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 The Trek: The Journals

•
Team: South
Lorie McGraw
Sunday, September 8
Lake Powell and Rainbow Bridge
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Rainbow Bridge National Monument: signs of a flash flood

Rainbow Bridge National Monument: signs of a flash flood
Courtesy Lorie McGraw

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Kay Gandy and Jessica Terrell from Team South pose near Rainbow Bridge

Kay Gandy and Jessica Terrell from Team South pose near Rainbow Bridge
Courtesy Lorie McGraw

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Sunset on Oak Bay in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Sunset on Oak Bay in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Courtesy Lorie McGraw



Today was a strange day for me. We spent it on Lake Powell, first on a motorboat meeting the team at Rainbow Bridge, then on a houseboat at Dangling Rope Marina, then to Oak Canyon Bay where we have beached for the night.

I spent the day on the lake seeing beautiful vistas of redrock and buttes, spires and hoodoos (eroded rocks that sit like sentinels) and sheer walls, and would try to “ooh” and “ahh” at the sights. And they are truly stunning.

But every time that I tried to appreciate the beauty I was overcome with an incredible sadness. Sadness for what was buried beneath the gleaming waters of Lake Powell. The Glen Canyon must have been an incredible place before the dam drowned it. The walls that are left are sheer, then rounded like frozen sand dunes, then towering once more. Canyons shoot off to the side like secret passageways in a castle battlement, corridors to new sheer rock walls and secret grottos. What are they like under the 200 feet of water that now covers them?

I see eroded arches and places where the buttes have caved in, not the normal erosion of canyon country, but places where wake wash of the thousands of boats, houseboats, and personal watercraft has undercut the walls or piled new sediment onto beaches where once there were none, sediment that once would have made its way down to the Sea of Cortez in cataracts and sweeping rumbles of rapids and falls, but now falls out into still silence. The Colorado River does not even make it to the sea, now that the dams are in place.

I think back onto the canyon in the Gila Wilderness that so thrilled me as I walked the Catwalk, a slot canyon carved by rushing water, a canyon wren warbling her cascade of notes in diminishing scales. I noticed then the magic of canyons in the desert, the oasis of sound and of moisture, and how wildlife creeps into such places. While sitting on that canyon I saw birds, lizards, and signs of many night creatures. But what strikes me here in Glen Canyon now is the almost total lack of wildlife. Not even the ravens flock here. Compared to every canyon that I have seen on this trip so far, this one is truly deserted and a desert. There is some wildlife here, but little to be seen or heard. The soil that holds the tenuous roots of desert flora now lies beneath 200 feet of water. The sage and Pinion have been replaced by Russian Thistle and tamarisk (salt cedar), invaders from outside of the region, opportunists that thrive in featureless environments, replacing rabbitbrush, juniper, and Mormon tea, poisoning the soil further to keep the cottonwoods from inhabiting this now-wet riparian zone.

As we cruised the lake the desert varnish has been bleached from the sandstone cliffs, leaving a bathtub ring that is 73 feet tall, as the lake is well below its 3700 foot level. The dark red, greys, and blacks of the sandstone formations are bleached as white as any bones on any beach in the world. Occasionally you can see where a block of stone has loosened and fallen from the slopes above, red and black preparing to fade into nothingness as the lake waters smother it. Desert varnish is a chemical and biological reaction of manganese oxide and iron oxide, resulting in dark brown and black stains in the red cliffs. It is in these places that the ancients left their art, their petroglyphs their carvings and painting that survive today, unless eroded or bleached by water. The varnish takes thousands of years to form, and the art carved into it will be visible for a millennia or more, fading in miniscule bits, eventually leaving a tracery that can be seen in only particular light or shadow, but there to gaze upon nonetheless. But those sites are gone in the canyon, except for those few sites that are above the flood.

The loss of the canyon/desert ecology was the most sharply felt today when we visited Rainbow Bridge. This narrow canyon used to be unreachable by boat, and was only reachable by an arduous hike over Navajo Mountain before the lake was here. It was discovered by whites in 1909, after paying 2 Paiute youth to guide them there. It is a sacred place to the Dineh, the Navajo, and is now visited by thousands of people each year.

The lake is currently so low that the stream that made the rock bridge is well below the banks. Rains yesterday resulted in a flash flood that cleared out 6 feet of sediment left during higher waters, sediment that normally would be washed far downstream with every summer thunderstorm. Instead it dumps into the still waters of the lake, leaving a foam of dirt and algae next to the floating walkway. Nature does her best to try to cleanse her canyon, but man has thwarted her for now.
The National Park Service has a sign near the viewpoint of the bridge requesting that visitors remember that the local tribes believe that the site is sacred, and asking that if you choose to walk under or near the bridge that you do so thoughtfully, remembering that there is a people that hold it holy. I chose not to walk under the bridge. It is magnificent, and I needed no other validation for my spirit more than viewing it from a distance. If someone were to come to my church, or a special spiritual place of mine, I would hope that they would do so with respect, and not turn it into a tourist attraction. I would be hurt and offended if someone were to traipse though my church with no regard for the people who worship there. I do not want to show such disrespect to the people who have lived here for so long. Others in the team decided to go ahead, some decided to stay behind as I did. All personal choices.

But on the way out I saw 4 lizards, very near each other, that stood still as I crouched near them for a closer look. Significant? Maybe. Thanking me? Perhaps. But I do know that my heart soared to finally see some life in this barren place. Such a small thing. But so very special.
We were to have a Navajo Tribal Liaison meet with us to discuss the issues around Rainbow Bridge, access issues, etc, but she was unable to make it. I would have loved to hear the other side of the story. Maybe we will yet?
And perhaps I will yet hear a canyon wren warble the cascade of notes here in this deserted canyon. One can only hope.

“Not long ago one could walk in these side canyons beside reflecting pools upon a smoothed-out sandstone floor in an atmosphere aglow with filtered sun and sky. The boatman, to whom the undimmed river could once have provided wondrous experiences, knows nothing of these lost glories, regrets them not, and belittles them in his ignorance. Nowhere in the world are these drowned canyons duplicated. In the places of infinite variety, awesome convolutions, mysterious and secret recesses, glowing painted walls and golden streams, we have received in exchange a featureless sheet of water, a dead basin into which all of the flotsam of the surrounding land accumulates with no place to go: a sink for sediments and the trash carelessly scattered about by throngs of visitors. The exchange is one of the greatest frauds perpetuated by responsible government on an unsuspecting people. They have been cheated out of a birthright without ever knowing they possessed it”
----- Elliott Porter, Photographer and author of “Down the Colorado”






for Sunday, September 8
North South Both




Biographical
•
Team: South
Lorie McGraw
Lorie McGraw

   >> more...



List of All Journal Entries
•
Saturday, September 21
Lorie McGraw
The Call of the Wild
   >> more...

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Monday, September 16
Lorie McGraw
Rugged Beauty
   >> more...

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Sunday, September 15
Lorie McGraw
Calf Creek and Grand Staircase
   >> more...

•
Sunday, September 8
Lorie McGraw
Lake Powell and Rainbow Bridge
   >> more...

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Saturday, September 7
Lorie McGraw
Rain in the Desert
   >> more...

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Friday, September 6
Lorie McGraw
A River and a Rainbow
   >> more...

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Wednesday, September 4
Lorie McGraw
Condors and Rock Art
   >> more...

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Tuesday, September 3
Lorie McGraw
Trekkers Return and an Old Cabin
   >> more...

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Sunday, September 1
Lorie McGraw
Hopi, Navajo, and The North Rim
   >> more...

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Saturday, August 31
Lorie McGraw
A hike, a bike, and web frustrations
   >> more...

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Friday, August 30
Lorie McGraw
The Big Ditch
   >> more...

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Wednesday, August 28
Lorie McGraw
A New Job
   >> more...

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Tuesday, August 27
Lorie McGraw
Halfway Point
   >> more...

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Monday, August 26
Lorie McGraw
Doing a job, or not?
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Sunday, August 25
Lorie McGraw
Red Rock
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Sunday, August 25
Lorie McGraw
Sunset Crater and CO Bar Ranch
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Thursday, August 22
Lorie McGraw
Flagstaff and showers!
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Wednesday, August 21
Lorie McGraw
Skunks and a practical joke
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Sunday, August 11
Lorie McGraw
Mountain Lake and a Visitor
   >> more...

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Tuesday, August 6
Lorie McGraw
Silver City, Here We Come!
   >> more...

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Monday, August 5
Lorie McGraw
Vanilla Trees at Iron Creek Camp, Gila National Forest
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Sunday, August 4
Lorie McGraw
On to the Gila Forest
   >> more...

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Friday, August 2
Lorie McGraw
Out of the (electronic) Darkness
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Friday, August 2
Lorie McGraw
The South Team is hosted at a Ghost Town in NM
   >> more...

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Wednesday, July 31
Lorie McGraw
First Day Highlight
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