The Colorado Plateau is a vast high dessert plateau that was carved by the Colorado River into a highly-complex geological wonderland of intensely-colored red rock canyons, mesas, and buttes, laced with rivers and streams. It covers an area slightly larger than modern Germany and is located mostly in southern Utah and northern Arizona and, to a lesser extent, in Colorado and New Mexico. In the photographer’s opinion, the Colorado Plateau is the most dramatic and uniquely beautiful place on earth.
For a change of pace from large, open canyons, one should not miss the smaller, very narrow “ slot canyons.” These narrow canyons are not the product of normal erosion that is seen in other parts of the Plateau; they were gouged out cataclysmically, by the violent flash floods that descend upon the Colorado Plateau every year, following heavy rains on desert drainage basins as large as 100 kilometers across. Thundershowers, brief but heavy storms that can drop more than three centimeters of rain in an hour, are common on the Plateau in the summer. If the ground is already saturated, or if it is made of clay or other material resistant to water penetration, the rainwater cannot be absorbed quickly enough. It accumulates and begins to flow down hill, accelerating as it reaches steep terrain. The water rises as it flows into troughs, becomes an impressive wave in open canyons, and thunders into narrow canyons, forming a wall of water ten meters high or more and carrying with it rocks, boulders, and trees. This massive force scours the floor and walls of the canyons, digging them deeper and deeper. Be aware, and don’t even think of going into a slot canyon if rain looks possible; eleven hikers were killed in a 1997 flash flood in Lower Antelope Canyon. That said, flash floods occur infrequently in each canyon; and, if one understands the risk and takes it seriously, watches the sky and weather reports, and talks to the local Rangers about conditions, he should generally have no problem.
Environmental Protection . The American government is responsible for setting meaningful environmental policies that protect and preserve these precious wilderness areas. Regrettably, the government does not always do as it should; and it is, therefore, essential for citizens and environmental groups to remain vigilant in defense of these extraordinary assets. The photographer strongly believes, as the Welsh writer Colin Fletcher stated about the Colorado Plateau, that our generation faces an epic challenge, “to shield from the blind fury of material ‘progress’ [works of nature that are] unique on the surface of our earth. And [that] we shall be judged, you and I, by what we did or failed to do.” For information on what kinds of environmental protection work is being done in the Colorado Plateau, see the Sierra Club and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance web sites.