by Stephen Capra
If 2015 can be remembered for one thing, it’s the unique images we have witnessed from space. During the course of the year images from galaxies and those of Saturn and Pluto stand out to give us a sense of beauty and the idea that we truly are explorers in a universe that seemingly has no boundaries. I mention this, because this past week I had the chance to once again visit what is truly earth’s version of a Martian landscape called Ah-shi-sle-pah.
We have spent the past two years working to protect this wild and otherworldly landscape from becoming a coal strip mine. Try to wrap your hands around that for a moment; this otherworldly landscape of hoodoos and mushroom-shaped rock formations, where a winter storm can carve new streams that last hours or days, a place where the sky is the envelope that encapsulates the magic which is the land and the sounds of songbirds and wind. On this land of beauty, there are those that seek profit: in this land that holds the footprints of dinosaurs, surrounded by the Navajo, they come not for reverence, but to despoil.
It is the story of the West, one that has changed little since the first steps of white men began the carnage of what was once perfect. On this day the sky was overcast, the wind almost calm. The first quarter mile takes one across massive sagebrush plains. To the north the mountains of Colorado are breaking out of the clouds, to the south long lines of mesas and a sea of sagebrush defines this land which is sprinkled with hogans, small dirt roads and remote evangelical churches that still work to shift a culture.
After crossing this sage country, the land suddenly descends into this new world of shapes, colors, and textures that seem foreign to the mind. In places there is mud, which is slick and dense. In others the land opens but is sprayed with petrified wood, some pieces small, other larger, some coated with yellow lichen. As you walk though and over these formations you are greeted by strange standing rocks, the undulations of sandstone, tired and weathered into large eroding mud-like formations. The colors are subtle and shift with the refraction of the sky, which on this day shifted as the sun appeared and then was consumed by the storm front that was moving into our area.
After a time we came to the broad opening of the hoodoos; more of a large plain. In it we found smaller rock formations no more than a foot or so high, stretched out, resembling that of a spine or a tail. Patterns of rocks that seemed to tell a story lay on this dry and barren surface formed by water and wind, leaving an image like abstract designs on the desert floor.
Climbing out of this plain, we entered a tight series of canyon-like hoodoos. Here on varying scales one could see the sheer magic of this land, for there were more shapes and sizes of rock and sandstone, erosion that created designs leaving one experiencing a sense of the psychedelic. Here the ground exposes small pieces of coal, protruding twisted pieces of petrified wood, and the bones of a cow, that met its fate in this narrow stretch of space that has been transplanted here to earth.
As we began to leave this place of land and sky one begins to feel the tug of the spirit, the sense that like a fine paint scraper, we have cleansed ourselves from the hectic, noise driven insanity of modern life. For a few hours, with the phone silent, the mind sharp, we spent time working on that part of ourselves that needs the harmony that only wild land can give the soul.
Ah-shi-sle-pah is such a place, a land that cleanses and rejuvenates. This Martian relative is truly a place that speaks to the ancients. It is a land that connects us to Chaco Canyon and brings wonder to all that are lucky enough to walk into its sacred, intergalactic grounds.
Take a moment and write Senator Heinrich: tell him to support the Bold Visions’ 39,000-acre proposal to protect Ah-shi-sle-pah! Click here to let him know! Do it today, before this area is forever lost to big coal.
Bold Visions Conservation