Protect 'City' and Basin and Range

jc-mg-200-names.jpgJon Christensen writes: Artist Michael Heizer brought a huge piece of raw, elemental nature into the middle of the city, suspended it over our heads in the courtyard of LACMA, and called it "Levitated Mass." For the last couple of decades he has also been carving raw, elemental forms of the urban into a remote Nevada desert valley, and calling it "City."

This exchange and connection between the country and the city, the city and the country runs through LACMA, where Michael Govan has provided crucial support for Heizer to finish his monumental sculpture. Govan has also been a key player in an effort underway to protect "City" and 900,000 acres of the surrounding land as a new national monument--Basin and Range National Monument.

city300.jpgGovan recently wrote an op-ed about these efforts with Brian O'Donnell of the Conservation Lands Foundation in the LA Times. And on Friday, I contributed an op-ed to the San Francisco Chronicle. The proposal is on President Obama's desk. Supporters are calling on people to write to the president and encourage him to create the national monument to protect "City" and the surrounding landscape of vast valleys and soaring mountains. The effort has its own hashtags, natch, #protectcity and #basinandrange, and a web site at

basinrange300.jpgA year and a half ago, as this effort was quietly gaining traction, I traveled several hours north of Las Vegas to visit "City" with Govan and a small group of conservation advocates. I had met Heizer more than a decade earlier when I lived in northern Nevada. And I put tens of thousands of miles on my Toyoto 4-Runner traveling the backcountry roads of the Great Basin, including all around "City." But I'd never been on the inside.

I also wrote about efforts to protect the Nevada desert and the fierce resistance to those efforts from hardcore sagebrush rebels and others. From my perspective as a journalist, these battles were always interesting because of the politics and what they revealed about how people thought about each other as they fought over the land.

Coming back after more than a decade, as we drove north through a vast valley toward "City," I remembered those debates, which could sometimes get pretty western, as they say in Nevada. And I knew that a proposal to designate a national monument would generate some heat locally.

But here in the heart of the Basin and Range province, the politics faded away in the face of the enormous power of the landscape that truly does seem to have its own implacable way, independent of humanity--even if intellectually, as a journalist and historian, I know that it has been touched by human history again and again. Nature has its own abiding integrity and force, even in the face of the enormous power of human ingenuity and engineering.

"City" makes that paradoxical connection in a way that is as mysteriously powerful as the landscape itself. You might feel that, as I do, standing under "Levitated Mass" in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world. And that power resides in "City" and the surrounding Basin and Range landscape, but at a whole different scale. And if it's protected as a national monument, you could experience that too.

Photo of "City" by Tom Vinetz, Triple Aught Foundation. Photo of surrounding land in the proposed Basin and Range National Monument by Tyler Roemer.

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