Here is our report on the March 23, 2000 public hearing that the TPWD held in El Paso. The stated purpose of the hearing was to solicit input on modifications to the Public Use (Prevention) Plan at Hueco.
Yet again, I found myself at a public hearing on the topic of further restricting access to Hueco Tanks. I have lost track of how many of these useless meetings I have attended over the years. The process is always the same - the TPWD decides to restrict access to Hueco, knowing that most people will object to the restrictions. So, they make a pretense of soliciting public input, first in the form of letters and then in the form of a public hearing. It's depressing and discouraging; forcing myself to attend has become more and more difficult.
After each hearing, the result has been the same - climbers are ignored, the archaeologists and aboriginal culture-junkies prevail, and your freedom to climb is diminished. Oh sure, they may relent on a few points, but that is a tactical maneuver - the TPWD always puts in a "throwaway" restriction that they really don't care about, just so that they can claim they are heeding input from the public.
They structure the meetings in a way that makes it impossible to defend freedom. Each person who wishes to speak is given three minutes, with no opportunity to rebut or argue with the other speakers or the TPWD representatives. The result: the meeting is nothing but a series of little speeches, there is no dialog, and nothing is resolved.
At this hearing almost no climbers were present. From the EPCC attendees were Jeff Drucker, James Robertson, Chris Baker, Don Morril and myself. Also attending were two climbers who looked like they had been staying at Pete's and a young gal who flew in from Boulder just to attend.
I am worried that Pete and his wife were not there - this is the first meeting that I have attended where Pete was absent - he has either given up or is ill again. I have not seen him at the store or his trailer for some time now.
The low turnout of climbers stood in stark contrast to a similar hearing in the winter of 97/98 where over a hundred climbers attended. The TPWD and others accused the EPCC of "stacking" that 1998 meeting; they also ignored the fact that the majority of input at that meeting was pro-recreation. Now that the 'Tanks is effectively closed to climbing (the proof of that is the empty parking lot at Pete's and the low turnout of climbers for the hearing), the meeting was dominated by anti-climbing forces. I predict that the TPWD will now claim that the "majority of the comment was in favor of the new plan". This is a brilliant tactic on the part of the TPWD and serves as a warning to freedom lovers about the skills of those who are trying to make you a slave - don't underestimate them for an instant.
Most of the attendees expressed an anti-climber viewpoint. The anti-climbers included representatives from Friends of Hueco Tanks (FOHT), members of various American Aboriginal tribes, RVers, archaeologists, and a few suits - probably TX politicians that I did not recognize.
Notice that I use the more precise term Aboriginal when referring to descendants of the original inhabitants of the continent, as opposed to the incorrect term "Native American". Native American simply means a person born in America, despite recent attempts to redefine the term for political reasons.
As I waited for the meeting to start I felt a curious sense of detachment - I have been bludgeoned so often by the TPWD that I really have given up hope that I will be able to climb again at Hueco as a free man. I guess I am finally letting go of the formerly wonderful place. I know that the unstoppable, unresponsive bureaucracy will not go away; they will do whatever they want, and continue to ignore climbers in favor of culture-freaks who assert that climbing is just a "leisure" activity and not in the same class of worthiness as looking at primitive rock art or praying to imagined rock-gods.
And now, because a majority of the population is willing to meekly bend over on command - willing to restrict freedom for the false promise of "resource preservation" - willing to sacrifice a little liberty for the hope of a little security - willing to be put into groups where one's individuality becomes unimportant or even undesirable - willing to punish the innocent for the crimes of others - the problem will only get worse. When I speak at these silly meetings, I know that most of the people do not see me as myself. Instead, they see a climber, a white guy, an American. They try to put me into a neat little category and must think that I too, share a desire to be seen not as an individual, but as a member of some group.
Walt Dabney of the TPWD started the meeting by thanking everyone and introducing the officials present: Delton Daugherty, Bill Bauman, Ray Sierra, Carolina Ramos, Kaye Sutherland and others. He then gave a brief summary of events at Hueco Tanks over the last 50 years. He asked us to provide concrete, specific criticisms of the proposed revisions to the Public Use-Restriction Plan (PURP). He showed the large map of rock art and archaeological sites, and mentioned that Hueco had been popular for the last 10,000 years. This last comment drew "oooohs" and "aaahs" from the crowd, but not from me. My background in cosmology and geology makes a short time span of 10,000 years pretty much a yawner for me.
Walt explained that each and every visitor to the park must be taught how precious, fragile, spiritual and important the place is. He uttered the standard meaningless platitudes about showing "respect for the park and the Native People who hold it to be sacred".
Then, unexpectedly and with no easy way to escape the torture, he announced that we would now be shown the new disorientation video! This video will replace the personal disorientation lecture that every entrant to the park has been forced to endure since September 1998. I was VERY annoyed by this - I had recently been disorientated at the park, and had no desire to have my philosophy and world-view trashed again so soon.
The video was even more horrible than the real-time disorientation, because one is forced to sit there and eat the lies with no way to rebut them. I object to the way the TPWD tries to tell us what to think and how to feel, instead of just explaining the rules. When watching the video, you can see the painfully obvious need of culture-lovers to convince the world that history and primitive religion is so much more important than a mere leisure activity like climbing. Contrast this with the attitude of climbers - climbers possess no need to convince the rest of the world that what they do is special, or that certain areas of the world should only be used for climbing, or that climbing is somehow a more legitimate use of Hueco than bird watching, archaeology or praying.
My attitude about history and archaeology has changed markedly in the last few years. Prior to 1998 when the TPWD started trying force my interest in American Aboriginal culture I was mildly curious about it. I took several courses in anthropology and archaeology at UTEP. I would occasionally go to Cave Kiva, and a couple of times over the last 15 years I found arrowheads or pottery and turned in what I found to the park staff. I used to be proud to relate the tale of Donny Hardin finding the nearly intact skeleton of an American aboriginal woman near the West Mountain. I used to enjoy looking for the old track of the Butterfeild trail, which is still faintly visible. I would sometimes sit near the grinding holes and imagine what life was like at Hueco a thousand years ago.
Not any more.
Now that I am being told that my chosen method of enjoying Hueco is inferior, I have ZERO interest in anything cultural, historical or aboriginal. In fact, I almost find myself wishing that the vandals had done a better job of destroying the rock "art" - if it was all gone we wouldn't have to worry about preserving it. I find myself wishing the previous owners, who tried to turn it into a development, had been more thorough in their efforts to dig up the place. If they had excavated the entire park, there would be no effort by archaeologists to preserve the discards of generations of aborigines.
If the TPWD wants me to care again, wants me to aid in preservation again, all they have to do is quit trying to force their viewpoint on me, and treat me like the responsible citizen that I am, instead of a potential criminal that has to be guarded while at the park.
Which is it? Am I a possible miscreant who can't be trusted in closed areas of the park without a guard, or I am a valued asset to the park, part of the eyes and ears of the TWPD?
As long as I am treated like a criminal at Hueco, then I will not aid the TPWD in any way. For example, I once was very concerned about preserving the environment. I would tell people to not chisel the rock, to not throw trash, to not collect plants or rocks. I would go out of my way to pick up trash and assist land managers, not just at Hueco but everywhere. I used to stick my neck out all the time to try to stop people breaking the regulations; I was frequently the target of the derision of people who saw nothing wrong with littering, breaking beer bottles on the rocks or digging up a barrel cactus to take home.
This Sunday I went hiking in the Franklins, as I continue my fruitless search for even one tiny outcropping of climbable rock in the vast choss-pile of the Franklin Mountains State Park. I was a few minutes up the popular Gunsight Notch trail, when I encountered a man and a woman collecting rocks and small cactus. Old habits die hard - my first reaction was to admonish them for illegally removing the plants and rocks, and possibly use my cell phone to nark on them. Instead, I smiled broadly at them, gave them a big hello and walked on by.
I'm sure the plants look great in their garden.
Climbers are not the selfish ones at Hueco or anywhere else. Climbers have never tried to get non-climbing activities banned from a place. We never say, " this section of wilderness should be closed to Indian chanting/drumming, archaeology, picnicking, BBQing, hunting, off-road vehicles and loud screaming children", even though all of these activities interfere with the climbing experience. Climbers understand the importance of sharing, something that the TPWD pays lip service to but has no real interest in. Climbers will gladly share Hueco with everyone, but the rest of the user groups seem unwilling to reciprocate.
It is none of the government's damn business to try to get me to be interested in anything, be it climbing, looking at rock art or eating pizza. The government should not be in the business of getting people to think "proper" thoughts, yet that is exactly the purpose of the disorientation lectures and now the video. Not only is it bad government, it is also misleading and confusing. For example, I was told that we should regard the rocks as a sacred place, a combo grandpa's house/hospital/cemetery, and show the proper respect. But what does this mean? Different cultures and families have very different attitudes. For example, if Japanese climbers are told behave the way they do at a cemetery, they might have big loud family parties featuring lots of food, music, kids running around yelling and wrestling, couples necking on blankets and Dads getting drunk on Saki. I say this because I lived in Japan for two years and saw it with my own eyes - cemeteries are sort of like public parks in Japan, where real estate is scarce and expensive. I vividly recall watching with amazement as a little Japanese girl hiked her skirt, squatted and defecated within three feet of a "headstone" (little miniature concrete shrines) in full view of hundreds of people! No one took any notice but the Mom, who whipped out a little shovel, scooped up the harvest and buried it under a fir tree.
I was also told that I should have the same special feeling of respect for Hueco that I feel when I visit my grandfather's house. Well, which grandfather? One Grandpa ran a still in the garage, loved to get drunk and curse at politicians on TV, and was a hell-raiser in general. His house was lively, raucous and filled with laughter and energy. The other Grandpa's house was a quiet, cerebral place - often there would be no sound but the tick of the clock. One would also sometimes hear the sound of large caliber weapons being cleaned in preparation for a hunt. So, to show the same respect for Hueco, I should build a still in the Round Room, build a fire, shoot some critters, roast 'em and chow down on while watching TV and getting drunk! Sounds very "spiritual" to me!
The point is this: it is not thoughts or attitude that matter - it is what you do, your actions that count. People should be told specifically what the rules are - no booze, hunting, fires or defecation. Don't step on plants. Don't remove plants and rocks from the park. Don't chip holds or carve your name in the rocks. Drop this insulting "respect the sacred place" crap.
The video went on and on, but eventually, mercifully, it ended, and the meeting was opened to the public with each speaker being allotted three minutes at the microphone. A couple of questions were asked - an RVer wanted to know if the elimination of overnight camping was a "done deal"; he was assured it was not. Another man asked what the park's annual budget was ($205K), and how much revenue the park collects in entrance fees ($65K last year). I then asked what the annual revenue was before 1998, and was told that it was $110K. Interesting.
Since the park is operating at a loss, staff should laid off unless revenues can be increased. It's just not cost effective to run it the way it is being run now.
I tried to get the names of all the speakers, but I missed a couple. The TPWD videotaped the entire session, so I am sure that anyone who is really interested in all the details can ask the TPWD for a copy of the video.
The first speaker was Carol Hedrick? , from the Texas Archaeological Society which claims about 1400 members in Texas. She read a prepared statement that touted the party line about "precious sacred resources" that just have to be preserved or the Universe Will End. The TAS is in love with the TPWD plan and regard climbers as dangerous.
Next up was Mike Young, representing the El Paso Sun City chapter of the International Good Sams Club. He and his people are the RVers, and they object to the elimination of overnight camping. He informed us that the 20 sites at Hueco were taxpayer funded and hinted that there may be legal action if camping is eliminated. He seemed to be somewhat on the side of recreational use. He was very suspicious that the closure was already a done deal.
Gary Fitzgerald spoke next. He is a tough 95 year old Hueco enthusiast, who has been going there regularly since 1930. He was in favor of the TPWD plan, and rambled on about how he started the Franklin Mountains Coalition. (Mr. Fitzgerald passed away in January, 2001, at age 96. His Pith Helmet style hat that was his inseparable companion in the mountains, is now on display at the Wilderness Park Museum on Trans Mountain road.)
I was the next person to get up and rant (I mean speak). I had previously rehearsed my bit and I am proud to say that I concluded at the exact moment my time expired. Here are the notes that I used:
"Good evening everybody. My comments are directed primarily at the TPWD. "
"Between 1974 and 1998, I visited Hueco over 1000 times. Since 1998, I have been out only three times. In January, I called to obtain a reservation. The earliest open slot available was for April 2. However, I just learned this week that because of a change in my wife's schedule, I will probably be unable to go. I have not called back to see when the next available day is. This will be the first year since 1985 that I have not purchased an annual Texas Conservation Passport (TCP), and I may never buy one again."
"The current plan is horrible, and the proposed modifications make it even worse. It still punishes innocent people such as myself and my daughter for the actions of others - no one seems to care about this."
"Despite Mr. Dabney's claim of interest, I will not waste my time giving the TPWD specific suggestions - they will not implement them, so why bother? If they want specifics, I refer them to 10 years of input from the EPCC, Access Fund, Texas Mountaineers and others - input the TPWD has ignored."
" What I am here to do is to ask that the TPWD quit wasting our time with these useless public hearings! Drop the pretense of valuing the input of recreational users. We know damn well that the TPWD only has ears for the anti-climber recommendations. I am tired of having to prepare for the meetings - I really find them offensive, but my sense of civic duty makes me feel guilty about missing them. These hearings are held at taxpayer expense and we should quit wasting taxpayer dollars."
"The TPWD should just go ahead and put into place any restrictions it wants! The public is powerless to stop them. TPWD officials are not subject to being voted out; climbers have little political clout, so feel free to slash our freedom with impunity! Sure, there will be protests, angry posts will fly around the Internet, letters will be written, but so what? In the end, the restrictions will stay in place. The TPWD will keep following the internal directive to "ignore the climbers' protests - they will die down", a method that worked splendidly in 1998 when the current plan was shoved down our throats."
"I would also like to ask that the TPWD quit torturing climbers with this "death of a thousand cuts" - stop the slow, incremental process of adding new restrictions bit by bit. Everyone knows that the real goal of the TPWD is to eliminate all recreational use of Hueco, and turn it into a big open-air museum with access only via guarded tours. I use the term "guard", not "guide", because by definition, being guided is voluntary - if we are forced to be guided, the guide is actually a guard. Just close the place completely to climbing and get it over with! Quit teasing us with the hope that things will get better. After all, the place is so fragile and precious, so covered with "invisible" rock art, that you better close it just to be safe."
"I have to apologize to the RV crowd about the closure of overnight camping. The TPWD just wants to keep climbers from camping out, because those pesky climbers might sneak out at night and go to forbidden areas of the park. The TPWD can't figure out a way to ban just climbers and let the RVers camp, so they had to eliminate it for everyone. Sorry about that …"
"The TPWD should keep in mind that the Tigua tribe is armed with ever-increasing amounts of cash, provided by El Pasoans with poor math skills who frequent the Speaking Rock casino. I hope the Tigua's will be able to use their money to buy the political influence they need to get the Tigua Plan for Hueco implemented. The Tigua Plan is breathtakingly better than the lame TPWD plan, even though the Tigua plan is somewhat racist in that it would ban my little girl from visiting certain areas of the park just because she happens to belong to the wrong race."
"I will conclude by reminding everyone that Hueco Tanks, and even the Earth itself, will be dust someday. No amount of prayer or regulation will stop this. We are here now. We should use Hueco now while we can."
I could tell that my comments really bugged everyone in the crowd but the climbers!
A feisty old gal named Marguerite Davis from the El Paso Archaeological Society spoke next. She rambled a bit, talked about how she was given Hueco rocks instead of a pacifier when she was teething as a baby. She is anti-recreation.
She contradicted herself by saying that we all should not be so selfish, and then praised the current plan and the new restrictions.
A Hueco employee named Wanda Olszawski (sorry about spelling) commented next. She has been employed by the TPWD for 4 years, and assigned to Hueco for the last two years. She is well known for her anti-climber views. Tonight, Wanda claimed to represent herself. She wants the campground to stay open, which is good. But, she is opposed to allowing pets, and gave a bunch of typical tree-hugger environmentalist-whacko reasons why your dog at Hueco is a horrible thing. For example, it might frighten prey species that don't need the additional stress. She also said that volunteer climbing guards should not be allowed to participate in the "activity being guarded", because it would prevent them from properly guarding the group.
A volunteer guide named Steve Vinson stepped up to the mic. He says he does not really "guide" (I did not understand what he meant), and is a self-admitted environmental activist. At first I thought he might be pro-climbing, but I could not be certain from his spech. He supports letting the Commercial Guides climb with their clients, but not the volunteer guides (it has been asserted by the TPWD and others that volunteer guides are just trying to get around the regulations. I guess it's OK if some well-to-do Commercial guide does the same thing - money talks! ). He was also against bikes in the park - apparently he did not bother to read the entire proposed plan, which restricts bikes to paved surfaces only. Mr. Vinson might think that a bike is more harmful than a car on a paved surface; again , it was difficult to determine his postion in the small amount of time allotted.
Harold Nailer, a lifetime El Paso resident, was opposed to letting pets back into the park. He claims that the wild animals would totally freak out. The animals would be scared of the dogs. Then, he went on to say it would be OK for RVers to bring their dogs! Another modern-day Aristotle.
The next speaker was Dr. Jeff Drucker, professor of Physics at the University of Texas at El Paso. Jeff is one of the primary spokesmen of the El Paso Climbers' Club. I was proud to listen to him - he is diplomatic, concerned, and always trying for a compromise, even though he shares our deep frustration about Hueco. Jeff chose to live in El Paso and teach at UTEP because of Hueco. He is now in the same boat as many of us - he sunk down roots in El Pass-hole only to find the life-giving water of climbing plugged by the TPWD.
Jeff said that he appreciates the difficult job that the TPWD has in balancing use and preservation at Hueco. He suggested that the preservation/recreation pendulum has now swung too far in the direction of preservation, and needs to be gently nudged back toward recreation. He says that the declining use of the park by climbers is partly due to the misperception that the TPWD is anti-climber. While in the past climbers regarded the TPWD as one of the most cooperative land management entities, it is now regarded as the most anti-climber agency in the United States. He pointed out the volunteer guide program is a failure, because the TPWD tries to use the guides as workhorses, instead of deploying them as "trustees" as was originally intended. He suggested that the TPWD cancel all general closures, such as the closure of the entire West mountain, and replace it with a system of granular closures of specific boulders. He advised the TPWD to increase the maximum limits on the number of visitors to more reasonable levels, and leave a number of slots open for walk-in visitors who do not have reservations.
Next to speak was Bill Silver of the Friends Of HuecoTanks, who said that the FOHT wants the campground to stay open. He likes the new plan and says it has cut down on graffiti, trash and other forms of vandalism. He suggested that there be a minimum of two campground hosts to ride herd on the campers. He says that RVers are no threat to the park (unlike myself or my daughter - we are obvious threats and need to be watched closely by guards when we visit). He complained that some commercial guides have no place to stay when they come to Hueco to guide their clients (poor babies!) . He says that no guides may climb with their clients - they should stay focused on keeping an eye on the clients.
This is a good point for me to point out to the logic-impaired the flaws in this viewpoint about guiding. Hueco offers many kinds of guided tours - climbing, hiking, birding, looking at rock art. If guides are not to be permitted to participate in the activity this means that:
* Hiking guides cannot hike with the group. I guess they will have to carried on a litter or something.
* Birding guides may not bring binoculars and must avert their eyes whenever a bird is near. They must also wear earplugs so they can't enjoy listening to the bird calls
* "Rock art" guides may not look at the aboriginal paintings they are guiding the group to. They can wait just outside Cave Kiva and tell the tourists to go in and look.
And consider this - while most climbing tours are for bouldering, some of us old farts still like to do the 5.9 and 5.10 roped climbs in closed areas of the park - Max Headroom and Pigs in Space are two perfect examples. I am very puzzled as to how a guide can lead me up these climbs without climbing! Perhaps the TPWD expects them to use helium balloons or a rocket belt to get up the cliff?
Silly me! There I go again expecting logic and reason to work with the TPWD and it's allies.
Mr. Kaiser?? Was in favor of the restrictions, and wanted to see lots of artifacts. No pets, no bikes, let the RV types camp out. He travels all over the country in an RV looking at cultural stuff. He likes the transparent screens at Seminole Canyon, and complained about the new graffiti at Three Rivers in NM. (can't blame climbers for that, since the rock sucks up there …) He wondered why "we can't all get along". Mr. Kaiser, I don't want to get along with selfish authoritarians who can't understand the simple concept of the presumption of innocence.
Mr. Arroyos addressed us next, telling us that he was 50 years old, part Apache, Tigua and Mexican.
(Why does the world seem so anxious to classify everyone according to race? It really sucks and it is actually racist. On the census form that I sent in, I listed myself and my family as human. I could have listed my little girl as an Aboriginal American since she is 1/8 Indian, but that is the LEAST important thing about her).
He went on to say that his grandfather (Harry Barnes?) was the first Justice of the Peace in the area, and was responsible for some of the early graffiti at Hueco. As a boy at Hueco he watched many people having fun, riding horses and motorcycles.
(I was starting to get hopeful - perhaps a non-climber would speak up for the recreational use of the park - but no dice. He proceeded to spout the same intolerant crap about how Hueco is a "sacred place" and all the leisure activity was disrespectful of the gods out there.)
He says that the beauty of the 'Tanks is slowly returning (it was never ugly during the 25 years I have been going there). He wants all non-aboriginals out of the Dragon's Den. He was against letting pets in. He wants people to be able to camp and in general supports the plan.
Connie Portillo said that he came out at the spur of the moment after seeing the article in the paper. He was against the new plan, and thought that the $4.00 fee was a hardship on poor people with families who want to take their kids. He wants to organize some kind of a fund-raiser to improve the place. He was one of the few pro-recreation attendees that was not a climber.
An anthropologist groupie named Joan Price said she was representing herself and Dr. Kaye Sutherland. Director of some Rain House archaeological organization. She was part of a big multi-organizational conference on Hueco. She thinks Hueco is a living, spiritual, ancestral site. She sprayed about how it is a church and how she wants lots of small businesses outside the park boundary, perhaps dog kennels for the visitors to check their pets, etc. She talked about the 1934 Indian Act that excluded all "Mexican Indians". She said that Hueco was a "holy land" for the Indians. She wants an Indian Interpretive center built. She complained about the lack of respect for the Indians and the rock art. She wants Hueco to be used only for descendants of Aboriginals (another racist). She wants to enlarge the park and turn it into a big education center for aboriginal stuff.
Jessica Franco, a young climber from Boulder, had flown in just to attend the meeting. She was very proud to classify herself as a Next Gen X'er, which bothered me because I can tell that she has bought into the entire concept of grouping people according to irrelevant criteria, in her example, age. She reported that she greatly enjoyed the rock art tour with Wanda, and wants the park kept open for recreation, particularly for kids. She likes the guided tours and wants to get the word out to other climbers in the Boulder area. She thinks there should be more guides at the park. She says that many climbers think the park is totally closed and wants to tell the world that it is not.
(It is effectively closed, when it takes me THREE MONTHS to get a reservation, and then it rains when the day finally arrives. Perhaps rich young yuppies like her who can jet around the country regard it as open, but locals like me know it might as well be closed.)
She wants to quit school and become a campground host. She claims that "her people", the GenX'ers, are a "culture too". She want's to be able to play and learn and teach kids at the same time.
A man and his wife, I think his name was Terry Villanueva? drove down from AlBqq last night. He is very interested in archaeology, and says that is the most important thing about Hueco. He claims to have been an avid climber in his youth, but he now thinks that climbing and archaeology cannot coexist. (Selfish). He is in love with the Invisible Rock Art. He wants to keep bikes out of the park, because he says that if he was there on his mountain bike, he would not be able to resist going off the pavement. (This is the typical "punish the innocent" attitude that permeates the liberal culture-junkies - they just can't get it through their thick skulls that it is EVIL and un-American to punish me for the potential crimes of others). He is against allowing pets in the park. He then let us know that he had not read the plan yet! (Never let information and facts cloud your opinions, eh?) He also wants to raise the fee to $5.00/day
Skip Clarke personally supports the plan, and read a prepared letter to Andrew Sansom.
(My notes at this point read: "ARRRRGHHH! This is TORTURE! WHY the F**&^ and I here wasting my time! Get me the out of here! This is USELESS! Auuuug! Auuug! Auuughhh!)
Irma Escontreas Sanchez, a descendant of the original Escontreas family who owned the tanks for many years, spoke next. She loves the FOHT, the TPWD, and thinks that Alex and Wanda are heroes. She says we should all listen to the TPWD staff and just do what they say; ignore the climbers and believe the TPWD staff. She supports camping, and is against allowing pets. She rambled about how "we all own the park". Yea, right.
An American Aboriginal man named Denny Someketoy? used the tired cliché about how "those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." He then went on to proudly pronounce the aboriginal names of his different ancestors, going back several generations. He droned on and on like this and then said that the point he was trying to make is that history is sacred. Claims we must invoke the "spirit" of history. Asked if we really understood how sacred history is, and how Hueco will always be a sacred and spiritual place.
(Oh yea? How about 200 million years from now when Hueco has been reduced to mud under some future ocean. Or how about 5 billion years from now when the Sun is a red giant and has expanded so much that the Earth itself has been absorbed into the outer layers of the bloated primary? Will Hueco still be "sacred" then?)
He is associated with the Kiowa Tribe, and talked about the spiritual relationship that the Kiowa's have with Hueco. He read from a prepared legal statement from the Kiowa lawyers. He claims that the leisure of use Hueco, specifically climbing, is inherently disrespectful and must be banned from Hueco.
Alex Mares, Head Ranger of Hueco Tanks said his piece next. He also started by saying something in a language I did not understand, but I assume it was some American Aboriginal dialect. This was not very helpful, of course, to those of us in the audience who do not speak that language.
Many of the anti-climber speakers this evening used Aboriginal language when addressing the group. I am forced to conclude they want to make the point that certain people are special by virtue of belonging to a particular racial group. This is yet another example of how America is becoming a fractured, divided nation, instead of a united land of freethinking individuals who judge each other not by race, or religion, or group membership, but instead by merit and deed.
One reason that I enjoy the company of climbers is because a large percentage of them also share my love of freedom and belief in personal responsibility. Consider the act of soloing a steep face. What could be more free, yet also demand more responsibility? Asking for help from the government or your ancestors won't do any good 50 meters off the deck.
Alex continued, stating that he was there representing himself, even though he is a park employee. He said that his views reflected those of the members of Ysleta Pueblo who could not be here tonight and that he and others speaking on behalf of Hueco are a courier for their prayers. He was in favor of allowing overnight camping as long as there were at least two permanent campground hosts, and the positions were rotated at least yearly. The campground hosts should have to take the same 2.5 day volunteer guide training. He supports closing the Dragon's Den (Surprise, Surprise!) He also wants to close the Grenade Boulder, a popular boulder near the Blood and Gore/Nuclear Arms closed routes. His flawed reasoning is that it is just too tempting for climbers to then climb on the closed routes and also vandalize the "no climbing" sign.
Let me state this one...more...time...- I really feel like I am talking to a blank wall when it comes to this, but here goes:
!!! QUIT PUNISHING THE INNOCENT FOR THE MISDEEDS OF OTHERS !!!
I am not going to violate the closures. Tell me why I should not be allowed to climb on the Grenade boulder? I have an idea - why don't we apply the same logic to YOU, Alex? I say YOU should be kept away from Blood and Gore too. You might suddenly find the urge to climb on Nuclear Arms and tear down the sign! And don't scoff and say "you know I would never do that!", because that is EXACTLY the argument I will throw back in your hypocritical face when you tell me that *I* should be banned from going near closed areas also.
Alex was against letting pets in the park. He also repeated the absurd,illogical view that only climbers should be banned from participating in the activity they are guiding. Typical prejudice against climbers. He wants each visitor to leave Hueco a "better" place than when they arrived. Another typically meaningless statement from the logic-challenged. "Better" is a relative term. Better to me would be a Hueco with lots more bolted routes, more paving and parking, etc. Once again, they are trying to dictate our thoughts and feelings, instead of managing our actions.
An older gentleman - I had difficulty understanding his name - Ballindo? Stood up next. He had come from Oklahoma to attend the meeting and is an influential member of the Kiowa tribe. He mentioned that he was part of the largest Kiowa language preservation study ever done. He regards Hueco as a sacred place. He said that climbing it defiled it. He speech was a toe-the-line "climbing is evil, Indians are special, give us special privileges, we don't climb on your church" piece of crap. He said he does not want Hueco turned into a "Disneyland".
(Give me a break. I was at Disneyland last year - why can't people articulate their views with any degree of precision?)
He wants very limited access to the park; only by descendants of Aboriginals (which makes him a racist by definition). He wants the "words to have power, not just be words". He wants us not to be selfish! What a bunch of crap, to say that in the sentence right after he says that only his kind of people should be allowed in there. What a f'ing hypocrite. He believes in the power of Mother Earth, and says that people are buried at Hueco, magically preserved in solid rock. (Yea, and I know a lot of people who believe in space aliens and astrology - they are just as confused as this guy).
Next was Millie Parks. She was a pro-aboriginal person, and she went on and on with the standard confusing rhetoric. It was horrible to have to listen. I wanted to scream : "AUUUUGHHHHH!" and run out of the place. But I sat there and continued to take notes.
A Kiowa man came up to the microphone next. He talked about the oral tradition of record keeping in aboriginal culture. (This is an inferior method compared to writing, and one of the reasons that aboriginal legends are just that - legends, not accurate history. Writing was one of THE great discoveries that made true civilization possible. Cultures that do not posses writing are clearly inferior to those that do.) Kiowas legend fantasizes that they originally traveled from the north to the south pole, covering the entire Earth. Then, the Kiowas came to El Paso. ( I guess the rest of the planet was bunk) He says El Paso is Kiowa land (Mr. Selfish. I have never tried to claim El Paso as Scottish/Irish/Norwegian/Swedish land, and tell him he is not welcome.) He went on and on with some bizarre religious theories that seemed to blend aspects of primitive polytheism with more recent monotheism.
A UTEP Anthropology Professor named Duncan Earl was the next-to-the last speaker. He had only been going to Hueco for about 5 years, but he is a guide. He claims to now fully understand what Hueco is. He says the history of Hueco is more important that recreating there. He asserted that even the climbers sense something mysterious and spiritual there. (I cannot speak for all climbers, and we are not a monolithic group. However, I have never had ANY sense of the supernatural, either at Hueco or at any time in my life. I have always been able to explain all events I have observed in my life using reason and science. This does not mean that I don't regard Hueco as a beautiful place to think deep thoughts. ) He went on to say that "Native Americans sense the spirituality of Hueco more deeply than other people". (Well, Well, imagine that - yet another admitted racist!) He rambled about the place being a source of moisture, and started sounding like he was addressing some anthropology conference. He went way over his time, and finally Delton had to gong him to get him off stage. He just wouldn't stop talking!
Donna McFadden, the Tribal Preservation Officer for the Mescalero Apace Tribe offered her views. They are big TPWD supporters. Likes the new disorientation video.
Joe Groff was against guides being able to climb He likes the TPWD. He says they help with rescues? (I'm not sure what point he was trying to make). He wondered if the disorientation was required periodically or only once.
Jerry Fitzgerald wanted to use the last minute of his time, so they let him back up. He urged us to all write letters to politicians, and said that was the key to changing things. When he was young, maybe, but not any longer. I have written too many letters to politicians, only receive a form letter thanking me for supporting the position that I was against, to buy into that nonsense any longer.
Walt went back up to the mic, and was trying to wind down the meeting when this crazy-sounding guy who had been sitting right up front interrupted him again. The man, whose name is George Perkins, seemed a bit odd - he was dressed in Salvation Army-style hand-me-downs, yet was wearing a suit and a ridiculously fat necktie, improperly knotted. He had the wild-hairdo look of either a homeless person or a mad scientist. He asked if we were going to take a vote! This kind of blew Walt's mind, and Walt tried to explain to him the purpose of the meeting, but Mr. Perkins kept interrupting him. Walt then asked him if he wanted to get up and speak, and he said sure, and went to the mic. He raved about nothing in particular, said overnight camping was OK, could not understand why we needed a reservation systems, said that 10,000 people could have fun at Hueco with no problem (I liked that, particularly due to the indignant shocked protests from the anti-climbing attendees!), and said that this should all be put to a vote. They had to shoo him away, and he lingered in the doorway for a while, and shouted a few words of disgust at Walt before they asked him to leave.
At that point the meeting was pretty much over. There were a few questions, and I could not resist getting in a jab at all those who think that volunteer guides should not be allowed to "participate" in the activity being guided - I told them that I expected all volunteer rock art and bird guides to "avert their eyes" from the birds and the rock art, because even one glance constitutes "participating in the activity". I could tell that my point was lost on the non-climbers, who seemed genuinely puzzled by this application of simple logic.
My predictions? Camping will be allowed, because that's what Bill Silver and FOHT want, and relenting will let the TPWD claim they listened to the public. Pets and bikes will be allowed - this is the "bone" they had planned to throw to the recreational users all along. All the other new restrictions will be approved, and the TPWD will hail this as a step forward, heralding a new era of cooperation between recreational users and spiritual users.
Unfortunately, The El Paso Climbers' Club, Access Fund, and other groups are powerless to influence the TPWD. Past efforts to rally public support seem to just make the TPWD want to screw climbers even harder.
This is a classic case of the "tyranny of the majority" , with the added twist of the tyrant being an entrenched bureaucracy operating largely outside of the democratic process. I guess what bugs me the most is I used to believe in all that stuff I was taught in elementary school about America being the land of the free and home of the brave. HA! The land of the managed and the home of the timid is closer to reality.
Just remember - some day they will come for YOUR crags.
Then what will you do?