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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 and drive to Colorado than to pay for flights, hotels and rental car. We drove our van and camped at rest stops coming and going and drove at reasonable speeds to keep the cost and the damage to the environment to a minimum. The views between San Diego and Boulder, Colorado 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, St. George Utah, a tributary of the Colorado River

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. Driving into the greater Las Vegas metro area, it is evident the building industry is in charge, in spite of guaranteed future water supply issues. Utah looks very much like the state pictured on its license plates which proudly announce, "Life Elevated," in vibrant red hues. Its high-desert topography is so tall you'll crane your neck trying to look up and out of your bug-splattered windshield. And Colorado in springtime amazes with colorful wildflowers on the banks of fast-flowing, snow-fed rivers. 

The responsibility for those colors 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 border into Mexico before drying into a desert wash dozens of miles north of the Sea of Cortez. The river begins 10,000 feet above sea level before gravity brings it 1400 miles in all directions but mainly 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" when a shiny spacecraft splashes down into what seems to be an ancient lake on a red planet? That crash scene was filmed at Arizona's Lake Powell, at the time a real, yet-to-be-filled reservoir which started filling in 1964 and holds back the Colorado at the Glen Canyon Dam. "Into the Wild," the real-life story of wandering soul-searcher Christopher McCandless portrayed him 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 about how he ran the rapids of that dam spillway in a canoe, and eventually had trouble navigating the marshland near the mouth of the Colorado which use to flow all the way down into Baja California in the early 1990s. 

Sadly, the mouth of the Colorado in Baja hasn't seen that much Rio Colorado water since then.

On previous trips through Nevada my wife and I had seen and spent time on Lake Mead, so we decided on Page, Arizona and Lake Powell this time. According to the internet, we could launch our kayaks from the Antelope Point Marina, except that the water's edge was now 60 feet below the asphalt ramp.  So, we carried our kayaks downhill in full denial about the very painful trip we'd have to endure to get back up the same hill later in the hot midday June sun. Launching with a few others, we headed south and then a few miles later a left-turn bend in Lake Powell got us to Antelope creek, where the canyon became increasingly narrow, to a point where we abandoned our kayaks and set forth on foot through sandy Antelope canyon, where the sights revealed themselves at every turn. From a narrow creek to a deep dry canyon, hawks and vultures ready to pick at your bones if you stayed too long in the heat, but beautiful all the same.

The Antelope Point Marina Public Launch Ramp 60 feet above Lake Powell

The canyon walls reflected in Antelope Creek's clear waters

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

Water used to go far back into the canyon and far up the side's edges

A walk through the canyon is like a walk through time

Sandstone Scratchiti and full-time resident                                          

Finally, after a few miles, a vermillion slot canyon 

"Bathtub" rings remain from water levels of years past       

Another couple climbed out, 60 feet up to the original launch area

Glen Canyon Dam June 2022, is at less than 27% of capacity, the same capacity as Lake Mead further down river in Arizona on the edge of Las Vegas. The Colorado River and its tributaries provide water to nearly 40 million people, irrigation for nearly 5.5 million acres, and traverses 22 federally recognized tribes, 7 National Wildlife Refuges, 4 National Recreation Areas, and 11 National Parks. A report issued in mid-July 2022 says that if the Glen Canyon Dam waters fall 32 more feet, its hydroelectric plant will stop making electricity for the first time since it was installed in the 1960s.  


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