Dispatch from San Juan County – No. 5

A year ago, Mark Meloy told me about his dream of starting an
organization committed to the appreciation and preservation of Cedar Mesa.  It
turns out that with Senator Bennett’s announcement of a process to resolve
public lands issues—including Cedar Mesa—in San Juan County,
Mark’s timing was perfect.

When I arrived at the Bluff Community Center on Saturday, I couldn’t help but
sense the difference between the community feeling I had there, and the
pressure that has accompanied the meetings we’ve been attending in Monticello as part of
Senator Bennett’s process.  This was largely the result of Mark’s vision to
focus the kickoff event on the passion local people have for this amazing
place.  Over 100 people were crowded into
the Bluff Community Center because they cared more
about Cedar Mesa than they cared about the hike they might be missing or the
hours not spent in their gardens on a beautiful, cool Saturday afternoon.

Check this new Cedar Mesa Friends website to get a sense of what
happened on Saturday: http://www.cedarmesafriends.org/index.html. 

Here are some of my thoughts:

Vaughan Hadenfelt, backcountry guide and owner with his wife, Marcia of Far Out Expeditions in Bluff,
began the event with a story and an array of slides of what he’s seen during
his two decades of wandering Cedar Mesa’s deepest recesses.  Scenes of canyons, ruins, and artifacts he’s discovered had the audience in near constant
ecstasy.  He ended with a sunset scene with a halo miraculously perched atop a
distant butte.  His story of discovering ‘perfect kiva’ did what good stories
are supposed to do: guide listeners deeper into their own reason and meaning.

Bill Lipe, the wise archeologist working with Crow
Canyon in Colorado, presented a history of Cedar Mesa
seen through the lens of his own extensive career working in this area.  Of all
the ideas I brought home from the event, the most important may have been
Bill’s thoughts about the people who lived on Cedar Mesa for thousands of
years, how they “found meaning in their lives” and how we have the opportunity
to find meaning in our lives by making direct connections with those living here

Bill touched on Cedar Mesa’s value to the entire world of
archeology–something he and his Crow Canyon co-worker talked about at the most recent San Juan County process meeting.  They said that not only is this area one of
the Seven Wonders of the Archeological World (which includes the Great Pyramids
and Petra in Jordan) but perhaps the most valuable because the architecture was
the first, the original in the area (apparently the Pyramids were built atop a
number of earlier cultures), the dry climate has helped to preserve organic
artifacts such as baskets and sandals, in addition to the stone tools and
pottery, and those who created these cultures are the ancestors of people still
living and practicing their ceremonies and rituals.  While there are many
reasons to protect Cedar Mesa, we owe it to the rest of the world to preserve
it for its archeological values.

A panel discussion took up the remainder of the afternoon.  Ted Wilson,
former SUWA board member and now head of Governor Herbert’s Balanced Resource
Council, was first.  He referred to Senator Bennett’s process and talked about
his recent involvement.  A few of us expressed our concerns over the fact that
all the stakeholders don’t seem to have played a role—the oil and gas people,
for example.  We expressed our concern over the fact that to date, none of the
promised field trips have been scheduled (Ted said that there will be field
trips) and that the County has been reticent in not being specific about their
priorities in the way that other participants have been.

Mark Maryboy, former San Juan County Commissioner was next.  He spoke
eloquently about the needs of the Navajo people to gather medicinal plants and
cut firewood.  And how Brad Shafer, Bennett’s aid, had visited different sites
with Navajo elders.

I spoke next—generally about the process, but more about the future—a
time when places that are quiet will be highly valued as our society gets
louder and louder.  I talked about the possibility that early people were able
to thrive on Cedar Mesa for thousands of years because they were able to “hear
themselves think” –something that is becoming nearly impossible today.

“Rather than saving Cedar Mesa, we should talk about how it will die and
how to reincarnate it.”  This was the somewhat gloomy but perhaps realistic
message from Winston Hurst, the archeologist who grew up in Blanding.  A
self-proclaimed “glass three-fourths empty kind of guy”, Hurst went on to
explain how we need to be careful because in his experience most efforts to
save a place end up doing more harm than good. He spoke of how the area has
been changed simply by the numbers of people who now visit.

Brian Quigley from the BLM told a great story about his first experience
in the canyons of Cedar Mesa.  He and his friend were backpacking and didn’t
know where they were  or where they were
going when they walked around a corner and stood facing Moonhouse Ruin.  Then he talked about visitor user days,
overnight use versus day use, and the permit process.

Ronnie Egan of the Great Old Broads for Wilderness spoke about that fact
that wilderness doesn’t mean locking an area up….that she and many of her aging
friends love getting out in Cedar Mesa and that there are and will always be
hundreds of miles of legal roads in the area that will always allow access.  She
spoke about traditional uses, and their need to continue but in a sustainable

What are the values that Cedar Mesa needs to be managed for?  Bill Lipe
asked this question, and pointed out the difficulty we all face with so many
different values and stakeholders who are passionate about this place.

The audience asked many good questions, made important comments, and
then it was time for the potluck dinner.  The people living in Bluff can really
cook.  It was one of the best potlucks I’ve ever been to. There was a giant
cake, great salads, and Joe Pachek brought stew he made from the heart of an
elk he killed last fall.  We finished with a reception at the new Cloudwatcher
Gallery where all the world’s problems were temporarily solved and for two
hours, everything seemed just right.

I’m looking forward to seeing what Mark Meloy does with all the good
energy that was created that day. We’ll keep you posted.

Brooke Williams
SUWA Field Advocate