Only ten minutes of daylight remain, so we sprint from the car to the overlook with our cameras and our willingness to be impressed. Even so, the view into the canyon stops us in our tracks. There is no river vista quite as expansive as that at Dead Horse Point State Park, next-door-neighbor to Canyonlands. Eons of erosion have dismantled rock, grain by grain, leaving this tapestry of sandstone guarding the miniaturized Colorado River 2000 feet below.
April 8, 2013
April 10, 2012
Near Page, Arizona, the Colorado River makes a huge bowknot bend. From an overlook on the mesa top, one can appreciate the force of moving water over eons of time, scouring the canyon walls. Some day it will cut through that peninsula of rock.
I had no wide-angle lens, sadly, but I think you get the gist of this view. River: 3200 feet. Overlook: 4200 feet. Easy half-mile trail from parking area.
March 10, 2012
Two hundred fifteen photos and 130 sinuous miles later, our breathtaking 3-day backcountry trip is finished. Due to the imminent arrival of a very special guest — my daughter — I am taking a short hiatus from blogging. Here is a photo, however, that I hope conveys the essence of the wilderness protected by Canyonlands National Park. Every footstep I take in this place deepens my love of it, and my commitment to preserving it for future generations. Please enjoy; I hope this whets your appetite for upcoming posts that shall be published as soon as the dust settles.
February 25, 2012
Repeatedly, visitors to Canyonlands National Park make exclamations like “This is an amazing place!” or “There is nothing like it!” or “It has captured my heart!” I say the very same things, and I work/live here for that reason. People’s descriptions tend toward the hyperbolic because words are inadequate; “I’ve never seen anything like it” is the closest many can come to truth.
Visitors are captivated by our remarkable fauna, like the desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis), peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) or the collared lizard (Crotaphytus collaris). Visitors appreciate the resilient plants, adapted to harsh conditions that would wipe out most species; the fragility of the ecosystem boggles the mind. But what really strikes people with unspeakable awe — what really steals their heart — are the canyons, cliffs, and cake-layers of rock, with a backdrop of snow-capped laccolithic mountain ranges.
In a word, the geology.
Forget what you may have experienced in GEOL 101 in college, where a boring lecturer showed Ektachrome slides of lumpy things that all looked vaguely similar, accompanied by black-and-white stratigraphic columns with many zeroes down the timeline on the side. No. Just come and stand at Grand View Point for fifteen minutes. Let your eyes trace the intricate carvings through seven — SEVEN! — different sedimentary layers. Geology is storytelling at its best. Geology wows. Geology is what brings travelers back, over and over and over.
I’m just beginning to prepare my 30-minute formal geology talk, to be given at aforementioned Grand View Point, and I think it will dare to offer a comparison between rock layers and movements in a symphony. Stay tuned.
February 19, 2012
“All conservation of wildness is self-defeating, for to cherish we must see and fondle, and when enough have seen and fondled, there is no wilderness left to cherish.”
This quote by Aldo Leopold is a bit disconcerting. I have nothing but deep respect for this man who did more to shape environmental ethics in the 20th century than nearly anyone else, but it is my sincere hope that we can protect our wild places without ruining them.
There is a corner of Canyonlands National Park, the Maze District, that is about as wild and inhospitable as anywhere in the lower 48 states. No paved roads exist; access is by high-clearance 4WD, horseback, or backpacking. The only way I was ever able to set foot there was via a raft trip on the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon. It is so remote, so isolated, that outlaws such as Butch Cassidy used the area in the late 19th century to hide out from the authorities after robbing a bank or payroll train. There really is nowhere quite like it, and I tremble to think what a loss it would be if that place were fondled to death as Mr Leopold surmises.
Do you agree or disagree with this quote? Is Leopold’s premise necessarily true? If so, should we bother setting aside untrammeled areas?
February 6, 2012
(Continued from Jay Canyon 3: Reflect)
Halfway back to our car, in the middle of nowhere, a man’s voice hailed us from forty yards above. “Did you visit the ruin site?” he inquired. Tara and I looked at each other, wondering how much to say. Archaeological etiquette calls for much discretion in these matters.
He had monitored the site for quite a number of years and had a detailed history of it; when he heard I was a park service employee, a bond of trust was established. With a note of excitement in his voice, he asked, “Those bones in the granary — did you see them? They’re adolescent ancestral Puebloan.”
My mind careened back to the ribs and pelvis, which we had carelessly assumed were from a deer because that and rabbit are the only kind of bones we ever see. Instantly the niggling disconnect in my brain, the missing piece, came into sharp focus. Now I saw the acetabulum, the cup-shaped depression that holds the head of the femur. Above it, the sweeping curve of the iliac crest was unmistakable. Half of a human pelvis, all right.
The man continued his story. “Pot-hunters looted the site multiple times. Four or five bodies’ worth of bones were in a pile on the surface when I first came to the alcove decades ago. They were re-interred in the midden, but folks keep poking around and digging them up.”
After talking further and thanking him for his illumination, we made our way down to the car in utter silence. Everything had changed with one sentence. The place we had just explored was not just a food storage site or a group of houses; it was also a family cemetery.
February 5, 2012
(Continued from Jay Canyon 2: Explore)
Lunch comes out of the backpack: cheese and crackers, apple, sunflower seeds, mixed nuts, chocolate-covered edamame. On a flat boulder that looked perfect for ancestral corn-husking or sunbathing, we munch and hydrate and ponder.
Something somewhere in the back of my mind is not right. A detail picked up by my brain is not jibing with all the data, but it flits away again and is gone. We listen to a raven croaking, examine the areas where desert varnish is thick and dark from constant wetting, get down on our knees to look into storage cists dug in the rocky floor, study the partially-burned logs that may provide a clue as to the fate of this dwelling site.
Having found fingerprints in the granary mortar that fit our own digits precisely, we sense an intimate connection to its builder(s). I rest my left thumb on a forebear’s impression in the dried mud; it is my own. Centuries dissolve with a smile.
~~ To Be Continued ~~ at this post
February 3, 2012
The snow was stopping, so we layered up and drove south of town along the Colorado River. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse: Tara was taking me to a ruin site she had visited, promising me a granary photo op as my reward.
Feathered spies — pinyon jays — laughed overhead, flashes of bright blue enlivening the otherwise muted desert palette. They are the town criers, alerting the world to our presence. We don’t mind. Nobody else is out here today.
We made our way up ledges, around cliffs, across the mesa bench and up sandy washes until we arrived at an alcove whose neighborhood was graced with an abundance of large trees and huge dead trunks. In our habitat, this is an indicator of reliable water supply; two major pour-offs and a seep/hanging garden corroborated this hunch. One majestic cottonwood, a species found only where its feet can be perennially wet, stood as undeniable confirmation.
Up, up we climbed. My heart beats faster, and my senses get sharper, approaching a ruin site; it is always more than meets the eye. A small thickly-mortared granary was perched prominently on a van-sized boulder. Letting my imagination go where it would, it went, predictably, to the people who had built this structure perhaps 800 years ago.
I drew near with awe and curiosity and delight.
~~ To be continued ~~ at this post
December 15, 2011
A powdered-sugar dusting coats the rocks; thick vanilla icing smothers the mountains. Utah welcomes me with fresh snow, heightening the contrasts: reddest sandstone, bluest sky, sere brown remnants of this season’s grasses. I smile. Returning to the Colorado Plateau — where I feel deeply attached, fully belonging — is joy, great joy. My Minnesota address seems like another universe rather than two days’ drive.
Winter’s light is thin, transparent. Is it anemic and wan, or is it merely saving itself for an April assault on the senses? Landscapes change as the weak rays attenuate visual distractions, focus my eye on texture and composition. I seem to see better when the days are short and angles are low.
As I round a bend on Highway 128, the Colorado River startles me with atypical clarity and color. It’s normally carrying tons of sand and silt, brown and muddy; I’ve never seen the bottom. In December it almost resembles a mountain stream. I blink twice and take off my sunglasses to double-check the hue, so surprising is the difference.
I’ve much to explore in this new light of my third season, but first winter, in Canyonlands National Park.