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William H. Calvin
This page is at http://WilliamCalvin.com/bk3/bk3day3.htm
The River That Flows Uphill (Sierra Club Books 1987) is my river diary of a two-week whitewater trip through the bottom of the Grand Canyon, discussing everything from the Big Bang to the Big Brain. It became a bestseller in German translation in 1995. AVAILABILITY limited; the US edition is now out of print. There are German and Dutch translations in print.
The River That Flows Uphill
A Journey from the Big Bang
to the Big Brain

Copyright 1986 by William H. Calvin.

You may download this for personal reading but may not redistribute or archive without permission (exception: teachers should feel free to print out a chapter and photocopy it for students).

This is a Deluxe edition in an unusual sense: the photographs and sound files are from Leonard Thurman’s Grand Canyon River Running web pages. What you get on your web browser is assembled, before your very eyes, using text delivered from Seattle (Washington State USA, near the Canadian border), and pictures and sound being sent from Tucson (Arizona USA, near the Mexican border).


Mile 31
South Canyon

THE SUNRISE FIRST ILLUMINATED the high and distant canyon wall, and then crept down slowly to catch the lower, and closer, ridge lines. It was all a beautiful red-orange in the morning light as I watched from my sleeping bag. When the light reached the wet greenery, the sparkles started. I couldn't imagine what was causing them, so I got up to get a better view.

Vasey's Paradise at Mile 32,
from Leonard Thurman's Grand Canyon River Running web pages.

Down the river, less than half a mile from South Canyon, are two great, sparkling banks of greenery descending from about four stories up the canyon wall. Through the binoculars passed to me by several other people attracted by the sight, I surveyed the waterfalls that the greenery had invaded. Out of the right canyon wall a fair-sized creek flows amidst the ferns and ivy. The river takes a sharp left turn at that point, so one can see only part of the second bank of greenery, which is Vasey's Paradise.

The sun also shines into Stanton's Cave, the large opening halfway between the campsite and Vasey's. As we watched, the whole hanging creek became an intense, wet green, contrasting with its red backdrop. Across the river, the left bank was still cloaked in shadow, its thirty stories of alternating light and dark gray bands a monument of a more subtle sort.

It is a quiet morning in camp, with most of the boatmen sitting in their boats alone, combing their hair, brushing their teeth, reading, or mending a shirt. These professional river-runners learn to make time, for these boats are their home for six months, longer than their houses back in Flag (which seems to be the local name for Flagstaff, about 225 kilometers north of Phoenix), which they visit for three or four days at a time between trips.

The Canyon is quiet, almost. The birds are seen more than heard at this hour, the swallows (and an occasional swift) fly in patterns, cruising along the wavetops, then soaring back up, powering through a nongliding turn with that characteristic flapping of the wings which they share with the bats, then coming around again for another pass. The sounds of the water, fluting noises as the river passes over a submerged rock near shore, mix with the pitter-patter of the windwaves against the undersides of the moored boats, drumming up a beat.

And, of course, ever present is the roar of the nearby rapid. When one is near a minor rapid, it is a constant white noise, a backdrop of "wheee-ee-ee." One sees the waves occasionally rising to an episodic splash, but doesn't hear this culmination as an additional clap, instead hearing only the white roar of the whole river flowing through the rapid. In a symmetrical rapid like Badger, with canyons on both sides that create a V-shaped gravel bar, the rapid starts as a tongue of flat water flanked by narrowing courses of white water. At the tip of the V, the flat water gives way to white water as well. The tail of the rapid is a flurry of choppy waves, sometimes culminating in a series of standing waves.

We had a raven come visit us at breakfast. It cruised past the boats, then perched atop a nearby rock to survey the scene with cocked head. He wants us to hurry up and leave, not being by nature a particularly patient bird. The boatmen tell more raven stories, some along the lines of "they're too smart for their own good." Ravens seem to enjoy practical jokes, mockery, and petty thievery -- as if they were bored, too smart for their role in life.

The sight of the glittering greenery downriver continues to distract even the most experienced river-runners among us. The boats are now being packed up, and most of us are idly admiring the view. Camp routine in the morning has us up at first light, though there is no announcement or alarm; everyone just falls into it. Most of us are up by about 6 A.M., though almost no one is wearing a watch anymore. The first boatman up puts several pots of water on to boil (we carry a quiet three-burner propane stove plus a charcoal enclosure for baking and grilling). Within half an hour, coffee or tea can be had; usually there are several people standing there waiting for the floating coffee grounds to settle, the sign it's done. Breakfast usually follows within another half hour or so. The idea is to do half of your packing before breakfast and half after. We each have two black rubber bags which carry all our gear; each is about the size of a large grocery sack. They get packed in the bow of one of the boats; one cannot get at them during the day. And so anything you need during the day -- camera, books, maps, suntan lotion, or anything else -- is carried in your medium-sized ammo can.

I've been back up to the Anasazi ruins to see the petroglyphs again this morning. The Anasazi certainly had a superb view, but one has to wonder if they really appreciated it the way we do. Not that I think there was some biological difference, only that it was an everyday view for them, associated with the toil of making a living in this stony place. Whenever they saw the Marble Platform (one can hike out through South Canyon), they probably thought that it was a great sight. And so it is.

No stargazing last night, at least none I've heard about. Perfect weather, nice exposure of sky, but a collection of sleep-deprived river-runners. It was nice and cool sleeping near the river. And besides, we'll be up late again the night after next -- there will be an eclipse of the moon.

This second early morning in the canyon is different. The Canyon has a hypnotic effect. People just sit and listen to the waters flowing.

And it sometimes happened that while listening to the river, they both thought the same thoughts, perhaps of a conversation of the previous day, or about one of the travellers whose fate and circumstances occupied their minds, or death, or their childhood; and when the river told them something good at the same moment, they looked at each other, both thinking the same thought, both happy at the same answer to the same question.
.....HERMANN HESSE, Siddhartha, 1951

ALAN PULLS US OUT of the eddy into the tail of the rapid. We pick up the current and gain speed. We now have thirty stories of Redwall on each side of the river. The water table seems to be in the Redwall as water seeps out here and there, marked by a little patch of greenery nestled into the steep walls. There are some caves higher up -- solution caverns created by such seepage over the millennia -- although most are dry now. It was in the biggest of those caves that the river surveyor Robert B. Stanton in 1889 hid his instruments when he decided to hike out via South Canyon rather than continue downriver. He was employed by a railroad that was considering a plan to run trains through the bottom of the Grand Canyon; happily, they abandoned the scheme before, rather than after, construction was begun.

In Stanton's Cave, archaeologists have found quite a few other things. In the Pleistocene (the last 2 million years, with all of the ice age oscillations in climate), condors evidently liked this cave, as some of them died there; one skeleton has a 4-meter wingspan. And some figurines made of willow branches were left there as offerings of some sort by Indians more than 3,000 years ago.

Vasey's Paradise seems even more remarkable than it did earlier this morning, once we get around enough of the river bend to see all of it. Major Powell described it well during his second expedition down the Colorado.

The river turns sharply east and seems enclosed by a wall set with a million brilliant gems. On coming nearer we find fountains bursting from the rock high overhead, and the spray in the sunshine forms the gems which bedeck the wall. The rocks are covered with mosses and ferns and many beautiful flowering plants. We name it Vasey's Paradise, in honor of the botanist who traveled with us last year.
.......JOHN WESLEY POWELL, 1871 river diary

Mile 33
Redwall Cavern

ON THE LEFT SHORE, a mile downstream from Vasey's Paradise, there looms a giant cavern inset into the Redwall cliff just above the river level. It looks for all the world like a symphony-sized bandshell, but as we come closer we see that it is even bigger than that -- it could accommodate a large audience as well. And they do hold concerts here, during the music trip. Its floor is a gentle bed of sand and, at this hour, it is entirely in shadow. The other boats have all paused back at Vasey's Paradise, but we passed up that stop, choosing to admire it from the river while drifting slowly along, because Alan dislikes the poison ivy hidden among the other greenery there. So in consequence, five of us have Redwall Cavern all to ourselves for a while. It's nice.

Redwall Cavern at Mile 33, from Leonard Thurman's Grand Canyon River Running web pages.

After poking around along the beach for awhile, Alan calls Marsha over to the shoreline and points down at the sand. Marsha, the teen-aged sister of one of the boatmen, picks up a basket-like figurine of a deer -- actually more of a llama, with a tall body but short legs. What with the stories of archaeological treasures found in Stanton's Cave, Marsha immediately jumps to the conclusion that it is a valuable ancient Indian artifact. It doesn't look ancient to me; I suspect Alan of having planted it.

Marsha too became suspicious after a few minutes, and forced Alan to confess. Indeed, Alan had some unmodified willow branches on his boat and happily agreed to show Marsha how to make split-willow figurines in the manner of the Anasazi. First, you split a long branch, all except for one end. This unsplit end serves as the head, with a fold of one of the split halves sticking through the end of the crack to form the nose. Further folds of the two half-branches create a body and legs. The split willow is only folded, never severed, in the construction process. The final step is to use one end of the split willow to penetrate the wrapped layers of willow forming the body, so that the end sticks out like a spear. A hunting totem?

I wonder if the Anasazi knew about the medicinal properties of willow bark? That's where aspirin came from (acetylsalicylic acid, from the Latin for willow, salis).

The other boats float into shore, everyone having filled canteens and the lemonade coolers at Vasey's. The ravens have also arrived. Three of the large black birds strut along the beach and then fly up to perch on some low rocks. They look at us with a certain nonchalance.

The Redwall Cavern ravens are sleek and black, big and well-fed. They mostly keep their distance and impatiently await our departure, so that they can come in and inspect for leavings. I doubt they found anything to eat at South Canyon after we left, but they're ever hopeful.

THE MARBLE PLATFORM really isn't marble, but Kaibab Limestone. This Redwall surrounding us in Redwall Cavern is also limestone. Rock isn't living matter, yet this rock has been made by life itself. Slowly.

The calcium shells of all the little microscopic organisms in the sea that die over the millennia, slowly fall to the bottom. In 25,000 years or so, the ocean bottom accumulates a layer of limestone that, when compacted, is one-story high.

Limestone. Polish it, as the river sometimes does, and it might fool someone into thinking it was marble. That's how the Marble Canyon got its name, back before the geological professionals got here to look. Real marble is limestone that has been metamorphosed, made plastic under extreme heat and pressure deep under the earth's surface, and then cooled, looking thereafter somewhat like the chocolate bar I had the other day, which first melted and then solidified as I drove through the cool desert during the night. It acquired a somewhat novel shape in the process, the lines between the squares getting a little wavy, as in marbling.

The limestone of Marble Canyon has thus far escaped melting and marbling. I hear that the Grand Canyon itself, far downriver near the volcanos, has a bit of real marble.

The high walls we see upriver used to be ocean bottoms, ancient seashores, sand dunes, or river deltas. Actually all those things. The land sinks beneath the seas, is resurrected, eroded and rearranged, and then sinks again. There have been many ups and downs over the ages, literally. Only in the last 200 years have we learned to read this rock-layer history. That's how we know that the summit of the highest mountain on Earth used to be at the bottom of the Indian Ocean: Mount Everest is also marine limestone. Continental drift caused the Indian subcontinent to creep across the Indian Ocean, ram into Asia, and push up the Himalayas about 20 million years ago. Besides the Rocky Mountains, pushed up perhaps 60 million years ago when the West Coast got tacked onto the North American proto-continent, nothing so dramatic happened here. This canyon we're inside at the moment was probably in business by 30 million years ago, carrying the rainfall from the Rockies down to the sea.

PETER HARTLINE, Dan's brother, a neurobiologist specializing in unusual sense organs such as the infrared heat detectors of snakes, has decided to climb the rocks which lead up the canyon wall at the downriver end of Redwall Cavern. Dan and several others join him, and soon our group talking on the beach sees four figures in profile against the sky. The rock climbers love this hard limestone. One of the ravens flies up to inspect them, and we jokingly shout at our friends to look out for bombs being dropped. But the raven flies away, looking bored, and comes back down to watch us instead.

The shadows have been shortening, and the people left out in the sun are picking themselves up and moving up the beach into the shade. That's how long we've been here. We have been joined by another river group, taking what is called a private trip. In addition to river companies running commercial trips -- of which several trips depart each day -- the Park Service allows one private trip to leave Lee's Ferry every day during the summer season. There is a waiting list for private trips, and it takes years to work one's way to the top of the list. This group consists of only five people: two couples paddling kayaks plus an experienced Canyon boatman who is running their supply boat. The supply boat, a rubber raft much like ours, has a waterproof guitar case strapped atop it. One thing leads to another and soon one of our boatmen has borrowed the guitar and starts playing a classical piece. Probably Bach. It has that feeling of depth, the music retracing and elaborating a pattern, cresting and falling. He plays another piece and then passes the guitar back to its owner, who also plays some classic piece of more modern date, possibly Grenados. Here we are, stretched out on the sand of Redwall Cavern, half in and half out of the sun, listening to real music in this incredible bandshell.

The ravens watch the crazy people. The requests start and we begin to sing -- not exactly Bach chorales but rather Pete Seeger songs and the like. We're starting to get the idea that we're not on a schedule anymore, though finally the boatmen ask "Who wants to see the fossils?", and that gets us started back to the boats.

Mile 35
Nautiloid Canyon

THE MUAV LAYER HAS EMERGED along the riverbank in places; it's another limestone, though somewhat greenish in color, and it is much older than the Redwall Limestone atop it. Quite a few intervening layers are now missing, at least in this part of the Canyon, so there is no evidence of the rock laid down between about 360 million years and nearly 535 million years ago at this level. Omitted as a result of ancient erosion are those Devonian layers whose fossils would have recorded the evolution of the vertebrates from the echinoderms (the phylum that includes the sand dollars and starfish), the early part of the Age of Fishes, the first land plants, and the first amphibians to crawl ashore. If we keep our eyes peeled, we'll see some of those missing layers further downriver where erosion wasn't so efficient. Alas, fossils are rarely found in the Muav around here.

The left riverbank was getting closer, Alan rowing us over to where several other boats had tied up on the shore. I jumped off with the mooring line and found a suitable rock. Alan asked Ben to pass forward a big bailing bucket. At this, Ben was somewhat puzzled, since we hadn't been through any rapids and the boat was dry.

Alan scooped up some river water in a bucket and bounded off across the boulder pile, heading up the narrow side canyon. "Maybe he has a fixation with carrying heavy containers of liquids above his head," I observed to Dan, as everyone followed. "Coffee, I can understand. But water comes out of side canyons. Carrying a bucket of water up one is like carrying coals to Newcastle."

At the base of the Redwall, the side canyon dead-ended, with no stream to be seen. Just the memory of one, in the form of sculptured red and gray rock. And various people bent over, admiring it.

"See! Here's a good one," said Subie, and pointed at the weathered, gray rock underfoot. We could barely make out the outline of an invertebrate animal. It was almost like a weathered footprint from some strange corrugated-sole boot. "I'll get Alan's bucket."

She returned and splashed a little river on the ancient Redwall limestone. Suddenly the animal's outline was much clearer, as the color of the rock deepened and the dust washed away. Developing the image with river water.

"But what is it?", asked Ben, after puzzling over it for several minutes.

"Ah, you molecular biologists, you don't know your fossil animals!", Subie joked. "It's a nautiloid, a relative of the modern Nautilus. You know, it's a cephalopod like the squid and the octopus. Except it grows a series of chambers for flotation."

"The Nautilus is coiled into a spiral, like a snail," added J.B., who had come over to admire it. "This is the early uncoiled version, from about 350 million years ago."

"It's called going straight," observed Marsha, who was greeted by a chorus of groans. There's been an epidemic of puns today.

There were a whole series of fossil nautiloids in the thin layers of rock which the ancient creek had worn away. One was the better part of a meter long, looking like a giant's footprint. The fossils became easier to spot, thanks to wet patches left by other recent discoverers.

"Obviously a very successful animal," commented one of the biologists. "And their relative, the modern octopus, is probably the most intelligent of the invertebrates. It's a shame that they taste so good. An octopus is certainly as smart as a rodent."

"But their brain is built in an entirely different way from the general plan of vertebrate brains," noted Dan Hartline. "Just goes to show that there is more than one way to build a smart brain."

A curiously bell-like sound filled the air. Music again. Subie was demonstrating her favorite singing rock, a watermelon-sized chunk of loose rock in a pile at the head of the canyon. By striking it with another rock, it would ring for several seconds. It was, however, the only such rock to be found. Alas, it would have been great fun to construct a rocky xylophone.

...most men, it seems to me, do not care for Nature and would sell their share in all her beauty....It is for the reason that some do not care...that we need to continue to protect all from the vandalism of a few.
.......HENRY DAVID THOREAU, The Journals

We fear the cold and the things we do not understand. But most of all we fear the doings of the heedless ones among ourselves.
......AN INUIT SHAMAN, quoted by an early Arctic explorer

Mile 39
Marble Canyon Dam Site

THE SCARS on both sides of the river are man-made, a jarring note in this wilderness of running water. They are test holes drilled back into the limestone, extending several city blocks deep inside the Muav and the Redwall cliffs.

Surveyors' splashy marks dot the cliffs like graffiti. A tall, unnaturally steep pile of rubble can be seen below each hole, deposited so recently that the weather and river have not had time to spread out the pile. An abandoned barge lies half-sunk near the base of one pile. There used to be scaffolding and a tramline down the cliff to these sites, since removed by the Park Service.

This is not an old mine; the limestone here is rather too common for that. These test holes were the first stage in the construction of a large dam. Right here. The dam-builders planned to back up the Colorado 54 miles, back past Lee's Ferry to the base of the Glen Canyon Dam, burying all the places we've seen so far under a huge lake. That's why all the new government buildings back at Lee's Ferry are incongruously located high above river level -- they thought the low-lying sites near the boat launch would soon be flooded. Thus the car campground is perched in a windswept location, and has had to be provided with sheet metal windbreaks to supplement to wilderness experience. Not only would Lee's Ferry have been flooded but also the nautiloids, Redwall Cavern, South Canyon, the Anasazi ruins and petroglyphs, Silver Grotto, North Canyon, and all the rest. As if burying Glen Canyon weren't enough.

The Glen Canyon Dam, just upstream from Lee's Ferry, actually did back up the Colorado to drown a region every bit as spectacular as this section of Marble Canyon. There was no organized opposition to the flooding of Glen Canyon, perhaps because few realized how beautiful the area was. Lake Powell, a drag strip for speedboats, now covers those canyons and gradually fills them with red mud.

Marble Canyon Dam was defeated in the sixties by the energetic efforts of Martin Litton, owner of one of the river companies, and the Sierra Club, then led by David Brower. Plus thousands of other people. The government dam-builders tried to promote the advantages of another new lake, saying that "people will like to sightsee by speedboat." I can still remember the Sierra Club's full-page newspaper ads headlined: "SHOULD WE FLOOD THE SISTINE CHAPEL SO TOURISTS CAN GET NEARER THE CEILING?" While the government cancelled the Sierra Club's tax-deductible status over that fight, the conservationists finally won the battle.

The Arizona and Utah politicians are endlessly fond of building dams with the federal taxpayer's money. The official Arizona state road maps still show a dam site inside Grand Canyon National Park at mile 238 on the Colorado, variously named Bridge Canyon Dam or Hualapai Dam, showing that the fight to prevent the Grand Canyon itself from being flooded isn't over yet. Bridge Canyon Dam was officially cancelled by the U.S. government only in 1984. The "flooding easement" on the park and Indian lands was finally allowed to expire -- but not without the dam-builders making a final effort to promote the flooding of the lower part of the Grand Canyon, scarring up the Canyon with access roads, and stringing it with high-voltage power lines. But the Arizona politicians are still spending money on studies to promote it.

Unfortunately, the plans and the test-hole data for such projects get filed away, perhaps to be used in the future. And the local politicians are always trying to get Congress to give them money to build yet another dam. It's a tradition in this part of the world, one which has been repeatedly successful, this waiting game of exploiters. All it takes is a recession, and long-term preservation goals can be overridden by a short-term drive for profits and jobs. Those who would preserve the wilderness have to fight repeated battles with each new generation of politicians to keep the exploiters out. To lose once is unthinkable.

Even national park status seems no obstacle to the dam-builders and their powerful supporters. The badly overcrowded Yosemite National Park in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains used to be twice as large as it is today, including a second similarly spectacular valley just to the north, named Hetch Hetchy. Since 1920 it has been drowned, a Yosemite we'll never see. That generation probably rationalized flooding Hetch Hetchy by saying that one valley remained and that was enough. Today, the map handed out to the Yosemite visitors ought to remind people about why the valley is now so badly overcrowded, but it doesn't. You'd think that one such mistake would have been a sufficient lesson.

The outstanding example of exploitation and despoliation of a national park feature for private gain was the damming of Hetch Hetchy valley in Yosemite National Park....
.....ISABELLE FLORENCE STORY, in the Encyclopedia Britannica,1953

A GIANT COOKIE-CUTTER has been at work on the landscape. That's what Marsha reported seeing on her flight out to Phoenix. Great circular spots of green amidst the brown.

"Those are irrigated fields," Ben explained. "From giant lawn-sprinklers that march over the fields, swiveling around a central pumphouse."

"But those cookies were giants!", exclaimed Marsha. "Someone on the plane told me that they could be seen from the moon more easily than the Great Wall of China!"

"The lawn-sprinklers are giants too. They put out a stream like a fire hose. It'd knock you flat on your back if you wandered into it," explained Ben. "Those sprinklers are several stories high."

"Is there a white ring of salt around the cookies yet?", asked one of the boatmen whose name I haven't learned yet. "There soon will be, you know."

THE SALT OF THE EARTH can be the downfall of civilizations. The boatmen are ardent ecologists. They speak of the shortsightedness of our irrigation practices as well as the lost beauty of the landscape. Just fly over the world's largest irrigation system in the Indus Valley of Pakistan, they say, and you'll think there is snow down there. It is salt, encrusted atop the soil -- ruined soil in which crops will no longer grow. Short-term gain yielded long-term disaster. And one can see that same white salt buildup along stream beds in the United States, from Colorado to California.

The reason for this problem is familiar to anyone who knows a little about drilling wells for water. There is a water table, even beneath a desert, below which water sinks no further, thanks to a resistant rock layer such as shale. Above the porous layer that contains the water supply is likely to be another layer of rather salty rock, perhaps a sandstone or siltstone that was compacted beneath an ancient ocean.

As water drains through soil it picks up a bit of salt on the way. Where rain usually falls, the salt gets washed out over the millennia, carried underground along the water table. But if an unnatural amount of water comes down through the soil in an area that doesn't normally get much rain -- as in the irrigated Southwest -- there is lots of salt left to pick up. The well-water in the area of Phoenix, Arizona, is already starting to go salty from all the irrigation. By the time the Colorado River water reaches the Mexican border, it has been through the soil repeatedly, and has become so salty that the United States was obligated to build a desalination plant for what's left of the Colorado River (the Mexicans aren't left much) in order to live up to a treaty with Mexico which guaranteed the quality of the water delivered to that nation.

Such technological "quick-fixes" draw our attention away from the real danger: that poorly managed irrigation will raise salt to the soil's surface. After all, irrigation converts local land with less than 20 centimeters (8 inches) of rainfall a year into well-watered farmland. And all that rock and soil between the watertable and the surface becomes wet but then, when the irrigation stops and the surface starts drying, water is wicked back upward, carrying salt with it. The salt emerges slowly but irresistibly, not unlike the way manganese is drawn out of the limestone around here to create desert varnish. Eventually the topsoil becomes salty and infertile. A white "irrigation varnish," just like the white ring that builds up around the tops of the pots used for houseplants, becomes the harbinger of stunted growth and crop failure.

Or the salt washes out downhill somewhere and contaminates the streams there. If a valley that lacks natural drainage -- such as California's great central agricultural valley, the San Joaquin -- is irrigated with even slightly salty water, the salt continues to build up over the years as the water evaporates. The water that does run off is so salty that evaporation ponds containing it may be a health hazard because of heavy metals leached out of the earth: in the San Joaquin, waterfowl signaled the problem with a high rate of birth defects and fetal mortality.

The politicians and farmers down here in Arizona and Utah know most of these things, but short-term money talks louder. They assume that by the time the long-term arrives, science and technology will have discovered a way to bail them out, again with the taxpayer's money.

History, too, speaks of the dangers of soil salinity, as revealed by irrigation canals over 6,000 years old that have been found in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East. The great civilization of Sumer, which invented writing 5,000 years ago for us all, owes its downfall partly to soil salinity. That region of the Mesopotamian floodplain of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers once supported 17- to 25-million people; today this once-fertile river delta has been transformed into a desert. To most experts, salt heads the list of probable reasons for this disaster. There are some archaeologists who suspect that the same thing happened to the Anasazi over at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, which for several centuries a thousand years ago was the focus of Anasazi culture in this area.

Farmers in the American West don't use modern irrigation technology now, so long as the taxpayers are willing to build more dams. In fact, American irrigation practices are not all that different from Pakistan's. But irrigation has been vastly improved by the drip irrigation systems developed primarily in Israel, where farming the desert is a matter of national pride. And, because the Israelis make do with far less water, I wonder how many of the Southwest's demands for more agricultural water -- the American taxpayers are currently footing the $1,300-million bill for the Central Arizona Project and it's got $2,300-million to go -- are simply a consequence of a wasteful technology.

Consider those giant garden-sprinklers and the large percentage of the water they emit that simply evaporates before landing on the cookies. Even the evaporation from the less wasteful flood-the-fields techniques is significant. In Israel, they cover all irrigation canals to limit evaporation. They run pipes down each row, dripping the water out of little holes directly into the soil where it is needed, wetting the soil only to root depth and no more. Moisture meters buried in the ground measure how dry the soil actually is. Microcomputers, hooked up to those moisture sensors, control the water valves so that they deliver only the amount of water actually needed to maintain the proper amount of moisture in the soil. This avoids waste through overwatering. The water is also delivered in the middle of the night, to further minimize evaporative loss. And the Israelis erect clear plastic tents over some fields to trap the humid air, slowing further evaporation. If one flies over Israel's northern valley, the Hula, there seem to be giant ponds dotting the landscape -- but they're actually fields covered by giant plastic canopies.

And since the Israelis don't soak the depths of the soil with water, they run less long-term risk of ruining their soil via salt wicking up through it. It would be tragic if the rest of the world finally switched to drip irrigation only after its soil was ruined, its civilizations already scarred by starving mobs.

In the Southwest, building more dams is simply another way of subsidizing the farmer. To allow the farmer to get along without installing efficient technology, we raise taxes rather than food prices. This approach, in the minds of many thoughtful people, is appallingly wasteful and, most importantly, a luxury we cannot afford because of what it does to the land. It not only drowns beautiful canyons beneath new lakes, but risks crippling the soil that the lake water irrigates -- by allowing the salt of the earth to rise to the surface.

Salt problems are particularly insidious. They do not come charging at you with trumpets blowing and battle flags flying, a sight to set stirring the hearts of activists in any century. Rather, they slip in almost unnoticed... They have quietly destroyed, without fuss or fanfare, more civilizations than all of the mighty armies of the world.
......WARREN A. HALL, 1973
...... Office of Water Resources Research, U.S. Department of the Interior

At least 50 percent, and presumably now close to 65 percent, of all irrigated land will be destroyed by salt before the end of the century.
Michigan State University food expert

BUSY AS BEAVERS have been our dam-builders. A few years ago, Dave Brower came along on this float trip. He stood atop one of the tailing piles below a test hole here at Mile 39 to recount how the battle over this particular dam was fought by the boatmen and the Sierra Club. And temporarily won -- but reminded everyone that fighting the dam-builders was a continuing battle, that we only have to fail once to lose permanently.

In a lighter vein, Brower compared dam-builders to beavers: they simply can't stand the sight of running water. Actually, that is quite a good characterization of beaver behavior if you substitute "sound" for "sight." It was once thought that beavers were terribly intelligent agricultural engineers, executing a preconceived plan to flood lowlands so as to raise more trees to eat. Instead, it seems that beavers have a strong instinct to shove mud and sticks toward the sound of running water. In fact, someone who wanted to investigate this took a loudspeaker, placed it up on a dry riverbank, and played a tape of a burbling brook. The beavers plastered the hi-fi speaker, not the river, with mud and sticks. When the tape was turned off, they stopped, presumably feeling some sense of accomplishment.

So beaver dams are built (and repeatedly repaired) thanks to this primitive instinct, stopping noise. Who would have ever predicted that dams and irrigation would emerge as a result of an animal's liking peace and quiet? One wonders if human dam-builders are operating on a similarly unreasoning principle, a blind expediency that we can no longer afford; our irrigation practices hardly seem to be the product of the insightful, reflective intelligence on which we humans pride ourselves.

Earplugs might slow down the beavers, but it will take more to stop the dam builders. Eternal vigilance is also the price of wilderness.

IN ANOTHER TWO MILES we see the Royal Arches, great natural caverns in the Redwall limestone where wet rock has fallen out of the cliff. Since the water table along here is in the Redwall, it results in outflows such as we saw back at Vasey's Paradise. These often weaken the rock, which eventually falls out, leaving an overhanging arch. Within these three large caverns, well above river level now, greenery clings to the Redwall where the water emerges and drips down to the river. We are getting hot now, and the caverns look refreshingly cool.

We pull over to a sandy beach on the right shore. There's shade, and we'll have lunch here. But first more lemonade. It's very easy to get dehydrated in a desert if we don't change our drinking habits. Yes, I know this place is wall-to-wall water, but we sweat a lot on a day like today. Because it evaporates immediately in the dry air, one usually isn't aware of the sweating. The boatmen's rule of thumb: if you aren't putting out more urine than you usually do back home, you aren't drinking enough. One wants extra body water in a desert, not less. So drink before meals, during meals, after meals, from the canteen on the boat and on hikes. The boatmen remind me of the noncoms in the Israeli army, one of whose duties is to make sure that every soldier drinks three canteens of water daily.

And drinking beer doesn't count toward one's quota; because of its diuretic effect, one can lose more fluid than consumed, one reason why tavern restrooms are so busy. The conversation takes a small detour into medical physiology: normally, the brain senses how salty the blood is getting and regulates it by sending "antidiuretic hormone" (ADH) through the bloodstream down to the kidney, telling it how much water to extract from the urine that the kidney is creating. If there were no ADH, you would produce enormous quantities of urine. But too much beer on the brain, and it stops sending ADH to the kidneys. And so one starts dumping water. The dehydration that results is one of the causes of hangovers. If, in a desert, you start feeling a hangover coming on, you are probably dehydrated from sweating instead of imbibing. A sweat hangover, no less. Except that you may have been unaware of sweating in this dry air.

With both hands, we are hanging onto giant sandwiches which we have created from all the makings that the boatmen set out. It turns out that the prime use of the boatmens' belt knives is to slice up things for lunch, such as tomatoes, avocados, cheese, sausage, and onions. There are so many good things to try that one never winds up making an ordinary-sized sandwich. The lemonade cooler, propped up atop an overturned bailer bucket, is sitting next to Marsha, and she cheerfully refills cups that are passed over to her.

THE RIVER MAKES A LONG LOOP around Point Hansbrough -- a real hairpin turn -- and we get a little wet in our second small rapid of the day. It wasn't wet enough, we complain, getting hotter. Looking behind us, we see that the eastern rockwall of the Canyon appears shattered. It is not like an erosional valley; no stream has run through it leaving a tell-tale silver color in the red rocks. Instead it looks as if a giant meat cleaver had descended from the sky, landing on the Supai and Redwall layers and creating a long valley of broken rock.

Enlightenment soon follows. A north-south fault line, the Eminence Break, comes through here, and the periodic slips and uplifts along it have created this long, high valley of fractured rock. Like the other major fault lines near the Canyon, it can be seen from out in space, appearing as a long straight line on Landsat pictures of the area taken from 900 kilometers up.

Alan tells us that we'll see an even more dramatic fault line in several days, the Bright Angel Fault, running north-south through Phantom Ranch and then up through the hotels perched atop the South Rim. Looking over there from the North Rim with binoculars, one can compare the east and west walls of the side canyon. The layers are offset about fifteen stories, just under the hotels. The trail out of the canyon leads up that fault line, but happily we will not experience that mile-high climb.

Mile 47
Saddle Canyon

THE WHOLE IS MORE THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS. Things in combination have properties that, separately, they may each lack. The additional properties "emerge" from the merger. They're called emergent properties. As we have seen, beaver dams, and the consequent irrigation of upstream areas, may be due to the beaver's propensity to push mud and sticks at the sound of running water. Dams and swamps emerge from that simple trait. Bird flight probably emerged from the simple invention of feathers for insulation.

We can't always predict what will happen. Most of the novelties in evolution are probably due to such emergent properties. Natural selection may shape feathers into good thermal insulators in a series of logical steps, but then there's this sidestep to flying -- a result completely unrelated to heat conservation. Of course, natural selection thereafter starts shaping the feather arrangements into better airfoils, as flying is exposed to natural selection. But the surprising thing is the sidestep, in which natural selection changes tracks from insulating to flying. We resolve, while sitting beneath the shade along the riverbank, to collect some more examples of emergent properties during this trip.

Is cleverness one of those emergent properties? One thing that many of the clever animals have in common is that they're omnivores. They'll seemingly eat anything; at least they are broader in their tastes than their less clever relatives. It takes a lot of changes in an animal's body to be so versatile. It must be able to digest various kinds of foods, have the right digestive enzymes, and have defenses against the toxins that many plants use to discourage browsers. The animal also has to have the behavioral strategies that allow it to find the food, maybe even ambush it.

Now an animal that's got a dozen choices in diet, switching back and forth among them depending on their availability, has a lot of behavioral strategies in its repertoire. But they're not necessarily like the dozen fixed habits a bee uses to forage for nectar. They can be used in combination, sometimes with surprising results. The whole is greater than the mere sum of a number of such strategies. Is that the beginnings of cleverness?

Dogs and cats, indeed many of the carnivores, are clever. They have to outwit the escape strategy of each animal they prey on and, since they usually prey upon more than a dozen species, they may have a whole series of ways of making their living.

Chimps are clever, and they're the most omnivorous of the apes, nearly as omnivorous as humans except that chimps dislike dead meat (they have to catch the meat alive in order to treat it as food; offer a wild chimp a nice steak and he'll probably reject it). The octopus loves to catch crabs, quite unlike his squid relatives, who just strain seawater for the little plankton in it. The ravens and crows are adapted to a varied diet -- and some of that diet requires tool use to get at the encased food. Pigs are smart: their diet is varied and includes things like roots and tubers that most animals pass up.

We thought of some other smart animals that didn't quite fit the hypothesis -- the mountain gorilla, which eats great quantities of plants each day, the porpoise, which sticks to fish, and a few others. But maybe they've just retreated -- maybe their ancestors got smart by accumulating food-gathering skills, but then later specialized in just one food. Or maybe there are more ways of becoming clever than versatility alone. Maybe some special skills have more potential for increasing intelligence than others. Perhaps the playful porpoise's echo-location specializations also aid its brain in doing other things. I can see that we are not finished talking about this subject.

We, in this case, are the people who didn't go on the hike back up Saddle Canyon, staying instead in the shade. Tamarisk grows thick along the riverbanks. It's just too hot to hike. Though the returning hikers, once they have cooled off in the river, say that we really missed something. Alas.

Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creatures through the looking glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize [the animals] for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren; they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.
.....HENRY BESTON, The Outermost House, 1949

Marble Canyon scene, from Leonard Thurman's Grand Canyon River Running web pages.

THIS IS THE MOST PHOTOGENIC STRETCH of Marble Canyon so far, to my eye. Between Saddle Canyon and Nankoweap, one starts seeing classic Canyon profiles, scenes that seem to have been laid out with composition in mind. And today the cliffs frame just the right assortment of clouds, the right blue sky, the right shadows.

The Canyon is opening out on the right because the Eminence Break fault line comes through here again about Mile 50 -- and East Kaibab Monocline's uplift of the North Rim makes for long side canyons on the right bank. Soon we'll see Nankoweap and some more Anasazi ruins. Major Powell got the name in 1872 from a Paiute Indian who said that the big canyon was remembered as the place ("weap") of an Indian battle ("nun ko").

We've become real Redwall fans. Its sheer vertical face is an enormous expanse, being nearly fifty stories tall all by itself. Its color is jewel-like. Life makes some hard rock, and that's a classy rust coloring it too.

This is a day when life and the world seem to be standing still-- only time and the river flowing past the mesas.

Mile 52
Nankoweap Canyon Third Campsite

IT IS LATE in the afternoon by the time we make camp, given our leisurely songfest back at Redwall Cavern. Nankoweap is a long valley on the right bank which the Anasazi farmed. Now we are stretched out under the willows and tammies along the shore, having again raided the supply of cans kept cool by the river in the bow of each boat. A number of people have decided to bathe in the shallows of the river, and it lends a pastoral appearance to the scene. The colors, however, are not those of Monet or Turner; Europe really doesn't have colors like these great expanses of red-orange. Nor are the bathers dressed in Victorian bathing costumes; indeed, several have even gone to the opposite extreme, covering up only with shampoo.

To those who are shocked, a word about the inverted wilderness practices here on the Colorado. The desert which surrounds the riparian corridor is relatively fragile; one doesn't want to pollute it (or the sidestreams) with soap -- or anything else. This river corridor, however, is unusually robust because of the high volume of water flowing through it. The dilution factor is enormous; by the standard of cities that draw their drinking water out of quiet rivers into which other cities upstream have dumped their wastes, the Colorado stays very clean even though river-runners bathe in the river, urinate in it, and wash their dirty dishes in it -- all things one shouldn't do in a creek or slow river. "The solution to pollution is dilution" in this special case. The toilet wastes are simply sprinkled with lime, triple bagged, and hauled out in large ammo cans on the baggage boat. As a result of this practice, the river corridor is quite clean in comparison to civilized rivers and to many well-traveled wilderness areas.

Though one can often drink the river water, there can be pollution when a side canyon like the Little Colorado River is in flood. After an Independence Day weekend in the late seventies, a lot of people got sick on the river, and the suspicion is that the sewage treatment plant up at the dam overflowed from all the holiday crowds. The river tour groups make a policy of providing chlorinated (one drop of bleach per liter) or finely filtered drinking water, encouraging passengers to drink from a canteen even when they're on the river surrounded by cold water.

The more energetic have set out to hike a little ways up Nankoweap Canyon. I am saving my energies. When we got down to Mile 52, we saw many caves high in the Redwall, as much as fifty stories above the river. And our birdwatchers' binoculars revealed that some of them showed distinctive signs of modification by humans: square openings, framed by timbers. They can even be seen with the unaided eye; it's surprising that Major Powell's expedition missed seeing them in 1869 (they didn't spot any ruins from Lee's Ferry to Mile 61, the entire length of Marble Canyon). Those square openings, we hear, are entrances into rooms in which the Anasazi stored their grain and took refuge from marauders. I cannot understand how they ever reached the caves unless they used ladders, but a moonlight hike is proposed for after sunset. Tonight's moon should be almost full and will brightly illuminate our path.

Dan and I resolved to again camp at the water's edge, and have found a nice spot just above the high-water line. Alan told us that the river would start rising about midnight, when the water that was released this morning -- when all the air-conditioners were turned on down in Los Angeles and Phoenix -- reaches this point on the river. The water travels about 90 miles a day, so we're now seeing water released before dawn today.

Tides are nothing new for those of us used to camping on the ocean beaches. Yet these are freshwater tides, not saltwater. The usual animals that one sees inhabiting the ocean intertidal zone, such as the starfish uncovered at low tide, have no counterpart in freshwater fauna. Lakes are seldom big enough to have tides; even the Mediterranean has minuscule tides, but Glen Canyon Dam has repaired this omission in nature and, if intertidal specialists are to develop anywhere in fresh water, the Grand Canyon now seems a good place.

The predators are certainly ready for them. Already, whiptail lizards with their jerky movements, lashing their long bluish tails, come to forage on the riverbanks. Normally they stick to the desert and avoid the riparian, but they've discovered that the little shrimp-like amphipods (introduced into the Colorado in 1932 to provide food for the rapacious trout, which are also not native) are stranded when the river level falls, and the lizards venture out to eat them. A new niche, invented and filled.

The people who once lived here could have used the extra source of food too; we learned a lot about the Anasazi by listening to the boatmen talk over their beer. The native Americans who inhabited this area a thousand years ago were scattered, and their numbers greatly reduced, by a grim drought lasting from A.D. 1215 to 1300. By A.D. 1300, most villages were empty except the pueblos now known as Hopi, Zuni, and the Rio Grande group. The Navajo, who hunted and gathered their way into this area all of the way from western Canada from A.D. 1300 to 1500, called the remaining Indians the Anasazi, which translates as "old enemies" (the often-quoted translation "The Ancient Ones" seems to be a polite euphemism). These surviving Anasazi, however, probably served as the role models for the Navajo as they abandoned their primitive wandering existence to settle down to agriculture supplemented by hunting (and, as usual, raiding). The Navajo even borrowed substantial features of the Anasazi religion (which is not surprising, since it included instructions for agriculture). Even today one sees additional "borrowings." The national monument just east of here features two giant Anasazi cliff dwellings -- Betatakin and Keet Seel. Paradoxically it is called "Navajo National Monument" and Navajo guides show the way to Keet Seel. Perhaps it was the same with Greek ruins in Roman days.

Many native American tribes call themselves "The People" in their own language (locally, the word is Diné and not "Navajo," which is what the early Spanish explorers mistakenly called the "Apaches with cultivated fields"). They certainly didn't call themselves "Indians," the name which commemorates one of the most important errors in the history of mapmaking. The Europeans underestimated the size of the Earth (the ancient Greeks had estimated it quite accurately, long before) and mistook America for India. Of course, if Columbus had known that the earth is as large as it really is, his sailors (and sponsors) might not have had the courage to try the westward route to India.

But what did the Anasazi call themselves? Since they left no written records, all we can do is ask their relatives. The Anasazi's living descendants are thought to include the Hopi, Zuni, and Rio Grande Pueblo Indians. The present-day Hopi, who live on the mesas just southeast of here, refer to the Anasazi as the Hisatsinom, or "our ancestors," so that was hardly the Anasazi's word for themselves. The Hopi call themselves Hopituh, which means "the peaceful ones." With hindsight, perhaps the most genuine name we could give the ancients would be something like "ancestral Hopituh," but the pejorative Navajo word "Anasazi" has come to signify the natives of 2,300 to 700 years ago in this Four Corners region where the present-day states of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado meet.

When asked by an anthropologist what the Indians called America before the white man came, an Indian said simply, "Ours."

Marble Canyon Miles 52-56 seen from Nankoweap grainery (note square windows in shadow) up in the Redwall layers, from Leonard Thurman's Grand Canyon River Running web pages.

THE MOON IS UP, at least far enough to illuminate the canyon walls and the Anasazi ruins, though the moonlight is still creeping toward our camp. Watching the moonlight has become a favorite after-dinner pastime along the river. The pale moonlight descends like a curtain, inching down the western wall of the Marble Canyon as the moon rises in the southeast.

We set out through the brush north of the campsite, cursing the local darkness as we get hit in the face by unexpected branches. Then we start uphill and soon look down on an area where the Anasazi grew their crops, alongside which they built their dwellings. We head up through the fallen talus slopes, emerge into the moonlight, and change gears again when we get into the Muav limestone. The view down the river is already spectacular. Looking down the river for four miles, one sees a long, straight stretch of red-walled box canyon, even though the course of the river is serpentine, formed by an alternating series of sandbars and back-eddies with greenery on their edges. A textbook lesson in meanders.

Though we cannot see colors in the moonlight, I am able to visualize this scene in color because -- I now realize -- this is a famous landscape found in nearly every picture book of the Grand Canyon. Many big cameras have been hauled up this steep path. I have enough trouble hauling myself up.

When the trail hits the Redwall, it gets quite steep. The ledges formed by the Redwall layers are quite shallow, and one is thankful for shoes that grip. Alan is, of course, wearing sandals. When we reach the last ledge before the ruin, we sit down and look around; Alan doesn't want us to sit right next to the ruin itself. One tends to be a little tired after the climb, and also tends to lean back to avoid the view looking forward -- and down. Whatever the reason, a tourist leaned back against the ruin in 1982 and collapsed a section of wall. The Park Service archaeologists have since rebuilt it. Despite such problems, the Park Service has not yielded to the usual temptation to plaster signs everywhere forbidding this and that. We haven't seen a single sign since Lee's Ferry, except for petroglyphs we couldn't read.

Looking straight down forty stories and suppressing acrophobia, one sees in the monochromatic moonlight the farm lands of the Anasazi, now dotted with desert shrubs but once cultivated for corn. Alan pointed out where building foundations had been found and where lots of broken pottery had accumulated. Since there is often nothing left at these sites that can be dated from its radiocarbon content, broken pottery is the lifeblood of the Southwestern archaeologist, as its decoration changed with nearly every generation. Just as many people can accurately date a dress style from earlier in the twentieth century, so an expert like Robert Euler can look at a collection of potsherds and name the half-century in which they were made a millennium ago.

Why did the Anasazi store their grain high on a cliff? The usual explanation is the same as that offered for the development of such cliff-side urban ventures as Betatakin and Mesa Verde in the 1200s: protection from hungry have-not's. Here, a guard could deal with unauthorized visitors by just rolling a few rocks down the hill. That may, however, overdramatize the situation: perhaps they were trying to protect their stored grain from the rodents that frequent the delta itself. Maybe they also liked the view.

With a natural cave in the Redwall Limestone providing a floor, ceiling, and rear wall, all the Anasazi had to construct with mud and stone were the front walls and room dividers of their storehouses -- though, as Alan pointed out, they did have to haul the water up here to make the mud. No small chore. The small rooms were probably not primarily dwellings but storage rooms: this modified cave was probably a granary, a place to store the corn which the Anasazi farmed on the narrow plains below, on the river's right bank. This is not a large place, several hundred baskets would strain its capacity. Outside, perched on a slightly lower ledge, was a small, topless enclosure -- perhaps a guardpost, with enough of a wall to keep the guard from falling down the cliff if he dozed off, or perhaps it is just the remains of a granary annex built in the year of a bumper crop.

In the moonlight there was a surreal quality to it all, definitely dreamlike. And I began to wonder just how it felt to be an Anasazi, to scratch out a meager existence in the desert, to sit long nights up here as a guard with the whole Marble Canyon spread out below, all the sky above, perched on the edge of an abyss, a ringside seat on the universe. There were no textbooks of agriculture, or astronomy, or first-aid. Most of what he knew, he probably had learned from a hundred people, inhabitants of Nankoweap Canyon and neighbors. Knowledge trickled in from the outside by word of mouth, by legend. This place was not the center of the Anasazi culture, but perhaps he had heard of the fabulous medicine men of Chaco Canyon who studied the sun and the moon, who perhaps warned when the moon or the sun might be eaten by a sky monster.

Like the present-day Hopi, the Anasazi watched sunrise and sunset every day, noting the point on the horizon where the sun first peeked over the canyon rim or a distant mountain ridge. One sees present-day Pueblo peoples sitting on their rooftops and meditating over sunset or sunrise. Pueblo tribal leaders often have special viewing places in the surrounding hills, to which a responsible elder treks to be in position for the viewing. The position of sunrise and sunset on the horizon changes a little from day to day, coming to a halt at the summer and winter solstices and turning around. This, rather than a desk calendar, told the Anasazi when to plant or hold celebrations.

The Hopi have a system of cardinal directions quite different from our north-east-south-west. They reckon direction from the northeasterly location of the summer solstice sunrise, the southeasterly winter solstice sunrise, the southwesterly winter solstice sunset, and the northwesterly summer solstice sunset. Thus, watching for the position of the sun on the horizon was important for directions, a calendar, and religion.

It was easy to imagine an Anasazi perched up here, watching the place of the sunrise move along the craggy eastern horizon from week to week as the seasons changed. I wish that we were going to be here tomorrow night, when the lunar eclipse occurs, so that I could try to see it through his eyes. Surely, to a people who studied the sun and moon so assiduously every day, an eclipse must have been a major event. Disappearance, renewal. Being eaten, being recreated? Were there monsters in the sky who engulfed the moon, who sometimes blotted out the sun? What did they do to placate them?

An eclipse of the sun is a rare event in any one locality; few Anasazi would have seen one in their lifetime, but they probably knew from legend that it could occur. But there is an eclipse of the moon about every 170 days, visible from somewhere on Earth. Many Anasazi would see several in a lifetime. In a world without scientific explanations describing the intersection of orbits and shadow cones, eclipses would have been especially impressive.

What would an Anasazi have thought of a comet? Or a supernova? During that A.D. 1054 supernova in the Crab Nebula, there were Anasazi living in the Canyon; perhaps my imaginary Anasazi perched up here would have seen it. By running the clockwork of the heavens backward (in a computer) into the position they were in on the morning of the fifth day of July, 1054, we can know what he saw.

Three hours before sunrise, the moon would have risen over the Canyon wall in the northeast, a quarter-moon of white against a still-black sky. Then, shortly after the moon cleared the horizon, something strange and bright would have appeared on the horizon several degrees (four moon diameters) south of the crescent Moon hanging there in the sky. The Stranger didn't sit on the horizon like a distant forest fire, but rather rose into the sky, following the crescent moon. It would have appeared as a very bright star, extraordinarily bright, a spotlight hard to ignore. Three hours later, the sun would have risen at about the same spot on the horizon. The sun on the horizon, the Stranger, and the slightly more elevated crescent moon would have formed a triangle in the morning sky. The Stranger would have stayed there, some distance from the Moon, all day.

I hope that my Anasazi didn't fall off his perch in surprise when the supernova rose, or break a leg on that steep trail we came up, running down to alert the sleeping families below. It wouldn't have been unreasonable for him to have thought it a harbinger of the end of the world, this Stranger coming between the revered sun and moon, presumably another monster about to gobble up one or both of them. Of course, when he got down to the dwellings near the river, the Stranger would not have been visible yet because of the high canyon wall across the river, so perhaps no one believed him at first. Then, as the disbelievers watched, the moon rose with that spectacular giant star right behind, just as advertised.

Even after sunrise, the Stranger remained visible -- even at midday, it beamed in the blue sky. They might have felt some relief 23 days later when the Stranger could no longer be seen during the day -- but it remained very bright at night for many months thereafter, before settling down to being some semblance of an ordinary star in the sky. The Moon, of course, moved away from the Stranger's position in the stars, perhaps to the relief of many watchers of the sky on the Colorado Plateau.

There is indeed some evidence that the Anasazi, both at White Mesa 30 km east of here and in Chaco Canyon 300 km further east, recorded this event of 1054 in pictographs and petroglyphs. Crescent moons are rather infrequently depicted in rock art of the United States; yet a number of those found in Arizona, New Mexico, and California are dated to this period and have a "star" associated with them. The White Mesa pictograph actually shows a star half the diameter of the moon itself, taking a bite out of the lower corner of the crescent moon. Some of the pictographs show a "sun" as well, forming a triangle. Until the calculations were done and the sun and moon positions were worked backward in time to see where they were early on the morning of July 5, 1054, the assemblage on the pictographs was without significance. Now it suggests that the big star was the Crab Nebula supernova, which appeared so suddenly that morning. Its close-to-the-moon configuration is one that would have been seen only on that first morning, as the moon would rise nearly an hour later than the Stranger the following morning. So, if the pictographs are indeed of the supernova, they depict that first appearance, the big surprise. Though there have been six bright novae in the twentieth century (1901, 1918, 1925, 1934, 1942, and 1975), there haven't been any of the longer-lasting bright supernovae since the one Kepler observed in 1604. The astronomers eagerly await one, though they've been happily studying the more modest supernova in the Virgo Cluster that appeared in 1979. Supernovae are surely one of the universe's great spectacles.

On the way back down the trail, the moon was poised just over the river, still somewhat low in the sky. From each of the meanders, the moonlight reflected up into our eyes, a long silver snake stretching out for several miles.

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