Mountain Town News: Hunter Thompson’s legacy, and Johnny Depp’s gift (column) |

Mountain Town News: Hunter Thompson’s legacy, and Johnny Depp’s gift (column)

Allen Best
Mountain Town News

ASPEN, Colo. – Twelve years ago this month, the writer Hunter S. Thompson killed himself at his home along Woody Creek, a few miles outside Aspen.

Thompson, who was 67, had been in declining health after a lifetime of hard drinking and heavy drug use. That drug use had always been part of his public persona. But did that drug-fueled lifestyle overshadow his influential work?

That’s the question probed by The Denver Post as a new film about Thompson produced by Bobby Kennedy III, the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, readies for production this summer.

Thompson’s widow, Anita Thompson, reports she got many letters and emails from readers after his death that were focused on his lifestyle. “It made me uncomfortable and a little worried about his legacy,” she told the Post.

Others also testify that, as the Post’s John Wenzel puts it, “Thompson’s work deserves serious historical analysis, especially in the way that he chronicled different aspects of the American Dream — or rather, for many, its disintegration.”

“In certain turns of phrase, he could capture the spirit of America, not only at that time but decades after,” said Carolyn Bielfeldt, a former editor at Vanity Fair who worked with Thompson on his final book.

In December, The Nation published an essay titled “One Political Theorist Predicted the Rise of Donald Trump. His Name was Hunter S. Thompson.” The essayist, Susan McWilliams, pointed to Thompson’s 1966 book, “Hell’s Angels: a Strange and Terrible Saga.” She says Thompson understood well the anger of “left-behind” Americans that motivated their “ethic of total retaliation.”

Another time, Thompson took on the broad dimensions of America in a book called “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” A movie was later made, with Johnny Depp playing the role of Thompson in his drug-fueled trip to Vegas. Thompson was on assignment from Rolling Stone magazine to cover the National District Attorneys Association’s Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.

Among his companions on that trip amid “stone-faced cops” was a cop, Gary Wall, who is now 75 and living in Steamboat Springs. Later the police chief in Vail, Wall at the time was a police officer in Aspen who had befriended Thompson when Thompson ran as the Freak Power Party candidate for Pitkin County sheriff.

The Post says Wall’s recollections of the conference differed significantly from Thompson’s accounts.

“He gave me a copy of ‘Fear and Loathing’ and wrote in red ink on a couple of pages, which my son wants when I croak,” Wall told The Post. “Next time I saw him in Aspen, I said, ‘I read your book. That’s not the same kind of things I remember!’ And he said ‘Yeah, but you weren’t on the same trip I was on.’”

Wall said he found Thompson to be fundamentally decent. “He’s perceived to be this crazy, drug-addicted nutcase, and that’s not true,” Wall told the Post while confiding that he shared Thompson’s libertarian philosophy. “I always had wonderful conversations with him, which doesn’t mean he wasn’t on drugs, but I recall him as something totally different than what he is perceived to be. He never talked the way he writes.”

As was, Thompson got his last wishes respected, thanks to his friendship with Depp. Half his ashes were fired from a canon atop a 153-foot tower created in the shape of the Statue of Liberty that had been erected on his 42-acre property outside Aspen.

Actor Jack Nicholson, then a part-time Aspen resident, was there, as were the comedian Bill Murray and the politician John Kerry, who had been the Democratic nominee for president the year before.

According to a recent court filing reported by the Aspen Daily News, Depp paid $3 million for the affair.

Aspen character fought to maintain Aspen character

ASPEN, Colo. – In most places, people who sell advertising tend toward the conservative, reliable cheerleaders of growth. They might be colorful in private, but rarely in public.

But Aspen is different than most places, and so was Su Lum. Lum, who recently died at the age of 80 after a lifetime of smoking, was a long-time ad saleswoman at The Aspen Times. Reared in New Jersey, she homesteaded in Alaska in the early 1960s before finding her way to Aspen in 1964. She soon began selling ads and continued to do so until 2012.

Beginning in the late 1980s, she also began writing columns for the newspaper. They were funny, acerbic and brash, lacking only the profanity of her conversation in more private settings.

Andy Stone, also a long-timer at the Aspen Times, described her as a “small, salty woman with an indomitable spirit.” Another former co-worker, Janet Urquhart, said “her bullsh—t meter had a hair trigger.

“Her miner’s cabin with the rickety fence gate, garden boxes all over the front yard and a row of fake plants ‘growing’ along the fence line between her yard and the upscale condo next door was classic Su,” Urquhart recalled.

She was, said the Times, a relentless and unapologetic voice for preserving Aspen’s character. She wouldn’t hesitate to march into the newsroom to ask an editor why a story was written in a particular way or why an issue wasn’t being pursued.

River won’t be draped, but did it still create art?

CANON CITY, Colo. – So why did Christo throw in the towel in his “Over the River” project across the Arkansas River in central Colorado?

Christo, the Bulgarian-born landscape artist, told the New York Times recently that he will not go forward with the work that he and his late wife, Jeanne-Claude, first conceived in 1985. He could not, he said, benefit President Donald Trump, as the installation would be located primarily on federal land.

Others, however, wonder if Christo’s advancing age — he’s now 81 — is the real reason he called off the Colorado project. He’s pursuing a project at Abu Dhabi.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude had draped an orange curtain across Rifle Gap, in western Colorado, in 1972 before moving on to even more monumental wrapping and draping projects. Often, they took decades. The “Wrapped Reischstag,” in Berlin, was realized in 1994 after more than 20 years of planning, the New York Times notes.

In Colorado, almost six miles of fabric panels were to have been stretched in a canopy over six miles of the Arkansas River. Cost was estimated at more than $50 million. The project would have required drilling 9,000 holes 50 feet deep to anchor the fabric.

Opponents objected that the river fabric would have disrupted wildlife, including bighorn sheep, bald eagles, and fish. Defenders pointed out that the canyon already has a railroad, a highway and, in summer, a virtual conveyor belt of river rafters.

Various wildlife studies were subsidized by Christo and conducted by state wildlife officials. Bighorn sheep were captured and radio-collared three times. Christo also paid to have brush from the canyon cleared in ways that wildlife biologists believed would benefit the sheep, points out attorney Lori Potter, who advised Christo’s team.

Potter, a former lawyer for the Sierra Club, said federal approval for the temporary art showed “for the first time that our federal public lands are as available for art as they are for mineral development, grazing, ski areas and the like.”

Writing in Denver’s Westword, Potter also argued that Over the River caused people to talk about art in new ways.

“What is art? What is the point of this art? Can a government agency say what art is, and ‘approve’ it? And always, why do the artists do this? Intellectual sparks flew when opinions were traded. Most of us didn’t have this type of discussion with our friends, neighbors and co-workers in any other context, and it stretched us,” she wrote.

Doggy-doo in the dark days of a ski town winter

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Doggy-doo was the center of discussion as a recent Telluride meeting. One town councilman observed that there are more dogs than people in Telluride, and the evidence lies all around.

“Dog issues were already an endless problem and long-time, long-discussed community issue,” said Karen Guglielmone, the town environmental and engineering manager, who added: “I’m at a loss and I’m tired of talking about it, but we needed to talk about it.”

The fundamental problem is that people aren’t cleaning up after their dogs. Dogs are not required to be on leash in all areas, and there’s a sentiment that the leashes-required area should be expanded, reports the Telluride Daily Planet.

But the council members aren’t ready to go there just yet. Telluride, perhaps the most liberal of our ski towns, is, in its own way, deeply libertarian.

Assessing who gets to live in the United States

MOUNTAIN VILLAGE, Colo. – Occupants of a 222-unit housing complex in Mountain Village, the slope-side town next to the Telluride ski area, now must show proof of legitimate U.S. residency before their leases can be renewed this year.

Federal funding was used to build the workforce housing, and a Colorado law passed in 2006 said those 18 or older should provide proof that they are lawfully present in the United States prior to receipt of certain public benefits. The law, however, has not been enforced.

An organizer who works closely with the immigrant community in Telluride tells the Telluride Daily Planet that many people in the complex are “shaken up.” One woman, a housekeeping supervisor at a local hotel, interviewed by the Daily Planet said she is a U.S. citizen, as are her two children, but her husband has no proof of legal residence. That puts all of the family without a place to live come June, when the lease expires.

In Steamboat Springs, about 30 refugees from West Africa appear to be unaffected by the executive order issued by President Donald Trump to halt immigration into the country from seven majority-Muslim countries. The refugees are mostly from Senegal, who arrived in the Steamboat area early in the last decade after fleeing persecution and racial unrest in their native land.

Jasper assesses safety of natural gas pipeline

JASPER, Alberta – Kinder Morgan, the international gas-transmission company, recently secured permission to construct the KinderMorgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline from Edmonton to a port in metropolitan Vancouver. A portion of the pipeline is to parallel an existing pipeline that crosses the Continental Divide in Jasper National Park.

The Jasper Fitzhugh says Kinder Morgan recently held a public information meeting in Jasper to address local concerns. One concern should not be about a bursting pipeline, said Lisa Clement, a representative of the company. Age of pipelines is not a problem. She said that if properly cared for, pipes can essentially last forever.

“That worry is very common, and the answer to that is with the proper integrity and proper maintenance, a pipeline can have an infinite life.”

Since 1962, she said, Kinder Morgan has reported 82 spills to Canada’s National Energy Board related to its Kinder Morgan pipeline. About 70 percent of those spills have occurred at pump stations or terminals. The rest have occurred along the pipeline’s route, including six in Jasper National Park since 1954.

Despite the federal government’s approval for the Trans Mountain, Kinder Morgan must satisfy 157 conditions, including 49 environmental requirements.

Why does Park Service fight cleaner electricity?

JACKSON, Wyo. – Long before the Rockefeller family gave the land that enabled creation of Grand Teton National Park, a dam was erected on the Snake River that flows at the base of the magnificent range. The dam’s still there, the cause of a reservoir called Jackson Lake.

Water is released from the reservoir as needed for irrigation by farmers downstream in Idaho. But unlike many dams, no electricity is generated when the water falls 30 feet from the dam.

If the power of the falling water were harnessed, it could produce 31 gigawatt hours of electricity a year at 4.3 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is relatively cheap electricity.

For all of this century, Paul Hansen has been pushing for the retrofit. He’s a local resident who had a 25-year career with the Izaak Walton League, a conservation organization. He argues that carbon-free resources must be tapped to counter the risk of climate change.

“I have fought hydro several times in my career. But this is a different case,” he tells Mountain Town News. The dam is in place, he says, and so there is no new impact. Instead, if turbines are installed, especially those that employ newer technology, carbon-free electricity can be generated, more than enough to supply the annual needs within Grand Teton National Park.

But the National Park Service says that Congress would need to pass a law explicitly granting authority to install turbines. “The legal authority to license a hydroelectric component does not exist,” Gary Pollock, the management assistant in Grand Teton National Park, told the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

Hansen tells MTN that support has been growing in Jackson Hole for the retrofit. “We haven’t done enough to reduce our carbon footprint. So there are a number of us asking why not at least do a feasibility study,” he says.

He also points out that the dam is not actually within the park. The Park Service, however, is within the Department of Interior, the same agency that houses the Bureau of Reclamation, the agency that built the dam and continues to operate it.

Since the hydroelectric retrofit was suggested in 2005, much has changed, he says. There have been two presidential orders, three executive orders, and a Green Parks Plan. They cumulatively make the case for at least conducting a feasibility study.

“The Park Service is concerned about greenhouse gases. Why won’t they even do a feasibility analysis on a project that would make the whole park carbon neutral?” he asks. He also points out that nearby Yellowstone National Park has two small hydroelectric turbines.

Hansen says he believes there’s an internal conversation within the Department of Interior about what is the proper way forward.

In Yellowstone, the Park Service recently authorized expansion of capacity in cell towers in and around developed areas. Existing towers in one developed area along Yellowstone Lake, for example, can handle a maximum 4.5 megabytes of data per second, the News&Guide explains. That’s the data supplied through a typical household Wi-Fi connection. The upgrade will provide 600 megabytes of new capacity.

Making a small ski area pay its way in Steamboat

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – Four groups, three of them local, have expressed interest in bidding for the right to operate Howelsen Hill, the small ski area in Steamboat Springs. Among them is Intrawest, operator of the big local ski area in Steamboat.

The city has advertised in search of an operator who can provide a “turn-key solution that will maximize revenues and minimize expenses,” reports Steamboat Today.

Among the considerations for any operator is the potential for landslides on the ski hill, which has ski jumping fa

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