Ella Mighell: Rainbows of the Dirty Devil

ellaEight days into our sandal and sock slodge through the Dirty Devil, we left behind a campsite with an endangered Mexican Spotted Owl and fossilized Grallator tracks, headed for higher ground. Today we would be hiking on a road, in the middle of a Wilderness Study Area on BLM land in a canyon described as “extremely isolated.” As we hiked we stopped to observe purple blooming fishhook cacti, changing geological layers from the Paleozoic period, petrified wood, pictographs from the ancient Fremont, and a 2007 mining claim preserved in a PVC pipe. Standing on top of a Shinarump Formation terrace, the late morning sun was still on our backs as we faced the yellow, red and purple layered Chinle Formation. Below our feet were water-weathered stones from the ancestral Rockies. We were on “roadless” Wilderness Study Area (WSA) land, but were using an illegal mining road from the late 70s. My mind wandered to what this landscape would have looked like if large-scale mining had taken place in the uranium filled Chinle, Shinarump and Moenkopi Formations; would it even be open to the public, and what would these canyons have become if gas prices increased and uranium became more profitable?

I was finding that the Dirty Devil was a place of contrasting truths. At first it welcomed with its varnish stripped canyon walls and blooming desert primroses. Then it betrayed, the sun blistering my neck and quicksand engulfing me to my hips. Land management of the Dirty Devil is also bewildering in its conflicting and complex ways.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) contorts its management plans to fit several contrasting missions. Through a presentation and discussion with a BLM manager, I came to understand the muddied management practices, why I had never heard of the BLM before coming to Utah, and why there was a mining road in the middle of WSA land. This includes their complicated history of admittedly poor public communications and original agency formation from the 1946 forced marriage of the US Grazing Service and the General Land Office.

The BLM was created to manage public lands for grazing, mining, oil and gas. It wasn’t until 1976 with the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) that BLM management was expanded to include recreation and wilderness in their 270 million acres. The BLM multiple use management gets pretty contradictory when they are mandated to facilitate resource extraction, and also preserve the natural integrity of that land. Things get even more complicated when we include state sections. Basically the state of Utah is strongly incentivized to sell or swap school sections to extractive energy companies. Ironically, the state is also pushing their industrial tourism sector in neighboring areas. According to the manager we spoke with, BLM offices, while trying to base their management plans on science, are mostly driven by social values.

To throw some more sand in this Dirty Devil, local culture is often at odds with federal land control, but many ranchers have subsidized grazing leases on this public land. The BLM’s relationship with environmental groups is often just as polar. The state wants the BLM to give more access to the extractive agencies, while environmentalists think the BLM has given too much. Basically the BLM is at the center of a complex love triangle where one spouse supports the BLM while in litigation with the opposing love interest, and the other way around.

One of the main takeaways from speaking with the BLM manager was that people value public land for different reasons. My relationship with natural landscapes most likely looks very different than yours, but both views have equal value and salience. Public values are multidimensional, and as values change, so must management practices. The complex mission of the BLM’s multiple use management was created in a conflictive system where collaboration and compromises were not encouraged. Yet here I sit on a Shinarump Formation overlook, surrounded by orange canyon walls contrasting with the blue sky. This section of the Dirty Devil has been determined to have “designated wilderness characteristics” and is a Wilderness Study Area. Tomorrow we will hike out of the WSA, and although a fence does not mark the divide, the complex history of this landscape does.

Many Utahans support a mining future, finding hope in the extractive industries and continuing their culture of freedom and rebellion in the wild west. Others, from both in-state and out, hold a similarly strong love and hope for these wild lands, but expressed very differently through federal protection and land use limitations. I fall on the latter side of this divide, but I know that no issue in southeastern Utah is simply environmentalism versus extraction. However, I do question the standing of my opinions as a visitor on these publicly owned lands, without a tie to the local economic well-being of the area.  As I hike further down the Dirty Devil, black and white issues are further greying in complexity, or as Dave, one of our instructors says, it is simply rain-bowing.

Isa Caliandro: Reading Between the Lines

Horseshoe Canyon 3

Horseshoe Canyon. Photo by: Nick Littman. 

Looking up the fence the differences on either side were subtle at first, yet the closer I looked the more obvious they became. On the right there were grasses, hillsides unmarked by trails, and cottonwoods peeking around the corner. I could just see around the bend where sunshine was streaming through tall grasses. To the left there were shrubs, sagebrush, and terraced hills. The only trees were pinyon pines, their twisted lines a replica in plant form of those of the towering sandstone around me. On the right, bright greens; on the left sandy soils, together they represented a difference.

Our journey to this line began one prior. We had been following the curves, patterns, and streambeds of Horseshoe Canyon at a naturalists pace. Taking the time to inquire, examine, and take note of the nuances of the species magically thriving in this landscape. Hailing from the Northeast this new flora and fauna, coupled with the landscape was completely new. Each day, travelling deeper and deeper into the heart of the earth I was growing to love it more and more. Finding sand in my shoes at the end of a day of walking, and getting to explore alcoves tucked away in small side canyons I was beginning to find desert treasures. After a week I was beginning to be able to trace my hands along the softer desert plants and echo their names in my head. It was all beginning to come together, why certain plants had spines and grew on the higher up rocky soil, which animals were avoiding. I had learned how to follow and scout for cow paths so as to not disturb the fragile desert crust. These cow paths mark the driving force between the differences on each side of the fence: grazing.

In Horseshoe Canyon there are two ruling designations that have come to shape the landscape: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and The National Park Service. The BLM is an agency in the U.S. Department of Interior that has multi purposes.  Its roots are in grazing and land distribution. The BLM leases out land along the canyon to ranchers, which allows them to graze their cattle on the land. This is the land designation for the start of the canyon until about halfway down, at which time the land designation switches to the National Park Service, whose mission is recreation and preservation. They strive to survive and want everyone to be able to see the gems in the nooks and crannies of the great and vast American Landscape. These two approaches to land management ultimately determined the ecological composition of the landscape.

After the fence we followed a very different canyon. As Barrier Creek, the river that flows through Horseshoe Canyon and eventually into the Green River, grew to that of a trickle and the banks completely changed, we began to learn about a new kind of desert ecology. The grasses now grew above my head, dead leftover from last summer and fall; they swayed with the gentle cool breeze. Cottonwoods, previously a rare sighting, now filled the creek banks. They grew tall, sideways, and were full of leaves marking the warmer temperatures to come. They provided shade for the creek gathering strength, and a stunning contrast against the cornflower blue sky. A few days past the fence the canyon melody began to grow. The canyon wren threw its call down the canyon walls where it was met in patches of willows by the industrious hum of bees. Around each turn there was more and more life, and the song grew stronger. It felt as if the birds, especially the canyon wren, was ushering us deeper, and deeper, among the contours and sandy hues to a more magical place. The further we wandered from the cows, the further past that line and the deeper between the lines of sandstone the more deeply the canyon breathed and came to life, it was lush. This stark difference has really made an impression on me, yet more importantly a greater one on the landscape.

A naturalist, and fellow enthusiast, of the Colorado Plateau Thomas Fleischner has detailed the history of the area around Horseshoe Canyon in his book “Singing Stone.” He said, grazing was introduced to the United States by way of Mexico in 1540. Its spread, development, and regulation or lack there of has become deeply rooted within its own culture. Largely out of the public eye, grazing wasn’t a cause for concern until the Dust Bowl when over grazing contributed to the loss of topsoil. It was only in 1934 that the Taylor Grazing Act was passed, mandating government control over grazing. This led to the creation of the U.S. Grazing Services; that was eventually joined with the General Land Office to become the BLM. Then it wasn’t until the 1980’s when the livestock industry and grazing truly came into the public eye. I was surprised to find out Regan even included it in his campaigning in the west. It was only until a few days ago that this livestock issue really took stock in my life but I can safely say it has my attention.

I am by no means an expert on ranching, Utah, the West, or even Horseshoe Canyon. Yet, I do know that in the layers of sandstone, hidden alcoves, and the gentle sway of willows I find great joy. I know the ecosystem on the side of the fence where it lies protected, and un-trampled feels more vibrant. I know without munching, stomping, and tramping this vibrancy thrives and the canyon is just that much more wild. I feel that I can even go as far as to say, the grass is truly greener on the other side.

 

Anna Martone: The Sounds of Silence

Horseshoe Canyon

Photo By: Nick Littman 

HHEEELLOOO  HELLLOO hellloo hello………When you speak to the canyon, the canyon speaks back, echoing down through layers of Navajo sandstone. Now stop, stand still and listen. The silence will move over your body like chills in a brisk wind. Sounds can be deceiving in the Horseshoe Canyon, but if you listen closely, there may be more noise than you originally perceived.

As our WRFI group descends down one of the only accessible trails into the heart of the canyon, we become separate from the world above us. The steep canyon walls enclose us in a world unknown and mysterious, and my excitement starts to grow. As we stand in the wash, I am immediately taken by the absence of noise and stillness that permeates throughout the environment. No longer do I hear cars rushing down a highway, doors slamming shut, cash registers chiming with every purchase, or day-to-day, white noise sounds I have become so used to. It is quiet.

As days go on and we casually stroll down the 30-mile stretch that is Horseshoe Canyon, my perception of sound begins to change. I begin to notice more. I begin to question more. I begin to interpret the world around me and traits of a naturalist start emanating throughout my body. Horseshoe Canyon has opened its doors to show a diverse, captivating ecosystem that encapsulate sounds around every alcove. If you listen closely you might hear a canyon wren whistling above, a cottonwood swaying in the breeze, a whiptail lizard scurrying across slick rock, or a burrow off in the distance. But to the untrained ear, canyons can become silent escapes; drastically different from the world we left behind.

As days pass, my ears become accustomed to the deservingly quite desert and I begin to recognize the silence as much more. For me, the absence of sound speaks greater volumes than anything outside these red stained rocks. As I begin to get acquainted with the environment around me, I start to question and ponder what sounds have echoed loud through these rocks long before we ever found our way down. What sounds are no longer present here but have shaped the biological and physical aspects of this canyon?

Millions of millions of years ago heavy rivers cut deep through layers of sandstone to form what is now Horseshoe Canyon.  As I look up at the escarpment of rocks that have fallen from high above, I imagine the vibrations of sound made as boulders crash and tumble on to hard ground. Desert varnish paints the walls deeper red, showing evidence of what was once a larger sandstone rock.  As I peer up at the stone around me, I start envisioning that last moment when the crack in a rock becomes its own boulder, flying high through the sky ready to make a grand entrance into the wash of the canyon………. BOOOOOMMMM. Rocks scattered across our trail shouting as we cross over them.

Stepping over rocks that once made vibrations through the narrow wash of the canyon, I notice the absence of water. As we walk through what used to be a river, flowing deep within the walls, water is now barren. No longer do sounds of rushing water, splashing against mud rock surround the area. The wash runs dry, but the water has not left without leaving its mark. Through dips in smooth rocks, branches pushed up along the base of cottonwoods, steep banks and muddy shores, we can begin to find clues to where the last floods seeped through. Interesting how what has shaped these giant canyons walls, is now nowhere to be seen or heard. The water that once flowed through can now only be heard through ones imagination.

Evidence of life permeates through every corner, and my imagination runs wild. A dinosaur track prompts our group to embody what we think this animal sounded like, walked like, looked like. Different interpretations travel through our minds, questioning what the world was like 65 million years ago. What sounds encapsulated the area as this dinosaur moved through the land? Through pictographs and petroglyphs sprawled over alcove walls, chert found between layers of other rocks, footprints of animals not to far head of us, and old bones of different mammals, I begin to recognize it wasn’t always so quite down hear.

On the count of three open your ears-1, 2, 3………..What do you hear?

 

Natalie Stockman: Spirituality and Place

Natalie blog 2After spending a few hours unsuccessfully pushing Dolly, the WRFI van, off a sandy road as the sun set, we walked up the dirt road that rose to meet the mesa. Our host’s car headlights were shining on her willow branch topped hut. A large pot sat atop an open fire with aluminum foil maintaining the surprise of dinner. Everyone smiled, elated to be at our host’s farm.

We stayed with Dorothy on the Hopi reservation for three days to help her tend to her new garden. Every night we sat around the campfire while she shared her cultural teachings with us. The land is central to the long-lived Puebloan religion. Even though our host quickly shared what she felt comfortable with, I learned some of the complexities of Hopi tradition.

My original idea for this journal was to demonstrate the resilience of Hopi culture with what I learned from our host. After thinking on it, I ultimately decided against it because of what we experienced on Hopi. She told us that most research and books published about the Hopi people were published without proper permission or were incorrect. This incredible breach of trust is sometimes used merely for personal profit, with little regard for the effect it might have on the Hopi. The history of information abuse and fabrication by outsiders made me feel all the more honored that our host shared what she did with us.

I grew up in a relaxed Catholic tradition where, as a young adult, I was able to choose what I wanted to participate in. Along with being an American, I feel that my spirituality was never catered to my place. Looking back on it now, my faint sense of place on Lake Champlain as a child was never referenced as a relevant factor of my spirituality. In this way, I can understand how non-native Americans are attracted to a spiritual tradition that is centered in specific landscape. Cultural appropriation can become construed in that way because it often disregards the aspect that makes native religions unique, the place. When we visited our host on Hopi, she described the significance of corn to the Hopi people. But it seems wrong for me to attach an artificial spiritual connection to corn, because I don’t feel interconnected with corn and I don’t consider it mother corn.

It is not unusual for non-native Americans to have a fascination with place-based spiritualties. The nature of European colonization lacked respect for the earth, its resources, and the native people that inhabited it. While ironically after so many decades of brutality and disrespect of Native Americans by non-native Americans, many non-natives have developed a romanticized view of Native American spirituality. Romanticism and ignorance have led to inevitable misappropriation of spiritual traditions. The dominant religion and general mindset in the USA originates in the Christian tradition. Although the religion originated in the eastern Mediterranean, also known as the Levant, because of its history in Europe and it’s use throughout the rest of the world, (often by means of colonization), Christianity has largely lost its connection to place. Christianity transformed to relate to the lives of many different people on many different landscapes; therefore, once in the United States, it became clear, when compared to indigenous spiritualties, it didn’t connect to the landscape or many of the earth’s natural system.

Even though many Americans don’t identify as Christians, it is the predominant religion in the US and it played a large role in the formation of this country and its laws.  I believe that our innate curiosity with native spiritualties stems from this uninformed and disconnected aspect of dominant American culture. While this curiosity should not be completely stifled, as non-natives we can sometimes make uninformed assumptions, exploit the knowledge that we obtain, or inappropriately take culture out of context. Anthropologists can overstep their boundaries in this regard. While the intention to share unfamiliar cultures and religions can be pure, it can often do more harm than good. Native Americans should have complete control over texts and information that attempts to disclose details about their way of life, because it reflects who they are. For that reason in particular I choose not to divulge all the information that was gifted to me and I recognize that though I was granted some new insights with what our host shared, she doesn’t represent all Hopi people nor do I understand the complexities of the Hopi tradition or identity.

 

Bonny Filker: Flooding Happy Canyon

Bonny's Blog 1It could be the wind’s optimism that pushes up against our burly tents. We’ve set up camp in an alcove uniquely colored with ancient shades of rose and orange layers, deposited sand. I could not have grown to such a point of appreciation for rocks without having walked through these geologic bouquets. This is the White Rim Sandstone.

After days of hiking down the opaque Dirty Devil River, involving escaping quicksand and bushwhacking through buoyant whips of Russian Olive, and thorns of Russian Thistle, we’ve made it to Happy Canyon. At the base of these grandiose walls, about the local resilient species, the slot canyon in front of you is only offering one direction and that’s forward.

The faded walls are meandered by the wind. Curves make it impossible to see much farther past the layered pastel maybe 15 yards in front of you. Describing this scenery is important because it’s at risk of being lost to flooding for Tar Sand development, an energy resource scientists’ have been outspoken against. Its development isn’t cohesive to meeting the 2 degree Celsius global average temperature increase, which holds value in mitigating so we can keep our planet habitable for coming generations of humans and other living beings.

It’s the Bitumen U.S. Oil Sands, a company based out of Alberta, is trying to extract from the sands, which would flood this canyon in the process of diverting the water. The White Rim Stone layer is the remnants from a time where the Colorado Plateau was an ocean. The Bitumen being the ancient, dead algae and plankton after it’s been subjected to the pressures of the ‘Oil Window,’ temperatures between 90-160 degrees Celsius. Tar Sands are essentially expired oil deposits, having gone bad after microbes had the time to eat the lighter hydrocarbon materials with relatively lower Viscosity. That’s why Tar Sand deposits are referred to as ‘nonconventional oil deposits;’ trying to extract the thick, molasses like tar isn’t cost effective because the refining process, which breaks down these long carbon chains, is wildly expensive (notably in energy costs) and wouldn’t even be thought of if there weren’t subsidies for the grime.

Reasons why Tar Sands are propagated include reduced reliance on foreign oil and as an opportunity for job creation. But then why aren’t there subsidies to make cleaner renewable energy sources like solar cost competitive? The state of Vermont employs over 16,000 people in the renewable energy sector, which sees about a 10% employment increase every year since subsidizing Solar, making it cost competitive and a viable option for more Americans. This reduces the energy dependence while creating good paying jobs, facts that disassemble the foundation of these arguments. Also, solar is a renewable resource. When these extractive resources and done what will be left of the landscape and employment opportunities.

Extracting in the Dirty Devil proses devastating risks to the area. The extraction process uses massive amounts of water; a scarce resource in the arid climate. Steamstripping and Sandwashing are the processes in which the Bitumen is extracted from the Earth then refined to become more viscose. In the first year of the Keystone pipeline’s existence, there were over 14 spills the company didn’t know about until community members reported their water being flammable and smelling of oil. If there were to be a spill here, which is statistically likely, no one would be around to report about the spillage. All the life in the area relies on this water source for life, then it flows into the Colorado River, to be used by the Glen Canyon Dam and further down Lake Mead. The Glen Canyon Dam provides water to Page, Arizona among other uses. Further down the water is used by the Lake Mead dam, which provides water to Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and other communities. Plus the long carbon chains will continue to retain solar light energy and convert it into heat energy perpetuating anthropogenic climate change whose physics’ suggest that the arid areas, like this desert, are only going to become drier. Tar Sand development doesn’t make sense to a person who values human health, so why would this be considered and economically rewarded when people are imprisoned for manslaughter. Proud to oppose.

Nathan Huck: The Resilient Range

Nathan's Blog 1As our group began our seventh day on a backpacking trip in Horseshoe Canyon, we started using the phrase “Hike like a wild cow,” trying to follow cow prints to find the easiest routes through the canyon.  After decades in these canyons, the feral cows have found all the best routes.  Their trails are extremely welcoming to a groggy group of backpackers still waiting for the morning coffee to do its magic. As we walk down the canyon wash, we are careful to avoid microbiotic soils – a combination of fungi, lichen, mosses, algae, and bacteria that facilitate plant growth in arid regions.  As we walk, however, I notice a substantial amount of hoof prints in the soil, likely made by the feral cows and wild burrows in the area.  This is slightly upsetting, especially knowing that patches of the soils may take decades to a few centuries to grow.

After walking for another hour or so, many of us notice an old livestock stable that looks as though it has been abandoned for almost a century.  The fence was made from graying and twisted wood logs, possibly made from the local pinyon or juniper trees, and you could tell it had been broken in several areas.  Walking a bit further, we made it to a fence which separates BLM land and an area of Canyonlands National park containing many mixtures of Native American petroglyphs and pictographs known as the Great Gallery.  On BLM land side, the microbiotic crusts, grasses, flowers, and the bushes seemed to be very scarce and dispersed.  On the Canyonlands N.P. side, it was like stepping into a new world.  There were the same plants, yet everything was much more thick and prospering, with much more vegetation everywhere you look.

What was the cause of this?  People often argue about the amount of grazing that should be in this region.  Feral cows and burrows are species introduced to this area during the 19th and 20th century, and were abandoned along with ranching operations.  Over the last few decades the National Park Service has tried to round up all the resident feral cows and burrows.  The difference this makes in an area is astounding.  Resilience on the Colorado Plateau, as well as every other environment on earth, is essential in order to allow humans to prosper and maintain ecosystem health. Resilience, according to ecological scientists Brian Walker and David Salt, is the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and still retain basic function and structure.  Too often we see humans destroying ecosystems across the globe in order to make a quick buck.  The idea of optimization, or exploiting a product, such as rangeland, for maximum yield, never works in the long term when applied to limited resources.  Since the National Park Service round up, the resilience of the environment in Canyonlands N.P. allowed it to bounce back to what it is today.  Although it is probably not the same as it was prior to grazing, I can see it has improved quite a bit over several decades.

Overgrazing has been an issue in America for hundreds of years.  The impacts of overgrazing have had a profound effect on ecosystems and humans in the past.  Prior to the Taylor Grazing Act, ranchers across the Colorado Plateau and many other western states ran cattle all over the land with little outside regulation. So many cows and so few regulations allowed cows to trample top soils in several ecosystems, often causing large amounts of erosion in riparian ecosystems, and often allowing sand once trapped under microbiotic soils to blow away with the wind.  This lack of management strategy helped cause the great dust bowl of the 1930’s, destroying farms and ranches and bringing dust storms all the way to the east coast.  Regulations have since been passed to help reduce the impact of grazing on ecosystems.  However, change only came when humans were being directly affected by the consequences.  Does this always need to be the case?  Do people need to always wait until a problem is directly affecting us in order to fix it?  I don’t believe people, at least most of them, wish to disrupt the resilience of an ecosystem and watch it wither away, leaving it useless for future generations.

In The Rediscovery of North America, Barry Lopez writes, “In forty thousand years of human history, it has only been in the last few hundred years or so that a people could afford to ignore their local geographies as completely as we do and still survive.”  People have become extremely disconnected with the environments around them, a connection that once was at the foundation of our basic needs.

Most people still believe they know what is best for the land, and refuse to acknowledge other ideas on what land should be used for. The tendency we have of trying to get the most we can out of the land has proven time and time again to bite us in the long term, but competing markets often make people feel the need to do so, thinking about the short term rather than thinking resiliently of the future.  It is my hope that mine and future generations will begin to clearly see the possibilities of thinking resiliently, and together we will be able to once again work with the world, rather than against it, and truly begin to reach our potential for sustainability.

Sadie Koch: From Abstraction to Action on the Colorado Plateau

13384877_10205445711816865_46492133_nAs we near the end of this course I find myself peering back up into Horseshoe Canyon, were we completed our first backpacking trip together. Looking at towering rock walls, meandering Green River, and bright green cottonwoods, of this place I begin to think about how I got here. As a Social Work major, coming on this course directed at increasing environmental literacy was out of left field. It was a complete switch of topics, and I left my studies behind for the semester to learn a whole new set of skills. But why did I make this choice?

I have always been passionate about being in the outdoors whether I am backpacking, climbing, or having a picnic. As someone who spends a lot of time in the outdoors, I have always been surrounded by people who are passionate about protecting the Earth from its current threats of climate change and environmental degradation. These people feel a passionate emotion that leads them to change their own lives to protect their environment and often to speak out against the ways it is being damaged.  I always felt some type of abstract emotions over the possible loss of the places that I loved the most, but it was never as intense or as driving as I wanted it to be. I think that I came on this WRFI course because I hoped that I would learn to feel something deeper about the places I love; something that would push me to be a more involved participant of environmental protection.  Through the physical and emotional journey of this course, I think that I accomplished just this.

Looking back into Horseshoe Canyon after eight weeks exploring the Colorado Plateau, I remembered my first time in this canyon.  It was the start of this adventure and the dramatic cliff walls, sandy washes, and chips of chert were all so new to me.  Seeing the beauty of this landscape and feeling its mystery connected me to this canyon.  And then we saw the pictographs.  The eerie figures painted by people who existed in this canyon thousands of years before me made me feel a connection to something much greater than just me and the canyon.  All such poetic feelings, I know, but the sense of wonder I got from this strange new place was overwhelming.  As humans it is very hard to value and care about things that we are not personally connected to.  Having this personal connection to a landscape built my ability to experience other emotions surrounding the land more fully because I cared deeply about this landscape.

After Horseshoe we hiked, scrambled, and splashed our way through Dirty Devil Canyon.  This canyon felt even more dramatic than the first because of the murky river that ran through the canyon walls, carrying their sediment and reflecting the landscape around it.  However, we also walked across old roads once used for uranium mining in the canyon.  We also learned about the potential for tar sands extraction in the area, one of the most environmentally damaging ways to extract fossil fuels, and the lack of protection against these practices.  I imagined the pollution of the solitude, silence, and ecology of the landscape and I felt a pang of sadness, loss, and regret while imagining the slow destruction of this canyon.  I knew that I could picture the destruction so clearly in my head because it had happened to so many other wilderness areas, and would be the loss of a place that we could not afford to say goodbye to yet.

The sadness I felt quickly dissolved into anger, especially after our time in the reservations of Navajo and Hopi.  We saw the environmental destruction of their sacred lands and that their inequality of voice left them relatively powerless in the face of environmental exploitation that was often supported by the government.  An example of this that we saw was the exploitation of the water from the Navajo Aquifer from the Black Mesa Coal mine.  Since the mine’s creation, it has decreased water levels in the aquifer by around 50%, overusing the primary source of drinking water on the reservations (LaDuke 380). We saw this in our Hopi hostess’s cistern which she used to be able to swim in. Because of the decrease in water in the aquifer that feeds her cistern, the flow has been reduced to less than a trickle.  Many Hopi elders have spoken out against the mine’s practices, but their voices have been ignored and the water use as it has been was allowed to continue.  I saw the environmental injustices involved with the fight against environmental degradation, where high emitters make the decisions of the rates at which this degradation will happen, while those most highly affected are not given a fair voice to speak out about these practices.

The inequality of this system made me angry in a personal way.  This I could connect with Social Work, and it reminded me of why I chose this path in the beginning.  Feeling this personal anger is important because it drives people to speak out against the ways that things have been happening and initiate change.  Jack Turner talks about how a personal anger, “presumes how things ought to be and aren’t, presumes caring” (Turner 22).  Although dwelling on this anger can often be unhealthy, it is important because it is the catalyst for change, and it is obvious that we need to change how we live if we want to protect the Earth.

However, for me, anger is not enough.  I think that in order for action to occur, we need hope.  Many people, when asked why they became involved with protest, talk about an anger rooted in a sense that their actions could make a difference, and hope for the future.  An idea that their anger was not ignored.

In Dark Canyon we entered our first Wilderness, designated by Congress.  Although this designation did not mean a lot for our trip it did signify a legal action taken to protect a beautiful area.  Wilderness designation is permanent so the longevity of this canyon was guaranteed by the wooden sign at the trailhead.  To me, this signified a call to action that was answered on a national level to fight for the preservation of our remaining wild places.  While there is a lot of work to be done, and a lot more places to protect, the process has begun, which gives me hope.

“Effective protests are grounded in an alternative vision” (Turner 23).  What Turner is describing is a need for a protest to have something to fight for, not just against.  The environmental movement has often had that problem, where everyone is working towards creating a better future but the idea of how to do this in not consistent within the movement.  In Labyrinth Canyon we learned about a variety of ways to act in the face of environmental degradation that are being explored.  One way that is being considered in the idea of Bioregionalism, where the connection of inhabitants to their land is encouraged to promote the feeling of responsibility to protect your land.  If we were more connected to our land it is presumed that we would be more involved in the governance of this land and learn to use it more sustainably.  I think that the idea of this is very interesting and seems like it would be effective, and as we paddled through the Green River I thought about ways that I could implement this in my own life.   Learning about the ways to create change in our lives made me think of a personalized path forward and validated the work we did on the course.

This emotional exploration from connection to sadness to anger to hope to action left me feeling like I could and needed to take this knowledge and use it.  It may not be directly involved with my career path but I think that it has taught me how to be the more knowledgeable, passionate environmental steward that I have always tried to emulate.  The personal connection both to this place and the lessons I learned of how to protect them will hopefully remain with me as I move forward.

Works Cited

LaDuke, W.  (2005).  Salt, Water, Blood and Coal: Mining in the Southwest.  In Recovering the Sacred: The Power In Naming and Claiming.  Cambridge, MA: South End Press.   

Turner, J.  (1996).  The Abstract Wild: A Rant.  Pp.  19-37 in The Abstract Wild.  Albuquerque: University                     of Arizona Press.