Survival in the Big Pink

Natural disaster is on a lot of people’s minds these days, or at least mine. Climate change, drought, earthquakes…there are myriad potential disasters that can strike any region, any time. The prospect is unsettling, terrifying, even. The Las Vegas valley, where I make my home, is susceptible to a variety of natural catastrophes, including prolonged dust/wind storms, flooding and earthquakes. I trained in disaster preparedness when I volunteered for the Red Cross while living in Virginia and learned that a little preparedness can go a long way. This is why I keep a disaster survival kit at the ready, which I’ve lovingly dubbed the Big Pink, since the majority of my supplies reside in a huge pink plastic container.

Survival experts recommend keeping a kit that contains supplies to last for approximately 72 hours. How they arrived at that time frame, I don’t know, but who am I to question the experts! In the aftermath of, say, a large earthquake, it’s a safe bet your home will be without power, water and gas–if it has even remained standing–for a period of time. Your home will be plunged into the pre-industrial age until services are restored. Or you may find that you have to camp outside, as the structure may be too unstable to reside in.

My kit is relatively small since it’s just for me and my two cats, Harold and Mod. So what’s in the Big Pink? I’ve divvied up items so that all first aid/emergency supplies live in one shoebox, and foodstuffs are in another shoebox. Those boxes are tucked into the Big Pink.

Let’s take inventory:

Food Box – Energy gel packets, 1 jar of peanut butter, cans of tuna/cat food, 1 pound of trail mix, ramen noodles, 1 can opener, plastic forks/knives.

First Aid/Emergency/Toiletries Box – Coleman poncho, waterproof matches, toothpaste/brush, baggie with 1st aid supplies such as antibiotic ointment, bandaids, fem sups, Tylenol/Ibuprofen, shampoo, multitool, Ace bandage, deodorant, soap, comb, sling.

Contents of the Big Pink.
Contents of the Big Pink.

Rest of the Big Pink – A bucket and plastic trash bags, change of clothes, shoes, sweater, towel, plastic cups/bowl, Coleman lamp, flashlight, handi-wipes, rolls of toilet paper, 1 purple blanket,  dry kitty kibble, a backpack in the event I have to evacuate and lastly, a copy of Les Stroud’s excellent survival guide, so I’ll be able to figure out what the hell I’m doing if the need arises to break out the Big Pink in an emergency.

The Big Pink – my kit, not the album! – is not perfect but it’ll do for a few days. I plan to add some more food stuffs, like protein bars. Some things that would be worthwhile to add include water purification tablets and cash, since any stores open may not be able to take cards during that time.  Also, I keep my important documents stashed in a portable safe, and I have several days worth of water stored in jugs beneath my kitchen sink.

Me, Harold and Mod are ready for the apocalypse. So long as it only lasts 72 hours!

***My thoughts are with the victims of the Nepal quake today***

Mod guards the Big Pink.
Mod guarding the Big Pink.
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Drought by Drought West

Whenever I read about yet another new development being constructed in the Las Vegas valley, I have to suppress the urge to yell and scream and pull my hair, “and where are you going to get water from in five years? Ten years? Twenty years?!”

The Vegas valley gets its potable water from Lake Mead, a man-made creation resulting from the damming of the Colorado river. Lake Mead is presently nearly 200 feet below capacity. It hasn’t been this low since the completion of the Hoover Dam in 1936. Currently, another intake “straw” is being constructed at Lake Mead to reach water at lower depths. This will help transport more water to the region after lake levels have fallen dangerously low but it’s only a bandaid. Without significant, measurable and prolonged rainfall, the drought will worsen and the water in Lake Mead will continue to be consumed by the citizens and tourists of Vegas as it slowly evaporates in the blazing Mojave sun.

Parched clay at Lake Mead. Photo by A. La Canfora.
Parched clay at Lake Mead. Photo by A. La Canfora.

Climate change deniers clamber on to their pedestals and shout that no one knows what the future will be. That we should continue development unabated because everything may change tomorrow. Here’s the problem with that stance…

1. The Facts – The irrefutable scientific data amassed that climate change is happening full force and is contributing to drought conditions in the west.

2. The History – The sophisticated, industrial civilization that was the Anasazi culture of the Southwest was thriving when it suddenly collapsed approximately 1000 years ago. It is generally believed that the Anasazi people were forced to disperse to wetter climes as a result of the Great Drought which brought about repeated crop failures and left their irrigation canals dry.

The western drought has been on-going for nearly a decade. Our society has had time to steel itself and prepare to avert catastrophe. And yet the Vegas region is presently seeing brand new development. Proof that the dollar will win out over facts, history and logic every time.

Islands that were once covered with water stand exposed at Lake Mead. Photo by A. La Canfora
Islands that were once largely covered with water stand exposed at Lake Mead. Photo by A. La Canfora

In his pointed and critical article featured in Slate last summer, meteorologist Eric Holthaus doesn’t hold back in accusing Vegas of sticking its head in the parched sand. From the article:

“Tim Barnett, a scientist at UC-San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, has calculated a 50/50 chance that Lake Mead will reach an unusable state—so-called “dead pool” levels—by 2036, barring aggressive cutbacks in water use.”

2036! That’s 21 years from now that the water in Lake Mead could be in an unusable state! And yet hundreds of new homes and businesses are being constructed in the Vegas valley! Facepalm!

On the left, the Boulder Basin region of Lake Mead in 2012. On the right, the same area in 2015.
On the left, the Boulder Basin region of Lake Mead in 2012. On the right, the same area in 2015. Photos by A. La Canfora.

If any one person has helped to shape this callous, indifferent attitude towards our water crisis, it’s the former general manager of the Las Vegas Valley Water District, Pat Mulroy. In a recent interview given to the Las Vegas Sun newspaper, Mulroy smugly, dismissively “answers” questions put forth to her about the challenges ahead for Vegas. I quote Mulroy; “On paper, we will take a shortage, but in real terms, we won’t be affected by it.”

If by “won’t be affected by it” she means that residents will eventually be forced to uproot and flee to moister environs once their water bill skyrockets to dizzying heights due to the shortage, then yes, we won’t be affected by it.

Where once existed a thriving marina, now only the stones remain. Lake Mead, 2014. Photo by A. La Canfora
Where once existed a thriving marina, now only the stones remain. Lake Mead, 2014. Photo by A. La Canfora

The Sun goes on to ask, “Is there a point where the resources we have can’t sustain the West’s growth?”

Mulroy: “This isn’t a western growth issue. It’s a global growth issue. It’s raw human numbers. So what do you do? Put a moat around Las Vegas and not let anybody cross it? Come on, let’s get real. Do we get to decide who gets to have children and who doesn’t? These become ridiculous questions”

Mulroy’s evasiveness and defensiveness in no way either answers this important question nor helps citizens of the region plan for their future.

Oh and there’s one other aspect of the drought that the Vegas media seems to be avoiding – the almost certain increased frequency of dust storms as the land becomes more arid. Scenes like this one in Arizona will happen with more regularity across the Southwest as the land gets drier and vegetation shrivels up, bringing about more respiratory and lung ailments and an overall lessening in the quality of life.

Dust storm, also known as a haboob, bearing down on Phoenix, AZ. 2o13.

“But Angel, who are you to lecture on this topic? Aren’t you just a song/poetry/art/photo slinger?” That and I’m also a woman who was on the Dean’s List at George Mason University as an anthropology major with a concentration on Southwestern culture. And a person who has held a keen interest in climate/meteorology for decades and has followed the rise of climate change closely, that’s all.

I write this as I sit at my dining room table, in my Henderson, Nevada home on the outskirts of Vegas, occasionally sipping from a glass full of precious Lake Mead. This slow moving catastrophe is bearing down on all of us residents of the Southwest. The unstoppable engine is churning and our cities and inhabitants stand to go the way of the Anasazi. Now is the time to take action, to make our plans while our heads are still well above the drying sand.

Rainbow over Lake Mead. Photo by A. La Canfora
Rainbow over Lake Mead. Photo by A. La Canfora

Further reading – Here’s a study from the Journal of Climate that puts the chances of a multi-decade megadrought in the west at over 50%

My Grand Canyon Excursion

January 15th will forever be an important and special date on my calendar and not just because it’s Captain Beefheart’s birthday. It was the day I finally got to stand astride the Grand Canyon, a dream I’d held for a few years. As an amateur landscape photographer, I’d spent many hours studying photos and documentaries about the Grand Canyon, learning about its geology and history, fantasizing about the day when I’d finally get to see this wonder of the world up close. I moved to the Vegas valley in 2012, the nearest metropolitan hub to the GC, so after a couple years, it was starting to make me crazy that I hadn’t seen it yet, knowing the Grand Canyon was RIGHT THERE. But I was always thwarted by something, either the lack of money, time or health. I finally managed to get to the GC last Thursday, for a brief overview excursion and it was well worth the hassle.

Grand Canyon Tour Co bus
Grand Canyon Tour Co bus

I booked a South Rim tour, a bargain at $79, with the Grand Canyon Tour Company. Now bus travel has always been my least favorite form of travel, so I was trepidatious about the whole thing. I knew it would be hard and girded myself for the worst. But it turned out I didn’t have to worry. The bus was comfortable and gleaming, not full to capacity so I had an empty seat next to me and could spread out. My traveling companions on board were some of the world’s best tourists – quiet, polite, well-behaved folks from China, Singapore, the UK and Italy. Aside from the driver, I was the only local on board. No screaming babies, no drunks, no rude people jostling or yelling. I couldn’t believe my luck. The driver was friendly and professional and you could tell she cared deeply about everyone’s comfort.

Sunrise over Vegas, seen from the bus before departure.
Sunrise over Vegas, seen from the bus before departure. Photo by Angel La Canfora

Still, it was a bus and I was on it all total for something like 11 hours that day. A coach is like an airplane on wheels. And you know what it’s like to be in an airplane – the constant jarring motion, the lack of leg room, the miniscule, cramped restroom, it all gets to you. But traveling is arduous. You have to expect to be uncomfortable for awhile and keep in mind it’s only temporary.

We made a few stops before arriving at the Grand Canyon. We pulled over at Hoover Dam,  Kingman, Arizona and lunched at Williams, AZ. I was alarmed when Tess, our driver, announced that water wouldn’t be available at Grand Canyon. They don’t sell bottled water at the Grand Canyon for environmental reasons and, she explained, that they’d shut off the public taps because of the winter weather. So everyone had to stock up in Kingman with enough water to get them through the day. I have a medical condition that causes chronic dehydration and have to drink 2 to 3 gallons of water a day or else suffer serious consequences. Had I known about the water issue, I’d have brought along a jug to see me through. As it was, I had to buy about 15 of those little water bottles in Kingman, about $22 worth of water. I was irritated but I’ve traveled a lot and was prepared for unforeseen circumstances. I placed the bottles in my backpack, and was grateful that I’d had the cash on me so I could purchase them at the stop.

The Hoover Dam
The Hoover Dam. Photo by Angel La Canfora

We pulled into the quaint mountain town of Williams, AZ for an all-you-can-eat lunch, free with the tour. We were seated cafeteria style in a pleasant lodge-like room, my companions, two tiny Japanese girls who looked to be about 18 years old or so. I sat down with my plate, a modest salad with a veggie egg roll, while these ladies had two dinner plates each, with mountains of food piled high. They had salisbury steaks and french fries and stir fry chicken and vegetables and egg rolls, etc. I tried not to gawk and marvel at the amount of food these small women were shoveling into their mouths, thought it was funny how little food I had comparatively, seeing as I’m a foot taller than them. I asked if they were enjoying the trip, they nodded and smiled. I asked if they spoke much English, they glanced at each other and said, “uhhhh…” So I left them alone to inhale their food while I picked at my iceberg lettuce. I couldn’t help but notice when one of them speared an enormous broccoli floret and held it up to bulging eyes, both of them leaning in to it, chattering away excitedly. I guess they don’t have big broccoli in Japan?

Back on the road, we zipped up to Mather’s Point at the South Rim, where we were given the option of checking out the view for awhile, then getting back on the bus and being taken to Bright Angel point, or we could hike the two miles from Mather’s and meet up with our group at Bright Angel after a couple hours. I chose the hike and I’m so glad I did. It was the highlight of the trip for me.

The view from Mather's Point, Grand Canyon. Photo by Angel La Canfora.
The view from Mather’s Point, Grand Canyon. Photo by Angel La Canfora.

The path skirts the edge of the Grand Canyon, in some places, perilously close with no rail or wall to protect you and the views, of course, are awe-inspiring. The weather was on the warm side for this time of year with clear blue skies. We landscape photographers don’t like clear blue skies, we like bad weather to make for more dramatic photos. At a minimum, we want some clouds but there were none on this day. I wasn’t bothered by it though, as I was just so excited to finally see the GC after all these years. Fact is, nothing can ever really prepare you for the real-life sight of it. It’s all about the scale. And pictures simply can’t capture it, no matter how beautiful they may be. You’re standing there, thousands of feet up and the canyon stretches off into the horizon. I saw one woman, about thirtyish, standing there with tears streaming down her face, so freaked out by the height, she was demanding to be taken back to the bus. I heard people gasping, saying “woah.”  Really, if you don’t gasp when you see it, then there’s something broken in you.

As seen from the path at the South Rim. Photo by Angel La Canfora.
As seen from the path at the South Rim. Photo by Angel La Canfora.

Confess it DID make me feel a bit cranky, when we first arrived at Mather’s Point, that I had to weave through crowds with their selfie-sticks as I tried to near the railing to look out over the GC. So I decided that the sooner I could escape them, the better. I soon left behind the crowds at Mather’s and had the path mostly to myself.

South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Photo by Angel La Canfora

There were still patches of ice on the path from a recent snowfall making it so that I had to watch my footing. But the walk was beautiful, maybe the most beautiful that I’ve ever taken. The path dips and curves and rises and at 7,000 feet, if you’re not reasonably fit, you’ll shortly be huffing and puffing. I was huffing and puffing.

At one point, a large mule deer lazily grazed right past me, startling me and sending my heart up into my throat. You’d think that for someone who once lived alone in a rustic mountain cabin at 7,000 feet, I’d be a bit less wussier. I blame my up-bringing – you can take the girl out of Orange County, CA but you can’t take Orange County out of the girl!

As I closed in on Bright Angel lodge, I heard a young female voice, coming from the canyon side, crying out, “help me, please help me!” I looked over and couldn’t register what I was seeing for a moment. All I could see was the head and hands of a young, slight, Chinese gal, as she held on to the wrong side of the cliff. I rushed over, saw that she was standing on a very narrow ledge – one slip and she was going down. I grabbed her right hand, made sure I had firm footing and wasn’t on a patch of ice and yoinked her over the edge as she pushed herself up with her other hand. She was crying out in fear as I maneuvered her onto terra firma. Thankfully, she turned out to just be shaken but otherwise unharmed. She thanked me profusely and I went on my way. Just another day at the Grand Canyon, I guess! It looked to me like what had happened was she had seen the small ledge off the main path and thought it would be a cool place to take a picture, so she set her camera and purse down by the cliff, climbed down to the ledge, realized how precarious it was and panicked, because there wasn’t actually much ledge there and she had no way to hoist herself back up. I wasn’t afraid during the whole thing, because it all happened within the span of seconds. It wasn’t until I was walking away that the gravity of what had just happened really struck me! After a quick Google, I read that on average, 12 people die at the Grand Canyon each year!

The South Rim.
The South Rim.  Careful out there!  Photo by Angel La Canfora

At Bright Angel lodge, I had time enough to order some fries in the bar and chat with a couple of tourists from South Carolina. The lady and I had a conversation that went like this;
Me: “I’m divorced, thinking of moving to Phoenix.”
Her: “You don’t have children?”
Me: “No.”
Her: “So you’re free?”
Me, shrugging: “Yeah, I guess so.”
Her, rolling her eyes: “Must be nice! Well, you’re young enough looking that you can get away with it.”
I’m still not sure what she meant by that…
Anyway, back on the bus for an uneventful ride home. The bus driver did, however, show a video of Terry Fator, which made me cringe (I don’t understand ventriloquists. They’re amusing for about 4 seconds. But an entire hour?! Kill me now… )

As the bus pulled into Vegas, it had to stop at everyone’s hotels. With me being a local, it meant I had to go back to Main HQ so I was the last one on. When the bus was emptied of tourists, I moved up near the front and chatted with the driver, who was delighted to find out I live in Henderson. She explained that an elderly lady from our group had taken ill at lunch and that it was serious enough that her family members wanted her hospitalized, but the old lady had refused, insisted on continuing on the trip. Tess said she spent the rest of the day worrying about her. I told her I admired her, that it must be a tough job, to drive a huge coach over treacherous mountain/desert roads while also having to be concerned about everyone’s safety and well-being. She explained that she has every other day off to regroup. I think everyone needs to hug a bus driver today, for they have an awfully difficult job and get little recognition for it.

The Grand Canyon, has to be seen to be believed. Photo by Angel La Canfora
The Grand Canyon, has to be seen to be believed. Photo by Angel La Canfora