HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

June 4, 2007
Harvard Square Pictorial

Canyonlands

John Turner

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The Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah doesn't have two or three features that stand out like some of the other parks do. That's because the whole thing is stupendous. The Green and the Colorado Rivers which come together in the southern part of the park before flowing on down into Glenn Canyon, are mighty shapers of rock. It's true, they have had a long time to do their work but as you gaze out across the stretches of the park you have to admit they've done it with a surreal imagination.
If you want to get into the far reaches of the park, and down into the canyons themselves you need either a four-wheel drive vehicle or a willingness to walk a very long way. Viewed from above, some of the roads that have been etched into the canyons walls look like suicide tracks. I saw some cars edge up to the perilous stretches, think better of the adventure, and gingerly turn around. Others, thought, forged onward, and while I was there I didn't see a one slip off the narrow way and plunge to the floor below.
The air in the heights of the park seems extremely clean and pure, even though Park Service signs warn you that urban air pollution is reaching even into these canyons. The information leaves you with the sense that if dirtiness can get this far, there's no place on earth it can't stain -- which I guess is the truth.
It's wonderful to think how the region must have impressed John Wesley Powell and his party as they made their way down the Green River and into the Colorado in the summer of 1869. Before then, few English-speaking people knew there were such places anywhere in the world. And, even today when you let your gaze roll over the magnificent gashes that time and water have wrought they still seem unbelievable. I caught myself shutting my eyes and thinking that when I opened them again the whole thing would be gone. But when I did, there it all was, even more unbelievable than before.