Saturday, December 29, 2012

In 1981, Edward Abbey and "Earth First!" Cracked Glen Canyon Dam



Book jacket for the First Edition of Edward Abbey's novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

In 1981, Edward Abbey and "Earth First!" Monkey Wrenched Glen Canyon Dam

In 1965, my father and I visited the Four Corners States. Three years later, Edward Abbey enjoyed the publishing of his first non-fiction book, titled Desert Solitaire. Abbey’s words help give geographical and historical context to many places I visited in 1965. Quoting from Abbey’s book, I wrote about my visits to Moab, Utah, Lake Powell and Rainbow Bridge National Monument.

In 1975, at the age of 48, Edward Abbey experienced widespread notoriety when his novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang received mixed reviews. Although many readers and reviewers enjoyed his queasily exciting adventures in incipient eco-activism (some say eco-terrorism), others abhorred the sabotage Abbey’s motley band of characters perpetrated in San Juan County, Utah.

1965 view of Rainbow Bridge, almost inundated by the rise of Lake Powell in later years - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey wrote with eloquence about his personal history and the natural history of his favorite places in Southeastern Utah and Northern Arizona. By the time he wrote The Monkey Wrench Gang, the same places served mainly as a backdrop for the nefarious activities of his fictional characters. Following are Abbey’s words of fiction and my photos of reality at several places mentioned in The Monkey Wrench Gang.

Monument Valley

Page 235, “Hayduke rushed back, breathing hard, scowling with ill-suppressed delight. He jumped in, jumped the clutch and burned away, turned left at the highway and drove north toward Kayenta, Monument Valley, Mexican Hat, the trackless canyons of Utah – escape.”

1965 view of U.S. Highway 163 South, heading toward Monument Valley, Utah. It is the place where Forest Gump stopped running. Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Page 243, “She sat on the iron flange of an overturned mining car and gazed far out toward the south, through the veils of the evening, for a hundred miles as thought can sail, over Muley Point and the Gooseneck meanders of the San Juan River, past Monument Valley, over the Monument Upwarp and beyond the rim of the visible world to Kayenta, the Holiday Inn and the battered blue jeep still waiting there.

San Juan River

Page 88, “Instead of destroying the survey crew’s signs, she suggested, why not relocate them all in such a manner as to lead the right-of-way in a grand loop back to the starting point? Or lead it to the brink of, say, Muley Point, where the contractors would confront a twelve-hundred-foot vertical drop-off down to the Goosenecks of the San Juan River.

1965 Ektachrome image of the Mitten Buttes in Monument Valley - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Glen Canyon Dam –

Page 11, “Four hundred feet long, it spans a gorge seven hundred feet deep: Glen Canyon. Flowing through the bottom of the gorge is the tame and domesticated Colorado River, released from the bowels of the adjacent Glen Canyon Dam. Formerly a golden-red, as the name implies, the river now runs cold, clear and green, the color of glacier water.”

Page 16, “Not the dam.”
“Yes sir, we have reason to think so.”
“Not Glen Canyon Dam.”
“I know it sounds crazy. But that’s what they’re after.”
Meanwhile, up in the sky, the lone visible vulture spirals…

Two Navajo rugs purchased in 1965  at Goulding's Trading Post in Monument Valley - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Page 31, “He hadn’t remembered so many power lines. They stride across the horizon in multicolumn grandeur, looped together by the swoop and gleam of high-voltage cables charged with energy from Glen Canyon Dam, from the Navajo Power Plant, from the Four Corners and Shiprock plants, bound south and westward to the burgeoning Southwest and California. The blazing cities feed on the defenseless interior.

Page 37, “Now they came, amidst an increasing flow of automobile and truck traffic, to the bridge and Glen Canyon Dam. Smith parked his truck in front of the Senator Carl Hayden Memorial Building. He and his friend got out and walked along the rail to the center of the bridge.

Page 66, “Hayduke had been complaining about the new power lines he’d seen the day before on the desert. Smith had been moaning about the dam again, that dam which had plugged up Glen Canyon, the heart of his river, the river of his heart.

Page 103, “The old jeep, loaded with all of his valuables, had been left a 1965 image of Sentinel Butte and West Mitten Butte in Monument Valley - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)week earlier in a parking lot at Wahweap Marina near Page, close to the ultimate, final, unspoken goal, impossible objective, Smith’s favorite fantasy, the dam. Glen Canyon Dam. The dam.

Page 108, “When Glen Canyon Dam plugged the Colorado, the waters backed up over Hite, over the ferry and into thirty miles of…”

Page 117, “Smith took a long and studious look at the east-northeast, above the humpback rock, straight toward that lovely bridge which rose, like an arc of silver, like a rainbow of steel, above Narrow Canyon and the temporarily plugged Colorado River.”

The Author, Jim McGillis at Muley Point, Goosenecks State Park, Utah in 1965 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Page 330, “Or down in Arizona for the glorious finale to the campaign, the rupturing removal and obliteration of, of course, that Glen Canyon National Sewage Lagoon Dam. We never did get all together on that one. Smith wakes slowly, taking his time.”

In an introduction to the 1982 film, “The Cracking of Glen Canyon Damn”, Edward Abbey stood cliff-side, with the dam behind him. Gesturing toward the object of his derision he said, “I think we are morally justified to resort to whatever means are necessary to defend our land from destruction… invasion. I see this as an invasion. I feel no kinship with that fantastic structure over there. No sympathy with it whatsoever.”

Under floodlights, construction of Glen Canyon Dam continued in 1962 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The brief film chronicled the March 21, 1981 event that some called the birth of the radical environmental movement in America. In the film, members of the environmental group Earth First! unfurled a 300-foot tapered black sheet of plastic down the face of the dam, making it appear as if a gigantic crack had appeared in the structure.

To a small group of people who stood nearby, Edward Abbey made a speech from the back of a flatbed truck. “Surely no manmade structure in history has been hated so much by so many, for so long with such good reason as Glen Canyon Dam. Earth First! The domination of nature leads to the domination of human beings. And if opposition is not enough, we must resist. And if resistance is not enough, then subvert. The empire is striking back, so we must continue to strike back at the empire by whatever means available to us.

Win or lose, it is a matter of honor. Oppose, resist, subvert, delay until the empire itself begins to fall apart. And until that happens, enjoy… enjoy the great American West, what is left of it. Climb those mountains, run those rivers, hike those canyons, explore those forests, and share in the beauty of wilderness, friendship, love and common effort to save what we love. Do this Lower Lake Powell, nearing half full in 1965 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)and we will be strong and bold and happy. We will outlive our enemies, and as my good old grandmother used to say, we will live to piss on their graves. (Applause) Thank you.”

During Abbey’s speech, which he timed to coincide with the unfurling of the banner, National Park Rangers arrived at the scene. Despite their investigation, authorities were unable to identify the individuals responsible for the draping of Glen Canyon Dam. Looking somewhat puzzled at the gathering, rangers cited neither Edward Abbey nor anyone else in the crowd.

Thanks to filmmaker ML Lincoln, we shall soon hear again from the spirit of Edward Abbey in her new feature documentary, titled "Wrenched". For a synopsis of the movie, click HERE.

To read the first article in this series, click HERE.





Friday, December 21, 2012

A 1965 Visit to Edward Abbey's old Glen Canyon and Rainbow Bridge National Monument



Cover of the original first edition hardcover Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

A 1965 Visit to Edward Abbey's old Glen Canyon and Rainbow Bridge National Monument

In 1965, when I was seventeen years old, my father and I embarked on a Four Corners States Grand Circle Tour. After our visit to Moab, Utah, including old Arches National Monument, the Book Cliffs and Dead Horse Point, we traveled south. I shall save our stops at the Goosenecks of the San Juan River and Monument Valley for later. First, I shall discuss our visit to Lake Powell and Rainbow Bridge National Monument.

Although Edward Abbey’s seminal book, Desert Solitaire did not appear in print until 1968, shall quote from that book regarding Glen Canyon and Rainbow Bridge. Construction of the Glen Canyon Dam topped out in late 1963. When Glen Canyon Dam 1965, with Lake Powell partially filled for the first time - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)we visited in 1965, the lake appeared to be about half full. Years earlier, Edward Abbey and his friend, Newcomb, had rafted down the yet untamed Colorado River through Glen Canyon. Leaving Newcomb at the river, Abbey had hiked to Rainbow Bridge. Abbey’s visit there was an early 1960’s whitewater, wilderness experience. Ours visit was a mid-1960’s powerboat cruise on a placid lake.

Glen Canyon – Like no other occurrence in Edward Abbey’s life, the inundation of Glen Canyon created a psychic scar in the man. He knew that Glen Canyon Dam was the first of three new dams then planned for the Lower Colorado Basin. His determination not to let another Colorado River dam arise became The author, Jim McGillis at age seventeen, on Lake Powell near Glen Canyon Dam - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)the meta-theme of his book, The Monkey Wrench Gang. Using various characters in that book as a thinly veiled foil, Abbey expressed his own latent desire to eradicate Glen Canyon Dam.

Years before, in Desert Solitaire, Abbey wrote eloquently about a wilderness now submerged, hundreds of feet below the Lake Powell we know today. Following are his words.

Page 122, “We were exploring a deep dungeonlike defile off Glen Canyon one time (before the dam). The defile turned and twisted like a snake under overhangs and interlocking walls so high, so close, that for most of the way I could not see the sky.”

Page 152, “I know, because I was one of the lucky few (there could have been thousands more) who saw Glen Canyon before it was drowned, In fact I saw only a part of it but enough to realize that here was an Eden, a portion of the earth’s original paradise.”
Author Jim McGillis visible under the skipper's arm, prior to departure from Wahweap Marina, Lake Powell in 1965 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
Page 156, “That must be where Trachyte Creek comes in,” I explain; “if we had life jackets with us it might be a good idea to put them on now.” Actually our ignorance and carelessness are more deliberate than accidental; we are entering Glen Canyon…”

Page 157, “If this is the worst Glen Canyon has to offer, we agree, give us more of the same. In a few minutes the river obliges; a second group of rapids appears, wild as the first. Forewarned and overcautious this time, despite ourselves, we paddle too far…”

The lower reaches of Lake Powell, where the first Planet of The Apes movie was filmed, as seen in 1965 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Page 185, “Farther still into the visionary world of Glen Canyon, talking somewhat less than before - for what is there to say? I think we have said it all – we communicate less in words and more in direct denotations, the glance, the pointing hand, the subtle nuances of pipe smoke, the tilt of a wilted hat brim.”

Page 188, “The sun, close to the horizon, shines through the clear air beneath the cloud layers, illuminating the soft variations of rose, vermilion, umber, slate blue, the complex features and details, defined sharply by shadow, of the Glen Canyon Landscape.”

On Lake Powell in 1965, we approach the entrance to the flooded Glen Canyon - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Rainbow Bridge – By definition, a “natural arch” spans an area of dry land. In contrast, a “natural bridge” spans a watercourse. At remote Rainbow Bridge National Monument, a stone torus known as Rainbow Bridge is the most celebrated landform. Before Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell, the only way to see Rainbow Bridge was on a river raft expedition. A visit there involved a long wet trip up or down the Colorado River, followed by a tedious, uphill hike at the end. Located almost fifty water-miles upstream from Glen Canyon Dam, Rainbow Bridge now resides in a short side canyon, off Lake Powell.

After our long boat ride from Wahweap Marina, near Page, Arizona, our skipper tied up at a floating dock. When the lake was full, the story went; A forty-foot excursion boat powers past us on the way to Rainbow Bridge, Lake Powell, Utah in 1965 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)lake water would rise almost to the base of Rainbow Bridge. In 1965, however, we had over two miles of hiking before cresting a ridge and seeing the immutable stone arch called Rainbow Bridge.

Other than a flood in the summer of 1983, Lake Powell has never been full. There are few 1983 photos showing lake water lapping near the base of Rainbow Bridge. Today, perennially lower lake levels call into question the dam’s main reason for being, which is to generate electricity. In late 2012, the U.S. Department of the Interior admitted what longtime observers of the Glen Canyon Dam have known for decades – that drought, climate change A Bertram 20 powerboat planes past our boat on the way to Rainbow Bridge, Lake Powell, Utah in 1965 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)and over-subscription of available water will result in permanently lower water levels in Lake Powell and throughout the Colorado River Basin.

In 1965, when I asked our skipper if he preferred the ease of lake travel to a rafting trip, he tactfully said that each method of conveyance had its advantages. He went on to say, he would have preferred that Glen Canyon stay as it had been before the dam. As it was, on our visit, we hiked to Rainbow Bridge over hot, dry land, just as Edward Abbey had done years before. Following are passages from Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, describing his raft trip down the Colorado River to Rainbow Bridge.
In the vastness of Glen Canyon, powerboats fade into the distance on the way to Rainbow Bridge, Utah in 1965 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
Page 186, “We pass the mouth of a large river entering the Colorado River from the east – the San Juan River. Somewhere not far beyond this confluence, if I recall my Powell rightly, is the opening to what he named Music Temple. “When ‘Old Shady’ sings us a song at night,” wrote Powell in 1869, “we are pleased to find that this hollow in the rock is filled with sweet sounds”.”

Page 188, “The river carries us past more side canyons, each of which I inspect for signs of a trail, a clue to Rainbow Bridge. But I find nothing, so far, though we know we are getting close.
Could this be John Wesley Powell's "Music Temple" as described in his 1868 journal? In 1965, this photo shows that it is about to be inundated by the waters of Lake Powell - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
Page 192, “Rainbow Bridge seems neither less nor greater than what I had foreseen. My second sensation is the feeling of guilt. Newcomb. Why had I not insisted on his coming? Why did I not grab him by the long strands of his savage beard and haul him up the trail, bearing him when necessary like Christopher would across the stream, stumbling from stone to stone, and dump him finally under the bridge, leaving him…

Page 193, “But I am diverted by a faint pathway which looks as if it might lead up out of the canyon, above Rainbow Bridge. Late afternoon, the canyon filling with shadows – I should not try it. I take it anyway, climbing a The author James McGillis approaching Rainbow natural Bridge, Utah in 1965 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)talus slope.

Page 193, “From up here Rainbow Bridge, a thousand feet below, is only a curving ridge of sandstone of no undue importance, a tiny object lost in the vastness and intricacy of the canyon systems which radiate from the base of Navajo Mountain.

Page 239, “Through twilight and moonlight I climb down to the rope, down to the ledge, down to the canyon floor below Rainbow Bridge. Bats flicker through the air. Fireflies sparkle by the waterseeps and miniature toads with enormous voices clank and grunt and chant at me as I tramp past their ponds down the long trail back to the Rainbow Bridge, as seen from below in 1965 Kodak Ektachrome image - Click for lager image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)river, back to the campfire and companionship and a midnight supper.

From Wahweap Marina, near Glen Canyon Dam, to Rainbow Bridge is about sixteen miles, as the crow flies. On the lake, our circuitous canyon route was nearly three times as long. As we drank Cokes from steel cans along the way, the cognoscenti told us that we should punch a hole in the bottom of each can before throwing it in the lake. That way, the cans could sink, rather than bobbing half-full on the surface for years to come. Although a nationwide ethic of recycling was still decades away, I pictured snags of drowned trees far below, each festooned with Coke and beer can ornaments.

From 1965, it would be over a decade before Abbey’s motley cast of fictional characters wreaked havoc with infrastructure and land development throughout San Juan County, Utah. To read about those queasily exciting adventures in incipient eco-activism (some say eco-terrorism), please watch Rainbow Bridge, Utah, as seen form the trail above in 1965 Kodak Ektachrome image - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)for my upcoming treatise on Edward Abbey's book, The Monkey Wrench Gang. When posted, you will find it HERE.

Thanks to filmmaker ML Lincoln, we shall soon hear again from the spirit of Edward Abbey in her new feature documentary, titled "Wrenched". For a synopsis of the movie, click HERE.





Monday, December 17, 2012

Visit Edward Abbey's Garden at old Arches Nat'l Monument


First edition hardcover of Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire book jacket - Courtesy Back of Beyond Book Store, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

A 1965 Visit to Edward Abbey's Garden at

Old Arches National Monument, Moab, Utah

“Wilderness – we scarcely know what we mean by the term, though the sound of it draws all whose nerves and emotions have not yet been irreparably stunned, deadened, numbed by the caterwauling of commerce, the sweating scramble for profit and domination. Why such allure in the very word?” – Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

During two seasons in the late 1950s, Edward Abbey took up residence in a trailer at the old Arches National Monument. Over fifty-five years later, exactly where Edward Abbey's trailer stood is a subject of controversy. As the least likely government employee ever, Abbey was the park ranger who kept things clean and neat out at the end of the road. There, near Devil’s Garden, Abbey observed the timelessness landforms and a rapidly changing political landscape. The only hint of his future status as a proto-anarcho-communist environmentalist came in this passage from his 1968 book, Desert Solitaire.

1965 Ektachrome slide of our Ford Galaxy 500 XL at Arches National Monument - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Page 59, “For about five miles I followed the course of their survey back toward headquarters, and as I went I pulled up each little wooden stake and threw it away, and cut all the bright ribbons from the bushes and hid them under a rock. A futile effort, in the long run, but it made me feel good.”

In 1965, my father and I visited many of the places that Abbey was to make famous in Desert Solitaire or in his most famous fiction work, The Monkey Wrench Gang. In Desert Solitaire, Abbey wrote with wry humor about tourists abusing even the sacred walls of a national monument. The somewhat sickening, yet heart-pounding acts of eco-sabotage came later, in The Monkey Wrench Gang and its various sequels. This article, largely in Abbey’s own words focuses on the kinder, gentler author we first met on the pages of Desert Solitaire.

1965 image of the Author, Jim McGillis at age seventeen hiking the unimproved trail to Landscape Arch, Arches National Monument - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Landscape Arch – In 1965, my father and I hiked the unimproved trail to Landscape Arch. Although far more delicate than the arch named Delicate Arch, we found no fence or other barriers to climbing up the hill and under that gracefully suspended stone slab. Stopping short of the arch itself, our instincts were good. One afternoon, twenty-six years later, picnickers sitting beneath the arch barely scrambled away from a mighty rock fall there.

Near that spot, my father positioned his Nikon camera to show both Landscape Arch and the smaller Partition Arch above and to its right, near the rim. As I reviewed old Kodak Ektachrome slides of our time there, I was not sure if the second arch was real, or just a flaw in the 35-MM film. After pouring over fifteen pages of Google images, I found only two photographs that included Partition Arch in the same shot. I wonder where that photo spot is. It would be nice if Arches National Park could provide a protected path to the spot where those rare photos originated.

Kodak Ektachrome photo of Landscape Arch in old Arches National Monument, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Page 37, “I reach the end of the road and walk the deserted trail to Landscape Arch and Double-O Arch, picking up a few candy wrappers left from the weekend, straightening a trail sign which somebody had tried to remove, noting another girdled and bleeding pinion pine, obliterating from a sandstone wall the pathetic scratchings of some imbeciles who had attempted to write their names across the face of the Mesozoic.”

Page 267, “In the government truck I make a final tour of the park, into the Devil’s Garden where I walk for the last time this year out the trail past Tunnel Arch, Pine Tree Arch and Landscape Arch, all the way out to Double-O Arch at the end of the path.”

1965 Kodak Ektachrome slide of the Book Cliffs, taken from current U.S. Highway 191, near Arches National Monument - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Book Cliffs – Thirty-five miles north of Moab, Utah stand the majestic Book Cliffs. From Green River to the west, past Crescent Junction in the middle and on to Thompson Springs to the east, they parallel both the Union Pacific Railroad mainline and Interstate I-70. Stark in their appearance, the Book Cliffs angle of repose is too steep and the terrain too dry to support more than sparse vegetation. In broad daylight, as our 1965 image shows, the Cretaceous sandstone capping the cliffs stand tall and unbroken, like the skyline of a major city. In Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey often mentions the Book Cliffs.

Page 4, “On the north and northwest I see the Roan Cliffs and the Book Cliffs, the two-level face of the Uintah Plateau.

On a late summer afternoon in 1965, hoo-doos in the Devil's Garden at old Arches National Monument cast shadows on author Jim McGillis, in the foreground - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Page 23, “I refer to the garden which lies all around me, extending from here to the mountains, from here to the Book Cliffs, from here to Robbers’ Roost and Land’s End, an area about the size of the Negev.”

Page 118, “Mornings begin clear and dazzling bright, the sky as blue as the Virgin’s cloak, unflawed by a trace of cloud in all of that emptiness bounded on the North by the Book Cliffs.”

Page 269, “For a few minutes the whole region from the canyon of the Colorado to the Book Cliffs – crag, mesa, turret, dome, canyon wall, plain swale and dune – glows with a vivid amber light against the darkness on the east.”

The author's father, Dr. L.N. McGillis at Dead Horse Point in 1965 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) Dead Horse Point – If you have seen the Movie Cars, you know Dead Horse Point. After visiting Moab while on vacation, Pixar director John Lasseter copied whole scenes from that place and etched them into the minds of millions. What those movie viewers may not realize is that Lasseter got it right. The view from Dead Horse Point to the Shaffer Trail and beyond to the Colorado River looks impossible in its depth, yet you can recognize it in the movie.

In 1965, the landscape did look different than it does today. Below, in a place called Potash, the Texas Gulf Sulphur Company was only two years into conventional mining of Potash salts. With its processing facility hidden upstream, the Paradox Basin anticline still looked pristine. Readers will also The author, Jim McGillis at Dead Horse Point in 1965. Kodak Ektachrome slide courtesy of Dr. L. N. McGillis - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)note that my father had a penchant for tempting fate, standing within only a few feet of the precipice. A few times on our trip, he convinced me to do the same. Today, I would chalk that up to youthful exuberance.

Not until 1970, five years after our visit, did the now famous blue settling ponds appear on bench land above the Colorado River. From then on, solution mining, or hydraulic fracking of the anticline salt beds continued in earnest. In Desert Solitaire, Abbey focuses on several aspects of Dead Horse Mesa, but not the potash mine or its future risk to the environment.

Page 11, “…of Dead Horse Mesa, a flat-topped uninhabited island in the sky which extends for thirty miles north and south between the convergent canyons of the Green and Colorado rivers. Public domain. Above the mesa the sun hangs behind streaks and streamers of wind-whipped clouds.”

The long view of Canyonlands, from Dead Horse Point. Ektachrome slide courtesy of Dr. L.N. McGillis - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.comPage 66, “Finally he was discovered ten days after the search began near an abandoned miner’s shack below Dead Horse Point. They found him sitting on the ground hammering feebly at an ancient can of beans, trying to open the can with a stone.

Page 209, “…for the diversion, I throw canteens and rucksack into the government pickup and take off. I go west to the highway, south for three miles, and turn off on another dirt road leading southwest across Dead Horse Mesa toward the rendezvous.

Page 219, “Getting late; the sun is down beyond Back-of-the-Rocks, beyond the escarpment of Dead Horse Point. A soft pink mist of light, the alpenglow, The author, Jim McGillis astride a wild horse at Dead Horse Point, near Moab, Utah in 1965 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)lies on the (La Sal) mountains above timberline. I hurry on, south of Moab, off the highway on the gravel…”

Page 223, “There is no trail and many dead and fallen trees make progress difficult… Dead Horse Point and Grandview Point, and farther away, farthest of all, wonderfully remote, the Orange Cliffs, Lands’ End and the Maze, an exhilarating vastness…”

Page 265, “Enough of Land’s End, Dead Horse Point, Tukuhnikivats, and the other high resolves; I want to see somebody jump out of a window or off a roof. I grow weary of nobody’s company but my own – let me hear the wit and wisdom of the subway…”

While on our 1965 Grand Tour of the Four Corners states, my father and I had many adventures. As a teenager from California, I did not expect ever to see such exotic desert and mountain landscapes again. Not until 2006, over thirty years later did I again visit Moab, Arches, Canyonlands and Dead Horse Point. The author's father, Dr. L.N. McGillis tempting fate on a rocky outcropping at Dead Horse Point in 1965. Note the absence of settling ponds in the mid-ground at a place called Potash. The iconic blue ponds would not appear until 1970 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Although the political and demographic landscape had changed, the timeless beauty of Edward Abbey’s realm had not.

In Part 2 of my 1965 saga, my father and I visit Lake Powell and Rainbow Bridge. When I post that chapter, you will find it HERE.

Thanks to filmmaker ML Lincoln, we shall soon hear again from the spirit of Edward Abbey in her new feature documentary, titled "Wrenched". For a synopsis of the movie, click HERE.






Friday, December 14, 2012

Not For Us, But For Our Children and Grandchildren...


In the Costantino Proietto original oil painting, Archangel Michael stands atop Castel Sant'Angelo, in Rome Italy - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Not For Us, But For Our Children and Grandchildren...

Message from a friend - “The shooter in Conn. killed at least 27, 20 were children. Unbelievable! Makes me want to go and hug all the grand-kids.

I am hopeful this type of action will start changing minds, as there has to be an answer to these terrible crimes. It certainly
leaves people vulnerable to crimes, even when they do their best to stay away from crime.”

Spokesmodel Carrie McCoy with her granddaughter, Loralai - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) AAMikael’s Response - “How many parents in America were against gun control until this morning?

It is time for a change in this country. Yet, so many are hidebound against resale-control, bullet & magazine control, not to mention assault weapon control… let alone ‘gun control’ itself, whatever that is.

It is the ‘gun tragedy of the day’. Sadly, only such shocking violence, conducted against children has a prayer-of-a-chance of changing enough minds to make a difference.


Atop the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome, a statue of Archangel Michael contacts the infinite with his flaming sword. Detail from the C.Proietto "Glory of Rome" original oil painting - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
As Neil Young wrote and sang so many years ago, ‘What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground? How can you run when you know?’

On this day, twenty-seven angels departed Earth. As it is above, so it is below. After the tears, all will be well.

In love, Light and life,




Monday, December 10, 2012

Live Webcam at Back of Beyond Books, Moab, Utah


Kokopelli, the ancient and ever-changing Spirit of Moab - (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 

New Live Webcam at Back of Beyond Books, Moab, Utah 

We recently completed the installation of anew webcam, streaming live from Moab, Utah.
 
 

 
Moab Live and Back of Beyond Books, located on Main Street in Moab, Utah are proud to announce our new webcam, streaming live from the Antiquarian Section of that fabled bookstore. Visible in the image is part of the large collection of High Southwest fiction and non-fiction. According to proprietor, Andy Nettell, "We are an independent bookstore with a large selection of books."
 
"The name of the store derives from Edward Abbey's controversial novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang. His character Seldom Seen Smith was an outfitter, and the name of his company--and hideout--was 'Back of Beyond'. We specialize in natural history, environmental literature, Southwestern guidebooks and maps, Native American books, and Western history."
 
Author's Note - December 2012: Thanks to filmmaker ML Lincoln, we shall soon hear again from the spirit of Edward Abbey in her new feature documentary, titled "Wrenched". For a synopsis of the movie, click HERE.
 
To view the Back of Beyond webcam, streaming live from the back of Back of Beyond Bookstore on their website, click on the webcam image above, or click HERE.
 
With webcams streaming live from CaliforniaOregon and Utah, the Moab Live group of websites is now the largest provider of low cost, streaming webcams in the Western United States. If you would like to learn more about pre-tested, plug & play webcam systems, please contact us soon.
Email James McGillisEmail James McGillis
 
  

Edward Abbey - The Bard of Moab, Utah



Book jacket for hardcover edition of Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Edward Abbey - The Bard of Moab, Utah

As I first read author Edward Abbey's book, "Desert Solitaire - A Season in the Wilderness”, I loved both his writing style and his subject matter. In that book, his style was simple, direct and observational; yet personal, all at once. His subject was the old Arches National Monument near Moab, Utah.
 
With rye humor, he wrote about the animals, plants, hoodoos and summer tourists that populated the area around Devils Garden campground. It was there, as a mid 1950’s park ranger that Abbey lived for part of two seasons. His second season ended with a train trip home to the east coast that started at “Thompson” (Springs). Can one think of a more ignominious way to leave Canyonlands than at a railroad whistle-stop on a cold, rainy night?
 
That night, one Jeep with 4-wheels spinning, drove north of Moab on Valley City Road. With the heavy rain, mud flying from the wheels and the engine floored-out, the wipers swept across the windshield just fast enough to smear the red mud away. They were late to the station and flagging down a cross-country passenger train at Thompson was rare and dangerous. With no time to take the paved road, they continued northeast, their wheels barely touching the muddy ground.
The Book Cliffs, near Thompson Springs, in Grand Valley, Utah - Click for larger image 
The driver, squinting through the muddy glass, was sad to see his friend go. The other was heading east to a promised job and money. That need drove the man back home. At Arches, he had experienced the secrets of God’s creation. Later, he was to live in Oracle, Arizona. Between his birth and death, he like to say that his life took him from Home to Oracle. Now he paid the stationmaster to stop the Zephyr and get him onboard.
 
Thompson Springs had no Fred Harvey restaurant or luxury hotel. It had one diner, one motel and one eternal wellspring of water, which accounts for half its name. Few passengers ever boarded a Union Pacific passenger train at Thompson Springs. The small stop was used mostly to ship cattle or sheep to market. Situated half way between Green River, Utah and Grand Junction, Colorado, Thompson Springs could just as well have been half way to nowhere.
 
While the bearded man pressed fifty dollars into the stationmaster’s hand, the eastbound California Zephyr had already passed both sets of green lights. At that moment, no one on the train expected to stop at Thompson Springs.
Front entrance, the former Edward Abbey House, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.cxom) 
With throttles wide open, the eastbound Zephyr pulled the grade on approach to the old station. The thrum of the engines and the glare of the headlight shot through the night sky. With a touch of W.C. Fields ringing in his voice, the stationmaster declared, “Sir, there is no time to waste. You are leaving here on that train”. As a powerful wavering light filled the depot, the stationmaster realized that the train was about to pass them by. With one hand he shoved the fifty dollars deep into his pocket, and with the other he threw a switch, activating the red lights on the station platform.
 
Seeing red, the engineer of the Zephyr had no choice but to shut down the throttles and actuate the air-brakes. As brake shoes applied friction to each wheel, the engine of the aluminum-clad streamliner shot past the passenger platform. Grinding, creaking, and then shuddering, the engine came to a halt in a cottonwood grove beyond the station. “Peace at last, peace at last”, was all that the U.P. engineer managed to say. Luckily, the train was comprised of ten cars, so Abbey could board the last car, which stood quietly at the far end of the platform. 
The Moab Rim, from the former Edward Abbey House on Spanish Valley Drive, Moab, UT - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 
As a town, Thompson Springs survives to this day for only one reason, which is water. As strange as it may seem, at Thompson Springs there is free flowing water in the desert. Even now, residents can pull up to the town's water dispensing station and fill truck-mounted water tanks as needed. "Be sure to shut off the valve when you are done", reads a nearby sign. First used to support cattle and sheep ranching, the springs later made a reliable water-stop for steam locomotives. As Abbey so eloquently decried in Desert Solitaire, the West was changing. When his train departed Thompson Springs that rainy, autumn night, its gleaming silver locomotive no longer required water-stops. The diesel-electric motors powering its drive-wheels made Thompson Springs obsolete.
 
In Edward Abbey’s early writings, a prescient reader may spot evidence of both his inconsistencies and his growing discontent. A serial monogamist, Abbey married often and spent money freely on such icons of consumption as a red 1975 Eldorado Cadillac convertible. Like the pamphleteers of our early union, Abbey used his wit and his pen to wage metaphorical war against despoilers of the desert he loved.
Book Jacket from the hardcover edition of Edward Abbey's "The Monkey Wrench Gang" - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 
First published in 1968, Desert Solitaire elevated Edward Abbey to celebrity status, especially in the Spanish Valley. In 1974, drawing on his proceeds, Abbey bought a home at 2260 Spanish Valley Drive. There, he reputedly wrote his breakthrough novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang. I use the word “reputedly”, but not to impugn or malign the memories of Abbey’s family, friends and neighbors. Publication of The Monkey Wrench Gang occurred in 1975. Is it reasonable to assume that Edward Abbey could write, then have edited and published his opus in one year’s time?
 
Thirty years after his death, if we were to poll current Moab residents regarding Edward Abbey’s legacy, half would love him and half would revile him. If Abbey were to return today, his spirit might align more closely with those who hate him than with those who love him. Abbey was never one to take himself too seriously. His style of self-depreciative humor compares well to Will Rogers or Mark Twain.
 
The Abbey House, as locals call it, is currently on the market for under $300,000. Although the house and grounds need some repair, the current owner has done what she can to maintain a mid-century home with style and grace. The day I visited Abbey's Shrine, there were candles lit upon the mantle. The grounds and outbuildings may look like a Tennessee Williams stage set transported to the desert, but then again, one person’s junk is another person’s treasure.
Living room fireplace, the former Edward Abbey House, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 
Whether new owners repair the house or tear it down, we hope that all future custodians of the property will conserve and retain its large stone fireplace. Local stone, chosen for its pattern, texture and color dominates the outdoor wall of the front entry. Inside, the opposite face of the same structure makes up the fireplace and living room wall. Harkening back to a time when firewood heated most local homes, stone vents above the hearth circulate warm air into the room.
 
That hearth, as heart, architecturally defines the Abbey House. If tomorrow, a tornado carried away every stick of the Abbey House, that stone fireplace would stand. Saving the heart of his former home would be monument enough to Edward Abbey, the iconoclastic author and onetime Bard of Moab.
 
Author's Note - December 2012: Thanks to filmmaker ML Lincoln, we shall soon hear again from the spirit of Edward Abbey in her new feature documentary, titled "Wrenched". For a synopsis of the movie, click HERE.
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Friday, December 7, 2012

A Sense of Entitlement No Longer Serves Us


Agathla Peak (El Capitan in Spanish), a magma landform rising above the eroded plain north of Kayenta, Arizona - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

A Sense of Entitlement No Longer Serves Us

Since Navajo National Monument is so peaceful and quiet, I stayed on the morning of October 7, 2009 to enjoy the otherwise empty campground. It was over two hundred miles to my next destination, at Moab, Utah. In order to visit all my favorite places along the way, I would have to stretch geodetic verisimilitude. Today, my intention was to see it all and still be in my Moab camp before the sun descended behind the Moab Rim.
 
Grazing Navajo sheep, herded by dogs at Monument Valley, Arizona - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
I stopped first in Kayenta, Arizona, a city within the Navajo Indian Reservation, or “Res”, as the locals call it. Kayenta is also the southern gateway to Monument Valley, via US-163 Scenic Highway. While US Highway 191 North will get you to Bluff faster, it is a bone-jarring road through unredeemed scenery. Every time I go the fast way, I wish I hadn't. Passing through Monument Valley is now my right of passage to the Four Corners and the High Southwest.
 
Other than an Anglo insurance adjuster assisting a local resident, everyone I saw there was Navajo, or Dine’, as they call themselves. Although Navajo facial features differ from those we might see elsewhere, the youth of Kayenta wore attire indistinguishable from their suburban brethren across the country.
A hogan-style building once served as an open-air Navajo Indian jewelry store, Monument Valley, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 
While visiting Kayenta in June 2009, I located a field north of town from which emanated the vortex of a regional dust storm. Driving south towards Kayenta that day, I traced the point of origin to a field across Highway 163 from Chaistla Butte. I was amazed to find that a dust storm covering hundreds of square miles could have its origin in one empty field.
 
Ten minutes later, in Monument Valley, I observed ongoing destruction of the landscape. Along Highway 163, several dogs herded a flock of sheep southward toward that fateful field. With no humans in sight, the dogs kept the sheep moving down that parched valley. As it is today, when ancestral Puebloan Indians first inhabited Monument Valley, there was no year-round running stream.
View south toward Monument Valley, Utah landforms, with storm clouds approaching - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 
For over one hundred years, Anglo ranchers’ sacred cattle and the Navajo’s sacred sheep have eaten the West. Left unchecked, sheep will eat low lying plants down to their roots. One needs to look no farther than the fence lines along Arizona highways to see the damage. When compared to the overgrazed landscape of the open range, the protected area along the roadside is lush with vegetation. Shifting sand and blowing dust have been part of their lives for so long; locals of all ethnicity now take it their moving landscape for granted.
"The Mexican Hat" or "el Sombrero Mexicano", with convoluted and eroded landform behind, near Mexican Hat, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
With an extended dry cycle in the West, we must control and curtail grazing in wind-sensitive areas. Allowing further destruction and dissipation of the land will encourage even earlier seasonal dust storms, with attendant early snow-melt in the high country. The issue no longer centers on sacred grazing rites or cattle ranching traditions. Now, the issue is the survival of the Western landscape and all of us who live or play within it. Only when all humans abandon their sense of entitlement will this endangered land begin to heal itself.
As we enter another
A view of Comb Ridge, Utah, from Comb Wash, looking north - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 
On this October day, a cold front had cleared the air in the Four Corners region. As I approached Monument Valley from the south, I caught a glimpse of the Abajo Mountains, over seventy miles to the north. Before reaching those mountains later that afternoon, I would cross the Arizona - Utah border in Monument Valley, then on through the towns of Mexican Hat, Bluff and Blanding.
 
During my 1965 visit to Monument Valley, I had discovered a favorite scene. Now heading north, capturing that scene required me to stop and look back. From a mesa top, I had a long view toward the buttes and spires of Monument Valley. Here, the movie character Forest Gump stopped running and returned home. Over forty years after my first visit, the spot was just as majestic and unspoiled as it was in my youth.
View of U.S. Highway 163 North road-cut at Comb Ridge, from the bottom Comb Wash - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 
After departing Monument Valley, I traveled across a narrow bridge that spans the San Juan River. There, serving as the northern gateway to Monument Valley is the town of Mexican Hat, Utah. Home to about one hundred hearty souls, it was there; in a roadside diner, that author Edward Abbey set the scene for the climactic chase in his 1975 novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang. Since Abbey set his scenes with geographical accuracy, a now abandoned diner In Mexican Hat may have served as his model.
 
Author's Note - December 2012: Thanks to filmmaker ML Lincoln, we shall soon hear again from the spirit of Edward Abbey in her new feature documentary, titled "Wrenched". For a synopsis of the movie, click HERE.
 
The actual Mexican Hat Rock is a disk of sandstone sixty feet in diameter. Perched as it is on a much smaller boulder, one must invert the image to see the hat. In the background, stand convoluted and eroded landforms of fantastic proportions. With only the San Juan River to carry away the products of erosion, one can only imagine how many thunderstorms in the desert it took to create such fanciful shapes.
Ancient Spirit Kokopelli and Coney the Traffic Cone at the old Cow Canyon Trading Post in Bluff, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 
The next Utah landform of note I encountered was Comb Ridge. The large, tilted-block monocline divides much of Southeastern Utah along a north – south axis. Named for its resemblance to a cockscomb, one can see how the eroded ridge top inspired such a name.
 
Approaching Comb Ridge from the south, the highway first crosses Comb Wash. With the ridge of eroding sandstone looming above, the Highway 163 climbs over the steep ridge. Partially because of space constraints, highway engineers gave us a strong running start down into the wash then up through a dramatic road cut. From plateau top to the bottom of the wash and then to ridge top again takes less than two minutes. With its changes in elevation, swooping turns and potential for falling rocks, the short transit up and over Comb Ridge is both dramatic and memorable.
A 1949 Buick 8 abandoned at the old Cow Canyon Trading Post, Bluff, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 
Heading north from Comb Ridge, Highway 163 briefly shares a route with U.S. Highway 191. In the town of Bluff, beneath sugarcoated sandstone canyon walls, the two highways again diverge. There, at a T-shaped intersection stands a remnant from the past known as the old Cow Canyon Trading Post. Since images of the old trading post serve as “Moab Ranch” in my online novel at JimMcGillis.com, I stopped to look around. A rustic buckboard at that location provided a backdrop for pictures of Kokopelli and Coney, two of the characters in my novel.
 
My next stop was in Blanding, Utah. As did Bluff to its south and Monticello to its north, Blanding began as a Mormon outpost and settlement in the late 1800s. Today, Blanding’s simple, clean appearance belies the angst and anguishes many of its longtime residents feel.
Not twenty-six abandoned gas stations, but one very nice abandoned gas station, Highway 191, in Blanding, north of Monument Valley, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 
The collecting of ancient Indian artifacts, locally called “pot hunting” has been illegal on public lands since President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act of 1906. In the 1980s, arrests and prosecutions of several prominent local citizens had curtailed, but not ended the looting in San Juan County. The arrest of twenty-six Four Corners residents in early 2009 indicates that looting of artifacts from graves is still considered by some to be an “entitlement activity”. If Ute Indians from the White Mesa Reservation were to dig up the Blanding City Cemetery in search of valuables, would townsfolk passively accept such behavior?
Indian jewelry store, downtown Blanding, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 
After the recent BLM arrests, the San Juan County Sheriff contacted both of Utah U.S. senators, requesting a federal investigation. The investigation that he requested centered not on possible conspiracy to loot artifacts from our public lands. His main concern was that a phalanx of armed federal agents had arrested middle aged and elderly citizens of Blanding. Included in the arrests was a member of his family.
 
Whether we agree with the tactics of federal agents or not, it is hard to argue against ending what had become rampant grave robbing and desecration of sacred sites. Whether the issue is overgrazing or pot hunting, only when we abandon our feelings of entitlement shall we begin to heal both our relationship with the land and with the spirit of the ancients.
 
Read the latest Utah Stolen Artifacts Case News at MoabRockart.com.
 
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