Well…here I am more than half way done with my internship in Escalante, UT, just now posting my first blog. Sorry about that; I have no excuse, really, other than the fact that I’ve been so enthralled by the beauty and power of my temporary home that sitting inside at a computer typing about it somehow hasn’t cut it. But here I am either way, hoping to make up for some lost time. This post will be an overview of my life in Utah:
On Saturday, May 14th, 2016 I arrived in the small, rural town of Escalante (which I quickly learned is pronounced es-ca-lant, or es-ca-lant-ie, NOT escalante in the Spanish sense. Anyway). I’d driven some 2,000 miles from Michigan and arrived in a strange country of white slick rock and red canyon cliff faces–a world I’d only read about and never imagined I would see for myself, let alone spend half a year exploring. That’s why I took this job, really. I wanted a new adventure. So, I graduated college on April 30th, filled my car with all sorts of unnecessary things, and drove across the country towards the land of sun and dust.
I’ve traveled a good amount, really. I’ve spent time in Japan, Chile, Wyoming, Colorado, Louisiana…but nothing really prepared me for Escalante. Here, there are more cattle than people. My neighbors walk by my bedroom window every afternoon moving their horses from pasture to corral. There are no bars, only a couple of restaurants, and a single main road through the center of town. (We do have a grocery store and three gas stations, though, a big deal around here.)
We are surrounded on all sides by the 2,000 acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (the space in which I work as a CLM intern), some of the greatest and last wilderness in the American West. The land is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and it’s a multi-use space, that means that the tourists frolic down the famous Hole in the Rock road right alongside roaming herds of cattle. The Monument isn’t a National Park; some ranchers still make a living off this land and some are trying to find ways to continue that lifestyle for as long as they can. If you want to come and climb through the slot canyons, explore the gulches, and see the desert stars, you’ll get a taste of rural life in Utah whether you like it or not–
In short, Escalante is a town on the edge of the world; two worlds, really, an old world of ranching, cowboys, and rodeos and a new world of tourism and land preservation. Lots of people have opinions about this, about the American West–what is was, what it is, what it could be. Lots of people like to sit at desks in air conditioned rooms and talk about places like Escalante as if they really understand what’s happening here. I used to be one of them. Now I know better.
Three months in, I’ve become accustomed to this place and have settled in to the slow lull of desert life. My mentor, Terry Tolbert, has been amazing; our first couple weeks here, he drove us all across the Monument and the Boulder Mountain to the north to get us acquainted with the area. I quickly learned that the desert is all about respect and preparedness. You have to respect the landscape in order to love it, and even when you come to love it, you have to be prepared for all that it’s able to throw back at you: Between the red clay roads and unpredictable weather, you can slide right off a two track or get stuck in ruts as deep as your truck tires. You can take a wrong turn on the mountain roads and realize an hour later you have to backtrack three hours to get where you wanted to go. You can hike into a gulch you thought would have water in it, and there’s nothing but dust.
I have never lived in a place of such stark, desolate beauty. There is a quiet out here that seeps into you bones, a quiet that hangs about the canyons and penetrates the rainbow sandstone. Some people try to block it out with music and car engines and heavy footfalls of hiking boots. But you really have to let it in to understand Canyon Country. I’m still getting there, but I’m loving every moment.
More to come. -Kate
Escalante, UT; BLM