The Colorado from Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

(Moab, Utah, April 24, 2012) We left Torrey, Utah, this morning, heading east along the San Rafael Swell, a long ridge of rocks to our north. Its exposed rocks jut straight upwards, evidence of forces we have come to understand as powerful, even violent, despite the millions of years they have taken to occur.

Program guide Chrystal Deshowitz and geologist Marc Deshowitz above Dead Horse Point, Utah

Marc tells us they mined for uranium in the canyons here, and explained the environmental damage the federal government is still undoing sixty years later. They ought to be done in another fifteen years. It’s a day our current history combines with the story the rocks tell us by themselves. Oil rigs alongside the roads — we’re not always in National Parks as we continue our journey — lead to further discussions about how we tap into the energy stored here, both the good and the bad.

An exhibit at the John Wesley Powell River Museum

Another story frozen in time is told at the John Wesley Powell River Museum in Green River, Utah. Along the banks of the largest river we’ve seen yet, we learn about the Powell Exhibition, which charted the last unmapped area of the United States in 1869. “Journey into the Great Unknown,” the museum’s award-winning movie, presents the dramatic story of men braving the rapids of the Green and then Colorado Rivers in small wooden boats. The reenactment, filmed in replica vessels, is reminder enough about the power of the water that flows here.

Phyllis Mattern at Dead Horse Point, Utah, April 24, 2012

The afternoon is filled with spectacle. We stop at Dead Horse Point, where the Green River winds its way through a canyon far below us. The wind always blows strong here, another reminder of the energy that has given us this special place. Sometimes you can feel the land almost as much as you see it. And finally, we arrive at Canyonlands National Park, and the rock formations that give the park its name. Our final stop is at Mesa Arch, a giant rock window with sweeping views of the canyons below. Tomorrow, in Arches National Park, we’ll see other, larger ones, but the views through Mesa Arch are more than enough for today.

Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, San Juan, Utah