Redrock cliffs, sandstone arches, desert vistas and ancient archaeological remains are more permanent than the fossil fuels under them. They will exist for ages, unless humans are allowed to destroy them.
That's the kind of permanent resource to put your money on, as the folks in Grand County have discovered.
A recent study by Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit group, shows that outdoor recreation on the county's spectacular public lands has become the area's economic engine, producing jobs and replacing the county's disappearing mines and ranches. And the jobs, like the scenery, aren't subject to the booms and busts that afflict extractive industries.
In Grand County, which surrounds the renowned outdoor recreation mecca of Moab, visitors can go cycling in the morning, hiking in the afternoon and the next day take up river rafting, rock climbing, horseback riding or riding off-road vehicles.
The county, unlike some other parts of Utah with many thousands of acres of public lands, has advertised its bounties and successfully managed the switch from mining to the cleaner, less destructive outdoor recreation model.
Grand's thriving economy should serve to inspire the same kind of approach in other areas, to replace an altogether too common closed-minded focus on traditional Western occupations based on fossil-fuel extraction.
The study shows that tourism and recreation on public lands, including those administered by the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service, account for 44 percent of private employment. More than 80 percent of all tourism and recreation jobs are created within the private-business sector, including accommodations, food services and retail trade.
In contrast, mining, which once was a major employer in the area, has accounted for only 2 to 3 percent of total employment for the past 15 years, the study reported.
While motorized-vehicle use on established trails is growing in popularity, the research shows that, based on spending by users, hiking has the greatest economic impact on the county, followed by nature viewing and mountain biking. ATV use comes in fourth.
In addition to the economy-boosting visitation in Grand County is the in-migration of retirees and other people with money to spend who want to live in and improve the community. Those who arrive with an energy boom, by comparison, have little interest in what they do to the land or what they leave behind.