Then and now: Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah – 1869 and 2006

March 18, 2011

Photographer Timothy H. O’Sullivan toured the western territories — not yet states — for either the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or the U.S. Geological Survey, around 1868 and 1869.  Color photography hadn’t been perfected.  His plates were black and white only.

He had been one of the photographers who captured parts of the Civil War on film, with particularly poignant photos of the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, within hours after the battle ended on July 4, 1863.

O’Sullivan’s photos appear in the collection at the Library of Congress, and at the George Eastman House (Eastman was the founder of Kodak, as you know).

O’Sullivan’s photos show the mineral and mining operations of Nevada, Utah and Idaho, and Arizona and New Mexico, so far that I’ve found.  Particularly in the mountains, the places he photographed can be tracked down today.

In this post we compare O’Sullivan’s photo up what he called “Great Cottonwood Canon of the Wahsatch,” what is today one of the beautiful canyons leading out of Salt Lake City, Big Cottonwood, in the Wasatch Front.  O’Sullivan took a shot up the canyon, then very much unroaded, at an enormous block of granite that came to be known as Storm Mountain.

In 1869:

"Great Cottonwood Canyon, Wahsatch Mountains," 1869 photo by Timothy H. O'Sullivan - USGS photo from Eastman collection

"Great Cottonwood Canyon, Wahsatch Mountains," 1869 photo by Timothy H. O'Sullivan - USGS photo from Eastman collection

Rich Legg of Salt Lake City captured the same mountain in 2006, and graciously consented to let us use it here for comparison.  This is Storm Mountain, now:

From LeggNet:

Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah, 2006 - photo by Rich Legg, copyright and rights reserved

Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah, 2006 - photo by Rich Legg, copyright and rights reserved; image here by express permission

Note from LeggNet blog: This recent capture was made in Big Cottonwood Canyon just outside of Salt Lake City. The striking shadows along with the jagged ridges create a dramatic lighting effect.

Legg’s camera and film allowed a quicker shot, I’ll wager (if he used film at all — it may be an electronic image).

The granite didn’t change much.  Storm Mountain is literally a fraction of a mile outside the city limits of Salt Lake City.  A photo the other way would show dramatic change.  A photo of Storm Mountain, which consists chiefly of naked granite, appears almost unchanged in over a century.  It’s difficult even to find places where the vegetation has changed.

In the past 20 years we have seen comparisons of America’s and the world’s glaciers, from photos through the late 19th and 20th centuries, compared to photos of today.  The archives of landscape photos held by groups like the George Eastman House offer opportunities for historians and land managers and policy makers to compare American lands from more than a century ago, to those same lands today.  Much of those older photo archives are available on line, at least for searching.  Will scholars make methodical use of these resources?


Public Lands insanity

November 16, 2008

Remember when Strange Maps “discovered” that so much of the 13 western states is owned by the Federal Government?  On the one hand, it was nice to see people paying attention to public lands in the west.

Public lands in a western state, with grazing cattle. Wild Earth Guardians image.

Public lands in a western state, with grazing cattle. Wild Earth Guardians image.

Public lands.  Photo from the Montana Wildlife Federation

Public lands. Photo from the Montana Wildlife Federation

At the Bathtub, we remarked on the history of the issue with a map that showed where the publicly-owned lands really are (the Strange Maps version only showed a dot in the middle of each state proportionate to the federal land held in the state.)  On the other hand, it was an open invitation for know-nothings and know-littles to jump in with silly ideas.  Remarkably, the post remained free of such folderol — until just recently.

None of these sites gives any serious thought to the idea.  None provides a scintilla of an iota of analysis to indicate it would be a good idea.

As one of the the principal spokesmen for the Sagebrush Rebellion in the early days, I want it known that I’ve thought these issues through, and argued them through, and followed the documentation for 30 years (Holy frijole!  I’m old!).  Issues with public lands revolve around stewardship.  Bad stewardship is not improved by a change in ownership.  Ownership change has all too often only led to worse stewardship.  Selling off the public lands is a generally stupid idea.

Certain local circumstances change the nature of a tiny handful of such deals — but not often, not in many places, and not enough to make a significant contribution to retiring any debt the federal government owns.

On the other hand, incomes from these lands typically runs a few multiples of the costs of managing them.  The Reagan administration discovered the lands were a great source of money to offset losses in other places, and for that reason (I suspect) never really got on the Sagebrush Rebellion band wagon — or, maybe Reagan’s higher officials just didn’t get it.

It’s troubling that such a flurry of stupidity strikes now, during a transition of presidents. This is how stupid ideas get traction, like kudzu on a cotton farm, while no one is paying deep attention.  Let’s put this idea back into its coffin with a sagebrush stake in its heart.

Bottom line:  Keep public lands in federal trust.  The Sagebrush Rebellion is over.  The sagebrush won.

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Speaking of presidential transitions, who should be Secretary of Interior?  Stay tuned.

More:

Update 2014: The original GSA map showing percentages of federal holdings in each state (including Indian Reservations as federal holdings), as published in Strange Maps when it was still active.

Update 2014: The original GSA map showing percentages of federal holdings in each state (including Indian Reservations as federal holdings), as published in Strange Maps when it was still active.


NY Times backs overhaul of mining law

October 26, 2007

Congress seriously considers changes in mining laws in the U.S. — the General Mining Act of 1872 is 135 years old with no serious changes since its passage. President Ulysses S Grant signed the law.

The law affected much of the development of the U.S. west of the Mississippi River, but this issue is generally ignored. The New York Times editorial page endorses the change process in an editorial today.

Originally enacted to encourage economic development in the West, the law gives precedence above all other land uses to mining for hard-rock minerals like gold, uranium and copper. It requires no royalties from companies that mine on public lands and contains no environmental safeguards. It has left a sad legacy of abandoned mines, poisoned streams and damaged landscapes throughout the West.

Now, at last, there is real hope for reform. Representative Nick Rahall, a West Virginia Democrat who has been trying to modernize this law for two decades, has persuaded the Natural Resources Committee to approve a major rewrite.

The law is a major study in economics, government intervention and free markets. It would make a good topic for warm-ups or government intervention lesson plans in high school economics classes.


1872 Mining Act – Amend it now?

September 20, 2007

Sherffius cartoon on Bush administration mining regulations

Few people know about the law. Since 1872, mineral extraction from the public lands of the United States has been governed by a law designed to make it easy for miners to get minerals out. The law is essentially unchanged, though some mining operations are now bound by other laws to protect the environment and other uses of public lands, such as grazing, tourism, scientific study, wood production, grazing, wildlife management and hunting.

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources opens hearings on reforming the law next Thursday, September 27. The hearing will be webcast, most likely.

The House of Representatives has already had a couple of field hearings.

Watch your claims!

Resources:


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