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Welcome Bears Ears National Monument!

Sunday, February 5th, 2017

President Obama used the Antiquities Act to designate Bears Ears National Monument on December 28, 2016. The greater Bears Ears region and national monument includes Cedar Mesa, Comb Ridge, Valley of the Gods, Elk Ridge, Beef Basin, Indian Creek and Lockhart Basin, among others.

map of bears ears national monument

Credit: Stephanie Smith, Grand Canyon Trust

In large part, the designation of this monument was due to the arduous work of Utah Diné Bikéyah, a collective of five Native American tribes, who all hold parts of the new monument sacred. Bears Ears is the first truly Native American national monument, and these tribes’ collective heritage will now be protected for generations to come.

photograph of intact native american ruin in bears ears national monument

On a personal note, having grown up in the Four Corners region of the southwestern United States, many of my early backpacking trips were on Cedar Mesa and Grand Gulch. I can still remember discovering just a few of the hundreds of Ancestral Puebloan ruins and rock art in this area; these are some of my favorite memories of time spent in the outdoors. Today, whenever I visit my parents, who still live in northwestern New Mexico, the Bears Ears buttes are a landmark that I see to tell me I’m home. I’m very grateful to Utah Diné Bikéyah and others whose hard work made this monument possible. I’ve blogged many times on Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa (see posts here, here, and here, for instance).

photograph of clouds and rocks in valley of the gods utah

To celebrate the designation of Bears Ears, I’ve put together a collection of my images from the monument in one place. Hopefully I’ll be able to visit soon and add more.

Although I’ve published this gallery on social media, I have been a little bit slow in getting it to my blog. Since the monument was designated, it’s come under heavy fire (see links here and here for details). This criticism as a “land grab,” has come primarily from Utah Republican lawmakers who are also key leaders in the land transfer movement (see my blog post here for details). So, ironically, although Bears Ears has protection, it now needs your support more than ever. Please consider a donation directly to Utah Diné Bikéyah or the Grand Canyon Trust to help them combat efforts to reverse the monument designation, and contact your lawmakers to voice your opposition to it.

A wonderful notion

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

Have you ever noticed how our opinion of whether we own something affects how we act toward that object?

I ran across a study (read the PDF) in the journal Developmental Psychology this week that has some interesting findings on how our sense of ownership develops. The researchers found children–as young as three years old–feel that although man-made objects are owned (like a stuffed animal), naturally occurring objects (like a rock or pinecone) are not.

The management and use of our public lands seems to be an endless debate (e.g. this link), not only within Congress, but in many other arenas as well.  Although their name–public lands–would lead us to believe the collective people have a say in these matters, experience suggests this might not always be the case.  While to some extent, we’ve all outgrown this notion that the natural world isn’t “owned,” perhaps the world would be a better place, and we would be better stewards for the the land, if we thought like a toddler from time to time.

Early morning light on Boulder Mountain near Torrey, Utah

In Memoriam

Monday, May 16th, 2011

This weekend, a friend and I made a last minute trip out to Joshua Tree National Park to search for photography opportunities.  After doing a short hike, we drove into the main park entrance about 5:30pm.  Although the temperature was starting to drop, the asphalt was still warm; it didn’t take long before we discovered this freshly road killed Speckled Rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchllii pyrrhus).  Its a species I’ve always wanted to photograph–just not like this.

Speckled Rattlesnake in Joshua Tree National Park, California

In Memoriam, May 2011

Its always somber to see road killed reptiles, but this was just the beginning.  Not five minutes later, we pulled a very badly injured (fatally, I’m sure) coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum) off the road, and over the course of the evening, we found a gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer), and a red diamond rattlesnake (Crotalus ruber) that had been killed earlier in the day.  It was carnage–easy to see why–with cars whizzing by us at 50-60 mph (25-35 mph over the posted speed limit).

Accidents happen, especially with fast-moving snakes like gopher snakes or coachwhips–they can jump out in front of a driver, with no hope of being avoided.  But, as my friend pointed out, there is no excuse for killing a rattlesnake in a park where the speed limit is 25 or 35 miles per hour.  They’re visible animals, and when following the speed limit, they can be avoided, largely because they are slow-moving.

April and May is peak camping season in Joshua Tree–the campgrounds are full, and people are everywhere.  Right now, that time of day is suicide for a basking snake.

To make it worse, the red diamond rattlesnake we found later in the evening was missing its rattle.  I hate to think about someone hitting the animal purposely to take the rattle (although I know of people who have done just that)–its a despicable act.  Even if a later driver stopped to take it, I wouldn’t want to be that person if a park ranger came down the road!

I know I sound like a real square with this post, urging people to stick to the posted speed limit, but after what we witnessed this weekend in Joshua Tree, its obvious that slowing down could really help to save some beautiful wildlife from needless deaths.

i Love Mountains

Monday, February 14th, 2011

In his 2005 essay My Conversation with Gurney Norman, Wendell Berry wrote:

On the mountain above Hardburley we stood and looked at the first working strip mine I ever saw.  It had never occurred to me that people could destroy land with an indifference that perfectly matched the capability of their technology.  The big machines were following the seam of coal around the mountain, leaving a high vertical wall like an open sore on one side and on the other the “overburden” of earth and rock thrown regardlessly down upon the forest and streams below.

This past weekend, and into today–Valentine’s Day–a small group of Kentuckians, including Wendell Berry, are sleeping at the Governor’s office of that state to protest the practice of mountaintop coal mining (which is different in practice, but not destruction, from the strip mining Berry describes above; link here).  Their protest leads up to “i Love Mountains” Day, which is meant to bring awareness to this practice.

Earlier yesterday evening I was trying to come up with a post to help commemorate Valentine’s Day.  Despite my better efforts, inspiration did not come (not for lack of material, mind you).  As I read about i Love Mountains Day, inspiration struck: I have a Valentine’s Day post!  So, what does mountaintop coal mining in the Appalachian Mountains have to do with me, and what could it possibly have to do with Valentine’s Day?

You see, even here in southern California, some of my electricity is supplied by coal that was mined in this fashion.  I bet some of yours is too (click here to find out).  When I was in Wyoming in December, I was able to see first-hand some areas of strip mining taking place near the town of Gillette; Berry’s description of the process is fitting.  All of this serves as a perfect reminder of how we are all interconnected, sometimes in the most nonintuitive of ways.  Often, this interconnectedness is pushed to the back of our minds, whether by accident, or for convenience’s sake.

I’m somewhat hesitant to post this as a one-sided, know-it-all, environmental rant for a couple of reasons.  First, I can’t claim to be an expert on any type of coal mining, and although it hurts my heart to think about the earth being destroyed in such a way, I’m also a hypocrite.  I happily use the electricity generated from that coal (I’m using it to write this blog post right now).  Should I (we?) look for alternative sources of energy for our homes or communities?  Absolutely.  Again, that’s one of those things that often gets neatly swept under the rug when we’re too busy to deal with it.

Second, many of the people mining in Kentucky and elsewhere probably have a connection to the land rooted in many generations who have done just what they’re doing now.  If, in fact, this practice is stopped, someone (many someones probably) is going to face the challenge of feeding his family.  Is that a reason to continue with the status quo, with no opportunity or effort to find an alternative?  Of course not.  But it illustrates how few, if any, environmental issues are one-sided; they’re often multifaceted with no clear-cut solution.

Although I don’t have a solution, or even a suggestion for one, two points are clear to me.  The first is that every action we take has far-reaching effects, often beyond our awareness.  The second is that if we’re going to sustain of a quality of life for our future generations we absolutely must be cognizant of the ramifications of our actions.

Happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours.  Despite my doom and gloom today, there’s much to be happy about!  Make sure you tell your favorite mountain you love it today.

Tuolumne Meadows, with many of the major peaks in Yosemite National Park

Tuolumne Meadows, August 2009