Wednesday, January 30, 2013

First, there was the beating drum. Then, somebody invented the flute.



At Moab, Utah the U.S. 191 Colorado River highway bridge is in the foreground, with the bicycle bridge in the background - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

"First, there was the beating drum. Then, somebody invented the flute. Maybe we should have stopped there." - Edward Abbey

On October 6, 2012, I was busy with two projects in Moab, Utah. By noon that day, I had two live webcam operating Behind the Rocks at the last and final 24-Hours of Moab Off-road Bicycle Race. As soon as I had the webcam images of the race streaming properly, I headed for my base camp at the Moab Rim Campark. After a quick cleanup, I dashed off to the Canyonlands by Night pavilion on the banks of the Colorado River.


Travel in time through the North Portal of the Colorado River, Moab, Utah.

Now called Canyonlands by Night & Day, in 2012 the company celebrated its forty-ninth year as a river tour operator in Moab. With their unique floating dock, flat-bottom excursion boats and high-speed jet boats, the company offers a wide variety of tours both up and down the Colorado River. In the early 1970’s, Canyonlands by Night was already an established tourist attraction. In the early days, their most popular tour was a night visit to the Colorado River Canyon, downstream from Moab. With powerful lights played upon the canyon walls and music to match, it was a multimedia experience unique to Moab.

Passing between the dual arches of the energy bridge, on the Colorado River, North Portal, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)I had met Evan Haworth several years ago, while dining at Pasta Jay’s Restaurant in Moab. In conversation, I discovered that Evan and I had something in common. We both played traditional wooden Indian flutes. As it turned out, I am a novice and Evan is a master flute player, internationally known in the realm of the wooden flute. In those early days of Facebook, we "friended" each other and kept in touch from time to time. In October 2012 I found a special reason for taking the Canyonlands by Night “Dine & Unwind” tour.

In September, I received word that Evan would be playing the flute alongside Gray Boy, his Native American friend and master of the Navajo Hand Drum. That Saturday evening, Evan Haworth and Gray Boy were to play live on the new “Dine & Unwind” dinner tour at Canyonlands by Night. After rushing to the river, I was the first guest to arrive for the tour. A few minutes later, Evan and Gray Boy approached, dressed for their performance. Soon, a busload of French tourists arrived and we boarded our boat.

In the distance is the North Portal of the Colorado River at Moab, Utah. Silhouetted against the canyon wall are two crawler cranes at the beginning of bridge construction in 2009 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)With forty guests, plus crew, we headed upriver in the open-air excursion boat. Almost immediately, we passed beneath the new U.S. 191 Highway Bridge. Actually, there are now a pair of identical bridges in place there, separated by a narrow gap. In order for traffic to keep rolling during bridge construction, engineers first built a new southerly span of the bridge. After switching traffic to the new span, engineers demolished the old highway bridge. With all of their experience constructing the southbound span, the new northbound span took far less time to build.

To motorists crossover over either span, each side appears to be part of a greater whole. From our vantage point, we could see dual structures arching gracefully over the Colorado River. With their concrete spans and massive center supports, the color-matched bridges created an impressive sight.

As Gray Boy reflects new energy light through is Navajo hand drum, Evan Haworth discusses the drum as sipapu, representing the fount of all creation - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Earlier in the season, there was sufficient water in the Colorado River for the boat to travel unimpeded upstream. After passing beneath the highway and bicycle bridges, I noticed that the water level on the Colorado River was near its all-time low. About a mile upstream, our shallow-draft excursion boat could go no further. Ahead there was a rock-shelf in the river bottom over which the boat could not pass.

Taking advantage of the slow current, our captain centered our boat in the river, with the bow pointing upstream. As the sound of the engines died, Evan Haworth and Gray Boy began for their performance. Between each song or chant, the captain swung the boat back into upstream position, preparing for another slow drift downstream. As I looked through my viewfinder, the late afternoon sunlight played tricks with both my eyes and the video camera lens. As Evan played his first number, my eye caught the image of an Ancient Spirit up on the canyon wall. Known locally as “ET, the Extraterrestrial”, the Spirit of the Colorado Riverway is visible in the video accompanying this article.

Evan Haworth and the Wind Whacker on the Colorado Riverway near Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Next, Navajo elder, Gray Boy performed solo, rhythmically playing the hand drum while chanting in Dine' Bazaad, his native Navajo language. As a young man, Gray Boy departed the Navajo Reservation to the south, traveling to Moab and there finding a good life for him and his family. Now, thirty years later, Gray Boy worked as a maintenance person at Canyonlands by Night & Day.

Earlier in the season, musicians scheduled to play on a river cruise were unable to perform. In his unassuming way, Gray Boy offered to play the drum, while his friend Evan played flute. The rest, as they say, is history. Now, during the season, Evan Haworth and Gray Boy often play together on “Dine & Unwind” dinner tours. If you plan to visit Moab, be sure to call ahead and see which days they will play, as theirs is still a limited engagement. Once the world discovers this unique experience, I expect to see the pair perform several times each week.

From the wall of the canyon, the Ancient Spirit of the Riverway reflects both music and new energy back to all below - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)If you had walked the banks of the Colorado Riverway one or two thousand years ago, you likely would have heard both flute and drum. Throughout Canyonlands, those were and still are the primary musical instruments of traditional Indian culture. For a sampler of what you will see and hear on your own “Dine & Unwind” tour, please watch the accompanying video.

For several years now, I have studied and written about various energy bridges in and around Canyonlands. In my concept, an energy bridge allows us to experience vibrational energies that existed in that place, but at a different time. That particular time we may say is in the future or the past. The key to the energy bridge concept is that we can feel past, present and future, all right now.

While listening to the timeless music of flute and drum echo from the canyon walls, I realized that the new highway bridge serves a dual purpose. On one hand, it conducts traffic across the river, north of Moab. On the other hand, the the dual arched spans serve together as an energy bridge to the culture of the Ancients. After passing under the Colorado River Bridges, our boat headed up through the North Portal of the Colorado River. As we motored farther up the canyon, we were just in time to enter the timeless realm of the Ancients.

Beyond the New Energy Bridge at Moab, Utah, Evan Haworth plays the traditional Indian wooden flute (http://jamesmcgillis.com)On our return trip, we passed again under the energy bridges. As we transited beneath the bridges, the sun was setting behind the Moab Rim. With fractals of new energy light captured by my still camera, the concept of an energy bridge seemed real enough for me. If only, I thought, we could capture that new energy; think what it could do for our world and us.

As rapidly as our upstream passage had sent us all to another place in time, we found ourselves back at the Canyonlands by Night, disembarking on to the floating dock. Shifting as we had from one earthly dimension to another in so brief a time, we had all worked up quite an appetite. Luckily, an excellent chuck-wagon-style barbecue dinner awaited us in the riverside dining room. At dinner that evening, I sat with Evan Haworth and Gray Boy. As we unwound from our mesmerizing upriver experience, I again felt the attraction of the energy bridge.

Suddenly, it was two hundred years before and I was sitting at a rendezvous between a mountain man and a Navajo elder, discussing their music. Since that ancient day, I thought, not much has changed. Being with friends while listening to live music on the Colorado River is as pleasurable now as it ever was.

Kokopelli, The ancient spirit of Moab and the High Southwest, playing his flute in a cornfield (http://jamesmcgillis.com)


Friday, January 25, 2013

Kodiak 100 Turboprop at Redtail Aviation, Canyonlands Field, Moab, Utah



The Redtail Aviation Kodiak 100 turboprop charter aircraft seats ten, including the pilot. See it at Canyonlands Field, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

New Kodiak 100 Turboprop at Redtail Aviation, Canyonlands Field, Moab, Utah


In April 2012, I visited Redtail Aviation at Canyonlands Field, Moab, Utah. As usual, I was servicing the live webcam that I provide to Redtail. When I arrived, my desire was to get my work done and get back to town. Soon, my plans changed. Upon walking into the Redtail hanger, I was awestruck by a beautiful new airplane that stood center stage, facing the main door. From its red, black and white paintjob to its ninety-six inch diameter, three-point prop, this was an airplane designed for business in the backcountry around Moab.


Watch the Kodiak 100 land at Canyonlands Field, Moab, Utah

In profile view, the Redtail Aviation Kodiak 100 shows off its stout structure and clean aerodynamics - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In black lettering on the engine cowling was the single word, “Kodiak”. With its compact size and under-fuselage baggage module, it would take a superior power plant to lift this ten-place aircraft on hot days and the high altitude (4557 ft. elevation) of Canyonlands Field. Later, I discovered that the Kodiak 100 utilized a Pratt & Whitney PT6-34 turbine engine with 750 horsepower at takeoff. That amount of power provides the safety margin required to access gravel strips and unimproved airfields throughout the Canyonlands area.

Inside and out, the airplane was immaculate. With its first one hundred hours already in the logbook, the Kodiak was just then entering the Redtail Aviation charter fleet. Even with nine passengers and their luggage aboard, the The Redtail Aviation Kodiak 100 features three doors, including a double-wide passenger/cargo door. Note that under-belly luggage compartment door does not conflict with open passenger door - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)lightweight materials utilized in construction kept takeoff weight to less than 7,300 pounds. With only moderate loading and two passengers, my Nissan Titan pickup truck weighs over 6,000 pounds. Built for high altitude, rough terrain takeoffs and landings, the Kodiak appeared to be a cut above any other airplane of its type.

In October 2012, I was back at Redtail Aviation working on our webcam, as usual. Even while buried in my work, I could hear the radio crackle to life. When the Redtail Kodiak pilot announced his imminent arrival in Moab, I ran to my truck, retrieved my camera and headed for the tarmac. Although the Kodiak had already landed, I was able to capture video of the airplane gracefully taxiing to a stop near the terminal. In This first-time visitor to Moab was pleased with the Redtail Aviation Kodiak 100 Charter service - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)only a few minutes the ground crew had secured the Kodiak, unloaded the baggage and helped a full load of passengers disembark in preparation for their own personal Moab adventures.

For any group up to nine people planning a Moab visit, I suggest contacting Redtail aviation for rates and schedules. As of this writing, Great Lakes Airlines provides daily service from Moab to Vernal, Utah and Denver, Colorado. For a group visiting Moab from Phoenix, Las Vegas or Salt Lake City, a Kodiak charter with Redtail Aviation might provide better service and lower costs. Although I enjoy traveling on Great Lakes Airlines, given the chance, I would opt for the adventure of flying in the Kodiak. After all, it is an airplane designed The Quest Aircraft Company ID tag shows that the Redtail Aviation Kodiak 100 is Serial #100-0059 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)specifically for the conditions at Moab and all around Canyonlands.

Who knows…? Maybe the next time I service their webcam, the good folks at Redtail Aviation will take me up on a demonstration flight in their fabulous new Quest Aircraft Company Kodiak 100 airplane. I can hardly wait to ask, when I return to Canyonlands Field in Moab, Utah.



Thursday, January 24, 2013

The True Cost of Mineral Extraction and Processing


A portable hard-rock drilling rig similar to the type Charlie Steen used to discover the largest uranium claim in U.S. history lies derelict near the Moab Rim - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

"A billion here, a billion there... Pretty soon you have some real money." - Senator Everett Dirksen

While living in Los Angeles in the 1980s, I first became aware of “The Moab Pile”. Near Moab, Utah, on the right bank of the Colorado River, stood an eighty-foot tall mountain of uranium tailings saturated with acid, ammonia and radio nucleotides. In newspaper articles of that time, I discovered that seasonal flooding of the Colorado River threatened to sluice 16 million tons of tailings into the drinking water supply of fifteen million people downstream.

2006 Image of U.S. Highway 191 South, with the Moab UMTRA site, better known as the "Moab Pile" at the bottom of the hill - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)When I started traveling to Moab on a regular basis in 2006, the Moab Pile once again entered into my thoughts and dreams. Although the subject did not receive much press coverage, that year floods of a size not seen since 1984 again cut into the Moab Pile. Throughout its term of office, the George W. Busch administration was slow to commit funds to the cleanup of the imminent hazard.

Once the Obama administration took over, it allocated federal stimulus funds to the project. Now, four years later, the Moab Pile is smaller by almost one-third. With current funding curtailed to pre-stimulus levels, the twenty-five million people now living downstream will have to wait another six to twelve years for the complete removal of the Moab Pile. If ever there was a good case for increased federal funding, the Moab UMTRA Project is that case.

Following is a timeline for the creation and demise of the Moab Pile:

  • 1952 – Near Moab, Utah, prospector Charlie Steen discovered and claimed the largest uranium deposit in United States history.
  • 1954 – Steen approached the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) about building the first large, independent uranium mill in the United States.
  • 1957 – Near Moab, on an outside bend of the Colorado River, Uranium Reduction Company (URC) dedicated its $11 million uranium mill.2008 - The Moab Pile, with its irrigation system creating the horizontal white line in the middle of the image - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
  • 1962 – Charlie Steen sold URC and its uranium mill to Atlas Corp.
  • 1962 – Licensed and regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Atlas Corp. continued the operation of the uranium mill.
  • 1970 – The Atlas Corp. mill converted from producing uranium concentrate (yellowcake) to producing fuel for commercial nuclear power plants.
  • 1984 – Spring floods on the Colorado River blasted up to 66,000 cubic feet [1,870 cubic meters] per second directly into the Moab Pile, causing an undocumented release of contaminated material into the Colorado River.
  • 1984 – Atlas Corp. ceased operations at Moab, leaving both the mill and up to 16 million tons of uranium tailings and contaminated soil at the site.
  • 1988 – When it became obvious that the mill would not operate again, Atlas Corp. began on-site remediation of the mill and tailings pile.
  • 1995 – Atlas Corp. crushed the mill and then placed an interim cover of soil over its remnants and the tailings pile.The Spirit of the Ancients smiles as he overlooks the Moab Pile in October 2009 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
  • 1998 – Atlas Corp. declared bankruptcy, relinquished its license and forfeited its reclamation bond.
  • 1998 – The NRC appointed PricewaterhouseCoopers as the trustee of the Moab Mill Reclamation Trust, licensing that company to initiate site reclamation.
  • 2000 – Congress and President Bill Clinton approved transfer of responsibility for the Moab Pile to the Department of Energy (DOE).
  • 2001 – The DOE accepted transfer of title for the site, with direct responsibility going to their office in Grand Junction, Colorado.
  • 2003 – In order to slow the migration of ammonia and other contaminants into the Colorado River, DOE contractors constructed eight extraction and more than thirty freshwater injection wells at the site.
  • 2004 – The DOE Moab Project Team published a draft plan that called for moving the contaminated tailings and decommissioned mill to an offsite location.
  • 2005 – DOE announced its preferred disposal site, thirty miles away in the desert, near Crescent Junction, Utah.
  • In 2009, a truck sprinkles dust-suppressing water on the Moab UMTRa site, also known as the Moab Pile (http://jamesmcgillis.com)2006 – Flash flooding cut through layers of sand that covered the pile, washed out a containment berm and left a large puddle on top of the 130-acre Moab Pile.
  • 2007 – EnergySolutions of Salt Lake City, Utah received a $98 million contract for removal and disposal of tailings through 2011.
  • 2008 – In preparation for removal of material, DOE began infrastructure improvements at both the Moab Pile and the Crescent Junction disposal site.
  • 2008 – The DOE announced that transportation of tailings to the disposal site would be by rail, rather than by truck.
  • 2009 – Stimulus Funds provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act increased removal activity to two trains per day, six days each week.
  • 2010 – In In 2010, with the addition of federal stimulus funds, the Moab Pile was disappearing at the rate of over one million tons per year - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)March, the Moab UMTRA project reached a milestone, with over one million tons of tailings removed from the site.
  • 2010 – In August, the Moab UMTRA project reaches another milestone, with over two million tons removed from the site.
  • 2011 – Just as stimulus-funding dried up, the Moab UMTRA project reached another milestone, with over four million tons removed from the site.
  • 2011 – The Colorado River overflowed its banks at the Moab UMTRA site, causing damage to earthworks and a riverside bicycle path, but sparing the river from direct contact with the Moab Pile.
  • 2012 – In a competitive bidding process, Portage, Inc. of Idaho Falls, Idaho displaced EnergySolutions as the prime contractor for removal of tailings from the Moab UMTRA site.
  • 2012 – In February, the Moab UMTRA project reached another milestone, with over five million tons removed from the site.
  • 2012 – With commencement of reduced federal funding, Portage, Inc. announced a new concept, whereby the annual contract for removal would switch to a nine-month schedule, with a three-month hiatus each winter.
in 2012, demolition and disposal of the Moab Pile went on at a slower rate - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Now, more than sixty years after Charlie Steen discovered uranium near Moab, the estimated completion date for the Moab UMTRA project ranges from 2019–2025. In 1957, the original Uranium Reduction Company mill cost $11 million to build. The current estimated cost to remove and dispose of the mill and its contaminated tailings is $1 billion. For that honor, U.S. taxpayers will shell out almost one hundred times the original cost of construction.

This week, the two top stories in the Moab Times Independent newspaper concern the future of mineral extraction and processing in that area. In one story, “A controversial oil sands mining operation proposed for the Book Cliffs northeast of Moab has cleared its final state regulation hurdle, allowing it to become the nation’s first such project.” In another, “The Grand County Council voted unanimously to send a letter to President Barack Obama opposing creation of national monument status for 1.4 million acres surrounding Canyonlands National Park.”

in 2012, as excavation reduced the vertical profile of the Moab Pile, Moab and the Spanish Valley reappeared from U.S. Highway 191 South for the first time in over two decades - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) If the president were to grant national monument status to unprotected landforms, wildlife and viewscapes around Moab, Utah, large-scale mineral extraction projects there would at last receive increased scrutiny. In the sixty years since Charlie Steen discovered uranium near Moab, have we learned anything about the true cost of mineral extraction and processing on our most sensitive public lands?




Saturday, January 19, 2013

1950 Chevy 3100 Half-ton Pickup Truck Becomes an Award Winning Work of Art



1950 Chevrolet 3100 half-ton pickup truck in storage at Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

A 1950 Chevy 3100 Half-ton Pickup Truck Becomes an Award Winning Work of Art

Each October, I make it a point to visit Moab, Utah. By then, it is the shoulder season, with warm days, cool nights and many happenings around town and beyond. On October 6-7, 2012, I covered the last and final 24-Hours of Moab Mountain Bike Team Relay Race, Behind the Rocks near Moab. That same weekend, PleinAir Moab ’12 brought artists from all over the country to Moab for some fast-action outdoor painting.

The prior year, I had stopped on a Downtown sidewalk to watch woman paint. Before my eyes, she recreated Pasta Jay’s Restaurant. This year, when 1950 Chevy 3100 truck at the Moab Rim Campark - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)I saw a man setting up his easel behind the office at the Moab Rim Campark, I knew just what he was doing. Not wanting to miss the action, I grabbed my camera and headed outside.

By the time I arrived, artist Larry Rudolech had already sketched his subject in charcoal or graphite. After introducing myself, I asked if Larry would allow me to document his creation. In the “Quick Draw” format of PleinAir, I knew that Larry’s current painting would be hanging in the competition room Downtown in less than four hours. Graciously, Larry allowed me to photograph his sketch. We also conversed about his paint preparation and painting technique.

Returning to my appointment with Jim Farrell, owner at the Moab Rim Campark, the artist and his painting soon faded from my mind. After working Artist Larry Rudolech paints a 1950 Chevy pickup truck at Moab, Utah in October 2012 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)inside for over an hour, I returned to the back lot, only to discover that both Larry and his painting were gone. “Darn”, was about all I could say. “I wanted to photograph the finished canvas.” After realizing that Larry was long gone, I sighed, “So much for that story.”

One reason that I was interested in Larry’s work was his subject matter. I too had studied his subject for over five years. In 2008, I first discovered Jim Farrell’s 1950 Chevrolet 3100 pickup truck. By the looks of Jim's old Chevy, I surmised that it had been in Moab since it was new, over sixty years ago. Like an old park ranger truck, once it had been painted forest green. Now it was equal parts fading green paint and hard-finished rust. I photographed the old truck in the carport where it Sketch of a 1950 Chevrolet 3100 pickup truck, by Larry Rudolech - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)stood, its front end raised up on blocks. It was obvious to me that the truck did not run.

After reviewing my photographs, I asked Jim Farrell about his truck. “Well, it still worked when I bought it, but once I got it here, it wouldn’t go any farther.” With a wistful look on his face, Jim said, “I plan to fix it up some day”. Three years later, in 2011, I found Jim’s truck parked under a tree by the office. With new hubcaps, gauges and wiring, Jim Farrell was back in the Chevy truck business. As the Rainbird played water over the cab, I hoped that its windows were waterproof.

Thinking of the great hospitality that Jim Farrell and his wife, Sue had shown me over the years, I decided to purchase Larry’s PleinAir painting and present it to them as a gift. Although the price of Larry’s art was reasonable for an original oil painting, I quickly realized that my budget was too low. Once again, I said, “So much for that story”.
Sue Farrell with the Larry Rudolech painting of Jim Farrell's 1950 Chevrolet 3100 pickup truck - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
The next day, I walked in to the Campark office, only to find Sue Farrell showing off a new painting that she and Jim had just purchased. Of course, it was Larry Rudolech’s PleinAir painting of Jim Farrell’s old Chevy pickup. After taking photographs inside, I asked Jim Farrell to come outside with me. There, Jim held up his new artwork, with the truck itself in the background. As the reader will see, Larry has an uncanny ability to sense both the whole scene and the details necessary to convey a separate, miniature reality to the viewer. To me, Larry’s work was impressionism at its finest.

The original 1950 Chevy truck (background and the Larry Rudolech painting of the same - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Later, via email, Larry Rudolech told me about the great time he had in Moab that week. Following is a synopsis of Larry’s email to me.

“Ok here you go… I am sending you a photo of the Best of Show Award at the Moab PleinAir Event… and Yes, I think Jim and Sue were happy with their painting. I was very surprised and honored to be chosen as this year’s top award winner. The painting I won with was of four VW Buses at Tom Tom's VW Museum. I normally enjoy painting ‘the different’, and when I found the VW Junk Yard; I just had to paint it. I thought it was cute that people called it a Museum

Tom Tom's VW Museum, Moab, Utah - 2012 Best of Show Award to Larry Rudolech at Moab PleinAir '12 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)When I heard the story behind the title of Tom Tom's VW Museum, I was even more pleased I had chosen to paint it. If Moab is the home of many wonderful landscapes, this I thought was a very good rendering of what Moab had become for me. The people of the area give more to Moab than some of the red rocks. After all, one red rock is like the other, but it is clear to see that one Moab resident is not like the other. This I think is one of the great things about Moab. I even began talking a lot about the many FREE SPIRITS of Moab. I am already looking forward to returning to Moab in 2013.

1950 Chevrolet 3100 half-ton pickup truck in Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Take care,
Larry Rudolech


Sometimes, when I am far from Moab, listening to the cold winds of winter, I allow myself to travel there in my mind. At my Moab, the days are always warm, but never hot. It is breezy, but not enough to kick up dust. Of course, the landscape is spectacular and the FREE SPIRITS of Moab abound. Around any corner, you never know whom you are going to meet in Moab, Utah. If you see Jim Farrell driving to town in an old green Chevy truck, please say “Hi” to him for me.




Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Giant Navahopi Sipapu Awaits Its Time at the Base of Glen Canyon Dam


Unwittingly, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation installed a giant Navahopi Sipapu in the base of Glen Canyon Dam in 1961 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) A Giant Navahopi Sipapu Awaits Its Time at the Base of Glen Canyon Dam

Disappearance and Reemergence:

The historical and scientific consensus is that the last pre-Puebloan Indians (Anasazi) migrated away from the Four Corners around 1300 CE. Later, they “reemerged” as the Hopi, Zuni and other Pueblo tribes. The Hopi Creation Myth centers on the “sipapu”, a hole in the earth from which all of creation arose. Every ancient ceremonial kiva in the Four Corners includes a symbolic sipapu in its floor.

The reconstructed Great Kiva of Chetro Ketl once had a post and beam roof, providing shelter for hundreds of pre-Puebloan Indians around 1250 CE - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The great kivas provided communal warmth and shelter to the pre-Puebloan. Since an earthquake could collapse their roof beams, kivas also carried with them the risk of sudden death. After a swarm of catastrophic earthquakes around 1250 CE, the pre-Puebloan survivors reemerged from the metaphorical sipapu of their collapsed kivas, only then to leave the land that had long sustained them.

In order to escape the ongoing desertification of their homelands on the Colorado Plateau, many of the lost tribes traveled downriver from the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers. To this day, many of caches of their food and tools remain hidden in alcoves high among those canyons. As The author Jim McGillis at the Goosenecks of the San Juan River, a tributary to the Colorado River, in 1965 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)the climate dried, timber became scarce, crops failed and game animals retreated to well-watered places like Glen Canyon. Using the river as a pathway, they headed south toward new lands and new lives.

In the wilds of Glen Canyon, they found sustenance for their long trek. Nuts, berries and small game were abundant along the shoreline. Those who understood the weather cycle travelled south in summer or fall, often wintering-over in the lower, warmer reaches of the canyon. Still, the canyon was no place to dally. With the warmth of spring would come annual flooding along the Colorado River.

Merrick Butte near sundown in October 2012. It is a place so dry that not one stream or spring in the valley runs all year - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)If the pre-Puebloan episode of climate change was similar to our own, enormous spring floods may have swept the canyon. From wall to wall, the flood would roar, erasing sandbars and banks that had so recently provided shelter for their journey. If the people upstream waited too long, their own supplies of food might be exhausted. If they travelled the river too soon, they risked an unexpected cleansing in the mighty flood.

In its February 1961 issue, Arizona Highways Magazine devoted the inside cover to a photograph of Glen Canyon Dam, then in its early stages of construction. Many of us grew up thinking that the 710 ft. (220 m) high arch of Glen Canyon Dam had always been there. Seeing photos of dam On the Colorado River at Moab, Utah, Navajo tribal elder Gray Boy prepares for a song, accompanied by his hand drum - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)construction in the early 1960s, reminds us how recently the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation placed a plug of concrete and steel into that enormous gap.

It was then, still several years before the filling of Lake Powell, that Edward Abbey and a few brave or foolhardy souls rafted down the Colorado River. Less than one hundred years after its discovery by the expedition of Major John Wesley Powell, Abbey and his inveterate river runners were among the last humans to see Glen Canyon as it always was. In 1869, Powell wrote, “...we have a curious ensemble of wonderful features - carved walls, royal arches, glens, alcove gulches, mounds, and monuments. From which of these features shall we select a name? We decide to call it Glen Canyon.” For his Light reflecting off the Colorado River canyon wall shines like the light of creation through the skin of Navajo elder Gray Boy at Moab, Utahpart, Edward Abbey wrote almost one hundred years later, “In fact I saw only a part of (Glen Canyon) but enough to realize that here was an Eden, a portion of the earth’s original paradise.”

Edward Abbey and many others were incensed that the U.S. Congress funded the building of Glen Canyon Dam. In his 1975 novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, Abbey waxed rhapsodic on the possibility of toppling the dam, thus releasing the waters that covered all traces of Abbey’s “Eden in the Desert”. In 1981, Abbey and the group known as Earth First converged on the dam. While Abbey spoke to a small group gathered nearby, members of Earth First unfurled a banner designed to look like a huge crack on the face of Glen Canyon Dam. Throughout the protest, there was no violence, sabotage or destruction of property. The symbolic cracking of the dam, it seemed, was protest enough.

Glen Canyon Dam, as Lake Powell was filling for the first time, in summer 1965 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Even those who accept the human causes of climate change tend to see it as a recent phenomenon. Outsized events, such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 or Superstorm Sandy in 2011 are not enough to convince many that humans play a role in our own meteorological environment. In the spring of 1983, two years after the symbolic cracking of the dam, Edward Abbey and his fellow travelers almost saw their wish come true. Heavy winter snows across the Colorado Plateau, followed by drenching rains and unseasonably warm temperatures brought a flood of unexpected proportions into Lake Powell.

The Bureau of Reclamation was unprepared for the onslaught of water. By July of 1983, Lake Powell reached its highest recorded elevation. In order to increase the carrying capacity of the lake, engineers hastily erected plywood barricades atop the dam. A month earlier, dam operators had opened the left diversion tunnel, sending 10,000 cubic feet per second (280 m3/s), just 7.2% of capacity, down the tunnel into the river below. Meanwhile over 120,000 cubic feet per second (3,400 m3/s) was pouring into the upper reaches of the reservoir.

A cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde National Monument, Colorado in 1965 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In this lopsided scenario, something had to give. For a few weeks, it appeared that erosion in the spillway tunnels might cause catastrophic failure of the system. Cavitation-caused erosion was backtracking from the tunnel outlets. If erosion had loosened the enormous concrete plugs that held back lake water from the diversion tunnels (used during initial construction), the dam could have failed. Although the dam rumbled ominously while the spillways were in operation, luck alone saved the day. Just as options were running out, inflow from the upper Colorado River began to slow, allowing the reservoir to subside. Perhaps warm weather caused sufficient evaporation from the lake to save the dam from destruction.

While the “outlet works” received emergency repairs, the ancient power of the river had reemerged from beneath placid Lake Powell. In deference to the facts of global warming, dam operators never allowed Lake Powell to approach full capacity (3708 ft. elevation) again. Since 1983, they have kept lake levels low enough (3640 ft. max. elevation) to capture a flood at least that large. To this day, the “bathtub ring of 1983” stands as a high water mark on the walls of Glen Canyon. Had the public known that Glen Canyon Dam would never live up to its original design criteria, would the dam have received initial approval?

The Great Cliff House at Mesa Verde National Park - Click for larger image showing whimsical faces designed into the facades of many buildings (http://jamesmcgillis)Hoover Dam, built into hard granite at the Black Canyon of the Colorado River many miles downstream will probably outlast Glen Canyon Dam by centuries. Wedged as it is into the soft sandstone walls of Lower Glen Canyon, the Glen Canyon Dam may have received irreparable damage during the vibrational drubbing it took in 1983. Those who controlled the dam during the harrowing days of summer 1983 are retired now, or dead. Despite several engineering surveys intended to allay public fears about permanent damage, we must wait for time to tell.

In what we now call the Four Corner States, it is likely that a swarm of earthquakes marked the end of the pre-Puebloan era. With their kivas in ruins, the ancients could not live through the winter without communal shelter and warmth. With the last of their timber beams burned for warmth, they soon departed for warmer climes. Just as likely, it will be a series of earthquakes near Page, Arizona that will release the plugs from the diversion tunnels beneath Glen Canyon Dam. When one of those plugs pops into the Colorado River like a cork from a Champagne bottle, the scouring effects of the water will bring Glen Canyon, the “Eden in the Desert” back to the surface of the Earth, where it belongs.

The Navajo Generating Station burns coal, mined at Black Mesa, on the Navajo Reservation - Click for smoke-free view of nearby Lake Powell (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Today the Navajo Nation borders Lake Powell and the Colorado River along its northern and western reaches. Coal from Black Mesa, to the north fuels the 
Navajo Generating Plant, which is visible from Lake Powell. Several centuries after disappearance of the pre-Puebloan culture, Indians from current day Western Canada repopulated the Colorado Plateau. Centuries later, those Dine' or Naabeeho people became known as the Navajo. In his 1975 book, “My Heart Soars”, Chief Dan George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada said this:
“Of all the teachings we receive,
this one is the most important:
Nothing belongs to you
of what there is,
of what you take,
you must share.”


A 1961 view of Glen Canyon, before the 710 foot tall Glen Canyon Dam filled the space delineated by the bridge with concrete. Note giant Navahopi Sipapu installed at the lower right of this image - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In his lament for the hunting and gathering days of his youth, Chief Dan George summed up all that had been lost:

“No longer
can I give you a handful of berries as a gift,
No longer
are the roots I dig used as medicine,
No longer
Can I sing a song to please the salmon,
No longer
does the pipe I smoke make others sit with me in friendship.
No longer”


As we focus on the 1961 image of Glen Canyon, without the dam, perhaps we can decommission it before it blows its concrete plugs. Otherwise, it behooves us to prepare now for the opening of a grand sipapu there, in Glen Canyon, at a future date uncertain.




  

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Edward Abbey - "Has the statute of limitations run out on that?"



Richard Byrd's photo of Edward Abbey, from the audio CD "Ed Abbey: Self Portrait", recorded by Jack Loeffler in 1983 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Edward Abbey - "Has the statute of limitations run out on that?"

In 2006, my first knowledge of Edward Abbey came by reading his 1968 nonfiction book, Desert Solitaire. At that time, I was living in Moab, Utah, near Arches National Park, where Abbey lived while writing the field notes, which later became the book. Among other issues, in Desert Solitaire Abbey wrote about the supposed ongoing destruction of Navajo National Monument, Arizona. In the late 1960s, a paved road reached the newly renovated Sunset Campground there. Even if it brought appreciative visitors to a National Monument, Abbey considered a paved road through any natural landscape abhorrent.

Jack Loeffler, author, aural historian and friend of Edward Abbey, at Moab Confluence Festival 2008 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In July 2008, I wrote an article here about Edward Abbey. Even before reading Abbey's writing about Sunset Campground and Navajo National Monument, it was one of my favorite camping spots. Never crowded, and always free, that sacred place features sweeping views and starry nights. Better yet, the long sight-lines brought a strong cell phone signal into my coach. While visiting that hallowed place, I spent a morning walking around and looking at grand views, but also of pre-Puebloan alcove dwellings in remote canyons.

Although Edward Abbey had died in 1989, that morning in 2008 I decided to contact his spirit and, with permission, take it (him?) for a tour of his lamented place. I do not know if any consciousness associated with the man Betatikin Ruin at Navajo National Monument, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Ron Hagg - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Edward Abbey walked with me there. All I know is that at the end of the walk, I felt peace and appreciation for that wonderful place. If the experience of death releases all worldly cares, I prefer to believe that the death of Edward Abbey cleared his spirit of all the cranky and cantankerous statements he ever made in life..

Soon after that, I became enamored of all things Edward Abbey. Since Moab, Utah represents the physical and emotional center of my own writing; I soon purchased the website www.moababbey.com, followed by www.moabbey.com. Although both are hastily assembled compilations from my other sources, I shall soon update both. MoabAbbey.com will contain my collected articles on the man, Edward Abbey. Moabbey.com will feature my cartoon character, Moabbey the Coyote. Moabbey and his superhero friends are from my online novel at www.jimmcgillis.com.

Filmmaker ML Lincoln with Jack Loeffler, friend of Edward Abbey and narrator of "Wrenched - The Movie" on location - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) In October 2008, I attended and participated in “Confluence: A Celebration of Reading and Writing” in Moab, Utah. Among my teachers, there were Jack Loeffler and Craig Childs. During my session with Jack Loeffler, I learned that he had been good friends with Edward Abbey. On January 1, 1983, Jack Loeffler interviewed and made an audio recording of Edward Abbey. As part of our tuition for the course, Jack Loeffler gave each student a copy of the CD, “Ed Abbey: A Self Portrait”.

During that extended interview, Edward Abbey waxed both poetic and profane. A little more than five years after the recording session, Edward Abbey died. Rather than quote his rambling attacks on “the machine”, I prefer to quote Edward Abbey on the subject of music. His words, are edited for brevity.

Ken Sleight, the inspiration for Colorado River Guide "Seldom Seen Smith" in Edward Abbey's novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Edward Abbey – “I love music, yes indeed. Lately, I’ve been in love with the country music of America… the Blue Grass, the Cowboy Songs, the Blues, and to some extent jazz."

"First, there was the beating drum. Then, somebody invented the flute. Maybe we should have stopped there. Drums and flutes – still two of my favorite instruments”.

Today, no one owns Edward Abbey’s thoughts, but many people own examples of his writing. Now, almost twenty-five years after his death, his former friends and associates have come together to tell us what they remember about Edward Abbey and his legacy. Under the direction of filmmaker ML Lincoln, “Wrenched – The Movie” is now in post-production. After its final funding, the world shall see a filmed reconstruction and illumination of Edward Abbey’s spirit.

Not surprisingly, Jack Loeffler will narrate “Wrenched – The Movie”. For her part, writer/director ML Lincoln has sought out and interviewed each surviving member of what some might call the Monkey Wrench Gang. When I inquired about the movie, Ms. Kristi Frazier, a member of the post-production staff provided the following statement by Ms. Vicki Day, Post Production Supervisor for the film.

Poster from the pre-screening of ML Lincoln's "Wrenched - The Movie" in Flagstaff, Arizona in October 2012 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Dear Jim,
I would like to introduce you, and hopefully your readers, to the upcoming feature documentary Wrenched, (www.Wrenched-themovie.com). The film explores how novelist Edward Abbey lit the flame of environmental activism and gave the movement its soul.

Wrenched features Abbey's gang of close friends: many of whom inspired his most memorable characters. Outraged by the degradation of the American Southwest, they pioneered a radical form of environmental activism, a blueprint for "wrenching the system."

Abbey’s writing became a call to action for many conservationists who came of age in the '70s and '80s. Wrenched captures the passing of the monkey wrench from the pioneers of eco-activism to the new generation who will carry Abbey’s legacy into the 21st century.

We are currently in post-production with an amazing team. Producer Kurt Engfehr has worked in all areas of television and film production, known for his work as the main editor and co-producer on two of Michael Moore’s films, Bowling For Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11. Emmy-Award-winning Editor Patrick Gambuti, Jr., co-directed and edited At the Edge of the World and co-wrote and edited Greedy Lying Bastards, a documentary that exposes the fossil fuel industry.

Filmmaker ML Lincoln interviews Charles Bowden for the upcoming documentary on novelist Edward Abbey and the ethic of environmental activism he spawned - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Wrenched is now in need of funds to get this important film through the final stages of post-production. Please lend your support by spreading the news about our crowd-funding campaign, as we honor the community of activists who were the forerunners of the environmental movement!

Wrenched has been accepted into the International Documentary Association’s (“IDA”) prestigious Fiscal Sponsorship Program. If your readers would like to make a donation that is tax deductible, ask them to please send payments directly to “IDA” at the following address and write “WRENCHED” in the memo section of their check:

Craig Childs, ML Lincoln, Ken Sleight, Katie Lee, Ken Sanders, Jack Loeffler and Kim Crumbo outside The Orpheum Theater in Downtown Flagstaff, Arizona arriving for the "Sneak Preview" of scenes from the upcoming documentary "Wrenched." - Click for image of all individuals mentioned (http://jamesmcgillis.com)International Documentary Association
“Fiscal Sponsorship”
1201 West 5th Street, Suite M270
Los Angeles, CA 90017 USA


In October 2012, ML Lincoln screened selected scenes from “Wrenched – The Movie” at the Orpheum Theater in Downtown Flagstaff, Arizona. In attendance or featured as panelists were many of the individuals who inspired the characters in Edward Abbey’s book, “The Monkey Wrench Gang”. In addition, that evening, Craig Childs joined some of the elder statesmen and women of the environmental activist movement outside the theater for a photo by James Q. Martin, shown here.

Had the original, flesh and blood Edward Abbey been able to attend that screening, I am sure that he would have asked, as he often did, “Has the statute of limitations run out on that yet?”