Chapter #279: The Holbrook Basin Potash Project - April 14, 2013

Is there sufficient water in the C-Aquifer of the Holbrook Basin to serve the needs of both a potash mine and the ecology of the Little Colorado River watershed? - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Does the Passport Potash, Inc. Holbrook Basin Project Hold Water?

In 2009, I first visited the Cane Creek Facility, operated by Intrepid Potash – Moab, LLC. The main features of the “facility” include a hydraulic (in-situ) mining operation, large settling ponds, plus a processing building and a loading facility for the finished product. While driving along the public road known as the Shafer Trail, I observed the almost total destruction of the natural environment within the confines of the facility. Contemporary large-scale farming requires potash as a fertilizer. Still, I wondered, when is the environmental cost too high for any particular mine to be developed?

A dust storm approaches the Snowflake, Arizona home of environmentalist Kathy Hemenway in 2010 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In 2010, environmentalist Kathy Hemenway contacted me regarding my research into potash production near Moab. A consortium of mining companies, she told me, was preparing to mine potash from beneath the Holbrook Basin, near her home in Snowflake, Arizona. Over the next three years, Passport Potash, Inc. became the lead company in the effort to mine potash salts in the Holbrook Basin. After making agreements with various ranchers, other mining interests and the Hopi Tribe, Passport Potash commissioned the German consulting company ERCOSPLAN to create a Preliminary Economic Assessment, or “PEA”. In March 2013, Passport Potash, Inc. published the ERCOSPLAN PEA on their website. (Author's note: By 2015, the 
ERCOSPLAN PEA was available only as a PDF file)

During 2011, I had researched and written a series of four articles on the Holbrook Basin and the Little Colorado River Basin within which it resides. With overstressed aquifers and a drying environment, the introduction of a Moab-style, in-situ (solution) mine in the Holbrook Basin would reflect an obvious overuse
of a diminishing resource. Initially, when I read the 2013 Passport Potash PEA, I was buoyed by the consultants’ recommendation that Passport Potash conduct conventional, “room and pillar” mining at Holbrook.
Widespread environmental damage created by in-situ potash mining near Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
When I looked deeper into the report, I discovered potential problems with the Passport Potash conventional mining plan. As they say, “the devil is in the details”. The devil, in this case, is the potential overuse of surface water and groundwater in the Holbrook Basin. Although Passport would build conventional shafts and galleries for their mining operations, large amounts of water would be necessary for ore processing and other uses adjacent to the mine. While much of the Passport Potash PEA looked feasible to me, the lack of a comprehensive hydro-ecological survey raised an immediate red flag.

In Moab, Intrepid Potash needs only to drop a siphon into the adjacent Colorado River to suck up the incredible amounts of water required to flush potash salts from deep underground. To my knowledge, there is no public disclosure of the amounts of water required for the “Big Flush” at Moab. With
relatively high purity of desired potash compounds, Intrepid Potash uses sunlight to dry their produced brine. After minimal processing, Intrepid Potash is able to ship its final product by rail or truck.
Extensive brine holding ponds at Potash, Utah dominate the environment - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
In the Holbrook Basin, however, there is a “high amount of Carnallite (approx. 8%) and the relatively high amount of insoluble material (nearly 5%) in the mineralized material”. Further, the consultants say, “the reliable processing route to obtain a MOP product (commercial potash) will be a variation of the hot leaching/crystallization route”. Since hot leaching is a water and steam-intensive process, “the total water demand for processing, including process water and make-up water for cooling cycles, is approximately 550 m³/h”. That translates to 145,295 gallons or 2.24 acre-feet per hour.

Put into context, one acre-foot of water will sustain a single U.S. suburban household, or up to four “water wise” households for one year. With a full
running time of 6600 hours per year, and water usage of 2.24 acre-feet per El Rio Puerco (the Puerco River) runs like a brackish ditch through Petrified Forest National Park near Holbrook, Arizona - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)hour, the annual water usage at the Holbrook Basin Project would be 15,840 acre-feet. In context, that amount of water could support between 15,000 and 60,000 households. Flagstaff, which is the largest city in Northern Arizona, has a population of just over 65,000. With a population of about 5,000, Holbrook is the largest city in the Holbrook Basin. When operational, the Holbrook Basin Project would dwarf the water usage of Holbrook and approach the water needs of Flagstaff. Instantly, the Holbrook Basin Project would become the largest single water user in all of Northern Arizona.

According to the PEA, “A regional aquifer is located within the Coconino Sandstone and locally within the uppermost Supai Formation, which is called the C-aquifer. Furthermore, the Moenkopi and Chinle Formations might (italics mine) contain undefined/unreported aquifers. South of the Project Area, there are extensive areas of sinkholes reaching the land surface, which suggests major salt dissolution that likely contributes to the salinity of the water in the Coconino Sandstone (COX, 1965, /6/)”. The above statement ignores the fact that new sinkholes have developed in the area within the past twenty years. Earth scientists know that as the local water table subsides, sinkholes are often the result.

Quicksand dominates the watercourse of the Little Colorado River at Homolovi State Park, near Winslow, Arizona - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The Little Colorado (River), a permanent stream (italics mine), and the Puerco River, an intermittent stream, run through the area (COX, 1965,/6/). These streams merge about three miles east of Holbrook and tend to generally produce fresh water, which is reported to be brackish to saline in the surrounding areas”. The only hydrological study cited in the PEA dates to 1965. Perhaps the Little Colorado was a “permanent stream” in the 1960’s, but it is far from that today. In the current century, that river runs hard and fast for only a brief time each spring. At that time, snowmelt from the Mogollon Plateau runs off toward the Colorado River. Summer thunderstorms may produce brief river flow, as well. Otherwise, most of the flow cited in the PEA is running beneath the surface, if at all.

The Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona was the inspiration for the Cozy Cone Motel in the Disney Pixar movie, "Cars" - Click for larger image (htp://jamesmcgillis.com)“The availability of water has been investigated in a preliminary hydrogeological study (MONTGOMERY & ASSOCIATES, 2013, /27/), but further in-depth studies are required. According to the MONTGOMERY & ASSOCIATES study, the required amount of water could be supplied (italics mine) by the Coconino Sandstone aquifer”. The cited study, by MONTGOMERY & ASSOCIATES is not currently available on the internet, so its conclusions are speculative, at best. Without drilling, logging and publication of numerous test-well flow-rates, Passport Potash, Inc. should not base their development decisions on such speculative information.

“Water demand will be met by wells drilled in the vicinity of the preliminary plant site. A pipeline system will be installed to pump the water to the plant site, where it will be stored in several large water storage tanks for use in processing, general usage in the mine, fire suppression and potable water supply”. With a planned twenty-six year production cycle at the Holbrook The "Gas Mart" harkens back to the day when old Route 66 was the lifeblood of commerce in Holbrook, Arizona - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Basin Project, we may now extrapolate how much “mystery water” the Coconino Sandstone aquifer must contain in order to provide an adequate supply for the life of the project. My quick calculations indicate that during its lifetime, the Holbrook Basin Project would require water resources equal to almost twice the carrying capacity of Bartlett Lake, near Phoenix, Arizona. Bartlett Lake is twelve miles long, with a surface area of over two thousand acres and an average depth of one hundred feet. Until I see a professional hydrological study of the Coconino Sandstone aquifer, I would not trust mere reference to an unpublished study commissioned by Passport Potash, Inc.

“A sewer system will be constructed on-site to treat the waste-water from the sanitary facilities at the plant. Afterwards, it will be used as process water”. Before it becomes a saturated brine solution, the processing facility would reuse and recycle water several times during various phases of mineral
An eroded sandstone landform in Petrified Forest National Park near Holbrook, Arizona testifies the the aridity of the Holbrook Basin - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)production. Although this recycling effort is admirable, “about 15.4 MTPA (millions of tons per annum) of wet solids and 997,000 m³ (808 acre-feet) of brine per year remain as processing residues, which have to be disposed of”.

The PEA states, “The disposal brine remaining from the production process can be disposed of by deep well injection”. To me, that is a glib statement. Over the life of the project, injecting over 21,000 acre-feet of saturated brine into deep wells could result in unintended consequences. To see what might happen, look no further than the States of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas, where deep rock fracturing (fracking) and process water disposal in deep wells may have caused earthquakes of unprecedented size and scale. The only way to study deep well injection at a particular site is to do it. Could large-scale process-brine injection compromise the rock barrier that separates the injection sites from the Coconino Sandstone aquifer above?

A large thunderstorm over Snowflake, Arizona is typical of the summer Monsoon in Northern Arizona - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Production Waste Disposal – “The processing of the potential potash ore described in Section 16.2 produces about 400 million metric tons of wet solid tailings and about 25 million m³ MgCl2-rich waste brine over the whole project lifetime. The tailings will be stockpiled on the surface and will remain after the mining operation. Potential emissions from the tailings pile are either salty water (brine), which will be collected and handled like the waste brine, or dust transported by wind”.

“Furthermore, a 1.5 m high dyke should surround the tailings pond and will collect water run-off. The collected water will be pumped into the brine ponds and disposed by deep well injection”. In the summer months, the regional Monsoon can bring heavy downpours to the Holbrook Basin. If a major thunderstorm were to unload its water supply directly on the Holbrook Basin Project, would a five-foot tall berm of earth be sufficient to contain the mountainous, salt-saturated tailings pile? If such a disaster were to occur,
A bulk rail car loading facility under construction near St. Johns, Arizona is similar to a facility planned for the Holbrook Basin Potash Project - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)the resulting flood of brine could enter the Little Colorado River and from there, flow unimpeded toward the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon.

“In total, about 400 million metric tons of wet solid tailings will accumulate during the operation. The wet salt from the plant has to be stockpiled permanently on the surface. Taking into consideration a height of 40 m and a material density of 1.7 t/m³, an area of about 6 km² is necessary to handle the solid disposal from the process”. Converted to U.S. standards, 6 km² is equal to 3.7 square miles of unprotected tailings, standing over one hundred thirty feet high.

Although the PEA passes off “dust transported by wind” in a single sentence, wind borne dust is already a major modifier of weather and stream flow throughout the Colorado Plateau. In recent years, spring dust storms have drastically altered the environment in the Colorado Rocky Mountains and
Tons of dirt and dust spontaneously go air-borne during a wind event in the Holbrook Basin, Arizona - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)other high altitude snow banks throughout the region. As wind borne dust lands on the snow pack, it changes the albedo (light reflectance) of the snow, darkening it and causing early snow melt. Rather than allowing slow release of melt water into the environment, rapid melting of dirty snow creates floods along both the Little Colorado River and throughout the Upper Colorado River Basin.

The Holbrook Basin Project, Phase 1 – “Studies to confirm and verify the assumptions made for the PEA. These studies include detailed hydrogeological investigations to determine the quantity and quality of groundwater available for the project. An initial water study indicates the general suitability of the
Coconino Sandstone aquifer as a water source, but no specific investigations have been conducted. Recommendations: Detailed hydrogeological investigations to determine the quantity and quality of groundwater available for the project”.

Two Navajo mothers watch as their children play in a Little Colorado River swimming hole beneath a railroad bridge near Winslow, Arizona - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)If the legacy of the Holbrook Basin Project shall be a dried-up or brine-compromised Coconino Sandstone aquifer and a mountainous pile of salt tailings blowing in the wind, Passport Potash, Inc. should abandon the project now. Before the company moves forward with the project, it should publicly address the following issues:
      • Are there sufficient water reserves available to support both the mining operation and the Holbrook Basin at large?
      • What are the potential environmental effects of injecting brine into deep wells, beneath the Coconino Sandstone aquifer?
      • Will the company provide adequate protective covering and drainage for the tailings pile, both during and after the project life-cycle?

Until these basic questions are answered, I remain unconvinced that the ERCOSPLAN/Passport Potash, Inc. Preliminary Economic Assessment (PEA) holds any more water than does the Little Colorado River during its dry season.

By James McGillis at 03:14 PM | Environment | Comments (0) | Link

Chapter #269: Disappearance --> Reemergence - January 17, 2013

Unwittingly, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation installed a giant Navahopi Sipapu in the base of Glen Canyon Dam in 1961 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

A Giant Navahopi Sipapu Awaits Its Time at the Base of Glen Canyon Dam

Disappearance and Reemergence:

The historical and scientific consensus is that the last pre-Puebloan Indians (Anasazi) migrated away from the Four Corners around 1300 CE. Later, they “reemerged” as the Hopi, Zuni and other Pueblo tribes. The Hopi Creation Myth centers on the “sipapu”, a hole in the earth from which all of creation arose. Every ancient ceremonial kiva in the Four Corners includes a symbolic sipapu in its floor.

The reconstructed Great Kiva of Chetro Ketl once had a post and beam roof, providing shelter for hundreds of pre-Puebloan Indians around 1250 CE - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The great kivas provided communal warmth and shelter to the pre-Puebloan. Since an earthquake could collapse their roof beams, kivas also carried with them the risk of sudden death. After a swarm of catastrophic earthquakes around 1250 CE, the pre-Puebloan survivors reemerged from the metaphorical sipapu of their collapsed kivas, only then to leave the land that had long sustained them.

In order to escape the ongoing desertification of their homelands on the Colorado Plateau, many of the lost tribes traveled downriver from the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers. To this day, many of caches of their food and tools remain hidden in alcoves high among those canyons. As
The author Jim McGillis at the Goosenecks of the San Juan River, a tributary to the Colorado River, in 1965 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)the climate dried, timber became scarce, crops failed and game animals retreated to well-watered places like Glen Canyon. Using the river as a pathway, they headed south toward new lands and new lives.

In the wilds of Glen Canyon, they found sustenance for their long trek. Nuts, berries and small game were abundant along the shoreline. Those who understood the weather cycle travelled south in summer or fall, often wintering-over in the lower, warmer reaches of the canyon. Still, the canyon was no place to dally. With the warmth of spring would come annual flooding along the Colorado River.

Merrick Butte near sundown in October 2012. It is a place so dry that not one stream or spring in the valley runs all year - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)If the pre-Puebloan episode of climate change was similar to our own, enormous spring floods may have swept the canyon. From wall to wall, the flood would roar, erasing sandbars and banks that had so recently provided shelter for their journey. If the people upstream waited too long, their own supplies of food might be exhausted. If they travelled the river too soon, they risked an unexpected cleansing in the mighty flood.

In its February 1961 issue, Arizona Highways Magazine devoted the inside cover to a photograph of Glen Canyon Dam, then in its early stages of construction. Many of us grew up thinking that the 710 ft. (220 m) high arch of Glen Canyon Dam had always been there. Seeing photos of dam
On the Colorado River at Moab, Utah, Navajo tribal elder Gray Boy prepares for a song, accompanied by his hand drum - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)construction in the early 1960s, reminds us how recently the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation placed a plug of concrete and steel into that enormous gap.

It was then, still several years before the filling of Lake Powell, that Edward Abbey and a few brave or foolhardy souls rafted down the Colorado River. Less than one hundred years after its discovery by the expedition of Major John Wesley Powell, Abbey and his inveterate river runners were among the last humans to see Glen Canyon as it always was. In 1869, Powell wrote, “...we have a curious ensemble of wonderful features - carved walls, royal arches, glens, alcove gulches, mounds, and monuments. From which of these features shall we select a name? We decide to call it Glen Canyon.” For his Light reflecting off the Colorado River canyon wall shines like the light of creation through the skin of Navajo elder Gray Boy at Moab, Utahpart, Edward Abbey wrote almost one hundred years later, “In fact I saw only a part of (Glen Canyon) but enough to realize that here was an Eden, a portion of the earth’s original paradise.”

Edward Abbey and many others were incensed that the U.S. Congress funded the building of Glen Canyon Dam. In his 1975 novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, Abbey waxed rhapsodic on the possibility of toppling the dam, thus releasing the waters that covered all traces of Abbey’s “Eden in the Desert”. In 1981, Abbey and the group known as Earth First converged on the dam. While Abbey spoke to a small group gathered nearby, members of Earth First unfurled a banner designed to look like a huge crack on the face of Glen Canyon Dam. Throughout the protest, there was no violence, sabotage or destruction of property. The symbolic cracking of the dam, it seemed, was protest enough.

Glen Canyon Dam, as Lake Powell was filling for the first time, in summer 1965 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Even those who accept the human causes of climate change tend to see it as a recent phenomenon. Outsized events, such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 or Superstorm Sandy in 2011 are not enough to convince many that humans play a role in our own meteorological environment. In the spring of 1983, two years after the symbolic cracking of the dam, Edward Abbey and his fellow travelers almost saw their wish come true. Heavy winter snows across the Colorado Plateau, followed by drenching rains and unseasonably warm temperatures brought a flood of unexpected proportions into Lake Powell.

The Bureau of Reclamation was unprepared for the onslaught of water. By July of 1983, Lake Powell reached its highest recorded elevation. In order to increase the carrying capacity of the lake, engineers hastily erected plywood barricades atop the dam. A month earlier, dam operators had opened the left diversion tunnel, sending 10,000 cubic feet per second (280 m3/s), just 7.2% of capacity, down the tunnel into the river below. Meanwhile over 120,000 cubic feet per second (3,400 m3/s) was pouring into the upper reaches of the reservoir.

A cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde National Monument, Colorado in 1965 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In this lopsided scenario, something had to give. For a few weeks, it appeared that erosion in the spillway tunnels might cause catastrophic failure of the system. Cavitation-caused erosion was backtracking from the tunnel outlets. If erosion had loosened the enormous concrete plugs that held back lake water from the diversion tunnels (used during initial construction), the dam could have failed. Although the dam rumbled ominously while the spillways were in operation, luck alone saved the day. Just as options were running out, inflow from the upper Colorado River began to slow, allowing the reservoir to subside. Perhaps warm weather caused sufficient evaporation from the lake to save the dam from destruction.

While the “outlet works” received emergency repairs, the ancient power of the river had reemerged from beneath placid Lake Powell. In deference to the facts of global warming, dam operators never allowed Lake Powell to approach full capacity (3708 ft. elevation) again. Since 1983, they have kept lake levels low enough (3640 ft. max. elevation) to capture a flood at least that large. To this day, the “bathtub ring of 1983” stands as a high water mark on the walls of Glen Canyon. Had the public known that Glen Canyon Dam would never live up to its original design criteria, would the dam have received initial approval?

The Great Cliff House at Mesa Verde National Park - Click for larger image showing whimsical faces designed into the facades of many buildings (http://jamesmcgillis)Hoover Dam, built into hard granite at the Black Canyon of the Colorado River many miles downstream will probably outlast Glen Canyon Dam by centuries. Wedged as it is into the soft sandstone walls of Lower Glen Canyon, the Glen Canyon Dam may have received irreparable damage during the vibrational drubbing it took in 1983. Those who controlled the dam during the harrowing days of summer 1983 are retired now, or dead. Despite several engineering surveys intended to allay public fears about permanent damage, we must wait for time to tell.

In what we now call the Four Corner States, it is likely that a swarm of earthquakes marked the end of the pre-Puebloan era. With their kivas in ruins, the ancients could not live through the winter without communal shelter and warmth. With the last of their timber beams burned for warmth, they soon departed for warmer climes. Just as likely, it will be a series of earthquakes near Page, Arizona that will release the plugs from the diversion tunnels beneath Glen Canyon Dam. When one of those plugs pops into the Colorado River like a cork from a Champagne bottle, the scouring effects of the water will bring Glen Canyon, the “Eden in the Desert” back to the surface of the Earth, where it belongs.

The Navajo Generating Station burns coal, mined at Black Mesa, on the Navajo Reservation - Click for smoke-free view of nearby Lake Powell (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Today the Navajo Nation borders Lake Powell and the Colorado River along its northern and western reaches. Coal from Black Mesa, to the north fuels the Navajo Generating Plant, which is visible from Lake Powell. Several centuries after disappearance of the pre-Puebloan culture, Indians from current day Western Canada repopulated the Colorado Plateau. Centuries later, those Dine' or Naabeeho people became known as the Navajo. In his 1975 book, “My Heart Soars”, Chief Dan George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada said this:

“Of all the teachings we receive,
this one is the most important:
Nothing belongs to you
of what there is,
of what you take,
you must share.”

A 1961 view of Glen Canyon, before the 710 foot tall Glen Canyon Dam filled the space delineated by the bridge with concrete. Note giant Navahopi Sipapu installed at the lower right of this image - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In his lament for the hunting and gathering days of his youth, Chief Dan George summed up all that had been lost:

“No longer
can I give you a handful of berries as a gift,
No longer
are the roots I dig used as medicine,
No longer
Can I sing a song to please the salmon,
No longer
does the pipe I smoke make others sit with me in friendship.
No longer”

As we focus on the 1961 image of Glen Canyon, without the dam, perhaps we can decommission it before it blows its concrete plugs. Otherwise, it behooves us to prepare now for the opening of a grand sipapu there, in Glen Canyon, at a future date uncertain.


By James McGillis at 05:59 PM | Environment | Comments (0) | Link

Chapter #268: Edward Abbey - His Spirit Returns - January 8, 2013

Richard Byrd's photo of Edward Abbey, from the audio CD "Ed Abbey: Self Portrait", recorded by Jack Loeffler in 1983 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Edward Abbey - "Has the statute of limitations run out on that?"

In 2006, my first knowledge of Edward Abbey came by reading his 1968 nonfiction book, Desert Solitaire. At that time, I was living in Moab, Utah, near Arches National Park, where Abbey lived while writing the field notes, which later became the book. Among other issues, in Desert Solitaire Abbey wrote about the supposed ongoing destruction of Navajo National Monument, Arizona. In the late 1960s, a paved road reached the newly renovated Sunset Campground there. Even if it brought appreciative visitors to a National Monument, Abbey considered a paved road through any natural landscape abhorrent.

Jack Loeffler, author, aural historian and friend of Edward Abbey, at Moab Confluence Festival 2008 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In July 2008, I wrote an article here about Edward Abbey. Even before reading Abbey's writing about Sunset Campground and Navajo National Monument, it was one of my favorite camping spots. Never crowded, and always free, that sacred place features sweeping views and starry nights. Better yet, the long sight-lines brought a strong cell phone signal into my
coach. While visiting that hallowed place, I spent a morning walking around and looking at grand views, but also of pre-Puebloan alcove dwellings in remote canyons.

Although Edward Abbey had died in 1989, that morning in 2008 I decided to contact his spirit and, with permission, take it (him?) for a tour of his lamented place. I do not know if any consciousness associated with the man Betatikin Ruin at Navajo National Monument, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Ron Hagg - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Edward Abbey walked with me there. All I know is that at the end of the walk, I felt peace and appreciation for that wonderful place. If the experience of death releases all worldly cares, I prefer to believe that the death of Edward Abbey cleared his spirit of all the cranky and cantankerous statements he ever made in life..

Soon after that, I became enamored of all things Edward Abbey. Since Moab, Utah represents the physical and emotional center of my own writing; I soon purchased the website www.moababbey.com, followed by www.moabbey.com. Although both are hastily assembled compilations from my other sources, I shall soon update both. MoabAbbey.com will contain my collected articles on the man, Edward Abbey. Moabbey.com will feature my cartoon character, Moabbey the Coyote. Moabbey and his superhero friends are from my online novel at www.jimmcgillis.com.

Filmmaker ML Lincoln with Jack Loeffler, friend of Edward Abbey and narrator of "Wrenched - The Movie" on location - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) In October 2008, I attended and participated in “Confluence: A Celebration of Reading and Writing” in Moab, Utah. Among my teachers, there were Jack Loeffler and Craig Childs. During my session with Jack Loeffler, I learned that he had been good friends with Edward Abbey. On January 1, 1983, Jack Loeffler interviewed and made an audio recording of Edward Abbey. As part of our tuition for the course, Jack Loeffler gave each student a copy of the CD, “Ed Abbey: A Self Portrait”.

During that extended interview, Edward Abbey waxed both poetic and profane. A little more than five years after the recording session, Edward Abbey died. Rather than quote his rambling attacks on “the machine”, I prefer to quote Edward Abbey on the subject of music. His words, are edited for brevity.

Ken Sleight, the inspiration for Colorado River Guide "Seldom Seen Smith" in Edward Abbey's novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Edward Abbey – “I love music, yes indeed. Lately, I’ve been in love with the country music of America… the Blue Grass, the Cowboy Songs, the Blues, and to some extent jazz."

"First, there was the beating drum. Then, somebody invented the flute. Maybe we should have stopped there. Drums and flutes – still two of my favorite instruments”.

Today, no one owns Edward Abbey’s thoughts, but many people own examples of his writing. Now, almost twenty-five years after his death, his former friends and associates have come together to tell us what they remember about Edward Abbey and his legacy. Under the direction of filmmaker ML Lincoln, “Wrenched – The Movie” is now in post-production. After its final funding, the world shall see a filmed reconstruction and illumination of Edward Abbey’s spirit.

Not surprisingly, Jack Loeffler will narrate “Wrenched – The Movie”. For her part, writer/director ML Lincoln has sought out and interviewed each surviving member of what some might call the Monkey Wrench Gang. When I inquired about the movie, Ms. Kristi Frazier, a member of the post-production staff provided the following statement by Ms. Vicki Day, Post Production Supervisor for the film.

Poster from the pre-screening of ML Lincoln's "Wrenched - The Movie" in Flagstaff, Arizona in October 2012 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Dear Jim,
I would like to introduce you, and hopefully your readers, to the upcoming feature documentary Wrenched, (www.Wrenched-themovie.com). The film explores how novelist Edward Abbey lit the flame of environmental activism and gave the movement its soul.

Wrenched features Abbey's gang of close friends: many of whom inspired his most memorable characters. Outraged by the degradation of the American Southwest, they pioneered a radical form of environmental activism, a blueprint for "wrenching the system."

Abbey’s writing became a call to action for many conservationists who came of age in the '70s and '80s. Wrenched captures the passing of the monkey wrench from the pioneers of eco-activism to the new generation who will carry Abbey’s legacy into the 21st century.

We are currently in post-production with an amazing team. Producer Kurt Engfehr has worked in all areas of television and film production, known for his work as the main editor and co-producer on two of Michael Moore’s films, Bowling For Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11. Emmy-Award-winning Editor Patrick Gambuti, Jr., co-directed and edited At the Edge of the World and co-wrote and edited Greedy Lying Bastards, a documentary that exposes the fossil fuel industry.

Filmmaker ML Lincoln interviews Charles Bowden for the upcoming documentary on novelist Edward Abbey and the ethic of environmental activism he spawned - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Wrenched is now in need of funds to get this important film through the final stages of post-production. Please lend your support by spreading the news about our crowd-funding campaign, as we honor the community of activists who were the forerunners of the environmental movement!

Wrenched has been accepted into the International Documentary Association’s (“IDA”) prestigious Fiscal Sponsorship Program. If your readers would like to make a donation that is tax deductible, ask them to please send payments directly to “IDA” at the following address and write “WRENCHED” in the memo section of their check:

Craig Childs, ML Lincoln, Ken Sleight, Katie Lee, Ken Sanders, Jack Loeffler and Kim Crumbo outside The Orpheum Theater in Downtown Flagstaff, Arizona arriving for the "Sneak Preview" of scenes from the upcoming documentary "Wrenched." - Click for image of all individuals mentioned (http://jamesmcgillis.com)International Documentary Association
“Fiscal Sponsorship”
1201 West 5th Street, Suite M270
Los Angeles, CA 90017 USA

In October 2012, ML Lincoln screened selected scenes from “Wrenched – The Movie” at the Orpheum Theater in Downtown Flagstaff, Arizona. In attendance or featured as panelists were many of the individuals who inspired the characters in Edward Abbey’s book, “The Monkey Wrench Gang”. In addition, that evening, Craig Childs joined some of the elder statesmen and women of the environmental activist movement outside the theater for a photo by James Q. Martin, shown here.

Had the original, flesh and blood Edward Abbey been able to attend that screening, I am sure that he would have asked, as he often did, “Has the statute of limitations run out on that yet?”


By James McGillis at 04:49 PM | Environment | Comments (0) | Link

Chapter #267: Edward Abbey - Monkey Wrenching - December 28, 2012

Book jacket for the First Edition of Edward Abbey's novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

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.

1965 view of Rainbow Bridge, almost inundated by the rise of Lake Powell in later years - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)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.

Monument Valley

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.”

1965 view of U.S. Highway 163 South, heading toward Monument Valley, Utah. It is the place where Forest Gump stopped running. Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)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.

1965 Ektachrome image of the Mitten Buttes in Monument Valley - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)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…

Two Navajo rugs purchased in 1965  at Goulding's Trading Post in Monument Valley - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)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 1965 image of Sentinel Butte and West Mitten Butte in Monument Valley - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)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.”

The Author, Jim McGillis at Muley Point, Goosenecks State Park, Utah in 1965 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)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.”

Under floodlights, construction of Glen Canyon Dam continued in 1962 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)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 Lower Lake Powell, nearing half full in 1965 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)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.

By James McGillis at 05:18 PM | Environment | Comments (0) | Link

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