Tag Archives: adventure

Morgan Sjogren, “Path of Light”

Are you beguiled by Bears Ears? Are you desperate for time in the desert? Are you enraptured by hiking and camping in extreme conditions, eager to hike with 25 pounds of water strapped to your back so you don’t die of thirst?

If so, you live in a great spot here in southwest Colorado because you have all the variety of activities available in Cortez and surrounding communities and in just a few hours’ drive you can ramble down a remote Utah canyon and disappear for days, grappling with any harsh condition you want to conjure.

If you’re desert curious or canyon fascinated, but not so interested in sweat and toil, you could do a lot worse than grab a copy of Path of Light: A Walk Through Colliding Legacies of Glen Canyon by Morgan Sjogren (Torrey House Press) and settle into your favorite comfy recliner for an armchair tour.

Sjogren, a self-described nomad who is known to live out of her truck on the Colorado Plateau, is a longtime writer, explorer, and long-distance runner. Path of Light is shaped by an interesting premise—to retrace the 1929 expedition led by Charles L. Bernheimer into the heart of Glen Canyon and Bears Ears National Monument (when water in the canyon ran unencumbered by manmade dams and when there was no federal protection via the “monument” designation). The route encompassed over 300 miles.

Interweaving history with her travelogues and observations, Sjogren writes with passion about her sojourns, ever aware of all those who preceded her footsteps and explorations. The phrase “path of light” is from Wolfkiller: Wisdom from a Nineteenth-Century Navajo Shepherd, by a Diné elder. “The path of light is always running beside us on either side, but we cannot see it for the darkness in our hearts. Now we have decided to have some ceremonies and pray for our minds to turn into the path of light … You must always think that the next year of your life will be more happy and peaceful than the year before, and must try to make it come true.”

Well, Sjogren knows what she wants—and that is maximum time in the desert, whether alone or with the occasional romantic partner, historian, experienced archaeologist, or fellow desert rat. Winter or summer, it’s hard to imagine anyone more eager to scale steep remote mesas or simply absorb the infinite number of desert nooks and crannies. 

She is never far from thoughts about her role and all those who have come before, often skeptical about her rationale.

“I question our motives to climb No Name Mesa. It was satisfying to confirm the presence of human marks here, but we are not archaeologists trained to use that information. In the big picture, seeing the top has no more benefit to the world than climbing a remote peak. We climbed, we left our footprints, and we left. Why have I been so obsessed with doing this all year? What do we gain and do we do with this experience? How does it benefit anyone else or the land itself? I suppose contemplating the purpose of our presence is a piece of the puzzle.”

Sjogren takes great pains to honor all the centuries of Indigenous people who came before European settlers. She contemplates the legacy of Lake Powell. She ruminates on the pros and cons of social media enticing hordes to key spots. Sjogren celebrates that Bears Ears National Monument “is now leading the way for integrating Indigenous values and leadership into federal land management and the protection of cultural sites.” She scours potholes for fresh water, shimmies through tight holes in the rock, and makes it clear that the number of outback canyons devoid of humanity far outnumber the stunning arches and rock formations that draw the crowds.

Sjogren doesn’t see herself as a “solitary vagabond” and often teams up with others to complete various sections of the overall trek. Boyfriends come and go. Sjogren provides scant details on access points and locations. Recreating Bernheimer’s trek goes in and out of focus—and that’s okay.

The writing ranges from straightforward to flat-out gorgeous:

“The monotonous horizon line is punctuated by cairns, rusty metal scraps, and mining equipment strewn intermittently along the slick rock. This isn’t trash—It’s the Gretchen Bar Trail, once a mining thoroughfare during the Glen Canyon gold rush. The trail’s destination, a gravel beach, once offered a welcome respite for prospectors, complete with a stone house, fruit trees, and a piped spring. Today the only traffic is a grey-colored curlew strutting around on live stilts and using its long thin beak like chopsticks to pick snacks up off the ground.”

Read Path of Light and open yourself to a trek through a landscape that requires “immense self-reliance.”

(This review was originally published in Four Corners Free Press, May 2023).