South­ern Utah’s na­tional parks Ser­pent in par­adise is enough to make you go wild

The Herald Magazine - - Etc / Travel -

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

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