Dean M. Chriss
Photography
In Memoriam, Factory Butte, Utah

In Memoriam: Factory Butte

(Click image to enlarge)

In March of 2019 I took a road trip to southeast Utah. For many reasons it was perhaps my best photo trip ever. I don't mean it was the most productive or gave me the best shots. I mean it was everything that got me into photography forty years ago; adventure, discovery, great experiences in beautiful places, and simple fun. I extended my stay twice but never managed to get a nice shot of Factory Butte at sunrise. With commitments back home I reluctantly decided that April 5th would be my last day. The next morning I awoke early, but instead of heading home I thought there might be one last chance to get that sunrise shot of Factory Butte.

This photograph was captured just after sunrise on April 6, 2019, a few minutes before clouds on the right moved in and blocked the sun. After taking the picture I stood there for a long time in the vast stillness, just looking at the scene, wanting to somehow soak it up and take it with me. Then I reluctantly headed back to my vehicle, drove down the dusty dirt road, and began the two and a half day drive home. Leaving a place like this is always bittersweet but, as usual, I immediately looked forward to coming back. The photograph above is the very last exposure of my trip.

Six and a half weeks after I stood in silence looking at this scene, the BLM opened the entire area to destructive use by OHV and ATC riders. The open area encircles Factory Butte right up to its base in all directions, including the place where I stood to capture this photograph. I did not know any of this happened until early June because the BLM gave no notice or public comment period. Upon hearing the news I felt as if a good friend had died and I missed the funeral. It is incomprehensible that the BLM is allowing the deliberate destruction of a place they claim to be among the most scenic they administer. If Factory butte and its surroundings were anyplace but Utah it would be a national park. There are in fact a number of national parks and monuments that are less scenic.

In the 1980s this was a beautiful place, but by 2006 it was covered with deep tire tracks and ruts, and no longer worth visiting. It was painful to see the destruction inflicted upon this obviously spectacular area by a bunch of thrill seekers. The noise and dust they raised made it unpleasant for anyone else to be there, and tire tracks covering the landscape made it ugly. In 2006 a court order closed the area around Factory Butte to off road travel because the riders were killing endangered plants. During the next thirteen years nature erased most of the damage, and gradually the area became beautiful again. People who never would have ventured into this place with the ATC crowd zooming around began to discover it. They were old, young, film makers, photographers, amateur geologists, backpackers, sightseers, and regular people just wanting to enjoy their time outdoors. Now the OHV and ATC riders are back. They will very quickly ruin what took nature 13 years to fix, and everyone else will again stay away. The ATC folk apparently have a need to mark every landscape they see, like dogs have a need to urinate on every tree and fire hydrant. The difference is that dogs are less destructive, more considerate, and trainable.

If you object to what the BLM is doing to your public lands, please call or email the BLM’s Richfield Field Office Manager, Joelle McCarthy today at 435-896-1501 and jmccarth@blm.gov. For more information please see these articles about the decision to open Factory Butte to destructive use and how the decision was made. I also wrote an essay about the mismanagement of Factory Butte back in 2005, and have updated it a couple of times since. Then take a look at photos and videos from Swingarm City, the ATC and OHV "playground" on public land immediately adjacent to Factory Butte. This is exactly what OHV folks are doing to the public land around Factory Butte as you read this.