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Sierra Club Caught Standing Atop Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park


Did the Sierra Club really intend to encourage folks to stand atop Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park?

What were they thinking at the Sierra Club when they dreamed up their latest solicitation for new members?

Did the organization, which touts itself as America's "most influential grassroots environmental organization" and "Good Stewards of the Environment," really intend to use a photo of a hiker atop Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park?

While Canyonlands doesn't have as many arches as its neighbor, Arches National Park, Mesa Arch is a Canyonlands trademark landmark. Located atop the Island in the Sky District and oriented so that the rising morning sun shines through the arch's yawning mouth, Mesa Arch is a landscape photographer's dream.

The Sierra Club mailer doesn't identify the arch, but you'd be hard-pressed to find another arch that not only is oriented the same as Mesa Arch but which also is backed by a sprawling, horizon-stretching panorama. The striations of the rock in the pictured arch also can be found in Mesa Arch.

The picture does, however, appear to have been flipped, as a range of mountains you'd find on the bottom left-hand side of the arch are on the bottom right-hand side in this image.

"That is Mesa Arch, I am almost certain," Paul Henderson, the park's chief of interpretation, said Monday. "It does appear to have been flipped. I’m looking especially at the contours on the bottom of (the arch) and I can find those in other photos. ... So they printed it backwards, which is not that rare around here.”

Sierra Club officials had no immediate comment; they were looking into the matter Monday to determine if indeed the pictured arch is Mesa Arch.

Oddly, while Canyonlands' regulations prohibit climbing on arches, they say nothing about walking across arches, notes Ranger Henderson, although he quickly adds that, "It's not something I'd do."

Those who do walk atop the arch chance a fall of about 975 feet into Buck Canyon.


National Geographic Adventure magazine had a cover earlier this year with a woman doing yoga on top of Mesa Arch. They got a lot of criticism for that, and I remember the editors responding that while it probably wasn't the safest/smartest thing in the world to do, they didn't break any NPS or Canyonlands laws/rules in getting the photo shot. Page down to the March 2008 issue to see the cover:

The Sierra Club's claim that it is a "grassroots environmental organization" is laughable. The Sierra Club is not a nonprofit organization. It is a lobbying group. Lobbying groups need lots of money, so they'll do anything to raise the money they need, including profiting from national parks. This is yet another influence of lobbyists in national parks. Oh, and that free rucksack? I'll bet it's made in China.

weird that they would even CONSIDER such a stunt. I'm headed to that area in November myself for a photo trip--did they not just see that an entire arch collapsed in Arches?

Frank, the Sierra Club is a nonprofit group, and though it's no longer a 501c3 (the club lost its charitable status during its battle to stop the Bureau of Reclamation from damning the Colorado and flooding the Grand Canyon), it still conducts many c3 activities and is supported by its sister 501c3 organization, the Sierra Club Foundation. It's definitely a grassroots group, local members hold much of the decision making power, for better or for worse. Of course, many National Parks might not be protected today without the efforts of the club; and no matter how you feel about the organization, it's clear that the National Park System has greatly benefited from the Sierra Club.

My husband and I attended a photo workshop at Mesa Arch and have beautiful photos to prove it. All I can say is, "What were they thinking?" Isn't the beauty of the arch enough to encourage preservation? Who needs a human to mess up the scene?

Mesa Arch is almost certainly the most accessible arch to walk across anywhere on the Colorado Plateau. It takes no effort at all, with the top of the arch only about 10 feet or so high, and, frankly, it isn't terribly intimidating. There are no conspicuous signs warning people to stay off the arch, no serious attempt at educating the public about the dangers of climbing the arch or what damage may occur to the arch from doing so. The alternative would be to fence off Mesa Arch, but that would deface the it nearly as much as anything else. The staff at Arches and Canyonlands (both under the same management umbrella) generally do a great job, but they really need to illustrate for the public that climbing Mesa Arch isn't just dangerous, but will potentialy deface one of the most beautiful arches in North America.

It has been a while since I have spent time in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, though my recollection is that there is a lot of information (in all the guides and pamphlets) and the Rangers even told me to stay off Mesa and the other arches.
It is possible that this sticks in my mind because when viewing any of the many arches in these parks I experience an irresistible urge to walk them.
Anyway, no more signs in Our National Parks! Please, there are too many all ready..

I agree we should keep as many signs as possible out of wilderness areas, but in national parks, especially at the head of the very short trail to Mesa Arch, signs in appropriate places are absolutely warranted. Ya gotta inform the masses in high-traffic areas somehow.

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