On his way out the door, President Barack Obama is leaving America with two brand-spanking-new national monuments.

Gold Butte, Nevada. Photo by Ron Mader/Flickr.

The areas surrounding Nevada's Gold Butte and Utah's Bears Ears Buttes, which include hundreds of thousands of acres of canyons, fragile rock formations, and ancient Native American structures, are now protected by executive order.


The designations were controversial — many local politicians opposed the measure, describing the designations as federal overreach, while others, including Native American tribes, were thrilled.

"We have always looked to Bears Ears as a place of refuge, as a place where we can gather herbs and plants and as a place of sacredness," Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye told The New York Times.

Part of what sets the new monuments apart are hundreds of Native American petroglyphs — pictorial art and writing from centuries before the European colonization of the Americas — carved on rocks and written inside ancient structures within.

The newly christened Gold Butte National Monument is full of petroglyphs like this one.

Some of the pictograms were defaced with graffiti and bullet holes during rancher Cliven Bundy's standoff with federal authorities in 2014. The new designation will give additional protection for the ancient art and writing.

Newspaper Rock, which lies within Bears Ears National Monument, includes hundreds of petroglyphs like the one below — carved by Puebloan people over hundreds of years, beginning as early as two millennia years ago.

Modern Native American scholars believe the etchings include family symbols, territory markers, and religious iconography.

Photo by Rick Bowmer/AP.

The Moon House, also in Bears Ears and so named for the full and crescent moons on the interior walls of the structure, was likely built in the 13th century.

The structure contains numerous examples of Native American pictography inside, where archeologists believe as many as 30 people lived. The house is incredibly fragile, and only a few daily permits to see the building are currently issued.

Photo by Rick Bowmer/AP.

The house is located in McCloyd Canyon, a steep hike that gives way to this stunning view of the house under layers of rock.

Photo by Rick Bowmer/AP.

Mule Canyon, Utah, contains these Anasazi dwellings and granaries, known collectively as the "House on Fire."

Photo by Rick Bowmer/AP

Of course, the national monuments are also full of just-generally spectacular rock formations untouched by ancient construction, art, or writing — like this one in Gold Butte.

Jeff Sheild/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP.

Some local residents remain, understandably, concerned that monument designations will close down possibilities for recreation and development in the areas. But the importance of preserving these American Indian treasures, and the land they occupy, is impossible to overstate.

Ensuring that art, writing, and buildings are around for future generations is critical to building a United States of America that owns the full breadth of its history.

Thanks to our Native American forebears, these lands contain a key component of that story. And thanks to Obama, they now belong to all of us, together.

Unfortunately, photos can only show so much.

So ... who's up for a hike?

Moricz was banned from speaking up about LGBTQ topics. He found a brilliant workaround.

Senior class president Zander Moricz was given a fair warning: If he used his graduation speech to criticize the “Don’t Say Gay” law, then his microphone would be shut off immediately.

Moricz had been receiving a lot of attention for his LGBTQ activism prior to the ceremony. Moricz, an openly gay student at Pine View School for the Gifted in Florida, also organized student walkouts in protest and is the youngest public plaintiff in the state suing over the law formally known as the Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3.

Though well beyond third grade, Moricz nevertheless was also banned from speaking up about the law, gender or sexuality. The 18-year-old tweeted, “I am the first openly-gay Class President in my school’s history–this censorship seems to show that they want me to be the last.”

However, during his speech, Moricz still delivered a powerful message about identity. Even if he did have to use a clever metaphor to do it.

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Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Actions speak far louder than words.

It never fails. After a tragic mass shooting, social media is filled with posts offering thoughts and prayers. Politicians give long-winded speeches on the chamber floor or at press conferences asking Americans to do the thing they’ve been repeatedly trained to do after tragedy: offer heartfelt thoughts and prayers. When no real solution or plan of action is put forth to stop these senseless incidents from occurring so frequently in a country that considers itself a world leader, one has to wonder when we will be honest with ourselves about that very intangible automatic phrase.

Comedian Anthony Jeselnik brilliantly summed up what "thoughts and prayers" truly mean. In a 1.5-minute clip, Jeselnik talks about victims' priorities being that of survival and not wondering if they’re trending at that moment. The crowd laughs as he mimics the actions of well-meaning social media users offering thoughts and prayers after another mass shooting. He goes on to explain how the act of performatively offering thoughts and prayers to victims and their families really pulls the focus onto the author of the social media post and away from the event. In the short clip he expertly expresses how being performative on social media doesn’t typically equate to action that will help victims or enact long-term change.

Of course, this isn’t to say that thoughts and prayers aren’t welcomed or shouldn’t be shared. According to Rabbi Jack Moline "prayer without action is just noise." In a world where mass shootings are so common that a video clip from 2015 is still relevant, it's clear that more than thoughts and prayers are needed. It's important to examine what you’re doing outside of offering thoughts and prayers on social media. In another several years, hopefully this video clip won’t be as relevant, but at this rate it’s hard to see it any differently.

Joy

50-years ago they trade a grilled cheese for a painting. Now it's worth a small fortune.

Irene and Tony Demas regularly traded food at their restaurant in exchange for crafts. It paid off big time.

Photo by Gio Bartlett on Unsplash

Painting traded for grilled cheese worth thousands.

The grilled cheese at Irene and Tony Demas’ restaurant was truly something special. The combination of freshly baked artisan bread and 5-year-old cheddar was enough to make anyone’s mouth water, but no one was nearly as devoted to the item as the restaurant’s regular, John Kinnear.

Kinnear loved the London, Ontario restaurant's grilled cheese so much that he ordered it every single day, though he wouldn’t always pay for it in cash. The Demases were well known for bartering their food in exchange for odds and ends from local craftspeople and merchants.

“Everyone supported everyone back then,” Irene told the Guardian, saying that the couple would often trade free soup and a sandwich for fresh flowers. Two different kinds of nourishment, you might say.

And so, in the 1970s the Demases made a deal with Kinnear that he could pay them for his grilled cheese sandwiches with artwork. Being a painter himself and part of an art community, Kinnear would never run out of that currency.

Little did Kinnear—or anyone—know, eventually he would give the Demases a painting worth an entire lifetime's supply of grilled cheeses. And then some.

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