Capturing the Canyons: Canyonlands National Park

 In MOA Features

The largest National Park in the state, Canyonlands truly is a wonder to behold. This terrain is often what comes to mind when people think of the “Wild West,” and for good reason! These dramatic red cliffs and the Colorado and Green Rivers still carving out canyons make a scenic backdrop in a place where it is rumored that Butch Cassidy and his gang of outlaws often hid out.

Throughout history, groups of people usually just passed through the area instead of actually inhabiting it. Nomadic hunter-gatherer people made their way through the area in ancient times, while more modern Puebloans came in later. Remnants of their dwellings are visible throughout the park today. Around 1300 A.D., Ute, Paiute, and Navajo groups moved into the area. All three groups still live in the area today.

Because of the difficult terrain, European explorers mapping the area often circled and avoided it, as it proved an impediment on their journeys through to California. It wasn’t until explorer John Wesley Powell led an expedition through the area on his way from Wyoming to the Grand Canyon that the area was mapped and explored. Cowboys brought their herds to the area in the early 1900s, living in the area for months at a time in a very primitive lifestyle.

It wasn’t until the 1950s that the area began getting more attention. Miners were lured to the area in search of uranium to be used in the government’s nuclear arms program. The government built over 100 miles of roads in the area, which made it possible for tourists to start exploring the area as well.


6 - Lambourne - Temples of the Rio Virgen

Alfred Lambourne, “Temples of the Rio Virgin,” 1876, oil on canvas, Springville Museum of Art. This piece is on display in the exhibition, “Capturing the Canyons: Artists in the National Parks” at the BYU MOA.

Fast Facts about Canyonlands:

Year established as a National Park: 1964
Visitors in 2014 (last recorded year available): 542,421
Size: 527 square miles
Fun fact #1: The Maze District, one of the most remote locations inside the park, was one of the last areas of the United States to be mapped – it took until planes could fly overhead and take pictures that accurate mapping occurred in this area.
Fun fact #2: In 2003, extreme hiker Aron Ralston got pinned by a boulder in Blue John Canyon, just barely outside the Maze District of the park, and was forced to amputate his own arm. (His book Between a Rock and a Hard Place was adapted into the 2010 film 127 Hours.)

Learn more about Canyonlands National Park at the National Park Service website!
Learn more about the Capturing the Canyons: Artists in the National Parks exhibition!

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