San Juan Mountains

San Juan Mountains
San Juan Mountains: Grenadier Range

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

It Sure Is Quiet Out Here

I went for a hike with my wife this morning.  We did a trail in the foothills of Denver that is very near our home.  In fact, there is a neat spot along the trail where the hogback (a formation between Denver and the foothills of the Rocky Mountains) had a split in it through which we can see downtown Denver perfectly framed.  In other words, we are very near to the two million plus people who live in the Denver metropolitan area.
As we were hiking along we were treated to a cool and damp morning, with low hanging clouds foretelling the coming of afternoon thunderstorms.  Maybe you saw the reports about the amazing hail damage created by the storms yesterday.  The moisture from those storms was still in the air today and everything was fresh and green.  The wet trail dampened the sounds of our footfalls and we were surprised at how loud the crickets sounded that late in the morning.  Other than the sounds of the crickets, the birds and my labored breathing as we climbed steeply up into the foothills it was amazingly quiet.  We commented on that fact as we were hiking along, appreciating the fact that we could be this close to so many people and still enjoy a quiet hike in the foothills.
The front page of the Denver Post had a story, below the crease, yesterday entitled, "Seeking a little piece of quiet."  I was thinking about that story as we hiked along this morning.  Here is some of what author Bruce Finley had to say, "Silence may be golden but it is practically gone.  A government backed study has determined that noise pollution has hit levels that obliterate natural sound -- even in national parks and wilderness.  The noise pollution from cars, trucks, airplanes, helicopters, smartphones and myriad other man-made sources drowns out nature's back ground in nearly two thirds of US protected areas, Colorado State University and National Park Service researchers concluded.  The researchers analyzed 1.5 million hours of sound recordings made by NPS staffers over the past decade at 492 sites across the country.  They found that noise levels are twice as high as natural sound at 63 percent of those sites. At 21 percent of the sites, man made noise has risen to levels at least 10 times louder than back ground sound."
I have spent a fair amount of my life outdoors, including  many of the National Parks and wilderness areas where the study was conducted, and Bruce's observations came as a complete surprise to me.  I can't get past his assertion that man made noise now "obliterates" the natural sounds at 63% of the 492 sites under observation for the past ten years.  I can't recall ever having the natural sound on my adventures obliterated by man made noises.  What did the researchers do, put their microphones near the tail pipes of National Park Service buses?  The conclusion that 63% of national park and wilderness areas have man made noise that is louder than the ambient sound level is preposterous.  The only possible way that conclusion could have been made is if all of the sound detection devices were placed next to gas stations, bus stations, parking lots, restaurants, hotel pools and other areas where human beings congregate and make noise.
I can get in my car right now and drive to any wilderness area or National Park in Colorado and in a matter of moments be in a place where the only sound I can hear is the ringing in my own ears.  I don't even have to go to a wilderness to find quiet.  I can hike in any of the dozen foothills areas that have been set aside for hiking trails and find solitude and quiet.  The idea that I can not hear the sound of the squirrel chirping at me because background noise from Denver obliterates his voice is ridiculous.  And the notion that almost 25% of the areas tested have human noise levels ten times higher than the natural level forces me to conclude that the studies were conducted in a large drum with the researchers hollering into it while they took their measurements.
I was not surprised to discover that the "research" was conducted by "scientists" paid by the federal government.  It warmed my heart to know that some of my tax dollars have been spent paying these fellows, over the past ten years, to measure sound in the wilderness.  A better use of taxpayer dollars would be hard to conceive of.
The story concluded on a page later in the paper and I did not have time to finish it.  I don't know what the recommendation of the researchers was.  I suspect it involved spending a lot more taxpayer dollars to somehow fix this horrible state of affairs that man has created.  Isn't it interesting that every time government paid scientists set out to find something man has done that is harmful to the universe, they always find it?
If the researchers wish to continue their research I will make them a free offer.  They do not have to pay me anything for my services.  All they have to do is come with me to a couple of wilderness areas and National Parks that I know.  They can bring their microphones and we will hike somewhere for an hour or two and they can set up their measuring devices and listen to just how quiet it really is.  Then, on our way home, I will buy them all lunch at my favorite hot dog stand in the mountains and they can notice how loud the stream running by the picnic table next to the US highway is as we chomp them down.

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