Magnificent Seven: Desolation Canyon

Upper Desolation Canyon, Utah
Ray Bloxham, SUWA
Desolation Canyon in the Colorado Plateau is one of the most remote and rugged stretches of river in the American west.

Desolation Canyon, embedded in southeastern Utah and carved by the Green River, remains one of the most remote and rugged stretches of river in the American west. It is part of the Colorado Plateau, one of the key landscapes The Wilderness Society is working to protect.

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Colorado Plateau

Oil and gas development constantly threaten this iconic place, but at Wilderness, we're working to ensure it will always be protected.

About Desolation Canyon

Desolation Canyon’s iconic views of formidable red rock cliffs, multicolored rock spires and juniper-dotted slopes remain much as they were when John Wesley Powell first explored the Green River in the late 1860s and gave Desolation Canyon its modern-day name.

In fact, ‘Deso,’ as known to rafters, is one of the more special rafting trips in the American west. A magical mix of timeless canyon scenery, relatively mellow waters and opportunities to hike and explore rich remnants of Native American and Old West history make the trip especially popular for families and youth groups.

When not on the water, visitors enjoy exploring Desolation Canyon’s cottonwood shaded beaches and the canyon’s many tributaries and alcoves. Here the only man-made signs of time are occasional homesteads left from settler days and an incredible collection of ancient Fremont Indian rock art. In 1969, Desolation Canyon was given permanent protection and designated a National Historic Landmark.

Threats to Desolation Canyon

Despite the protection afforded to the canyon by the National Historical Landmark designation, the area’s fragile natural landmarks and pristine wildness have come under attack. Under the Bush administration, Desolation Canyon and the surrounding West Tavaputs Plateau became one of many prized Utah public lands that were rushed to the oil and gas leasing block with limited or bypassed environmental review.

Drilling near Desolation Canyon would have had wide-ranging consequences for the beauty and recreation opportunities in the canyon and its surrounding area. Without an effort to stop leasing in this area, Desolation Canyon and the West Tavaputs Plateau would be in grave danger.

Protecting Desolation Canyon

At Wilderness, we joined other land conservation organizations and worked closely with a private oil and gas development company to keep it from drilling near the prized Desolation Canyon. This was an important victory in the fight to get permanent wilderness protections for Desolation Canyon. While Congress continues to debate about the importance of designating wilderness in the canyon, it was vital to make sure that oil and gas drilling wouldn’t hamper the efforts before they began.

Here the only man-made signs of time are occasional homesteads left from settler days and an incredible collection of ancient Fremont Indian rock art.

Even as Desolation Canyon continues to thrive, there are constant threats of oil development. Oil companies are still working to lease the land and use this pristine area as an oil and gas field. The Wilderness Society is continuing its work to prevent these attacks and make sure Desolation Canyon remains the same beautiful area that John Wesley Powell visited more than a century ago.

You can help

You can help ensure that Desolation Canyon and the Magnificent Seven wildlands remain part of our natural heritage. Help save this iconic American landscape by making a donation today.