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  • 8. Looking Back
  • Bill Broyles (bio)

So who was Ronald Ives? Explorer? Teacher? Soldier? Technician? Scholar? Many people change or trade careers, but Ives seemed to add them, as if trying to do all things at once. Three of them were day jobs and paid his bills, while two—explorer and scholar—not only consumed his spare time, they consumed him.

It is impossible to recount his hundreds of field trips in detail. He went alone and apparently left no notebooks. We know them only indirectly from the articles he published. We can wish he had kept a diary or we could find a field log. Some letters contain hints of what it was like traveling with him. "Spent Thanksgiving vacation exploring the mouths of the Sonoyta River, going to the north shore of San Jorge Bay, or Gulf of California, along the dunes. Took 2 days to cover 40 miles, even with four-wheel drive, compound low, deflated tires, and chains on all four wheels. Took a bit of digging, too. Apparently I am the first to take a jeep there and bring it back. Good exercise. Now the medic is feeding me expensive glop to try to bring my weight back up to 120."312

Ives wrote that he made about 20 visits to Mexico between 1928 and 1950 for research, totally about six months' time.313 He made many more after that. And he was a tough explorer. One acquaintance at Stanford explained, "We reviewed the business of severe dehydration—8 to 10 days—out in desert terrain, and he said that as a matter of fact approach to desert investigations in remote and roadless non-vehicular terrain that he regularly would experience dehydration and expect to take a day or two's time for recuperation therefrom without endangering body systems at all."314

And for the same reasons, Julian Hayden would not accompany him to the Pinacate. "I absolutely refused to travel with him in the Pinacate. I told him one time, 'Look, Ronald, I don't have to prove a goddamned thing. I go down there and learn what I can, but I don't have to strip myself down to the essentials and go without water and go without food and risk my damned life in that waterless area just to prove something. It doesn't mean anything to me to say I've spent ten days without water.' He looked at me, grinned, and said 'okay.' "315


Ives may have loved the place, but at no time did he actively engage in what today would be called environmental activism or advocacy for its conservation. Although he observed and understood environmental [End Page 358] change from his scientific viewpoint, he didn't rally to environmental causes or organizations such as the Sierra Club or the Nature Conservancy. Neither did he criticize them—they simply did not appear in his conversations or correspondence. In response to a letter that Mexico was planning to establish a national park in Sierra Pinacate and asking Ives for information,316 Ives replied, "As you surely know already, the Pinacate, and the region of the great sand dunes adjacent to it to the west, comprise a geological, geographical, archaeological, and botanical wonderland. Any effort made by the Mexican government to preserve this region from destructive exploitation, while preserving its features for serious scientific study, is a step in the right direction."317 As in all matters of emotion, he remained disengaged.

Sonoyta, Sonora, gateway to the Pinacate, may have been Ives's favorite town in the world. He loved people there and seemed to consider them his extended family. After drawing a map for one publication, he wrote the following to his mother: "Have finished the map for Father Donohue,318 and he reports that he is happy with the work, but somewhat flabbergasted by the bill, which consisted of celebrating one Mass for my old friend Ygnacio Quiroz, writing his widow a letter on official stationery in Spanish (she has no English) telling her that it [the Mass] had been done, and sending her an autographed copy of the book when it is published. I think he is...