Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Tin Ear for the Grand Canyon's Tunes


Some Comments on John D. Leshy’s Our Common Ground

A History of America’s Public Lands*

Yale U. Press, 2021

John Leshy’s new book is a condensed way to get a feel and general sense of how Americans since the 18th century have interpreted, changed their views, and fought over what “public” in our public lands means. His long career, including 8 years as Solicitor in Bruce Babbitt’s Interior Department, must have staggered even him (the narrative is 600 pages) in tracking the ins and outs of Americans’ views, from precious possessions of the entire nation to choice bits to grab and exploit for all the cash one can squeeze.

He has his favorite subjects; I think grazing use is one; another must be reservation and conservation as embodied by our National Parks. I don’t intend here to come close to a review or reading guide. Rather, I want to select out the few, very few, references to the Grand Canyon, and take a detailed look at his accuracy in dealing with this very special environmental icon of ours. What weight does the Canyon have in the two-centuries+ of the formulation and alteration and evolution of the law/legal structures governing American national inheritance of our great tract of public land?

I read Leshy’s account as showing the major thrust of American land law change: from moving public land into private control (19th-century national goal) to the reverse: the multi-faceted national decision to keep, cherish, and provide the public lands for public use rather than private ownership. Using the years 1880-1920 as the pivot, we can fit the Grand Canyon in this narrative as going from being a blank spot to being a world-renowned signifier of respect for scenery, non-destructive recreation, and the Environment as our life support.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

004. Trimming the Turkey's Wattle


The GCNP segment on the river left, south, should be colored red for embarrassment—mine.

On the November trip, that segment certainly was a canyon too far, although it certainly is the bona fide western end of the Canyon on river left. indeed, I have not talked to anyone who has checked out the entire length of the north-south ridgeline that divides the Grand Canyon drainages on the east from the washes running west into Lake Mead country. Looks like an uplifting hike.

003. Finding a Boundary Out West



The protective boundary between Grand Canyon National Park and Grand Canyon - Parashant National Monument ought not exist. The Grand Canyon lands in the entity Lake Mead National Recreation Area east of, above, the Grand Wash Clilffs ought to have been reconciled with the National Park long ago. The north side hinterland of the Grand Canyon drainage is comprised of the north, upstream sub-drainages of Parashant, Whitmore, and Toroweap Canyons, all important in the approach to, and the explanation of, what goes on in this middle section, heavily volcanics-inflected, of the Grand Canyon. This area has remained under BLM administration as part of the Grand Canyon - Parashant National Monument. Were this stew of four jurisdictions (see BLM Arizona Strip map below) administered and treated together, the easy, thorough, public presentation, comprehension, and perception of the Canyon would be the natural over-riding goal. Separated, the four are problematic cooperators in protection and presentation policies.

Elsewhere in this blog, I tell the stories of how these complicating boundaries came to be. In November, I experienced their impact directly by spending a few days with colleagues on the area’s roads and tracks, mostly in a vehicle, with some time on foot. In this and  accompanying posts, I am trying to come to grips with what we saw added to what I can interpret from on-line documentation in the important matter of these hindering boundaries; how they affect what we see and know. 

002. Toward the Westernmost Canyon




As mentioned in the essays accompanying this one*, a group of the Grand Canyon’s friends did take vehicles November 2021 down the Shivwits Plateau to visit some of the southward-pointing peninsulas. Since I still have not walked or even driven across all these far-west Grand Canyon lands, I am dependent for this discussion on maps, photos, and aerial views.

*(“001. What’s In a Name?” is the first, and lists the participants.

“003. Finding a Boundary Out West” a close look at the ground.

“004. Trimming the Turkey Wattle” jumps the river to look south.)

Scanning a map of the Grand Canyon,  starting mid-Canyon, the Kanab-Havasu area, then west downriver around the big southern bend at Diamond Creek, up northwest beyond the dark splotch of the Shivwits Plateau, to the end:

Topographical stand-outs are the hanging peninsulas of the Shivwits, the westernmost of the four northside plateaus into which the Canyon has dug: big guy Kaibab on the east, then flattish Kanab, volcanic Uinkarets, and Shivwits. These names were derived (it makes the best story) from conversations whiteman explorer-in-chief John Wesley Powell had with members of Southern Paiute bands, who were, of the Canyon’s original Americans, most severely negatively affected by decimation and forced removal.

001. What's in a Name?


November 2021, seven comrades* of the Grand Canyon traveled with me for a few days to get some notion of how the land lies in the not-much-visited northwestern Canyon — north of the Colorado, the Shivwits Plateau region. I returned chagrined at how much I learned and have yet to learn after 60 years. (An Arizona map will put the area in context.)


This and accompanying entries will explore and make suggestions on matters to do with presentation and protection of the Canyon “out there” beyond the usual vistas. In order to make sense of my ruminations, Ive written four essays, with different emphases, some overlap, and  aimed at the general goal of a coherent understanding of this west portion of the Grand Canyon.

Sunday, August 22, 2021



Let's stand at Mather Point on the Grand Canyon's South Rim, looking out over the world's most famous layout of this Earth’s geological epochs--
not all of them, but some of the earliest, and certainly the latest, the Anthropocene: the epoch of us, humanity’s own. Just a skim on the mighty schists of the Archean, the gigantic walls of the Mississipian Redwall, the white band of the Permian Coconino, yet here it is, our Anthropocene of the concrete and asphalt right under our feet :
and spreading south in acres of parking lots & sidewalks, metal protective railings and, off to our right, the sturdy tanks storing water brought from springs out of sight on the north side. through 12 miles of pipeline, crossing a steel suspension bridge over the Colorado way down at the bottom before climbing up the old walls beneath us.

Not too far off to the west, once even visible from nearby Maricopa Point, are the remains of a uranium mine, a 1500’ hole dug down through and behind the Canyon's walls to reach the mine's toxic treasure. These Anthropocenic evidences may rust and erode, but traces will remain to tease geologists in the far future with the power and glory of Homo sapiens, a species that wrote its passage into the stone for the ages, as we altered the Earth System, Gaia some call it, to burn its forests and melt the ice sheets remaining after the last glaciation's end, the event 12 millennia ago that set us off to populate, explore, tame, and exploit that System beyond its capability to support us.

Fortunately for those of us who consider ourselves advocates for, lovers & protectors of, the Grand Canyon, 50 years ago the United States, after a grand public debate, chose to abandon a grandiose Anthropocenic dream, a scheme that would have produced the most long-lasting and visible industrial artifact of them all -- the electrification of the Grand Canyon founded on two large concrete hydroelectric dams with all their accompanying powerplants & high-tension lines, highways, residential & commercial urban support sites, mass recreation facilities, etc., etc.