Ed Webster after a first ascent at Indian Creek, 1977. Photo used with the kind permission of Ed Webster.
Over twenty-five years ago, I journeyed with my future wife to the wonders of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Up until then, almost all of my hikes and climbs had been in mountains, so the austere beauty of these lands was new and exciting. If I remember right, the day that we arrived was New Years, and I wasn’t expecting the brutally cold temperatures or deep snow. However, I do distinctly remember travelling down the Indian Creek Road towards the Needles District a few days later, gawking at the magnificent cliffs and climbing possibilities without having the slightest idea that this was the famed “Indian Creek,” now a part of the Bears Ears National Monument. I fell in love with the place then and soon moved to Colorado where I have been fortunate to live ever since.
Possibly because there are so many amazing places in Colorado, I actually have reached the summit of only one of Utah's iconic desert towers. However, with that said, I have made some eighteen trips to this amazing state, many with students to gaze in wonder at the magnificence of the land. The Fiery Furnace is among my favorite places on Earth, and I’ve had wonderful encounters with my parents and own children in the bizarre Goblin Valley hoodoos. However, a place that caught me off guard was the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It had been designated in 1996, and I didn’t think much of it until a trip with my wife and kids to see Zion and Bryce. Travelling down Route 12 from Capitol Reef, the nondescript high forest suddenly gave way to a dramatic knife edge with shrubby trees and otherworldly scenery just about where a sign proclaimed entry into this monument. Instantly, I knew that I would have to return.
The Second Wave
My first real trip there included an attempt to see the famed “Wave” in the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. I reached the trailhead for Spooky and Peek-a-Boo Slots late in the afternoon, and anxiously descended down to the bottom of the wash towards these famed places. However, once I reached them, I turned instead up the Dry Forks Narrows simply because its confines looked amazing beyond belief. I ended up spending some forty minutes on this detour and was blown away that something so magnificent wasn’t even part of most people’s hike. As for Peek-a-Boo and Spooky, the hundreds of photos on-line attest to their phenomenal nature… Sadly, with light fading, I didn’t make it down to the notorious Brimstone Canyon. Perhaps another time…
I didn’t get the permit for the Wave on that trip, but had memorable views of hoodoos and spectacular desert scenery within this fabulous monument such that in a matter of days, it ranked right up there with the Tetons among my favorite places on Earth. When I did get that coveted Wave permit a couple of years later, I made a point to swing by Grand Staircase again, this time to climb to the summit of Yellow Rock at sunrise, hike down the spectacular Round Valley Draw, and then ford through frigid waist deep water to the wonders of Zebra Slot Canyon.
Unfortunately, all of these places: Indian Creek, the Wave, and the Grand Staircase are all at risk. A recent executive order by the president has asked for review as to whether these, some of the most amazing places on the planet, are worthy of protection. Bears Ears, many say, should be done away with entirely. And then, there's coal in the Grand Staircase, so members of the Utah delegation, the Sutherland Institute, and other moneyed interests would love to see it cut in size by a dramatic 90%. The review of these monuments included a public comment period. Those involving the continued existence of Bears Ears which include the phenomenal Indian Creek cliffs need to be in by May 26th. Those for the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and twenty five other National Monuments need to be in by July 10th. Information describing comments and a link to the comments site can be found here
. There are specific guidelines as to the nature of the comments desired given on this press release. To me, if you value the phenomenal landscape of the American West, it is well worth spending a few minutes to let the Trump administration know your thoughts.
Of the many other monuments at risk... Memories of a hike with my parents some thirty years ago to the dramatic summit of Ragged Top near Tucson come to mind; driving through the endless expanse of Texas and suddenly seeing mountains as spectacular as the Tetons in front of me just north of El Paso; gazing to the east and wild and snowy lands after a cold night on Mt. Katahdin; all of these places are now at risk…
UPDATE: In an interim report, Secretary Zinke said that he would likely recommend vastly reducing the size of Bears Ears National Monument. He extended the comment period for Bears Ears until the same July 10th date as the other monuments including the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Grand Staircase National Monument
Dry Forks Narrows
UPDATE December, 2017:
On December 4th, the president slashed the size of Bears Ears National Monument by 85% in an executive order. Much of the Indian Creek rock climbing is still included in a new "Indian Creek National Monument" but some well known areas that are left out include the Wall and the Cliffs of Insanity. Outside of Indian Creek, Harts Draw, the Valley of the Gods, the Goosenecks, and thousands of Native American sites lost protection. This action is being challenged in court by numerous groups. In addition, HR 4532
has been introduced into the US House of Representatives to codify these boundaries legally and also give management of the area to only some of the tribes that were in on the initial agreement.
The fate has not been much better for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. On December 4th, the president gutted approximately 50% of this amazing monument, including the iconic Spooky, Brimstone, and Peek-a-Boo slot canyons, Dry Fork Narrows, much of the Kaiparowits Plateau, the Wahweap Hoodoos and much more. As is the case with Bears Ears, several law suits have been filed challenging the legality of this action. Also as with Bears Ears, a bill has been introduced into Congress to make the change legal (HR 4558; Misnamed the Grand Staircase Escalante Enhancement Act
). In addition to codifying the reduced size of protected lands, this bill also sets up a "national park" that would be managed by local counties but paid for by US taxpayers and would focus upon grazing, hunting, and ORV recreation. In addition, Hole in the Rock Road would be given away to the State of Utah despite Secretary Zinke's affirmation that lands would stay in the public's/federal hands.
Several more monuments are slated for reduction including Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada, Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon, and two marine monuments in the Pacific Ocean. Additionally, multiple monuments such as Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in New Mexico and Katahdin Woods National Monument in Maine are slated to have their management plans adjusted to make the very meaning of "Monument" a stretch...
If rejecting these changes is important to you, please contact your Congressional representatives and senators regarding this issue. If these changes go through, other, long established places such as Dinosaur National Monument, will be at grave risk as well.
I would like to thank Ed Webster for letting me use one of his amazing photos in this article, and my wife for all the times that I have left to wander out into the world.