National Park Service photo nps.gov/grca/
Grand Canyon dam collapse prompts question: does Hayduke live?
August 18, 2008 —
It was only a small preview to the inevitable, “big one,” but the flood in the Grand Canyon this weekend was enough to churn the Colorado River’s waters a ruddy red and force the evacuation of more than 400 campers and residents in the famous Havasu Falls area, according to the National Park Service website.
This marks the second time in a week our neighbors to the southwest have grabbed my attention, the first paired with regret when Wall Arch crumbled about 10 days ago. With all the action coming from the redlands, which author Edward Abbey described so well, is it possible his ghost has come back to haunt us?
And more importantly, could an Abbey-esque anti-hero have purposely destroyed that dam?
Here’s the news: At 6 a.m. on Aug. 17, local authorities discovered that the Redlands Earthen Dam above Supai Canyon broke, releasing a deluge which charged through narrow rock canyons into the big Grand, surprising rafters who were likely enjoying their morning eggs, brushing their teeth with beer, or perhaps floating lucidly downstream. The Park Service reported five unmanned rafts floating downstream, full of gear but lacking the essential human component. Stranded, this group was lifted by helicopter out of the Canyon and some other groups hiked out. The heartier trip leaders requested to remain in the canyon, no doubt thinking of the extreme difficulty involved in gaining another permit.
Authorities don’t know the size of the flood, but based on realtime river flows from the USGS, it seems the river bumped from about 18,000 cubic feet per second to about 22,000 cubic feet per second – not exactly a Biblical flood, and likely manageable for everyone in the Canyon who could hang onto their gear.
While this was happening I was plucking on my guitar, which wouldn’t be very pertinent except that I chose, for no reason I can think of, to play an old song about the flooding of the Grand Canyon called “Down the River.” The song’s opening lines paraphrase/borrow a few lines from the chapter of Desert Solitaire called, “Down the River,” by the desert-rat hero Abbey, who penned the lines while floating on one of the last known raft trips through Glen Canyon before the creation of Lake Powell in 1963.
In an admittedly broken line of questioning, the two simultaneous events led me to wonder if some Abbey-inspired monkey wrencher hadn’t done some dismantling of the Redlands Earthen Dam. Is the Redlands Dam a victim of eco-terrorism? Is it a warmup to the, “Big One,” the destruction of Glen Canyon Dam, which possessed the dark dreams of Abbey’s fictional hero, Hayduke?
Probably not, but somehow I get the feeling that Abbey’s ghost is out there anyhow. It wasn’t long after the demise of Wall Arch that his bearded visage began hovering in the vicinity of my imagination, smoke-like, and with news of the Grand Canyon flood I’m now downright inhaling him, searching my crowded bookshelves for the torn paperback of The Monkey Wrench Gang which I inherited/borrowed/stole from my dad sometime during college, and which seems to have been borrowed/stolen from me sometime since.
As much fondness as I have for Abbey, it’s far more difficult, in the post-9-11 world, to sympathize with the eco-warriors who populate the Monkey Wrench Gang and who probably, somewhere in the real world, cheered the recent mortal blow delivered to the Redlands Earthen Dam.
But all I’m cheering today is the news that everyone in the Canyon is OK.
And also that Abbey and the canyonlands have found their way into my mind again, largely because of two weird, freakish chunks of news from an area that Vailites love to haunt. Hearing of Wall Arch and this flood have sent me thumbing through my yellowed copies of Abbey's paperbacks, where I catch a whiff of some long-lost scent, and am reeled backward to a time when life, society, was different, Hayduke was my hero, environmentalism was still a fringe concept, and ideas of eco-terrorism could still appear playful.
6 Comments on "Grand Canyon dam collapse prompts question: does Hayduke live?"