The history of watershed enlightenment in southeast Utah
by John Weisheit

1. The Legacy of Initial Perceptions of the Colorado Plateau
Much of the west, like the Colorado Plateau, was determined to be “worthless and impracticable.” The land was considered to be wasteland due to the lack of water and vegetation and the heat, the intractable heat. Under these conditions, many people died attempting to cross the lands.

This set the stage for what would come next in a number of areas. A recent book by University of California geographer Trevor Paglen touches on this. In his excellent and disturbing book, Black Spots: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon’s Secret World, Paglen explores the geographical reality of the “black” sites that the United States military and various intelligence agencies have constructed and attempted to keep secret. It is not a pretty story.

The book provides historical background on the Nevada Test Site and the secret base at Groom Lake. I was particularly struck by this discussion in the chapter on the Basin and Range: “’History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme,’ said Mark Twain, who spent his fair share of time traversing the West. So too with human geographies. Landscapes are built upon the foundations of what came before. ‘Nothing disappears completely …,’ wrote Henri Lefebvre. ‘In space, what came earlier continues to underpin what follows …. Pre-existing space underpins not only durable spatial arrangements but also representational spacers and their attendant imagery and mythic narratives.’ For the French geographer, it wasn’t just that landscapes were built on foundations laid in the past, but the way we see a particular place is also guided by what others before us saw. What we see strongly guides what we do: To an extent, we enact what we imagine. When early explorers and settlers first came to the Basin and Range, they saw a wasteland. Then they laid waste to it.”

Posted on November 18, 2009 by laurelhagen

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