By Pamela O’Meara
No wonder John Wayne movies were filmed around the red rock formations in Monument Valley surrounding Goulding’s Lodge, an old trading post on the Navajo Reservation at the northern edge of Arizona. The scenery is fantastic, especially when the sun shines on the rock formations, intensifying the red color we viewed from the lodge.
After taking many sunrise photos, we headed north through Monument Valley to Natural Bridges National Monument and then Canyonlands National Park in Utah. About 250 miles later, we ended up in Moab, UT.
On the way, we drove up Moki Dugway, a dirt road with steep switchbacks leading up to a plateau going up 1,100 feet in three miles and overlooking the Valley of the Gods. It was a bit scary but the scenery was amazing. We also stopped at Natural Bridges National Monument and then continuing north, we passed the Mexican Hat rock formation and then stopped at Newspaper Rock, located in the southeast corner of Canyonlands and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There was a wall of petroglyphs – hundreds of black figures of humans and animals on a dark red sandstone cliff — dating from BC to 1350 A.D., the sign said.
In the adjacent parking lot, a Navajo woman was selling necklaces she made with sterling silver and beads. She displayed them on the hood of her car, and I bought one with a turtle pendant, which she said would protect me from evil spirits.
The Colorado and Green rivers meet up in Canyonlands and eons ago helped form the deep valleys. It was hard to imagine the earth rising up to form mountains and the melting glaciers forming rivers that carve out enormous valleys.
Further north in Canyonlands by the visitors’ center, we talked to three young women who were getting ready for a bicycle trail ride 50 miles that day and 50 the next before they headed back home to Salt Lake City. A number of people were out hiking. Since I’m a bit of a scardy cat freaked out by fear of falling, we settled for a few somewhat flat walks among the piñon pine and juniper trees to look out over the canyon in several spots. At some lookouts, we saw the snow-covered LaSalle Mountains far in the background.
In one spot, several black cows stood along the road, hovering over another one that was hit by a car and killed during the previous night. They seemed to be grieving.
One disheartening surprise was the presence of cricket pumps and pump jacks drilling for oil, sometimes camouflaged in green, just outside the eastern and northern boundaries of the park. A park ranger said drilling has increased in the last five years. We saw a natural gas line being installed to reclaim the gas being burned off from the oil, and we saw tanker trucks on the road.
The ranger said it’s BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land and open lease by law so ranchers lease it for cattle just as oil companies lease the oil rights – and there are 128 leases for oil extraction. Potash is also under ground.
The drilling is controversial as evidenced by a front-page article I read in the Moab newspaper that night.
But in spite of the drilling just outside the park border, visitors like me can’t help but be overwhelmed by the stunning beauty of Canyonlands and hope the land won’t be damaged. The National Parks Conservation Association strives to protect this land amazing land.
The big problem on a trip like this is that taking one photo or even 10 or a panorama just cannot capture the beauty and immensity of the canyons and mountain croppings and colors in the rocks.
Photos by Pamela O’Meara