Friday, August 06, 2004


Glen Canyon

I'm torn between being sad for the loss or happy for the improved access to scenary. We traveled up to the Glen Canyon Dam and the SW end of Lake Powell last week on our way back from visiting some of the canyon country of Northern Arizona and Southern Utah including Monument Valley and Natural Bridges National Monument (which deserve separate posts by themselves!). I've been thinking about the possibility of boating on Lake Powell, particularly with the water level more than 100 feet below the maximum level. What parts of Glen Canyon are available now that have been lost for more than 20 years under the waters of Lake Powell? We picked up a couple books on the area, including "Glen Canyon Dammed" and "The Colorado River Through Glen Canyon: Before Lake Powell" which discuss the canyon and show some of the many wonderful pictures of what now lies beneath the lake. It must have been wonderful to raft down the river and hike up the side canyons. Seeing the narrow canyons, the indian ruins, the Gregory Natural Bridge and all the other things must have been spectacular.

On the other side of the story, the lake has made those same areas - at least those not flooded - available in ways that were not possible before the Dam. One can boat up the lake, camp along its shores, do day hikes or even over night hikes from the lake and get to places that would take days of hiking to get to from outside the canyon boundaries. At high water, you can boat right up to Rainbow Natural Bridge. Even today at very low lake levels, the hike is only a couple miles rather than the 10 day horseback expeditions required of Teddy Roosevelt or Zane Grey early in the 20th Century. Many, many more visitors are able to see the scenary that was inaccessible to all but the hardiest of explorers before the dam.

But again, the loss and sacrifice that required - the plant and animal life that drowned as the canyon flooded behind the Dam. The historic sites that are no longer available to study. Imagine the Grand Canyon below the Dam with water up to the rim at the overlooks along the south rim drive. Imagine that all below that would no longer be accessible. Is the tradeoff worth it? The improved accessibility. The power generating capability of the Dams along the Colorado and it's feeder rivers. The water storage capacity of the lake which evens out the irregular year-round flow of the river and also provides water to cities of the southwest. It's a tough call.


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