"I came here last year and found these canyons, and they felt like the heart of the world to me," John Otto wrote in 1907. "I'm going to stay and promote this place because it should be a national park." Otto lived alone out in the wild and desolate canyon country southwest of Grand Junction, Colo., and he loved the land so much that he campaigned tirelessly for it to be set aside as a national park.
That was his dream and it came true in 1911.
My dream is to visit every national park and national monument in the United States and I set a goal to see 10 new ones every year. This past weekend I completed the 10 for 2004 and am already excited about plans for next year to visit at least that many. This past weekend I traveled to western Colorado and spent a day at the Colorado National Monument ear Grand Junction and another day at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
This year I have traveled extensively to New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and California to get a glimpse of some of the most incredible national parks in the country. It's not just the beauty that touches my heart, it's the history and the mystery that unfolds as I hike and photograph the parks.
The two parks this past weekend didn't have as much history, such as the ruins that tell the story of the ancients in Northern New Mexico and Arizona, but the vastness and beauty of the canyons was a powerful experience.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison has been a mighty barrier to humans from time immemorial. Only the rims, never the gorge, show evidence of human occupation, not even by Ute Indians living in the area since written history began. No early Spanish explorers to the Southwest reported seeing the canyon. The expedition led by Capt. John W. Gunnison, whose name was given to the river, bypassed the gorge in its search for a river crossing.
The canyon is so deep, so sheer and so narrow that very little sunlight can penetrate it. The first known person to float the river was Abraham Lincoln Fellows, who in 1901, spent nine days on the river in a rubber raft. He said this about the canyon, "Our surroundings were of the wildest possible description. The roar of the water was constantly in our ears, and the walls of the canyon, towering half mile in height above us, were seemingly vertical. Occasionally a rock would fall from one side or the other, with a roar and crash, exploding like a ton of dynamite when it struck bottom making us think our last day had come."
It was proclaimed a national monument in 1933 and made a national park in 1999. The park now contains 14 miles of the canyon's total 48-mile length.
The Colorado National Monument near Fruita, Colo., preserves one of the grand landscapes of the American West. Bold, big and brilliantly colored, especially this time of year, this plateau and canyon country, with its towering masses of naturally sculpted rock embraces 32 square miles of rugged, up-and-down terrain. In many ways it resembles the red canyons of southern Utah. I spent a lot of quiet time at this special place, giving me time to contemplate glorious views that stretch to distant horizons. It was sitting their on the rocks that I discovered the solitude found in the national parks.
This is wild country, home of bighorn sheet and gold eagles. Like all the national parks I have traveled through it takes me back in time, usually to a high place or a low canyon where I can reflect the meaning of life for me.
The are no magic answers in this life, yet there are glimpses of the future. I find these places from time to time in the beauty of our National Parks and Monuments. I can sit back and get lost in the geological wonders reflecting my past and clearly see how the mistakes of yesterday can be the answers for tomorrow. There are many times on these special trips that I can reflect and walk through the struggles or challenges of today. It is here that I get my hope and inspiration to keep trying and keep moving forward.