The Right Words Spoken at the Wrong Place


The ancient abyss of the Grand Canyon. Photograph: J Gerald Crawford
The ancient abyss of the Grand Canyon. Photograph: J Gerald Crawford

IT WAS THE BESTt of times.

It was the worst of times.

Dickens didn’t write those words about Utah.

But he could have.

Utah loved Bill Clinton.

Smiling Billy had recognized what all of Utah already knew. The state possessed some of the wildest, most spectacular, most intriguing, and most beautiful landscape in the world.

The President was proudly designating the Grand Staircase – Escalante as a national monument.

It was desert.

It was rock palisades

It was towering arches.

It was stunning canyons.

It was filled with the strange rock outcroppings of hoodoos and goblins.

And Smiling Billy said, as only he could: On this remarkable site, God’s handiwork is everywhere. In the natural beauty of the Escalante Canyons and in the Kaiparowits Plateau. In the rock formations that show layer upon layer upon layer millions of years of geology. In the fossil record of dinosaurs and other prehistoric life. In the remains of ancient American civilizations like the Anasazi Indians.

It was a grand speech.

It covered a grand land.

Utah hated Bill Clinton.


Smiling Billy had never left a footprint on the Grand Staircase – Escalante.

Smiling Billy had never seen the canyons or the rock formations or the fossils or the remains of ancient civilization.

When he made his announcement, Smiling Billy wasn’t even in Utah.

He was standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon.

In Arizona of all places.

Damn Bill Clinton.

That’s what Utah Politicians said.

They didn’t show up that morning.

They boycotted the ceremony.

The President wasn’t saying anything they didn’t already know.

And there was no way they would spend a dime in Arizona when Utah needed all of the dimes it could get.



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