Grand Canyon Safe – for a while longer

As the Colorado River coming down from the high Rockies in Colorado state carves a deep canyon through the Arizona desert, it is met by the Little Colorado, coming from dryer country in Eastern Arizona and Western New Mexico – bottom right in the picture.

Approaching the confluence, the Little Colorado River carves an extremely steep and narrow gorge into the Colorado Plateau, eventually achieving a maximum depth of about 980m. The depth of the canyon is such that numerous springs restore a perennial river flow.

It joins the Colorado deep inside the Grand Canyon, miles from any major settlement. The confluence marks the end of Marble Canyon and the beginning of Upper Granite Gorge.

It’s a remote and peaceful place which can only be reached by river craft or by a long steep hike into the canyon.

Some developers thought it would be a good idea to put 3km of cable cars or ‘aerial trams’ and walkways down from the South Rim to the confluence, aiming to transport ten thousand paying guests a day down to this special place which they could then reach without effort, scoff fast food at a McD or KFC joint and zoom up out again. They planned the hideous Grand Canyon Escalade:

They planned to ruin a special place. Luckily Canoe & Kayak Magazine reports the Navajo Nation Council voted 16-2 against the development proposal on 31st October 2017. The proposal by developers Confluence Partners from Scottsdale, Arizona, also included a 420-acre commercial and lodging “village” on the rim, huge restrooms, an RV park, gas station, helipad, restaurants, retail shops, motel, luxury hotel, the ‘Navajoland Discovery Center’ and additional infrastructure.

Under the proposal, the tribe would be on the hook for an initial $65 million investment for roads, water and powerlines and communications, while providing a non-revocable 20-year operating license including a non-compete clause. In return, the Navajos would receive just 8 percent of the revenue. A “totally one-sided” and “rip-off” proposal, it met with a cold reception since project lobbying began seven years ago. Even after lengthy debate during the council’s special session led to significant amendments, overwhelming opposition to the project remained, prompting council delegates to pound a stake through its heart.

“We never said we were against economic development but, please, not in our sacred space,” activist Renae Yellowhorse from Save the Confluence said afterward. “We’re going to always be here to defend our Mother, to defend our sacred sites.”

Greedy developers, including some Navajo leaders, aim to try again, so vigilance is called for. Bottom line: There is no need for casual in-and-out tourists to ruin a special area when they can see pictures, videos and even 360º videos – even live footage – without crowding and ruining the place. We must be careful not to turn genuine natural areas into theme parks! We cannot re-create these places. They are not movie sets, they are real, often sensitive, ecosystems.

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When we got there in 1984 the rivers were running strongly, the Colorado at 50 000cfs, clear from deep in Lake Powell, and the Little Colorado running rich red-brown (“colorado”) from a flash flood upstream. Here you can see the waters starting to mix. From here on we had brown water all the way to Lake Mead.

Colorado confluence Escalade

And Colorado River water should be brown: Colorado means “ruddy, reddish.” Literally “colored.” Past participle of colorar “to color, dye, paint.” From Latin colorare.

 

Tshwane

Tshwane – Famous for the protection of its inebriates;

  • Home of the self-guided car
Few people know that Pretoria Boys High, Audi and Elon Musk were secretly piloting a new self-driving car in Tshwane when their test pilot pulled out of the program for reasons unknown, although rumour has it his wife gave him a thick ear one evening after golf. Details are sketchy, as is the test pilot, a Pretoria Boys High old boy. A PHB from PBH you could say. Some of the project’s left-over funds were spent re-building a school wall.
So that didn’t really work out.
  • Home of the amphibious canoe
OK, that didn’t work so well either, but at least there was no ongeluk thanks to the presence of two more responsible parties and the same long-suffering wife who took over the wheel of a high-powered vehicle at a crucial point when the inebriated one on the roofrack thought paddling the Dusi was as easy as running Comrades.
kayak roofrack
  • Home of the original toilet bowl airbag
This field project took place outside Tshwane city limits in rural Yeoville. It also didn’t really work so well as the protective airbag  failed to deploy until after the teeth had already chipped the porcelain. Work is continuing on developing a more robust alcohol fume sensor that triggers the bag. It seems the original sensor was simply overwhelmed by the overload and went phhht.t.t. and instead of inflating the bag it caused deflation in more areas than one.

 

  • Home of Gullible Stromberg Suckers

Although handicapped by the absence of any alcohol consumption, this project went surprisingly well, when the sucker in question paid a premium price for a piece of inert plastic to attach to his car’s sparkplug cable. The resulting marginal improvement in performance from sat to so-so was enough to impress another Tshwane deskundige into believing the scam. Both were so taken in they gave the old pale blue Cortina its first service and wax.Cortina stromberg

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Interesting place, Tshwane, ancestral home of the australopithecine Tshwanepoels.

australopithecines

The Lowveld Croc

Never mind crocs, watch out for hippos!

There’s a Crocodile River in Gauteng, so the river near Nelspruit that flows east into Mocambique and forms the southern boundary of the Kruger National Park has to be called the “Lowveld Croc”.

A wonderful canoe (kayak really) race is held annually on this river. The presence of hippopotamuses in the river adds a risk and a thrill to the two-day race. Race organisers engage with local farmers and wildlife people and trip the river in the weeks before the race in order to identify possible hippo hotspots which are then compulsory portages on race days. Sometimes a helicopter is used to do a scouting flight on race day morning, and volunteer paddlers also scout the route by starting ahead of the competing racers.

The year I did the race (1983 or 1984) I remember the route as from above Montrose falls to Mbombela town (formerly Nelspruit). We portaged around the falls.

montrose-falls 3

The hippo were in the last pool before the finish in Nelspruit, so the race was ended a few km short at the last accessible spot before the hippo pool. I see they now start higher up and end the race above Montrose falls.

Lake St Lucia and Dukandlovu

Dukandlovu rustic camp was underutilised. Parks Board wanted to increase its use and were looking for new ideas. It was a walk-in or cycle-in camp and they were reluctant to open it up to drive-in access, so wanted to try other ideas first.

Rustic, but splendid, it’s a four hut, eight bed camp with basic kitchen facilities and cold water showers. The widows were openings with roll-down reed blinds which would keep about half the wind out. The beds had mattresses, but bring your own bedding. It was doomed, so few people want to rough it! Not long after this they actually did open it to vehicle access.

Dukandlovu (3).jpg

But first they tried us: “Let’s test the feasibility of adding canoeing-in to the access menu!” they said. So Robbie Stewart, Bernie Garcin and I (and others – who?) took our kayaks to False Bay, launched and headed south towards the mouth of the Hluhluwe river on the Western Shores. Right from the outset we could see this wasn’t promising: We touched bottom often. Our draft was mere inches, but the lake was that shallow in places. Great for small worms and other marine creatures and wading birds, but not good for paddling. Oh well, we had tried.

After staying a night the rest of the guys went home Sunday and I stayed over with Parks Board Rangers Dick Nash and Trevor Strydom. Monday morning I woke, eagerly looking forward to my day of ‘rangering’. What derring-do would we get up to as ‘ranger-for-a-day’?

Paperwork at a desk, that’s what. As head ranger, Dick first had a whole bunch of admin to sort out! Not what I’d imagined.

But later we got going on their regular bird count in the wilderness area in the north-east arm of the lake. We set off in their spacious craft with a Hamilton jet propulsion system (an impellor rather than a propellor, it sucked water in the underbelly and spat it out the back). This was fine in clear water, but when we nosed up the Mkhuze river we soon sucked up waterweeds and came to a halt. Dick pulled rank and ordered Trevor to jump overboard and remove the weed from under the boat. On the bird count we had seen at least fifty thousand and ten Nile crocodiles, so the thought of jumping overboard was not inviting! Anyway, before Trevor could remove his shirt Dick was already under the boat doing it himself. A bit disconcerting when you looked at his hand as he chucked the weed away: He only had two fingers and a thumb. Did a croc take the other fingers?

We got going again in fits and starts and after a few more stops to clear, we turned back to the lake and continued to count birds. And crocodiles.

Lake St Lucia

So go to Dukandlovu. You can drive there now. Wimp.

Hance in the Grand Canyon

Hance Rapid3

Hance Rapid at Mile 76.5 stands sentinel at the Colorado river’s entry into the Granite Gorge. The river drops 30 feet as it passes through a natural constriction formed by the Red Canyon. The dark dike cutting through the red Hakatai Shale is one of the most photographed features in the Canyon.

I found out more about the man the rapid was named after:

John Hance (1840 – January 8, 1919) is thought to be the first non-native resident of the Grand Canyon.

John Hance_cr

He opened the first tourist trail in the canyon before the canyon was a national park, giving tours of the canyon after his ca.1866 attempts at mining asbestos failed. “Captain” John Hance was said to be one of the Grand Canyon’s most colorful characters, and one early visitor declared that “To see the canyon only and not to see Captain John Hance, is to miss half the show.”

Hance delighted in telling canyon stories to visitors, favoring the whopper of a tale over mere facts. With a straight face, Hance told travelers how he had dug the canyon himself, piling the excavated earth down near Flagstaff (thus ‘explaining’ those mysterious then-unexplained dirt piles).

Flagstaff SanFranciscoPeaks

John Hance died in 1919, the year the Grand Canyon became a National Park, and was the first person buried in what would become the Grand Canyon Pioneer Cemetery.

(from wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and archive.org)

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In May 1891 one Charley Greenlaw wrote this in John Hance’s guestbook:

I can cheerfully say that this, the Grand Canon of the Colorado River, is the grandest sight of my life. As I noticed in this little book of Capt. John Hance, a great many people say indescribable. I can say nothing more. It is beyond reason to think of describing it in any way. You must see it to appreciate it. A grand sight of this kind and so few people know of it. By accident I formed the acquaintance of two ladies en route to the Grand Canon. I joined them. We have enjoyed our trip; the stage ride from Flagstaff to the Grand Canon is grand. Good horses, competent and accommodating drivers. I have seen the Yosemite, have visited California several different times, in fact seen all the principal points of interest in the United States, but the most wonderful, awe-inspiring piece of Nature’s own work is this, the Grand Canon of the Colorado River.

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Another entry by J. Curtis Wasson told of the twelve hour stage coach journey after alighting from the Santa Fe Railroad Company’s train:

From Flagstaff at 7 o’clock a.m. our stage and six goes out.

Arriving at Little Springs Station, where a new relay of six horses is added, we make haste until the half-way station is reached, passing through a fine unbroken forest of Pinus ponderosa, quaking aspen, balsam fir, and spruce. The open forest, the waving grasses, the gorgeously colored mountain flowers, the occasional chirp of the forest songsters, the ice-cold springs traversing our smooth compact road, the peaks, clear-cut and massive, towering up nearly 14,000 feet into the blue above, the low rumbling of our great Concord stage, the sound of two dozen hoofs, the sharp crack of the driver’s whip, the clear, bracing atmosphere, every breath of which seems to stimulate, the indescribably beautiful Painted Desert outstretching for a hundred miles to our right.

stagecoach2

One fain would linger on scenes like these but we have arrived at Cedar Station, and after partaking of a very refreshing luncheon we are given a new relay of horses and hasten over the desert portion of our ride to Moqui Station, where another relay is provided, which takes us to the hotel at the rim of the Grand canon, where we arrive at 7 o’clock p.m.

Leaving our Concord stage, giving our grips to the porter, not even waiting for “facial ablutions”, we hasten across the yard and up to the rim of the canon, when, looking over — the Chasm of the Creator, the Gulf of God, the Erosion of the Ages, that Erosive Entity, that Awful Abyss, lies in all its awfulness before us, — awful, yet grand; appalling, yet attractive; awe inspiring, yet fascinating in its greetings.

Grand Canyon South Rim

Panoramic view of Hance Rapid:

Hance Rapid

coach pic from wildwesthistory.blogspot.com

 

A Fine Spectacle

This story will be fuzzy in parts because of the long passage of time. But although some details may be slightly different, ‘strue. So I must tell the tale before those last few grey cells that hold the memory get blitzed by the box wine.

It was on the Berg River Canoe Marathon that Christof Heyns came to tell me was pulling out of the race. Why!? I said, dismayed. He’d fallen out in the frigid flooded Berg river and lost his glasses. Couldn’t see past his nose, so it was way too dangerous to carry on in the mid-winter Cape cold and the flooding brown water.

Hell, no, I said, I’ve got a spare pair, you can use mine.

He rolled his eyes and smiled sadly at my ignorance. His eyes were very special, his glasses were very thick and there was no way just any arb specs would do, he mansplained patiently. In his defence, he didn’t know I was an optometrist, that I was wearing contact lenses, that I had a spare pair of specs in my luggage and one tied to the rudder cable in my boat, or that I had a very good idea of what his prescription was from seeing his glasses on his nose both on this race and on a Tugela trip we had been on together. I knew about his eyes better than he knew about my soul (he might have known a bit about that as his Dad was a very belangrike dominee in the Much Deformed Church – top dog, in fact).

So I said, trust me swaer and went and fetched my spares. He put them on and was amazed. I can see! he shouted like I was Jesus who had just restored his sight. I know, I said.

specs

So he wore the glasses and finished the race and I said keep them till we next meet.

Many months later I saw an article in the SA Canews, the paddling magazine, titled: “My Broer se Bril”. Christof wrote the story of how he had lost hope when some arb oke said “Here, try mine” and he could see! And he could finish the race. He ended off by saying “Actually they were so good I’m wearing them to this day”. Ja, you bugger, I know, I said. I could have written an article “How a dominee’s son appropriated my bril”, but I didn’t. I’m way too kind! (In his defence, we haven’t seen each other since that race).


belangrike dominee – important churchman

swaer – bro

my broer se bril – my brother’s spectacles

mansplain – when a man laboriously explains something you already know (usually inflicted on women)

Lee’s Ferry across the Colorado River

Lee’s Ferry on the right bank of the Colorado River, just above the mouth of the Paria River, at an elevation of 3,170 feet asl is the site of the start for most river trips through the Grand Canyon.

Originally called Lonely Dell by Mormon church-man with 19 wives and 67 children John D Lee, who established the ferry in 1872, it provided the only access across more than 300 miles of river for many years. Actually one of Lee’s 19 wives, Emma ran the ferry for a number of years while he was on the lam – hiding from the law for his leading part in the wicked 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre.

The massacre near St George, Utah involved a group of emigrants known as the Fancher Party trekking west from Arkansas who were camped at Mountain Meadows in southern Utah preparing for their final push across the Mohave Desert when they were attacked by a group of Mormon Militia who disguised themselves as Native Americans so as to cowardly deflect blame for the attack.

It was a time of great tension between Mormons and the rest of the United States, and the massacred party was most likely attacked because they were not Mormons.

After an initial siege, the treacherous Lee approached the emigrants saying he’d negotiated safe passage for them with protection from their supposed Native American attackers if they surrendered their weapons. The group agreed, whereupon the militia proceeded to kill all but the children under 8 years of age.

One hundred and twenty men, women and children died that day. For almost two decades, the incident was covered up, but in 1874, Lee was brought to trial. Never denying his complicity in the massacre, Lee did insist – probably correctly – that he was acting on orders from high up in the church. He was the only one of about fifty men involved in the massacre to be brought to book. He was convicted and executed by firing squad in 1877.

His widow Emma Lee sold the ferry in 1879 for 100 milk cows to the Mormon Church who continued to operate it until 1910 when it was taken over by Coconino County, Arizona. The ferry stayed mostly in use until 1929 when the Navajo Bridge was completed. Ironically, the ferry was used to ship much of the material to build the bridge that put it out of business.

1984: There was only one bridge when we crossed to the right – or ‘north’ (rivers only have left or right banks – think about it) – bank of the river. It was completed in 1929. A larger parallel second bridge was added in 1995. The bridge we crossed is now used for pedestrian sight-seeing.

Now: To make sure there are no misunderstandings, our John Lee on the 1984 trip down the Colorado is a good ou who, at that stage, had zero wives:

John Lee