I woke up from the back of my car, the rainbow colored prayer flags that hang from my trunk fluttered in the dusty rusted sand, and I watched ash skies envelope the Six Shooter’s towered architecture. Across the fields of sagebrush, and over the black stained bacteria of the cryptobiotic soil, a small rabbit scurried across the arid desert brush searching for small meals among the spindly but lush plant life.
I folded my sleeping bag and sat on the open gate of my car, as the sun began to peek through the clouds, beaming the landscape in a seemingly divine light. On a wooded picnic table, etched with the names of hundreds of dirtbags, I heard the sound of glory: the woosh of a gas flame, the tinny crash of a aluminum coffee pot against the grate, and the rustling of boxes: bags of granola, a new package of breakfast sausages we just bought yesterday, and a brand new carton of eggs which crack sizzling onto the griddle.
Around our campsite, the sliding doors of vans begin to open, and you hear that unmistakable jingle: racks of cams being laid out and painstakingly organized, ready to be the security for today’s adventures. Across the campsite you hear the rustle of guidebooks, pages being marked, projects being jotted, goals, first ascents, or first crack climbs being noted. Today somebody is going to live their dream. Today somebody is going to go to war with the crack. Today someone is going to fail. Today someone is going to get the photograph they always imagined.
As laughs and chatter among breakfast excitedly echo across the basin, some begin to head out toward the walls, ready to be the first to their climbs. A caravan of climbers, spanning languages, accents, body types, genders, and ethnicities begin their parade to the colorfully named walls and climbs.
As the ropes are hurriedly unfurled and organized, a climber going to scope out his wall for the first time notices a figure on the rock. Than another. Than another. Than the silhouette of a bighorn sheep, a mystical horned like deity, and a symbolic curved line representing the rushing waters of the Colorado River, all etched into the fiery orange wingate sandstone. An art gallery spanning millennia, portraying the stewards of these lands.
But just beyond the weathered wooden fence-posts and barbed wire, marked by a single white sign that reads No Trespassing, a solitary oil rig bores into the soil, its mechanical hinges loudly echoing across the walls as it seesaws back and forth, ensuring the riches for some but disturbing the peace and concentration for others. Across the river, the relics of an old mine, dug into the canyonside and now littered with rusting mine-carts, metal beams, and various wooden pieces, lay in disrepair, it’s heyday long passed as the minerals are gone but the scars remain.
The sun has now broken through the clouds, and cobalt blue skies illuminate the plateaus, twisted branches, and trails of what was once an ancient sea. A father and his young daughter are hiking alongside the rim of the canyon, as the man excitedly shows her the landscape he grew up loving, hoping that she’ll love it the same. As they talk, they hear rapid footsteps behind them, and step to the side as a trail runner, dressed in fluorescent shorts and a top scurries past them, the runner on their last training day before flying out for the race of their life tomorrow.
Back on the walls, the hoots and hollers bounce off the canyon, as another climber has realized the project that they’ve worked hard at. They’ve earned that beer that’s cooling in the fridge of the van. In the late afternoon, the sun sets low between the butte valleys and beams of brilliant luminescence turn Southeastern Utah into a field of gold. The climbers begin to pack up, some high fiving each other at a great day, others disappointed that they couldn’t make that last move. Above, a pair of peregrine falcons begin their afternoon hunt, looking to bring a meal back to their nests set in the canyon alcoves.
It’s nighttime, and at the campsite the fires are lit in their pits, and all around great tales of climbs and adventures from across the world are being told. Tonight someone will drink too much. Tonight two people are going to fall in love. Tonight someone will exaggerate their tale. Tonight someone will look at the stars cascading across the sky above Bears Ears National Monument, and tonight someone will wonder: “How are we so lucky to have this?”