Telling the story of the changing West

As the Trump administration retrenches, there’s a rising call for justice and political reform.

 

Hundreds of youth climate activists demonstrate outside of BlackRock’s offices in San Francisco, California, as part of a nationwide strike coinciding with the United Nations climate summit.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

“On the Road to 50” is an ongoing series of the publisher and editor's notes to our readers, as they travel the region and plan for our 50th anniversary – through community gatherings, individual meetings, and other listening sessions.

It was June 28, 1983, and things had gone seriously sideways at Glen Canyon Dam. Spring thaw had sent torrents of meltwater into the Colorado River, and the Bureau of Reclamation was desperately trying to get that water through the works before Lake Powell spilled over.

The 710-foot engineering wonder “was shaking, vibrating madly,” T.J. Wolf wrote in this publication in December of 1983. Then he conjured the scene one might have witnessed from the bridge just downriver from the dam:

“You would have seen the steady sweep of the spillway mouths suddenly waver, choke, cough, and then vomit forth half-digested gobbets of steel reinforced concrete (bad, very bad), spew out blood-red water (My God, it’s into bedrock), and finally disgorge great red chunks of sandstone into the frothy chaos below the dam.”

Wolf imagined dams downstream toppling like dominoes, wreaking watery havoc and dooming the Bureau itself. The son of a Bureau engineer, he was aghast at the prospect, though he knew that some would cheer the destruction.

These days, throughout the West, there are new rumblings. They’re coming from a rising generation and resurgent tribal nations and communities of color, demanding justice and political reform. The establishment is hell-bent on holding them back, but one wonders how long the dam will hold.

“The establishment is hell-bent on holding them back, but one wonders how long the dam will hold.”

All this is on my mind as I return to High Country News after 14 years. I got my start here, under Ed and Betsy Marston. Now I’m back to take the publisher’s seat as Paul Larmer concentrates on raising $10 million for HCN’s 50th anniversary campaign.

The Old West has retrenched in the past few years. A sagebrush rebel runs the Bureau of Land Management. Environmental policies have been rolled back. Ammon Bundy is on a revival tour, and there’s talk of putting cows back on the Escalante. 

But there’s no denying the rumbling. We heard it at the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and we see it in cities from Seattle to Salt Lake City, where residents are demanding action on climate change. As I write, I see it in the surge of support for a democratic socialist who is vying for the White House, buoyed by primary voters from Colorado to California.

A new, diverse, justice-minded generation is rising, and the political edifice is beginning to rattle. There’s a feeling of inevitability to it — it’s a simple question of demographics, right? But we’ve seen the inevitable halted before.

In 1983, Glen Canyon Dam held fast. Its demise will come, but slowly, as Lake Powell fills with sediment. It will be decades before the hydroelectric turbines whirl to a stop and the river again has its way. 

I hope that High Country News will still be here to tell the story. We’re 50 years in, thanks to you, dear readers. May there be 50 more. 

Greg Hanscom is the publisher and executive director of High Country News. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.

High Country News Classifieds
  • FOR SALE
    Yellowstone Llamas Successful Yellowstone NP concession Flexible packages
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT & MARKETING
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners is seeking a full-time Director of Development & Marketing. This is a senior position responsible for the development of all marketing...
  • LEGAL DIRECTOR
    The Legal Director will work closely with the Executive Director in cultivating a renewed vision at NMELC that integrates diversity, equity, and justice. Black, Indigenous,...
  • VICE PRESIDENT, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION
    The Vice President for Landscape Conservation leads Defenders' work to promote landscape-scale wildlife conservation, focusing on four program areas: federal public lands management; private lands...
  • NOVA SCOTIA OCEAN FRONT
    Camp or Build on 2+ acres in Guysborough. FSBO. $36,000 US firm. Laurie's phone: 585-226-2993 EST.
  • COMMUNITY FORESTER
    The Clearwater Resource Council located in Seeley Lake, Montana is seeking a full-time community forester with experience in both fuels mitigation and landscape restoration. Resumes...
  • GUNNISON BASIN ROUNDTABLE
    The Gunnison Basin Roundtable is currently accepting letters of interest for ten elected seats. Five of the elected members must have relevant experience in the...
  • PCTA TRAIL CREW TECHNICAL ADVISORS IN WASHINGTON'S NORTH CASCADES
    Seasonal Positions: June 17th to September 16th (14 weeks) - 3 positions to be filled The mission of the Pacific Crest Trail Association is to...
  • WE'RE LOOKING FOR LEADERS!
    As we celebrate 50 years of great Western journalism, High Country News is looking for a few new board members to help set a course...
  • MEMBERSHIP DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement Job Title: Membership Director Supervisor: Executive Director Salary: Up to $65,000/year DOE Benefits: Generous benefits package — health insurance, Simple IRA and unlimited...
  • UTAH PUBLIC LANDS MANAGER
    Who we are: Since 1985, the Grand Canyon Trust has been a leading voice in regional conservation on the Colorado Plateau. From protecting the Grand...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Executive Director Walker Basin Conservancy Reno & Yerington, NV Background The Walker Basin Conservancy (Conservancy) leads the effort to restore and maintain Walker Lake while...
  • WIND RIVER WRITERS AND PHOTOGRAPHERS RETREAT BY THE NATIONAL BIGHORN SHEEP CENTER
    Enhance your writing or photography skills with world-class instructors in the beautiful Wind River Mountains. All skill levels welcome. Continuing education credits available.
  • EARTH CRUISER FX FOR SALE
    Overland Vehicle for travel on or off road. Fully self contained. Less than 41,000 miles. Recently fully serviced Located in Redmond, OR $215'000.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    identifies suspect buried trash, tanks, drums &/or utilities and conducts custom-designed subsurface investigations that support post-damage litigation.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    They [Northern Plains] confound the common view that ordinary people are powerless in the face of industry. - Billings Gazette editorial The venerable Northern Plains...
  • SMALL FARM AT BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA, CALIF.
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Small home, 2 barns (one has an apartment), and more. Approx. two acres just in the City limits. Famously pure air...
  • TAOS HORNO ADVENTURES
    A Multicultural Culinary Memoir Informed by History and Horticulture. Richard and Annette Rubin. At nighthawkpress.com/titles and Amazon.
  • LAND & CABIN ON CO/ UT LINE
    18 ac w/small solar ready cabin. Off grid, no well. Great RV location. Surrounded by state wildlife area and nat'l parks.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau with lodge, river trip and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.