Adjacent to the little desert town of 5,200 people that I call home, I can find much public land; land separated by roads, private property, rivers, canyons, and other places.
But the land ultimately all connects. Looking at a topo, you can see the natural flow to this land and how one canyon leads to another or where the stream leads to the river or where the mountains have natural ways of access. And walking on foot, you can experience this connectivity up close. Something more intimate than driving from point to point along the road.
I find the concept of cultural geography fascinating. How the landscape shapes travel paths, cultures, history, and interacts with the people of the area. Living here in Moab, I can hike and experience this multidisciplinary subject up close.
Within three miles of me, I can hike an ancient canyon travel corridor that leads to the La Sal mountains.
And if I go to the other end of town, I can hike a wash that is an oasis in the high desert landscape.
A riparian habitat connects the Colorado River to the desert landscape above the rim.
And within that area above are prominent landmarks followed by the people who traveled this land generations before. The milestones are often natural, but sometimes art from long ago. Art the might beckon further, give information, or perhaps mean something else lost to time.
And what a time to explore the landscape of this area. The cottonwoods blaze yellow, the air has a tinge of crispness to it, and the red rock walls pull ever further.
And along the way, you’ll find the ever-present artistry of people who came before us. What do these panels mean and signify? We can make guesses and classify, but we’ll never know for sure.
Even among people who know this subject well have debates. Are some of the panels a hoax? Or part of a distant cultural memory? Or, again, something we simply won’t know.
All these paths lead to the nearby La Sal mountains. Cooler in the summer with streams and with much availability of wildlife for hunting. And where people followed the same paths in the fall to return to the desert landscape.
The streams start here, and the canyons peter out in the flanks of these mountains.
From above, I can see the landscape I’ve been hiking all week. I don’t just see a town, the red rock, the water, or the canyons. I see, on a large scale, how everything connects. It is easy to view the sites as individual places on to themselves – Go to this trailhead, hike, and then walk back to the car to drive home. Repeat the same routine another day.
But looking from above? A person can easily see the connection between the landscape and this effect it had on the people who lived in over six-hundred years ago; or today.
I’ll continue to explore my new(ish) home and make these connections. Reading about the area helps, or studying topo maps…but connecting the landscape on foot brings all these facets together.