Colour in Castle Valley

Castle Valley, a small desert hamlet in southeastern Utah
Castle Valley, a small desert hamlet in southeastern Utah

Castle Valley is one of our last blogs from our travels in Utah.

And with the US midterm elections this week, the future of Utah’s wow wilderness has been on our minds. 

So, I’ve taken to rereading Erosion by the acclaimed author, naturalist and activist Terry Tempest Williams who has lived in Castle Valley for a quarter century. In her perceptive words,

We are eroding and evolving, at once, like the redrock landscape before me.

Magellan and I stayed at Castle Valley Inn for two nights. Which meant that twice a day we had about an hour’s drive into Moab for hikes (like the Corona trail we’ve yet to tell you about) and meals. We decided the peace and quiet of this small hamlet was worth it. 

I expect its 350 or so residents feel the same way. People, who in Terry’s words, are “self-described recluses, renegades and ruffians disguised in the respectable form of teachers, architects, gardeners, environmentalists, militiamen, peaceniks, winemakers, goatherds, artists, writers, photographers, potash workers, entrepreneurs, and retired oilmen.” In Moab she says, “we are known as the People’s Republic of Castle Valley.”

Colours, three specific colours, stand out in my memory of Castle Valley. Castleton Tower, a fiery umber. The desert florabundance of spring wildflowers, a smoky purple. The Colorado River, a grey-green rush of spring runoff that we drove alongside twice a day.

But this month, it is the colours on the electoral map of the United States, the bull-flag reds and deep-water blues grabbing our eyeballs. 

Though not in Utah’s Grand County where Castle Valley is located. There, the electoral map is yellow. Yes, yellow. Desert marigold yellow.

Yellow for the county’s winning candidate, Independent Evan McMullin.

Evan ran for president in 2016 under the “Better for America” banner. Announcing his 2022 campaign for the Senate, he said, “We do not need the extremists, the dividers, or the self-serving opportunists who haunt the halls of Congress today. We need selfless, servant leaders who unite rather than divide, seek solutions rather than attention, and who will consistently put the interests of Utahns and our country first. That’s why I’m running to replace Sen. Mike Lee and to represent Utah, and our values, in the United States Senate.”

Extremist Mike Lee kept his seat—but in Grand County, the percentages were flipped in favour of Evan McMullin. 

This interests us—Utah’s wilderness that we enjoyed so much—is on the ballot. 

Trump, the only president in American history to abolish a national monument, eviscerated 1.35 million acres of Bears Ears by 85% and encouraged development of the rest. (You might remember the blog we wrote about this travesty, A Lump of Coal for Christmas.) In October 2021 President Biden issued a Presidential Proclamation, modifying the boundaries for Bears Ears and calling for a new management plan for the entire monument. 

What happened in the interim between presidents 45 and 46? What’s happening now while new plans are being drawn up? Do we even want to step foot into this fricked up anymore? we ask ourselves.

Significantly influenced by the arid landscape of her native Utah, Terry writes, 

We cannot create wild nature, we can only destroy it—and in the end, in breathtaking acts of repentance, try to restore what we have thoughtlessly removed at our own expense, be it wolves or willows or cutthroat trout or these precious desert lands. TTW2_Credit_Debra_Anderson

Terry is writer in residence at Harvard Divinity School, a columnist for The Progressive magazine and a Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth College where she teaches. She received the highest award The Wilderness Society gives. And for her writing she was honoured with the Wallace Stegner Award. In an interview with High Country News about her book, Erosion, she elaborated on her definition of erosion:

Instead of the erosion of sandstone, I see the erosion of science, the erosion of truth and facts, the erosion of public comment regarding public policies, the erosion of decency and compassion, belief, integrity, and the weathering and overall breaking down of the political landscape in the United States of America, including the erosion of the rule of law. 

Is there a middle way in the USA, red and blue meeting to break the deadlock and govern in shades of purple? Will there be more yellow on the map? Or a party with a nuanced colour led by people of moral courage seeking to make the world more habitable and humane?

With high inflation, a “teetering” economy and turbo-wokeism, Magellan and I expected that when the votes were counted, red would dominate the US electoral map. Plus, historically in midterm elections, the president’s party suffers. Not this time. We guessed wrong. Blue prevailed as the Dem’s losses in the House bucked history, fewer than under any other Democratic tenure in the last forty years. And they may keep the Senate blue.

While not at anywhere near same level, the signs of the erosion Terry’s talking about can be seen in Canada, too. So, what do we do?

A reviewer of Erosion wrote that if Terry’s “haunting, powerful and brave book can be summed up in one line of advice it would be this: try to stare down the grief of everyday life, speak out and find solace in the boundless beauty of nature.”

Maybe we’ll go back to Utah yet. 


Ackerman, Diane. “Despoiled.” The New York Times Book Review. October 14, 2019. Diane is the reviewer who so beautifully summed up Terry’s advice as to what we as individuals can do.

Castle Valley Inn.

Skibba, Ramin. “Q & A: Terry Tempest Williams on erosion as an emotional state.” High Country News. November 11, 2019.

Williams, Terry Tempest. Erosion. New York: Sarah Crichton Books, 2019. Here’s the link to her website.

6 Responses

  1. Mother Nature is much like the latest midterm elections, no one knows what she will allow us to ruin then recreate in one form or another using color or simply new growth where none was expected.
    Much like the valley in the pictures, a desert with green and a host of colors unknown to any other areas, much like the residents, truly a mix of misfits, but are they, I think not. Who is to say what is to be or what is right or wrong, if misfits can live in harmony and solve life’s many problems in a small isolated community, then we may ask, what indeed is the right way, or is it, what is the wrong way, seems humans can be quite confused by right or wrong.
    Contrary to be sure, everyone’s opinion is valued and input can not be ruled on by another with different values, as always, value is often better determined by listening, than by talking.

  2. I’ve been thinking about what I can do about our changing environment and about the politically split place we live. I found today’s blog and the summary of the book “Erosion” helpful, and look forward to reading it. We haven’t travelled to Utah yet, but it has moved up to the top of places we want to visit. Thank you for today’s story.

  3. Love Evan McMullin’s comment on what a good leader should not and should be. Hopefully something Canadians will think about when voting in our next federal election.

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