John Moses Interview, March 2001 (edited by John Moses)
S: like we said, we will dispense with reading the questions to save space on the tape, and just do 'em sequentially. So, we'll start with question one.
J: to the best of my knowledge - which is -- I'll often have to sit on that one -- I don't know of any specific damage caused by climbers. I know there have been instances of people climbing on the rock art, but mostly unintentionally, but we have had them as recently as Thanksgiving, where, in fact, it was reported to us by a climber that somebody was climbing on a place called Site 17, "Newspaper Cave", and they hadn't seen anyone climbing but there was chalk, and somebody had started up that climb, I don't know whether they were mistaking it for another one but it's a no-climbing area obviously 'cause of the rock art underneath it.
S: I knew of one instance, years ago, was at Artists' Opposition and that's one reason why Artists' Opposition is closed, because there was definitely boot marks on the actual rock art.
J: On the rock art itself?
S: That was way back in the 80's, maybe even in the early 70's.
J: I think the emphasis is more on trying to have people know which sites there are rock art panels at and have them know not to climb on them. Because there aren't that many that are specifically closed because of the rock art panels. The only one that's kind of a problem because it is hard to see is the little, red and yellow mask at, is it Nuclear Arms?
J: You know what I am talking about?
J: Because the mask can't be seen. There are "no climbing signs" placed up there.
S: OK, well I think we both agree it is probably not a big problem. Not the worlds biggest problem out here; actual rubber on the art.
J: It might be a problem on some rock art where the rock is spawling to begin with, where you can see where some of it has been pried off over the years. Generally, we haven't found as much evidence that people who know the park are going to climb on the rock art.
S: By the way, any time you have something to add that is outside the context of these questions, please speak up. OK, Question two. By the way, number 2 appeared from many different people, and I sort of reduced it down to the wording you see there.
J: We don't have much of a plan to do trails on pure rock, because we wouldn't need a trail there. Like what we tell people is once they are up on the rock, with the exception of the chain trail, and the approaches, there are no specific trails. We might have some indications coming off the rock. I guess the point with this (question) is: why worry about a trail if you are on the rock? And I agree, I don't think we are too worried about that. What we want to make sure is that when people leave the rock, or come onto the rock, it's the vegetation that holds down the ground that we are trying to protect, more than the rock.
S: It's good that you think that, because that's reasonable, and that's in contrast with the position that (TPW managers) voiced at a public hearing, specifically in response to my questions, they said that erosion of the rock was a problem, and they were quite concerned about it, and I thought that was rather disingenuous of them. That hearing is public record; it was one of the ones that was held over at that (city) park that's over by kinda close to the Maggoffin Home.
J: Well, rock wears away, but there's no evidence except where there's been massive, you know, migrations over the years, you can still see their body polish on a lot of them, where people have been doing this for millennia, that,
S: Like I said, I'm glad that you are more reasonable
J: We're trying mainly to occasionally discuss the idea with that we need to have cairns in the rock to lead people where they're going to the rock and where they're coming off, they should come off at, so we don't have multiple trails onto or off the rock.
J: So, as far as I am concerned, 95% of the effort is to protect the vegetation.
S: Well, question three is a, one that I guess you can ramble on (about) in essay format. What do you think about that one?
J: I think a lot of the climbers that have dealt with Texas Parks have felt that that their efforts to be good citizens have been ignored. And that's probably not the case so much as climbers have kinda been reduced to everyman. And one of the issues that's come up since the Park's been semi-restricted is anybody that comes into the park we have to treat them, if not equally, at least provide equal opportunity for access, is what I'm saying to people. In some cases the climbers have better access, than many other groups, because they are better organized. So, we do have commercial guides, climbing I mean, we don't have commercial guides doing picnicking. So, if you want to go picnicking, you'd be hard pressed to find a guide who will take you back there to West Mountain so that you can go picnicking.
S: I betcha (Commercial guide) would!
J: I bet he would too if they wanted to pay him the fee, but like I said, the climbers are more knowledgeable than many of the locals are, in terms of how to access the park. So, lots of local visitors seem to be drop-ins. But, that's kinda getting around the deterioration and I say that , climbers have a long history at the Park. For them, it's again, some of that feels like they haven't been treated as well as they, as well as they, they feel that they should have been treated by Texas Parks, who was the Access Fund, thought they deserved better because they supported Texas Parks over the Texas Historical Commission. At one point, as I remember, THC wanted control of the Historical Parks, and the Access Fund supported TPW's position. They didn't feel very comfortable with the end result, which was splitting the park into guided and unguided
S: I think that we'll have an opportunity to address the issue of the Access Fund in a couple of these other questions, but the second part of question three
J: Well, I was kind of more referring to them as feeling that they'd been, that they'd been screwed by Texas Parks. And local climbers feel the same way, they've had a long relationship, they have had access, why now do they not have access.
S: The second part of this question I thought was interesting, and this one did not come from me. If you could go back in time, what would you do differently? If you were in charge, let's say, if you had been Super continuously since the '80s. Do you have any thoughts on what you might have done to just improve the whole relationship, not just with climbers but with the Public in general?
J: the Park even then was "out of control", if you will, and, whatever was going to be done there would be people unhappy with what was done, so I can't say that what we've got now is the right answer - it's it was one answer, to try to put the brakes on visitation. Sheerly cut down on the numbers of people visiting the Park. you'd like to be able to target the bad guys who - who, you know, we've found in a quite a few examples, even in the last year, of people wanting to sign their names and put the date. We had the rock art conservationist here removing it. But if you go back in time, I guess you'd have had to accept the fact that the Park's mission is to protect the rock art. And what does it take to protect the rock art? It takes less numbers (of visitors). Because the number of people that (Texas Parks) are willing to put in here to protect it, unless you have a large number of volunteers - and even then volunteers - we're reluctant to have volunteers with enforcement powers. The best volunteers can do is kinda warn the Rangers that somebody's up to something.
S: Well, I don't know (about that). I mean, back when I used to take a more active role in preventing vandalism, I would (get) right in peoples faces and say "quit chipping, quit doin' that, quit tearing up the plants", and they would usually listen to me. I never had any one group say, "no, I'm going to keep carving my name here." You know, "make me stop it". They would always cease and desist when I told them to.
J: Well, it may have worked on some of them, you know. I don't know how, I don't know how they got in, but, a couple of them got in with their spray paint and magic markers and the attitude to go along with it. And the attitudes the tough thing to get at. Even last night, I was sitting here 'til 1:15am with a group that came into the Park to party, waiting, waiting for the families to show up; the Sheriff's already cited them, they just had to wait until Mom and Dad showed up to pick them up. I mean they weren't climbers, they weren't campers, they were just local kids looking for a place to have a beer party. Well, they found one, but they found the wrong one and some of the group, you know, that was a large (attitude problem) that was part of the problem, (in the '80s) that the largest part of the group back in the '80s was still the local beer partiers. And, so, even to this day we're still looking to sort out the sheep from the goats, so to speak.
S: Now, question four - I could tell that this question was submitted by someone who doesn't understand - understand is the perhaps the wrong word - isn't familiar with the historical evolution of the (current) system, and the signing in and everything else. I guess they are just wondering why we can't use a self-pay system here, and why we're still fillin' out the "backcountry" access forms.
J: a self-pay system drive up window a drive up window I could see. self-pay system - we have a , a considerable number of "drive-bys" as it is. I'm not sure if the self-pay system I don't know - you couldn't always chase them after they "drive by". the annual pass window sticker, we have the annual pass here, not for the entire vehicle. , we're getting, we're getting some of the function, what we're getting is information, and one of the justifications for having to sign your name, sign the form, print everybody's name in the system, is , in case something happens, we want to know who is in the park, and a contact phone number. It can be of some help.
S: Originally, the thought was they would somehow correlate recently discovered vandalism with who might have been in the Park.
J: it's a nice thought, but not - the last name we found was March 2001, with a date, and was in an area that's not self-guided. You know that whoever was in there , was wandering on their own. And it was close to rock art, too.
S: So, do you envision that we are going to - I and - I think that part of the frustration of the person who wrote this question is they are always (punishing) the responsible user. It seems kinda silly to every day have to fill out the form, each time. Do you anticipate that the system's going to be streamlined?
J: At least with the current Public Use Plan, where we limit some the number of visitors, you gotta at least have a system that allows you to count the number of people that are out here. I agree with the idea that we ought to be able to do it as they drive up. And we did that when we had the annual interpretive fair, where we actually handed them a form at the gate and, so if they were careless enough to be driving their cars (while filling out the form) as they were driving up the Park road, they could have filled in the back country permit. Regular users could obviously feel free to take a stack of them home, and just hand it in. Commercial guides, when they come in do that anyway; they have them filled out and just hand it over with all the info, like the TCP number already on it. So we don't spend a lot of time.
S: Perhaps put the forms on the web, so that visitors could have them pre-filled out.
J: Good idea.
S: Let's see. Question five. , that's really more of a statement than a question. Looks like they're not real pleased with the RVs and the picnic stations, which, of course, are (now) being torn down. What do you think about that?
J: I think the picnickers were doomed from the beginning, just 'cause of their sheer numbers - and, the demolition of the picnic sites is just kinda a reflection of that, an attempt on our part to make that end of the park more natural.
S: And my personal feelings are, I miss the picnic sites! I used to enjoy 'em. I can remember many a time in the summer, when I would (seek shade) at a picnic site, and, at least a dozen times the little Rock Wrens would join me there on the table, hot and panting with their wings out and mouths open, and sit there in front of me two feet away and enjoy the picnic table with me. So, I am sad to see them go.
J: Many people enjoyed the picnic tables over the years. Like I said, we've had the tables removed - how many years? I'm not sure - a little while. The idea was - because we weren't going to have that many people in the Park. So now, I think we're down to what - 10 sites, probably? And we're saving I think two of the other sites that are no longer in use; one will have an exhibit on , up by the Laguna Prieta, talking about water in the Park. And the other will - I forget the number unit - will be our exhibit on the history of climbing in the Park. That's one that we're hoping to we will get a donation from the Access Fund - but I'm sorry, let's see we were..
S: Well, let's see - question six - I think we had already begun to discuss this, so we might as well discuss it more. It has to do with some frustration with climbers not being involved in decision making.
J: I guess what climbers were involved in the decision making, they just weren't happy with the outcome. I mean, the Public Use Plan, and the fact that climbing is still allowed here. I mean the Texas Historical Commission would have turned it into a historical site, strictly. With no recreational or very limited recreational use, that's my understanding. I'm repeating what I've been told, but that is what would have happened if the THC had taken the Park.
S: I agree with you that climber input has been listened to, to some degree. My personal frustration, and I'm expressing what I've heard from (several prominent climbers) is that they apparently found some fairly reliable indications that in Austin, the "word" was to just let the climbers complain and ignore it. And that the large, large numbers of complaints that were received were regarded as more or less "ballot box stuffing" and not legitimate, statistically significant input.
J: No I think climbers kept the Dragon's Den open. I think that it was on the closure list originally. I know in terms of areas to keep open, and then , one of the problems I have is that , you know, some of it I can see justifications for, Dragon's Den is a re-veg (area), , and the closing the Bimbo's and Snappy Tom, I don't know if this is covered elsewhere or not, but, the idea for that was that, , to see if, if, - and this, this does not track directly to climber activities is, people were "gardening" the rocks there, the brush is being lost directly to the impact of the crash pads, and people removing Lechuguilla and other little nastinesses, that got in the way of access to the rock. But those two sites at least, we're going to try and see if they come back. I can't tell you for sure if they will be re-opened, that's, that's one thing that I haven't , generally, since the few months that I have been here things have become more liberal, not due to my being here, but due to the Public Use Plan evolving. Originally, it was 50 people on North Mountain, now it's 70, and I guess my opinion would be, if w can handle 70, we can probably handle some more. So, you know, how do we do we deal with numbers, do we deal with the structure, the way people access the Park.
S: You know, speaking of erosion at the base of boulder problems, how would the (TPWD) feel about , you know, pea-gravel "landing pads" being put in, you know, in specific little delineated areas, so that they would be the place you are allowed to put your pads, you can't put your pads (on bushes, etc.)
S: Some people might not think it looks that great, but I think it would probably look better than uncontrollable dirt erosion.
J: We've had that conversation, mainly because of the way archaeological materials are exposed by erosion. And we haven't specifically covered the boulder problems, because again, the main focus is how to prevent some of this from washing away. Keep some of the archaeology from washing away. And we do have this - we don't have a sample of it, but it is kind of interesting. "Trail Mat" is what it is called, and it does have good properties for retaining can't use "pea-gravel", we use "chat" or any kind of fine-screened gravel. And we are using it now for the trail that we are putting around the perimeter.
S: Will that help (and tend) to preserve any archaeologically significant stuff underneath it?
J: It would, the only problem we have is that there is a philosophical thing, again, this is driven by the THC, is the idea of "sealing" archaeological sites is mainly to protect it from people walking across it and what all, they haven't tended to favor that approach - obviously, they want (the sites) excavated - that is what they tend to steer you toward. And, Hueco is not so inclined toward it. I mean, we are regarded as an Archaeological Reserve, for some future century.
S: Question seven - they are wondering that the top three audiences are, and if climbers are a desired constituency.
J: obviously, we welcome climbers. , that's the main - I think, the largest single user group. climbers are, you know, it's hard to say, 'cause some people - some people are kinda mixed users, you know, but climbers comprise 60% of users.
S: I would classify myself as a mixed user, as I age
S: Some of the things I miss the most (after) the closure of (West and East mountain) - I used to love to just wander around (by myself). That's one of the reasons since the PUP went into effect, I haven't been to the West or East mountain, 'cause I have no desire to (be forced to) go back there with other people. My favorite use (of the backcountry) was a solitary use.
J: If you are seeking solitude, I think that was done in by the (PUP), and the ways you can access. North Mountain, you know, you don't get much solitude on, that being the only place with self-guided access.
S: The thing I think is unfortunate too, about that, is that in the middle of the summer, those "mountains" (West and East) are deserted. I mean, when the heat and the bugs were intense, no one was out there but me. I mean, no climbers, no rangers, just me. And I betcha that this summer, it will also be completely uncrowded back there. We're getting off the subject
J: But, yeah, in terms of the solitary use there's really no The only solitary use, that's currently accepted, is patrolling. We do send the people who have been through the guide training out, and give em a radio, and they come back, they're supposed to radio back if anything is (amiss in the backcountry).
S: What other "top" user groups are out here, besides climbers, what's the next most popular group?
J: Hmm largest group, would be the "tourists", you know. Other than the local group, quite a few local groups use it on a regular basis, for outings. A lot of people seem to have visitors -- bringing out company (to the park) when they have company in town. You know, bring them out to the
S: What about the people who are out here specifically, like the archaeologists, or the THC people, or
J: Well, it's a very small, small group. They're very focused, of course. We do get our share of them. And we had some this week, for example, and they were just studying the connection between art at Hueco and the art of the Zunis. But, like I said, that's a fairly small group. The birders come out on a regular basis, once a month, and generally have no more than 8-10 birders at one time. So, in terms of sheer numbers, the other groups, individually, are small compared to the boulderers.
S: Well, question eight is one that, I think this was one I authored. It's one of the ones where I originally mentioned to you that, we were interested in hearing your opinion of why the Access Funds offer was not accepted, and we thought that this would be a good chance for you to give us the real story on that.
J: Well, there is a different story, and it is kind of talking to the Access Fund people after the fact, and one thing I was surprised at is that they - to begin with, the offer went directly to Austin, right to the head of State Parks, Mr. Dabney, and it was Mr. Dabney who prepared the response, saying "No, thank you". The $100K was really attached, to , I think, four separate projects. One was related to trails, one was related to studying the archaeology, one related to studying the cultural resources, and I don't know what the fourth one was, there were several kinds of projects within that one. Dabney's response essentially said - and all of the projects had strings - if the archaeology study , found that climbers were having no significant impact, then the area(s) would be opened to climbing. And my take on the whole situation was, it was a first offer. In the area of negotiations, you make your first offer, and you make it as attractive to yourself and your
S: Like buying stuff over in Juarez.
J: What Dabney's letter, and I have a copy of the letter, I can show it to you, but I'd rather not give you a copy, because I don't think it reflects well on the Access Fund, to try and undercut them on this, because
S: Well, actually, you know, the Access Fund has been extremely tight-lipped. I'm interested in, and you know, I would hate to have to use the Freedom of Information Act to access it, but I'd like to see what the offer was. The Access Fund won't even give me a copy of the offer.
J: Oh. I'm not sure if I have a copy of that, but I do know that in response to it - well, one of the concerns I had with it was we don't have the management talent to manage four projects of the scale they were talking about here locally. The other was, I thought it was an opening, kind of a first offer, so why didn't they come back with a second offer? Because, Dabney's letter said, you know, "if you want to follow up on specific projects, talk to either me or the Regional Director (Delton Daugherty), or the Park Manager (John Moses)". And, I heard from no one concerning it, until a Director of the Access Fund, came by - we just visited (recently) we chatted about it, and he still took it as a "hell, no" from Dabney. He was put off by the response, I thought he took it a little too personally, there wasn't any reason to do that, but apparently he did. I did talk with some of the others, and I said, a far as I was concerned, that was a first offer. And, there seems to have been some kind of an internal discussion. And, the other thing was, you know, if you want to go to the most evil thought you could have, you could say the Access Fund had put it out because they knew that Texas Parks couldn't accept it. It was a poisoned offer. Ah can't drink poisoned water.
S: There are some within the climbing community who are not thrilled with the Access Fund. I'm trying to remain neutral, and I am trying to gather information. I am concerned that my repeated efforts to get the Access Fund to clarify their position have basically been unanswered - which is one of the reasons I wanted to speak to y'all about it. After this interview, you know, I'm going to come back to the Access Fund, and I'm going to say, "I'd really like you guys to respond", and, if they won't, I'll have no choice but to post on the site that (the Access Fund) they're not being responsive.
J: Well, Access denied the "Machiavellian" thing - they said that it was a good faith offer on their part. , one problem was, like I said, they surprised Texas Parks, they didn't work with Texas Parks saying, you know, "we'd like to make you an offer". The best way to make an offer is to let people know it is coming. And, because, you know, it's - you've got- your main concern is that whenever accepting money from somebody, you don't give something that you can't give to other users, that don't have the money. You know, like can't give it to the local family, you can't give the same kind of access it offered to the local picnickers, if they want to come out, because it was specific to climbers, which, you know - it's climber money, and they have a right to ask (for such a thing), and similarly Texas Parks, being a public agency, to tell them, "we can't give you special access".
S: So you think that if I was to get a copy of the Access Fund offer and read it, that I would probably conclude the same thing, that like it was pretty specifically targeted toward helping climbers, instead of other groups?
J: It was definitely targeted for climbers. And, you know
S: If the Access Fund doesn't want to give me a copy, then I might be forced to see if the TPWD will.
J: The trail thing, for example, specifically dealt with access trails for climbers to access climbing sites and the archaeological thing was definitely involved with attempting to disprove that climbers, you know it's easy to say , "well, you can't prove it one way or another". I don't have a clue as to how to tell, you know, who has tracked through, you know, mucked up the archaeology here. Over the years, but lots of people have done it.
S: Now, what about this assertion that a few people, who claim to be "close to the action", say that the reason it was rejected was that TPW was really hoping for Federal $, and that's why they didn't pursue aggressively the Access Fund's offer?
J: in fact, there's a kind of lack of understanding on that. We do have Federal funds to build new trails. That was already given to us in 1997. And, we were rejected on this last year's thing that I submitted because we hadn't spent any (of the 1997) $ yet. They said, "well, you haven't spent the $ we awarded you on the '97 grant, why are you coming back here in 2000 asking for more $" And the fact was the reason we are coming back was the terms were better, it was like a 80%/20% (matching funds) as opposed to a 50-50. But they still rejected it because of that. And the reason we hadn't spent any money, is because we hadn't had it yet approved. To get it approved you have to go through the Federal Highway Administration -- actually it's this guy named_________, who is an El Paso native - he was talking about getting lost here at Hueco, with his softball team back in 1950 - but he hasn't been back here since! But we had to have consultations will all the "Native American" groups that have a cultural tie to the Park. One local group, the Tiguas, objected to all of the "spur" trails, saying that they were , kind of, they've got a you've got a copy of that (the Tigua Management Plan) on your website, their Cultural Resource Management Plan. , it's the Hueco Tanks Management plan, apparently. But some of the spurs went up into areas that (they want) exclusive to Tigua spiritual activity, so they objected. The Federal Highway Administration thought it was just easier for us not to do the spurs, so we said, "well, based on the money we have, we won't be able to build the spurs on this go-round anyway." And, you know, revisit them in coming years, but lets just build a trail around North Mountain to start with. So, we have the money to do that. We have a man assigned to it who's an experienced builder of ADA-type facilities, ramps and pathways, he's working on it, of course, with our crews from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. So they're putting the hard trail around North Mountain and trying to keep it up and out of the gullies as much as possible, so it doesn't wash away. So we did get the Federal money to do that. We didn't get all the spur trails we wanted and probably there isn't money in the current Fed funding to do that.
S: It looks like questions 9 and 10 we've sort of already covered here. - you already indicated you would love to reconsider the Access Fund's offer
J: We won't hesitate to ask them for money - when I mentioned the business for the climbing exhibit keeping the shade shelter for the climbing exhibit, I mean, that's an appropriate use of climber money. Have the climbers contribute to that, have climbers contribute to (John reaches for papers from shelf). This little handout has to do with New River Gorge, it's kinda nice and , that's Federal, that's a Federal agency using Access Fund money to print brochures.
S: I'll scan this and put it up on the web site. , let's see here
J: To the extent that things are appropriate & useful, that's no problem at all.
S: (question) 12 is another one of these questions from people who really seem, to - ah - not like RVs I personally am not an anti-RV man, except when I am stuck behind them on a steep mountain road.
J: Right (chuckles) .. they do look a little silly sitting out here sometimes, we've got some huge ones that come by to visit. If it were up to me, I probably wouldn't have the campground open at all because the campground generated more security issues than anything else I have to deal with. I'm guessing last night that it was campers that left the damn gate open and that's how the drunks got in. The drunken teenagers, I mean, they are all under the age of 18 - well, one was 18 and the others were 17 and 16. And somebody left the gate open for their buddies, and the buddies came in, and so did the drunks. So, anyway.
S: You know, back in the "good old days", what we used to do, is we would not leave the gate open, we would communicate the (lock) combo to the people who needed to get in.
J: Well, that would have been an alternative, probably better than
J: Yeah, we give out the gate combos, to the campers. So why they couldn't have done that. I don't know. But . the real reason the campground is open, - is probably pretty political. you were worried that climbers didn't have input at the public hearing, and I think they did. The Good Sam's Club definitely had input at the public hearings. They wanted that campground open and the end result is the campground is open.
S: And that is good. It's been many years since I "camped" out here; I think the last time I did camp out was in 1997 when Hale-Bopp came by - when I got that photo (the one on the website). So, I really miss being able to come out here and camp out. When you are at the campground, the 'Tanks block the sky glow (from El Paso), and it's one of the best places to observe (this close to El Paso).
J: Well. I was chatting with the deputy sheriff, he's with the local astronomy club and he used to come out here all the time - he's saying that the light pollution is so bad out here now that it's no good out here now.
S: Yeah, you have to go farther east.
J: He said between the jail, and the sodium vapor lights on Montana, it's
S: Well, what about revenue. Since, you know, pre-1998, post-1998, how is revenue looking.
J: Well, revenue tanked last year. This year, it's up about 40% based on having the camping area open and having the additional 20 slots on North Mountain available and, plus, I think people are , I wouldn't say more forgiving, but I think that some of the climbers that said "screw it, I'm not goin' there" are coming back. We're getting some fairly good sized groups of, what you might term as the migratory climbers, that you know, go from location to location, depending on the season, so this year, we're up, just looking at it you know, vs. last year, we're up 40%. It's still well below what it was it was before - we used to have 100,000 people per year wandering through here.
S: (question) 14 is wondering about if you're focusing, you know, impact on North Mountain, because it is the most heavily trafficked area, and if we were to open up the rest of the Park, if it would spread things out.
J: It would. I mean clearly, that just depends on what numbers you want to talk about in general. The only thing that we haven't kinda come to terms with is, on the other areas, control and security issues. We still know there's people out there. I mentioned the story about the Army fatigue jacket we picked up on the South end of the Park. This was a volunteer found it, I guess it was, just the end of January, cause he (the volunteer guide) took off (left the El Paso area). Anyway, the jacket was an Army fatigue jacket and in one pocket were knapped flints and the others were pieces of El Paso Brown pottery. And, why they dumped the jacket in the bushes is kinda beyond me but I guess the , anecdote is that we don't have as much security at that end of the Park, because the Park is essentially focused on this end (north). You've got me sitting in this office, rangers doing this, that and the other thing, trying to do as many security patrols as we have the time to do, and it's still the
S: It seems unfortunate that y'all wouldn't consider some sort of a <searching for the right words> I really think that a way could be worked out so that you (the TPWD) come up with a system of establishing trust persons like myself, and other members of the El Paso Climbers' Club can be trusted to go out there (unguarded), and we can act as the eyes and ears (of the TPWD), and I know that in the past, I've personally prevented (many) acts of vandalism, back in those areas of the Park that y'all can't (find the time to) get to. And, it's unfortunate that some sort of system closer to the original volunteer guide proposal (from the EPCC, AF, Texas Mountaineers and others) couldn't be worked out. The original early draft version of the PUP did not require that (trustees) actually go out and work as a guide and take groups. In other words, you would take the (guide training) course, establish trust, and then be allowed unrestricted access, so that you could act as the eyes and ears of the Park.
J: OK. Right now we've got kinda two grades of volunteers. We've got just - the volunteers. And they can go anywhere the general public goes, during the hours the general public can do that. We have the other group, that has taken the guide training class; they don't necessarily lead tours. Some do nothing but patrols.
S: Well, that's interesting. I was not aware of that, because at the last public meeting I attended, they made it quite clear that we would not be able to do that. In fact, that was one of things that really torque'd me off, about the TPW managers, was that there was no I understood there was no way I could just take the orientation -
J: Not the orientation, but the guide training class.
S: That's what I meant. The guide training class.
S: And just go out there unescorted -
J: And pick up litter.
S: And pick up litter. So, that is possible?
S: Well, that's great!
J: We have, we have one guy -
S: I mean, that's been one of my biggest sticking points, is that I was not allowed to go out (unescorted) unless I guided people around.
J: And, and, admittedly, it's a fine line to say, to say that by virtue of having completed the guide training, you have better access than somebody else. And gives us, you know, some heartburn. There's no way around that, I mean the fact is we need people out there, we've got centuries of accumulated debris out there, parts of the Park, as you well know. And it's unfortunate we don't allow a greater level of trust to people who have been volunteers for a number of years, but again, it's just you know, we've drawn the line, saying that those who have completed the training at the certified guide training level, we can have them do this; we won't let them guide their friends back there. If - we've got one guy, for example, he and his friend used to come to the Park and pick up broken glass. And the one guy completed the guide training course, and he said, "well, can I guide my friend, we can come out here and we can both pick up broken glass?", and we (the TPWD) said "no."
S: But if his friend also completed the guide training course? Would they be able to go back there and pick up?
J: we would probably ask them not to go together. Because it would smell too much like, just, two buddies just having a good time.
S: See, now, this is a segue into another question that's farther (along in the list of questions). I have seriously considered getting a commercial guide permit, getting the $500K (of liability insurance) just so that I could go back there unescorted (or with friends), and have access to the entire Park. It will be expensive, but -
J: Yes, -
S: And if I were to do that, could I (go out by myself)?
J: let's see - where's my climbing management <rummages in pile of stuff near desk> - I went to a BLM climbing management workshop last week, and to do that, one of the things they put together was - one of the things I put together was - my "climbing management plan", that's it. And, let's see <looking in papers> - the last thing I put in there - issue #3 - Commercial Guiding <shows to Steve>
S: <reading> Well, it's not a question of "perceived" (greater access to commercial guides and their clients), it is. I mean, there is no doubt about it.
J: Well -
S: For example, __________, can go out there with a friend who pays and climb anywhere he wants.
J: He can, right now he doesn't do that.
S: Well, but -
S: I mean - I wouldn't consider it unethical if he would. What's wrong with that? He has paid the fees -
J: He has paid the fees. He has followed the "spirit" vs. the letter of the law so to speak. Yea, he could follow the letter of the law and he could do it. And you're right. Right now, he could do that.
S: I think - you know, unless we - <searching for the right words> and I am capitalist, and I have nothing against that, the problem is this is public land. If it was private land, I would have no objections to only the rich getting in. But, because it is public land, it seems to be disingenuous to allow people with the "bucks" to go back.
J: Well, the main reason we allow commercial guiding at all is that it does allow more access. And volunteer guides give us the best access. Commercial guides do their part; volunteers give additional access. Right now we only have two of them (commercial guides), though, __________ is one, and __________ out of Boulder is the other. He's taken some people through, but not such a large number, that a commercial guide could make a living from it.
S: Well, you can't (make a living as a commercial guide at Hueco). It's just a way to get into the Park. Do you have any idea how much it costs to get the liability insurance?
J: I would guess about $500.00.
S: That little?
J: Between $500.00 and $1000.00.
S: That is starting to sound pretty attractive to me.
J: Well, you'd be paying about $750.00/year for access - that's pretty steep.
S: Well, it is for my $40K/year salary, but that might change. Or, maybe I could get a grant from somewhere!
J: There you go a government grant, from Texas Parks, perhaps!
S: Let's try to get back on track here
S: question 15 is actually one that I penned. And, I've personally noted that when certain management changed here, years ago, things got a lot worse. Back in the days of Dave Parker, Ranger Bob, who I got along with fine, because, I obeyed the rules and paid attention to what Bob told me -
J: Bob Miles?
S: Yes, Bob Miles. Even though now he thinks I am the anti-Christ.
S: Back then, I got along with (the Park staff) real well. Now that you are the Super, do you have a desire to make things better?
J: Well, obviously I got to try to make things better. I mean, access is still the key word to how it works. After protection, we've got systems in place that protect things reasonably well, we're still relying heavily on the volunteer contingent to make the access thing more -
S: Can you think specifically of any current restriction that you'd like to remove? Even if it's a little one?
J: Well, the one I talked about the one that I talked about with a number of people is with our current setup on volunteers, the volunteer guides cannot "climb". And, there's an internal disagreement, about why they shouldn't be allowed to "climb". The base of the reason is they don't have insurance and I don't know that - I don't know that the ranger staff would agree with me on that because I think some of them feel that they're (the volunteer guides) not able to adequately provide the protection function that's #1. #1 is we give you the trust to go on out, but their main job is to protect things out in the Park, while guiding people. While they (the volunteer guides) are climbing, can they still provide that, or do people wander off while they are on the rock? , most bouldering activities, I don't think you spend enough time on the rock to actually worry about it.
S: Bouldering involves a lot of standing around, staring at the rocks
J: Yep. I mean, when you finally make your move, you make three, four, five, six moves then you, you know, fall off, think about it, wait your turn to try it again. . And, and there's some concern as to whether or not your mind is fully engaged. Commercial guides are allowed to climb. I don't know whether or not it is covered here (in subsequent questions).
S: And you know, then we could probably skip ahead to one of these questions, 'cause I had a specific challenge to that it's question 25 - it says "suppose I enlist a volunteer guide to guide me up Max Headroom or Pigs in Space. Both of those climbs are back there in the guided access only area, and if it's just me and the guide, he's leading the climb you know, he's climbing! While he "guides" me up the climb.
J: I think we're differentiating here between scrambling or climbing, to some extent. I'd get to the good scramble -
S: Well, I mean, they are roped climbs, Max and Pigs are both 5.10's, and they require that you go up with ropes.
J: Oh, I see what you are saying -
S: In other words, so like if I enlist a volunteer guide to take me back there for climbing, not bouldering, how can they, if they are not allowed to climb? But, a commercial guide could. I could get __________, and say, "lead me up Pigs in Space, you go first, I'll second the climb."
J: Well, anything that can't do one-on-one with the volunteer, anything that you can't do by yourself, he can't help you with. I mean, he can't spot you, he can't second you, he can't lead you. He can't if it's a roped route. I gather these are -
S: They are climbs I used to enjoy immensely, they were on my regular tick list. I haven't done either of them since '97.
J: I don't think we've had a request to do any of the technical climbs (in the guided access only areas). Where are they?
S: Ah, Pigs is right at the conjunction of the east spur and the big (central) open area and Max Headroom is so named because it looks like a lightning bolt when you are driving in on a fall evening, the sun catches the rock perfectly so that the Max Headroom crack looks like a big, traditional lightning bolt; it's on the West Mountain about ½ along from the Round Room to the dam - this (issue) is an area that I think needs to be addressed, because, you see, I'm not primarily a boulderer. Because of my back problems and my knee problems, I can't fall off. Whereas a roped fall is not a problem. And, that's one of the things I miss the most is being able to come out here and do the traditional easy roped climbs.
J: Well, anyways
S: Let's go back to the list - 16 - kind of a sardonic question. " Can climbing 20 feet away from rock art damage it any more than standing 3 feet away and gawking at it?"
J: the standard is actually 50 feet. 50 feet is generally used at most National Parks, State Parks and whatever. It's kind of a minimum distance, it's more for the aesthetics than (to protect the rock art) particularly in situations where you've got bolts and hangars.
S: So, the problem is the people who want to look at the rock art don't want to see evidence of climbing nearby.
J: I think there's still kind of a giving in some - how would I put it - more than just kind of lip-service to Native American religions. And not showing disrespect to the art itself.
S: But, I could be standing there looking at it, thinking extremely "disrespectful" thoughts, or I could be climbing nearby, thinking how I feel "one with the ancient natives" who used to climb here to -
S: See, to me that is thought policing. And, it's unfortunate. 'Cause a person's thoughts should be their own, and one else should have any say as to what you think.
J: Well, I think in this case it's the, you know, the action and not the thoughts.
S: Then why is climbing apparently more disrespectful than looking?
J: I think you could have the same situation where the ballet troupe is practicing there, and you wouldn't necessarily want them doing that in museums, in front of the art works.
S: I guess that is a matter of personal opinion. It wouldn't phase me at all - I go to art museums all the time. This (next question) is one of mine. Ah, circumstances, being what it is regarding unescorted access, why wouldn't it also apply to the staff? You (the Park staff) can go anywhere you want, and of course, you an employee (of the TPWD), and we assume you are not going to be damaging things. Not that I think you would, but there have been plenty of documented instances over the years where firefighters have set fires, you know, weird stuff like that going on, so there is still the question of trust.
J: No, with an employee it is a question of accountability. You can hold the employee accountable - the follow up on there is I see "politicians and scientists" - and I would point out that politicians and scientists are not free to walk around the Park.
S: OK. So they have to be accompanied by Park staff?
J: Right. We may not tell them that is what's happening to them, but if a Senator shows up and wants a tour, well - you can talk to one of the Rangers here about what happened to him, when he refused to let the State Representative in for free, so -
S: OK. Well, that's good that you are being consistent. , and then this - 18 - has to do with commercial guides, unrestricted access, and maybe if you would just tell us what the rules are. A commercial guide like ________ -
J: He has to, he has to be guiding.
S: He has to be guiding? He indicated that he could go back there to check out problems prior to guiding people.
J: Yes -
S: He can do that?
J: But he has to clear that - he has to come in and say he is going back there. Now, if we went back there and nailed him climbing and I am not saying that we never check up on someone like that, but if we did nail him while he was climbing, his license would be in jeopardy.
S: So, have y'all defined "climbing" yet? You know, this is really a very old sticky point with me.
J: Yeah, well, when you catch people changing out of their (regular) shoes into their climbing "booties", then you'd know.
S: So, I could "climb" if I didn't use chalk, and just used my tennis shoes?
S: Well, see, the Round Room is perfect place for that. In the Round Room, I would (in the past) never put on shoes, cause you don't need them.
J: Yeah, well there's always a way around everything, and it's just , what we perceive would be. I don't want to mention any names, but, the guide was extremely embarrassed 'cause he went out to - he was a volunteer, and he and the other volunteer told us they were going out, 'cause they were going to lead a tour the next day, and they wanted to see the area 'cause they hadn't seen the area before. And one of the Rangers caught them both with chalk and shoes and they were climbing, and we sat them down here and read them the riot act and said, "there is one thing we don't allow, and it's the worse thing you can do, is to take liberties with "privileges" you have, of being allowed to, -
S: Now, there's a - you know, I used to do this in the old days too, I used to come out here and solo Cakewalk. Sometime I would do it two or three times a day. I would never do it in tennis shoes, I would wear rock shoes and take a chalk bag. But, there were plenty of other people who have soloed it in tennis shoes without chalk, and even a few who have done it barefoot. And, yet at the same time there are places were - my sister insisted on being roped up on a 40% slope - we had to literally drag her across the rocks to get her up to Cave Kiva.
S: So that's why I think that you get in trouble when you try to define climbing - "climbing" depends on so may different factors - if Cakewalk was in a closed area, and I went back there and soloed it barefoot, would I be climbing?
S: Or would I be "scrambling"? It depends on your level of ability. So, I would hope that Texas Parks and Wildlife would be cautious about trying to define "climbing". It's different things for different people.
J: Well, let's put it this way. Maybe we are going to try to interpret what they are doing, to some extent, as to whether they are taking advantage of their position. That's one thing I've nailed parks employees for doing that and, you know they can't do what the public can't do.
S: But in terms of why even "nail" them? What harm is done by someone going back and climbing on the rock? If they are not climbing on rock art, if they are not damaging anything, why does it hurt anything?
J: Well, it doesn't hurt anything except credibility.
S: But why does it even hurt credibility? Why should we even care, why should we even try to prevent climbing? Just say, "go back there, and don't damage anything. Don't step on the plants, don't cause erosion, don't defecate, don't litter".
S: "pick up litter". If you are doing all that, why does it matter at all whether or not you are doing something that someone else thinks is "climbing"?
J: Well, it shouldn't matter. If we could let everybody back there with the same set of ethics -- the "leave no trace" kind of thing -- it would all work.
S: That's why I think it would behoove us, Texas Parks, you, and the "climbing community" to come up with a way to enforce ethical guidelines. That's the ultimate question involved here. You can be "free" as long as you are ethical. And, to try to punish (only) the people who are being unethical, the people who are doing the damage, and not punish the honest people.
J: We don't do a whole lot actually with punishment - the odds of catching someone are so low that the best we can try to do is get into their head before they go out there. That's what the orientation is all about.
S: Well, it IS punishment when I can't go back there and just wander around without hurting anything. I mean, it is a severe punishment for me! It has caused depression it has caused - I mean, mental anguish. It has caused problems with my life like you wouldn't believe, since '98. I'm sad much of the time, I - my sense of humor is gone, and it's pretty mush all because of being told "you can't go out here anymore".
J: Well, you are wanted. We need every volunteer we can get out here.
S: Well, with what you told me earlier about the fact that I could go out there, after I take the guide training session that - I am encouraged by that, I mean, I really am.
J: And, that's one of the biggest, well, the lack of, the bad relationship between the Park and Texas Parks, and the local climbing group so many of the volunteers that have come into the system are either live so far from El Paso or, some of them are just taking it so that - some of them are just taking it for the sake of taking it, and they never come back again. And, we haven't had a very good scheme for selecting people, for the program. We do have a wait list for it, so, we generally try to take the people who are first to respond, you know, to the letter we send out. so out of the 70 people we have trained, we have about 25 active right now. And there's maybe - of the climbing - people tend to specialize, you know, people tend to specialize in rock art, others in climbing; we probably have about five active climbing guides, of whom we could get - we've got two for this weekend, I think, maybe three. But, there again, they burn out - you come out day after day, you know, this is the season -
S: Is there a requirement still, if you are trained as a volunteer climbing guide, that you have to do a minimum number of tours to retain your status?
J: there is a minimum number - before we turn them loose, you know, on their own, we have 'em take - go out with an experienced guide, and make sure they understand the procedures and one of the Rangers will go out with them and give them a kind of a "check ride", lead their first tour out, make sure they understand what they are supposed to tell people - reservation policies, minimum, you know, "leave no trace" ethics in the Park -
S: But in terms of, you "have to guide three groups/month" etc., are there any rules about that?
J: Not to my knowledge.
S: That's good, that's also some, perhaps it was disinformation that I heard, but I was under the impression that you were required to do a certain number of guiding sessions -
J: As far as I know, we haven't dropped anyone off of the roles, you know, we have got some people "inactive" for so long, that before we would let them lead a tour, we would want to go out with them. there's a fellow here - I don't know why he became inactive, maybe he moved out of the area and moved back again - he keeps saying he wants to guide again, but usually he just goes out and climbs.
S: Well, I'm glad you cleared that up. Ok, let's see - is it - ah - question 19 we have already discussed quite a bit. question 20 we alluded to earlier - - one of my favorite quotations - and I am terrible at Latin - but it's something like "que ipsos custdoiet e custodies?" - "who will watch the watchers?"
S: I think that's something that bugs me a lot - and I am encouraged by our discussion that we had right now, John. It looks like I could possibly go out there, if I take the training, and do it, as opposed to being assumed to not be trustworthy just because I am not an officially sanctioned person.
J: I'll point out that you don't have to "buy-in" to the system, I mean you have to be willing to understand it and be able to provide the public with some level of access and understanding as to how you do it.
S: OK. Question 22 is also the same thing. Question 23 - this is one that came straight from me. And I'll tell ya, I don't think that it is moral or ethical to restrict me back there, because the goal is to prevent the partiers and the spray-painters from going out there. It's just stupid that the rules say, "Steve, don't go to West Mountain because someone else might screw it up. So, you can't go either". And, I think that's the most difficult thing in human civilization - how to come up with laws that control behavior without excessively restricting the freedom of honest people.
J: Well, it's going to get worse before it's going to get better, as you well know. That's the worst part about that one is ,yes, all you need to do is look outside the Park and see the four-lane running up Montana and wonder how much longer before the water lines come right up into the Colonia and it will be totally urban, within 10 years.
S: That's why I think the best way society can control that is to creatively think of ways to let the honest people (into the closed areas) and the honest people help prevent (the bad guys) from screwing it up. It's the old adage of, you know - in the areas where there are (laws permitting the concealed carrying of weapons), crime goes down, because the criminals know the good people might be armed and might plug 'em.
J: Right. But it does require a certain level of - training. And education on the part of the people that are issued those - I mean you can't just say, "because you want to", you can do this.
S: You have to demonstrate (trustworthiness). That's why (one solution might be) to say, "OK, if you have been out here 500 times, and you have never caused a problem, then you can get in (unescorted)". That gives me an advantage, 'cause I have been here about 1500 times, over the years.
J: Right. Now I guess - a lot of people who , it's one of the biggest problem that I've had in terms of the history, is looking back over the problems the Park had with, with the "moonlight" climbing activities. A lot of the effort with probably Ranger Bob and the other guy, where in the early days and things, was chasing people, who were - they were just kinda playing with (the Park staff).
J: And, I haven't had any of that since I got here. I've had - somebody's been cutting fences - somebody's been doing this but, I haven't had anything that really is identifiable as being wanton mischief on the part of climbers. - that's not to say there aren't people causing problems, but, whatever mischief is caused, it diverts you from the main thing, which is to try and stop the bad guys, when they do come in, and they go after you.
S: And then, 24, 24 again is this bit about volunteer guides, not allowed to participate in the activity - and I have had words with (park rangers) about this - that you know - I have big thing for consistency. It's my mathematical training. - sometimes it gets me in trouble with people who think I am too rigid, but I think that you gotta formulate your basic axioms and theorems in a consistent way, and if the rule is "volunteer guides can't participate in the activity they are guiding", then that means that the birders can't look at birds, the rock-art guides can't look at the rock art, the hikers can't hike. Because they are participating in the activity.
J: - Access Fund has, as I said - reason #1 is liability insurance on the part of Texas Parks which doesn't cover you if you are engaged in the activity as opposed to supervising the activity. Access Fund says, "well, what if we kicked in the insurance?" and I said, "well, let's talk." So, that may be the way to approach it.
S: Well, but I mean think about this. Birders - do they only walk on dirt trails, I mean, are they allowed to go up on the rocks at all? You can kill yourself following the chain trail, if you make a misstep.
J: Sure. they generally stay on the ground level, where you can pretty much see more of the birds and the vegetation than you can up on the rock, except when the vultures arrive and -
S: Or owls. I've seem most of my horned owls up near the top of West Mountain.
J: I don't think too many birding tours go close to the top of West Mountain.
S: Well, then they are missing out on some of the best birding.
J: I would say the top of West Mountain is an interesting place.
S: And -
J: Anyway, I just - I don't want to reject what Access is attempting, 'cause they're interested in somehow making things more accessible, more user-friendly. That's one that they have approached. And they talked about it, so I -
S: I just think that the issue of liability - I don't think that can fly, because you could get killed just as easily guiding a hiking tour. After all (the previous Hueco Park Manager) fell and injured himself critically while just scrambling around - <tape ends unexpectedly; there is a gap before we noticed and switched to a fresh recorder.>
S: These are some of the ones you might now want to answer, John. They're from me.
J: Actually I -
S: Hueco is viewed as a church, by many of the various tribes, and the (Park) staff tells people as they come in that this place is a church. And so, ah, I'm just wondering what criteria does the TPWD use to measure the validity of a religion?
J: Actually we are using Federal criteria, even though this is a State of Texas facility. Right now we've got a study being conducted of all of the culturally affiliated groups, and this is groups that claim -- have come forward and claimed a cultural affiliation with the Park. To my knowledge, no climbing group has claimed to have a spiritual hold on the Park. But a number of groups, the 'Kalpulli' groups claim to have a spiritual connection, some of the "native American" groups such as the Kiowa, the Tigua, Mescalero Apache and some of the other Apache groups claim to have a cultural affiliation with the Park. (TPW) Austin has two, what are called ethnography studies currently under way to determine which groups have valid cultural ties to the Park, and, , it was chopped up into those groups who have roots in the Spanish-speaking tradition, the Northern tribes, the Kiowa, the Zuni. At the end of the day, what they are going to try to do is deliver which groups have valid claims under Federal criteria to use the Park without charge. In other words, we'd have to - if somebody called us and said "we want to use the Park for religious service", we could say, "fine, but you are only allowed on North Mountain". Anybody could come in and have a church service, but just for70 people if they fully reserved North Mountain. But it's another matter if they come in and say, "we want to go to West Mountain and leave offerings." So, we'll figure out which groups have ties. It's not just "native American" religions, we find many other groups claim less of a religion but a spiritual - you can include New Age groups in that if you wanted to.
S: I think that my position on this is probably in the super-minority from anyone else's point of view, because I am basically a materialist/realist/objectivist.
J: A secular humanist?
S: No, actually the secular humanist classification is an attempt by some to brand objectivism as a religion, but I don't regard it as a religion at all. I regard (objectivism) as a philosophy. For the Federal government to even attempt to define religion is toying with the establishment clause of the First Amendment. I really think that they should stay out of it. I, I guess they issue becomes one if they claim the right of free access they have to justify it.
J: Well, I'm the wrong person to elaborate on this, but there actually is some statutory stuff that goes with this, something called Section 106, I can't tell you - it's Section 106 of the Native American Graves Repatriation Act, which ties in with human remains found in sites like Hueco, to various Native American groups. Same kind of thing with the spiritual/cultural ties - who has a valid claim to that and so it kinda goes beyond we know that there's been white people killed at Hueco but that's the only purpose there, to find who has some valid claims -- who do we have to let in free.
S: # 27 was one that I penned, it just bugs me that so many people think that just because some group claims that some place has religious significance that makes it more important than me saying 'I want to go out there just 'cause I like it, and (not) for any religious significance or religious reason to go out here", so why should a religious reason be a more valid reason to grant access than just saying, (someone) wants to go out just because "I like it" out here. No other reason. You don't have to respond unless you just want to philosophize on it.
J: That's like I said -- there's some actual real live laws that go with that one.
S: (But - is the law a bad law? That is the question.)
S: What I object to, is you hear some people, for example some "native American" groups, will say, "well, Shiprock it's been desecrated just because people (a.k.a. white boys) who didn't honor its sacred tradition went up there and climbed it", and to me, that's just BS. There's no way that they can tell via some magical sense that someone's been up there - "Aha! I can tell a white man's been here."
J: I think Shiprock is actually on a reservation, so that one's all theirs, but a better example is Devil's Tower.
S: Yeah, with the June closure.
J: Well, the voluntary June closure. You don't have to honor that, but that is an attempt at least, to get them to say, you know, we recognize 30 days out of the year, that this is a place -
S: And would the reverse be true? If I were to go out there and say. "Well. "native Americans" - you shouldn't go out here during the month of August, 'cause that is "climber's month", and you should respect our feelings and just not go out there during August". They would just laugh at me and say "what do you mean?" It's just not equitable.
J: I won't debate that one with you - I'll have (Apache medicine man) debate that one with you. You've met ____, haven't you?
S: No, but I've been debating that ever since I was about three or four years old, I've been challenging my parent's religion, they had no idea how these (type of) questions were coming from the mouth of their toddler; I've been debating this my entire life. OK. #29 is an interesting one, I think I already know the answer.
J: yeah, to my knowledge there's a desire to keep the art as accessible as possible. The idea of the acrylic traps the water behind it and the first freeze, it would give this massive spawling of acrylic and rock at the same time, so whatever you do -- whatever is needed hasn't been developed.
S: Not practical. We had discussed this years and years ago, with the Park service and the "climbing community", and had agreed that it was not a viable solution. The question was submitted (for the interview), so I thought it deserved addressing, and I know there are things -
J: For example, you can put stuff on concrete blocks to stop graffiti, I don't know if that at least makes it possible to get the graffiti off more easily. I don't know if that has any relevance here or not, but I do know we just spent 2 weeks with our rock art conservationist and she spent that time removing graffiti that is on rock-art. One of her colleagues did the Cave Kiva vandalism, when "Adolpho" wrote his name over the horned mask.
S: Way back in the early 80's we, I personally came out here (and it was under approved supervision), we tried to remove some of the spray paint from non rock-art areas. It was extremely unsatisfactory, we never could get all of it off, 'cause it penetrates the pores in the rock.
J: They claim it will mineralize within two or three years.
S: I have noticed that. Up at the top of Indecent Exposure, many years ago there was some rather unsightly white graffiti up there at the top, and we never did anything with it, and now it's almost totally invisible. It's never been cleaned. It's just gone away over the years.
S: It took about 15 years.
J: Well, that must be natural weathering. The problem in protected areas, where the rock art was protected to begin with, like Kiva, it'll - if there's organics in the paint, the mineral in the rock -- where iron will exchange for the minerals, and they're all metallic minerals like cadmium, they'll pick up the organic chemicals; they'll replace it with a nice, unremoveable coloration.
S: I do believe there were some places in France, Europe or somewhere they had tried acrylic protective covers -
J: To my knowledge, none of that works. A lot of places have tried different stuff. I've seen chicken wire, in (front of) cave formations.
S: It ends up looking worse.
J: It looks awful. You'd like to keep it as open as possible. I mean it's great to be able to go into Cave Kiva and sit there with your nose six inches from it and stuff, and go "wow".
S: OK. 30 is one of the ones you might not want to answer. I know that you personally have done nothing to harm Pete, but, it's an area of sadness to a lot of people, to watch what's happened to Pete, and part of it is just coincidental, what with his health deteriorating, but it sure hurt him the first year, when he went from being able to make a living to just - poverty.
J: Yes. But of course, he has other competition as well. __________'s establishment also has camping now, $4.00 per person per night. Pete's is just $2.00/night, and offers no amenities. Whereas -
S: Back in 1998, though, when the PUP took over, Rice wasn't even living here.
S: And, you know, I saw Pete's business just tank.
J: Well, when everyone come in here, and can't or doesn't have the money to camp, the first suggestion I give them is Pete, because if money is an issue, Pete's is the cheapest place to camp, that's for sure.
S: And I think that Pete's, I mean I'm going to try to go by and see him, but the last couple of weekends he wasn't even there, and -
S: I know that Queta's been ill, and her Mom is very elderly. Pete was (recently) in the hospital again.
J: Yep. He has diabetes, I gather.
S: Yes, and I quadruple bypass and all kinds of (health-related) things.
J: I don't know whether his loss of business pre-dates the change, but it's certainly estranged him from us, from the people here who were friends with him. I know he was just, upset with TPW and felt that he wasn't taken into account by the people.
S: I think that part of that was personal animosity with some previous staff. You know, back in the days of (former rangers), Pete used to make regular food deliveries. You know he would come out (to the Ranger Station) and "bring lunch".
J: Yeah. And , I think (ranger) said his bachelor's party was held there. So, that has not been that long ago, four years, five years something like that. But, -
S: We, we have another 20 minutes left on the tape. You have any questions you want to ask me, any criticisms, or anything you want to get off your chest?
J: I guess, where did the real point of estrangement come between the local climbers and the Park? Has it been growing for a while?
S: I perceive a lot of it started - you know, I was really <searching for the right words> - I'm very naive socially, in terms of personal social interaction. most of the other climbers really started to hate (name withheld) back around 1996, and I was unaware of it. I remember the Rock Rodeo that year, I was talking to (name withheld), and I said, "well, are you coming out tonight to the party?", and he said, (paraphrasing), "well, I don't know, I would probably get shot." I was surprised, and I encouraged him to come out, but apparently, they really don't like the way (name withheld) and (name withheld) seemed to want to turn the place into a big "native American" church, and they found that to be a direct attack on their chosen use of the Park. And I think it probably went downhill from there. I know Dave Head, and Jason, and Cort, the long-term, "upstanding", climbing-community types from El Paso were going to Austin, and conferring with the TPWD, and (name withheld) was undermining the efforts by pushing his own plan and exaggerating the problems that a few climbers were causing. Dave and Jason were having good dialog (with the TPWD), talking about things like the "trustee" system of volunteer guides , and when that was more or less rejected -
J: But it wasn't.
S: John, it was, it was not in the final Public Use Plan. it was there in an early super pre-draft version, and then it was thrown out in the actual version; that torque'd a lot of us off. We spent a lot of time in meetings, and then we were just told "sorry, we're not going to use your ideas."
J: Did you attend all the public hearings?
S: I attended quite a few of them.
J: There were three, were there?
S: I attended those, and I was very disappointed in the attitude I got from them. (TPW managers) -- (their attitude) was basically that "you guys (climbers) we are not going to listen to you."
J: There was one in Austin, or Dallas or somewhere -
S: I didn't have a chance to go to any of the out-of-town ones. We (the EPCC) did send representatives. I went to as many of the local ones that I could. You know, I was concerned that their attitude was "take it or leave it, and if you complain too loudly we're just going close climbing at the Park and you guys aren't going to get anything; be satisfied with the crumbs we are throwing you."
J: Well, that could have been an option. Did anyone actually lay that out as an option? I mean, no recreation, no use.
S: Yea, well, I mean, sure. That was definitely something that could happen. To me, that's not dialog. Like at that meeting, I was told that erosion of the rock from my tennis shoes was a problem, and that was the reason I wasn't going to be allowed on West Mountain (even if I never touched dirt). And when I challenged them on that, he said "well, you should just accept this 'cause if keep making too much noise, we'll just ban climbing altogether." I mean, Norma Chavez (TX State Rep) and other people were my witnesses. And that's what made me just walk out on the meeting, 'cause I didn't like being told "take it or leave it". And particularly when they are telling you ridiculous things like erosion on rock is a problem, and that's one of the reasons for not letting (people) on West Mountain. I mean, it's silly. You can tell they were just grasping at straws. They really basically just wanted it (exclusively) for the archaeologists and the historical people. They don't want climbers out there at all.
J: Well, how do you think it was kept open at all? I mean, climbing is still permitted. They haven't changed the number of sites except the Dragon's Den, that are open to climbing, you can still climb at the same spots. The terms of access have gotten tighter, they haven't banned climbing.
S: They have banned Three-star Arête, which was one of my favorites. I mean, I worked for three years before I could do that problem.
J: Is it on the Snappy-Tom -
S: It's on the Bimbos. One of the reasons it's named "Three-Star" is it is one of the best problems out here.
J: One of Sherman's "Best in Park" kinda thing -
S: I mean the attitude (at the meetings) that I picked up -
J: (persisting) Why do you think climbing is allowed?
S: Why, I would say that's begging the question! How dare they try to say climbing should be banned? This is the United States! For them to even consider that they could ban an activity like climbing, or ban an activity like mountain biking, or ban an activity like shooting, is anti-freedom. Might views might be different from the rest of the "climbers". (some climbers) tend to regard me as a radical.
J: Yeah. But I'm just saying that they had the opportunity to shut it down.
S: Who's "they"?
J: Texas Parks.
S: Ok. Why? See, that's what I mean Texas Parks <garbled> should not even have that opportunity. Why should they want to? How can any American conceive of something like that?
J: Because that way they could have made it all guided tours. You come in the Park, you register, you wait until the guide comes up and you go on the guided tour. Same as walking through Carlsbad Caverns or something like that.
S: Well, there's lots of things that the people who have the guns and money can do. Just because they can do it, and then they relent, doesn't mean they are being reasonable. The underlying concept - that they would even consider banning (climbing) is so anti-freedom, so enslaving, so fascist, so much like something out of (a dictatorship), you know I don't even want to say, "thank you, thank you, for listening to our "input" and still allowing me to climb."
J: I wasn't going on that path so much as why didn't take that path.
S: I don't know.
J: Was it political? Was it political input?
S: I imagine there's politics involved in everything and that's one of the things that frustrates me. Freedom should not be subject to political gamesmanship. It's just like the Second Amendment. The government doesn't say "you have a right to bear arms"; my right to bear arms precedes and supercedes any government. And the government can only try to take away my inherent right. I have an inherent right, to travel freely over any surface that is public land, provided that I leave no trace of my passage. The government can not take it away, because it's not their business to grant or deny it. It's a fundamental right.
J: As long as you have your concealed carry permit, you are allowed -
S: I will never get a concealed carry permit because it should not be required. <snip>
I honestly don't know what influenced them to continue to allow climbing, whether it was done politically, or whether they actually listened to the input and thought that it was valid. I don't know. But I do know that I should not have to even defend (the right to climb).
J: But they didn't listen to the approach that El Paso climbers had to recommend, correct?
S: Oh, about ½ of it was listened to. We basically wanted more of a trustee system, and less of a "volunteers have to come out and do the work in the Park" system. (The EPCC also wanted the TPWD to admit that it had stalled on years of efforts to build trails and correct the erosion problem, and to admit that there was little evidence that climbers at the Park contributed to damage to the rock art). I think it would go a long way toward curing some of the animosity if we could setup a good system of trustees, where you guys come up with criteria, that are used to measure how trustworthy a person is and you could have us "jump through some hoops" and we would not mind. But, the end result has to be that you recognize there are responsible users that are going to be an asset to the Park, and not a hindrance. We won't make things harder for you, we will help you.
J: Well, that's one of my goals in talking to people and trying to find the remnants of the El Paso climbers out there. I don't even know how many of you are left.
S: Well, we are getting long in the tooth and scattered to the four corners of the Earth. A lot of us have left, because we didn't like the restrictions. I know at least five or six of the people that used to be the core group, they don't live here anymore. Jeff Drucker is one of them. You know, Jeff, he's at least got enough of a transportable skill, he's a University prof, that he can go where he wants. You know, I made a conscious decision to settle down here because of Hueco Tanks, and I'm really feeling screwed over because of what's happened, because of, you know, I'm an ex-Alaskan, transplanted (against my will) from there. I grew real used to, in Alaska, ah, you know, the attitudes are very anti-government, kinda even anti-environmentalist. You know, "Sierra Club" is just as dirty a word (to most Alaskans) as "Federal Government". Alaskans, we like to do what we want. And, I'm not quite as much in favor of mining and logging as most Alaskans are. But, I'm offended by the fact that (the TPWD) doesn't want me (in the restricted areas at Hueco) even thought I leave no trace.
J: Yep. Well, let's put it this way. If we took down the fences here and closed down the office, wouldn't be much left in a couple of months.
S: No, I'm not advocating that. I think that instead we should keep the fence up, and enlist people like myself to keep it from getting cut.
J: And to some extent we are doing that. Maybe not to the extent that we need to. And, like I said, we do need volunteers.
S: Well, I'm encouraged by what you told me about the volunteer system. I think that based on what you told me, I probably will come out and take the guide training course.
J: Well, that's good. I like to have everybody that's been involved with the Park.
S: Just be aware that I am almost never going to be available to guide groups. I mean, it's not that I wouldn't want to (again, I must have lost my mind. Why would I ever want to subject myself to the torture of watching other people climb while I am not allowed to!!??!!), if I wasn't married and didn't have the kid, I would be out a lot more. But time is a factor, and when I do have a chance to go out I gotta work on staying in shape (for climbing, this means actually climbing, not watching other people climb.)
J: Well, that's why one of our (non) climbing guides says he is out here, it keeps him in shape. He doesn't climb. He's not a climber.
S: You know what I used to love to do? I would come out here and jog around the perimeter, just to get warmed up. There's not a whole lot of groups that would want to jog with me around the perimeter of the Park.
J: Is that inside the fence or outside the fence?
S: No, inside the fence. I would, you know, head down the road, out across the dam, swing around the Round Room, all the way around the East Spur, then come back. Then I'd go bouldering or whatever. <snip>
J: A lot of people like yourself miss the solitude, they enjoy that. We've had a few things that have happened that were unfortunate, they request a tour, they get a guide, and they say, "who else is on the tour with me?" And they find out that it is people who climb above their level of ability, but since it was their tour, they get to dictate where the tour is going; they were the ones that requested it. Instead, they end up with a bunch of people who like to climb V8 & V9, and they're embarrassed to go out and do their V1 and V2 problems.
S: I'm kinda just the opposite. I pride myself in being a connoisseur of the V0's! I've never been able to climb higher than V3 or 5.11 in my entire life.
J: This poor fellow had come all the way from New Zealand, he wanted to climb, I don't know what level, and he got this group of sponsored, professional climbers tagged on the end of his tour, and he said "I'm not going." I said, "come on, you gotta go, it's your tour!", and he said "no, no, I'm not going". But we did have a number of people trained, a new guy is good leading tours -- hope he won't burn out on us too quickly -- it does happen.
S: If you have more volunteer guides - and I'll certainly publicize the fact that the VG's can go out, and not be forced to do mandatory work (such as trash pickup), then you could have more guides, smaller groups, I would rather see, you know, thousands of VG's leading smaller groups, than a few VG's leading big groups.
J: Now, a lot of what we ask is to just go out, make sure we don't have people coming in from the south end to collect (artifacts) and do other mischief at the south end of the Park.
S: I would love to be able to come out (to the restricted areas) with my 7 year old. If I get the VG training, would I be able to take Julie back to the Round Room?
J: I don't know, I'd have to think on that for a bit.
S: She has only been there once, I would like to take her again.
J: You certainly could take her back there as part of a tour. Again, just to - we try to avoid the appearance that the guides are somehow gaining access that other people can't get, so -
S: But they aren't! Other people can get the access. All they have to do is come out and take the guide training course, right? Then they would have equal access. That's what would make it equitable, it's not that you are getting access that other people can't have, you are getting access that anyone can have, provided you are willing to obey the rules. And one of the rules is you gotta take the guide training course. So, that's totally equitable. We are not locking anyone out, provided (they are willing to take the VG training course).
J: Yeah, we haven't been able to get that many people to take the guide training yet, so -
S: So, well -- I mean, I'm curious - why not? Why is it so difficult?
J: 'Cause they don't show up again. I mean, we, like we said, put 70 people through since we started this, and now, -
S: Well, maybe you could get more people to show up if they understood they could just go out and guide a friend.
J: Well, hopefully they understand that. They should be able to understand that. That you can just go out and -
S: Well, not to beat a dead horse, but, you indicated that - yes? I could, or could not, just go out there with Julie I mean, to me, that's a perfect case, you know, I'm guiding a group, the group is one person, my daughter.
J: Yeah, but we have to make it available to the public. So, you would have to post it (the tour), we've done that before. We had one guide, one person requesting a tour, and one person who didn't request the tour, but knows the guide's available. Follow?
S: Yeah, but I guess I just don't agree. In other words see, that gets back to "You're here to work for the Park", if one is a VG, as opposed to just being granted access because I now understand the rules, because I've taken the guide training course -
J: You're not being granted access, you're just providing access for the pubic, or providing a service such as patrolling. Such as picking up litter -
S: Ok, can I go back there on "patrol" with Jewell?
J: No, you could guide her on a tour. See -
S: So, I can go back there by myself and pick up litter but I can't go pick up litter with my daughter?!?
J: Because the way that we've said that we don't want people taking advantage, taking their friends back. It's just not a way -- it's not a lever by which you can take your friends out to the Park.
S: But, see, why is that bad?!? Why is that a bad thing?
J: 'cause it comes off as being a sweetheart deal.
S: But I'm not interested in the perception, I'm interested in the reality the reality is that I'm doing useful work, picking up trash.
J: I agree. Yep.
S: See, and that's that's I think what need to be changed about the rules. Forget about perception, see, that's another think that is bad about the whole religious issue, it is based on perception. I'm looking at hard-core, objective facts. If I'm not hurting anything, and I'm picking up trash, with my daughter, why is that bad? I don't care if people perceive it to be a "sweetheart deal", they can get the same "sweet deal" by coming out and taking the guide course.
J: They could.
S: Then they could take (their children or friends) out, you know, they don't have to like the fact that they have to take the guide course, but I think that's an example of a way we can set up rules, it is equitable, if it results in a good thing, results in better patrolling and less trash
S: It results in me being able to go out there and not feel like (my freedom is being trampled)
J: I'm just saying that we've had arrangements where a guide is available, and essentially he is guiding one or two people that he knows, because they requested a tour and that guide was available. And that's worked out because what we say to the guides is that we try to do a rotation on the guides, though, so someone requests a tour, , we'd like to be able to give all guides, you know, time out -<tape ends>
[J: Since we're missing the ending of the actual interview, I'll re-construct a version of the final message that I always try to deliver when talking to any potential source of volunteers .and the simplest version of the message is that Hueco and all of the Texas state parks exist only because of the time and support of volunteers. The last time I checked the figures, the park was about 40 percent volunteer - 60 percent paid employee, based on hours.
When asked for my future vision of the park, I say that the park should be run by volunteers. The volunteers who today work at the park provide access by guiding tours and hosting in the campground, educating visitors, protecting the cultural and natural resources, improving visitor safety, generating additional revenues to fund park activities, building and maintaining trails and other improvements. While there are some duties which I cannot ask a volunteer to perform (law enforcement being the most obvious), volunteers can supervise, manage and recommend policy changes, within the limits imposed by the current Public Use Plan. What do the guides get out of it? Most seem to really appreciate the increased intimacy with the place and the improvement of their own knowledge of the park. However, we cannot provide "special" access for volunteers. They have to be willing to serve the requests of the public and the needs of the park.
If you are interested in volunteering, contact the park --- the same if you're interested in signing up for the guide training. The park is assisted by its volunteer group, "The Friends of Hueco Tanks." Information on the group and meeting times can be obtained from the park office.]