Finding Common Ground:
Preservation. Collaboration. Recreation.
The Jeep was packed and pointed in the direction of Moab. “Baby Blue” was ready to hit the road. My husband, Steve, had planned a four day excursion to break in our new “Baby” - a modified Jeep Wrangler equipped with suspension, lift, lockers, wench, tools, survival kit, an ice chest, and lots of snacks.
We headed north on Cottonwood Canyon Trail east of Kanab, stopping to explore the hoodoos along the way. With the tops off of the Jeep for a splash of crisp air, we meandered along the Cottonwood Canyon Trail ending late in the afternoon at Kodachrome Canyon. Scenic Byway 12 led us to Escalante by nightfall where we checked into a no frills, no wifi, mid-century motel; we embraced the novelty. Dinner at Escalante Outfitters, conversations with locals, and a map was all it took. Moab would have to wait—the Grand Staircase had numerous off-road trails and they were calling.
Growing up in the rural Arizona desert, I learned a thing or two about off-roading. I owned a motorcycle and drove our dune buggy long before my first kiss. In 1971, the Parker Dam Chamber of Commerce and the National Off-Road Racing Association collaborated with the BLM and the Colorado River Indian Tribes to create a 500 mile off-road race. I spent my teen years camping along that race course with friends, watching the lights of the big trucks working their way through the rugged hills in search of the finish line. How I loved being outdoors under the stars...and the roar of an engine.
The 800,000-plus acres of the Kaiparowits Plateau form the wildest and most remote part of the Grand Staircase. It is said to contain the best record of Late Cretaceous terrestrial life in the world. The Kaiparowits also harbors an estimated 5 to 7 billion tons of recoverable coal. Three hours into the drive we discovered Native American ruins. We stood for a moment honoring the space. I photographed the craftsmanship and utilized my lens as a microscope to zoom in on the details. I stood at the entrance of a dilapidated wall that appeared to host a small cave beyond it. I focused my lens, and as I did, two of the bluest eyes I had ever seen rose from the dark. I froze. I could not identify what “it” was but I knew “it” was present. I slowly backed away. Those blue eyes watched my every move then vanished back into the dark. I reflected on the symbolism of that moment; the mutual respect exchanged between myself and the wild.
“Yet the remoteness, the size, the harsh terrain, the heat, the aridity, the streams poisoned with alkali and arsenic, the wind, the silence when there is not wind, the overpowering solitude of the Kaiparowits -- these are precisely the commodities which make it valuable. It is a fierce and dangerous place, and it is wilderness right down to its burning core.”- Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance
Learning to love off-roading early in life also taught me to appreciate the wilderness and the preservation thereof. Had I not have had the opportunity to explore a myriad of remote areas, I would not understand the need to respect them. Preservation and recreation are often seen as an oxymoron. All or nothing; one way or “no way.” Opinions are either right or wrong; black or white. Few believe that preservation and recreation can ethically coexist. I believe they can. In this issue of Etched, we share with you some glistening examples of just that...places and people working together to not only make the southwest an excellent place for recreation but a place to honor and protect. Our articles reflect collaboration as a conversation. They highlight people who know how to turn down the noise to listen, then turn it up to get things done. Our pages portray projects that emulate social, environmental, and economical responsibility without all of the warfare that has become an inherent part of advocacy.
I was never able to identify those big, blue eyes that connected with mine that day, but I haven’t forgotten them. Nor have I forgotten what it’s like to sleep under the stars, or the thrill of a race car completing 400 miles of the most rugged off-road terrain imaginable. I am reminded of my gratitude for such experiences when the opportunity to collaborate exists and the joy of discovering common ground prevails. Seek and ye shall find.
Editor in Chief