Welcome to the Four Corners

At only one point in the United States do the borders of four states meet. Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico all touch near the center of a vast geologic formation known as the Colorado Plateau. These are the southwest highlands, the most beautiful place on earth.

The Four Corners region is a place of truly mind-numbing contrasts. Mountains gather thunderheads around their peaks miles above the highland deserts. Rivers sweep down from the snowpack, cutting deep fissures in plates of fiery red sandstone hundreds of feet thick. Buttes and spires tower like the monuments of gods across level desert plains.

Adjectives of extremity in a hundred languages have been endlessly repeated in futile attempts to convey some idea of the grandeur of the region. The Grand Canyon in particular attracts, inevitably, so many superlatives that the words become trite. What can be meaningfully said of a place that delves a mile through over 2 billion years of geologic time? The exercise taxes the imagination, and exhausts the spirit.

To be sure, there is beauty in this place on a small scale as well, occulted somewhat by the awe of immensity. There are hidden springs draped with maiden-hair fern, gnarled cottonwoods, feathery tamarisk and slender stands of willows. Here one may find, chiseled by wind and water, madly sculpted stones, and there among the shadowed trees glow golden eyes in the darkness. It is my aim and aspiration in the pages that follow to indicate something of the shape and sense of these small treasures, and the dim outlines of the greater wonders that frame them. It is my hope that you who read these words will accept the invitation implicit in them, and discover for yourself the wonders it has been my undeserved good fortune to encounter.

Tim Eagen
Santa Fe, 1999

Imagery and Imagination

My wife and I have been exploring the Colorado Plateau together since 1982. Louise introduced me to many aspects of the southwest - its geology, history, art, and the large number of national parks here. I introduced her to the pleasures of backpacking and wilderness camping. This wonderful and unanticipated synergy has delighted us through all of the years since. It has made the Four Corners area our special playground.

From the beginning we took photographs, though not always, and not always many. This sporadic behavior on our part was sometimes the result of happenstance, and sometimes of mood. There was the time, for instance, that I dropped our camera while climbing a notch in Harris Wash (near Escalante, Utah), and another when we misplaced the camera in the truck, and didn't find it until we got home and unpacked. Now and then we'd revisit places we had previously recorded on film, and saw no need to do so again. There were also times when I was simply overcome by the sheer inadequacy of photography to capture what we were seeing - especially in the hands of rank amateurs like ourselves.

On the whole, I'm happy to have the photos that we did take. The pictures act as mnemonic cues, triggering the recall of many half-remembered places, to the limits of my memory and imagination. The image quality is, of course, uneven. It is difficult to reduce a dramatic panorama to a 3.5" x 5" photograph, and have it reflect any of the beauty and wonder that inspired us to capture the scene originally. Scenes with a smaller compass are generally far more worthwhile. Sometimes, though not often, I will encounter a photo of an object or place that neither of us remember taking, and that looks far more intriguing and deserving of attention in the photo than we had noted at the time.

The value of a photograph to a person who has never seen the reality of the place is problematic. It is my hope that, between the images and written descriptions that follow, some of the mystery and beauty of these places will be communicated to the reader. For those of you who have been to these places and seen these sights, well, you already know. Lucky devils.

The Four Corners Area

Places on the Colorado Plateau


Guide to Indian Country, AAA of Southern California
This is the best and most detailed road map for those intent on hiking the Colorado Plateau and visiting the national parks. It is published by the American Automobile Association, and is available from any of their offices.

Guide to Prehistoric Ruins of the Southwest, Norman T Oppelt
This is a very good general guide to prehistoric ruins throughout Arizona, New Mexico, southern Utah and southern Colorado. Published by the Pruett Publishing Company of Boulder, Colorado.

Hiking the Escalante, by Rudi Lambrechtse
The best available guide to the Escalante River Basin. It is published by Wasatch Publishers of Salt Lake City, Utah. Highly recommended.

Southwest Canyon Country, by Sandra Hinchman
This is a good, comprehensive guide to the parks and wilderness areas of the Colorado Plateau. An excellent reference. Published by The Mountaineers, Seattle, Washington.

Trails Illustrated Topo Maps
These are produced in cooperation with the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the National Park Service. They are compilations of USGS topographic maps for specific areas, and are printed on waterproof plastic. They are generally available at wilderness outfitters and at BLM and Park Service stations throughout the region.