"We emerge out on the summit of rock, and what a world of grandeur is spread before us! Wherever we look there is but a wilderness of rocks . . . cliffs where the soaring eagle is lost to view ere he reaches the summit."
The naturalist John Wesley Powell sent back that lyrical dispatch in 1871 after a boat trip through the spectacular series of southeast Utah gorges that have since been preserved by Congress as Canyonlands National Park.
Although -- or perhaps because -- Canyonlands is one of the lesser known national parks to easterners, it is a favorite of westerners for its splendid vistas and its utter solitude, far removed from the clang and clatter of modern life.
Canyonlands now may get somewhat closer to modern problems. The federal government is searching for a place to store civilian and military radioactive wastes for the next 100 centuries. Two of the likeliest spots are adjacent to Canyonlands.
The proposal has prompted such clamor that Rep. Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.), who has led the effort in Congress to find some permanent dump for radioactive material, came here today to learn what neighbors of the proposed site think of the idea.
What he found, in a cantankerous daylong hearing, was that the supposedly nonpolitical decision on a dump site has become furiously politicized as citizens of Utah battle among themselves over the plan.
Scott Matheson, the outgoing Democratic governor, and Wayne Owens, the Democratic nominee to succeed him, both attacked the idea of the site.
But several Republicans, including Utah Reps. David D. Marriott and James V. Hansen, said the jobs and economic benefits that the dump could bring to Utah make it an attractive prospect if the Canyonlands sites are proven safe.
"In our county, there would be about 1,000 direct jobs created for a period of 40 years," said Calvin Black, County Commission chairman in San Juan County, where the proposed dump would be located.
Ridiculing Democratic suggestions that a nuclear waste site would discourage tourism at the park, Black said the visitor center at Pensylvania's Three Mile Island power plant has drawn far more tourists than has Canyonlands since that plant was the site of a serious nuclear accident in 1979.
Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, the Department of Energy recently began a 20-year process of choosing a site that will store radioactive wastes which are expected to remain toxic for 100 centuries -- that is, through the year 12,000.
The department has narrowed the choices to Washington state, Texas, Nevada, Mississippi, Louisiana and Utah. By December it is expected to narrow the list to five, and to three by mid-1985. With appeals and reconsiderations, it is expected to take until approximately 2002 before the dump goes into operation.
The issue has been a hot topic in the 1984 campaign. energy Secretary Donald P. Hodel hinted during a campaign tour that Texas sites might be passed over if a Republican wins the Senate seat there. Democratic presidential nominee Walter F. Mondale promised Mississippi's governor that he would oppose a site in that state.
Udall noted today that a permanent site under federal management is essential.
"But whenever we offer governors the great honor of having their state glow in the dark for the next 10,000 years," he said, "nobody wants it."
"There's no way around this," Udall said in an interview here. "Somebody has to get stuck with this turkey."