You can now experience the beauty of Utah’s Bears Ears — the would-be National Monument that is now at the center of a public lands battle — from the comfort of your home. Patagonia’s new multimedia experience, “This is Bears Ears National Monument,” allows users to explore the land with 10 short virtual-reality films narrated by Native American tribal leaders, archeologists, and outdoor athletes.
The experience is best viewed with either Google Cardboard or a VR headset. Put on the headset and go to bearsears.patagonia.com in your browser. On a desktop you can simulate the VR experience by using the mouse to scroll through 360-degree imagery and interact with features like petroglyphs, clicking on them to display additional information.
The experience is broken into 10 separate VR films, each giving a tour of Bears Ears from different people. In North Six Shooter, we follow rock climber Tommy Caldwell on his ascent of the massive talus cone of the same name. A Living Museum goes deep with Hopi archaeologist Lyle Balenquah, who walks us through the eastern side of Comb Ridge, where Ancient Pueblo peoples once built homes in the alcoves and etched drawings into the walls. Trail-running ambassador Luke Nelson brings users along on a run through the otherworldly geography of Valley of the Gods in Trail Run with Gods.
Patagonia worked with Fitz Cahall and his company Duct Tape Then Beer to create this one-of-a-kind film series, which Cahall says was designed to inspire empathy for the people who call this corner of the Southwest home. For Cahall, a passionate supporter of Bears Ears, the concept for the film series was three years in the making, culminating with multiple weeks of production in Utah in November. “We wanted to bring the sensibilities of a documentary film to this platform where the viewer drives rather than sits in the passenger seat, because ultimately we aren’t passive viewers of the history unfolding in front us,” says Cahall. “We are active participants — what we create should reflect that.”
Virtual Reality can be a powerful tool to introduce viewers to far-away places they may have never seen themselves (for an example, look to the New York Times VR coverage of Syria). As we’ve seen demonstrated by the likes of the Camp4 Collective, it also can make adventure videos all the more epic. Patagonia combines the two here, giving a glimpse of the captivating land that, if tradition is upheld, will be permanently protected as a National Monument, a place all Americans will be free to explore in person. Thanks to the political battle waging, Patagonia is using this tool to inspire support and encourage action. The final section allows viewers to contact Secretary Zinke, by phone or Tweet, asking him to stand up for public lands and defend Bears Ears National Monument.