Scrub Oak and Pinon, Castle Valley, Utah.jpg

Scrub Oak and Piñon, Castle Valley, Utah

During late September, as nights lengthen and scrub oaks lose their chlorophyll, their leaves turn to rich hues of yellow, red and brown lending a surreal aspect to this austere desert. Cradled within the northern slopes of Utah’s rugged La Sal Mountains, Castle Valley is an unexpectedly level basin. Three hundred million years ago, this place was along a shoreline that built up thick layers of salt later buried beneath heavy deposits of sediment. Subsequently, the region rose, becoming a mountainous plateau. Under pressure, the subterranean salt layers flowed and dissolved collapsing the overlying strata into this flat, tilted valley.

Until the late 19th century, the Ute peoples migrated with the seasons through this valley living off its plants and animals. As settlers turned this wilderness into ranch land, the inability of the Utes to freely migrate culminated in the Pinhook Draw Fight on June 15, 1881. The landscape shown in this photograph was the battleground upon which dozens died. At the end of that day, a survivor recalled the setting sun as “a lurid red… and beneath that gory pall, lay the forms of our friends [that] held the soul in a thralldom of solemnity."

- James Baker