I mentioned briefly last week that the changes that Trump has made to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are a travesty. I wanted to revisit that idea this week with this photo, as this is where I experienced what myself and others are afraid we’re losing. Silence and remoteness.
When my wife and I first visited the southwest, we had to decide which parks to visit and which to skip, and ultimately Grand Staircase was one we skipped in favor of the more popular parks like Zion and Arches. What I didn’t know then, and fully appreciate now, is that almost everyone makes this same call. Grand Staircase has almost no developed roads and very few amenities. It’s not NEARLY as convenient to visit as other parks… and frankly I think that’s sort of the point. To get to the slot canyons featured last week you have to drive 26 miles down a (very sketchy at times) dirt road. To get to Dance Hall Rock featured above, it’s another 11 miles down that road. All this is literally in the middle of nowhere! Now, the good news is that Dance Hall Rock and the specific slot canyons mentioned above are still in “wilderness study areas”, which means they’re protected, even though they’re now outside the park boundaries. The bad news is that other slot canyons didn’t fare so well and are now unprotected, and the boundaries of the park are now close enough that visitors would see the mining operations that now seem inevitable from these locations (Trump, nor the Utah Representatives, disclosed why the boundaries were altered where they were, but oil and gas can be found in the area, according to past leases). Further uncertainty exists with the next phase as a Utah Representative has a bill going before Congress which would give control of the Hole-in-the-rock Road (the dirt road where both the slot canyons mentioned previously and Dance Hall Rock are located) back to the state of Utah. On the surface this seems like a good thing, however this same representative has expressed an interest in paving the road, so that more people can go back there.
This brings me to this picture. I was drawn to this area by a Milky Way image I had seen done in this area, and I wanted to try my hand at making my own version (I’ve included that shot below). As it turned out, I ended up liking the shot I got of it before dark better. The lines and tones on the rock just show up better in the daylight, and the cottonwood tree pops more. Anyway, while I was waiting for the sun to go down, I had a lot of time to just sit and think. I was struck by how quiet it was. On this evening there was no breeze, nothing. I was suddenly aware of how bad my ears ring, that I could hear myself breathe… it was a strange sense that is hard to come by these days in the busy world we live in. As I sat there, I could hear the air rushing through the occasional bird’s feathers as it flew by. At one point a bat flew over, and not only could I hear the high-pitched, chirping type noise they make, but I could also hear the faint clicking sound they make. I have no idea how many people were in the park that day, but it felt like I was the only person for miles. When we start paving roads and selling off public land for big corporations to make a profit… this is what we’re losing (to say nothing of the zero light pollution offered by the area as well). Now, I’m obviously not the first person to make this statement and Utah isn’t my state, so I unfortunately don’t have a say in it… I just hate I didn’t discover this park sooner, so I could experience more of the silence and emptiness.