Monday, September 27, 2010

Glen Canyon

Painting 1.31 Glen Canyon. This is the first painting that I've done that has any kind of message beyond my attempts to express my fascination with the desert. Until 1966, Glen Canyon had been the tedious creation of millions of years of erosion by the Colorado River, the home of the Anasazi, the landscape rediscovered and described in beautiful detail by explorer John Wesley Powell, and the site of desperate archaeological study in 1956 as the Glen Canyon Dam was being built. After 1966 it was to be none of these things. The Glen Canyon Dam converted it to a holding tank for water that was to be used to make life livable in the surrounding desert. Now, life had always been livable in the desert as the Anasazi have left evidence of. However, life now means green suburbs, golf courses and water-skiing. How could people be expected to grow a modern economy in this hostile environment if they couldn't live a modern lifestyle? The other motivation for the dam was the idea that the energy accumulated by the water of the Colorado during its descent from the plain could be converted into a cash by a hydroelectric plant built into the dam.

And so a gate was slammed down in the path of the conduit for millions of years of erosion and deposition. The contents of lower glen canyon were drowned and the result couldn't have been given a more offensive name: Lake Powell. By the time people realized what they had lost, it was too late to go back. The surrounding area depended on the water to survive, and the emptying of Lake Powell would have catastrophic effects downstream.

However, even a lake in the desert might not be enough to quench the thirst of cities like Page, AZ. Precipitation rates show a downward trend in the west and the water levels in Lake Powell have dropped to record lows in the last 10 years. As the water drops, the sickly, bleached white sandstone of Glen Canyon is exposed once more. During one extended drought in 2003, the mechanisms of desert varnish creation were allowed to function once again on this exposed sandstone and its color began to return before it was submerged once again.

The truth is that Glen Canyon will outlast the dam. While a concrete dam embedded in stone may seem permanent on the human timescale, on a geological timescale its akin to trying stop the tide from destroying your sand castle by laying down in front of it. The Colorado River will sabotage the operation of the dam by piling sediment against it and cutting through the sandstone that anchors it. Once this happens, humans may be forced to accept the reality that they have to adapt to their environment rather than conquer it.

Giclee Print

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