By ELISE MCALLISTER
I recently spent a day at Gold Butte, giving someone a tour, and every place we went, I found myself instinctively reliving past moments in time. Some of them were my own personal memories, some my family’s, others of countless friends and community members, some of them even bigger–our area’s collective memories.
I live here because it is my place. I am surrounded by stories, memories, connections to every patch of public land, in every direction. I live here because these connections are so strong. My home is far, far more than the house I live in.
Many who have lived here for a while also have personal memories of their own adventures. They return, as I do, to visit those places full of intimate moments, community history, and our collective culture. We go back to these areas, to add to our history and culture because our history is not only of the past, it is also of now when we weave our own stories into that infinite fabric of culture and way of life. Returning to our favorite places grows our history. It becomes more enriched with each visit and passing generation. Our history lives and when we cannot ‘get’ to these personal and important places, we lose an essential physical connection. If we cannot get there, the story line of our history abruptly stops for that place.
The whole concept of ‘getting’ to a place is lost on those who want “protection” at all costs and cannot understand why closing a few roads or areas is such a big deal. After all, other roads and areas are open, they say.
But ‘other areas’ do not have the same personal connections, other areas hold no memories, no sense of place.
Here are just two of MY areas/roads closed in the recent past—places where I have personal memories and strong connections, places with generational history….and places I cannot access any more to visit my history, to keep it alive, to add to it, to pass it on.
First off is Horse Springs in Mormon Mountains. This is the site of multiple family visits to which I added connections with my husband—of a weekend when it rained non-stop and I dried (and scorched) his boots by the fire; of deer hunting in a snow storm where his flashlight was the only sign I had to guide me out of a side canyon; of my brothers…of my Uncle Emerson….of cutting our Christmas trees there and of my mom’s beautiful handmade decorations…
The second example is Sheep Mountains and Mormon Well. When all my cousins and I rode horses from Warm Springs to Mormon Well with Grand-dad and then camped for a week, when the last stud horse was caught and brought down from Sheep Mountain; of playing cards with my grandma under the big pines; of my mom and dad breaking my horse while there; of my brother naming my horse ‘Camp’ because we were camping….
And then some said ‘things need to be protected in Mormon Mountains and Sheep Mountain.’ Soon after, both of these places were designated. Then priorities changed because protection is more important than multiple use. So those roads and areas were closed….and my ability to live my history, to add to it, to visit it, was stopped.
I don’t want to lose access to my living history in Gold Butte too. Every time additional layers of designation and management get added to public lands, it automatically becomes more important to protect it and to restrict access, than it is important to keep it multiple use and accessible. Because, quite frankly, limiting, controlling, restricting, denying access to the public is the easiest way to manage land that requires more protection.
In my entire lifetime, I have not found a single example where designations and protections did not negatively affect access. When designations become higher priorities than multiple use, necessarily—like night follows day–restrictions follow. Designations equal more management and more restrictions; they are the natural end-product of designations.
With restrictive designations and road closures, literal, direct links to our history and past are being erased or denied. We LIVE our history; our culture is not found in dusty books. It is found at obscure places, along roads, in unremarkable (to the rest of the world) niches and corners of public land, at the end of a fenceline, in a meadow, at an old campfire ring near an overlook (because long ago, that campfire was made by someone’s father, whose new bride simply loved the view). Going back to that campsite, to see that same view IS our way of life, our tradition, history, our culture.
Our culture is taking others to an old corral and explaining why and how my grandpa built it. Our culture is exploring Tramp mine with our kids because our dad explored it with us. Our culture is a family tradition, a physical act of living my history to sit quietly at sunset near a desert spring just to watch the critters come in.
Doing that is following in my family’s footsteps—literally—to the places where they worked, hunted, enjoyed a picnic. It is passing on our history, the culture of our ancestors, to the next generation. It is what gives my life such meaning and depth: to visit, to relive, to connect to all the places that bring—and keep–my history alive.
On that tour I mentioned, we stopped at the graves of the two gentlemen of Gold Butte as we always do. No single place illustrates the clash between restrictions and traditional multiple use policy more than the graves of these two friends. One of them was a prospector. The other dabbled in ranching a bit. Both of those uses on the land are now banned — gone.
History settles heavy on my conscience in that place. I always sense, no matter what I do, that I am being forced to bury more of my history than I am keeping alive.
Elise McAllister is a lifelong lifelong resident with a pioneer heritage in the Moapa Valley. She is also the Administrator for the Partners in Conservation organization.