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Canyonlands: 'a lovely and terrible wilderness . . . harshly and beautifully colored'

By David F. Salisbury / April 1, 1982



Canyonlands National Park, Utah

''It is a lovely and terrible wilderness . . . harshly and beautifully colored, broken and worn until its bones are exposed, its great sky without a smudge or taint from Technocracy, and in hidden corners and pockets under its cliffs the sudden poetry of springs.''

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So poet Wallace Stegner described the canyon country here at the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers in 1969.

Now those who have come to the Canyonlands National Park area because of the park have begun organizing opposition to a proposed nuclear waste repository.

''It's blasphemy to even talk of putting a nuclear waste dump here, in one of the most pristine areas left in the nation,'' says Bill Hedden, a cabinetmaker and environmental consultant here.

According to Tom Wylie in the Moab office of the Park Service, the Department of Energy has moved to a site tucked behind South Six-Shooter Peak. But its plans include a railroad spur running along the park boundaries from Moab to the site. This would be clearly visible from the major overlooks in the park. Also, exploratory work would make intrusive noise that could be heard for miles. ''Most people come here for the scenery and the solitude,'' says Mr. Wylie, ''and this would adversely impact both.''

''Canyonlands is a national 'gem,' '' argues Russell D. Butcher of the National Parks and Conservation Association, a nonprofit group founded 62 years ago to help protect and promote public understanding of the national park system. ''Like a gem, it must have a suitable setting. (The repository) would have a tremendous, detrimental effect on what is surely one of the grandest entrances to a national park.''