I wanted to make sure my title was as engaging as possible, so I spent a full half-hour brainstorming. Y’all are just the lucky recipients of the fruits of my labor.
We’ve just arrived back in Bluff, southeast Utah, after 6 days trekking in, you guessed it, Cedar Mesa. In many ways, the trek was a culmination of our last few weeks of learning, which have revolved around indigenous sovereignty and sustainability. We made our way into the canyon with a profound sense of place. We were inside what was Bears Ears National Monument (before Orange Man slashed the protected area by 85%), and through meetings with the Bears Ears Educational Center, Dine Bikeyah (the inter-tribal council that was set to govern the monument), and readings and discussions, we were aware that the land we were about to set foot in was not just beautiful, but sacred to many. It’s one thing to hear that, though, and quite another to feel it. From our first steps, we were cognizant of the land. You have to watch your footing, or you might “bust the crust,” that is, destroy the cryptobiotic soil that takes decades to regrow. And while each of us knew about Leave No Trace, for this trek, we were a cult and LNT was our supreme deity. The picture above shows us ceremoniously partaking of our dirty dishwater, so as to not spread particles of trash in the environment; each of us, on the daily, ate fallen food scraps that were about 90% sand, 10% what we had dropped; and honestly, all of our campsites were left cleaner than we found them. It was hardly an imposition, though – it was our duty, knowing what this land means to so many. And over the course of the trek, partially through of the care we showed, I found myself feeling less like I was looking after the land simply on behalf of others, and more that I actually had a real connection to the area. I now have memories there. Those memories are as eclectic as can be. During our solos, meditating, journaling, even drawing and writing poetry (though I’ll spare you from having to see the quality of the latter two). Sleeping alone, under an amphitheater of stars framed by canyon walls. Painstakingly filtering water from one of the few springs, gaining appreciation for its scarcity and value. Feeling lost in the maze of canyons, consulting topography maps, and beginning to see the uniqueness of each new location. Feeling small. And after a dinner of channa masala that didn’t quite process right for all of us, experiencing an awe-inspiring, spectacular, non-stop chorus of ~natural gas~ (and laughs.) With these memories, these connections forged in Cedar Mesa, you can’t help but care about its future. We’re about to go on a river float in this area, sure to create more history between us and these parts, history that we’ll bring home and will drive us to help protect these parts – because, as we’ve all experienced, while we do our utmost not to impact these environments, they leave indelible impressions on us.