Rainbow Bridge
Rainbow Bridge
Friday April 18, 2003

The alarm clock beeped at 6:30 and I got up and showered by way of a nozzle head that practically required sitting down to get under. Dave was up letting his dog out when I awoke. We had a quick breakfast of  Karenís breakfast burritos and then loaded the car under a clear, blue Colorado sky that provided a magnificnet backdrop for the snow-shrouded heights of Pikeís Peak. We left Colorado Springs behind at around 8:30, driving south down I-25 through Pueblo in light traffic, while the poor tie-wearing commuters sentenced to yet another work day drove north to the giant congestive hell called Denver. I turned the car west at Walsenburg, then engaged the cruise control on Hwy 160 for the long haul to Arizona. The mountain terrain, dramatically accented by snowbanks on the relatively treeless slopes, almost caused our trip to go no further than La Veta Pass where we both wouldíve been pleased to stop and backpack. We had lunch at Subway in Pagosa Springs, but otherwise kept on the road. We encountered snow on Wolf Creek Pass, and traffic was backed up due to an apparent tunnel construction project that had cut the road down to a single lane. Fortunately, we arrived within a minute or so of our lane getting to go through, so we really didnít have to wait at all. The skies were fairly grey and threatening from then on, and we encountered some snow on the ground just east of Page, AZ. I'm guessing that doesn't happen frequently.

Glen Canyon DamOur destination was Wahweap Lodge and Marina, on the southern edge of Lake Powell. Outside of Page, we approached Glen Canyon Dam.  Some facts on the dam: 1,560 ft wide at the crest, 710 ft above bedrock and 583 ft above the orginal Colorado River bed. Concrete for the dam was poured around the clock for 3 straight years, beginning in 1956. At full pool, the lake is 560 ft deep at the dam (NPS, 2002). My first sight of the dam was a significant moment because of all I had read about it, mostly from anti-dam critics like Edward Abbey, David Brower and Katie Lee. I donít pretend to be unbiased, but then again, anyone who does is still just pretending. I donít think anyone is unbiased about anything. The images and descriptions of the wondrous beauty of Glen Canyon before the dam paint the immense concrete and steel structure in a lurid light for me, and while I appreciate the amazing utility of such a feature, I would have it not there if given a choice. A trestle bridge spans the canyon just downstream of the dam. The area is deliciously rugged and orange, with no plants whatsoever. The only break in the sea of rock comes in the form of the hundreds of power line towers and wires stretching every which way and off to the distance like an occupying army.  Nothing could look more out of place than those steel towers. The canyon is very narrow, as good dam sites are apt to be, and the walls are straight, tall and stained with a thousand streaks of metal oxides. Looking at the water level above and below the dam gives an appreciation for the immense holding capacity it has, especially when one looks at the map and sees the Colorado River backed up over 100 miles upstream, and into hundreds of side channels. Imagine the pressure on that concrete. From what I have read, and heard, no other dam has generated as much controversy as this one, and it was like confronting the villain of a dream in living color. In my estimate, backed up by some obvious facts, the dam has created an unnatural reservoir of cooler and clearer than normal water in a dry area that benefits, of all animals, only non-native species of fish, upsetting the entire ecosystem of the area, and flooding thousands of square miles of fragile canyon riparian areas that took millennia to develop and stabilize. The recreational activities of the lake are primarily motor-boat related, an activity which spews toxic emmissions, many times worse than those from automobiles, into the air and results in thousands of gallons of spilled motor fuel and oil into the water each year.  Such boaters all too often discard their used comfort items, cups, bottles, cans, plates, forks, couches, etc., into the lake, so that it has become the American southwestís largest garbage dump. The barren, rock buttes that jut out from the water are completely lifeless, and the entire area seems sterile. The only touch of green I saw came from invasive tamarisk patches. I overheard an old southern woman sum it up best on the last day of our trip by asking her companion, in typical southern ease, "Whereís all the wildlife?" Good question. Answer? Native wildlife adapted to an intermittent river flow through sandy canyons, not hundreds of feet of cold water surrounding stone pillars. There is not much in the way of wildlife in the immediate area of the lake. Itís all been drowned out. I am saddened by the destruction wrought by the dam, but I am comforted by the thought that the Colorado River can play the game longer than the dam, and finally, inevitably, crush the concrete into dust, whereupon the river will flow as it always has, the white Lake Powellslime stains on the cliffs around the lake will be scoured clean, the mountains of trash that lay at the stinking lake bottom will wash into the ocean and the birds, lizards, snakes, squirrels and insects will once again have a home in the maze of sandstone canyons.

After a spell examining the dam, we drove the car up the road and into the marina area, paying the $10 Glen Canyon NRA entrance fee and receiving, in return, a map of Lake Powell. Wahweap Marina straddles the Utah-Arizona border, and it was here where we planned on staying the first night and picking up the shuttle the following morning. Turned out that the tent site camping area was closed, which was, of course, where we planned on camping, so we had to go up to the RV site. We kept telling ourselves it was only for a short night, and tried to ignore the gravel surface we had to set up on, the RV generators switching on and off from all sides, barking dogs, humming radios and television sets and dozens of security lights. We got the site, then drove into Page for a quick, cheap Taco Bell dining experience. While in town, I called the shuttle company and set up a pick up time and place for the next morning. That set, we drove back to the campground and went to sleep at dark.


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