THE RED MOUNTAIN WILDERNESS

The vivid sandstones of the Colorado Plateau meet the block-faulted rocks of the Basin and Range province at Red Mountain, located six miles northwest of St. George. Plants of the warm Mojave Desert and the cooler Great Basin Desert mingle in this transition area. Red Mountain's 1,400-foot cliffs are a spectacular backdrop for the rapidly growing towns of Santa Clara and Ivins to the south and the adjacent Snow Canyon State Park to the east. Hiking and sightseeing opportunities extend from the state park into the proposed wilderness. We propose an 18,500-acre wilderness; the BLM initially recommended 17,450 acres of its 18,250-acre WSA, but is expected to reduce its final recommendation to 12,842 acres.

Bordering Two Regions

Red Mountain is a great block of Navajo Sandstone bounded by the Gunlock Fault on the west, and by the Santa Clara River valley and Snow Canyon on the south and east. The top of the mountain is a dramatic expanse of rugged sandstone, which supports pinyon-juniper and sagebrush plant communities. The mixing of species from the Mojave and Great Basin deserts makes for unusually diverse vegetation, including (according to the BLM) ponderosa pine, yucca, agave, and Gambel oak. Mule deer, mountain lion, peregrine falcon, and bald eagles inhabit the area.

Prehistoric use by the Southern Paiute Indians has been documented at seven sites in the area, and the BLM (1986, p. 16) estimates archeological site densities between 4 and 40 per square mile.

For modern-day visitors, an old vehicle route leads to the slickrock summit of Red Mountain. Hikers and backpackers will have outstanding vistas across the area and into Snow Canyon. A sidecanyon heading east from Snow Canyon into the area can be explored from the state park.

The Utah Wilderness Coalition Proposal

Our 18,500-acre wilderness proposal is similar to the BLM's 17,450-acre draft wilderness recommendation. The agency excluded 800 acres on the Santa Clara Bench from its 18,250-acre WSA, saying it would be "difficult to manage . . . because of indiscriminate uses stemming from adjacent residential areas" (BLM, 1986, p. 1). We also exclude this area from our proposal, but we add 250 acres to the WSA by drawing the wilderness boundary to the edge of the physical disturbances, including some cliffs above the bench. (The BLM boundary was drawn along section lines.) Unfortunately, the final BLM recommendation apparently will omit an additional 4,600 acres from its draft recommendation.

As the towns of the Santa Clara valley continue to expand, attracting retirees and recreationists, it becomes important to protect the scenic backdrop and recreational opportunities that make these communities attractive places to live. Civilization and wildness can coexist in proximity here, but only if steps are taken now to set aside the key wild lands such as Red Mountain.

Lissa Leege and Rodney Greeno

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