A Labor Day Weekend On Endangered Roads
The battle over southern Utah's magnificent red rock paradise often seems as much a battle for the moral high ground as it is for the use of the land itself. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and its allies laboriously paint, with a very broad brush, any use-aligned group as rapists and pillagers of the last of America's pristine wilderness. Access advocates are often stereotyped as beer-guzzling devastators of the landscape, bent on ripping across vast and fragile landscapes on their raucous fume-spewing machines.
This past Labor Day, a rabid group of these supposed despoilers of nature gathered in Utah's San Rafael Swell for another alleged rampage across the countryside. This is a story of that weekend.
The Utah Shared Access Land List (USALL) is an informal group of outback travelers who met on the Internet. They share a common bond in their love for the historic roads and routes that penetrate deep into the still wild and primitive Utah backcountry. Formed in the spring of 1998, members of this group try to gather at least once a year for a little face time. These opportunities allow for the meeting of unfamiliar electronic faces, some informal strategy sessions, and an opportunity to draw sustenance from the rugged landscape that inspires their efforts. This latest trail hug, as they have come to be called, took place among the scenic splendor of the Swell, some of Utah's most bitterly fought-over land.
The group consists of a physician, several engineers, and a cartographer - people of all ages from pre-school to retired. Most members are in their 40s and 50s, their faces lined by the trials of earning an income and raising a family - not exactly the image of exuberant and unrepentant youth portrayed on the nightly television commercials peddling the latest shiny modes of transportation - and most definitely not the villains portrayed by SUWA, but the real users and lovers of Utah's backcountry ways and roads.
USALL this particular weekend is also a mixed group in their chosen modes of transportation. Some of the members prefer to explore on motorcycles, a few on ATVs, the rest behind the wheels of Jeeps or other SUVs. The machines travel at different speeds, so the group waits patiently at each stop to hear the history of the area, to examine the legacy left by those early settlers of the area, and to marvel at the scenery.