The Grand Canyon is one of earth’s special places, and even in special places you come across spots that are extra incredible. The photo above is the confluence of the Little Colorado and Colorado Rivers in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. During the majority of the year it looks like this. The turquoise colored waters of the Little Colorado, coming in from the right, are fed from a highly mineralized spring about six miles upstream. The Colorado’s waters come from Glen Canyon Dam, which filters out most of the sediment, leaving a deep green hue to the water, when the sunlight hits it. If there is a flood in the vicinity, either, or both, will turn muddy before returning to this two tone mix.
For this week’s challenge, I thought the changing of the Little Colorado’s waters after mixing with the larger volume of the main river showed the visual aspect of change. But there’s a far deeper issue of change at stake. The photo above is in National Park property, but about a mile east, just outside the right edge of the frame, is the boundary with the Navajo Indian Reservation.
A project called the Grand Canyon Escalade is still being considered to be built in the Navajo lands at the edge of the national park. The project’s main feature would be a gondola estimated to bring up to 10,000 people a day into the canyon. At the bottom would be restaurants, shops, an amphitheater and elevated riverwalk. You can also add toilets and garbage to that list. On the rim would be hotels and an RV center plus more of the previously mentioned items. They seem to have omitted where the water supply would be coming from.
The Escalade idea came from developer R. Lamar Whitmer, with the project offices based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Mr. Whitmer has several arguments for his cause, including making this area “accessible to those who might never get to enjoy the tranquil isolation at the bottom of the canyon”. Have you been to Mather Point on the South Rim, Mr. Whitmer? There can easily be a thousand people there at sunset, and the words “tranquil isolation” are the furthest thing from my mind. I can’t imagine experiencing tranquil isolation with thousands of strangers in this tight little pocket of the canyon. That is where raft trips fill the need quite well.
The major selling point of this project was jobs for the Navajo Nation, where unemployment is incredibly high. Nobody could possibly be against that, or could they? Written into the contract is a non-compete clause for 40,000 acres along access roads. It seems all those jewelry stands run by nearby families would have to go, among others. And how about that corporate address? I would have an easier time believing that the Navajos’ best interests were at stake if it was based in Window Rock, or Cameron, or even Flagstaff. Are the Navajo workers supposed to move or commute to Scottsdale? Or are the Navajos not even being considered for corporate level jobs?
This project is completely in the hands of the people of the Navajo Nation. There is nothing that US citizens or the US government can legally do to prevent this from becoming reality. The nearby Hopi tribe has no say in the matter, either. The spring which feeds the Little Colorado is one of the Hopis’ most sacred sites. Fortunately, newly elected Navajo President, Russell Begaye, is against the Grand Canyon Escalade. This is probably the best news to come about since this idea first started. His predecessor was completely for it.
In addition to the impact in the immediate area, this eyesore will be visible from many points along the South Rim, and those points on the eastern drive of the North Rim. The spot I was standing, even though considered backcountry, used to have a rough road leading all the way out to the overlook. Very few people knew of this, but it only took a couple of disrespectful people, having bonfires and leaving trash, to make it so you have to walk the last five miles now. I wonder what the impact will be when the numbers are in the thousands?
I really don’t want to add this to my historical photograph collection.
In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Change.”
September 26, 2015 at 1:35 pm
I hope they don’t do this project. What a horrible blight that will be on that beautiful place.
September 27, 2015 at 12:30 am
I agree, Mary. And it looks like new leadership is viewing this in its full scope and long term effects, and seeing that this might not be what’s best for the tribe and their economy. Hopefully they can kill this idea to the point that it doesn’t come up again in the future. All we can do is sign petitions and express our views that commercialism needs to draw a line sometime.
September 26, 2015 at 7:39 pm
Sometimes people think things look good on paper, or THEY will benefit them. How can we encourage them to look at all possibilities? Sure people would come and do the tours, but after travelling all over I know how it feels to be jostled in crowds. Is that what I paid for? Come to see? Then the effects on the landscape, environment and people that live there… is it worth it?
September 27, 2015 at 12:20 am
The idea came from a slick salesman who used the numbers from the Skywalk at the far west end of the canyon. In that scenario, visitation has increased and benefitted the local economy. It is also very remote and cannot be seen from anywhere else, and visitors are on the canyon rim, not below. The effects on the landscape and local people would be for the worse – especially when it comes to water. There is a very limited supply here. Restaurants, hotels, public restrooms all consume much more than the local families, who have lived for many generations on what little the land offers.
And your point about being jostled in crowds would be valid here if this project goes through. It would be bring them in, get their money, move them along – while the visitation experience would be severely lacking in quality.
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September 27, 2015 at 2:09 am
Thank you for the informed response. It made me see even MORE points that I didn’t consider. It seems like it will only benefit that slick business person and harm everything else. So when the ‘well’ runs dry will they take their money and run and leave the damage for the locals to figure out how to fix???
September 27, 2015 at 5:20 pm
That’s how most people are seeing it. And the damage to the canyon may be irreparable.
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September 27, 2015 at 10:22 am
The Grand Canyon is transcendent. I can’t imagine anyone so spiritually dead as to contemplate defiling it in this way.
Your photo is lovely, which makes the whole thing that much more painful. 😦
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September 27, 2015 at 5:17 pm
Through the years, man has been trying to figure out ways to conquer the canyon. Some people can only see dollar signs when they look upon the land. They saw that someone had succeeded at the other end of the canyon (the Skywalk) and said “let’s try that here”. Unfortunately, this would have far more impact, environmentally and aesthetically than the Skywalk.
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