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Core Samples

"What draws us into the desert is the search for something intimate in the remote."

— Edward Abbey

It wasn’t looking good! While a majority of the country was popping corks and dancing in the street over the election results, the Bush bunch remained hunkered down at Camp David putting finishing touches on their plan to auction off oil and gas parcels near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and Dinosaur National Monument.

The National Park Service here in Utah found it "shocking and disturbing" that they were left out of the loop on the addition of "40 tracts within 4 miles of these parks." Myself, I was about as shocked as the Claude Rains character in "Casablanca" when he discovered gambling had been going on at Rick’s Café.

I figured anyone with Bush’s history of denial in such areas as global warming would obviously jump at the opportunity to give a boost to the family business while cloaking it as a national-security issue. If the rationale worked in Iraq, why not Utah? This would take some looking into.

The game was afoot! The plot thickened. As the constellation Orion finished its summersault in the far-western night sky, provisions for a quick clandestine operation to the canyon country in question were hauled to a predetermined rendezvous. This was serious business!

In order to help make it appear more of a tourist-like trip than one with a covert agenda, the beer cooler held a place of prominence. We wouldn’t want them to think we were "outside agitators" or anything. The "Hayduke Lives!" T-shirts were purposely left in the drawer.

Speaking in hushed tones in the booth at the "huevos rancheros" stop next to Ray’s Tavern in Green River, ulterior motives played out across the table like a map of the cosmos.

A couple of seemingly innocent meanders into the red rocks of greater Moab to see if the "Greed First!" terrorists had left any telltale scat behind received unanimous support. Delving into the nearby Book Cliffs and whatever specific "bushwhacking" these lamer-than-most ducks have planned for it would have to wait for another time.

So it was off down "Potash Road," past the chalk-bag laden, pitch-climbing, "on-belay" shouting, rope-and-carabineer-wielding Ibuprofen junkies on "Wall Street" and on to the Corona Arch trailhead, our first reconnoiter zone.

It was obvious from the get-go that we were awash in the heart of off-season. Few, if any, fellow travelers would share the trails and overlooks, and barstools for that matter, on this particular scouting trip. In some ways it harkened back to the Moab of the days before the Slick Rock bike trail opened the floodgates.

You gotta love a town that sets in motion the hauling out of uranium tailings while, at the same time, it welcomes a Wal-Mart. Physicists might see it as the "Law of the Conservation of Nuisance."

Not unlike Heber’s City Council, the Moab bunch found an ethical path from which to raise the original 75,000-square-foot cap to 200,000. Big-box and drill rigs splattered against the Jurassic and Triassic a mosaic, as it were.

Not surprisingly, Corona Arch hadn’t changed much since the portly gray dude last passed beneath it. Unlike Landscape Arch, which has reconfigured its profile by dropping two large chunks from its underside within relatively recent times, Corona appears to be standing pat.

What it does do is accord the hiker a representative view of the somewhat wide swath of landscape that the BLM’s oil and gas lease sale, scheduled for December 19, would impact. It’s all part of Bush’s mandate that government agencies who are riding herd on public lands totally ignore any obstacles, environmental or otherwise, that might get in the way of drilling.

When it was discovered that some of the parcels to be auctioned directly impacted Moab’s sole aquifer for drinking water as well as some residential neighborhoods and the golf course, local protests began to increase. It appears the BLM has backed off in those areas, but very hesitantly.

And then, when it became evident that line-of-sight issues with the lease locations could very well mar the view through world-famous Delicate Arch, activists and various poets of the desert began to mobilize. Not to mention the development of a rather deep rift between the BLM and the National Park Service.

So that meant a jaunt up the hill to Delicate Arch, just for "drill," of course. Not the regular trail with all the other wildebeests seeking the illusive sunset through the arch, but the high viewpoint trail with its eastern aspect back toward the amphitheater where the light of the setting sun plays out with more nuance.

Then came, as Tom Waits might say, a search for the heart of Saturday night. And that turned out to be a trip to a bar, not to sample local opinions on the lease sales, mind you, but to take in the second half of the Utah-BYU game. For whatever reason, you don’t find all that many Cougar fans in saloons.

The next day was all overview, with Dead Horse Point and all the Island in the Sky vistas providing perspective. What is it about "sacred land" they don’t understand? That was the question most pondered back in Green River at Ray’s Tavern on the way home.

We put the burger and brew on Abbey’s tab.

Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and a free-lance writer with a background in commercial and community radio, among other pursuits. He has been a columnist and feature writer for various Park City publications going back to 1973.


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