Although the area of Canyonlands National Park enthralled many visitors for years before the creation of a national park there, the road to becoming federally protected land took many years, controversies, and compromises.

Situated about 40 minutes from Moab, Utah, Canyonlands National Park is the largest and most remote of all the National Parks in the state. Covering 337,589 acres, the park is split into three major districts by the Colorado and Green rivers known as the Islands in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze. The Park is also famous for being the location where the two rivers meet, and home to many ruins and artifacts from ancient peoples who lived there thousands of years ago. Despite the area of the park being famous for its natural wonders, the creation of the park was a long and arduous process that included many controversies and compromises.

Serious consideration for creating the area into a National Park grew in the early 1960s after the election of President John F. Kennedy and his appointment of Stewart Udall as Secretary of the Interior. Udall believed heavily in conservation and was enthralled by the beauty of the area when he visited in 1961. Recruiting Utah Senator Frank Moss as an ally for the project, the two set out to preserve the Canyonlands area as a National Park. Immediately, Udall and Moss ran into opposition from other local legislators including Utah Senator Wallace Bennett. While Bennett was not completely opposed to the idea of a National Park in the Canyonlands region, he wanted a much smaller protected area in order to keep most of the region open for commercial use. Bennett thought that much of the area was better suited for mining, drilling, and grazing.

Senators Moss and Bennett fought for a few years before a final proposal was sent to the United States Congress in 1964. This proposal included most of the area that Moss and Udall wanted to have protected, but removed a portion from the north side of the park for commercial developments at the wish of Bennett and other local people. Moss continued to fight to protect more of the land around Canyonlands for the rest of his tenure as senator in Utah and is a large reason that the park is enjoyed by thousands today.

Images

View of Shafer Trail
View of Shafer Trail The Shafer Trail is part of the Island in the Sky district in Canyonlands National Park. Source: NPS/Collin Gilmore. Courtesy of National Parks Service, https://www.nps.gov/media/photo/gallery-item.htm?pg=6047465&id=4f75f098-0f7d-45ed-9550-5f71be0daafe&gid=1196DD4A-E02E-43E6-9B25-539D2477542A.
Portrait of Utah senator Frank E Moss
Portrait of Utah senator Frank E Moss Source:

Courtesy of U.S. Senate Historical Office. https://www.congress.gov/member/frank-moss/M001033

Portrait of Utah senator Wallace Foster Bennett.
Portrait of Utah senator Wallace Foster Bennett. Source: Courtesy of U.S. Senate Historical Office https://bioguide.congress.gov/search/bio/B000384
View of Chesler Park.
View of Chesler Park. Chesler park is part of the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park. Source: Courtesy of National Parks Service, https://www.nps.gov/media/photo/gallery-item.htm?pg=6047465&id=4f75f098-0f7d-45ed-9550-5f71be0daafe&gid=1196DD4A-E02E-43E6-9B25-539D2477542A. 

Location

Metadata

Allie Castañeda and Forrest Filetti, Brigham Young University , “The Creation of Canyonlands National Park,” Intermountain Histories, accessed June 23, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/647.