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Grand Canyon dam collapse prompts question: does Hayduke live?
The flood which hurtled through the Grand Canyon left a few rafters stranded - some of whom were evacuated by helicopter.
National Park Service photo

Grand Canyon dam collapse prompts question: does Hayduke live?

By Tom Boyd

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.

Grand Canyon dam collapse prompts question: does Hayduke live?
This screenshot of the USGS streamflow site shows a blip on the chart which is likely a result of Redlands Dam collapse ... note, however, that the information is subject to change, which means we'll have to wait and see to be absolutely certain of the flood's size and scope.



Comment on article  6 Comments on "Grand Canyon dam collapse prompts question: does Hayduke live?"


mark — August 18, 2008

The Diamond Creek Gage that you have posted is at mile 226 on the Colorado River. Havasu Creek dumps into the Colorado at mile 157. The Redlands Dam is at least 55 miles up Havasu/Cataract Creek. That is more than 120 miles that the water would have to travel in just 8 hours (15 miles an hour). However, the flash flooding was reported in the Havasu campground between 1 AM and 3 AM Sunday. So, the dam break didn't cause the jump in the Diamond Creek gage on Sunday afternoon. It was the large area of heavy rain that fell between the Redlands Dam and Supai Village.


Windy Mesa — August 19, 2008

There is no solid evidence that a damn contributed any significant water flows in this flood. One source stated that a small stock pond on a ranch was breached. There are no large significant earthen dams in this area. This flood did not "churn the Colorado Riverís waters a ruddy red" as you stated... they were already ruddy red when I floated the river July 19th - 26th from the influc of Little Colorado. If you look at the video at BBC News of the flood.. the river is ruddy red above the confluence of Havasu Creek. This is normal behavior for nature in the SW.. flash floods, ruddy red Colorado (hence the name), and falling rocks. How long have you been writing fiction?


Tom Boyd — August 19, 2008

Hey there Windy,

I reported what the National Park Service was reporting at the time and attributed my information to them. Read it for yourself,

Stories grow and change with time as more information becomes available, just as the Colorado changes colors from 'red' to 'ruddy red,' green, and all sorts of other colors as time passes.


Windy — August 19, 2008

Your smart enough to know that stories "grow and change" as more information becomes available. What you really mean is that

the media releases are initially full of possible errors, that are corrected with more accurate information, and better selections of words by deskbound information officers.

And since you are smart enough to know this, maybe you should postpone comments until all the correct information is available....but to attribute the ruddy red color solely to the Havasu Creek is your own fabrication, and is sensationalism.. that was not in the NPS release. And to embellish on ecoterrorism because of the possible contributions of a reported earthen dam of unkown size, is also sensationalism. If you dealt in nonfiction... you would have researched the contribution of both possible factors... rain, and a possible dam breach... as did the other commentator.

Stick to fiction... it's more sensational, and you can exercise your imaginative and creative skills. I mean this in a good way... you have talent.


Windy — August 21, 2008

Location of the "Redlands Dam" (stock tank.. we call livestock ponds "tanks" in Arizona):

And an airphoto:


Heavyrunner — August 25, 2008

Windy Gap I am sorry you are so depressed. You should see a health care professional, they might be able to help.

That stuff about Hayduke WAS A JOKE!


Tom thanks for the good article. I was lucky enough to be at a memorial, the 15 year memorial, for Ed at the ranch south of Moab a few years ago. All the usual suspects who are still alive were there including Ed's bluesman companion, who did a dynamite set on the little stage they set up in front of the ranch house in the meadow. The moon was full, and there was 2 feet of new snow on Tukunikivats. I have had some memorable evenings in my life, and that was one of the best!

Thanks again for your take on the flood at Havasu!



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