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The Book Cliffs of Utah

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Your Wilderness - September 2013

To say the Book Cliffs mountain range “unfolds” over 200 miles between Utah’s Price Canyon and Colorado’s Grand Valley is inexact. Rather, the bluffs and basins bend around and against themselves, revealing steep ravines and canyons cut by rivers long ago. These furrows mark the southern and western edge of the Tavaputs Plateau and offer surroundings as diverse as the slick rock common in southern Utah to high alpine forests teeming with aspens, Douglas firs, and ponderosa pines—thanks to elevations that range from 4,500 to 8,000 feet and offer views as far south as the La Sal Mountains.

This enormous and diverse habitat—along with the area’s roadless nature—makes the Book Cliffs a haven for wildlife and a premier hunting destination. It’s not difficult to spot mule deer, elk, black bears, and numerous hawks, reptiles, and small mammals across the Book Cliffs, and the region is also home to coyotes, mountain lions, pronghorns, American bison, sage grouse, and the protected Mexican spotted owl and Colorado River cutthroat trout.

In 1869, explorer John Wesley Powell made his way down the Green River, traveling through the Book Cliffs’ remarkable Desolation Canyon. Today, Desolation Canyon is a national historic landmark and remains a premier destination for float trips and for the unique scenery and solitude it offers. (At one point the canyon is more than a mile deep.) Hiking trails provide the opportunity to leave the river and explore historically and culturally significant sites in the area.

About 70 percent of the Book Cliffs area is administered by the U.S. Interior Department under the Bureau of Land Management. The remaining acreage is managed by private owners, the State of Utah, and the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration. The land is abutted to the west by the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation. A number of spectacular roadless areas—namely Desolation Canyon and Winter Ridge—exist within the Book Cliffs and offer recreational retreats for hunting and Green River rafting trips.

Because of the various resource interests in the Book Cliffs and other parts of eastern Utah, a process has recently been initiated by Utah Representatives Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz to address and balance these numerous interests. Diverse stakeholders are participating in a good faith effort to resolve conflicts that have long troubled Utah public land users. The Pew Charitable Trusts is engaged in this process and will work toward a solution that honors the ecological diversity, economic viability of local communities, and rich tribal culture of Utah’s special places, including the Book Cliffs area.

 

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