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Greater Canyonlands: Stories Worth Hearing, a Future Worth Protecting

Editor’s note: Today’s blog post is a guest column from Aron Ralston, a speaker, writer, adventurer and wilderness advocate. The film 127 Hours is based on Ralston’s self-amputation to escape a six-day entrapment during a solo canyoneering excursion.

Red-rock hoodoos thrust skyward over a labyrinth of serpentine mini-canyons.  Living desert stretches, untracked, to the escarpment of horizon thirty miles distant where a single cloud scouts for her lost sisterhood.  In a crack below, I slide down the eight-story fissure of air compressed between two sculpted walls.  My arms chicken-wing against the walls to assist my abducting thighs – spread as around an invisible horse – in braking my descent through three-hundred-million years of rock.  At the bottom of this sandstone wormhole, I rejoin my attendant friends, our unfettered yelps echoing aloft with gratitude for this adventure, this life, this slickrock country. 

photo by Jeff Clay/Clayhaus Photography

Encapsulating Canyonlands National Park, Greater Canyonlands comprises 1.8 million acres of the massive and the sublime: cosmic openness and mind-wrinkling geophysics, as well as delicate fern-lined seeps and pre-Pyramid pictographs.  Unique in the world, Greater Canyonlands is terra Americana, the defining landscape of the West that called forth our courage, ruggedness, and ingenuity, much as Valley Forge, Gettysburg, or Kitty Hawk back East.   

Decades ago, the desert began shaping me, too.  Its surging brown rapids, corrugated slots, and severe human history became a searing, dusty yang to Colorado’s cool high-mountain yin.  Today, not least for my experience in Blue John Canyon, red sand is forever embedded in my spirit, as well as in my tread-bare trail-runners, re-stitched backpack, and duct-taped sleeping bag. 

My story is but one of this wildly pristine place.  However, of late, the tales have hardly been uplifting.  In the last ten years, policies that unleashed the extractive energy industries upon southern Utah have inverted the narrative.  These days, the plot is more about humans shaping the wilderness rather than the other way ’round. 

Greater Canyonlands is under attack.  Gas, oil, tar sands, and uranium companies are already on the march, bulldozing and blasting apart the sandstone, spewing pollutants into the air and water, and displacing wildlife from their habitats.  As they proceed, they not only threaten to destroy one of our nation’s most special wild places, they also undermine the Greater Canyonlands’ attractive industries of tourism and recreation that create long-term jobs and drive local economic growth that outlasts a busted commodities cycle.

To make matters worse, Congress is deadlocked in the longest drought of Wilderness legislation in 50 years. 

But there’s still hope.  Using executive powers granted by the Antiquities Act, President Obama can permanently protect Greater Canyonlands by proclaiming it a national monument.  He’s already issued similar declarations for public lands in Colorado and California, extending the practice of 16 earlier presidents.   

photo by Jeff Clay/Clayhaus Photography

I urge the President to cement his conservation legacy, recognize Greater Canyonlands’ significance for our national heritage, and take swift action to steward this landscape into the future. 

In doing so, he will save the region from imminent degradation and allow others the chance to hoot, yell, and holler – feeling most alive – as they create stories among the sensual orange canyons, frog-lined pools, and split-crack spires of the red-rock.  That’s my wish: that Greater Canyonlands National Monument will be there, long after I’m gone, for forthcoming generations to enjoy.  And until I’m gone, that I’ll always have another canyon trip on the books.


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