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Supporters and wilderness advocates like you play a critical role in the protection of Utah’s spectacular wild places.
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*Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance is a 501(c)3 nonprofit. All contributions are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.
June is Pride month! In this episode, we explore how mother nature can cultivate confidence, healing, and embodiment for LGBTQ+ people. SUWA Community Organizer Olivia Juarez and guests Eva Lopez of Orgullo Utah and Salvador Oregon-Torres, a Utah-based LGBTQ+ and undocumented community advocate, delve into queerness in the wild.
Wild Utah is made possible by the contributing members of SUWA. Our theme music, “What’s Worth?” was written and performed in Moab by Haley Noel Austin.
Hispanic Heritage Month is observed nationally from September 15th to October 15th to commemorate the important contributions of Hispanic and Latinx peoples to America’s cultural tapestry. The wild public lands of the Colorado Plateau hold the histories of these peoples in their canyon walls, rivers, and mountains. In advocating for the preservation of America’s redrock wilderness, SUWA recognizes the influence these individuals and communities have in shaping the story of Utah’s canyon country, and the important role our wild places can play in inspiring and engaging them for generations to come.
Hispanic & Latinx histories on the Colorado Plateau predate American colonialism and even Mexican nationhood. Before Mexico or the State of Utah drew their boundaries on the Colorado Plateau, hundreds of thousands of indigenous people lived in the American southwest. According to Dr. Armando Solorzano of the University of Utah, anthropologists believed the ancient Aztecs began their migration to the contemporary Mexico City area from southeastern Utah and eventually migrated throughout North America. Some ultimately settled in Mexico, some moved northwest to the Pacific Coast, and some remained in the American Southwest. The histories of native Latinx ancestors live on today in what we know as America’s redrock wilderness.
Hispanic Heritage Month also recognizes the legacies left by Spanish conquistadors and missionaries as they made their way west across the Colorado Plateau. Their stories are remembered today in part through the names of well-known places and landmarks. For example, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and the Escalante River take their names from the Spanish priest Padre Silvestre Vélez de Escalante of the historic Dominguez-Escalante Expedition of 1776. Dominguez and Escalante were sent from the Mission of Santa Fe, New Mexico to find a route to Monterey on the Pacific Coast. Though a harsh winter freeze ended their expedition in what is today Utah’s Washington County, the path they took helped establish the Spanish Trail, a crucial trade and settlement route with its heyday from 1829 to 1848. If not for this earlier Spanish exploration, U.S. westward expansion and Mormon resettlement into the southwest and California may not have been achievable.
Other names that stuck from the observations of Spanish travelers in this historic era include the La Sal Mountains near Moab, literally translated as The Salt Mountains. One can imagine the peculiarity of seeing greyish-white colored peaks beyond the Moab valley’s August heat for the first time; some say Spaniards believed the peaks to be white with salt and named the range accordingly. The San Rafael Swell also takes its name from the patron saint of travel, San Rafael, known in English as the archangel St. Raphael. It is said that the Spaniards prayed to San Rafael as they made their way through the desert’s formidable uplifted land formations to their mission in Monterey, and the name has remained since.
Today, the San Rafael Swell is of special value to Utah’s residents for its recreational, scientific, historical, cultural, and scenic character. It is a place residents of Utah’s urban Wasatch Front can easily visit for a weekend to explore slot canyons, sandstone mesas, and desert waterways like Muddy Creek and the San Rafael River. As such, it carries unique importance for Utah’s urban Latinx and Hispanic communities.
According to 2016 U.S. Census Bureau population estimates, 347,625 Latinx people live along the Wasatch Front, accounting for 83% of Utah’s Hispanic and Latino population. Protecting the integrity of the San Rafael Swell’s 1.4 million acres of redrock wildlands also protects the ability of Utah’s communities of color to enjoy these iconic landscapes. Given the high incidence of poverty and environmental injustice faced by these communities, one could argue that they may especially benefit from the healing afforded by spending time in wilderness.
Because of its proximity to Utah’s Latinx residents, the San Rafael Swell is the first wild landscape that many in this community may visit to seek refuge from everyday stressors, if only for the weekend. Among the many reasons to protect the San Rafael Swell and Utah’s other wild landscapes is the opportunity they provide for these residents to reconnect with nature and experience the deep silence and foundations of life abundant in wilderness. Such connections may well inspire a whole new generation to advocate on behalf of Wild Utah.
Hispanic Heritage Month encompasses the past, present and future. As we celebrate the histories and contemporary contributions of Hispanics to the American story, we also look forward to a future where America’s redrock wilderness improves the wellbeing of all who experience its beauty, its layered history, and its quiet solace — including Hispanics, Latinos, communities of color and underserved communities everywhere.
In July, a Resolution supporting Latinx engagement in the great outdoors and conservation was introduced to the U.S. Senate. The Resolution is supported by Democrats and Republicans across the nation as well as in the House of Representatives. It affirms the role Latinos have to play in conservation efforts, supports the meaningful engagement of Latinos in conservation, and encourages Latino communities to participate in various activities that foster a love of the outdoors and drive conservation awareness. The implications of this simple resolution are bright for U.S. public lands and over 56.6 million Latinx and Hispanic U.S. residents. It means that our precious redrock country will have more voices to speak for its protection.
Efforts to protect public lands in Utah and our nation’s most delicate and threatened ecosystems will only succeed as far as the number of people willing to speak up for them. In order to speak for our public lands, Latinx communities must get to know the places we are speaking for. Places like the San Rafael Swell, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and the numerous canyons, rivers, and cultural sites throughout southern Utah are the inheritance of all American people. Yet, Hispanic and Latinx populations are underrepresented in these areas. For example, the Southwest Region of the U.S. Forest Service reported that 14 percent of forest visitors identified as Hispanic—a harrowing number considering that populations in Arizona and New Mexico are 48 percent and 31 percent Hispanic respectively. The most recent National Park Service study on visitation likewise confirmed that communities of color are underrepresented in public lands—22 percent of visitors are minorities, though they make up 37 percent of the population.
Organizations are working nationally to remedy this discrepancy while equipping Latinx and Hispanic communities with the tools to stand up for public land conservation. Twenty-one organizations undersigned in a letter urging Congress to support the resolution are spearheading Latinx community engagement in conservation by helping eliminate barriers to public lands through education, democratic participation, service, recreation, and amplifying Latinx voices for conservation.
SUWA has joined the movement with the addition of our new Latinx Community Organizer (yours truly). Our goals fall right in line with this resolution and the guiding principles of the Next 100 Coalition: to ensure that our public lands reflect the faces of our country, celebrate all cultures, and actively engage all racial and ethnic communities in shaping the future of our public lands. We will do this by proactively creating opportunities for local Latinx and Hispanic communities to speak out in the media, learn about the issues, serve our unprotected wildlands, and participate in grassroots activism.
If you or your group are passionate about wild Utah and want to learn more or get engaged, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.