Canyonlands National Park

 (Kipp Greene)

"My God, there's a national park down there!"

On September 12, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the act making Canyonlands the country's 32nd national park. But prehistoric use goes back 11,000 years when Paleoindians lived in the region. After around 5,000 B.C., the Paleoindians (who relied on big game) gave way to the Archaic culture. These people—who left wonderful examples of rock art—lived in the area until 500 B.C. The Paleoindians and Archaic peoples were nomadic; their descendants, the Fremonts and Anasazi, more sedentary. The Fremonts, who dwelled to the west and north, and the Anasazi, who lived south to east, left beyond millions of artifacts, dwellings, kivas, and rock art.

Probably the first Euro-American to come to Canyonlands was fur trapper Denis Juline. The first organized expedition, under Capt. John Malcomb, explored the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers. His opinion: "I cannot conceive of a more worthless and impractical region than the one we now found ourselves in" certainly differed from the one held ten years later by Major John Wesley Powell. By the late 1800s, cattlemen began to move into southeast Utah, followed by gold miners. Gold wasn't discovered but people were finally noticing the region's natural riches.

In the 1930s, conservationists proposed including Canyonlands in the vast Escalante National Park. This would have preserved 7,000 square miles of southeastern Utah, including Glen Canyon—since lost under Lake Powell. But this park didn't make it to fruition. In the early 1960s, Stewart Udall, Pres. Secretary of the Interior, while flying over the desolate but spectacular area including Needles and the Doll House, said to himself, "My God, that's a national park down there!"

Today, Canyonlands is indeed a national park. It preserves an immense wilderness of rock at the heart of the Colorado Plateau. Water and gravity have been the prime architects of this land, cutting flat layers of sedimentary rock into hundreds of colorful canyons, mesas, buttes, fins, arches, and spires. At center stage are two great canyons, those carved by the Green and Colorado rivers. Surrounding the rivers are vast, and very different, regions of the park: to the north, Island in the Sky; to the west, the Maze; and to the east, the Needles. The areas share a common primitive spirit and wild desert atmosphere. Each also offers its own special rewards. Before the park's establishment in 1964, few except prehistoric Indians, cowboys, river explorers, and uranium prospectors had dared to enter this rugged corner of southeastern Utah, and, to a large degree, Canyonlands remains untrammeled today. Its roads are mostly unpaved, its trails primitive, its rivers free-flowing. Throughout its 527 square miles roam desert bighorn sheep, coyotes, and other animals native to this land. Canyonlands is wild America.


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