The Running Bum

Running Wild With Words

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This guidebook covers the original 1.88 million acres of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument designated in 1996 to protect its natural wonders and preserve the area for scientific research. In 2017, the monument was trimmed to 1 million acres, reducing protections around some of the world’s most geologically diverse landscapes. The hikes featured in this book range from family-friendly day hikes to multi-day backpacking trips that will excite the most adventurous of spirits and will educate readers about the importance of protecting public lands, visiting sensitive areas with respect, and considering low-impact recreation as a pillar of multi-use policy for enhanced conservation.

Indie Bound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781937052713

Books A Million: http://www.booksamillion.com/p/Best-Grand-Staircase-Escalante-National/Morgan-Sjogren/9781937052713?id=7360781402148

TheAmazon: https://www.amazon.com/Grand-Staircase-Escalante-National-Monument-Hikes/dp/1937052710/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1536077947&sr=8-1&keywords=grand+staircase+escalante+Morgan&dpID=51YDr3qnzPL&preST=_SY291_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_&dpSrc=srch

Screen Shot 2018-10-22 at 2.34.38 PMWhat her story—set in the American Southwest—reveals about the future of our public lands
“They said if we didn’t succeed they would never hire women again.”Ada Hatch’s smile reflects the brilliance of her yellow sundress when she says this. But it’s not a sugary smile; it’s a grin full of spunk and vigor, one that hints at true adventure and wisdom.Now 76 years old, Ada spent the summer of 1962 working as one of the Southwest’s first women hired to work on an archaeological site as part of the Glen Canyon Salvage Project (1956–1963). It was her first job and a mission backed by the National Park Service through the Museum of Northern Arizona. As construction on the Glen Canyon Dam neared completion, the project, which spanned more than 2,000 prehistoric sites, aimed to conduct “archaeological, ethnographic and historical research under emergency conditions in the Glen Canyon area of the Colorado River in response to the threat of losses posed by the Glen Canyon Dam” (excerpt from a letter sent to Ada from the Department of the Interior). It was a rapid-paced effort to uncover, contextualize and attempt to understand the complex history of the region’s Ancestral Puebloan cultures who lived in the area long before any European settlers. An already challenging task was crunched into a nine-year time span before the opportunity to learn from the land would be lost forever.

Constructed between 1956 and 1963, the Glen Canyon Dam created one of the largest man-made reservoirs in the United States—Lake Powell—diverting water from the Colorado River to provide water and hydroelectric power to millions of people in the West. The controversial project drastically changed the landscape from a flowing river between towering red sandstone canyons (186 miles within Glen Canyon alone) to a huge lake with 1,960 miles of shoreline and a capacity to store more than 26 million acre-feet of water. The water levels began rising in 1963 and continued to rise until 1980, flooding the canyons above the dam and around the Colorado River, Countless side canyons, narrow slot canyons, picturesque grottoes and 18 rapids were lost, along with an irreplaceable wealth of archaeological sites.

A present-day photo of one of Lake Powell's side canyons. Lake Powell was created by the development of the Glen Canyon Dam between 1956 and 1963.

Like the pottery and artifacts that Ada helped unearth from the desert soil, there are layers to her story. It requires digging. Her immersion into canyon country began in a place with a long history that is now obscured. The research, documentation and stories she was part of cannot bring back what is submerged under the water and silt created by Glen Canyon Dam. But like the artifacts Ada and her crew unearthed, Ada’s stories are a reminder that if we listen, we may find the past has taken new forms.

Ada, a 51-year resident of Page, Arizona, a small town originally built for the workers on Glen Canyon Dam, welcomed me into her home built lovingly, piece by piece, by her now-deceased husband LeRoy. “I met my husband when I was 35, I was married for 35 years, and now I’m on to the next 35. It’s been a good life.” Ready to tell her story, Ada had a photo album, newspaper clippings and maps out on the table. The essential components for an evening of desert-dweller raconteuring.

Glancing around Ada’s home, it’s impossible to resist the urge to gaze out the window, where distant red sandstone cliffs sit adjacent to Lees Ferry and the Colorado River just prior to its entrance into the Grand Canyon. Every wall, shelf and tabletop is thoughtfully adorned with local decor, artwork and photography. It’s clear that Ada herself is a part of the desert and a colorful piece of its artwork. “Any art that I purchase for my collection, I make sure to learn how to make it myself so that I can fully appreciate it.” She shows me a Navajo-style rug (still on the loom), silver molds and baskets she has woven.

The inspiration for Ada’s collection began the summer of 1962 on Paiute Mesa at the site known to archaeologists as “Pottery Pueblo,” a structure from the Tsegi phase of the Pueblo III culture. The excavation uncovered 15 courtyards, 81 rooms and 5 kivas. Specifically, Ada and the women in her cohort, Dorothy “Dottie” Deal and Mary Anne Stein, were tasked with the tedious work of cleaning, stamping and cataloging artifacts, mainly potsherds. In addition, 10 Navajo men helped excavate the site while a group of archaeologists—who were also men—managed the research and oversaw the work. The ceramic evidence collected by the group helped determine that the structures were inhabited by household units of migrant farming families between A.D. 1260 and 1280. (Stein, Mary Anne, 1984, Pottery Pueblo: A Tsegi Phase Village On Paiute Mesa, Utah; Dissertation for Southern Methodist University).

Ada holds up black-and-white photos of the summer she spent working on the Glen Canyon Salvage Project in 1962.

Inspired by the ancient artistry, Ada, Dottie and Mary Anne took the time to learn to make coil pots in the traditional style: “After you scrub 5,000 pieces of pottery, you want to understand the full weight of what you are working on. We collected the clay, boiled beeweed for the coating, and picked yucca to make paintbrushes.” Ada kept the pot she made for many years before it eventually fell apart.

Although Ada only worked as an excavator for a single summer, the experience sparked a lifelong love affair with the area where she still hikes weekly and explores the endless maze of canyons that weave in and out of Lake Powell’s shoreline. “I said I’ll stay here until I see every canyon. I find a new canyon every single time I go out.” Page is situated near many of the Southwest’s major geological attractions—the Grand Canyon, Vermilion Cliffs, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Ada heads to the kitchen and returns with ice cream and a plate of cookies (fuel for our mission to dig up old photos, read through her documents and pinpoint locations on topo maps), and then opens up a map searching for the location of the Pottery Pueblo site. She finds the site on the map and explains there was no road to get there in 1962 and that today, even with the road partially paved, it would still take many hours to reach. The red sandstone mesa is more than 500 feet across and flanked by two box canyons. The climate isn’t for the faint of heart—the site is surrounded by low piñon, junipers and shrubs, which offer minimal relief from the heat.

Thumbing through black-and-white photographs of their camp, work sites and artifacts, Ada reflects on what she considers the best summer of her life. There are photographs of the entire crew reuniting in 1999. Beyond memories of sleeping under the stars, Ada’s recollections are filled with shenanigans. For example, she and the other women pulled a squeamish prank to find out whether the men actually brushed their teeth, “We stuck a mouse’s tail in a toothpaste tube. It took three days for it to come out and it made them scream!” Ada, Dottie and Mary Anne still remain close friends, visiting each other annually. Several of the men have passed away in the last few years, but Ada’s memories are all fond, especially for her boss, archaeologist Alexander “Lex” Lindsay.

Detail of a black-and-white photo of a woman working on a loom during the summer of 1962.

Ada explains, “He was very serious. He was anxious for us to go. He told us, ‘You girls are gonna make the difference, and if you succeed out here this summer you will put more women in the field. But if you don’t succeed, we’re not going to send any more out.’ ” Ada pauses, “And unfortunately that’s just the way that things were.”

She explains that Lindsay’s concerns were largely focused on whether the women could withstand the extreme living conditions, including primitive camping in a remote area of the desert during the hottest time of year with limited water. Ada affirms that all three women handled the accommodations without any issues.

As archaeologist William D. Lipe, who also worked on another site for the Glen Canyon Salvage Project, notes in his paper, “Glen Canyon, Dolores, and Animas-LaPlata: Big Projects and Big Changes in Public Archaeology,” in the 1950s, the field of archaeology had a common practice of placing men in the field and sequestering women in the lab—or worse, not hiring them at all. Despite the stern pronouncement made by Ada’s superior, the Northern Arizona University sector of the Glen Canyon Salvage Project was one of the first to challenge the norm.

Following that summer, Mary Ann went on to earn a Ph.D. in archaeology, using research from the excavation to write her dissertation “An Archaeological Survey Of Paiute Mesa” (1966). Ada earned a master’s degree in anthropology from Northern Arizona University, while her work on Pottery Pueblo inspired her to learn the Diné language and become an elementary school teacher at the Tuba City Unified School District. To this day, she still volunteers in the Page Unified School District, teaching students to read and how to write in cursive.

Ada arrived in the Southwest after the dam was already built and the water was creeping up, making her work on the Glen Canyon Salvage Project a bit like diving into the deep end. Her work required her to strive to preserve a place she would never fully know. And in turn, she has spent a lifetime in the Southwest and continues to use Lake Powell and her boat as a launching point to explore new canyons. The past has opened up new doors.

Lake Powell today.

In addition to exploring the area surrounding Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Ada is committed to preserving and protecting it.  “It’s been hard to adjust to the increase in tourism to the area over the last few years. Especially the traffic and the trash.” Ada says human waste and disrespect for the land might pose the most imminent threat. She finds and picks up trash on every hike that she goes on and has volunteered for week-long cleaning missions (she humbly highlights this for the way people are treating public lands, not for her services). But beyond the news headlines and politics, Ada feels that the simple act of leaving no trace and picking up trash is a straightforward step that every person who visits our public lands can take right away to conserve them.

Part of the work to protect public lands involves recording and sharing stories. Ada’s experiences exploring the Glen Canyon area for more than 50 years provides incredible context about the future of the places we care about. Ada loves this place so dearly that she made it her home, continues to study it and in turn, helps protect it. The future of any place will always be uncertain, but the intricate layers of a story told with love help carry the legacy of those places into the future.

 

unnamed-1.jpgAnother endless drive across the desert. Dust swirls. silent mind.

Arrival feels as impossible as the beer I can’t quite reach in the ice chest behind my seat.

Visions of sitting outside by a campfire at sunset. A night walk through the sage brush. Being in one place for a night.

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Stillness can only be found -inside- it seems.

Driving on down the bumpy dirt road. Tire goes flat. Nothing was built to last, but sure was made to fix.

RoadTrip-5.jpgThe circles continue. Closer and closer together. Tighter turns. Nevada, Utah, Arizona, California. Home on the wide open western range. Places become the familiar faces, to a neighbor on the way home to where? I’ll never get there. There’s no place to arrive. I’m a vehicle. I pass, write on through.

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Photo Credit Jay Kolsch

You are uninviting, treacherous and hostile but also hauntingly beautiful, mesmerizing, inescapable. I am possessed by enigma. Unable to resist long trips to see you. Deep inside your canyons I find myself in a lovesick spell, drawn towards each twist, turn, pour off and log jam with no concern for the danger that inevitably I will face. Your direct sun bakes the sand directly into the cracks of my dry skin as you envelop me. Exposed in your interminable horizon I am free. Squeezed between your narrow passages I want to know every inch of you. And yet I know I will never do more than scratch my feet across the surface of your cryptobiotic crust.

You warn me not to visit during summer—you wrongly assume the biting flies and monsoons will keep me away; along with the bitter cold winter storms and impassable wet dirt roads. I can’t quit you.

Running towards you and into myself on a long, narrow, winding route with no markers, I have fallen in love with a place. You etch yourself like rock art onto my soul, like the canyons your thorny brush has carved into my skin.

But the wilderness, the desert, doesn’t love you back.

When I wrote that line, or something like it in my first book, I meant it. And I actually started to believe it. Sitting alone near the Paria river I contemplate why I chose to invest my love, my precious time, on something incapable of loving me back in return. Unrequited. And yet, I always return with the same anticipation, reuniting with a lover I’ve longed for.

Because if you truly love something you go. You spend time with it. You listen to it. You learn from it. You share secrets with it. You look deep inside of it. You immerse yourself in it. You care for it. You expect nothing from it.

And above all, you protect it.

When I get past the noise in my own head, the discomfort bestowed upon me by being near you, I see clearly you love me in your own language. A tinaja filled with water when I need it most. Romantic barrel cactus blooms at my feet. Silky sandy beaches beneath golden sunlight and next to waves of….more golden sandy beaches. Shady coves and slot canyons to incite my imagination. Ribbons of mud in canyon bottoms to gleefully slide across. Sitting alone in silence with you I have companionship with full autonomy. Solitude.

Today, in the desert, sprinting across your sand dunes, finding solace in your deep dark recesses and feeling the warm zephyr winds across my face, I whispered “I love you,” between the narrow canyon walls. The words themselves utterly meaningless, but the way it felt, hand pressed against the striped rocks and warm sun flashing into my eyes, was everything. Alone with you, I relearn the meaning of love.

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At 18,491 Feet Pico De Orizaba is the highest peak in Mexico and the 3rd tallest in North America.

On March 18th Michael Versteeg and I summitted the mountain together. Then  he decided he wanted to run up it.

Two days later he broke the FKT for ascent of the peak by 8 minutes (2:02) and set the standard for also descending the peak (46 minutes) for a total time of 2:48.

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Link to original story: https://www.rei.com/blog/news/staking-a-claim-for-public-lands

“Keep digging!”

I’m slinging an ice axe like a backhoe into the muddy road on Deer Flat, a stretch formerly within the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument. My partner, Michael Versteeg, spurs me onward as he too uses his ice axe in an attempt to dig out the front tire of our van, buried up to the wheelbase in the hellacious clay that keeps most everyone off this high-elevation mesa during winter. We are completely stuck and it’s obvious no one has driven down any of these San Juan County roads in weeks.

Morgan and Michael's van in a ditch

It’s hard not to laugh amid our deep frustration and the sweat on our brows, but we press on. We came here to investigate. We’re outdoor athletes staking a mining claim, with no intention of mining.  

On Feb. 2, this swath of Utah land*, overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), was reopened to mining claims. Places like Deer Flat are no longer protected within Bears Ears, along with critical areas that used to be part of Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument. The loss of protection is a result of President Trump’s December announcement allowing public land boundaries to be reduced. Now, more than 1 million acres are potentially open to “mining, drilling and other industrial activity,” according to The New York Times.

In preceding weeks, news media explored whether there might be an 1870s-style land rush on the now-unprotected land. Headlines read: “A Modern Land Run? Trump move opens Utah to mining claims under 1872 law” (Reuters) and “Uranium Miners Pushed Hard for a Comeback. They Got Their Wish.” (The New York Times). So far we haven’t seen any miners. We haven’t seen anyone. Just Michael Versteeg—writer, climber and Arizona Trail FKT holder—and me, covered in mud, toiling with our “mining tools” to unearth the van, which appears to be perilously close to making Deer Flat its new winter homestead.

The archaic mining laws governing this process were written nearly 150 years ago, raising important questions of efficacy and relevance in 21st century land management: How simple is it to stake a mining claim? How does this process work? Would it be possible for us to go and stake a mining claim, and if so, could it be used as a land preservation tool?

Just a week before the administration’s decision to resize Bears Ears and Grand Staircase took effect, we dreamed up the scenario of effectively “racing” miners in order to “block” them. If successful, perhaps larger conservation groups and corporations could follow suit and we could collectively protect these sensitive areas that are susceptible to future mining.

Bears Ears

We derived the concept of using a mining claim as a potential preservation tool from Michael’s research for an essay he penned about cattle ranching on public lands. He learned about an interesting “fight fire with fire” tactic attempted by the Grand Canyon Trust in Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument in the ’90s. Michael explains, “The nonprofit purchased some cattle grazing leases to attempt to preserve sensitive areas but that also required leaseholders to actually graze. And just like that, the Grand Canyon Trust entered the cattle business.”

At best, we could use this tactic by staking a mining claim to potentially protect 20 acres of land from mining, while also learning a great deal about the multi-use of our public lands system. In our quest, we quickly discovered the process of staking a claim is not nearly as simple as it sounded.

And if we staked a claim, would we have to actually mine? After all, this would directly counter our original objective (to preserve and protect a swath of land from new mining) and it isn’t really a career path either of us are considering. According to the General Mining Law of 1872, striking a claim requires the following:

  • Erecting corner posts or monuments
  • Placing a monument in a conspicuous place (This can be a three-foot-high stone mound, wooden post or metal post.)
  • Posting a location notice on the monument that must include: the date and location on the ground, the names and addresses of the locators, the name of the claim or site, the acreage claimed and a description of the parcel on the ground (This does not qualify as an official “discovery” of a valuable mineral but simply a claim.)
  • Complying with the requirements of 43 CFR Part 3830, 3832 and 3833 (which implies figuring out what the heck 43 CFR Part 3830, 3832 and 3833 means)

As we read through the mining resources available on the BLM’s website, it appeared to us that striking a claim only required that we:

  • Not put down stakes on prohibited land (like a national monument, which inhibits new claims but not pre-existing claims) or on someone else’s claim
  • Follow the exact parameters/instructions for the type of claim (lode or placer—ours would be a lode)
  • Record the site with the county clerk (which costs $12)
  • Send the recorded documents to state BLM headquarters and pay your fees ($212)

Should your mining claim be approved by the BLM headquarters via this process, you are only required to complete the annual maintenance and assessment work (valued at $100 in improvements to your claim) or file for a waiver (this is the 43 CFR Part 3830, 3832 and 3833 stuff).

In fact, if you do wish to actually mine, staking a claim does not give you the right to actually do so. According to the BLM brochure for mining claims on federal lands, there must be a proven discovery of a valuable hard mineral (another process altogether). If you stake a claim but make no discovery, it is even possible for someone else to come and discover something before you do and take over your claim via a court dispute. Another key piece of information: If you actually make it past these stages, having a claim does not mean you own the land; it merely gives you permission to extract surface minerals. Following the multi-use ethos of the BLM, it is perfectly legal for gas and oil leases, cattle grazing, recreation and any other permissible use to co-exist within the plot of land where you are mining. So, even if we were successful in staking a claim and making a valuable mineral discovery, we would only potentially be protecting 20 acres from other mining activities and not other uses.

To ensure we had all of the correct information and to procure the proper forms, we headed straight for the Monticello, Utah, BLM office on Jan. 31. Dressed in our working pants, brimmed hats and boots, and plenty dirty after living on the road for several weeks (skiing, ice climbing and exploring hot springs all over the West), we certainly felt we looked the part. Here, most of our remaining questions were answered and we were able to get hard copies of the information available online.

Back in the van, I time traveled deep into 147-year-old mining laws and history, while Michael had a modern breakthrough—LR2000. This is the software program the BLM uses to record all active, pending and closed mines, and therefore, our key to discover where mines have been claimed in our areas of interest and what 20-acre plots were still available. Upon entering the world of LR2000, he was treated to a complicated system, difficult even for a man who used bioinformatics (aka complicated computer codes) to study anthrax in a Northern Arizona University lab in his past life. Michael furiously scribbled down numbers and drew lines across our Cedar Mesa/Grand Gulch topo maps and, before the lunch hour was up, had uncovered the information needed to locate mines or free spaces to claim.

We hit the road with stakes in the trunk and dreams of protecting 20 acres of land. Our first stop was the former eastern boundaries of Bears Ears (about two hours outside the town of Blanding) to locate what other claims look like for inspiration and instruction. The area is dotted with active and inactive claims staked next to one another for miles, and all are as simplistic as the 1872 law explicates—four metal stakes in the ground and a monument post in the center. Some mines did have piles of tailings and remnants of old mining activity, like rusted tools and tin cans.

Michael prepares to place stakes 660 feet from their monument, per the requirements of a lode mining claim.

Ready to stake our claim, we made our way up Deer Flat, a plateau on the southwest edge of Elk Ridge, an area rumored to hold the next boom of mining activity in the area, and according to LR2000, also heavily staked out (likely pre-existing claims). As we drove up the winding dirt road, I took in the beautiful views of White Canyon dropping sharply next to us, and the actual “bears ears,” two distinctly shaped, high-elevation Wingate sandstone mesas, in the distance—reminders of the true reason we are here.

High on Deer Flat, conditions changed rapidly. A thin and melting layer of old snow sat atop a perilously thick and slick layer of muddy clay. Our van skidded into a thigh-high dirt embankment, delaying us four hours.

It was 4pm on Friday and we had nothing to show for our work except a damn near empty gas tank and everything we needed to stake a claim. After freeing our van, Michael and I looked at each other—why not keep going? Windows down, I hung my head out scouting locations as my tumbleweed of blonde hair whipped around in the wind. We settled on a spot just below the road that jutted out across the rim of Deer Canyon. We pulled over and loaded up our packs with four metal stakes, materials for our monument and location notice sign, a climbing rope (to measure the dimensions of our lode claim), an ice axe and a few beers. We jumped down the sandy roadside, hopped over the boulders and tiptoed around cacti.

Morgan tapes their notice of location to the monument at the center of the mining claim.

“This is it!” Michael stood on top of a rocky outcropping, declaring the place for our monument. He hammered metal stakes into the ground with an ice axe and inserted a 4-foot length of plastic tubing and built a rock pile to support the base. I taped our location notice across the finished design officiating our claim. The moment stung with irony—how much time, work and money we put in this week for an unknown, if not outright frivolous outcome. The only claim we were staking was our love for the land.

As the sun set, Michael and I came to terms with the fact that we would not be able to finish staking our claim before dark. We set up camp alongside our mine and devoured beans and tin cups of whiskey as the stars appeared overhead. I lay wide-awake all night wondering about the uncertain future of this incredible place.

The sun sets over areas formerly within the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument.

Saturday was another working day as we hauled our packs back to our mine monument first thing in the morning. Using our 70-meter climbing rope, we measured and selected the locations for our four stakes. We scrambled over slick rock, held the rope across wide ledges and crawled through dense juniper trees. At each stake, we stopped to take in the views that ranged from dripping springs to sandstone towers, and then moved on to our next marker.

We staked the claim in less than half a day, making this surprisingly the quickest part of the entire process. But since it was a Saturday, we had to wait around until Monday to record the claim with the county clerk and mail the finished documents along with a check to the BLM headquarters in Salt Lake City.

Their claim sits on the edge of a canyon, which made staking it another adventure all its own.

In total it took us six days to research, stake and file for a mining claim. We asked the clerk’s office staff whether they saw a bump in claims since Feb. 2 and they gave no indication there was any activity beyond normal. The LR2000 software can take weeks to update, in addition to the 30 days notice allowed between the date of staking and filing a claim. Therefore, it is yet to be seen whether there was any increase in recent mining claim activities. We did, however, connect with an NBC Left Field reporter, Ali Withers, who came to the area to test the same concept. She completed the process and her approval is still pending. The Salt Lake City BLM office did send us the stamped paperwork for our officially accepted claim dated Feb. 7, along with 36 pages of reference materials—an A+ in the lengthy test of successfully staking a mining claim.

So what was the point?

This is a question Michael and I wrestled with throughout the experience and still do to this day. Our research early on quickly made us aware of just how insignificant our actions would likely be in terms of preserving land. At best, if we executed all procedures to a T (check), paid our fees (check), made a valid and successful discovery of a valuable hard mineral, and maintained and improved our 20 acres, we could potentially prevent someone else from actually mining directly within our plot. Is this a valid way to protect critical areas left out of the new Bears Ears and Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monuments from mining? It certainly is not a very efficient nor an affordable one. Although we plan to maintain and improve the plot at least for the year we are contracted to do so for our claim, it remains to be seen how challenging it will be to hold on to it for that length of time. After all, someone could make a discovery of a valuable mineral and “claim jump” us.

Ultimately, I found that staking your claim isn’t about hammering posts into the ground. It’s about exploring our public lands, learning as much as you can about them and why they need to be protected.


*Author’s note: Although the specific statements about our experience in Bears Ears cannot be directly applied to land no longer protected within Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument—which for instance is being scouted for coal mining versus uranium—we learned that the processes of staking a claim and outcomes as a preservation tactic are very much the same.

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