Monthly Archives: March 2014

Kodel’s Canyon

Kodels Canyon 086

Kodel’s Canyon

In the late 1950’s, some friends and I liked to go to Kodel’s Canyon.  The canyon is in the Colorado National Monument about five miles from Fruita.  We would get a ride from a parent and with our .22 rifles, hike on the relatively flat desert area between the Colorado River and the National Monument, laying waste to any number of unsuspecting rocks with our .22’s.


Sometimes we would climb over the Park boundary fence and up into the canyon.  It is the first canyon west of Fruita Canyon, where Rim Rock Drive climbs, and the scenery is as spectacular as the rest of the National Monument, but at the time was seldom visited.  Carrying firearms into the National Park and firing them was illegal, but we never worried about getting caught.  No one went there but the local kids.


The canyon has the sheer sandstone cliffs the Monument is famous for, but the lower end is black Precambrian granite, schist, and gneiss, black and weathered into narrow cracks and rounded humps.  A demented miner who gave the canyon its name worked a mine in that rock for many years, never finding any gold.  It should have been clear to him there was no gold; there is relatively little quartz in the rock, which is associated with gold, and Kodel’s canyon is far from the Colorado Mineral Belt, which runs from the Golden-Boulder area to Telluride. Most of the state’s minerals, including gold, are in that roughly 20 mile wide belt.  The big exception is Cripple Creek, a volcanic neck with a rich gold deposit.  Nevertheless, Kodel persisted for years, giving the local Fruita kids a place to risk their lives.


We would poke around in the mine, and its mystery.  We didn’t go too far in, as we never had a flashlight.  The big attraction was the climbing.  In some places the 1.4 billion years old rock is broken and crumbling, but for the most part is so smooth and rounded as to look polished.


We had no climbing shoes, just our tennies.  We had no helmets, ropes, or the hardware climbers use today.  We got good at mostly unaided climbing and went up places that trained climbers attempt only with ropes and hardware.  The only climbing aids we used were our .22 rifles, using them to help one another up especially steep pitches or as support.  The climbing was somewhere between bouldering and free soloing.  Not for those afraid of heights.


Years later, I climbed Long’s Peak with some friends.  Lee had a bad knee, and Danny was helping him as we went up the Cable Route, which traverses the top of The Diamond, that sheer northeast face of the mountain with a 2,000 foot high cliff.  Years ago the route had a fixed steel cable leading to the top that climbers could hold on to.   When we climbed, there was no cable and some of the rock was wet.  I just climbed up, doing what I learned in Kodel’s Canyon.


Danny would move up a pitch with the rope and belay Lee as he climbed on that bad knee.  Danny remarked to Lee as they crept up with their rope that I was single-handing.  It was steep, but I had good shoes and walked up, using one hand to occasionally support myself as I chose each foot placement.  Proper safe climbing technique calls for having three support points on the rock, moving one hand or foot at a time.  I was not ignoring the rule, I didn’t know it existed.


I only know of one serious injury in Kodel’s Canyon.  Jerry badly sprained an ankle on the approach to the canyon and had to have help getting back to the road.  He hobbled around for weeks, not getting much sympathy from us.  In retrospect, we were serious risk-takers, but we just went where we wanted to without thinking about the danger.  Those experiences in the hills and canyons south of Fruita made us all willing to accept challenges with little hesitation.  We also gained confidence in our ability to overcome difficulty.  We acquired life skills there.  In our safety-oriented society, kids may be missing some important lessons.  We need to test ourselves in the name of fun, and risk is part of the test.  For me, it was a fun thing to do.  I think I will go back, a bit more carefully this time.

Desert Surfboarding



The Grand Valley Canal Near Grand Junction, Mt. Garfield and Grand Mesa in the Background

I am a child of the desert.  Fruita, Colorado has no more than eight inches of annual rainfall.  Growing up in the late 1950’s, we were surfers before the Beach Boys made surfing famous.

The Grand Valley of Western Colorado is irrigated farm country.  Two big canals bring Colorado River water to the valley farms.  One of those canals had a place we called Karp’s Hole, after a nearby farm family.  The hole was created by a concrete flume, narrower than the rest of the ditch, that created turbulence and eddy currents downstream that excavated a deep hole about 50 feet wide that was perfect for swimming.  There was a diving board made from a 2″x12″ plank and an old car spring.  That board was as good as any swimming pool diving board and was there for years.

With plenty of parking spaces, it was a popular summer party spot.  The water, “too thick to drink and too thin to plow”, was good for tag games.  A person could duck under and follow eddy currents to other points in the hole without being seen.  The other side was lined with willows tall enough to provide hiding places.  I had a scare when swimming in an underwater tunnel that surfaced behind the willows.  I got stuck.  My shoulders were a bit too wide, and my hands were in front.  I wriggled and squirmed for what was probably  only a few seconds, but it seemed like a long time to me before I was able to back out.

The road to Karp’s Hole ran alongside the canal for about 1 1/2 miles from the nearest county road.  Built when the canal was dug, it was used for maintenance and by the ditch riders who patrolled the canal, adjusting the head gates that sent water to the farm fields.

For surfboarding, we made 4′ x 2′  plywood boards with two ropes with a handle coming back from the front of the board to the rider standing on a piece of carpet tacked to the back of the board.  Another rope yoke led from to the bottom of the board to the tow rope which ran about 50′ to a post in the bed of a pickup truck.  The driver and a spotter were in the cab and the rest of us rode in the bed.  With the tow rope tied to a stake secured in the bed, the surfer shifted his weight from side to side and swung from one side of the canal to the other and back, sometimes bumping into the bank, and throwing a rooster tail of water onto the road.

We went about 20 miles per hour, any faster increasingly dangerous and less fun.  The sport was illegal, we were trespassing, making it even more fun, but no one ever got arrested.  After my first time at about 16, I came home and told my parents about our new sport.  My father laughed, saying he surfboarded in the 1920’s behind Model T Fords.  We were just keeping a Grand Valley tradition alive.

Our surfboarding parties were usually fueled by Coors 3.2 beer.  There was no other beer for us.  Given the muddy road, the beer, and adolescent hormones, accidents were rare.  One time, the ditch company had mowed the willows lining the canal.  Alan hit the bank with the bottom of his board a little too hard, and flew face down onto the willows.  Bright red stripes.

The worst surfboarding accident was when a girl riding for the first time hit the bank and sort of flopped.  She broke one of the bony processes on a spinal vertebra.  No nerve damage, but she sure was sore for a while.  The worst injury is when Don, my neighbor across the street dived into the shallow sand bar while drunk.   He broke his neck.  He was in a big cast from his chest to his chin and the back of his head.  To drive, he put the top down of his 1955 Chevy convertible (the envy of every guy in town), parked his butt on the seat back, leaned forward, and drove. The cops never said a word.

More than 50 years later I can remember the sensation of speed, of spray in my face, the movement of the board under my feet as I dug one corner in to make a turn, zooming across the canal and digging in the other corner as the bottom of the board bounced on the bank.  Spray flew 20 or more feet as I sped to the other bank and turned to make another run to douse the road.  It was best when I could spray another car meeting us on the ditch road.  It was usually some friends coming for their rides on the surfboard.

Water sports were big, but we had a mechanized winter sport as well.  Two brothers had what we called a toboggan that had been around for years.  It had steel runners at each corner and a deck that could hold four or five people.  After a snow we would haul it out to the desert north of the farm area and tow it behind a pickup truck, preferably four wheel drive.

No going on the road or in a straight line, the driver’s goal was to turn sharp enough to throw everyone off.  Speeds were a bit higher, close to 30 miles per hour.  At night.  There was lots of screaming and laughing as we rolled through the snow and mud.

I don’t remember anyone ever getting hurt, but we would get home tired, cold, wet, and muddy.  Parents would just shake their heads.  After all, they had done it themselves.


Sandstone Solitude


I like to do solo trips in the Southeastern Utah canyon country.  I began going there in the 1950’s with my parents, then with friends, and by myself.  I go there for the scenery and for the solitude.

The tourism centered around Moab has made finding solitude more challenging, but the crowds of four wheelers, dirt bikers, mountain bikers, and other rabble tend to go to the same places, leaving vast areas empty.  Even in well-traveled areas all I need to do is walk about 1/4 mile and I am alone.

Bare rock, deep canyons, intense light, vertical spires, and the starkness leads me into myself.  My mind empties of the clutter of civilization.  I return refreshed and at peace.  My trips there are pilgrimages.

There also is the danger.  All the Park Service literature emphasizes safety.  Traveling with others, taking the proper equipment, having communications, carrying water, and leaving an itinerary are all good advice.  I carry water and the 10 essentials along with nylon cord, a trowel, and a poncho or space blanket.  Sometimes I travel with others.



Newspaper Rock

I go into slot canyons, climb over the ridge to the next canyon where the cattle could not go, follow winding canyons to the pourover that stops me, scramble up to the rim, and ramble in the slickrock.  I look for ruins of the people who lived, hunted, and farmed here.  They left pictographs on those stone walls that tell of the hunt, of the gods.  Life must have been hard, but they were surrounded by beauty, and they had time for art.



elephant hill view

The Needles District

I especially like the slickrock.  Entrada sandstone, ancient sand dunes turned to stone, it has a sensual feel.  There are rounded humps, steep drops, curves and hollows, and those inviting bowls.  The bowls are the best.  In the couple of weeks after a rain they hold enough water to support life.  Tadpoles, water striders, and other insects have a brief time in the sun until the water dries up and they go dormant.  I like to drink from them when the water is fresh.



bowlThe bowls range in size from a few inches to hundreds of feet in diameter.  The larger ones have a sandy bottom, sometimes with desert vegetation.  Other bowls have an outlet, a crack or joint in the rock that is wide enough for an exit.  Many are true bowls, no outlet, with steep, smooth sides.

What is it about boys and holes in the ground?  We just want to go into them.   I do, often without a thought about how I am going to get out.  More than once I have found myself in trouble.



Devils Kitchen Campsite

One time I was in the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park.  There is a challenging four wheel drive over Elephant Hill; a misnomer because the hill is solid rock.  I camped at Devil’s Kitchen, an area where each campsite is under a sandstone overhang.  The view is across a park to the pinnacles surrounding Chesler Park, a magical place.

Everyone goes to Chesler Park, so the area around the campsites is little-traveled.  I climbed around for a while, seeking the high points to look west across the Colorado River to the spires and cliffs of the Maze District.  It’s a panorama of varying shades of red rock, tilted and broken into fins and spires that should exist only in the imagination, but there they are.

Hiking a bit farther east, I came across one of those bowls, a big one.  I climbed down to the sandy bottom, admiring the grasses that manage to survive in that dry place.  Rain runs off the rock and waters the edges of the sandy bottom promoting more growth there.  I looked around and thought, “I wonder if I can get out of here?”

My standard strategy is to walk up the sides of the bowl using the friction of my shoes.  Too steep.  I tried a running start.  Failed.  I went as high as I could standing, then scrambled on all fours, feet slipping and using my knees as well. By that time I was worried.  No cell phone service there, so I was on my own.  It took several tries, losing some skin and good blue denim, but there is no skeleton in that bowl.  I will go back, but plan to stay out of the bowls.

Teek’s Hot Rod

hot rod 3It’s 1958, and fast cars are what we wanted.  Teek, my classmate with a funny nickname, found a Ford Model A roadster body and frame, but needed everything else and had little money.  He heard about a wrecked 1954 Oldsmobile with a good engine at the bottom of a canyon.

We’re in Fruita, Colorado, a town of 1800 people a long way from most anywhere.  South of town is the Colorado National Monument, an area of striking sandstone canyons traversed by roads bordering the canyon rims.


CanyonSomeone had decided to get rid of his car by rolling it over the canyon rim just outside the Park boundary.  Teek heard about it and decided to salvage the engine in the wreck at the bottom of a 200 foot high cliff.  That called for creativity and a lot of help.  He and some of his gearhead friends climbed into the canyon and disassembled the engine as much as they could.

They packed the smaller parts up out of the canyon with only Jerry smashing a finger falling while carrying a cylinder head.  Next, how to get that big cast iron engine block out of the canyon.  One Saturday, about ten of us assembled at the canyon rim.  Teek had taken the rubber tire off a wheelbarrow wheel and bolted the wheel to a long 4″x4″ piece of lumber.  We poked it over the sheer rim, weighted the back end with some big rocks, and ran a 1/4″ hemp rope through the pulley and into the canyon.

Thankfully, I was not involved in wrestling that big block from where the car had rolled to under the rim.   With the rope tied to the engine block, all we had to do was pull.  That block probably weighed 400 pounds.  We pulled.  And pulled. And complained. And pulled.  The little rope slowly unwound as we pulled, and we worried it would break.  It sure looked skinny.

It took most of an hour with hands and muscles complaining, but we got it to the rim and dragged it to level ground.  Teek had a motor for his roadster!

A few months later we showed up at his house out in the farm country north of town.  The car was running, sort of.  The motor was in, transmission and running gear installed, and it was loud.  No exhaust system, no gas pedal, just a wire coming back from the carburetor, and no starter.  The cooling system was two hoses jammed together and filled with irrigation water.  Oh, no seat, just a board laid on the frame rails for seating and to hold the battery.  No fenders, of course.

Teek and another guy sat on the board, he had one hand on the wheel, the other on the throttle wire.  Three of us laid on the trunk lid of the roadster body with our feet on the bumper of the pickup truck start vehicle behind us, and the pickup driver started us moving. The Olds engine fired up, and off we went.

I have had fast cars, motorcycles, and flown, but never had such a sensation of pure speed as roaring down those country roads lying on the back of a roadster trying to keep from being bounced off.  We would go until the engine got hot (no radiator, remember?), stop, pull the hoses apart and fill it with ditch water, push start again, and fly!

Never again have terror, joy, excitement, and sheer speed come together like that day.

High school graduation came and I moved on.  Teek finished his car and drove it for years, but I never got a ride in the finished model.  We talked about those days at our 50th reunion, and the memory is still fresh as the day we broke lots of  laws riding on Teek’s hot rod.

The pictures are not of Teek’s hot rod or of the canyon the motor came out of, but are good representations.

More on Fracking and Clean Coal

Some good news and bad news in the energy business.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper promulgated new regulations that should go a long ways toward ending pollution from oil and gas wells.  Each well will have monitoring equipment that can detect any emissions from the well Here is a link.

The bad news, Duke Energy has a lot of coal ash ponds in the southeast, and one collapsed into the river.  Duke is a powerful lobbyist, and has successfully avoided any strict regulation or penalties up to this point.  This event may change that.

i am struck by the corporate attitude to these harmful and costly events.  Lobbyists are paid, campaigns are funded, lots of false rhetoric is expended fighting regulatory oversight of mining, drilling, and processing operations.  “Regulations and government intrusion kills jobs.”  So little regulation goes into place until a hugely expensive disaster occurs, with cleanup costs far exceeding the costs to do the job right.

i think fighting regulation is due to the constant corporate pressure to have a good quarterly profit.  Expenses that cut into short-term profit are avoided by managers who avoid or never see reports from the field warning of potential environmental problems.

In my experience, weak managers who lack foresight and the ability to sell needed projects to the higher-ups tend to focus on cost cutting.  Tanks leak, ash retention ponds fail, and faulty blowout preventers fail, all in the name of quarterly profits.

Last quarter’s numbers look good, but the overall profit picture is not so good for Freedom Industries, Duke Energy, or BP Petroleum.

My favorite case in point is when Freon was banned due to ozone layer damage.  The refrigeration industry fought the change until they realized that they were the ones to do the work replacing Freon.

Rather than killing jobs, environmental regulation created jobs and benefited everyone, and the consumer paid the cost, fair enough for having a cool house and car.


Coal Ash 2

Coal Ash Spill

Elegy for Tedd Brumbaugh



tricycleMy old friend Tedd died a couple of years ago.  I wrote this after his death.

We went back a ways.  I used to visit him on my tricycle.  We would eat mulberries in the tree behind Jimmy’s house.  We would fight on the way home for lunch and make up on the way back to school.  His mother served both whole wheat and white bread at meals.  My family didn’t have bread on the table for meals.

In high school, Tedd wanted only to District Attorney for a day.  All the county elected jobs were available, and I didn’t care which job I got, I just wanted to go, so I ran for every job and lost.  The last office to be chosen was District Attorney.  I won, Tedd didn’t go.

I was best man at his wedding, traveling to McPherson, Kansas for the ceremony.  I painted Help Me on the soles of his shoes.  A woman gasped when they knelt at the altar.

Our class Valedictorian, Tedd, and I went to a Quaker youth camp in Palmer Lake between our junior and senior years.  That week changed our lives.  Liberals!  They didn’t exist in Fruita.  I went with Tedd and his family to my first classical music concert ever.  We went with our high school science teacher to Paradox Valley and the Hanging Flume.

Tedd’s last couple of years have been pretty rough.  He was having some health problems then was diagnosed with brain cancer.  The oncologists killed the cancer, but he began having mini-strokes.  The last few months, he hasn’t been around much.  Now, he’s gone.

Tedd was pretty much unresponsive for a time before he died.  After watching this more times than I like, I think the dying person is doing some work in our world before moving on.  I don’t know what the work is and they aren’t saying.  I am not entirely sure about this, but in watching, I can see that something is going on at some level.  It is more subtle than a dog’s twitches while dreaming, but it is there.

Life is a mystery, filled with joy, sorrow, and all those other times. I like to think about the mystery, but don’t ask me for any answers.  I do know I felt joy riding my tricycle over to Tedd’s house.