I first met Brent Rose over Spring Break, when I went to Lake Tahoe on a press trip with Sony. Sure, Rose is a well-respected tech writer, even having his own web series for WIRED called Out of Office with Brent Rose. But what really got my interest peaked was when he told me that he lived the #VanLife, working remotely while on a never-ending drive around the continental United States.
Earlier this year when President Trump announced his plans to review the size of 27 National Monuments, I took an in-depth look at most of them. Soon after this announcement, I saw that Rose had started a project called #27Monuments, aimed at highlighting the best aspects of these national treasures while advocating for their protection. And besides educating others about the importance of these protected lands, the best way to make your voice heard about the administration’s plans was on the Regulations.gov website. Since today is the final day of the comment period, the website has been overloaded. But the website Monuments for All promises to deliver all comments submitted to their site before the deadline is up. So, according to Rose, there is no excuse to not make your voice heard.
When I saw Rose launch his #27Monuments project, I knew he was the right man for the job, but even I was shocked at his efficiency. It seemed like every day the San Francisco-born journalist was uploading a new video to his Facebook page. And with the limited time to get the word out, Rose was on the go seemingly non-stop. I had to hear more about the project and do our part, so I sat down with Rose for an exclusive interview about #27Monuments, #VanLife and why this project means so much to him.
Resource Travel: How long have you been living the #VanLife? Where did that initial desire come from?
I first started living the van life on July 15th, 2015…which means my two year anniversary as a digital nomad is right around the corner. The motivation came after a breakup and I couldn’t decide if I wanted to stay in Los Angeles or travel. I was already working as a freelance writer and filmmaker, so I figured I could work from anywhere. So I decided to go on the adventure of a lifetime. At least that was my hope. And it sure has been!
Obviously, that lifestyle was a perfect fit to create the 27 monuments project, as many of the monuments are on the west coast and easily drivable. When did you start? What was your itinerary? How many of the 27 endangered monuments did you actually visit in this time?
I hit the road on the 13th of June. Not even a month ago. The first post about Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico went live the following day. And then, the craziness started. I had a smart friend of mine design the most efficient route through the monuments I planned to see, helping me maximize my limited time.
I went from New Mexico to Colorado, then Utah then into Northern Arizona and Nevada. Right then, I got hit with the major heat wave, so I decided to reroute to avoid the scathing temperatures. When all was said and done, I visited 22 monuments. Five of the monuments are marine based (in the Pacific). Obviously, those were harder, so I didn’t reach those, but I did make videos of them using footage from NOAA. I drove to 21, but the 22nd was in Maine, so I had to fly to that one. But for the ones I drove to, I racked up 6,500 miles on the van.
Before I left, I opened up the checkbook to buy some really expensive all-terrain tires for the van. It was hard shelling out so much at once, but I am so glad I did as I drove about 500 miles worth down dirt roads, sometimes getting into some really sketchy situations where road tires would have failed miserably. I will gladly offer myself to do a commercial for BF Goodrich after that trip!
Recently, Secretary Zinke recommended a considerable downsizing for Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. At 1.3 million acres, that is a massive tract of land. Do you see where the other side is coming from when they claim that monuments this size are federal land grabs that take usage rights away from the states and the people that live and work on these monuments?
I have heard the federal land grab argument before, and it just doesn’t make sense to me. These are public lands that are accessible to all of us, for all kinds of recreational purposes from fishing to camping to hiking..all for next to nothing. So it’s not like the government is making any money off of these lands. In contrast, when I see the government looking to sell off these lands to special interest groups, that to me looks like politicians looking to line their pockets. It is also worth noting that anytime a new proposed monument is introduced, it is an incredibly long process that is very open to the public and their opinions. In contrast, Zinke’s review period is very secrative. The public comment period is very short (and on a site that is down half the time) and we don’t even know his criteria. Even if the comments were seen by Zinke, is he even really listening to us, or is his mind already made up.
When he visited Bears Ears, he spent four days talking with politicians and corporations trying to undo the protected status. But then he spent only one hour with the tribal coalition that worked for years to get it designated. Five Native American nations consider that land deeply sacred, and they came together in an unprecedented way to make this happen. How is that remaining impartial? I took that as a slap to the face. Also, the rights that people had for grazing, mining, etc are grandfathered in. Meaning, they didn’t lose their rights once the protection went into effect. But, the protection limits the expanding of mining, drilling and grazing, which takes alot of money away from some very powerful people and corporations.
These Monuments do bring in alot of money for the local communities, especially for the monuments with heavy recreational usage. Take Las Cruces, New Mexico which is the gateway to Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. In 2014, it is estimated the monument brought in 9 million worth of revenue to the local economy. In 2015, that number more than doubled to 19 million. This is a ton of money that goes to local resturants, gift shops, hotels and tour outfitters. Imagine if that protected land was suddenly taken away? The local economy would suffer greatly.
Out of all of the monuments, you visited on this road trip, which one was your favorite and why?
That’s hard. Really hard. They are all incredible. But, if I had to pick one that really stood out, it was Canyon of the Ancients in Colorado. I didn’t know much about it before I visited. These are old homesteads and villages that people lived in as far back as 10,000 years ago. I camped right there among them, and they are so well preserved. It was breathtaking. I got a killer Milky Way shot of behind a multi-story dwelling. It was really an incredible experience.
The last one was Katahdin in Maine, and it was stunning. Lush forest, beautiful water and wildflowers. It was amazing. I was probobly a bit emotional as I had just gotten off a red eye, and knowing this was the last stop on my non-stop tour, the emotions got to me. It meant alot to stand in such a scenic location as the weight of the last 22 days came crashing down on me. I threw out everything I had written about this place before I got there and rewrote it with a more personal touch.
With the commenting period ending today, what can environmental advocates do to keep fighting this proposed downsizing?
Even though the comment period is ending today, people can still write their local representatives and Secretary of the Interior Zinke. Hell, even write President Trump. Tell them that these are our public lands, and we don’t want them under control of special interest groups. Keep writing your local representatives and tell them we won’t stand for this. And don’t stop.
What has inspired you to keep going at such a frantic pace for a month? What was the greatest hardship? What have you learned from all of this?
Well, the greatest inspiration was the deadline. I came up with this idea with less than a month before the end of the comment period. So I didn’t have much of a choice, and that kept me motivated. The 8-12 hours of driving between locations was exhausting. It was a frantic pace that I don’t know how much longer I could have kept up.
The greatest hardship was lack of sleep. I am a lifelong insomniac, but this was almost a month of cat naps here and there and the lack of sleep hit me hard. I think I only got a full 8 hours on two nights during this adventure.
I learned that these monuments each have something so special about them. I kind of expected some of them to look and feel the same, but to my surprise, they weren’t. They were all so unique and beautiful. The history that these lands hold was awe-inspiring and made me realize this is our only shot. Once they are gone, they can’t be brought back. It’s now or never for us to stand up save our lands.