Sunday, December 2, 2007

EF White R Ft Apache

This is the East Fork White River near Fort Apache, station 1209492400). It's typical of a gage on a small stream in the southwest. This one is on the Fort Apache (northern) half of the Apache Tribal Reservation northeast of Phoenix in the White Mountains. The gage is east of the community of White River (map).

I had the Apache Reservation field trip for just over 18 months. It's was always interesting but a long trip, where 80% of the time was spent driving, from the first gage, a two-hour drive from Phoenix, to the farthest gages, four-plus hours one way. I usually stayed in the town of Pinetop just outside the northern boundary of the reserveration or ShowLow just west of Pinetop, depending on the room availability as Pinetop was near the ski resort on the reservation.

The trip was a full week in the area, leaving Phoenix Monday and returning Friday afternoon, and then another day for one last gage north of Roosevelt Reservoir. I did one gage on the way to Pinetop and then spent the next three days on the reservation servicing five gages and the last day servicing one gage on the way home. The following week was the last gage. The middle three days was spent driving the back roads on the reservation to the gages, which was a lesson in reservation life.

For one thing I learned the Apaches don't practice taking care of pets. They let them do what they will and sadly if they have litters they don't want, they simply take them into the backcountry and leave them for the coyotes and other predators. It's a horrible form of pet birth control but it's theirs. In addition they have a problems with packs of feral dogs which are more vicious than coyotes. They used to offer bounties for killing dogs in the packs.

This taught me it's not uncommon to come across wild pets driving or near gages. The cats weren't a problem as they avoided you, but the dogs wanted food and the only safeguard as I learned from contractors was either give them your lunch or carry a gun. Since we couldn't do the latter, you simply made sure the dogs weren't there when you arrived. And I also learned there were cougars and occasional bears. I saw cat tracks but never bear tracks.

In addition they let their cattle and horses roam loose over the entire reservation and conduct an occasional roundup of cattle in some areas to take and sell them. I don't know what they do with the horses they collect in roundups. But it's not uncommon to be driving in the remotest back country areas, round a corner to come face to face with "white face elk", their nickname. It's also why you don't drink from any of the streams as it's where most of the cattle spend their time.

And the last thing to worry about were simply people. The reality is that reservations are soverign nations inside the United States and governed by Tribal laws, not non-Tribal local, state or federal laws with only a few exceptions where the FBI has some authority over non-Tribal citizens. And while the Apaches were easy going, friendly people they had the same problems that all tribes have, high rates of alcoholism, especially among the youths in groups.

On the first field trip to see the gages with the lead technician we stopped for some snacks and refreshments. The Tribal liquor store was inside the general store and two things I learned real quick. First, someones stays in the truck and locks the doors or some of the members loitering outside will try to get in the truck. Second, they don't have any refreshments on display but behind a counter window. You tell them what you want and they get it for you.

And, as I also learned, there always is a long line. Try being the only white guy in a long line of alcoholic Indians. You find yourself surrounded by them and you learn to keep you hands on your valuables and don't do anything stupid. Then you order what you want quickly when it's your turn, pay and quickly exit the store. I'm sorry to write this but it was the reality of life there at the time. But there were some good things and some other bad things.

And this gage was at local hangout as it was on the road into the backcountry east of White River. For some reason they never bothered the gage itself but it there were often debris from parties or people occasionally living there. If there were people I simply drove on, turned around and drove to another gage, and came back later or another day. I simply didn't want to be the one government employee among many who didn't necessarily like government employees.

At the time the Apache Tribes was involved in displutes with the State of Arizona and the Salt River Project over water rights of the Salt River basin. And the USGS having the gage contract paid by their adversaries wasn't appreciated by the Tribe. We accommodated their needs for data and information about the river basin and the reservation, but without additional funds to adequately study things, which they didn't have, we were stuck.

So while we were tolerated, we weren't really liked. I never had any bad exchanges with them but I also didn't go out of my way to interact much either. When I looked at staying at their motel for the week I discovered to prevent people from using the rooms they only have one entrance which is locked at 6:00 pm every night until about 6:00 am the next morning. And they only had one restaurant and grocery store. It's why I stayed in Pinetop.

The good part was the restaurant. The best home cooked food you'll find in all of northeast Arizona. It was awesome. And it's there and elsewhere I saw the inter-Tribe discrimination that happens on this and likley other reservations. All Apaches are paid as members and have jobs if they want. All non-Apache are hired for the lesser, non-managerial and higher service jobs. It was interesting to see the diversity of people.

Anyway, that was the human side of things. Part two has the work side of it.

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