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Sipapu – Travels through the Southwest

Sipapu Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Sipapu is a Hopi word that symbolizes the portal through which their ancestors first entered the present world. * It is a mythology shared by other Pueblo cultures and is considered where the “First Peoples” of the earth divided to create differing tribes. The original Sipapu is said to be located in the Grand Canyon.

Like many of us, I had been laying low awaiting my second vaccine. That turned out to be a wonderful experience as I really had the chance to explore my backyard and visit local wonders in and around Whatcom and Skagit Counties. Still, emerging from that period and driving south was for me very much like emerging into another world.

Sunrise at Inspiration Point, Bryce National Park. Utah.

It turned out to be an epic trip. Six states, two+ weeks, over 4,000 miles, lows of 23 degrees at 8,000 feet at Bryce National Park, 93 degrees at 100 feet below sea level in Death Valley, and 16 degrees in Mammoth Lakes. Some of this spent with my good friend Kevin, a fun check in with family in St. George, and the rest as a solitary experience enjoying red rocks, blue sky, and snow.

Grand Canyon at Lee's Ferry. Marble Canyon, Arizona.

My thought was to go to sun and warm weather, and I did get that, but I neglected to factor in elevation. That is how I got winter weather at Bryce and in the Sierra’s, snowstorms at Natural Bridges and Coral Sand Dunes State Park, as well as finding slot canyons with several feet of ice for a floor.

Bighorn Sheep. Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada.

I have always enjoyed driving, and appropriately for this trip I was accompanied by songs of the southwest sung by one of my river hero’s, Katie Lee. For her entire life, Katie was an outspoken and unapologetic lover of rivers and spent as much time as possible as a boater on the San Juan and the Colorado. She was a singer, actress, photographer, and environmental activist. Moreover, she hated what dams did to rivers and was an outspoken critic of the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers. Katie passed away in 2017 but listening to her music and driving along the rivers she loved made it seem she was riding shotgun for this trip. **

Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. Utah.

I was not alone crawling out of that winter hole into a new world. Nearly every park I visited, and every campground, was overflowing with people looking to try to put a long year behind them. If you are planning to travel, or just to visit your local trail, you need to factor in this potential new normal (?). For many years, conservation groups have longed for more people in the outdoors, believing this would result in a greater number of nature supporters. Well, they are here. Now we need to invite them into the circle of advocates to lobby for more outdoor resources, and additional natural resource staff and funding.

Capital Reef National Park. Utah.

It is interesting to see just how many people are turning to nature as a return to better, pre-Covid times. What a great opportunity to push local, state, and federal leaders to answer this call. In has been decades since agencies have been given dedicated and adequate funding to maintain and staff our parks. I talked to a young ranger in Death Valley, which has 1.7 million visitors annually, and she told me they have ten rangers for the entire park!

Valley of the Gods Scenic Backcountry, formerly part of Bears Ears National Monument. Utah.

While agencies have been woefully underfunded historically, the past two years has seen even more drastic budget cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency (-31%), Dept. of Agriculture (US Forest Service -21%), and Interior (-12%). *** As the new administration promises a return to normalcy after coronavirus, we not only need to restore funding, but increase it to address a renewed interest in the outdoors and to place a higher value on clean air and water and special places like the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments that I just visited. The tools to improve use of the outdoors are there, and those who enjoy nature need to push to make improvements and investments happen. Look for additional website photos of my trip once I get back.


*Sipapu also represents a hole in the floor of a Puebloan kiva, an underground and circular room used for rites and political meetings.

**Anytime I felt I needed motivation, or was less than inspired for my conservation work, I would think about Katie who was always a river advocate, and NEVER politically correct. You can learn more about Katie and hear her sing about her rivers on Colorado River Songs at

***In 2020, the administration passed “The Great American Outdoors Act” which fully funded the Land and Water Conservation Fund and providing $9.5 billion for national parks, wildlife refuges, campgrounds, forests, and American Indian Schools. But implementation was slow to start, projects were removed, and the administration announced a secretarial order giving governors veto power over federal public lands acquisition. At the same time, this administration weakened the Endangered Species and Clean Air Acts, opened more than 9.3 million acres of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest to logging, permitted hunting in Alaska’s National Wildlife Preserves and Wildlife Refuges, and in 2017 recommended rolling back a 20-year-old ban on uranium mining near the Grand Canyon. It will be a long way back for the natural world. Longer if we do not insist on it!

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Laura Brauner
Laura Brauner
Apr 04, 2021

Looks amazing and so glad you were able to reconnect to the outdoors in this manner - it allows us to see the glorious sights with you! Thanks 😊

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