I was glad to see your coverage of the crisis at Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque (HCN, 10/25/99). While in New Mexico three years ago, I spent a day exploring that monument. With its eloquent, ageless images, it impressed me as a treasure of transcendent value, affording civilization a new and better way to address spiritual and community needs in the 21st century. So it saddened me while in Albuquerque to read a statement attributed to the monument superintendent, Judith Cordova: "You can't please everyone. We are not a rural area. We are an urban area." That did not ring true, coming from the guardian of such a choice, living cathedral.
Consequently, on returning home, I wrote for clarification to John Cook, the Southwest regional director of the National Park Service. I hoped he would agree that personnel of his agency are not mandated to please everyone, but to do their best to protect the treasures in their trust. It grieved me when the letter I received from Mr. Cook reiterated the same old political pap about "conflicting public ideas' and "appropriate balance" between preservation and use. No, Petroglyph National Monument should not be administered as an urban recreation area for recreationists on bikes and horses, nor "balanced appropriately" with a six-lane highway. To the contrary, the monument should be nurtured as a sacred site. The real challenge as I see it is not whether to build the proposed road, nor what kind of recreation to foster at the monument, but how to look at the landscape with a point of view that rises above the ordinary into the higher order of ethics and spirituality.
I believe that Dave Simon of the National Parks and Conservation Association was correct when he said that if the monument superintendent was in the private sector she would have been fired a long time ago. I hope that NPCA and other organizations will press the issue and continue to lend support to Ike Eastvold, president of Friends of the Petroglyphs, in his courageous battle to protect the site.
Michael Frome, retired from Western Washington University but still teaching, is the author of Battle for the Wilderness and Green Ink: An Introduction to Environmental Journalism.