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Landscape Of Desire

Landscape Of Desire

Greg Gordon
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 236
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  • Book Info
    Landscape Of Desire
    Book Description:

    Landscape of Desire powerfully documents and celebrates a place and the evolutions that occur when human beings are intimately connected to their surroundings. Greg Gordon accomplishes this with a tapestry of writing that interweaves land use history, natural history, experiential education, and personal reflection. He tracks the geomorphology of southern Utah as well as the creatures and plants his student group encounters, the history lessons (planned and unplanned), the trials and joys of gathering so many individuals into a cohesive will, and his own personal epiphanies, restraints, insights, and disillusionments. Landscape of Desire examines the plight of the western landscape. It discusses a wide range of issues, including mining, grazing, dams, recreation, wilderness, and land management. Since recreation has replaced extraction industries as the primary use of wilderness, especially in southern Utah, Gordon addresses its impactful qualities. He overviews the history of the conflict between preservation and development and places these issues in a cultural context. The text is presented in a narrative format, following the individuals of one field course Gordon lead that explored Muddy Creek and the Dirty Devil River from Interstate 70 to Lake Powell. Though each chapter focuses on the geologic formation the group is traveling through, the plants, animals, ecology, and human impacts are all tightly woven into the narrative. Not only does the land affect the members of the field course, but their attitudes and insights affect the land. In Landscape of Desire Gordon achieves a vision of wholeness of this popular and contested region of Utah that centers around the implications of being human and also stewards of the wild.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-477-2
    Subjects: Biological Sciences, Education

Table of Contents

    (pp. 1-10)

    Just north of Moab, Utah, the River Road meets Highway 191. A line of RVs and pickup trucks towing chrome-studded Jeeps funneling into Moab creates a long wait before we can turn left onto the highway. Entering Moab I feel a constriction around my heart. Another multi-story chain motel has appeared during my absence, bringing the total to thirty-three in this town of seven thousand souls.

    With the discovery of uranium fifty years ago, Moab was transformed from a sleepy Mormon outpost to “The Richest Town in the U.S.A.” with twenty millionaires for every 250 citizens. By the 1960s, the...

  2. ii MORRISON
    (pp. 11-20)

    We set up camp at a bend in the creek where a few old cottonwoods stand like sentries against the emptiness. In this bleak country we seek harbor near the trees; we need something larger than ourselves to provide a sense of scale.

    We break into groups of three to cook dinner. Each group’s meal looks remarkably like the next—a steaming pot of starch. Our stoves have two settings—high and off. Further limiting creativity is the need to fill three people to bursting with one pot of food. Most dishes consist of three steps: 1. boil water, 2....

    (pp. 21-29)

    The next day while the students finish their oatmeal and morning duties, I draw a grid in the sand about fifteen feet by twenty feet. I divide it into one foot squares and collect some sticks to lay across the grid. I ask the students to gather a pile of small stones. This gets them moving around and sparks their interest. We leave the grid and stones for the time, and we begin a short review of life in the 1860s.

    The Colorado gold rush was in full swing and California had been a state for twelve years when Congress...

  4. iv ENTRADA
    (pp. 30-36)

    I begin the day in a funk. Seaweed, who for some unfathomable reason thinks everyone wants to hear the complete works of Joan Baez first thing in the morning, sings with a dreamy look on her face and gazes into the distance while everyone else stands around waiting for her to finish packing so we can leave. I wonder if always being the last to get ready is a subtle form of control. It seems that when someone lacks control over her own life, she often feels a need to control others.

    “Let’s hack, dude,” says Bobofet pulling out his...

  5. v CARMEL
    (pp. 37-50)

    In the morning I awake to the songs of a half dozen yellow-rumped warblers in a nearby cottonwood. The birds dart about gleaning insects off the leaves. That they are feeding in a small flock indicates they just arrived and have not yet staked out territories.

    “Perfect,” I think. All the students have to do is see one of these little guys close up, and they’ll be hooked for life. These birds aren’t skittish, and you can easily see them since the cottonwoods haven’t fully leafed out yet. Quite beautiful—blue with white racing stripes and flashes of brilliant yellow...

  6. vi WINGATE
    (pp. 51-60)

    With the students now leading the hikes, I can drop back and enjoy the scenery. We soon enter the cream-colored Navajo sandstone, which affords dramatic contrast from the grey of the Carmel. Now we are hiking through a real canyon, and the walls tower above us as we descend downstream.

    Metta and I have been desperately keeping our eyes open for flowers, trying to find something we can use to demonstrate the plant key. The cows have pretty much eliminated all forbs, leaving only tamarisk, willow, cottonwood, rabbitbrush, cactus, and an occasional ephedra. We find one or two sickly looking...

  7. vii CHINLE
    (pp. 61-71)

    Last week Metta and Seeker dropped the truck off at Tomsich Butte and then rejoined us with the van at Interstate 70. Excitement pervades the air as we break camp. Today is the day of our resupply. We will hike to the truck and pick up another bag of food that will carry us for another ten days, while the drivers spend the afternoon on a lengthy car shuttle. They will drive back to the van, pick it up, and then drop it off at Hanksville and rejoin us at Tomsich Butte.

    Mud, who is leading today, keeps insisting, “I...

  8. viii MOENKOPI
    (pp. 72-77)

    The hike to our next campsite takes us past a sign posted by the BLM.

    “Wilderness Study Area. No motorized vehicles,” it reads, with red slashes through a jeep, ATV, and motorbike.

    “What’s up with this?” asks Seeker angrily, pointing at the motorbike tracks that run right past the sign.

    This image—a sign posted by the federal government containing the inflammatory word “wilderness” and the ORV tracks in flagrant disregard—underscores the deep rift in values that runs through southern Utah over how to best manage these lands.

    Despite the ORV intrusions, the land behind the sign is recognized...

  9. ix WHITE RIM
    (pp. 78-85)

    The next morning we walk downstream to have class under a big cottonwood. Metta leads the group in a short meditation to which Yucca takes exception. We follow with a guided meditation.

    “Lie down, close your eyes and feel the earth beneath your body. Sink into the ground and let the sand cradle you,” I say to get everyone fully relaxed and in a slightly hypnotic state.

    “Now, recall the very first nature memory that enters your mind, not necessarily the earliest memory, but simply the first one that pops up without rejecting it. Concentrate on that memory. Recall the...

  10. x MOENKOPI
    (pp. 86-91)

    We camp at the mouth of Chimney Canyon, so named for the red Moenkopi spire that rises above Muddy Creek. The tent caterpillars feast on the leafed out cottonwoods in a race between the tree and the insects. Will the tree photosynthesize enough energy to live another year before the caterpillars eat all the leaves? Unlike most plants, cottonwoods flower and seed in early spring before their leaves fully appear. Have the caterpillars forced the cottonwoods to adopt this strategy of early blooming so the trees can insure reproduction before being devoured?

    We spend the morning ruminating over the plant...

  11. xi CARMEL
    (pp. 92-100)

    Although most famous for his first descent of the Colorado River in 1869, it is the scientific contributions of John Wesley Powell that have proved most enduring. In his exploration of the Colorado Plateau, Powell noticed that rivers paid little regard to topography. The Colorado River flows across uplifts unexpectedly, leading Powell to speculate that the Colorado Plateau was still being uplifted against the entrenched rivers. Although there might be a nearby valley, the water instead often cut straight through massive ridges. Powell reasoned that the rivers were older than the ridges, and the ridges must have risen slowly across...

  12. xii ASPHALT
    (pp. 101-108)

    As soon as the sun rises above the far rim of the world, the clear desert air transmits its heat immediately. I’m already sweating as I pack, wearing only shorts and a T-shirt. It promises to be a long, hot, miserable hike across tamarisk flats and rolling badlands.

    Looking over our camp, I have a hard time imagining what this place might have looked like before all the introduced species: horses, cows, cheatgrass, African mustard, and Russian olive. Tamarisk and Russian thistle (also known as tumbleweed) dominate the land to the extent that one could accurately describe this as a...

    (pp. 109-119)

    Set in the former Mormon settlement of Fruita, the campground at Capitol Reef National Park is laced with cottonwoods and surrounded by orchards. Deer nap contentedly under the trees. Songs of robins, warblers, and finches drift through the foliage. A weathered barn and old farmhouse accent the pastoral scene. Irrigation from the Fremont River supports this incongruous fecundity in the middle of a redrock desert. The greenery provides a welcome relief to our eyes as it surely must have to the pioneers who created this oasis after decades of hardship and a seemingly endless array of religious persecution. Built by...

  14. xiv CARMEL
    (pp. 120-126)

    We rejoin Muddy Creek where we left it, at the old bridge near Hanksville on a muggy overcast morning. Banjo runs ahead and splashes into the water, glad to be free of the constraints of the campground. She bounds through the mud and joyfully laps up the murky water as if greeting an old friend.

    Minutes downstream we cross the mouth of the Fremont River. The recent precipitation has turned the normally clear mountain stream into a turbid torrent as it meets Muddy Creek and forms the Dirty Devil River. On his first trip down the Colorado, John Wesley Powell...

    (pp. 127-136)

    The Dirty Devil flows wide and imperial like an abandoned Nile wandering through sand dunes and statues of pharaohs and sphinxes. The river winds lazily back and forth in a undulating rhythm, alternating between concave salmon-colored cliffs that bend in and receive the river and long protruding tongues of rock or sand. Sometimes these tongues form gently sloping benches where prickly pear, blackbrush, ricegrass, and flowers grow. Other times they are sand dunes or reclaimed riverbanks consisting of a riparian community of willow, tamarisk, and reeds. Farther back we encounter rabbitbrush.

    Massive Navajo sandstone rises above us as we plod...

  16. xvi MORE NAVAJO
    (pp. 137-146)

    We take a break at the mouth of Robbers Roost Canyon. On the other side of the river, an impressively smooth cliff rises five hundred feet to the skyline. Textured-red stripes on the cliff face look as if someone knocked over a giant bucket of paint on the canyon rim, and it slowly dribbled down. Thin black streaks also taper down from the rim.

    These black and red tapestries draped over canyon walls were long regarded as mineral-laden runoff leached from the strata above. Recent research reveals desert varnish to be the work of microorganisms. These creatures extract manganese and...

  17. xvii NAVAJO
    (pp. 147-155)

    To avoid the heat of the day, we decide to hike to Beaver Canyon in the evening. By the time we leave, however, ominous dark clouds fill the sky. As we hike back down Robbers Roost, a strong wind begins to blow, bending the willows at right angles and swirling the sand. The wind sandblasts our exposed skin and makes walking difficult. I think we should find shelter, but everyone seems to be enjoying the power and exhilaration of the storm. By the time we reach the canyon mouth, the wind has died down. The clouds begin to break up,...

  18. xviii KAYENTA
    (pp. 156-167)

    I awake at dawn in a sleeping bag soaked with dew. Strange, since a few feet above the river bank, all is dry. The color of chocolate milk, the river runs thick with suspended sediment and flotsam. The storms of the past two days have raised the water level and flooded the mud flats. A cloudy day, a cool breeze, strange weather—something moving up from the Gulf of Mexico? The air has an ominous, electric feel to it.

    A common yellowthroat serenades us from within the tamarisk thicket as we pack. Seaweed enthusiastically volunteers to lead today. I’m unsure...

  19. xix WINGATE
    (pp. 168-178)

    The students want to get an early start to avoid the heat and decide to get up at 5:30 A.M. We shoulder our packs as the sun first tinges the canyon rim. The mercilessly blue sky promises a long, hot day. The river strips away the rocks as we descend, opening up layer after layer of cuticle for our inspection. With each bend in the river, we cut steadily through the Wingate as we alternate between hiking the sandy benches, wading through the river, and fighting through tamarisk.

    We pause for lunch against a sheer wall of Wingate streaked with...

  20. xx WHITE RIM
    (pp. 179-186)

    We leave Twin Corral early and cruise along the old roadbed at a good clip. The miles flow by as we hike along the Moenkopi bench while the river drops farther and farther below, cutting a narrow canyon through the darkred formation. Everyone has quieted down and discovered that hiking doesn’t require constant banter. The mining track stays even with the Chinle, and we stroll past hunks of petrified wood. Entire logs of stone erode out from the loose clay. Each piece is another marvel, a rock so beautiful and so completely useless that people load it into their pickups...

    (pp. 187-197)

    Today’s hike takes us eighteen miles downstream. Luckily it’s not too hot, and we knock off the miles despite a few grumblings here and there. A few miles below Happy Canyon, the Dirty Devil opens to wide sloping benches covered with tamarisk and rabbitbrush. The river alternates between sheer cliffs and low rounded hills covered in cheatgrass. We leave the abundant flowers and thick soil crust behind as we pass into another grazing allotment, the first since before Robbers Roost.

    Two fighter jets roar through the canyon filling the sky. I look up. This has happened often enough that I’m...

  22. xxii INUNDATION
    (pp. 198-205)

    A few bends beyond Hatch Canyon, we climb up on the Cedar Mesa bench and hike in a straight line while the river loops and twists below, cutting deeper into the cross-bedded sandstone. We break in the shade of an enormous solitary juniper, the only tree in sight. As we pass mudstone pinnacles topped with blocks of white sandstone, the students debate whether these can be considered twin monoliths. Huckleberry contends that the term “monolith” precludes plurality. Yet there they are—twin monoliths.

    The mesa finally sinks to the river, and we thrash through a dense stand of tamarisk to...