This morning we bid a reluctant goodbye to Shadowcliff and Rocky Mountain National Park and drove west out of the mountains to Green River, Utah, where we’ll begin our six-day backcountry trip through Labyrinth Canyon tomorrow morning.
For much of the day, our route closely followed the Colorado River downstream from the headwaters. With spring runoff at its peak, it was hard to imagine that the basin is still suffering from 14 years of drought, the river running bank-full and spilling out among the cottonwoods in places. And indeed, we drove through on-and-off rain for much of the day and could see serious deluges in the distance as we drove out into the desert and the vistas opened up. But the biggest wrench in our plans came when we found Interstate 70 completely closed between Gypsum and Glenwood Springs, Colorado, due to rockfall. Luckily, Ms. Notestine was able to navigate us around Glenwood Canyon on a memorable tertiary route, the narrow, lonely, rutted, remote, steep, muddy, slightly scary, and surreally crowded Cottonwood Pass Road. Even the scattered ranch horses we passed seemed transfixed by the sight of more cars in one afternoon than they had likely seen in their lifetimes. The kids took the extra two hours of transit time in stride . . . “more Colorado for no extra charge” they said.
After a long day in transit, we arrived at the John Wesley Powell River History Museum in Green River, Utah, where we met Eric Balken of Glen Canyon Institute, who had driven down from Salt Lake City to meet us and waited patiently while we were delayed. Eric first gave us the clearest, most informative-yet-concise history of the exploration and development and protection of the Colorado River system that we have heard, and then turned to the future and the realities presented by diminished flows in a changed climate. He detailed GCI’s signature initiative, the “Fill Mead First” proposal, and generously presented us with collector’s-item photo books about Glen Canyon before the dam drowned it. We’ll hear a lot more about the past and future battles for Glen Canyon when we visit Lake Powell next week.
But for now, there’s a river trip looming, and the River History Museum’s excellent film about John Wesley Powell’s expedition filled us all with anticipation to get out there. The river looks full and strong, and from town you can see the inviting crags and spires and fissures and hollows of canyon country waiting to the south.
I’ve long esteemed the words of writer Edward Abbey about the canyon wildernesses of the Colorado Plateau:
Here you may yet find the elemental freedom to breathe deep of unpoisoned air, to experiment with solitude and stillness, to gaze through a hundred miles of untrammeled atmosphere, across redrock canyons, beyond blue mesas, toward the snow-covered peaks of the most distant mountains—to make the discovery of the self in its most proud sufficiency which is not isolation but an irreplaceable part of the mystery of the whole.
—Edward Abbey, The Journey Home
I’m glad to be back after far too long an interlude and excited for the chance to share it with this special group of kids.
Okay, I was already growing more envious by the day. But, the Edward Abbey quote sealed the emotion.