Captain’s Log Starship 1XE, Day 7 in the month September, Earth Calendar year 2023.
The scene is set: a dory, emerging from the upper Granite Gorge and the ten consecutive 25’ waves of Hermit Falls on the Colorado River, in the grandest of Canyons.
We drifted gently into the eddy angling for a small beach as the prodigious roar of the rapid subsided along with our heart rate. This small beach was recently created from an extra pulse of water sent through the Grand Canyon, part of a Bureau of Reclamation “high-flow experiment” designed to move and redeposit sand and sediment from the Glen Canyon Dam/aka Lake Powell in northern Arizona. This big water release, the first since 2018, was due to an above average spring snowmelt in the Rocky Mountains.
Sediment carried and moved by high flows helps to rebuild beaches and sandbars, which provide habitat for wildlife in the Grand Canyon, as well as restoring beaches for camping for the canyon’s many rafters and boaters.
And that is what we were doing, rafting the glorious Grand Canyon. Out came the tables and loaves of bread for sandwich materials – wilted lettuce, tomatoes and the few remaining avocados – to fuel us for our excursion through one of the most majestic landscapes on earth.
As the roar of Hermit Falls receded, we continued our discussion with our 20 or so new rafting friends. We rhapsodized about the walls of the canyon made by time and also about EcoFlight and the countless flight missions we have done over the Grand. The news that the greater Grand Canyon area might be protected captured the rapt attention of these boaters and their desire to leave this otherworldly wilderness, whole and intact, and protected for generations to come.
Out of cell service for two weeks, we were listening for the sound of one of EcoFlight’s planes that was scheduled to do flights for the then-proposed Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument. Looking at our map of the rapids, I saw we were indeed close to the general vicinity of EcoFlight’s route flying the press, USFS leaders, Tribal members and elected officials, with our wonderful partner, Grand Canyon Trust.
Finishing our lunch, always topped off with Oreo cookies and liters of water in the plus 100 degree heat, we heard it – a faint drone like the mosquito you never see, buzzing above your heads. It had to be 6094B with Gary at the helm.
Ever since we arrived at the river, Janey regaled the group with tales of our work on the Grand Canyon. From flying Havasupai elders preparing to go to Washington to advocate for halting uranium mining on the rim, to countless flights over the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado bringing attention to the pump storage dams proposed right in the heart of the Hopi’s spiritual place of emergence, to grazing issues on the North Rim, trams in the confluence – a never ending spate of issues.
And now emerging from the bowels of the earth where the souls of the planet and our own souls are exposed, we were greeted by the good news that indeed a new National Monument had been designated!
Thanks to the hard work of so many people forever involved in monitoring and protecting one of the 8 wonders of the world.
Speaking of hard work, it is always hard work flying over the Grand Canyon. Constantly avoiding terrain, flying in designated aviation corridors, maintaining a specific altitude, pointing out significant features, moderating the conversations, and documenting the experience with camera and video. When the air is calm, we can put the plane on autopilot which relieves much of the workload, especially for the photo work that is so valuable to our mission.
And speaking of autopilots, EcoFlight is in need of a replacement autopilot for one of our planes. We are looking for funding for one, but until then we will be bucking the updrafts of the Grand Canyon and our other unique and fragile landscapes, looking for more victories like the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni Grand Canyon National Monument!