Crossfire Canyon is not the canyon’s real name. Following the trend in nature writing, I have refrained from providing any obvious identifying names or details. Otherwise, this three-part series describes actual events and conversations.
Mormons in Utah, especially in southern Utah, often find their concepts of stewardship put to the test when predominantly non-Mormon environmental groups act to preserve resources they perceive Mormons (or any others) are abusing under their stewardship ethic or are allowing to be abused. Learning to navigate through the most recent controversial land use skirmish in my newly adopted, Mormon-dominated, southern Utah community has presented an opportunity for me to reconsider my own ideas about stewardship, which seem to be forever under construction anyway. I don’t like telling people what to do; where the gospel and stewardship are concerned, my greatest responsibility lies in changing my own thinking and behavior. But I can’t resist making some observations. Here’s the story of my first experience with a local land use dustup.
On September 13th, I dropped by a green blog and followed an in-post link to discover that the Utah Bureau of Land Management had closed eight to nine miles of Crossfire Canyon very near where I live to OHV (ATV) traffic. According to the linked Salt Lake Tribune article, ATV riders had caused “severe damage near [1800-year-old-and older] Anasazi archaeological ruins.” The closure, the article said, is not intended to be permanent but will last for as long as it takes to assess the damage to cultural resources and “fix the problem.”
I haven’t lived in the area long, but after years of confinement while I dealt with my disabled daughter’s needs, Crossfire has helped me replenish personal resources, spiritual and physical, I had sorely depleted. Even with ATVers, the canyon remains wild enough to rekindle the level of engagement at which I feel happiest. The prospect of being able to hike the canyon without ATV traffic—well, that drifts into the realm of my wildest dreams.
After my initial shouts of glee, I thought of my nearest neighbors, nearly all of whom are avid ATVers, devout Mormons and fellow ward members. Many are the offspring of pioneers who settled the area and built it up so that out-of-towners like me could move in and lose themselves to find themselves among the region’s geological wonders and some of the finest dark-sky views of the galaxy left in the United States. I knew the BLM’s unceremonious closure of one of my neighbors’ favorite ATV trails would outrage them. The possessiveness many feel toward the land goes well beyond the acreage they actually own. Individual and community identities extend along 60 mile radii to points on a three-hundred-and-sixty degree vista, taking in the Abajo Mountains, Elk Ridge and the Bear’s Ears, and expanses of desert shooting off into seeming indeterminacy east toward Colorado and south toward Arizona and New Mexico.
On September 15th, I walked with my daughter to the ATV trailhead into Crossfire to see if the closure had been posted. It had. On the way out, I ran into the BLM law enforcement officer assigned to enforce the closure. Also present were a couple of ladies of retirement age loading equipment into their vehicle and a gentleman of similar age with a camper and an assortment of dogs. The BLM law enforcement officer mentioned in passing the ladies were members of a group I assumed to be a hiking club. As I chatted with the officer, one of my LDS neighbors drove up in a pickup and asked what was going on. The BLM officer informed him of the canyon’s closure to OHVs. He proclaimed what a “bummer” that was, “because all this,” he said, with a sweeping gesture that took in the canyon and surrounding area, much of which is BLM land, “is more or less my backyard.” He left and met other neighbors mounted on ATVs. They sat talking three or four hundred feet away, discontentment rolling off them like heat waves off an Arizona highway.