

    I wonder if this or a National Herritage model would have worked better for Steamtown, even though it would have made a great State Park not a National one for which it is unsuited.

  • Fifty Year Ago Today, Warren Harding and His Buddies Conquered “Unclimbable” El Capitan   6 years 19 weeks ago

    I haven't heard that version before. The way I heard it is that Harding got the nickname Batso because he could hang from a rock wall "like a bat." The Dustin Hoffman character in the movie Midnight Cowboy went by the name "Ratso," which is phonetically similar. Can anybody out there clear this one up?

  • Zion National Park Planning To "Rehabilitate" Mount Carmel Highway   6 years 19 weeks ago

    Here's a short excerpt about the project, which I find encouraging:

    Pavement rehabilitation would likely involve in-place recycling of the existing deteriorated pavement, followed by an overlay of new asphalt paving. The new pavement would later be covered with a red cinder chip-seal.

    In-place recycling of the existing pavement at least sounds like a good idea, and I'd certainly vote for continuing the use of the red cinder chip-seal. In this setting, that treatment helps reduce the visual intrusion of the pavement, and perhaps helps reinforce subconsciously the idea that people using this roadway are in a special place.

    Kurt's original story above includes a link where you can make comments on the project to the park.

  • Fifty Year Ago Today, Warren Harding and His Buddies Conquered “Unclimbable” El Capitan   6 years 19 weeks ago

    One small point, 50 years ago Warren Harding was not known as "Batso". This is a nickname supposedly ascribed to Warren sometime after the film "Midnight Cowboy" was released in 1969.

    Owen Hoffman
    Oak Ridge, TN 37830

  • President-Elect Obama's Team Hints At Reversing BLM Leasing Decisions in Utah   6 years 19 weeks ago


    I volunteered as a museum host for two weeks this summer at Yellowstone's Museum of the National Park Ranger. I, too, was impressed by the number of foreign visitors, although most of them attributed their excursion to the States to the favorable exchange rates since the dollar was in the toilet during that time. But, and this is a big but, I met hundreds of American visitors, also, people doing the kinds of vacations that are traditional--doing the western parks with the family. I was surprised at how popular the junior ranger program is with US kids. Each night at the evening campfire program at Norris, there were a line of kids seeking the signature of the ranger who had presented the program to prove that they had satisfied one of the requirements--attend an evening ranger program--for getting their junior ranger shoulder patch. Many of them came into the museum with their patches already attached to their shirts with safety pins. They were really proud of completing the program. It was really heart-warming to see how excited they were.

    So, US people still use the parks, but the families are there only in the summer when school is out. I can remember several times in the winter when I was the only English-speaker at Mather Point in Grand Canyon or at the old Flamingo Motel during the summer in Everglades when only Europeans were willing to brave the mosquitos or didn't know about them.

    Rick Smith

  • Zion National Park Planning To "Rehabilitate" Mount Carmel Highway   6 years 19 weeks ago

    While this section pavement is truly a Road to Nowhere, as the "development" east of the tunnel along Hwy. 9 will verify, I'm as guilty as anybody of utilizing it as a pass-through to Bryce. While we can debate the merits of the original intent and whose doorstep to lay credit / blame upon, the current status of the roadway is inadequate to continue to serve its purpose, both relating to the overall condition and the size of the available pavement. But who in the early 20th C envisioned all the goofs parading around the country in their Ford Expeditions and Chevy Tahoes anyway?

    Specific to this example, the Mount Carmel Road that is, I'm rather dubious that the overall visitation to Zion would suffer much of a decline should the tunnel be incapacitated for any reason. While definitely not convenient, other avenues exist to access the "main" southern entrance. And by far, the greatest tourist access is off I-15, not US 89, especially all those day-trippers from the Vegas saloons. Evidence that Springdale is a literal boom-town when compared to the entirety of the eastern pathway. So let's not play the panic card and correlate a drastic decline in revenue for Zion if indeed the highway were rerouted. A decline? Most certainly. Park closure? Not on your life.

    That said, I personally don't favor removing existing roadways from any of the NPS units, but I, unlike SO many other contributors to this site, have no employment history with the park service, so maybe my opinion isn't worth the computer it's typed on. I most certainly do support limitation of expanding the network of roadways, preferably limiting expansion to ZERO. But unless there's a plan afoot to let nature reclaim, as She has done to so many of the old logging roads for example, then periodic roadway improvements are just as important within the system as they are without. Or should we start debating the merits of maintaining the Interstate and US Highway networks as well, as they too require the evil byproducts of the petroleum industry in order for us to maintain our mobility as a nation; bicycle, car, or cross-trainers be damned?

    By the way, there are a few routes available to link Toroweep (or do you say Tuweep?) and the rims of the Grand Canyon to the other Utah parks that radiate southeast from the greater-St. George area. But they're most definitely NOT highways. Beautiful, scenic, kidney-bustin' backroads that themselves are as great an adventure as exploring the parks was intended to be, but we as a people have this notion that we should be able to get any and everywhere as quickly and conveniently as we can. It's our Divine right!!! How dare anyone inconvenience us by not paving every inch of the world so that we can use it, maybe once in a lifetime?

  • Zion National Park Planning To "Rehabilitate" Mount Carmel Highway   6 years 19 weeks ago

    True indeed, the railroads exerted enormous pressure in the formative years of the National Park System to see that roads linked railheads to parks, that lodges be built so those passengers would have somewhere to sleep and eat once they reached the parks.

    But I think the "original intent" as laid out by Frank can be questioned. Indeed, there was clear intent early on that vehicles be accommodated in the parks. Interior Secretary Franklin Lane saw to that when he outlined, on May 13, 1918, essentially how the National Park Service should operate. Along with stressing that the parks "must be maintained in absolutely unimpaired form for the use of future generations," Secretary Lane noted that roads, trails and other infrastructure should be installed with attention to complementing, not detracting from, the landscape.

    Beyond that, he wrote that, "All outdoor sports which may be maintained consistently with the observation of the safeguards thrown around the national parks by law will be heartily indorsed (sic) and aided whenever possible. Mountain climbing, horseback riding, walking, motoring, swimming, boating, and fishing will ever be the favorite sports."

    Even with that understood, though, it'd be hard to disagree that industrial tourism is a constant threat to the parks' landscape and, I think it can be argued in some quarters, to the national park experience. But what is the perfect national park experience? What should it be?

    What would be a moderate approach to road construction/maintenance in the parks? Some would argue that already there's a bear minimum of roads and, at the same time, thousands and thousands and thousands of acres of wilderness or de facto wilderness in which one can escape asphalt and fumes. (Of course, there also are some roads, such as the existing Carbon River Road in Mount Rainier's northwestern corner, that nature has been trying to remove ever since it was built.)

    Without roads such as the Going-to-the-Sun Road, the Mount Carmel Road, and Yellowstone's Grand Loop Road, how many visitors would be deprived incredible vistas?

    For those who would remove roads, would they support mass transit in the form, for instance, of light rail, or should all signs of these corridors be removed?

    These are not simple questions, and I would guess -- in light of all the economic, access, and environmental issues -- there are no simple answers.

  • President-Elect Obama's Team Hints At Reversing BLM Leasing Decisions in Utah   6 years 19 weeks ago

    This refers to use of BLM land, not National Parks land. In my area (Nevada) BLM land is being taken constantly for housing, retail and manufacturing. Is drilling more obtrusive (noisy, smelly, brightly lit) than that?

    I am a lover and user of our National Parks. So many people with opinions about the use of it NEVER use it! In my travels I have seen we have saved these beautiful areas mostly for foreign travelers. And ME!

  • Zion National Park Planning To "Rehabilitate" Mount Carmel Highway   6 years 19 weeks ago

    The Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway was built for the expressed purpose of linking Zion, from the east, to both Bryce Canyon N.P. and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. This massive project was undertaken with a lot of pressure from the Union Pacific Railroad which had built lodges and other facilities at these parks and was anxious to have better roads on which to operate their fleet of tour buses out of their Cedar City railhead. It was all about maximizing corporate profits and the federal government sold it to the Utah locals as a way of bringing much needed "development" into their backward corner of Mormondom.

    Just like all other corporatist government interventions, be it the TVA, NPS or the Bureau of Reclamation, it is was an unnatural injection of imperial capital into a far-flung section of the empire that would never have had the means, intention or desire to undertake it with local resources. Just like the Roman aqueducts you see dotting remote sections of Spain and France, these massive public works are examples of what Wilhelm Röpke aptly termed the "cult of the colossal."

    These gigantic projects were far more than measures to bring electricity, agriculture or tourist development into rural areas but symbolized the mighty power of central government planning and the war on private initiative. In this way the 20th-century American federal government and European fascism were little different in their outlook and tone when it came to constructing these outsized monuments to their vision of a grand and glorious empire stamping its mighty and indomitable will upon the landscape. Look upon my works and tremble.

    Today millions of visitors use this road annually to access the parks and monuments of this region and it would extremely unpopular to close it down and let the Clear Creek/Pine Creek drainage revert back to its natural state. The genie is clearly out of the bottle and the industrial tourism that was spawned by it must continue unabated.

    I agree with Frank C. though. This is one of Zion's most spectacular sections and deserves better than a road clogged with RV's carved through its magnificence.

    Just one dude's opinion.

  • Fifty Year Ago Today, Warren Harding and His Buddies Conquered “Unclimbable” El Capitan   6 years 19 weeks ago

    Rick, your comments suggest that you don't consider that initial ascent a cut and dried example of unethical climbing. If that's your opinion, I agree with you. Harding and Caldwell put that route up in 1970 (spending 27 straight days on the wall) at a time when clean ("leave no trace") climbing was just starting to gain traction as an ethical requirement and the necessary gear lacked the variety and dependability that climbers take for granted today. Anyway, Harding was a crusty character who frankly didn't give a damn what other people thought of his methods, his gear, or just about anything else you care to name.

  • Election 2008: Fearless Forecasts, Foregone Conclusions, and Prescient Prognostications   6 years 19 weeks ago

    When it comes to Steamtown, I'd endorse another left-leaning policy.... "Mend It, Don't End It..."

  • Zion National Park Planning To "Rehabilitate" Mount Carmel Highway   6 years 19 weeks ago


    Thank you for your level response; it is very much appreciated.

    Over the last few years, I have forced myself to become more moderate on my outlook on roads and vehicles in parks. (I think it moderate, for instance, to close East Rim Drive at Crater Lake to auto traffic. Or Zion's east side for that matter. There are still plenty of opportunities for motoring remaining. These measures would not create a situation where someone would have to undertake "50 mile hike into the wilderness", as some have absurdly proposed.) However, I think it is important to point out the double standard among environmentalists and park enthusiasts when it comes to CO2 production, mining, and other activities that impact parks and the environment.

    The political realities of the current situation are clear to me, but with a paradigm shift, parks can be insulated from politics. Our treasures deserve better than the self-serving politicians and parasitic lobbyists currently in control.

    I'm glad you quoted Crater Lake's administrative history; I read it as a seasonal, and the admin history lists Joaquin Miller's article "Sea of Silence" in its bibliography. (Although the administrative history seems not to include Miller's original 1904 article from "Sunset". Maybe because it shows an early opposition to government "progress" at Crater Lake?)

    Miller pleaded, "No hotel or house or road of any sort should ever be built near this Sea of Silence. All our other parks have been surrendered to hotels and railroads. Let us keep this last and best sacred to silence and nature."

    Miller--and successive generations--lost out to the growing federal leviathan, "progress", and interest groups of the time.

    But we've come a long way. We know better now. We can pry loose the corporatist stranglehold on our parks. Sacrificing silence and solitude to the industrial machine so that people will support parks is an unnecessary compromise forced upon us by corporatist America. NPT has taken a stance against snowmobiles and OHVs, claiming there is plenty of other space in the country for those activities; the same is true for cars in parks.

    Whether or not parks would have been established without industrial access is a moot point. We have these parks NOW and we have the choice NOW to begin restoring them--and the Organic Act--to their original intent: unimpaired preserves and refuges from the modern world.

  • Zion National Park Planning To "Rehabilitate" Mount Carmel Highway   6 years 19 weeks ago

    Frank –

    Although I certainly respect the high regard you hold for areas such as parks, Vince has a good grasp of the political realities involved in setting those areas aside in the first place – along with the even more pressing realities confronting those areas today. A broad constituency will become more critical than ever if our parks are to survive.

    I'd suggest that we'd have few parks today without the roads and development that made it possible for people to get to—and into—those areas. That public awareness of the wonders contained in previously inaccessible areas helped build the support needed for many of the parks we have today.

    As an example, consider the political battle over the establishment of Crater Lake National Park in 1902. There were people in positions of power who opposed the concept of any additional national parks. Here’s what happened when supporters of the Crater Lake bill tried to move it along in Congress, taken from Crater Lake's Administrative History:

    Despite the favorable report by the committee, the bill encountered opposition from House Speaker David B. Henderson of Iowa. Because there were a number of national parks and battlefield bills before the House at the time Henderson refused to recognize any of them. Thus, when Representative John F. Lacey of Iowa attempted to call up the bill for consideration by the Committee of the Whole on March 14, Henderson refused to permit the bill to be debated.

    The bill was finally allowed to come up for a vote only after the personal intervention of President Teddy Roosevelt. Would that, and other parks, have been established if they had been designated as roadless areas? Good question, but I suspect not.

    Do we need wilderness areas where human impacts are minimized to the greatest extent possible? Absolutely. Has development gotten out of hand in some parks? There's a topic that can fuel some lively debate, but I'd say "yes." I'd suggest that a balance of wilderness and carefully designed access and facilities for visitors is a reasonable goal for the system as a whole. We haven't always succeeded, but we're a lot better off with what we have vs. few parks at all.

  • Fifty Year Ago Today, Warren Harding and His Buddies Conquered “Unclimbable” El Capitan   6 years 19 weeks ago

    Warren Harding and his partner, Dean Caldwell, completed another epic climb on El Cap's Wall of the Early Morning Light. This multi-day climb required the placement of many bolts for protection, something that other climbers felt was not "pure climbing". The second ascent of the route was completed by Royal Robbins and his partner, Don Lauria. On the first several pitches, they chopped the bolts, figuring that Harding and Caldwell had exceeded the boundaries of clean climbing. After the first several pitches, however, Laruia claimed that they stopped chopping the bolts because the quality of aid climbing was so high. This is still a classic route on El Cap.

    Rick Smith

  • New River Gorge Bridge Hosted 1,062 BASE Jumps on Bridge Day, and Jumpers Say that is Not Nearly Enough   6 years 19 weeks ago

    This was one of the better Bridge Day stories I read this year. Great job and excellent research. I'm the Bridge Day BASE Jumping Coordinator since 2002 and it appears that we're finally making some progress in obtain additional jumping days from this bridge (despite NPS being against it). Hopefully, BASE jumpers and the NPS can work together in the future. Thanks.
    -BASE #428

  • Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historical Site Commemorates a Great Achievement in Early Transportation   6 years 19 weeks ago

    Wow, Mike; that's some interesting genealogy! Having a connection like that will make your visit very special -- something to really look forward to.

  • Zion National Park Planning To "Rehabilitate" Mount Carmel Highway   6 years 19 weeks ago

    The presence of roads in our national parks is the primary - if not the only - way that most people visit them. Without visitors, the parks would have little constituency. Without a constituency, the parks would be overrun by those would would destroy them. Do you really think that so many parks would have been created if people had not been able to visit them, appreciate them, and support their creation? Or perhaps you believe that only those who are hearty enough to be able to hike into your roadless parks should be able to enjoy them. Sorry about that young kids, older people, handicapped people, and anyone who can't undertake a 50 mile hike into the wilderness... you're not welcome to visit our roadless parks.

    When I was a kid, my parents took me to the parks - on roads! We didn't hike (although I always wanted to). As an adult, I've spent virtually every vacation with my family in the parks. We always hike and my son has become far more attuned to nature and the importance of protecting it and of protecting these cathedrals than I was at his age. He will be a vocal park supporter for the rest of his life.

    If you believe that the parks would enjoy even a fraction of the public support that they receive now without people having the ability to drive to and through them, you are living in a fantasy world.

  • Arches National Park Finds Its Birthday Overshadowed By Drilling Concerns   6 years 19 weeks ago

    This is all the more tragic because you can already see oil wells from famous vistas within Arches. Spend some time at the Windows at night, look west toward Canyonlands, and lo and behold, it's very easy to spot flames from two or three flaring oil wells that sit just off the highway to Canyonlands' Island in the Sky District. The blight of energy development began ever so slightly to mar Arches' grand vistas a few years ago, and now oil wells stand to dot the landscape all around the park. For an irreplacable landscape as intricate and remote as that of the BLM land around Arches to be industrialized and destroyed by the ever-greedy industry and Bush's contempt for public lands is not only tragic, but a sobering reminder that we must ever be vigilant in our fight to ensure the future of our national parks and wildlands.

  • Zion National Park Planning To "Rehabilitate" Mount Carmel Highway   6 years 19 weeks ago

    We have agreed not to drive our automobiles into cathedrals, concert halls, art museums, legislative assemblies, private bedrooms and the other sanctums of our culture; we should treat our national parks with the same deference, for they, too, are holy places. An increasingly pagan and hedonistic people (thank God!), we are learning finally that the forests and mountains and desert canyons are holier than our churches. Therefore let us behave accordingly.

  • Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historical Site Commemorates a Great Achievement in Early Transportation   6 years 19 weeks ago

    My great-great-uncle died in the boiler explosion at incline plane #6 in 1852. He would have been 22 yoa. I would very much like to visit the area and see the park.

  • Zion National Park Planning To "Rehabilitate" Mount Carmel Highway   6 years 19 weeks ago

    So Frank, is it not also hypocritical to call for the Mount Carmel Road to revert to its "former road-less condition" and yet use a computer, drive to work, and take advantage of all the latest technologies and conveniences of today's world?

    On one hand you seem to detest all infrastructure in parks, and yet have no qualms about using that infrastructure outside the parks.

  • Zion National Park Planning To "Rehabilitate" Mount Carmel Highway   6 years 19 weeks ago

    Yes, of course I have to speak against this boondoggle project. The best "rehabilitation" of this area would be to rehabilitate it to its former road-less condition.

    As for the red color of the road, that comes from volcanic cinders. Those are mined from cinder cones and leave horrible scars in nature; those who in one breath condemn our government for selling petroleum leases, and in the next advocate mining of cinders for government use, are hypocritical.

  • Zion National Park Planning To "Rehabilitate" Mount Carmel Highway   6 years 19 weeks ago

    Hey Buzzman, not to worry, no plans to change the gradients or switchbacks. And I'd bet the red asphalt will remain as well. I don't think it costs significantly more. More pullouts would be nice, though not sure where to squeeze them in....