juniper (Juniperus osteosperma)
Then As far as I can recall, I first saw Utah’s Grand Staircase in the summer of 1970. Heading south and east from Fredonia across the Arizona Strip on U.S. 89A the road rises onto the Kaibab Plateau. Partway up in the pinyon-juniper forest is a scenic overlook. I had been to scenic overlooks before: by the Great Lakes, the Skyline Drive, and, that very summer, I was living right inside Zion National Park. Still, I had never seen a vista so vast as the Grand Staircase. Looking northward, I could see wave after wave of cliffs: the White Cliffs, the Pink Cliffs, the Gray Cliffs, on and on. It seemed like this view was also a bridge to some other plane: one that was all light, beauty, and possibility.
desert primrose (Oenothera primiveris?), Red Canyon, Dixie National Forest, Utah
Now They did it. Last week Trump, et al. eviscerated (or, as millions of us have it, tried to eviscerate) Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Bears Ears National Monument. My response has been to put up angry and sad emojis on Facebook and to sign petitions about this and so many other outrageous actions by the current administration.
I want to do more. I want to help save this land of light, beauty, and possibility. For the next few postings, I will tell my own stories about the Grand Staircase. I am only one person, but I have a voice, and I want to join those other voices fighting to save the monuments.
Page, Arizona (1972-73): Dialogue Journals on the Kaiparowits Plateau Road*
Besides teaching eighth grade literature in Page, I developed an elective class I called environmental living. With two notable exceptions (below), I don’t remember much about the class. First, not many students signed up for the class and second, although I was enthusiastic, I was no science teacher. I knew more politics and theory than practical knowledge about environmental issues. The students and I grew plants (I don’t remember what kind), toured the Glen Canyon Dam, and went on a few trips out into the desert that surrounded Page.
One time the students and I took a short trip to part of Antelope Canyon, a few miles outside of Page. I could drive my Volkswagen Squareback right onto the slickrock sandstone, and the times and local culture didn’t worry about insurance or whether there were enough seatbelts to go around. The students and I reveled in the views and in sliding down the slickrock on the seats of our jeans. The success of this outing must have given me the confidence to plan a more ambitious excursion. Note: Back then my students and I could go pretty much where we wanted, but things have changed since that time. For example, now access to Antelope Canyon is now more stringently controlled by the Navajo Nation, and now a large area north of Page is part of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
I had been hankering to explore the remote area north of the Arizona/Utah border that could be accessed by what was then called the Kaiparowits Plateau Road. One snowy winter Saturday, a carful of students and I headed north on U.S. Route 89 and then took a right onto the (if memory serves) unimproved Kaiparowits Plateau Road. I don’t remember much about our activities. I think we walked around some, ate, and, like the silly brand-new teacher that I was, I let some of the students smoke cigarettes. As the afternoon advanced, we headed back toward the main road. I was driving up a long hill on the snowy road when some demon made me downshift. I knew better than that, but–all of a sudden–there we were, stalled in the middle of nowhere with the snow starting and the sun going down. The kids got out of the car and I tried again and again to get the car out of the icy tracks where it was stuck. Spinning the wheels on the ever more slick snow, of course, did more harm than good. I almost panicked, but a resourceful teacher is never without her materials.
In the back of the Volkswagen, I had a box of dialogue journals that the students and I had been writing back and forth to each other. Dialogue journals are great tools. The teacher writes a question or makes a comment to an individual student and the student writes back what he or she wants to—language correction is by modeling appropriate form, there are no grades, the sharing is whatever the student decides to share, and no one else needs to see the text. The journals were particularly great tools then, too, because I put some journals (as yet unused) under the back tires and my trusty car roared out of the icy tracks. The kids hopped back in the car and we hotfooted it back to town, just about when the parents and school people were starting to get worried.