Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona is one of the classic destinations in the American southwest. Rich in Native American culture and dramatic geology, it rivals the other more well-known parks in the region, yet it sees much fewer visitors. Although it is managed by the National Park Service, this unique monument is located within the Navajo Indian Reservation, and many local families still live and farm within the canyon walls as their ancestors have done for nearly 5,000 years.
The Park encompasses two major canyons, Canyon de Chelly (pronounced ‘de-shay’), and Canyon del Muerto, both of which include many outstanding Anasazi cliff dwellings perched precariously along the canyon walls. And while there are many excellent viewpoints along the rim drive, nothing compares to a hike down into Canyon de Chelly to visit White House Ruin. This dramatic ruin is an icon of the Colorado Plateau, and the only part of the inner canyon accessible without a Navajo guide. It is a wonderful photographic study in light and shadow as the afternoon light bathes the desert varnish of the imposing sandstone walls above.
Arizona is known as the Grand Canyon state and while that natural wonder is in a class by itself, the smaller scale and equally dramatic vistas make this special park well worth the detour when exploring the Four Corners area.
Fifty-six years ago on September 3rd, 1964 President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law preserving over 9 million acres of wilderness – a place where people could experience nature with minimal impact on the environment and wildlife. Since then Congress has added more than 100 million acres of wilderness area creating a natural legacy for future generations, and a sanctuary to recharge our creative and spiritual batteries apart from today’s fast-paced urban world.
The legislation established the National Wilderness Preservation System, which recognizes wilderness as “an area where the Earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” Unlike the National Parks, there is no management plan for traffic flow, employee housing or curio shops because there is simply no need. It is truly wild – nature in all its unprocessed beauty.
In this sense the two compliment each other nicely. Where the National Parks serve to protect iconic landforms and historic sites that might otherwise be subject to erosion, vandalism or overuse, wilderness areas often lack the spectacular formations which draw the masses and are instantly recognizable, but provide instead a subtle beauty and remote quality that begs for exploration and contemplation.
Ansel Adams spent the better part of his life working to preserve wilderness through his photographs and tireless appeals to Congress, and his images continue to define the power that nature has in our lives. I feel fortunate to be able to share my own view of the natural world through photography, but more importantly I’m glad those who came before me had the foresight and courage to preserve these special places where we can find renewal and experience our planet in its original untouched form.
“In wilderness I sense the miracle of life, and behind it our scientific accomplishments fade to trivia.” – Charles A. Lindbergh
June 30th marks the 156th Anniversary of the Yosemite Grant Act. Authorized by Congress and signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1864, it was the humble beginnings that established Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove as the first protected wilderness in the country. It also created California’s first State Park, and ultimately led to the creation of America’s National Park System.
In the years that followed, the tireless efforts of conservationist John Muir persuaded the government to protect the surrounding land as well and on October 1, 1890 Yosemite National Park was born. Never one to miss an opportunity to share the beauty and magic of his beloved home in the Sierra, Muir’s eloquent words convinced President Theodore Roosevelt and the state authorities to include Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove within the boundaries of Yosemite National Park and in 1906 it was signed into law.
2020 is the 104th anniversary of the National Park Service, which now includes 419 individual parks covering more than 85 million acres in all 50 states. The National Park Service website along with the Yosemite Conservancy have a wealth of information about the history and preservation of Yosemite. But there’s nothing like sitting on the banks of the Merced River or gazing up at El Capitan to feel the full effect of America’s Best Idea.