Over the Hills and Far Away (in Escalante)

The journey from my sunny San Diego suburb to my tiny Utah town took me much farther than the 637 miles by car and has shattered my preconceived notions about what a desert is and how one lives without the Pacific Ocean close at hand.

These boots were made for techin', and that's just what we'll do.

These boots were made for techin’, and that’s just what we’ll do.

For one thing, the journey took me from the endangered Coastal Sage Scrub ecosystem of Southern California to the underappreciated desert scrubland of the southwestern Colorado Plateau ecosystem. Though these landscapes superficially share some similarities, their differences are achingly palatable to my homesick eyes. ‘Wait, it snows here? And in mid-April?’ ‘Monsoons? That can’t be right…I thought that this was a desert.’ ‘But where’s the igneous rock? All I see is sedimentary. There’s no granite anywhere.’ ‘Lake Powell has a “beach”?’ Ah, the naiveté of a bewildered transplant!

The next stage of my journey has involved trying to wrap my mind around the magnitude of my surroundings. Everything about the landscape of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (hereafter: GSENM, as we in the know refer to it) is simply and complexly grand. That’s always the first word that springs to mind when trying to describe the vast array of canyons, cliffs, ancient dunes, fossilized dinosaur tracks, shifting hills, slickrock faces, riparian oases, and fractured crust that compose the indomitable monument. Grand and virtually indescribable.

The view from my tent door.

The view from my tent door.

How does one convey the variety of natural wonders to an unknowing audience? How does one capture the subtle hues of red on a rock when the ever shifting clouds overhead affect the shades on the ground from moment to moment? How, oh how dear reader, am I to brag about this on Facebook when words and pictures fall desperately short of the mark?

The last, and probably most important leg of my journey has been understanding that the answers to my questions are all: I can’t and I shouldn’t really even try. This place is meant to be experienced with all of one’s senses working together to create an honest portrait of what living beauty is. Perhaps the monument is like a reverse of Dorian Grey’s picture – as the world becomes more impoverished of species diversity, wild places, and harmony with nature, locations like Escalante will become lovelier because they will become only rarer in the future – they will be a snapshot of bygone histories that we should always cherish.

Hiking in the Zebra Slot Canyon

Hiking in the Zebra Slot Canyon

With 1/5th of my time in Escalante behind me, I have much to look forward to: a community of like-minded office mates; a brilliant, optimistic, plant-loving co-intern; endless opportunities for exploration on the monument and beyond; a whole new ecosystem and a huge array of native flora to learn and to love; knowledge that working for the Seeds of Success program will have real world conservation implications in the uncertain future; assisting in  early morning hummingbird studies; lending help in late night bat surveys; planting willows for bank stabilization; working for the BLM; collaborating with rangers, scientists, and citizens for a brighter future; and heaps more.

With all these thoughts buzzing around in my head, I can’t help but ponder: what is it that Bilbo used to sing about the Road? Something about where it was going…? Ah well, it will come to me eventually! Until it does, may your paths lead you to new wonders around you and new discoveries within you.

In the spirit of adventure,

Elise

Escalante Field Office, BLM

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