Utah – Life Elevated

The Utah tourism board couldn’t have chosen a more brilliant campaign line. Just spent a vacation in the high desert visiting national parks and wilderness areas. This is a leave of absence I’d be content to do all over again, and again.

Navajo nation scenic byway - Route 98

Driving through Utah made me even more aware of the environmental impact of paved roads on national forests and public lands – and the increasing ‘recreational use’ of ATV’s/ORV’s. We saw ugly black tracks criss-crossing rounded mounds of white sandstone east of Capitol Reef, a clear misuse of natural habitat by ORV’s. The ATV dune buggies at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park were no better, jarring the stillnes of the desert afternoon with the piercing sound of their motors as they drove up and down the dunes, in all possibility scaring wildlife, destroying the ground and plant life underfoot, not to mention noise and air pollution. How can burning gas to tramp aimlessly through pristine forests and desert possibly be good for the environment?

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Arizona

Leaving behind the meadows and alpine forests of the Kaibab Plateau (after two splendid days at the Grand Canyon’s North Rim), US-89 snakes its way into the hot dry plains below. For a major portion eastward to Lake Powell, it skirts the foothills of the Vermillion Cliffs and we pass Lees Ferry, Marble Canyon, the newly constructed Navajo Bridge and the striking formations of the Paria Rimrocks. The temperature is rising slowly upward of a dry 95F, but we spend some time at the confluence of the Paria and Colorado rivers. I feel like I am at a gallery showing of rock art formations in this area. The lizard population here looks happy.

Paria Rimrocks at Lees Ferry, Arizona

A night’s stopover in Page en route to Monument Valley. So this was the the controversial project I had read so much about. (India has it’s own – the Narmada Valley Project, its hundreds of dams created by flooding forest areas and displacing millions of poor, tribal people). In the late 60’s, the Colorado River was flooded into an enormous dam that was originally Glen Canyon, to meet the expanding thirst of California, Arizona and Nevada. It was met with regret later by politicians and conservationists, and immortalized in author Edward Abbey’s The Monkeywrench Gang (in which the dam gets blown up). There were several tour buses and a sprinkling of cars perched above the dam. Closer by the edge of the lake itself, with the marina in view, the blue-green water looked a little surreal the late morning sun.

Lake Powell, Page, Arizona

The clouds were threathening to unfold since morning, and it was raining hard when we reached Monument Valley. During the drive, we saw several low lying areas already flooded with water in no time, and the repeated warnings of flash floods on highway signs and presence of road repair crew were making me a bit nervous. The mist and rain, were blessings in disguise as the storms provided us with a postlude of views in exquisite light & colour, gift-wrapped in a rainbow.

Monument Valley

Monument Valley

The expansive Canyonlands National Park with its mind-boggling vastness, really needs weeks to explore as do the other parks here. The Needles Overlook, (20 miles after the left off US 91N, the turn-off is a few miles before Moab) offered an amazing view of the canyons carved by the Colorado and Green Rivers. One late morning, we drove to the main entrance to Canyonlands from where we hiked to the beautiful Mesa Arch, and the Grand View Overlook Trail at The Island In The Sky with views of the White Rim (whitish salt deposits on the rim), Monument Basin, and the Maze.

Monument Valley

Canyonlands

Canyonlands

Across the entrance to Canyonlands stretches Arches National Park – delightful at sunset, with red sandstone shaped into sheets of towering fins, hoodoo, arch and window formations that rise from slickrock and petrified sand dunes. The Manti La Sal mountains frill the horizon beyond.

Arches National Park

Arches National Park

Capitol Reef is the park that most impacted my soul – rugged and spectacular, a construction/destruction zone of an extremely busy celestial power, the earth left pitted by cataclysmic retchings and impacted by virulent effects of water, wind and fire. The park has several whitish Navajo sandstone domes that look like the US Capitol dome, the ‘Reef’ alludes to the tall 100 mile ridge running north-south along the fold – you can see it from the airplane – looks not unlike a thick bony fish spine compressed upward.

Route 98 passing through Navajo nation

Route 98 passing through Navajo nation

Route 98 passing through Navajo nation

Some of the colors and carved textures in the sandstone were quite unbelievable, the quiet in the narrow gorge enveloped your eardrums, and the fall of a pebble would sound like a mini-explosion. Kangaroo squirrels hopped delicately across stones and ledges, always foraging for pine nuts, always skittish and alert.

Route 98 passing through Navajo nation

Route 98 passing through Navajo nation

Route 98 passing through Navajo nation

Route 98 passing through Navajo nation

The Escalante – National Staircase really needs to be visited again, the brief visit has left me wanting more. The “amphitheatres” within the Bryce National Park are really photogenic – brushing up on my chemistry – the brown, pink and red colors are due the hematite content (iron oxide), the yellows from limonite and the purples thanks to pyrolusite (manganese oxide).

Bryce

Escalante Graind Staircase

So what music was I listening to during this trip? Er… nothing … I hadn’t anything in my travel collection that would come close to the music that was being offered by the soaring cliffs, undulating slickrock, sand, grand tectonic layers, piercing blue skies, swathes of rabbitbrush and sage, meadows of pine, dry gullies and lonesome creeks, spires, monoliths, balanced rocks, echoeing canyonsand badlands, all melting sotto voce into the gentle arc of the horizon beyond. On the other hand, if I had to choose something on my next trip, it would be music that would have no traditional harmony, jazz or otherwise. Instead it would have the qualities of atonalism & dissonance, with some predetermined structure over which spacious improvisation takes place. I think it’d pair nicely with the wilderness, destruction and re-construction that surrounds you!

Bright Angel Trail, North Rim, Grand Canyon

Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA)
Great Old Broads for Wilderness
High Uintas Preservation Council

My trip reads: Desert Solitaire (Edward Abbey), Utah’s Wilderness Areas (Lynna Howard), Scenic Driving, Utah (Christy Karras).

3 Comments

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  1. Thank you for sharing your experience. It is striking! You have done your homework and it shows. Makes me want to take you as a tour guide.
    Beautiful pictures as well.

    Mille merci!

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