Notes from the Field
Desert and Desire in Four Corners Country
We found shade in the most unexpected place. In this land of seared grasses and flat, bronzed stones, the green, soft-leaved trees were an unusual sight. Following our host to her mother’s place, we’d ridden about twelve miles over the course of two days on the white, sandy tracks that criss-crossed this flat pan of desert, this Hopi Land. When we finally climbed up and away from the tarnished silver grasses and infinite horizons, we entered a small place of green grace, where the wind spoke softly of easier things.
A spring tricked from the hillside below a small butte. The two women, the daughter just back from graduate school, were clearing the land that had become overgrown since her father died. They were once more pruning and tending the green-leaved pear, apple and cherry trees that had been planted by him, just as they’d begun to fit back together the sandstone blocks that had tumbled out of his terraced gardens. They were rebuilding and planting with the traditional, heirloom plants of their people, and we had come to help.
We had just spent more than a month in the backcountry of Utah, New Mexico and Arizona, where we backpacked the Horseshoe and Dirty Devil canyons for three and a half weeks and floated the Green River for eight days. Along the way we studied the natural and human history of one of the most misunderstood regions in the West.
“I came mostly for the expedition, and this was the hardest course I have ever taken, bar none,” says Nick Shirman. “I truly believe this was one of the most important experiences of my entire life. WRFI is not just about environmental education, it’s life education.”
Back in the frontcountry, we hit the road for twelve days of meetings with an incredible range of people that call the arid southwest their home. From a family stay in the Navajo Nation and the spring-inspired garden on Hopi Land to a visit with a Condor biologist and a stop at the Glen Canyon Dam, this section of the course was a whirlwind tour of what has been shaping this region for thousands of years. It was an exhilarating ride through culture, history and landscape before heading back into the outback for two weeks in the magnificent Dark Canyon.
– Neil Kessler, WRFI instructor, Colorado Plateau 2006