Stop the Monumental Madness Part 2

Never be afraid to tell the ones in DC what you expect of them.

“To my voices in DC, Senators Gardner and Bennett, and Representative Tipton:

I live in Montrose. Let’s just get this out the open–like many others, we moved to Colorado for outdoor recreation. We needed to live in a state that understood the importance of protecting the environment, cherished the diverse natural playgrounds within, and valued the impact of recreation on the economy. We came from a state that bowed at every opportunity to king oil. Colorado is the shining example of the attitude we sought and share, and, I believe you are a leader that takes that message to DC. What I ask of you now is to be bold and shout the message a lot louder. Get it to right ears that need to hear it before we lose our national monuments and continue down a slippery slope of giving away our public lands. Their sites are set on Bears Ears and Grand Staircase, but does anyone believe they will stop there? This is a toe in the water and we need to make it a toxic dip they never want to attempt again.

The executive order this week directing the Department of Interior to review the designation of national monuments is a bold-face attempt to steal land, and sacred places, from all Americans for the sake of oil, coal, and natural gas development. While only one such treasure chest, Canyons of the Ancients, is within Colorado, a place my husband and I love to explore, all of the targeted monuments are important and invaluable. I ask you to be a voice strongly advocating against short-sighted and hasty decisions that undermine a thriving economic driver. I beg you to think like a Coloradoan and not a member of the governing party in DC. If we let these protected lands slip away now there will never be another chance. You are one with the power to do something to stop it. You can remind the Secretary of the Interior of the true operation of the Antiquities Act. You can remind him that the states, although fully benefiting from the existence of national monuments within their boundaries do not own that land and never have. You can make him listen. Please be the voice of the Colorado outdoor loving population.

Please do everything you can to prevent loss of any national monument, the loss of even one acre deemed worthy by a past president for protection, the loss of our American soul.”

Stop the Monumental Madness

I do not shy away from the fact I am a passionate advocate for public lands and protecting the National Parks, Monuments, Historical Sites and other federal lands.  And to that end, I sent the following letter to Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior. I get that extraction of resources is tempting, and frankly keeps my blue tacoma buzzing towards adventure. But there are places that are too important to sell off to those bidders. Those places, like Bears Ears and Grand Staircase, need us to fight like mad.

“Without question, our public lands are America’s treasure.”
Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Zinke

“Your words. I trusted you would hold yourself accountable to them. And as I forced myself to watch the train wreck of the President announcing his executive order to review national monument designations, I watched you, very carefully. I saw someone who would have made the quote above and was now forced to deliver the unthinkable. I still think you get it–that you know these monuments were never the property of any state. If anything they were held by tribes and grabbed from them. Those tribes stand with us and now ask you to at least leave these sites in the protective custody of the federal government for ALL citizens to enjoy.

I believe I saw a man that knows the designation of national monument doesn’t alter the ownership, doesn’t eliminate existing uses, doesn’t take jobs away, and doesn’t happen in a bubble. I believe your troubled eyes as the President shouted self-congratulating fore-drawn conclusions to the Utah contingent off camera, were telling a different story. I think you know the answers they seek are unsupportable–by facts, by history, by the passions of all Americans that own those monuments. I saw someone who didn’t want the weight of this on his shoulders.

I live in Southwest Colorado surrounded by BLM, National Forest, National Parks, and sagebrushers. I get what this conversation is about. I was in Bears Ears last weekend. We hiked in to the All American Man pictograph in Canyonlands from Cathedral Butte. There’s a sign asking people not to climb up into the cave because the tiniest of vibrations undermine the ruins and the man holding the shield that uncannily looks like an American flag. These sites are so vulnerable. Time will slowly continue to take them, but we shouldn’t push their demise faster with our greedy needs and unrealistic expectations of wealth lurking around each corner. Civilizations struggle under such delusions. Ask the ones that built the ruins we now cherish.

Mr. Zinke, you know the right thing to do. Review these monuments, but I beg of you to do it with your own mind and instinct, not the mandate of Hatch, Bishop, Chaffetz, or Trump. Be the bold outdoorsman we all hoped you were. I still think you have it within your power and I think there is an army of resistance that would cheer you on and back you up. Do the wrong thing, however, and the army will see you in court. My law degree is itching to fight for public lands.”

Dividing to Conquer

My morning routine changed dramatically after the 20th of January. Before inauguration, I would check on snow and weather reports before rolling out of bed, plotting out fishing and skiing objectives. Now, I take a deep breath and hope I can get my eyes quickly past the accrued news alerts of the latest insults to rise out of the swamp, and direct attention to my hope in things like powder and trout streams. It is hard not to fixate on the cascading threats to science, to public land, to equality, and to so many things. It was becoming too much, but I may have found a way forward—superheroes do exist.

We are four women tossed together by answers given to roommate pairing questionnaires in 1990. On Manitou Hill in Northfield, Minnesota we established an alliance of trust, companionship, and balance. We had different personalities, passions, and pursuits but we came together in a way that made us feel invincible as a foursome. We went separate directions but find our way back to one couch, one conversation (that usually spins in many directions), and sharing one hope that we all continue to thrive.

The couch this past weekend found us huddled with smart phones. There was wincing and groaning as news alerts popped up. We, unabashedly, live up to our liberal arts roots. We came to our couch with executive order fatigue and true fears sparked by Tweet storms. Between catching up on kids, careers, dreams, and the perils of growing older, we eventually always circled back to the clouds lurking over things we hold dear. As educators, artists, scientists, nature enthusiasts, and lovers of the complexity of humanity, we felt threatened by walls, crumbling regulations, undoing of order, and trampling on rights.

Trying to fight everything at once is too daunting, but curling up in a ball and ignoring the madness is not acceptable. As the conversations rolled, we realized something. The same divide and conquer spirit we possessed in college was the route we needed to go again. Instead of a child rearing plan that involved each of us taking a set of years raising our collective children (I was to get all the babies), we could establish a fight roster. By splitting up our challenges to match strengths we can focus efforts where passions are strongest. We trust that the team has other areas covered, and any of us can push a panic button and call for help. One of us even took Russian in college, that might be handy.

My assigned cape covers public lands and the environment. I’m the outdoor enthusiast and scientist. My ski goggle tan and nickname for the weekend of “Ice Pick” led to consensus that I’m the one to be the superhero standing guard to make sure our kids and grandkids get to experience fishing, hunting, climbing, hiking, birding, archeology, and clean air outdoor days in the same ways and places that we always have. I happily take on that challenge. I would anyway, but now it is even more mine. My fellow heroines will cover education, arts, LBGTQ, equality for all, and immigration.

It is not true that we can ignore the broader picture or grow complacent.  The challenges require staying engaged, but we can let others handle pieces of the resistance. Trying to absorb all the issues and react is already wearing us down after less than three weeks. We are being beaten into submission by the onslaught. With too much to lose and far more to endure we need to be strategic.

I suggest you set up your superhero teams. Mine totally rocks, and has since 1990.


My superhero team ready to take the world by storm in 1994.


Still fighting for each other and what is right.

Looking Back on 2016

In an hour or so I will head to the Uncompahgre River for what is likely the last chance I’ll get to catch a fish in 2016. The water will be cold and riverbanks icy but the sun-warmed air will feel good. The tally of fishing days in 2016 is a smaller number than I might have hoped for, but there are quality days in those numbers. And there is always next year.

I sat in a dimly lit room last Friday night across from fellow fishing enthusiasts. A perk of office holiday parties in Colorado is that conversations can usually be based around fishing, skiing, or other outdoor adventures. This makes the small talk flow easily. The gentleman across the table asked me what had been my favorite fishing experience of 2016 and without hesitation I told him of a long weekend in the Tetons.


Cottonwood Creek, Grand Teton National Park

“Can you BELIEVE she picked that as her favorite fishing experience of the year?” I hear him exclaim to my husband a few moments later when my attention has turned to ice climbing with the woman to my right. It seems the tale I told lacked a component generally believed essential to the big fishing moments of your life—catching. It wasn’t even the story of the one that got away. It was just a weekend of total and complete nothing on my line, but surrounded by a landscape that I adore. It was the pursuit of Snake River Cutthroat that grew more mythical with each bend of the Snake we tried. It was an afternoon casting into Phelps Lake while plotting a backpacking trip for next summer. It was chasing down to some pools on Cottonwood Creek after the storm peeled away from the Grand and Teewinot. And, it was stalking the edges of Flat Creek with one eye as the other stares at the entire Teton Range in late afternoon light. As I told the partygoer, catching would have been nice and it was a tad humiliating to leave without a nibble. Yet the days were bliss and they are my favorite fishing days of the year.


Flat Creek, Wyoming

“Sure, I believe it. That’s my Mel.” Stephen assured him that I love to catch trout, but I also love the Tetons. And his favorite fishing day more than balanced out our fish tally for the year. His story, of a local backcountry stream full of eager brook trout that took our flies like candy to a toddler, was more along the lines of the expected answer. We stopped fishing that day after catching and releasing twenty little beauties in the tiny valley stream lined with lush wildflowers. We told ourselves we would come back with the camping gear later in the year, but it never happened. There is next year.


Fall Creek, Colorado

I will admit the close runner up to the best day was landing a gem of a trout on opening day at East Portal in Black Canyon this spring. I do like catching. And I can’t wait to see what I end with up in my net in 2017. But first I’m going to go freeze my fingers next to the Uncompahgre one more time in 2016.


One of the twenty




Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!




A memorable catch of the year.

Opening the Portal

The calendar suggests it is spring in Colorado, however the memo to Mother Nature may have gotten scrambled in delivery. The weather has been squirrely with snow storms and dreary days outnumbering the bluebird, snowmelt-inducing sunny days. Despite that, the canals are open and the rivers are blowing out. The time for tail-water and reservoirs is at hand and the gem we sprung at last weekend like milk-starved puppies was East Portal at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

The first time I went down the East Portal Road was in the back seat of a rental van driven by a former Montrose city manager and current enthusiastic city ambassador. I was on a tour of local resources with fellow new community members. As we descended the 16% grade, he told the story of the Gunnison Tunnel and how the water made all the difference to the Uncompahgre Valley. The tale was great, his attention to the driving was questionable, and we arrived at the Portal with smoking brakes and uneasy glances between us. I forgot about that as I studied the interesting things the Gunnison River does when confronted with dams and diversions. Whatever obfuscations Montrosians and Bureau of Reclamation may throw at her, the Gunnison is a beauty and her mood at East Portal is uniquely quiet and alluring.

I expected this muse to be crawling with fellow first day of the season fishermen. The forecast may have deterred them. It was cold and damp, the kind of day you are grateful to use Tenkara rods so you have a free hand to hold your coffee mug. There were fewer than a dozen of us standing in the Portal that morning and plenty of room to spread out.d750_04292016-53

The rainbows and browns of the Portal are famously large and allusive. I don’t go there expecting to catch one. I go because it is a gorgeous place to harbor the hope of a trout on the line. But something felt a bit charmed last Friday. I attached the line and tossed my little peacock herl bedazzled kebari into the river with a higher than usual desire to actually visit with one of the Portal occupants. That’s when I noticed them–several large browns surface feeding in the bend. I made my move.d750_04292016-81

The brown that took my fly gave me a thrill. It swam swift and strong but my will to touch it was stronger. I may have jumped up and down some while bringing him in. In the net he made me giggle. As I expected, beautiful places have particularly special fish. We would stay until the snowflakes rained down and made us shiver. I would throw flies at several more big browns but no one else wanted what I offered. No one was catching despite robust feeding frenzied trout in the pools.


I may never catch another fish at the Portal but I’m looking forward to a season of trying. I would prefer that there be less snow falling from the sky next time I venture down that crazy road and I look forward to the lush green leaves coming in along the shoreline. I envision starry nights spent in the campground so I can have first light strikes at the river. And before any of that happens I better get busy and tie some more of my fancy little kebaris.


More fishing pictures: The Alcorn Collection

Vicariously Guiding

Some of my happiest days have been the ones spent outdoors with strangers. For a few years the dream was alive that I could at least be a part-time rock climbing and hiking guide. For me, nothing was better than seeing a person, especially the teenage girls, transform from nervous novice at the base of a cliff to a grinning enthusiast gripping on granite. Knowing that I had a part in creating that joy was the best possible adrenaline rush. And in the shared adventures the strangers became friends. I miss the hikes out from the crag to the vehicles listening to the chatter and the goodbye grins, sometimes hugs, at the end of the day. Guiding is a hard life, but it is a good life. A part of me will always wish it was my life.

I do not often get the opportunity to fill the happy guide tank any more. Living in Colorado instead of Oklahoma means there are a whole lot more gurus around and I’m just not getting in the game. And, to be clear, just taking someone on a hike they haven’t previously experienced can be a bolt of guide energy, no scaling of heights is necessary. I look now for the smaller changes to lead outside adventures. So it was a sweet success, albeit vicarious, last weekend when a friend took her Tenkara rod to spots we suggested, with flies I tied, and caught a trout on her first cast. I was not there, but the trout selfie provides sufficient proof of the joy that leapt out of the water. I will take it and treasure it as a team accomplishment, but mostly it was Christine’s moment. A moment she had several more times before calling it a day. I guess I’ll be tying more flies.

I need to remind myself that there are plenty of ways to guide someone to their outside happiness. I do not have to be there breaking trail, hanging ropes, or landing the fish. I can just be part of the crew that gives beta, encouragement, some kebaris, and maybe a Colorado brew when we all meet up to share stories. That is a pretty good life too.


Christine’s catch–if I’d been there she’d be holding it with a big smile for the camera.



Season Opener

There were about eight hours last week when I was in fishing limbo and I did not like it. Not having a current fishing license in Colorado felt a bit like staring at the ski pass on my coat the morning after closing day. The situation of lawful fishing is easier to rectify than scratching the itch to cruise groomers. I walked into the local CPW office, with stares of older men and taxidermy specimens drifting my direction, and I joyfully purchased another year of wishing for fish on my line. Although both individuals behind the counter selling licenses were of the blonde female persuasion, I had a distinct feeling that the men in line ard750_04012016-194ound me thought I was the wrong type. Newsflash: it’s 2016 and wives do more than fry the fish and make the potato salad.


I started to forget about the curmudgeons as I snapped the belt on my waders and walked toward the water an hour later. My opening day was spent on the Uncompahgre River with red willow branches lit like fire on the shore as the smell of valley farmers burning ditches wafted over.  I stood in shallow, clear water spilling over rock bars that will soon disappear beneath snowmelt torrents. It was a glorious early spring day in the San Juan Mountains. Now it is clearly time to leave ski boots at home but always take the fly rods in the truck.

A new season starts and I’m thinking of lots of rivers and lakes for us to visit, some remote and some at the road. It is actually true that I’m the principle fish griller and I do make a mean potato salad, but we have an equal opportunity marriage and both of us get the distinct pleasure of trying to catch dinner. Or we do what we did on opening day—stop at the grocery store for some local beef. Those little rainbows need to keep swimming.d750_04012016-115

So happy 2016 fishing season boys AND girls!

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