The Damn Glen Canyon Dam and Page, AZ
Edward Abbey wrote movingly about the beauties of Glen Canyon. In many stories, including those in the compilation Down the River, he lovingly relates his adventures in the massive canyon formed by the Colorado and San Juan Rivers as they converge and pass through southern Utah and northern Arizona. These canyons were filled with ruins, infinite side canyons,numerous rapids, and lots of fish. When you’ve seen the beauty of a place, and then you lose that place — when something you love is buried under hundreds of feet of water and you can never go there again — how can you not go a little crazy? Abbey wrote a novel to outline his theory on the best way to blow up the dam (it involves a houseboat and lots of explosives). It must have been cathartic to visualize the destruction of a thing that had destroyed a place he considered sacred. Abbey was an eco-meddler, tearing up surveying stakes, vandalizing bulldozers, burning down billboards, but he wasn’t the kind of guy who would actually blow up the dam. Destroying road building equipment is one thing, killing innocent people is another. Still, one can dream…
The Glen Canyon Dam and its power station are located near the small desert town of Page, AZ. Abbey statement on Page, AZ: “Any town with more churches than bars has got a serious social problem.” I wanted to go to see the strangeness of it all. Unfortunately I forgot to tell Paul exactly why I wanted to go, and it all depressed him a bit. Utah has rubbed off on the town, and it still doesn’t have any bars, per se. One of our favorite budget treats is having a beer and splitting an appetizer at an interesting looking local establishment. Usually we try to use the local resources (Yelp, especially) to find the best bet for our money, but the locals didn’t have too much to say about the few restaurants in Page. We stumbled upon a Mexican/Italian fusion place that I convinced Paul we should check out — the novelty of my two favorite cuisines in one place! Combos with Fettuccine Alfredo and Enchiladas! Bad idea. Within fifteen minutes of leaving, our stomachs were as bubbly as the cheese that had topped our nachos, but it actually worked out great because we ended up feeling too sick to eat dinner.
That night, we boondocked along Glen Canyon, along with a bunch of recreational vehicle enthusiasts. Lake Powell (the body of water that pools behind the Glen Canyon Dam) is over 500 feet deep at the dam. The lake and canyon are so beautiful as it is…it’s hard to imagine how much more dramatic it would all be if the lake was drained. Since 1996, debate over draining the canyon has been raging, with environmentalists on one side and lake supporters on the other. Still others argue that drought, evaporation, and silt build up will eventually solve the dam problem naturally.
In Zion National Park a few days later, we learned a little bit more about the history of the Glen Canyon Dam. The dam was placed in Glen Canyon after a proposed location in Dinosaur National Monument was defeated. It was an eco-compromise. I remember reading about the battle to keep the dam out of Dinosaur and thinking what an admirable and successful feat they’d pulled off. I didn’t realize that meant that the Glen got the dam. Compromise is necessary — if only there were some way to objectively evaluate that compromise.