The walk up Grapevine Canyon in Lake Mead Reservoir recreation area begins on a dry river-bed pocked with drought-toughened shrubs.
“Lake” Mead is one of several reservoirs on the Colorado River, formed by dams that redirect its water to agriculture and urban use. Every drop of water in the Colorado basin is allocated, so much so that the mouth of the river is now no more than a trickle.
Historic signs of a significant stream fill Grapevine Canyon: massive boulders once smoothed by current, stones etched by waterfalls….petroglyphs. Here live some of the oldest examples of rock carvings in the south west. These particular carvings are associated with the Mojave and other tribes. They line the canyon on both sides, a reminder of the ancient link between water and culture. Once, the water here rushed and swayed, slaking the thirst of the people, soothing their spirits.
A little ways up the canyon, I hear an unmistakable sound. Friends with me say it is the first time in eight years hiking the canyon that they have seen water. We stop and stare in wonder as the moisture from a recently activated spring gathers into a long-forgotten groove of stone, then trickles toward a small pool.
When we return from our hike, I put on a half wetsuit and plunge into the dammed Colorado. It’s a brief, icy experiment. I have a more enjoyable swim (still with the wetsuit!) in a gracious neighbour’s unheated, outdoor pool. I am so grateful for the smooth, fresh feeling of the water. The next day, driving east, I cross over countless examples of the landscape’s desert washes, dry stream beds subject to intermittent flooding. Kingman Wash, Sacramento Wash, Benito Wash….the list lengthens as I head toward the Grand Canyon and the Hopi/Navajo Reservation. Without water, we would not thrive.
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