In the heart of the canyon country that surrounds Moab, a woven basket rests where prehistoric hands placed it at least a thousand years ago.  This relic is far from any artificial trail and miles from the river where thousands of awestruck visitors float every year.  An ancient human that never knew life outside the Colorado Plateau found an ideal niche of sandstone to protect a vulnerable construct of willow rods and yucca leaves from the elements.  He or she positioned it carefully and walked away.  Modern minds recently found this basket and eager hands touched it with great care. It is still there and sits exactly, to the millimeter, as it was found. 

     Archaeologists were given photographs and detailed measurements of the artifact with a clear understanding that its location, even approximately, would not be disclosed.  They were astounded by its pristine condition.  If sold on the black market reliable estimates place a value on the basket in the neighborhood of $50,000, assuming one could avoid arrest and cope with serious bad karma.

     The basket was found by ethical means.  Four people, traveling by foot, shared the discovery during the final week of an entire month in hardcore backcountry.  They considered the privilege of touching the basket a sacred reward from the spirits for a journey free of compass, maps,  GPS, or any electronic device.  They are bound together by a reverence for wilderness that infuses their bodies like blood and bone, even though the ways they earn money to live in the real world are as different as moccasins and combat boots.

     Two of these people have a lifestyle familiar to many that read this publication. Gathering crumpled laundry and scattered gear from the back of a pickup, they are educated naturalists, guides and outdoor educators.  They live off the grid.  The other two people have traveled tens of thousands of miles on the Colorado River, as professionals, in a very loud, 45 foot long, 13,000 pound, 700 horse-power jetboat.  They are wilderness taxi drivers for canoers, kayakers, rafters, and hikers.  They are concessionaires of the National Park Service, business owners, and home owners that use every opportunity to remove neatly folded laundry from a dresser drawer, cram it into a backpack and disappear into the wild.

     I fell in love with the Green River on my first private canoe trip.  That was twenty years ago.  Over the next decade, I canoed the Green a dozen times with my wife, parents, brothers and friends.  My family's romance with the river and Canyonlands is what led us to purchase the business I co-own and operate with my two brothers Darren and Devin.  After more than a decade in the river business I don't imagine there are too many people involved in any aspect of commercial operation in Canyonlands who haven't heard of the "Three D's" that run Tex's Riverways.

     The inherent contradictions of being a wilderness infatuated environmentalist and a National Park Service concessionaire quickly became apparent.  It was my belief that the outdoor industry would practically require an atmosphere where the principals of any given business would consider preservation and protection of the outdoor resource as their most basic tenet.  Surely this tenet would, at the very least, supercede the promotion and expansion of any particular business entity.  Right? 

     Well that belief was shattered quicker than crypto-crust near a campsite of spring-break yahoos.  Promotion and expansion is the driving force of practically all capitalist industry.  The outdoor industry is no different and neither is the bottom line pursuit of the vast majority of companies in outdoor recreation.  Most business owners scream like a stuck pig about governmental rules and restrictions that inhibit business and admittedly there is a lot of bureaucratic foolishness in all governmental agencies.  But the truth is, without regulation the outdoor business would look like a convention of chocoholics at a Hershey factory.

     When a business does ignore dollars in favor of ethics, the effectiveness of such a stance is often questionable.  The former owner of our business provided service for several years to a private school in California, the Pasadena Polytechnic Institute. This school floated the Green River every fall in a group of 40 canoes and 80 people.  During our first season, as new owners we were committed to providing service to this group.  We were appalled by the size of this obnoxious flotilla.  Other companies and private boaters voiced complaints.  Despite our efforts to educate and negotiate possible alternatives, the school refused to compromise.  Eventually we refused to service the trip.  I have always been proud that we ignored thousands of dollars in quick revenue during a period when the financial status of our business was far from stable. 

     A large canoe outfitter from Arizona called Jerkwater Canoes (is that appropriate or what?) stepped in and took the contract.  Jerkwater had no care whatsoever when local businesses expressed concerns about the ethics of this trip.  To this day Jerkwater continues to service the trip as an annual event and the dollars flow out of Utah and into the coffers of a corporate behemoth.  

     Well-known organizations with strong pro-environment images are not immune to hypocritical actions. This past year the Grand Canyon Trust wanted to do a fast pace motorized trip on the Green River for their big-money contributors.  When we expressed concerns about the nature of the trip and refused to guarantee that we would not mix the often muddy common canoers with their white-collar contributors during the jetboat transport, they took their business elsewhere. 

     S.U.W.A., the self-proclaimed champions of non-motorized wilderness use, approached our company to facilitate transportation for a quick pace motorized Green River trip for a U.S. Senator.  We simply refused and later were gratified to learn that the environmental group had dropped its fast-track trip for the Senator.  We have refused to facilitate these types of motorized trips to many private individuals as well as officials of local governments and a wealthy local land-developer.  All of them are mighty confused and generally pissed off that a jetboat service refuses to promote motor use on the Green River.  Since Canyonlands National Park has two major rivers running through it and one of them, the Colorado, is already hosting the vast majority of motorized traffic, it just makes sense to let the Green host a different experience.  That strikes us as fair and our Mom always taught us to play fair.

     Our strong and consistent belief that the Green River should become strictly regulated for non-motorized use has often led to accusations that we are the ultimate hypocrites. How could a company specializing in jetboat transportation, the most visible and obnoxious river-related motor use, possibly have any credibility as proponents of non-motorized wilderness use?  The simple answer is that we live in a complex modern world of unavoidable contradictions. 

     As private canoers picked out of the river by good 'ol Tex McClatchy himself, we despised the jetboat aspect of the trip.  We still view jetboat operation in Canyonlands as a necessary evil.  It provides a means of mass transportation for large numbers of people that demand a quick and reliable way to get themselves and all their wilderness toys back home.  And a jetboat is a helluva lot less intrusive than building a road through 2000 vertical feet of complex canyon geology or a landing strip for air service.  When Star Trek technology comes on-line we can all beam back home; until then society demands to be kept on time and up to date.  The National Park Service strictly controls jetboat concessions. The Park Service and a handful of other state and federal agencies collect revenue and require a mountain of regulations be satisfied.  We have to jump through a whole lot of hoops to operate our service.

     Every single one of us, no matter how pure our ethics, compromises the pristine integrity of wilderness in some way.  Yet rather than trying to identify the common causes and qualities that should unify those with an affinity for wild places, we seem to spend much more time looking for reasons to separate.  Across the board there is a lack of willingness to objectively examine and moderate our particular ways of travel and business in the outdoor realm.  We are usually busy pointing a finger somewhere else to make ourselves feel better about pursuing individual interests.  Conditions of ever-present divisiveness seem to be the rule of the day.  One need only examine the recent presidential election to confirm the ideological polarization in America.

     Perhaps this is the eternal condition of our incredibly complex species.  How can we hope to achieve any semblance of unity on issues of wilderness usage in a world where the choice of what fires one's particular rocket can be as varied as attending a Rainbow Gathering or a Monster Truck Bash?  Every human mind is bombarded every single day with more possibilities than can be experienced in several lifetimes.  Imagine if you will, having been placed in some kind of cryo-freeze unit (like Woody Allen in the movie Sleeper) as little as twenty-five years back.  I'm betting that most of us would wake up, take a look around and promptly keel over from a brain hemorrhage.  Your more nostalgic retro types like poor 'ol Jim Stiles (my personal hero by the way) can barely make it through the day without intravenous Valium. (Editor's Note: I never take the stuff intravenously...JS)  And who can blame them?  Life is increasingly schizophrenically weird in the Matrix world. 

     The issue of what defines wilderness and how that wilderness should be treated is quite naturally receiving the fallout from all this societal complexity.  The world of advertising tells us that we cannot even hope to experience the wild until we pull that forest-green SUV right up to the edge of a cliff with a magnificent view, climb out sporting the newest specialty store threads, and stride off confident that the satellite unit in our pack will find us when we are lost, tell us the weather forecast, and open the car door if we are too damn stupid to remember the keys.  Soon we will have sensory chips in our underwear to sound an alarm when we're leaving skid marks.  We all go out into the wild to simplify our lives but as members of a modern society we are dependent on the trappings of that society.  No matter how much I wish it were not so, my business and I are a part of those trappings.                    

     I fell in love with the rivers and surrounding rockscape of Canyonlands a long time ago.  Being male and deeply smitten, my addled mind assigned a feminine gender to the waterway.  This seemed natural for I was instantly drawn to the amazing secrets that she hides within the incredible complexity of massive stone ramparts.  A mind habituated to, yet aggravated by the straight and orderly lines of civilization can be soothed by the curves within curves of ever evolving riverbank and sandbar.  I prefer the unhurried embrace of a drifting canoe but the river supports my need for the dollars required to survive in the real world.  So I plunder the relationship we have and the expertise she has given me for the money I need.  Behind the wheel of a speeding jetboat your eyes have to be focused on unromantic reality.  Smacking a barely visible sandbar, two inches underwater will halt several tons of boat like a leash jerking a mad dog off its feet.  In unpredictable fits the river will call up days of cold blinding rain with wind whipped waves and tomato juice flash flood waters choked with debris to really make me earn a day of obnoxious mechanized penetration.  So I use her but I respect her.  I try my best to do my best in a world of contradictions.  

     In the heart of the canyon country that surrounds the river there is an ancient basket that sits in protected surroundings of timeless peace--On the hottest days of summer when the water is low and grasping arms of sand are everywhere; when I am roaring along at 30 mph, powers of concentration in high gear and some rafter has just flipped me the bird.  An inviolate core of my subconscious will be focused on the sacred privilege of knowing that remote captivating artifact with my own eyes, even if I never return to that spot, even if I do return to find that it has been taken when I get there.                  

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