“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.