Grand Canyon, of the Colorado River in Arizona.

Origins of protection



Marble Canyon



"The river twisted madly. It swung north, then headed south, then back north, then east -- east! -- then back south."

Reisner, p. 291.

"The battle over the Grand Canyon Dams was the conservation movement's coming of age."

Reisner, p. 285.

"The emergence of higher national priorities, such as energy or water or population growth, could swing the political pendulum back toward river development."

R. Nash, (1982), p. 237.

Grand Canyon National Monument established by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, thanks to the work of John Muir among many others. Then the National Park was created by Congress on February 26, 1919.

"The problem was that by 1968, there wasn't a single irrigation project left on the west slope of the Rockies that was economically feasible."

Reisner, p. 291.


return to start of the page

The Kaibab plateau pictured here was the site where a tragedy occurred with respect to forestry and deer. After the forced removal of wolves as part of Federal wildlife policy, the dear population went unchecked and exploded. Increasingly these herbivores began to destroy the forest that serves as watershed and aquifer recharge for streams leading to the Colorado River. The experience led Aldo Leopold to write about game management and later influenced his essay "Thinking Like a Mountain."
The greater Grand Canyon biological province includes the northern rims' conifer forest on the Kaibab Plateau as well as the Sonoran desert areas along the south rim. The ecological system of the river and plateau are entwined.

Every ecological problem has three parameters, that is to say all environmental problems have three ways to conceptualize the matters to examine, explain, analyze, and interpret:

Physical | Biological | Social

Physical area

The Four CornersBasin and Range province, southern region.

The geology creates the sediments and topography of the Great Basin. Minimal water is available for stream flows which are affected by the rain shadow effect of the Sierra, Cascade and Wasatch Mountains that intercept cool moist Pacific Ocean air masses. The mountains cause snow to accumulate on the peaks and extremely dry conditions prevail on the valley floors and hills.
The geography is dominated by desert, riparian, canyons, oases, side canyons and mesas.
Mountain 'islands' where rain and snowfall create forests or watersheds.
Widespread salt, caustic minerals (soda and borax) & oil, gas or coal deposits exist.
The Four Corners region: Places defined.

Biological communities

Sonoran desert:
Here life zones in the San Francisco mountain peaks are associations of plants and animals stratified according to altitude and were first described in the natural history literature by C. Hart Merriam.

Vegetation profile
Saguaro cactus, desert (gopher) tortoise,Kangaroo rats, and ironwood trees are just some keystone species in that they provide conditions for many other dependent species to thrive in marginal, stressful, and arid conditions.

return to start of the page

Marble Canyon

The upper dam was proposed to flood Marble Canyon below Glen Canyon Dam on Lake Powell. At the time of the proposal the boundaries of the National Park proper began south of Marble Canyon.

"... the canyon rim , five thousand feet above."

"We are three-quarters of a mile in he depths of the earth. And the river shrinks into insignificance as it dashes its angry waves against the walls and cliff, that rise to the world above..."

John Wesley Powell, August 26, 1869.

in Reisner, Cadillac Desert, p. 30.

For its scenic, archaeological, and importance to native American peoples the opponents of the dam site here in Marble Canyon were able to argue against this canyon being flooded.

"By the mid 1960s public sentiment had begun to shift away from the idea of damming rivers.... With his battle against the Grand Canyon Dams, Brower tapped into another reservoir of resentment in modern culture. Progress had become increasingly tainted in American society as a result of the cold war, and as Vietnam escalated, even that paragon of the cold war, the military drew far greater scrutiny than it ever had before."

Hal Rothman, pp. 76-77.

return to start of the page

Social policies:
Historically | contemporary

National priorities have historically influenced the region's land-use for :
1) irrigation water,
(John Wesley Powell)
2) timber, mining and grazing leases
(Gifford Pinchot)
3) Flood control
(William Mulholland)
4) cheap electricity, sanitation and irrigation water
(Floyd Dominy) &
5) Comprehensive River basin planning
(W. J. McGee)

Colorado River water for the central Arizona project and the power needed by Phoenix, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, & San Diego.

The western Los Angeles basin is an example of suburban sprawl and industrial development based on the arrival of the Santa Fe railroad in the 1880s, and orchard crops such as citrus and peaches until it was built on discoveries of oil in the 1890s and water projects in the 1900s. Having exhausted the water sources from the eastern Sierra Nevada mountain range and the Owens River Valley in the 1930s the city launched a plan to build an aqueduct to carry Colorado River water to the city and county and surrounding counties between there and San Diego. Today the region of over 20 million people is the largest concentration of aerospace and defense related engineering facilities in the United States.

return to start of the page

Contemporary America relies on intensive energy consumption for transportation, electricity, the pumping or water and manufacturing:

Dual demands for energy

  1. base load power supply &
  2. peak power supply needed twice daily (6-9AM & 4-7 PM).

Supply side issue:

Base load capacity of the plants is a technical capability of all generators to produce a steady supply of electrical power at all times of the day. Dams generate base load power very inexpensively & can be used for peak load.

Demand side issue:

Peak load is power needed well in excess of the base load requirement when every customer demands electricity at certain times of the day.  A graph of the demand would peak at those hours of maximum demand.

electricity is hard to store


Revealing layers: geological or "deep" time the earth as a locus of numerous previous ecological associations of plants & animals on the same sites. Ancient sea creatures revealed the origins of the limestone that line the towering walls of the canyon. Layers of dinosaurs, beneath layers of flowers are found.

The Precambrian rock at the bottom of the canyon is made of Gneiss a hard metamorphic formation that is washed by the river's frigid waters (53º) and scoured by the silt brought downstream at flood times.
northern wall; side canyon

return to start of the page

The canyon is deeply moving since its layers of geological history are like pages in a book which when read carefully unfold the story of an evolution of life from jelly like medusa and slithering worms of warm Cambrian seas to petrified conifers of harshly cold ice ages.

The walls keep the secrets of millions of years of plant and animal evolution.


Early morning along the lower run of Marble Canyon's gorge. 

return to start of the page

Mesa overlooks the Colorado River composed of a wall of Permian &Cretaceous eras' rocks.

The green shrubs are an exotic flood intolerant species from the near east called "tamarisk."  Originally planted by soil engineers to protect from loss of topsoil these trees crowd out native shrub and tree diversity throughout the river's stream bed. Floods of significant magnitudes no longer occur; tamarisk out thrives competitors such as willow and cottonwood.

Native Land belongs to the Hopi, Navajo and Hualapai Indians

Hopi ceremonial salt springs are examples of both sacred, ceremonial lands & conservation since salt is a preservative and necessary food additive. The concept of geopiety refers to the outward respect shown by people of the Earth's divine, transcendent, or sacred qualities.

return to start of the page


 Controversy  Reclamation  Views  Maps  Players  Opposition Sources