"We glide along through a strange, weird, grand region.
The landscape everywhere, away from the river, is of rock."
—Explorer John Wesley Powell, 1869.
Canyonlands National Park protects and preserves an immense, wild, desert wilderness at the heart of the Colorado Plateau. Sculpted mainly by water, including by the Green and Colorado rivers, this wilderness contains hundreds of colorful canyons, mesas, buttes, fins, arches, and spires. Prior to the park’s establishment in 1964, prehistoric Native Americans, cowboys, river explorers, and uranium prospectors were the few who dared to enter this rugged country.
Canyonlands National Park remains exceptionally wild. The roads are mostly unpaved, the trails mostly primitive, and its rivers are free flowing. Throughout its 527 square miles roam desert bighorn sheep, coyotes, foxes, deer, and bobcats. The rivers are the only major water source in the midst of the dry expanse, and attract a variety of wildlife, including migratory birds that find shelter in the riverside cottonwoods, tamarisks, and willows.
In spite of its isolation, the park faces challenges upholding its mandate to preserve its resources unimpaired for future generations. According to a park assessment conducted by NPCA’s Center for State of the Parks in 2004, Canyonlands National Park faces muliple threats:
- Non-native invasive plants have taken root throughout the park, and non-native fish outnumber natives in park waters;
- Oil and gas development on adjacent lands threatens to mar undisturbed scenic vistas, disrupt natural soundscapes, lighten dark night skies, release chemical pollutants into the atmosphere, harm wildlife, and contaminate critical desert waters;
- Funding and staffing shortages compromise cultural and natural resource protection. Seventy-one percent of identified historic structures suffer the effects of vandalism, weather, neglect, animal and pest infestation, visitation, and erosion;
- Archival and museum collections do not get the attention they deserve because the park must share its part-time curator with three other parks, and the park does not have money to evaluate and protect cultural landscapes or complete an ethnographic overview and assessment; and,
- Natural resources staff are unable to stem the invasion of non-native plants and reestablish native vegetation largely as a result of limited budgets.