In 1981, Edward Abbey and "Earth First!" Monkey Wrenched Glen Canyon Dam
In 1965, my father and I visited the Four Corners States. Three years later, Edward Abbey enjoyed the publishing of his first non-fiction book, titled Desert Solitaire. Abbey’s words help give geographical and historical context to many places I visited in 1965. Quoting from Abbey’s book, I wrote about my visits to Moab, Utah, Lake Powell and Rainbow Bridge National Monument.
In 1975, at the age of 48, Edward Abbey experienced widespread notoriety when his novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang received mixed reviews. Although many readers and reviewers enjoyed his queasily exciting adventures in incipient eco-activism (some say eco-terrorism), others abhorred the sabotage Abbey’s motley band of characters perpetrated in San Juan County, Utah.
In Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey wrote with eloquence about his personal history and the natural history of his favorite places in Southeastern Utah and Northern Arizona. By the time he wrote The Monkey Wrench Gang, the same places served mainly as a backdrop for the nefarious activities of his fictional characters. Following are Abbey’s words of fiction and my photos of reality at several places mentioned in The Monkey Wrench Gang.
Page 235, “Hayduke rushed back, breathing hard, scowling with ill-suppressed delight. He jumped in, jumped the clutch and burned away, turned left at the highway and drove north toward Kayenta, Monument Valley, Mexican Hat, the trackless canyons of Utah – escape.”
Page 243, “She sat on the iron flange of an overturned mining car and gazed far out toward the south, through the veils of the evening, for a hundred miles as thought can sail, over Muley Point and the Gooseneck meanders of the San Juan River, past Monument Valley, over the Monument Upwarp and beyond the rim of the visible world to Kayenta, the Holiday Inn and the battered blue jeep still waiting there.
San Juan River –
Page 88, “Instead of destroying the survey crew’s signs, she suggested, why not relocate them all in such a manner as to lead the right-of-way in a grand loop back to the starting point? Or lead it to the brink of, say, Muley Point, where the contractors would confront a twelve-hundred-foot vertical drop-off down to the Goosenecks of the San Juan River.
Glen Canyon Dam –
Page 11, “Four hundred feet long, it spans a gorge seven hundred feet deep: Glen Canyon. Flowing through the bottom of the gorge is the tame and domesticated Colorado River, released from the bowels of the adjacent Glen Canyon Dam. Formerly a golden-red, as the name implies, the river now runs cold, clear and green, the color of glacier water.”
Page 16, “Not the dam.”
“Yes sir, we have reason to think so.”
“Not Glen Canyon Dam.”
“I know it sounds crazy. But that’s what they’re after.”
Meanwhile, up in the sky, the lone visible vulture spirals…
Page 31, “He hadn’t remembered so many power lines. They stride across the horizon in multicolumn grandeur, looped together by the swoop and gleam of high-voltage cables charged with energy from Glen Canyon Dam, from the Navajo Power Plant, from the Four Corners and Shiprock plants, bound south and westward to the burgeoning Southwest and California. The blazing cities feed on the defenseless interior.
Page 37, “Now they came, amidst an increasing flow of automobile and truck traffic, to the bridge and Glen Canyon Dam. Smith parked his truck in front of the Senator Carl Hayden Memorial Building. He and his friend got out and walked along the rail to the center of the bridge.
Page 66, “Hayduke had been complaining about the new power lines he’d seen the day before on the desert. Smith had been moaning about the dam again, that dam which had plugged up Glen Canyon, the heart of his river, the river of his heart.
Page 103, “The old jeep, loaded with all of his valuables, had been left a week earlier in a parking lot at Wahweap Marina near Page, close to the ultimate, final, unspoken goal, impossible objective, Smith’s favorite fantasy, the dam. Glen Canyon Dam. The dam.
Page 108, “When Glen Canyon Dam plugged the Colorado, the waters backed up over Hite, over the ferry and into thirty miles of…”
Page 117, “Smith took a long and studious look at the east-northeast, above the humpback rock, straight toward that lovely bridge which rose, like an arc of silver, like a rainbow of steel, above Narrow Canyon and the temporarily plugged Colorado River.”
Page 330, “Or down in Arizona for the glorious finale to the campaign, the rupturing removal and obliteration of, of course, that Glen Canyon National Sewage Lagoon Dam. We never did get all together on that one. Smith wakes slowly, taking his time.”
In an introduction to the 1982 film, “The Cracking of Glen Canyon Damn”, Edward Abbey stood cliff-side, with the dam behind him. Gesturing toward the object of his derision he said, “I think we are morally justified to resort to whatever means are necessary to defend our land from destruction… invasion. I see this as an invasion. I feel no kinship with that fantastic structure over there. No sympathy with it whatsoever.”
The brief film chronicled the March 21, 1981 event that some called the birth of the radical environmental movement in America. In the film, members of the environmental group Earth First! unfurled a 300-foot tapered black sheet of plastic down the face of the dam, making it appear as if a gigantic crack had appeared in the structure.
To a small group of people who stood nearby, Edward Abbey made a speech from the back of a flatbed truck. “Surely no manmade structure in history has been hated so much by so many, for so long with such good reason as Glen Canyon Dam. Earth First! The domination of nature leads to the domination of human beings. And if opposition is not enough, we must resist. And if resistance is not enough, then subvert. The empire is striking back, so we must continue to strike back at the empire by whatever means available to us.
Win or lose, it is a matter of honor. Oppose, resist, subvert, delay until the empire itself begins to fall apart. And until that happens, enjoy… enjoy the great American West, what is left of it. Climb those mountains, run those rivers, hike those canyons, explore those forests, and share in the beauty of wilderness, friendship, love and common effort to save what we love. Do this and we will be strong and bold and happy. We will outlive our enemies, and as my good old grandmother used to say, we will live to piss on their graves. (Applause) Thank you.”
During Abbey’s speech, which he timed to coincide with the unfurling of the banner, National Park Rangers arrived at the scene. Despite their investigation, authorities were unable to identify the individuals responsible for the draping of Glen Canyon Dam. Looking somewhat puzzled at the gathering, rangers cited neither Edward Abbey nor anyone else in the crowd.
To read the first article in this series, click HERE.