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Environment

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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Firsthand Encounter of the Solar Eclipse

As has become common knowledge by now, a total solar eclipse is when the moon passes in between Earth and the Sun, casting a shadow upon the Earth and momentarily blocking the Sun. Due to the elliptical orbit of the moon, total solar eclipses occur once every 18 months, or about two times every three years. Prior to the August eclipse, the last eclipse to take place close to Utah was on Monday Feb. 26, 1979 — 38 years ago. This meant that the August eclipse, at least for us Utahns, was a big deal.

We looked at different maps of Wyoming as we planned our trip to view the full eclipse. We decided to venture up to Lake of the Woods on the Wind River Mountain Range in Wyoming, a remote destination approximately 40 miles due east of Jackson. We traveled north with a group of nine on a Sunday afternoon in preparation for the total solar eclipse the following day, Monday, Aug. 21. This was going to be the first total solar eclipse any of us had ever seen before, so we had no expectations, predictions, or emotions for what was coming our way. During our drive up, the excitement kept building as we saw more and more people from all over the United States traveling to witness totality.

Photographing the Great American Total Solar Eclipse from Lake of the Woods, Wyoming with Nik, Liz, Peter, Markus, Blake, Kristen, Eric, and Jani on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017
(Photo by Kiffer Creveling)

Building Excitement

As the sun set that first night, the air turned colder and colder. The temperature dropped even more once the sky turned black and the stars appeared. We could hear other eclipse chasers enjoying themselves with music, laughs, and the company they came with. A group of us walked down to the water’s edge to see one of the other party’s telescopes they had set up earlier. When we approached the other group, we found out that they had traveled from Colorado to view the eclipse. They invited us to look through their telescope to view various features within the night sky. You could visualize meteors burning up in Earth’s atmosphere, and constellations were as clear as glass. The Milky Way Galaxy was visible because it was a new moon. Polaris, the North Star, was shining brilliantly in the constellation Ursa Minor. The best, by far, was being able to see Saturn — we could actually make out the individual rings orbiting the planet. There was so much excitement in the air it was difficult to sleep knowing what would happen in less than 12 hours. We all fell asleep at some point anyway, gazing at the heavens above.

The next morning, we made breakfast and began setting up our chairs and cameras to view the solar eclipse. We had a few of our group members continually checking the sun’s status using eclipse glasses to let us know when the moon was beginning to make its pass in front of the sun.

Then they yelled, “It’s happening!”

Photographing the Great American Total Solar Eclipse from Lake of the Woods, Wyoming with Nik, Liz, Peter, Markus, Blake, Kristen, Eric, and Jani on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017
(Photo by Kiffer Creveling)

The Path of Totality

We all rushed to prepare for what we knew was coming next, quickly putting on our eclipse glasses. As parts of the sun began to disappear, the camping group next to us set off a few gun shots to notify everyone in the area. Suddenly, the intensity of the sun’s light began to decrease. The penumbra (partial shadow cast from the moon) was upon us. As the penumbra continued to pass overhead, and the moon was obscuring more and more of the sun, the thermometer we brought showed the temperature of the air was indeed dropping, just as our bodies told us it was. Every 10 minutes or so, we had one of our group members yell out the temperature.

The moon kept moving over the face of the sun, and more and more light was disappearing right before us. It got darker as we were nearing the umbra (the full shadow cast from the moon). The shadows became visibly sharper as the sun took on a crescent moon shape. We looked at the shadows around us as they, too, took the same crescent shape. We found ourselves struggling to believe our eyes at this amazing view.

Photographing the Great American Total Solar Eclipse from Lake of the Woods, Wyoming with Nik, Liz, Peter, Markus, Blake, Kristen, Eric, and Jani on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017
(Photo by Kiffer Creveling)

Photographing the Great American Total Solar Eclipse from Lake of the Woods, Wyoming with Nik, Liz, Peter, Markus, Blake, Kristen, Eric, and Jani on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017
(Photo by Kiffer Creveling)

Photographing the Great American Total Solar Eclipse from Lake of the Woods, Wyoming with Nik, Liz, Peter, Markus, Blake, Kristen, Eric, and Jani on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017
(Photo by Kiffer Creveling)

The moon’s course didn’t slow, and the sky and space around us continued to darken. For a few seconds, the Diamond Ring effect was visible, and then what are called Bailey’s Beads appeared as the light from the sun passed through the valleys of the moon’s surface. The umbra was overhead, and since we were in the path of totality, we were able to remove our glasses, looking with our naked eye at the eclipsed sun.

We cheered during this moment of complete totality. The corona, or the outer surface of the sun’s atmosphere, was the only light visible along with a small reddish layer that is the inner layer of the sun’s atmosphere, known as the chromosphere, shining intermittently around the perimeter of the moon.

Around us was a 360 degree sunset. The orange glow layered the horizon, transitioning from blue to a deep black near the sun. Stars became visible. The closest star visible to the naked eye was Regulus, which is seen in the night sky of the northern astronomical hemisphere during the winter time. Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun in our solar system, was visible along with Jupiter, Venus, and Mars. The eclipse created the darkest black we had ever seen. A small Cessna airplane flew right in front of our view, perfectly silhouetted by the corona.

Photographing the Great American Total Solar Eclipse from Lake of the Woods, Wyoming with Nik, Liz, Peter, Markus, Blake, Kristen, Eric, and Jani on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017
(Photo by Kiffer Creveling)

After exactly 2 minutes and 30 seconds of this miracle, sunlight began to peek over the moon through Bailey’s Beads, and then the diamond ring appeared vibrantly again before we were blinded by the light from the sun.

An Unforgettable Experience

From that point until the eclipse ended, our eclipse glasses never again left our faces. Just like that, totality — where daytime transitioned to nighttime in the middle of the day — was over. Even so, the shadows on the ground remained extremely sharp, and crescent moon shapes lay underneath the trees.The only difference now from before totality was that the temperature was increasing.

This was an experience of a lifetime. We are already marking our calendars for the next astronomical spectacle that will occur in the United States in 2024, starting in Texas and moving towards Maine.

k.creveling@wasatchmag.com

p.creveling@wasatchmag.com

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Opening Minds to the Oquirrh Mountains

Veiled in mystery by the legalities and the eminence of the adjacent Wasatch mountains, the Oquirrh Range serves as the 10,000 feet dividing line between the Salt Lake and Tooele valleys. Equipped solely with the knowledge of a BLM public lands route provided by an outdated hiking guide, and a strong desire to summit a couple of the Oquirrh’s more prominent mountain tops, I took to the westernmost ridge of Kessler Peak.

It seems that the majority of Salt Lake residents simply lack the desire to trek into the Oquirrhs, given the close proximity of the sublime, and comparably larger Wasatch Range. Those who have opened their minds and weekends to the western green peaks have often suffered for it. They are met with the intimidating barrier of red tape and prohibitions deterring even the most intrepid outdoorsmen from entering for fear of hefty fines — or worse. Painfully evident by the violently dissolved mountain that is now the main Kennecott mining facility, the Oquirrh Range remains in a perpetual state of contractual inaccessibility since Rio Tinto’s colossal 1872 land grab that still holds control to this day.

With this corporate acquisition and grand expanses of private purchases, virtually the entire eastern face of the Oquirrhs is restricted to public use (with some exceptions to the far south). While some exploit the negligence of private landowners and trail-blaze in this region outside of the law, those who prefer risk-free, legal natural emersion are ultimately out of luck. Thankfully, the back westernmost face of the range offers a patchy network of BLM land allowing access to those extra-determined to explore Oquirrh terrain without paying heavily for it.

Following the guidance and antiquated advice of a 7-year-old online hiking guide, I made my way to that western back side with hopes of surmounting the ridgeline connecting Kessler and Farnsworth Peaks without deliberately breaking any laws. The guide I relied on did accurately get me to the approximate location of an access point, though it failed to compensate for the nascent housing developments along the base of these mountains.

The overlying drawback of hiking in a largely neglected public land is the total absence of trails, and the consequential abundance of wildlife and wilderness left to flourish independently of human obstruction. When I arrived, I was without the helpful understanding that the access point was at the perpendicular bend, and I began much farther back than I ought to have. I was thus left to bushwhack through dense, arid fields of overgrown dead grass, and the ubiquitous webs of hobo spider webs strung among them (yes, hobo spiders). Long pants and socks are highly recommended in this area in anticipation of the venomous arachnids that call it home — exercise caution.

Aside from the apparent danger of overgrown desert wilderness, the back face of the Oquirrh Range is beautiful. It serves as a tangible reminder of the desolate nature the remaining untamed American West provides.

While my lack of preparation and foresight forced my dejected party to turn back before completing the trek, an impetuous push up the ridge will eventually place you atop Kessler Peak. It is connected by an extended ridgeline to Farnsworth Peak, the more dominant of the two. Note: A section of this ridgeline is private land. Trespassing is not encouraged and would be done at your own risk.

Even if not for the explicit purpose of surmounting some of the more obscure peaks surrounding the Salt Lake Valley, exploration west of the Oquirrhs is sure to provide you with a palpable sense of connectivity with our forgotten 19th-century wild-western past. At the very least, you will come across the disheveled rusted railway spikes, and the scattered animal bones that are evocative of it. The radiant and largely untouched natural beauty is something worth seeing.

Immersion into this incredible yet inhospitable expanse requires only preparation and consciousness; all else is scenery.

d.rees@wasatchmag.com

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Sun Tunnels and Spiral Jetty Provide Change of Scenery

For those who enjoy the outdoors and art, Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels and Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty can be a nice change of scenery compared to your usual mountain adventures. Located on the Utah/Nevada border, the Sun Tunnels are roughly three and a half hours away. If you’re looking for something a little closer to our beloved city, the Spiral Jetty can be reached in under two hours as it sits on the northeastern part of the Great Salt Lake.

Holt’s four 18 foot long tunnels were installed in 1976 when she purchased a total of 40 acres for her contribution to the Land Art Movement of the 1960s and ‘70s. It is as simple as typing in “Sun Tunnels” on Google Maps to find precise directions to getting there. It’s wise to download and/or print out your planned route just to be on the safe side, as well as to bring a GPS.

With two routes to choose from — one being only 10 minutes faster than the other — I chose to head west on I-80. This will take you past the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Keep in mind that you must leave no later than 5 p.m. to make it to the tunnels before sunset, and you must leave earlier if you need time to make any pit stops. As you pass through Wendover and take Exit 378 towards Oasis Montello, it’ll probably feel like you’ve been driving for an eternity.

Don’t worry, you’ll take that right turn after the exit, and after about 20 miles, you’ll enter this tiny little town called Montello. I highly suggest you top off your tank here, as gas can be a little pricey since it’s the middle of nowhere, and use the restroom. From there, you’ll notice several “road closed” signs, but don’t worry, you can go around those. After turning off the main paved road, you’re about 25 minutes out from the tunnels. The use of a GPS and downloaded trip plan is very helpful for the last stretch of dirt roads leading up to the tunnels. You’ll need it to find your way back to the main road after your experience with this famous piece of art.

The Spiral Jetty is a good option if you don’t have the time to trek the 100+ miles to the Sun Tunnels, but still want to enjoy some Utah land art. Smithson created this massive walkway in 1970, also as a part the Land Art movement.

Heading north on I-15, you’ll take Exit 365 towards Corrine. Take the opportunity to fill up there as there are no other gas stations for miles. After following the signs to the Golden Spike National Historic Site, turn left onto Golden Spike Road to the visitor center. Had too many snacks and drinks on the way? The GSNHS Visitor Center is your last hope, and it’s only open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Plan accordingly.

This is where cell phone reception goes out, too, which is why it’s wise to download and/or print out your planned route ahead of time, as well as bring a GPS along for added security. At this point, you’ll never appreciate road signs and paved roads more. After the visitors’ center, the main gravel road will take you west towards the middle of nowhere. Keep following this road for 5.5 miles, then take a right. Keep your eyes peeled for Spiral Jetty signs. They’re sparse, but they do exist. At this point, it probably feels like you’re lost, but there will be a T-junction, and you’ll take a right turn. The road will curve around Rozel Point for what seems like an eternity — 9 full miles — and will finally come to the end at a cul-de-sac where you can park.

a.duong@wasatchmag.com

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Trump Train Puts National Monuments on Trial

Another step in his fervent scramble to dissolve all measures undertaken to preserve the environment within the past three decades, President Donald Trump’s April 26 executive order prompted Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review — and potentially revoke — national monuments created since 1996. The results of Zinke’s review are recognized as a preliminary indicator as to how public lands are to be treated under the Trump administration. This heavy-handed exertion of government power, the president claimed in a speech made when he signed the Antiquities Act Executive Order, will “end another egregious abuse of federal power.”

Photo by Dalton Rees.

The national monuments now under scrutiny were designated by Theodore Roosevelt’s 1906 Antiquities Act, permitting the acting president to take unilateral action in the protection of natural resources and historical points of intrigue on federal land under threat. While federal land protected by this law remains entirely accessible for public, recreational use, commercial exploitation (i.e., mining, lumber work, and oil-drilling) becomes strictly prohibited.

A firm advocate of the commodification of nature, Trump asserted in the same speech,“The Antiquities Act does not give the federal government unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water, and it’s time that we ended this abusive practice.”

During the presidencies of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, a collective 26 monuments were ratified, and they will soon be under review. Choosing to retain a degree of ambiguity while approaching this sweeping review, Zinke suggested in an April 25 press briefing on that executive order that he will base his decision upon whether a respective designation had resulted in “loss of jobs, reduced wages, and reduced public access.” Zinke went on to assert that he is “not going to predispose what the outcome is going to be.”

This recent executive order has put Utah in the spotlight as Obama’s end-term designation of Bears Ears was evidently the initial inspiration for this move. The monument’s particularly extensive size has drawn immense criticism from Utah conservatives, for at over 2000 square miles, Bears Ears is currently over four-times the size of Canyonlands National Park, the largest in the state. Following the continual pandering of Utah’s Sen. Orrin Hatch and Gov. Gary Herbert, Trump directly asserted he was eager to reduce the boundaries of the 1.35-million-acre designation when signing his executive order. Recent events have indicated this wish is  likely to be brought to fruition.

After his definitive trip to the Bears Ears Monument, Zinke delivered a statement to Congress asserting the designation is “not the best use of the land.” He went on to recommend that Trump reduce the monument as to solely encompass the areas of historical and prehistorical intrigue, like residual cave dwellings, and archaeological sites. This recommendation remains purely sentiment until the president reaches his final decision in August following Zinke’s remaining 25 reviews, including that of Grand Staircase-Escalante.

For many environmentalists and tribal advocates of the designation, Zinke’s recommendation is perceived as a vulgar affront to the initial intentions of the monument, namely, respect for the five sovereign tribes holding sacred ties to the area, and conservation.

Adam Sarvana, a representative for Democrats on the House National Resources Committee, was reported in The New York Times as responding to Zinke’s recommendation for Bears Ears stating, “If you look at a map, that area is only about five percent of the monument area. … It seems like what they’re describing is a few stops on a boardwalk arcade, a few isolated areas, rather than a professionally conserved landscape the way national monuments are typically designated.”

Photo by Dalton Rees.

While Zinke’s recommendation did concede to permit additional protections in certain locations within the existing monument in the form of national recreation and/or conservation areas, it is clear that what the secretary is proposing entails a mass reduction of Bears Ears as we currently know it.

d.rees@wasatchmag.com

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