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Visiting the Valley of the Gods

I’m sitting next to a huge boulder in an area known as the Valley of the Gods. As I reflect here, I think about how life might have been when ancient people lived here. Staring at the buttes and towering pinnacles, it is no wonder that this land is sacred to the Navajo.

The Navajo believe that the grand spires contain the spirits of Navajo warriors.  What would it be like to have lived here many years ago? The desert holds hidden life in the dips and hollow trees. The scarcity of water makes one wonder how one may survive. Yet, we are drawn to it. The red and orange colored rock formations tower hundreds of feet into the air carved by water and wind during the ice age millions of years ago.

Settlers name these formations with names like Devil’s Window, Seven Sailors Butte, Battleship Rock, or Lady in The Bathtub.  As I travel down an unpaved road over the 17-mile loop, I think about the names. The road is somewhat graded with many sharp turns and several washes. I’m glad I have a high-clearance vehicle.

I drive on slowly traveling and stopping. The weather as I come up over the next berm starts to change. The wind is picking up and large dust clouds are filled with sand. It is amazing how quickly the weather changes here. My truck drops down into a wash and I stop to photograph. The photo is a sweeping photograph of Battleship rock, with clouds in the background earlier the sky had been clear. I drive out of the wash and as I top the rise the sand blinds my view, so I stop and wait for it to clear. I drive on and head back to my RV. 

At my RV later, I do some research about the Valley of the Gods and southeastern Utah. The area is rich in the history of life thousands of years ago. You can explore the area and find sites with fossils and other artifacts. You may learn more about the indigenous people and how they survived.  The valley and surrounding area contain more than 100,000 sites of the cultural heritage of Native Americans including the creation mythologies of tribes such as the Ute and Navajo.

In 2008, the federal government acknowledged this extraordinary legacy by protecting the Valley of the Gods, designating it an Area of Critical Environmental Concern for its “scenic value.” In December 2016, President Obama designated the Bears Ears area, including the Valley of the Gods, as a National Monument. This action recognized the importance to native tribes, and how the tribes have suffered from uranium mining, groundwater poisoning, and high cancer rates among the miners.

In 2017, President Trump reduced the Bears Ears National Monument by 85%. The administration characterized this reduction as an overreach by former presidents. But the Washington Post reported that a uranium-mining firm had actively lobbied the administration to reduce Bears Ears territory. The New York Times found that lobbyists had been indicating which parcels of land the companies wanted to be opened to industry.

After the reduction, companies leased over 50,000 acres from the Bureau of Land Management for oil and gas extraction. The Department of the Interior finalized its plan, making much of the land available to cattle grazing and mining interests.

Due to the 2008 designation, the Valley of the Gods is still off limits to development and mining interests. I hope this will continue. It is way too easy for our government to quickly change a policy to allow greed to rule.

Many will never have an opportunity to see and live in the places I’ve been. It is incredibly filling to find places where there are no trails, no services, and no structures. Finding a true wilderness, not a park, where wilderness is for at least today still intact is deeply rewarding.

Visit my portfolio and enjoy the images from the Valley of the Gods:

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