Further Thoughts and Conclusion
In September 2008 my wife and I took a ten-day trip through southern Utah with an add-on to the Grand Canyon, North Rim. She had traveled there as a young girl and I had never been there. We were overcome by the beauty of the area. The endless variety of landforms; the geological strata; the colors of rock and sand; the trees, shrubs and flowers – each park seemed better than the last. We took hundreds of photographs with our new digital camera. We took an expanded version of the old Grand Circle Tour from the 1920s, when travelers would visit Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon and stay in a lodge in each park. We visited these parks and all the other national and state parks within a certain area north and west of the Colorado River. Many of the different parks are connected or are separated by National Forest land.
In a book titled Natural Regions of the United States and Canada, by Charles Hunt, this part of Utah is identified as part of the Colorado Plateau. The author suggests that it should become a vast outdoor museum. He says “The landforms are spectacular; the colorful geological formations are so well exposed that their story can be understood by nongeologists; the archeological history is easy to see and easy to understand, and the varied assemblages of plants there illustrate many kinds of plant adaptation.”
Along these lines President Clinton in 1996 established the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This is a 1.9 million acre portion of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands east of Bryce Canyon and extending toward the Colorado River and Glen Canyon area. The Grand Staircase refers to three great escarpments stepping down in altitude that face southward toward the Grand Canyon, formed by uplifted blocks of different geological eras.
This national monument is part of what the government calls the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS). To quote the BLM web site: “The mission of the NLCS is to conserve, protect, and restore these nationally significant landscapes that are recognized for their outstanding cultural, ecological, and scientific values.” NLCS locations “offer exceptional opportunities for recreation, solitude, wildlife viewing, exploring history, scientific research, and a wide range of traditional uses.”
We were motivated to make the trip partly from a desire to see this addition, namely the Escalante Monument, to the existing national parks in southern Utah, and found that it is really the centerpiece of the whole area. So far preservation and scientific activities have been dominant in the Bureau’s management.
So we come back again to the issues I discussed in the previous three blog entries: the balance among preservation, recreation, scientific and archeological investigations, appropriate economic uses, and the rights of people who are resident in and around large natural areas. And Thoreau’s challenge remains – to find “absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil.”