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Canyon de Chelly Glen Canyon

2nd July 2010

Rugged Glen Canyon, Refreshing Lake Powell and Modern Town Page

    Although I rose early, I needed to hang around Chinle until the Wells Fargo bank opened at the stated time of 8am. I arrived at 08:05, and was promptly told the bank didn't open till 9am. "But it says on the door that you open at 8am", I protested. "9am", was the curt response.
    I drove off to Kayenta some 50+ miles away, but that was my direction of travel anyway, hoping to find a bank there. There was.
    This bank was definitely open, it had half the Navajo nation inside it. I joked with the woman in front of me, asking, "Is this a 30 min. queue or a 2 hour queue?". I realised from her puzzled expression that I had made a drop off, the word 'queue' was not in the American vocabulary, the correct word was 'line'. She explained that it was not only the weekend coming up, but it was a long weekend due to Independence Day.
    The standard procedure in the bank seemed to be that when a teller received a new customer, there was a warm handshake followed by a short gossip on all the news. Then when the transaction was completed, there would be another handshake. I was treated no differently by Nathaniel, my Navajo teller person.
    I then made my way up to Page and popped into the information centre to check the status of the campsites. I was told they would all be full due to the Independence Day weekend, but I might strike it lucky with a cancellation. I was very lucky, I got the only pitch there was available; was I pleased. The extra pleasing feature was that it was at the Wahweap site, right beside beautiful Lake Powell in the heart of Glen Canyon.
Lake Powell
    Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, established in 1972, provided a dramatic example of one of nature's most inspiring settings combined with an ambitious human project. Impounded behind the Bureau of Reclamation's Glen Canyon Dam, waters of the Colorado River and tributaries were backed up about 185 miles, forming Lake Powell. The lake and over one million acres of desert-and-canyon country offered leisure-time activities for both Americans and international visitors.
    Major John Wesley Powell led the first organised expedition down the Colorado River in 1869. Powell named many features along the river, including Glen Canyon. An early writer about water issues and limits in this arid country, Powell was eventually honoured by having the lake named after him.
Glen Canyon Dam
    Construction of the concrete arch dam began in 1956. The whole area was very remote desert; roads did not exist anywhere near the area. These had to be built first in order to deliver materials and labour to the site for the dam. To get across the canyon where the dam was going to be sited involved a trek of over 200 miles, mostly through desert. Therefore at first a 700' high cable walkway was strung across the canyon to allow workers to cross. Shortly after that a steel arch road bridge was built to facilitate materials as well as labour movement across the canyon. A housing camp, initially consisting of caravans, mobile homes, and barracks, sprung up on the desert floor to accommodate the thousands of workers. In 1958, some 24 square miles of Navajo land were exchanged for a large tract in Utah, and "Government Camp" ( later called Page in honour of Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner John C. Page) was born.
    10 million tons of concrete and seven years of extraordinary work later, the dam was completed. It took 17 years for Lake Powell to fill, but it should be borne in mind that the Colorado had to be kept flowing downstream in the meanwhile. The primary aims of the dam are to produce electricity and to manage water storage and distribution. The authorities are duty bound to let so much water flow down the Colorado which would be essential to irrigation etc further down stream. The dam acted as an insurance policy for times of drought.
Close-up of Dam
    Once I had established my resting place for the night, my only aim was to go and have a swim in the lake. I checked with my site neighbour about the nearest beach, and went immediately. I spread my stuff out on the sands, gazed at the turquoise waters, and soon joined others in the lake. It was seventh heaven. The water was warm near the shore, but felt cooler than being out in the merciless sunlight. I later found out it was a cool day, only 97 deg. F, and the water was 79 deg. F. Once I had had enough of swimming ( I soon get bored with beaches), I decided to head for a tour around the dam.
    The last tour was at 4pm, so I turned up at the desk with 20 mins. spare and asked if there was still room for one more. "There is room on the 3pm tour, sir, if you'd like to take that one". I looked at my watch, and then at the girl. She knew my thoughts, and explained to me that I was now in Arizona State which had the same time as Pacific Summer Time. The Navajo Reservation where I had been for the last three days worked with Mountain Summer Time, even though a large chuck of it was in Arizona. I just nodded and changed my watch. 3pm came, and we were told that the 3pm tour was cancelled because of the high winds. It was windy at the visitor centre next to the canyon, but down on the top of the dam it caught the winds howling up through the canyon and was a lot worse. The 15:30 was still on, so I and another band of happy souls took in the guided tour onto the dam, and also down to an observation deck in the turbine hall. I wanted to ask more questions, but when the girl guiding us started explaining how DC from the turbines went into the transformers and came out as high voltage AC, I didn't bother. I did explain later to her, but my words fell on stony ground.
Turbine Hall
    I then drove up into downtown Page, blink and you might miss it. I just wanted to get into air-conditioned buildings to escape the heat. I noticed there was a film on at the one and only cinema, "Eclipse", checked it was air-conditioned, and sought refuge in there just before the film started. Now even though Page was not part of Navajo territory, the majority of the audience was Navajo. Whole families came with umpteen generations: babies wailing, kids screaming, grannies snoring, and popcorn rattling in their dustbin sized containers. This was a whole new experience in cinema going for me. It got better, when somebody entered the actual auditorium from the door to one side at the back, strong light from outside flooded in through the door and onto the left half of the screen, and 12' silhouettes could be seen entering, or leaving the auditorium as the Navajo craved for more popcorn and drinks. I eventually got used to the constant din and the ghostly apparitions on the left side of the screen. However, the piece de resistance was that during the film, the script would have some fairly innocuous lines which sent the whole audience into hysterics. I just couldn't get a handle of their sense of humour at all. What was the film about, well that was secondary to the audience. When the film finished and I left, there was a queue, sorry line, stretching for 200m down the street for the next showing. There was nowhere for people to linger inside the cinema.
    It was now dark, and perhaps in the mid 80s, as I drove back to the campsite. There were two things I needed in life most at that point in time, lots of liquids and sleep. I took time out at the campsite to just sit and stare in wonderment at the heavens. There was very little light pollution out here, and the milky way graced the skies like a scarf of lace frozen in time, shrinking all I had seen so far into insignificance in the overall universal plan.
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Canyon de Chelly Glen Canyon

Uploaded from Wahweap Campsite, Page AZ on 03/07/10 at 10:30

Last updated 3.7.2010