My friends and I camp at the trailhead to Welcome Springs, on the edge of the Beaver Dam Mountains. I melt into my fold-up chair, thankful for the coolness of a beer, straight from a pool of creek water, on raw fingertips.
For the majority of my spring break this year I hiked the steep trail to hang out in the shade of a blue, tan, and black swirled cliff face named the “Wailing Wall.” Some days it was just a crew of Montana climbers, enjoying the desert in their annual migration south. Other days people from all over the U.S. crimped, slapped, pocket-pulled and hollered their way up the limestone.
As I sat in my camp chair, listening to the yurp-yurp of horny toads, I wondered at the beauty of this wild world.
The winter was filled with longs hours at my desk—inside. I love my work, wrestling with words, ideas, meaning. But I sometimes forgot how important being outside, unplugged, fully in the body is for my overall wellbeing. I experienced tension headaches and back pain full force mid-winter. After a few days of outdoor immersion in Utah’s desert southeast, my body felt fatigue, but not tension.
One day while visiting St. George, I walked the Turtle Wall trail just outside city limits. Joshua trees, yucca, sagebrush, and creosote bush punctuated the hills. I passed families with kids chasing frogs and lizards. A young couple held hands as they marveled at the striking contrast between black and red rocks.
Just over the rolling hill next to me a suburb buzzed with cranes, front-loaders, and drills. On one ridge I looked out on the city below and couldn’t help but feel anxious about the expanding development.
Preserving the places where wildness can flourish—places ranging from the Wailing Wall to the Turtle Wall Trail—often demands legal action. By limiting urban development through protection of land, the beauty of intact ecosystems, the gift of silence, and the venue for low-impact outdoor recreation continues to support economic vitality.
I don't see environmental protection and economic sustainability at odds. I see them as dependent on one another. After all, a large part of St. George’s economy comes from people seeking immersion in the unique desert and mountainous landscapes of southern Utah.
The wilderness encompassing St. George offers a unique heritage to the state’s residents and its visitors; it also offers a viable possibility to model for the rest of the nation how human habitat can co-evolve with the ecosystems we live within. If we can preserve what is left of the world beyond human development, we might be able to discover (or remember?!) the models that move past a human/non-human binary.
The preservation of Utah’s wild places is the primary pursuit of SUWA—the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. SUWA seeks to preserve 9.5 million acres of land via the 1964 Wilderness Act in their contentious, twenty-five year old citizen’s wilderness proposal, the Red Rock Wilderness Act (RRWA).
SUWA has been hard at work for over two decades now to preserve southern Utah’s wild places. The RRWA is also a great way to set a model for preserving what is left of the nation’s intact ecosystems, and to provide the access to nature for a bourgeoning outdoor industry.
If SUWA's mission calls to you, here's a link to help support their efforts.