Saturday, November 26, 2011

Native American Civilization Bites the Nuclear Dust at White Mesa, Utah

Sign for the White Mesa Uranium Mill, near Blanding, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) The settlement of White Mesa, Utah is located twelve miles south of Blanding, Utah on U.S. Highway 191. As the Utah component of the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation, its 2000 census data indicated a population of 277 people. Over ninety-eight percent of the population was Native American. By the 2010 census, the population at White Mesa had fallen over twelve percent to 242 people. By then, the population had aged, with fewer children and young people living there. In 2000, over fifty percent of the population lived below the poverty line. The only retail business at White Mesa is the reservation-owned White Mesa Travel Center, which includes as gas station and convenience store.

The Denison Mines White Mesa Mill sits on 3840 acres of nuclear-contaminated land - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)About halfway between White Mesa and Blanding, Utah, sits the Denison Mines White Mesa Mill. First opened in 1980 by Energy Fuels Corporation, White Mesa Mill went bankrupt in 1997. At that time, International Uranium (USA) Corp. purchased the mill. Later, Denison Mines purchased the mill and now operates it as a wholly owned subsidiary. The White Mesa Mill has the distinction of being the only conventional uranium ore-processing mill in the United States. Unobtrusive, when viewed from the highway, the facility covers 3840 acres of land. In addition to the mill itself are huge earthworks and retention ponds. In 2002, The Canyon Country Zephyr named the White Mesa Mill its “#1 Secret Place of Canyon Country”.

Currently, the mill accepts radioactive and toxic wastes from around the nation, and then stores them onsite. When the gathered stockpiles of nuclear tailings and residues are sufficient, the mill goes into operation and processes them. With the addition of newly mined ores, the mill has seen continuous operation since 2005. Since there is no rail access to the mill, all materials arrive at the site by truck. When you are sitting at an open-air café in Moab, Utah watching huge multi-axel tractor-trailer rigs roll through town, they may be loaded with nuclear contaminated materials destined for White Mesa. It is interesting that those huge, covered trailers display no hazardous or nuclear placards.

Safety record sign at entrance to White Mesa Uranium Mill, near Blanding, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Although there is a separate vanadium-processing loop, the main product of the White Mesa Mill is triuranium octoxide (U3O8), which is a compound of uranium. Despite its olive green color, U3O8 is a form of yellowcake, which may contain up to eighty percent uranium oxide. Triuranium octoxide manufactured at White Mesa Mill is transported offsite for further enrichment. Its ultimate use is as fuel for nuclear power plants. With further enrichment, it could become weapons-grade material.

In May 2008, the Division of Air Quality (DAQ), within the Utah Division of Environmental Quality conducted an inspection and issued a report regarding air quality compliance at White Mesa Mill. Among other things, the DAQ inspection looked at how much ten-micron particulate matter (PM10) went up the stacks and into the atmosphere. Although permitted for up to .4 pounds of PM10 per hour, during inspection each yellowcake scrubber/dryer onsite emitted “only” .12 pounds per hour. If operated continuously for one year, those two dryer/scrubbers alone would emit over one ton of unknown, possibly radioactive particulates into the air. Other sources claim that the mill annually emits 62 tons of sulfur dioxide, 109 tons of nitrogen oxides, and 254 tons of particulates. Propane usage onsite is several million gallons per year.

Radioactive warning sign at Denison Mines Corp. White Mesa Mill - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Also discovered during the 2008 inspection was a non-compliant baghouse (air filtration facility) associated with lab operations at the site. After notification of non-compliance, Denison Mines estimated that the baghouse emitted one hundred ten pounds of PM10 particulates per year. Although there was no corroboration of those estimates, the Utah DAQ did not challenge company findings. Because of the supposedly small amount of released particulates, the DAQ did not fine Denison Mines for non-compliance.

After thirty years of operation, much of the mill’s original equipment is still in use, or disuse, as the case may be. For example, the 2008 DAQ inspection determined that the emergency electrical generator onsite had last operated in 1996. Despite the requirement that an emergency generator be available during power interruptions, DAQ did not fine Denison Mines for lack of compliance. Ironically, the DAQ inspection report used inoperability as a reason to not penalize the operator. In the inspection report, there is no mention of the need to fix or replace the derelict emergency generator. Under the circumstances, we can only hope that future power interruptions will not result in site contamination or release of airborne particulates.

Visible smoke issues from two stacks at the White Mesa Uranium Mill near Blanding, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Also missing, misplaced or misidentified during the inspection was a Bartlett-Snow rotary calciner. The DAQ report indicated, “Company contacts were not aware of where the rotary calciner and control equipment were located.” That surprised me, since a rotary calciner shown at the Bartlett-Snow website required a three-axel flatbed trailer to carry it. I checked eBay, and as of this writing, the only used rotary calciner listed there carried a price of $35,000. If I were interested in that unit, I would bring a dosimeter with me during the inspection.

If you Google “White Mesa Uranium Mill”, you will find a host of articles decrying large-scale trucking of nuclear waste to the mill, as well as its spotty environmental record. In 2008, the Utah DAQ found missing, inoperable and unpermitted equipment at the mill. In their final report, DAQ’s lack of urgency and enforcement reminded me of lax oversight at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant prior to March 2011. When the tsunami flooded all of the emergency generators at the plant, a cascade of failures began, leading to a nuclear fuel meltdown on May 13, 2011.

The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe owns the White Mesa Travel Center, twelve miles south of Blanding, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The Denison Mines White Mesa Mill is not in danger of a nuclear meltdown. The yellowcake produced there is not fissionable. Still, in its final recommendations for their next inspection, the Utah DAQ report suggested in typical understated fashion, “Bring a respirator – It may be needed in certain areas of the facility”.

On June 3, 2011, I rolled up the front gate at White Mesa Mill, which appeared to be in full operation. Visible smoke issued from two large exhaust stacks on the east side of the mill. Although the 2008 DAQ report indicated that no single source of particulates at the mill should exceed twenty percent opacity, to me the visible smoke completely obscured the blue sky beyond it. Admittedly, I did not have proper optical measuring equipment that day. Still, a simple webcam pointing at the stacks from a position that shows a solid background should solve that problem. If asked, I would be happy to supply a free webcam system to the Utah DAQ. With the installation of a solid black “billboard” behind each stack, DAQ compliance officers could remotely monitor the opacity of released particulates. If the mill were in compliance, Denison Mines could use the calibrated webcam images to prove it.

Dust storm, including material from the White Mesa Uranium Mill envelopes the White Mesa Travel Center near Blanding, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Finally, what shall become of the poorest, least represented and closest proximity residents to the White Mesa Mill? If trends identified in the 2000 and 2010 census prevail, the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation at White Mesa will continue its decline. Once a thriving settlement that featured paved roads, utilities and framed houses, the neighborhood at White Mesa is now derelict and decaying. A quick drive through “town” shows many abandoned homes. With six square miles of nuclear and chemical waste nearby, the resale market for property at White Mesa, let alone Blanding, Utah is fading like the smoke from White Mesa Mill.

Since the dry climate in Southeastern Utah slows decay, these relics of Native American culture might well be standing at White Mesa one thousand years from now. What will future archeologists think when they discover an abandoned settlement near such a large pile of nuclear contaminated waste?



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Neither Soy Diesel nor Ethanol are an Alternative Fuel Panacea

WindSong, our 1970 Ericson 35 sailboat is powered by a Universal 3-cylindar diesel engine - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillic.com)Whether by choice or mandate, the past fifteen years have brought changes to the formulas of our two most popular liquid fuels. In the century-old market for diesel fuel, soy based alternatives became available. Reasons for offering non-hydrocarbon diesel alternatives were several. Soy fuels promised equal or better engine performance, fuel economy, reductions in soot, smell, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide emissions. Since my only diesel engine was in WindSong, our 1970 Ericson sailboat, I began adding about one-third bio-diesel during each fill up. Later in this article, I will discuss my results.

Honda EX1000 portable gasoline generator - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In the gasoline market, ten percent alcohol, derived from corn became mandatory.  Today, the liquid fuel we put in our automotive and small engine fuel tanks barely resembles the gasoline of the 1960s. Since then, we have eliminated lead, added and then removed MTBE, added and retained up to ten percent corn alcohol to the blend. In order to distance "corn alcohol" from "demon rum", it was repositioned as "ethanol". The ostensible reasons for adding ethanol to our gasoline are similar to the arguments for biodiesel. On several accounts, that story falls short.

On the engine performance side, alcohol burns more cleanly, but is highly corrosive, while attracting  both dirt and water. It does not have higher octane, and therefore it does not provide better performance. Since it carries less energy per gallon, it robs, rather than improves fuel economy. With two strikes against ethanol, how did our farm-state legislators pass a mandate to put their produce in our fuel tanks? Simply put, they played the “foreign oil card”. After all, we grow the corn here in America, so a ten percent reduction of foreign oil input to our gasoline could help decrease our dependency on unreliable or expensive producers, like the Middle East.

My 1991 Nissan Maxima in parked in a corn field near Floyd, Iowa in 2002 - Click for larger image (htp://jamesmcgillis.com)The only problem with using corn to create “homegrown fuel” is that it takes more energy input to deliver it than we get out of it when we burn it. When you figure the cost of growing, processing and transporting corn, and the alcohol thus derived, it becomes clear that the corn-fueling program is nothing more than a farm subsidy. Even at $5.00 per gallon, it is still less expensive to import and refine oil than it is to create corn fuel. Since consumers pay that extra tariff at the pump, they do not perceive it as a tax. Hello, Tea Party... If you are looking for a tax to eliminate, how about the Midwest corn fuel tax?

Of all the plants suited for alcohol production, corn is one of the lowest on the list. When the G.W. Bush Administration started talking about “switch grass” as a better alternative to corn, I knew something is fishy. Of all available plants, the dreaded and ill-fated hemp plant may have the greatest potential. Since the federal government classifies the more esoteric forms of that "weed" as a narcotic, it may be a while before we positive developments there. In the biofuel market, corn is cute but hemp is just plain ugly. Sometimes ugly can be more effective than cute.

Ericson 35 Sailboat WindSong at Two Harbors, Santa Catalina Island, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Speaking of ugly, what corn fuel can do to a small gasoline engine is definitely not cute. If you let gasoline sit in the tank of an outboard motor or lawn mower, it will transform, leaving a varnish that will permanently plug any fuel system. With the ongoing American love affair with automobiles, we drive enough for the corn alcohol to cycle through our engines before it can gum up the works. With a small engine, lack of use leads to clogged fuel systems.

My 1980's Honda EX1000 generator is a perfect example. Several years ago, I allowed gasoline to sit in its tank for months. After that, I could start the engine, but it surged constantly as it ran. After servicing it, a local mechanic simply told me to start the engine every couple of months. Later, I again let the generator sit unused for several months. After that, I could get it to start using ether as a starting fluid, but only for a few moments.

A visit to Moab Small Engines & Welding yielded the answer to my question. “It’s the ethanol”, the proprietor told me. After he cleaned the carburetor and fuel line, I was on my way, but with a better set of instructions. He told me to keep a minimum of fuel in the Honda EX1000.  After an RV trip, I was to drain the tank and then run the engine dry. As extra insurance against ethanol residue, I was to loosen the gas cap. That way, any remaining fuel would evaporate before it varnished the fuel lines or carburetor.

For safety reasons, no gasoline powered airplane should use ethanol in its fuel blend (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Regarding the biodiesel on WindSong, I wish that the solution were as simple. When I last ran the engine, a molasses-like sludge from the fuel tank pumped all the way through the system, stopping just short of the delicate fuel injectors. The sludge was like nothing that my fuel specialist, Mr. Dwyn Hendrickson of Marina del Rey, California had ever seen. With ten dollars per gallon disposal fee, that alone cost one hundred dollars. His total bill was $850, but well worth it. With a broken electric fuel pump, two clogged fuel filters and sludge in the fuel lines, my spotty engine usage and delayed oil change turned into a complete cleaning and rebuilding of the fuel delivery system.

I do not wish to demonize either ethanol or biodiesel. Each has its place, although I would rather pay Midwest farmers their ransom via my taxes than in my engine maintenance costs. To this day, no one has the nerve to suggest that we mix ethanol into our aviation fuel. Airplanes falling from the sky might make this problem obvious to all. If each of us burned quickly through our supply of biodiesel, rather than letting it rot in our tanks, it could be a good fuel. With regular usage, it is an environmentally friendly alternative to old-fashioned hydrocarbon diesel. If there were greater transparency about hidden costs, motorists and casual boaters might demand better alternatives to the “alternative fuels” now available.  I wonder if clean coal or tar sands might hold the answers that we seek.


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Will the Salt Valley Drill Rig Topple Landscape Arch?

Arches National Park, Symbol of Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

 

In July 1965, my father and I visited the old Arches National Monument. Dutifully, we drove the newly paved road, which ended in a circle at the Devil’s Garden. My DeLorme Utah Atlas & Gazetteer says of the place, “Area containing most of the park’s rock formations. Landscape Arch, at over 300 feet, one of the world’s longest known natural spans…” Although there are plenty of other rock formations in the park, including the grand Courthouse area, the Devil’s Garden does have a high concentration of the rock fins and arches that visitors like to see.
1965 Ektachrome image of Landscape Arch, Arches National Park, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Saving his valuable Ektachrome film for the important vistas, that day my father splurged and took three shots of Landscape Arch. With an reflex camera, judging the light was always an issue. After development, only one of three slides “came out”. Since it predates massive rock falls in 1991 and 1995, that 35-MM slide is now an historical artifact. Viewing the first image of the arch on this page, you will see the famed arch in 1965. In the second image, you will see evidence of water seepage on the fresh rock face. This may be an indication that the freeze-thaw cycle had loosened a layer of stone, which fell from the right-underside of the arch.


Forty-three years later, in May 2008, I made my second pilgrimage to Landscape Arch. Ironically, the afternoon light that day again made it difficult to get a good picture of the arch. The western sky was so bright, that that it overwhelmed the contrast ratios available to my Sony digital camera. Of my many Landscape Arch photos that day, only one “came out”.
Digital image of Landscape Arch, showing unweathered stone on lower-right, which was the result of a 1991 rock fall - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
Until the 1991 rock fall, access for hikers below the arch was unfettered. During the rock fall itself, an amateur videographer caught scenes of picnickers scrambling to avoid burial under tons of rock. Since that time, we have learned that sound waves generated by normal human activity may contribute to spontaneous destruction of both natural arches and ancient Indian structures. Anywhere that there is a stone amphitheater large enough to concentrate sound waves, there is potential for destruction. According to the Old Testament, during the Israelites’ conquest of Canaan, the trumpeters in Joshua’s army alone brought down the walls of Jericho.


In the waning days of 2008, the George W. Bush administrations announced the largest ever auction of oil and gas leases on federal government land. Around Moab, Utah, many people were incensed. Through a series of gaffs and blunders, the land above the Spanish Valley Aquifer was included in the proposed sale. Residents just outside the city limits discovered that the federal government owned their mineral rights and was about to sell them to the highest bidder.
New, industrial-sized drill rig near Salt Valley and Arches National Park, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis)

For several years, the G.W. Bush Administration had granted near-unrestricted drilling rights throughout the West. However, their inclusion of BLM land within view of Arches National Park was the Coup de Grace. Doing so put every remaining arch at Devil’s Garden in jeopardy. Disturbed by the administration’s cavalier proposal, I created a YouTube video titled, “Drilling Rigs Could Topple Landscape Arch”.


Soon after the November 2008 elections, President Obama appointed Ken Salazar, formerly a Senator from Colorado to be his Secretary of Interior. Initially, environmentalists were skeptical of Salazar. Almost immediately, he blocked the most egregious of the Bush oil and gas leases, including any within sight of Arches National Park.  “Case closed”, I thought. The arches at Arches were safe.
Rock fins on the Devil's Garden Trail, Arches National Park, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

In October 2011, I again visited Arches National Park, accessing the Devil’s Garden area via the dirt and gravel of the Salt Valley Road. From U.S. Highway 191, north of Canyonlands Field, I exited on to the unmarked “Valley City Road”. Although there is no "Valley City", I soon saw an industrial drilling rig big enough to qualify. Although the drilling location is not within view of Arches National Park, it is clearly visible from U.S. 191. According to my map, the new drilling operation is less than twelve miles from Landscape Arch. Upon seeing the rig, its size and scale reminded me of huge exploration rigs used on the North Slope in Alaska. Standing alone near the entrance to the Salt Valley, the rig dominated the view of the Book Cliffs to the north. Immediately, I felt the implied threat to Landscape Arch.


Upon returning home from Moab, I was amazed to read about a swarm of earthquakes in Oklahoma. After the devastating Long Beach Earthquake of 1933, California outlawed unreinforced masonry buildings. During the intervening years, Oklahoma was so geologically stable that new brick buildings were common. In November 2011, with twenty-three earthquakes occurring over a two-day period, it looked like more than a swarm. After thirty years without any significant seismic activity, why was Oklahoma fracturing like a dry biscuit? It may be instructive to remember that in 1933, the Signal Hill oilfield, near Long Beach was at the height of an oil boom.
The Klondike Trail, near Salt Valley in Arches National Park, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

As of this writing, there is no definitive answer to the earthquake issue in Oklahoma. Anecdotal evidence points at increased exploration and production of oil and gas throughout the state. Oil and gas companies immediately issued denials that their activity could or had caused the series of seismic events. It would be nice if there was scientific evidence to corroborate their claims, but such evidence is lacking. In the search for new deposits of oil and gas, the extractors have perfected the art of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), or so they say. A recent documentary showed fracking-caused water well contamination in Pennsylvania. In some places, it was so bad that that affected residents could ignite the gas emanating from their water taps.


While I was living in Denver in the late 1980s, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal used water-injection to dispose of plutonium-contaminated fluids. After a few years, earthquakes in and around the nearby city of Broomfield showed a marked increase. Whether it was spontaneous nuclear fission or simple lubrication of the underlying rock structures, no one knows. Suffice to say that when large-scale water injection at that site ended, so too did the earthquakes. Since hydraulic fracturing includes both injection and extraction of various fluids, it is audacious for extractors to deny any responsibility for the consequences of their actions.
Skyline Arch doubled in size in a 1940 rock fall - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
Here is what I do not know. I do not know the owner of the Salt Valley rig. I do not know if their slant drilling extends to the border of Arches National Park or beyond. I do not know if vibrations from exploratory drilling will affect the national park. I do not know if any future hydraulic fracturing or gas extraction could cause earthquakes within Arches National Park.
Here is what I do know. Scientists usually discount any hypothesis until it is proven, one way or the other. Therefore, proof that my “drilling, fracking and earthquake hypothesis” is true will have to wait until the arches start to fall. On the other hand, maybe they already have. On August 5, 2008, Wall Arch fell at Devil’s Garden. At the time, smaller, mobile exploration rigs were at work in the Salt Valley.  Until we know all of the facts, I shall rest my case on the evidence at hand.

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The Union Pacific Railroad's Potash Local Train

An uncontrolled grade crossing on the Union Pacific Cane Creek Subdivision. Note old ore car adjacent to tracks - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.comIn mid-October 2011, I drove U.S. Highway 191 North, from Moab towards Crescent Junction. About half a mile south of Utah Highway 313 (to Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park), I saw the unmistakable glare of locomotive headlights, heading south toward Moab and Potash, Utah. With two powerful headlights lights stacked above and two more spread out below, their brightness on the landscape was second only to the light of the sun.


Union Pacific diesel electric locomotive No. 6475 heads up the Potash Local, near Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Across from the Bar-M Chuckwagon site, U.S. 191 intersected a gravel road leading west. As soon as I turned on to that road, I found an uncontrolled railroad grade crossing only a few yards away. Parking my truck, I grabbed my camera and ran toward the tracks. When I looked again at the approaching engine, it appeared stopped in a road cut, north of Highway 313. Had time stood still, was the train stopped on the tracks or was it moving too slowly for me to see?


Soon, I could see that the locomotive was accelerating toward me on level ground. From that distance, I knew that my old Sony digital camera would not show much detail. Impatiently, I waited for the train to approach. As it closed on my position, I started taking snapshots of the action. While composing my shots on the LCD screen, I did not realize how quickly the train approached.


  Watch the video, "The Union Pacific Potash Local"


When I walked across the tracks to get a different perspective, I heard a deafening blast from the Union Pacific locomotive's air horn. The engineer seemed to be saying, “Watch out. Here I come”. With a five-second delay for image processing, I had to wait for each shot to clear before I could again depress the shutter. As the lead engine passed my position, I swung the camera up to capture the power and size of the Potash Local. From earthquakes to hurricanes and tornados, eye witnesses will invariable say, “It sounded like a freight train coming towards me”. After standing my ground just yards from the passing engines, I understood exactly what they meant.  


Union Pacific diesel electric locomotives pass an uncontrolled grade crossing near Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)With a clickety-clack on the joints of the hand-laid tracks, the Potash Local soon traveled around a bend and out of sight. In a few more miles, it would pass the “Train of Pain”, parked on a siding overlooking the Moab UMTRA Site. The Train of Pain hauls radio nucleotide-contaminated soil thirty miles from the Moab Pile to a disposal site near Brendel, Utah.


After passing through the Moab Rim within the mile-long Bootlegger Tunnel, the Potash Local enters a road cut that bisects many layers of solid rock. After emerging from those two engineering marvels, the tracks then parallel Utah Highway 279 (The Potash Road). Downstream, along the scenic Colorado River, the destination of the Potash Local is only a few more miles ahead. The end of the line and terminus of the Cane Creek Subdivision (Potash Branch line) is the Intrepid Potash Cane Creek Plant.

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Toxic and Nuclear-Contaminated Dust Plague Moab, Utah

The Nuclear Contaminated site known as Moab UMTRA sits next to the Colorado River and Moab, UT - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)On October 11, 2011, I drove from Moab, Utah to Grand Junction, Colorado. As I approached the Highway 191 Colorado River Bridge, I swung my camera to the left, and out the side window of my truck. Having refocused my digital camera, I started taking a series of “point and shoot” images. Most of my shots were of the Moab UMTRA nuclear cleanup site, better known as the Moab Pile.

A dust devil at the Moab Pile fluoresces in afternoon sunlight on Oct. 11, 2011 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)


After crossing the river, the highway swings south and then parallels the uranium mill tailing Superfund site. The Moab UMTRA site is a well-known emitter of nuclear radiation. Unknown to many in the area, it is also the largest dust-hazard in Grand County, Utah. Nowhere else will you find both nuclear and chemical waste exposed to the regional dust storms that now plague the Four Corners states.

If I remember correctly, the wind was relatively calm on October 11, 2011. Having studied the issue for years, little that I learn about the cleanup of the old Atlas Uranium Mill site surprises me. Still, I did not expect to see the event that unfolded right outside my window. There, on the top of the Moab Pile, a dust devil swirled and lifted a vortex of dust into the air.

  Watch the video "Moab Pile Nuclear Dust Devil"

As I drove closer, my camera angle came closer to the sun. As it did, it captured an image of finer dust particles expanding above the twister. If you watch the YouTube video, you will see one frame in which that larger dust cloud shows itself in shades of lavender and violet. Just because Regional Dust Storm hits Moab UMTRA and the Spanish Valley at Moab Utah in May 2011 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)something is not visible to the unaided eye does not mean that it may not be there. The Carl Zeiss lens on my Sony camera sometimes picks up light in unexpected ways, especially when it involves new energy.

Dust rising up from the Moab Pile, only to dump on the nearby Colorado River and on Moab is a common occurrence. During both my August and October 2011 visits to Moab, I have photographed large amounts of radioactive dust escaping from the UMTRA site. If I remember correctly, the Department of Energy (DOE) should be setting reasonable safety standards for the cleanup. However, toxic, nuclear dust clouds continue to emanate from the Moab UMTRA site on a regular basis. Does DOE or Moab UMTRA care about that?

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Moab, Utah - Fixing a Hole Where The Rain Gets In

Center & Main Streets in Downtown Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)On October 11, 2011, I departed the Moab Rim Campark on South U.S. Highway 191. From there, I drove north toward Moab, Utah. As I approached Downtown, I watched a motorcycle enter the highway and proceed ahead of me, traveling in my direction. Although the bike looked like an overgrown café racer, something about the rider caught my eye. As I accelerated to catch up, I realized that it was a young woman riding the motorcycle. Wearing no safety helmet, and with her hair blowing in the wind, I took a deep breath and backed off. With no adult mandatory helmet law in Utah, even young women motorcyclists are 
Motorcyclist heads north on U.S. Highway 191 in Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)free to risk head injury with impunity. Of course, impunity from prosecution and impunity from fate are two different issues.

After passing Center & Main Streets in Downtown, I saw temporary road signs indicating highway construction ahead. Day and night, there is often heavy traffic on U.S. Highway 191 between Downtown and the new Colorado River Bridge. Even so, most of that section has long remained a substandard two-lane highway. As I drove through the construction zone, I could see that crews had widened and were now repaving the road. Still, most of the new pavement looked too narrow for four traffic lanes. On the positive side, I noticed that there were new traffic signals at either end of the new pavement. If properly synchronized, those signals could help organize southbound traffic before it reached Downtown.

Looking at the ongoing roadwork on that short section of highway, I marveled at how that substandard gateway to the City of Moab had so long endured. As I soon read in the local newspaper, resolution of highway drainage issues Paving of U.S. Highway 191, on the north side of Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)near the Matheson Wetlands had long stalled the project’s completion. Although final widening and alignment are still in question, the stretch of new pavement is indeed an improvement over the old situation.

On the next section of my drive, I headed north across the Colorado River Highway Bridge and then past the ever-present Moab Pile. I will write more about conditions there in my next article.

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Can A New Tablet Computer Change Your Life?

Early IBM laptops ran DOS, with no mouse, Wi-Fi or even a color screen - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) There are two good articles comparing Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet and the Nook Tablet at LATimes.com. For the Kindle story, click HERE. For the Nook story, click HERE. Like mine, some of their information is repetitive, but it is well worth reading twice. Key issues, other than cost are that neither tablet has a 3G/4G connection. That means you need a Wi-Fi connection to go online. Also, the flat screen means that women with longer fingernails may have difficulty when typing on the glass. Barnes & Noble is a book store that needed to compete with Amazon’s Kindle or go out of business. Amazon is an internet juggernaut, as Wal-Mart is to the brick & mortar sector. Either tablet device will work, but I would spend some unhurried time in a retail store demoing both devices prior to purchase.

Of course, there is always Apple's iPad. I am not a big fan of closed systems, and Apple is as closed as it gets. In the future, open architecture platforms (ex. 
Android) will have superior opportunity for innovation. There is only one Apple and everyone in Cupertino headquarters is walking the halls and thinking, “What would Steve do?” It is a natural part of the mourning process, but in a personality-driven company like Apple, forcing the issue either way limits innovation. Looking back at the history of Walt Disney Company, only when Michael Eisner stopped asking, "What would Walt do?" did the company move on to new ventures. Not that Apple wants an Eisner, but conducting a séance or a wake in order to get a few last words out of Steve Jobs is not a good bet.

Early model Motorola mobile telephone (Ca. 1984), featuring unsecured analog radio broadcast technology - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The previous point is about the future. This is NOW and the iPad gets strong reviews from anyone open-minded enough to spend some time with it. Cost is high, for you are paying for cache’ as much as utility. Be sure to figure the cost of exclusivity into your equation. The top-of-line iPad has 3G connectivity, so if you are willing to pay Apple's price, you can use it almost anywhere. Availability of 4G is still so limited that it is a virtual unknown, except in a few select blocks around a few select clients in major cities. Has the 4G icon ever lit up on your mobile telephone? If it even exists, neither has mine. By the way, Samsung is also a strong player in the tablet computer market. Showing how strong a competitor that they are, Samsung is now Apple’s #2 target for patent litigation, second only to Google, itself.

As a tablet alternative, a small laptop (13-14 inch screen), or even an “obsolete” netbook will give you the keyboard, the Wi-Fi and the option for 3G/4G. If it were me, I’d be over at Fry’s looking for closeouts on Sony Intel I-7 processor notebooks. Such a notebook is more expensive than any tablet and you cannot hug it in bed, but it will outperform the tablets on text and data related activities for years to come. If you want to watch movies in bed, get the iPad.

But then again, I like to hear my keys actually click when they hit bottom. To me a touchy screen is a smudgy screen, so I’ll take a keyboard and mouse any day. My Android smart phone provides me plenty of touch-screen interface time. On the other hand, I did just installed MS Windows speech recognition software on my laptop, so soon I will be dictating these articles. Ha!


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The Farmer and the Cowboy Should Be Friends (of the Environment)

Ken's Lake, near Moab, Utah, with the La Sal Range in the background - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
In early October 2011, I made my annual fall pilgrimage to Moab, Utah. Having lived there for three months in the fall of 2005, I knew that October weather in Moab was unpredictable. After the first cold front of the season blew in with me, I was surprised at how quickly weather in the Spanish Valley returned to its default position, which is Indian summer.


Lone angler paddles across Ken's Lake in October 2011 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)


On October 6, 2011, it was sunny in the valley, yet storm clouds still hung on the peaks of the La Sal Range. What better day could I find to visit Ken’s Lake, out on Poverty Flat, near the head of the Spanish Valley?


When I arrived, I saw a few campers in the campground, yet on only one boat floating upon the lake. As I watched, I could see the oarsman rowing his pontoon-style fishing boat towards shore. Although I stood no further than thirty feet from where he made landfall, the old angler never looked up or acknowledged my presence.


Only when I asked him why the lake was so high this year did he speak. He gave me a few matter-of-fact sentences, telling me all that I needed to know. “It was a good snow year. There was still snow on the north-facing slopes until August. The slower snowmelt this year kept filling the lake, even Ken's Lake, Moab, Utah, with a storm clearing in the La Sal Range above - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)as irrigation water flowed from the dam. Still, it hasn’t rained much lately and the lake is a lot lower than it was just a few weeks ago.” After I thanked him for the information, he returned to his silent mode, placed his boat on a small trailer and drove away without another word.


After he departed, I marveled at the differences I could see from just one year earlier, in October 2010. When I wrote an article about that visit, I called it “Ken’s Puddle”, which is what it looked like to me. At that time, I suggested that farmers and others who shared in Ken’s Lake water might want to look towards conservation of this resource, rather than exploitation. Did my words and wishes have some positive effect on water levels in the lake? On the other hand, did fewer regional dust storms this year keep more snow in the higher reaches of the La Sal Range watershed until later in the season?


Ken's Lake, with abundant water in October 2011 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Cynics would say that those entitled to shares of Ken’s Lake Water took every drop that they could get this year. Redemption came only when Mother Nature replenished the water faster than the outfall pipe carried it away to crops and cattle. I prefer to think that even those who are “entitled” are conserving more and using less of those sacred waters. By his demeanor, I would guess that the lone angler I saw that day was a longtime Moab rancher or farmer. By not drawing his full share of Ken’s Lake water this year; did he help Ken’s Lake to remain one of the few cold-water fisheries in Southeastern Utah?

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Future Stars of Cycling Race in the 24-Minutes of Moab

Jack Anobile is the 1st Strider Class 24-Minutes of Moab champ! - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
The 24-Hours of Moab off-road bicycle race was only four hours old, with twenty hours of racing yet to go. I was there, Behind the Rocks in Moab, Utah on October 8, 2011. With so many families in attendance this year, there was great interest in the kids’ races, better known as the “24-Minutes of Moab”. Once I had the Moab24Live.com webcam working properly, it was a pleasure to stop and watch the future stars of the cycling sport.


As I said to promoter Laird Knight after the event, “I have never seen so many kids have so much good, clean fun in the dirt.” Having kids himself, Laird paid particular attention to starting each race safely, but with some fun. Varying his starting count from race to race, Laird allowed no false starts at all. There were no reported injuries or off-course maneuvers, so his strategy must have worked.




Each race featured a “Lemans Start”, similar to the 24-HOM start, earlier that day. For the kids, there was a one-lap foot race and then a multi-lap bicycle race around the vendor tents. If you take a minute and view the video, you will see the athletes of the future racing like the wind. Performing in front of cheering fans and family, what better way is there for a kid to spend a fall afternoon in Moab?

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