SAVE OUR RED ROCK LANDSCAPES: Discovering the Desert’s Magic Through Play

About the Author

Jai Hamid Bashir is a Pakistani-American poet, teacher, emerging scholar, climate justice advocate, and Masters candidate in the Environmental Humanities Program at the University of Utah. Her deep love of the American West emerged out of desert exploration, and a desire to cultivate an ecological identity inspired by writers like Gary Snyder and Terry Tempest Williams. She deeply believes narratives, ecological and social diversity, and outdoor play are necessary for creating desirable change in the world.

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When thinking about getting children outdoors, what landscape comes to mind?

Our cultural imagination points us to hiking under the cool of conifers, stomping in streams, running through open grasslands. These are the traditional images that we see widely portrayed as “the outdoors.” But what about the desert as a place of “play?”

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As a Natural Leader from Utah, I’m often asked about my relationship with our famous powdery winters. But in truth, I’m a “desert girl.” I’m drawn to stones and rocks (both vertical and horizontal), sleeping under uncommon stars, being blanketed in sceneries of thorns, sand, and sprawling space.

As a participant in a 2014 C&NN Natural Leaders Legacy Camp and a returning trainer and mentor in 2015, I was met with hesitation and curiosity when speaking about “Red Rock Country.” Questions of general safety, dehydration, venomous bites, falling rocks, and the entire desert-hazard spectrum came my way.
Taking people, especially children, outdoors always comes with real risk.

But in my view, the risk is part of the adventure. Perhaps risk is an inherent part of our mission to get nature-deficient children outdoors in the first place. As they say: no risk, no reward.

The dangers of the desert can illicit strong reactions in many people but the rewards leave an indelible mark. The magnificence of mesas, the joy of crossing paths with a garter snake, the cathedral silence and echo of rock amphitheaters and arches, all of these and more are the gifts of a lifetime.

Red Rock asks you to use your best skills, manners, preparedness, and intuition. I’ve observed kids adapt quickly to the heat, sand and unfamiliar surroundings of the desert, turning into self-identified “desert rats” (what we affectionately call ourselves) by the end of the day.

For children, the desert can be a place to recognize the necessity of presence, which is fundamental to cultivating stewardship and love of land.

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Before leaving office, President Obama created the Bears Ears National Monument area of southeastern Utah. Named after a pair of buttes, the monument protects 1.35 million acres. In addition to preserving a number of spiritual sites for tribes local to the region, the area’s designation is also a triumph in recognizing the significance of the American Southwest as part of our planet’s richness and diversity in ecological and geographical wonders and an inexorable part of our American identity.

Unfortunately, the monument designation is now in danger of being revoked under the current federal administration.

Challenging traditional perceptions of spaces that are “suitable” for children is fundamental for ensuring future stewards of our endangered landscapes. Spaces such as Bears Ears National Monument depend on this shift in our cultural imagination.

I invite all Natural Leaders and members of Children and Nature Network to consider Bears Ears as a place to visit with your youth groups and families — to experience the sense of home I have found in playing and exploring in Red Rock Country.  Perhaps you, too, will be persuaded that the land and waters of the American Southwest must be seen as essential to the children and nature movement, and for all of us, must be safeguarded and protected.

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Additional Reading & Resources from C&NN
MAGIC IN THE SAND: With Her Students, a Teacher in Riyhadh Comes to Love the Desert 
CONNECTING WITH NATURE & OURSELVES: Reflections from Colorado Legacy Camp
MAKING FRESH TRACKS: Natural Leaders from the Arctic Circle and Urban Los Angeles Partner Up
NATURAL LEADERS LEGACY CAMP: One Young Man Decides to Give Back the Way His Father Did
BEYOND LEGACY CAMP: What C&NN’s Natural Leaders Do When They Get Home
WE’RE READY! C&NN’S Natural Leaders Pledge to Support National “Every Kid in a Park” Initiative
THE LIGHT OF NATURAL LEADERS: Young People Move the New Nature Movement

Additional Reading & Resources
Bears Ears National Monument
Natural Leaders Initiative
Natural Leaders Network Facebook Page
Every Kid in a Park Initiative

Commentaries here and elsewhere on the C&NN website are offered
to inform readers and to stimulate new thinking and debate. C&NN does not officially
endorse every statement, report or product mentioned in every commentary.

1 Comment

  1. I get it! I’m an Arizona native desert rat trying to challenge parents’ and teachers’ assumptions about the times and places and ways our kids can enjoy the outdoors. Thank you for sharing your work and perspective.


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