Each Spring, I Hear The Call - And Then It's Moab Time
In May 2014, I departed Mesquite, Nevada, heading for Moab, Utah, 375 miles to the northeast. Normally, it is an easy trip north on Interstate I-15 and then East on I-70. At Crescent Junction, I would hit U.S. 191, and then head south toward Moab. According to Google Maps, the highway trip should take five hours and thirty minutes. Since I was pulling our Springdale travel trailer, I added two hours to the estimate.
Near its start at Cove Fort, Utah, I-70 traverses parts of both the Fish Lake National Forest and the Manti La Sal National Forest. Along that route, the mountain passes exceed 7,250 feet elevation. After transiting through both national forests, I-70 presents itself as a slow-motion rollercoaster ride. The culmination is a twisting descent down the east side of the San Rafael Swell.
Combined, my Nissan Titan truck and its trailer weigh 11,000 pounds. With a twenty percent horsepower-loss at 7,250 feet, the 5.6 liter V-8 in my pickup was averaging just over six miles per gallon. The only way to go faster was to downshift into second gear while ascending. At that throttle setting, the engine runs at over 5,000 RPM, increasing both gasoline consumption and engine wear.
The only sensible solution was to slow down and not push my rig so hard. In doing so, I finessed the gears, rather than the power to keep my average speed above fifty-five miles per hour. Another consideration was the hundred-mile distance to the next service station, in Green River, Utah. In case of emergency, I carry several gallons of gasoline in an approved container. I rarely have to use my reserve fuel, but it offers peace of mind when I visit remote locations.
Once I reached Crescent Junction, I had only thirty-three miles to go on U.S. Highway 191 South. In Moab, my final destination was the Moab Rim Campark, at the south end of town. Before I reached Moab, I had a brief side trip to take. On a railroad siding near the turnoff to Utah Highway 313, I hoped to locate an old friend. Like an old-time prospector’s affection for his burro, I had become fond of the Moab Burro.
Although it is not an animal, the Moab Burro is a fascinating example of twentieth century railroad construction equipment. Built by the Cullen Friestadt Company, the Moab Burro is a self-propelled railroad crane capable of pulling other rail cars, lifting 12,500 pounds and swiveling on its turret 360 degrees. On my previous visit, the Moab Burro lay idle and alone on a railroad siding of the Union Pacific Railroad Potash Branch Line. In fact, the crane and its flatcar-tender had been on that siding for so long, Google Maps had snapped its picture from space.
That day, I was not so lucky. As I approached Seven Mile, I could see that both the Potash Branch Line and its siding lay deserted. Since the Moab Burro is a functioning piece of railroad maintenance-of-way equipment, Union Pacific Burro Crane No. BC-47 was probably elsewhere in the High Southwest. My hope of photographing Plush Kokopelli and Coney the Traffic Cone with the Moab Burro were dashed. Instead, I had to settle for pictures of my unlikely superheroes sitting on the empty track at Seven Mile.
If any reader spots the Moab Burro elsewhere on the Union Pacific network, please take a photo and send it to me via email. If received here, I will then post any newly found images of Union Pacific BC-47, also known as the Moab Burro.
After leaving Seven Mile, I headed straight for Moab. While crossing the Colorado River, I noted that it was flowing higher than it had in the past few years. If the increased flow originated in a heavy snow pack on the Western Slope of the Colorado Rockies, that could be a good sign for Colorado River health. If the flow came from a rapid snowmelt upstream, it might be just a “flash in the pan”, soon to subside. As it turned out, 2014 would be a good water flow year in the Upper Colorado River Basin.
According to the USGS interactive website, on May 15, 2014, the Colorado River was flowing at about 10,000 cubic feet per minute (CFM) at Moab. By June 3, the river peaked at about 37,500 CFM, which was more than twice the sixty-three year average. Downstream, Lake Powell reached its 2014 low of 3574' elevation around April 15. By July 10, 2014, the lake was peaking at 3,609' elevation. That rise of thirty-five feet put the lake level ten feet higher than on the same date in 2013.
A six foot rise might not sound like much, but with Lake Powell's immense surface area, that represents almost an eight percent gain in water volume. As of July 10, 2014, the Lake Powell watershed had mixed statistics. The snow-pack was at forty-seven percent of normal and the total precipitation was at ninety-six percent of normal. A vigorous Monsoon in early July had added greatly to the total precipitation. Still, the lower mass of the snow-pack suggested lower flows for the remainder of the year.
Soon after passing over the Colorado River, I saw a rare sight in Moab. As I waited at the Highway 128 stoplight, four identical 1960’s Shelby Cobra 289 sports cars pulled on to U.S. 191. From my vantage point, I could not see if the Cobras were original or if they were among the ubiquitous replicas manufactured over the past forty years. After snapping a picture of each Cobra, I followed them toward Moab. Soon, they pulled off for an early dinner at the venerable Sunset Grill. I wondered how the stiff suspension of each Cobra would fare on the long, washboard driveway that leads up to the restaurant.
Soon, I arrived at the Moab Rim Campark, where I stay when in Moab. Owners Jim and Sue Farrell always offer old-fashioned Moab hospitality to all who stay there. As I pulled in to the RV Park, I noticed a young couple standing at the rear of their rental RV. Emblazoned across the stern of their RV was a high definition image of Yosemite Valley. With their permission, I took several photos of the couple and the Sierra Nevada scene. As I shot the photos, I zoomed-out to show that they were in Moab, not in Yosemite. To see the full scene, please click on their image.
Reflecting now on that meeting, I remembered that the young woman had looked up toward me and into the sun. She said, “I can’t see, so tell me when to smile”. Later, after examining the photos, I realized that the woman was blind. In my experience, blind people often see more of our universe than many sighted people can. I only wish I could have explained to her the double meaning created by their standing in front of the Sierra Nevada Range and Moab’s La Sal Range, all at the same time.
For years, I have witnessed and studied various dimensional anomalies in and around Moab. To witness a young blind woman standing in two places simultaneously was an event on par with witnessing a plasma flow etched across the morning sky in Moab. Smiling about my good fortune to witness such a sight that day, I realized that as of that moment, I was on Moab Time.
Returning from Yosemite to the Moab of my contemporaneous three-dimensional time-space reality (3DTSR), I looked beyond the young couple to the snowfields of the La Sal Range. Fresh snow, which fell only a day before my May 15 arrival dusted the lower slopes of the great mountain range. The brilliance of white snow against the blue sky was spectacular. Looking at my photos later on, I realized that one shot captured an image of a large bird of prey, frozen in time within that infinite sky.
My first trip to Moab was in the summer of 1965. After leaving there, I assumed that it was a magical place, which I would never see again. Decades later, I read about the Moab Pile and its nuclear threat to life along the Colorado River. Upon returning to Moab in the early 2000’s, all of the magic and many new threats to the environment came to me. With Big Oil, Big Gas, Big Potash and Big Tar Sands all ganging up on Moab and Grand County, the soul of that magical place might easily be lost.
During my current visit, I hoped to join others and sway Moab toward a more positive outcome.
at 04:59 PM |
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Goodbye to Old Mesquite, Nevada - It Was Good To Know You
In 2009, I stopped in Mesquite, Nevada. While heading north out of town, I took photos of several old buildings and signs. A town’s architecture and graphics help reveal its history. A common theme involves a once flourishing business now closed. For example, when Interstate I-40 bypassed Seligman, Arizona, the attractions of Old-66 were barely enough to keep Old Seligman alive. With so little business activity generated after its bypass, Seligman froze in time. Therefore, many old buildings and signs in that town remained in situ.
In 1974, after the completion of Interstate I-15 through Mesquite, most new development came in the form of condominiums. The targeted customers were retired people or second-home owners. Today in North Mesquite, large new retirement complexes tend to focus the eye on human made water features, including a series of water-wasting golf courses. With such environmentally wasteful practices in effect, little if any summer-season water flowing in the Virgin River reaches its outlet at Lake Mead.
Prior to the construction of Mesquite's sprawling retirement communities, the same area represented only a small portion of a vast network of arroyos. Partially filled with wind-driven sand, the area was an "alluvial plain in the making". Most people do not think about “upstream” in the desert. Such terms matter only when a major flood hits such a dry area. When thunderstorms linger on nearby Mount Mormon, resulting floods carry enormous flows down those arroyos filled with sand. During, or shortly after an deluge upstream, watercourses shift, overwhelming their banks and inundating previously dry areas.
In the case of the recent condominium development in North Mesquite, everything will probably be OK. However, if we live to see the thousand-year flood, let alone the ten thousand-year flood, all of that could change. If either of those events happens, the ancient erosion field and slide zone that is North Mesquite shall not stand. In terms of proximate risk to property owners, safety and security may depend on one’s sense of time.
Mesquite, Nevada built its reputation on a firm foundation of gambling. Today, viewing it on Google Maps shows us that North Mesquite lies near the foot of a massive paleo flood zone. It does not take a trained geologist to see that ancient debris flows swept “downstream”, temporarily interrupting the Virgin River as it swept across the river and far up on the opposite bank. These desert sands appear to be the terminal deposition of ancient North Mesquite debris flows. It is there, on the east bank that buff colored desert sand intermingles with the dark, volcanic alluvium descending from Virgin Peak and Mount Bangs.
Today, such a flood would have to cross Interstate I-15 and West Mesquite Blvd., inundating most of Old Mesquite. In that scenario, all of Mesquite would remain in peril. The good news is that the ten thousand-year flood only comes every 10,000 years, or so they say. So what are the real odds? If enough people ask, the Casa Blanca Resort and Casino in Mesquite might make book on that question. I now remember my father’s sage advice, which was, “Never build anything in a flood plain”.
Although it lies only ninety miles from Las Vegas, Mesquite has closer ties to St. George, Utah, forty miles north on I-15. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, both Las Vegas and Mesquite were Mormon settlements. They were among a string of towns that grew up along the Old Spanish Trail, leading to Los Angeles. A common denominator among Mormon settlers and their current day counterparts is industriousness. If there is a potential for land development, the business community in Mesquite will soon take advantage of it.
The years 2008 and 2009 represented the depths of the recent recession in Mesquite. Since then, there has been a steady, if slow economic recovery. New condominiums and businesses now present themselves, but current economic activity does not approach the breakneck pace of the early 2000’s. Now enthralled again by new development potential, protection of Mesquite’s historical buildings, signage and its highway heritage languish.
To be fair, most destruction or neglect of historical buildings and signage in Mesquite happens on private property. Even so, it appears that neither the city nor its business community sees value in saving the town’s historical qualities. For posterity, I shall document three examples of Old Mesquite at its finest.
In 2013, the long defunct Oasis Hotel Casino and Resort disappeared from West Mesquite Boulevard. Around that time, the historical Oasis pole sign disappeared from its prior location near Interstate I-15. New visitors to Mesquite will never know that there once stood the biggest, fanciest and most successful casino resort in town. Other than an aging RV Park now operated by the Casa Blanca Resort Casino and an annex of hotel rooms now converted to timeshares, the Oasis is no more.
Farther east on West Mesquite Blvd. is what remains of Harley’s Garage. In 2009, a sign on the locked front door thanked customers for Harley’s sixty-two years in business. From Harley's graphical pole sign, which almost overhangs the highway; we know that Harley’s Garage once sold radiators and specialized in Ford automobiles. The aging Ford sign, which resides just above an image of a Ford Model-T style radiator, now turns to rust and eventually to dust. The classic “Ford” script, once painted brilliant red on blue, now appears as rust-red on pale blue. At its present rate of decay, full deterioration is only a few years away.
I picture travelers on old U.S. Highway 91 in 1945, experiencing a breakdown near Mesquite, Nevada. No matter how the motorist arrived in Mesquite, Harley’s Garage was ready to replace or repair overstressed radiators, batteries or brakes. Now-outdated internet business listings indicate that Harley's once had a AAA towing franchise. With Las Vegas and St. George scores of miles away across a desert wasteland, we can imagine what a godsend Harley’s Garage and radiator repair shop must have been.
Historically, Mesquite was a ranching and farming community. Despite two historic floods that destroyed the economic vitality of Old Mesquite, several generations of Mesquiters continued to grow crops in the floodplain of the Virgin River. For their part, ranchers in nearby Bunkerville grazed their cattle on a once verdant, open range. Since Old Mesquite’s settlers banded together for sustenance and protection, they required a place to buy, sell and trade their produce and cattle.
On West Mesquite Blvd. stands a contemporary Ranch Market building. Despite looking relatively new and prosperous, by 2009 the Ranch Market stood closed for good. Looking inside, I could see display cases and shopping carts gathering dust behind the glass. Out back, on the same over-sized lot was an old pole barn, weathering and deteriorating in the sun. Later, I learned that the pole barn had once been the original Mesquite Ranch Market.
With a few rough sawn boards still clinging to the its roof, I tried to determine the age of the barn. “The better part of a century”, I thought. A long abandoned electrical service clung to one of its corners. There were broken remnants of an overhead trolley, which once moved hay bales in and out of a now missing hayloft. With no remaining siding, doors, roof shingles or hayloft, only the cross-bracing of its beams keeps the pole barn from its inevitable destruction. In the past five years, an adjacent and a once mighty cottonwood tree has crumbled closer to the ground. With such rapid deterioration, how much longer the original Mesquite Ranch Market will stand is anyone's guess.
The desert environment, with its heat, sun and wind can destroy almost any human made object. Repainting and replacement are constant activities for thriving businesses in a desert economy. Keep it neat, keep it clean and tourists will stop. Let it go and the desert will soon remove the gloss of civilization. There stands North Mesquite, gleaming in the reflected light of its mini-lakes and golf courses. On the other side of town, more often than not, the desert is winning its inevitable, entropic race.
It is here that I say, so long to Old Mesquite. It was good to know you.
at 04:29 PM |
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From Barstow to Mesquite - A Mojave Desert Adventure
In May 2014, I departed Casa Carrie in Simi Valley, California, heading for Mesquite, Nevada. While my ultimate destination was Moab, Utah, Mesquite stood half way along my route. To complete my trip to Moab in only two days, I planned to travel 375 miles each day. When towing a travel trailer, that distance approaches my outside limit for daily travel.
After merging on to Interstate I-15 North, my trip to Moab would continue on Interstate I-15 and I-70 almost all the way. Although the archaic speed laws in California require large trucks and autos towing trailers to proceed at no more that fifty-five miles per hour, I find it safer to travel on the Interstate at between sixty and sixty-five mails per hour. Why California does not synchronize the speed between towed vehicles and other traffic is an open question. For as long as I can remember, California has stuck to its slowpoke truck and trailer speed limits. Throughout the Four Corners region, trucks, trailers and autos all have the same speed limits.
On Interstate I-5 North, the high desert cities of Victorville, Barstow and Baker offer slight relief from the boredom of transiting across the Mojave Desert. In order to save on fuel costs, I usually stop at the Love’s Travel Center in Barstow. Upon arrival, I found a convoy of two U.S. Army Reserve Humvees and a larger transport truck stopped for refueling. In speaking with three of the team members, I discovered that they were traveling to nearby Fort Irwin for two weeks of Reserve training exercises.
On a previous trip to Moab, I had seen a surplus early model Humvee stripped down and converted to off-road use. With no armor at all, the older model Humvees became potential deathtraps during Iraq War combat. The current model Humvees that I saw in Barstow featured heavy steel-plate exteriors, blast-resistant doors and steel armor built into their undercarriages. With no front-end crash protection, and unarmed gun turrets up top, these Army Reserve Humvees looked sleek, but not yet combat ready.
During my fuel stop, I remembered that I was heading for two weeks of fun and adventure in the Four Corners region. For the following two weeks, the reservists would engage in war games and training at the one-thousand square miles of open desert at the nearby National Training Center. With Memorial Day fast approaching, I was happy to have such dedicated and talented individuals training to protect our liberties in the United States and abroad. After I thanked the Los Alamitos, California based reservists for their service, they headed out.
Heading north from Barstow, I soon passed the turn-off to Fort Irwin. By then my new friends from the Army Reserve were entering the gate at the “fort”. Fort Irwin’s name helps tell the story that in 1846, the U.S. Army created a rock fort at nearby Bitter Creek. From there, the U.S. Army Mormon Battalion and others chased supposedly marauding Apache, Shoshone and fugitive Mission Indians from Mission San Gabriel, near Los Angeles. Although some stole horses, guns and food from travelers along the Old Spanish Trail, most Indians in the Mojave Desert exemplified the notion of nomadic loners, seeking no contact with outsiders.
Solar plasma formation at Ivanpah Valley, California
Soon, I came upon Ivanpah, California. Ivanpah shares an otherwise desolate valley with Primm, Nevada. There I got my first blinding look at the glint and glare from the new Brightsource Solar Thermal Plant in operation. In May of 2012, I had passed that place during construction of the controversial, three unit active-solar power generating station. At that time, the tops of the three receiving towers were dark, as if shrouded in black cloth.
On this visit, I noted that the top sections of each tower shone with white light seemingly as bright as the sun. Shimmering in the air to one side or the other of each receiving tower was what looked like white mist. In reality, the mist was solar plasma, caused by the concentration of light from many mirrors. As operators need more power, they use computers and electrical actuators to change the angle of up to 356,000 mirrors, each the size of a garage door. As a result, operators can redirect the reflected sunlight from a focal point in the desert sky to a receiving area at the top of each tower. Since adjacent air temperatures created by the solar plasma are so high, no one yet knows the long-term effects on the desert environment.
In a recent Los Angeles Times article, I read that a number of native birds had perished in the solar flux at Ivanpah. Some experts hypothesize that prolonged focusing of eyes on the solar receiving towers could burn our retinas. I thought to myself, “Shouldn’t that be illegal?” One thing is for sure; you will no longer see a Desert Tortoise basking in Ivanpah Valley’s desert sun. After 15,000 years of human cohabitation with the Desert Tortoise, politicians decided that the terrapins must go elsewhere, all in the name of “renewable energy”. Using the double-speak of Mega Solar; they had to “destroy the desert in order to renew it”.
As my rig descended the grade into the Ivanpah Valley, I kept my speed below sixty miles per hour. Thinking that I might get a good photo of the towers, I lowered the side window on my vehicle. Although the ambient temperature that day was about 90 °F (32 °C), heat radiating from the solar thermal generators was palpable on my skin. The feeling reminded me of the rays that emanate from a parabolic electric heater. With its vast array of mirrors and three thermal collecting towers, I discovered that Brightsource Primm had a “heat island” effect far greater than even its massive size suggested. The good news is that without the previously available multi-billion dollar loan guarantees and tax rebates, no further solar thermal generating plants like Brightsource Primm will see the light of day.
After that surreal experience, I proceeded past the lure of Primm’s several casinos, driving north toward Las Vegas, Nevada. My goal was to reach Mesquite Nevada, ninety miles north of Las Vegas before dark. With that in mind, my visit to Las Vegas would consist of a “drive by” on I-15 North. After almost two decades of expansion in Las Vegas, I-15 has reached the limits of its right-of-way. With six or eight lanes in each direction at the southern end of The Strip, the road and its connectors can carry a tremendous volume of traffic. Ironically, when a driver reaches North Las Vegas, there is usually a traffic snarl. There, highway planners provided too few lanes to handle the through-traffic heading out of Las Vegas to the north, east and west.
Near the southern end of The Strip, the Luxor Las Vegas Hotel is visible from the I-15 freeway. In a ghostly repeat of what I had just seen at Ivanpah, the Luxor’s thirty-story tall pyramid reflected golden hues of sunlight off its mirrored glass surface. Originally built in the early 1990s, the Luxor received a makeover in 2008. In a classic case of Old Energy thinking, MGM Resorts International failed to take advantage of New Energy. Rather than retrofitting the Luxor pyramid with photovoltaic solar panels, they opted for the “golden glow” effect of solar reflective glass. With business as usual in Las Vegas, appearances trumped energy efficiency and common sense. I wondered how much electrical energy from Brightsource Ivanpah might be powering air conditioners at the Luxor.
About twenty miles north of Las Vegas, I exited I-15 North at U.S. Highway 93, also called the Great Basin Highway. If the Ivanpah Valley is California’s version of the new Industrial Desert, the area north of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and south of the Moapa River Indian Reservation is a no man’s land dedicated to the Old Industrial Desert. Despite hosting a large photovoltaic panel array to the west, an open pit mine adjacent to I-15 and the natural gas fired Harry Allen Generating Station dominate the landscape. Adding environmental insult to injury, a nearby chemical loading depot disperses clouds of white powder and dust across that desolate valley.
A truck stop in the desert attracts all kinds of people and vehicles. Other than the convenience of yet another Love’s Travel Center, I would not consider stopping in such a ravaged environment. From a person who converted his pickup truck to look like a can of Monster Energy Drink to a severely overloaded Nissan Titan pickup, I stood agape at the unusual scene.
Prior to my departure, I spotted a Nevada Highway Patrol (NHP) vehicle exiting the parking lot. Other than some low-slung lights on its roof and official markings on its sides, the vehicle looked like any contemporary Ford Ranger SUV. In order to identify the occupant as clearly as possible, the words “Highway Patrol” and “State Trooper” blazed across the front fenders and doors of the dark blue vehicle. In a nod to mobile communications, “Dial *NHP” occupied each rear quarter panel.
Back again on I-15 North, I steeled my eyes and made myself ready to stare down any ersatz militiamen I might soon encounter along the highway. Before reaching my destination in Mesquite, I had to transit the area held by gun-toting folks who see rancher Cliven Bundy as their hero. In the aptly named “Bunkerville”, militiamen stand guard over an overgrazed desert where rancher Bundy refuses to pay decades’ worth of cattle grazing fees to the federal government. Apparently, it is lost on his para militarist protectors that if we all paid our fair share of fees and taxes, we could create a sustainable environment and have lower taxes for all.
Plush Kokopelli dives for cover at Bunkerville, Nevada
After taking the off ramp to Bunkerville, I lost my way trying to find the place. Given my stand on gun violence, perhaps it is best that I did not meet up with any trigger-happy men dressed in camouflage gear. On my foray into that unfamiliar world, I did find the original Bunkerville bunker. As one might expect, it was a windowless shack with heavy wooden doors. Approaching the bunker cautiously, I called out, “Cliven, Cliven… are you there?” Alas, no one answered.
After my visit to virtual Bunkerville, I proceeded to Mesquite and to the “Oasis Resort Hotel and Casino” RV Park . Only a few years ago, the Oasis Resort had welcomed my arrival with a huge “Welcome MoabLive.com” on their lighted message board. By May 2014, the resort hotel, casino and even the lighted tower sign were gone. From my previous visits, I knew that Mesquite has an ongoing reputation for destroying its highway heritage.
I can understand demolishing an obsolete casino, but removing the venerable landmark that was the Oasis sign is just plain dumb. Would Las Vegas tear down its classic 1960’s “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign? In Mesquite’s zeal to become a thoroughly sanitized city in the desert, it has consistently destroyed its once quaint highway history. After viewing the destruction, all I could say was, “Good luck, Mesquite, Nevada”.
at 02:15 PM |
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Grand County Council Plans to Desecrate Sego Canyon Ancient Indian Heritage Site
Years ago, I asked several Moab, Utah natives where to see the best of local Indian rock art. More than one suggested that I visit Sego Canyon, near Thompson Springs. From Moab, it was an easy drive north on U.S. Highway 191 North and then to Interstate I-70 East. Soon, I exited at the Thompson Springs off-ramp. From there, it was a short jaunt north via Utah Highway 94 to what remains of the town once called Thompson.
Blessed with adequate water in a desert environment, old Thompson was a natural gathering place. From the time of the Ancients until now, the wells at Thompson have supported human, animal and spiritual life. Water was so important in the region that the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railway laid its mainline tracks through Thompson in the 1880s. From then until the advent of diesel trains in the mid twentieth century, every steam engine that plied those tracks stopped in Thompson for water. In his seminal book on desert ecology, Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey once traveled from Moab to the whistle-stop at Thompson to catch an eastbound passenger train.
In the 1890s, Harry Ballard discovered and mined coal in the upper reaches of Sego Canyon. For a few years, the town of Ballard flourished. In 1914, the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad built a spur line from Thompson to the coal camp, which crossed the stream thirteen times in its five mile journey. In a precursor to what may soon reoccur in Thompson Springs, the watercourse at Ballard dried up and investors soon abandoned the enterprise. Today, Ballard is a ghost town, crumbling back into the floor of Sego Canyon.
In the early 1970s, when contractors finished Interstate I-70, its route paralleled both the railroad tracks and old U.S. Highway 6 & 50. As a remote highway construction camp, Thompson bloomed briefly in the desert. To this day, the Utah Transportation Department maintenance shed and yard serve the lonely stretch of I-70 between Green River, Utah and the western border of Colorado.
Sometime after I-70 opened, Thompson became the “Thompson Springs” that we know today. When the interstate highway bypassed Thompson Springs and steam trains no longer stopped, the town became an afterthought to the world of transportation. Old mobile home parks now stand empty of dwellings. During my visits, I found no overnight lodging available there. A motel and restaurant across from the old rail depot stood gutted and forgotten. Even so, a few hardy souls still live in Thompson Springs. Other than the trains that rumble through town, the people of Thompson Springs live with the luxury of a quiet existence.
Continuing north through Thompson Springs on Utah Highway 94, the road changes designations, becoming Sego Canyon Road and Thompson Canyon Road. Farther north, as it begins its ascent into the Book Cliffs, the road becomes BLM 159. With Thompson Wash winding alongside, signs of contemporary civilization quickly fall away.
About half way up to the border of the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation, there are a few wooden signs and a gravel parking area. From the parking area, it is a short walk to a series of Indian Rock Art Panels. Spanning several millennia, the panels include one in the ancient Barrier Canyon Style, several in intermediate Fremont Style and more art in Ute Historical Style. No other place that I know has such a concentration of high quality rock art from so many different eras.
After my first visit to the rock art panels at Sego Canyon, I dubbed them the “Sanctuary of the Ancients”. With so few visitors in the canyon, I found a solitude that one rarely finds in the High Southwest. The loudest sounds I heard were birdcalls and the rustling of sagebrush in the wind. My only living companions were cottontail rabbits and an occasional lizard, doing pushups on the rocks. As I watched, the changing light of afternoon brought life to the different figures carved, etched or painted upon the walls of Sego Canyon.
Not knowing ancient from recent Indian rock art, I formed my own creation myths from the figures that I saw. Some figures appeared to me as time travelers, perhaps from ancient realms or alternate dimensions. Others looked like families, holding tools and welcoming visitors to their land. If one were looking for ancient, mysterious or extraterrestrial characters to populate a play or novel, this would be their meeting place.
Upon my second visit, I had gained a bit more knowledge of Indian rock art. Even so, I experienced the same awe as on my first visit. Pausing, I looked up from the ancient Barrier Style rock art panel to see two godlike or perhaps human images imposed upon the stone surface above. Not until I returned to Moab and studied the photos from that day did I decipher the interwoven countenances that held court above that sacred site in Sego Canyon.
There, the faces I call Father Time and Mother Nature nestle in relief, cheek to cheek in loving ecstasy. Her countenance faces right, featuring voluptuous lips and nose. To her right and nestling with her face is a gray haired and bearded man, eyes closed in ecstasy. For millions of years they have occupied the canyon wall. A scant five thousand years ago, humans found this sheltered spot and carved or etched their sacred images upon the lower portion of the canyon wall.
Starting with the earliest of human civilizations, each generation seeks to leave its mark upon the land. From the pyramids of Ancient Egypt, to the Mayan temples in Central America, or the sheltered cliffs of Redrocks Country, humans have left their enduring mark. I often wonder how such stone edifices and drawings remain visible, even in our time. To me, they are the gifts from the Ancients to the people of today. In Sego Canyon, each succeeding culture revered the artwork laid down before, then added to the sacred artistry.
In the year 2014, the sanctity, solitude and ancient reverence of Sego Canyon may well end. After five or ten thousand years of respectful treatment by the humans who have visited Sego Canyon, the Grand County Council plans to put a stop to all of that. At present, all three options in the long-term usage plan for Grand County Public Lands dictate Sego Canyon’s demise. Without exception, all three plan options call for a fifteen mile long, one or two mile wide transportation corridor straight up Sego Canyon. Commonly called the “Hydrocarbon Highway”, this newly paved and widened road will serve a Mecca of tar sands mines planned beyond the rim of the Book Cliffs.
With their undifferentiated planning options, the Old Energy extractionists and their Grand County Council cronies have stacked the deck against antiquity and environmental preservation. Taking a shortsighted look at Grand County resources, council members and their Old Energy backers assume that there is no value in prehistoric and historic continuity at Sego Canyon. In the land beyond the Book Cliffs, there are tar sands to mine, hydrocarbons to extract and clean air to foul. As if there are no consequences for mining, transporting, refining and burning the dirtiest of fossil fuels ever discovered, the Grand County Council plans to help extract and transport as much dirty fuel as possible.
If a duly elected council proposed a hydrocarbon highway across Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, St. Peter’s Square in Rome or between the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, what would we think? No one in the civilized societies on this Earth would agree to such desecration of a religious site. Yet, Sego Canyon, as a sacred site, is older than Temple Square or St. Peter’s Square, and nearly as old as the Pyramids at Giza. If British Petroleum proposed a road and pipeline through the middle of Stonehenge, might the citizens of England raise their voices? By what right do seven council members in Grand County, Utah plan to desecrate and destroy one of the oldest sacred sites in the United States? We, the citizens of Gaia, this living Earth must raise our voices against the greedy desecration of the holy sites and sacred art at Sego Canyon.
If the seven council members have their way, they will end over five thousand years of human reverence for Sego Canyon. Instead, a paved highway will replace the winding dirt road and solitude will vanish from the land. When the last ancient rock art panel crumbles to the floor of Sego Canyon, will Father Time and Mother Nature still reside upon the brow of that canyon, or will they too fall in a heap on the canyon floor? Unless Grand County stops this folly now, we will have the human geniuses of its elected council to thank for the whole show.
In Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey rafts down a section of the Colorado River through Glen Canyon. By the time he could publish that book, the sacred sites in Glen Canyon lay beneath one hundred feet of Lake Powell water. For the rest of his life, Edward Abbey wrote about, made speeches about and generally railed against the travesty of Glen Canyon Dam and the huge evaporation pond we call Lake Powell. Sixty years later, will we stand by, ringing our hands about the imminent loss of Sego Canyon? Alternatively, will we inform the Grand County Council regarding the error of their ways?
If you care about preserving the “Sanctuary of the Ancients” at Sego Canyon, Utah, please send a letter to:
Grand County Council
125 E. Center Street
Moab, UT 84532.
Telephone (435) 259-1342
Also, send a copy of your letter to:
Mr. Fred Ferguson
Legislative Director, Rep. Rob Bishop
123 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515
at 05:53 PM |
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