First off, I would like to wish all the mothers out there a Happy Mother’s Day.
The photograph above was taken when I took my mother along with her mother on a several day excursion around northern Arizona and southern Utah. My mom has joined me a couple times since, but it was the only time for my grandmother. I kept the trip very ‘touristy’, and we all had an enjoyable time. Thank you, mom – for everything you’ve done for me and wanting to see my world.
Now, about the title. This photo was taken in July, 1983 when the waters of Lake Powell were at historically high levels. Winter snows had been abundant, and the temperatures stayed cool well into spring. Then, over a period of about a week, summer decided to move in. Although the authorities knew how much snowpack was in the upper Colorado River Basin, they hadn’t anticipated it melting this quickly. As they released water from the spillways of Glen Canyon Dam, they were losing ground to the inflow at the upper end of Lake Powell.
The spillways had never been worked extensively until 1983. They were run before for testing purposes, but never at full capacity. After a couple days, people noticed that the dam was vibrating. Engineers below the dam had observed chunks of concrete with rebar being ejected with water from the spillways. Water flows had to be cut back so as to not damage the spillways any further, and plywood sheets were attached to the top of the dam to potentially hold back the rising waters of Lake Powell. The Bureau of Reclamation contends that the dam was never in danger during this period. I’m not an expert, but I’m pretty sure a 710 foot high dam holding back trillions of gallons of water, which was now vibrating, was headed for disaster had they maintained the flows. After the floodwaters receded, repairs were performed on the spillways which ended up going full throttle again the following year.
Needless to say, there is still a Lake Powell. If the Sierra Club had their way, we wouldn’t. The organization fought the initial construction of the dam, and has even made recent campaigns for its removal. It was around 2000-2001 when I remember seeing billboards around Phoenix where the Sierra Club was asking to ‘restore’ Glen Canyon. This falls under the category of ‘be careful what you wish for’. In 2005, several years of drought had brought the lake levels down 150 feet. Parts of the canyon that hadn’t been seen in over 30 years were now accessible. Forecasts are still predicting long-term drought, and this is something we may see again. For now, if you want to see what it was like pre-Glen Canyon Dam, check out the book “The Place No One Knew” with the photographs of Eliot Porter.
A little closer to present day we have the photograph below, taken in 1996. I had no intentions of duplicating the above photo. In hindsight, I wish I had taken one from near the same spot. If I had turned the camera the other way, you wouldn’t see much water. A small trickle and some pools in the creek bottom, and that was it. This time I hiked in, on what is one of my favorite hikes in the southwest. That’s Rainbow Bridge spanning the horizon.