Canyonlands

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And the spirits of ancient men still seem to linger within the park. Seven centuries ago, cliff-dwelling Indians inhabited the canyons east of the Needles; more of them lived here, probably, than in any other region of Canyonlands, for here were arable land and a reliable water supply. Here, too, the sandstone cliffs that border the tiny streams had eroded in such a way as to create alcoves, overhangs, and ledges suitable for the kind of houses the cliff-dwellers favored. Modern Indians know these ancient people only as “the old ones,” but extensive archeological “digs” in recent years—including careful examination of their pottery, pictographs, slab-and-mortar houses, and sunken ceremonial chambers—have identified them as part of the Mesa Verde branch of the San Juan Anasazi. They were farmers of the late Pueblo Il-early Pueblo III period who came into the Canyonlands area about the year 1075, subsisted on the corn and squash they raised and on whatever game they could bring down with their stone-tipped weapons, and vanished about 1275, probably driven away by a prolonged drought. Some of their dwellings, like Tower Ruin in Horse Canyon, are still in reasonably good condition after seven hundred years.

From the Island in the Sky the canyon lands are seen from the top down, as it were. But to float along the rivers and see them from the bottom up as Powell and Dellenbaugh did, is a unique experience. Nowadays the park visitor may take a boat along the Green from Green River, Utah (considerably south of the Wyoming town of the same name that was Powell’s jumping-off place), to a point a little below the confluence. Or one can cruise down the Colorado from Moab by jet boat to the same spot. That is as far as the jet boats can go; thereafter the river plunges into dangerous Cataract Canyon.

The upper livers, relatively placid and shallow, meander through gorges of unbelievable grandeur. There are glimpses of beauty unexpected in a harsh, dry land. Suddenly, along the bank, a beach appears, its pure-white sand unmarked by human footprints. A flock of snipe or a rare blue heron is startled into flight by the buzz of the jet. In a fringe of cottonwood or tamarisk, deer, foxes, and bobcats can be seen.

Together the high mesas, the Needles and arches and cliff dwellings, and the rivers make this new national park a memorable wilderness experience. Park officials hope they can keep it so, even whenonce the development work is completed—the expected flood of vacationers arrives. The planned circulating roads will never take the visitor everywhere in the park, and the rangers hope they will not be forced to expand the campgrounds beyond what the land’s natural contours dictate. “Come to our wilderness,” Superintendent Bates Wilson told a journalist not long ago, “but be ready to rough it.”