In this issue: Touch This Collection of Tiny Strange Cool Things | So, Tucson Is Apparently Cool | Two Recent Federal Orders Impact Nevada's Public Lands


SMILING DOLL HEADS. Mismatched buttons. Thimbles and beads, barnacles and bottle caps. If you crossed a junk drawer with an art museum, the result might be the Office of Collecting and Design.

Don’t be fooled by the official-sounding name. Tucked in a quiet corner of Commercial Center, the Office of Collecting and Design is the project of Jessica Oreck, an artist, filmmaker, and animator — and an avid, globe-trotting collector of unusual odds and ends. The OCD (the acronym is coincidental, Oreck says) is a lot of things: a clubhouse, a place to unplug, a gallery, a nostalgia generator, a reading room, a prop house, and a studio. Basically, imagine an antique shop where you can play — and where touching the merchandise is highly encouraged.

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“All the drawers are meant to be opened, all the boxes are meant to be lifted,” says Oreck, whose pigtail braids and overalls complete OCD’s playroom vibe. “Things are meant to be sorted and handled, moved around and arranged.” 

It’s intended to be low-key therapeutic. You can use the sorting table to organize marbles by size or color. Match up buttons by shape. Find themes in old stamps. Play with dollhouse-sized fruit sculptures, tiny umbrellas, jars, and clay animals. You can throw yourself an imaginary tea party with life-size wax hands as your esteemed guests. “There’s a certain return to childhood, to wonder, and simplicity (in this space),” Oreck says. “You’re not sorting bills or paperwork. It’s very rewarding even though there’s no end goal. Just the pleasure of it.” If you seek a more quiet, meditative time, Oreck will let you explore on your own. If you want to learn the stories behind each object, she’ll be happy to regale you.

Oreck was inspired to launch the Office of Collecting and Design after she moved to Las Vegas last year. She found herself with an accumulation of tiny objects — relics from her past projects as a stop-motion animator as well as from her lifelong love of collecting things. With the pandemic sending us all to our homes, Oreck thought it was also finally time to find a home for her collection of collections.

Normally, Oreck travels abroad six to eight months out of the year collecting objects. “Hunting is the best part,” she says. “Traveling around the world has been such a wonderful insight into cultures. You get to see a side of people and cities that I don't think a lot of tourists get to see. Normally, if I’m going to a flea market in a city, I’m the only tourist there. I pick up something broken and they're like, ‘That’s what you're going to buy?’ But those are the things I love. I can’t help it.”

Oreck runs the Office of Collecting and Design mostly solo, though she recently hired Johnny Espitia, a undergraduate art student, to assist. Even he’s caught the collecting bug. “The more I work with Jessica, the more I begin to view and appreciate the details as she does,” Espitia says. “I can’t help but want to start my own collection.”

Those looking to take a piece of OCD’s strange magic home with them can find something in the vintage gift shop. It is full of trinkets she's acquired but are no longer part of collection. But overall, it’s a labor of love. Oreck doesn’t necessarily expect to make a profit; she makes her living in educational animation and commercial work.

Something at OCD that’s not for sale is Oreck’s prized glass dice collection. It was the seed that started it all. “My aunt gave me these tiny, tiny glass dice that belonged to my great grandmother,” she says. “I had never seen such tiny dice before. I was so charmed and amazed by them, and over the years, I noticed I was drawn to them at flea markets. By the time I moved, I’d gathered a lot without realizing it. Now it grows and I can’t stop. It’s never finished.”

The Office of Collecting and Design is located at 900 Karen Avenue #B-105. Entry is free and open to the public on Wednesdays 10-4 or by appointment. Info: instagram.com/office.of.collecting

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Editor’s note: In “A Day Away,” veteran road-tripper Scott Lien writes about jaunt-worthy spots in the Southwest, highlighting the history, art, culture — and, of course, food — that define their identity. In his inaugural story, he points his Jeep toward Tucson and its surrounding areas.

TUCSON—ART, FOOD, AND SURREAL desert landscapes add up to a perfect day in the Sonoran Desert, and Tucson provides an abundance of these key ingredients. Marked by fiery desert sunsets and a sea of majestic saguaro cactus, the vibe of this desert town is inspired by a tapestry of cultures spanning more than 400 wild years.

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The Apache, Pascua Yaqui (remember Don Juan from the Carlos Castenada books?), and Tohono O’odham people were among the region’s earliest residents. They farmed, hunted, traded, and borrowed from each other in the agriculturally rich Santa Cruz River Valley. Later came the conquistadors and Jesuit priests looking for water, wealth, and a workforce to expand the Spanish crown. They were followed by massive Mexican ranching operations, some stretching hundreds of thousands of acres. The Gadsden Purchase of 1853 brought the region into U.S. territory. Enter more soldiers, ranchers, farmers, cowboys, miners, and speculators (along with their lawyers), who also called Tucson home. The result is a wild and woolly town steeped in the diverse traditions of the Desert Southwest.

While America’s founding fathers prepared for independence from British rule, Spaniards were hard at work building a presidio in present-day Tucson — one of the oldest, continuously inhabited and cultivated areas in the United States.

The writing on the walls
Murals are everywhere in Tucson. Big, small, playful, serious, realistic and fantastical, these works tell stories as diverse as the people who live here. From diminutive works on residential side streets to large-scale mega-art installations, public art is a colorful part of Tucson’s identity. Hunting for these art works is also a great way to explore this city. Two artists loom large in the city’s mural scene: Rock Martinez and Joe Pagac. Both artists are prolific and responsible for many of the mega-paintings in and around the downtown area. (Pictured right, Martinez's mural "Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Menlo Park")

There are an estimated 100-plus murals around Tucson. A good place to start is at corner of East 6th Street and North 7th Avenue. Here you will find Martinez’ iconic, four-story tall “Mayahuel” or “Agave Goddess” on the Tucson Warehouse & Transfer Co. building (pictured right). From this intersection you can see two of Pagac’s murals. One block west, (534 N. Stone Avenue) is the exuberant, vividly hued, 4,000-square-foot fantasy, “Epic Rides"; a block east, just across the railroad tracks, is “Borderlands.” A short drive away are two more Martinez pieces, “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Menlo Park” (895 Calle de los Higos) showing Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera dancing against a backdrop of inspiration from one Rivera’s own murals. One more Martinez painting worth the drive to South Tucson is a smaller piece called “Serape Sunrise” at the Desert Suds Carwash (4610 S. 12th Ave.).

If you’ve worked up an appetite, grab lunch across the street at Rollies Mexican Patio where Chef Mateo Otero has been wowing Tusconians for years with a variety of tasty tacos. Try the rolled cauliflower taco or Nana’s tacos, a flavorful, deep-fried, ground-beef taco only a Nana could create.

Desert vibes
If you’re looking for an immersive desert experience but you’re short on time, the celebrated Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (pictured) is your ticket. Nearly 100 acres in size, this sweeping complex blends seamlessly into the surrounding desert, blurring the lines between exhibit and wilderness. The museum features a zoo, aquarium, aviary, natural history museum, botanical gardens and art galleries. Expansive interpretive environments give an up-close, interactive experience with a diverse collection of desert plants, animals, reptiles and insects and the illuminate the roles they play in arid land ecosystems. You’ll see javelina, coatimundi, mountain lion, brown bear, bighorn sheep and hundreds of other species in natural settings.

Afterwards, if time permits, continue on Kinney Road to Saguaro National Park’s west district and take selfies among the mammoth namesake cactus. On the way back to town, pull off at Gates Pass parking area and take in one of those glorious Sonoran Desert sunsets.

Food fight
After a day of sightseeing, explore Tuscon’s vibrant food scene and discover why Tucson was the first U.S. city to be designated a “Creative City of Gastronomy” by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Local chefs embrace this designation and combine cultural and culinary traditions of Native American, northern Mexican, Spanish and American cowboy cooking into a rich, melting pot of flavor.

Situated in the century-old home, El Charro Cafe is legendary in Tucson for its Sonoran-style cuisine. Established in 1922, this local favorite is not only reportedly the oldest continuously operated Mexican restaurant in the nation, it’s also considered to be the birthplace of the chimichanga. Uniquely Sonoran is the carne seca — made here with sun-dried, lean Angus beef that's marinated, shredded, and grilled with green chile, tomato, and onion.

There’s no shortage of good tacos in the “Old Pueblo.” Poke around an eclectic array of boutiques, thrift shops and bookstores along Tucson’s Historic Fourth Avenue District, then duck into the patio at BOCA Tacos Y Tequila (533 N. 4th Ave.) for cocktails, and a sample of the inventive tacos and an ever-changing array of eclectic salsas created daily by Tucson native, Chef Maria Mazon. For a uniquely Tuscon bite, try a Taco Dog, a bacon-wrapped hotdog with grilled onions, pico de gallo, and beans. Or the Dan Gibson, barbacoa-style beef simmered in tomato chile sauce. For a meatless option, try the grilled cauliflower taco tossed in a curry cilantro and orange oil for a flavorful alternative.

For a healthier take on your taco, CharroVida mixes Mediterranean influences with Mexican cuisine in a health-conscious manner. Don’t miss the guaca-hummus, or create your own “vida bowl” with street corn or yucca fries, jackfruit carnitas or grass-fed steak. For a light and bright cocktail, the El Maestro margarita is made with jalapeño, cucumber, citrus and agave, Patron Citronge liqueur, and Código silver tequila.)

For an Old West steakhouse experience, the El Corral fits the bill. Housed in the original ranch house, this venerable locals hangout, has changed hands several times since opening in 1926. Prime rib and tamale pie are the stock and trade here, as is the mesquite-grilled filet. No cowboy steakhouse would be complete without movie-star cocktails like a Tom Mix Sour or the bourbon-based Barrel Cactus.

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IN MID-APRIL, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland issued a couple secretarial orders, numbers 3398 and 3399, that sent conservationists over the moon. One order created a Climate Task Force and provided guidance on using science and engaging the public in the decision-making process. The other revoked a dozen orders issued by Haaland’s predecessor, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, that were meant to clear the way for faster, easier oil and gas development on public lands. The revoked orders were “inconsistent with the Department’s commitment to protect public health; conserve land, water, and wildlife; and elevate science,” Haaland said in a statement. “Collectively, (they) tilted the balance of public land and ocean management without regard for climate change, equity, or community engagement.”

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President Joe Biden’s administration had already paused new oil and gas leases on public lands and waters while it conducted a climate review of related policies and practices. The industry objected to that move, but was mostly quiet on Orders 3398 and 3399.

So, what do these orders do, exactly, and how will they affect Nevada? The Center for Biological Diversity’s Nevada State Director Patrick Donnelly was one of those hailing Orders 3398 and 3399 as a big deal. He explains why.

Where do we need to begin in understanding what Orders 3398 and 3399 mean to Nevada?
With Secretarial Order 3355.

Okay … What was that one?
That was an order authored by Bernhardt and signed by (Bernhardt’s predecessor, Interior Secretary Ryan) Zinke.

Explain NEPA, for anyone who just got to the party.
The National Environmental Policy Act is the single most important statute for protecting our air and water and natural resources and wildlife, because it forces the government to disclose its actions and the impacts. That yields good decision-making — in theory. …

Environmental law seems arcane and impenetrable to most people, and it is. But these laws, collectively referred to as “NEPA,” are the only thing that keep our environment together. The Trump administration was effective at systematically dismantling the framework of NEPA, the various ways it’s implemented, and what it covers. … Trump, primarily because Congress wouldn’t go along with it, hacked away at NEPA with Secretarial Orders.

What was Order 3355’s role in that?
It took a big hatchet to NEPA by imposing a number of procedural constraints. An environmental assessment (EA) couldn’t be longer than 150 pages, for example. And an environmental impact statement (EIS) couldn’t be more than 300 pages. That’s a lot of pages, but these things can be many thousands of pages. They’re complex documents meant for complicated projects. … It also put a one-year timeframe on NEPA, which is unlawful and totally arbitrary.

NEPA is extremely detailed about the EIS requirement, but extremely vague about EA. So, most government projects only require an EA. Secretarial Order 3355 made substantial changes to EA, eliminating the requirement for public comment, for instance. … There were all these various tricks being used to avoid doing a thorough environmental analysis, and 3355 institutionalized those practices. It gave companies permission to bypass scientific study.

So, what did Haaland’s recent orders have to do with 3355?
They repealed it, along with several others. There were many problematic secretarial orders (under Bernhardt), but that was the worst one. … That’s why I got excited about orders 3398 and 3399: because Haaland wiped all that away.

I’m not going to be the only one thinking, “Aren’t we just playing a game of executive order ping-pong here?” What’s to stop the next conservative interior secretary from just repealing Haaland’s orders?
I think that’s a question our entire body politic is asking itself about all policy issues. We’re seeing ping-pong in foreign policy, entering and withdrawing from global efforts based on who’s in the White House.

Specifically, how do you protect NEPA long-term?
I have hope. The Biden administration has made big promises on the environment, and so far, they’re following through. We’re seeing some real stuff happen already. I think that four, eight years from now, we’ll be looking at a very different landscape for conservation in this country. Climate denial, the behavior we saw under Trump, was an aberration. He propped up the fossil fuel industry for four years and then lost an election. The country cares about and cherishes a clean environment, good climate, and a leader who will move us toward that. The hearts and minds of the people are with this. Conservation is going to win elections.

Let’s talk about how Secretary Haaland’s orders affect Nevada, specifically.
A good example is Thacker Pass (Northern Nevada site of a proposed lithium mine that’s subject of an ongoing protest). That project was rushed through the environmental review process under those Trump authorities. Now we’re at the back end. People see that it was rushed through, and many aggrieved parties are saying not only, “We don’t like this,” but also, “We weren’t part of the process and should have been.”

Recognizing that more lithium mines will be coming, it’s imperative that we have a good process for analyzing and approving them. Right now, Nevada has two, and they’ll both be in court for the next half-decade. A robust system of laws that protects our environment will lead to better choices about how and where to produce lithium. The same is true for a number of things.

Can you give an example in Southern Nevada?
Interstate 11. That project will have a major impact on Las Vegans, affecting traffic, Lake Mead, pollution, people’s neighborhoods. The Department of Transportation and other agencies involved will have to do NEPA. It will make the difference between accurately accounting for the impact on Las Vegans and not. We think of NEPA as only affecting rural areas, but it’s a major factor in pollution in urban areas as well.

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Photos and art: Jessica Oreck: Mikayla Whitmore; Tucson: Headline photo by Frankie Lopez/Unsplash, murals courtesy Rock ‘CYFI’ Martinez, Arizona Sonora Desert Museum: Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz/Shutterstock; Haaland at Bears Ears National Monument: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

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