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Creek Running North

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January 27, 2006


Oh, those clear desert skies - there's nothing like them in the world.

So says Rana in comments to the post immediately previous, and she is, as usual, correct. On Cima Dome, if I don't spend too much time looking at the sky to the north - a bit of haze in that direction will glow with the lights of Las Vegas - the dry, thin sky is a near perfect black, and millions of stars show through.

And the silence is there too. Every once in a while a plane far above headed for Los Angeles will send a thin roar to echo faintly from the rocks, every once in a while a loud clatter of jake brakes from an 18-wheeler on I-15 a dozen miles north will make it almost all the way to my Sunrise Rock campsite before petering out. Otherwise just wind, the skittering of black-throated sparrows and the alarm-clock whir of cactus wrens, and the occasional schoolbus trundling along Cima Road punctuate the soundscape. All else is silence.

For the next few years.

In October, the environmental engineering firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin was enlisted to compile the Environmental Impact Review for the proposed construction of a major commercial airport in the Ivanpah Valley. The airport, the only new commercial airport planned in the United States, is just across the Nevada line from the Mojave Preserve and a scant 12 miles from my campsite at Cima Dome. Opening of the airport is slated for 2017. Major construction, and its attendant light and noise, will start some years beforehand.

The EIR will, one presumes, address the noise impacts to the preserve, recommend a range of mitigative flight paths, and suggest remedies for destruction and disturbance of desert tortoise habitat. It might even suggest compensation for the owners of the small hotel in Nipton, which will almost certainly lose solitude-seeking clients if commercial jets start launching and landing four miles away.

But there are no alternatives that will douse the nighttime lights of the new city just across the Ivanpah Mountains.

Las Vegas needs the airport, I have read. McCarran is too small and crowded. The growing metastasopolis, its fangs sunk into the Colorado River like a tick in a dog's belly, needs to land its surplus tourists in the Ivanpah Valley so that they can then drive the forty miles to the Strip.

And we're supposed to look the other way, according to the Democrats, because the Ivanpah Airport is the pet project of one Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader, who works in Washington representing the Nevada Gaming Commission.

Reid wrote a book, a history of Searchlight, the small town in which he was born. Searchlight is ten minutes east of Nipton on the other side of Crescent Peak and the McCullough Range, past a thick grove of Joshua trees in a preserve called Wee Thump. I was reading Reid's book in the Nugget Casino and Restaurant in Searchlight last year, and the older waitress eyed the cover as she refilled my coffee.

"That thing any good?" she asked.

"Not the worst thing I've read, but he repeats himself a hell of a lot," I replied.

"I don't think anyone in this town has read that book," she said. "Son of a bitch doesn't show his face around here any more."

Reid was in the news this morning for agreeing mildly that a filibuster might be a nice symbolic gesture of Democratic resistance as Alito gets installed on the Supreme Court. Were lovers of desert dark and silence to block the construction of the Ivanpah Airport, it would be read as a defeat for an important Democrat. The National Parks Conservation Association is on record in opposition to the airport, and precious few others have said a word. One cannot hand the Minority Leader a defeat in his own district. He cannot afford to look weak. The last organized show of opposition to the airport took place prior to the 2000 election. This may be a coincidence, and when the EIR is released in 2008 there may be more protest.

Or not. The silence that surrounds acts of environmental destruction committed by Democratic politicians is often as profound as that we are about to lose on Cima Dome. These are the people for whose electoral success we are exhorted to drop our "side issues" such as living wages, health care, breathable air, basic human rights.

And the night sky over Cima Dome is collateral damage in the Democrats' weak-willed fight to slow the country's rightward slide by the tiniest of increments.

I leave tomorrow morning.

Posted by Chris Clarke at January 27, 2006 02:23 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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*sigh* Well, Harry Reid was already on my "can just bite me" list today, for the Alito thing. Fucker. Fuckers all of them. What have they even tried to do to stop the Republican Plan For World and Uterine Domination and Ecological Plunder in even the smallest respect?

Metastasopolis is a great word, though. Good lord, like somebody thinks the world needs more fucking Las Vegas?!!!

Posted by: Stephanie at January 27, 2006 03:57 PM
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Stephanie: They need to keep their powder dry! Dry powder is ready power. Ready for the next time it needs to be locked up safe, tight and dry. It all makes perfect sense and they'll never run out of powder that way.

Chris: Safe trip :)

Posted by: eRobin at January 27, 2006 06:01 PM
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When, anywhere in the world, am I going to here some good news about the environment? Does the story never, ever turn toward balance and reverrence? Do the Grey Men and The Nothing always win?

Posted by: butuki at January 27, 2006 06:21 PM
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Here ya go, Miguel.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at January 27, 2006 07:24 PM
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have a great trip, chris.

Posted by: kathy a at January 28, 2006 07:52 AM
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Butaki asks for good news. Well put into proper perspective, one could find silver linings in a number of places i suppose. But the following was received today from an astronomer/professor friend:

"We humans simply live on a squishy, wobbly blue-green mudball. If the glaciers melt, isn't the mass the same? The tidal bulge would certainly slosh more, so then probably the angular momentum exchange with the Moon would cause Moon to spiral away from the Earth faster. Net result: No more total solar eclipses sooner... :-("

Just hope Chris takes the chance now to get lots and lots of howling in, with the coyotes and foxes and other nocturnal yelpers out there.

Posted by: spyder at January 28, 2006 11:18 AM
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Spyder, you're right, of course, as is your professor friend. I go through these "episodes" where this particularly harsh assessment of the state of the world is all piled together in this human abomination of Tokyo where I live, and I've just been away from the mountains too long, much like Chris' need to drive as far away from the madding crowd and go howling. I haven't howled in quite a long while so perhaps the news of the world seems more dire and hopeless than usual. I can only take the crush of other fellow humans for so long...

Posted by: butuki at January 28, 2006 11:57 AM
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I'll howl with you.

Light pollution is such a horrid thing, as is noise pollution. I think they're two parts of a larger syndrome, of trying to drown out the non-human world so we can go on pretending we're in control of things.

*grouse, grumble, mutter*

I did put up a more positive post today, to remind myself why I care.

Posted by: Rana at January 28, 2006 12:18 PM
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Cima Dome is a good spot to camp, Chris. Been there a couple of times myself. Used to camp a bit farther to the Northwest near the volcanic field, before it became a Preserve. Haven't stayed at Nipton, yet. Watched them restore the RR Depot over the years. Should be nice there.

The Ivanpah airport? Bad idea. But that it is a bad idea seems to have no local traction.


Posted by: Hal at January 29, 2006 01:24 AM
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What is it about our culture that makes everything into an either/or duality? Either Reid is a good guy or he's a bad guy.

This duality makes it impossible to resolve so many of the issues that plague us. You can have a good economy or you can have a healthy environment. You can have security from terrorism or you can have your constitutionally-guaranteed privacy and freedom? You can have affordable food or you can have sustainably grown food. And on and on and on.

One of my favorite professors (religion and ecology) always said that if you're told there's only two options, somebody is lying to you.

So, what are some other answers to either/or questions? And how do we get them out of the realm of theory and into practice?

Have a safe trip, Chris. And thanks for reminding me of my favorite Abbey quote.

Posted by: Rain at January 30, 2006 10:38 AM
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A few years ago, California and Nevada were going to revive passenger train service between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, using Spanish-designed Talgo equipment capable of 150 mph. Supposedly the upgrading of the line whas held up on account of an endangered tortoise, but I understand that issue was taken care of. Now there seems to be no serious plan to bring a more environmentally friendly and fuel-efficent from or transportation to the corridor. Just another huge airport.

Posted by: steve at January 30, 2006 12:19 PM
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If they're building a new airport, I hope they're implementing the sloped runways that supposedly cut fuel consumption by like 40% per flight.

Somehow I'm not holding my breath.

Posted by: Auguste at February 1, 2006 01:01 PM
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