From Biocrust, With Love: Shred Lightly Principles and Story

To the untrained eye, the desert may appear inhospitable. But, just because the desert poses a harsh environment to humans, doesn’t mean that it’s devoid of life. Far from it, in fact. For the past year, John has been working on a documentary about desert ecology on the Colorado Plateau with filmmaker Sinuhe Xavier and dryland ecologist Dr. Kristina Young. Today, we’re elated to announce the premiere of  “From Biocrust, With Love,” a video project that brings the desert floor into microscopic relief and reminds us of the importance of Shredding Lightly…



I love riding bikes on day rides and bike camping, backpacking, and touring four-wheel drives throughout the Colorado Plateau. Ever since I was a teenager, I’d pine over the other-worldly landscapes and obsessed over the animals that call the deserts of the American West their home.

This led me to read various desert-minded authors, most notably the work of Craig Childs, who opened my eyes through his anecdotal accounts of how dynamic these landscapes are, down to the microscopic level. From there, a lifetime of traveling through these places on foot and wheels brought about an immense appreciation for dry and arid landscapes.

Yet, with a surge in outdoor recreation during and after the pandemic, I noticed more damage from the misuse and overuse of these delicate ecosystems.

Through my love of this region, I felt as if this deep gravitas brought me into orbit with other like-minded photographers and filmmakers, one of whom is Sinuhe Xavier. One day, we were lamenting the current state of the Moab region when he told me about his friend Kristina, who studies cryptobiotic soil crusts.

We met up over Gilberto’s burritos and discussed what a science film could look like in the modern age of cinematography. These conversations prompted Sinuhe and I to spearhead this film project, a visual tribute that briefly introduces the work of dryland ecologist and founder of Science Moab, Dr. Kristina Young.

Our first production date was skunked due to a freak storm blanketing the region in snow. We returned the following April to finish the project. What we present to you today is the collective efforts of an immensely talented team and over a year’s worth of fieldwork and production.

Our intention with this project is to educate people about “fancy dirt” in these places because the more we know about a place and its ecology, the more responsibly we can move through it.

Given that she’s the real expert, I reached out to Kristina to write a bit about the film:

“Deserts have a reputation for being lifeless. Nothing is further from the truth. Dry places are full of life; you just have to know where to look for it… One of the most interesting places to look is right at the soil surface. In the desert surrounding Moab, Utah, the soil surface is alive with vibrant, charismatic organisms known as biocrusts (also referred to as cryptogamic or biological soil crusts).”

“These living communities of lichens, mosses, cyanobacteria, and other soil-dwelling creatures, thrive in the open spaces between plants, anchoring the desert sands in place. This film project embarks on an exploration of this underappreciated desert ecosystem, exploring the consequences of disturbing the delicate biocrust through unsustainable recreation.”

“Join John Watson and dryland ecologist Dr. Kristina Young as they bike around the remote landscapes surrounding Moab, encountering biocrusts in nearly every corner while also witnessing the disturbances that jeopardize the resilience of this beloved desert region.”

“Amidst the stunning vistas and underappreciated biodiversity, desert-drunk friendships forged between John, Dr. Young, Nicholas Kalisz, and director Sinuhe Xavier, resulting in a cinematic ode to biocrusts and the vital role they play in preserving the desert’s fragile equilibrium.”

Throughout the creation of the film, Kristina and I worked on the Shred Lightly Principles. These tenents are meant to expand on the existing Leave No Trace Principles, to add additional recommendations for proper behaviors in desert landscapes where biocrusts are present.

As a desert rat, I know that ecology is intrinsically linked to responsible outdoor recreation and part of our job is to educate people on the proper ways to engage with this fragile landscape. I hope that this project reminds all desert rats and recreationalists to care about desert landscapes and to use their voices to promote responsible travel throughout them.

Please enjoy “From Biocrust… With Love”

Many thanks to Fox Racing for the support!

From Biocrust, With Love

A film directed by Sinuhe Xavier
For The Radavist
Presented by Fox Racing
Executive producer: John Watson
Executive Producer: Chad Hilton
Producer: Sinuhe Xavier
Director of Photography: Nick Kalisz
Editor: Nicholas Kalisz
Score/Sound: Jeff Cormack
Color: Dan Olsen
Illustration: Christina Belardo