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“… It is apparent, then, that we cannot decide the question of development versus preservation by a simple referral to holy writ or an attempt to guess the intention of the founding fathers; we must make up our own minds and decide for ourselves what the national parks should be and what purpose they should serve.”-Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
“… The difference between the present reservoir, with its silent sterile shores and debris-choked side canyons, and the original Glen Canyon, is the difference between death and life. Glen Canyon was alive. Lake Powell is a graveyard.” – Edward Abbey, “The Damnation of a Canyon”, Beyond the Wall
When you love the Desert Southwest, sometime, somewhere, you will stumble into the writings of Ed Abbey. Like me, Ed was not born there; he discovered his love of the place while riding a boxcar through it on a trip across the US; I discovered mine on a trip through myself. His writings helped lead me home, for that is what the desert southwest is to me: home. I don’t live there for one simple reason, i.e., I have not yet been able to put myself in the financial situation I need to be in. For now, I visit when I can, mostly during my long vacations at Christmas.
A couple of years ago during one of those, on a whim after spending a few days in Arches National Park, my wife and I detoured to the snowy, icy south rim of the Grand Canyon. We journeyed toward it from the east side but got turned back at the National Parks’ gate; the road was snowed under from there on up. After retracing our steps, we traveled down to Flagstaff and spent the night, driving in my four by four truck up to the South Rim the next day. It was an eerie experience to stand on the edge of the South Rim and see only cloud; fog shrouded the canyon’s great gap, leaving us with visual doubts that anything was really there. Defeated, we hit the Visitor’s Center and gathered information so we could go back sometime in the spring or fall with weather more to our liking.
We haven’t done that, yet.
This year we had planned to take a guided river run down the great Grand Canyon. Right now, that probably is not going to happen, either, due to other family obligations that eat vacation and other financial priorities.
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It is, unfortunately, a lover being strangled.
In his essay, “Damnation of a Canyon”, Ed Abbey shares the Glen Canyon that used to be. It was a place alive with wild beauty. He wrote about what has been lost, buried under tons of water. He shared his hope that one day the Colorado River’s great silt might take care of the Glen Canyon damn naturally. His words are turning out now to be truer than even he suspected.
Not only Glen Canyon itself was lost by the construction of the dam; but, the Grand Canyon itself, like Glen Canyon, is in danger of becoming only a shell of what it used to be.
Even worse, this is not only true for the Grand Canyon itself, but all national parks and even parts of the Great Southwestern Desert itself are now threatened. But I’ll stick with discussing the Grand Canyon for now. The other piece of it I’ll discuss later.
CNN ran a report entitled “Grand Canyon in Deep Trouble”. (You can read it here). Native species of plants and fish, trout being among the latter, are being wiped out by invaders. As the article states, “The landscape and biology have been transformed by the Glen Canyon Dam, built upstream in 1963 to generate hydroelectric power and store water.” Hydroelectric power and water for cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix that are growing at unsustainable rates. With green grass golf courses sustained by irrigation and borrowed time. The silt is, as predicted, at work. But that is hardly the only problem.
Our government has formed a panel of users to find solutions to the canyon's growing problems. But they can’t agree, like all panels of this sort I have been involved in. The reason is simple. Everyone is looking out for their own interests instead of those of the Great Canyon God put in their hands. That was, it would seem, a dumb decision on His part.
I doubt if the choice was put in the hands of the Native Peoples who live and lived there if it would be that hard. Maybe what The Great Spirit needs to do is let the Natives sucessfully and finally revolt and drive the Whites back to the East Coast where they belong. Then the Natives can tear down the damn thing and all the cities that can't exist without being dependent on it. The spirit of my Cherokee Grandmother will get me back to the desert where I belong.
As if the problems with Glen Canyon were not enough, the media has also reported on the growing ruination of many national parks and other wild lands due to the intrusion of the cell phone…and the abusive use of other electronic devices. Luckily, some of these places are so remote that it is not a problem; but I know it is only a matter of time before tall enough cell phone towers will be built (and become a hazard to aerial navigation because they will be so tall; but what are the lives of a few lightplane pilots compared to progress?) and satellites will intrude so that even the damn raccoons will be making long distance phone calls using my minutes.
It is human nature to succumb to greed and convenience; and part of that process is to disconnect from what is real and true.
To connect to what is real and true, I have been to the cathedrals. I have climbed around the edges of the canyons of the Maze and, in their stillness, heard the rush of air over a gliding raven’s wings. I have walked around the giant blades of The Chocolate Drops and past the red rock candy cones surrounding the Doll House. I have stood next to Wishbone Arch, and Balanced Rock, hiked back into the jagged spires of Needle's National Park's Chesler Park. I have climbed Emory Peak in Big Bend and slept under the stars near the South Rim. I have floated through Santa Elena Canyon and been swept through it myself wrapped in the silty arms of the Rio Grande. And I’m glad I did. It is not something I’m confident my grandchildren are going to know.; and even if they do, they will not know it in the same way.
God help us all.