Southern Utah’s national parks Serpent in paradise is enough to make you go wild
IAN R MITCHELL
YOU have been to southern Utah, even though you may be unaware of it. You have been to Arches National Park with Indiana Jones, to Canyonlands National Park with Thelma and Louise, and to Zion National Park with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Scores of other movies have featured these and the other national parks in southern Utah. When we add the nearparks in the form of the Bears Ears and Escalante National Monuments, and other public lands, most of south Utah below the 39th parallel, 30,000 square miles of it – the equivalent of Scotland – is public land of the highest scenic and historical quality, unparalleled, in my opinion, elsewhere in mainland USA. I have been visiting for 20 years, untiring.
John Muir, the Scottish-born “father” of the US national parks system, never visited south Utah, although he travelled through the north of the state in 1877. However, his soul doubtless would welcome the situation where the landscape of south Utah is protected by the public lands system which he was so instrumental in bringing about. Despite being in many ways the jewel in the US park system’s crown, to Europeans – and to Americans – the Utah national lands are less known and visited than, for example, Arizona’s Grand Canyon and California’s Death Valley.
AN A-TO-Z OF SOUTHERN UTAH’S PUBLIC LANDS
lies just north of the town of Moab, an outdoorsy place with lots of restaurants and micro-breweries. Within its bounds are one of the largest collections – more than 200 – of weatherformed natural sandstone arches, including many that are world-famous, such as the gravity-defying Landscape Arch and the iconic Delicate Arch, the latter resembling a gigantic pair of cowboy’s leather chaps and which has featured in many films. Good and not too demanding trails make Arches a great place for a family visit. Moab itself claims to being the Biking Capital of the World on its slickrock trails; it’s hard to dispute. Whitewater rafting, rock climbing, it’s all here.
is a huge area in south-east Utah consisting of a high plateau eroded into mesas and buttes and containing thousands of archaeological relics of both Native Americans and the Ancestral Puebloan society that vanished before Europeans arrived in the Americas. Sacred to many of the local tribes such as the Hopi and Navajo, this is a wild area, without a visitor centre, toilets, campsites and other normal National Park facilities, and one where the visitor is very much out on his or her own. Real back country.
in south central Utah is an amazing collection of sandstone hoodoos and pinnacles, eroded by weather from the plateau that gave them birth. Its original owner, a Scotsman named Bryce, said the canyon “was a helluva place to lose a cow”. At an altitude above 7,000ft it is snowbound for much of the year. There is horse riding in summer, skiing in winter.
Thelma and Louise thought they were in the Grand Canyon just before they went “over the edge” here. No wonder; the Canyonlands around the junction of the Green and Colorado rivers is easily as spectacular as its more famous neighbour in Arizona and has a much more variegated colour, shape and texture to its deep gorges and stunning pinnacles. It is also free of the hordes of selfie-snappers found at the Grand Canyon. There are some good, well marked trails in parts of Canyonlands but other areas of the park figure as the wildest terrain in mainland USA where hikers must be totally self-sustaining.
in a quiet area of south central Utah, is the least visited and probably least developed. Its backbone consists of Waterpocket Fold, a 100 mile long eroded uplift of sedimetary sandstone of dramatic aspect, protection of which was a prime reason for the park’s
The 65ft-tall Delicate Arch – which resembles a gigantic pair of cowboy’s leather chaps – in Arches National Park near Moab, Utah. Picture: Shutterstock/Josemaria Toscano