Our Take on Protecting Sacred Land and Water in the Bears Ears – Part 4
Last month, the Trump administration issued an executive order that could alter or even attempt to rescind national monuments that were designated after January 1, 1996. These designations protect millions of acres spanning across the US. The SUP magazine staff had the pleasure of paddling through portions of one such area—Bears Ears National Monument—during a recent trip to the San Juan River. From the experience—shared here in part one of a four-part web series—we can attest: it’s a sacred and special land worthy of continued protection. A movement is now being spearheaded by the good citizens of Utah to protest the Trump administration’s executive order. Take action today by urging Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to protect Bears Ears and all our national monuments. NPCA will submit your comments to Secretary Zinke by May 26, 2017.
Into The Mystic: Time Traveling Down the San Juan River
When the yellow moon, three nights from full, crawled up over the red sandstone cliffs, it seemed close enough that we could have climbed to the canyon rim, stepped on and taken a ride into the sky. We'd paddled a pulse of silty desert river to this camp and a celestial journey to get an overview of the enigmatic land around us almost seemed a plausible next step. After only a day on the river, time had slowed and merged with the rhythms of the natural world.
The land where we stood, where our boards were pulled up and where our transient kitchen lay, was our land, your land, federal public land that belongs to every American. Granted you had the proper permit, you could have been there too feeling the still-warm sand underneath your feet as the desert air constricted around you and the willows stood still without a whisper of wind.
Less than a mile from our overnight home was a home that had been there for over 1,000 years. Built into the cliff side, River House Ruins are ancient dwellings from a time long past. Raised enough to avoid all but the highest floods, flagstone packed with adobe stands up in tall rectangular structures, complete with windows, underneath an earthy red cliff dotted with pictographs. These dwellings were built by the Ancestral Puebloans during a time when the now-deserted washes surrounding this river were populated by other people living much the same way.
Earlier that day we'd stood, our heads tilted back like we were gargling salt water and stared at a sandstone rock face etched with hundreds of petroglyphs—snakes, feet, hooved animals, people with weapons, with headdresses, with antennae—that ranged in age from 900 years old to 3,000 years old with a smattering of modern graffiti, names and dates from the last 30 years. All stood together, a timeline of human history from different points, visual representations from people who wanted to share something with later passersby.
I watched the moon trek slowly across the sky that night and saw time not standing still but rather dancing away like a wisp of smoke from a freshly caught fire. We chase time our entire lives, whether looking backward at what we had or looking ahead at what might be. Rarely do we sit content, satisfied where we are at that moment, pleased with our physical location and mental space in that place.
That's why I spend as much time outside as I can: my mind is most at peace in the natural world. The hum of a life in our current culture drops away like sugar to the bottom of a glass. Everything seems simple. There I eat, but only when my body tells me I'm hungry. I pee when and where I want, not in a room with a lock and no windows. These freedoms are increasingly important, as life only gets more complicated as we get older.
We need space to think like this. Room and time to look around and see nothing so that we can feel something. We need evidence of the past—whether it's in geological time or in human time—to show us how life has changed and to remind us that the world will not always be as it is now. The San Juan River and the Bears Ears National Monument are places to travel in time, to be conscious of where we are but also where we've been. This is the gift of open space, of protected land and water and living archaeology. That freedom is worth protecting. For everyone. —Will Taylor
This article is the fourth of a four-part feature originally published in our Spring 2017 issue.
Take action today by urging Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to protect Bears Ears and all our national monuments. NPCA will submit your comments to Secretary Zinke by May 26, 2017.