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North Face President Donates Land For Park

For the last 20 years of his life, North Face President Doug Tompkins kept buying land in Patagonia, the southern tip of Chile. Tompkins loved the wild, rugged mountains and coasts and wanted to protect them from drilling, mining and other exploitation.

In his will, Tompkins specified that the land be donated to Chile for a new national park. Yesterday his widow, Kristine, conducted the official transfer, and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced the creation of the park. It is the largest donation of land in world history.

Tompkins' donation includes 15,800 square miles of jagged peaks and remote seacoast. Bachelet said the park will be maintained as wilderness except for a few docks, visitor centers and lodges. No roads will be built into the park but hiking and backpacking trails will be created. Kayaking, fishing and surfing will be encouraged along the coast.

Patagonia extends from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Chile includes its most spectacular mountains while Argentina includes huge plateaus, which are used for sheep grazing. South America's largest ice fields and glaciers are in Chilean Patagonia. Patagonia has been considered one of the world's prime backpacking destinations since the 1960s. Cruise ships also stop at a few small ports. There are no cities or even large towns, but a few tiny villages dot the area.

Tompkins has been a prominent environmentalist for 40 years. He's been involved in several controversies, refusing to let Chile and Argentina build a highway through his land, and refusing to let mining and drilling interests in despite their claims of jobs and prosperity. It took a while but Chileans now consider Patagonia a priceless treasure.

Organ Pipe Cactus May Need Trump's Wall

Everywhere else along the southern U.S. border, people are skeptical about President Donald Trump's highly touted wall. Even Republicans have their doubts. It would be prohibitively expensive. It wouldn't work. It would be an eyesore. It would involve private property disputes among ranchers and farmers. And so on.

But there's one place where such a wall might even be welcomed. That would be Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in New Mexico.

Organ Pipe has long been one of the treasures of the national parks and monuments. It protects one of the world's most fragile ecosystems and the greatest stand of Organ Pipe Cactus on the planet. It's a beautiful place where, once you adjust to being out on a desert, you can find an amazing amount of wildlife. The plants and animals have adjusted to the heat and lack of water and some of Earth's most unique organisms live there. It's also been one of the most empty, rarely visited locations in the U.S.

Until recently.

Of all the places overrun by illegal immigrants and drug smuggling, the 330,000 acre Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument has been hit the worst.

This is mainly because the 30 mile long southern boundary of the park is the northern boundary of Mexico and there is no barrier. No river, no cliffs, no high mountains, nothing but flat desert. Off road vehicles can easily cross that desert heading north. Sometimes they stop and let their passengers out, to hike across the border. Sometimes the vehicles just drive on in, loaded with drugs, weapons or illegal immigrants.

Last year (2017) 400,000 illegals entered the U.S. by crossing Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Over the last several years, this never ending flow of people have created 300 miles of illegal roads and 4000 miles of illegal trails. They have ruined rare and precious water sources. They have left five tons of litter. Law enforcement officials have confiscated 700,000 pounds of illegal drugs and estimate twice that much has made it through without being caught.

There aren't enough border patrol agents to stop the flow. And there aren't enough park employees to clean up the litter and repair the illegal roads and trails.

The bodies are another problem. This is, after all, a desert. There's no water. After crossing the vast Mexican desert south of here, illegals then find themselves wandering the empty spaces of Organ Pipe, far from any roads. Whatever food and water they brought with them has long since been used up. Many don't make it.

And there are confrontations with Americans backpacking and camping in the park's remote spaces. They do have water, and are often attacked by people desperate for it.

The amount of trash dropped by illegals staggers the imagination. The photo below shows just one location. There are hundreds like this.

95% of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is designated wilderness. It was set aside to protect the endangered Sonoran Pronghorn, Masked Bobwhite Quail, Jaguar, Ocelot, and various species of Cactus and other desert plants. All of those threatened species are now on the verge of extinction due to illegal immigration and drug smuggling.


Ironically, Leftwing Liberal Progressive Democrats, who are usually the most vocal in protecting endangered species and the national parks, have remained silent about the crisis at Organ Pipe because it conflicts with their other priority of allowing as many immigrants as possible into the country for the votes they hope the illegals will bring.

Attempts are being made to cope with this invasion. The number of park service law enforcement rangers has increased from five to 20. Border patrol agents now number 500. (One was killed on duty and a monument has been erected in his honor.)

In this environment, a wall would actually make sense. It would certainly stop vehicles, which would eliminate most of the severe damage. And it would stop walkers. Aided by the wall, border patrol agents could easily apprehend anyone trying to either scale it or tunnel under it.

The objection that a wall would interfere with the scenic vistas becomes irrelevant when compared to the sight of trash in the photo at left, or deep tire ruts, or hundreds of rare cacti broken down.

So if Trump wants to build a wall, let him build it here.

National Parks Debate Cell Phone Use

Everybody from Henry David Thoreau through John Muir to Edward Abbey have preached that backpacking into the outdoors, especially into National Parks and Wilderness Areas, is a purifying experience. Leaving the trappings of civilization behind for a day or a week teaches us what we can do without and gives us an exhilarating sense of freedom.

That has always been the belief of backpackers, who generally held to a minimalist philosophy, and of park administrators, most of whom were backpackers themselves in their spare time.

But today in Yosemite, Yellowstone, Mt. Rainier and other parks, hikers now carry cell phones. A typical IPhone contains more raw computing power than the desktops NASA engineers used to put the first men on the Moon.

Many backpackers, park rangers and outdoors advocates aren't too happy about this trend. But others have embraced it enthusiastically.

"My IPhone actually enhances my whole backpacking philosophy," says Gene Reckin, a Spokane resident who frequents the trails in Glacier and the Northern Cascades. "I want to carry the least weight and fewest items possible. I've always carried maps, a compass, a camera, lenses, film, and a flashlight. Now, my IPhone combines all those : a GPS, a camera and a flashlight. And it's smaller than any one of them used to be. What's wrong with this?"

Reckin doesn't use the actual phone functions. "There's no signal," he shrugs. "I don't need a signal. What am I going to do, call someone and say 'Hi, I'm sitting up here on the mountain' ?

He may be in the minority. Thousands of hikers and backpackers do want to use their phone to call and share their experiences while they're on the trail, even sending photos to friends back home. Lena McDowell, Deputy Director with the National Park Service, talks about more and more back country adventurers demanding cell phone service even in the remote corners of parks.

The Federal Telecommunications Act requires the parks to review plans for cell towers. Decisions are left to each park superintendant. Yosemite now has six cell towers. Mt. Rainier officials are considering whether to allow a tower at Paradise Lodge, which would provide service to most of the mountain. But at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, opposition forced telecom companies to hold off on cell towers.

Another argument is the value of a cell phone signal in emergencies. In cases where a hiker is injured or becomes lost, it could be a matter of life and death. The phones could also save thousands of dollars, which it can cost if search and rescue teams have to spend days combing vast areas for someone.

The towers themselves are often the problem. Hikers don't want a huge orange structure looming on the horizon. At smaller parks, towers can be erected on private land just outside the boundaries. But in the larger parks those signals can't reach the interior.

The tower issue will be solved by technology. Within a few years, phones will be able to connect with satellites, just as satellite TV customers can now.

And the idea of isolation is somewhat of an illusion. Glacier Park Guides, for instance, have carried radio phones for 30 years. Their home office can notify them of impending weather, or the location of grizzlies on the trail ahead. In emergencies, the guides could summon help. Not all parks have professional guide services, but the larger ones do, and their guides have all carried radio phones.

And technology is a shifting idea. There was once opposition to the use of portable stoves. Then they became preferable to using local firewood. The opposition to water purification devices and solar charging panels has all faded.

The truth is, the original frontiersmen and mountain men were not into hardship for its own sake. If they had had access to down sleeping bags, lightweight tents, freeze dried foods and our other high tech items, they would have grabbed them immediately. A hiker still has to climb the hills, ford the streams, brave changing weather, fix his meals and find his route. Someone with a GPS can still get lost if he doesn't know how to use it.

What someone really needs to invent is a battery powered electric sleeping bag for those cold nights high in the mountains.

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