Cedar Mesa and the landscape surrounding it are full of sacred places. Around almost every bend is another site where even the most detached type-A personality, like me, can connect with people and events far in the past. It’s places like this that provide opportunity for contemplation and an escape from all the distractions and responsibilities of modern life. If you need a primer on what I’m talking about, just check out the latest issue of Archaeology Southwest Magazine.
As the Executive Director of Friends of Cedar Mesa, I’m frequently asked, “What do you mean when you say it’s your job to protect the Mesa.”
It’s a fair question—one worth some thought. After all, what can a few passionate people do to protect a place so vast, so filled with archaeology, so attractive to so many people for so many reasons?
When I’m honest, I have to admit protecting this place is a somewhat selfish pursuit for me. I’ve chosen to live in the middle of nowhere because of the beauty, the intriguing cultural sites, the chance for adventure that lies just a few hundred yards from my home in Bluff.
I see myself wandering for years looking for new-to-me ruins, photogenic landscapes, un-climbed towers, and quiet, heart-stoppingly beautiful spots.
I love little more than visiting a 1,000-year-old dwelling and feeling like no other modern human has ever seen the place before (even though I know that’s probably not true). I ponder for days a friend’s theory about what a rock art panel “means.” I treasure the chance to kneel down in the desert sand and pick up a pot sherd, imagining the craftsman or craftswoman who made the pot or bowl the sherd came from. I enjoy thinking about the meals that were cooked in the pot or the feasts served from the bowl . . . then returning the sherd to the exact spot I found it.
I relish standing at the edge of a cliff, looking out over intricately eroded sandstone – and not hearing a sound, other than my own breathing or the occasional bird of prey squealing. As a climber, I am motivated by the chance to stand atop a tower no one has ever stood atop before.
There are 7 “I”s in those two paragraphs. That’s because protecting Cedar Mesa is personal for me—it’s a lot about protecting my own opportunity for the experiences that make me happy.
Not everyone craves the experiences I do. Some people like the sound of a powerful engine out in remote country. Others don’t enjoy hiking or don’t have the ability to scramble across rough terrain. For more than a few, “you’ve seen one ruin, you’ve seen ‘em all.” Others don’t think my desire for “experiences” is as important as economics—the possibility for local people to profit by the natural resources under Cedar Mesa’s surface. And yet others believe they aren’t hurting anyone by taking home a few pot sherds to remember their trip by—after all, so much has already been taken, and we’ll never stop petty collecting.
I really don’t mean to demean this other way of seeing things. People I know well and respect don’t share my obsession with quiet, wild, prehistoric experiences.
Yet I cannot help but think that my work to protect the Cedar Mesa region is not wholly selfish. Surely there are enough other places in our vast public lands where those who see things differently can have their “piece of the pie.” (And I wholeheartedly support multiple use of public lands; I just don’t support the concept that every use has to be supported in every place.) Surely, there are many who also share a passion for the types of experiences I do. Surely, I’m not alone in believing there’s something to protect in the way Cedar Mesa is now (as opposed to the way it was back when).
Oh yeah…I know some of those people. They’ll be showing up at our Celebrate Cedar Mesa friends gathering in Bluff, March 6–8th. It’s good not to be alone . . . sometimes.