San Juans peak named in honor of local activist

A prominent Durangoan has found his way into the local landscape. On Aug. 14, the United States Board of Geographic Names voted unanimously to name a peak in the San Juan Mountains in honor of local activist and internationally renowned mathematician Donald C. Spencer, who passed away in 2001. The mountain, Spencer Peak, is located near the Grand Turk, off of Molas Pass.

While teaching at Princeton University in the 1950s, Spencer was a mentor to John Nash, the mathematician made famous by the book and film, A Beautiful Mind. Spencer would go on to work with great mathematical minds of the 20th century at institutions like Princeton, Stanford, Cambridge and MIT.

Spencer was a recipient in 1948 of the American Mathematical Society’s prestigious Bocher Prize – of which only 20 have been awarded since 1924. He was also awarded the National Medal of Science in 1989 at the White House by President George H. W. Bush. In addition, he developed an entire new, advanced field, now known as Spencer cohomology, which combines algebra, calculus and geometry.   Sylvia Nasar, the author of A Beautiful Mind, called Spencer, “A brilliant theorist, teacher and mentor, and later, a bearded environmentalist.”

Spencer retired to Durango in 1977 for his “bearded environmentalist” years, where he was active in Taxpayers for the Animas River, a local group that waged a long and bitter battle against the Animas-La Plata project. He also worked against radioactive waste contamination and uncontrolled growth. In the words of his son-in-law, Durangoan Joel Pearlman, Spencer “labored diligently, although sometimes in vain, for what he believed would best preserve the stunning mountain region from pollution and overdevelopment.”  

The 13,087-foot Spencer Peak is part of a triad formation including Grand Turk and Sultan mountains and is located just west of U.S. Hwy 550 near Little Molas Lake. Spencer’s family and friends participated in the selection of the peak and said its location is significant.

After his wife’s death in 1987, many of Spencer’s final four years were spent exploring the San Juan Mountains in his jeep, with his dog, Dooley, and he particularly loved the Silverton area and the environs surrounding Spencer Peak.

Purgatory mixes it up in Wyoming

Purgatory failed to make the cut in a new subdivision northeast of Cheyenne, Wyo. A developer hit a snag recently, after prospective homeowners objected to a street sign that would have read Purgatory Drive.

Marc Woods is the man behind Fox Run ranchettes, a new subdivision northeast of Cheyenne. Woods has loosely given the development a ski resort theme, naming each of its new streets after a U.S. ski area. Iron Mountain and Whitney Roads are among the successfully platted streets.

However, would-be homeowners did not think of fresh powder or views of The Needles when they shopped the lots on Purgatory Drive. Their thoughts turned instead to the Roman Catholic Purgatory, a place of temporary punishment sandwiched between heaven and hell. Poor sales sent Woods back to Laramie County officials in search of a name change.

“Apparently, there’s a lot of superstitious people,” Woods told the county, according to a report in the Wyoming News.

Don Beard, the county’s public works director, had a laugh at Woods’ and Purgatory’s expense. “It didn’t cross their minds that it might bother someone to live there,” he said.

Ken Vernon, who is interested in building on Woods’ subdivision, also shared his concern with the paper, saying, “But I asked myself, ‘Would I really want to live on a street called Purgatory Drive?’”

The Laramie County Commission eventually granted Woods’ request to sanitize the street name and changed it to “Keystone Drive.” During the Tuesday hearing, the commissioners authorized two other name changes for Fox Run Ranchettes.

Shank Drive, which was a temporary name and oversight on the developer’s part, became Sugarloaf Lane. In addition,

Mammoth Drive became Crested Butte Drive, and only because another street in the county was already named for the prehistoric creature. “Everything now is appropriately named,” Woods told the newspaper.


Desert Rock protest hits San Francisco

The Desert Rock Power Plant went into the national spotlight again last week. Last Friday, 30 groups representing environmental, community and indigenous groups protested on the steps of the Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in San Francisco. The agency’s recent approval of the Desert Rock plant southwest of Farmington was among their top grievances.

Navajo activists joined Bay Area community groups, residents of the San Joaquin Valley and California activists to protest what they feel is a pro-polluter stance by the agency. The Four Corner protesters objected to the Desert Rock approval on the grounds that the region is already polluted and will soon be declared a non-attainment area for ozone pollution.

Other complaints included: the EPA’s veto of California’s attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars; the agency’s failure to ensure a safe cleanup of the toxic Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco; and the continued operation of the Siemen’s toxic waste plant on Colorado River Indian Tribes land in Arizona, among others.

Interestingly, the agency did grant opposition groups and the State of New Mexico an additional 30 days to prepare their appeal of the recent Desert Rock approval on the day prior to the protest. New Mexico, San Juan Citizens Alliance, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund, Diné Care, Grand Canyon Trust, the Natural Resources Defense Council and WildEarth Guardians now have until Oct. 2 to prepare their objections.


Suffragettes hit the local streets

Local women took to the streets this week. On Aug. 26, the Women’s Resource Center partnered with the Latina Initiative, La Plata County League of Women Voters and Victorian Aide Society to celebrate Women’s Equality Day. The day marks the anniversary of the greatest success of the women’s suffrage movement.

On Aug. 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment was finally ratified, giving constitutional protection to women’s right to vote in the United States. Although many states had given women the vote decades before – including Colorado – the franchise was not extended to all women until 1920.

The local celebration included volunteers dressed as turn-of-the-century and modern-day suffragettes who “picketed” downtown Durango during the lunch hour. As an added plus, they handed out voter registration forms and after only 60 minutes helped 40 new voters complete voter registration forms.

Women’s Resource Center, the Latina Initiative and the La Plata County League of Women Voters will be conducting voter registration drives at events now through the voter registration deadline, which is Oct. 6 this year.

– Will Sands



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