A Wilderness Science and Art Collaboration

Aldo & Leonardo, a partnership between Colorado Art Ranch and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, is a project to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The project is inspired by the scientific wisdom of Aldo Leopold and the artistic genius of Leonardo da Vinci. Our endeavor is an interdisciplinary collaboration of artists and scientists designed to celebrate the lands, resources and opportunities protected by the Wilderness Act. In 2013, we are hosting one-month residencies in six diverse wilderness areas. Artists will work alongside wildland research scientists and gain firsthand knowledge of the wonders, complexities and challenges of our nation's wildest places. The result will be a body of work that creatively illustrates the value of wild areas and honors the scientific efforts to preserve wilderness for the next fifty years.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Final CANM presentation

Well today was our final presentation.  We videoed it so will hope to have some excerpts at least to post after some editing.

Some thoughts as we prepare to leave tomorrow after an amazing month here.  Wilderness is complex.  Most of the places we spent time in here did not qualify as wilderness under the definition of the Wilderness Act:
A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.
Hoodoos in Sand Canyon
Areas didn’t qualify technically because were either too small, had roads, had grazing and mineral use, were full of archeological sites, had grandfathered islands of private land or other issues.  That said they were remote, certainly provided outstanding opportunities for solitude and contained many features of historical value in the enormous number of archeological sites here.  For something to be technically Wilderness Congress has to declare it as such.  We spent a lot of time in Wilderness Study Areas - which haven’t received a congressional declaration and aren’t likely to for a variety of reasons.  Much of the land here has mineral rights which preceded the creation of the National Monument by many years.  Canyon of the Ancients sits on top of the largest bubble of carbon dioxide in the world so it’s a striking model of the compromises that have to happen to protect precious archeological sites while permitting mineral development - and in some areas also long permitted grazing rights.

I came here with a more black and white view of how that might work than turns out to be the case in reality and am impressed with the balancing act that the BLM does here to serve multiple needs. Is it ideal? No clearly not but it’s a workable compromise that does protect public lands while allowing mineral development.  It’s not a typical “true wilderness” area and as such is truly a special case.
Above Castle Rock, CANM
CANM is an interesting and in my experience unusual monument in how hidden in plain view it is.  Most national parks and monuments have major paved loops with walkways to major features, loads of signage and a super accessible set of “front sites”.  While CANM has a (truly outstanding) museum with two ruins right on the premises the “front sites” are a long way off on roads which while perfectly drivable aren’t all paved.  It’s an interesting contrast with nearby and far more famous Mesa Verde -where fragile archeological sites are very present but mostly only viewable with a guide and on a super developed paved route with lots of curation.  The back sites at Mesa Verde are closed to all including staff.  At CANM the opportunity to explore back sites is very open - anyone can hike in although there is little in the way of signage and only a very few developed sites among the literally thousands of known sites in the park.  It’s a somewhat hidden park - the real gems require one to get off the roads and hike and the effort is rewarded with silence, remote beauty and remarkable archeology.
Hiking, cottonwoods in canyon, CANM

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde

A month barely scratched the surface of all that is here and I look forward to coming back in the future, knowing enough to make a better start in exploring it further.  I learned a lot about myself on this trip.  I was pushed out of my comfort zone, driving on 4WD roads far worse than anything I had attempted, hiking and keeping up with people far younger and fitter and realizing that my skills were indeed up to navigating the back country without trail or guide. I have been a hiker and backpacker for many years but still found myself stretched and my confidence enhanced by these ventures.

Now I need to digest all the information from this month - scientific knowledge about the archeology, geology, biology and the visual information in the form of sketches and photos in order to make artwork that is coherent and captures some of what I found.

Lots of thanks due - to Colorado Art Ranch and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute and to the amazing people at CANM who have been incredibly generous, supportive and friendly to the three of us during our month here.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, wilderness is complex... we learned so much on our residency!