Morgan Sjogren gained Instagram popularity a few years ago as a trail runner and blogger exploring the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. She’s written two hiking guidebooks of the areas and “Outlandish,” a book that she describes as a “starter manual to fueling your own epic.”
Her newest book, “Path of Light: A Walk Through Colliding Legacies of Glen Canyon,” was published on April 18. The book traces Sjorgen’s journey to retrace expeditions led by Charles L. Bernheimer, a wealthy New Yorker, into Glen Canyon and what is now Bears Ears National Monument in the 1920s. Bernheimer fell in love with the landscape of the West, keeping journals and photographs for each trip he took. Sjogren used those documents and Bernheimer’s 1924 book, “Rainbow Bridge,” to piece together his travels.
On April 21 at 7 p.m., she’ll visit Back of Beyond Books for a reading and signing event promoting the book. The Moab Sun News chatted with Sjogren about her career as a writer and her book-writing process.
MSN: How did you become a writer?
Sjogren: I majored in writing in college, and I always knew I wanted to go in that direction. But I ended up taking a different path—I taught yoga and worked at a marketing firm. Then six years ago, I turned 30 and I went through a divorce and lost everything. So I said, ‘screw it, there’s no better time to take a risk and do what I’ve always wanted to do.’
One of my first assignments as a freelance writer was in Bears Ears National Monument, which is how I ended up in Utah. I’ve been freelancing and working on books ever since—I’ve always been a passionate writer, keeping journals and writing stories. It’s been wonderful and challenging and surprising to turn it into my career, but it’s always been a part of my life, and it’s something I love to do.
MSN: What’s your relationship to Bears Ears National Monument?
Sjogren: It’s such an intimate and important part of my life—that’s why I’ve written books about it.
I came to Bears Ears during an extremely difficult and almost traumatic period in my life, and at first, I viewed it as a beautiful place to go and work on stories. And then when the reduction of the monument happened, it was this very different and very important thing that was beyond my own personal problems. So then I had a purpose being there: it was something to care about and get me out of wallowing in my own problems. There was this feeling that I needed to be there.
For the last five or six years, it’s been the place I return to the most—I view it very much as my backcountry home.
MSN: What was the process for writing “Path of Light”?
Sjogren: It was all over the place. In winter 2019, I was living in my Jeep in Bears Ears, and that was a pretty snowy winter. I was between projects and I had this stack of history books about the area around my camp. As I read through them, I took a liking to this man named Charles L. Bernheimer, who did a series of expeditions in the area—he just seemed quirky and fun.
I started to focus on him and investigate how his travels overlapped with my own. Within a year, I realized I had done so much research on Bernheimer and done all these adventures that there was a much larger project that I could do with all of it. I didn’t really have a sense of what the theme was or where it was going—it was this blind process of research and exploration.
By 2021, I still didn’t quite know where the project was going. So I decided I needed to fully retrace one of his major expeditions: his 1929 trip through Bears Ears and Glen Canyon. I brought my own modern-day expedition party with me to really get a sense of what it was like to go on such a big adventure, and I also wanted to see how much the landscape has changed in the last 100 years. The process of committing to a 40-day, 300-mile trip really pulled the whole book together.
I connected with Torrey House Press, and up until last fall, I kept massaging the chapters together. I’m so grateful to have a publisher and editors who have such faith in me.
MSN: What lessons can be learned today from Bernheimer’s history? What do you hope readers can take away from the book?
Sjogren: For me, dissecting how much things have changed in those areas in the last 100 years helped me understand the urgency for continuing efforts to protect those areas. Bernheimer made efforts to create a national park in the Rainbow Bridge area, and his vision expanded to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in the 30s. And yet, 100 years later, there’s this back and forth over whether to protect those areas.
When we look at areas in need of protection, the idea that it can wait, that it’s not urgent, doesn’t seem like a safe bet. When we see how much has changed in just 100 years, I hope that instills a sense of urgency.
Bernheimer was just a normal guy who fell in love with the place he went on vacations to—and he decided that he loved it so much he wanted to protect it. I hope people can take that with them: that if they love a place, they should help protect it and learn how to be stewards of those areas.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.