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No Water, No West

My wife and I just got back from an epic western US road trip, the first since the price of fuel hit its most recent all-time high.  Puzzlingly, it was less expensive for us to hit the open road to Colorado than pay for flights, hotels and rental car. We drove our cargo-van camper and used it at campgrounds and rest stops coming and going and driving at reasonable speeds to keep the cost and the damage to the environment at a minimum. The views between San Diego and Boulder on Interstates 15 and 70 were breathtaking and alternately distressing. 

The region is in its 22nd year of historic drought conditions. 

                         Monument Valley, Arizona

                  Virgin River Gorge, outside St. George, Utah(2)

I'm sure one day I'll compare this 2022 photo documentary to one in the future in the same area, but I know it won't look the same. Coming into Las Vegas and Southern Nevada, it's evident the housing industry is still in charge, in spite of guaranteed future water supply issues. Utah looks very much like the state on its picturesque license plates which proudly announce, "Life Elevated." Its high-desert topography is so tall you'll crane your neck trying to look up and out and maybe through your bug-splattered windshield. And Colorado in springtime amazes with colorful wildflowers on the banks of fast-flowing rivers fed by snowmelt. 

A lot of the appreciation for this goes to the Rocky Mountain State's largest river, the Colorado which flows from snowy peaks through Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, California, and finally trickles over the US-Mexico border before drying into a desert wash dozens of miles north of the Sea of Cortez. The river starts life at Lake Poudre Pass 10,000 feet above sea level before gravity brings it 1400 miles south and west through towering canyons and the set locations for many Hollywood movies. Remember the first scene in the original "Planet of the Apes" showing a shiny earthly spacecraft splashing down into what appears to be a body of water on a red planet? That water was Arizona's Lake Powell, at the time a real, yet-to-be-filled reservoir created in 1964 and only partially filled, in 1967, like today, holding back the Colorado at the Glen Canyon Dam. "Into the Wild," the real-life story of wandering soul-searcher Christopher McCandless had actor Emile Hirsch kayaking down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon and finally through a dam in Mexico and into the Sea of Cortez. His actual notes, used for the book and the eventual movie tell a somewhat different story, he portaged around that dam and had trouble navigating the waters at the high-water mouth of the Colorado which flowed all the way down into Baja California in the early 1990s. 

Sadly, Mexico hasn't seen that much Rio Colorado water since then.

On previous trips we had seen and spent time on Lake Mead, so Page, Arizona and Lake Powell was the destination this time. According to the internet, we could launch our kayaks from the public launch ramp at Antelope Point Marina, but reality crept in and the launch point was now a good 60 feet below the ramp!  So, we carried the kayaks downhill not thinking about the very painful trip up the hill later in the hot sun. A bend in Lake Powell got us to Antelope creek, a waterway that became increasingly narrow, then we left the kayaks and started walking through Antelope canyon, where the sights revealed themselves at every turn. 

   The Antelope Point Marina Public Launch Ramp 60 feet from the water

      The canyon walls reflected in Antelope Creek's clear waters

      A trip back in time through Antelope Creek, then Antelope Canyon 

  The water used to go far back into the canyon and far up the side edges

                       Sandstone is easy to etch into                    

               Finally, what looks like a slot canyon 

          The "bathtub" rings show where the water level once was.       

       The climb out, not as much fun as going down to the water

Glen Canyon Dam 2022, at less than 27% of capacity, same as Lake Mead          further down river in Arizona on the edge of Las Vegas, Nevada. The Colorado River and its tributaries provide water to nearly 40 million people for municipal use, supply water to irrigate nearly 5.5 million acres of land, and is the lifeblood for at least 22 federally recognized tribes, 7 National Wildlife Refuges, 4 National Recreation Areas, and 11 National Parks.

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©2022 John Gastaldo