The Month of Public Lands

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.”                                                                              Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Dark heavy clouds predicting rain greeted us on our last morning in Utah. Antelope Island has become the perfect farewell to Utah as we head home to Montana. Bison and pronghorn roam the island. Coyotes make occasional appearances and the water bird life is plentiful. With the goal of summiting Frary Peak, this year we stayed two nights. Frary Peak is an 8-mile round-trip, 2100 foot uphill hike. Yesterday’s weather gave us a sunny, cool window for the climb.

We’ve been traveling this month of March, spending most of our time in Utah with forays into Colorado, Nevada and Arizona.

Our March itinerary made use of public lands—state and federal. We visited the new Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada. A long day’s drive that included many miles of bumpy dirt road got us back into a surreal landscape known as Little Finland. No amenities and no signs—we had to really want to go. And it was so worth it.

The Wahweap Hoodoos of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument were another destination. We hiked 4-5 miles to the hoodoos (a true geologic term), hopping back and forth over flowing water in the wash. Again, no signs gave us a feeling of discovery. We were alone, wandering among the tall columns. It was nearly impossible to move quickly—each hoodoo deserved a pause, an exclamation, and perhaps a photo.

There has been a lot of talk about boycotting Utah because of the government’s attitude toward the new Bears Ears National Monument and continued desire to de-monument Grand Staircase-Escalante. It is serious enough that the Outdoor Retailers show has pulled out of Salt Lake City and is looking for another venue. I’ve thought about boycotting Utah and thought about the importance of public lands. Rather than boycotting Utah, I decided to be a one-person activist for educating Utah businesses as to the importance of public lands. As often as I could, I would bring up the subject of public lands. In grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, even a hardware store, I passed out a statement that I’d printed relating tourism, public lands and economics.

It’s been an interesting exercise. I’ve been thanked and criticized. I’ve been told by one person that a culture of collecting artifacts exists because years ago, locals’ ancestors were hired by eastern museums (so apparently it’s ok to continue to do it today). I’ve been told that picking up/taking artifacts from the surface of the ground is legal. Another person told me that oil is more important and provides more jobs than solar (so Grand Staircase-Escalante should be opened to drilling). I’ve been told that the federal government is broke and does not have the money to take care of more land. I’ve heard the BLM criticized for their handling of public lands (Recapture Canyon). On the other hand, I’ve also been told that our visitation pays wages, been told that others share my concerns, and that I’m not alone.

I can’t say I’ve felt comfortable bringing up the subject. I could wish for more smoothness of delivery, more confidence in my presentation, and certainly to be more effective. Have I changed any minds? Have I been at all successful? If I measure success by changed minds, then no. But my heart says I must do something. And I have done it. Each time, I screwed up my courage, tried to be non-confrontational, tried to listen to other view points yet tried to hold my ground. I am glad I did it, I only wish I could have done it better.

When we were in Navajo and Hovenweep National Monuments, I could relax because I did not feel the necessity to push my public lands agenda. In general, we were among kindred spirits. Navajo and Hovenweep National Monuments are places of sensitive ruins and extreme grandeur. Hikes took us to 700+ year-old ruins where we soaked in the beauty and wondered about the struggle for survival. Canyonlands National Park, Needles District was our longest stop. The red rock cliffs etched their way into our psyche. Before taking off to hike slickrock trails, I spent mornings sitting in the sun, drawing and journaling while Fred played guitar.

I love the redrock country of Utah. I love its beauty, love its native history, love its wildness. But I am literally one voice, calling in the desert. I spoke with Tom Adams the director of the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation. It was a brief chat, but gave me an idea. Because money seems to speak loudest and most consider dollars to be the bottom line, I’d like to see a huge outdoor movement begin, perhaps with printed cards citing tourism stats/facts for each southern Utah county stating how much revenue the outdoor industry brings into those communities. l would like to see dirt-baggers, hiker-trash, climbers, mountain bikers, hikers, artists, families, people who fish, responsible ORVers, skiers, campers, RVers, hunter— EVERYONE who uses and values public lands everywhere , to mount this movement. Boycotting and moving on only silences us where we need to be most vocal. All of us who value wilderness need to make our voices resonate loud and clear. And so, I learn to embrace my discomfort. I will learn to be more graceful in my delivery and I will continue to hope.







12 thoughts on “The Month of Public Lands

  1. I’ve lived in Utah on and off all my life. The past 5 years we have been living in our RV and traveling, so I have seen and experienced so much more. I too love the red rock desert of Utah and have a lot of fond memories of camping there with my kids. That being said….The mentality in Utah will never change, public lands are to be drilled, dug, and exploited. The politicians embrace, and enforce this idea, and the people simply nod their heads in agreement. Not all of course, but they are in the minority. When we visit Utah to see our families, and do stuff related to our art business, we go visit the wild horses on BLM land. I am a photographer, and I have fallen in love with these wonderful, and beautiful animals. To read about the Utah politicians that tried to pass legislature to get rid of the wild horses, to make room for more cows, makes my blood boil. They have no sense of a future Utah, saving something….anything….for future generations to enjoy. Right now we are in a position were we have to be in Utah twice a year, for business reasons. This is soon to change though. I stand with the people who say boycott, and if we could somehow not spend one dime while here I would. Kudos to you for speaking up, expressing your opinion, and trying to start a meaningful dialogue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Mary, for your comments. It’s a tough one, isn’t it? I think about boycotting Utah and I think that maybe when it hurts their bottom line, they will ‘wake up’. But then… I doubt it. I think there needs to be a big movement, one way or another, that forces the issue, or at least makes people sit up and take notice. While I love Utah’s redrocks, I think it would be difficult to live in many places, due to the politics. Your mention of wild horses sounds wonderful. You must get amazing photos.


  2. Mary Strickroth

    Well done, Julianne. Utahans are endowed with some of the most beautiful, lonely, and expansive landscapes in the West. The reactions to your activism with the locals is, indeed, a sad commentary on our society. It may not be that Utahans don’t appreciate what they have. But they have so much of it that they just don’t foresee how it can be squandered bit by bit until the blessed integrity of the land is lost forever. Such is the plight of all our public lands. How do we awaken ourselves to cherish these unique environments and cultivate a basic desire to protect and preserve them in perpetuity? We are all stewards of the land. Thank you for sharing your ideas about what one person can do to push back against this wave of tragic thoughtlessness and promote a hopeful future for public lands – one person at a time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for you kind comments, Mary. Loved spending time with you and Rick on some of our public lands. I hope the small pebble that I threw into the Utah ‘pond’, ripples out a ways.


  3. Marcia

    Julianne, This is a spectacular idea. You have once again Inspired me. It is time to make a plan for those who use public lands to become activists. Let’s talk. Marcia

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Marcia! We do need to become activists in this climate. I guess I can’t feel complacent anymore, or trust that all will be well unless I do something. And, money seems to be the language so many speak. Give a call anytime, on the landline.


  4. Hilary Vidalakis

    Love love love love love. Bless you for doing this. Sounds like the redrock (and everything else) loved you back 🙂 Way to screw your courage to the sticking place! (Is that the saying?) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Julianne,
    I like your piece and your approach. I believe a massive boycott would allow an unfriendly government to point to lack of use and argue that use in other ways would benefit the state and the citizens of the state.

    Liked by 1 person

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