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Sunday, March 24, 2013


Access to public desert land for recreational use is always a double edged sword, in that it positively provides a backdrop for dynamic and exuberant self adventure and discovery, but also draws in every manner of neglectful behavior imaginable. For some the desert is to spoil, for others to cherish. I'm preaching to the choir here and guilty of neglect of the highest degree. 

I recall a few evenings in my youth spent around a gasoline doused couch off in the desert doing my best to make a straight face as I threw back cheap domestic beer in my formative years. Foolish! Or that time when we stacked shipping pallets high enough to require a commercial building permit, only to burn it all down to smoldering ash in a drunken angst filled stupor. For some the desert is a wasteland, no more than a rock and sand strewn rubbish heap devoid of life. For others it is a rich and diverse living organism crying out to it's stewards. "Help!" 

I regret the wasteful and apathetic decisions of my youth. Where was my respect for wilderness? My respect for natural life and precious resources? It's never too late to make a change. For years now I have called the Chihuahuan desert that surrounds my community home. This place was once a burden and inconvenience. A means to an end. Harsh. Unforgiving. Biting. Relentless. I loathed the heat and the lack of comfort. Your well will run dry quickly if you hope for such things here. It is a place that you must embrace on it's own terms. It will not bend or waver in our presence. Once you accept those terms- that the sun will not stop pouring down buckets, or that the heat will not waiver, or that the ground will not serve up grace- you will find that it is a truly liberating place of beauty unlike that of any other. I am fortunate to be an inhabitant of the desert. I wish I understood this when I was young. 

A few weeks ago I was wrapping up a short solo ride before work. This was a memorable ride not due to anything on my part, but on account of the low lying cloud layer that engulfed the Mesilla Valley in a veil of condensed moisture. Fog in the desert you ask? Yes. It is an ephemeral miracle, that exits as swiftly as it arrives. The conditions have to be just right in the valley. I've become familiar with these conditions and know the atmospheric ingredients necessary for fog to form in the valley. The previous evening I laid out my items, grabbed my camera, and had my bike ready to go for what I knew would be an exceptional morning ride. It was beautiful. I clenched my cold hands as the cold morning air sliced through my gloves. Tears formed quickly at the sides of my eyes as I gained speed along the faster sections of singletrack. I was thankful.

I love riding solo, particularly on mornings such as this one. Where I don't have to wait up for anyone, or have anyone wait on me. There is no air of competition, no room for arrogance, bravado, or self performance. Just me moving along the trail absorbed in that moment. My eyes catch things that I don't typically see when in a group of riders. For whatever reason on this morning I couldn't help but notice the considerable amount of trash at the trailhead.






Cigarettes. Glass. Spent prophylactics. Rotten produce. Cellophane. Metal. Rubber. Polyethylene.

 These are items found within a radius of 50ft. of my vehicle. This is but a small example of the detritus that we encounter before we even access our land. Who shits on the steps of their backdoor? Apparently we do. I'm making a point this year to be a better steward of the wonderful public land that I have access to. What this will look like is beyond me. It might mean forfeiting a ride or run to clean up a trailhead, or pack out used shotgun shells mid ride if I stumble upon any. I don't know yet. With the 2nd Annual Sierra Vista Trail Race coming up next month and directing duties in full swing, the subject of land stewardship is at the forefront of my mind. Spring brings with it new life and change. As the weather warms and we get out more, let's all strive to travel lightly on our land this year.


  1. Excellent post Eugene, thanks for passing along the good ideas.

  2. Eugene, I think about these things frequently when I'm out on a run or ride. There is of course an elegant solution - become the change you wish to see. Awareness is the first step and action naturally follows. It takes almost no effort to bring along gloves and a plastic bag to the trailhead once and a while and spend a minute picking up during a cool down. If there's no refuse bin out at the trailhead then pester the county until they put one in. Volunteer occasionally with trail crews or beautification crews because power in numbers is large.

    Insignificant actions like these may seem to go unnoticed, but they don't. There's a woman in our area who will sometimes pick a small hand full of wildflowers during her hike and wedge the bouquet into the trailhead fence on her way out. Such a small public action can become a much grander display of respect and adornment to the other users of our wonderful trail.

    1. Desert Dirt. The woman you speak of sounds like a great individual- such a small but powerful gesture of gratitude. Subtle actions don't go unnoticed by those, like yourself, that care to look and respond. Thanks for sharing her story. That account gives me much to think and inspires me tremendously.

  3. Great post. Ive taken to picking up trash. In fact Craig was recently injured on day 4 of our hike while trying to collect a partially buried glass jar. The times when this kind of gesture has the most impact, I believe, is when we do this in front of fellow hikers, especially children. Some of the trails I frequent are quite busy, which makes this a potent opportunity to be an example. This past weekend, both of my kids encountered trash and I asked them to pick it up and stuff it into their packs. I'm sure those couple of items made absolutely no difference to the land we were on, but in the minds of those kids, the act will likely never be forgotten. That's where we can make a difference.