This past week, as part of its annual outdoor recreation issue, High Country News published my story on the conflict between thrill-seeking cliff-jumpers in Southern California invading the ancestral home of the endangered California Condor. Let me open up the package for you to entice you to take a look;
Before he heads out to patrol Tar Creek, a steep California canyon, Russ Tuttle, a law enforcement officer for the Forest Service, carefully gears up. Despite the summer heat, he pulls on a heavy bulletproof vest, then checks in with “dispatch” and holsters his weapon. His work involves protecting an endangered species, the California condor. But any trespassers he encounters this weekend are more likely to see him as a killjoy.
His beat looks like most of Southern California’s chaparral backcountry, only steeper. Less than two miles from the dirt road, the trail meets a hidden canyon that plunges steeply for miles, following a watercourse through a series of pools and over waterfalls, some of them well over a hundred feet high. Only 60 miles from downtown Los Angeles, the twisting, watery path down Tar Creek feels a bit like a Southwestern slot canyon: high cliffs, huge boulders and ochre-colored stone slopes smoothed by eons of water. It’s a landscape that cliff jumpers and thrill seekers find irresistible. And that’s why Tuttle is here: The area is supposed to be off-limits to protect the California condor.
The “closure” signs, set at eye level, are impossible to miss. Yet just beyond them, Tuttle spots three people coming over the ridge. Tuttle is a tall, confident man with an appealingly crooked smile, but he moves with a military bearing as he intercepts the trespassers.
“How was the water?” he asks casually.
For the rest, please see:
And here’s a fave pic of the area, which can look like some other world entirely — almost Martian sometimes.