Carbondale’s Jones pedals to build awareness of national monument plans
October 4, 2018
Carbondale resident Brandon Jones combined an epic outdoor adventure earlier this year with activism aimed at building awareness over the Trump administration's plan to shrink three national monuments. Jones bikepacked through parts of Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada as well as Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments in Utah from mid-April through the first week of May.
"I guess I had been dreaming about and romanticizing a bike tour," he said.
He tends to be more a backpacker and spends considerable time in wilderness, where mechanized uses aren't allowed. But he figured using a bike was the most practical way to tour the vast national monuments.
"Traveling by bike is such a cool way to see places," he said. He was able to travel fast enough to cover the immense areas but could slow down and immerse himself in spectacular landscapes.
Environmental activism is in the blood of Jones, 31, who has lived in the area for three years. During warm-weather months he is the conservation outings coordinator for Wilderness Workshop, the valley's homegrown environmental organization. His day job is consulting on energy efficiency for Clean Energy Economy for the Region, better known as CLEER.
For the bikepacking project, Jones wanted to study the national monuments in greater detail and share what he learned about the landscapes and their ecosystems. All three of the places he visited were targeted this year for a reduction in size. The federal government is taking public comments on the proposal now. Jones wants people to weigh in.
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He set his course using advice from Bikepacking Roots, a nonprofit organization that promotes backpacking, then customized the routes to fit his mission.
He flew into Las Vegas and started his solo journey April 17.
"Staying hydrated was my top concern," he said.
A Nevada environmental group helped him with information on how to navigate Gold Buttes. He consulted the Bureau of Land Management to pinpoint likely springs and other water sources in the Utah monuments.
He rode his Salsa Fargo mountain bike, specially designed for bikepacking, for the adventure. Multiple companies provided him with gear for the journey.
He carried up to 11 liters of water, in case expected sources didn't pan out. All told, he estimated his bike weighed between 60 and 70 pounds.
Jones covered all types of surfaces on his tour — paved, gravel, rough four-wheel roads and singletrack trails. He recalled one harrowing moment when he was negotiating a singletrack with exposure over the Virgin River outside of St. George, Utah, when he noticed he was missing his bedroll, which had been attached to his handlebar. He backtracked and found the roll on the trail rather than over the precarious ledge.
He was least familiar with Gold Butte National Monument and discovered it includes areas of critical environmental concern for desert tortoises and other wildlife. It also has cultural resources of surrounding Native American tribes.
The monument is also where federal land-ownership foe Cliven Bundy grazed his cattle without paying fees and illegally diverted water, triggering a confrontation with the feds earlier this decade.
Moving into Utah, Jones spent a week crossing the vast Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument and found "complete solitude" and "stunning scenery."
More than 21 species of dinosaurs have been found in the monument, some of them new discoveries, Jones said. Trump's plans to reduce the 1.88-million-acre area to half that size will jeopardize protections for some of those areas, Jones said. Redrawing the monument's boundaries is intended to free up more land for coal mining and natural gas extraction.
The potential for extractive uses wasn't the only thing giving Jones nightmares in Grand Staircase-Escalante. He negotiated Death Ridge Road, where he had to push rather than pedal his bike up most of the 20 miles, steep pitch covered with softball- and golf-ball sized rocks.
From there, he traveled to Bears Ears National Monument, where Trump proposed to reduce 1.35 million acres by 85 percent. Poor weather forced him to cut his tour short and hightail it to Monticello, Utah, before he took a final backcountry jaunt through Lockhart Basin to get to Moab on May 5. He averaged 40 miles per day in sometimes-brutal conditions and other times easy pedaling. He didn't track his calorie intake but estimated it to be between 4,000 and 6,000 calories per day.
The three weeks of travel convinced him of the value of the monuments.
"The way I see it, these vast landscapes are needed for so many things — migration routes (for big game), global environmental systems, protection of the wildness of the world," Jones said.
He also feels that Native Americans must be given more control over what were once their lands.
Travels took him from the Mojave Desert to the Colorado Plateau and finally the montane ecosystem of the high country at Bears Ears. He sketched out his journey in a blog at https://rollonthunder.wordpress.com.
"I feel like I connected to the landscape in a unique way," Jones said. "I re-solidified my belief that they deserve monument designation."
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