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  Farewell to a Canyon  


Once upon a time there was a beautiful canyon— beautiful enough for a fairy tale— narrow and winding, walled in by castle-like cliffs jutting straight up one thousand feet. But unlike most fairy tales, this canyon was not to live happily ever after.

photo: foliage


Its name is Glenwood Canyon, a spectacular twelve-mile gorge carved by the mighty Colorado River just above Glenwood Springs, Colorado. In many places, it is so narrow there is barely room for the road, river, and railroad track. It is so beautiful that long ago, the state legislature banned billboards the length and breadth of the canyon, years before billboards became a public controversy.


  photo: canyon  

  photo: train in canyon

It is so beautiful it even inspired the Vista Domes on the D&RG Railroad: A train passenger riding through the canyon was so smitten by its towering grandeur he decided then and there that trains should have glass roofs — and that's how Vista Dome trains came to be.


  photo: river

Today, however, the canyon is the inspiration for something quite different. The highway department has decided it would make a fine route for a four-lane interstate expressway, so people can speed unseeingly through one of the most scenic areas in the country. Now you can play "Twenty Questions" all through the canyon without being distracted by the scenery.


  photo: canyon road

One of the joys of driving through the canyon is the winding road with surprise views at every curve. True, you can't go 60 miles an hour because of the curves, but when you go 60 miles an hour what do you see? Perhaps it's time we reserve a few roads for scenery and forget the speed. Where the cliffs tower the highest and the canyon is the narrowest (in other words, the most beautiful stretches of the canyon), the interstate highway will tunnel through the cliffs— thus giving us a long, dark hole to savor instead of a monumental view.



One of the delights of the canyon is its embellishment of foliage along the river's edge— the cottonwoods and Russian olives, the scrub oak and evergreens which are a brilliant foil for the yellow and red cliffs. But now the trees and the cliffs will be bulldozed and blasted away to make room for a highway three times the width of the present one.

photo: canyon foliage

  photo: canyon road

Instead of an intriguing road, following the bend and flow of the river, a naked raw expressway will cut through cliff and earth in as straight a line as possible— an impersonal conveyer belt designed to rush you to your destination with as little time and sensation as possible. Of course, in this automobile age, we do need express highways. But must they destroy something unique and beautiful? Something the river took aeons to build; something man can never patch together again? Perhaps the canyon should have been preserved as an easily accessible beauty spot in the midst of a burgeoning area— a twelve-mile "packaged" park with room for fishing and camping areas, complete with horseback and self-guiding nature trails (the canyon is an open book for those who'll read its history etched by time in the serrated rock).



photo: riverbank

Perhaps the time has come when we must practice conservation at our doorsteps, and not be content with merely preserving wilderness areas in isolated sections. In a way, the canyon is a symbol of the kind of decision communities all over the U.S. are having to make. Do we let the U.S. turn into a maze of mass habitation and transportation, allowing highways to blast through anywhere to speed us from one strip ciry to the next, letting urban sprawl ooze across the landscape like festering sores?
Or do we decide to preserve and treasure what we have not way off in the wilderness, but right in the midst of where people are living where it can be enjoyed daily. No wonder plans are afoot to flood parts of Grand Canyon and saw the Redwoods into lumber; if people won't get disturbed about whawhat is going on right where they live, why will they care about destruction in remote areas?



photo: dog looking at canyon

An alternate route considered for the Glenwood Canyon highway traverses the top of the canyon. The old Cottonwood Pass stagecoach road, it climbs in an easy pattern to a high, rolling plateau, offering a top-ofthe-world view of the countryside. If this alternate route were chosen, the canyon could be kept as a scenic drive while the truckers and the impatient cross-country drivers zoomed at interstate speeds over the plateau. Both routes cost approximately the same to build. However, the highway department decided against the alternate route because it was several miles longer and "Interstate is meant to be built along the shortest possible route because each additional mile costs the motorist," according to the resident engineer in Glenwood Springs. "If you figure 10 cents for each ' additional mile times 6,000 motorists daily times 365 days a year and figure the lifetime of the highway at say 50 years...." That's how they figure it.


  photo: flowers and foliage

Here we are the richest country on earth, we cheerfully spend $18 a night for a motel and $1.50 for breakfast, we stand in line for an hour to pay $2 to see a movie, and pay $35 for a book, and then we say we'd rather ruin a beautiful canyon because motorists can't afford to pay 10¢ a mile for a few extra miles (not that any motorist figures his own mileage that way).


  photso: interstate highway; old road, in winter

The first section of the Glenwood Canyon Interstate was completed last fall in the No Name Creek area. Here a score of families had built their own Walden, leaving the creek, meadows, and mountain vistas unscarred. Now through their midst and their view roars the Interstate, a vast expanse of paving and tunnels, bristling with road signs, bordered by bare earth and boulders, all surrounding trees and shrubbery having been bulldozed and burned.


  photos: culvert; creek in winter

There's not much man can do to improve a creek like this one, called No Name, according to legend, because "no name was beautiful enough to describe it." This is how the highway department preserved it. Twenty years ago, one family built their home around this view; now they contemplate their creek through a giant culvert, 11 ft. in diameter, buried beneath a 50-ft. dirt foundation for the highway.


  photo: big trucks

Highway Beautification, 1966 Style— a country road used to wind through the trees here. Now these highway trucks are stored there for the winter, smack in the middle of the No Name community. Across the road stands a large truck trailer; on the opposite corner there's a huge orange crane— eyesores abandoned for the winter by the highway department in an area which the state legislature once deemed too beautiful for billboards. How to save America from Americans, that's the problem. And it's a problem that must be solved soon...


  photo: dying foliage  


before all the magic, the poetry, and the wonder are bulldozed out of our lives.


Original format: Fourteen loose pages, 4-5/8 by 6-7/8 inches, printed on one side, enclosed in a folder, 4-3/4 by 6-1/8 inches. Photos and text are anonymous.



Adapted for the web by Andrew Stafford.
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