Marc O’Brien (right) and Jason Dilworth at an entrance to the Pando grove in southern Utah this summer.


By   |  Dec. 7, 2019

I’ve been involved with Pando Populus almost from the beginning, but I count myself among the luckiest of Pandomaniacs for the time I’ve been able to spend with the Pando tree/grove itself and on the ancient hills it’s inhabited for hundreds if not thousands of years. In 2017, I made the first ever ROADTRIP. Then the following year, I participated in the PILGRIMAGE. I’ve taken smaller excursions before and after.  

But it was my most recent trip this past summer that allowed me to experience Pando in a wholly new way, because I went with the purpose of documenting my visit and sharing the details of the trip. My aim was to develop a roadmap that others might use to make Pando trips or pilgrimages on their own, and know where to go and what to do — in reasonable and low-cost ways.

There is a danger, of course, in directing too much attention to Pando for fear of it becoming overrun in time by visitors. But the danger so far is that this extraordinary treasure is being ignored and therefore little protected. My hope has been to attract mindful attention among those who can love it and want to see it thrive.

And then the opportunity deepened when Paul Rogers, Pando chief scientist, approached me asking, “What if we got our hands dirty and worked on saving Pando in some way? We can install new fences and clear brush over a weekend this summer, and really do some good.” I thought it was a fantastic idea.

Helping Paul Rogers install new gates that will protect part of the Pando one-tree forest from ravaging deer. Utah, summer 2019.

So I gathered together a few of my friends to create a small prototype adventure for those who have a bit of an outdoorsy spirit, an adventurist nature, and desire to see and do what they can to help protect earth’s largest living thing. I called this summer’s adventure, EXPEDITION: PANDO and used the occasion to pull together all the information and materials I could find to create a Do-It-Yourself guide.

The first person I called to make the trip with me was a long-time friend, Jason Dilworth. Jason was part of the Alabamboo Make & Ride project that I spearheaded back in 2011, focused on sustainability, cool transportation, and rural development. Jason is a fellow designer and advocate for the environment and native to Utah. It was a no-brainer that he would join.

When Jason and I showed up at Pando, we were greeted by Lance Oditt, photographer and designer whom I’d met on the 2017 ROADTRIP. Lance was there to document the forest using Virtual Reality imaging technology and high-resolution photography. His goal was to help people experience Pando remotely, if they were unable physically to step foot in the forest. While I was there to help make downstream visits easier with a written guide, Lance was there to make the experience real for those who might never visit in person.

We called the Doctor Creek Campground our home for four days and three nights. The campground is literally steps away from the Pando forest. Our days were spent roaming the woods and hiking trails, working on fenced areas that needed help, documenting things to see and do in the general vicinity, and then doing it all again in some mix of the pattern and at varying speed. Each night, Jason and I merged our campsite with Paul and Lance’s to have communal dinners and drink in the mystery and beauty of this amazing place.

When the stars came out, we sat around the fire pit, passing bottles of whiskey and diving deep into philosophical conversations about the current state of our country, our thoughts on climate change, the state of the world…you name it. It’s what any decent liquor bottle in the company of good friends can do for you.

At the end of the trip, I folded the notes I took into a simple and straightforward guide. It will be up on our website early in the new year — in time for you to use it in planning your own Pando adventure, if the spirit moves.

Pando is a remote and magical place to spend 3-4 days, with campsites for those who like to rough it and cabins for those who don’t. And if you do visit and want to help protect the one-tree forest that is our namesake, write and let us know. We’ll get word to Paul, who can hook you up with any number of ways that you can help.

Pando on!

Marc O’Brien has been working with people who give a damn since 2009. He is the co-founder of The Determined, a creative studio for a climate-resilient world. He’s also an adjunct instructor at California College of the Arts in San Francisco, CA.

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