I’m Breaking Up with the West

Forum Posting

A Membership is required to post in the forums. Login or become a member to post in the member forums!

Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable I’m Breaking Up with the West

Viewing 25 posts - 26 through 50 (of 68 total)
  • Author
  • #3729944
    Jeff McWilliams
    BPL Member


    Locale: Midwest

    I live in the Midwest, but have had a long standing desire to move out west to be closer to the mountains.  Family has been the main reason this hasn’t happened, but climate change, forest fires, and water access issues have also been contributing factors.

    Interesting article.  Thanks for writing and publishing.

    Chris R
    BPL Member


    The Guardian (UK newspaper) has some excellent interactive maps showing a variety of impacts from climate change likely to be associated with different levels of temperature change.


    Chris R
    BPL Member


    obx hiker
    BPL Member


    And so in one form or the other the concerns expressed in the classic “The Carbon Flame War” thread live on.  Philosophically speaking.

    John Conley
    BPL Member


    I’ve  tried to hold back, but just can’t contain myself.

    Too late, there seems to be awareness that controlling fires in an up-front, manageable way (controlled burns and letting natural fires extinguish naturally, among other techniques) was/is the right solution to simply watching Mother Nature have her way, or jumping on every fire with our Smokey the Bear approach. As a park service ranger I spent considerable time extinguishing smallish fires because some tourist spotted a smoke plume and threatened to “contact their congressional rep” if something wasn’t “done.” It wasn’t funding, it was politics. Had we learned and applied the European model of forest management many years ago, we wouldn’t be dealing with today’s messes.

    Having lived in Bellingham during a number of those park service years, I’ll leave my slot to those who want it, and won’t be adding to the Bellingham conjestion. -:)  I got my fill of drizzly, gray winters and sloppy wet snow that tried to pass for ski-mountaineering conditions.


    W I S N E R !


    Stay…go…to each their own.

    The High Sierra, the Mojave, or some nameless canyon or plateau in Angeles National Forest or Los Padres….and then there’s the Pacific Ocean. All this at my fingertips.

    If I cannot find contentment where I stand with so many choices, then I don’t know what to say for myself. Yes, there will be adaptation. Yes, I will likely watch my favorite places burn at some point. But this is still home. Most moves I imagine would lead to a staggering lack of diversity as compared to my norm.

    And it’s obviously more than just the outdoors. I have trouble seeing myself living somewhere without immediate access to a city that is genuinely cosmopolitan.

    Rex Sanders
    BPL Member


    Andrew – thanks for bringing all this up. Really.

    I’m a rare third generation Californian, probably not leaving anytime soon, despite it’s many, many flaws. Tried living and visiting elsewhere, always glad to get back.

    Part of my subconscious plan was to find the “least bad” part of this large and diverse state and live there. Thought our last move almost two decades ago was “it” until the 2020 firestorms came uncomfortably close. The “move or not” conversations continue, though most end in “not.”

    I spent (too many) years studying biological and geological transformations at widely varying time scales. Everyplace – every place – has risks, and constantly changes. “Adapt or die” has been true for a few billion years.

    It’s still sad, painful, and ultimately deadly. Also true of many other parts of life, including wild inequalities based on income, class, gender, race, religion, vocation, and on and on.

    Several years ago there was a fascinating TV series called Dirty Jobs hosted by Mike Rowe. In later interviews, he marveled at how people working in the most “difficult, strange, disgusting, or messy” occupations were almost always happy. Happiness is a state of mind that can be cultivated in nearly any setting.

    Yes, there is a lot of real suffering in this world, but even more is self-imposed. The trick is finding a way to minimize the suffering you can control – like the second kind. Not easy.

    — Rex

    Obligatory backpacking content: Some of my happiest memories come from backpacking. Just need to find other places, learn to enjoy watching burnt-out landscapes evolve, and adapt gear and skills.

    K. Urs Grütter, LL.M.
    BPL Member


    Locale: Switzerland

    Congrats on the baby! THIS is what’s important – you will find backpacking wilderness in other places, too. Plus check out “The West Without Water” by Lynn Ingram and Frances Malamud-Roam to set a little bit bigger a perspective on all the climate-change chit chat.

    And mind well: Who is making money with it? A third of the human poluplation always has lived upon making the rest feel guilty and pay them for absolution. I was brought up in a scientific environment, valueing the achievements of the Enlightenment. And I am quite taken aback realizing how little effect it has on peoples everyday behaviour…

    happy fathering, and happy trails!

    obx hiker
    BPL Member


    Reading the posts up thread again reminds me of Kim Stanley Robinson; particularly “The 3 Californias”

    His work is labelled Sci-Fi but just because of a projection to the future, imagining 3 potential future Californias. Specifically Orange County but generally L.A./SoCal.

    Made a bit of a splash recently with his new book ” Ministry for the Future”

    And his work does directly and specifically relate to the subject of the post. He is noted for doing his technical homework.

    BPL Member


    Locale: Northern California

    My dirty little secret is…I love it here. I don’t want to move. And the few places I would move to have fires as well. Also, my community is here and I’ll never find anything quite like it elsewhere. But then I’ve lucked out with affordable housing in a very fine neighborhood minutes from a huge park covering lots of square miles through undeveloped hills. There are classical concerts in people’s homes (!) nearby (Groupmuse) and others, cheap, happening in halls and churches nearby all the time. Beaches are close by. Rural wine country is nearby. Tahoe is three hours away. It’s quiet where I am.

    If many people decide to move on, great! Climate change is going to follow people no matter where they go. It’s not just a California issue.

    Chris R
    BPL Member


    The elephant that’s being ignored is that large parts of the west are struggling for water, both for drinking and agriculture.

    Chris K
    BPL Member


    Andrew, thanks for sharing this, and congrats! In terms of health and safety, close proximity to wildfire potential is a huge point of stress for raising a family, to say the least. I’m not sure any of us can fully outrun the smoke, but going east you’ll be out of the worst of it.

    To your point about longing – the expansive grandeur of the west is certainly attractive, but we could use more voices and imagery that challenge the dominant landscape aesthetic that puts the high mountain west above all else. This is what Dave C. wrote about last year, and Ryan echoed in the recent wildfires podcast.

    I guess I’m siding with you in the breakup. Nothing wrong with the Smokies. Higher biodiversity there than most anywhere. And lots to explore, as you described so well. Your kid will love it!

    BPL Member


    Locale: Canyon Country

    After spending a good stretch during and around “the college years” traveling and living in a few beautiful touristy locales, I’m happy to be living where I’m from. Granted, I’m fortunate to be “from” somewhere… And a large cosmopolitan Midwestern city at that. Though we have our own developing housing crisis, at least there’s an exciting ongoing rent control campaign that I’ve been able to participate in. I don’t mean to bait political arguments on BPL, it’s just to say that it feels good to be able to engage with issues on a societal level and not just be passively subject to these trends. And for me that comes out of a long, committed relationship with the place – because I’m FROM here and accept it unquestionably, and that unquestioning acceptance has proved to be existentially soothing.


    Thanks for the article.

    obx hiker
    BPL Member


    Apparently some of the issues we (or Andrew) are discussing are becoming a subject and we (BPL and Andrew) beat out the New York Times by 4 days.

    From the article linked above:

    “Two fires this year tore completely across the Sierra Nevada from west to east, the only known times that flames have made that crossing in recorded state history.”

    OK didn’t know That

    Ryan Jordan


    Locale: Central Rockies

    In Rex’s wildfire series, he noted that:

    “In one night, the East Troublesome Fire leaped across the Continental Divide in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park.”

    The fire crossed the divide over barren tundra. The unburned swath where the fire “jumped” the divide (presumably some sort of windblown fireball/ember cluster) was more than 3/4 of a mile:

    John RB
    BPL Member


    Great article and echoes a lot of what I’ve been thinking about. I’ll add another wrinkle – as a non white person, the West has always been a difficult place (especially since 2016…) and now when thinking about how to marry my love of the outdoors with feeling safety day to day, from citizens, from police, etc. I really like western North Carolina, but the areas immediately outside Asheville (and even within) start to feel a little wonky. California always felt like it was a good mixture, but as it becomes less available, the question is where to go next…

    obx hiker
    BPL Member


    So the uplift on the west side blew/lifted embers high in the air over the crest, Sprague Pass and they settled on the east side still hot enough for ignition. Pretty dramatic!

    We built-in a woodburning fireplace when we built in 1987. The flue was almost 30 feet tall. Helluva draw, like a shop vac to the sky. Couldn’t leave the damper even partly open and go to bed ; the thing would suck all the heat right out of the house and you’d wake up cold. Duh. I walked out one evening when we had a nice fire going and observed embers flying through the rather loose chimney top grate and wayyyy  up in the sky and glowing for an uncomfortable long distance as they drifted away. The next morning I was on the roof with a much finer mesh wire screen.

    And relatively speaking it’s really wet around here. SO maybe something like that? In that film ‘Better bring a brigade” they said the 2 things that get houses are:

    Vegetation right up against the house within 5 feet that ignites and then starts the siding burning

    Embers that get sucked up into the soffit vents and catch the attic area on fire. The fire creates so much heat and expansion and lift that the soffit vents just hoover embers up into the attic. Once the attic/roof is on fire you can forget it!

    James Montavon
    BPL Member


    I really appreciate that this essay is about struggling with an important question without the certainty of having solved it. Great article, and good luck.

    Eric Blumensaadt
    BPL Member


    Locale: Mojave Desert

    Yeah, increasingly people are no longer migrating to the west and those of us here are being squeezed by higher costs of, well, just plain living. And then there is Ma Nature who is becoming increasingly ill with climate change. Here in the Las Vegas valley we are STILL growing with Californiua expats escaping stupidly high state taxes. But Our water source, Lake Meade is below its full level by the height of the Statue of Liberty – and still dropping. Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.

    So… yeah I’m thinking of “leaving Las Vegas” too. Three months in an increasingly hotter hell, rising congestion, lower air quality, you name it. I want to sell my house before too many people also realize Las Vegas is becoming less habitable and the  more value goes down. But I will miss the very good things about this valley like the scenery, the growing sense of community, the home into which I have put so many hours  and dollars improving, all that and more I’ll miss. “Breaking up is hard to do.”

    And I’ll move to, of all places, Thousand Oaks, California. Why not back to Pennsylvania, my home state? My wife and I want to be near our youngest daughter and grandkids. It’s yet another transition in a life filled with them. So not breaking up with the west, just Las Vegas.

    obx hiker
    BPL Member


    FWIW an interesting 3-d graphic of pyro-cumulus clouds generated by the Dixie fire. May encounter some sort of paywall requiring sign-up for free access.

    BPL Member


    Locale: The West is (still) the Best

    Related it looks like another La Niña is forecasted for the US.  For most places it’ll be hotter and drier ..  Well at least we won’t have to visit the Sahara if this keeps up.

    Thinking a black pocket add-on to packfaces facing the sun, so northbound hikers can at least “solar” cook a microwave burrito!!

    In the gist of the OP, researchers have found that it’s hard to escape the ill effects of the wildfire smoke.   Eastern residents, while not getting the immediate smoke in their faces, ash on their cars, etc.. (but prettier sunsets!) can still inhale the small particles with sometimes fatal results (the particles get into the lung tissue)…

    It’s just due to population density that more eastern US residents fall ill and die due to smoke, the study found.

    That said, think there’s the visible quality of life to contend with as everyone dies of something.

    Then there’s the economy and how people interact with that, city/town life, etc..




    Ben C
    BPL Member


    Locale: Kentucky

    It seems there is no perfect place. I live in the southeast but love visiting the west and do it whenever I have the chance. We have some decent backpacking and world-class climbing. But the west is such a draw with its bigger scale on everything. For people who love the outdoors, it will continue to be a huge draw regardless of permits, droughts, and fires.

    BPL Member


    Locale: The West is (still) the Best

    The elephant that’s being ignored is that large parts of the west are struggling for water, both for drinking and agriculture.

    One way to extend this is more recycling sewage water which is perfectly safe, yet distasteful for many on a psychological level.

    Imagine a lot of people will go with a bottled water service, vs the energy it takes to transport water (as the US military coped with in Iraq with just bottled water).   West of Phoenix some of the ranchers will likely petition the Arizona state government to allow more subdivisions based on their 100 year groundwater supply.  Maybe there’ll be a desalination deal by the time 200 years rolls around?  Doubt I’ll be around even as a rum-based lifeform.

    Well funded cities and towns will probably fare better than rural areas in implementing technology based solutions.  The cost of supplying water will probably push even more consolidation of many metro areas vs what it’ll do to taxes, utility usage and fees, etc… Then again my winter wardrobe will be based on 10” Carhartt shorts.

    Also some California farmers are pumping flood waters into aquafirs before the state takes over in 2035 iirc, but it could lead to agricultural chemicals in the drinking water ..


    Humans are pretty clever but then again the Pueblo cliff dwellers of the southwest may have thought the same too before retreating en masse to the Albuquerque area on the banks of the perennial (well up there) Rio Grande.



    Bruce Tolley
    BPL Member


    Locale: San Francisco Bay Area

    One of the early Spanish expeditions had a priest who published a chronicle that described Alta California as a land of wildfires, mud slides, and earthquakes.

    Today in the 21st century we need to add the high cost of housing to that list.

    BPL Member


    Locale: The West is (still) the Best

    Leaving Las Vegas…

    I recall reading Vegas bought water rights from upstate Nevada to eventually pipe in water.  Nevada doesn’t have too much claim to the Colorado River though the hydroelectric electricity could suffer.   Other jurisdictions plan to pipe water too.  When Texas faced its mega drought, they started a project to pump and pipe even small aquifers throughout the state (then of course, flooding happened).

    In California,  even mostly tony Marin County (north of the Golden Gate Bridge bounded by the Pacific and San Francisco Bay) is considering a pipeline to buy agricultural water from inland or even renting mobile desalination plants … pumping water  from the Bay side.  Their in county water supplies are down to 1/3 rd their original

    From the piece


    “These droughts are now on a new timeline,” says Newsha Ajami, a hydrologist and director of urban water policy at Stanford University’s Water in the West program. “There used to be at least 10 years in between droughts in California, which was time enough for water ecosystems to recover.”

    No longer. The last California drought, which persisted six years, ended in 2017. The current one began three years later and poses an existential threat to places like Marin County, which rely on local water sources for most or all of their supply. The past year has been the second driest on record in California

    To be fair to California a lot of that is going around.   One thing California and the rest of the West coast has is desal (see Marin county above).  It won’t be free though.  Maybe if Arizona plays nice with Mexico, they could extend the CAP pumping stations into the Sea of Cortez one day with some solar desal?   Other inland states may have it tougher.  Speaking with a rancher around New Mexico’s Gila last year, one ranch in the next valley got plenty of rain but her own didn’t not.  How do you combat that? (well extend the Gila after buying out surrendering ranchers cheap ..  hint hint).  If I were young I’d consider at least a stake in the Great Lakes states (YMMV).




Viewing 25 posts - 26 through 50 (of 68 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
Forum Posting

A Membership is required to post in the forums. Login or become a member to post in the member forums!

Get the Newsletter

Get our free Handbook and Receive our weekly newsletter to see what's new at Backpacking Light!

Gear Research & Discovery Tools