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Grand Canyon Escalade

Earth Day 2018

I remember the first Earth Day in 1970.  At our school, each of the students was given a small tree to plant.  We planted ours in the front yard, and it remained a small tree for what seemed an eternity.  Although I have not lived in that house for many years now, I can go on Google Earth for a peek and see how much it has grown.  Although that is just one simple act, I cannot get a visual progress reminder how my daily efforts to be as green as possible are working.

When I planted that tree, I was still young, and didn’t realize that an environmental movement was needed.  I do remember public service ads against littering, and that it wasn’t uncommon to see a bag or a can flying out of the window of the car in front while driving down the highway.  I don’t think I began to comprehend the magnitude of mankind’s waste until the first time I heard the expression acid rain.  As our numbers grow, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain a healthy planet, especially with consumer products becoming cheaper, and in the minds of many, more disposable.

Somewhere near the top of our environmental problems list would have to be our use of plastics.  Once they find their way to major rivers and oceans, they mostly end up in one of 5 garbage patches currently circulating our planet’s oceans.  Fortunately, there is an effort underway called The Ocean Cleanup, whose goal is to eliminate these vast floating debris piles.  You can go to their website to read more about it, or possibly donate to their cause.  This is, of course, just a large band-aid to a large problem.  The real solution is to curb our use of plastics and make sure they end up being recycled.

Pacific Ocean, sunset, CaliforniaHere in the US, one of the more prominent issues in recent times was the reduction of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  If ever there was a case to show that politicians work for special interests, and not the people, this would be it.  In the public input phase of this reduction, 99% of the respondents favored keeping the monument as it was.  In the redistricting map of the GSENM, they have created three separate national monuments.  Inside the former GSENM lies the highest concentration of well-preserved fossils ever discovered.  It also contains the richest and most accessible coal deposit in the state of Utah, which is no longer under protected status on the new map.  Coal consumption is on the decline in this country, so any coal mined here would most likely be sold to China.

Several lawsuits were filed to block the reduction of the national monuments, and Utah politicians immediately introduced a bill to manage the new property and see to it no further changes could ever be made.  Proposed management of the new national monuments would consist of a seven member panel, of which, a majority would be local county officials.  One of the members would also be appointed by the President, so a real public voice would be lost there as well.  These are still federal lands, not designated as Utah state parks.  Yes, our public lands in the hands of local politicians.  This is a precedence we cannot establish.  You can blame Trump all you want, but this ordeal was promoted and encouraged by Utah politicians.  We can all follow suit from the Outdoor Retailers Association, and some of its vendors, who have boycotted the state of Utah for its policies about the environment and how it should be overseen.  Although unlikely, a boycott by all potential visitors would send a message to the cronies in Salt Lake City that people coming to see the special lands in the southern part of the state provide a viable and profitable tourism economy.  Once this land is tarnished it will remain that way.

On a more positive note, a project I wrote about previously has been killed off.  The Grand Canyon Escalade, was voted down by Navajo Nation Council late last year.  Efforts by the tribe are underway to designate this area as a sacred site, and prevent any future blemishes on this special region from rearing their ugly heads again.  Perhaps a long legacy of Native Americans being offered roses, only to discover that they were just getting the fertilizer, has provided Navajos and other tribes a better insight to what is truly best for them and their land.  A special thank you goes out to the Navajo Nation Council and their wisdom for a long-term vision.

confluence, Grand Canyon, Arizona, Little Colorado River

WPC: Possibly Horrendous Change

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.”

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