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Environment

1976 vs. Now: What do you do with no snow?

Photo by Peter Creveling.

Winter here in Utah is a very exciting time. The days are shorter, the nights are longer, and there are plenty of ways to keep yourself occupied. Utah is known for its “Greatest Snow on Earth” for one thing, and all the locals will testify to that greatness. The Wasatch Mountain Range is a world class destination for snow skiing, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors to the area each year. With all that importance placed on our snow, what happens when snow doesn’t come?

Snow is an essential element in the ecosystem. It is a storage system of fresh water that can be utilized during Utah’s typically dry summer months, it regulates the global temperature with its ability to reflect 80 to 90 percent of incoming sunlight, and it also provides insulation that prevents moisture and other gases from escaping into the atmosphere. In short, snow serves many vital purposes that we often take for granted.

Here in Utah, we mostly look at snow as a recreational good, but its importance in other ways cannot be overstated. With the current lack of snow this season, Salt Lake City will most likely be experiencing a drought of varying severity.

Have we always been this concerned about the lack of snow in years past within the Beehive state? The simple answer is yes. In years past, ski resorts have delayed their opening days significantly due to the lack of snowfall, in fact. There are many patterns in history that cause a large fluctuation in weather, such as El Niño and La Niña years, but it seems that there is a general trend: the Earth, on average, is getting warmer each year.

Skiing and pond skimming with Blake, and Kristen at Snowbird on Sunday, June 4, 2017.
Photo by Kiffer Creveling.

Back in 1976, Colorado ski resorts almost didn’t open. In a place like Salt Lake, this is almost unthinkable. Today’s technology has come a long way since the ‘70s, and artificial snowmaking is now an important part to a successful ski season, but there is no way to control the temperature. This day and age, the air temperature must be at or below freezing for snow to be made.

If you look at the snowfall over the past 60 years in Utah, the average is around 470 inches of snow. All the records of large snowfall were set back in the ‘90s or earlier, and the only records set between 2000 and now recognize how little snow we have received.

This may just be the cycle of weather we are experiencing in the new millennium, but I sure hope that end of the cycle is near. It’s scary to think that one day it could no longer snow in Utah. For now, make the most of what snow we have received so far by getting out and going skiing as much as possible. When you ski, also be mindful of the potential snow has for more than just a ski slope and do your best to cut down on carbon emissions to help preserve it in the future. Ski resorts are already beginning to close throughout the world for good. Let’s make sure this doesn’t happen within the Wasatch Mountains.

p.creveling@wasatchmag.com

Cover photo by Kiffer Creveling.

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Transmission: The Hidden Voice of the Ancients

An interpersonal connection with nature and the surrounding world has remained fundamental to the human experience for time immemorial. Through sight, sound, and touch, we perceive and interact with this planet. aAll experience, however, is entirely limited to the capabilities of these senses, permitting us only a small glimpse into the mysterious and infinite realm that lies just beyond our reach. So many of the Earth’s constant processes and transformations occur far too slowly and quietly for the unassisted ear to catch, though new advances in technology and artistic vision are changing that, giving voices to the long unheard.

Photo by Dalton Rees.

The  creative movement to explore the intricate dimensions that slip past human perception has become further enriched by a recent collaboration between University of Utah geologist Jeff Moore and Jacob Kirkegaard, a European sound artist who has devoted his work to ambient, hidden sounds in the environment.

The project was initially inspired by Moore’s research into the imperceptible seismic vibrations of arches in the deserts of the Southwest, beginning when he and his colleagues began to analyze the origins and influences of these waves on arch structure and sustainability. In their 2016 study of southern Utah’s Rainbow Bridge, among the highest natural bridges in the world, they discovered the constant influence of seismic sources as close as nearby vehicles and as far away as small earthquakes in Oklahoma. Moore came to understand these structures not as fixed objects that change independently, but rather as “transient landforms sculpted by erosion and inching nearer to collapse every day,” he said. Moore found that “We as humans aren’t equipped with the senses to experience these subtle movements.”

The geologist’s hyper-concentrated recordings of seismic waves and vibrations within the red rock arches of Southern Utah and Arizona brought him to recognize a mysterious agency in these structures in addition to just how intimately receptive they are to the surrounding environment. What began as a scientific project in the structural sustainability of these arches developed into a profound shift in how they are to be perceived and understood.

Photo by Dalton Rees.

“These movements are happening every second of every day, but are too small to see or feel,” Moore said, “Hearing the natural hum of these arches I feel gives them a voice, a real voice where they call out things like their state of health and response to all manner of forces.”

The vibrant synthesis between scientific and creative came when Moore reached out to Kirkegaard after learning of the artist’s previous works and dream “to one day be able to record the deep vibrations of the Earth.” The artist’s sound can be described as avant-garde and ambient, ranging in compositions derived from recordings of molten lava, drifting ice, and the operation of nuclear power plants, to his single, “Labyrynthitis,” consisting of recordings from inside his inner ear. Manipulating the understated and nuanced movements of red rock arches into music struck Moore as something for which Kirkegaard was extremely well-suited.

Over the course of the more temperate months of 2017, Kirkegaard traveled with Moore’s team through Southern Utah and Arizona, painstakingly recording the sounds of the desert landscape surrounding these arches, including winds, waterways, and the musings of wild animals. These real-time nature recordings were later synchronized with Moore’s seismic waves and vibrations sped up to audible frequencies, ultimately resulting in an art piece as intimate as it is profound.

Photo by Dalton Rees.

The refined product of this explorative undertaking, “Transmission”, was presented by Kirkegaard at an installation at Dartmouth College’s Hood Museum last year from September to December. The atrium was outfitted with large speakers at the polar top and bottom of the concrete room, where the seismic humming of the arches from below resonated through the active recordings compiled on the surface.

“Transmission” tangibly conveys the intimate connection between these mysterious objects and the temporal progression around them with quiet elegance, allowing the previously obscured voices of the desert’s ancient structures a platform for expression. Moore reflects that his collaboration with Kirkegaard allowed him to “focus on trying to communicate the ‘hidden voice’ of the arches and what they are saying, which our data uniquely allow us to decipher.” This profound synthesis between the scientific and creative can be experienced at fonik.dk/works/transmission.html. Stop, listen, and learn.

d.rees@wasatchmag.com 

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Bears Ears in Retrospect

The southeastern corner of Utah has seen numerous changes over the past year as Bears Ears National Monument was first established and successively shrunk. Although the battle over the borders has been steadily building since 2010, the history of Bears Ears dates back to long, long before this.

Utah. USA. Detail of Sand Island petroglyph panel along San Juan River. Colorado Plateau. Photo courtesy of Scott Smith.

The first people to inhabit the Bears Ears region were the ancestors of modern native tribes. They existed here for thousands of years before the first Mormon settlers reached the region, and have a history as complex as any other civilization. Understanding all the intricacies of this history is a job fit for a full team of archaeologists, but — fortunately — the important points are simple.

Because multiple tribes lived in this area throughout its history, today tribes that no longer reside in Utah still have important ancestral connections to the land, and all these ancestral people left behind hundreds of thousands of artifacts that now scatter the Bears Ears region. This means that modern tribes, like the Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute, Ute Indians, and Navajo, have strong cultural, historical, and spiritual ties to Bears Ears.

The next main inhabitants of this region were the Mormon settlers. In 1879 they set out on the infamous “Hole in the Rock” journey to settle the then barren area near the San Juan river. Though they encountered and fought against numerous obstacles, including blasting a 2,000 foot passage down to the Colorado river in order to cross it, the pioneers made it without any loss of life. By 1880 the road was open and the settlement of Bluff had begun. Since then, Bluff and other settlements near Bears Ears, like Blanding and Monticello, have grown into proper towns and seen generations of families carve a living out of Utah’s sandstone deserts.

Unfortunately, these two groups that both have historic and cultural claims to the land, do not see eye to eye on how to use it. The current inhabitants of Blanding, Bluff, and other border towns have grown up exploring the wilderness around them and using it to graze cattle. They’ve been free to roam relatively unrestricted and even collect or sell many of the artifacts they find. To them, this is life. Changing it would be enormously difficult. The tribes, however, see the destruction that is happening to their ancestral lands — mostly in the form of large-scale looting of and vandalism to the artifacts there — and are not pleased.

Utah. USA. Silvery lupine (Lupinus argenteus) in bloom above Hammond Canyon. Manti-Lasal National Forest. Canyon walls are eroded Permian-age Cedar Mesa Sandstone of the Cutler Group. Photo courtesy of Scott Smith.

This is why the Navajo, in June 2010, presented the first proposal to protect Bears Ears to Utah Representative Bennett. The Navajo went around speaking to all the elders of the Navajo nation and other tribes with interests in the area to create a map of all the areas that needed protection. Representative Bennett lost his election that year so the Navajo did not release their map until April of 2011. In July of that same year, Utah Dine Bikeyah (UDB), a Navajo organization set up to specifically handle the process of protecting Bears Ears, turned the map and proposal into a short book and distributed it to political leaders across Utah and Washington D.C. The idea of protecting Bears Ears was now fully on the table, and the debate began.

It took two more years before the state of Utah had a real proposal in response. It came in the form of the February 2013 Utah Public Lands Initiative (PLI). The bill, proposed by Utah Representative Bishop and supported by Utah Representative Chaffetz, sought to solve many of southern Utah’s land debates in one giant compromise. The peak of this was Bears Ears. The tribes, now aligned in the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition, wanted Bears Ears to be protected at a size of 1.9 million acres, with the authority to manage the land placed in their hands.The state of Utah wanted to ensure that the people of Bluff and Blanding had their interests represented as well, and wanted to keep the area open to future economic development.

Although nearly three years of debate, discussion, and compromise went into the PLI, it ultimately failed. The tribes eventually pulled their support from the bill, saying that Representative Bishop was continually unresponsive and in the end excluded the tribes from having management authority over the Bears Ears region. By the time the 114th Congress had ended in late December 2016, no vote had been taken on the PLI.

The tribes knew that this was a possibility from the beginning, and so, planned for a backup. They initially sought to have the region protected as a National Conservation Area with the help of the state of Utah (this was the PLI), however, they also knew that the president could establish a National Monument and protect Bears Ears without the state’s help or consent. The Intertribal Coalition had therefore been lobbying President Obama and Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell in case the PLI were to fall through. When it became clear that the PLI would not gain the votes it needed before the end of the 114th Congress, President Obama designated a 1.35 million acre chunk of land in southeastern Utah as Bears Ears National Monument, and granted the tribes’ request for management authority.

Protestors congregate on the Salt Lake Capitol to protest shrinkage of Bears Ears. Photo by Nick Halberg.

The Utah delegation, and many Utahns near the new monument, saw this designation as an obvious abuse of the Antiquities Act, the 1906 law that allowed presidents the authority to create national monuments, and a huge overreach by the executive. Almost immediately, the Utah delegation began lobbying president-elect Trump. Senator Hatch was so influential in this lobbying that Trump mentioned him on multiple occasions while discussing the monument.

The first step by the Trump administration in the Bears Ears conflict took place in April of 2017 when Secretary Zinke began touring and evaluating all the monuments designated in the last 21 years. The entire process was wrapped in suspicion, however, as Zinke’s final report on the monuments was not officially released until long after the tour was complete.

On December 4, 2017 President Trump travelled to Salt Lake City to once again use the Antiquities Act to determine the borders of Bears Ears National Monument. This time, however, the monument was reduced by roughly 85%, from a size of 1.35 million acres to 200,000 acres. Grand Staircase-Escalante, a monument designated by Bill Clinton just shy of 20 years ago, was also reduced from 1.9 million acres to about a million acres. The reductions were met with applause from the Utah delegation, and boos from thousands of protesters who took to the Capitol steps a few days before Trump’s arrival.

Across the country, the reductions were met with the same mixed reaction. A bigger question plagued the action: was it legal? The Antiquities Act does not explicitly designate the president the power to reduce monuments, though borders have been altered on a few occasions in the past. Now, the courts will decide the fate of both Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante as the Intertribal Coalition and a collection of environmental groups have sued the president.

Protestors congregate on the Salt Lake Capitol to protest shrinkage of Bears Ears. Photo by Nick Halberg.

The Utah delegation, not willing to leave their victory in uncertainty, have proposed two bills to codify the president’s reductions. Representative Stewart introduced H.R. 4558, which will solidify the borders and create a new national park in one of the monuments’ sections. Similarly, Representative Curtis introduced H.R. 4532, which also aims to codify the reductions to Bears Ears. The bills are being deliberated over in a congressional subcommittee now.

The history of Bears Ears is complex, and the debate is far from settled. As the court cases and legislative pieces progress, the possibility of Bears Ears borders once again being altered is high. There only seems to be one thing certain about the landlocked, arid corner of Utah: it has made, and will continue to make, big waves.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

Cover photo courtesy of Gary German.

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Improving Air Quality

We all know what winter in Utah is like. Crowds will travel from all over to see the lights at Temple Square, thousands of skiers flock to experience the best snow on Earth, and we all get to experience our favorite thing about Utah—never ending smoggy air. With Salt Lake City’s ever growing population projected to double by 2050, it seems that the air quality is only getting worse from here on out.

According to a study conducted by the American Lung Association, Salt Lake City ranked as the 7th most polluted city in the nation in 2015. The same study gave a letter grade to every state based on the quality of their air, where Salt Lake received an F. This is because every year there is a substantial increase in the number of bad quality air days with short term particle pollution, which is a mixture of primary particles like dust, volatile organic compounds, and emissions and their reaction in the atmosphere. We Utahns definitely have experienced this, and unfortunately not just during the winter time. If you’ve ever been on the top of one of our many mountain peaks and realized you couldn’t really see the city clearly, then you know what I’m talking about.

HEAL, which stands for Healthy Environmental Alliance of Utah, is a group here in Salt Lake City that advocates for clean air and renewable energy sources, and helps to protect Utah from nuclear and toxic air hazards. HEAL originated from another group called Families Against Incinerator Risk (FAIR), a grassroots organization that started in the ‘90s, aimed at stopping the Army from incinerating toxic weapons in Tooele. FAIR was worried about the downwind effect that surrounding communities might face from nuclear and toxic threats being introduced to their environment.

Sitting down with Noah Miterko, a grassroots organizer at HEAL, I got to learn what this organization was all about.

“When HEAL is working on something, we try to work on the grassroots and advocacy side, you know, getting people involved, connecting concerned communities and individuals with the tools and education they need to make a difference,” he said. “It’s important and people really care about this. People get sick from the air quality here, or people even move away because of it. It really blindsides people, I think, who move here from out of town. They think, Salt Lake City: beautiful mountains, the Olympics; it must be super clean. But then they get here, and well, not so much.”

HEAL works to help preserve Utah air by advocating about hot topic issues, educating the public, helping to enact different policies and bills by working with regulatory agencies, and also by encouraging the public to participate in citizen lobbying.

While there are many small ways for individuals to improve Utah’s air quality, such as biking to school and work, switching to renewable energy sources, and being more pollution conscious, the solution to Utah’s air is also tied to legislative work.

“One of the most effective things you can do as a resident is speak to your representatives, speak to your senator, and speak to your city councilperson,“ Miterko says.

University of Utah students, and other community members, interested in clean air or sustainability can find many ways to get involved with HEAL. This upcoming winter they will be holding meetings during the legislative previews, and teaching people how to citizen lobby. In addition, HEAL also hires students for prestigious internships during the spring, summer, and fall. Students involved in these internships work closely with HEAL on research projects relating to Utah air. Anyone interested can contact Noah Miterko at noah@healutah.org.

As a lover of the Utah outdoors, I am grateful to organizations like HEAL that are actively working on helping to clean the air, so that I can hopefully one day breathe without wheezing when I go for an outdoor run in our not-always-so-clear Utah air.

s.marty@wasatchmag.com

Photo courtesy of HEAL Utah.

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SUWA Pushes to Protect Wilderness

It’s obvious why many born in Utah stay here, and those who come often stay: our public lands. Our state may house a number of great things that scream, “This is the place,” but none can compare to the beauty, the solace, and the life-giving qualities that silently abound in our last remaining wild lands.

The Utah delegation begs to differ. Per Gov. Gary Herbert’s request and repeated calls from Sen. Orrin Hatch, President Donald Trump is coming to Utah early December to illegally eviscerate Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. This followed a sham review made in secret by the Trump Administration’s Department of Interior. It claims that these monuments are much bigger than what the Antiquities Act allows. In reality, the Trump Administration wants “an estimated several billion tons” of coal and gas from Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and they want to strip away the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Commission’s stake in the management of Bears Ears National Monument.

Over 100,000 ancient indigenous sites, prehistoric remains, and lithic scatters are held in the land of Bears Ears National Monument. Further, this monument recognizes the inherent link between tribes and the land, as it created the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Commission to provide guidance and recommendations to United States land management agencies in stewarding the monument. To the west, incredibly preserved dinosaur fossils and more than 648 species of bees (many of them endemic to southern Utah) are at home in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

One thing is for sure — if any damage is to come to the sacred antiquities, fickle streams, grainy sandstone, and diverse vegetation, it cannot be undone.

In addition to national monument defense, The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance’s (SUWA) mission is to secure the wild’s place in Utah by defending wild public lands from fossil fuel development, safeguarding against public land ownership and management transfers, and creating wilderness designations through Congress.

You picked up this magazine because you value everything that our mountains and deserts have to offer in their natural state. It is time to stand up for wilderness and those unforgettable moments in it. SUWA is a platform for your voice and your actions to impact government, media, and community stakeholders in preserving wild lands. Take your stand by joining us.

1. Rally Against Trump’s Monumental Mistakes on Dec. 2: we need volunteers to assist with grassroots organizing and bodies to show up. Contact olivia@suwa.org to get involved.

2. If you identify as Hispanic, Latinx, or are part of an underserved community and want your voice heard in public land access and conservation, connect with olivia@suwa.org.

3. Get in contact with our intern via slc.intern@suwa.org to schedule activities and presentations with your club, class, or other organizations you are affiliated with around campus.

Stay in the know by following us on social media, and join our action network by texting “SUWA” to 52886.

Olivia Juarez is SUWA’s Latinx Community Organizer. Connect with her online or at 801-236-3774.

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See the Stars in Utah’s Dark Sky Parks

Over my fall break trip to Utah State University, I noticed something that I wasn’t used to seeing at my home in Salt Lake City — the starry night sky. Here in the crowded city, the stars in the sky are next to invisible. Thankfully, it is a different story once you drive a few hours outside of it.

Starry shot within Dead Horse Point State Park. Photo by Bettymaya Foott.

Bettymaya Foott is the coordinator for the Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative. A University of Utah graduate herself, Foott’s coordinator position allows her to work closely with the Consortium for Dark Sky Studies, located here on campus in the College of Architecture and Planning. The Consortium for Dark Sky Studies is committed to the preservation of dark skies in Utah.

DarkSky.org defines certified Dark Sky Parks as  “lands possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment.” In other words, these parks are certified places where you can actually see the stars. Luckily for Utahns, we have the most certified International Dark Sky Parks in the world. Utah has nine IDSPs, which include Goblin Valley State Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Dead Horse Point State Park, Canyonlands National Park, Hovenweep National Monument, Natural Bridges National Monument, and two located very close to the Salt Lake area; North Fork Park, which is located in Ogden, and Antelope Island State Park.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado from which the Milky Way was viewable. Photo by Bettymaya Foott.

Parks must apply to the International Dark Sky Association Dark Sky Places Program to become certified IDSPs. The parks must have at least 67 percent fully shielded lighting — light that only points downward — at the time of the application process, and must commit to having 100 percent fully shielded lighting within 10 years. In addition, the parks must agree to have at least four dark sky-themed events per year.

Foott explains that outside of an International Dark Sky Park status, parks can apply to three additional programs: the International Dark Sky reserves, which is a dark zone surrounded by a more populated periphery; the International Dark Sky Sanctuaries, which describes the most remote and dark places of the world, which are the most fragile; and the Dark Sky Developments of Distinction, which includes towns and places that focus on dark sky conservation, but aren’t qualified enough to become an IDSP.

While unfortunately, it won’t ever be realistic for anywhere in Salt Lake City itself to become IDSP certified because of light pollution, the good news is that this pollution, unlike most others, can easily be prevented and is reversible! Foott offers a few suggestions that we can all integrate easily into our lives:

1. Put lights only WHERE you need them. Excessive light causes light pollution.

2. Use lights only WHEN you need to. Use motion sensors to turn lights on and off as needed. This improves security and reduces light pollution.

3. Select bulbs with WARMER COLORS. Consider using amber or yellow colored lights to minimize sky brightness.

4. Select the most ENERGY EFFICIENT lamps and fixtures. Replacing poor quality outdoor lights with efficient fixtures saves energy and money.

“Get involved locally,” Foott stresses. “Ask your city or county about existing lighting ordinances that help protect the night sky in your area.”

Photo of the night sky from the Aztec Ruins National Monument. Photo by Bettymaya Foott.

Next time you are on a biking, climbing, or hiking trip in any one of Utah’s National Parks that are IDSP certified, make sure you look up at the stars and appreciate just how much more visible they are than when you are in the city.

s.marty@wasatchmag.com

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A Day in the Life of a Wasatch Urban Ranger

Have you ever heard of the Wasatch Front Urban Ranger program at the University of Utah? I bet you haven’t. Most people wish they had known sooner once they learn about the important work the folks involved do.

This program began in 2015 to advocate for trail users and land resources of the Jordan River Trail and the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. The Rangers, who are U students, patrol these trails while completing a variety of tasks: talking to users to collect data about their experiences on the trail, picking up trash, reporting any graffiti or maintenance problems, and even handing out treats to dogs and humans alike.

The Rangers start off their patrol by recruiting one other U student. At least once a week, Rangers complete about a three-hour patrol on one of the two trails — the Jordan River Trail, which is patrolled from about 200 South to 3900 South, and the Bonneville Shoreline trail, which is patrolled from Utah’s Hogle Zoo to Dry Creek. Rangers carry an assortment of items in their backpacks which include dog treats, gloves, and first aid kits, so they can be ready to pull noxious weeds or deal with small trail accidents. The Rangers also have access to the Gaia GPS app so they can track places that need trail maintenance.

In the program’s annual report for the 2016-17 school year, rangers reported 548 maintenance issues and removed 807 pounds of litter on the two trails. That is no small feat.

Urban Rangers out on the trail. Photo by Sierra Marty.

The data collected by the Rangers is meant to make a difference and is sent to important agencies like the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Jordan River Commision, Campus Security, Red Butte Garden, and the United States Forest Service.

This year, the program is lead by three guys in the Parks, Recreation, and Tourism department: Nick Rushford, Nate Furman, and Jeff Rose. However, students do not have to be majoring in PRT to join the team or volunteer; you can be studying anything.

These Wasatch Rangers aren’t paid for their time. This project is entirely service correlated, but what better service project is there than getting to walk on a trail and have a good time making it a good time for others? Essentially, anyone can be their own Urban Ranger. Have you ever picked up trash on your way out on a trail? Have you ever had the unfortunate experience of having a bike tire popped by puncturevine, a nasty weed that has mace-like seeds? Then you might be a good fit for this program. Anyone who loves the outdoors and is looking for service hours can volunteer to go on a patrol — general inquiries to UrbanRanger@utah.edu or call (801) 581-8542.

s.marty@wasatchmag.com

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Stop and Smell the Flowers

Wildflowers in Albion Basin. Photo taken by Kiffer Creveling.

Typically when you think of Alta, you are likely to think of skiing or hiking. What most people don’t think about are the natural wildflowers that grow all over the area. High-altitude wildflowers are some of the most rugged plants because of the environment they live in, residing in elevations near 8,500 feet or even higher. The blooming time of these flowers does not usually occur in the spring, but is instead delayed to the end of July, or even early August.

The Albion Basin wildflowers are something that everyone should have the opportunity to visit because of the uniqueness of those flowers. When you head up Little Cottonwood Canyon, you’ll begin to see the sea of flowers that flows around every canyon. Pay close attention to all of this, as the colors will change the higher up the canyon you get, as flowers of different elevations bloom at different times.

Wide shot of wildflowers in Albion Basin. Photo by Kiffer Creveling.

When you reach the top, where the Alta parking lot is, you can take the free shuttle that will drop you off on the Cecret Lake trailhead. It takes approximately 15-20 minutes between shuttles. The other option you have is to walk up to the trailhead through the Albion Basin meadow. If you are an ambitious hiker, then this is the option for you. You can walk next to the stream to see the flowers that need more water, which look completely different than the flowers in the meadows. Look carefully for the ground squirrels that have made their residence in the hills. Sometimes they’ll even peek out of their holes to ensure dominance over any approaching competition. Their presence makes the flowers even more fun to see.

Bluebell wildflowers in Albion Basin. Photo by Kiffer Creveling.

The bluebells and Indian paintbrush make up most of the blue and red flowers that you’ll see in the basin. The yellow flowers across the basin on the west side of the canyon make up the second largest meadow basin at Alta. The hike up to this meadow takes quite some time, but allows you to gain a new perspective of the Albion Basin flowers.

Two of my favorite flowers to look out for are fireweed and elephant’s head. Fireweed is the faint purple flower that grows on tall green stocks that taper to the leaves. At the beginning of the summer at these high elevations, the flowers are near the bottom of the plant; as summer progresses, the flower blossoms move towards the top. Once the blossoms have reached the top, you know that summer has finished and that fall is near. Elephant’s head, on the other hand, looks just like what you’d think: a small pink flower that resembles the head of an elephant. It grows on a shorter plant that is typically located near water or a marsh.

Fireweed wildflowers in Albion Basin. Photo by Kiffer Creveling.

Remember as you go that the flowers are there to stay and for others to enjoy. Too many times you may see other visitors picking the flowers to make a bouquet. If you see this happening, kindly remind them not to do so.

Forest rangers have put up informational cards on a few of the trees on the hike up to Cecret Lake, allowing young kids and the inquisitive hikers to learn about local nature in the area. On these cards you’ll read about the moose and the natural habitat, including the flowers surrounding you. If you are lucky enough on your walk to see the flowers, you may also be lucky enough to see a moose on the loose. Be sure to stay away and let them be — don’t disturb them. Make sure you take your camera with you to share the beauty of these wildflowers with others, without taking them away and harming the environment.

 

k.creveling@wasatchmag.com

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Local Artists Showcase Utah’s Beauty at UMFA

The Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA), located at the University of Utah, reopened a few weeks ago after having been closed for 19 months. The remodel of the museum came with an exciting feature — a new usage for the space called the “Great Hall.”

American artist, Spencer Finch, was invited by the UMFA to work in the Great Hall, where he created the “Great Salt Lake and the Vicinity,” a descriptive pantone color chip piece.

Throughout the hall, Finch’s pantone chips line the walls, color matching to what he saw on a three-day journey around the Great Salt Lake. Traveling by foot, boat, and motor vehicle, he matched pantone chips with the landscape he saw. Searching to consider landscapes in new ways, Finch used colors not usually associated with the Great Salt Lake, such as deep pinks and bright blues, to describe things like algae and the reflections he saw on the lake.

In an interview with senior curator Whitney Tassie, Finch said, “The more I learned about the lake, the more I realized that a lot of people who live right near the lake never go to the lake. No one’s interested in it. They think it’s polluted; they think it’s smelly; they think there are lots of flies; they think it’s ugly; it’s not a natural wonder. But it’s pretty spectacular, I mean, it’s pretty amazing.”

Finch’s “site-specific installation” has already attracted many visitors, including myself, and is a contemporary art piece I recommend seeing.

In addition to “Great Salt Lake and the Vicinity,” UMFA collaborates with the Dia Art Foundation and the Great Salt Lake Institute at Westminister College to maintain two other awesome land art pieces: Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty and Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels.

Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970, black basalt rock, salt crystals, earth, and water. UMFA photo.

In the museum’s permanent collection, you can see an original photograph from Nancy Holt of her Sun Tunnels. The photo features 24 photos taken every half hour for 12 hours, from sunrise to sundown, through the angle of one of the tunnels. You can see the gradation of light change as the sun moves over the tunnels, while you are still looking at the same view. Holt was inspired to create these tunnels because she “wanted to bring the vast space of the desert back to human scale,” as cited in “Nancy Holt: Sightlines.”

Since its reopening, UMFA has become a kind of “jumping off point” for art and interactive learning. Inside the museum you can find three different conversation areas named Trailhead, Basecamp, and Lookout. In these conservation areas, you can find informational pamphlets, biographies about local artists, and activities for kids to do.

Admission into the museum is free for U students and faculty, and thanks to its cafe, conversation areas, and quiet environment, it can make for a perfect study place, as well as a perfect date idea during its late open hours of 9 p.m. on Wednesdays.

If the museum atmosphere isn’t your scene, you can take it a little further to create your own art adventure. In Spencer Finch’s piece, his art started as soon as he left, and the same can go for you. Plan a road trip out to see those two amazing Utah land art pieces, or even camp out in the desert at the sun tunnels alone, the important thing is just to go and get yourself out there.

Before you go, make sure to check out a Spiral Jetty Backpack from UMFA, which includes a microscope, binoculars, thermometer, compass, maps, and a sketchbook, to make your adventure into Utah’s salty desert an even more interesting trip. These backpacks can be found at the front desk of the museum or at the Salt Lake City Public Library’s Children’s desk downtown.

s.marty@wasatchmag.com

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Saving Our Zion from Ourselves

Half a century ago, American author and essayist Edward Abbey laid forth a description, in his classically cynical style, of the forces pushing the National Park Service and ultimately shaping our public lands. In his mind, there were “The Developers,” the ones who wanted to see as many cars crammed into Yosemite valley as possible, and “The Preservers,” the ones who wished to see none. As Abbey put it, “the most important issue and perhaps the only issue [between these two factions] is the one called accessibility.”

Fast forward 49 years, and this issue is no longer just the ramblings of a grumpy man living alone in the desert, but the central concern of many popular national parks. No park is more worried about it than the fifth most visited park, directly four hours south of Salt Lake City.

Zion has been experiencing massive growth since its founding nearly a century ago. In my lifetime alone — 19 years — park visitation has increased by about two million people annually (from 2.3 million to 4.3 million). From 2015 to 2016, the jump was a little under 700,000. Those are numbers nearly on par with Disney World, something that would make anyone batting for “The Preservers” shiver in their goretex boots.

It bears noting that increased park traffic is good, to a degree. As John Marciano, the public affairs spokesman for Zion National Park, said, “Every person or vehicle that pays the admission fee and enters the park is a vote for the park.” Lawmakers and influencers see these “votes” and realize how valued places like Zion are both as an economic resource and a part of Utah’s unique identity. Zion played a huge role in generating the $8.15 billion tourists spent in Utah in 2016.

The fact remains though, too many visitors can lead to a degradation of Zion as a natural place.

Shuttle line at Zion National Park. Photo credit Zion National Park.

Because of Zion’s special configuration, most of the park’s 10,000 daily visitors stay within a narrow seven mile corridor along the Virgin River. Even there, the visitation is compounded to just three trailheads: Angel’s Landing, Emerald Pools, and The Narrows. This quickly leads to issues. In the main canyon there are only 12 designated trails, but over 800 social trails, totalling 35 miles. The animals in the park, especially the chipmunks on Angel’s Landing and the squirrels in The Narrows, are so tame they’ll roll over and play dead for a piece of your Clif Bar. Sure it’s cute, but it’s not natural or how a healthy, protected ecosystem should function.

None of this even mentions the incredible lack of infrastructure that exists in the park. Inside Zion, there are perhaps 1,000 parking spots, enough to cover a 10th of the visitors on an average day. Lines for the shuttle can frequently back up to the bathrooms or parking lot and run multiple hours. Throughout the main canyon there are maybe 40 toilet systems — 40 for what is sometimes, on a holiday weekend or busy day, 30,000 people.

“We have to do something,” Marciano says. “The visitor experience is diminished and the resource is being trampled.”

This begs the question, what can be done? How do you add accessibility to a place already so highly visited? If you’re one of Abbey’s “Developers,” the answer is easy: develop.

“There’s an empty space here, or there” Marciano says, motioning across the fence in front of us to a field, sarcastically embodying a “Developer.” “Build a big parking lot.”

Crowds at Zion National Park. Photo credit Zion National Park.

Fortunately for Zion, and us, this is not an option. Legally, the park is mandated by Congress to “protect [their] resource in perpetuity as it is.” Slathering the ground in fresh slabs of tar and concrete certainly would violate this. Ethically, neither Marciano or Jeff Bradybaugh, Zion NP superintendent, want to see the park become any more degraded by adding more parking lots. One point to the “Preservers.”

The trouble is, Zion is not getting less popular; something still needs to be done that can fix both of these problems while still preserving the park. Luckily, we have some inventive people in the office down south. They’ve put their heads together and have begun creating the Visitor Use Management Plan, or VUMP, which aims to do two things: First, maintain accessibility, and secondly, protect the park. Creating and implementing this VUMP will be a long road — an estimated five years — and requires intensive data collection to ensure the right solution is implemented. The park is confident that by the end of that time when a solution is reached, it will be the right one.

Part of this confidence derives from how much public input they are receiving. In mid-August, the Preliminary Alternative Concepts — the first “proposals” for how to mitigate overcrowding — closed their public comment period. These included ideas such as a reservation system to enter the main canyon, allocating time slots that certain groups could do certain trails, and changing nothing (an option that is looked upon poorly by the park). Well over 1,000 responses were received. Now, the park is sorting through all that data and will come out with a Preferred Alternative, which will have its own public comment period as well.

Zion is grateful for any and all ideas or comments the public has to make on this issue. By the time most of us graduate, these policies will be in place. If they are effective, other parks dealing with the same issue of accessibility and overcrowding could adopt whatever system Zion implements. This means that adding your voice now, while the park is encouraging you to do so, could not only affect the future of Zion, but the National Park System as a whole.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

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