"The Empty Quarter"
This is Chapter Ten – “The Empty Quarter” – of “The Nine Nations of North America” by Joel Garreau, as published by Houghton Mifflin in May, 1981.
“New Stuff” regarding Nine Nations can be found at http://garreau.com/main.cfm?action=book&id=3
DOWN AT the Blyth & Fargo Co. mercantile, where he takes payments on the credit sales of groceries to ranchers and puts the cash into an Antonio y Cleopatra cigar box, Harry Bodine talks about the Wyoming frontier as if it were yesterday. He really does.
"We had two barns in town to house these horses to do our delivering with. We'd go from town to town, sometimes, with these horses. You had to have just as stylish a horse, just as nice and useful as you would an automobile or truck today.
"Being a nucleus here in Evanston with the sheep-raising, maybe in the fall of the year some man would come in and he'd trade in his horses and wagon, and we'd keep them over the winter and sell them to a different man next spring. Because they'd go fifty or sixty miles from Evanston, that's where their sheep would be. We don't have as many Basques as we used to, but they were good men. The Basques were by far the best sheep men that they could ever get.
"We'd stock two railroad cars full of sugar and maybe one of flour, but the rest of the space in our warehouses would be for oats. All the road projects were done with horse power, so oats was the gasoline of that time."
"Blyth and Fargo, the store here. It was originally Blyth and Pixley, but that didn't last long; it's been Blyth and Fargo almost from the beginning. It's a general merchandise store. The country demanded a store of this kind about every hundred miles along the railroad when it was coming east, and you'll find them dotted all over Wyoming. James Cash Penney takes credit for the first chain store. But before J.C. even began to get his first store started, fifty miles over here in Kemmerer, Wyoming, we were going.
"We had ten or twelve stores operating out of this place. Now, this was before automobiles and trucks. The only access you had was the railroad. So things came in by railroad and we had little stores we'd job to around here."
When are we talking about?
"Oh, this would be, I imagine, eighteen ninety, eighteen ninety-five. The railroad came through in 'sixty-eight, and the store started in 'seventy-two."
How long have you been working here, anyway? "I've been in this store fifty years."
Bodine is a gaunt man with an initially gruff manner that hides his real sense of wryness in front of strangers. He wears a red and green plaid shirt-jacket and a string tie fixed by a giant, honey-colored stone. He has his desk and his cigar box at the mezzanine landing. From that little cubbyhole perch behind a wrought-iron railing, he can keep an eye on most of the store, from the quarts of 7-Up to the Stetson hats and Levi's overalls.
His town, the town of Evanston, is one of the biggest in western Wyoming. Population 4462, elevation 6748, it says on the sign at the top of the bright, dusty road. Bodine continues:
I was born in Evanston. My grandfather came here when the railroad came, eighteen sixty-eight. I started here in nineteen twenty-nine, no relation to anybody, and just stayed here ever since. I was a senior in high school. The very day school began that year there was a sign down there that said, "Boy Wanted." It was almost like a Horatio Alger book. The man said come down after school. And I did and here I am yet.
I've done everything that I think I wanted to do. I got to be the general manager fifteen or twenty years ago. You know, I started out as a kid, and they always thought I was a kid. I'm afraid I'm the culprit who's made all the changes. In those days, you had counters and clerks to wait on you. You didn't have a chance to have free access to merchandise like you have now. We had a horseshoe-shaped counter. We had maybe twelve or thirteen people working, excluding the grocery department. We had seven or eight over there.
All we can do is do what we're doing and get a little bit farther behind every day, seems like. Help is scarce, and like I say, we can't compete with oil-field wages. They're siphoning off a lot of women in the oil fields.
There are jobs out there they can do, on insulation and stuff like that. And the bankers down here. One day I went in there and they had five tellers! Terrible!
You want to go upstairs and see all that stuff, you go ahead, but I can't show it to you. I'm too busy. I got two boys who are down here struggling. They can't hire any help. Bookkeepers last maybe a month, two months, five months, then they get lured away by the competition. I can't let these books pile up; they've got to be done every day.
It's toward closing time, and people are bustling along on the sidewalk outside, but there is not a single customer in the store. Up the stairs, on the echoing floorboards, back behind the stack of mattresses, the Old West still lives.
One of the first things to catch the eye is the Wheeler and Wilson sewing machine, in a hand-carved wooden case, foot-pedal operated. It used to be the centerpiece of the Blyth & Fargo millinery department. Next to it is a Conformateur-proudly labeled “Paris, France” - a black metal torture device with hundreds of parts that shaped and fitted bonnets. It gathers dust, along with hundreds of other items stacked haphazardly in this back room. Someone, back a ways, recorded, on now-yellowed file cards, the uses of some of these devices to preserve that knowledge before everybody who remembers them has passed on.
An advertising display for Munsingwear Union Suits has a picture of two children, fittingly attired, on the lap of a young mother whose beauty fits an image decades, perhaps a century, old. A white camisole hangs near a case of button hooks - for your high-button shoes. Free-standing, not far away, is the foot-shaped platform and the big lever of the “Scholl Manufacturing Company, Chicago, Arch Fitter.”
Quill pens, a curling iron with a green handle, a two-handled scythe, a horse collar, horseshoes, a horizontal butter churn with wooden paddles that roll back and forth along a shallow tray when cranked. A tin case, handsomely lettered “National Bisquit Company,” still displays its glass front before which an earlier generation drooled at the sight of cookies. Another tin box stands about five feet high and contains six bins. Its gilt legend reads, “Howard W. Spurr Co., Coffee Importers and Roasters. Boston, Mass.” Next to it is a two-bin Simpson hand-crank coffee-grinder of about the same height.
In the middle of the room stands an “Estey Organ Co., Brattleboro, Vt., USA” pedal organ. It has five octaves. Many of its wooden knobs are broken, but there are remaining ones, with such labels as Harp Aeolienne, Diapason, and Flute. I wonder what a Harp Aeolienne sounded like.
On top of Mr. Blyth's original desk is a stack of ledgers. Inside the one with " 1888" imprinted on its spine, the beautiful but almost unreadable ornate script shows that Mike Dacey was one of the mercantile's big customers: $109.70 in purchases that year. August was his big month: $11.45. The ledger tells us that he paid off his bills, month by month. James Davis ran up a total bill of $19.55, making charges about once a season.
An Evanston town map, 1898, shows a Chinatown. The Chinese, who came to build the railroad, stayed on to mine coal for the locomotives. It was the biggest Chinatown east of San Francisco, they say. Some photos show the store clerks lined up for a formal sitting, wearing three-piece suits, with their hair parted in the middle and slicked back. A perpetual calendar from Becker Brewing & Malting Co., Evanston, counts the years.
There is an enormous, elaborately scrolled, silvery cash register on a wooden base that holds four drawers. It stands atop one of the fifteen-foot oaken counters that Mr. Bodine removed from the lower floor. An old steel tub sports a stained and peeling sticker that reads, "Old Maytags Never Die."
We don't think of any value tied up in that stuff [Bodine says.] Some people tell us it should be incorporated in some of our displays. They say it would make good conversation pieces. We did bring down a few, but the local people don't pay much attention to them, because they've grown up with them. The new people might appreciate them, but we don't get many new customers, because they're attracted to the chain stores. They know Safeway, because there's been one wherever they've been, and the stores are more or less standard. I think, in this town, those grocery stores are cutting a fat hog-that tape machine of yours don't pick up no swear words, does it? Look, here's a store without a customer in it. That isn't natural, this time of day. As the old-timers pass on, when you see a funeral pass by, you know that's one of our good customers going on down the line.”
From the street, the store looks almost like a museum or a carefully designed movie set. On the green street-floor facade and the brick upper stories, there are black-on-white signs in nineteenth-century lettering:
THE BLYTH & FARGO CO.
Drygoods - Clothing - Boots & Shoes
Furniture Hardware Stoves, Groceries &c
It is not the only place of its vintage in Evanston. Mel Baldwin, the monosyllabic editor of the Uinta County Herald, located on the other side of Main Street, sits at his old desk in the front of his office. It is a hand-carved rolltop, furnished with dozens of tiny pigeonholes, the very desk that the founder of the paper lugged here from the East in the last century. California antique dealer offered him $6000 for it the other day. Didn't take it, though. Sat at it for a long time now. Doesn't see any reason to change.
But change is Evanston's tomorrow - change so torrential that in the next few years Evanston will be swept from the nineteenth century into the twenty-first, with only the briefest pause for some oil workers' chair-swinging bar fights in the Whirl Inn disco in between. For Evanston is becoming the Intermountain West's newest energy boom town.
"This is the most exciting place in North America!" says Milt Hoesel, expressing a sentiment that would undoubtedly leave Harry Bodine utterly baffled.
Hoesel is sitting on the couch over by the plate-glass window in the office of Alan Graban, just up Main Street. Graban is the president of the First Wyoming Bank, Evanston. He has been here two years. Hoesel is the senior drilling foreman for Amoco in these parts.
"Where else," continues Hoesel, "would I have had the opportunity to serve on the board of directors of a bank? Was the furthest thing from my mind. All I ever knew was oil. I was born in Mandan, North Dakota. I have the same feeling Al does." "Yeah," says Graban, "the opportunities to be made here are, well, they're just fantastic.
"I thought all this big equipment would be coming through town and they'd see it and it would finally sink in to the people in this town. Look out there. Halliburton. Oil-field pump truck. Oh, now this should be interesting. Wonder if he can make it past that gravel hauler. Look, you're seeing millions and multi-multi-multimillions of dollars out there.
"We've got five percent of the total oil and gas reserves of the entire United States sitting right underneath us. We're saying it's Prudhoe Bay size. They just hit a well yesterday, that - what was it. Milt?"
"It flows twelve hundred and ninety barrels of oil a day. And five million cubic feet of gas. And that's just one well. We've got seventeen fields, and they're all giants."
"Ten trillion cubic feet of gas. Write that down on a piece of paper some time. Ten thousand billion. You see, it's beyond . . . It's hard for people to even comprehend ...."
Added Hoesel: "If you can stand the challenge, boy, it's all right here."
All right here. In Evanston, Wyoming, about a hundred miles east of Promontory, Utah, where the golden spike was driven to connect the continent's first coast-to-coast railroad, just a tad over a hundred years ago. Exactly one hundred miles due west of Rock Springs, Wyoming. Exactly one hundred miles because that's how often the Union Pacific needed a town. The train east needed more fuel, more water to make steam, and a fresh crew. And, of course, a mercantile. A hundred miles to Evanston, then Rock Springs, then a hundred miles to Rawlins, a hundred miles to Laramie, then through Cheyenne, and on into Nebraska.
Precious little sign of humanity in between, even today. Evanston is still a mind-scarring distance from anything except Salt Lake City, which is across the Wasatch Range. It's a steep climb of an hour and a half by the interstate, during which you can still see, in the breakdown lane, a cowboy on a horse, followed by a pack mule on a short lead. Above the lobby desk at the Dunmar Motel there are five clocks, each one with a label - Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, London, and Evanston - and each one an identical ten minutes slow. A list there shows that even within Wyoming, the distances are menacing:
Gillette, 456 miles.
Cheyenne, 372 miles.
Sundance, 515 miles.
Then comes what is repeatedly referred to by the roughnecks, the oil workers, as "the real world":
Albuquerque, 770 miles.
Amarillo, 855 miles.
Bismarck, 874 miles.
Chicago, 1313 miles.
Denver, 438 miles.
Dodge City, 788 miles.
Great Falls, 596 miles.
Las Vegas, 513 miles.
San Francisco, 832 miles.
Seattle, 877 miles.
Sioux Falls, 912 miles.
Vancouver, 1006 miles.
Evanston is not even near a commercial airport.
The only thing Evanston is near is the Overthrust Belt. And that's three miles. Straight down. Through the rock of tectonic plates that intertwined and rode over each other as the continent was formed 150 million years ago. Land 140 miles wide was compressed into 70 miles wide, leaving behind some of the most baffling but productive geology oilmen have ever had to face. The Overthrust Belt reaches from British Columbia, Canada, to Guatemala, up and down the Rocky Mountains. But it is here, where Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming meet, with Evanston its de facto capital, that the Overthrust Belt is first being conquered.
Evanston was, until recently, Mormon by an overwhelming majority. The strait-laced Latter-Day Saints greased their wagon wheels with the oil that bubbled through to the surface in 1847, when Brigham Young brought his disciplined and suffering bands west. He even left a colony behind here before he pushed through to the valley of the Salt Lake and declared, "This is the place."
But now, Evanston is becoming a boom town of a kind south-western Wyoming has never seen before, not even in the earliest days of the frontier. An energy boom town.
"This is not the worst energy boom town I've ever seen," Hoesel muses. "Now, Gillette!"
Gillette, in northeast Wyoming, was the town around which preparations were made to extract vast quantities of highly valuable low-sulfur, strip-mined coal in the late seventies. Absolutely no provisions were made for the problems of the boom. Alcoholism, violence, crime, child-abuse, wife-beating . . a bouquet of modern urban pathologies bloomed overnight in the high country. Today, you can't reach for your keys in Gillette without elbowing an amazed sociologist, come to witness this phenomenon. In fact, there is now a neurosis recognized as the "Gillette syndrome." It's found among women stuck, day in and day out, in mobile homes literally forty miles from nowhere, with zero to do except watch men poke holes in the ground. They go crazy.
"Gillette was the worst," says Hoesel, "but the horrible example around here is Rock Springs. We don't ever want to have as many prostitutes as they have, or the killings, or the drugs. Rock Springs is the emotional word in Evanston."
A short time after CBS's "60 Minutes" televised a take-no-prisoners expose of the lawlessness in Rock Springs, a police officer who had been brought in from Brooklyn to do antinarcotics undercover work was shot right between the eyes. In a patrol car. At pointblank range. In front of two witnesses. By his boss. The sheriff. One Ed Cantrell. Testimony indicated that the victim never touched his own firearm. Yet Cantrell's case was self-defense. He saw in the deputy's eyes, he said, that he was going to draw, so he plugged him, claiming that it was perfectly possible to get the jump on a man twenty years his junior in the flicker of an eye. Expert testimony was introduced that Cantrell was one of the fastest guns in the West. He was acquitted. This was in 1979.
Either justice was done in this case, or it wasn't. You pick which thesis you find more staggering.
"Yeah, you know, Evanston isn't really that bad, yet," Hoesel and Graban agree.
"But wait till next year."
Graban, who is from Seattle, and Hoesel are traveled, educated, sophisticated men by the standards of Evanston. Although both cultivate what a New Yorker might consider country ways - come by more or less honestly - they are from a completely different world from that of the "old-timers." "Why, you talk to some of these people," says Graban, "and find they've never been on an airplane. One old guy has never been out of Evanston. Not even to go to Salt Lake City!"
So these two don't see things the way many locals do. The locals, thoroughly a part of the pickup-truck-and-television generation, nonetheless still eat dust in the fall, rounding up cattle from horseback. ("Well, how would you propose to do it?" I was asked.) They still heat heavy branding irons in their campfires.
"They were told about it,'"' says Graban. "They heard it. But they didn't quite believe it. And there's thirty percent of the people in this town who still don't believe it. They think that now it's going to get cold, and it's been a busy summer, but it's going to quiet down next year and all those people are going to go away."
Of these erroneous fantasies, Hoesel says, "If you've lived in a little community of four thousand people all your life - well, I can see how they think this is so unreal."
But as long as energy controls destiny in North America, "this" is not going to go away in Evanston. After an isolated and sleepy century, the town and its region will never again be the same.
Graban is an amiable, dynamic, six-foot-tall, kind-of-over-weight, straight-faced-joking, hell-of-a-man-if-you-take-him-on-his-own-terms kind of character. He is also a serious banker. He begins to tell a story by starting in the middle:
"I got a note on my desk here to call the mayor and the chief of police. We've got to sit down and resolve the problem of our driveway. It's not my problem. We're doing everything according to the law. But, last Saturday—"
Hoesel begins to chuckle, and Graban goes on:
We brought the entire downtown area of Evanston to its knees and traffic didn't move for an hour and a half. Lining up at our drive-in windows. You see, they're building a plant for Milt out there. Will separate the hydrogen sulfide from the natural gas. Got to before you can ship it. Three hundred million dollars. Two hundred and fifty construction workers.
Well, it just happens that we're very fortunate because there's an outstanding, intelligent, handsome, honest bank president in this town who has gone out and called on all these companies in Houston. So we have all their bank accounts.
And, all right, where do those two hundred and fifty guys come at six o'clock on Friday night to cash their paychecks? You wouldn't believe it. Look at these pictures. This is what upsets the locals. Three lanes into the bank. You can't even drive through town.
And then, Saturday. The policemen came out. Two of them walked out of the police station there, stood and looked at the mess. One guy took off his hat, scratched his head, turned round and walked back in, and never came out again.
The point I'm making is that this is happening with two hundred and fifty people. And Milt's drilling so much, they're probably going to start the second phase of construction before the first is finished. So now you're talking four or five years of construction, at least, and adding another three hundred million dollars. And Chevron is saying the same thing. So you've got by spring six hundred construction workers in one camp. Add in Chevron, that's nine hundred to twelve hundred. A billion dollars worth of construction. So on Friday night at six-thirty, you're going to see fifteen hundred people trying to cash their paychecks . . .
I mean, look. That's the total assets of the bank, here, those figures. We've got ninety percent of the construction loans in town. Just approved a huge loan for a five-hundred-pad mobile-home park just outside of town.
All the girls downstairs love doughnuts. Eighty percent of them are Mormons, and they all weigh nine thousand pounds more than they should, like myself, but they have great doughnuts down at the bakery here. So when we hit thirty million dollars in assets, I said, okay, doughnuts on the bank. Guess we can afford it.
When we hit thirty-one, Janet comes in here, and says it's doughnut time. Well, I said, you just had doughnuts the day before yesterday. Basically, last Tuesday they came in and said we just passed thirty-seven million dollars, can we have doughnuts? That's two days ago. And they came in today and said we had seven hundred thousand dollars more than two days ago, and they asked if they could have doughnuts today again. I said no way. Not until you hit thirty-eight million. You heard me. No doughnuts.
And this is in a town where the first cut the nineteen-eighty census took at us said we still had only four thousand people. Well, hell, we've had twice that many gas hookups. Turns out they completely missed a subdivision and a trailer park. So new they didn't even know they were out there! We've got to be at least seven thousand, eight thousand.
“Our internal figures at Amoco show that we expect things to not level out until eighteen or twenty thousand," says Hoesel.
That would bring Evanston from not-even-on-the-charts to the fourth-largest city in Wyoming in well under a decade. Probably five years.
The signs of the boom are everywhere. Out in the sagebrush, a weathered old barn leans picturesquely into the never-ending wind in a fashion usually reserved for calendars or checkbooks called something like the "Scenic America Series." Right next to it, grading equipment operating at full bore planes the empty land for the cement mixers and earth movers, creating a vast and dusty trailer court, the other end of which is already being occupied. And those aluminum boxes, their silver roofs reflecting rows of glare, in turn, are right next to a thumping diesel generator, there because the utility company simply hasn't had time yet to run power lines out. It is impossible to get a motel room without reservations weeks in advance. Fifteen-thousand-dollar bunga-lows in town are fetching $75,000 apiece, if you can get one. People live in cars, campers, tents, old school buses. Even the shrubbery is slept under. "I got me a nice big bush," one Jerry Williams was quoted as saying. "If I could just get a little satisfaction on the love scene . . ." The week I was there, the Uinta County Herald had raised a stir by writing about the town's brand-new whorehouse. But for some reason, they'd protected all the identities, so the biggest game in Evanston was trying to figure out, from the cryptic clues in the story, where in hell the thing was.
One of the proudest possessions in town was a baseball cap with the legend "Caught in the Evanston Underpass." It seems that the historic main line of the Union Pacific cuts right through town, and the only way across the tracks is a two-lane cut under them in the middle of town. (You wouldn't want to try running your four-wheel-drive over the tracks, what with the coal trains ripping through with great but unpredictable frequency.) The traffic jams at the underpass are becoming legendary. "There's coming the day when the only way you're going to be able to get to the other side of town is to be born there," said one old-timer. The pleas for widening the underpass have been ignored or snarled in red tape for so long that the police are now being urged to get the Union Pacific's attention by posting a ten-mile-per-hour speed limit for these trains as they come through town. Ticket them if they don't obey. Although that begs the question of how you pull a mile-long train doing eighty miles an hour over to the side.
The Whirl Inn ("and stagger out," say the locals) called for police help seventy-nine times in the first ninety days of 1980. At the back of the bar, there's a corkboard with names written large with Magic Marker on construction paper, like the honor roll in some third-grade classroom. But this is the list of people who are permanently banned from the premises. I couldn't get a straight answer about what on earth it takes to be banned from the Whirl Inn, but I did notice an unusually large number of women's names. And there are decidedly not that many women in Evanston.
Workers from all over the world are streaming in to get the hard, dirty oil-field jobs, many of which are worth $2500 a month.
Well out into the rutted hills, where good-looking Herefords graze on the meager growth, past the A & G Oilfield Maintenance workers putting up fences to keep said cows from getting into the waste-recovery water pits next to the Lufkin pumping jacks, along a solid gravel road built up four feet above the surface so that the winter snow will drift off, beyond the stacks that flare off bright orange plumes of natural gas against the azure, cloudless sky, stands Urroz No. I. That well is being worked by a blue number labeled “Star Drilling Co., Inc., Rig No. 11.” It's so big that even the thought of moving it from location to location is exhausting.
Trailers are parked around the rig. In one of them, where computer display screens set into thin wooden paneling monitor geological events thousands of feet underground, half a dozen people are having a bull session. The senior geologist, Ted Solarz, has recently been based in London and has just come here from the North Sea.
Jim Crow is from Ogden, Utah. He's the twenty-four-year-old Oilind Safety Engineering supervisor who handles the equipment that guards against accidents associated with the highly poisonous hydrogen sulfide gas that is mixed in with the natural gas. Before the bottom dropped out of the housing market, he had been a plumbing apprentice and never dreamed of working in the "oil patch." But when he was laid off, he visited his brother, working the Overthrust Belt, for three days. Then he wandered into an office to see if they were hiring, got a job, drove back to Ogden, packed his stuff, and moved. "Just like that," he says. Now his father, who is in construction, is thinking of joining him to build 125 houses.
Eugene (Butch) Connor is driving a rig, hauling water to the site for the Big K Company. A bull-shaped man, with a dusty cowboy hat of astounding size, and a mouthful of very big white teeth, Connor is from Eastern Montana up by Canada. What he really wanted to do, he said, is ranch, but there are just no jobs for a cowboy, so he's in Wyoming with his wife and two small children.
Bill Perreault grew up in Santa Monica, California, but now considers Flagstaff, Arizona, home. In fact, he works a two-week-on, two-week-off schedule as a geologist, monitoring the computer screens, and when his two weeks off comes up, he drives the sixteen hours one way to Flagstaff, where he's got a girlfriend.
"Yeah, there's virtually nothing to do here except drink," says Crow. "There ain't even any women to dance with. A gal this wide who's been beaten with an ugly-stick can come up here from Ogden and be a queen."
"In fact, they're fought over," says Perreault.
"You can see a guy pass out on a table with the change to a hundred-dollar bill underneath him," adds Crow. "I've seen it a number of times."
There are few opportunities for peaceful recreation in southwestern Wyoming. There were two separate reward notices on the wall of the Whirl Inn. One was for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anybody breaking up the furniture. The other was for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anybody shooting livestock. "That last one is the one they're real serious about," said one pool player, observantly.
Crime of all sorts has taken quantum leaps. "Five years ago nobody locked their houses," I was told. "Now you damn well better. There was this one gal, did you hear this one? She came in to the hospital for tests and went into Dr. Morris' office just absolutely doubled up, broken up, laughing so hard. It seems that she was expecting, and for one of the tests she needed a urine sample, and the only thing she found around the house was a little half-pint whiskey bottle. And so she filled the whiskey bottle about two-thirds full and it was sitting in the front seat of the car, and she came into the hospital, laughing till she cried. The nurse asked her what in blazes had happened, and when she finally got control of herself enough to explain, it turned out that somebody had stolen the bottle."
The growth is occurring so fast that Evanston needs half a dozen more of everything. Schools, police cars, office buildings, garbage trucks, sewer lines, restaurants, shopping centers, doctors, planners, clerks . . .
Evanston is unusual at this point, however, in that, after a little prodding, Amoco and Chevron started acting like the model corporate citizens they always claimed to be and coughed up a million bucks up front, which was instantly spent on modular school classrooms, police cars, police officers, the hospital, the sheriff's office, a new ambulance, and a mental health clinic. In virtually every other energy boom town, the companies have acted as if they had nothing to do with the problems of growth, and merely pointed out that once production started, the locals would be drowning in tax revenue. Of course, that resulted in every single problem showing up two to four years ahead of the tax money to combat it. But in Evanston's case, the companies even went one step further. Amoco, Chevron, and Champlin Petroleum (a subsidiary of Union Pacific) set up the Overthrust Industrial Association, designed to sort out and struggle with the effects of the boom.
"We are unique," said Amoco's Bob Bizal, in announcing the group's formation, "because we want . . . not to hide the symptoms of growth-related problems, but to solve the underlying causes."
And what gives you pause is that he's right. This is unique. And look where it's got Evanston.
For this is hardly the isolated concern of a small town in Wyoming. Evanston's name could be Craig, Rifle, Crested Butte, Lynndyl, Denver, Calgary, or Fairbanks. They are all in the nation of the Empty Quarter, the nation that, in the coming decades, is facing the most spectacular and profound assault on its ways and means of any of the nine.
In 1980, Exxon issued a study of energy futures. It repeatedly stressed that the study was not meant to be seen as Exxon's plan for what is the Empty Quarter. It was merely Exxon's view of the inevitable,
led to [by] a growing conviction that rapid development of a synthetic fuels industry in [North America] is a critical . . . need.
Known recoverable reserves of coal and oil shale - even after deducting coal to be used conventionally and the energy to be consumed in the process - are capable of providing synthetic fuels equivalent to one trillion barrels of oil.
That's three times as much energy as the U.S. Geological Survey estimates can be provided by the country's remaining proved and undiscovered reserves of oil and gas. And it's enough to sustain a synthetic fuels industry producing 15 million barrels of oil a day for 175 years.
Saudi Arabia today produces about nine million barrels of oil a day. Its technical capacity to sustain such production is expected to start declining soon after the year 2000, if political considerations do not force the issue earlier.
Exxon allows that producing fifteen million barrels in the United States "will be complicated by the fact that much of the industry will have to be concentrated in arid, sparsely populated parts of the West."
In fact, Exxon figures that of that projected fifteen million barrels, almost 80 percent would have to come out of the nation of the Empty Quarter. Over half would come out of the Piceance and Uinta basins alone - the area in the vicinity of Evanston.
Exxon figures the project would cost $800 billion in 1980 dollars. It would involve piping water hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miles to the Empty Quarter.
By the year 2010, according to Exxon, the effort would employ 480,000 people in mining, 390,000 in processing plants, 250,000 in construction during peak years, and 8400 in design engineering.
Of course, servicing this kind of industry would multiply the number of jobs by three to five times. Multiply that figure by the number of families supported by those jobs, and you're talking about eight million people in the lower fifth of the Empty Quarter alone.
That's twenty-five times the current population of Wyoming. There is a portion of Saudi Arabia, dry and unpopulated, whose energy resources are dwarfed by those of North America's Intermountain West. In Arabic, it is called Rub 'al Khali: the Empty Quarter.
It is after that region of the Middle East that this part of North America is named.
The North American Empty Quarter is easily the largest of the Nine Nations. It contains perhaps a quarter of all its land. It doesn't contain even one twenty-fifth of the continent's population, today.
The vast majority of the U.S. portion of that land is controlled by the federal government, a condition that has triggered the "Sagebrush Rebellion," as the drive to gain more local control over this region's future is called. The portion of the Canadian Empty Quarter that is conducting its own version of the Sagebrush Rebellion in Ottawa is called "the sheikdom of Alberta" because of its energy riches and its demonstrated interest in going its own way, which may be even more serious than Québec's. All over the West, the developers of the Empty Quarter are called "blue-eyed Arabs," and that appellation is apt.
No one knows exactly how much in the way of energy resources the Empty Quarter contains. Just when geologists thought that they could safely say that there were no more major conventional oil fields left onshore in this continent, advanced technology cracked the Overthrust Belt, and the rest is the history of Evanston.
Trapped in the Athabasca tar sands of Alberta alone, there is more oil than in the entire Persian Gulf.
Empty Quarter Indians alone - Acoma, Colville, Hopi, Navajo, Ute, and Wind River, among others - control an estimated 50 percent of the continent's potential private uranium resources. Other tribes, including the Blackfoot, Sioux, Crow, Spokane, and Northern Cheyenne, control a full third of all western low-sulfur, strippable coal - at least a hundred years' supply. They have all formed an organization called the Council of Energy Resource Tribes, and have sought advice from OPEC about the development of their riches.
The amount of oil locked up in shale rock, and the so-called heavy oil, which comes in the consistency of fudge, is thought to rival the stuff locked up in the tar sands.
And, says Tom Reagan, head of the United Bank of Denver's energy and mineral division, which has grown by 60 percent a year for almost a decade and now has the largest energy loan portfolio in the Empty Quarter, "It's tough to look into the future. But I think more than half of our portfolio for the next ten years will be in conventional oil and gas."
And that doesn't count the gold. Or silver. Or molybdenum. Or copper. Or lead, beryllium, iron, zinc, potash, sodium, magnesium, vanadium, selenium, cadmium, or the hundreds of other metals and minerals without which the twentieth century would screech to a halt.
As a result, this land, which is at present the most unpopulated, weakest-voiced, least-developed, who-cares? (Idaho's license plate boast is FAMOUS POTATOES) region of North America, faces a future in which it will be chewed up and spit out to light the lights from Los Angeles to Boston.
Of course, this plan is not without flaws. First, this is among the driest places in North America, and every single development scheme demands vast quantities of water.
This land scars easily. The wagon-wheel ruts of the Oregon Trail are still visible in Wyoming and Idaho, after almost a century and a half.
And the Empty Quarter is the repository of most of the continent's spirit-lifting physical endowment. It has the only sizable quantities of Quality One air left in North America, air through which you can see a hundred miles. From Mount McKinley to the Grand Tetons to the Grand Canyon, it is the site of some of the continent's most spectacular and precious vistas. It has the only major stretches of wilderness left. It's literally where the deer and the antelope, and the wolf, grizzly, black bear, elk, caribou, lynx, Dahl sheep, cougar, snowshoe rabbit, and American bald eagle, play.
This is the land the energy-minded cynics are calling the National Sacrifice Area.
In sketching the Empty Quarter, geographically, one starts with the fact that it is definitively the West. The classic definition of the West was everything on the map to the left of the 100th meridian. If you took the vertical border between the Texas Panhandle and Oklahoma, and extended it north and south through the continent, you'd have that old dividing line which has been magic to geographers for over a century. It's important for several reasons, the most crucial of which is that in the vicinity of that arbitrary mark is a boundary of nature's. West of it, the average rainfall is below twenty inches. That is so arid that the question "Where will the water come from?" affects every human activity in such a fundamental way that Easterners, who are used to having water just fall down from the sky, never get used to it. You can't locate a factory, build a house, plant a radish, or dedicate a national park in the West without first sorting out what the water situation is. Thus, the 100th meridian helps define a watershed of thinking as well as of moisture.
Also near the 100th meridian is another of nature's boundaries: west of it the land is above two thousand feet in elevation. The Empty Quarter is not just dry; it's high and dry. Where it's not mountains, it's "big sky" country, where the stars really do seem clearer and closer, and that patch of pale white that you think is a cloud turns out to be the best view you'll ever have of the galaxy of the Milky Way.
The line also has great poetry to it. John Wesley Powell, the great explorer and student of the West, was immortalized in a work by Wallace Stegner called Beyond the Hundredth Meridian. By contrast, One Hundred and Four Degrees, Twenty Seconds West of Greenwich would scarcely have had the same ring.
But even in the most conventional terms, as North America matures, it's difficult to lop off half a continent at this surveyor's line and say it's of a piece.
What it boils down to is that when people talk about the "West" these days, they aren't really talking about the West. They're talking about the Empty Quarter.
Ecotopia, where rain falls in Amazonian quantities, does not share the most fundamental similarity with the rest of the West. It's not dry. Similarly, politicians discussing the problems of the West invariably end every generalization with the phrase "except [heavily populated] California." And the hot Southwest has such a different climate (palm trees), different culture (Spanish), different history (the earliest development in North America, rather than the latest) that it, too, demands to be trimmed off.
What you have left is the Empty Quarter, that repository of values, ideas, memories, and vistas that date back to the frontier. That's what is really meant by the "West."
If you carve the border with a little more precision, you can see some of what makes this nation what it is. The Empty Quarter starts at the Beaufort Sea, beyond the "other" continental divide, the Brooks Range, which decides what water will flow, into the Pacific and what will flow into the Arctic Ocean. That's the location of Alaska's oil-rich Prudhoe Bay. This is as good a spot as any to dwell on the "Emptiness" of the Empty Quarter. Arco and Sohio-BP have increased the population density of the North Slope by 40 percent by importing two thousand men and women to drill the tundra. But even adding their numbers to the five thousand or so Eskimos who live north of the mountains, the eighty-seven thousand square miles of the North Slope is not what you'd call crowded. Nor is the rest of Alaska, which is solidly Empty Quarter except for the strip of its relatively temperate Pacific coast discussed in the Ecotopia chapter. And even at that, Alaska is coming close to having more people than Wyoming.
Alaska is so special in the raucousness attendant on every single discussion of its future - and, for that matter, the wisdom of joining the Union in its recent past - that it was discussed in the Aberrations chapter. But in many ways, the bulk of Alaska is distilled Empty Quarter. Its mineral wealth, for example, has always engendered great greed. From the Klondike gold rush of 1897 to the oil rush of the 1970s, wave after wave of fortune-hunters have fueled boom-and-bust cycles.
The Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories, and British Columbia, also Empty Quarter, except for the western seacoast, demonstrate another truth about this nation: you can't get there from here in your Buick. In the northern Empty Quarter, going by rail or truck is, in many cases, a novel way to travel. The airplane was the most important invention this world had ever seen. Before that, the biggest breakthrough had been the steamboat. Such land lines as exist in the lower Empty Quarter were not, in fact, designed to facilitate the needs of this nation. The politically important rail line uniting the coasts of Canada in 1885, for example, was meant to link the Pacific coast with the Breadbasket and the Foundry, not the Empty Quarter. At the time of Confederation, in 1867, there weren't three thousand people in all of Alberta. In fact, Alberta and Saskatchewan weren't admitted as provinces until 1905. If the roads had been built with the Empty Quarter in mind, there'd be more interstates running north-south, rather than east-west. To this day, you can't get over the Coast Mountains to Juneau, the capital of Alaska, from British Columbia or anywhere else by car. No roads.
South of the 49th parallel, the arbitrary United States-Canadian line, the Empty Quarter-Ecotopia boundary curves down around the Cascade Mountains, which block moisture-laden clouds from the sea, causing the aridity so characteristic of the Empty Quarter. The Cascades turn into the Sierra Nevada of California, but the blocking of the vital rain continues, because of that geology, all the way down the eastern edge of California, past Las Vegas, until the Hispanic influence becomes so strong that the MexAmerica boundary looms.
The huge Navajo reservation, with some of the shrewdest, if, to Anglo tastes, somewhat unsavory, Native leadership of any Indians, is definitely part of the Empty Quarter. Peter MacDonald, the leader of the Navajo, is also the chairman of the OPEC-minded Council of Energy Resource Tribes.
Thus, the line cuts across central Arizona to New Mexico, where the Spanish were thriving before John Alden introduced himself to Priscilla Mullens. The line continues up to Colorado, and stops at the wheat fields of the southeastern Colorado Breadbasket, at the plains east of the Rocky Mountains' Front Range.
The distinction between the Empty Quarter and the Breadbasket is most clear in Colorado. The mountains slice the state in two, temperamentally, politically, and economically, with as much precision as the Cascades split Washington and Oregon. Eastern Colorado is like Kansas, Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle, and the eastern strip of New Mexico - wheat-and-sorghum country, flat, and, being west of the twenty-inch-rainfall line, so dry that irrigation is almost imperative.
The cities at the feet of the Rockies, like Colorado Springs, Denver, and Boulder (which are clotting into a Front Range megalopolis), Cheyenne, Billings, and Calgary, all belong to the Empty Quarter. They were originally important as cowtowns. Calgary - skyscrapered, sprawling, culinarily sophisticated (every nation should have a French minority) - is still famous for its Stampede, arguably the hottest rodeo in the West. All these towns are now important as staging areas for the assault on energy and mineral wealth.
The farms of eastern Colorado look eastward to Kansas City and other markets where prices are set. From the brand-new Amoco building in the Empty Quarter's capital city of Denver, the view down 17th Street is westward, toward the mountains. (Except when that view is obliterated by the forest of construction cranes building new energy-company office buildings and banks. Or when the smog of this rapidly growing city - sometimes the worst in North America, beating even Los Angeles - isn't so bad as to swallow the snowcapped peaks.)
Heading out of Cheyenne, Wyoming, a regional boundary a decade ago might well have followed the Rockies sharply toward the northwest. To the east of these mountains, eastern Wyoming and Montana were then more Breadbasket-like, although often designated as the last outpost of the Old West. To this day, white-faced cattle and black-faced woolly sheep graze on ranges so immense that they are not fenced. Viewed from the air, dryland wheat and barley fields checkerboard this remote, sparsely settled land.
But these high, flat vistas have of late seen their politics and people jerked around hard. Now the Empty Quarter line must proceed so far east that it is at least due north out of Denver, to include the infamous coal boom town of Gillette, which is so far east that it is almost in South Dakota. Sleepy little legislatures like Wyoming's for decades had met infrequently and were content to do the bidding of the stockmen and the Union Pacific Railroad.
Once the most controversial and long-range issue discussed by these citizen-lawmakers - whose horizons may perhaps be characterized as limited - were grazing rights. Now they are trying to figure out how much to tax Exxon, a question that is not only of enormous complexity, but whose answer will determine the future of generations. Unlike Ecotopia, development is a religion in the Empty Quarter, which has done with so little for so long. Being in favor of only moderate, planned growth makes you a right-winger in Ecotopia, just a few notches west of the John Birch Society. In the Empty Quarter, an identical stand puts you over on the opposite end of the political spectrum, marking you as a suspected liberal. So no one wants to vote for confiscatory taxes on development. But if the taxes on Exxon's schemes are too low, the Empty Quarter will have nothing to show for all the minerals that will have been gouged out of the ground except the attendant problems left behind. And on top of that, these legislators, who, for example, in Wyoming, get paid $ 30 a day when the legislature is in session (plus $36 for lodging, meals, and other expenses), are making their decisions while confronted by the most expensive lobbyists and lawyers the oil companies can afford.
Even assuming everything is honest and aboveboard (and it would be unkind to speculate on the odds of that being likely), clearly, the world has changed here. There are new gambles, with payoffs undreamed of by the most imaginative cattle baron. Thus, despite their agricultural background, Wyoming and Montana have rapidly become Empty Quarter.
In fact, there is a temptation to draw the Empty Quarter line even farther east - even farther into the Plains - into the Dakotas. Not only do the Dakotas, for example, share problems of aridity, unthinkable empty distances, and major coal deposits, but, interestingly enough, North and South Dakota have become quite active in the Western Governors' Policy Office - WESTPO. This group of U.S. governors, which is attempting to augment the meager political influence o£ their individual states by pooling efforts, is classically Empty Quarter in makeup. WESTPO does not include Washington, Oregon, or California, states whose most heavily populated areas lie in others of the Nine Nations. But it does include Alaska, whose scant population, consequent lack of political clout, and various problems with the federal government are the right credentials. Now, even the Dakotas, which for generations have been considered satellites of Minneapolis, are looking west.
East has always hitherto been the direction from which the newspapers came, the direction students took to college or university, and the direction in which crops were shipped - and if the Dakota governors buck this old tradition, it is testimony to the powerful dilemmas they share with their Empty Quarter neighbors.
But there's one basic reason to stick with this boundary heading north from Denver and not including the Dakotas. It describes where private ownership of land becomes less than common; where federal control over the land becomes dominant.
East of this line, the feds control 2 percent, 5 percent, 0.3 percent of the total acreage. West of this line it's 40, 50, 60, 90, 96 percent. West of this line, it's national parks, national monuments, national forests, national wildlife refuges, public lands, and Indian reservations until the heavens cry for mercy. And the decisions of the bureaucrats of the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Land Management, or the Bureau of Indian Affairs have far more weight than the opinions of any elected officials. In the federal district - the District of Columbia - the government controls far less land, in percentage terms, than it does west of the Empty Quarter line.
This is not all bad, despite what Empty Quarter politicians would have you believe. West of the line, the federal government spends vast amounts of money on water projects, agricultural benefits, and defense contracts and military bases. West of this line, the feds are sometimes the only ones standing in the way of avaricious private interests. In other words, what nonresidents who claim a stake in the continental patrimony view as the rape and ruin of some of the world's most spectacular scenery.
Be that as it may, west of this line is also where the classic Empty Quarter controversies start. This is the yelling and screaming and jumping-up-and-down boundary. West of here, everything is literally a federal case.
West of here, I've run into real unpleasantness when I've told people I work in Washington. West of here, when asked where I was from, I started mentioning that I live in Virginia. It is this sort of anti-eastern sentiment - far more significant, politically, than any North-South distinctions such as Frost Belt-Sun Belt - that Ronald Reagan rode so skillfully into the White House.
As the line heads north into Saskatchewan, drawing the boundary between the Empty Quarter and the Breadbasket in Canada involves the same weighing of agricultural versus energy interests as it does in Montana. Not too surprisingly, the Creator has arranged things such that the balance of western oil versus eastern grain, western dryness versus eastern rain, works much the same way north of the 49th parallel as it does south.
"The concept of a North American common market is thoroughly accepted in western Canada," says Stanley Roberts, the president of the Calgary-based Canada West Foundation. Canada West is a respected and feared regional think tank which holds that the resource-rich western provinces are being shamelessly exploited by the populous industrial eastern Canadian Foundry. The most serious battle lines are being drawn over the Canadian government's insistence that the Canadian Empty Quarter in effect subsidize the East, by shipping its oil there at prices way under that of the world market - as much as 50 percent. This is viewed as especially egregious because development of synthetic fuel resources are not economically feasible except at high world prices.
The complaints of the Canadian West are exacerbated by the fact that the upper house of Canada's parliament, its Senate, is an appointed and virtually powerless chamber. Thus, the western provinces don't even have the minimal guarantees provided by two strong senators, unlike each western U.S. state, no matter how thinly populated. In 1980, the Liberal Party formed a government in which not one member came from west of central Breadbasket Winnipeg, Manitoba. North American regional distinctions are always most stark north of the 49th parallel. Roberts says:
There isn't much sympathy for a common market east of that lakehead – Lake Superior. But west of here, ninety-nine percent of the people and all of the governments are in favor of a free common market with the United States. There's no question about it. None. It's where we are governed, over here in the East, that there's opposition. They have their Autopact, which is for all practical purposes a common market, but we have nothing. This is the big split in the country, you see. All Canadian public policy is made in Ottawa by people who live in this eastern region. And so no matter how much we might want free trade up here, we ain't gonna get it, because we're not even invited to the negotiating table, like GATT [General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, a UN agency].
But if the Americans are willing to pay for the petrochemicals what they're paying their own people, then there's just no problem. The classic example of the eastern fix being in, for us, is that we must pay huge tariffs when we want to import steel from the U.S. or Japan, because Stelco [the Steel Company of Canada] has enormous political clout in the East. You've just got nothing but free-traders out here in the West.
The provinces have more control over their own provincial domestic affairs than any state in the United States. It's at the national level, in the central government in Ottawa, where western provinces in particular have no muscle at all.
Alberta has it in her power to pull the plug on this shaky Confederation, but that's a strange kind of political clout, a blackmail kind of clout. [Alberta premier Peter] Lougheed has the power to turn the [oil] taps off. But then the federal government has the power to turn them back on again. That's clear-cut. Our prime minister does have those emergency declaratory powers. The last time the prime minister used it was in nineteen seventy, during the so-called Québec incident. [In 1970, Pierre Trudeau in effect put Québec under martial law during a series of Québec separatist terrorist attacks.] He might use it again. But that's not politically thinkable. Because he'd lose the West. It would be the end of Confederation. The Québec model is now the established precedent. The [un-successful 1980] Québec referendum [on sovereignty-association] has just established for all provinces their right to hold a referendum to determine whether or not they should stay in Canada. It didn't make any difference that the referendum was lost. The fact that they had the referendum at all was the big thing for the provinces.
Yes, we've got a strange sort of alliance with Québec out here. We're empathetic with them. They're allies in the sense that they have the same kind of concerns about Ottawa making decisions that affect them without including them. We make shoulder-to-shoulder stands on many issues. Québec and the West vote in bloc. And one of the things they vote in bloc on, surprisingly enough, is their opposition to bilingualism. They want to be monolingual French. We want to be monolingual English.
And I think you'll find that there is a higher level of separatist sentiment in British Columbia than there is in Alberta. It's just been there longer, because of the mountains and things. It's been there for generations, so people aren't paying much attention to it. It's a new thing in Alberta or Saskatchewan, so people are relatively excited about it.
The Saskatchewan coal, uranium, heavy oil, and tar sands are west of this line running north from Denver. The major difference between the Canadian Empty Quarter and that of the United States - and it is a difference that will be disappearing in the next decade - is that the Canadian portion in many ways is developing its potential faster. Because the provinces have more internal control over their resources than do the states, Canada has gone through far less noisy national disagreements that slow down the process.
But both in Canada and the United States, this is obvious: if our short-term futures will be shaped by new limits, then the Empty Quarter is on the potter's wheel of history.
The twenty-first century is coming to get the high country. Ironically, two dreams that start from a similar premise are at war in the Empty Quarter.
The first is that of the overwhelming number of North Americans who have never been surrounded by limitless crystal air, absolute desert silence, real Stone Age wilderness, today still like the world the Indians knew.
It represents to a lot of people a freedom that is meaningful only when compared to the confines of the city. There's a tension that is not even recognized until the absence of it makes you realize that the telephones and the sidewalks have gone away.
This dream has become a very popular one, and has resulted in sleepy towns like Boise and Boulder growing at a startling clip because of factors the locals are only beginning to get used to, much less understand: calculations, for example, that a Chicagoan or an Angelino might make, that a dynamite trout stream within ten minutes of work and skiing thirty minutes distant are worth a $10,000 cut in pay to many young executives recruited by Boise Cascade.
Moreover, for every Foundry executive who actually ups and leaves to try to make it on thirteen acres of cherry orchard near Flathead Lake, Montana, or who adopts a lonely life as a forest ranger in Colorado or as a desert rat in Nevada, there are a hundred thousand who envy him - and there is a political content to that.
Knowing that the option to escape the rat race exists, if you have the guts, is a prerogative of which many city-dwellers are envious, even if they actually do nothing more rural than tend a spider plant. The knowledge that the wilds exist is becoming as important as the knowledge that the theater exists. There are an amazing number of people who may never take advantage of either, but who would be plenty upset if the options were taken away.
And thus the irony that the opposite dream about the Empty Quarter works off the same premise: if you don't like the way Los Angeles is headed, the answer may be in Utah. Only this other dream assumes that the cure for Los Angeles is there for the taking: more coal, more shale oil, more of any resource you'll ever need for development and growth, all conveniently located where few people live - the Empty Quarter.
All you have to do, so this dream has it, is go in there and dig it up. Crush it. Refine it. Burn it. What are the alternatives? Hand over the continent to the Arabs? Watch the Los Angeles Basin return to the desert from which it came? And thus the argument between empire and environment is drawn in this land, which, as I've said, scars easily, deeply, and for a long time.
Notice, too, that the argument is drawn by dreams of different species of outsider. Very few people who actually live in Utah or Alberta want to see their land either locked up or chewed up. But they probably are not going to have overly much to say about the matter. That's what it's like, living in a colony.
And make no mistake about it. Between the U.S. federal control of such huge quantities of the land and resources of the Empty Quarter, and the Canadian West's political impotence, this high, arid, resource-rich, beautiful, often still pristine Empty Quarter is the last colony of the rest of North America.
In understanding the Empty Quarter, before all considerations of Arabs and oil prices, one must realize that it is shaped by water. "Water," said one planner, "is the testicles of the universe out here."
Twenty inches of precipitation a year or less. Sometimes a lot less - four, five, eight inches - a fifth or a tenth of what Atlanta gets. Much of it is in snow clinging to the mountains, which, when it melts, runs off in a rush in a few spring weeks. There it is. If you don't grab it, you lose it. None of the water projects in this land create a drop. They all do only one thing: store the precious commodity and then allocate it to someplace else at an extraordinary price in concrete, manpower, and energy, and in a highly politicized fashion.
But there are no futures without water. With water, you can irrigate high plains and mountain valleys and even desert to grow food. With water you can create mighty industries; processing the oil shale of the Empty Quarter into synfuel, for example, requires from two to seven barrels of water for every barrel of oil produced, depending on whom you believe. With water, you can create cities of charm and grace in the middle of alkali, the green grass along the sidewalks of Salt Lake City, fed by built-in sprinklers being a prime example. With water, you can have wild rivers that charge the spirit, like the Snake, the river Jimmy Carter rafted on in 1978.
As a backward, overlooked part of North America, the Empty Quarter never had the opportunity to face the tough choices it's having to now. Taming the land was the imperative. Making the desert bloom. Pitting your brains and your back against a harsh nature, and being proud when your brains and back won.
It's something of a shock, socially and psychologically, for the residents of this land, who in many ways retain the values of pioneers, to be asked to think in terms of limits. If they had been thinking in terms of limits for the last century or so, they wouldn't be here today. This land doesn't make anything easy.
But the signs are all there that choices must be made. Fortune magazine noted that water was an "emotional" issue in the Colorado River Basin, and all of it was assigned to uses other than oil shale. Yet it quoted an Energy Department official as asserting that "enough water can be begged, borrowed, bought, or won in court to support a one-million-barrel-a-day industry."
The coal-fired Intermountain Power Project in Lynndyl, Utah, is offering $1750 for an acre-foot of water that the valley's farmers can pay only $10 a year for. Suburbanites will pay a great deal to keep their swimming pools full and their lawns green. Yet the influx of new residents - and new voters - to the Empty Quarter is very much tied to the quality of life. And quality of life around here means nature, which it is politically unacceptable to denude.
Decisions must be made.
Another limit is air. Clean air. One fabled battle occurred in Utah over the Kaiparowits power project. To be located in the southern part of the state, it offered some compelling logic. It would be located right on top of some of the richest coal land in Utah, so transportation costs would be low, and it also was a site that offered not only enough water to cool the monstrous plant, but water so salty that it wasn't good for much else.
The only hitch was that the Kaiparowits site was surrounded by North America's most fabled national parks, including the Grand Canyon, and some sentimentalists allowed as how generating electricity for export to L.A. was not as important as being able to see these wonders without having to peer through the smog from coal burning, and they won.
So now there's another plan, the aforementioned Intermountain Power Project, also known as Son of Kaiparowits, to the north of the old site. It's farther away from the coal than its proponents would like it to be, but, then again, it's far enough into the desert and away from the national parks that fewer screams are heard over air quality. So the project will be built. But this gets us back to water.
There is so little water near Lynndyl, that people get to pick only one future. For generations, that choice has been agricultural, and in Mormon Utah, the very symbol of which is a bee-hive, that's more than just a livelihood; that's a statement. It's a family-oriented way of life. It speaks to the idea of stewardship, taken from scriptural references to man being given dominion over the land, from which he is to bring forth plenty.
Seventeen thousand irrigated acres are going out of production near Lynndyl. The farmers have sold their waters to the Inter-mountain Power Project. Here, they've traded futures.
Northwestern Millard County is the valley of the Sevier River, a valley of jagged mountains to the left, right, front, and back. Dawn and dusk are the prettiest times, when the phrase "purple mountains' majesty" becomes quite real, and in the foreground the golden stalks of barley offer a striking palette.
At other times, when the sun hangs huge, this is gray, brown, unforgiving desert, startling to an Easterner who is used to seeing his planet in its natural state, covered by vegetation. Fat cattle find nourishment in the blue-gray greasewood, sheep grass, buffalo grass, four-wing salt bush, and particularly the Indian rice grass, but the Lord knows how. In the sand hills and the sheer mountain rock, trees can't find a home. The most unnatural color in the Empty Quarter is deep, rich alfalfa green. It's as eye-catching a shock as browns and violets in a polluted industrial river. It's the absolute sign of man. The only evidence of wildlife in this valley is the plastered tufts of fluff on the asphalt road every few hundred feet, testimony that there are an awful lot of slow jack-rabbits in the 150 miles between Salt Lake and Delta.
In Lynndyl, Phill Nielson runs eight hundred head of cattle on fourteen hundred acres, six hundred of them irrigated. His grand-dad came here from Denmark in 1870, one of the very first settlers.
Phill Nielson, a bishop of the Mormon Church, is the man who has been instrumental in organizing local farmers to sell out their water rights to the four mammoth power belchers of IPP, 750-megawatts each.
"The water is directly related to the land," he says. "If you take out a fifth of the water, you take out a fifth of the land. The Sevier River is the most used river in the United States and maybe the world. We start at the top of the Sevier River and water the ground and the water comes down, through, and comes back out. You go down to another dam and you catch the water and rewater. We're not exactly sure how the IPP sale will affect this farm yet, but I sold forty percent of my water, and I'll probably cut forty percent of my operation. Maybe fifty. Six hundred acres to three hundred, three hundred and fifty. It would cut my cattle [herd] in proportion."
Some parts of the Empty Quarter are luckier than others in their water supply. When it comes to the choices of agriculture, industrialization, urbanization, and wilderness, places like the Front Range of Colorado get to pick three out of four. In some parts of Montana, the choice is two out of four. But in Lynndyl, it's one out of four. The sad little trickle called the Sevier "River" can serve either a power plant or agriculture, but not both.
Nielson sees his water sale as a way of getting out of the farmer's chronic problem - debt. But he also sees it as a way to regain his children. "We export about ninety percent of our young people out of this area. Only about ten percent stay. With IPP, we hope to reduce that until we're down only to about forty or fifty percent.
"Six hundred and fifty full-time jobs when it's operating. But we figure with the multiplier effect, that will create three times that. Eighteen hundred jobs. Supermarkets and barber shops and movie-show houses and everything else." Although he can't say what makes him think local kids, rather than boom-town immigrants, will get all those jobs.
He says he has one son-in-law, trained to operate the control board of a power plant, who's living far away. He wants to return to Lynndyl, and this IPP project is the chance. Nielson just doesn't know about the future of another son-in-law, who wanted to farm.
He also doesn't know where California and Japan are going to obtain the alfalfa that came out of this valley at the hefty price of $100 a ton. They're just going to have to get it somewhere else. This last drives Nielson's neighbor, Bernard Jackson, wild.
Jackson has been one of the most vociferous, if lonely, opponents of the sale of water rights to IPP. He almost drags a visitor out to his fields, digging his hand into the crops, talking about the six tons, eight tons of food per acre his desert garden will produce. "What's a higher use than food?" he sputters. "You've got to eat!" But he's sued the bastards and sued the bastards, and he's not willing to admit it to anybody but an outsider, but he's pretty sure he'll lose. Agriculture will lose. The future is going off in a different direction.
"They're making a lot of money!" protests a Utah planner. "It's not as stark as that! Some of the lands they're giving up are marginal. With the money the family makes from the water sales, the kids can do anything they want. They can raise thoroughbred racehorses if they want. There are going to be a lot of millionaires coming off that thing!"
All true. And if, in exchange, they give up a way of life, that's just the way it is. Life can be tough in the Empty Quarter. Lord knows, the riches are tempting.
The Empty Quarter has at least half of North America's coal, with Montana alone having three times the proven reserves of West Virginia, and Wyoming, twice that of Kentucky.
Much of the stuff is near the surface. The Rawhide Mine, near Gillette, has been called "the coal-miner's dream," with seams running 110 feet thick, thinly covered by sand. Coal companies consider that fortunate for several reasons, not the least of which is that fewer people get killed stripping dirt off coal than they do when they're thousands of feet underground, as is common in the Appalachians. Also, the towering draglines that actually do the work are a great deal less expensive than an army of United Mine Workers, who tend to get their lungs clotted with coal dust and then demand pensions.
In fact, the coal companies are very pleased with the union situation, or lack of it, in the western coal fields. Many of the strip-miners aren't organized at all, and others have signed up with such diverse organizations as the Operating Engineers and the Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The United Mine Workers' position was so weak in the West that during the crippling hundred-day national coal strike of 1977, UMW locals in the western states agreed to a separate contract when the strike began, and missed only one day's work.
The best news is that this coal is relatively low in sulfur, the most notorious pollutant associated with coal burning. Sulfur in the air causes rain itself to turn acidic, killing the rivers, lakes, and cropland on which it falls. If United States law, which fails to recognize the distinction between high- and low-sulfur coal, is finally altered, this western coal will have a significant economic advantage over its eastern competition. Eastern coal is impossible to burn cleanly without the use of expensive and temperamental anti-air-pollution devices called scrubbers.
In fact, the main thing wrong with Empty Quarter coal is that it isn't even remotely near anybody who can use it.
But the coal companies are working on this problem. One idea is the unit coal train. A unit coal train has five locomotives and a hundred or more coal cars, each car with a hundred tons of coal in it. A mile or so long, the coal train clips along at maybe fifty miles an hour through every little Empty Quarter town between the mine and wherever it is going, since many U.S. Empty Quarter towns were railroad-oriented.
When these trains are ripping through town, or across your backyard, should you have decided that you liked the looks of the Big Horn Mountains in your front yard, they represent a substantial hazard to your livestock and your children. If the trains slow down, they can be even more troublesome, because a train a mile long does not quickly clear a highway crossing. A house can catch on fire, or a person can get a heart attack, and if the responding fire truck or ambulance finds a unit train between where it is and where it's got to go, there's nothing to do but wait.
Outfits like the Burlington Northern or the Chicago and North Western railroads currently plan to push one of these trains through little two-thousand-population burgs like Lusk, Wyoming, once every half-hour or so, around the clock for the rest of time or until the coal runs out. The local smart money is betting that the coal will last longer.
But that doesn't mean there is no other choice. There are slurry pipelines. Slurry pipelines take millions of gallons of the water that is so scarce in this part of the world, load it up with as much crushed coal as it will take and still stay liquid, stuff this mixture into a long tube, and pump it where it's going. If that should be Arkansas, for example, you may not have brought coals to Newcastle, but you have introduced a great deal of dirty water to a place that, inasmuch as it borders on the Mississippi River, does not consider the commodity a novelty.
Incidentally, railroad companies view slurry companies as competition. Therefore, they tend to frown on slurry companies who want right of way over or under their tracks, which is why you shouldn't hold your breath for the arrival of pipelines. Okay, there's got to be a better way, right? What about all this synfuel stuff. The Germans in World War II made gasoline from coal. What's wrong with that? Isn't the country's stated goal the production of over a million barrels a day of oil equivalents from coal by 1990?
Yes, well, that's true. The only hitch is that synfuels from coal cost about twice what Saudi sweet does, and there's a question about that gap closing in the near future, since coal conversion is a high-technology-dependent process, and technology is inflation-ridden. Thus, as long as the price of oil goes up, the price of making a replacement for oil goes up. It will be a while before coal-dependent synfuels can compete, unaided by Moral Equivalent of War (MEOW) grants.
Furthermore, there are enormous medical questions that surround coal gasification. Tar and ash are inevitable by-products of all coal conversion. Coal tar is one of the most potent cancer-causing substances known to man. It's so virulent that in the early days of cancer research, coal tar was exactly what they spread all over the white mice, knowing that if this didn't kill off the little buggers, nothing would. No one has even begun to grapple with the question of how the waste from a million-barrel-a-day coal-conversion industry could be kept out of the environment in perpetuity.
And, of course, there's the ever-present problem of water. A synthetic fuel plant requires as much as ten billion gallons of water a year, and current plans are for a dozen or more plants in the valleys of the Yellowstone, Big Horn, Tongue, and Powder rivers in the coal-rich eastern plains of Montana and Wyoming.
If all the water goes to synfuels, ranching may disappear. Ranching has been the bedrock of this land for a century. It's the very symbol of the West. But, then, no one is completely sure that this fragile, arid land can be reclaimed well enough to support cattle economically after it has felt the bite of the strip-miner. So the question of whether there will be enough water to sustain this way of life may be moot.
All right, forget about exporting the coal or the coal products. Why not burn the coal right where it is, and export the electricity? Well, this gets you back to the Lynndyl situation and the questions it raises about water and air. But the future of this region is not completely tied to coal. The Empty Quarter is also richer in oil shale than the Middle East is in crude. In the seventeen-thousand-square-mile area at the intersection of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, for example, lie the world's largest known deposits of shale, containing about six hundred billion barrels of oil. If you take this area - more than twice the size of Massachusetts, with deposits as much as fifteen hundred feet thick - and every day mine the equivalent of the dirt moved to dig the Panama Canal, crush it in a large still, and then refine it, you'd have enough gasoline to last you almost a century.
What's more, this promises to be the cheapest alternative to Arab oil, only a few dollars a barrel more expensive than the highest priced stuff from Iraq.
Of course, oil-shale processing requires so much water that it may have to be piped in from Canada or the East at a dollar or two a barrel.
But more interesting are the questions raised about what to do with the trillion tons of tailings that would be left behind after the oil was separated from the shale. That's literally mountains of waste. Apart from what it would do to the scenery, when it is hit by rain, it would leach off minerals, from boron to molybdenum, into the Colorado River, which is already so saline that by the time it hits Arizona, it can poison farmland. Also released into this river, which provides the drinking water for millions, would be as-yet undetermined quantities of petroleum-related carcinogens like benzo(a)pyrene (BAP).
Furthermore, the process gives off lots of sulfur, the substance that produces the acid rain. One of the more thought-provoking decisions that will have to be considered concerning oil shale is how high the smokestacks associated with the process should be. The higher they are, the farther up into the atmosphere pollutants are released. The farther up they start, the farther downwind they come down. Downwind from the Empty Quarter is the Breadbasket.
"If the synfuels program becomes operative," notes historian K. Ross Toole, "the effect on the lush farmlands to the east is very frightening to contemplate." But, then again, there's the question of what happens when the wind hits the tailings, much less where the wind takes the pollutants. The dust from the tires of trucks working on these projects has occasionally been so bad that the Environmental Protection Agency has had to shut down operations temporarily because of the choking conditions. No one knows how much dust could come off a trillion-ton mountain of oil-shale tailings.
Many hundred miles north of Rifle, Craig, and the other Colorado towns at the center of the oil-shale concerns is Fort McMurray, Alberta. Once, Fort McMurray was the last outpost of civilization, where the road ended and trappers and traders began to make their way by boat up the Athabasca River through connecting lakes and waterways all the way to the Great Slave Lake. Now, Fort McMurray is the center of yet another source of Empty Quarter riches: tar sands. Again, there's more oil up here than there is in the Persian Gulf. In Alberta, it has actually been turned into synthetic fuel since 1978. But, again, a few factors give one pause. Up here, the good news is that you don't have to worry about screwing up farmers and ranchers, because you're north of where agriculture and stock-raising are even a marginal way of life. The bad news is working with an asphaltlike substance mixed with grit at temperatures that hover around 40 below for weeks. At Fort McMurray, the stuff is strip-mined, and reclaiming the land in a climate with a growing season of twelve weeks or less is a neat trick. Syncrude, the company running the operation, has set aside three cents per barrel for the job.
Meanwhile, this town of seven hundred people living close to the land, with only occasional contact with the outside world, has overnight become a city of twenty-seven thousand, with hotels, a municipal pool, three indoor skating rinks, a golf course, a Sears, a Safeway, movies, bowling alleys, regularly scheduled commercial airline service, banks, inflation, pollution, crime, juvenile delinquency, drugs, and a Kentucky Fried Chicken stand. The Good Fish Indians have gone into the cleaning business. Everybody's making a lot of money.
What else? Well, there's heavy oil. One famed energy writer likes to characterize it as the chocolate mousse of petroleum. It's about as easy to pump.
There's uranium. The Empty Quarter has very nearly all of North America's uranium. Coincidentally, it has more than its share of radiation-related problems. The Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant, which builds "triggers" for hydrogen bombs, is located right on the edge of the most heavily populated area in the region - Denver. There are those who think this unwise, and they periodically gather together in groups of several thousand, storm the gates, mix it up with the local constabulary, and. get themselves arrested. They then try to politicize their trials, and the judge tries to stop them, and this goes round and round.
There's St. George, Utah, which is just downwind from the Nevada nuclear bomb test site. Everyone's appalled at the number of cancer deaths there, and equally upset by the way the federal government repeatedly denied that there was a connection between the bombs and the deaths, although they knew damn well that it was so.
In the desert of central Washington state, there is the Hanford nuclear reactor and disposal site. The facilities are central to the area's economy, but even the locals get upset when sloppy procedures, occasionally associated with the way nuclear waste is handled as it is trucked long distances across the Empty Quarter, are discovered.
If you prefer your radiation to come directly from the sun, the Empty Quarter has significant solar potential - and geothermal, too. In fact, the federal government likes Empty Quarter exotic energy so much that it wants to use solar and geothermal exclusively to run one of the most deadly weapons systems the world has ever seen - the MX missile system. No, they don't want solar and geothermal to fire the missiles. They want solar and geothermal to run the railroad on which the missiles will ride all up and down Nevada and Utah.
Why, you may ask, does the Pentagon want missiles on railroads? Well, it seems that the MX is the Pentagon's idea of the old shell game. They want each missile to have several widely separated launch sites, and a railroad to drag it from one site to another. The theory is that with such a system, the Soviets will never know which launch site contains a missile and which is empty, and thus won't know which one to attack.
This is an ambitious concept. In fact, it's the largest public works project in the history of man, dwarfing the Pyramids. Whenever a North American planner thinks in terms like these, it's almost inevitable that this thinking will sooner or later center on the Empty Quarter. There is no chance, for example, that such a project would ever be considered for New Jersey. It seems impossible enough to get Interstate 95 completed through New Jersey, let alone an MX missile program. So there you are, five hundred empty miles of Utah and Nevada - Salt Lake to Reno (covering a distance equal to that from Buffalo to Chicago). But Nevada and Utah won't mind. If thev do, who cares? It's not that they have many votes in the House of Representatives.
But suppose they were to make a stink? Suppose that the Empty Quarter were to point out that this large a construction project would demand unheard-of amounts of water that should be used some other way? Suppose it were to point to the dust and the pollution? Suppose it were to observe that the construction jobs would be short-lived, going largely to outsiders, like those which were created by the Alaska pipeline? Suppose it were to object to the idea that when these military installations were finished, they would be manned by Alabama crackers with a hitch in the Army, rather than locals? Suppose, for that matter, that it questioned the wisdom of causing every pointy-nosed missile on the Soviet side to be turned toward the vicinity of Salt Lake City?
Well, the Pentagon figures, you'd just have to sweeten the pot. That's where geothermal and solar come in. Not only are they secure energy sources; they're attractive ones. Utah and Nevada are being told that they will be the hotbeds of development of these razzle-dazzle industries. It is being put as if they will be the new Silicon Valley.
Interestingly, there is some local opposition to the MX. It comes from people who are afraid that if the missile system is constructed, the land for hundreds of miles around it will be locked up in a military reservation. If that were to happen, they point out, it will never be possible to exploit the alumina reserves.
The alumina reserves could be chewed up and spit out to produce aluminum. In fact, they could close the circle for Utah, catapulting it into the advanced, industrial world. Remember the coal-fired electrical plant in Lynndyl? Well, if you figure things right, you could take the power from that plant, and, instead of feeding it to L.A., you could use it to process the alumina reserves of Utah into aluminum. And if you did that, you could take this light, versatile metal, which has such great potential in the twenty-first century, and make it the cornerstone of a bright, job-rich, industrialized land, producing airplanes and automobiles. You could avoid the mistakes that the people who managed the gold rush in Colorado of the mid- 1800s made. You could avoid the mistakes that the people who ran the copper rush in Butte, Montana, in the early part of this century made. You could avoid the mistakes the people who ran the molybdenum mines quite recently made. Theoretically.
Westerners, [said one very thoughtful and sincere observer], don't go along with a lot of this living in harmony with the elements. That was a notion that the Indians had. The earth lived. It was a being. Gouging it hurt. Beautiful Indian poetry.
There's a notion here that the resources were made to be developed, are to be developed. That's part of our optimism. One thing that disturbs me about the East is the notion that they've lost their nerve. They've lost their confidence. You don't have that out here. People are aggressive about the land. I don't believe they want to spoil it; that wouldn't be palatable public policy. But by the same token, they're not offended if a power plant goes up. What they can be outraged by are some incredibly silly regulations about visibility requirements - environmentalists' pipe dreams about vistas.
I see us having a pretty shiny region. There's just an optimism out here, that you can change things, that you can fashion and shape the way things are going. We're not pushed around by forces. We recognize that they are there, but you can screw it up, or you can catch the wave.
In the course of writing this volume, I've tried to stay fair. I've tried to let the voices of the North American people come through. But the fact is that I've spent my adult years in the Foundry, and I must, in all candor, admit that that affected my perceptions of the Empty Quarter. I couldn't help myself. I found myself asking folk, again and again: Have you ever been to Cleveland, South Bend, Trenton? Have you ever seen what an industrialized nation can look like? Are you sure you know what you're doing? 1 couldn't get over the enthusiasm I met in this, the land of the proverbial wide-open spaces, for coal mines and steel mills and boom towns. Is it that this land is so big that its inhabitants just flat can't believe that it can be seriously altered by the works of man? Could it be they're right?
Even Alan Graban, the Wyoming banker whose professed motivations are "avarice and greed," sensed what I was saying.
I guess the toughest thing is the rancher, comes in to buy his groceries. Got a nice car, a zillion acres, the mineral rights under it. Along comes Milt [the drilling foreman] and a bunch of his guys and says gee whiz, we'll give you a hundred bucks an acre if you let us drill and it takes him about a month to think about it because goddamn, this is ranching country and you're not going to come in and mess it up.
But they come in and drill a few wells, maybe three miles out of town, one on each side of the house, and one flows seven million cubic feet of gas a day, and the other flows five hundred barrels, and he's a millionaire overnight.
And then he comes in with momma and he sits down with his banker and hands you a check for a hundred and fifty-eight thousand dollars for the first month's royalties. And he hasn't the foggiest notion what to do. We're set up where we take them down to Arthur Andersen, who has an expert in oil depletion and oil accounting; we take them bodily down there and they are most happy and this guy is a tremendous person and he introduces them to the tax ramifications and what have you and turns them over from that point to the First Security Bank and Trust so that they can set up living trusts and that sort of thing and maybe protect . . . Well hell, they've got more money now than they'll ever need, but then he comes in with the next month's check and he sits down and smiles and says, “This is the first time in my life that I can afford to be a rancher.”
The nice thing is that the people who are getting the royalties are the old-timers who struggled and lived here all their lives. But the thing that scares me is that they don't have the knowledge. You see, they got the ranch from their father, and their father from their grandfather, and now the father gives it to the son. The only difference is that there's a thousand acres, and when they transferred it from grandpa to their father at a buck an acre, it was nothing.
There's no way you're going to tell Internal Revenue that with two producing oil wells on both sides of your house that that's worth a dollar an acre. Or there's a housing development on three sides, or a mobile-home court. With the land selling for five thousand dollars an acre.
All of a sudden, the guy's land is worth five million dollars. And the guy dies and Uncle Sam says, okay, in the next six months now we need a check for three quarters of a million dollars, and you tell them that and they don't believe you. The kids say, but Dad! God! Make your will! Get your trust set up! Protect Mom! What if you pass away? She's got to sell half the ranch just to settle your estate tax! Well, I'll think about it, he says. You know, kids don't know anything. They're dumb. Every one of them, as far as tile old man is concerned. Dumbest things that ever walked on legs. Useless as tits on a boar. It's just a whole other world for them.
I hope we're not making these people look like idiots. Some of them are very smart. Very, very clever. They're great at ranching. It's Evanstonitis, somebody called it. It's a feeling that they have been here, there's no need to go anywhere else, they've raised their family, they've retired here, they've enjoyed it, and why has all this happened?
I mentioned my concerns to Jerry Mallett, of the American Wilderness Alliance in Denver. You're obviously optimistic about the future of the wilderness, I said. Why? Where's the constituency for saving the land?
Well, he explained, there are ranchers out here who are eager to keep the federal lands surrounding their spreads from roads and development. It will keep the price of land down and save their way of life. One shouldn't underestimate the number of elk hunters either, he said. There are far more applications for hunting licenses than there are "harvestable" animals, and no politician in his right mind wants to cross them, and they are numerous. But, he candidly admitted, the bottom line is the Easterners, and the people hugging the West Coast. They're the ones who have seen what can be done and has been done to the land around them. The Wilderness Alliance is in fat city, he suggested. As long as the majority of the continent's votes are in the places that have been most screwed up, the wilds have a fighting chance.
But the other thing I wondered about were the Latter-Day Saints. The Saints are the fastest-growing church in North America. Their organizational abilities are formidable. When floods hit Idaho, semi-tractor-trailers loaded with relief supplies were rolling out of Temple Square in Salt Lake before the Red Cross had received the first phone call from national headquarters. It's a wealthy church. Tithing 10 percent of income is still a highly respected tradition. It actively proselytizes, and it takes care of its own.
And if one were to map the stiffest concentration of Saints in North America, from Nevada to Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, and Alberta, and set it next to a map of the most intensively assaulted energy portions of the West, those two maps would be identical.
Karl Snow is a Utah state senator and a professor at Brigham Young University. Named after the man who brought the Mormons west, BYU, in Provo, is right at the base of the towering Wasatch Range, with sheer cliffs pushing straight out of the backyards of some dorms. Speaking of straight, whatever you've heard about BYU is probably true. Coca-Cola is not sold on campus, because of its caffeine content, which makes it strong drink. I watched a colleague reach for a cigarette behind closed doors in the office of a political science professor. The professor, who is Mormon but not overly devout, blanched. He didn't himself mind the reporter smoking, he said, but somebody might smell it, and "eyebrows would be raised," as he put it.
(Jeans are not acceptable dress for women going to class. So dresses are the order of the day. Thank the Lord that fashion, as I write this, favors longer hemlines. When I finished my set of interviews at BYU, I went out of my way to find the nearest place to get a beer. I wasn't all that thirsty. I just felt an overpowering need to sin. There may be another campus in North America where the nearest bar is three miles away, and is very lonely, at that; but if there is, I don't know where. But I digress.)
Karl Snow is a thoughtful, liberal Republican, not the most common breed in the Empty Quarter.
We’ve worked for a long time to shift from dependency on agriculture. People think of us as a rural state, which we are not. We are highly urbanized. But you’re right. There’s a real shift going on. At the outset, Brigham got here and he wanted the people to be farmers. He didn’t want too much preoccupation with mining. He wanted to keep the people in cohesively knit groups. Miners were the ousiders, the Gentiles, the explorers. We can’t say he kept them from mining entirely, because we sent a mission to southern Utah to mine iron. The Iron County Mission. But that was in the direction of self-sufficiency.
I’d like to think it’s not naïve, but I’m not so sure we know exactly what we’re doing, either. Although I do believe that the development of our resources, particularly coal, and maybe oil shale and those kinds of things, are deliberate. Thos are clear-cut statements of public policy, not only in speeches, but in legislation that would facilitate and back up that kind of move. We’ve fought to b ring industry in here for at least twenty-five years.
Yes, we've been concerned with what kind of industry. But that goes more to the concern over outsiders coming in. We have a project over on the mountain called Four Seasons. There's been more litigation over that project in the forest over there than anything else that's gone on in the state of Utah. It's a ski resort. And Provoans are concerned about the change in life style that it will bring. Because you get a ski resort out here and it's a lot different from a Brigham Young University. I mean, there are a few environmentalists around. But basically, it's the drinking and the smoking and the sex. I mean, that's been the biggest battle in this community for the last two years.
Yet I think if you took a vote in this community, it would be ten to one in favor of Four Seasons, because we see it as an economic survival issue. We are so dependent on Geneva Steel out here that when the Environmental Protection Agency comes out and says we're going to impose some restrictions that cost one hundred to two hundred million dollars in corrections, and U.S. Steel says we can't do it, this community gets upset.
And yet I can remember when I was a kid, when this community was very concerned about Geneva Steel coming, concerned about the - kinds of values it might bring in. “Well, you're going to bring in the foreigners who aren't going to like the kind of life that we like.” It's not the Gentiles as such. Gentiles are well accepted in this community if their values . . . It's not being a Mormon; it's whether your values would coincide. You can't even buy beer over at the grocery store over there. He could sell it, legally, but he just won't.
The only reason we originally embraced Geneva Steel was that it was part of the war effort. And today we'll defend it with our lives. We'll exchange it for pollution. We have told EPA in a downtown rally . . . seven thousand people turned out at that rally! There's never been a political campaign that has ever drawn over a thousand people. Seven thousand people came to that rally downtown to tell EPA to go to hell. Because it's economic survival! It's jobs!
If we tie this to the culture, the thing I can see is that we're committed to self-sufficiency and opportunity for our children. We want them to stay home. We educate them; we spend half our tax dollars on education. Highest in the nation. We want them to stay home.
We want to broaden our base. Develop our resources. Provide jobs. And every time we try, either the Department of the Interior or the EPA gives us a hard time. In Utah, the Sagebrush Rebellion is over the fact that the federal government owns so much of the land that is our economic base.
And you know what the growth situation is here. This state has the highest birthrate in the nation. And that's Mormon policy. So we need jobs for our children!
Minding my own business, in a roadhouse a long way from Provo. A very long way. Comes the call from the next table.
"What you looking at that map there for, boy? Where you from, anyway?"
"You from anywhere near that Williamsburg restoration place?"
"Saw a television special on that the other night; they done a hell of a job, ain't that right?"
Yes, they've done quite a job.
"Quite a job! They done better than that! They done a hell of a job! Ain't I right? Tell me I'm right. Don't ever tell me that I'm wrong. You looking for the Wild West?"
Yes, I guess you could say that.
"Well, you found it. You know why we wear these big hats?" No, why do you wear those big hats?
"To keep the pigeons from s***ing on our lips!"
"I've got a particular bias," said Kent Briggs, the young executive assistant to Scott Matheson, the governor of Utah, sipping a very expensive beer in the stylish. confines of the Vail, Colorado, ski resort boîte.
"I was raised up on a farm in Idaho, and so I don't really get off on a lot of this stuff about the joys of the ethereal experience in the great outdoors."
An articulate dreamer of big dreams, Briggs had been discoursing about the future of his land, noting that it had no tradition of being screwed over, as did, for example, West Virginia.
"To me," he said, "I'll take the TransAmerica Building over the Great White Throne any day."
The TransAmerica Building is a pyramidical San Francisco skyscraper that some critics contend is the ugliest building in North America. The Great White Throne is a sheer, three-thousand-foot monolith that is the symbol of Zion National Park.
It's a different mind set, [he continued]. People in the East . . . I understand that they've fouled their nest there. But we don't believe we have to do that. We'll have to make some compromises. You can expect that there's going to be some winning and losing.
But I believe in the city. The city is what puts the finishing touch on a human being. Civilization was not possible until the Neolithic revolution, until we ceased becoming nomads and became stable in one spot and started developing a culture.
Culture cannot take place on a farm in Idaho. Hell, going to school was a profound experience for me. I went to Idaho State University in Pocatello. I remember sitting on the steps, the first day that classes started, and the dean of the college of liberal arts was telling us what to do.
He was a great dean. He said, "You'll have to have a two point [grade average] at the end of one year. However, the first semester, a one-six will suffice. We will allow you to hover there for one semester. And that is sheer magnanimity on our part.
Playing with his glass, his voice was hushed as he returned to being nothing but a husky farm boy.
I said, “My God!” No one had ever talked like that before! I remember sitting there and shaking my head and saying, “Wow! I've found a home!” Because, God! that was an incredible experience to be exposed to that kind of stuff. It changed me. Changed me profoundly.
So I value institutions like colleges. I've got this thing about colleges; I've got this thing about cities. I'm not going to be offended to see an oil derrick on the Great Salt Lake. Amoco. Punched two wells, hit oil. High sulfur content, but the oil is there.
You got to bring that stuff up!
To me, it's a symbol of man's progress!”