Author: Mike Peevers

Fresh Ground Coffee

Fresh Ground CoffeeIs Fresh Ground Coffee Better?

My old roommate, a barista, insisted we buy un-ground coffee, (whole bean). He believed that fresh ground coffee was vastly superior to coffee that had been ground weeks or months previously. I believed him because he was a barista.

From Bread to Coffee

And it turns out he was right. Five years ago I had an opportunity to learn from a master bread maker who bakes artisan, naturally leavened sourdough bread. When I met him he had sold his business in Los Angeles and created a home based bakery with its own flour mill in Northern California. He mills the flour for his bread within a day or two of starting the mixing and leavening process. The reason for this is the grinding of the wheat seeds into flour dramatically increases the surface area. This allows the flower to oxidize much more rapidly, losing taste and nutrition in the process.

Coffee is the same way. Once ground, its increased exposure to oxygen steals the flavor and freshness. This is why the best cup of coffee is always fresh ground and fresh roasted, (more on roasting later).  Because of this we have a few choices when it comes to how we can grind coffee. I will cover the basics here and leave the progression up to you.

Gourmet Coffee

Fresh grinding your coffee beans vastly increased the quality of the perfect cup of coffee. As you learn you will find a universe of nuanced elements about the grinding process. Switching from a spice grinder to a burr type grinder will be a big leap in quality. After that the gains become more incremental.  Advantages will be in controlling the heat generated in the grinding process, repeatability and control of the grind and convenience. Each of these factors increases the cost of the grinder and should be weighed by the value they bring.

Spice Grinder Fresh Ground Coffee

Spice Grinders

My first real grinder was a spice grinder.  Although re-branded by the likes of Mr. Coffee as a coffee grinder, they were originally designed to grind whatever you put in them.  Many people use these kinds of grinders.  They are inexpensive, and relatively simple to operate. They do not allow for much control of the grind. Because of this, it is very easy to make the grind too fine; more suitable to espresso than a french press or pour over.

Once I began to learn about how the grind size affected the coffee, I started to play with the duration of the grind.  I found I could control it some by shaking the spice grinder while grinding, but it still tended to be pretty inconsistent. I decided to try a burr type hand grinder to see if it made a difference.

Hand Ground CoffeeHand Grinders

I have learned over the years that it is often better to creep up on a goal than to go, “all in”.  Expense is part of this. To get the top quality device before I understand its value can be a waste of money, (and worse, time).  So I looked around for an inexpensive burr type hand grinder.

I found a variety of grinders at a variety of prices and finally settled on a light-weight backpacking type.  I was sold on this grinder after my first cup of fresh hand ground coffee. Just like making your own bread or working on your own car, there is much value to be had in taking your time and grinding just enough bean to make a cup of coffee.

Hand grinding allows me to be mentally present through the whole process.  As I adjust the coarseness, and watch the yield while grinding, my attention is held on the creation of this cup of coffee.  Somehow, the labor and focus increases anticipation, and that makes the cup just that much more enjoyable.

Doing this for a friend or loved one is also unexpectedly rewarding.  The intention of hand making a treat, the gift of time and expertise garnishes our acts and infuses the end product with love.  And that is a quality that is as delicious as it is difficult to define.

Burr Grinder and every thing needed for a great cup of coffeeBurr Grinders

The reality of our existence is that often we are pressed for time. So hand grinding your coffee each morning will compete with getting ready for work, prepping kids for school, exercise time and so on.  Fortunately, automation is a time saver on those busy days. And we can delegate the task of making a consistent grind for the perfect cup of coffee to a machine.

There are a variety of automated grinders out in the world.  Some are even integrated into the coffee maker.  You get what you pay for however.  If you are looking for control over the grind of your coffee the burr grinder is the best choice.  Especially if you have several different types of coffee such as french press, pour over, and espresso.  Espresso uses a very fine grind, French presses use a very course grind. And experimenting with the grind is one of the fun parts of learning about coffee.  You will discover there are noticeable differences between small changes in grind.  So chose a grinder that has a wide range of grind settings so you can experiment.

Low Speed Grinders

These are the higher end of consumer grade coffee grinders. The low speed is accomplished by gear reduction. The ability to control the grind is significantly better than a spice grinder. But the grind is less consistent than a high speed flat burr type grinder, (see next). This slower speed can reduce heat but static electricity is a problem. This is the bane of slow speed conical burr grinders.  Static electricity causes the freshly ground coffee to stick in the receptacle and fly all over the counter.  It is a nuisance, but does not affect flavor.  I have noticed with my grinder if I grind my coffee a couple of minutes before the brew, the static charge will dissipate, effectively solving this problem. A drop or two of water on the beans will reduce the static build up as well, (top secret trick!).

High Speed Grinders

These are the Cadillac of grinders.   High speed burr grinders deliver repeatable control over the grind, and reduce heat transfer with a quicker grind process.  These are direct drive units with flat burr sets and have a wide range of grind size settings. They produce a very consistent grind and because of the direct drive, there are less parts to wear out or fail.


Many commercial grinders dispense coffee into a device that measures it, then delivers a “dose”, of fresh ground coffee.  This provides a repeatable quantity of coffee.  Others capture the coffee in a receptacle or deliver it through a chute.  In general, the more bells and whistles, the more expensive the device.  For my purposes, I weigh the coffee to control the amount used.  I measure the un-ground coffee then grind that amount. This works well for the small quantities I brew and for experimentation.

The JourneyCoffee

Most journeys start long before we take the first step.  Mine started when a roommate gave me a better cup of coffee. And while my experience has evolved, for the most part it has done so slowly. It was only a couple of years ago that I decided to learn more.  I had no idea when I embarked down this road where it would take me, or how much there was to learn.

The really cool thing? It all has relevance to the greater joy of living. My efforts to better understand this beverage has opened up an understanding of things seemingly unrelated. And it has provided opportunities to explore and innovate.

As my understanding deepens, my appreciation of the moment, my ability to be present gets stronger. My relationship with a seemingly inanimate object comes to life, and I am richer for that. And those around me benefit as well. This is the value added through intention.

So where will your curiosity take you?


The Perfect Cup of Coffee

Coffee, scales, brewers, green coffee beans and fresh roasted beans. The perfect cup of coffeeCoffee, sublime and ordinary. A beverage, a sanctuary, a passion, and a crutch. Coffee can be a simple staple or a connoisseurs delight. My journey with coffee started long ago and has evolved as I have grown older. Years ago a friend made me the perfect cup of coffee, Italian espresso. That ended my days of Folgers and freeze dried coffee.

Time to learn

It was only recently though, that I became really serious about learning what makes a good cup of coffee. I had found a source for coffee beans that was quite good. And it was not just my personal tastes, this coffee always got high praise. But unfortunately, nothing lasts. The coffee became hard to get once I relocated to Reno Nevada. But the loss of my favorite coffee created motivation to find the perfect cup of coffee in my new home.

Something new

So I ventured forth in my new community, looking for the perfect cup of coffee, one equal to my old favorite. Easy, right? Not so much. The java I really love is a dark roast, and the inexplicable trend these days is light to medium roasts. It did not take long to get used to the pierced and bearded barista telling me that dark roast was dead. Real coffee drinkers only drank light or, (sigh, if you must), medium roasts. The thing is though, the rare roast master with more than a years worth of experience never echoed this sentiment. And many of my coffee drinking friends really like a good dark roasted coffee. So I question this idea. I mean it is really arguing against several hundred years of coffee roasting experience, right?

So, the search continued. And on the way, I found out some things about coffee.

Coming soon: Whole Bean?

Late to my New Life

The Man 2019
The Man 2019

I was on the roof when Austin asked if I wanted a ride to the temple. I asked him what time it started, he said “eight o’clock”. “Oh crap”, I said, “I thought it started at nine, I gotta go!”

That’s great, I thought as I climbed down the narrow ladder from the roof of my camper, I am going to be late to my new life. So I quickly changed my clothes, hopped on my bike and started pedaling through the deep playa dust. Before the man burned it was pretty easy to navigate to the temple, you just found the man jutting out of the dry lake bed and aimed a little to the right. Now I had to follow the 15,000 bicycles, art cars and e-transporters that were all traveling roughly in the same direction.

Fire works over the man


When the man burns it is a huge celebration and collective fuck you to the status quo. There are hundreds of art cars, tens of thousands of people, loud music and a lot of partying. The vast playa fills with people. In the darkness all are riding bikes or on various forms of mutant vehicles, and everything is lit. Thousands of flashing, glowing and thumping vehicles and people traveling towards the center of Black Rock city. It is like watching fireworks in reverse, the explosion converging on the center.

As this event has gotten larger it has taken on more of a festival atmosphere. Its anarchic nature and embracing of art can be overshadowed by our commodity driven world.  Instagram influencers’ pose before the artwork, branding their look and selling their products. More and more there are high end RV villages that house the rich and famous. These look more like sterile well guarded compounds than the open camps and villages that they have displaced. On the playa the young and wealthy, sporting Gucci costumes, are effortlessly propelled through the dust and darkness on electric bikes and half million dollar art cars.

The Temple, Burning Man 2019
The Temple

The Temple Burn

This is a more somber affair. It adheres to a tradition that engenders reverence and respect. Because of this and the tactical advantage of leaving the Black Rock early, (avoids the traffic jam during exodus), the Temple burn is not as well attended.

A New Beginning

The temple serves as a ceremonial place to say goodbyes, to let go, to invite the new in. This year I had done all of these. Over the week I had written a series of letters to things I needed to say goodbye to and things I wanted to invite into my life. One clump of these letters had left me profoundly moved. I had sat in the middle of the temple with tears, and loss, and some regrets. I had decided that this opportunity to be here, to participate in this infant ceremony, was were I would delineate the start of my new life.  What better way and place than a public display of grief in a place where judgement and money had been traded for personal exploration and gifting.

And it was looking like I might be late to my new life. The temple burns exactly on time, whereas the man burns after all the hoopla ends. I found the temple, (it was not difficult). And made my way to a spot on the perimeter. The moment I sat down the fire began at the South end of the temple. With help from accelerants and a lot of wood, the temple was completely engulfed in flame within minutes.

Fire devils devils, burning the temple

Fire has a life of it’s own

The radiant heat from the flames forced the people in front of me to stand and move back. This gave me an unobstructed view of the burn. As the temple burned, it ignited the tens of thousands of letters and offerings. This shot the remnants of these intents into the column of hot air. These flaming particles created a constellation of twinkling burning lights high in the sky. I was spellbound as I realized that the universe of tiny flaming embers carried into the clear desert air our collective prayers, hopes, love, pain and loss.

Fire Is Tricky


Then came the elders.  Some Paiutes had told me the night before that dust devils were believed to be their ancestors, come to visit. As the fire burned the wooden temple it birthed flame devils. One after another they carried flame, embers and dust as they marched out of the fire and onto the playa. All going east with the wind. The flaming blessings, the parade of elders, the fires impervious radiant heat were met with a an eerie quiet. The temple burn tradition is that it is done in silence and with reverence. But with this procession of elements, ancestors, and intents, the people at times fell to howling, then silence punctuated with emotion.

A New Life

Is it possible every day, to start over?  To release to the Universe the things that are out of our hands and move forward with intent and reverence? Would this be easier to do if you knew you were about out of time?

This celebration, indulgence of art, love, life and chaos defies description.  Try as I might, the description eludes me, and as soon as I think I have a handle on what it is all about, it changes.  Like the universe of burning prayers, dreams and intents that were released into the night sky, not one of them the same; this event is as diverse as each participant. The definition of the whole is the sum of its parts and cannot be captured in a sentence or a paragraph. And that is my life and your life. To show up, give up judgment, embrace generosity, to have the gift of change, to be able to make different mistakes and be able to start over.  This defies description because there are more pieces to come.

Goodbye Fifty Six

RIP 56

Where did it go?

This last year seems like a lost year.  Like at fifty six years old, I have been stuck in neutral for the entire year.  The thing is a lot has happened. Medical issues, a vindictive law suit, relocation, a fire that eradicated almost everything I own. There has been good also, a new town, new friends a new relationship, (now over). So I am not  sad to see this year disappear into the dust behind me. Goodbye Fifty Six.

ChangeGrass over old wood

And this year leaves as it began, with massive change. This time though, it feels mostly internal.  The excuses have worn thin, I am left with the reality of me. And with that the fear of loneliness, lack of security, the loss of community.   These things have haunted me always, but instead of living with them, acknowledging them and letting them go, I have ran, and stuffed and used people places and things to blot them out.  But here I am, and here these fears still sit.  Waiting like patient guardians for me to react, invoke and indulge. My payment? Anger, shame, fear and despair and the very real manifestation of all of it.

FlowerDo Something Different

So there it is, go down the same old path or sit in stillness with my demons, befriend them and let them go. I might just have a chance to simplify, to become discerning about what and who I let into my life, and have the opportunity to learn a little more about me.

It is with this backdrop I will enter my fifty seventh year.  It is tough not to wonder what is in store for me next. I just want guarantees and certainty. But I know there are only two things that are certain: impermanence and death. With that in mind, this year I hope to garnish my path with love, joy, wonder and gratitude.

Now What

So this year I hope to take more risks.  Within my writing and my blogging I want to be more real, this means vulnerability, (ugh). And I want to pursue the many stories that have asked to be told. I want to be in better shape, and be more direct. Finally, I want to face the fear and do the scary thing anyway. I want to be open to what the universe deigns to show me.

If you are reading this, please follow along, comment, provide insight, tell you stories.  I want to hear them, I want to hear you.

The Hidden Gem at Sun Valley

Frenchmans Corner Hot SpringsDiscovery

I love Idaho Hot Springs! But on this trip, while mid-winter Ski resort hopping, I really did not expect to see many. So, I was delighted when I found some hot springs right up the road from Sun Valley Idaho. Frenchman’s Corner is a true hidden gem at Sun Valley.

Frenchman’s Corner

Also known as Warfield Hot Springs, these are a set of idaho hot springs that feed into both sides of Warm Springs Creek. One feeds into the road side of the creek and there are two on the other side. To access them you need to take a chilly wade across the creek.  The springs are a set of pools that have been built up over time. Temperature is controlled by changing the amount of cold water entering the pools from the creek.

When I visited it was very quiet, and there was only a little bit of traffic. When I arrived it was early, and the sun had not reached the bottom of the canyon yet.  Steam from the springs and creek had iced up all of the bushes and small trees next to the creek.  This adorned them with light splitting ice prisms, and when the sun peeked into the canyon it lit this ice up like Christmas lights.  No one was using the springs when I got there, but a couple of people showed up after I got out  Although not far from town, the springs have a nice sense of solitude, and I enjoyed a nice long soak.

Frenchmans Corner Hot Springs

Moss Man

All of these places have their own stories, frenchman’s corner is no exception. The Moss Man and his experience with this Idaho hot Spring is one such story.

As reported from the Wood River Journal, March 15, 1984: “A 20-year-old Hailey man was found soaking in a hot mineral pool at Frenchman’s Bend last Saturday after having apparently lived there for several weeks. [Name withheld to protect the guilty], was discovered by two cross-country skiers, according to a Blaine County Sheriff’s Department report. The skiers observed that some of Becker’s skin was peeling and that moss was growing on his back. The semi-conscious victim was taken to Moritz Community Hospital, according to the report. His clothes lay frozen on the ground nearby. A Moritz physician estimated that the victim may have lost 60 pounds while living in the pool. [Becker’s sister-in-law said that] the man stood six-two and weighed 210 pounds prior to leaving for Frenchman’s Bend, and that he took a lot of amphetamines. ‘His brains are really scrambled,’ she said.”


If it were not for the newspaper article from the Journal, I would have dismissed this as a rural myth.  It does appear to have happened. And probably because of the bizarre nature of the 28 day event, it inspired a annual, but short lived ceremony to commemorate it, as well as to acknowledge and steward the springs.  For a brief period the locals created the “Moss Man Commemoration and Pagan Fun Fest of Ketchum, Idaho”.  It was a ceremony to celebrate the symbolism and visions of the Moss Man, and even more importantly to clean up the hot springs after a winter of use.

This is a great example of commemorating a bizarre event with a ritual of good intent.

Outside magazine did an article  on this here.


These places where water, warmed by the earth, bubbles up and provides a scenic, serene, and peaceful spot for a hot bath are truly special.  There are extensive indian stories about the origination and use of these place. The myths are not limited to idaho hot springs either. In Arkansas there is a place of profound spiritual significance and and good evidence of our government’s efforts to erase these beliefs.  There are also the various scientific studies and explorations. One such description about the hydrothermal systems of this area is here.

Frenchman’s Corner Hot Springs is like many such places.  It is unique in its own way, but also similar in that it is a wonderful place to decompress and meet other travelers. A comfortable spot to take in breathtaking scenery, and sit in gratitude.

To find this spot so close to where I was visiting was a gift. And the story of Moss Man served as an amusing highlight. It is not too hard to see how it could have come about, and its significance is a bit of a head scratcher.  Moss Man was stranded for twenty eight days. He saw a white wolf kill a deer. And he was entombed and assimilated by the warm waters of the spring. Knowing this, I suspect there are other older stories about this place, and I would love to hear them.  If you know more about this place perhaps and would like to share it, contact me through this blog or add your name to our email list.

Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to subscribe!

1080 Warm Springs Rd, Ketchum, ID 83340, USA

The Rubber Tramp Rendezvous

Rubber tramp Rendezvous


Last year when traveling in Arizona I realized I was really close to this event called the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, (RTR).  Bob Wells, a blogger and vlogger put this gathering together. He did so in the spirit of the bi-annual mountain-man gatherings of old. The event is at Quartzite, AZ. It is on BLM land which is inexpensive or free to stay on depending on where you choose to set up.
Continue reading

One Reason to Travel Now

Travel Now

The Problem, Why Travel Now?

Finding out

I was having lunch with my friend, as we do almost every week. We spoke of his recent travels, the upcoming holidays and our families. Then after a longish pause, my friend looked at me and said, “Did you hear about Gerald?”.  On alert now, I searched my recent conversations for some inkling of what he was about to say. “No”, I said, “what happened?”  “Well”, my friend said, “he had been complaining of chronic intensifying pain, and finally went to the doctor.  He has stage four pancreatic cancer. They sent him straight to the hospital to stabilize him, he’s been there for about two weeks now.”

Tick Tock

I felt like I had been punched in the stomach.  These sorts of conversations have increased as I have gotten older.  But I am still not used to them.  Our friend had finally retired and was looking forward to the next chapter of his life.  He had worked longer than he had wanted to, fearful that the money would not last, that he would die broke and alone. So, somewhat bitterly, he worked on, until finally he felt he had enough.  He had lived with the pain for years.  Just not enough to really worry him or divert him from his goal of getting “enough”.  So he forged ahead, worked, saved money, put off the doctors, the travel, the visits to old friends.  Once he had enough, he knew he would get to do the things he really wanted to do.

Oh Yea, ThatTrail Marker

The lesson of death is not new for me. But for some reason I cannot retain it.  I forget there is only so much time.  That there are infinitely more places to see than I have the time for.  I experience the loss of a cherished individual, and for a little bit I know what is truly important to me.  Then the chaos of the world begins to leak back in.  It erodes my sense of what is important.  I become distracted, and the important things fade into the background.

Travel How?

It is so easy and so trite to say, “follow your passion”, or “do what you love”. Most of us roll our eyes and bite our tongue and quietly think about car payments, kids in school, paying the monthly bills.  Meanwhile, in the back of our mind is what happened to Grandma as her world disintegrated because of Alzheimer’s. Or the vision of Uncle Albert, peaceful, in his casket, at the age of 54 the victim of a massive heart attack that he never saw coming.


What if our wealth had more to do with our health, and the time left to us. What if you knew that in 11 months, three days and 7 hours, the blood clot that had been living happily in the base of you scull would inexplicably, (and inevitably), break loose and after a short sharp headache your clock would run out? What choices would you make? Who would you visit?  Would you create, destroy, read more, see more, love more? Would you work more, or play more? Would you travel now?

Tunnel through the ManzanitaHard Answers

Those seem like easy questions when we have an unlimited amount of time to answer them.  But they become infinitely more difficult as we acknowledge our expiration date.  But like so many tasks, they only get addressed once we start to work on them.  And the process is the reward. Knowing that you hate firewood might free up time and energy for hiking, and photography.  Understanding that your time is limited, you might decide to spend a lot less of it on people and places that you never really liked in the first place.

Knowing that we all have an inevitable hit-the-end-of-the-leash moment makes honesty easier. Not keeping up appearances with people we don’t know or really care about can save a lot of money.  While connecting with people we deeply love and cherish can strengthen bonds and create community and a legacy that will outlast us.

So what would you do if you didn’t have much time left?

I suggest you make a list. The end result will be an inventory.  A list of wealth, desires, and priorities.  This list will help you asses what you have, want and need to get there. Once done, this can show where time and energy is wasted. It asses assets like health and money. It can be the guide to reallocate limited resources to align with what is truly important. It will help you travel now.

Taken as a whole, the process of committing to a new course in life can be daunting. But like everything else in life, when taken day by day it manifests into the future.

Travel Now

There are only so many events, trails, roads, and moments of sparkling laughter. This merciless thing called time makes experiences precious by limiting our access to them. Time creates and destroys opportunity and to not acknowledge that, guarantees regret.

Travel does not have to be expensive, decadent, or distant.  When I walk in the large municipal park in my community I am seeking new things and experiences.  A trip to a friends, a journey in a book, a walk down an unknown trail, joining a group.  These are all ways to travel.  It does not have to be Bangladesh, or Timbuktu.  And when we return and relate our adventures to our family and friends, the distance traveled has little impact on the quality of the tales and adventures that our experience brings.

Tunnel In the Sierras
Tunnel In the Sierras

Really, you can do it!

So, once you have written your list of things to do, start doing them.  If they are out of your reach, refine your search to things that are more attainable. Commit to a walk every day, on a different street or trail.  Travel to a new place every week/month. Identify something close and commit to a date that you will start that journey. Then, start researching that place to learn its story, and figure out what you need to get there.

Because You Already Know This

I hope this reminder helps you venture out and travel now, because we all know how short life is. I hope its gives that little push that takes you to that next breath taking place. And I hope that we meet out there somewhere, and compare notes on what to see next.

Ten RV Basics

RV Basics

There is a lot to the systems that make up even your most basic RV. It can all be a little overwhelming for the uninitiated. But relax, everyone has been new to this once. To help you along the links below and the graphic describe the basic systems of an RV.  It does not matter if your rig is a multi-million dollar rolling palace, or a home made wooden camper for your Toyota truck, you will have a variant of these systems.Continue reading

The oldest living thing, the story of killing Prometheus

Wheeler Peak from a distance

A Lucky Find

The road had become hostile.  Traveling North through Utah I had been wondering about the huge, brown, low hanging cloud in the distance. As I got closer the winds picked up.  The gusts started hitting the truck like waves in the ocean. As they slammed into the truck we would rock back and forth and it was a struggle to keep the truck in its lane.  The goal was to reach Nevada, so we kept going. We drove slowly hoping the wind would not tip us over or push us into a ditch. Eventually we reached highway 50 and turned West.  This brought us into Nevada and it was time to find a place to spend the night. A quick internet search brought up Great Basin National Park.  It also brought up an obscure article named, “Prometheus, killing the oldest living thing” .

Glad to have shelter from the relentless gusty wind, we decided to spend the night in the park. I had been working to advocate for the return of fire to the environment and for its use as a restoration tool. Because of this, the term, “Prometheus”, caught my eye. Prometheus is a Greek God who brought down the wrath of Zeus by helping humans.  He did this in several ways, but most notably, he stole fire from Mount Olympus and gave it to the human race.

High Country

Great Basin National Park is located in far Eastern Nevada.  The beginning elevation of the park is about 6500′, but the majority of the park is much higher.  Wheeler Peak campground is the last campground on the road and it sits just below 10,000′.  Wheeler Peak looms over this area, its summit above 13,000′. It is a tough hike to the top.

Much of this country is above treeline and the climate is very harsh. Even though it is a difficult environment to live in, it is home to a diversity of plant and animal life. Quaking aspen, mountain mahogany and small, cold, clear streams punctuate the rocky ancient landscape. There are cougars, bobcats, marmots, rock squirrels, and mountain sheep. Other animals that can be found here are elk, mule deer, spotted skunks, shrews, ringtail cats, and ermine.  The weather can be extreme, and can change in the blink of an eye.  The park is busiest in the summer after the majority of the snow has melted. Cold winters and hot summers make this an area of contrasts.

This high place, with its harsh beauty is the unique environment of the Bristlcone Pine.

the oldest living thing Bristlecone Pine trees
Bristlecone Pine trees

Bristlecones, The Oldest Living Thing

Gnarled and stunted, bristcones mostly live at high elevation.  The trees grow in six states and the best known groves are in the White Mountains of Eastern California.  The White Mountain groves of bristlecones are a favorite for academics and scientists studying the climate and the environment.  These trees were thought to be oldest living things. The White Mountains are popular and relativley easy to acess.  Because of this and the acknowledged scientific value of these groves, the trees and area where they live is protected.

There are lesser known groves in Great Basin National Park. In the shadow of Wheeler Peak there is a grove that was home to a bristlecone pine tree named Prometheus.  There was a small group of people who frequented this area. They knew it was a special place and because of that, they had named many of the trees. This is how Prometheus had been named. Unfortunately, the groves in Great Basin National Park did not have the same protections of those in the White Mountains.

A Study

In 1963 a graduate student field researcher named Donald Currey was working on understanding how climates change over time. Mr Currey became convinced that the trees living in the white Mountains below Wheeler peak were very old. His plan was to utilize them to gather data for his research.

At this point the details of the story of Prometheus diverge.  Most of the versions follow a common theme however.  Mr. Currey was using a boring tool to study Prometheus’s tree rings when his tool became stuck. Efforts to remove it then broke it off deep in the trunk. One version of the story is that Currey was unable to get a replacement tool in time to finish the season, so he asked the Forest Service for permission to cut the tree down. Another version has the Forest Service offering to cut the tree down.


Permission was granted.  This was not without some challenges however. The first tree feller refused to fell the tree, citing its unique nature and age.  There were others who voiced serious concerns over the killing of Prometheus. And more would have objected had they known of the plans. Eventually they found a willing tree feller and Prometheus was cut eight feet above where it had germinated. Afterwards, the tree was cut into slabs and those were sent to several research facilities for evaluation. The first person to analyse one of these slabs was Donald Currey.

Mr. Curry’s first task was to count the growth rings on the slab he was analyzing. The first day he counted over a thousand. The next day his count passed 3000, and he began to feel sick. One can only imagine the pit he must have felt in his stomach as he counted the tree rings well past 4000. It must have been awful to realized he had just killed the oldest living thing.


It took some time for the world to realize what had happened in this remote place. The Wheeler Peak bristlcones had eclipsed their cousins in the White Mountains of California. The oldest living tree had been chopped down, and it actually lived in Great Basin National Park.

There was a substantial outcry. As accusations flew, Donald Curry was attacked and many versions of what actually happened began to circulate. Currey himself was wrecked. The loss of Prometheus changed his career. He refused to work with living things after that, and became very private.  Once, while being interviewed about unrelated research, he literally ran away from a reporter when he was identified as the man who killed the oldest living thing.  I believe his actions support the idea that he really had no idea about the age of the tree. But he was fully aware of what an affront this act was to science, research and environmental preservation. The killing of Prometheus had a profound effect on him.

This is a sad story. It is a tale with many human elements: arrogance, integrity, ignorance, curiosity, impulsiveness and hubris.  This also makes it is a story of great value.

Gone MissingFace in a tree

It was dark when we finally reached our destination, Great Basin National Park. I had only discovered a small part of this story and I was excited to explore the landscape and learn more.  The next morning we drove to the end of the road, which is just below 10,000′.  I set out alone, up a narrow winding trail to learn more of the story of Prometheus.  I hoped even to find the stump.

The trail was a rocky path that led into the shadow of Wheeler Peak. It was an interpretative trail and as I went, I eagerly read the various plaques about the environment, animals and plants. I knew soon I would learn more about the oldest living thing, and the epic tale that had played out here fifty two years before. But there was no mention of Prometheus. I looped the trail twice thinking I had missed the sign.  But nothing, not a single word about any of it.  When I got back to the camping/picnic area I searched everywhere for some mention of Prometheus, but there was nothing. The killing of the oldest living thing had become a secret.

Re-Killing The Oldest Living Thing

It was fortunate to find the tale of Prometheus right before staying at Great Basin National Park. The story piqued my curiosity and inspired me to go look for the old tree and learn more.  As I searched the park in vain for more information I was more aware of my environment. The tale helped me find a deeper reverence for the ancient groves and high country where they lived. I was reminded of the history of those who had come before. And this started me thinking about those who would come after.

The Park Services’ argument for keeping Prometheus a secret is that people will come and do more damage looking for the tree and taking souvenirs.  This has happened many times making it a very real concern. They may have other reasons to try and erase the memory of the killing of Prometheus. The most benign and likely is apathy.  Regardless, the failure of the Park Service to acknowledge and embrace this tale guarantees that it will be repeated.  And worse, institutional secrecy has eliminated the best stewards of this land.

A Better Way

For an eternity we have protected and enhanced many places and things by educating people.  And as there are more and more of us, the likelihood of people looking for, finding and defiling our natural treasures for fun and profit seems increasingly likely. The agencies charged with protecting these treasures often are the ones who allowed the damage in the first place. So the final line of defense are the people who pay for the protection and upkeep of our public lands. Our best stewards are the public, in who’s best interest it is to preserve and protect our treasures.

Immortality Through Storytelling

Dead Bristle Cone Pine

This is a cautionary tale. It teaches and serves as a warning to others and reminds us of the principles guiding science and exploration.  The telling of this saga connects us to the land and to each other. It connects our past to our present, and its message will shape our future. The story fosters appreciation and accountability for the creatures and plants that we share this world with.  The retelling of the events leading up to the killing of Prometheus, (and after), present opportunities. It presents a chance to encourage thoughtfulness, to highlight the scientific process, to promote discussion about responsibility and teach principles. In short, it is a teachable moment.

So the story of Prometheus continues.  Will this ancient tree disappear from the landscape of our memory? Or will it continue as a verbal and written history of the messy business of humanity finding its way through the universe?

We don’t know those answers yet. However, because of Prometheus I have come to believe in the process of telling stories about the places we visit. Sharing the myths, the histories and the science can only bring us closer to the land and its inhabitants.  With this connection comes accountability and stewardship and we can begin to become the voice for those who have no voice.

More on Prometheus

This story has been covered in several forms.  Here are some links if you would like to learn more. did a segment on Prometheus, and is well worth a listen.  Wikipedia, as always, is an excellent jumping off point for research.  Happy hunting!

Tell Us Your Stories

I hope to see you out there as we travel, learn and relate our experiences.  If you would like to contribute to these stories, please sign up as a contributor, if you would like to read more stories as they are posted please become a subscriber.

Great Basin National Park, Nevada, USA