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Desert Companion

The desert just wants to be loved

Southern Nevada has been a desert for millennia, but it's only recently been an outdoors - you know, appreciated for its actual beauty and inherent value: Our soaring, rust-red cliffs, improbable alpine mountains and pebbled plains awash in sun and solitude.

Our desert's historically been once-overed with decidedly less romantic impulses: with a pioneer's eye toward passage and avoidance, with a miner's eye toward brute extraction, with a government's eye toward bland utility. Over the last 160 years, Nevada was the treacherous waste that stood in the way of that lush promised land to the left. It was a thorny shell that secreted silver and gold. It was America's patriotic demolition yard for testing nukes. Uh, inferiority complex much?

Fortunately, we live in more enlightened times. I was reflecting on this as I recently picked my way over a boulder-strewn creek on the way up to the mouth of Red Rock's Ice Box Canyon, where ropes of snowmelt trickle down to feed two generous, limpid pools. Kind of funny to think that about 40 years ago, Howard Hughes wanted to build an aircraft- and missile-testing complex on the doorstep of this national treasure. Phew! Glad such mogul-scale insensitivity is a thing of the past! Not so fast: As recently as 2004, uber-lobbyist and developer Harvey Whittemore convinced the Bureau of Land Management to magically scoot 10,000 acres of sensitive desert tortoise habitat out of the path of his golf-crazed Coyote Springs development. (Did somebody email the tortoises?) More recently, homebuilder Jim Rhodes received the county's mumbled blessing to lay down a bed of luxe McMansions on a mine-scarred hill across state route 159, effectively turning Red Rock into a would-be postcard showpiece for the Lexus-and-puppy-salon set.

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Maybe we got a little too enlightened. Now that we're all hyper-aware of the desert's fragile beauty, it seems everyone wants to lop off a piece to create his own personal little snowglobe of tranquility. That's hardly true in all cases - take a look at the triumphant underdogs Protectors of Tule Springs, who just might wrest an archeological treasure from a worse fate's grip and create a national monument in North Las Vegas. But in some ways, we've still got our forefathers' eyes: Public land is yet looked at with the covetousness of the privateer rather than the larger spirit of the public citizen.

Lecture over! Moral: Avoid such bad mojo. Take-away: Do what I do when you're enjoying the treasures and adventures in these pages: Stuff somebody's errant trash in your pocket and pack it out. Nudge a rock back into place to reinforce the trail. That's the kind of ownership we truly need.

*****
Speaking of treasures: We're losing one. Geoff Schumacher, director of community publications for Stephens Media, is departing for Ames, Iowa, where he'll be publisher of the Ames Tribune newspaper group. Journalistically, Geoff's departure represents a big stutter in the collective brainpower graph of Southern Nevada. I'll miss his deeply informed perspective, measured views and crisp writing. Personally, I'll miss a friend. A teacher. A patient guide who, as the founding editor of the Las Vegas Mercury in 2001, first mentored me in the art of nurturing ideas, inspiring writers and pruning prose. In short: I'm at the helm of Desert Companion in large part because of Geoff.

Before I get all red-faced and chokey, I'll say this: Check out the audio archives on "KNPR's State of Nevada" for a fine, broad-ranging exit interview with Geoff, a paragon of public-mindedness we'll all miss.

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