Monday, August 31, 2009


The name alone makes this a compelling peak to climb. (I sometimes pronounce it “Ppppffffeifferhorn” just for fun.) It’s located southeast of Salt Lake City on the ridge between Little Cottonwood and American Fork, about half way between Lone Peak and Snowbird. Summit elevation: 11,326 feet.

We’d been planning this hike since the annual Pfeifferhorn Award dinner last November, when my friend Joan from The Nature Conservancy suggested it. By the time of yesterday’s hike we had each recruited some illustrious company, so it was a grand outing to a grand destination.

With so many terrific hikes closer to Ogden, I don’t get to the rest of the Wasatch Mountains often enough. But the Cottonwood Canyons do offer a few things that Weber County lacks: Summits over 11,000 feet, large alpine lakes, and federally protected capital-W Wilderness. The Pfeifferhorn lies within the Lone Peak Wilderness (Utah’s first), and the route to it passes beautiful Red Pine Lake. In July and August the high altitudes offer welcome cooler temperatures. While ambling over alpine terrain you can enjoy the cute little pikas constantly eeping at you.

This hike isn’t for everyone. You need to be reasonably fit and have pretty good balance to negotiate the steep slopes and large boulders. It also helps to have someone along who has done it before, so you don’t take a wrong turn and get into real trouble. Snow and ice make the hike much more dangerous earlier in the summer.

As we made our way toward the summit, I especially enjoyed watching my friend Jock, an experienced alpine climber who did a winter ascent of the Pfeifferhorn a few decades ago. Now 74, Jock had planned to stop at Red Pine Lake but couldn’t resist going higher. As we traversed the steep boulders he shot ahead, clearly in his element. By the time I reached the top he was already on his way down.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Endorsement: Buffalo Grass

Lots of folks here in Utah wish they could keep their lawns green without using so much water. My approach, since I became a homeowner, has been mostly to avoid lawn grass completely. I’ve covered a lot of my yard with native shrubs and water-wise perennials.

But it’s nice to have at least a little lawn grass, where you can sit and enjoy Utah’s marvelous summer mornings and evenings. So last year I took the plunge and planted a patch of drought-tolerant buffalo grass in my back yard.

I got the idea from the High Country Gardens catalog, and from one of my colleagues who had also tried buffalo grass. You order it in little plugs, an inch in diameter by two inches deep. The plugs come in flats of 72 for about $40 per flat. I ordered ten flats, which arrived in mid-May 2008. By then I had roto-tilled the ground, raked out the weeds, and mixed in some fertilizer.

The part I hadn’t thought through was this: You have to plant the plugs one at a time. An industrious person could have done it all in a couple of days, but I took two weeks, working about an hour each day. I planted the plugs a foot apart, covering a roundish area of about 600 square feet which my friends call the putting green. Then I carefully watered and weeded and waited. Much to my amazement, the plugs grew and filled in by the end of the summer.

Buffalo grass has two aesthetic disadvantages. First, it spreads by shooting out “runners” that try to find bare ground where they can put down roots. Once the grass has filled in, some of the runners start shooting upward where they look a little messy and make the grass feel stiffer. Second, buffalo grass turns completely brown in the fall and doesn’t turn green again until late spring (around mid-May this year in my case). So a lot of people won’t want it in their front yards, where the neighbors might disapprove.

Meanwhile, the advantages are as advertised: Buffalo grass needs only half as much water as “regular” grass (once it’s established); it needs much less mowing (never growing higher than about 8 inches); it can easily handle moderate foot traffic; and it grows thick enough to keep out most weeds.

It was definitely a worthwhile investment.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Case Study in Blogging vs. Traditional Journalism

One reason I haven’t posted anything here in a while is because I’ve been working on a series of three long articles for Weber County Forum, about Ogden’s Junction development. This personal blog was never intended as a substitute for WCF, and most of my writing on local politics will continue to go over there.

But I’d like to comment here on how this episode illustrates the tense-yet-fruitful relationship between blogs and the traditional media. In Ogden the situation is extra simple, because the town has only one daily newspaper (the Standard-Examiner) and only one active political blog (Weber County Forum).

This particular story started as a rumor that I heard about a Taxing Entity Committee meeting that was held on June 25. I could have simply passed this rumor on to a reporter at the S-E, but I’ve learned through experience that they follow up on such things less than half the time. So I got a copy of the meeting minutes from the city recorder and forwarded them to blogmeister RudiZink, who broke the story on WCF on July 14.

During the ensuing discussion in the comment thread under that story, I got curious enough to look up some tax information on the county’s web site. That information made me even more curious.

The S-E finally printed its own story on July 19, and by then I was hooked. So I contacted several city and county officials over the next two weeks, asking question after question until I was satisfied with the answers. My three long-winded articles describe what I learned.

Meanwhile, the S-E has chimed in with three articles of its own that complement mine nicely, taking a closer look at the progress toward finally opening the Earnshaw building, the status of the Junction apartment leases, and the city’s continuing hopes to lure a hotel developer.

So how do the roles of the traditional news source (S-E) and the blog (WCF) differ? In this case, the S-E did a much better job of finding and quoting multiple authorities with different perspectives on the issue. On the other hand, WCF focused on hard evidence (meeting minutes and tax records), in-depth analysis (with tables and graphs), and connecting the dots together. The S-E articles were mostly up-beat, with hopeful promises for the future. WCF documented the broken promises of the past.

In many respects these roles were typical. The S-E hardly ever looks at actual documents or does any arithmetic or produces an original graph or even reminds readers of what was said in its own articles a year or two ago. And WCF hardly ever seeks out a diversity of viewpoints.

In one respect, though, this episode wasn’t typical. Usually the S-E will break a news story, and WCF will follow-up with detailed analysis and commentary. In this case WCF is way out ahead, and the S-E is playing catch-up.

No matter what your opinion of the newspaper and the blog, it’s clear that this city needs both.

Update, 20 August 2009:  The Standard-Examiner has continued its coverage of the Junction financial situation with an especially sloppy article that is misleading in several ways and omits some key information. My comment under the article points out several of its shortcomings.