Turtle Power

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My wife and I are avid technical rock climbers. Our favorite cragging area is Red Rocks Recreation Area, a BLM park outside Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s a sandstone Yosemite and world-class destination for mountaineers. Every fall and spring thousands of climbers fly and road-trip to Red Rocks from all over the world. And demand has been increasing so rapidly that the one campground is now full almost constantly. Of course, at-large camping is prohibited and there is no overflow camping. Campsites are $10.

Anticipating the increased demand, some forward-looking functionary, years ago, suggested expanding and improving the campground, located well away from the compelling geology in flat, creosote-bush-covered Mojave desert. The inevitable environmental impact statement was commissioned.

Enter the endangered desert tortoise. In spite of the fact that absolutely no sign of the reclusive reptile has ever been recorded anywhere near the campground, the improvement proposal has gotten nowhere.

Hoping to find a camp spot, my wife and I arrived early on a recent Sunday evening. We were amazed to find that not only was the campground full but much of the surrounding desert was strewn with tents and cars. We tracked down the campground host. He told us he’d instituted a new policy: no one was being turned away; they were taking on all comers. And he liked people, particularly climbers. He told us to park anywhere, pay our fee, and climb to our hearts’ content. We couldn’t believe it. We wondered about the poor desert tortoise impact study.

But of course, it was too good to be true. Two weeks later, the policy had been reversed by higher-ups, the campground was now full and restricted, and the campground host had nearly lost his job. So what’s”good” for private hospitals (see “Voluntary requirement,” above) isn’t good for government campgrounds – even if people can pay.

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