Welcome to Southern Utah!

Welcome to one of the most scenic and inspiring landscapes on earth, the red rock country of southern Utah and all that surrounds it. In addition to its amazing concentration of national parks and monuments, state parks, national forests and recreation areas, this section of the world also contains thousands of square miles of untamed wilderness. The number of natural wonders is staggering, and a lifetime of exploration is required to just scratch the surface of this remarkable land.

My wife Rhonda and I currently live in the town of Moab, near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. We seize any opportunity to explore and photograph the almost limitless natural wonders that surround us. This website is designed to share some of our experiences, and to give others a taste of what life is like in southern Utah. Perhaps it will encourage you to come out for a visit and start your own journey!

Our Personal Journey

Southern Utah is a truly amazing place. Wherever I wander I am overwhelmed by the spirit of place. Never, in all of my travels, have I experienced such an ethereal landscape. I emphasize the word "experience" because there is more to this land than meets the eye. It must be felt from within.

During my first visit to this area, in the summer of 1986, I became enchanted with the magical spell this land casts upon those sensitive to its natural beauty. On one special evening, as I watched the sun set over a landscape of unimaginable beauty, my life was transformed forever.

In the years that followed my wife Rhonda and I made our way 2000 miles west, from our previous home in western New York to our current home in Moab, Utah, in the heart of the land that we both love. Join us on our journey, as we continue to explore and learn about the natural wonders that surround us in southern Utah.

Moving On With No Regrets

A Look Back at the Events of 2002

For Rhonda and I, 2002 contained some of the most difficult and challenging events of our entire time together. After looking back at the events of that year, I decided to make this brief summary of 2002 a permanent part of my website. I do this not to emphasize the bad times, but to encourage others who may be considering a major life change.

On Friday, May 9th, 2002 my wife Rhonda suffered a Cerebral Aneurysm (brain hemorrhage) and collapsed. I just happened to be walking into our house for my lunch break when I saw her tumble off the kitchen counter (she was getting something out of the top cupboard) and fall to the floor. She suffered a concussion when she hit the floor, and was unconscious for several minutes. She also received a nasty laceration on her forehead when she hit the ground, which caused extensive bleeding. By the time I got over to her she was experiencing seizures due to the bleeding occurring within her brain. Within 15 minutes she was in an ambulance heading to the hospital in Moab, and within hours she was on a Life Flight helicopter to St Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado, 110 miles away. Rhonda’s aneurysm occurred near the base of her frontal lobe in the subarachnoid region of her brain. The statistics were frightening: 50% die immediately and an additional 25% die before ever receiving treatment. The following morning she underwent 6 hours of extremely delicate brain surgery to save her life.

When I first saw Rhonda in the Intensive Care Unit she was in an induced coma, on a ventilator, had a drainage tube in her brain, a feeding tube in her stomach, a catheter in her bladder, and an IV in each arm. She also had an unusually large amount of blood in her spinal column from the initial hemorrhage and subsequent surgery. Until her body could absorb the blood (over 2 weeks) she experienced excruciating back pain, which severely limited her mobility. Unfortunately, the lack of movement after surgery made her legs a breeding ground for blood clots. Sure enough, Rhonda had a blood clot form and lodge in her lung just as she was starting to feel better. Three weeks after surgery, she was back on oxygen and extremely weak. Rhonda was in the hospital for nearly 4 weeks after the surgery with all the complications. Of course I stayed with her in Grand Junction for the entire time. There were so many times when she might have died that I eventually became rather numb to the thought. It was a terrifying time for both of us.

OK, now for the good news: Rhonda has come along remarkably well. In fact her recovery has been one for the record books. After 7 months I can honestly say that Rhonda is 95% back to normal. She received extensive therapy during her 4 weeks in the hospital, and it continued for another 2 months after her release. Rhonda even returned to work (part time) just a few months after her surgery! Rhonda is a truly remarkable woman.

Life's most difficult times often lead to its most remarkable lessons. It is nothing short of a miracle that Rhonda is back with me exploring southern Utah again. Rhonda was 42 and in seemingly perfect health when her aneurysm struck. Within a split second our life together almost came to an end. Although I experienced many emotions while she was in the hospital fighting for her life, I had one thought that I would like to share...

Rhonda and I made a lot of compromises when we moved to Moab back in 1998 - financial, lifestyle - there were many reasons not to move here. However, because we truly loved southern Utah we followed our hearts and took the plunge. When I was sitting next to Rhonda in the Intensive Care Unit, not knowing if I would ever hear her voice again, I said to myself, "Thank God we moved to Utah." The few years that we have had together in southern Utah are, by far, the best that we have ever shared together. The joy of opening our front door to all of this red rock splendor is indescribable. The happiness that we have shared together while exploring the land we both love is priceless. If Rhonda would have died during her recent incident it would, of course, have been dreadful. However, if she would have died before we ever moved here it would have been a total tragedy. I would have regretted it the rest of my life. To look back on the past few years and have absolutely no regrets is an incredible way to live. My cousin, Cheryl Olszewski, once shared some advice her father had given her many years ago. That advice was …

Try to live your life with no regrets.

Looking at life, from the perspective of death, is very revealing. The way I see it, the path that we take in life should at least in part be guided by the way we want to die. I think that it is heartbreaking for anyone to die with regrets. Regrets for missed opportunities, roads not traveled, or words not spoken are horrible clouds to end a life under. Don't direct your life down the path of least risk. Even if you fail, the lessons of failure are far more valuable than those of being safe.

The photographs below are a small sample of the many that I’ve taken within the past few months. All of them were taken with Rhonda at my side. I find the vistas that you see below quite breathtaking, yet conversely, they are nothing special. These scenes, and this type of dramatic lighting, occur frequently in southern Utah. However, taking the time out of our busy days to get out and experience such beauty is something that seems to be in short supply.







Take the time to chase your dreams. We all create our own worlds. After all that Rhonda and I have been through this year, our world is beautiful.

Robert F. Riberia
December, 2002

A Personal Remembrance of Ward J. Roylance

Until Our Paths Cross Again...

Biographical sketches are certainly not my forte. A person’s life, especially the life of someone as dedicated to a significant cause such as Ward, is difficult, if not impossible, to summarize in a few pages of text. I think that it is safe to say that once Ward came under the spell of Red Rock Country, he did everything in his power to increase public awareness and appreciation of this extraordinary land. His contribution cannot merely be measured by the number of books he published or by the amount of environmental legislation he helped to change. Rather, the true contribution must be looked at in terms of the number of people that Ward and his wife Gloria inspired to set out on their own quest in service to the Land. That number, while immeasurable, is immense.

Salt Lake City, Utah - November 19, 1993

I can't help shivering as the brisk air swirls around my body on this very cold November afternoon. I zip up my jacket and quickly tuck my hands into my pockets along with a small bag full of red soil from Red Rock Country. Before me lies the casket of my friend and mentor, Ward Roylance. I look up at the cloudless blue sky which serves as a spectacular backdrop for the snow capped peaks of Wasatch Mountains. Imposing in size and rugged in appearance, it seems impossible not to be awed by the panoramic vista before me. Suspended high in the eastern sky is a quarter moon appearing to gaze down upon the events of the afternoon.

As I stare at the moon I reflect back six months as I stood next to Ward near the Temple of the Moon during a trip into Cathedral Valley. What a splendid trip that was! We spent two days bouncing around the red sand of the valley floor in Ward's truck, gazing upward at the towering monolithic formations in absolute awe at the magnitude of the beauty surrounding us. On that trip Ward heightened my esthetic awareness to an extraordinary degree. I had been on several other trips with Ward and he had taught me a great deal, but in Cathedral Valley I was finally able to truly see. Artistic revelation after revelation pounded my supersaturated senses until I experienced almost spiritual vision of the esthetic perfection of form and design which surrounded us. Much of the art had been there for thousands, even millions, of years. Timeless sentinels, waiting. But waiting for what?



Many a human eye had gazed upon these extraordinary formations and no doubt been impressed by their shear size and form. But how many have seen beyond the rock? How many have seen the traces of divine artistry which lie within the rock? No doubt very few. Few are prepared to have their eyes and souls totally opened. Few are capable of handling the torrent of emotion that accompanies such a revelation. Ward was prepared. He saw what most others could not. But most marvelous of all, Ward could help others to see. In many respects Ward was a lens through which others could sharpen their own focus. He's done it for me and he's done it for others. Anyone who has been touched by Red Rock Country should consider themselves blessed if they had the opportunity to meet Ward.

The following morning Ward and I witnessed a dawn of such unbelievable beauty that much of it was simply beyond the human capacity to absorb. To this day, I struggle with words to adequately express the magnitude of that experience. I think that in our own way, we each had a glimpse of Heaven on that very special morning.

A cold breeze once again encircles my body and tears my thoughts back to the present. As a symbolic gesture of his unity with Red Rock Country, I pour the bag of red sand over Ward’s casket. Several of Ward’s family members and friends do the same. It is hard to not think of a funeral as an end because certainly, in some respects, it is an end. Many things will never be the same. However, for a funeral to represent an absolute end is a tragedy. I find much satisfaction in the fact that Ward's funeral does not fall into this category. Ward has left a legacy for those who continue to walk in his Enchanted Wilderness. Because of the seeds he has sown, his spirit will live on forever.

- Robert F. Riberia
November 1993

The Life of Ward J. Roylance

Biographical sketches are certainly not my forte. A person’s life, especially the life of someone as dedicated to a significant cause such as Ward, is difficult, if not impossible, to summarize in a few pages of text. I think that it is safe to say that once Ward came under the spell of Red Rock Country, he did everything in his power to increase public awareness and appreciation of this extraordinary land. His contribution cannot merely be measured by the number of books he published or by the amount of environmental legislation he helped to change. Rather, the true contribution must be looked at in terms of the number of people that Ward and his wife Gloria inspired to set out on their own quest in service to the Land. That number, while immeasurable, is immense.

Born in 1920, Ward spent most of his childhood in northern Utah. It wasn’t until he was 21 years old that he managed to take his first trip into Red Rock Country, just a few weeks prior to his voluntary induction into the army. Sparked by what he had read about southern Utah in a copy of Utah: A Guide to the State and some Zane Grey novels, Ward loaded up his 1932 convertible roadster and headed down to Dead Horse Point. In a scenario that is very familiar to anyone who has been touched by the Land, Ward’s life was changed forever. He was awestruck by what he experienced, both visually and aurally - the silence was mind boggling. In almost a heartbeat, southern Utah was in his blood.

During the following four years of military service, Ward’s travels took him to France, Germany, and Austria. World travel made Ward realize, more than ever, that his heart lay in Utah. He also traveled quite a bit after the war, and he always used his travels to compare Utah, geographically and culturally, with other areas of the world. It made him realize how extraordinarily unique the Red Rock Country of southern Utah really was. There is simply no other place on earth like it.

In the years following his release from the Army, Ward made numerous trips into Red Rock Country, which only proved to strengthen his bond with the Land. His wanderings took him to places such as Glen Canyon (before it was drowned by Lake Powell), the Waterpocket Fold, Circle Cliffs, the canyons of the Escalante, Bryce Canyon and the Aquarius Plateau. Lacking the paved roads of today, those trips were no easy task. Ward wrote, "Those expeditions of the summer of 1946, rather than satisfying my craving to see and learn more about Red Rock Country, only served as appetizers." In 1947 Ward, along with one of his brothers, purchased some surplus Army jeeps and their expeditions penetrated even deeper into Red Rocky Country. They explored such areas as Hole-in-the-Rock, the Needles-Salt Creek area, and places beyond. In 1948 Ward boated the Colorado River through Glenn Canyon on a surplus rubber raft. In his book, The Enchanted Wilderness, Ward wrote:
Glen Canyon in its primeval beauty was a natural wonder of the world, a continual Zion Canyon in miniature, 190 miles of glorious red cliffs ornamented with an endlessly varied assortment of rock forms, relief designs, and color tapestries.
There were miles of sandy beaches and dense willow forests. Dozens of sheer-walled side canyons and narrow slots in the cliffs invited exploration; some of them contained prehistoric ruins and rock art. There were beaver, deer, birds and other wild creatures. There were old log cabins, the Stanton dredge, Hole-in-the-Rock, Halls Crossing, and Old Ute Ford where the Dominguez-Escalante expedition crossed the river in 1776. Those sites are all buried now by water and muck.
Ward’s thirst for knowledge relating to Utah and the Colorado Plateau was insatiable. He began collecting Utah books, a collection that at its peak amounted to nearly 600 titles. More important than the books themselves, Ward was acquiring an enormous amount of knowledge relating to Utah, knowledge that would prove vital for his global vision of the preservation of Red Rock Country as a region.

In 1949 Ward took a tour of duty with the Foreign Service in Vietnam. After returning in 1951, he completed his studies at the University of Utah, graduating in 1952 with a degree in elementary education. Although his career as a teacher was short, his entrepreneurial spirit was intense and he soon began authoring numerous publications relating to Utah.

In 1957 Ward received his Masters degree after writing a thesis relating to Utah. Later that year Ward began one of the most influential periods of his life, his eight years of employment with the Utah Travel Council. During this period Ward authored hundreds of publications relating to Utah, with millions of copies being distributed. During this period Ward traveled all over Utah, by whatever means possible, to research his publications. It was not merely a job, it was a labor of love. Ward left the Utah Travel Council in 1965 and struck out on his own producing, among other things, educational films about Utah geography.

In 1966 Ward married Gloria Olson Holdway, a woman who fully matched his enthusiasm and love for Red Rock Country. Although I never had the opportunity to meet Gloria, it was readily apparent that Ward and Gloria were true soulmates. Again, I quote from The Enchanted Wilderness:
When Gloria became my companion, I became We. No longer was I lonely. I had no more deep depressions. Her vibrancy, happiness, and sheer joie-de-vivre have always buoyed sagging spirits before they could plunge to previous depths. Even now, 20 years later, I cannot believe such love, support and acceptance. Gloria sees the beauties I see, and we share in common not only the physical things of our lives but most of the intangible as well. Such a relationship of perfect compatibility is more than I ever hoped was possible.
In 1969 Ward and Gloria, along with a group of geology professors, formed the Enchanted Wilderness Association. This organization was formed to lead guided tours into canyon country and to promote appreciation and understanding of the Colorado Plateau area. Ward and Gloria even designed a beautiful full-color magazine to promote their organization. Despite enormous financial difficulties, the organization survived for three years and attracted over 1000 members. However, financial distress ultimately resulted in the end of the organization three years after it was formed.

During this period of time Ward continued to develop his vision of preservation of the Colorado Plateau as a region. Ward often called upon his world travels as a means to help put the importance of the Colorado Plateau in perspective. In 1975 Ward and Gloria visited Italy, Switzerland, and France. In 1982 they would visit Egypt. These global wanderings emphasized the unique attributes of the Colorado Plateau as a global treasure. Ward’s vision of a "New World and Millennial Dream" from his initial issue of the Enchanted Wilderness Magazine best describes his global vision:


A NEW WORLD

This maiden issue of The Enchanted Wilderness Magazine is designed as an introduction to a New World.

Not a New World in obvious ways, of course, for this is a very old, very ancient world that reveals the pages of geological time in an almost unbroken sequence for more than a billion years. The "feel" of relative eternity is a pervading, even oppressive atmosphere in the Enchanted Wilderness. Evidences of life all the way up from its primeval beginnings have been found here. And numerous cultures have left their marks throughout this land, some in rich abundance.

Still, as an original concept of "Enchanted Wilderness" this is a new world. Until now the Colorado Plateau as a unit...as an integral whole...as a distinct physiographic province...has not been recognized by more than a handful of visionary people as a world resource, a unique wilderness of true enchantment. Heretofore, "wilderness" to most people has meant the remote fastnesses of lofty mountain ranges, or unviolated pockets of wild lands scattered here and there. But how many have been aware that the Colorado Plateau is the largest wild or near-wild province still remaining in the 48 contiguous states - a vast and, until recently, little known region larger than the State of New Mexico and containing fewer than a half million inhabitants?

Who has had the vision to evaluate this natural World Shrine at its actual and potential worth - not as a shattered entity broken up into political subdivisions, exploited haphazardly and ruthlessly for its removable and manipulative resources, but rather as an integral, homogeneous wilderness having similar but extraordinary physical characteristics over much of its great extent?

Who has had the vision (even a faint glimmer) to recognize the incalculable future worth of the Colorado Plateau as a region - not as bits and pieces of isolated parks...not as a golden opportunity for indiscriminate industrial exploitation and expanding urbanization...not as a newly-discovered playground for uncontrolled travel and recreation...but as a precious wilderness, valuable to the world for its peace and loneliness as well as its minerals, for its inspiring beauty and strange enchantment as well as its boundless opportunities for physical recreation?

A few people have had this exciting vision. It is our dream to increase their numbers. EWA's stated goal is "the preservation of the unique attributes of the Colorado Plateau and its Borderlands - the Enchanted Wilderness - through enlightened public awareness and controlled utilization of its priceless resources.

- Ward J. Roylance


Ward suffered from a painful congenital hip problem, which often limited his physical activity. In 1974, Ward had both hip joints replaced. Feeling like a new man, he began construction of a home in Torrey in 1976, on a lot that Ward and Gloria had purchased seven years prior. Ward wanted to avoid the "monotonous uniformity in walls and surfaces" of conventional design. The resulting log house, which could not have possibly been more difficult to construct, resembled a five sided teepee or asymmetrical pyramid. Inside it is spacious, with large sloping overhead windows, and lots of overhead space. They used beautiful rock from the surrounding area to accent the natural beauty of the wood, resulting in a home that is both a manifestation of Ward and Gloria’s love for each other and their love of the red-rock country that surrounded them. Ward's visionary craftsmanship, Gloria's artistic touches, and the love they shared together made the house a tribute to the spiritual bond between themselves and the land around them.

The Enchanted Wilderness
by Ward J. Roylance
Between 1978 and 1982 Ward spent at least half of his time working on a major revision to the voluminous Utah: A Guide to the State. In 1986 Ward published The Enchanted Wilderness, which may be his greatest legacy of all. Although the book had very limited distribution, it brought together a new generation of people who are inspired and motivated by the Enchanted Wilderness. Many people who read the book felt compelled to stop by Ward and Gloria’s house in Torrey, just to say hello and compliment the book. But most importantly, it brought together many enthusiastic red rock wilderness supporters who might never have met without it. There may never be a way to quantify the consequences of that, but future legislation relating to preservation of the Colorado Plateau my be a direct result of Ward and Gloria’s inspiration.

In 1988 Ward and Gloria started producing video tapes relating to the red rock canyon country. In regard to these videos, Ward once told me, "What we strive for is to convey our sense of wonder that there could be such a place on earth, and that - being such a unique region, integrated in its features (physical personality) it should be treated with the greatest respect before development is allowed to change it."


This Splendid Land - 1990

This Splendid Land: A Red-Rock Scenery Sampler served as an introduction to the region. The Enchanted Wilderness: Art in Stone I was an introduction to the Art in Stone concept. Featuring hundreds of Ward’s photographs, it examined Red Rock Country from the standpoint of art and esthetics.


Art in Stone I - 1988 and 1993

Visions of Beauty: Art in Stone II was a continuation of Ward and Gloria’s visual exploration of the region. The tapes had limited commercial success, which discouraged Ward. It seemed that relatively few people had a sense of landscape esthetics, at least not enough for the videos to be a commercial success. In his understanding way, Ward spoke of his videos limited appreciation (April, 1992)…

…But I should be able to understand why. With us, developing our way of viewing the red-rock country has taken many years of familiarity. Until I was 40 or so I did not begin to see what I see today. It's a matter of evolution or growth, as it is with many things in life where we ‘learn to appreciate’. With respect to our videos, the result is that few people will buy them and we give away more than we sell…

Art in Stone II - 1992

Ward told me these videos were a labor of love for him. I find them to be beautiful and quite inspiring. Luckily, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance used some of the videos as membership incentives, and distributed at least a thousand copies. If you ever come across a copy of any of these tapes please share it with as many other people as possible.

Gloria’s death in May of 1992 was devastating for Ward. Part of him, at least part of his enthusiasm, seemed to die along with her. She could animate and encourage him like no other person. Ward continued to travel in and photograph Red Rock Country until his death in November of 1993. He is sorely missed by many, but his spirit remains in the heart of the Enchanted Wilderness.

All book quotes taken from The Enchanted Wilderness - © 1986 Ward J. Roylance
Video Cover Art © 1988, 1990 & 1992 Ward J. Roylance

Art in Stone

Written July, 2002

Ward Roylance's world travels sharpened his esthetic focus and gave him an intense sensitivity to the natural beauty of southern Utah, its "Art in Stone" as he called it. The landscape of southern Utah is a wonderland of erosional artistry. A unique combination of geological processes has resulted in a landscape with an infinite variety of color and form. Under conditions of constantly changing light, reality often becomes illusory. Surrealism is the rule of the day here.

Introduction

The landscape of southern Utah is a wonderland of erosional artistry. Its unique combination of geological processes has resulted in a landscape with an infinite variety of color and form. Under conditions of constantly changing light, reality often becomes illusory. Surrealism is the rule of the day here.

The natural beauty of Red Rock Country stirs the emotions. Certain elements of its natural art are exquisite while others can appear bizarre, perhaps even grotesque at times. Like all truly great art, it stimulates the full range of human emotions. It takes control!

An infinite variety of color, shape and form presents endless displays, and lessons, in art. Wandering around in this land can be a humbling experience. Mammoth formations tower overhead and seem to touch the heavens. From a distance their immense form overwhelms your perception of space. Distance seem erroneous, size becomes incomprehensible. The shear power of their creation is evident. Color and contrast dominate the scene at this level. Closer inspection of the cliff walls reveals an increasingly complex and intricate design. At this level the mastery and perfection of their design is evident. To move even closer to one of the monoliths drops one into absolute and total insignificance. It is a humbling, yet enthralling, experience.

Unmatched in variety anywhere else on earth, the landscape of Red Rock Country presents artistic sanctuaries for the sensitive soul. Intricately carved walls, no two the same, each present a personal awareness of intentional design. Elegance and perfection of design on a scale unmatched anywhere else on Earth lies at the heart, and soul, of Red Rock Country.


The "Art in Stone" Concept

Art in Stone is best described by the man who actually created the term, Ward Roylance. In his wonderful book, The Enchanted Wilderness, Ward begins by defining the ineffable aspects of Red Rock Country…

"Indescribable or unspeakable: That is the ineffable. The ineffable, by definition, is beyond expression."

"What Gloria and I see from the heights of Thousand Lake Mountain and the Aquarius Plateau is, to us, ineffable. It is beyond expression, even comprehension. We look out upon a convoluted jumble of practically every landscape form imaginable - a library of earth history, a museum of nature's surreal art."

"There are cliffs and buttes, mountains and mesas, canyons and valleys, domes and pinnacles, rounded slopes and numberless smaller forms, all painted in a rainbow spectrum of glorious hues, sculptured into shapes-designs-patterns that astonish with strange and endless diversity."

"We cannot possibly do justice to those vistas in written or spoken words. We cannot even verbalize them to ourselves while looking. Language was not designed for the articulation of mystic profundities, or the conveying of emotional nuances, except in the vaguest way."

"How could I describe, for instance, the overwhelming impression of vastness and visual impact - the sensation of being suspended as in a motionless plane, 4,000 feet above the most sublime exhibit of rock esthetics either of us has ever set eyes upon?"

"Or how could I describe those powerful feelings of immemorial Time engendered by the ruins before us? The inexorable cycles of change and decay these ruins manifest - the inconceivable ages of creation and destruction they represent? The hopelessness we feel about ever possessing more than the merest fragment of knowledge about ancient landscapes that preceded the ones we see: their myriad life forms, the eons of their duration, the endless complexities of geological origins, causes and effects?"

"As we look out from Thousand Lake Mountain and the Aquarius, impressions so ethereal they cannot be captured in words glide fleetingly through our consciousness. (Can those impressions even be termed thoughts?) They do not require words, they defy words, and they could not be conveyed with words."

"Those impressions - those emotions - those convictions of the soul - are ineffable."

Later in this chapter, Ward continues…

"Most first time visitors to this region are overwhelmed by the landscape as a whole and by its larger, more striking features. There is far too much to assimilate at one time. Repeat visits are required - sometimes many visits before one becomes gradually aware of myriad smaller, more intricate, less obtrusive details that tend to elude the unpracticed eye."

"I speak from long years of experience. My argument is supported by thousands of scenic photos which reveal definite change (I like to think of it as positive evolution) in my choice of subject matter. For 20 or 30 years I was so preoccupied with macrocosmic esthetics and marvels of earth structure that I hardly glanced at the smaller but more exquisite rock art that abounds throughout the red-rock country: marvelous reliefs, or free-standing, exotic mini-sculptures, or rock textures so beautiful they bring tears to the eyes."

"These small-scale works of natural art have not replaced the landscape in our affections. Rather, they expand our world of appreciation enormously."

Here, Ward refers to some of the rock designs located near his home in Torrey, Utah…

"Some of those designs - many of them - make us cringe with delight. They are so beautiful! Seemingly so purposeful! They defy description. Or, more accurately, what defies description - what is inexpressible - is the idea of esthetic perfection behind the visible symbols cut into the rock. For many of these designs are esthetically perfect, insofar as we are qualified to judge: perfect in form, balance, and harmonious relationship between individual elements. Their spontaneous originality is breathtaking."

"Whereas organic designs, and those created by people, tend to be stereotyped in cases, or formally geometric, or repetitious and stylized, every design carved in rock is an original. In inorganic art there seems to be no duplication or repetition. Line flow and form, in rock, have limitless variations in three dimensions."

"Esthetic perfection in nature, as a concept, is hardly novel. Most people recognize it in flowers, sunsets, mountains, the forms of animal life, etc. So it is not surprising that rock forms also can provide the inspiration of "felt" perfection: for example, the gigantic "temples" of Zion and Capitol Reef...the rock forests of Bryce Canyon...the natural arches of Arches National Park and the Escalante...the spires and flowing rock of The Needles-Salt Creek country."

"I have always found esthetic pleasure in rock art of that type, and not only in form and texture. Colors of the rocks in the Enchanted Wilderness are so marvelous, as at Bryce, or Cedar Breaks, or Capitol Reef, or in The Needles-Salt Creek country, or myriad other places."

Finally…

"The more one looks, the more (magically) there is to see. There can be no end to esthetic discovery in this land, because artistic stimuli are as omnipresent here as they are likely to be anywhere, with respect at least to inorganic art. The landscape here is one of idealized, archetypal forms: an intricate natural mosaic of surprise, expectation, anticipation, and excitement."

"In sum: Unbelievably rich, inexhaustible diversity of form and design is one of the wonders of the Enchanted Wilderness. So, too, is the uniqueness or uncommonness of so many of these forms and designs. And the miracle of how they are perceived in forever-changing, never-the-same aspects, which vary according to time of day, conditions of the sky, seasons and weather. Not least, how marvelous is the dimensional range of natural phenomena from panoramic landscapes to exquisite rock designs of microcosmic size."

All quotes taken from The Enchanted Wilderness - © 1986 Ward J. Roylance

The Ineffable

One of the most important aspects of my life has been the immense honor of seeing some very special areas of southern Utah with Ward Roylance, who knew and appreciated the Red Rock Country of southern Utah better than any other person on Earth. Like many of Ward's friends, we were drawn together by his visionary book The Enchanted Wilderness. This book gives an inspiring and deeply philosophical view of the artistic aspects of Red Rock Country. Ward's lifelong love affair with this region resulted in a deep geological understanding of the landscape's physical qualities, and an acute awareness of its esthetic qualities. His knowledge and appreciation of Red Rock Country came from a life dedicated to a deep rooted passionate love for southern Utah's natural esthetics, which compelled him to explore as much of it as was humanly possible during the time he was here. In addition, Ward's world travels seemed to sharpen his esthetic focus and gave him an even more intense sensitivity to the natural beauty, the "Art in Stone" as he called it, of the land which was his home for most of his life.


The following is the opening chapter from The Enchanted Wilderness. This book documents Ward’s visual awakening to the natural esthetics of Red Rock Country. Through his eyes we are given a new perspective on, and appreciation of, the "Enchanted Wilderness".



For we, which now behold...
Have eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise. 
- Shakespeare

The Ineffable
by Ward J. Roylance

In Nature's infinite book of secrecy
A little I can read.
- Shakespeare

Indescribable or unspeakable: That is the ineffable. The ineffable, by definition, is beyond expression.

What Gloria and I see from the heights of Thousand Lake Mountain and the Aquarius Plateau is, to us, ineffable. It is beyond expression, even comprehension. We look out upon a convoluted jumble of practically every landscape form imaginable - a library of earth history, a museum of nature's surreal art.

There are cliffs and buttes, mountains and mesas, canyons and valleys, domes and pinnacles, rounded slopes and numberless smaller forms, all painted in a rainbow spectrum of glorious hues, sculptured into shapes-designs-patterns that astonish with strange and endless diversity.

We cannot possibly do justice to those vistas in written or spoken words. We cannot even verbalize them to ourselves while looking. Language was not designed for the articulation of mystic profundities, or the conveying of emotional nuances, except in the vaguest way.

How could I describe, for instance, the overwhelming impression of vastness and visual impact - the sensation of being suspended as in a motionless plane, 4,000 feet above the most sublime exhibit of rock esthetics either of us has ever set eyes upon?

Or how could I describe those powerful feelings of immemorial Time engendered by the ruins before us? The inexorable cycles of change and decay these ruins manifest - the inconceivable ages of creation and destruction they represent? The hopelessness we feel about ever possessing more than the merest fragment of knowledge about ancient landscapes that preceded the ones we see: their myriad life forms, the eons of their duration, the endless complexities of geological origins, causes and effects?

As we look out from Thousand Lake Mountain and the Aquarius, impressions so ethereal they cannot be captured in words glide fleetingly through our consciousness. (Can those impressions even be termed thoughts?) They do not require words, they defy words, and they could not be conveyed with words.

Those impressions - those emotions - those convictions of the soul - are ineffable.

". .. a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma," wrote Winston Churchill. He was speaking of the acts of Russia and not the messages of nature, but his words describe, as succinctly as a few words can, how Gloria and I regard the mysteries of the Enchanted Wilderness.

Do we differ from other people in this attitude of reverential awe at nature's works in this land? Surely we do in some respects if not in all. This is a hypnotic place that casts a spell on those who are susceptible. Responses are all a matter of personal, temperamental idiosyncrasy. My emotional reactions and Gloria's are amazingly alike, being flavored by mysticism, resulting from an intimate, long-time, broad-range relationship with the Enchanted Wilderness not common to most people's experience.

Familiarity has not brought contempt or satiation in our case. On the contrary, it has amplified our wonder and strengthened our conviction that what we perceive here in this magical land is only the slightest suggestion of what lies beneath the physical facade, indistinct but not quite hidden, waiting only for each individual to lift the veil according to personal inclination or capability.

I have seen the Enchanted Wilderness with multiple eyes:
I have seen it with the wondering eyes of youth, and with older eyes that marvel still.
I have beheld it as a writer struggling vainly after words;
I have probed it with the camera's eye, seeking essence that eludes.
I examine it as a student of earth and learn it has no counterpart.
I view its mysteries with impassioned love and discover sublimity.
I see it as a vision; it is before me as a dream. Here I touch the ineffable grail.

A mere listing of inspirational viewpoints in the Plateau region would fill pages. What is seen and felt from every one of them lies in the realm of the inexpressible. How do you verbalize Exaltation? Grandeur? The awesome? Eternity before your eyes? Adjectives fail. How do you even hint at the infinite nuances of inorganic art displayed here?

Man's words do not serve well as conveyors of his deepest moods, his sacred thoughts and most-felt inexpressibles. Words are pale verbalizations of emotions that swell when faced with concepts too boundless to understand. What can we do, for example, when confronted with Grand Canyon's cosmic truths? Stand mute, perhaps (that's best), and muse about its nuances of time and immensity.

And how do you articulate boundless Illusion wrought on forms of endless and exotic variety by shifting perspective, moving clouds, the amplifying or muting of light, shadings so mobile they change by the moment?

"Through forms we can explore a world closed to rational thought," said an ancient Egyptian.

What is Real in this bewitched landscape? Are there any natural Absolutes here that can be captured and solidified by the living eye? (By the camera, perhaps, which records a mere moment.) For the thinking person, illusion-reality-absolutes are of more than casual concern in this enchanted land.

We look, Gloria and I. We study and analyze. We photograph. We visit and revisit. No place is ever the same. We see a form or design; in a moment it has changed. As Gloria says:


The Enchanted Wilderness:
A mysterious, changing place;
Never the same,
Tricking our thoughts, touching our inner beings,
Probing our deeper minds;
Giving rise to philosophical whisperings,
Conveying elusive truths that point
To the Ineffable.

In Torrey our south windows look out over a sweeping expanse of fields, toward a horizon formed by the Aquarius Plateau. Great buttress slopes, dark and somber, flow down from precipices ringing the mountain's table crest.

Low mesas and Cockscomb ridge provide middleground accent and perspective. The Cockscomb is a jagged exposure of light-colored Navajo sandstone, upthrust and fractured in some remote age by the Teasdale fault. Though not too remarkable either structurally or esthetically in this region of surpassing earth forms, it is a prominent landmark. When we glimpse it from Fish Lake Pass, 25 miles away, we know we are nearly home.

The Cockscomb is meaningful to us as a symbol. It represents immutable reality and permanence on the one hand, unreality and illusion on the other. In miniature it typifies those qualities as they are found throughout the Plateau region.

Several years ago I began photographing the Cockscomb at different times of day and seasons of the year, under varied weather and lighting conditions. Eventually I compared 20 or 30 of those photos.
The results were fascinating. Every picture showed a radically different Cockscomb! Which was the "real" Cockscomb? All were real, of course; and all were illusions in the sense that they never appeared the same.

Viewing from any fixed point affords only a tantalizing intimation of all the mystical qualities of this strange land. Awesome and inspiring as they may be, landscapes seen in overview are only grand mosaics - or they might be likened to the collective exhibits of a great museum of art as seen from a distance. The encompassing whole is marvelous; separate elements of the grand display, however, are indistinct. In the Enchanted Wilderness, as in a museum or with a great mural, stand-back viewing should be accompanied by close inspection for ultimate appreciation.

Most first time visitors to this region are overwhelmed by the landscape as a whole and by its larger, more striking features. There is far too much to assimilate at one time. Repeat visits are required - sometimes many visits before one becomes gradually aware of myriad smaller, more intricate, less obtrusive details that tend to elude the unpracticed eye.

I speak from long years of experience. My argument is supported by thousands of scenic photos
which reveal definite change (I like to think of it as positive evolution) in my choice of subject matter. For 20 or 30 years I was so preoccupied with macrocosmic esthetics and marvels of earth structure that I hardly glanced at the smaller but more exquisite rock art that abounds throughout the red-rock country: marvelous reliefs, or free-standing, exotic mini-sculptures, or rock textures so beautiful they bring tears to the eyes.

These small-scale works of natural art have not replaced the landscape in our affections. Rather, they expand our world of appreciation enormously.

Near Torrey, for example, is an expanse of chocolate-colored, multi-layered sedimentary rock known as the Moenkopi formation. The area is extremely rugged, a fact not too apparent from a distance. It is, in truth, a labyrinth of steep-walled canyons, shallow in their upper ends, dropping off rapidly in sharp ledges to gorges that are hundreds of feet deep. Here is the epitome of ruin. Broken sandstone is everywhere, but those rocks create a fairyland of erosional artistry beyond description.

Gloria and I have spent hundreds of hours in that weird land, hiking along the shattered rims and ledges, marveling at the wonderful designs that never exhaust the possibilities of surface and profile sculpturing. Worlds of art are here, worlds never dreamed by human mind, fantasies created from molecules by water and wind.

Some of those designs - many of them - make us cringe with delight. They are so beautiful! Seemingly so purposeful! They defy description. Or, more accurately, what defies description - what is inexpressible - is the idea of esthetic perfection behind the visible symbols cut into the rock. For many of these designs are esthetically perfect, insofar as we are qualified to judge: perfect in form, balance, and harmonious relationship between individual elements. Their spontaneous originality is breathtaking.

Whereas organic designs, and those created by people, tend to be stereotyped in cases, or formally geometric, or repetitious and stylized, every design carved in rock is an original. In inorganic art there seems to be no duplication or repetition. Line flow and form, in rock, have limitless variations in three dimensions.

Esthetic perfection in nature, as a concept, is hardly novel. Most people recognize it in flowers, sunsets, mountains, the forms of animal life, etc. So it is not surprising that rock forms also can provide the inspiration of "felt" perfection: for example, the gigantic "temples" of Zion and Capitol Reef...the rock forests of Bryce Canyon...the natural arches of Arches National Park and the Escalante...the spires and flowing rock of The Needles-Salt Creek country.

I have always found esthetic pleasure in rock art of that type, and not only in form and texture. Colors of the rocks in the Enchanted Wilderness are so marvelous, as at Bryce, or Cedar Breaks, or Capitol Reef, or in The Needles-Salt Creek country, or myriad other places.

Trying to describe erosional forms is very difficult for me. Particularly difficult to describe are intricately detailed sculptures, such as those at Bryce and Cathedral Valley, which are carved from layered rocks of varying thickness and differing resistance to erosion. In my personal lexicon, such forms represent the ineffable.

So, too, do some of the great dome-buttes of Zion and Capitol Reef and the San Rafael Swell. I am not capable of imagining designs more emotionally satisfying than those which nature has provided in the red-rock country (speaking here of inorganic designs), Oh, some purposeful touching-up and rounding-off of rough edges might be beneficial, but no major restructuring would be required to satisfy my esthetic standards.
On the subject of arches: Since we have begun focusing from the large to the small, Gloria and I have discovered a fantastic microcosmic world of "openings" that surpass in complexity of design their larger counterparts.

Even Delicate and Grosvenor arches - artistic masterpieces as they are - cannot compare in this way with literally countless small carvings on rock faces of the Enchanted Wilderness. These miniature creations display every conceivable variation of arch and window forms, combined with exquisite pillars, domes, alcoves, grottoes, pilasters and other architectural elements.

This type of mini-sculpturing occurs in many of the Plateau's rock layers, particularly on canyon walls where water has flowed at one time or another. Rock surfaces of the Capitol Reef area, for example, display countless exhibits of that nature; also North Wash between Hanksville and Lake Powell ...the Circle Cliffs...Factory Bench. The list of sites could be lengthened indefinitely. We have personal knowledge of only a few.

Gloria and I are intrigued at the moment by rock-surface designs of the San Rafael and Morrison rock groups, which include the Carmel, Entrada, Curtis, Summerville, Salt Wash and Brushy Basin sandstones, mudstones and shales.

Being relatively youthful, these rocks are fairly soft. They erode easily, and they have been carved into an astonishing variety of shapes and textures ranging from very small to very large.
For example, the giant temple-buttes of Cathedral Valley and South Desert are products of those rocks, or several of them in combination. So are the many miles of sculptured cliff faces in that region. Those cliff faces, and the buttes themselves, flaunt an endlessly variegated display of relief and freestanding carvings that leave one speechless with admiration. If any exhibit of rock esthetics can be termed "ineffable", this region's can.

I could go on, listing and describing points and places in the Enchanted Wilderness that display natural artistry approaching what Gloria and I consider the esthetic ideal.
An important point I have tried to make here is that there is artistry in the Plateau region sufficient to satisfy anybody with artistic sensitivity - if not of this generation, then surely in future years.

The more one looks, the more (magically) there is to see. There can be no end to esthetic discovery in this land, because artistic stimuli are as omnipresent here as they are likely to be anywhere, with respect at least to inorganic art. The landscape here is one of idealized, archetypal forms: an intricate natural mosaic of surprise, expectation, anticipation, and excitement.

In sum: Unbelievably rich, inexhaustible diversity of form and design is one of the wonders of the Enchanted Wilderness. So, too, is the uniqueness or uncommonness of so many of these forms and designs. And the miracle of how they are perceived in forever-changing, never-the-same aspects, which vary according to time of day, conditions of the sky, seasons and weather. Not least, how marvelous is the dimensional range of natural phenomena from panoramic landscapes to exquisite rock designs of microcosmic size.

Emotions overflow when I attempt, so feebly, to describe the Plateau as I know and feel it. After 40-odd years it is more wonderful to me than ever. Gloria and I cannot comprehend it, and know we never will. It conveys its multiple messages in complex cryptography, decipherable only by those who know the codes. Some of those codes we have mastered. Other people have succeeded where we have failed. But there are inexpressible messages yet waiting to be read. Of that we are convinced.

All text taken from The Enchanted Wilderness - (c) 1986 Ward J. Roylance

Sightings in the Desert

In the spring of 1999 my friend Roger from Fort Collins, Colorado, came to Moab for a visit.  Roger and I had been friends for several years and had done some amazing hiking together, including a backpacking expedition into the remote backcountry of Canyonlands National Park.  On this particular trip we planned to do a hike into Little Wild Horse Canyon, a slot canyon located in the San Rafael Swell not too far from Goblin Valley State Park.

Rhonda and I had enjoyed rock hounding for years in the San Rafael Swell, so when I mentioned that Roger was coming out for a visit to hike in Little Wild Horse Canyon, she suggested coming along and being dropped off in the Swell for a few hours of rock hounding.   The hike would only take a couple of hours, and Little Wild Horse Canyon was about a 30 minute drive from one of our favorite rock hounding locations.

The area where we dropped Rhonda off for a "few hours".
With our exciting day completely planned, Rhonda, Roger and I headed out on a beautiful spring morning.  It was great to see Roger again, and we all had stayed up quite late the night before catching up on everything that had happened since Rhonda and I moved away from Fort Collins over a year ago.  After dropping Rhonda off at her favorite rock hounding spot, Roger and I headed south toward Little Wild Horse Canyon while we continued to catch up on old times.

We turned off the main highway and bounced down the rough road heading toward Little Wild Horse Canyon.  After about 10 minutes we were surprised to see a flatbed truck parked along the side of the road with something unusual in its bed.  I slowed down to take a look at the strange cargo which, much to our astonishment, resembled a spaceship!   Now, it is interesting to note that I have an aerospace engineering degree.  I fully understand the technology that took us to the moon and I have witnessed a Space Shuttle launch from closer than most other people on the planet.  I live by the scientific method, and I have a logical explanation for just about every unusual experience that I have ever encountered.  Yet here before me, in the middle of the desert, was an object that appeared to be some sort of bizarre flying machine.  Yes, it looked like some sort of spaceship, sleek and futuristic looking, yet it also looked completely implausible – small and rather cheesy looking.  I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of it, but I knew one thing – I had 2 hours to get my friend Roger into the narrows of Little Wild Horse so that he could experience the intense beauty of one of the premier hiking spots in southern Utah.  We reluctantly moved on.

Roger and I continued down the long bumpy road to Little Wild Horse Canyon.  In 1999 the road was quite rough, we drove through deep sand and over rocky patches as we made our way to the trailhead.  After parking and getting our hiking gear together, Roger and I headed down the wash that led to the mouth of Little Wild Horse Canyon.

Click on the map for look at the
2 possible hiking routes
There are a couple of ways to hike Little Wild Horse Canyon.  The quickest way is to simply down a long wash from the trailhead and enter the mouth of little Wild Horse Canyon.  After another half mile we would reach the narrows.  For the next couple of miles we would experience the beauty of sculpted canyon walls, with new and breathtaking views around every turn.  After completing the narrows we could turn around and return to the trailhead, a hike of about 4.5 miles that takes no more than 2 hours.

The other way to hike Little Wild Horse is to travel the entire length of the canyon, exit the back of the reef, and return via an adjacent canyon named Bell Canyon.  Viewed from above, this entire hike takes the shape of a triangle so it makes a great loop hike.  It is a beautiful hike, but about 9 miles in total length.  Due to some rough sections it normally takes at least 5-6 hours to complete.  Due to our limited amount of time, Roger and I decided to take the shorter route.   Two hours was the amount of time that we had promised Rhonda and I was determined to adhere to it.

Roger and I share a great love of the outdoors, so being able to share a hike into such a beautiful canyon with him was a total blast.  Since we were still catching up, we continued to talk incessantly, spending more time listening to each other than to the terrain through which we were hiking.

After about an hour it occurred to me it was taking much longer to reach the narrows than expected. We should have been in the narrows 30 minutes ago.  I looked around and noticed that the canyon was widening instead of narrowing.  It finally occurred to me that we had made a mistake and accidentally hiked into Bell Canyon instead of Little Wild Horse.  Our options were limited, we could either turn around and hike back for about a half hour, or continue on and do the loop hike of nine miles.   Being the guys that we were, we decided to hike forward at a greatly accelerated pace.

Roger makes record time in Bell Canyon.

Roger in Little Wild Horse Canyon.

Flooded sections slow us down.

Rugged terrain slows us down.
We literally flew through Bell Canyon.  It was a breeze to hike quickly though this wide open canyon.  In no time at all we reached the end of it and headed north.  Within a half hour we reached Little Wild Horse and headed into it.  Because of some recent rain we soon encountered some deep pools, many of them knee deep.  Little Wild Horse also has some steep sections that require careful rock scrambling to navigate.  Although we hiked the canyon in record time, it still took us over 2 hours to hike the length of Little Wild Horse.  By the time got back to the trailhead we had already taken nearly 4 hours.   Rhonda would no doubt be upset, but surely she would understand our predicament.  We would only be a couple of  hours late.

As we headed back down the long bumpy road toward the highway we spotted another strange event, the “spaceship” that Roger and I had saw the back of the flatbed truck was now suspended from a helicopter and was headed out over Goblin Valley State Park!  What the heck?!?  Come on, who could resist the temptation to see what this is all about?  My wife was already going to be angry with us, so what harm would a few more minutes be?

We arrived at Goblin Valley just as the spaceship was being lowered onto the valley floor.  After some inquiries it didn’t take long to discover what was going on.  A portion of the science fiction movie Galaxy Quest was being filmed there, and the spaceship that we saw was an important prop for it.  Up on the rim of the valley we saw numerous trailers for the cast and crew.  (We later learned that the movie starred Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub & Sam Rockwell.) Much to our surprise, we were still allowed to hike into the valley.  We were also amazed to discover that we were the only people in the valley!  Who on this Earth could pass up that opportunity?!?

Roger and I headed down into Goblin Valley.  Unfortunately the spaceship wasn’t near the front of the valley, it was toward the back.  After about 30 minutes we arrived at the spaceship.  It was awesome looking.  Sure it was a Hollywood prop, but it looked pretty darn cool, with a charred exterior that looked as if it had entered the Earth’s atmosphere in a fiery blaze.  Like a couple of school kids we scurried around the craft and took pictures of each other posing next to it.  What an incredible experience this was, being on the set of a science fiction movie!  After about 20 minutes we decided that we’d better head back.  We were already 3 hours late for our rendezvous with Rhonda, but surely she would understand.  At least, that’s the way a couple of clueless guys looked at the situation.

Galaxy Quest Shuttle Pod

Me
Roger
We made our way back to the highway and headed north.  Driving 25 miles per hour over the speed limit I thought that perhaps I could make up the 3-4 hours that we were late.  After what seemed to be an eternity I turned onto the dirt road where we had left Rhonda.  Within 15 minutes I finally spotted her, backpack slung over her shoulder as she walked along the road.  I couldn’t wait to tell her about everything that happened to us!

Arriving at her side a mere 4 hours late we were greeted with a strange expression that I had never seen before.   I stuck my head out the window and said “Hi honey!”

Rhonda hurtled her backpack into the bed of the truck and firmly exclaimed, “Turn around!”  Roger and I exchanged clueless male expressions as I turned the truck around.  In a manner completely out of character for Rhonda she climbed into the bed of the truck and yelled, “Drive!”   If you know Rhonda you would know that she would never ride in the open bed of the truck, at least up until that point of her life.  There was only one thing that would cause such an incredible deviance from her normal behavior and that was anger.  When we reached the highway I got out of the truck to coax her back into the vehicle.

“You guys are four hours late!” exclaimed Rhonda.   “I thought something happened to you!  What were you thinking?”

My response was a line that, in many ways, I had waited my entire life to use.  The extraordinary circumstances that Roger and I just experienced had led to this point, and my pulse quicken when I finally realized the exact words I was about to say.  As I stood there surround by hundreds of miles of the most incredible desert wilderness that anyone could imagine, I uttered the greatest sentence of my entire life.  It was intensified by the fact that every word of it was the absolute truth…

“But Honey, we saw a spaceship!”

Rhonda shook her head and got into the truck.  Luckily, it was a 90 minute drive back to our home in Moab.  It took us just about that entire amount of time to convince her of what had happened, but in the end we had some memories that would last a lifetime, memories that well up every time we watch the movie Galaxy Quest together.

As of this writing (2010) I haven't
abandoned Rhonda in the desert...

...again.
Following Galaxy Quest images courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures...









Excerpts from John Van Dyke's "The Desert"

John Van Dyke was a professor of Art History at Rutgers University. In the summer of 1898 he ventured into the desert for nearly three years to address the esthetic qualities of what he saw. The author of several well-received books on art theory, and one accustomed to spending vast lengths of time in the great galleries of Europe, he was the friend of many of the great artists of his time. Equally as interesting was the fact that the asthmatic forty-two-year-old, who was in rather poor health, headed out into one of the most inhospitable regions of our country accompanied only by his fox terrier and the pony upon which he rode. He brought along less than 50 pounds of supplies which included a rifle, pistol, hatchet, shovel, blankets, tin pans and cups, dried food and one gallon of water. (Today I see folks carrying more than that for a weekend backpacking trip!)

Although his wanderings took him into the Sonoran Desert, many of his impressions relate quite well to the Great Basin Desert, and particularly to the Red Rock Country of the Colorado Plateau. His acute visual perceptions of the desert environment stem from his life’s work concerning art theory and visual perception. His eloquent use of language serves as the perfect vehicle for conveying the mesmerizing beauty of the desert.

When Van Dyke entered the desert for the first time he beheld one of the grandest displays of art he had ever imagined. Like many other who have experienced the wonder of this extraordinary land, he struggled to convey in words the grandeur of the desert. In my opinion, he succeeded rather well. It’s pretty clear that Van Dyke had an intense and passionate love affair with the desert’s beauty.

His book, The Desert, is a classic account of desert esthetics. First published in 1901 it has been widely acclaimed by noted authors such as Edward Abbey and Joseph Krutch. Below are a few of my favorite excerpts. If you enjoy this small sample of his work, you will love the rest of the book.

Selected Excerpts

"This is a land of illusions and thin air. The vision is so cleared at times that the truth itself is deceptive."


"The waste places of the earth, the barren deserts, the tracts forsaken of men and given over to loneliness, have a peculiar attraction of their own. The weird solitude, the great silence, the grim desolation, are the very things with which every desert wanderer eventually falls in love."


"It is stern, harsh, and at first repellent. But what tongue shall tell the majesty of it, the eternal strength of it, the poetry of its wide-spread chaos, the sublimity of it's lonely desolation! And who shall paint the splendor of its light; and from the rising up of the sun to the going down of the moon over the iron mountains, the glory of its wondrous coloring! It is a gaunt land of splintered peaks, torn valleys, and hot skies."


"The desert mountains gathered in clusters along the waste, how old and wrinkled, how set and determined they look! Somehow they remind you of a clinched hand with the knuckles turned skyward. They have strength and bulk, the suggestion of quiescent force. Barren rock and nothing more; but what could better epitomize power! The heave of the enormous ridge, the loom of the domes top, the bulk and body of the whole are colossal."


"And there you have the most decorative landscape in the world, a landscape all color, a dream landscape. Painters for years have been trying to put it upon canvas - this landscape of color, light, and air, with form almost obliterated, merely suggested, given only as a hint of the mysterious. Men like Corot and Monet have told us, again and again, that in painting, clearly delineated forms of mountains, valleys, trees, and rivers, kill the fine color-sentiment of the picture. The great struggle of the modern landscapist is to get on with the least possible form and to suggest everything by tones of color, shades of light, drifts of air. Why? Because these are the most sensuous qualities in nature and in art. The landscape that is the simplest in form and the finest in color is by all odds the most beautiful."


"Are they beautiful these plants and shrubs of the desert? Now just what do you mean by that word 'beautiful'? Do you mean something of regular form, something smooth and pretty? Are you dragging into nature some remembrances of classic art; and are you looking for the Dionysius face, the Doryphorus form, among these trees and bushes? If so the desert will not furnish you too much of beauty. But if you mean something that has a distinct character, something appropriate to its setting, something admirably fitted to a designed end (as in art the preasante of Millet or burghers of Rembrandt and Rodin), then the desert will show forth much that people nowadays are beginning to think beautiful. Mind you, perfect form and perfect color are not to be despised; neither shall you despise perfect fitness and perfect character."


"Nature never designed more fascinating country to ride over than these plains and mesas lying up and back from the desert basin. You may be alone without necessarily being lonesome. And everyone rides here with the feeling that he is the first one that ever broke into this unknown land, that he is the original discover; and that this new world belongs to him by right of original exploration and conquest. Life becomes simplified by necessity. It begins all over again, starting at the primitive stage. The is a reversion to the savage. Civilization, the race, history, philosophy, art - how very far away and how very useless, even contemptible, they seem. What have they to do with the air and the sunlight and the vastness of the plateau! Nature and her gift of buoyant life are overpowering. The joy of mere animal existence, the feeling that it is good to be alive and face to face with Nature's self, drives everything else into the background."


"The Canyon country is well named, for it has plenty of wash outs and gorges. Almost anywhere among the mountain ranges you can find them - not Grand Canyons, to be sure, but ones of size sufficient to be impressive without being stupendous. Walls of upright rock several hundred feet in height have enough bulk and body about them to impress anyone. The mass is really overpowering. It is but the crust of the earth exposed to view; but the gorge at Niagara and the looming shaft of the Matterhorn are not more. The imagination strains at such magnitude. And all the accessories of the gorge and canyon have a might to them that adds to the general effect. The sheer precipices, the leaning towers, the pinnacles and shafts, the recesses and caves, the huge basins rounded out of rock by the waterfalls are all touched by the majesty of the sublime."


"In sublimity - the superlative degree of beauty - what land can equal the desert with its wide plains, its grim mountains, and its expanding canopy of sky! You shall never see elsewhere as here the dome, the pinnacle, the minaret fretted with golden fire at sunrise and sunset; you shall never see elsewhere as here the sunset valleys swimming in a pink and lilac haze, the great mesas and plateaus fading into blue distance, the gorges and canyons banked full of purple shadow. Never again shall you see such light and air and color; never such opaline mirage, such rosy dawn, such fiery twilight. And wherever you go, by land or by sea, you shall not forget that which you saw not but rather felt - the desolation and the silence of the desert."

"Look out from the mountain's edge once more. A dusk is gathering on the desert's face, and over the eastern horizon the purple shadow of the world is reaching up to the sky. The light is fading out. Plain and mesa are blurring into unknown distances, and mountain ranges are looming dimly into unknown heights. Warm drifts of lilac-blue are drawn like mists across the valleys; the yellow sands have shifted into a pallid gray. The glory of the wilderness has gone down with the sun. Mystery - that haunting sense of the unknown - is all that remains. It is time that we should say good-night - perhaps a long good-night - to the desert."