Traveling Through the Southwest

Pandemic Diary #67

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Photo by author — Bryce Canyon, Utah

December 7, 2020

I, by nature, have an insatiable wanderlust. In February I was able to take one trip to view the California Gray Whales calve in the warm waters of Mexico, and then, COVID hit.

I have no desire to board an airplane or violate any quarantine or social distancing rules, and yet, I had to get away. And I did. This entire trip took place the two weeks before Thanksgiving, most likely avoiding the larger seasonal crowds.

With a rental car and my cousin, we headed to the fairly unpopulated National Parks and Monuments of the Southwest.

Overall it was a fabulous experience. You can research hotels that are abiding by COVID safety measures on a few websites. I chose Safe Travel Barometer to help in my decisions for hotels.

However, I also wanted to stay at hotels within the National Parks when possible, and those were very mixed in their approaches to safety and social distancing.

I was very impressed with Bryce Canyon. Their main lodge was closed, but they had two smaller lodges open. While, I am sure, there were other guests in the hotel, we did not encounter any. We met with one employee, who was behind Plexiglas, at check-in and the rest stayed clear. Everyone wore masks, even on the trails.

We then moved to Zion and stayed at their lodge. These are small cabins so you have no hallway interaction and that was a big plus. The lobby was well marked with 6 foot distancing stickers and the capacity was limited, both in the lobby and at the gift shop. It felt like too many people were staying at the property, but they were all milling out of doors, so social distancing was possible. Here too, people wore masks while hiking.

We then went to the Grand Canyon. The North Rim was empty of people but filled with amazing views and lovely hikes. Visiting the South Rim should truly shame Xanterra, the company that runs the hotels, while the park itself needs to be taking responsibility as well. Upon entering the El Tovar Hotel it was criminal. There were so many people in the lobby as to be shoulder to shoulder, we turned on our heels and exited immediately. All of the hotels managed by Xanterra in the park were similar. There were no signs for social distancing at any of the buildings and the stores and Visitor Center were so packed as to be COVID breeding grounds. I understand the need to make money in these tough times, but the National Park System at the Grand Canyon is not limiting entrance and was possibly hosting a super spreader event the week before Thanksgiving.

Visiting our National Parks was a perfect COVID getaway, but while there, one can not help but ruminate on the environmental damage being done to many of these.

While traveling we attempted to find a Wildlife Crossing near Park City Utah, we were not able to locate it, which is by design, so people do not interfere with animals that utilize the bridge to get across the 12 lane freeway. This is not the only bridge of its kind, I first learned of their existence when visiting one in Banff.

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Wildlife Crossing near Park City Utah, photo from Pinterest

The idea first developed in France in the 1950s, and really took off in the Netherlands where there are more than 600 of these crossings to protect small animals like badgers and large ones like elk. They now dot the world.

While traveling around I felt the huge disconnect between our desire to save our environment and Washington’s desire to destroy it.

I have previously touched on the present administration’s attempt to open up some of our most valuable parklands to corporate entities. I have also briefly discussed the devastation happening at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

The devastation of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument haunted me throughout our trip as we wound our way through National Parks and Native American lands.

Since August 2019, in the administration’s attempt to install 450 miles of their travesty called a border wall, crews have blasted sacred sites in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and have used up to 3 million gallons of precious groundwater per month to mix concrete. If the environmental destruction does not bother you, maybe the fact that this wall is costing $41million per mile, does.

“This new construction has bulldozed a huge amount of desert habitat, blasted rugged mountains, destroyed cultural sites,” says Laiken Jordahl, a campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s absolutely devastating.”

While I am admiring the ingenuity of Utah to save the lives of their wild animal population in Guadalupe Canyon outside of Park City, crews dynamited mountainsides to build a barrier through a critical corridor for jaguars and other rare species in Arizona.

This belies the fact that Arizona has built at least 20 wildlife corridors since 2000, leading to a 90 percent drop in wildlife-related accidents in an area specifically known for its migrating elk populations.

The damage has been done. This present administration has waived 41 laws that protect public lands and endangered wildlife to speed up their building time-line. By late October U.S. Customs and Border Protection has installed 371 miles across the four states that border Mexico, they are moving at a clip of about two miles a day.

The construction damage is obvious, but the fence’s damage is harder to see for humans. The fence cuts off animals like bighorn sheep, not only from food, but potentially mates that live across the border. Small ground birds, such as Greater Roadrunners and Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls are trapped by the walls simply by their inability to fly over it.

While the incoming administration has said they will stop construction, they have not agreed to tear down the existing walls.

These walls need to be seen to be understood as to how devastating they are to the environment, and in particular wild animal populations.

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Photo From Customs and Border Patrol Twitter Account

The exiguous explanations by Customs and Border Patrol that they are simply replacing sections of the old wall does not cut it. This “replacement” is using a sledgehammer to kill an ant, it is unconscionable.

Our American Park System is a national treasure, we must stop the rape of our lands not only for environmental purposes, but for the generations to come.

Trivial Things

San Francisco weather: 65 degrees and sunny

NYSE DOW compared to one year ago: +2482

COVID cases in the US: 15,167,296

Deaths from COVID in the US: 288,981

OED word of the day: magnalia — great or wonderful things; marvels (esp. of nature)

Days since Shelter In Place was initiated: 267

Reading: Eiffel’s Tower by Jill Jonnes

My Black and White Picture of the Day

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Something Silly From the Internet:

My travel blog www.PassportandBaggage.com and my www.ArtandArchitecture-sf.com blog are quiet due to the Pandemic. I need to write, so here I go.

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