National Geographic : 1971 Jul
Canyonlands, Realm of Rock and the Far Horizon I was in a rock world, and I knew from an earlier visit with Dr. William Lee Stokes, Pro fessor of Geology at the University of Utah, that it was virtually all sandstone. "Even the Arabian Peninsula can't match this country for quantity of sand, though most of it here is stabilized in stone," Dr. Stokes said. "Winds and rains dump the loose sand into canyons, and the rivers carry it downstream, keeping this basin from becoming a mass of dunes." His geological imagery kept coming back to me, and now in Horse Canyon I suddenly saw the monolithic sandstone all around me as separate bits, attached to each other, grain by grain, in the time frame of the infinite. Through the day Tugboat straggled far back, cropping the Indian ricegrass and over taking us now and then at a clanging trot. "Good old Tugboat," said A. C. "Nothing spooks him. That's why he carries the pots and pans." But when it came time to camp, and the other horses were glad to shed packs in a grove of cottonwoods, Tugboat rattle-banged around in wide circles. At last A. C., on steady Senator Dan, lassoed Tugboat, showing us a bit of the roping style that helped win him the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association title of All-Around Cowboy in 1967. Soon Bates Wilson, Superintendent of Can yonlands Park and volunteer chef for our trek, was digging a fire pit, while his wife Robin unpacked the pots and pans and cousin Aus tin King gathered dry juniper bark for tinder. We feasted on steak as the last sunlight fled a high pillar of cloud. Pictographs Reflect a Lost Way of Life Next dawn my GEOGRAPHIC colleague "Toppy" Edwards had his photographic gear packed for an early start to the pictographs. While the others broke camp, he and I rode ahead up a winding chasm, entertained by the cadenzas of canyon wrens. Just when I was convinced we had taken a wrong turn, we rounded a bend and faced the huge picto graphs on a sandstone wall. In ancient inks of brown and ocher and black and white, an army of figures, some with shieldlike bodies, stood in ghostly array. There were desert sheep, flitting birds, and scurrying rodentlike animals. But taking the eye from all other figures was a six-foot man with raised right hand, one finger giving root to a graceful tree, full as a spring-fed cottonwood. A tree of life? "Nobody knows for sure," Bates told me as our party overtook us. "But these artists had imagination-and an eye for realism. Look." His finger outlined a crouching figure on the stone, holding a pair of sticks (page 83, lower), and a similar figure nearby, wielding a sickle. From a talk I'd had earlier with Dr. Dean R. Brimhall, retired professor and gov ernment official-turned-archeologist, I knew the significance: These were the Maze's famed harvesters-the reaper with the sickle, the seed beater with the sticks-pictorial proof of prehistoric gathering of wild grain in the area. This picture gallery, together with a panel of towering figures in Horseshoe Can yon, 20 miles to the northwest (pages 82-83), would become part of Canyonlands Park under a bill before Congress. Legend Clouds the Cassidy Saga Almost everywhere I went in southeast Utah, I crossed the tracks of Butch Cassidy, rustler of cattle, blaster of railway express cars, bad gambler, and good guy. How he managed to fill all these roles is part fact, part legend, and laced through with a spirit of fun that tends to obscure the wrong that he did. Not even Art Ekker, whose Robbers Roost Ranch is named for the fact that it encloses Butch's former hideout, could filter out the fiction for me. As he put it, "The hot-air mer chants got too much of a head start." On our way to the Maze, Art detoured us to Robbers Roost Draw, a red-rock ravine with a slow-dripping spring where Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch hid out. Butch was born Robert LeRoy Parker in 1866 into a respected Mormon family, and grew up on a ranch near Circleville, Utah. But as a teen-ager he found his hero in a hell-bent cowboy called Mike Cassidy, who taught him a fast draw and how to rustle cattle. One night Mike left-some say to Mexico to avoid a jail cell-but Bob had found his life-style and a new last name. He picked up the "Butch" elsewhere along the way. The law in southeastern Utah had shallow roots in those days, and in the Robbers Roost country it had no roots at all. Zealous sheriffs hounded many a man into this redoubt of desperadoes. Elzy Lay, Silvertip, the Sun dance Kid, and the murderous Kid Curry all funneled here, and gradually they learned to let Butch mastermind their crimes.