UtahWilderness.org

San Juan-Canyonlands Region

Proposed Wilderness in the San Juan-Canyonlands Region

Click on the image above to view a gallery of the San Juan-Canyonlands Region.

The San Juan Region-Canyonland Region occupies the southeast corner of the state, where Utah touches Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. The views here are unfettered by any significant human development —- sometimes for over 100 miles.

Spilling off the southern end of the Abajo Mountains, this region is marked largely by Cedar Mesa, a seemingly endless ocean of pinyon-juniper forest broken only by the dramatic plunge of a deep, tortuous canyon or the sudden uplift of a vertebral ridge—each cast in its own riotous shade of red. 

Cedar Mesa stands 6,000 feet above sea level and leans southward until it is cut sharply by the San Juan River, a mostly languid riverway that can turn suddenly torrential when thunderstorms unleash flash floods into the tributary canyon systems.  Places like Butler Wash and Cottonwood Wash come alive with the rush of water, disgorging two-hundred-year-old trees and mammoth boulders, providing one of the desert’s great paradoxical displays of simultaneous violence and beauty.

Most of the wilderness units within the San Juan region run north and south on the west side of Comb Ridge -—a steep, 80-mile-long anticline of redrock that stands like a fortress across the eastern end of the mesa. 

In the southwest end of the region, the Grand Gulch and Nokai Dome units follow a slender arm of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area along the curve of the San Juan; the river itself divides these extraordinary public lands from those within the Navajo Reservation, where the grand spires of Monument Valley rise from the lower desert floor. 

East of Highway 191, on virtually untrammeled mesas and canyons near the Colorado border, a few units are included just northeast of Hovenweep National Monument -— and include mostly uninventoried archaeological sites with densities of 40 to 100 sites per square mile. 

This area of wilderness-quality lands remain today as they were described by an early twentieth century geologist as “the roughest country seen in the [Colorado] plateau province.”

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