It was in the summer of 1985 that I fell in love with the American West.
This wasn’t an ordinary summer teenage crush. I fell hard. Earlier that summer, my parents took me and my two older sisters and younger brother on a classic American road trip touring our wonderful public parks in California, Arizona, and Utah. One of my favorite and most enduring memories was hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and staying overnight at Phantom Ranch.
Here’s a picture of me with my dad.
My dad was 46 at the time. I was a few weeks shy of turning 14.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that trip lately and about my father, fatherhood in general, and the fate of America’s public lands. My father passed away last year, and it was a challenging year for the millions of us who care about our public lands, wildlife, our climate, and our democracy.
At one point last year, after a particularly grueling trip to Washington, D.C., to fight the latest Trump administration rollback, I was on a flight home and looking out the window as our plane crossed southern Utah, a state with so many great national parks that it registered a trademark for them. Looking down at the canyons and mesas, all I could think was, “I should be down there and not up here.” Which is how my daughter, Olivia, and I wound up in Escalante, Utah, at the start of her spring break last month. For just a few days, I was ready to set aside “protect” and spend some time on “explore and enjoy.”
Our plan was simple. Backcountry permits in hand, we’d backpack from Hole in the Rock Road, a 139-year-old Mormon pioneer trail, and eventually make camp in Coyote Gulch, a gem in the heart of canyon country with a little bit of all the things (slot canyons, arches, waterfalls, hidden campsites) that make these lands amazing. Perhaps I could even put the uniquely destructive chaos of the Trump administration completely out of my mind.
And it was awesome. I got to spend time with my daughter on an adventure that neither of us will ever forget. We explored Peek-a-Boo and Spooky slot canyons, the Dry Fork Narrows, and much more.
I honestly picked our destination for one reason: I love spending time in these lands and I wanted to share that with my daughter. But once we were there, I couldn’t forget one thing: Many of the beautiful places where we were hiking, exploring, and camping were protected for more than two decades — until Donald Trump. By presidential proclamation late last year, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was reduced from 1.9 million acres to 1 million and subdivided into three smaller units. Hole in the Rock Road and many of the nearby slot canyons were not included. Even more extreme is what happened to Bears Ears National Monument, which was designated by President Obama after a historic campaign by multiple Tribal Nations. The monument is to be reduced by 85 percent.
Why is this happening? Not because people have been clamoring for un-protection. Close to 3 million Americans — 98 percent of those who submitted comments to the Department of the Interior — asked that these monuments be left alone. And certainly not because these lands don’t deserve protection. Not only are they beautiful but they also have enormous cultural and archaeological significance. They are textbook examples of how the Antiquities Act is supposed to work. The real reason for Trump’s action can be found in a single newspaper headline: “Areas cut out of Utah monuments are rich in oil, coal, uranium.”
It’s not just Utah, unfortunately. National monuments across the West are threatened with reductions. It’s as if these thugs are strolling through the Smithsonian and scooping up anything they think might fetch a good price on eBay. These are the unconscionable acts of an administration where conscience is a professional liability.
Can they really get away with it? Yes, if we let them — but the Sierra Club has no intention of letting them. We don’t believe Trump actually has the authority to unprotect these monuments, and we don’t think the courts will either. We are absolutely committed to standing with the local communities and Tribal Nations for whom these Utah monuments are so important.
What can you do? Start by signing our petition calling on utilities to commit to not buying dirty fuels from national monuments that have been unprotected by Trump. Then be sure to hold your representatives in Congress accountable if they support the Trump administration’s attempts to sell of our public lands. Congress could stop these attacks tomorrow if it chose to.
When I took my first trip to the West, I was a few weeks away from turning 14 years old. My father was 46. Now I’m 46, and my daughter will turn 14 this summer. I hope the memories she keeps will also be of a great trip with her dad — and how we worked together with millions of others, to keep these lands protected.