Dwayne Johnson backs stuntman’s film honoring Knievel jump
By PAT GRAHAM
AP Sports Writer
Thursday, September 20
Before climbing into the cockpit of his steam-powered rocket and blasting off across the Snake River Canyon, daredevil Eddie Braun scribbled two things on his bare chest in marker.
Blood type: O positive.
Useful information for the paramedics — in case his jump on Sept. 16, 2016, didn’t go as planned.
Braun’s successful launch in an endeavor that nearly killed his idol, Evel Knievel , more than four decades earlier, serves as the backdrop for his new documentary titled “Stuntman .” It will be shown Sunday at the Los Angeles Film Festival . The nearly 90-minute film is backed by Seven Bucks Productions, which is co-founded by movie star Dwayne Johnson . The biography also features Braun’s life as a Hollywood stuntman, where he’s been a stunt double for actors such as Charlie Sheen and crashed vehicles in more explosive ways than he can count.
About that jump to honor Knievel: Scariest thing he’s done. He even saw odds on his jump in Las Vegas — 3-to-1 against him making it across.
“Despite the odds, I was quite confident I could pull it off,” Braun said in a phone interview.
A lifelong Knievel fan — he had a Knievel-themed lunch box as a kid — Braun named his rocket “Evel Spirit.” It was nearly identical to the model Knievel used for his failed canyon attempt on Sept. 8, 1974. Braun’s purpose was to finish what Knievel started and prove he could’ve made it had his parachute not prematurely deployed. Joining the undertaking were Knievel’s eldest son, Kelly, who was present the day of the crash, and rocket designer Scott Truax, whose dad constructed the original rocket for Knievel.
On his attempt, Braun’s rocket traveled about 2,900 feet into the air and went approximately a mile — easily covering the canyon near Twin Falls, Idaho. Braun deployed the giant red, white and blue parachute — homage to Knievel.
“This scared the hell out of me. But because I’ve been terrified doing stunts, I learned it’s OK be afraid,” Braun said. “There was a familiarity, when I put the helmet on, because I’ve done that hundreds of times. It was like an old, uncomfortable friend.”
He became a stuntman at 17 years old and has performed countless stunt scenes, proudly proclaiming: “I’m the face you never see, but you see what I do.”
His stunt work ranges from TV series such as “The Fall Guy” and “The Dukes of Hazzard” to movies like Clint Eastwood’s action film “The Rookie.” Braun actually suffered a compound leg fracture in a crash while darting in and out of traffic during a motorcycle scene. Eastwood was one of the first ones to arrive at his side.
“I was like, ‘Clint, Is my foot still there?’ He looked down at me and said, ‘It’s still there. But I don’t think you’ll make the wrap party,’” Braun recounted.
A good portion of Braun’s documentary features footage of his lead-up to the Knievel-tribute jump, an idea initially hatched in the kitchen of Sheen. Braun and producer Steven Golebiowski were chatting about Knievel and what a moment it would be for Braun’s career to finish the jump — successfully. Golebiowski instantly liked the idea and director Kurt Mattila later got involved, with the trio forming Driven Pictures. Guitarist Slash of Guns N’ Roses got involved by recording Elton John’s “Rocket Man” for the project. Johnson embraced the venture as well, along with his business partner and executive producer Dany Garcia .
“Having the opportunity to showcase Eddie’s career and this often overlooked line of work is an honor for us,” said Johnson, whose movies includes “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” and “The Game Plan.”
About Knievel’s original attempt: Soon after takeoff on that day in ‘74, his parachute deployed and halted the rocket’s momentum as it drifted into the canyon. Knievel walked away with only minor injuries.
Scott Truax used the plans of his father, Robert, to reconstruct the steam-powered cycle even using some leftover parts from the original rocket. They also slightly changed the parachute recovery system. Braun put up most of his life savings to finance the mission in his bid to honor Knievel, who died in 2007 at 69 after suffering from diabetes and pulmonary fibrosis.
Over the course of the endeavor, Braun frequently drove to Twin Falls to oversee the operation. On one occasion in the movie, he gazed at the expanse in wonder.
“This literally is jumping off a cliff — to follow your hero over the edge of a cliff,” said Braun, who’s from Manhattan Beach, California, and has four kids.
Just before the jump, he had a poignant conversation with his wife.
Meg: “You can’t mess this up. You can’t die and leave me all alone.”
Eddie: “Honey, don’t worry.”
The morning of the jump, Braun sat at a Starbucks reading the paper before grabbing a napkin and scribbling down a message — just in case things went wrong.
“To all my friends — past, present & future. Thank you for your love & support. I’ll be back soon. OXOX Eddie.”
Braun then crumpled up the note.
“That was a sentimental moment. But then I thought to myself, ‘I’m just going to treat this like another day at work,’” Braun said.
At the site, he had a shot of whiskey for good luck with his crew and slipped into his fire suit — one his good friend gave him in the 1980s — before stepping into his rocket.
He was launched into the air, going from zero to approximately 439 mph in less than three seconds. He deployed the parachute, drifted down and crashed into a field.
In pain, Braun took a moment to catch his breath before slightly waving his right hand and slowly climbing out. He vowed to never get in again.
“But there’s no reason to get in again. We did it,” Braun said. “I’m going to find a bigger canyon to cross — in my life, of course, not in a rocket.”
Hocking Hills visitors wowed by stunning monarch butterfly releases
LOGAN, OH – Visitors to southeast Ohio’s Hocking Hills region this month have a one-of-a-kind opportunity for hands-on immersion into the lifecycle of iconic monarch butterflies. A team of volunteer naturalists is tagging this year’s bumper crop of the insect beauties – almost daily — at the Hocking Hills Regional Welcome Center, encouraging visitors to take part and experience firsthand the uniqueness of monarch migration. Tagging and releasing the newly emerged monarchs takes place nearly every day (except in the rain), depending on their emergence.
Naturalists, with the help of Hocking Hills visitors, place tiny, numbered sticky dots on Monarch wings before they’re released. They can then be tracked and logged on the Monarchwatch.org website when spotted in other locations. The practice helps researchers learn more about monarch migration. The Welcome Center team ordered 500 tags, but very few remain as they used far more tags than anticipated.
“Monarch migration is truly one of the world’s greatest natural wonders,” said Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist Andrea Jones, who spearheaded the program. “Huge numbers of monarchs have been sighted in the Hocking Hills this year, spending the summer and laying their eggs in Ohio before their offspring pupate, emerge and instinctually take off to fly some 2,300 miles south to Mexico for winter.”
Jones added that beginning in early summer, monarchs stop in Logan, OH to refuel and lay eggs for the next generation, with nearly 1000 caterpillars pupating in the area from late summer to fall. During the chrysalis stage, Jones and her team move the jade green chrysalides into the Welcome Center’s educational monarch display for up to two weeks before the larvae naturally emerge as adult butterflies. They’re then tagged and released. The program will continue in 2019, with plans in place to expand the garden and tagging operations.
Unfortunately, this natural marvel is threatened by habitat loss, with a more than 90 percent decline in monarch populations over the last 20 years serving as an ecological red flag. Thus, the volunteer naturalists created the Monarch Waystation at the Welcome Center by planting a butterfly garden filled with nectar-producing flowering plans that attract the blazing gold, yellow, orange, black and white insects. In addition, naturalists planted milkweed, which inspires females to lay eggs by providing a rich source of food for monarch larvae. Frequent rain this season fed a prolific milkweed crop, resulting in an abundance of eggs. Jones encourages travelers who visit to create butterfly habitat by planting milkweed and native flowers in their own yards and natural areas at home.
Monarch Waystation Programs, like the one in the Hocking Hills, work together across North America to study the decline of the monarch population by tracking migration and encouraging conservation. Each fall, millions of monarch butterflies migrate from the United States and Canada to Mexico, Texas and California where they wait out the winter until conditions favor a return flight north in spring.
Located 40 miles southeast of Columbus, Ohio’s Hocking Hills region is marked by soaring cliffs, craggy caves, rushing waterfalls and 10,000 acres of unbroken forest woven with hundreds of miles of hiking trails. With an absence of city lights and resulting extraordinary dark skies, the area is also home to the John Glenn Astronomy Park. These and a host of other once-in-a-lifetime experiences emphasize nature, stewardship and unplugged quality time with friends, family and loved ones. Unique gift and antique shops, artists’ studios, Appalachian music and moonshine, hands-on activities, kayaking, canopy tours, eco tours and rappelling add to the allure of the Hocking Hills as the perfect place to escape and make meaningful memories. Complete traveler information is available www.ExploreHockingHills.com or 1-800-Hocking (800-462-5464).
Shrinking the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a disaster for paleontology
September 21, 2018
P. David Polly
Professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Biology, and Anthropology, Indiana University
P. David Polly receives funding from the US National Science Foundation, the Institute for Museum and Library Services, UK Natural Environment Research Council, and the Leverhulme Trust. He is president of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Indiana University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
In the early 1980s, paleontologists Jeff Eaton and Rich Cifelli started digging for fossils in one of the most inaccessible regions of the United States: the Kaiparowits Plateau of southern Utah. They were looking not for dinosaurs, but for ancestral mammals. Mammals almost litter the fossil record after dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago, but they were rare before then. Eaton and Cifelli ventured onto the Kaiparowits to comb its rocks for mammals’ tiny teeth and bones.
Not only did these two scientists find fossil mammals, they uncovered one of the most complete sequences of vertebrate fossils anywhere in the world from the time when dinosaurs still ruled. What Eaton and Cifelli discovered in Utah showed that life on land was unexpectedly becoming more diverse at a time when life in the oceans was being decimated by chemical changes.
Their work demonstrated the tremendous paleontological potential of the Kaiparowits Plateau and the nearby Circle Cliffs and Grand Staircase regions. Rocks in this remote region span the entire Mesozoic Era – the so-called Age of Reptiles – and by the early 1990s were producing scientifically important fossils from all three of its periods, the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous.
On Sept. 18, 1996, President Bill Clinton set aside these federal lands as Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The goal was to protect their paleontological treasures, preserve their hundreds of archaeological sites and keep one of America’s last wildernesses intact.
Decades of ongoing research in this region have literally rewritten what scientists know about Mesozoic life, especially about the ecosystems that immediately preceded the final extinction of the dinosaurs. Paleontologists like me know that the still-pristine Grand Staircase-Escalante region has divulged only a fragment of its paleontological story.
But the Trump administration has systematically cut entire chapters of that narrative out of the national monument, including key segments of what Clinton’s original proclamation called “one of the best and most continuous records of Late Cretaceous terrestrial life in the world.” The changes not only are at odds with scientific goals for which the monument was created, but researchers contend they endanger the unique natural heritage that belongs to us all.
What national monument designation means
National monuments are not memorials to famous Americans. They’re a special category of federal land, used to conserve special historical, archaeological and scientific resources.
In the 1906 Antiquities Act, Congress granted the president power to establish national monuments on government land to protect these types of resources. In total, 640 million acres are held in trust for the American people. The majority of this land is available for mixed uses, including wildlife conservation, livestock grazing, mining and petroleum extraction, scientific study and recreation, as mandated by Congress in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976.
National monuments come into play when historical or scientific resources on those lands are endangered by one or more of those uses or when special attention would enhance them. It was the value of the paleontological resources and the pristine condition of the wilderness around the Kaiparowits Plateau that triggered Bill Clinton’s Grand Staircase-Escalante proclamation in 1996.
Monument status confers funding through the National Conservation Lands System to restore, maintain and develop designated national heritage resources on federal land. At Grand Staircase, these funds help pay for paleontological field crews, for helicopter lifts of excavated specimens from inaccessible areas and for conservation of those specimens back in the lab. Just as Fort McHenry National Monument in Maryland would not realize its value as a historic site if its buildings were not maintained, so too would Grand Staircase fail to live up to its potential if its fossils were not studied.
The management plan for the original Grand Staircase placed priority on paleontological research. It established the position of monument paleontologist to coordinate field researchers from around the world, to survey and document paleontological sites, and to ensure that fossils collected from the monument are placed in museums and universities where they remain the property of the federal government and are accessible to those who wish to study them.
Shrinking the site
But now Eaton and Cifelli’s original dig sites are no longer part of the monument. President Donald Trump cut them last December, along with more than 700 other documented paleontological sites.
Based on a recommendation by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Trump issued a proclamation that reduced Grand Staircase to almost half its original size. His text asserts that the cuts “take into account” the findings of two decades of paleontological research in order to determine “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects of … scientific interest.”
Roughly 1 in 3 of the thousands of sites discovered at the monument have now been excluded. And many more sites remain to be found because large areas have not been fully surveyed. The change in status means that new research in the excluded areas will have lower priority and less support.
In August, the Department of Interior issued a draft management plan for the areas that have been removed from monument, now available for public comment. It offers options that range from protecting paleontological resources with the same rules as before, to actively prioritizing mineral and gas extraction in the excluded areas. The former would be great for science; the latter could be devastating. Some fossil-rich areas of the excluded parts of the monument could be targets for shale gas extraction, others could be singled out for coal or uranium mining.
Depending on the outcome of the current management plan consultation, areas now excluded from the monument may not receive the same priority for conservation and research.
Why ongoing protection is needed
Paleontology, like any science, rests on the principle of verifiability. Science is a process in which scientists revisit old data time and time again to verify earlier findings, to ask new questions and to apply new technology.
The scientific process means that paleontologists routinely return to sites where major discoveries were made in the past. For example, when Tyrannosaurus rex was discovered in 1902, scientists had no way of precisely dating the rocks in which it was found nor did they have any inkling that it was one of the last dinosaurs standing before a massive asteroid crashed into the Earth. Only by applying radiometric dating and rare earth element analysis at those classic sites more than 100 years later have we come to understand the demise of dinosaurs.
Paleontologists work at Grand Staircase because of its unique fossil record, of course, but also because they know the sites will remain intact. Verifiability has become increasingly important; every paleontologist has faced a situation where they cannot answer a pressing question because a key fossil has been misplaced or a critical site has been destroyed.
Scientific ethics dictate that we curate scientifically important specimens in accessible public repositories like museums and do our best to preserve the sites they come from. Places like national monuments and national parks that prioritize protection of fossil sites are therefore prime research areas. That permanent protection has been rescinded from more than 700 sites in active research areas is almost inconceivable to paleontologists.
Because of the potential impact the cuts are likely to have on science, the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology – of which I am the current president – joined with Grand Staircase Partners and Conservation Lands Foundation in a lawsuit to reverse them. The case’s argument is that presidents do not have the authority to unprotect resources at national monuments and that scientifically important paleontological resources have indeed been excised. The case is currently pending in U.S. District Court.
Vertebrate fossils are rare, so much so that each one usually tells a unique part of the story of life. Mammal species like the ones that Eaton and Cifelli discovered in the 1980s were probably spread over much of the continent in the Cretaceous, but precious few of them have ended up in the fossil record and only a few of those have been discovered. Grand Staircase is an extraordinary place with an unusual density of these rare fragments of life’s past, one where their geological context is still intact. That’s why paleontologists are concerned about its future.