Lands at Risk

Lands at Risk

Page Type Page Type: Article
Activities Activities: Hiking
Ed Webster at Indian Creek, 1977
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
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
Grand Staircase National Monument

Dry Fork Narrows
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.


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-10 of 10

lcarreau - May 17, 2017 12:04 am - Voted 10/10

Excellent ...

I've heard of this. It has to do with the coal and uranium trapped
beneath the layers -- like Utah doesn't have enough coal and uranium mines already existing upon their private lands.

Greed ... it keeps on growing with the times. But fortunately,
one's future only comes one day at a time.


Fleshj27 - May 31, 2017 4:42 pm - Voted 10/10


I'm probably an outlier given the Summitpost population, but both Grand Staircase and Bears Ears rate a review as it is highly probable they were designated as political punishment on the people of Utah. Both President Clinton and Obama made the designation primarily because "they could" without congress. That is not to say the National Monuments should be obliterated, strip mined, and/or rented out to Burning Man; I'm saying their designation should be reviewed.

Because each these areas are individually bigger than the State of Delaware, the National Monument designation under the Antiquities Act may not be appropriate for the entire areas. The Federal government has numerous other options that may serve to include Wilderness Area, Conservation Area, straight BLM, Recreation Area, Etc...and/or some combination with the National Monument designation. The complete designation should serve locals, environmentalists, Indians, the state and the Republic as a whole. My gut is the National Landmark designation was made of the fly with the clock ticking on the respective presidencies; so, yeah, we probably need to take a look....


Scott - Aug 12, 2017 11:34 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Counterpoint

most agree that Obama went too far

Most agree? Do you have any proof of this? I am willing to bet that most people would support the monument.

Perhaps it should be put to vote and let the American people decide.


Scott - Aug 14, 2017 7:52 am - Voted 10/10

Re: Counterpoint

So your problem is not with the monument, but who created it?

Out of curiosity, how much time have you spent there? Do you even know the area?


fatdad - Jun 1, 2017 11:48 pm - Hasn't voted


Fleshj27's post is just that. The notion that a presevation designation is "punishment" is, in a word, delusional. These are rare and unique areas that warrant protection. Remember that the designations made by Pres. Bush are also under review. Were those established as "punishment" as well?

Moreover, your legal analysis of the Antiquities Act is nothing more than speculation on so,ething other than the law you calim to be interpreting. The size of the monument is irrelevant to the whether the President has the authority to designate a monument, not whether the area is worthy of protection. Critics of Bears Ears ignore that the Native American tribes had been working for c. 10 yrs. to preserve the area. How can those efforts be deemed as "last minute"?

If anything, the criticism of Bears Ears is proof that conservatives who oppose the designations have abandoned their logic and reason in favor of conservative policies which do not serve the general public.


Fleshj27 - Jun 7, 2017 2:51 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Nonsense

Wow. That was violent. Anger issues?

I suppose I could bore you with the details of the five-year negotiation between all the stakeholders to include the Native American tribes on a grand bargain for Utah public land use (which addressed preservation of Bears Ears), but it appears you have your mind made up. To avoid any additional brilliance, I will stipulate that your superior intellect and manly virtue signaling has completely convinced me of the rightness of your position. What would us silly Utah rubes do without California lawyers to guide us?

We'll have to see how this all shakes out but, watching the politics, I'm thinking they'll end up keeping all of the Indian petroglyph sites & virgin lands as National Landmark areas (around 60 million acres), designate another 60 million acres as National Conservation areas, and leave 15 million acres as BLM to allow access to school trust lands and leases to ranchers. If they really want to get cute, leave the Grand Staircase alone "in the intrests of fairness", toss in Cleveland- Lloyd as a National Landmark and upgrade Dinosaur to a National Park. Work in a couple guarantees about not issuing any more presidential proclamations and the deal should sate the locals & Indians, slap the Blues and allow the Reds to talk "commitment to preservation" with a straight face.

On the other hand, once everyone is out for blood, all bets go off the table.

*** As an aside, even well framed arguments lose impact when you fail to spell check. Spell check is easily accomplished, takes mere seconds and avoids embarrassing whatever public university issued you your degree.....


fatdad - Jun 13, 2017 2:00 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Nonsense

No anger; just counterargument. If that is upsetting to you perhaps you should not offer your opinion in a public forum. Commentary invites rebuttal. More delusions of persecution it appears.

If you had facts to discuss, you are welcome to do that. However, since your reply was mostly ad hominem argument about my supposedly believing you to be a "rube", I'm presuming you don't have any. You haven't really discussed why you believe the designation is improper/unfair, etc. I can understand that you might not approve for your own personal reasons, but you've declined to state what they are other than you believe the locals are being "punished".

Finally, the whole spell check thing is a straw man. You understand that people often reply on cell phones or tablets, where typing can be more challenging. If you make the argument, like many conservative trolls on social media, that any counterargument is undercut by typos, you have more or less conceded that you do not have a legitimate response to the post. I'm not embarrassed by any inadvertent typos; I'm embarrassed for you that you believe that's a convincing rebuttal.


Klenke - Aug 14, 2017 12:22 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Nonsense

Your both rite; you're booth not right. There, I said. It.


nickmech - Jul 9, 2017 4:19 pm - Hasn't voted


Well said, Fatdad.


Fleshj27 - Apr 10, 2018 5:08 pm - Voted 10/10

God bless america.

My apologies on the long delay in responding but can only excuse myself in being overtaken by events. My job readying the nation's engines of destruction and preparing the military for war has left me jaded on the outcome for Bear's Ears. When your position description involves "genocide" the fate of two million windswept acres in a remote Western State become somewhat less important in the grand scheme of things.

That being said, it would curish not to respond in kind, though my heart is no longer in it; once finished, from where the sun now stands, I will troll no more. Okay. Here it goes...

Way to dance with All the Colors of the Wind, Pocahontas! You developed a coherent argument, hit every single talking point outsiders bring in, all while spelling every single word correctly. Hang that public education diploma with pride!

Allow me to give a token statist arguement and then I'll shut it down. Two-thirds of Utah is federal land for which we receive the princely sum of $35m a year. For grins, grab a California map, draw a line just south of SF and tell the good people of Cali they'll draw no revenue from any lands south of the line. That is reality we deal with. This high handed action grates heavily on the people of Utah and to have two Blue presidents knock out State-sized holes in our state without our input speaks more of pandering and less to our welfare. You can see why we get emotional.

Amazingly, it looks like corrective resizing fits both the arguments and is something we can live with. That's not to say that I wouldn't strip mine Yellowstone National Park if I thought it would buy the Republic another day. I am however slightly surprised by the Trump Administration's restraint. If I was a xenophobic asshat I would be punching Delaware-sized monuments up and down the Blue Coasts and set the environmentalists against each other and thus protecting my constituency.

All that being said I'm glad I live in a nation where trolling is still the national sport and differing views can go on pointless Crusades on third rate websites. God Bless America.

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