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KUNC is among the founding partners of the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration of public media stations that serve the Western states of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

A Tour Of Public Lands: Canyoneering In Utah

Public lands have been in the news a lot this year. They comprise much of the Mountain West, from around 30 percent of land in Montana and Colorado to more than 60 percent in Utah and Idaho. This summer, we’re taking you on a tour of some of our favorite public lands.

Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has made headlines as one of the monuments the Trump administration announced it would whittle down by more than a million acres each.

As the public radio show 1A has reported, “It’s not clear if the executive orders the president has signed will improve access to the land or jeopardize it.”

Lots of people use public land for recreation, including those who practice an extreme sport called canyoneering, which involves descending through narrow canyons using a variety of techniques from rappelling to scrambling to swimming.

We’ll take you on an audio adventure with one group of canyoneers as they descend through public land that treads the line between Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Utah.

Getting there requires a bone-shaking ride down a dirt road dubbed Hole-in-the-Rock Road, after an expedition of Mormon settlers that used blasting powder and picks to cut a path down the cliffs for their carriages back when this area was one of the last blank spots on the contiguous U.S. map.

A sign at one trailhead leading to a number of slot canyons warns: “You are about to descend into wilderness frontier, a place that demands dependence on self.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado. 

Rae Ellen Bichell was a reporter for KUNC and the Mountain West News Bureau from 2018 to 2020.