“La Sal Mountains & Lisbon Valley”

La Sal Mountains & Lisbon Valley, SE Utah (c) Mike Utley

Lisbon Valley is located in southeastern Utah and lies a few miles north of the farm on which I was raised. It’s a dynamic landscape of red rock desert and snow-capped mountains that rise incongruously out of nowhere. It’s a place of canyons and sandstone formations, sage brush and rabbit brush, cactus, cheat grass and fox tails, pinyon and juniper trees, as well as coyotes, foxes, mountain lions, jackrabbits and cottontails, mule deer, antelope and elk, hawks, rattlesnakes and other typical desert-dwelling fauna. I photographed this scene from a ridge where the landscape drops off into the desert valley below. Upheaval thrusts are visible, and the La Sal Mountains cling to spring’s last remnants of snow. This image was made in April of 1996 on a bitterly cold late afternoon, where the chill made for numb fingers and frosty exhalations. Metal tripods act as heat sinks during cold weather and freeze hands and fingers. Still, I’m fond of this image as it represents the varied landscape where I was raised. I’ve explored Lisbon Valley numerous times and felt at peace in the vast silence, surrounded by the scents of desert vegetation, warm breezes and clean air, as well as the stark, harsh environment of rock and sand and life that struggles to persist. Lisbon Valley is also home to a large open-pit copper mine (not visible in this image, fortunately) that is extremely unsightly and environmentally hazardous. Local ranchers are rightfully concerned about the high likelihood of contaminated groundwater, but corporate profits are all that seem to matter. Aquifers, habitats, wildlife and natural beauty are no match for some faceless company’s bottom line. (Canon gear, Fuji Velvia ISO 50)

51 thoughts on ““La Sal Mountains & Lisbon Valley”

    1. It’s so intriguing how people can connect across vast distances due to common interests. I actually had a different image I was going to post this morning, but decided to post this one of Lisbon Valley instead. Great minds, indeed! I’m glad to have a like-minded friend halfway across the globe. Fun times! πŸ™‚

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  1. Stunning picture. From the deep mining and the color of the copper it can be seen that it is a copper mine. It looks like a mine of iron and manganese in Goa. You captured it beautifully or mining areas are not so beautiful, if you have not captured it beautifully, Mike πŸ™‚

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    1. Thanks so much for your kind words, Jane. Actually, the copper mine isn’t visible in this image–it’s a few miles away. It’s a terribly ugly hole in the ground, a huge scar, that’s endangering everything around it. I’ve driven past it a few times and it’s horrendous. I mean, I understand that as a technically advanced society, we need copper and other resources and that means mining for them. But the disturbing part is the recklessness with which big companies go about extracting these resources. They destroy the earth and leave it to rot after having taken everything they can, whether it’s copper or oil or coal or uranium or whatever (there are several uranium mines within a few miles of the farm on which I was raised; the driveway of our farm was paved with uranium tailings from a mine about a mile away). I recall when news first broke years ago that an open-pit copper mine was being planned. I was angry. I was like, “No, they can’t do that to MY valley!” πŸ˜€ But they did it anyway, and it’s an eyesore and a threat to groundwater and local cattle ranchers. It’s a sign of the times, where money means everything and nothing else matters, not even our planet. I just googled Goa’s mine and it’s a sadness I feel when I look at this sort of thing, you know? Anyway, thanks as always for your kind comment, Jane. Much appreciated. πŸ™‚

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      1. You’re welcome, Mike. Seeing the orange color made me misunderstand. Well, you dispelled my doubts. Mining in Goa has reached sea level and has become very dangerous, an easy way to make moneyπŸ™‚

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    1. Thanks, Mark. I agree–the landscape just stretches out to infinity, it seems. They call Montana “Big Sky Country,” but I’d amend that to say the deserts of the Colorado Plateau are also “Big Sky Country.” The cliff where I composed this image was kind of a special place for me. There’s a dirt road that run parallel to the ridge but you don’t actually realize the ridge is there due to the pinyons and junipers obscuring the view. I found this place one day just exploring, and as I came out of the woods, this was the scene that opened up before me. I like the soft lighting here from the westering sun and how it catches just the tops of the sandstone formations, leaving the rest of the valley in shadow. Also, the mountain always looks better with snow on it. A beautiful little lake called Buckeye Reservoir is located in these mountains. Haven’t been to Buckeye in decades but I remember a fishing trip there as a kid. Gorgeous hidden gem of a lake. πŸ™‚

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    1. Thanks a bunch. It’s such an open land. I’ve lived in other areas where there were so many trees that you couldn’t see anything else. Not so in the desert, where you can see for miles in all directions. I have to admit I’ve always been fascinated by the landscape photographs I’ve seen from your part of the world. I’ve always wanted to visit Australia and explore for a few months. My mom dreamed of visiting Australia but never had the opportunity. If I could travel there, I think Uluru would be first on my list of locations to see. πŸ™‚

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      1. Uluru is definitely a spectacular place to go. Of course there are many beautiful places in this wide land. But one that touched my spirit was the meeting of sea and desert when we drove across the Nullabor Plain. I want to do that drive again some time.

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    2. I just googled Nullabor Plain and…I’ve never seen anything like this place. The earth just…stops…and then, the sea… Wow… The Cliffs of Dover come to mind (I’ve never been there, either) for their abrupt ending at the sea. This is literally breath-taking. You’ve whetted my appetite to do a bunch more searching on Australia’s wild places. Seriously, thanks for this. This is amazing stuff. πŸ™‚

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    1. Thanks, Sp3ncer. The lighting in this image was so soft. There were thin clouds on the western horizon that filtered the rays and made for a very low-contrast scene. I, too, like the fact that there are so many details visible in the shadowed areas. I appreciate your kind comment. πŸ™‚

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    1. Many thanks, Michele. You’re so right–Utah has some of the most astounding landscapes I’ve ever witnessed, especially the southern half with its deserts. Amazing stuff! Thanks for your kindness. Much appreciated. πŸ™‚

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    2. Oh, Zion is gorgeous, from what I’ve seen of it, which isn’t much. I passed through there when I was 14 (coming back from a trip to CA) and we just sped through the park, didn’t get to see anything, really. However, I’ve seen plenty of photographs and it’s breath-taking. I’ve wanted to explore it for many years but never had the opportunity. Bucket-list material, you know? πŸ™‚

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    1. Thank you, Kirsten. “Dreamy” is a really apt description. The soft lighting in this shot gives it a sort of ethereal feel, at least to me. Glad to know you liked this one. I appreciate it. πŸ™‚

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  2. A beautiful photograph Mike and such a fascinating landscape. I can imagine looking closely at all the wildlife near the snowmelt and the amazing rock formations and I hope the water will stay free from contamination where the mining occurs πŸ™

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    1. Thanks so much, Xenia. It is an interesting location, and it’s strange how we tend to take for granted the things we have and never really appreciate them until later in life. I grew up in a widely varied landscape but never really paid attention to it until I began to see it through my camera lens. I mean, the beauty was there and I was aware of it, but I was accustomed to it and therefor it wasn’t special to me. I’m so glad I was finally able to get involved in photography–it really opened my eyes with regards to where I lived and the natural beauty and wonder of the place. You really begin to see things when you peer through a camera’s lens, you know? I always appreciate your wonderful comments. πŸ™‚

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    1. Thanks a bunch, Michelle. I think it was worth the chilling experience to make this image. My body kept telling me to get back to my truck and turn on the heater, but my mind kept saying no, just a few minutes more! πŸ˜€ This ridge overlook is one of my favorite secret places. Thanks for your nice comment. Much appreciated. πŸ™‚

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  3. Beautiful photo, Mike. It’s nice to see where you grew up, and I love the way you describe the desert as so vibrant with life. It’s a shame that corporate giants don’t see that as well. Someday we won’t have these wild places anymore and we’ll all lose out.

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    1. Thanks, Diana. I have to admit that when I was growing up, I didn’t like the area, but when I got into photography, I realized how fortunate I’d been and really began to embrace it, explore it and get a sense of its personality. Lisbon Valley isn’t spectacular by any measure, but it holds deep meaning for me, so when the copper mine started up, there was a sense of betrayal that anyone would destroy this place for a few bucks. You’re right–one day, we may not have anymore wild places left, and at the rate we’re going with our obsession with pillaging the earth (fossil fuels especially), it won’t be long before that dystopia arrives. It’s really just a senseless copper mine, located in an area where it doesn’t need to be, and operating only to make money for a few people at the expense of so much else. We may be doomed as a species, but I hate that we seem to be taking everything else down with us.

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      1. There are part of UT and CO (and other states) that are nothing but those awful pumps, so I know what you mean. They ruin the beauty. I actually think the Earth will abide though and when humans are gone it will reclaim its wildness quickly.

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    2. I agree with you–at some point, humanity will be just a memory (perhaps a bad one) for the recovering earth, and it would be interesting to be able to revisit this place decades or centuries after the fact to see how quickly the planet is recovering. Sort of like being in a science-fiction time-travel movie. πŸ™‚

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    1. Thanks, Joan. I totally agree with your take on mountains, and I especially love the juxtaposition of the red rock desert and the snow-capped mountain in such close proximity. It’s surreal and fascinating and has always delighted me when traveling in this area. πŸ™‚

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  4. That’s a beautiful image of a beautiful place. Copper mining always seems to happen where the copper consumers can’t see the damage it does. You’d think with our throwaway society, we’d have enough copper to recycle it for all our needs. The dage it has done to islands in the pacific is horrendous.

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    1. Thanks so much. I agree with you. If these mines were on the edge of some town or other, the residents would throw a fit and complain about the destruction of underground water aquifers and the ruination of natural beauty, but because these mines are located out in the sticks somewhere, no one seems to care, even when the aquifers are still contaminated and ground water is poisoned and wildlife dies and it looks like a comet hit the earth and devastated the land. I’m biased, o’ course, since this was “my valley,” but man, corporate suits keep getting richer, everyone else suffers, and the planet dies…and for what? When does it end? In my immediate location in the US, most people tend to not care much about environmental issues (they care more about guns and conspiracy theories about stolen elections and building border walls, etc.), so all anyone said when the mine was being discussed was how many jobs it would create. No mention of environmental disaster, or at least not a loud enough voice standing up for environmental causes to make a difference. But this is what happens when the wrong people are in control. I haven’t been to Lisbon Valley in years, and I’m afraid that if I ever returned, I’d be shocked and angered by what I’d see. Anyway, sorry for the mini-rant against unregulated corporate greed. This one kinda hits close to home, you know?

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