Finally, a Victory!

categories: Cocktail Hour


In one of his last acts as President, Barack Obama created the Bears Ears National Monument, preserving more than 2000 square miles of land, land that not incidentally includes my favorite campsite of all time, in southeastern Utah. To which I say: yes! Who knows how long it will take the coming Bozo squad to try and overturn this, as well as the Antiquities Act itself, but for now let’s raise a glass and celebrate something good. At last.


In saving this land of twisting stone and desert, Obama has, of course, been part of a political tradition, one most famously exercised by Teddy Roosevelt, of preserving land when leaving office. But there was another tradition at play here, a literary one.  The tradition began with none other than Wallace Stegner. In 1955 Stegner, in an effort to stop the building of a dam in Colorado’s Dinosaur National Monument, edited a book that described the wonders that would be lost if the dam were built. Working with the publisher Alfred Knopf, who contributed an essay, Stegner organized and edited the contributors’ work and the photographs, wrote his own essay and introduction, and pulled This Is Dinosaur together in two short months, pushed by the urgency of the moment. Stegner wrote in his unpublished autobiography: “That little book, distributed to every member of Congress, had a part in stopping the Upper Colorado River Storage Project in its tracks, and in uniting the previously dispersed and weak environmental organizations into a political force that by the 1970s was formidable. It also confirmed in me an environmental activism that has taken precedence over every interest except writing since that time, and has sometimes taken over the writing too.”

It would not be going too far to say that that first fight, and victory, provided a template for the battles to come, and the use of This is Dinosaur as a tool for lobbying was part of that template, one that would be continued and refined over the next decades. Forty years later, in 1995, Terry Tempest Williams and Utah writer and photographer Stephen Trimble put together Testimony: Writers Speak on Behalf of Utah Wilderness, an anthology of the work of twenty writers whose purpose was to help preserve 1.9 million acres of land in southern Utah. Just as with This Is Dinosaur, the book was distributed to every member of Congress. It was part of the effort that led to the creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. At the monument’s dedication on September 18, 1996, President Bill Clinton held up the book and said, “This made a difference.”

With Bears Ears, Steve Trimble once again took up the fight. He teamed up with Kirsten Allen of Torrey House Press to create an (almost) instant anthology about Bears Ears called Red Rock Testimony. Like its predecessors, it was distributed to Congress, agency heads and the President. There is a very real chance that it too made a difference.

I’ll paste a list of all the book’s contributors below. If you are interested in Bears Ears here are some key articles:


big picture national view in The Atlantic
commentary from Jackie Keeler, with a strong Native perspective
detailed backstory in HCN
Steve Trimble’s op-ed  rewritten as news of the proclamation broke.
Here’s an op-ed by Kevin Jones in the Provo Daily Herald.

Red Rock Testimony conveys the spiritual, cultural, and scientific values of Utah’s canyon country through the essays and poems of 34 passionate and heartfelt writers whose births span seven decades. From widely published elders to scholar/scientists to former elected officials to Native leaders to Millennial activists, these writers explore the fierce beauty and the dangers to ecological and archaeological integrity in America’s redrock wilderness. This chorus of storytellers will move you with their emotional, quirky, knowledgeable testimony. They capture the healing power of this land.

Red Rock Testimony gathers passionate words from three generations of writers who treasure Utah’s public lands. Their words will first be printed as a limited edition chapbook to be distributed to Congress during this moment of crisis and opportunity. The text will then be published as a trade book in celebration of these exquisite landscapes.



Charles Wilkinson

Introduction: “…the authenticity, passion, and rightness of protecting Bears Ears.”

Simon Ortiz  

RIGHT OF WAY: “And so you tell stories…”

Kevin T. Jones   

THE MAN WITH A HEART OF STONE: “Fremont people were farmers, builders, dreamers, and thinkers.”

Jana Richman 

THE LAND OF NO USE: “Our external geography informs our internal geography.”

David Gessner

 THE FREEDOM OF RESTRAINT: “The myths of western land are myths of freedom.”

Karen Shepherd  

THE ONLY WAY FORWARD: “If Bears Ears is to be saved, President Obama must save it.”

Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk 
IT’S TIME TO HEAL BEARS EARS: “…personal healing like nothing else can be.”

Lauret Savoy 
ON COMPROMISED GROUND: “Mutual concession requires that we do more. It requires respect.”

Christopher Cokinos
STONE THAT LEAPS: “This place. Lifted, cracked and stilled.”

Kathleen Dean Moore
WHAT SHALL WE GIVE THE CHILDREN?: “Let us give the children wonderment, radical amazement…”

Jen Jackson Quintano 
MEMORY: “I want to give it all to my daughter, wrapped in balsamroot leaves.”

Jim Enote 
A PLACE FOR MEDIATION: “…indigenous knowledge will be the keystone of collaboration.”

Alastair Lee Bitsoi 
SHASH JAA’ FOLLOWS WHEREVER I GO: “I never thought I would write about Bears Ears in my Brooklyn apartment…”

Juan Palma 
“…a place I come to re-connect with my Hispanic heritage.”

Shonto Begay 
THE VIEW FROM THE MESA: “…the place that harbored the ancient gods and animal beings.”

Mary Ellen Hannibal 
THE UR-BEAR: “…a gigantic bear embedded in the geography is more than symbolic.”
Mary Sojourner 
BEAR’S EARS: “Meet me in Mexican Hat. I’ve got a surprise for you.”

Amy Irvine
SEEING RED: “Looking at the horizon was like looking through a telescope at Mars.”

Thomas Lowe Fleischner
THE GRACE OF WILDNESS: “In all my years as a naturalist, I’ve never had an encounter like this.”

David Lee
PRELUDE: “Moses did not go to an oil well derrick to receive the Law…”

George Handley
FAITH AND THE LAND: “Our beliefs might differ, but our values harmonize.”

Brooke Williams
LEASE UTU91481: “Leasing this land was not part of our plan.”

Anne Terashima
WE (HEART) WILDERNESS: “Millennials need what this wilderness brings.”

Jacqueline Keeler
IT IS THE LAND THAT TELLS THE STORY: “My Navajo grandfather pulled out his wire cutters and cut the fence.”

Michelle Nijhuis
WHAT THE TORTOISE TAUGHT ME: “Locals prefer to speak for themselves.”

Chip Ward
WHOLE AND HOLY: “We act as if there is no upstream, no downstream.”

Ann Whittaker
WHEN THE DESERT MORNING RISES: “I take my questions, alone, to the redrock canyons.”

Gary Paul Nabhan
UP BETWEEN THE BEARS EARS: “That place triggered my metamorphosis that still informs my life.”

Bruce Babbitt
IT’S TIME TO ACT: “The best way to defend the Antiquities Act is for the President to use it.”

Mark Udall
I AM A SON OF THE COLORADO PLATEAU: “I have walked in the wildest, most remote terrain in the Lower 48.”

Stephen Trimble
WE COME OUT DANCING TOGETHER: “To respond to the wounds in this land, we must first see them.”


List of writers who contributed to the original Testimony, edited by Stephen Trimble and Terry Tempest Williams:

Stephen Trimble, Terry Tempest Williams, Rick Bass, Olive Ghiselin, Brewster Ghiselin, William Kittredge, Barry Lopez, Thomas Lyon, John McPhee, Ellen Meloy, N. Scott Momaday, Margaret E. Murie, Gary Paul Nabhan, Richard Shelton, Karen Shepherd, Donald Snow, Mark Strand, T. H. Watkins, Ann Weiler Walka, Charles Wilkinson, and Ann Zwinger.






  1. Rahul Dave writes:
  2. Dave writes:

    Yes, I didn’t look as carefully at the map at first. Amazing is the right word.

  3. Mary Sojourner writes:

    Thank you for this extra boost. I am so grateful I was included in this worthy and radical project. ms

  4. Rahul Dave writes:

    Its amazing, isnt it? Indian Creek, Valley of the gods, cedar mesa, butler wash on comb ridge, etc, etc. The stomping ground of the gods!