Tag Archives: History

Trying to Make Sense of It



Our nation is changing, and it is not an easy process.  The Declaration of Independence says “all men are created equal”.  Well what about the other half of the population?  Historically, most cultures are warrior cultures, with men at war.  Soldiers need leaders, and the men leading in the war tend to rule the culture.  The role of women is to pleasure the men, do the work, and have babies.  If the women can’t do all the work, it is up to slaves, usually captured as spoils of war.

That was the system used in most of our nation’s history.  Subservient women and slaves.  Half a million men died ending slavery, but the racist legacy lives on.   But times change.  Labor shortages during wars and birth control allowed women to leave the home and go to work for wages.

These changes seem to threaten the majority of men.  The traditional method for retaining dominance over others is muscle.  White men had the power, guns, clubs, and rope to keep the freed slaves in their place.  To attempt to retain dominance over women they used the same tools along with sex to keep their power.

Women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, and recognizing what is right are profoundly changing the power structure.  Donald Trump represents the backlash to change.  “Make America Great Again”.  Great America and Fox News with men and big money in control.  He got elected, duping millions of people with lies and fear.  The nation has deep divisions.

Recently women started exposing how they were exploited by male predators in positions of power.  The predators are gone, going, or in hiding.  Race-based power is also under attack.  A racist pedophile just lost the election in Alabama, mainly due to the votes of African Americans.  This vote will also affect the balance of power in Congress.

Trump won, yes, but he can’t stop the process of change in a society transformed.  There will be strife.  Many men will literally go to war attempting to recover their lost dominance.  They will lose because the forces of progress have the law and numbers on their side.

A side effect of the power shift in America is the continuing decline of American dominance in world politics.  The progressive movement will weaken the big stick employed since WWII to dominate the third world.  Whether China and Russia will swing their sticks to retain patriarchal dominance is the big danger.  They will face increasing internal pressure, however, to curb their international ambitions.   The people of the third world have their own ambitions, and will tend to resist outside influence.  Let’s hope they succeed.


I am a veteran.  I served in the U.S. Army from 1962 to 1965.  I am from a hick town in Western Colorado.  I hadn’t done well in my first attempt at college and needed to get out of Dodge.  Other than oil and gas and the uranium mines, there weren’t many job opportunities.  I worked for the Park Service for a while, but the job was seasonal, 180 days per year.  It takes years to get a full time job.

So, it was time to bug out.  The two courses most guys took were going to Los Angeles or the military.  My friends who went to L.A. All starved out and had to get money from parents to come home.  My choice was the military.  My preference was the Navy, but the enlistment was for four years.  The Army was three years.  I enlisted for a European tour.  I did pretty well on all the aptitude tests so the guy offered electronics.

I didn’t think I was interested in electronics, so what else did they have?  How about missiles?  Fort Bliss in El Paso is a big missile post so I said OK.  I was put in missile electronics.  It turned out to be good.  After basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri I went to electronics schools at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey and Redstone Arsenal, Alabama.

I was trained as a radar repairman on an obsolete missile system.  I was sent to duty in another missile system outfit.  We played a lot of volleyball.  When that unit deactivated I was sent to a  Hawk surface to air missile outfit.  A radar is a radar, so I went right to work.  It turned out to be two fairly good years in a decent outfit.  The other guys were a lot like me; college hadn’t worked out, so the Army.  I liked Germany, the Army not so much.  I did some traveling, drank some beer, and came home.

A good thing about military service is the benefits.  I went back to college and the GI Bill paid for a lot of it.  Now I have the VA if I need it.  I have hearing aids from the VA for the hearing loss from shooting a fifty caliber machine gun.  I also get a small pension.  Overall, not so bad.

I also get to give Marine veterans a hard time for being marines.  They seem to think they are hot shit.  Well, I’m glad they are on our side, (mostly).  Navy and Air Force vets are OK.  As for Army vets, you need us, we are all trained killers.  Huh, not so much.

The Vietnam war heated up after I got back in college.  I am a social sciences major, learning history and war literature.  That war made no sense at all, so I was fairly active in my opposition.  The difference being I was a Veteran, with the sense of commonality with those poor saps in Vietnam.  I spoke out in support of those serving.  I respected servicemen then and to this day.

Go to a VA hospital sometime.  Most of those vets really need the help.  The VA tries, but overload and bureaucracy makes it a scary place.  The providers themselves are, in my experience, great if you can get in to see them.  The military is smaller these days, but the damage inflicted on those deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan is awful.  That is a lesson we didn’t learn in Vietnam.  A war without clear goals takes a toll on those who fight in it.

I am against war.  I am a pacifist.  I oppose the U.S entering into foreign adventures where people shoot at one another.  I am a veteran and proud of having served.

The Legacy of American Imperialism

Slave Auction

Americans do not think of their nation as imperialistic, even though it is a common epithet in many parts of the world.  From the day in 1492 when the first European set foot on American soil, the Americas were part of empires, and later established their own empires.  Currently the conflict the United States faces is the legacy of imperialism. 

Empires form when foreign territories are conquered.  Spain, Portugal, England, France, and Russia all took land from Native Americans.  In every case, natives were killed, enslaved, relocated, or died from alien diseases.  The situation has not changed 500 years later.  Indians remain at the bottom of the social hierarchy.  Labor is needed to exploit new land, so slaves were   introduced.  Cotton and sugar cane are examples.  The slaves also occupied the bottom of the order.  The same situation applies today.  Those people are black or  brown, and insulate poor whites from the bottom of the heap. 

Race is the problem.  If people are Quechua, Mayan, Sioux, Navajo, or African-American, they are born into discrimination.  Europeans rule.  Political systems reflect the racial divide.  In Latin America, the oligarchies in power are of Spanish or Portuguese heritage, with most Indians excluded.  In the U.S., the divisions are starting to blur, but Republicans are mostly white and Democrats are more somewhat more diverse.   

In the race to include minorities in the Democratic coalition, the white working class tended to be neglected.  Their economic status has weakened as many good-paying jobs have moved offshore.  Moves to include minorities tend to threaten the status of white working class people’s place in the social hierarchy.  Their anti-immigration stance results from the fear immigrants will take the good jobs.  In addition, immigrants tend to be brown and vote, a threat to white working class men. 

Mr. Trump won the election due to the racial divide.  In the rust belt (and swing) states narrow majorities for Trump tipped the Electoral College.  There is a paradox in this.  The Republication party core constituency is not working-class friendly, but the white tea party folks have joined them.  Trump’s cabinet appointments are mainstream Republican or Wall Street, and offer little to the mass of people who voted him into office. We will see how they react to Trump’s policies in the near future.   

Trump won claiming he can bring back those lost jobs.  It isn’t going to happen.  We are seeing a fundamental shift in our economy away from basic raw material and manufacturing to a service and information based economy.    The traditionally excluded minorities are now joined by poorly-educated white people, many who lost their socio-economic status during the Great Recession.  Neither party is coming up with any viable answers to this problem, which will be exacerbated by race.  The riots will return.   

Mr. Trump’s victory has also encouraged our white extremists.  We will see more racism, anti-Semitism, and violence.  Instant communication accelerates the process.  Tweets are a good example.  I avoid Twitter because I tend toward impulsivity.  Have an impulse, write it down in 140 characters, hit send, and it’s there for all to see.   Mr. Trump is ruled by impulse, therefore, Twitter.  And extremism.




As part of our week in Breckenridge, we did a day trip to Leadville over Fremont Pass.  This country figures in my life.  My father grew up in Leadville, and I worked at the Climax Molybdenum mine one summer when in college.  Breckenridge is low country, around 9600 feet.  Leadville is over 10,000 feet in elevation, the highest incorporated city in the U.S. Climax is at the summit of Fremont Pass, 11,360 feet in elevation.  Some years, it doesn’t snow in July.   

Climax, Elevation 11,300 Feet

Climax, Elevation 11,300 Feet

Climax is at the foot of Bartlett Mountain, once one of the largest bodies of Molybdenum in the world.  Moly is used in alloying steel and as a lubricant.  Moly alloyed in steel makes it tougher, useful in high stress applications.  It’s first big use was in gun barrels during WWI.  Much of Bartlett Mountain is gone, hollowed out, crushed, had the metals removed, and the tailings dumped into a once beautiful glaciated valley.  Common with most mining operations, Climax has gone through several boom-bust cycles, and is currently just limping along.  Leadville is limping as well, still dependent on mining. 

I worked at the Storke level, 300 feet down the mountain from the original portal and mill.  I lived in a company hotel there. There was once a company town, but it went away as the milling operation took the land.  The store and the beer joint were still there in the mid-1960’s.    

I worked as a miner.  Drill, shoot, and muck.  That’s mining.  The drill was a jack leg, a pneumatic rock drill with a leg attached to be extended as the drill hole got deeper.  It was powered by compressed air, and had a water feed to keep dust down.  Drill holes in the face, load them with explosive, shoot, then remove the broken rock (muck).  I plan to go into the whole operation some time.  I did it for the money, and I can now say I was a miner. 

Leadville is down the pass.  What a place.  First gold, then a lot of silver, then bust as the silver market collapsed.  Mining has always gone on, from small independent operations to massive developments supporting a fairly large town.  My grandfather lived there for about twenty years as a railroader, a good Union job.  Born in 1903, my dad grew up there until 1918 when the railroad went broke and the family moved to Grand Junction.  Growing up, I heard lots of Leadville stories.  I will tell some more sometime.  If you go down the hill from the hotel on Harrison Avenue, the house at the bottom on the right is where my father grew up. 

Mining Hall of Fame

Mining Hall of Fame

When we visited, we drove around and I bored everyone with Leadville stories.  We ate at the Golden Burro, where I ate in the 1960’s, and went to the mining museum.  If you have any interest in mining, that’s the place.  Mostly, mining is taking metals and fuel from the earth and leaving a mess.  Leadville has lots of messes.  The worst ongoing mess is the water.  As it comes out of the mines it is highly acidic and loaded with toxic metals in solution.  It will have to be treated forever, at least in human terms.  Mining built Colorado, and we will always deal with the legacy.  Oh, what a mess we made.

Jude Stoner

For a high school with less than 300 students in the late 1950’s, Fruita High School had some unique personalities. 

A year or two ahead of me was Jude Stoner (not his real name, but close ).  He was one of those people with exactly the right name.  He wasn’t tall, but was well built, dark, and exuded self confidence.  He didn’t participate in school activities, but wasn’t what we would have called a hood.  He also was not a stoner. 

I don’t know how it happened, but Jude ended up as a hairdresser in Aspen.  The Aspen ladies must have swooned over him, a rough-cut, good looking guy doing their hair.  In those days there wasn’t much going on in Aspen in the summer, so Jude did other things. 

Ruedi Dam and Reservoir

Ruedi Dam and Reservoir

At the time, the Ruedi Dam was being built 15 miles up the Frying Pan River from Basalt.  That is not far at all in Isolated Aspen terms.  Jude got a construction job on the dam.  Good money, keep in shape, have a break from the hair salon.  The ideal gig for Jude, as he was an experienced construction hand.   

The two most beautiful mountain valleys. In my opinion, are the Frying Pan Valley from Basalt to  Hagerman Pass over the Continental Divide.  The other valley is the Crystal River Valley from Carbondale to Marble.  Jude had a fine place to do a summer’s worth of construction. 

Construction workers are a rough cut bunch, not known for tact or social niceties.  Construction sites, especially in Western Colorado in the 1960’s, were strongholds of homophobia.  Gay men anywhere in the rural West almost always migrated to the cities.  Denver, for example, has had a significant gay community for a long time, drawing men from all the neighboring states.   

Downtown Aspen 1960's

Downtown Aspen 1960’s

Well, here was an Aspen hairdresser doing construction work.  The word got out Jude was a hairdresser.  Now Jude was kind of a formidable guy, so my guess there was a lot of talk about him behind his back.  He had to have been aware of the talk. 

One day it happened, one of the real men? on the crew called Jude a “Queer Hairdresser”.

Jude broke his jaw with one punch.  No more talk.

Cops and Repression

Cops are a constant presence in our lives.  When I was a young kid, the town marshal in Fruita drove a red Ford pickup with no lights or siren.  It wasn’t long before there were real police with a cruiser.  I have a lot of interactions with police officers because I am a lousy driver.  


The first really negative interaction was during all the demonstrations following the invasion of Cambodia in 1968.  We peace creeps stood across the barrier from helmeted Fort Collins police officers who could hardly restrain themselves from bashing heads.  They were putting up with a lot of verbal abuse.  The cop across from me was hyperventilating.  Fortunately, nothing happened. 

Cops today are shooting people and getting shot.  Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore showed the nation how the police are an instrument of repression in some cities.  Fortunately this is not always the case.  After 9-11, Denver Water placed armed guards at the gates to the water treatment plants.  Most of the guards were retired or off duty Denver Police Officers moonlighting.  They usually worked one shift per week, and I got to know many of them at the plant where I worked. 

It was a shock to me to discover that most of them were really nice guys.  That did not fit my stereotype of cops.  A couple of them, however, were not nice guys.  They were right wing bullies filled with fear and anger.  The hate they projected was almost physically tangible.  They did not make eye contact and their speech was formal with an undercurrent of menace. 

I am sure every police department of any size in the land has a contingent of those fellows.  They are the enforcers, using violence to deal with undesirables.  They are relatively safe form reprisal because of the need for police to provide mutual support to one another.  There is a code of silence and even lying to cover for a fellow officer.  This is more common in some departments than others. 

These men serve as instruments of repression, usually to minorities.  Their self-appointed job is to keep undesirables in line, using any method they think they can get away with, including murder.in the USA, their targets are usually black, with Latinos and other minorities as alternate targets.  

Ferguson Riot

Ferguson Riot

At one time, most of the racial repression came from groups like the Ku Klux Klan, with their cross burnings, beatings, and lynchings.  Today, those groups have waned, and another means of repression has replaced them-rogue cops and rogue police departments.  Cops and police departments have always been part of the system of racial repression, but now they are the default lynchers.  There are no cross burnings on South Table Mountain in Golden these days. 

This system has run into trouble because almost anyone with a smartphone can record police violence and get the recordings to the media.  The code of silence is broken.  In times of unrest like today, the violent incidents are on the television screen every evening, just like the atrocities in Vietnam were in the 1960s.  Change in technology has made those conducting the new lynchings vulnerable.  The old system of other cops and prosecutors allowing the lynchers to get away with their brutality is not gone, as  Baltimore has recently shown, but it’s days are numbered. 

It may be that one factor creating the Trump phenomenon is the breakdown of repression.  The white working class, already hit by the loss of industrial jobs, is facing competition from people who were once sentenced to remain at the bottom.  White working class men once had those minorities to look down on.  Now the minorities are on the City Council and the police department.   


More on Discontent

The Age of Steam

The Age of Steam

Our economy has been one of change since the beginning.  When the railroads came to Colorado in 1870, a lot of teamster jobs hauling freight from Omaha and Kansas City went away.  The automobile would not have happened without the new petroleum industry.  Coal retained its strength from powering locomotives, heating homes, and fueling industry.  Industry and manufacturing grew, making the American economy one of the largest in the world.

What a combination, land, natural resources, transportation, a growing population of people with ambition, mobility, and a willingness to try something new.  Some were left behind.  Native Americans, African Americans, and those new citizens in the Southwest who were once part of Mexico with its traditional ways.  As always, immigrants ended up at the bottom because of language and discrimination.

There were troubles.  Low wages, a turbulent labor history, drought, an unstable business cycle creating panics individuals were helpless to influence.  There were some adventures the government engaged in, such as Cuba, the Philippines China, Japan, all the trappings of empire.  In many ways the American West was an empire, won at the expense of those who were living there.

John Deere

John Deere

Agriculture was becoming more mechanized, displacing people who moved to the cities to work in industry.  All the change continues.  There is a tremendous amount of wealth in Silicon Valley, not so much in Michigan.

The West has been boom-bust from the start.  The fur trade collapsed, but the gold rushes started.  The government started giving land to the railroads and individuals.  The short grass prairie boomed with hopeful wheat growers, then the droughts came.  Oil and gas grew and grew, and grew.  As old fields played out, new oil fields were discovered.  A couple of big wars really heated things up.

It all looked great.  Yes, lots of change, but people could find good jobs and things steamed along.  The real upheavals were when the business cycle threw millions out of work.  The 1930’s were a terrible time, but a war healed all that.

The West That Never Existed

The West That Never Existed

The 1950’s seemed like a golden age.  Lots of jobs, the U.S. Ruled much of the world, and television built a myth of stability, prosperity, and a bright future for everyone.  the myth came from relative prosperity and the ubitiquous westerns on television promoting a life that never existed.

The 1960’s brought social upheaval accompanied by a growing shift in how people made their living.  Steel mills closed, imported cars were on the roads, and computer-driven automation started taking industrial jobs.  The word Yuppie became a term of derision, but the Yuppies were the wave of the future.  They possessed education and a skill set many people could or would not obtain.

The skilled trades fell out of favor. It is college or else.  The trade jobs are filled the way they have always been filled, by immigrants.  This time however, the immigrants are not easily assimilated Europeans.  They are Latin, and and bring their culture with them.  Many are just not as interested in assimilating, and many are undocumented.

All this change leaves a huge segment of our society out of the good life.  Many are rural, where big mechanized farms haven taken jobs.  Many just do not have social and intellectual requirements to move into the new economy.  What’s left?  Low-paying service economy jobs, often for an out of date minimum wage inadequate for one person, let alone a family.  It is hard to build a life mowing lawns and doing kitchen work.  Much of the time jobs that used to be stepping stones have turned into dead ends.

The trouble is just beginning.  Those people marginalized by an economy where they don’t fit can be radicalized and turn to violence and terror or Donald Trump, which may be same thing.  The discontent is just not with the marginalized working class.  There are lots of well-educated people from middle class families making pizzas and living in their parents’ basement.  They thought they were doing the right thing going into debt to get an education and found nobody wants them.

This is still a rich country.  There is a huge imbalance in the distribution of wealth which has to change.  The change agent must be government.  A true progressive tax structure and an end to the massive influence of special interests in government are desperately needed.  The nation has the resources to provide everyone with an income providing them some dignity and the flexibility to enhance their station in life.  Given a decent income, most will seek ways to do even better.

We will always have the wealthy and the poor.  Now, there is too much concentrated wealth for a few and too many poor.  Trying to revert to an American utopia which never existed will only add to social instability.

Happy Days Are Here Again

Happy Days Are Here Again

There should be no food banks or coat drives.  There should be no one sleeping on the streets.  People with mental health problems should not be cast out.  Everyone should have the time and resources available to build better lives for themselves rather than being trapped in poverty.

In other words, we need a new time of progressive change, not an attempt to return to a myth.  How to pay for it all?  A realistic progressive tax system to redistribute income.


Roman Empire

Roman Empire

As I moved along in my history studies I heard a lot about developing a historical perspective.  It means acquiring a long view about historical processes.  For example, how the civilizations on the Italian peninsula evolved from Etruscan influences to Greek colonies to the start of the Roman city state with a political system somewhat modeled on Greek city-states to a republic, evolving with the growth of the empire and the need to defend the borders which tended to generate a more autocratic government which became increasingly corrupt and unable to check the invasions of Germanic tribes which led to collapse and the Dark Ages.  How is that for a synopsis?

Just about every statement I made about Rome has been debated, supported, refuted, and revised for centuries.  It is my perspective, however, and provides a framework, however tenuous, for my thinking about the development of European civilization.  Many of the conflicts in what was once the Roman Empire and it’s fringes have roots over two thousand years old.  I draw on my views of ancient empires in thinking about current developments in our world.

Geology also requires developing perspective; probably more than history because of the vast expanse of time.  We think of two thousand years as a long time historically, but it is less than a blink in geologic time.  The earth is over four billion years old.  What we can think of as written geologic history, the  evolution of life forms leaving a fossil record, is 600 million years old.  The

2013 Colorado Flooding

2013 Colorado Flooding

2013 Colorado floods, viewed as a rare catastrophe, is only one of many thousands of similar events that carved canyons, moved rivers, filled basins that continue to subside, and provided habitats for ever-changing life forms.  Bring back the mastodon and the Sabre-Toothed Tiger!

Geologists think that Colorado was formed by island arcs similar to those archipelagos south of Asia colliding with the Eurasian continent.  Here, island arcs from the south docked on the Wyoming Craton, some of the oldest rocks in North America.  This happened a very long time ago, before life emerged.  If you want to see this transition I recommend the

Wyoming Stromatolite

Wyoming Stromatolite

Snowy Range road in Wyoming.  You can find stromatolites, fossilized algae.  These fossils predate the Paleozoic, and are older than anything in Colorado.  Yes, geologists use the word docked, if you can imagine India docking on Eurasia. The transition between the Wyoming Craton and the younger stuff is called the Cheyenne Belt.

Now here is some serious history.  Since Colorado became one land mass, mountain ranges have come and gone, oceans have advanced and retreated, new life has evolved and gone extinct, and the whole deal has skidded around on the earth.  All the skidding has moved at about the rate your toenails grow.  That is not very fast, but after a few million years it begins to add up.

Trail Ruts at Guernsey WY

Trail Ruts at Guernsey WY

One of the problems of moving in next to Wyoming is that Yellowstone is there.  200 miles north of Denver is Guernsey, Wyoming, home of some interesting human history.  Guernsey is on the Platte River and the Oregon-California Trail.  Hundreds of thousands of people traveled the trail seeking new opportunity.  The trail stays close to the river in most places, but at one point the banks narrow and the trail climbs up about 20 feet through what looks like soft sandstone.  The Rock is so soft the wagon wheels formed axle deep ruts.

Yellowstone Volcanic Caldera

Yellowstone Volcanic Caldera

The rock is not sandstone.  It is volcanic tuff, deposited by ash clouds from the last time the Yellowstone Supervolcano blew, about 640,000 years ago.  On the highway it is about 380 miles.  Four feet of hot ash from 380 miles away.  It must have gotten pretty nasty here in Denver.  That volcano is going to erupt again.  We don’t know when, but the magma continues to bulge and recede in the area around Yellowstone Lake, which formed in the caldera.  Now that is historical perspective.  I live in a place that is going to be cooked and buried some day.

For those of you in coastal lowlands, along the West Coast, near St. Louis, Salt Lake, or anywhere between Tibet and Australia, there will probably be cataclysms occurring sooner than Yellowstone erupting, but nobody knows for sure.

In the Path of Destruction


Mt. St. Helens Before Eruption

Mt. St. Helens Before Eruption

I started a post last week about volcanos, then I got sick, so here it is now.  I was inspired to write this because I follow the United States Geological Survey (USGS)and  the American Geological Society on Facebook.  The 18th of May was the 25th anniversary of the Mount St. Helens eruption.  Both organizations ran daily posts about the most violent volcanic eruption in the continental United States in recorded history.

The USGS quoted extensively from In the Path of Destruction, a book about the events around the eruption.  That eruption in1980 was the most violent volcanic eruption the United States has experienced in recorded history.

Start of Eruption.  Landslide

Start of Eruption. Landslide

Close to some big cities but relatively isolated, only about 56 people were killed.    The low death toll was also a result of the Forest Service, the local county sheriffs, and Weyerhauser Timber restricting access to the area around the mountain, a popular recreational area.

In the Path of Destruction has two sections, narratives of events before and during the eruption, and many eyewitness reports collected by author Richard Waitt, a USGS geologist present at Mt. St. Helens starting in March 1980, when the volcano started coming alive and throughout the eruption and aftermath.  Three weeks after the eruption he was in a bar talking to a man who had lived through the eruption and realized the stories of witnesses could add to scientific knowledge of the event.

This book is one you lose sleep over.  Do you remember May 18, 1980?  Those people do, their memories are as vivid now as my memory of the day Kennedy was shot.  Waitt interviewed a wide range of people from USGS geologists, pilots in the air nearby when it blew, campers, loggers, and local residents who survived.    Their stories are why the book kept me awake.  The author’s narratives are well researched and written.  He puts the science, events, and the human story into a book that will hold even those who are not geology geeks.

The Big Boom

The Big Boom

In fact as a geology geek, I found myself wanting more science.  That is probably good for most readers.  A big part of the story is the unusual behavior of the volcano before it blew.  There were hundreds of earthquakes in the two months before the big eruption, accompanied by venting, minor ash falls, and the formation of a small crater.  The strangest phenomenon was the formation of a huge bulge on the north side of the mountain.

The bulge grew about five feet every day, accompanies by swarms of small earthquakes  some of the USGS people thought were from magma intruding into the bulge.  The bulge grew, with vertical cracks forming on its face.  Some thought a major eruption was imminent, others thought it would be a relatively minor event.  Politics kept moving the roadblocks back and forth, with logging being allowed outside the immediate danger zone.  It’s tough enforcing a roadblock with logging trucks coming out of the closed area.

In 1980, eruptions could not be forecast.  In 2015, earthquakes can’t be forecast.  People wanted in the closed area to go to their cabins, to hike, camp, and fish.  We think of volcanic eruptions going up from a crater at the summit.  On May 18th, a magnitude five earthquake caused the bulge to slide.  That caused the mountain above the bulge to slide.

View of Mt. St. Helens from Mt. Margaret, July 27 1980 Devastation

View of Mt. St. Helens from Mt. Margaret, July 27 1980

The accounts of the survivors and witnesses of the eruption are what make the book so gripping.  For me events thirty five years ago came alive.  I won’t go into any of the stories.  Read for yourself.  The photographs and maps provide a useful context and show the eruption as it happened.  I continue to be astounded that one plate smashing into another at the rate your fingernails grow can produce events like volcanic eruptions and earthquakes like the one in Nepal.  There is lots of really hot stuff down there in our Earth, and if the crust gets weakened, here it comes.


A few weeks ago I was headed east from Gunnison up the Tomichi Creek valley.  The rocks looked sort of like sandstone, so common here in Colorado, but they just didn’t look right.  It dawned on me.  Volcanic tuff, just like the ash that blew out of Mt. St. Helens.  It happened here and in geologic terms, not that long ago.  Maybe 65 million years ago, give or take.



Rock and Roll in the Sticks

1958 Chevy

1958 Chevy

Western Colorado in the late 1950s and 1960s was a cultural backwater of the first magnitude.  I-70 did not exist, making travel to Denver at least two hours longer than now.  In Grand Junction, there was one television station and two radio stations.  The Junction had the Daily Sentinel newspaper, and Fruita had the Fruita Times, a weekly with stories about the bridge club.

Things were on the move in the land.  Rock and Roll had appeared, but not in our neck of the desert.  The only contact we had was the Ed Sullivan Show, which introduced Elvis to the world.   The local radio stations weren’t interested.  They were making money playing Patti Page, the Andrews Sisters, and Doris Day.  The raciest they got was letting Johnny Ray cry.

At first, we found Lucky Lager Dance Time on KNBC in San Francisco, but you needed a good radio, and there better not be any lightning between the Junction and California.  Then, salvation!  KOMA!  As soon as the sun was down, KOMA boomed in from Oklahoma City.  Rock and Roll ruled the sticks.  And the sticks were extensive.  KOMA dominated Oklahoma, New Mexico, Rural Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, and neighboring boondocks.

That radio station was our lifeline to the rock and roll youth culture developing in the country.  This was not the Beatles and the Stones.  It was Buddy Holly, Elvis, the Everly Brothers, all those Phil Spector bands, and some R&B, like Chuck Berry and Little Richard.   KOMA was top 40, no obscure bands, just the big stuff.  Yes, there was country and western, and Grand Junction even got a station later, but country was mostly confined to the pool halls and beer joints around 1960.

There was the KOMA band circuit.  There were several rock and roll bands that traveled the region, playing in small town Grange Halls, Legion Halls; anywhere the band could rent a hall.  Sterling, Roswell, Scott’s Bluff, Colby, Torrington, Hot Springs, Alliance, Garden City, Trinidad, all those little towns starved for anything from the outside world.  The only band on the circuit I remember was Spider and the Crabs.  They advertised their gigs on KOMA and kids came to the dances from all over.  KOMA made money from the ads, and bad rock and roll ruled the boondocks.

Several of us would buy a case of Coors bottles, go to Grand Junction, listen to KOMA, cruise all evening drinking beer, and throw the empty bottles at highway signs on the way back to Fruita.

Was that youth misspent?  No, not at all.  I am writing about it now, aren’t I?  Rock and Roll survived, and all was well until the mid-1960s. Here’s to KOMA in Oklahoma!  The station is still in business, still playing rock and roll.

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