January-March, 2023



The Bear was sitting in the garden eating popcorn when I entered.

Experts agree that it is best not to startle bears, especially when they're feeding. This is particularly true of flying bears; their efforts to become airborne, leaping about and flapping their 28 foot wings, could unintentionally be quite destructive to the immediate environment. I cleared my throat in the British manner and said:

"Don Castleberry inquired after you; he wondered if you would appear anytime soon" (Don Castleberry is a retired NPS regional director with an interest in flying bears.)

"Tell him that his days of wondering are over; I have appeared." The Bear responded.

And so he had, causing the disappearance of the last of my popcorn.

"And you are well?" The bear asked.

"As well as one can be on a planet spiraling into environmental doom!" I said righteously.

"Do not overdramatize; it gets in the way of problem solving." The Great Bear said unctuously. "Simply select a doom-predicting problem and quietly solve it; it's that easy!"

"Are you serious"? I demanded.

"As a stroke" the bear demurred. "Now show me one of your so called 'unsolvable' problems and let me demonstrate."

Now neighbors, most people would agree that one of our most intractable problems is the Colorado River; or rather, the people that live in the drainage of the Colorado. They want more and more water from the Colorado, and due to a persistent and monumental draught, coupled with persistent and monumental growth, they are poised to get less and less.

I asked the Bear how he planned to solve the Colorado River problem.

The Bear laughed. "Actually, I was afraid you were going to ask me to solve something difficult." He said mischievously. "This is rather routine problem solving."

"The solution to the Colorado River problem is quite simple; all you need is another Colorado River!"

"Another Colorado River! You plan to divert the Mississippi? The Midwest won't like that" I interjected.

"Huzzah for the Mississippi! That is one possibility, but unlikely for technical as well as political reasons, as you pointed out."

"Then there is the NORTH AMERICA PLAN:" the Bear chuckled. This would involve damming the Yukon River in Alaska, creating a reservoir about the size of Lake Erie and building a canal to carry the water south to replenish the Colorado River and irrigate the Mexican States of Sonora and Chihuahua.

"Unfortunately, it also would probably involve a war with Canada, an outcome that not even a Trump Presidency could survive." The Bear remarked. "Not to mention cascading environmental disasters on the breeding grounds of much of North America's wildlife.

"Then you admit that most 'solutions' to the Colorado are technically or politically impossible! " I said, triumphantly.

"Not at all! Not at all" replied Thunderbear, confidently. "The key word is 'Most'. There are solutions out there; you must simply think outside the box to find the most satisfactory one."

"Then you have such a solution?" I scoffed.

"Of course! The Colorado River water shortage can be solved by drafting indirectly from the Pacific Ocean. Americans are famously greedy and wasteful, but it is unlikely they could suck the Pacific Ocean dry, particularly as the oceans are notoriously being replenished by melting glaciers, courtesy of global warming!"

"So the Pacific is the logical source for more water for the Colorado Basin. The supply is unlimited; a second Colorado if you will!" The Bear said confidently

"But what about the salt!" I demanded triumphantly.

"Well, what about it?" Thunderbear demanded, equally triumphant.

"You see," Thunderbear said sagely, "The mistake people make in desalinization is the ultimate goal. The goal should not be to produce fresh water (though that will be a happy side effect), but rather to get at the elements locked up in that gallon of seawater. As you know, a gallon of sea water is roughly 96% pure H2O, the kind you can spray on your tomato plants or your rose garden, or simply drink. The other 4% is everything else and not very tasty. Basically, it is traces of everything in the Periodic Table of Elements; gold, silver, lead, titanium, mercury, tin, zinc, copper, manganese and so on and so forth." Thunderbear said enthusiastically. "All in trace quantities, except of course Sodium Chloride, or table salt, of which there is a lot."

Thunderbear."Are you familiar with Dr. Fritz Haber?" inquired the Bear.

I had to admit that I hadn't heard of the gentleman.

"Pity! German chap. Invented poison gas during the First World War. More importantly, he pioneered sea water mining. The Allies insisted that Germany pay for the cost of the War. Not very realistic, but, for a time they insisted. Dr. Haber came up with a plan to extract gold from Baltic seawater and pay off Germany's war debt.

"He was unsuccessful, primarily due to lack of scale (though he did produce minute quantities of gold.)

"Now let us consider another element found in seawater; Lithium," lectured the Bear.

"Who is interested in Lithium? Well, Elon Musk and anyone else who makes their living building electric vehicles. Lithium is a necessary ingredient in the batteries that make them go.

"At present, land based Lithium sources are pretty scarce. Total reserves are around 14 million tons. Annual consumption is about 85,000 tons: Not critical, but worth noting if you plan to base your entire world's renewable energy on Lithium. Chile owns the most Lithium, about 8 million tons, Australia comes in second with 2 million tons, and your old pal, Red China comes in third with one million tons.

"Now would it be nice to have an unlimited source of Lithium from a friendly source? Well, Yes."

Bingo! You've got it, neighbor! The experts estimate that there are 180 billion tons of Lithium in the ocean, waiting for anyone with a seacoast and the right process

"So, yes, we think we are moving in the right direction by squeezing the 4% of elements out of that gallon of sea water. Now the reason that getting that 4% out of that gallon by way of reverse osmosis is so expensive is the cost of electricity to maintain a steady pressure on a semi-permeable membrane without breaking said membrane (or membranes).

"If you could achieve reverse osmosis without electricity, then the process would be ever so much cheaper!" The Great Bear said knowledgably.

"Fortunately, God has given you a break; a rare one, but still a break." Said the Great Bear, piously.

"How so?" I asked skeptically.

"It's a matter of geography." Thunderbear said, pedantically.

"You see, most dry land places on earth are at sea level or above sea level, but there are some significant exceptions; The Jordan River Valley in Israel, the Quartara Depression in Egypt, or your very own Salton Sea in California, for example. The Salton Sea is 230 feet below sea level."

"So?" I demanded.

"Don't you see!" The Great Bear insisted. "The Salton Sea is only 75 miles from the Pacific Ocean at Camp Pendleton Marine Base! All you need do is dig a tunnel at a slight gradient

between the Salton Sea and the shoreline at Camp Pendleton!"

"And?" I asked suspiciously.

"The tunnel would be filled with hundreds of discs of semi-permeable membranes each disc being mounted on rails for easy removal and maintenance. Each disc would have a diameter of roughly 52 feet."

"But a tunnel 75 miles long!" I protested "It boggles the imagination!"

"It shouldn't boggle at all!" responded Thunderbear. "It is true that at one time you needed four things to dig a tunnel; a pick axe, a shovel, a wheelbarrow, and an Irishman.

"However, tunneling technology has improved since that time. There is now almost no limit on the length of a tunnel, except of course, money. The Thunderbear Tunnel would not even be a record breaker!" (The Great Bear has a lamentable penchant for naming things after himself.)

"The world tunnel record is currently held by the 85 mile long Delaware Aquaduct Tunnel that supplies New York City with its drinking water. That tunnel was completed without drama in 1945.

Thunderbear."So you see, a mega-tunnel is no big deal. Actually, the Thunderbear tunnel will not go the full 75 miles; 68 miles of passage through semi-permeable disc should be more than enough to strip off the desired 4% of trace elements into the slurry tube for further processing.

"This leaves us with the disposal of the 96% 'waste water' which is now pure H20. In water starved Arizona and California this should not be difficult.

"First, we will use the water to make electricity. At mile 69, We still have a 162' vertical drop. or 'head' before we bottom out. This is well within the optimum for hydropower production."

"Will your Thunderbear Project produce as much electricity as Hoover Dam?" I asked hopefully.

"Technically, the answer is 'No,' because we lack the hydropower infrastructure that Hoover Dam possesses. BUT you may have noticed that Hoover Dam is facing some difficulties in hydropower production due to the drought. When Lake Mead reaches 950 feet above sea level, it is at 'dead pool', meaning that water will no longer flow through the turbines; hence, no more electricity. Lake Mead is currently at 1,040 feet above sea level, or around 90 feet from disaster. The Thunderbear project is not affected by drought. Hoover Dam is backed by Lake Mead. The Thunderbear Project is backed by the Pacific Ocean; there is a difference." The Great Bear said, dryly.

"But I don't understand; after running through your turbines, does the water then drain into the Salton Sea?" I asked suspiciously.

"Not on your life!" laughed the Bear. "What would be the point? The Salton Sea is a saline body of water of no great use to anyone. It does have some value from a recreational standpoint and some importance from a public health standpoint. (The Salton Sea bed, exposed by drouth conditions is full of poisonous chemicals, which are blown about by the wind and are bad for you. We can maintain the Salton Sea at its optimum level to prevent sea bed exposure, neatly solving that problem."

"Then where does the 'Waste Water' go?" I demanded.

"I imagine we sell it!" The Bear grinned mischievously "At least that's how Capitalism is supposed to work, I'm told."

"But first the water goes into the Accumulation Basin." The Bear said briskly.

"The Accumulation Basin?"

"I imagine you've been wondering what we will do with all the rock we removed to dig the tunnel?" All the rock goes into the building of the Accumulation Basin, which is basically a donut shaped pile of spoil from the tunnel digging. The 'hole in the donut' will be lined with Bentonite clay to prevent seepage and water loss.

"The water will not remain in the Accumulation Basin for long," according to Thunderbear. "You will remember that one of the chief objections to Lake Mead and Lake Powell is loss of water due to evaporation. This is not the case with the Thunderbear Project. The water will be sold and pumped to its consumers as quickly as it is produced, very much like electricity."

"Are you sure this will work?" I demanded.

"No" The Bear said simply. "There are no guarantees in life. There are forseeable problems and there are unforeseen problems.

"Among the forseeable problems are the faults. The tunnel must cross the San Andreas Fault, plus an unknown number of smaller faults.

"We believe we can deal with the Knowns and Unknows with redundancy. The Thunderbear Project Tunnel is only a pilot project to deal with any problems that might arise. We plan a total of three intake tunnels (one an alternate for maintenance) on the 17 mile shore of Camp Pendleton. This will provide twice the flow of the Colorado at flood stage in a good year."

"I'm curious. Why did you choose Camp Pendleton as the site for the intake tunnels" I asked.

"Quite simple. It's federally controlled land. We wish to avoid private land as much as possible as we must acquire tunneling rights to pass under their property." I am sure we could strike a deal with California State Parks to allow the tunnels to pass under Anza Borrego State Park."

"You do realize that most of the people in that area are Republicans?" I inquired archly.

"Yes, one of your strange cults; I believe they are more interested in making money than saving the world." The Bear responded.

"That's a bit of an over simplification" I said.

"There will be a bit of vibration as the tunneling machine passes under their property, and I suspect most people will want to temporarily relocate or we can buy their property outright. Being Republicans, they will appreciate the opportunity to make some money without doing anything.

"Will it work? I am confident that it will." Thunderbear said confidently.

"If it does work, and it will, the Thunderbear Project will serve as a pilot program for Africa.

Thunderbear."At the moment, Africa is the poorest of the inhabited continents; if we can bring water to that continent,, Africa will be on the way to becoming the richest!

"As I noted before, the Salton Sea is just one of many below sea level depressions, mainly in Africa. There's the Quatara Depression in Egypt, 482 feet below sea level, Chott Melkhir in Algeria at 130 feet below sea level, Sebkha tah in Morocco, 180 feet below sea level, Lake Assal in Dijibouti at 515 feet and the lowest point in Afria, Lake Kakul in Ethiopia's Afar Depression at 246 feet below sea level. There is also the Jordan River Valley nearby Israel at 696 feet below sea level which can irrigate Israel AND Jordan which is reaching a critical water shortage.

"The interesting thing is that all of these depressions are located less than a hundred miles from the sea; tunneling will be a cinch! Africa will get its water and Elon Musk will get his Lithium."

"Then we can irrigate the Sahara Desert! Mankind's age old dream!" I said excitedly.

"No." The Great Bear said gently. "The Sahara will remain as The Sahara International Peace Park; shared by the world." Thunderbear said grandly.

"But why can't we irrigate the Sahara? It would solve everything from food insecurity to global warming!" I asked, desperately.

"Mainly technical reasons, but some spiritual" The Great Bear said cryptically.

"You see, for a successful irrigation project you sort of need dirt; the Sahara doesn't seem to have any."

"The Sahara doesn't have dirt?" I said, amazed.

"Occupational hazard of being a hot desert" The Bear said brightly. "You see, the desert wind blows almost constantly; that, and lack of rainfall means that the top soil gets blown away, leaving sand and gravel.

"At the moment, the Sahara consists of about 70% of what the Arabs call 'Hamada' or gravel about the size of a pigeon's egg. The other 30% consists of huge moving sand dunes called 'Ergs'. Neither of which lend them to agriculture, irrigated or otherwise."

"Then we are lost!" I cried piteously.

"Not at all! Not at all!" Thunderbear exclaimed. "You can still save The Sahel! In fact, you must save The Sahel."

"What is the Sahel?" I I inqjuired.

"The Sahel is the land form just South of the Sahara. It stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea; a distance of 3,170 miles with an average width of 600 miles. Unlike the Sahara it gets around 28-39 inches of rain in a good year. Unfortunately, the Sahel has not had a good year in quite some time. Fortunately it still has good dirt. It will support a forest if you plant the right trees and that is what the local chaps are doing with a project called "'THE GREAT GREEN WALL'; a forest wall stretching over 3,000 miles in length and 10 miles in width. This will stop the spread of the Sahara and save Africa.

"THE GREAT GREEN WALL will be temporarily irrigated with ground water from fresh water aquifers beneath the GGW forest until The Afar Depression Desalinization plant at Djubouti can be brought on line for permanent irrigation."

"This is going to be a tad expensive" I said skeptically, "Are you sure you can get it past a Republican Congress?"

"Not at all" said the Bear, cheerily.

"Are you not familiar with Daniel Burnham?" He asked

I had to admit that I was unfamiliar with Mr. Burnham.

"Pity." Said Thunderbea , reproachfully. "He's the patron saint of bureaucrats or should be!


With that, the Great Bear rose, spread his wings and thundered off into the evening sky.


Thunderbear. Admit it neighbor! You should not have done it. You were subject to temptation and you succumbed! True, there were mitigating factors; it was the end of a long, hard day. You had dealt with a long string of obnoxious, malfactoring visitors to NoName National Park There appeared to be no end in sight.

Then this Black BMW came roaring out of nowhere at twice the legal limit, rocking your patrol Car as it sped past. There are times when you are given no choice. You turned on the lights and gave chase.

It was only when you added the siren to the mixture that the driver began to slow down and pull over.

You walked over to the driver's side. He is a White Male, showing the usual signs of middle age wear and tear.

However, his face is livid. He is shaking with rage and contempt. Clearly, he is someone who regards flogging the peasants as part of a good day's work.

"DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?" He snarls, dripping liquid nitrogen on every word.

You attempt to defuse the situation with a little levity; you say "No Sir, I don't know who you are, but if you'll pass me your driver's license, I'll be glad to tell you."

Big Mistake!

The guy goes triple livid; you fear a heart attack; no such luck. "DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE TALKING TO?" He fairly screams. Uh Oh. You see trouble looming on the horizon. No more attempts at levity.

Little do you know that you are about to be Holmanized

That is, subjected to the torments of the Holman Rule.

What is the Holman Rule? It is an 1876 House rule that was submitted by Congressman William Holman of Indiana.

"A basic understanding of the Rule is that it empowers any member of Congress to propose amending an appropriations bill to single out a government employee (That would be you, smart guy!) and reduce his/her salary or defund a specific government program."

In short, The Holman Rule is a legislative prerogative not seen since the days of Louis XlV or Pedro the Cruel.

Is it even legal?

Probably not. The Holman Rule looks suspiciously like a Bill of Attainder which is specifically forbidden by the U.S. Constitution (Article 1, Section 9).

And what is a Bill of Attainder? Briefly, it is a suspension of your civil rights and right to due process in a court of law.

In 1942, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill proposed a Bill of Attainder for high-ranking Nazi officials: As they were captured, they would be summarily shot upon identification. The Americans and Soviets strongly objected and the Nazis were tried in courts of law with legal representation.

Apparently, The Holman Rule has never been challenged in the Supreme Court or any other court.

It has been used very sparingly for obvious reasons: There would be "tit for tat" reprisals when the other party got back into power.

Congressman William Holman, author of the Holman Rule, was scrupulously honest. Some might say excessively so. He hated to see corruption and waste of government funds.

He viewed himself as a fiscal knight in shining armor, rooting out corruption where ever he found it.

Remember, 1876 was the time of patronage politics. This was before Civil Service Reform; a time when people got federal jobs based on party affiliation and not on merit. The Holman Rule would allow an honest Congressman to defund a crooked federal worker or even defund an entire federal boondoggle!

Congressman Holman had plenty of targets. He was particularly enraged by the theft of public lands by timber barons and cattle kings who fenced in the public domain for their own use. He inveighed against railroads confiscation of public land.

He did not always win, but much of the public domain that we still have, we owe to William Holman. He was instrumental in the passage of Forest Reserve Act of 1891 which laid the basis for the National Forests.

However, one of his creations, The Holman Rule, still lies like a ticking time bomb at the heart of our federal bureaucracy. It has never been repealed!

If you ever managed to seriously tick off a U.S. Congressperson, he/she can attach a rider to a must pass approprations bill that will shrink your salary to zero.

IF Marjorie Taylor Greene decides she doesn't like the National Park Service, she can save the government some money by defunding that agency.

Admittedly, such an event would be extremely unlikely. The NPS is one of the most beloved agencies in the Federal government as are the National Parks themselves.

Still, you never know what Marjorie is going to do on any given day. After all, what if that guy who wondered if you knew who he was, turned out to be Marjorie's Chief of Staff?

So it might be a good idea to get The Holman Rule repealed for everyone's safety.

That's where you come in, neighbor!

Write your Congressperson and ask him/her how they stand on the Holman Rule.

Now if you reside in a rural part of the West or South, your Congressperson is probably a certifiable Lunatic; that is, they are to the right of Donald Trump.

They will tell you that the Holman Rule is the only sure way to get Communist perverts out of government: So there! The Rule must be available!

It may be that the only logical recourse is to move to a more sane congressional district.

Carry on!


Folks occasionally ask me if I ever got "in trouble" with the Park Service or the Department of the Interior over writing an "alternative" newsletter, obviously without permission.

The answer is "not to my knowledge." (Though you never can tell!) The reason I have not been persecuted or prosecuted is that most people in the NPS have a pretty well developed sense of humor.

They rather liked the idea of a ten foot tall beer drinking flying bear as opposed to the Forest Service's rather prissy and fire neurotic smokey bear.

Indeed, the Department of the Interior Museum proudly displays an exhibit on Thunderbear.

Not so the FBI.

Am I insinuating that the agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation do not have a sense of humor?

Mercy No! It's just that what they consider funny differs from what you and I consider funny.

What an FBI agent would consider thigh slapingly funny would be a Democrat falling down a flight of stairs. (That's it; that's the punch line!)

Your kindly editor has repeatedly warned readers not to tell friends that THUNDERBEAR Is funny; your friend may have an FBI sense of humor and will resent your implying that he/she does not have a sense of humor.

The FBI vendetta against Thunderbear began innocently enough.

Now, most universities are liberal, but some are more liberal than others. That would be the University of California at Berkeley and The University of Wisconsin.

The FBI kept a suspicious eye on both of them.

Imagine my surprise when a librarian of the University of Wisconsin telephoned me and said that the University would like to add THUNDERBEAR to its collection and could they have back issues?

I was flattered and surprised. "Of course you can." I replied. I had been looking for a university home for THUNDERBEAR and the University of Wisconsin was just the right fit, including being he Alma Mater of the great conservationist, John Muir. It would be just the ticket!

Except for one thing.

THUNDERBEAR would join a special library collection of radical and revolutionary periodicals which meant that THUNDERBEAR would be rubbing shoulders with the "Daily Worker", "The New Masses", The Anarchist, The International Socialist Review, The Industrial Worker, The Voice of Action, The Socialist Woman, and hundreds if not thousands of periodicals whose editors were not above suggesting hanging Steve Mather from a sour apple tree for being a Capitalist tool.

I must admit that I failed to ask why the University of Wisconsin considered THUNDERBEAR to be such a radical publication. Shelf space was what THUNDERBEAR needed and the University of Wisconsin was willing to accommodate.

The concept of "Guilt by Association" did not occur to me at the time.

It did, much later.

My wife, Joan, and I were in the process of boarding a flight at Dulles International Airport. A familiar name floated across the concourse: "WILL PASSENGER PJ RYAN PLEASE REPORT TO TICKETING. " Hmm, now that was interesting; I wonder if we were to be upgraded for our service to humanity. It seemed unlikely. It was.

The young lady at ticketing looked like she was about to deliver Bad News. She was.

"Mr. Ryan" she began solemnly "We cannot board you on this flight. You are on the federal watch List."

"There must be some mistake," I stammered.

The young lady assured me that if I was indeed the villainous PJ Ryan, I could not board my flight.

My wife grabbed the clip board holding the watch list.

"This is not a 'do not board list' It is a watch list! " She proclaimed. Your job is to observe Mr. Ryan's presence and make a note of it and pass it on to who ever is interested." Said Joan, authoritatively.

I smiled my most ingratiating, non-terrorist smile and slowly rotated so I could be observed and watched from all angles.

The young woman was becoming flustered.

"I suggest you call your supervisor," Joan said in a tone that suggested heads would roll if she didn't. She did.

A middle aged Black gentleman arrived, was apprised of the situation, muttered something and waved us on our way.

And neighbors, that was the way it went for the better part of a year. Every time we planned to board an aircraft, we were told that we could not, as I was the Dread PJ Ryan. Joan would sweetly tell the desk attendant that no, all they needed to do was observe me and make note of us. For my part, I smiled and did a little dance step for their observation. And then they let us go.

The FBI apparently shared its intelligence with Customs & Immigration as we were fussed over more than anyone else on our return. I recall one young lady immigration lassie going positively bug eyed at my presence, having never met a real, live terrorist.

And then, suddenly, it stopped.

No more being called to the ticket counter; No more being told I could not board because I was PJ Ryan; No more dancing; No explanation. I felt neglected.

I recalled the environmental gadfly, Edward Abbey. Over the years, Abbey had written and done many things that irritated J. Edgar Hoover and his minions; Probably among the irritants was Abbey's word of advice "Never trust anybody that uses a letter as a first name."

As the years passed, more and more liberal congresspersons were wondering just how far Hoover's FBI could be trusted, particularly with hearsay evidence. The Congresspeople passed a law stating that the taxpayer had a right to a copy of his/her FBI file.

Abbey submitted a request for a copy of his FBI file.

He wound up being mildly disappointed. The FBI started off regarding Abbey as part of the Red Menace. However, like Abbey, the FBI evolved. In later additions to his file, the FBI rather admiringly referred to him as a "prominent Environmentalist."

The message being that one should not take oneself too seriously.

Still, I must get a copy of my FBI file and find out what made THUNDERBEAR such a threat!


Americans and Canadians share many things: most famously, a 5,525 mile undefended border, the longest in the world. (Russia's border is actually longer, but the Russians are so darn ornery that the 14 countries that snuggle up against it find it prudent to have plenty of guns pointed one way.)

The Americans and Canadians also share several magnificent national parks; Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park (Everyone take a bow!) and "The largest transboundary protected area in the world"; Kluane/Wrangell-St.Elias/Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini.

There is at least one International Historic Site. That would be Campobello, FDR's summer home on Campobello Island in the Canadian Provence of New Brunswick and administered jointly by Parks Canada and the NPS. There is also a historic Klondike Goldrush historic trail shared by the two nations.

Hold on! There may yet be another shared historic trail in the future!

We're talking about The York Factory Express.

This would be the twice-yearly journey between The Hudson Bay Company's depot at Fort Vancouver (Now Fort Vancouver NHS.) and Hudson Bay's North American headquarters at York Factory on the shores of Hudson Bay. (Now one of Parks Canada's treasured historic sites.)

The journey of the York Factory Express was a mind boggling 2,600 miles and it was done not once but twice a year!

Why was it done?

First of all, a little background into Canadian history.

The Hudson Bay Company was chartered by King Charles II in the year 1670 for the purpose of making lots of money through trading of highly desired metal and textile objects for equally highly desired animal pelts offered by The Frist Nations People and eagerly accepted by His Majesty's White Folks.

York Factory was established in 1684 on the western shore of Hudson Bay at the mouth of the Hayes River. It was in The Heart of Darkness, smack dab in deepest wilderness. It would be operational for more than 270 years as a trading post and still operates as a unit of Parks Canada.

Contrary to what the name implies, nothing was manufactured at York Factory.

The word "factory" means "Trading Post" in Canadian and the "Chief Factor" was the "Chief Trader". The name "York" was in honor of the King's brother, The Duke of York.

During its heyday, there were more than 50 buildings at York Factory. It was indeed the hub of the Hudson Bay empire; a vast land that occupied much of Northwest Canada and even a sizable chunk of what was to become the states of Washington and Oregon.

The purpose of the York Factory Express was not to transport furs or trade goods. It was to transport paperwork; letter, reports, orders, bills and so on, as well as pick up and drop off personnel at the various forts and posts along the trail.

The York Factory Express started at Fort Vancouver in the second week of March. There were around 40 to 75 men in the "brigade". They rowed or paddled light weight boats called "Columbias" named after the river and popularized by the noted explorer David Thompson.

Each "Columbia" was 32 feet long and 6 and a half wide at the widest with an identical sharp bow and stern. Travel time to York Factory was around 3 months and ten days.

Not everyone in the Brigade was a Hudson Bay Company Man. Some were "gentlemen" passengers who had paid for passage and the relative safety of the York Express. They were business men, or missionaries, or naturalists like David Douglas of tree and squirrel fame. Needless to say, the "Gentlemen" did not have to row or paddle.

Want to do it? Sure! Why not!

Get some friends together at Fort Vancouver NHS; knock together a Columbia boat. Get a letter of introduction from the park superintendent to his opposite number at York Factory, have a celebratory glass of rum, and start paddling up the Columbia River.

Paddle past the sites of Fort Nez Perce and Fort Okanogan and Fort Colville and on to Boat Encampment. Take a rest day, then follow the Wood River to the "Committee's Punch Bowl" at Athabaska Pass.

Now take the Whirlpool River and the Athabaskan River to Jasper House and Fort Assiniboine. Then you must drag the boat 80 miles overland To fort Edmonton. Then its down the Saskatchawan River to Lake Winnipeg and Norway House on the Nelson River, then take the Hayes River to York Factory and a celebratory glass of rum with the York Factory superintendant.

Get ready to do the Autumn Express, which is the return trip if so inclined.

Now how does the York Factory Express stack up against the other North American Long distance trails?

Let's see...

Appalachian Trail: 2,190, 5 to 7 months

Pacific Crest Trail: 2, 653, 5 months

Continental Divide Trail: 3,028, 5 and a half months

York Factory Express; 2,600 ,3 months,10 days

The York Factory Trail is unique in that it is primarily a water trail. And that should interest the Canadians.

Unlike the other trails which deal mainly in distance, it is also a historical trail that connects two nations. The York Factory Express should make a great International Peace Trail.

Let's do it.


Every so often the NPS has a crisis.

"Umm, when is that?" you inquire.


The crisis is not lack of love.

Everyone loves the National Parks and the National Park Service.

I would suspect that even Marjorie Taylor Greene, driven into a corner, would admit to a secret love for the National Parks. (But mind you, according to Marjorie, we still need Trump's visage on Mount Rushmore!)

No, neighbors, the crisis is not lack of love, but lack of housing.

Not only is the CCC housing of the 1930's and the Mission 66 housing of the 1950's and 60's coming to the end of its life span, but there are more new parks that require housing for permanent and seasonal staff.

Believe it or not, we have (potentially) solved this problem once and we can do again!

We are referring to the redoubtable Bruce Babbitt, 47th Secretary of the Interior.

We described Bruce's housing solution in THUNDERBEAR in an article entitled "Cabin in the sky", later reprinted in THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THUNDERBEAR, published years ago.

Since the Housing Crisis has come around again, we decided to reprint Bruce's solution:

"Now that we are in another housing crisis, there is a remarkable potential for a log structure renaissance in the National Parks...

"Here is how Great Smoky National Park and its Friends pulled it off, according to Bob Miller, Management Assistant at GRSM.

Last summer, Tom Collier, Mr. Babbitt's Chief of Staff, was salmon fishing in Alaska and met two of our East Tennessee neighbors, Ed Williams, a board member of the National Park foundation, and his wife, Mary Williams, who has since been appointed as board member of our Friends group, Collier was talking to the Williamses about one of Babbitt's major initiatives-improving some deplorable park housing.

Armed with this tidbit of information, Ed and Mary returned to Tennessee, where they subsequently described the problem to an acquaintance, Jim Barna, owner of Jim Barna Log Systems, a manufacturer of log structure kits.

Barna is a Hungarian immigrant with a deep sense of gratitude to America for both his survival and his success.

Barna wanted to know if the Smokies had this housing problem and Mary Williams called us to find out that indeed we do have a seasonal housing shortage at GRSM.

In February, Tom Collier flew down to meet with the Williams, Mr. Barna, the Smokies acting superintendent, and me to discuss a donation coupled with a media event.

We arrived at the first meeting with a set of plans for a seasonal dorm which would house 8 folks and would replace an older bunkhouse on the same lot which had burned a couple of years ago. (Hence no NEPA or Housing management Plan hurdles etc.) So we knew it could be done on the quick.) Barna said he would build it as a turnkey proposition; all the park needed to do is provide utility service to the site and dig the footers, a two day job. Barna said he would provide and install everything else, including appliances, carpet, and paint. (Fair enough!)

Anyway, at sunrise on April 25th, 1994, the Secretary of the Interior, Jim Barna, park staff, and 175 non NPS volunteers started their log bunkhouse raising and completed it in time for a sunset barbecue.

The only thing that marred the festivities was the death of Richard Nixon, which understandably directed media attention away from the log cabin event and maybe the reason you are reading about it for the first time.

Now neighbors, when you think about it, a log cabin raising in a national park has got to be one of the best PR and cheap housing moves you can make:

  1. You may be able to get a log structure manufacturer to donate a log cabin kit, like the nice Mr. Barna.

  2. Then again, they may not want to; no problem, you can get individual members of the public to donate a log, with their name inscribed thereon, very much like those commemorative bricks that people buy.

  3. If donating, the log cabin company is going to "suggest" some media coverage, which is exactly what you wanted anyway.

  4. The whole thing so positively reeks of wholesome frontier, back to basics, down to earth, neighbor helpin' neighbor for the Common Good, volunteerin', old fashioned barn raisin' Americanism (See! I'm beginnin' to drop my g's already!)

  5. Indeed, even the shrewd Mr. Babbitt, commenting on the wholesome corniness of the endeavor, remarked "I can almost hear Copeland's 'Appalachian Spring' in the background."

  6. Due to the relatively crude nature of log construction, it is possible to employ a great number of volunteers, whose main suit is strength and enthusiasm rather than carpentry or other building skills. This will allow you to engage a large number of the local community.

  7. Unless you drop a log on the governor's head, you should be able to flood the media with tons of favorable coverage of such syrupy sweetness that you will infect the county with sugar diabetes, and it will be impossble for anyone to be mad at you or think the NPS to be anything less than a race of Abe Lincolns."


Yes neighbors, it's the end of Thunderbear #314 and time for The Safety Message. As you know, Safety is Job One in the National Parks and any attempt to subvert Safety by forbidding the reading of THUNDERBEAR in an effort to find the Safety Message, should be dealt with summarily. (California State Parks compromises, by allowing the reading of THUNDERBEAR during lunch break.)

We will now take a look at Safety in Biblical times:

"PRIDE GOETH BEFORE A FALL" (Proverbs 16-18)

Few people realize that Solomon was not only King of Israel but Chief Collateral Duty Safety Officer for the state of Israel. (At least according to the King James version of the Bible in which he is described as the author of Proverbs 16-18.)

Then as now, the leading cause of death and disablement was (and is) falls.

We are not talking about falls on Mount Everest or Mount Rainier in which the fall participant has (presumably) practiced and prepared for participation in a fall.

We are talking about common, garden variety, walking down the street types of falls.

This is a fall of less than five feet which delivers your skull into fatal impact against a rock or hard place.

Such falls can be prevented, or at least mitigated, by the use of a cane, as your editor found out after being dumped on the ground due to uneven terrain.

Pride had prevented me from admitting that I was growing old and that I could use the assistance of a cane.

So, if you are age or balance impaired, by all means, get a cane: Remember "PRIDE GOETH BEFORE A FALL."

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Image credits:
Bruce Babbitt -
"Columbia" Boat - Verne Equinox, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Fritz Haber -
Log Cabin -
Marjorie Taylor Greene -
SafetyBear - P. J. Ryan and WebHarmony LLC composite
Sahel -
Thunderbear and the FBI - P. J. Ryan, pixabay and WebHarmony LLC composite
Tunnel -
Water -
William S. Holman -
York Factory Express - Pfly, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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