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ZipUSA: 84532 @ National Geographic Magazine
By Judith Wolinsky SteinberghPhotographs by Cary Wolinsky

The layered red rocks of the Moab, Utah, wilderness became a canvas for artists—ancient and modern.

Read or print the full article.

Written on Rock
News over news over millennia.
Ghostly scarlet figures,
prints of hands repeated
on the sheer walls, petroglyphs
pecked into the sheen
beneath rock overhangs.
We are drawn to them. Face-to-face
with bighorn sheep, antelope, and snakes.
We are inches from six-toed footprints,
bear tracks and centipede, the shaman, his headdress,
shields of warriors, odd humans holding hands.
Spirals and circles of power or population?
Zigzags of rivers or lightning?
White dots carefully spaced to show
how long they stayed, how far the water?
A large bear is chiseled
far above the road;
men on horseback aim arrows
at its belly, back, and nose.
Boys' names are scratched
nearby; bullet holes pierce
the bear's body, shattering rock.
So many passing have left a mark.
Who, though, shoots at art?

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Poet Judith Wolinsky Steinbergh reads poems inspired by Moab's rugged red beauty.

Nominate your own wonderful, weird, or wacky choices for this magazine series.

Online Extra
Find out the best way to explore Moab's sculptured landscape with these useful travel tips.

More to Explore

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
You probably already know that Moab, Utah, and the surrounding wilderness are famous for outdoor activities made accessible by a system of great trails for hikers, rock climbers, and everything from mountain bikes to ATVs to four-wheel-drive vehicles. But staying on marked trails is more important than you might imagine—if you stray, you may leave more than a footprint; you can kill the living ground.  Cryptobiotic soil, also called biological soil crust, is found all around the Moab area and the wider Colorado Plateau.
Cryptobiotic soil is a mix of cyanobacteria (once called blue-green algae), lichens, mosses, and other bacteria, and is found in arid and semiarid areas the world over.  These symbiotic elements lie dormant during dry periods.  When it rains, though, the cyanobacteria send out filaments that spread through the soil, leaving behind sticky strands that dry and slowly form thick mats interwoven with loose dirt particles.  Eventually, after many centuries (the U.S. Geological Survey estimates it can take 5,000 to 10,000 years for a soil to form in an arid area), a fixed soil many centimeters deep coats the land.
This living soil helps sustain life in the desert.  It stops soil erosion caused by wind and water by holding tight to the thin dirt that overlies bare rock.  By fixing nitrogen it helps enrich barren soil, and by soaking up scant rainfall like a sponge it keeps moisture from running off and stores it where it is accessible to desert plants.

These knobby, scruffy soil crusts are extremely delicate and in dry periods, when they may appear dusty and dead, can be damaged with just a foot-, hoof-, or tire print.  Once the crust is damaged, wind and water often gain a foothold and start to wear away at the edges of the crust, and the small damaged area grows.  Eventually, an area formerly covered by productive cryptobiotic mats of soil can turn into a dry wasteland.
–Elizabeth Snodgrass
Did You Know?

Related Links
Through songs, poetry, and other literary genres, this non-profit organization that poet Judith Wolinsky Steinbergh is a part of helps children and adults refine expressive and critical writing.

National Park Service Canyonlands List of Publications
 National Park Service Arches List of Publications
Both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks put out a number of excellent publications. These links take you to lists of downloadable brochures on the natural, geologic, and cultural history of the parks. 
Bureau of Land Management Moab Field Office
The BLM is in charge of much of the non-park land around Moab. This site gives details on the management of this land, including fire reclamation, recreation, and environmental issues.
Canyonlands Natural History Association
Offering a huge range of guides, maps, essays, and travel essays on the Moab and Canyonlands area, the Canyonlands Natural History Association helps raise money to fund regional education and visitor services for the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and the USDA Forest Service.
Moab Area Travel Council
The Moab Area Travel Council provides an excellent range of information about the area for every activity or interest.


Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. Ballantine Books, 1968.
Abbey, Edward, and Philip Hyde. Slickrock. Gibbs Smith, 1987.
Baars, Donald L. Canyonlands Country. University of Utah Press, 1993.
Childs, Craig. Stone Desert: A Naturalist's Exploration of Canyonlands National Park. Westcliffe Publishers, 2001.
Houk, Rose. Anasazi: Prehistoric Cultures of the Southwest. Southwest Parks and Monuments Association, 1992.
Kelen, Leslie, and David Sucec. Sacred Images, A Vision of Native American Rock Art. Gibbs Smith, 1996.
Slifer, Dennis Guide to Rock Art of the Utah Region. Ancient City Press, 2000.
Williams, David, and Gloria Brown. A Naturalist's Guide to Canyon Country.  
Falcon Publishing, Inc., 2000.
Williams, Terry Tempest. Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert. Pantheon, 2001.
Williams, Terry Tempest, and John Telford. Coyote's Canyon. Gibbs Smith, 1989.


NGS Resources
Vlahos, James. "The American Icons: Twelve Classic Trips in the Landscapes of Legend." National Geographic Adventure (April 2004), 44-55.
Eugene, Toni, and Ron Fisher. Hiking America's Geology. National Geographic Books, 2003.
Roberts, David. "Ghosts of the Wild Horse Mesa." National Geographic Adventure (March 2003), 52-62, 96-7.
Howells, Robert Earle. "Rise of Fall." National Geographic Adventure (September 2002), 74-81.
Reynolds, Gretchen. "200 Miles to Moab." National Geographic Adventure (October 2002), 70-8.
Kulander, Charles. "Great Long Weekends: Moab Mountain Biking." National Geographic Traveler (October 2000), 85.

Thybony, Scott. Canyon Country Parklands: Treasures of the Great Plateau. National Geographic Books, 1993.


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