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Chapter #383: The Four Corners Region - Part 5 - August 30, 2021


Some California wildfire smoke obscures the background in this October 2020 image of Kanab, Utah - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)

From a Flat Tire in Kanab to The Stratosphere in Las Vegas

After an uneventful trip from Page, Arizona to Kanab, Utah, I set up camp at the venerable Kanab RV Corral. By booking early, I was able to enjoy the bucolic charm of old Kanab. Since I first stayed at the RV Corral in 2006, tourist facilities in the City of Kanab have expanded exponentially. New hotels and RV Parks seem to sprout up every year. Even so, the population of Kanab now stands at only 4,636.

To the east of the city, the Grand Plateau RV Resort features eighty RV spaces and fifteen cabins. Nearby, Red Canyon Cabins features approximately fifty-five individual cabins, which wrap around the Kanab Quality Inn. Upon my arrival at the Kanab RV Corral, I learned that there was not a single unreserved RV
Once a private residence, the iconic Parry Lodge in Kanab, Utah shows the town as it once was - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)space in Kanab that night. Not ironically, the Kanab Creek aquifer draws on the same watershed that feed the Colorado River and Lake Mead downstream. As the eastern gateway to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park, Kanab now appears dominated by developers and hoteliers. Each new facility uses untold amounts of water.

While in Kanab, I visited the historic Parry Lodge, first built as a private home in 1892. In 1930, the Parry brothers, converted the large property into a Hollywood movie support destination, complete with motel and luxury hotel accommodations. In 2021, with decreased revenue and an increased cost of operation, the property closed during the depths of the health crisis. As of August 2021, the historic lodge is again open for business.

Western actor Joel McCrea is on of many who shot movies in Kanab, Utah and stayed at the historic Parry Lodge - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)Although tourists could not enter during my visit, I could peer down the driveway and see “Randolph Scott’s Room”, which was the first door along an otherwise deserted driveway. John Wayne’s room was farther down the driveway. Out front, there were memorial plaques honoring various Western movie heroes of the 20th century, including Ronald Reagan and Joel McCrea. On August 14, 2003, the complex became a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. While I was strolling the grounds, a woman told me about a nearby historical movie site.

Intrigued, I drove up along Kanab Creek to the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. Remembering it as a small outpost of animal care in 2006, I was amazed to see a huge ranch and campus designed to care for everything from horses to raptors. Since I did not have a tour reservation, I stuck to the dirt road and went up canyon. Near the upper reaches of the facility, I discovered an One lucky rescue horse occupies the historic barn and movie set at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)historical red barn. Other than a new roof, the barn looked just as it did for over a century. During that time, the wooden structure had served as both a horse barn and a Hollywood Western movie location. From the woman in town, I had learned that none other than the late, great George “Gabby” Hayes had filmed there.

On the morning of May 26, I prepared for the 207-mile trip from Kanab to Las Vegas, Nevada. While checking my RV tires, I realized that my left-rear tire was woefully low on pressure. Although I could not see it then, a steel screw had punctured the tread. After a failed attempt to pump up the tire, I decided to roll my rig slowly to the Ramsay Towing & Service Center, just up the highway. There, the nice woman behind the counter said it would be a minimum two hour wait for service. I decided to roll slowly down the back streets of Kanab to the nearby Best Tire and Wheel The picturesque RV space where I discovered a flat tire before departure from Kanab, Utah - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)Shop. There, a tired voice from the back of the shop told me that he had appointments stacked up and more customers expected soon. He suggested that I try Hatch Automotive, just across the highway.

At the rustic Hatch Automotive garage, an older gentleman (Dr. Livingston, I presume) stood inside, wearing a sparkling clean set of clothes. As I waited for him to finish a conversation, I noticed a tire-busting machine in the corner of the garage. It looked like it had last seen service twenty years prior. When the gentleman turned to me, he almost chuckled at my request for assistance. He pointed to the depths of the garage and said that a young man who was up to his elbows in grease was the only person who did any work around there. It was then that I realized that Hatch Automotive was probably a hobby for that retired gentleman. “I guess I’ll just fix it myself”, I said. “That would be a good idea”, the gentleman replied.

With the front axle of my RV rolled up on wooden blocks, I was ready to dismount the rear flat tire - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)From there, I slowly rolled my rig to a wide street behind the nearby La Quinta Inn. I remember what a mobile tire-buster once told me near the Arizona border. "You can do it yourself. Just roll one axle up high enough that the second axle lifts its tire off the ground. Then it is as easy as changing a tire on your car". Utilizing various pieces of lumber that I normally use to level my rig, I managed to pull forward on to my makeshift wooden ramp. With the rear axle suspended in the air, I used my trusty lug wrench to remove the offending wheel. Way back in Needles, on the first day of my trip, I had checked my spare tire for proper inflation. Confident that it could do the job, I rolled my spare tire and rearward and then mounted it on the rear axle. Within twenty minutes, I finished by using my trusty torque wrench to cinch down the lug nuts to a proper level. After rolling off my makeshift lumberyard, I was ready to roll. Soon, the stress of looking for nonexistent tire-service in Kanab disappeared. Happy to be moving again, I looked at my watch. My entire tire escapade in Kanab had taken just over one hour. It felt like instant manifestation all over again.

With help from my lug wrench, I was able to put the spare tire on my RV in Kanab, Utah - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)Across the U.S. there is a shortage of labor, especially in the smaller towns. For the available wages, young people do not want to bust tires or learn automotive repair. If he was paid a fair wage, the 1980's Chevy Dinosaur that the young mechanic was digging into at Hatch Automotive would not be worth the time it took to repair. With a college or a trade school degree, a young person could escape the grease and grime associated with being an underpaid mechanic in Kanab, Utah. A young auto mechanic would be better off taking an unpaid apprenticeship at a Tesla Service Center. At least there is a future in working on electric vehicles. With over 570,000 RVs sold in the past year, there are now tens of thousands more travelers on the road. The lesson I learned on this trip was to depend on myself for minor repairs. If you need a flat tire fixed in Kanab, be prepared to wait most of a day for service. If you need after-hours roadside RV service near Aztec, New Mexico, be prepared for a $500 service call, plus time and one half for any actual repairs. With that, the price to change and fix a flat tire on the road could easily approach $1,000. My new motto is, “Be Prepared. Have a spare.”

At the Las Vegas RV Resort in late May 2021, I found intense heat and inadequate air conditioning in my coach - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)From the snow of Southwestern Colorado to the heat of Las Vegas, my arrival in Nevada was a shock. My fifth wheel has a single air conditioning unit aboard. Until arriving in Las Vegas in late May 2021, I never imagined that I might need a second A/C unit. After a relatively cool first night, I spoke with my neighbor at the Las Vegas RV Resort. He was a specialist in industrial plumbing design and installation. He and his wife had recently arrived in Las Vegas from his Florida home. His main task in Las Vegas was to design and oversee the installation of industrial piping at the former Molycorp Mine (Now called the Mountain Pass Mine), south of Primm, Nevada. Mountain Pass Mine is not an historical mine tucked into a romantic mountain pass. It is a strip mine, pure and simple.

Las Vegas - The land of ultimate excess, as exemplified by the Stratosphere tower near Downtown - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)When he arrived in Las Vegas, my RV neighbor found inadequate Wi-Fi and scorching desert heat. With plans to spend fourteen months in Las Vegas, he needed quick relief. By the time I departed, two days later, he had shade cloth installed on all his exterior windows and a microwave Wi-Fi disk installed atop his access ladder. With high-speed internet, he could view and revise the water, chemical and steam pipes required to restart one of the few rare-earth mineral mines in the United States. Although the Department of Defense had partnered with the mine’s new owners in 2019, decades of neglect and intermittent closures at the mine had left its infrastructure inoperable. Apparently, it was in worse shape than any highway I had recently driven in the Four Corners Region. In essence, the entire mineral processing system at the mine would require a redesign and replacement.

When I asked how long that would take, he sighed and said, “They think the mine can be operational in twelve to fourteen months”. After a long pause, he said, “I’m not sure I can get enough skilled pipe-fitters to complete that task in the 120-degree heat of the Mojave Desert”. The former owner of the Mountain Pass Mine was Molycorp, which went bankrupt in 2014. The mine had suffered the same fate as many “green energy” technologies, such as solar panels and Like so many follies in the Nevada desert, the Las Vegas Monorail stands defunct and useless near the Strip - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)lithium-ion batteries. For decades, China had undercut U.S. domestic prices and, in this case, had driven the only major rare-earth minerals mine in America out of business.

In 2019, the U.S. Department of Defense awoke from its slumber and agreed to partially fund the reopening of the Mountain Pass Mine. As we know, if China were to curtail the supply of rare-earth minerals to the U.S., the emerging electrical vehicle (EV) industry would fail almost immediately. The Mountain Pass Mine is located just across the Nevada border, in San Bernardino County, California. As such, every part of the refurbishment project will be subject to review by California state agencies. When he had retrofitted paper mills throughout the Southern U.S., my neighbor told me, the state of jurisdiction would issue one permit for an entire project. California, he said, requires a separate permit for each aspect of design and construction. With California environmental rules and bureaucracy in mind, the reopening of the Mountain Pass Mine in late 2022 sounded like a “pipe dream” to me.

The Little White Chapel in Las Vegas still advertises that both Joan Collins and Michael Jordan were once married there - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)On my layover day in Las Vegas, the air temperature rose to about 105-degrees. On the asphalt pads of the RV Park, the temperature was ten or fifteen degrees higher. The intense heat and my under-powered air conditioner reminded me about a story from Yuma, Arizona. For decades, Yuma was renowned as the hottest city in America. Tired of constantly being the butt of “hot city” jokes, Yuma relocated its official weather station to the center of a well-watered citrus orchard. Almost instantly, Phoenix, Arizona became the hottest city in America, with 169 days each year at 90F degrees or more. As the Colorado River wanes to a trickle, there will be insufficient imported water for cotton farming and cattle ranching in Southern Arizona. Soon after that, we can expect outlawing of the outdoor water-mister systems that make dining or relaxing outdoors in Phoenix possible.

The Ivanpah Solar Power Facility has no no energy storage capability - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)On Friday May 28, I bid my Las Vegas RV Resort neighbor adieu and drove the final 305-miles home to Simi Valley, California. While in Las Vegas, I had spent under $20 to get my Kanab flat tire repaired and ready for redeployment. As luck would have it, my final dash through the Mojave Desert was uneventful. The following week, I visited Simi RV. The parts specialist there had a Dometic refrigerator thermo fuse replacement kit hanging on the rack. The RV refrigerator failure at the beginning of my trip had been an inconvenience, but not a full-scale disaster. Looking back, I had spent $24 for three temporary foam coolers, $30 for two Igloo permanent coolers and $15 for ice, just to keep my food from rotting. Then I spent $168 for the unneeded printed circuit board (PCB), $34 to exchange the PCB for a proper spare. I paid another $212 for a technician in Aztec, New Mexico to fully diagnose the thermo fuse issue. Adding $65 for my new thermo fuse replacement kit brought the grand total for RV refrigerator repairs to over $550.

A mock-up of my RV refrigerator wind deflector on our RV - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)While purchasing my new thermo fuse replacement kit, I told the owner of Simi RV about my refrigerator issue. He said that other owners of some Cougar and Montana model RVs had experienced similar thermo fuse failures. With a lot of research and testing, he had determined that wind created a low-pressure area along the side of the RV. Wind entering the upper vent was making the propane flame burn too hot, thus burning out the thermo fuse. The remedy was to put an aluminum wing or baffle at the leading edge of the refrigerator vent. That would deflect the passing air around the refrigerator unit and keep the flame operating at the proper temperature.

Since my RV is beyond its warranty period, he could fix the problem, but Simi RV had almost a three month wait for service. Instead, we agreed that I would complete my own repair. He gave me an unfinished, bent piece of aluminum, Final installation of my RV refrigerator wind deflector - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)which I customized to my satisfaction, including a black paint job. I installed long screws, which passed through my new creation and into the structure of the upper RV vent. Soon, I shall take another RV trip, which will include a live test of my new baffle.

On the bright side, for $550 I got my RV refrigerator working. For that amount, I also now have the equivalent of an associate degree in RV refrigerator repair. Since I was able to avoid scuttling my annual, two-week visit to the Four Corners Region, I believe it was all well worth the price. After a subsequent RV trip to Morro Bay, California, I am happy to report that my refrigeration issue appears to be solved.

This concludes Part Five of a Five-Part Article. To return to Part One, click HERE.

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By James McGillis at 03:39 PM | Travel | Comments (0) | Link


Chapter #382: The Four Corners Region - Part 4 - August 16, 2021


Glen Canyon Dam nears completion in the early 1960s - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)

The Historical Saga of Glen Canyon Dam and Wahweap Bay

Any visit to Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell is a memorable event. The surreal nature of a giant concrete plug embedded in soft Arizona sandstone, while holding back the second largest reservoir in America is a site to behold. Visitors can walk across the bridge that spans the 800-foot chasm just downstream of the dam. As large trucks rumble across the bridge at well over the twenty-five mile per hour speed limit, the whole structure resonates at a low pitch. Many of the smaller vehicles flagrantly violate the speed limit. There are no automated “Slow Down” signs and little actual enforcement of the speed limit.

On a recent visit, I trained my camera lens between the chain links that make up the safety fencing along the bridge. Looking down at the dam, which registers 710-foot tall, I noticed a strange anomaly. Where the canyon wall abuts the lower-right portion of the dam, steel rods and plates had been installed to keep the sandstone from crumbling. To make the scene even more startling, water had seeped from behind the dam and along a horizontal seam. Seepage and emergency repairs are evident at the base of Glen Canyon Dam - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)The result was a large, horizontal mosey patch leading downstream from the dam itself. Apparently, the dam was weeping around its eastern edge, and engineers had installed protective bolts and plates. Their intent was to keep the lower canyon wall from crumbling away and exposing more of the concrete dam.

If you have ever observed a concrete patch on an asphalt road or an asphalt patch on a concrete road, you know that the hard concrete and the softer asphalt to not make for a happy marriage. Concrete and asphalt expand and contract deferentially under pressure, heat or moisture. The result is that sooner or later the two will separate and create a greater problem than before the patch was made. Likewise, the 4,901,000 cubic yards of ever-hardening concrete within Glen Canyon Dam are embedded in the soft and porous sandstone of Glen Canyon itself.

When water levels are high, Lake Powell is a serene, blue water paradise for visitors - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)When fully stressed by an overfilled condition in 1983, Lake Powell contained over 27-million acre-feet of water. To avoid spilling water over the front of the dam and possibly losing it all together, water managers were forced to run both spillway tunnels at their designed maximum of 208,000 cubic feet per second. Anonymous sources later revealed that as the extended water release activity continued, the entire dam resonated and thrummed. Since parts of the twin spillway tunnels were bored through sandstone, huge chunks of that natural formation broke loose and swept out into the Colorado River.

How much lasting damage was done during the 1983 water release event will never be known. Large public agencies like the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), which runs Glen Canyon Dam, have a habit of hiding as much controversial information as they can. What they cannot hide is the Glen Canyon Dam, as seen from Lake Powell in the summer of 1965 - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)thermal stress on the dam. In January the average high temperature at nearby Page, Arizona is 44F degrees. In July, the average high temperature is 97F degrees, or 57F degrees higher.

Daily temperature cycles should also be considered. Each day throughout the year, the high and low air temperatures vary by up to 24F degrees. Although the concrete in the dam does not thermally cycle as dramatically, the face of the dam is shaped like a parabola thus concentrating the sun on its southeastern exposure. With cold water behind the dam and hot sun shining on the front of it, how does the dam dissipate that energy into the sedimentary rock in which it stands? Maybe that differential stress is why the unmentioned grout, steel bolts and plates have been installed in the sandstone canyon wall along the
Roadway of the Glen Canyon Dam Bridge, looking to the east - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)lower right face of the dam.

After traveling over the Glen Canyon Dam Bridge, I proceeded west on Highway 89 to the Wahweap Overlook turnoff. The directional signage from Highway 89 West is minimal, so the obscure turnoff is easy to miss. The paved road up the hill to the overlook is adequate, but the unpaved parking area at the top has no traffic markings or designated parking spots. Since the inception of the dam, the Wahweap Overlook has defined how an “overlooked” overlook might look. Given the popularity of the site and its status as a senior citizen, authorities should have paved the parking area and installed a restroom facility sixty years ago. Perhaps it is a moot point, since the drying of Lake Powell could soon leave Wahweap Overlook as just another dry knoll in the Arizona desert.

The view downstream from the Glen Canyon Dam Bridge - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)In May 2021, from Wahweap Overlook I could still see Wahweap Marina on the near shore of Wahweap Bay. In the middle distance lay Castle Rock, which looks as much like a castle as any other “Castle Rock” in the Western U.S. Farther north and east stands the eroded volcanic shape of Navajo Mountain (elevation 10,387’). With some effort and a short hike down the hill, I could look downstream and see the top portion of Glen Canyon Dam. Ironically, the water level was about the same as I remembered it from my first visit to Lake Powell in 1965. Keep in mind that Lake Powell was then still receiving its initial fill of once abundant Colorado River water.

Even with its steadily shrinking size, Wahweap Bay still looks grand, giving Lake Powell a spacious, breathtaking feel. Most visitors do not realize that prior to the construction of the dam, the flow of the Colorado River never touched the majestic and sacred Navajo Mountain overlooks much of Lake Powell - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)what we now call Wahweap Bay. The main canyon, known as Glen Canyon, meanders northeast from the dam in a rocky trench. The containment created by that sheer cliff does not broaden out again for many miles. From the Wahweap Overlook, I could see neither Glen Canyon or the Castle Rock Cut, which once was Lake Powell’s much shorter version of the Suez Canal. As such, it was a manmade cut in the sandstone, which allowed boats to pass from Wahweap Bay upstream to Warm Creek Bay. Transiting that trench by boat bypassed a stretch of Glen Canyon, shortening the distance from Wahweap to the upper reaches of Lake Powell by twelve miles, or over one hour of travel time.

Part of Wahweap Bay, as seen from Wahweap Overlook in 2015 - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)First cut into the sandstone in the 1970s, and with its bottom deepened to 3,600’ elevation in 2014, the Castle Rock Cut served boaters for decades. As of 2021, Google Maps still shows the cut as if it is operational. I suppose the map keepers at Google Maps are either too lazy to show current reality or perhaps they believe that the lake will refill itself and reactivate the cut for boat travel. An environmental assessment in 2008 had optimistically stated that the cut could be deepened to 3,580’ elevation. On July 23, 2021, the reservoir’s level fell to 3,555’ elevation, or twenty-five vertical feet below the final proposed depth of the Castle Rock Cut. In other words, the Castle Rock Cut now stands high and dry.

The iconic scene of Charlton Heston finding a destroyed Statue of Liberty in the 1968 original Planet of the Apes movie was filmed on the beach at Paradise A model of the Sandcrawler, from the Star Wars series of movies - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)Cove, California. However, the opening scene, which depicts his prior crash landing in a spacecraft was filmed at Lake Powell. With such Science fiction credibility already established at Lake Powell, I suggest that the “Sandcrawler”, a fictional transport vehicle in the Star Wars universe that is found on the desert planet Tatooine be redeployed to the Castle Rock Cut. There it could be utilized as a houseboat transporter. It could scoop up a boat from Wahweap Bay, and then use its many treads to crawl the Castle Rock Cut to Warm Creek Bay. There, it could disgorge the houseboat and its happy passengers, all in a matter of minutes.

Sitting on blocks in 2014, most similar houseboats can no longer launch into Lake Powell - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)Back in the reality of the twenty-first century, the Castle Rock Cut joined the Bullfrog Main Launch Ramp, Antelope Point Public Launch Ramp, Hite Launch Ramp and Stateline Launch Ramp on the list of closed Lake Powell boating facilities. As of this writing, the main launch ramp at Wahweap Marina had an expected closure date of mid-August 2021. Recently, the National Park Service (NPS) began preparing a smaller, “Auxiliary Ramp” not used since the 1960s. It will be able to launch or retrieve only two boats at a time. The NPS was also preparing the Stateline Auxiliary Launch Ramp for limited use later this year. Neither auxiliary ramp will accommodate houseboats over thirty-six feet in length.

Dust spontaneously lifts into the air near Lake Powell, Arizona - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillios.com)Thinking back to the original Planet of the Apes movie, I imagined an event thousands of years from now. An errant spaceship, piloted by a descendant of Elon Musk might aim his disabled spacecraft for the dead pool of Lake Powell. Assuming a successful water landing, the survivors might hike out in the direction of what once was Wahweap Bay. There, Elon the 125th and his crew might come across the huge concrete ramp at Wahweap. With Lake Powell no longer reaching Wahweap Bay, the long concrete ramp at the former Wahweap Marina would be as mysterious as the Pyramids at Giza. The survivors might ask, “What type of spacecraft could have launched from this dry and desolate ramp?”

Throughout my own lifetime, the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell have represented subterfuge, boom and bust. As I reflected on that, I knew it was time to go. Fifty-six years after my first visit to Wahweap in 1965, I wondered if this would be my last. Having photographically documented the Wahweap
In 2021, a stretch of Wahweap Bay Bay, showing how far the water has sunk from the same scene above in 2015 - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)Overlook view for the past fifteen years, I snapped a few more pictures and then departed. What my photos revealed was the continued desiccation of Lake Powell. In the past six years alone, a large section of Wahweap Bay had gone dry.

Finished in the early 1960s, Wahweap’s concrete launch ramp extended farther and deeper into the lake than any other launch ramp. At the time no one imagined that the surface of Lake Powell would ever fall below the end of the concrete ramp. As I drove away, the question in my mind was, “Once it is reduced to a shadow of its former glory, will Wahweap Marina ever again thrive as a pleasure boating facility?” I have my doubts.


This concludes Part Four of a Five-Part Article. To read Part Five, click HERE. To return to Part One, click HERE.

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By James McGillis at 04:29 PM | Colorado River | Comments (0) | Link


Chapter #381: The Four Corners Region - Part 3 - August 3, 2021


In August 2015, The Wahweap Marina in Lake Powell was riding high in its bay - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)

Saving The Colorado River - Are We Doing Too Little, Too Late?

On Monday, May 24, 2021, I departed Monument Valley for Kanab, Utah, via Page, Arizona. The weather was clear, with only a light breeze. Page, Arizona owes its current existence to the nearby Glen Canyon Dam and its reservoir, inaptly named “Lake Powell”. Loved by power boaters but decried by environmentalists since its completion in the mid-1960s, both the dam and the “lake” are anachronistic constructs of 20th century groupthink. To justify its initial construction, dam advocates and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) had touted the proposed dam as a flood control mechanism.

Later, those running the dam’s As water levels continued to fall, by May 2021, Wahweap Marina stretched from bank to bank across its bay - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)electrical generators switched to promoting its ability to produce electricity from a supposedly renewable resource. Current lake levels would suggest otherwise. By 2023, the hydro-power intake structures will stand above the projected lake level. In other words, the dam will likely create no hydro-power at all.

As of 2021, drought and structural overdrawing of Colorado River water supplies have made a mockery of the Glen Canyon Dam and its rapidly shrinking reservoir. The Upper Colorado River Basin is in such extreme drought that the prospects of a catastrophic flood are near zero. As for the power boaters, most of their launch ramps now look like ski jumps, with a long drop-offs to the rocks below. The lake itself is so much smaller, snags, unseen sandbars and lack of beaches for camping make the boating experience more hazardous each year. Shorelines of quicksand and Looking as if they stepped out of an earlier century, two your girls run and play at Wahweap Overlook at Lake Powell, Arizona. Missing from the mesa in the background is the recently dismantled Navajo Generating Station - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)gravel bars not seen in over fifty years will consume the unwary. Lake Powell is fast approaching its all-time low water mark and is unlikely to rebound in the next decade or two.

In November 2019, the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) near Page, Arizona ceased operations. If anyone thought that Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell were cynical constructs of 20th century infrastructure, they should study the development and ultimate demise of the coal fired NGS. Owned by the Salt River Project, the largest public utility in the State of Arizona, the main purpose of NGS was to create electricity to pump Colorado River water over five mountain ranges to Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona.

The abandoned coal silos at Shonto, Arizona once stoked the Navajo Generating Station in Page, Arizona - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)To power the three huge furnaces at NGS, miners extracted and shipped coal from the Black Mesa Complex, near Kayenta, Arizona. Black Mesa lies above what used to be the largest aquifer in the Navajo Nation. Contemporaneous with the NGS, unscrupulous power brokers had tapped that aquifer to send a slurry of coal to a now defunct power plant at Laughlin, Nevada. Peabody Coal and its successor corporations operated the Black Mesa Mine on contract to the Navajo Nation. In exchange for some transitory jobs and revenue, the Navajo received a strip-mined mesa and the despoilment of their precious water resources. As a concession to the Navajo, the mine offered free coal for home heating each year. Since many Navajo households have no electricity, the foul and deadly coal was their only heat source during the winter. To add insult to injury, the Navajo had to line up with their personal pickup trucks and trailers to cart off the "free coal".

The old aquifer at Cow Springs, Arizona is now dry, which was a consequence of strip mining at nearby Black Mesa, Arizona - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)Although the mine and the NGS did provide some jobs for Navajo tribal members, the true legacy of the NGS was polluted groundwater and air throughout the Four Corners Region. For over forty years, visitors to the nearby Grand Canyon often looked down on a smokey pit, not the natural wonder they came to see. At one time, the NGS was the largest producer of airborne nitrogen oxide in the United States. Only far cheaper electricity provided by natural gas and renewable sources doomed the NGS.

When Arizona won a larger share of Colorado River water in federal lawsuits during the 1960s, the largest user of water in Southern Arizona was agriculture. Pima cotton got its name from Pima County, where Tucson now boasts a population of over one million residents. In the days when cotton was king, Phoenix, Arizona had a population of under 600,000. Today, Greater The now defunct Navajo Generating Station at Page, Arizona was once the largest single nitrogen oxide emitter in the continental U.S. - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)Phoenix has a population of 4.485 million. As agriculture subsided, the vast and thirsty megalopolis of Phoenix/Tucson grew in its place.

A little-known fact about the NGS was its thirst. During its 45-years of operation, it was the single largest consumer of water from Lake Powell. It also used over ten percent of its electrical power generation to transport coal via rail and to pump its cooling water from Lake Powell. Looking back, the NGS stole water from the Navajos and wasted that precious water to power itself and its electric trains. To complete the circle of complicity, Arizona built its current wealth on the false premise of abundant water, pumped from an unsustainable water supply. Like a science fiction monster, the NGS laid waste to water and land while using profligate amounts of energy to power itself. For 45-years, the NGS wasted water, power and environmental resources, all in the name of “progress”.

By 2021 and prior to the major delivery cutbacks to come, Arizona had banked about two years of water supply in shallow desert aquifers. Most of it is near The Navajo Generating Station on a cool day in October 2015, with all three furnaces emitting toxic gases and all six cooling towers wasting untold amounts of Colorado River water - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, west of Phoenix. With the water table so close to the surface, water samples there can register over 80-f degrees. To stave off potential water shortages, construction crews are installing pumps and delivery systems from those aquifers to north Phoenix. For as long as that water bank lasts, Phoenix can continue to pretend that it has an adequate supply of water. When it becomes obvious that supplies will tighten, expect land values in more recent suburbs, like Anthem Arizona to experience a major slump in housing prices. Water may soon become too expensive or scarce to supply all who want it.

When the reservoir downstream from Lake Powell, which is Lake Meade reaches its official drought emergency level in August 2021, Arizona and Nevada will take the deepest cuts in future water deliveries. With unending
A parched view of the Navajo Generating Station in August 2018, with all three furnaces still spewing pollution into the Four Corners Region - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)drought and decreased flows in both the Upper Colorado Basin (Lake Powell) and the Lower Colorado River Basin (Lake Mead), there is no guarantee of sufficient water in either or both basins to supply basic water needs to the 40 million people in the Southwest who depend on it. Although Arizona and Nevada will take the biggest initial cut in water deliveries, the entire region is likely to experience extreme shortages in the next decade.

The history of water politics in the West is one of over optimism and faulty projections. Instead of inaction and dithering as the West dries up and blows away, both the federal government and the states that make up the Colorado River Compact should take bold action.
Each year, Lake Powell losses up to fifteen percent of its volume to evaporation and percolation into its sandstone basin. The ongoing dismantling of the Navajo Generating Station in May 2021 - Click for larger image (htts://jamesmcgillis.com)The USBR should immediately decommission Lake Powell. They should then conduct a controlled release of water from Lake Powell into the Colorado River. When that still substantial volume of water reaches Lake Mead, it will then occupy a smaller geographical “footprint”. Unlike the substantial percolation at Lake Powell, Lake Mead’s granite lined basin will retain much more of its received water.

How would these bold moves affect the Colorado River and its water consumers? First, Page Arizona would decline in population, back to near its size before construction of the Glen Canyon Dam. Power boaters would have to travel to a more viable Lake Mead, farther downstream. As Lake Powell recedes, river runners could once again conduct rafting tours of the actual Glen Canyon. For the first time in over fifty years, hardy tourists could visit the most spectacular ecosystem ever destroyed by a desert reservoir. In time, Glen Canyon would recover, and the “Eden of the Rolling through Kanab, Utah, a scrapper hauls away remnants of the Navajo Generating Station - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)Desert” could well become a greater draw than the transitory “lake”. With luck and realistic planning, Phoenix, Las Vegas and even Los Angeles could survive, albeit on a much tighter water budget.

On the bright side, Page Arizona could become both a rafting and a mining center, quarrying desert sandstone for use in xeriscape throughout California, Arizona and Nevada. Personally, I would be happy to repopulate my Southern California front yard with succulents and cacti, interspersed among expanses of “Navajo Sandstone”. As I write this in August 2021, my plan sounds harsh. In 2022 and beyond, it may sound like “too little and too late”.


This concludes Part Three of a Five-Part Article. To read Part Four, click HERE. To return to Part One, click HERE

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By James McGillis at 01:47 PM | Colorado River | Comments (1) | Link


Chapter #380: The Four Corners Region - Part 2 - July 30, 2021


Venerable Engine No.493 heads up the Animas Valley under full steam at Durango, Colorado - Click for large image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)

Four Corners Part Two - Spring Snow Turns To Dust

On Saturday May 22, 2021, it was time for me to start the long trek home to Simi Valley, California. Since the beginning of the health crisis in 2020, this was the first day of full operations on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. By now, the 2018 coal-cinder sparked “416 Fire” was a fading memory. Up the Animas River Canyon, crews had replaced a 2020 washout of the tracks north of Cascade Station. As I watched, the venerable Engine 493 steamed on by. As with their other locomotives, the railroad had used downtime during the health crisis to convert that locomotive from coal fire to fuel oil.


Watch the Action - The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad 2021

The little helper engine had already chugged up alone. The two locomotives would connect 26-miles up the tracks at Cascade Station. From there to Silverton, the helper engine would then lead the way, adding traction on the
long, steep grades. This type of “double header” may have coincided with the baseball term. For me, it was exciting to see rolling history making its way past our newly installed webcam.

Pop's Truck and RV Center in Aztec, New Mexico - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)Tearing myself away from the railroad activities, I connected my fifth wheel to my truck and proceeded forty miles south to Aztec, New Mexico. There, I had a loose appointment with Anthony, a certified RV refrigerator technician at Pop’s Truck and RV Center. Since they close as early as Noon on Saturdays, I planned to get there early. Once and for all, I hoped to have a live, qualified technician diagnose and fix my errant Dometic RV refrigerator. So far, my emergency repair had held, but I was still nervous about a possible second failure. Since it was Saturday, I had to pay time and one-half for the diagnosis and repair. About an hour after arrival, I departed Pop’s, but still sporting the temporary jumper-wire on my refrigerator. Anthony had diagnosed the blown thermo-fuse for me, but he did not have a spare in stock. That bit of education cost me $212.50.

The San Juan National Forest, as seen from Aztec, New Mexico in lat May 2021 - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)As I departed for Goulding’s RV Park in Monument Valley, I looked back to the San Juan National Forest near Durango. The slopes glistened with snow from the recent storm, making the scene look more like winter than late May. When I reached Farmington, New Mexico, wind gusts and blowing sand buffeted my rig. As I passed west of Shiprock, New Mexico, a sand and dust storm was growing. Being unfamiliar with that particular route to Kayenta, Arizona I had to trust my GPS to guide me. Luckily, the delineated route was the correct one. With the gathering storm, it became difficult to see any landmarks or even road signs.

The 165-mile trip from Aztec, New Mexico to Monument Valley, Arizona was difficult. Lofted by strong winds, the entire desert landscape appeared to be moving to a new location. Most of my four-hour trip consisted of driving on a Ship Rock, New Mexico becomes enveloped with the dust of a rising regional wind storm - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)highway obscured by blowing sand and dust. Of all my Four Corners Region visits in the past twenty years, I had never seen or felt a dust storm of such size and intensity. Somehow, I made it with only some paint chipped off the hood of my truck. “Nothing that a little touch-up paint won’t fix”, I said to myself. Setting up my campsite at Goulding’s involved ingesting a lot of blowing dust, sand and dirt. By the time I finished and retreated inside, dust was in my eyes, nose, mouth and even my ears. It took hours to wash the fine grit from my mouth.

Looking down the canyon toward Monument Valley itself, I pitied the poor souls staying at the Monument Valley KOA Journey RV Park. All of Monument Valley became enveloped in a dust cloud that extended from ground level to atop the famed Mitten Buttes. The next day, the wind abated, and everything at Monument Valley, as seen from Goulding's RV Park on a clear day - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)Goulding’s looked normal again. The only evidence of the great dust storm was one worker who was patiently using a blower to remove dust and dirt off the walkways and building entrances. For campers arriving from the south, there was no sign of the intense storm I had endured less than a day before.

With a juxtaposition of such different realities in so short a time, I felt a kinship with the Spirit of the Ancients, who inhabit that sacred land.


This concludes Part Two of a Five-Part Article. To read Part Three, click HERE. To return to Part One, click HERE
Email James McGillis
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By James McGillis at 04:43 PM | Travel | Comments (0) | Link

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