We're not going to be able to save the desert if we self-immolate. Alicia reads Chris the riot act about taking time to enjoy the desert without being preoccupied by saving it. He responds by heading to the Colorado River. Also, we are happy to report on a major blow to the fiendish Cadiz water mining project, and we read your letters. Well, one letter anyway.
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Bouse Parker: The sun is a giant blowtorch aimed at your face. There ain't no shade nowhere. Let's hope you brought enough water. It's time for 90 Miles From Needles, the Desert Protection Podcast, with your hosts, Chris Clark and Alicia Pike.
Chris: Press that once, wait for about 10 seconds to make sure that you didn't accidentally press it twice, because it'll go off after 10 seconds when you press it again. And that looks fine until you put it on hold like that.
Alicia: Okay, I'm going to start checking this thing before every hike now that you've shown me that a second time. After our last hike where we thought we recorded all this good stuff.
Chris: Yeah, it would have been really good for know your capabilities when you're hiking in 103 degree weather episode, which I still need to do then
Alicia: I did have a good diatribe on nature stuff there in the waterfall.
I had a good moment there.
Chris: One of the conversations that we thought we were recording the other day that didn't actually end up being recorded. You asked me a question that I couldn't answer.
Alicia: Yeah. Chris, how do you take it easy?
How do you rest? How do you play? No, I believe the question was, do you play? And I know you do, but I don't think you do nearly enough.
Chris: It's been a tough question for me because I have lived my entire life avoiding work in the sense of doing things for money that I didn't like doing.
Chris: there's that aphorism. Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life. And I'm doing what I love, and I'm doing a whole lot of what I love. I'm doing what I love for a good 10 hours on a slow day,
Alicia: the recorder can't pick up how big Alicia's eyes are getting right now. Chris, you can't work 10 hours a day and kids yourself into thinking that just because you love it, that's good for you.
Chris: Yeah, I mean, that's what I'm thinking about.
Alicia: So tell me how you occupy these 10 hours every day on a minimum. What are you working on with all this time?
Chris: Trying to keep Cades from mining water out of the Mojave Desert, keeping next era energy from putting a hydroelectric plant in one of the driest parts of the world and using groundwater for a hydroelectric plant. Two different campaigns about new national monuments.
And on the board of the Amargosa Conservancy, on the board of the Mojave National Preserve Conservancy and a couple of other organizations doing this podcast.
Alicia: Nobody can see how smirking sad I look right now listening to Chris describe all these things that he does.
Chris: Should we take a picture and put it in the show notes?
Alicia: No! I look my worst when I'm frowning.
I feel like that must be such a weight on your soul. And I know we've talked to so many people about how they get by doing hard work to protect the environment, but
Chris: what is it, two weeks since we had that conversation?
Chris: And it's been at the top of my mind since, and I was thinking about it. There are a couple of things that I definitely have done as play, recreation, relaxation in the last couple of years.
Chris: Hiking being one of them. And I can't always get away to do it. I have played guitar, or there's a banjo sitting unused in my living room, as you know.
Alicia: I think I heard you play it once. And Lara did give me some recordings of you playing.
I have that.
Chris: I'll have to speak to her about that. And now, unless every listener gives $300 to our patreon, we will include those recordings in the podcast.
Alicia: But I think what we're getting at here is ensuring that you take enough time to soothe and nourish your soul, no matter what you do for a living. And I think for those of us who throw time and effort into the conservation world, you by far more than me.
It may be harder to take the time to just go out into nature because you're in nature all the time for work, which I can only imagine how confusing that might be for your system, because you're there in these amazing places, but you're there for a fight. You're there to gain solidarity and to create momentum and to send a message to save something, to steward something. And so you may think to yourself, well, I got that time. I was out in the spring and I showed all these people. But you're talking about some depressing ass shit, and you're fighting to save something that should not be at peril.
I feel it from this podcast. It's such a way to balance it out with a cleansing in nature that has nothing to do with the work that you do. I imagine that can be hard to do. I have a very difficult time separating my feelings about advocacy and conservation and the fight to steward the earth in a responsible manner that is very difficult to shake off when I come out here and when I can shake it off and feel like a kid who came home from school early because school got let out because of flash flood warning, let's say desert style. You better get home before all the roads go out.
And it's like all you have to do with your time is to go out and play. And I feel like we've really lost touch with that as adults because we grind so hard all the time.
Chris: Yeah, it's interesting. I do get that feeling of connection. Even if I walk out into the yard and I see a century blooming there's that connection.
That's a really wonderful thing. And sometimes, I don't know, it's been a hard couple of years for everybody. It's been much more than a couple of years for a lot of people. And sometimes you get into states where it's not going to get fixed by seeing a horny toad. You know, I had a conversation with my friend Matt recently about a couple of other things, work related.
In fact, I was on this phone call with this guy I really, really like, and we were talking about unpleasant work stuff,
Alicia: example, how it percolates into every nook and cranny of your life.
Chris: Yeah, it was a pleasant conversation. I love talking to Matt, but we were talking about work. And then I said, hey, listen, on a personal note, I'm just having some trouble, and I wonder if you have a place in the desert where you think it might be good to go and just get restored. If you happen to think of any in the next few weeks, just let me know, because I could really use it.
And he said, I don't have to think about it at all. You should come to the river.
Alicia: And if you need to, let your intense worry and sadness, fear, distress, work, life, grind, go. The river is a great place to watch all of that junk flow away from you. Nature has a spirit, just like we were talking earlier.
It has energy and it soothes you. It takes care of you. It is medicine. But we're losing that connection, that respite and that solace from the grind that we created for ourselves to make things easier has now only come with its own bag of troubles.
Alicia (singing): Take me to the river.
Chris: You know, that's making it in.
Chris: About 25 years ago, I was lying on my stomach on a sandbar with my head hanging over the water on the Green River upstream of its confluence with the Colorado by a couple of hundred miles in a place called Island Park in Dinosaur National Monument. It was a warm summer day. My Zen wife and our Zen dog and I had been driving for weeks on a trip around the country, and we were happy to have an afternoon to just lays around and not drive anywhere.
There wasn't a cloud in the sky that day.
As I lay there on my stomach, watching the surface of the water, the water striders and the little fish, I noticed something on the bottom, four or five inches down. The action of the water had caused the sand on the river bottom to ripple. The familiar pattern. You know what it looks like? A sinuous set of ripples, parallel curves, more or less perpendicular to the flow of current.
And I could watch the ripples move ever so slowly as water pushed the sand grains off the top of each ridge down into the trough beyond, and then scoop neighboring sand grains out of the trough deposited them on the next ridge down. There was something else going on, too. There were darker grains of sand and these little tiny black specks would wash and down into the troughs and collect in the troughs and arcue it almost calligraphic lines that were constantly moving, constantly shifting. There was part of me that was certain if I just stared long enough, I would figure out what those writings said, what the river was trying to get me to read.
That beloved dog is long dead. That marriage ended amicably a couple of decades ago. Everything changes in life. But here I am, still trying to read the river this time without the splash of beaver tail or friendly coyote looking dog.
From this point where I sit on the hot cobb tribal preserve south of Parker. Arizona. Maybe 1300 miles from the watershed headwaters in the Wind River Range. Wyoming. The water I watched past me here is cumulative drainage from a quarter million square miles of the western United States from Snowmelt and Wyoming and Colorado and Utah.
New Mexico from subterranean desert rivers flowing beneath the ground in Nevada and California and from a little of each in Arizona a quarter million square miles of drainage basin. It seems like there should be more water here. There is so little water in this river that I can hear the pebbles moving on the river bed hitting it against each other.
I almost imagine I can hear darker grains of sand hitting lighter grains of sand as the river moves from along. On another trip at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, I sat battling heat exhaustion 10ft away from Bright Angel Creek. It was May 2005 and the north rim was under 8ft of snow. But down on the bottom of the canyon, that was triple digits and I had stayed in the sun too long. The only thing that kept me from sticking myself up to the waist in Bright Angel Creek and getting that good cold snow melt water on my femoral arteries.
Cooling down my blood. Bringing myself back to something resembling normal or as close to it as I ever get. Was a repeated sound at irregular intervals of one rock hitting another rock with a loud crack under the water in that creek. The water was racing down the creek and it was bringing really big rocks with it and they were hitting each other on their way down the remaining 100 yards to the Colorado River. Of course, the chance to any of the sand grains from 1996 on the Green River in Utah or any of the splinters of collided boulders from 2005 in Arizona and Bright Angel Creek have made it as far as where I sit here in Parker, Arizona, is vanishingly small.
There are few rivers in the US. That are as thoroughly damned as Colorado very few rivers in the US. That have as much silt trapped behind giant concrete walls as the Colorado. Even here, some miles downstream from Parkerdam, the whole river is tilting up. The whole river is in chains.
The river is so thoroughly controlled that there are no floods to scour the silt. And the silt has built up below the dam as well. Beautiful island of Thules and Cattails across from me. It looks absolutely gorgeous. An island of bright green in the middle of the water.
And there should be no such thing in the middle of the Colorado River on the banks, certainly in the oxbows and the bays and the side washes and the low lying spots on the river bank. Plenty of spots for Tulis and Cattails and arrow weed on the floodplain of the Colorado. But what is a floodplain on a river that no longer floods? A little bit of education about how the environment works can destroy really beautiful settings. In your mind, this is beautiful.
It shouldn't be here, and it's beautiful. The Orndo, 10ft tall, waving in the wind. It shouldn't be here and it's beautiful. I guess the trick is to learn how to love carpets of dead red brown grass in between the Joshua trees, the Thules and the silted up islands in mid river, the eucalyptus trees, the murmurations of starlings. There are some things we can restore right here, but there are some things that are changed forever.
And we can help them become part of an ecosystem. But we can only do that if we see that they're beautiful. It will happen. It will happen. At some point those dams will come out.
I mean, we could take them out. We could remove them. Would cost a lot less than it cost to put them in, but it would still be expensive. It would be politically unpopular. You have to drain the reservoirs first.
Unless we wanted to evacuate every living person all the way downstream. But it could be done. I doubt that we will do it, but it will happen. The river has saung through way more formidable obstacles than these flimsy little thumbnail downs. At some point in the late Cena Zoe, there was a lava flow that built a dam on the Colorado.
It was 500 or 600ft high. It was almost as high as Hoover Dam, but it was a lot thicker, possibly as much as a quarter mile or a half mile thick. Created a huge lake that was there for thousands of years. And all that's left of that dam is very popular, rapid for whitewater rafters in the Grand Canyon called Lava Falls. The river took that dam out.
The river is going to take these dams out. We have changed the climate. We've ensured that mega drops will be the new normal, but there will still be storms and they will be way less predictable and some of them will be way more violent. And they will throw rocks up against the dams. They will churn and swirl and erode the side walls.
If nothing else, the reservoirs will silt up altogether, and then what's left for the river but to flow over the top of these dams? These dams will be gone. The river will come back. This river is temporarily encumbered. I find that reassuring.
We will eventually stop fucking with this river. And in the meantime, even in its encumbered and depoprate state, this is a beautiful river with its Tulis and it's Tamarisk. It's Cat's Hills and it's arundo. It's Yellow Throats and Wilson's Warblers and grey tailed grackles and its starlings and its pigeons. This is a beautiful place.
I can feel my blood pressure dropping.
There it goes. I'm going to spend a little time trying to figure out what the river is trying to tell me. I may or may not report back.
Chris: So the bad news is that going to the river did not cure me permanently,
Alicia: nor should you have believed that it would.
Chris: I didn't. But I kind of felt like we were setting this up to be one of those episodes where this miraculous thing happens and fixes everything and happy ending
Alicia: when you take an ibuprofen and the pain goes away and then it wears off and comes back. That's what we're talking about.
Chris: Yes, that's exactly what we're talking about.
Chris: And the good news is it did help. I spent a few hours listening to the Colorado flowing, and it smelled and looked like the creeks I knew as a kid. Warm, algae ridden water. This immediately smelled like home. And listening to the Birds Warblers and the Yellow Throats, it was restorative.
And it was a place that we will have to go back to and talk to somebody from the reservation that's doing the management of the preserve. It's a really cool project in the middle of development, ground zero, and they have a lot of problems with land and are working on ways to address them. And I deliberately didn't pay attention to much of that on this trip because that's work, and I was going there to see what was there and listen to the birds in the river and the wind blowing through the giant reed grass and look at the rocks.
Alicia: That's a good point. We have to consciously make the decision to be absorbed in nature and allow ourselves to be present in nature without thinking about all that other stuff.
Nature has so much to say, and I think we're rarely quiet enough to listen, even though we're in tune and we're trying to save her.
Chris: Thanks for sitting out here with me while I work this out in my head.
Alicia: Yeah, we've all got to take more time to play, less time hustling. We're cheating ourselves if we don't, especially those of us who take such tender joy in nature to deprive ourselves of that in an effort to fight to save her. Seems really dark.
Chris: Well, thanks for calling me out on that. And I will take you to the river with me next time I go
Alicia: always down to go to the river.
Bouse Parker: Coming up next, we read some good news and your letters.
Petey Mesquitey: Hello. I'm Pete Mesquite, host of Growing native from KxeI, Tucson. Each week since 1992, I've been sharing stories, poems and songs about flora, fauna, family and the glory of living in the borderlands of southern Arizona. Recent episodes of growing Native are firstname.lastname@example.org. ApplePodcast and PRX.
The desert is beautiful, my friends. Yeah, it is. Do you have a desert related podcast or website or newsletter or something similar that you'd like us to promote? Let us know. 76039 219 96.
You're listening to 90 Miles From Neil's, the Desert Protection Podcast. No. Step on SNCC. We are back. We love hearing from you here at 90 Miles from Needles.
Chris: We like to hear your feedback on what we're doing. Plus, it's nice to know that we're not releasing these episodes out into the void to echo forever and the nothingness of cold, dark space. We like getting responses and we got one in our email on the 10 September 2022 with an attached photo of two pretty good looking guys smiling at the camera. They're standing in what seems to be an industrial barn of some sort. And the letter that accompanies that photo says hi Alicia and Chris.
Two people who support the 90 Miles From Needles podcast happened to rub shoulders 503 miles from Needles today. We are from right to left. That's referring to the photo that was attached to the email. We are from right to left, pedy Mesquite and Chuck George. PD was the keynote speaker today at a community event called Heritage Days held in Rodeo, New Mexico, put on by people who are concerned about the high desert between the Cherry Kawas and the Pioneer Mountains.
Much like the Mojave, the Chihuahuan Desert here needs protecting with threats like mining, water rights, dark sky threats, drought and border walls. Chuck continues. I'm sure you have mixed feelings about canceling the camp out, but maybe you got a nice dose of hurricane precipitation in your neck of the woods. Looking forward to hanging out with you someday, maybe planting Joshua trees or camping out. That sounds really good, Chuck, and thanks for sending that letter along with a great picture.
Nice to see you guys faces. We are, of course, big fans of PD's podcast, Growing Native, which is why we give them that free ad that non patreon listeners get to hear on occasion. And yeah, we definitely need to get out to the Chihuahuan Desert. Sounds like a place that could use a little bit of amplification and support. And also, yeah, we did have mixed feelings about canceling the camp out, especially since it turned out that it was approximately ideal weather for camping out, despite or possibly because of a little bit of rain here and there.
It was ironic, I will admit, but we are going to be rescheduling and the camp out will take place sometime in 2023, probably in the first half in a month. That promises to have somewhat less tempestuous weather than we were expecting this past month, and somewhat more amenable temperature for hanging out in the desert. Though, again, ironically, it would have been hard to beat the weekend that it was scheduled for, just for overall comfort. So, Chuck, it's great to hear from you. We welcome your letters.
Send them to Chris at nine zeromilesfromnett.com or Alicia Alicia at 90 miles from Needles.com. A couple of other things I wanted to bring up put out a press release, my day job, in which I work as the Ruth Hammett, Associate Director of the California Desert Program for the National Parks Conservation Association, which is neither affiliated nor connected with this podcast. And NPCA does not endorse this podcast, though there are some staff people at NPCA that like listening to it. Hey, folks. Anyway, this is a press release on a campaign I've been working on for the last five years with NPCA, and honestly, for about 15 before that.
And it goes a little something like federal Court Throws Out Pipeline Permit for Cadiz Water Project september 14, 2022 29 Palms, California a federal court today ruled to scrap an important pipeline permit for the controversial Cadiz Water Mining Project. Siding with the Biden administration and tribal communities, the project threatened to drain the Mojave Desert of 16 billion gallons of water annually, an unsustainable outflow the plaintiffs asserted, would have disastrous impact on tribal nations, local communities, and nearby protected lands like Mojave Trails National Monument and Mojave National Preserve. The court's ruling vacates the pipeline rights Away issued two cadets and grants the BLM's motion for voluntary remand. Following a lawsuit by the Native American Land Conservancy and the National Parks Conservation Association the pipeline rights of way were issued ticketed by the BLM in the last days of the Trump administration. What the press release doesn't mention.
For a number of good reasons. Is that the person running the BLM in those days was Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. Who stands to gain personally and significantly as a kid use project Goes through anyway. You can read the entire press email@example.com. But I'll read the two quotes that were included this court ruling blocks the cadets project from Harming.
The sacred ancestral lands and water sources that tribal peoples in the California desert region depend greatly on for their spiritual and cultural practices and way of life. Said Michael J. Madreville. President of the Native American Land Conservancy. We thank the Biden administration for its support and for recognizing that our peoples have been here since the beginning of time and that we continue to visit, gather and utilize these special areas in the desert for our cultural survival.
Quote number two because it's my podcast and I can cades has failed to materialize for decades because it would be a major environmental justice disaster inflicting Harm on tribal nations in California. Communities that are already feeling the impacts of drought and climate change, said Chris Clarke of NPCA. Again, Npca.org. For the full text of that press release, this is some long overdue good news, thanks in no small part to the UC Irvine Environmental Law Clinic, which continues to represent Native American land conservancy and NPCA in the suit. Hats off to them.
We are going to have to do an episode on Cadiz for people that are new to the topic. Since sometime in the late 1980s, cades has been trying to pump groundwater out of one of the driest places on the planet to sell that water for profit. We are going to have to prepare that episode very carefully, because Cades is quick on the trigger with complaints and cease and desist letters and that kind of thing. Ask me how I know from my various previous different jobs. That said, I think it's safe to say that in general, cades represents some of the most conniving blatantly.
How about shells of human beings giving veno people a bad name with no more morals and a penguin bothering in the world? I think that's fair. Cadez is just an idea that so stupendously bad it could only come from the water world and the west. Let's see what else we got. Chuck wished us some very good luck with a post hurricane moisture, and we did get some here in Joshua Tree and 29 that's looking pretty good around here.
More on that in a minute. Quick PSA, though. I keep seeing people online talking about the trips they have planned to parks in the Southwest, including Death Valley and Mojave National Preserve, both of which are more or less closed. We keep getting updates from those parks, and while Death Valley has some of its core features open, those things that people generally really want to see when they go to a park like that. Getting in and out of the park and getting around the park is extremely difficult at this point because some critical roads are closed.
This is not just true in the California desert parks, grand Canyon Parish has had some significant road closings, including the road to the Pacoon Springs area, which is one of my favorite remote places in the Mojave nobody's ever heard of. Although if you Google Pakoon Pakoon and Alligator, you'll come up with something interesting. Mojave National Preserve is basically closed entirely for the next few months, and what I'm saying is, if you have a trip like this planned, check before you leave. Go to NPS gov. Find the park you're thinking of visiting.
Go to that park's website. Click on the link that says News or Road Conditions or Alerts or something like that. And find out what you're actually going to be able to do in these parks. If anything. When you visit.
Because a lot of parks and monuments and other places around the Southwest have been hammered by this monsoon season now. In a sense that's bad news for land managers because they're going to have to spend money. They don't really have to repair the road so that gawkers like you and me can come in and take pictures of ourselves in front of stuff. The good news is rain is food. Rain is food in the desert anyway.
Rain is food for desert tortoises because they'll come out and eat the annuals that come up in the wake of a rainstorm, often in spring, but summer and fall annuals work for them too. Rain is food for desert bighorn. The acacias and a lot of the other desert legumes are leafing out nicely and they are sheep chow.
I'm not going to say fat because they have a couple of years of drought to catch up on, but we're going to see some pretty healthy big horn sheep in the next couple of years. I'd say dry wash woodland trees are looking really good. I spent a little time the other day sitting underneath an ironwood tree over in the California section of the Sonoran Desert. It looked pretty damn glorious. Ironwood has really become one of my favorite trees.
And speaking of things responding to monsoon moisture, the recording session with Alicia and me that you heard in this episode took place in the spot in Joshua Tree National Park, blessed by the presence of hundreds, actually, certainly thousands of red spotted toads. Red spotted toads are really fascinating little critters, widespread throughout the deserts of the southwest. Some places it might as well be desert. They can live in really, really dry country as long as there's some water. Some of the time they need water to lay their eggs and they need that water to stick around long enough for those eggs to hatch into the tadpoles and then for those tadpoles to survive to adulthood, which really isn't that long a time, maybe a couple of weeks.
In general, a fully grown red spotted toad will run around an inch and a half to three inches long. But when they've just turned into adults from being tadpoles and they come out of the water, they are way smaller. Imagine being in the desert and seeing the ground covered with deer flies, except you look closer and the deer flies turn out to be shaped like frogs and acting like frogs and in fact they turn out to be frogs or toads. Tiny, tiny toads. Some of them are small enough to be eaten by small lizards, which honestly is probably happening right this second.
We had to watch where we stepped in Joshua Tree National Park in that spot because there was so many red spotted toads all around. Probably if we stepped at random one step and five would have squished one. We didn't want to do that. It's a good reminder even in a landscape that looks really durable, even in a landscape that looks like there's nothing there except sand and gravel, And boulders and things with spines. There is delicate life is counting on us to step carefully, to look closely, to pay attention, and ideally, to speak up in defense of that delicate life in the desert.
That's it for this episode. Thanks for listening. Visit our patreonsite at 90. Com patreon P-A-T-R-E-O-M. Or if you just want to give us a one time quick tip, or the price of a cup of coffee, or a one time grant of several thousand dollars, you can go to Nine Zeromilesfromnedles.com Kofi to find our Kofi site, where we are raising funds to hire freelance journalists to contribute to this podcast.
Thanks for joining us. Stay well. The desert needs you.
Bouse Parker: This episode of 90 Miles from Neils was produced by Alicia Pike and Chris Clark. Editing by Chris podcast artwork by the remarkable Martin Mancha.
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All characters on this podcast can't remember your name cause there ain't no one for to give you no pain. This is Bous Parker reminding you to stop and smell the chollas. See you next time.