Sermon on the mount
"If industrial man continues to multiply his numbers and expand his operations he will succeed in his apparent intention, to seal himself off from the natural and isolate himself within a synthetic prison of his own making."
The truth of the need for wilderness remains embedded within both the red-dirt grit one encounters negotiating a narrows section deep within any number of drainages along the Colorado Plateau and the ever-so-slight but welcome dry-desert breeze that musses the hair while clearing the brain atop the highest laccoliths in the range.
Both microcosm and macrocosm are in play. It’s right there in front of you and as distant as fading light. What’s most apparent is the healing power of rock and sky. Like many other alchemic forces in red-rock country, it won’t be ignored. Beware all who would besmirch the natural world it does not suffer fools.
The current "Preservation of Greater Canyonlands" movement is what’s behind all these wannabe-lofty musings. How one arrives at the point where wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity, as Abbey also noted, usually involves a vision quest at some level an abstraction of the life spirit, stripping it down to bare essentials.
It is at that moment when the sheer glory of nature intervenes and makes it obvious which side of the preservation vs. development debate most fits your sensibility. That’s the way it came down for me a few decades back as I stood on the scree-and-slab-strewn summit of Mount Ellen, the highest point in the Henry Mountains. It was there I experienced what I later came to refer to as the "Sermon on the Mount."
Actually, my realization that landscape could be sacred had been unfolding for quite some time, perhaps even going back as far as the numerous two-week stretches I spent camping in the deeply forested Idaho panhandle lake country of my youth. Certainly, later wanderings through pristine pre-road jungles along the west coast of Mexico would also leave their mark.
My Mount Ellen epiphany arrived following a few humble attempts to photograph a 360-degree panorama from the peak and my subsequent lazy perusal of the view to the west which included Navajo Mountain to the south, the Waterpocket Fold, Capital Reef, the Aquarius Plateau and Boulder Tops (where I’d camped the previous two nights), Thousand Lakes, and out beyond Temple Mountain into the heart of the San Rafael Swell.
It was when I spun around, however, to take in the glories to the east, those lands now referred to in the vernacular as "Greater Canyonlands," that I began to lose my mental foothold. I was slip-slidin’ away. Nothing, I told myself, could be that deeply and beautifully profound.
For some reason, locating where Hayduke free-rappelled his jeep over Edge of the Maze in the novel "The Monkey Wrench Gang" became my first priority. Go figure! It was just that I had never before had the opportunity of staring directly down into the Maze section of Canyonlands National Park, so a fictional memory had to be brought to bear.
But I digress! From the summit of Mount Ellen, you could make out the drainages of the Dirty Devil, the Green, and the Colorado plus the exquisite recesses of Dark Canyon, Natural Bridges, and the Bear’s Ears. There’s also the drop-off into Horseshoe and Blue Thumb canyons, the Abajo and La Salle ranges, both north and south Six-Shooter Buttes, and the whole of Robber’s Roost. Now that’s a sermon!
Today, if you had a more modern map, you could no doubt make out the section west of the Canyonlands National Park boundary as that lease area known as the Tar Sands Triangle. This is all part of the 1.4 million acres of public lands open to mining and drilling that conservationists are calling to be protected. This is Greater Canyonlands!
Now, what many of us would like to see is for the current president to do what only three presidents from Teddy Roosevelt to Barack Obama (Nixon, Reagan, and H.W.) haven’t done to use the Antiquities Act to protect places of national historic and scientific value. In this case, that would be to designate Greater Canyonlands as a national monument.
Imagine how cool that would look swinging from your rear-view mirror as you careened out of Dodge, Mr. President. If you would, I’m sure I could arrange for you to make the announcement from the 11,522-foot summit of Mount Ellen. I just happen know the dude who books that venue.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.
A reader involved in addressing mental health in Summit County applauds Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz and his wife Elena Amsterdam for their efforts to help mountain towns wrap their arms around the issue.