Published: March 2007
Mike Edwards

What was your best experience in the field for this story?

Simple pleasures abound in the Canyonlands. Just cruising the highways 7,000 or 8,000 feet (2,100 to 2,400 meters) above sea level, amid parapets of rock blazing in lurid reds, meanwhile tuning in the twangy music of a radio station in Gallup, New Mexico, or Price, Utah—for me, that's the good life, Canyonlands style. Finally, I break out on a high plateau, looking across a sea of rock, wave after wave. The horizon is so far away I think I'm seeing tomorrow.

What challenges did you face in the canyons?

It makes my blood boil. I'm talking about Indian art riddled by bullets. Pictographs and petroglyphs created centuries ago by Indian groups that dwelled in the Canyonlands are too often serving as targets for the barbarians amongst us. I'm thinking especially of a wall of glyphs—human figures, animals, and other representations—that I came across in a canyon in southeastern Utah. A large round sunburst was evidently an inviting target for a rifleman on the opposite canyon rim. Indian sites in the Canyonlands, most on the territory of the Bureau of Land Management, are protected by law. Protected? Ha! The sad fact is that uniformed BLM rangers are so scarce in the vast canyon country as to be almost invisible.

Did you have any quirky moments?

Butch Cassidy and his gang once frequented the rough country around the crossroads town of Hanksville in Utah. Various localities in that area have been identified as the "Robbers' Roost" where the gang hid from the law. Not many visitors seek out this region today, but it does attract a group of unusual souls—scientists and space enthusiasts who promote the exploration and settlement of Mars. Members of the Mars Society, they reckon that the terrain around Hanksville is downright Martian. So every year they arrive from distant laboratories and universities to clomp about in space suits while testing robots and tackling such hypothetical problems as how to rescue a colleague who has broken his leg miles from a Mars lander.