Meet Our Speakers: Joe Pachak

Ever since he looked at arrowheads with his father as a small child Joe Pachak has been interested in rock art. Now Joe confidently strides over sandstone and offers detailed descriptions of complex panels. Differentiated primarily by the pottery shards and petroglyphs associated with the site there are four different historic groups of people that inhabited the area around Bluff, UT: Basketmakers and Pueblo 1, 2, and 3. The sites display different styles but with reoccurring motifs of concentric circles, spirals, serpentine lines and anthropomorphs. Each symbol has an important meaning that can help modern viewers learn about these ancient cultures.  As an artist, Joe helps document rock art sites around the Southwest by making precise illustrations of the panels and artifacts. While visitors often feel like they are in the middle of nowhere, Joe is adamant that “the prehistoric people lived there and that was their home and it was not in the middle of nowhere.”

Joe is also involved in the Bluff Arts Festival, organizing events and telling stories. Each year he makes a large sculpture to burn on winter solstice and this year he is in the process of constructing two immense great blue herons.

By Willa Johnson

Meet Our Speakers: Adrian Herder


Adrian Herder of the Chíshsí clan of the Navajo Nation, explains his identity as a strand of DNA. The clans of his mother and father knit together to create a unique individual from familial characteristics. Family is obviously important to Adrian. He traveled home from Flagstaff where he is in school to host the Westies and share the history of the land that his family has inhabited and lived off of for generations. Time tried myths mingled with personal narratives from his childhood as he introduced us to his relatives, sharing poignant stories about their dedication to their individual life’s work.

Adrian is dedicated in his own right. Out of his high school graduating class of 55, only ten attended college or university, and only four or five are now on track to earn their degrees. Adrian is one of them, finishing his senior year at Northern Arizona University where he studies Wellness and Fitness. Though busy with schoolwork, he also guides tours at the picturesque Antelope Canyon, picks and sells local tea, and hosts college students over the weekend.

On our last morning with Adrian, we found a horny toad hiding under a desert shrub. According to legend, this creature fought off a thunderstorm threatening the earth, using its back as a shield to selflessly protect the place it loved. At our departure, Adrian emphasized the need to channel this warrior instinct toward modern environmental and social justice battles. Adrian himself embodies this spirit, generously educating us about his family and culture.

By: Sarah Dunn


Meet Our Speakers: The Matriarchs of Hardrock, AZ

Lorraine Herder

Lorraine Herder

Lena Henley

Lena Henley

Edith Simonson

Edith Simonson

With worn hands and warm smiles, the matriarchs of Black Mesa weave a tale of Navajo tradition persisting vibrantly through the onslaught of technological and environmental change. The youngest three of nine siblings in the Chíshí Diné clan, Lena Henley, Edith Simonson, and Lorraine Herder are experts in carding and spinning wool yarn. They shear the wool from their own sheep and dye it with native plants such as wild carrot, prickly pear, and sagebrush. “It’s an art that’s fading away,” Edith explains, “Only three or four families still spin and dye their own wool.” The final product of her labor, an exquisitely patterned shawl, warms her shoulders. “It’s a long process, but I enjoy doing it.”

Living without running water or electricity, the Chíshí clan sisters make do with what they have: a beautiful place to call home, tight-knit family, and a deep intimacy with the land. In traditional Navajo culture, the women stay and head the clan while the men leave to join their wives. Thus Lena, Edith and Lorraine have lived on Black Mesa since they were born, their memories stretching back to times when springs still flowed abundantly on the mesa and summer rains were frequent and gentle. Now, as they face a water table depleted by coal mining and the erosion caused by more intense monsoons, the matriarchs of Black Mesa represent the fabric that holds their community together, weathering the changes with warm wool and warmer hearts.

By: Thomas Meinzen

Meet Out Speakers: Nicole Horseherder

For Nicole Horseherder, “water is life.” As a founding member of the Black Mesa Water Coalition, a member of the Navajo chíshí dine’é clan in the Black Mesa area, and a mother, she is passionate about protecting the water resources that define her home. Horseherder defends her beliefs through action. In 2001, the Black Mesa Water Coalition was formed with the mission to protect both the natural environment and indigenous peoples’ culture from degradation. Nicole was part of one of their first campaigns, which successfully stopped the Peabody Western Coal Company from contaminating and depleting precious groundwater in the Black Mesa area through its use for slurry transportation of coal. Horseherder’s lifestyle reflects a reverence for the place she considers sacred. She is raising her children on rural land long inhabited by her native clan in order to maintain traditional relationships to their food, water, and language. Nicole lives in a place where the modern United States’ values and the Navajo lifestyle rub against one another. Her native farming lifestyle is silenced under the interests of Big Energy and technology is a dangerous distraction from seeing the environment in the ways her ancestors did. Water scarcity in a warming climate makes every one of these concerns more urgent. Despite the challenges, Horseherder has hope for the future: she sees water flowing through everything. Given a cup of water and a cup of oil, she offers, “everyone will always choose the cup of water.”

By: Signe Lindquist

Meet Our Speakers: Marshall Johnson

The number one thing that matters is water Marshall Johnson says as he picks up a large piece of cardboard and sketches on it the Navajo Sandstone Aquifer that lies deep below Black Mesa, a sacred piece of land on the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Aquifer (or N-Aquifer), sits 2,500 feet below ground level and holds extremely pure water due to sandstone filtration. It is the only potable water on the reservation but has a fraught history of water transfers to large-scale farmers and coal fired power plants. Marshall Johnson speaks of how difficult it is to see the water beneath your feet exported to large farming corporations in the southern part of the state and subsidized at a price much cheaper than the water on reservation.

            Marshall Johnson and his wife Nicole Horseherder started a grassroots organization named To Nizhoni Ani (Sacred Water Speaks) as a way for Navajo people to have their voices heard. To Nizhoni Ani, the first environmental group based in the region of Black Mesa, emphasizes water sustainability and education in the local community. They are preserving the water beneath Black Mesa by ending coal slurrying and installing water conservation equipment inside reservation schools, houses, and community buildings. Marshall Johnson and his family are working to instill in others a deeper respect of water, a value that could be treasured everywhere, but most especially in the heart of the arid West.

By Sophie Poukish

Meet our Speakers: Valencia Edgewater

Valencia Edgewater is chíshí dine’é, of the Chiricahua Apache clan, from the Black Mesa region of the Navajo Nation. She teaches community-based Navajo language and culture classes near her home in Hardrock. In addition, she drives her own vehicle for a family-owned, non-emergency medical transportation company. After earning a master’s degree in bilingual bicultural education from Northern Arizona University, Valencia started using her training to pass on the Navajo language, which she began learning in childhood from her grandmother, to community members and visitors. Valencia teaches through immersion, speaking entirely in Navajo and focusing on ways of thought. Through gestures, images, and the natural environment, Valencia invites her students to learn. She begins a lesson with the sun, orienting her students to the cardinal directions of sunrise, sun passage, sunset, and the North Star. After only an hour of instruction, novice students can point out the directions of the sacred mountains, introduce themselves in Navajo, and ask others to do the same. As a mother of two boys, Valencia is committed to imparting Navajo language and culture to the next generation.

By: Nina Finley

Meet Our Speakers: Brett Isaacs

Even before he left his home in Kayenta, AZ for college, Brett Isaacs knew that he would return home with the skills to improve his community on the Navajo Nation. Brett grew up making things with his hands and after seeing a problem in his community, he found his niche building solar power systems. He graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in American Indian Studies, with a focus in Economic Development, Law and Policy. Brett now makes a living working across the Navajo reservation, building power systems in areas without municipal electricity. Beginning in Shonto, where he lives now, he has expanded out to many of the Navajo Nation’s 110 chapters, where an estimated 18,000 people live without power. Brett designs and builds solar systems for individual houses, larger projects like schools, and also makes mobile systems. Brett has taken his work up to the Standing Rock reservation, allowing the protectors there to power their camp sustainably with a mobile unit that will soon be joined by two more. Brett’s skills allow Navajos to improve their quality of life in dramatic ways. As he says, “we have to maintain our traditional aspect, outlook and culture, and still integrate into a progressing society that is using technology and advancement… You are trying to bridge the two… Fossil fuels are not necessarily the future. We have to start investing into something different, and start believing that that difference is going to pay off at some point.” Brett’s work is making a big difference to Native people across the West.

By: Maggie Baker

Meet Our Speakers: Ed Grumbine

At the edge of a hundred miles of rifted steppe sits Kane Ranch, an unassuming brick building just south of the Arizona-Utah border. Within a chair circle out front, Ed Grumbine thrums with energy as the dynamic focal point for 48 eyes. A veteran university professor, he’s recently found tenure outside academia with the Grand Canyon Trust, a conservation non-profit which owns the historic ranch structure and, since 2008, the grazing permits to 830,000 surrounding acres of public land. Ed oversees the business aspects of those allotments, partnering with a veteran rancher to keep the organization’s 600 cattle in line.

            The former teacher spends equal time asking questions as answering them, and his main line of rhetorical inquiry, “why the hell is an environmental group running cattle?” sparks animated discussion. Our eventual consensus—building relationships with neighboring ranchers and influencing their practices for the land’s benefit—proves correct, and Ed confirms that the strategy has paid dividends. However, putting environmental sensitivity first has the ranch in the red financially, complicating the endeavor’s long-term prospects.

            Asked if he personally would banish cattle from public land, Ed responds affirmatively, but appends two caveats. First, that people still depend on grazing permits to make their living, and second, that the economic and political leverage necessary for a systemic shift towards more sustainable meats simply doesn’t exist. A pragmatist, Ed works to change the system from within, and he leaves us with the mantra “embrace the complexity”, a prominent feature of public lands grazing.

            By: Hunter Dun

Meet Our Speakers: Jason Nez

As the evening light fades into the Milky Way at Kane Ranch Arizona, archeologist Jason Nez pulls into our camp for dinner.  His clothes and face are spotted with black soot—evidence of a long day in the field.  Jason and his colleague Toby have been surveying nearby archeological sites that were recently revealed after the area burned.  Once dinner plates are cleared away, we gather to hear Jason’s stories. He speaks in measured rhythm, spinning words both animate and raw.  One of his stories recounts the night he encountered a skinwalker on an empty forest service road.  Another is about Coyote, the Navajo trickster who feeds on chaos and leads people astray.  Jason explains that in order to combat Coyote, we must collectively “develop the understanding and knowledge to see though the blame he’s (coyote) casting and all of the fear he instigates…we get past it through science, we get past it through study, we get past it through communication.”

Jason first joined the Park Service in 2001 as a ranger at Navajo National Monument.  Since this time, he has become a prominent voice within the field of archeology, giving academic lectures and promoting cultural outreach for the Navajo Nation.  For Jason, the work is of particular significance.  He was born and raised on the Navajo Nation, but his genetic lineage is more in line with ancient civilizations he studies.  In his words: “I am Zuni Edgewater, I am born for the Aribi Salt Clan, my mother’s father was tangle people and my father’s father was Mexican people… I’m Navajo culturally, I speak Navajo, I look Navajo, I live Navajo, but genetically, I’m not Navajo.  I can walk in these ruins and know that these used to be my ancestors.” 

By: Maya Aurichio

Meet Our Speakers: Travis Bruner

As the executive director of the Western Watersheds Project, it was Travis Bruner’s job to close grazing allotments through litigation in federal court. From an ecological standpoint, western states should not be grazed, however the delay in seeing the change he fought for on the ground left him unsatisfied with his work. Leaving his job to become the Arizona Forest Program Director for the Grand Canyon Trust forced him to alter his political mission while maintaining his own ecological goals. Bruner is now tasked with fostering consensus in collaborations with the Forest Service. Consensus collaborations, which require unanimous agreement, arise from issues including fire, uranium, and grazing. As Bruner sees it, grazing on public land is driven at an enormous loss to tax payers and the environment. His goal of changing the grazing culture is now realized not through federal courts but through collaborations that generate changing mindsets in diverse stakeholders.

By: Griffin Cronk

Better Know an Educator: Roger Clark

“Hello Mr. Raven,” Roger Clark, of the Grand Canyon Trust, interrupts himself to greet a raven whirling above him on the west rim of Marble Canyon in Arizona. Roger has poised himself here because of his belief that a person should intimately know the places they work for. As the Grand Canyon Program Director this is the landscape he has dedicated his work, and impressive education, towards. Roger received his Master’s degree and PhD from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and quickly took up a position at Berkley as an assistant professor of Forest Sociology. His love of academia and his students kept him in the job until he was convinced, at the suggestion of one of his students, to become a river guide at 30 years old. For the next ten years Roger’s love of the natural world and education blended together on western rivers. His work for the Grand Canyon Trust, which began in 1989, consists of the promotion of renewable energy, the fight against uranium mining around the Grand Canyon, and work to stop a proposed tramway that would run into the bottom of the canyon. Meeting Roger, it is clear why his classes at Berkley were stock full of 300 students. Everything he says is wrapped in a laugh and it is as easy to ask questions of him as it is to joke with him. Roger Clark’s devotion, humor and knowledge stand as a powerful force in his Northern Arizonan community.

By: Grace Butler

Better Know an Educator: Mary O'Brien

We met Mary O’Brien at a small park on a bright Sunday afternoon in Richfield, Utah. A renowned ecologist working for the Grand Canyon Trust, Mary has degrees in sociology, elementary education, and a Ph.D. in botany. Mary and her husband have lived and worked in a number of places from Southern California to Eugene, Oregon, finally settling in Castle Valley, Utah. Mary has a storied career in toxics policy, social work, and was even considered for the directorship of Greenpeace. Small rocks, fossils, and bones cover the space not taken by stacks of papers, maps, and botany books in her charming mud-covered hay-bale construction home fronted by large windows facing south. Whether on the aspen-covered slopes of Monroe Mountain or the Gambel Oak foothills of the La Sal range, Mary’s enduring passion for science-based conservation and advocacy comes to the forefront in conversations about public lands grazing and the importance of protecting springs on national forests. Mary’s unstoppable drive comes from her perspective that it is “harder to watch things fall apart than trying to do something about it.” For over thirteen years with the Trust, Mary has been effecting conservation through tireless field work and persistence with federal land management agencies. Through two weeks of performing aspen transects and forest service spring assessments, Mary’s ecological knowledge impressed and inspired. As for being a career scientist, for Mary, “it doesn’t get better than being paid to tell the truth.”

By: Gardner Dee

Camp Life: Montana-Utah

Enjoy our second edition of our camp life photo series, in which the Westies travel across Rockies and back again!

Better Know an Educator: Todd Wilkinson

“If your mother says she loves you, you had better check it out.” This is author and journalist Todd Wilkinson’s mindset when he reports on stories across the American West. From the history of Lewis and Clark on the Missouri River to the politics of life on the Pine Ridge reservation, and the “New West” paradise that is becoming Jackson Hole, WY, Todd is well-versed in the environmental and social issues of the West. He has been published in Christian Science Monitor and National Geographic, and he previously wrote a column called “The New West” for the Jackson Hole News & Guide. After nearly twenty years in Jackson, he has moved on to other journalistic endeavors in Bozeman, MT. Todd began his career as a violent crime reporter in Chicago and has developed an impressive resume since, writing “Last Stand,” a critically-acclaimed biography of Ted Turner and authoring a collaborative work with photographer Thomas Mangelson called “Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek.” His work is so diverse in fact, that some have mistaken him for two different people sharing the same alias. In his writing, Todd seeks out the complexity inherent in western environmentalism, showing that there are usually more than two clearly-defined sides to any issue. It is clear however, from reading and talking with Todd that he cares deeply for the lands of our Western United States, and seeks to share the full story of them with his readers and those lucky enough to get to listen.

By: Maggie Baker

Meet Our Speakers: Terry Schramm

When he speaks frankly, Terry Schramm describes the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as "a piece of shit legislation written by a bunch of cowards." Schramm is a rancher who has lived and worked around Jackson, Wyoming for 41 years. He has spent a large portion of his career trying to protect cattle from grizzly bears and other predators which explains his strong feelings towards the 1973 environmental law. Wolves have recently returned to the Teton Valley after their ancestors were nearly hunted to extinction in the twentieth century. Just last week, the cattleman awoke to find that his herd had broken out of its pasture while trying to escape a pack of wolves that killed and maimed several of his cows. Schramm wants the Department of Fish and Wildlife to issue him permits to hunt the canids, but he says that local conservation groups like the Jackson Hole Alliance sue the agency under the auspices of the ESA in order to prevent wolves from being killed. Unsurprisingly, the rancher has had little luck finding common ground with his opponents, declaring that they “are not rational people.” Schramm expressed anger at the restrictions that have been put on his work, but he also voiced feelings of melancholy, saying, “this is our livelihood and our lifestyle, and it’s sad to see it go away.”

By: Evan Romasco-Kelly

Meet Our Speakers: Tom Mangelsen

Tom Mangelsen awoke early on a morning in 2006 to the jarring yelp of his dog.  On the back porch of his home stood a Grizzly Bear.  His next encounter with the Grizzly came the following year at one of his favorite places, the Oxbow Bend.  That moment inspired him to spend the next chunk of his life looking for and photographing this bear, identified as “Grizzly 399,” and her offspring around the Jackson Hole area.  Tom grew up in Nebraska, hunting, fishing, and watching migratory birds on the Platte River.  He yearned for someone to paint the beautiful river and birds of flight.  He discovered a different way to capture an image when his professor and mentor, Paul Johnsgard taught him about photography at the age of 22.  Now one of the most famous wildlife photographers in the world, he is known for his staunch position against photographing wild animals at game farms. Animals at game farms are kept in tiny cages, bred for captivity, and later disposed of once they are old and un-photogenic. “It is unethical and immoral to keep an animal in a cage,” he says and equates game farms to animal slavery.  He believes game farm photographers destroy the credibility of wildlife photography by misrepresenting and exploiting animals. In all of Tom’s work, the common thread is the value of animal life.

By Hannah Trettenero

Meet Our Speakers: Brad Mead

Just outside of Jackson, Wyoming, Brad Mead lives in a quiet home nestled within the pastures of the Charter Place, his 1,200-acre ranch. Mead is well-known; he is the brother of Wyoming governor Matt Mead, a fourth generation rancher, a former insurance litigator and founder of Wyoming Whiskey. Mead’s variety of experience complements his profound understanding of what it means to live and subsist in the New West. Having made his home in Jackson for fifty-seven years, Brad Mead bears witness to its transformation into an affluent tourist and recreation town. Although Mead is well aware of the economic benefits of development, he also recognizes the consequent issues. Speaking on local ranches and landowners, he admits that the encroachment of development means “smaller places, tiny cow herds.” Though grim for local ranchers, Mead knows that the future of the Jackson area is not fixed.  Mead ensured that the Charter Place will not be developed; he and his siblings placed the land under a conservation easement that will only allow the construction of three new homes and guarantees that it will remain a ranch. However, the loss of middle-class ranchers and homeowners will not go unnoticed by those who have always called Teton County a home; Brad Mead reluctantly acknowledges that with the presence of only the affluent and disadvantaged seasonal workers, “you lose a little bit of the soul of the place.”

By: Fields Ford

Meet Our Speakers: Dave Olson

If one place could be called the nation’s capital for energy production, that place is Gillette, Wyoming. The sixteen coal mines in the Powder River Basin currently supply 30% of the nation’s electricity. The three mines near Gillette employ 10% of surrounding Campbell County. One such employee is Dave Olson, a Senior Geologist for Alpha Coal West, which operates the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines in the area. A fourth-generation miner that has worked all over the interior West, Dave showed us the operating Eagle Butte pit mine and gave us a crash course in economic geology and the process of coal mining, from assessing reserves to mining to generating electricity. Some of the best coal, Dave explains, has too much overburden (rock above the coal seam) to be mined profitably, limiting the economic supply and quality of coal.

According to Dave, the Clean Air Act triggered coal production in the Powder River Basin in the 1970s because it is “clean coal,” containing fewer sulfate pollutants than coal from Appalachia. Dave is pleased to share how clean Alpha’s mining operation is, with comparatively low-polluting coal, minimal dust during transportation, and reclamation efforts that often leave the land in better condition than before mining.  

Like it or not, coal is currently an important component of our national energy portfolio. Gillette is a perfect place to understand how coal, when converted to electricity, powers the devices that enable you to read this.

By Elizabeth Greenfield

Meet Our Speakers: Mayor Louise Carter-King

Here in Gillette Wyoming Mayor Louise Carter-King can’t imagine what it’d be like without the coal. At Eagle Butte Mine, everyone’s daily purpose and livelihood is dependant on the coal mining industry. Standing tall in her blue blazer with the atom symbol sewn into the upper corner, Mayor Louise Carter-King, the first women to lead here, finds herself adamantly defending this area's coal. A pin near her collar proclaims Gillette the “Energy capital of the nation”. Powder River Basin coal is some of the cleanest in the world, having formed in the presence of freshwater which greatly minimizes its sulfur content. Responsible for 30 - 40% of coal energy produced in the USA and with goals of supplying coal to other countries, Alpha Mines sees a future for coal. Especially considering the “sustainable” ways they mine in a moving pit, reclaiming land as they go with the dug up soils followed by the reconstruction of streams. Reclamation leaves these areas looking better than they did before mining commenced, according to Carter-King. The reality in Gillette is that coal is an available natural resource that should be utilized to meet today’s energy needs overlapped with the belief that “climate change is a moot point”. Carter-King recognizes that something always hurts someone. Utilizing the cleanest coal available to run not only the lights of this place but offer people a life as well is her course of action. There is a great deal to be lost here and coal is the deciding factor for this place's future, Louise Carter-King knows that.

By: Emma Rollins


Meet Our Speakers: Richard Sherman

“The greatest tradition of the Lakota is giving,” says ethnobotanist Richard Sherman, an Oglala Lakota born on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Sherman, like his seven siblings, has spent his life giving to his many communities. He funded and operated a wildlife biology program on the reservation for ten years. Now he works with the National Park Service and the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance (WINTA), chaired by his brother Ben, to teach visitors from all over the world about the region’s plants and their traditional Lakota uses.

Sherman’s worldview is wider than most. Driving by cathedral-like formations of red and white clay in Badlands National Park, he mixes the Latin names of passing wildflowers with a story of running away from reservation boarding school to join the Navy at age 18. Since then, Sherman has attended college in Utah and Massachusetts, worked in Washington, California, Colorado, and DC, and even spent a stint aboard a ship in the Bering Sea, working with native peoples of the Aleutian Islands.

For all the experience his varied past brings him, Sherman is soft-spoken and humble, maintaining that “you never become an expert, you keep being a student your whole life.” As he explains how the Lakota use yucca root to make soap and curlycup gumweed to treat poison ivy rash, he spreads this spirit of lifelong learning to others. His love of the land shines through as he smiles and asserts that “any day spent outside is fun.”

By: Thomas Meinzen