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August 2001

Keeping Utah’s Outdoor Secret

Should secret wildernesses be revealed? Utah's Anasazi artifact hotbed Cedar Mesa begs the question.

As for the looters, the U.S. Geological Survey has quadrangle maps for every square inch of the United States. Thieves know where the artifacts lie, and energy companies know where to mine and drill. To them, the land holds no secrets, only profit potential, and they’ll find a way to get their booty—unless hikers get there first and demand protection.

There are confident, highly skilled outdoorspeople who shun guidebooks and magazines with where-to-go stories. They possess the Columbus attitude and can strike off on their own, able to find new, uncharted territory. But many others among us, with a love of wildlands that’s just as devout, need a helping hand if they’re to see places worth dreaming about and fighting for. They need advice and directions to travel the backcountry safely, and that’s where the printed word provides a necessary service.

“I’ve been touched by this landscape and would prefer to keep its teachings and secrets to myself,” Tassoni says of Cedar Mesa in his preface, “but I cannot. The experience of the desert should be available to everyone with the motivation to encounter it.

“Guidebook or not, more visitors are coming each year. It’s my hope that (A Hiking Guide to Cedar Mesa) will promote a heightened awareness of the area’s sensitive natural and cultural wonders, while emphasizing each individual’s responsibility to minimize the negative impacts of visitation.” (To their credit, all sources that I checked stringently emphasize the Leave No Trace ethic.)

Some would say that both sides are simply posturing and espousing a heap of self-righteous indignation. Be that as it may, everyone should agree on one point: The land is there to be enjoyed, to be nurtured, to nurture us. There are no such things as private playgrounds, unless you have a deed to the land. Now, back to the question some of you are busting a gut to scream in my face (“Why not tell everyone where your unicorn is, huh fella?”), here’s your answer:

It’s gone. A fire burned the area, roads were bulldozed in, loggers salvaged the timber. The resulting erosion choked the lake to death. One of the friends who shared the location with me returned a few years later, then phoned me with the obituary.

Maybe the answer is that once you find a special place, enjoy it, relish the qualities that make it so, then never go back. Tell others about it if you wish, but let it live as a sweet memory, because even if you mention it to no one else, it won’t be the same when you return. It’s the cycle of life: All things change, except those places you hold dear in your heart.

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