The Running Bum

Running Wild With Words

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Today is Grand Staircase-Escalante’s 23rd anniversary. While those first two decades as a monument were far from perfect, they really set the standard in the U.S. for protecting an entire landscape for it’s biodiversity, cultural heritage, and scientific/archaeological research. And yet, rather than celebrate what should be a bipartisan victory in preserving one of the U.S.’s  most precious landscapes, we have a mere 5 more days to write a protest letter top the BLM. 5 more days to let them know that their new management plan (E) is unacceptable. 5 days to let them know that we the people do not want to undo the time, work, and money invested in protecting the Grand Staircase. 5 days to remind them that the decision to reduce the monument by 1 million acres was illegal in the first plan–voiding this plan also illegal.

The situation is not hopeless however. Just this week the BLM’s decision to begin chaining large swaths of Piñon/Juniper Forests (and with it habitat for wildlife and endemic plants) was overturned. Full DOI report here.

The point is–our voices matter. Speaking up for public lands is a major part of what makes them public.

Below I’ve outlined how you can write a protest letter–perhaps think of it as a 23rd Birthday card. The format isn’t easy but this should decode the tricky parts.

Here is a link to the Management Plan–reference Chapter 3 as well as the individual sections you are protesting: https://eplanning.blm.gov/epl-front-office/projects/lup/94706/20001993/250002378/02_GSENM-KEPA_Proposed_RMPs-Final_EIS_Volume1.pdf

Here is the link to the actual protest form. Once you start you only have an hour to finish before it times out. Tip: Write out your protest in a word doc, then copy and paste into the form. https://eplanning.blm.gov/epl-front-office/eplanning/comments/commentSubmission.do?commentPeriodId=8000202

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If that level of detail is not your thing, you can still leave a comment through Monuments For All here: https://monumentsforall.org/grand-staircase-escalante-national-monument/?fbclid=IwAR171HHiAKwShJ4v23Gvc_Y9J3ZNovWljvftiFlw86fTfLrgL6lNX6ibP7I

And if you’re curious, here is an excellent interactive map that shows just how much has been removed from the monument: https://www.sltrib.com/news/2017/12/09/what-will-the-reduction-of-grand-staircase-escalante-national-monument-mean-for-popular-hiking-trails-and-sites/

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In that desert climate the dozer and jeep tracks will not soon melt back into the earth, but the country has a way of making the scars insignificant. It is a lovely and terrible wilderness, harshly and beautifully colored, broken and worn until its bones are exposed, its great sky without a smudge of taint from Technocracy, and in hidden corners and pockets under its cliffs the sudden poetry of springs. Save a piece of country like that intact, and it does not matter in the slightest that only a few people every year will go into it. That is precisely its value. Roads would be a desecration, crowds would ruin it. But those who haven’t the strength or youth to go into it and live can simply sit and look. And if they can’t even get to the places on the Aquarius Plateau where the present roads will carry them, they can simply contemplate the idea, take pleasure in the fact that such a timeless and uncontrolled part of earth is still there.

These are some of the things wilderness can do for us. That is the reason we need to put into effect, for its preservation,  some other principle that the principles of exploitation or “usefulness” or even recreation. We simply need that wild  country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.

–Wallace Stegner

This story is originally published by The Gear Junkie.

Run away from the beach to experience the real islands of Tahiti. Off the beach, here are three adventures in Tahiti.

I claw my way through thickening jungle, following my guide who leads by hacking away with a machete.Vines, trees, and bursts of tropical flora larger than my face dim the harsh sunlight. I pull my body up enormous fallen logs and then slide down the slippery, moss-laden trunks to the muddy earth.

Turtle petroglyph Tahiti

Despite hiking away from the ocean, I almost feel like I’m swimming in the sea. Sweat drips down my face and drenches my clothes. A cool freshwater stream crossing provides the only respite from this intensity. Finally, our efforts pay off at an unassuming volcanic black boulder spackled in bright-green moss and adorned with two ancient turtle petroglyphs.

Most people travel to the islands of Tahiti to relax on the beach or to surf perfect reef-breaking waves. But Tahiti offers adventurous challenges for hikers, trail runners, and explorers.

Once off the white sand beaches, the real French Polynesia reveals itself. There are inland adventures, races, and explorations, from muddy singletrack ascending the mountains on the island of Moorea to the coastal shoreline on the roadless section of Teahupoo. And they pair nicely with the luxury of recovering beachside.

Tahiti Off the Beach: Te Pari (Tahiti)

Only one road wraps around the island of Tahiti while another bisects the island. Despite the robust population and urban vibe in the capital city of Papeete, a section of the island remains unpaved. It’s only accessible by boat or foot. The hike to Te Pari (where the mountains meet the sea) is a breathtaking way to experience the wild side of Tahiti.

Adventurers typically take the 20km route as a 2-day backpacking trip. But you can — and I did — attempt it in one if you’re swift and crunched for time.

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Be sure to hire a local guide. They are essential to managing the logistics (car dropoff and boat pickup), helping you stay on the unmarked route, timing the hike with the tides, and ensuring safe passage through private properties (complete with dogs defending their turf). I went with a guide from Terainui Tours.

During Te Pari, you will encounter the diverse facets of Tahiti’s landscape. Wear shoes that can get wet and drain well, as this route oscillates between shorelines of broken coral. You’ll hike directly in the ocean and across the rivers flowing into the sea.

You also need high-performance traction to crawl up steep, slippery embankments in the jungle and to traverse narrow volcanic ledges — even though your guide may wear plastic jelly sandals (mine did!).

The route also includes fixed ropes, via ferratas, and sections that should have ropes and VF’s but don’t! Experience and confidence on class 4 terrain are ideal. Afterward, enjoy a quick boat ride past Tahiti’s infamous barrel Teahupo’o.

Race: Xterra Trail 45K and 13K (Moorea)

The Xterra Trail Tahiti race is considered a stepping stone to the Xterra World Championships, held annually in Maui. French Polynesia may not be known for its trail running, but its runners are fiercely competitive.

Racing within the slippery, narrow jungle trails felt like a roller derby match, with runners pushing their way around one another to move up in rank. The 45K and 13K races are held in June on the nearby island of Moorea (a 30-minute ferry away for only $15).

Both races will challenge you as you race through pineapple plantations before ascend high into the mountains for views above the coast. The 45K circumnavigates Mont Rotui and tours the center of the island with about 25,590 feet (7,800 m) of elevation gain. Meanwhile, the abbreviated 13K course still climbs over 2,000 feet.

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Best of all, the event boasts world-class hospitality with a pre-race pasta feed, post-race lunch, and an after-party with traditional dancing, food, and awards on the beach.

Post-race, consider using your rest day to help save the coral reefs that make these islands spectacular. Coral Gardeners educates visitors about the dire effects of dying coral reefs, then takes them out in the water to snorkel and experience firsthand a method to help replant and restore them. You’ll even get to adopt and plant your own piece of coral.

Explore: Taputapuātea Marae UNESCO World Heritage Site (Ra’iātea)

Designated in 2017, Taputapuātea Marae is French Polynesia’s first UNESCO World Heritage site. It sits on the sacred island of Ra’iātea, which many consider the heart of the Polynesian Triangle.

A complex of ceremonial and funerary sites sits along the coral reef shoreline, flanked by forested valleys. In Polynesian culture, maraes are sacred places where the world of the living intersects with the worlds of the ancestors and the gods.

These square courtyards — made of volcanic stone and featuring rectangular alters with lines of larger stones as well as adornments ranging from petroglyphs to shells and flowers — were also used as political meeting grounds.

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On an overcast and rainy 75-degree afternoon, part of French Polynesia’s winter, I ventured the few kilometers away from the resorts of Raiatea — a charming set of tucked-away bungalows that vastly contrast with the mega-resorts of the larger islands — to visit this piece of French Polynesian heritage.

It’s possible to walk around and explore this site without a guide. But hiring one is extremely helpful if you actually want to learn about the rich history of this ceremonial spot. My guide from French Polynesian Escapes, Tahiarii, answered just about any question I could think of — from anthropology to politics, endemic plants, food, economics, and culture.

In between glimpses at each marae, he led the way while playing a homemade flute. He shared his local insights into the progression of this spiritual epicenter becoming a UNESCO site. (This reminded me of similar conflicting views surrounding American sacred spaces like Bears Ears National Monument.)

Best of all, the view from Taputapuātea Marae is as spectacular as any of the island’s beaches and offers a greater understanding of life from past to present on these beautiful ocean-bound mountains.

The islands of Tahiti are small and close together, making travel to and from activities efficient and convenient. You can string together multiple “inland” excursions in one week and still have time for that beachside mai tai at sunset.

The new Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument plans came out today and I only have one thing to say:

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No, I’m not surprised, my emotions are simply solidified. Disappointment in the face of love hurts the most.

In the heat of passion, I decided to write another guidebook, this time to this endangered place, Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument. Despite its 20 years of protection, its 1.9 million acres were reduced by nearly half last year. The project is a labor of love that pays only enough for the gas to get out here and requires huge portions of my time, work, and physical presence. All in hopes of what? To save this place? Impossible. Is my foolish heart taking me down the same rocky path I’ve experienced in relationships? People don’t change. But what about places and public lands policies? Outlandish (Becoming Desert)

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Despite this painful realities, I’m optimistic that the lawsuits will prove that the U.S. government actions are illegal, it’s frightening to see that this is where we stand with our most precious landscapes. That resource extraction overrides studying resources we still don’t fully understand in a landscape that was set aside as an outdoor laboratory. 30 new species of dinosaurs have been unearthed here, archaeological sites continue to help connect our understanding of the land’s indigenous past (and present), it contains the most floristic biodiversity in the inter-mountain west, and the geology reveals 270 million years of the earth’s development. Over 2,600 different fauna species call the Grand Staircase home with 648 species of bees, 200 bird species, and the endangered California Condor.

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As the Amazon is set ablaze to clear room for grazing (over 70,000 fires), so too are our largest swaths of protected wild lands being illegally set aside for short sighted unsustainable industries like oil, gas, minerals, and grazing. These aren’t sensationalized threats, this is the world we are living in right now.

Case in point: “Alternative E (the plan selected) emphasizes resource uses and reduces constraints while ensuring the proper care and management of monument objects.”

How does eliminating 50% of the monument (close to 1 million acres) and opening that for resource development, while simultaneously loosening the reigns of regulation for these industries in what remains of the monument “ensure proper care”? It doesn’t.

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Map via SUWA

Much of the information that is happening in Grand Staircase-Escalante parallels what is happening in Bears Ears and on U.S. public lands all over the west. Read Step Up For Bears Ears for the full detailed guide to navigating what is happening. Below are some new updates that are relevant to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

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New GSENM Management Plan:

Here is a link to the BLM’s summary of the new management plan: https://eplanning.blm.gov/epl-front-office/projects/lup/94706/20001992/250002377/01_GSENM-KEPA_Proposed_RMPs-Final_EIS_Executive_Summary.pdf

BLM Press Release: https://eplanning.blm.gov/epl-front-office/projects/lup/94706/20002173/250002595/BLM_GSENM_KEPA_Proposed_RMPs_FEIS_News_Release_082319.pdf

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Official statements about the new plan from group’s invested in the lawsuit and monument protection: https://monumentsforall.org/groups-respond-to-management-plans-that-threaten-grand-staircase-escalante-and-future-of-all-national-monuments/

Highlights:

Nicole Croft, Executive Director, Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners

“The BLM’s management plan attempts to cement the largest roll-back in public lands protections in American history. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has demonstrated its worth time and time again, through contributions to science, personal discovery and significant economic benefits to our local communities. These lands belong to every American, not just a few special interests.”

David Polly, Immediate Past President, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology

“If something’s not broke, you shouldn’t try to fix it.  Grand Staircase-Escalante has been one of the most productive areas for paleontology in the last quarter century. The Monument has been a spectacular success in providing scientific value to the entire world. These new management plans are unnecessary and have already cost taxpayers more than $1 million, a fortune that could have produced thousands of more finds.”

William H. Doelle, President and CEO, Archaeology Southwest

“There is no question that Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was legitimately established through the authority granted by the Antiquities Act of 1906. There is no question that this magnificent landscape is also a cultural one, bearing unparalleled evidence of people’s lives over millennia. What this deeply flawed plan reveals, like the recently released Bears Ears plan, is a troubling question—do national monuments even mean anything anymore? We believe they do, and we stand with our partners in pushing for proper and lawful protections for Grand Staircase-Escalante and all our national monuments.”

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Geography Of Hope

The beacon to save what Wallace Stegner called the geography of hope, are the groups fighting the legal battle tirelessly while simultaneously protecting Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears with boots on the ground. You can help my becoming a member, volunteering, or donating what you can.

Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners, Grand Canyon Trust, Wilderness Society, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Access Fund, National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth GuardiansCenter for Biological Diversity, The Natural Resources Defense Council, Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, Friends Of Cedar Mesa.

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Protest Period

A 30-day protest period, which will be open from August 23 to September 23, 2019. To submit a protest electronically, click the “Documents & Reports” at the left side of this webpage.  Locate and click the “Submit Protest” button to the right of “Volume 1: Chapter 1-4 of GSENM-KEPA Proposed RMPs/Final EIS” document.

  1. Protests can be sent electronically via this website – follow the highlighted instructions for submitting an electronic protest.
  2. To submit a protest in writing:
Protests MUST be submitted or postmarked by September 23, 2019
mail to one of the following addresses:
U.S. Postal Service Mail:                               Overnight Delivery:
BLM Director (210)                                         BLM Director (210)
Attention: Protest Coordinator, WO-210        Attention: Protest Coordinator, WO-210
P.O. Box 71383                                             20 M Street SE, Room 2134LM
Washington, D.C. 20024-1383                      Washington, D.C. 20003

A note about public comments: The Grand Canyon Trust explained to me that responding with a public protest comment is only effective if you have participated in other public comment periods for Bears Ears and Grand-Staircase-Escalante. This is because you must reference your previous comments, refer to the issues you pointed out, and specifically discuss how the new management plan does not address these areas of concern. In addition, too many comments, especially those not carefully researched and thought out, risks inundating the BLM with protest comments that distract from those sent by lawyers defending GSENM in the courts. So if you do comment, please keep this in mind and be extremely specific with your references and how the new management plans do not adequately address specific concrete concerns for Grand Staircase-Escalante.

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Gone Guidebooking

After spending the last year focused on learning about the history, research, landscape, indigenous groups, and resource interests in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument this direction is unsurprising but no less heart breaking. Our goal in writing The Best Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Hikes was to help hikers and visitors understand these realities when they go to experience such a precious region. The book is not intended to be a money maker (it’s already discounted AF on Amazon), it’s an educational tool that I hope can help add value and understanding about your public lands, that others may see that our wide open wild spaces are endangered and not to be taken for granted. If someone actually reads the book, goes on some hikes in Grand Staircase-Escalante and takes action (via voting, writing letters, volunteering, wilderness tithing, etc) we will have done our job.

The book is on track for release this fall and you can pre-order here: https://www.amazon.com/Grand-Staircase-Escalante-National-Monument-Hikes/dp/1937052710.

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Why wilderness? Why Grand Staircase-Escalante? Wallace Stegner says it best:

“In that desert climate the dozer and jeep tracks will not soon melt back into the earth, but the country has a way of making the scars insignificant. It is a lovely and terrible wilderness, harshly and beautifully colored, broken and worn until its bones are exposed, its great sky without a smudge of taint from Technocracy, and in hidden corners and pockets under its cliffs the sudden poetry of springs. Save a piece of country like that intact, and it does not matter in the slightest that only a few people every year will go into it. That is precisely its value. Roads would be a desecration, crowds would ruin it. But those who haven’t the strength or youth to go into it and live can simply sit and look. And if they can’t even get to the places on the Aquarius Plateau where the present roads will carry them, they can simply contemplate the idea, take pleasure in the fact that such a timeless and uncontrolled part of earth is still there.

These are some of the things wilderness can do for us. That is the reason we need to put into effect, for its preservation,  some other principle that the principles of exploitation or “usefulness” or even recreation. We simply need that wild  country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.”

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By Morgan Sjogren in The Gulch Issue 9

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Cruising down the long lonely highways of the Colorado Plateau there are often more billboards than cars, demanding the attention of a captive audience while blocking the view of the surrounding sandstone canyons, cliffs and spires. The scene always makes me wish I could call up Doc Sarvis, a fictional crusader in Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang, for some “night-riding on a routine neighborhood beautification project, burning billboards along the highway.”

Amidst the mostly appetite and spirit depressing chain fast food signs there are attempts to make cultural connections, like the Burger King WW II Code Talkers Exhibit in Kayenta. However, my travel weary eyes are rejuvenated each time I spot a burgeoning collection of colorful road art with vigilant warnings about an invisible serial killer.

 “Radioactive Pollution Kills. It’s time to clean up the mines.”

 The protester, a bright yellow billboard, never tires of standing tall with its message held high. Located off HWY 89 between Flagstaff and Page, it is strategically adjacent to artwork created by local physician and artist Jetsonorama (Chip Thomas), whose art can be spotted on billboards and buildings across the Navajo Nation. “While many people may be aware of the invaluable contribution of Diné Code Talkers during World War II, few are cognizant of the contribution of Diné uranium miners towards the end of WWII and during the Cold War,” Chip explains. “Anglos first discovered uranium on the reservation in 1943. Diné miners worked over 500 mines on the reservation until uranium prices dropped in the mid 1980s.”

The Colorado Plateau has a dirty past and a deadly secret. There are over 500 abandoned, defunct, and unsealed toxic Uranium mines that have never been cleaned up on the Navajo Nation. During the Cold War 5 million pounds of “yellowcake”, that is, 90% of nuclear materials were drawn from Diné land, making the U.S. the leading provider of this radioactive material by 1956. According to Chip, “In the 15 years after the uranium boom the cancer death rate among the Diné doubled from the early 1970s to the late 1990s. During this period the overall U.S. cancer death rate declined.”

The same beautiful natural features that attract our admiration also stand above high concentrations of Uranium. Today public land boundaries continue to be drawn around sources of Uranium for potential extraction and processing despite the fact that it is currently not even profitable to mine this yellow poison. It is no secret why the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument were redrawn. In 2018 I staked a mining claim in the areas removed from the Monument, hoping it could serve as a conservation tactic to block actual Uranium mining. However, in digging beneath the surface with my own hands into the world of this toxic mineral, I learned that future undeveloped mines are only a fraction of the problem.

The Canyon Mine near the Hopi Reservation and only 12 miles from the Grand Canyon South Rim continues to pump contaminated water despite not producing any ore in decades. White Mill Mesa, owned by Energy Fuels, is the only operating conventional Uranium processing mill in the U.S. It’s only 3 miles from the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation, 20 miles from Bears Ears and the towns of Bluff, Blanding, and Monticello, where nearby groundwater is affected. With a half-life of 4.5 billion years, even closed mines will continue to pollute surrounding water sources, affecting the 40 million people who depend on water from the lower Colorado River basin. There are no protective barriers in place to defend nearby residents and there are no signs warning visitors about these hazards.

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Arizona artist, Jerrel Singer, whose murals adorn water tanks and walls between Cameron and the Grand Canyon, explains, “The effects of Uranium mining are invisible. The government seems to think that a fence will solve its problems. My family are ‘Downwinders’ and have been affected by the nuclear testing they conducted in Nevada, which gave my once healthy dad deadly cancer. My art references this and showcases the beautiful land, but knowing that some of is still dangerous, I cannot go home to see my grandparents’ place, for the wind blows in that direction from the mines.”

As you drive through the desert, look closely: the “ugly highway” so described by the Monkey Wrenchers as they tossed beer cans out the car window, is transforming into a gallery of protest art. The corporate and government desecration of tribal and public lands is being recycled in a rebellious activation of the 1st Amendment. The highways through the Navajo Nation are evolving into perpetual exhibits of discontent calling motorists to action—to join the march.

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The Green Room, the latest piece by Chip, silently leads the charge. The square abandoned building glows neon green from within its outer walls plastered with an image of black and white sheep. Chip dubs the piece: “a place of meditation + contemplation.” He further elaborates about his inspiration for the piece: “As a physician at a small clinic on the Navajo nation since 1987, many of my patients have suffered and continue to suffer the effects of uranium mining. I asked a co-worker whose father worked as a uranium miner in the mid 60s and who died of a uranium- related cancer if she’d share with me any memorabilia she had of her father from that period. Her mother also died of a uranium-related cancer and she has an older brother presently suffering from a uranium related cancer.”

With the doorway wide open, The Green Room’s hypnotic neon glow set against the muted pink and brown striations of the Painted Desert tugs on your curiosity, and whispers across the road, “Come, find out.” And so on a recent drive to Flagstaff I pull over in front of a dilapidated and abandoned trading post, and crawl through the opening in the red wooden fence. The pause from the long drive to examine Chip’s bold and gritty artwork is meditative in its own right but my mind finds no stillness. Rather, it picks up speed. If each of the 500 abandoned uranium mines were marked with neon green biohazard billboards, would we all sheepishly keep driving?

The art will continue to speak for the families, land, and future so drastically impacted by uranium mining, but more voices are needed. To learn more about how you can take action, The Grand Canyon Trust is a tremendous resource for educational materials, volunteer opportunities, and signing petitions. Beyond speaking with our votes, we can also write letters to our elected officials and representatives urging them to support relevant legislation, like the Grand Canyon Protection Act that aims to halt mining in the Grand Canyon forever. Lastly, the BLM and Forest Service both include public input in their management plans. It is critical that public land owners (all of us) participate in this process, especially during planning periods, by writing letters and attending public meetings.

Morgan Sjogren runs wild with words and lives outside on the Colorado Plateau. Her Four Corners-inspired writing is focused on public lands, human-powered adventure and exploration. She’s authored three books: The Best Bears Ears National Monument Hikes, Outlandish: Fuel Your Epic, and The Best Grand Staircase National Monument Hikes (due for release in 2019).

Explore and find your way by joining Morgan Sjogren on her sun-soaked journey through the Southwest and the clear beaches from her dreams.

An original story for walmart.com: https://www.walmart.com/ideas/favorite-reads/my-walmart-parking-lot-american-dream/355820

Running in the desert

There is no hint of where I am in the darkness. Only trust as I creep towards a place to park for the night. Weary from months of ceaseless roaming and running big miles to explore and write about wild places in the west my eyes cannot resist closure as soon as I arrive. Presence is as much about turning in as absorbing what is outside. As I drift off to dreamland my last thoughts are a micro-jolt of anticipation about my location.

I crave the mystery of this anticipation. At first light I open my eyes to tropical waters dancing as the pink sunrise kisses the ripples as they drift back to the sea. The air is soothing and warm against my bare skin, it smells of sweet plumeria blooms. Where the hell am I?

Morgan sitting on the ground with a sunset

Beep! Beep! Beep! The sound of a delivery truck backing up wakes me from my tranquil dreaming. The sunlight sneaks around the Mexican Blanket covering the front windshield and pinches my eyelids open. I curse reality—I have to pee. Sitting up, head still ducked below the low hanging roof, I swing the door open and face the day.

It’s a Walmart parking lot. Again.

Camped out on public lands I usually hop barefoot into the dirt, squat and pee as I take in each new day’s beautiful view. Canyon walls washed aglow in orange light, sparkly snow dusted mountain tops, and gurgling rivers weaving around boulders.

And yet, this parking lot feels decidedly even more public and wild with the fluorescently lit isles swarming with eclectic and eccentric human creatures (myself least not removed from this strange herd). I grab my leather moccasin boots, and I walk through the lines of the parking lot to face the day.

I’m barely awake as I walk through the doors, pleasantly greeted by a kind woman with gray hair and smiling eyes. I fumble my way to the restroom and after I’m relieved beeline it to McDonald’s to grab a coffee. I hit the produce section and stock up with a rainbow of fruits and vegetables—in the southwest, Walmart is an oasis.

Morgan and her yellow Jeep in the desert

I take my bounty and coffee back to the parking lot where a few sips of liquid black jet fuel propel my memory to jog back to last night’s dream.

The turquoise waves on a white sandy beach called to me, and guided me to a boat anchored not too far from the coast. Unquestioning I walked toward the humble wooden boat, stepping my toes into the warm water first, then wading and then finally swimming before pulling myself aboard. There the calm waters immediately grew into immense swells. It surprised me but did not scare me. I knew what to do—I pulled up the anchor and drifted directly into the beautiful storm—knowing that each and every direction was my own. 

I quickly get back in the Jeep, turn over the ignition, drop the e-brake and depart from the parking lot. My destination is still unknown, but my path is clear. Hope is not actually waking up on a sandy tropical beach, it’s that every single day the sunrise can kiss your cheeks and open your eyes.

Public lands and parking lots like this are beacons of freedom—a place that anyone can choose to rest their weary body and soul to recharge in pursuit of living their life. These are the places where you can always feel at home in this world. Yes, in the middle of nowhere and even at a Walmart parking lot. This is the American dream.

Purchase Outlandish to fuel your next adventure!

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In these strange and scary times it’s more important than ever to read between the lines, understand our rights, and stand up to help protect threatened places and people.

When I started writing The Best Bears Ears National Monument Hikes I simply wanted to provide an informative and educational hiking guide so that visitors to Bears Ears National Monument could do so safely, with respect, and with an introduction to the public lands issues/current events affecting this incredible 1.35 million acre tract of land. As I fell more and more in love with Bears Ears it became impossible not to spend as much time researching and understanding the issues and policies affecting it, as my insatiable desire to spend intimate time in the canyons. To this day both seem impossible to ever digest, but I continue to move forward, like hiking slowly on a hot day to the next precious water source, in hopes that I’ll understand just a little bit more. In hopes that this knowledge can help someone else, or help me help this place just a little bit more.

The future of Bears Ears seemingly sits suspended in time since Trump’s 85% reduction in 2017, but monsoon clouds are emerging over the canyons once again. From the BLM move to Grand Junction, Colorado, the new Bears Ears Management Plan, and a proposed plan to dismantle NEPA there is a lot to be concerned about. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but like a hiking guide, I feel compelled to share what I have found along the way in hopes that it might spark something in you, for this place, that needs unbridled defenders rushing to the front lines like the wildfire sparked in Dark Canyon last month (photo above).

Bears Ears Management Plan

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The new Bears Ears Proposed Monument Management Plan was released on July 26. The full document is 800 pages long, but the Executive Summary is only 24 and worth a read. I think it is especially enlightening to point out how ever so slight the difference between Plan A (the current management plan) is to Plan E (the plan they are proceeding with). Plan D is the original proposed plan and E reflects alterations based on public comments and other factors (and with only minimal variation). As Archaeology Southwest explains, “Only Alternative B met the BLM and Forest Service’s legal responsibilities for national monuments.” To help digest this, take a look at the outline of inadequacies pointed out by Friends Of Cedar Mesa, Archaeology Southwest, and the Conservation Lands Foundation.

So now what? Understanding all of this and how you the public can get involved looks hazy, feels scattered, and is not streamlined. This article can’t change that, but I have compiled the responses, suggestions, and insights of several groups heavily invested in the future protection of Bears Ears. 

Public Protest Comments

The Grand Canyon Trust explained to me that responding with a public protest comment is only effective if you have participated in other public comment periods for Bears Ears. This is because you must reference your previous comments, refer to the issues you pointed out, and specifically discuss how the new management plan does not address these areas of concern.  In addition, too many comments, especially those not carefully researched and thought out, risks inundating the BLM with protest comments that distract from those sent by lawyers defending Bears Ears in the courts.

The BEARS Act

map_Bears_Ears_Proposal_8.5x11.jpgIf you haven’t sent comments during previous periods, there is another course of action they are suggesting for anyone concerned about Bears Ears–to comment and support the BEARS Act (which stands for Bears Ears Expansion and Respect for Sovereignty Act). If passed, the Bears Ears Act would adjust the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument to protect the full 1.9 million acres that the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition (@bearsearscoalition) originally proposed (see picture above via Grand Canyon Trust). You can submit a comment in support of the BEARS Act here.

Indigenous Past and Present Rights

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To understand the original designation and a major part of the ongoing push for a different management plan, it is important to understand that Bears Ears National Monument was the result of a historic unified effort of five tribes (Hopi TribeNavajo NationUte Mountain Ute Tribe Pueblo of Zuni, and Ute Indian Tribe plus 30 supporting tribes), uniting to protect this area that is culturally significant to each of them. Both the Inter-Tribal Coalition and Utah Diné Bikéyah websites offer excellent resources to understand this critical history and meaning of Bears Ears. With this in mind, note that the current management plan does not call for a cultural resource management plan until two years from now! Here is the Inter-Tribal Coalition’s official statement about the new management plan that puts this sacred landscape and cultural resources at significant risk.

Visit Bears Ears With Respect and Comment

In addition to Archaeology Southwest’s comprehensive list for ways to get involved, they include two of my favorite methods:

Yes, even this preservation archaeology focused publication encourages visiting Bears Ears with respect. It is important to experience a place like this to even begin to comprehend it and engage in this conversation. We also need people to physically go to these places, and especially sign in to the trailhead registers, to show the BLM and Forest Service that low-impact recreation is one of the multiple uses they should prioritize in these areas. If we don’t exercise this, literally, it is easier for them to justify another use method (like grazing or mining). Low-impact recreation ultimately causes the least harm on the landscape and cultural resources, while inspiring future stewards to pay it forward. If it’s impossible for you to get out to Bears Ears, get out to your nearest public lands and think about the context, of how much that place means to you, the eco-system it supports, and what your reaction would be if it’s protection was suddenly threatened, reduced, or eliminated!

Delayed Plans To Manage Recreation

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With Bears Ears ever-present in the news, it is inevitable that with it will come an increase in recreation. According to Access Fund, management plans for recreation will not be created for three years. This means more people visiting the remote places in Bears Ears, but with no new plan to accommodate this, ranging from educating the public about safety precautions and visiting with respect, to methods to protect cultural resources from impacts. Access Fund is one of the plaintiffs in the ongoing lawsuit that argues President Trump’s reduction of the monument was illegal. It’s also a prime example of how people falling in love with a place, in this case, rock climbers who frequent Indian Creek, can increase the desire to step up and do something for the bigger picture and larger landscape.

Bigger Picture: What moving the BLM out of Washington D.C. means for Bears Ears

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I met Stephen Trimble a few weeks ago in Salt lake City, ironically the same day the BLM announced their move from D.C. to Grand Junction, Colorado. Stephen is a fervent public lands defender, is on the board of the Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners, and devotes his life to writing about these special places. His latest Op-Ed for the LA Times explains the complicated BLM move and how it relates and resonates with the perils facing Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and the future of all public lands. All signs seem to point in the direction of transferring the land back to the states in an effort to streamline access for extractive industries. This article explains why this is bad for public lands.

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The Future of NEPA

Our ability to comment and weigh in on management plans, like this one for Bears Ears, is largely the result of NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act). The Forest Service (which also manages portions of Bears Ears in conjunction with the BLM) is proposing major changes to this policy the includes a 93% reduction in public comment periods. This will drastically reduce the American public’s direct input on how our public lands are managed. The Outdoor Alliance explains the impacts and details of this, as well as provides a place for you to share a comment about the future of public comments (and NEPA) with the Forest Service. If you have a fear of time commitment, this literally takes less than a minute. Even if you aren’t the type to write a lengthy public comment, defending the rights of your fellow American’s to do so is an important way you can help out!

Roadless Rule Rollback

If your head is spinning (mine is), take a break before reading about the Roadless Rule rollback (especially in Utah and Alaska). This Forest Service proposal puts sensitive habitats, plants and wildlife species in danger. High Country News breaks it down and also provides a handy form to facilitate a speedy method for you to comment on this, yet another threat, in the ongoing assault on the preservation of public lands.

Wilderness Tithing

Donate or become a member of the groups who are taking action in the lawsuits against the federal government and their unlawful reduction of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. Below is a quick (not comprehensive) list:

Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, Friends Of Cedar Mesa, Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners, Grand Canyon Trust, Wilderness Society, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Access Fund, National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians, and the Center for Biological Diversity, The Natural Resources Defense Council.

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Trail runner Sarah Lavender Smith is doing a personal fundraiser for the Conservation Lands Foundation, “the only nonprofit dedicated to protecting & enhancing the National Conservation Lands and national monuments managed by the BLM. Their watchdog role, and their support of the 70 community-based groups who do hands-on conservation work and advocacy for these threatened public lands, is needed more than ever as the current administration seeks to weaken protections and exploit the outdoors for short-term economic gain.” Sarah will run 170 miles unsupported through the Grand Staircase this fall to help raise awareness and money. Donate here for a chance to win a copy of Outlandish and other prizes.

Now what? 

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Photo via The Gulch Magazine

Digesting all of this is exhausting, let alone taking action. This is where it is best to offer “one final paragraph of advice” from the OG defender of wilderness himself, Edward Abbey:

“Do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast….a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here.”

Regardless of the lengths you go, any that you take on will make a difference in Bears Ears, public lands, and your fundamental rights as a citizen of the U.S. Personally, I’d like to thank you for reading this, for taking the time to learn a bit more about the policies and current events shaping our public lands and our future.

 

 

 

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Morgan Sjogren’s 2019 Book Tour and Event Dates

 

Have a venue or event you’d like me to attend? Contact kmannix@velopress.com