Backpacking the Utah’s Grand Gulch in 1972 + protecting this sacred land today

A first hand account from our company president on the magic of places like the land surrounding Bears Ears National Monument, and why it’s up to us to ensure that future generations have the same opportunities to experience them.

Looking at a map of Bear’s Ears National Monument before and after Trump’s 85% reduction in its size I noticed a place from my childhood.  Grand Gulch is 50 or 60-mile long canyon, depending on what route you take.  In 1972, as part of my high school’s outdoor education program, we hiked from one end of the canyon to the other in 10 days.  That trip had a profound impact on my life.

My family moved to Colorado from New York the year before.   I was in 8th grade.  That year the Middle School outdoor education trip included two days of backpacking followed by five nights at base camp in Marble, Colorado. I borrowed a backpack and a sleeping bag.  My mom bought me a pair of hiking boots.  We rock climbed, did a ropes course, learned how to cross a river safely and walked across a Burma bridge.  I had never hiked, let alone backpacked.  My feet were covered in blisters from the two days of walking.  I had never heard of moleskin, but the teacher gave me some.  I cried during the rock climbing and repelling.  I tried not to let anybody see that. The other new girl from New York had to go home early.  Not me.  I had my first outdoor experience and I survived.  I even made friends that week.

The following year, I signed up for the trip to Grand Gulch near Canyonlands in Utah.  I had worn my hiking boots every day since that first trip.  They were broken in and ready to go.  Once again I borrowed a metal frame backpack and a down sleeping bag.  The preparations for this trip were much more elaborate.  We had to carry ten days worth of food, clothing and shelter.  We would be drinking the water we found along the way, but we also brought a few bottles each.   My pack weighed 50 pounds – more than half my weight.

The bus dropped our group, ten high school kids and one teacher, off at the start of the canyon.  Another group was dropped off at the opposite end.  We passed each other on the 5th day.  We never saw another person or road.  There were no cell phones or GPS satellite devices.  We had a topographical map and one kid who knew how to read it.   She was a pro with a topo map.   She knew where we were going and she also knew where to find fresh spring water every day.  The other group was stuck drinking the muddy brown river water that we were walking alongside.

All along the way we saw incredibly beautiful natural rock formations, gentle waterfalls and jaw dropping sunsets.  At night there were stars.  I had no idea there were so many stars.  We also saw ancient Native American cliff dwellings, petroglyphs, arrowheads and pottery shards.  They were in plain site from the main canyon, and in many of the side canyons we explored while looking for that perfect spring water.  We knew not to disturb or take anything we found.  We also knew not to leave any of our things behind.

The first few days were so hard that I wasn’t sure I would make it. But not making it really wasn’t an option. Each day the pack got lighter, and I got stronger.  My appreciation of the beauty and majesty of the canyon grew.  I was a different person when I hiked out of that canyon on the last day.  I hadn’t just survived.  The canyon had become part of me.

I don’t know how many artifacts have been looted or drawings defaced in the 45 years since I was there.  I do know that the bounty of ancient and natural treasures in this canyon deserves protection from further damage.  Hopefully many people have had a chance to visit this place and to be touched by its beauty.  And hopefully they knew to treat it gently and respect its power and its fragility.

I hadn’t thought about Grand Gulch in many years.  When I saw that it was removed from Bears Ears National Monument by Trump’s recent executive order all those memories came back.  I cried on the last day of that trip and I cried today.  It is shameful that our president and our interior secretary have shown such disregard for nature, and for the American people.  Whatever opportunity there is for drilling or mining on this land will provide profits to just a few.  Destroying the land will deprive future generations forever.