Dam, Girl!

Please note: The travel described here occurred in the past. Today, I do not recommend that anyone who is, or may possibly be, pregnant travel to this state. A miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy cannot be safely treated under this state’s current laws. Please care for yourself and travel to places where your life and health are valued.

Baker’s Dozen

Not intentionally, I find myself camping periodically near dams. I expect this is more the result of states designating recreational areas alongside the reservoirs created by these structures.  Some dams don’t even really have a dam – at least nothing that’s visible from the ground, such as Arnegard Dam in North Dakota. Other spectacular structures resemble the stuff of, “It’s the fall that’s gonna kill ya’!” of Butch Cassidy fame. Think Hoover Dam, which I have only seen from an overpassing plane.  I have intentionally visited some, such as Grand Coolee Dam in Washington State and Cheoah Dam in North Carolina.  Still other dams strike more of a, “Oh, look there’s a dam here,” je ne sais quoi, such as Saville Dam in Connecticut.

I’ve camped above the Seminoe Dam in Wyoming and below the Tongue River Dam in Montana.  I’ve seen water levels far below the designated levels, such as behind Fontana Dam in Tennessee and Owyhee Lake Dam in Oregon.  I also wonder about simple structures, such as Epping Dam, also in North Dakota, and speculate as to what prompted its creation, since is doesn’t even produce hydroelectricity.  Flood control, perhaps?  I typically attribute that to the series of dams that throttle the Missouri River.  I recall Ryan Dam at the Great Falls, a site once extolled by Meriwether Lewis, but lacking in fervor when I saw it.  While Fort Peck Dam remains on my bucket list, I’ve passed the next structure downstream, Garrison Dam, many times.  I’ve camped above Oahe Dam, the next dam downstream.

High Water

Glen Canyon Dam, and what remains of Lake Powell behind it, earn an encore visit.  The previous excursion, nearly a decade earlier, already belied the dwindling water levels it holds back from the Grand Canyon today. The bands of bleached rock reveal the depletion. I lived in Arizona at the time it finished filling (1980) and when it reached its peak (1983).  I remember those years preceded by massive rainstorms that flooded our neighborhoods, but filled the upstream reservoir.  Like its cross-state counterpart, the best view of Glen Canyon is from the walkway on the narrow traffic bridge above the top of the 700-plus foot wall of concrete.  Despite whatever impact it causes upstream and down, gazing upon the massive marvel reminds me to hold tight to the railing.

As often happens in my world, I make return visits to places I previously enjoyed, and the Glen Canyon Dam gets a second look-see when I find myself settled in southern Utah.  While a tour might provide me with a new vantage point of the years-long effort to build and maintain the structure, I come to see an ironic event in the midst of the ever-lowering water levels: a high-flow experiment.  Designed to impact changes to the Colorado River sandbars within the Grand Canyon, the force of the water can be estimated by the roar of the below output.  For a few days, the movement of the water will push bits of earth downstream, reshaping a canyon in tiny, yet important, ways. Oddly, I think that’s how this canyon got its start.  Dam, I’m glad I saw this second iteration.

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