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.


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."


"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


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