Wonders Of Sand And Stone: A History Of Utah’s National Parks And Monuments

The southern half of Utah is canyon country, a land of aridity, sparse vegetation, and unique and scenically spectacular topography and geology. It is a land rich in sites of archaeological importance and parts of it are sacred to indigenous people. It is also mostly public land, owned by the American people, part of their national legacy, and for a century it has been contested terrain.

Frederick Swanson, in Wonders of Sand and Stone, tells the story of the century-long battles between those who would preserve large parts of this spectacular landscape and those who would dedicate them to “multiple use,” principally grazing, mining, dams, and oil and gas development.

The story begins early in the history of America’s national parks when Utah’s redrock country was virtually inaccessible except to a few intrepid explorers, prospectors, and reaches to the 21st century conflicts over Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

This century of struggle over public land use has led to five national parks and eight national monuments managed by the National Park Service; the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, also managed by the Park Service; and the recently diminished Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears monuments managed, if that is the appropriate verb, by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

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