Salazar home for dedication

Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area may be a model for future solutions, ex-senator says

By GARY HARMON
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The Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area sets a pattern for modern public-lands management and, perhaps, for new solutions to American divisions, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Tuesday during the dedication of the NCA.

Speaking to more than 100 people atop a bluff overlooking the Gunnison River hundreds of feet below, where Mesa and Delta counties join, Salazar, a Democrat, praised Republican county commissioners as the drivers who pushed through the designation of the conservation area.

“We can use this as a template to unify our country,” Salazar said of the local efforts.

He spoke just four days before his boss, President Barack Obama, is to be in Grand Junction to discuss health care, a subject that has proved as divisive across the country as the water wars in the West to which Salazar and other speakers also referred.

Places such as the Western Slope of Colorado, however, “transcended the poison of partisan politics” as residents and officials pursued the goal of setting aside lands such as the deep cuts of Dominguez and Escalante canyons into the Uncompahgre Plateau for purposes of recreation, historical preservation and solitude, Salazar said.

It is to such places, the native Coloradan Salazar said, that he goes to “refuel.” Now others, and their children in the future, can do the same, he said.

The economic value of such places as the nearly 210,000 acres of lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management can hardly be understated, he said. Such lands attract tourists, adventure seekers and others that form the basis of a stable tourism economy, he said.

“These are not jobs that can be exported anywhere,” Salazar said.

Ranchers Oscar Massey and Dale Miller, whose lands lie along the fertile banks of the Gunnison River far below and whose cattle graze atop highlands with names like Star Mesa, Tri Mesa and Triangle Mesa, watched as Salazar dedicated the new conservation area.
Miller, whose hay was baled awaiting pickup in a verdant field tucked into an oxbow below Rocky Point, said establishment of the conservation area was likely to attract more people and place greater demands on the BLM.

“It’s good that they’re managing it,” Miller said.

Billy Rambo, who sold his land in the heart of what is now the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Area to the BLM as part of an agreement that allows him to live there the rest of his life, said he welcomed the designation.

“At least they’ll protect it to some extent,” he said.

There is much to protect, said Chris Muhr, president of the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Association.

“It’s such a gorgeous place back here,” Muhr said. “But it doesn’t get much use.”

That might be because participants had to drive a rough and winding road across what has become known locally as the “stinking desert” to the overlook.

There, however, the panoply unfolds.

The Gunnison River’s cut through the plateau opened up an array of red, pink, orange and white strata overlain by a hard volcanic cap halfway up the Big Dominguez Canyon that stretches away from the overlook, high into the Uncompahgre.

Alluvial piles of rocky debris deposited over centuries seem to be climbing the Dominguez
Canyon walls on the opposite side of the Gunnison cut.

The railroad line runs below, a dark line on the north bank, and cottonwoods stud the edges in between the irrigated fields.

Only the sagebrush seems able to thrive in the soil below and the rock above.

“I welcome you to this land,” intoned Clifford Duncan of the Uintah Ouray Ute tribe. “My ancestors lived here for thousands of years.”

With the wind whipping his ponytail, Duncan sang as his ancestors did, ending his soliloquy with: “Thank you, Secretary Salazar.”

The conservation area includes geologic, historic and cultural sites and allows for ranchers to continue working the lands there. The 66,280 acres of the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness includes canyons and mesas, two cascading streams, waterfalls and archaeological and paleontological sites. A herd of desert bighorn sheep also lives in the canyon.

Officials in the Grand Junction and Montrose BLM offices will develop over the next several years a resource-mangement plan for the area.


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