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A Century of National Parks in Utah To be Celebrated Labor Day Weekend


Three sandstone bridges are the main attraction at Natural Bridges National Monument. Photo by buggs via flickr.

A little more than a century after President Theodore Roosevelt designated Natural Bridges National Monument, making it the first National Park System unit in Utah, the monument will serve as the backdrop for a celebration of 100 years of national parks in the state.

That Natural Bridges does not carry the "national park" moniker is no disservice, and actually might be a blessing in disguise for those who make the effort to visit the monument and find it practically to themselves.

Located in southeastern Utah about two hours south of Moab via U.S. 191 and Utah 95, the monument covers but 8,000 acres. That said, it's surrounded by some 2 million acres of public land, making it an incredible destination if you like exploring southern Utah's rugged canyon country. Within this landscape can be found numerous ruins and ancient American artworks carved and painted onto sandstone palettes.

Now, President Roosevelt bestowed the "monument" designation on Natural Bridges on April 16, 1908, so the monument itself actually is a handful of months older than 100 years. Still, it's a fitting place to mark the National Park System's existence in Utah. Overall the state is home to five national parks -- Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion -- as well as a handful of other monuments and historic sites. But Natural Bridges was the very first.

The National Park Service plans to celebrate that century in Utah beginning Friday, August 29, and continuing through September 1 with a number of activities and events at Natural Bridges. Scheduled activities include an on-scene painting competition, with a resultant art show displaying the works in Blanding and Moab later in September.

“Living History” programs will include ancient pre-Columbian skills demonstrations and reminiscence of pioneer days with a character actor portraying “Zeke Johnson,” a local legend and the first ranger stationed at Natural Bridges.

Special archeology tours of pueblo ruins will be offered, some by advanced reservation. On Saturday August 30th a special postal cancellation stamp will be available at the park visitor center.

Another significant “first” for Natural Bridges National Monument was being named the as the world’s first International Dark Sky Park in 2007. To mark that distinction, the Salt Lake Astronomical Society will host Star Parties on Friday and Saturday nights, August 29th and 30th, with about 10 large telescopes available for the public to view the Natural Bridges award-winning night sky.

For more information about these programs or to inquire about reservations for the archaeological tours, contact the Natural Bridges visitor center at 435-692-1234.


I consider Natural Bridges to be one of the greatest units of the national park system on the Colorado Plateau. In celebration of this anniversary, I hope the federal government will begin to respect the national treasures we have in Utah and not abuse or destroy them with oil, natural gas and oil shale development outside Utah parks' boundaries. Tar sands deposits exist not far from Natural Bridges and are identified in the Department of Energy's Oil Shale and Tar Sands Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement as having development potential, though admittedly, northeast Utah is much more likely to see tar sands exploitation. That said, energy development is already encroaching on Arches National Park, where under a proposed final resource managagement plan, the BLM is allowing most public land adjacent to Arches' boundary to be open to energy development. Already, oil wells can be seen from within Arches. On some nights at the Windows section, you can see oil wells flaring if you look carefully. Indeed, in 2006, I visited a drilling rig five line-of-sight miles from Delicate Arch. Just as disturbing, drilling rigs could be seen a year ago from the entrance station to Canyonlands National Park's Island in the Sky District. That rig has since moved, but the BLM land immediately adjacent to Canyonlands' northern boundary isn't just open for polluting oil and natural gas development, the land is already leased and companies are actively exploring there.

The threats to Utah national parks are numerous, with air quality problems stemming from regional coal-fired power plants and energy development to the encroachment of energy development itself, uranium mining and errant off-road vehicles. The federal government should take this opportunity to renounce its free-for-all resource extraction policies around Utah national parks and declare that these most special places shall be protected from such development forever. There should be no compromise on these parks' protection becuase there is no other place on earth like them.


I totally agree. I have been to all of Utah's national park areas (except Rainbow Bridge -- still need to get there). They are all extraordinary. But we also need to expand Utah's existing national parks and create several new national parks, to protect many other lands threatened by oil and gas drilling, mining, livestock grazing, off-road vehicles, and other abuses.

Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion should be expanded to include adjacent BLM and national forest lands. Lake Powell reservoir should be allowed to fully drain and Glen Canyon should be restored and elevated to National Park status. Adjacent wildlands, such as Great Gulch, Little Rockies, Dirty Devil River, and Dark Canyon, should be added to this new park. Dinosaur National Monument should be doubled in size and upgraded to a national park. San Rafael Swell, West Taveputs Plateau, the High Uintas, Great Salt Lake, and other places should all be new national parks. And, of course, remaining roadless lands not included in new parks should be designated under the Red Rocks Wilderness Act.

There is a lot of work left to do!

Ditto, Salt Sage236 recommended: "Glen Canyon should be restored and elevated to National Park status. Adjacent wildlands, such as Great Gulch, Little Rockies, Dirty Devil River, and Dark Canyon, should be added to this new park." How true this is.

Careful Micheal, you're opening up yourself to a ton of anti-recreation e-mail expressing those sentiments regarding Lake Powell. Which, by the way, I happen to agree with and have been resoundingly blasted for on past threads. Such is life. You might also catch some flak from the Utah residents who think that 82% of the State being held in reserve as "public lands" is already WAY too high a percentage and would like to see it reduced, dramatically, immediately. But good geopraphy being hard to come by, national park material-wise, I share your opinions that expansion of the system, in places where it already exists, provided the surrounding terrain fits into the character of the lands already established, is an idea whose time has come. And this ridiculous notion of oil drilling in and around the parks, or anywhere else for that matter, HAS to stop, because as we all are aware, oil is NOT the "fuel for you future". Since the vast majority of the oil we utilize is for transportation, by the gradual (starting immediately) tranfer to more sensible fuel sources, the "need" (or greed, more appropriately) for additional drilling will go the way of the horse and buggy, no offense to our Amish readers.........

There are currently no proposals that I'm aware of to allow energy development within any of Utah's national parks, the possible exception being Glen Canyon NRA, where a proposal for exploratory wells was struck down a year or so ago. I'm not sure of its current status, however.

That said, drilling on the edge of these parks is about as bad drilling within them. I suggest you take a look at how the BLM is proposing lands adjacent to the parks be managed in the agency's ridiculous slate of six resource management plans being released in quick succession as we speak. (The Vernal plan came out today, preceded by Moab, Richfield and Kanab.) Log onto SUWA's Web site at Also, you can see the potential scope of devastation oil shale and tar sands development would have on places like White Canyon, which snakes through Natural Bridges. Log onto

This kind of development in canyon country is simply insane, and the politics in Utah is concerned almost entirely with resource exploitation. It makes you wonder if there's hope... but of course, there is. We just need to be vigilant. What I find interesting is some Utahns' philosophy regarding natural resources. I went to an energy conference in Salt Lake last year, where a Utah-based speaker proclaimed that leaving Utahns' natural resources (oil, gas, uranium, tar sands, etc.) in the ground is "hoarding," and thus a sin: The people of Utah must share their wealth with all who need it lest they be deemed selfish in the eyes of God. No kidding. Scary.

Thanks for the warning, Lone Hiker. Actually, I have been working with the folks at Glen Canyon Institute and am totally aware of the politics of Lake Powell reservoir. I think things are rapidly changing, however. As you probably know, extended drought, rising demand, and global climate change have shrunk the reservoir by 60% and recent scientific studies project that it will probably never be full again. A recent Scripps Institution study found that there is a 50% chance that Lake Mead and Powell will go dry by 2021. The Lake Powell motorboaters can complain, but ecological reality is making the decision for us. That, and the fact that there is no way that Las Vegas is going to allow Lake Mead downstream to go dry while water is kept in the Powell reservoir for motorboaters. No way. It was fun (for some) while it lasted, but we're witnessing the final days of Lake Powell reservoir.

There's also growing opposition to the idiotic Lake Powell Pipeline, which the water establishment old boys thought they could just ram through. Even a lot of people in St. George, who are supposed to benefit from it, think it's nuts to be planning for a population of 1 million people. And people elsewhere in the state are catching on to the fact that everyone would be subsidizing this boondoggle.

Let's hope that the obscene amounts of water and electricity needed for oil shale and tar sands development will kill that lunatic idea. I'm less sanguine about stopping oil and gas drilling. The only way to stop that may be new and expanded national parks and wilderness. And, though a lot of Utahns are still in the pioneer mode regarding natural "resource" exploitation, things are changing, especially in Salt Lake City. I'm glad you still have hope, SaltSage236. We just need to keep up the pressure and things will continue to shift our way day by day.

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