I sat in the dingy Monticello bowling alley, neon lights shining down on me as I ate a slice of greasy pizza that was no match for the sweat dripping down my face. I took a deep breath, tilted back my black felt hat and signed my name across the dotted line ignoring fear of commitment, the unknown, political version, misdirection, solitude. I’m writing a book. At first the thought processed only in my head, reminding me that I actually needed to get to work. I dashed to the bathroom–my last chance in civilization preceding my next round of holing up in the primitive world of Bears Ears National Monument–I looked in the mirror and said aloud, “I’m writing a book!” I skipped out of the gas station with my backpack on and high stepped my filthy moccasin boots into the dirt yellow colored Jeep. It was time to go home and work.
At 2 pm I reached the canyon trail head–not the ideal time to start a backpacking trip in Grand Gulch, let alone my crazed attempt to run the route and get back to the Jeep before dark. But this was my story, my guidebook, my rules. I pulled my food bin from the trunk, unrolled a flour tortilla, popped a can of black beans and smothered it in ketchup. For insurance purposes I twisted open a can of pickles, the sweet kind, ate a few from the jar and took a shot of the juice. No cramps for me in this desert heat.
I bopped down the trail as four backpackers–the only people I would see all day–trudged back to their car in disbelief. Maybe it was the running or the late start? But if I told them I was writing magazine stories, a book, training for the Mountain Running National Championships and living out of my Jeep on public lands they would not believe me anyways. I smiled at the strangeness of the confluence of such a wild life finding such a feral creature like me and tuned my eyes to focus mode–there were turns to make, ruins to spot, plants to identify, photos to take and mileage to get in.
Despite my life’s goal being to write books, taking on a guidebook to the Best Hikes in Bears Ears National Monument was not the first large scale project that I envisioned. Not only does the task include large volumes of writing (the easiest part for me), but requires providing pristinely accurate directions, taking hundreds of beautiful photos in the field and MAKING THE FREAKING MAPS. The latter terrified me most but also sold me on the project–I’m finally becoming a real explorer.
The book also came with much trepidation in many arenas. It is a HUGE responsibility. It is controversial. It is a massive area (1.35 million acres). It is sacred. My initial thoughts were uncharacteristically insecure–everyone hates the people that write guidebooks. It is looked upon in some circles of wilderness dwellers and seekers as not just giving away, but selling, the treasure map. I wrestled with this nightmarish belief for a month. It was not until I talked to my friend and archaeologist RE Burrillo (who admittedly is not a HUGE fan of guidebooks), that to protect the historical, cultural and natural resources of such a delicate area the public must be directed properly. And for the Monument to stand on its own legs visitors must be able to experience and explore it safely. Lastly, someone is going to write books like this anyways–if I do it I have the opportunity to do it sustainably and consult the researchers and tribal council members to ensure that it is completed in such a way that shares the beauty of Bears Ears with the world in a way that protects what is sacred and conserves the area for generations to come.
Fortunately thoughts like this rarely last in my head and the contract was signed. Spend enough time in solitude crawling around the desert and you become deeply in tune with the self deep inside your soul that is not influenced by the outside human world (but never write off the moon, oh the moon will speak, sing, shake and stir your soul endlessly). By the end of May half a dozen of the 20+ routes I need to put together were completed. These routes all coincided with my unorthodox training for the US Mountain Running Championships (I placed 14th), completing a story and photos for Trail Runner Magazine (September Public Lands issue is out now), various photo assignments and finally seeing my story for REI, focused on my personal healing process associated with the cultural rituals of the tribes fighting to protect this area, go to press.
The book, being published through Mountaineer Books for the Colorado Mountain Club, is available for pre-order now. It gives me tremendous pride knowing that this book will provide knowledge and access for the public to experience such a beautiful place that is not the most intuitive. At over 1.35 million acres Bears Ears is primitive (no amenities, no cell service, no marked/signed routes), but it IS worth a visit. Whether traveling to this National Monument is on your road trip hit list or not, it is my hope that this book is a joy for anyone looking for a glimpse into one of this country’s crown jewels. From deep, narrow and winding canyons, red rock cliff dwellings, ancient rock art, 11,000 foot mountains, world-class crack and desert tower climbing, micro-climates and panoramic vistas of the four corners region Bears Ears encapsulates that magic of the Southwest unlike anywhere else in the world.
My most daunting tasks forging routes, taking photos, getting my mapping on and researching the history and ecology are ahead of me. The manuscript is due as soon as possible (again, this is not your average book deal–this IS an adventure) in order to make a release date in very early 2018. The weather right now is total shit in the canyons (hot as hell, flash flooding, biting flies), giving me a narrow window during the peak fall season to complete the project. I am thrilled to share this journey with my fellow readers, explorers, defenders of wild spaces, runners, hikers, wanders and the ancient ones who clearly still dwell among the majesty of Bears Ears, the Changing Bear Maiden. I am humbled and grateful to be given the opportunity to use my voice and vision to share and protect it.