The San Rafael Swell – BLM Keep Oil and Gas drilling out and keep the wilderness intact

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The San Rafael Swell Area has been sculpted by time

The San Rafael Swell Area has been sculpted by time

I am not a native Utahn but I have come to love and deeply appreciate my adopted state with all of its mountain ranges, the deserts, canyons and the Great Salt Lake. I am not a writer, I am just a photographer so my images often tell the story better than I do. I hope these images; a tiny sampling of the splendor found within the San Rafael Swell, will help to tell this story.

San Rafael Recreation Site

San Rafael Recreation Site

I have developed a great appreciation for wilderness areas such as the San Rafael Swell with its plants, wildlife and of course birds. I also find myself studying the geological features of many of the areas in Utah and the San Rafael Swell is one of Utah’s greatest geological features. The San Rafael Swell area has hoodoos, canyons, mesa tops, slot canyons, hidden valleys, jagged cliff faces, reefs, rivers and together they all form a scenic and geological wonderland.

Many of the impressive landforms in the San Rafael Swell consist of Jurassic Navajo Sandstone, Triassic Wingate Sandstone, and Permian Coconino Sandstone

Many of the impressive landforms in the San Rafael Swell consist of Jurassic Navajo Sandstone, Triassic Wingate Sandstone, and Permian Coconino Sandstone

The San Rafael Swell is home to around 25 endemic plants, plants that occur no where else on this planet and are threatened or endangered. It is also home to newly discovered insect species and provides substantial habit for Bighorn Sheep, Pronghorn and Mountain Lions. There may be many more undiscovered invertebrates in the Swell.

By now you may be wondering why I am mentioning the endemic plants and the other threatened or endangered species.

The "Little Grand Canyon" with the San Rafael River flowing through it from high on the Wedge

The “Little Grand Canyon” with the San Rafael River flowing through it from high on the Wedge

The BLM is set to lease out 79,000 acres of land within the San Rafael Swell area for oil and gas drilling that has the potential to cause irreversible damage to this highly sensitive arid area of Utah, to the plants, animals, insects and water. In an arid area like the San Rafael Swell every drop of water is critical and the slightest bit of pollution could have far reaching, damaging effects to the immediate area and far downstream.

The Wedge

The Wedge

The BLM currently has over 3 million acres of lands in Utah already leased for oil and gas development that have not been drilled. Yes, I said they have not been drilled yet they are going to auction another 79,000 acres in a highly sensitive wilderness area. To what end? Habit destruction? More roads that will affect the flow of water in the Swell?

Utah depends on tourism especially in areas like the San Rafael Swell, Moab, Canyonlands and Escalante. As a tourist, why would I want to come to Utah to see oil wells? Listen to the sound of drills fracturing their way through the earth? I would want to come to see wilderness, not gas wells or oil fields. That is what I want now.

Midget Faded Rattlesnake

Midget Faded Rattlesnake

I wouldn’t want to camp in the Swell and listen to the sound of huge trucks thundering down the dirt roads. As a tourist I would want to hear the birds and the wind rustling through the Sagebrush and Junipers.

Areas within the San Rafael Swell are already protected  and in 2002 then Governor Mike Levitt proposed the creation of  a “San Rafael Swell National Monument” and at the time President George W. Bush ignored never acted on Levitt’s proposal, the proposal resurfaced in 2010 and the current administration hasn’t acted on it either.

Buckhorn Draw Pictograph Panel - An area rich in cultural history

Buckhorn Draw Pictograph Panel – An area rich in cultural history

Throughout the San Rafael Swell there is evidence of ancient Native American cultures Including the Fremont, Paiute and Ute in the form of pictographs and petroglyphs such as those found at Buckhorn Wash.  People come from all over the world to see ancient rock art, to see a part of the past in front of them. And Utah needs tourism.

The San Rafael Swell area is a unique geological treasure

The San Rafael Swell area is a unique geological treasure

More environmental studies are needed before these lands in the San Rafael Swell are leased, before a well is drilled. Before it is too late to save a species from extinction. Before the land is irreversibly scarred. Some people may see the San Rafael Swell as a huge wasteland but in reality is it a vast wilderness unlike any other in this world. Isn’t it worth saving? For today and future generations?

San Rafael Swell rock formations

San Rafael Swell rock formations

With over 3 million acres of Utah already leased out for oil production wouldn’t it be in everyone’s best interest to fully understand the environmental impacts? Or the impacts of loss of income from tourism to the state of Utah?

San Rafael Swell

San Rafael Swell

This… could be the road to disaster. Or the road to a one of a kind National Monument for Utahns, other people from North America and from around the world.


Sources of information on this critical issue: The Ecological Importance and Biological Uniqueness of the San Rafael Swell

Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance Facebook page Drilling auction seeks to open San Rafael Swell  Environment Groups Set for New Fight Over Drilling on B.L.M. Land in Utah



  1. Sherry in MT November 6, 2013 at 7:33 am

    What a gorgeous place! I so love your photos and perspectives in them. It would be sucky to have them decimate such wild and wonderful places!

  2. Photo Traveler November 5, 2013 at 4:11 am

    Mia, I can under stand your felling about not having drilling in those beautiful areas. But I can not understand how you would align yourself with an organization like They are bent on destroying our freedom that we all maybe take too much for granted. Please take me off you mailing list, as I no longer want to receive your Blog.

    • Mia McPherson November 5, 2013 at 5:12 am


      I haven’t “aligned” myself with by posting the petition that Carl Ingwell created on, what I have I have aligned myself with is saving the San Rafael Swell from the devastation that oil and gas drilling would cause in an environmentally sensitive area. didn’t create the San Rafael Swell petition, Carl did. is merely a service that was used to create this petition.

      I checked and you aren’t on my old Feedburner mailing list so you might have used the WordPress subscription service that I have now. I have no control over those subscriptions, you can remove yourself from my mailing list by clicking the unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email.

      Really sorry to see you go for the reasons you stated because again, I have ONLY aligned myself with saving the San Rafael Swell from oil and gas drilling.


      • [email protected] November 9, 2013 at 8:50 pm

        The phrase “bent on destroying our freedom” is a vague enough accusation — and it’s one often applied to many causes I support, most notably those of environmental protection. Personally, I am for limiting the “freedom” of oil and gas companies to exploit our public lands. And I am for the freedom of citizens to assert their tax-earned interest in public lands. I’m grateful you’ve depicted what we stand to lose at San Rafael Swell, and I’m also appreciative of any venue through which the cause of habitat and natural resource protection can be furthered. Your photos show it all. Thank you.

  3. Sonja Ross November 5, 2013 at 1:58 am

    It does look an impressive area, and good luck with trying to stop the action there.

  4. Dave Sparks November 4, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    The time you spent preparing this entry to your blog is well worth it. The beauty, geological features, and ecological importance documented and beautifully portrayed is a compelling argument for full consideration of the environmental impact of oil and gas drilling in San Rafael. I admire your dedication to preserving this area.

  5. Elephant's Child November 4, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    Petition signed – though I had to fudge a zip code.
    Your photos tell many more than the thousand words allocated to a picture. This stunning beauty was created by time – and can be destroyed in an instant. And my world would be diminished, despite the fact that I am unlikely to ever see it, its vegetation, its birds, its animals.

  6. Jane Chesebrough November 4, 2013 at 11:45 am

    Oh boy. Living in Alberta, oil country, I often hear about “just a little spill” in the news as the politicians from both sides of the border discuss pipelines.So much propaganda in big business at the expense of the environment.And our local and federal “environment” ministers are committed to cutting through red tape to help industries speed up the process.More jobs. But is it killing our lands and those who inhabit them?

  7. Utahbooklover November 4, 2013 at 9:42 am

    I agree completely and have signed the petition. Thanks for this informative and beautiful post Mia. Keep up the good work!

  8. Glen Fox November 4, 2013 at 7:13 am

    Your images are beautiful and worth a thousand words. You ARE a gifted writer write from your heart. Oil and gas drilling, Fracing, pipelines etc seem to be going on everywhere and often in special places. Here in Canada we have the same problem and our government is obsessed with mining of the tar sands and the export of this filthy product from Alberta, which requires pipeline through BC, across Canada, and down through the US. None of this wise, or needed. All are a disaster waiting to happen. The more oil we have, the more that gets combusted, and the more Carbon Dioxide is released into the atmosphere and the closer we come to choking the planet. Meanwhile less is spent on developing clean, sustainable energy sources.

    Blessings, Mia

    Glen Fox in Ottawa, Canada

  9. Montanagirl November 4, 2013 at 7:50 am

    Very well written! Are you sure you aren’t a writer? It was very thought-provoking and eloquent, and I agree with you entirely.

  10. Dick Harlow November 4, 2013 at 5:20 am

    Excellent essay with wonderful images of why we should save San Rafael Swell!! I am surprised that nothing has been done yet by this administration to Keep Oil and Gas drilling out of San Rafael. Too much to do over Obamacare. At any rate, hopefully something will be done before it is too late.

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