Protecting Utah’s Redrock Wildlands: Castleton Tower and Greater Canyonlands

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Protecting Utah’s Redrock Wildlands: Castleton Tower and Greater Canyonlands
by Doug Yohn with Terri Martin, Picture by Tom Till

“The wide-open vistas that sustain our souls, the depth of silence that pushes us toward sanity, return us to a kind of equilibrium. We stand steady on Earth. The external space I see is the internal space I feel.”
Terry Tempest Williams

Like two Santas, we stuffed our way up the off-widths and chimneys of the Kor-Ingall’s Route until, depleted of strength and minus a bit of skin, we found ourselves atop the flat summit of Castleton Tower, the flame of America’s Redrock Wilderness. It had been a long vertical journey for my friend and I, but we had persevered. I stood awestruck as I took in the natural beauty surrounding me: a vast reach of red rock spires and skirted mesas with the La Sal mountains towering like a blue wave over it all.

Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall must have felt this way a half century ago as he flew above the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers. While dam-builder Floyd Domini pointed down at the proposed site for his next big construction project, Mr. Udall thought, “Goodness sake! That’s a national park! That’s a national park!”.

Though his idea was conceived in an instant, it took several years of persistent effort to make Canyonlands National Park a reality. Those opposed ignored the economic benefits of wilderness and argued that economic activity would be locked out. Utah’s governor even pointed out the value of the beautiful Needles District spires as building stone! But an overwhelming majority favored Mr. Udall’s plan and voted to establish the park. At a gathering at Island in the Sky, Udall would later describe Canyonlands as “one of the most magnificent places in the United States. You can talk about the Grand Canyon,…Yellowstone,…Yosemite. I’m biased. I’m not sure they compare to the Canyonlands. How about that!”.

Gaze out from the mesa….You will see eternity, a desert that like no other place exudes the timelessness of nature as the final arbiter.
Ellen Meloy

Canyonlands National Park, however, includes only a fraction of the spectacular landscape envisioned for protection by Secretary Udall. Today, the 1.4 million acre area surrounding the park – known as “Greater Canyonlands” — remains unprotected and vulnerable to destruction. The Greater Canyonlands region includes eye-stretching vistas of unmatched beauty, archeological sites dating back 10,000 years, and spectacular geologic formations, including the soaring sandstone cliffs of Indian Creek, a mecca for western climbers. Unfortunately, the Greater Canyonlands area is threatened by proposals to mine tar sands and uranium, as well as an explosion of off-road vehicle abuse, including a new proposal to open an ORV route that would cut through the Indian Creek climbing and camping area

However, there is hope for Greater Canyonlands!

President Obama could protect this magnificent area with a stroke of a pen by proclaiming it a national monument, but only if we join our voices together and convince him to act. Success will require a sustained effort from a large number of supporters, including members of the hiking and climbing community. Will you help?

Our kinship with Earth must be maintained; otherwise, we will find ourselves trapped in the center of our own paved-over souls with no way out.
Terry Tempest Williams

While acknowledging the following story involved a much smaller geographical area, I find inspiration in this example of what a small, united community can accomplish.

In 1999, fifteen years after my ascent of Castleton Tower, land at its base was to be auctioned off to developers. In “The Open Space of Democracy”, Terry Tempest Williams describes how a small, diverse group of locals met to form the Castle Rock Collaboration (CRC). This band of citizen activists, assisted by several conservation organizations, as well as prominent climbers, “gave slide shows around the American West, educating audiences about the threat to Castleton Tower and surrounding wildlands. With the help of companies like Petzl, Patagonia, and Black Diamond, the Castle Rock Collaboration was able to raise the money necessary to purchase the wide sweep of land at the base of the sandstone spire.”

As people who love to hike and climb, let’s join our voices again to protect the places we love!

To learn more about the campaign to Protect Greater Canyonlands and find out how you can call on President Obama to protect this magnificent region, click on GreaterCanyonlands, copy and paste the url – http://www.GreaterCanyonlands.org into your browser, or email terri@suwa.org.

We are learning that a community engaged is a community empowered. If we listen to the land, we will know what to do.
Terry Tempest Williams

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