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This filmmaker is using #VanLife to save 27 national monuments

It’s mobile living for a cause

Brent Rose and his van, Ashley the Beast.
Photo courtesy of Brent Rose

Filmmaker-journalist Brent Rose is finishing up a road trip in his van to raise awareness about national monuments currently at risk of declassification as protected lands.

In April, President Donald Trump signed an executive order calling for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review 27 national monuments established since 1996 by Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama. Preserved under the 1906 Antiquities Act, these monuments are mostly located throughout the American West, in states like Nevada, Utah, California, and New Mexico.

The announcement has reignited a debate over how much control Washington should have over Western lands, and also prompted Rose into action. Two years ago, Rose—star of a popular video series on Wired—gave up his apartment to live full-time in a van he named Ashley the Beast, crisscrossing the United States and documenting his adventures in a project called Connected States.

After hearing about monuments at risk of losing their designation as protected lands, Rose embarked on an ambitious plan: To visit as many of the monuments as possible before July 10, the last day for the public to comment on the Department of the Interior's comments page.

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Because Rose was already living in his van, he told Curbed in an email that he was “uniquely set up to make this happen.” His van features solar panels to charge his cameras and computers, and has Wi-Fi for uploading photos and videos from nearly anywhere. There’s also a safe to keep his valuables secure.

Rose began his journey at Rio Grande del Norte National Monument near Taos, New Mexico, on June 15. Since then he’s been posting videos and photos on his Instagram account, highlighting the monuments in all their natural beauty—from archeological sites at Bears Ears in Utah to the lush mountains of Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon.

In a post from July 2, Rose admits that this adventure has been a blur since he started, with “long dirt roads, parts of my van falling off, 100+ degree temperatures, and less sleep than any other period of my life.”

But he’s also in awe of the the beauty and wildlife found in the monuments, many of which are less well-known than the country’s National Parks. He writes, “It's the monuments themselves that are filling me up and keeping me going. These are places that everyone should be able to enjoy, in perpetuity.”

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As for using #VanLife for a political cause? Rose wants to do more than travel in his van posting beautiful—albeit staged—Instagrams. As a New Yorker magazine article recently documented, van life today can look like a self-serving, glamorous lifestyle commercial, disconnected from the adventure and simplicity of its roots. Rose admits it might sound cheesy, but he “really wanted to find a way to give back and to use adventure and #VanLife as a means to make the world a better place.”

Rose had to switch up his itinerary due to record-breaking heat in the Southwest, but he will visit all 22 of the monuments located in the contiguous United States before the July 10 deadline. Five of the sites are marine national monuments, so although Rose has made videos of these underwater wonders, he won’t visit them in person.

Head over to the 27 Monuments webpage to see more.

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