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National Parks are public, but are they for everyone?

by Sara Hinck

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Join Misha Euceph, and CFI’s Michele Johnson, for a introspective journey through Arches National Park

In 2021, Misha Euceph set out on a road trip adventure across America to answer the question: “If the National Parks are public, aren’t they supposed to be for everyone?” Through her journey she is able to uncover often untold stories, uplifting a chorus of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, & People of Color) voices and experiences; guiding the listeners through the airwaves to new pathways of discovery and understanding of our National Parks. Along the way, Misha invited our very own Michele Johnson to be a part of an episode called “Hello, Arches.”

Hello Nature Podcast Trailer

The full episode of ‘Hello Arches,’ along with the rest of the 8 part series, is available wherever you listen to podcasts. Support Euceph’s work by subscribing to Hello Nature.

Meet the Storytellers

Misha Euceph, podcast host, writer, producer
Eric Jensen, Lead Park Ranger
Angelo Baca, filmmaker, PhD Candidate, sociocultural anthropology
Riley Finnegan, PhD Candidate, Geophysics
Michele Johnson, Contracts and Reservations Officer at CFI

Hello, Arches – Episode Highlights 

In Arches, Misha uncovers a multi-dimensional story of nature, the pain and the healing power of the land.

Misha Euceph: “I’m feeling the weight of my own footsteps. They are heavy and they have an impact. And that impact is magnified because I’m not stepping on pristine and untouched land. I’m coming to Arches after years of noise pollution, accidently stepping on the soil crust after people have broken it over decades, looking at petroglyphs that have been vandalized and washed hundreds of times. The land carries this trauma. And it has carried trauma long before this. From the industrial revolution, from the genocide of natives, from slavery. But my footsteps are heavier because like the land, I’m carrying pain inside of me.”

Part 1: Hello, Arches

Misha starts her adventure in Moab by meeting up with Lead Park Ranger at Arches National Park, Erik Jensen to discuss one of the oldest life forms on the planet, cryptobiotic crust, aka “Crypto.” Misha’s imagination creates a caricature “Benny the Crust” who brings to the surface the very impactful role crypto plays in the desert, as well as its fragile status.

Misha Euceph: “This whole part of Utah – Moab, the city Arches is in – it’s beyond my capacity. Like maybe what a kid raised on Mars imagines earth looks like. And it feels alive. Wow it’s alive. Along the trail you must notice the pot patches of black crust on the ground known as the cryptobiotic crust.”

Erik Jensen: “This type of bacteria. We call it cyanobacteria. It’s also called blue green algae and it’s actually one of the oldest life forms on the planet. You know, when life was originating in the oceans, before there was any life on land.. It’s present pretty much everywhere. It’s just that in these really dry desert environments where we don’t have much organic material, it holds the soil together, it just plays a much more visually noticeable role here than it does in other environments.”

NPS Biological Soil Crust Logo

Benny the Crust: “You see that! I’m a big deal. I keep erosion under check because I keep the soil together as a crust. I protect the sediment from rain and even Uncle Gusty, which, by the way, is what we call the wind around here. Thanks to me, you’re not dealing with intense sandstorms.”

Misha Euceph: “The crust is so fragile that one footstep can wipe out years of growth.”

Benny the Crust: “Look, just be mindful with those steps, baby. There isn’t one right way to do nature but there are a lot of wrong ways. And this is one of them. Just – don’t bust my crust. Ok? Don’t bust the crust!”

Part 2: Our Footsteps Matter

Misha continues her Arches exploration with Lead Park Ranger Erik Jensen, as they visit petroglyphs an unadvertised area of the park. She speaks to Angelo Baca (Navajo/Hopi), a cultural activist, filmmaker and current doctoral student in sociocultural anthropology on how Indigenous culture reflects and celebrates art, highlighting the historical context and importance of petroglyph’s preservation.

Angelo Baca: “I’d like to remind folks, especially when you see a petroglyph…there’s essentially an intense contribution of energy…that took so much out of people to make, they can tell you a lot of things – stories of who was there, what they were thinking, even what kind of food they were growing.”

“It’s our responsibility to protect the resources around us, because wherever we go, our footsteps matter.”

Angelo Baca

Angelo Baca: “These places, these resources are finite. And the amount of people coming into these places without proper education, or introduction to Indigenous culture and respect in history. Finding out ways that they could be part of the solution rather than the problem is a major issue. When we go into Arches and write over the petroglyphs, we’re not just erasing a work of art. We erase a piece of history.

A little bridge that connects someone today to their ancestors, and it’s not even like we can heal it over hundreds of years, like the soil crust. Once we lose it we lose it…So those of us who have the luxury to think about tomorrow, to plan for it – I think it’s our responsibility to protect the resources around us, because wherever we are, our footsteps matter!”

Photo: National Park Service, Wolfe Ranch

Part 3: Just…listen.

Misha then meets with scientist Riley Finnegan, a PhD student in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Utah, who studies arch vibrations and the various ways humans impact rock arches and towers. Here Riley highlights how the recordings of these vibrations with a seismometer of one arch in particular, the Rainbow Bridge National Monument, changed the way the National Parks in the Southeastern Utah Region moved forward regulating noise pollution. 

Angelo Baca: “People think of the desert mentally as a place where nothing exists. But in actuality, when you’re there, it really heightens your senses to make you feel like you are part of a really dynamic, living, breathing place.”

Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 47 Issue 9

Riley Finnegan: “Here is the coolest part. So normally, all these things – bridges, alcoves, arches – have a vibration. Actually, everything does… So if you think about a guitar string. You pluck the string, you’re adding some energy to it, and it vibrates and you hear this tone. And that tone is the frequency that it resonates at. And so if you just pretend that an arch is like a guitar string, and it’s being plucked constantly by wind, by vibrations within the earth, by trains going by, by cars going by, there’s this energy being added.”

Angelo Baca: “So Indigenous people have been concerned about the impact on the Arches for a long time. The Native American Consultation Committee, they keep telling the National Park Service – ‘hey, we’re worried that the cars, trains, helicopters and other noises are hurting the natural arches and bridges in the area’… But it all comes to a head at Rainbow Bridge National Monument.”

Part 4: It Takes Courage

Misha wraps up her time in Moab by going on a hike with our very own Michele Johnson, the Contracts and Reservation Officer at Canyonlands Field Institute. Through the hike, Misha & Michele have a layered discussion about representation and belonging in the outdoors. Drawing attention to the weighted history the land carries, as well as what it has meant to have lived through the last few years of pain and how nature has been a space of solace, escape, and healing.

This is healing, it’s painful, but it has to be on our terms.

Michele Johnosn

Misha Euceph: “…I feel like there is a way to do nature right. Like there’s an American way to do nature. And that I, an immigrant, with my fear of bears and wind, and anything that moves – I’m doing it wrong.”

Michele Johnson: “I can’t even describe how fortunate I feel that I live here…To have a place like this, where you can get so much nurturing from the landscape. Being here in Moab, at this stage, and age in my life has been just a blessing of discovery of who I truly am, in my inner core. And as a Black person in nature, it is unique, and an oddity…

…I would like to get to the point where I could go to our field camp, for instance, and just say hi to the kids out there, ‘cause you never know how alienating it might feel, for a kid that may be coming from a small town in Colorado, for instance, that has never even seen Black people in person. And so to have that face, that presence all the way to having kids of color that may be feeling a little uncomfortable, and just kind of scanning the room for who may need a little touch, or just a smile.”

Misha Euceph: “It kinda makes me wonder what it would have been like for me to have met a Pakistani ranger at my first National Park. Or any National Park.”

Michele Johnson: “It takes courage to do this. It takes courage to do the job that you’re doing. This is healing, it’s painful, but it has to be on our terms.”

Misha Euceph: “Even when I was talking to Michele, I said ownership, instead of access. I mean, I’ve always expected something from nature. Maybe that’s why I’ve come out here over and over again, even when it feels hostile. Because I expect nature to heal me. To fix me. It’s transactional. 

But like, I’ve never thought about nature, the trauma in the land itself. But a real relationship with nature – true – healing – goes both ways. Until Arches, I never thought about what nature needed from me. That my footsteps matter. But I want to.”

Listen to the full episode, and the rest of the series Hello, Nature wherever you get your podcasts.

Author Spotlight: Sara Hinck

sara hinck biography photo

Growing up in the Bay Area of Northern California, the outdoors were an integral part of Sara’s upbringing, and through her personal experience she has seen the transformative and educational power of engaging with nature. While looking to interweave her passion for the outdoors, health equity, youth development, and service, she found herself being called back to Moab. Sara has been serving as the DEI Marketing & Fundraising Coordinator AmeriCorps Vista with CFI since January ’22. Her vision is to aid in developing more accessible pathways for diverse populations to find belonging and connectivity in natural spaces within the Colorado Plateau on their own terms.