06/21/2013 12:39 pm ET Updated Aug 21, 2013

A Red Rock Ramble: Protecting the Canyonlands

Last week, as I was pulling into Dead Horse State Park 2000 feet above the Colorado River - and just north of Canyonlands National Park - I remembered the last time I was in Canyonlands.  Fifteen years ago, my wife and I took a four-day canoe trip, paddling 66 winding river miles from Moab to the confluence of the Green And Colorado rivers, past ancient petroglyphs, agile bighorn sheep, and sheer sandstone walls.

This time at the park, I had driven down from Salt Lake City with Sierra Club Utahns. We were greeted at the group campsite by some Moab Sierra Club hosts and Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, his wife Mary, and their three children, Olivia, who is eight-years-old, Sebastian who is four-years-old, and Genevieve, who is eight-months-old (follow along with the Brune Family Road Trip right here). 

After pitching our tents, we all headed out to Dead Horse Point overlook. A panorama stretched hundreds of miles in front of us, red rock formations, river, mountains and sagebrush...and two enormous potash salt ponds! Potash is a substance that is pumped up from deep in the ground and processed to be a dry powder to add to fertilizer. I learned that more than 200 new applications for potash threaten the Canyonlands area, the very area that the Sierra Club and other groups are pushing to permanently protect as a National Monument.

Returning to camp, the sky darkened and stars appeared overhead with a thin crescent moon hovering over the horizon. Yet also on the horizon were giant flares of natural gas from oil drilling operations.

These flares flamed the whole two days we were at camp, burning off natural gas as a waste product of oil drilling, spewing chemicals and carbon pollution into the otherwise pristine air.

Flying over the area, courtesy of Bruce Gordon with Ecoflight, we saw one of the most unique natural areas in the world at the precipice of being converted to an industrial site for dirty fuels and potash. It was a disturbing glimpse into a possible future for Canyonlands -- will our nation stand by and let this natural treasure be converted into a Mad Max apocalypse?

That evening, we joined a lively and optimistic gathering of dedicated and smart conservationists from Moab and around the Southwest back at camp. We also spent time with John Davis, who was passing through the area on an epic 5,000 mile muscle-powered trek from Mexico to Canada to highlight the importance of connected natural areas and the role a potential Canyonlands National Monument could play in creating a protected wild pathway from Mexico to the Greater Yellowstone area.

As I left Utah, I am confident that harnessing the power of the Sierra Club with the passion and local knowledge of the great people will create a vibrant future for Greater Canyonlands. Now is the time for those who manage our federal public lands to prioritize protecting the recreational, cultural and natural treasures of those lands, rather than promoting dirty fuels development and contributing to our climate crisis.   

I encourage you to join the Sierra Club's new "Our Wild America" campaign to help us protect our country's beautiful wild places. These lands are our lands...