Early Weed Bench, Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument, UT
Inside Out

A letter to Everett Ruess

Dear Everett,

we have never met, but I have read a lot about you.

I have spent the last few days in the Escalante area, a place that you have like so much. Now I can understand why. Most of the area is now protected as part of a national park, the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument, can you imagine?

There are some things that have changed since you traveled this amazing landscape 80 years with your mules. For one, they built a large dam near Page and flooded Glen Canyon and a lot of the tributary canyons to create the second largest man-made lake on earth. Some of your camp sites are under water, as many other historic and natural sites. Besides generating energy and distributing the water they also let visitors race power boats and jet skis on the lake and call it a Recreational area. It is a weird sight to see that much water in the middle of the desert.

Kanab, Escalante, and Boulder are now little towns catering to tourism. I assume most visitors are happy to explore the desert from the safety of their cars, although a few desert rats seem to venture into the canyons, carving a few days out of an otherwise busy schedule. Nobody travels the desert like you did, for months on end, just with two mules and limited resources. I have seen some packers using horses going into Silver Falls. The horses are hauled into the desert on big enclosed trailers, pulled by a strong 4-wheel drive. After the trip of a few days, usually a weekend, they go back on greener pastures. For hikers on foot, we have now detailed maps, trip reports, weather forecasts, GPS devices, satellite phones and emergency beacons to make traveling predictable and safe. It is a different world.

Some people writing about you have said that we in reality do not understand your exuberance and enthusiasm for traveling alone in the desert. I think we would need to travel on your terms to have a similar experience as you had, to become a part of this ruggedly beautiful landscape. You went on an open-ended journey not knowing what tomorrow and the day after will bring.

I am sure it was extremely unusual in your days to travel alone the way you did, although you were not the only one. Traveling alone is not new to me. Spending a few nights out in the canyons and hills near the Escalante river made me feel small and vulnerable at first. I also thought this is the perfect place to get lost. Then, after a few days I discovered it is also a great place to find yourself.

Sincerely yours.

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