Ask a hundred people exactly what draws them to southern Utah, and you'll probably never hear the same answer twice.

To some it is a desert wasteland. To others it is a scenic wonderland.To some it is deep red canyons and slickrock. To others it is green valleys and lush forests.

To some it is a land rich in natural resources. To others, its wealth is nature allowed to run wild without interference by man.

To some it is mountain bikes. To others it is a fifth-generation cattle ranch.

It is home to pioneer stock on one hand and to newcomers on the other.

Southern Utah is first and foremost a land of stark contrasts whether it be geological, cultural or political. It is also a land where people speak their minds openly and honestly regardless of the political winds.

Perhaps no one typified the contrasting nature of southern Utah more than Cal Black - a soft-spoken San Juan County commissioner who often spoke with a very big stick.

He was undeniably charming, winning the respect and sometimes even admiration of many who were his greatest philosophical adversaries. On the other hand, he was admittedly obstinate and often infuriating even to his closest friends and political allies.

Most of all, Black was honest, often painfully so. If he didn't like you, he told you. If he disagreed with you, he would argue forcefully and publicly against you. Attack him and he would hit back harder.

His two favorite targets were federal bureaucrats and environmental extremists. And he rarely passed up an opportunity to lambaste either.

"I don't know if Cal and I ever agreed on any single public land issue," said Rep. Wayne Owens, R-Utah. "But in the 25 years since he flew me around southern Utah, we have been very friendly, respectful adversaries because he was a passionate, honest believer. We knew where each other stood. Southern Utah will need a new Cal Black for the upcoming public land battles."

Black was buried last week in his home town of Blanding. As Sen. Jake Garn noted, he left behind "a legacy that will never be forgotten." That legacy includes a reputation as southern Utah's most outspoken advocate.

I first began visiting Black at his Blanding business office about four years ago, finding him refreshingly and unconditionally forthright in his opinions and statements. Though I never agreed with all his ideas, I was particularly impressed by his willingness to stand up for what he believed in, regardless of the political or personal consequences.

Little wonder that Black served as a lightning rod to those who disagreed and as a magnet for news reporters who could always count on Black for spectacular and often outrageous quotes. And he never turned away reporters regardless of their personal biases or the probability the resulting article would not be sympathetic to him or his cause.

"I think the only people who will be sorry to see me die are the media," he chuckled a few weeks before his death.

Perhaps so. I will certainly miss the many times he took me flying in southeastern Utah, gushing with unbridled love for the beauty of the canyons or marveling at the engineering fetes of the ancient cliff dwellers or offering his heavily biased commentary on the economic potential of the undeveloped land below and the battles won and lost and still to be fought. His last battle was against cancer.

Critics may disagree, but Black loved southern Utah with a passion. But in his own unique way, he could argue that beauty could still be protected and yet provide a comfortable economic base for the people who live in southern Utah and a playground for those who recreate there.

It's a point of view shared by most in southern Utah.

With Black now gone, who will carry on that crusade? "There's no shortage of people willing to speak out for southern Utah," he said. "That's not always been the case, but it is now."

In truth, many others have been stepping forward in recent years to carry on Black's crusade for economic development (and against environmental extremism). And they are doing it better as they learn that legal strategies, statistical analysis and dogged determination are much more effective weapons than emotional rhetoric.

"Cal taught us by example to speak out. But when you do you'd better have the facts and figures to back you up," said one colleague. "And we must have courage to speak out if we ever hope to determine our own destiny down here."

And if southern Utahns continue to speak out, that will be Black's most lasting legacy.