4.17.2009,7:06 PM
Big Bend Again: Perspectives
"How we view the West has always depended on where we stand to view it." - John Findley, in Magic Lands: Western Cityscapes and American Culture after 1940.

Texas, New Mexico and Arizona are interesting states of juxtapositions. The three states contain vast areas of physical beauty, rich in mineral resources, arid environments (excluding east Texas), and scarcity of water. All this has influenced their history in many ways, inclusive and exclusive. The major difference is public lands. The Federal presence in both NM and AZ could possibly fill most of Texas.

The result is part and parcel of a global and national capitalistic economy: land as a tradable commodity - property. It has less to do with 'individual rights' as it does commodification. The 'C' word is not merely an economic system; it is a mode of consciousness. It is a mode of production, an attachment of ultimate significance to material effects and their transformation for purposes of acquiring wealth. It is an ideology.

The federal park, forest, wilderness and conservation systems and policies were born out of the recognition that unexploited lands would soon disappear at the helm of Western migration; the rapid expanding industrialism would soon deplete their natural resources -including wildlife- to feed the machine. "Sentimental attachment to some geographical part of the world is not part of the system," wrote economist Lester Thurow.

Growing up on a ranch, Teddy Roosevelt foresaw the inevitability of resource depletion -including the wildlife that lived on those lands- and started in motion the national park system. Of course, at that time in the early 1930's expanses of Western lands were still unsettled. Many of those expanses slowly became integrated into the conservation and preservation system in the public trust.

Texas, on the other hand, joined the US collective as a former sovereign nation. It contained no federal public lands. Thus no federal forests, parks, or refuges in Texas. Until lands were donated or bought. One look at the LBJ Grasslands map will reveal a pathwork quilt of public and private land. Even in the Big Bend National Park, a large section remains private property.

But what is property? Many layers and many words exist to explain human relationships to the land: ownership, possession, property, belonging. In the US, individual ownership is in reality renting a parcel of land that is actually in the collective, or national, property. We pay for rights to call it ours, pay taxes for the local, state and federal infrastructure, and use it with the community consent. The Government enforces the will of the community, determines individual claims to property, resolves conflicts over territories and protects the entire community. Or as Firesign Theater once said, "We're all Bozos on this bus."

Sometimes afflicted with that decades-old inner conflict (sometimes outer), it rose again this trip: a strong personal desire -no, urge- to have my own land, my own spot on this earth, and, at the other spectrum, share it with others, equally and strongly supporting public lands. Partly I was there to investigate a specific rectangle of land in the desert to call my own, build a humble meager domicile, subsist with self-reliant utilities and services (except grading the road; my bike can't do that), and protect it from harm and disrespect by others.

Yet, to dissect that vast desert into pieces of 'private property' seems irreconcilable. It just seems wrong. Maybe impossible. The first deed for my spot in the Maine woods where I built a cabin was written on a cedar shingle with tree marking crayon. On one ridge in the desert I felt like painting on a large flagstone "This spot right here belongs to me as long as I live, whereas I shall build a small unobtrusive adobe, live and provide my own water and power. Just grade my roads, please, in exchange for an annual fee. Anyone is welcome to visit and share iced tea.""

So where am I going with this? Down and up rocky and sandy roads, back out to the tarmac and into the national park, a vast wondrous geographical spot on this world for which I have an enormous sentimental value. I make a terrible capitalist.

Stopping at the Study Butte store to gas up, the pump quit at barely over two gallons. "Huh?" No gas coming out. Okay, I can ride with that. Back in the store to settle my tab, I casually remarked, "The gas pump stopped."

The gentleman behind the counter nonchalantly replied, "Power outage."

I grinned, 'Yup, just like 'home'.' Meaning, when living in remote areas, even visiting, stuff happens. Where most city people would panic or get upset, here, you just grin and shrug. It happens often.

While gearing back up, a couple on a dual sport bike exchanged waves and next thing I know they're turning around. Pulling in front of the bike. It's Bob, aka Where's Waldo, and his wife, Gloria. Both are retired from Illinois and call Big Bend 'Home' during the winter months. We've ridden with Bob off and on and it was good to see them again, especially our last day there.

We had prearranged with Roger to meet at the Basin for cobbler and ice cream. It has become a Big Bend tradition for us Desert Rats and I can't leave without sacrificing my cholesterol to fulfilling the requirement. Which I do gladly. So the four of us on three bikes -I on the Whee, Ed on his FJR, Bob and Gloria on a nice black BMW 650GS- rode up into the park and up the Magic Road (what is the equivalent to 'Yellow Brick Road' in the Chisos?) through Juniper Canyon to the Basin. Ed led, but he was fired as navigator when he missed the turn into Juniper Canyon.

Our bikes found a safe place in the corner behind the lodge and Roger fell in step behind us as we headed for a table. The cobbler was delicious, as usual, as well as the cinnamon ice cream on top. Roger had commitments to fulfill and the remainder of us decided to ride to Castalon with a stop at Sotol Vista.

As usual, this is a glorious place to stop and absorb the wide vistas to the south and east, and the Chisos to the north.

Also a good spot to find some shade, sit, relax and visit.

Feeling a bit restless, I wandered around with the camera and shot a few. Wiley waited patiently.

I began putting on my gear as a hint 'Let's ride'. Ed and Bob decided to trade bikes. I followed Ed who was on Bob's GS, Bob and Gloria followed me on Ed's FJR, and a park ranger followed all of us to Castelon where I could glance at the giant rock Lady in the distance.

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posted by Macrobe
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