OGDEN -- Nine years ago, Aron Ralston gained international fame for cutting off part of his arm to save his life in a Southern Utah slot canyon.
Today, he's leveraging that fame to champion the cause of preserving Utah's wild places.
Ralston, whose 2003 ordeal in Bluejohn Canyon near Canyonlands National Park was recounted in the Oscar-nominated film "127 Hours," will visit Ogden this week as the keynote speaker at the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Show, an expo for independent outdoor retailers nationwide.
In addition to talking about the experience that made him famous, Ralston said he will be speaking about advocacy efforts to designate more wilderness areas in Utah. He said he has been working in conjunction with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance to achieve greater environmental protections for wild areas in the Utah desert outside of existing national parks and monuments.
"There are a variety of increasing threats to areas not protected today, in some really special places that need to be preserved," he said. He specifically mentioned a campaign to create a 1.5 million-acre national monument in the Canyonlands region and protect Desolation Canyon on the Green River from encroaching oil and gas development.
Such development is detrimental to the wildlife, archeological sites, scarce water and sheer wilderness qualities of the area.
Ralston said the central challenge is balancing the "intrinsic value" of such places with their "extractive value."
"I'm doing what I can to leverage my notoriety to get other people to take action," he said. "There's a heavy influence from the industry side in politics when it comes to issues in the West in terms of water use and energy development. Most of the economies in the West are largely tourism-based, so how do you balance that with oil and gas development? There are other places where maybe those activities are more appropriate."
With the current atmosphere of bitter partisanship in the U.S. Congress, he said he's trying to appeal to the president to invoke the century-old American Antiquities Act, which allows presidents to designate national monuments on their own.
Bluejohn Canyon, the site of his ordeal and a place he has revisited numerous times since, is one of the places where he said drilling could eventually take place if the rules aren't changed.
"Every time I go there, I see another drilling rig farther up the road," he said. "That tells me that this isn't some fabrication. It's happening, and it could become an industrial wasteland."
Recalling his experience of being pinned under a boulder in the canyon for five days and having to amputate the lower portion of his right arm using a dull multitool knife, Ralston acknowledges that it was foolish to go alone without telling anyone his destination, and he said the criticism he has received from many in the climbing community for that decision is well-deserved.
"I tell people where I'm going every time now," he said, "but I wouldn't change a thing. The perspective I gained from my experience has been such a blessing."
He has continued to climb, raft and enjoy all the outdoor pursuits he did before his accident with the help of custom-made prosthetics. From his home base in Boulder, Colo., he has climbed all of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks and has continued to explore the canyons of Southern Utah. His next big adventure will be going to Russia next month to summit Mount Elbrus, the highest peak in that country.
While losing his hand has changed his life, an even bigger change came a little more than two years ago, when his son Leo was born. While the boy is too young to comprehend Ralston's experience and resulting fame, he does occasionally ask where his dad's hand is.
"I say 'It's in Utah,' " Ralston said. "He says, 'We should go find it.' "
Park authorities actually recovered the hand from under the boulder, cremated it and returned it to Ralston, who eventually returned to the site and scattered the ashes there.
He said he has done some skiing and climbing in Northern Utah, but isn't intimately familiar with the area. While in Ogden, he plans to climb on the via ferrata course in Waterfall Canyon.
He plans to write another book eventually, but for now, he's happy traveling and speaking, bringing his message of wilderness conservation to as many people as possible.
"Even if we never go to these places, they have a value and a right to exist as they do," he said. "The earth will repair itself long after we're gone, but if we want to keep these places for our own benefit, we need to change course."
Aron Ralston will speak at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Peery's Egyptian Theater, 2415 Washington Blvd., Ogden, followed by an autograph session. Advance pricing is $15 for adults and $10 for students, or $20 for adults and $12 for students at the door. Tickets can be purchased at the theater or online at www.peerysegyptiantheater.com. All proceeds will be donated to the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
A special screening of "127 Hours" will be held at the theater at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.