Spending President’s Day weekend road tripping with my wife in Colorado. Beer will be had, vegan food will be eaten, vinyl will be purchased, and Bob Seger will be rocked out to in Denver. Until next week!
It has been a good winter (so far) in Utah, with regular storms that have snow pack totals above 100% throughout the state. As a result of monitoring the snow pack, I currently have mountains on my mind. Specifically, I am thinking a lot aobut a project I started in my early 20’s that involves summiting the 26 high county peaks in Utah (technically there are 29 counties in Utah, but three of the high peaks straddle county lines). To this point I have successfully made it up 19 of said peaks, and I have decided to dedicate blog space to documenting those past climbs, as well as those I intend to get to in the (hopefully) near future. So, for this entry (and my own reference) I am including a simple list of the high county peaks from highest to lowest, along with a tag for those I have made it up as of this writing. Here is to a year full of high elevation!
MOUNTAIN: ELEVATION: COUNTY:
* Kings Peak 13,528’ Duchesne
* Gilbert Peak 13,442’ Summit
Mount Peale 12,721’ San Juan
Mount Waas 12,331’ Grand
Eccentric Peak 12,276’ Daggett/Uinta
* Delano Peak 12,169’ Beaver/Piute
Ibapah Peak 12,087’ Juab
Mount Nebo 11,928’ Utah
Fish Lake High Top 11,633’ Sevier
* Mount Ellen 11,522’ Garfield
* AF Twin Peaks 11,489’ Salt Lake
* Bluebell Knoll 11,328’ Wayne
* Brian Head 11,307’ Iron
* South Tent Mtn 11,285’ Sanpete
* Deseret Peak 11,031’ Tooele
* Mount Cardwell 10,743’ Wasatch
* East Mountain 10,743’ Emery
* Monument Peak 10,452’ Carbon
* Signal Peak 10,365’ Washington
Mine Camp Peak 10,222’ Millard
* Andy Nelson Peak 10,222’ Kane
* Naomi Peak 9,779’ Cache
* Bull Mountain 9,934’ Box Elder
* Willard Peak 9,763’ Weber
* Thurston Peak 9,763’ Davis/Morgan
* Bridger Peak 9,255’ Rich
* = Summited as of February 09, 2019.
This April will mark the 36th anniversary of the Thistle Disaster of 1983-1984. Thistle was originally the name of a town located at the junction of Highway 89 and Highway 6 up Spanish Fork Canyon. It became the name used to describe a massive mudslide which created a natural dam across the Spanish Fork River and destroyed the town of Thistle (along with large sections of railroad lines and highways).
The story began in April 1983 when, after unusually heavy precipitation, Utah Department of Transportation crews responded to reports that shifting earth had left huge cracks in U.S. Highway 6. Not long after a giant mudslide, moving at 6-18 inches an hour, dumped more than one million cubic yards of earth over the highway and destroyed the Denver and Rio Grande western railroad line through Thistle. Highway crews were unable to save either the road or the tracks as the mud mountain continued its descent from early April into May.
The massive slide created a natural dam across the Spanish Fork River, and the dam in turn created Thistle Lake, which completely submerged and destroyed the town of Thistle. The U.S. Corp of Engineers, the Utah National Guard, and construction workers from many companies joined UDOT workers in response to the Thistle slide. Efforts to control the slide turned to reconstruction of rail and roadways, and creation of a drainage tunnel to help bring down Thistle Lake.
Several years back I had the opportunity to participate in a collaborative effort with fellow archivists from USU and SUU to build an online exhibit of various records and record collections relating to the history along Highway 89. One of my contributions was a collection of photographs of the Thistle disaster, taken in real time by the Utah Department of Transportation’s staff photographer. Recently I revisited that online exhibit and curated some photos that document the disaster as it was unfolding. Enjoy!
I spent last weekend hiking in the canyons around Moab with my wife, daughter, and our two bozo dogs (one of whom I had to rescue from a half-frozen pond after he tried an ill-advised rock jump). The MLK-weekend Moab trip has become a tradition in our family. It is one of the few times I can visit the Moab-area without getting anxiety from the influx of tourists. This year it was particularly quiet, which had us speculating that a lot of the winter visitors might have made other plans in the face of the government shutdown (in spite of the fact that efforts have been made to keep a handful of Utah’s national parks open). It was one of our better trips. Deserts remain deeply restorative and sacred. My daughter is old enough to hike on her own and she insisted that we get out as often as possible. We found some new hidden hiking gems, and had Corona Arch all to ourselves on our visit. Here are some pictures.
No new content this week as the wife, kiddo, dogs, and I take our annual MLK-weekend trip to Moab. I’ll seek out pictures and stories for future blog posts while we are down there.
I have made a concerted effort to steer away from making this blog overtly political. I have done this for two reasons. The first is that I want to make it as democratic and accessible to any and all who might stumble across it, regardless of whether we see eye to eye politically. The second is that I want the content to be as evergreen as possible, and hot political takes (usually made without anything close to full information) don’t tend to age very well. With that said, I can’t let the remarkable happenings currently going in Utah’s San Juan County go by without mention.
For the uninitiated, San Juan County is the largest of Utah’s 29 counties, with a land mass of 7,821 square miles. It is lightly populated (15,193 residents at the time of the last census) and home to some of the most ruggedly beautiful and iconic landscape in the American west. If you don’t know it, you actually probably do owing to the fact that it is home to Monument Valley. It is also home to national monuments at Rainbow Bridge and Natural Bridges, state parks at Edge of the Cedars and Goosenecks, Four Corners, Cedar Mesa, Grand Gulch, and the highly controversial Bears Ears National Monument.
The unforgiving canyon country of San Juan County has been carved out over millennium by the Colorado and San Juan Rivers. It was the ancestral home of the Anasazi, who have left plenty of archaeological evidence of their presence behind. Today a large portion of the Navajo Nation sits within the boundary lines of San Juan County.
Full-scale white settlement of the area came in 1879 when a group of Mormons set out from Escalante on the Hole-In-The-Rock Expedition. They arrived at the site of present day Bluff on April 6, 1880. Early attempts at ranching and agriculture along the San Juan River proved difficult, leading to the settlements of modern-day Blanding and Monticello in the (slightly) higher country near the Abajo Mountains.
In several ways the economic story of San Juan County is a microcosm for Utah and serves as the locus for much of the angst over federal control of public land that now animates so many of Utah’s elected officials. Oil and gas exploration figures prominently into the history of San Juan County, as does the sordid history of Utah’s uranium mining boom that hit the state in the Cold War 1950’s. Yet, in spite of the persistent romance attached to extractive industry, it is tourism that is now central to San Juan County’s economy.
So, with that (brief) backstory, it is easy to see why what has transpired in San Juan County over the last few months is so remarkable. In a county where the majority Navajo Nation has long been held in political check by a largely white Mormon minority, two Navajo’s, Willie Grayeyes and Ken Maryboy, were elected to serve on a San Juan County Commission during the last election cycle. This means that the county commission has suddenly shifted from being majority white and Republican to majority Democrat and American Indian. It is a historic moment, and a likely precursor to the types of sweeping change that will become more common with demographic shift and a (hopefully) more active and engaged citizenry.
Of course, this sudden, dramatic change isn’t happening without the expected amount of fear and shenanigans among those who stand to cede some power. Challenges to Grayeyes residency status have been made and it wouldn’t shock me if this new county commission faces unprecedented resistance moving forward. In all of the reporting on this story, one quote from the Salt Lake Tribune has stood out to me above all others:
I find this quote striking for several reasons. It is clearly the perspective of someone who is facing unexpected change that has them feeling marginalized and scared. My first instinct is to dismiss it as divisive and baseless fear-mongering. But dig a little deeper and you can see how tantalizing close this unnamed Republican is to a transformative life experience. If they would just sit with that feeling they’re having and closely examine it, maybe they would come to see that what they are currently feeling is a direct analog to feelings long held by the Navajo residents of San Juan County (namely fear and skepticism that anybody is listening or representing their interests). In a place where change happens on a geologic scale, maybe this is what incremental progress looks like.
This past Friday, January 04, Utah celebrated its 123rd birthday as the 45th state in the Union. Statehood Day usually goes by with little celebration unless it happens to fall on an anniversary or the same day as an inauguration. At the Utah State Archives we decided to do our part by putting together a small program and original record show-and-tell in the State Capitol. Prepping for it gave me the chance to brush up on some of my early Utah history, and I wanted to dedicate this blog post to the history and records that led to Utah’s statehood.
Utah’s long and weird path to statehood began when the first Mormon migrants entered the valley and laid down settlements in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Within two years this small group submitted the first of what would eventually become seven (!) applications for statehood. The Federal Congress took one look at Utah’s 1849 petition to create the State of Deseret and determined that there were too few people residing in too large of a proposed area for statehood status. The congress did take the step, however, of granting territorial status on Utah which allowed for the creation of territorial government, and a territorial delegate to represent the new Utah Territory in Washington D.C.
As time past, more and more of the territorial appointments in the new Utah Territory were given to outsider, non-Mormons. This led to resentments among the Mormon population of Utah, which, coupled with a growing non-Mormon population brought to the territory by mining, immigration, and the railroad led to renewed attempts to petition the feds for statehood status. Petitions were made in 1856, 1862, 1872, 1882, and 1887. All met the same fate in being denied, primarily because of the ongoing practice of polygamy among Mormons in the territory.
The list of Federal legislation targeting polygamy is nearly as long as the number of failed applications for statehood. It includes the Anti-Bigamy Act of 1862, the Poland Act of 1874, the Edmunds Act of 1882, and the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887. This last piece of legislation was the most far-reaching in its attempt to end polygamy and break up the power of the LDS Church in the Utah Territory. It upped fines and jail sentences for those found guilty of polygamy. It dissolved the corporation of the LDS Church and confiscated all church property valued over $50,000. It created new layers of territorial government targeted directly at breaking apart the nebulous ties between church and state in the territory. And, interestingly, it ended women’s suffrage in the Utah Territory, which had passed by popular vote in 1870.
Anti-polygamy sentiment manifested itself in other areas as well. In 1879, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Reynolds vs U.S. that the practice of polygamy as fulfillment of a sacred duty was not protected by the 1st amendment. With Edmunds-Tucker, the U.S. Marshall and his deputies in the territory began enforcing the new law and its strict penalties leading to mass arrest and incarcerations of known polygamists. Idaho was granted statehood in 1890 with a state constitution that featured a provision specifically targeted at keeping practicing polygamists from voting or holding office. With the church in dire straights, and on the verge of financial collapse, LDS church president, Wilford Woodruff, responded with an 1890 manifesto against the continued practice or preaching of polygamy.
By the time of the Woodruff Manifesto, the demographics in Utah had changed radically from the misfit band of Mormon settlers who had first entered the valley in 1847. With the assumed collapse of polygamy (spoiler: it took years for it to really leave the church), and the real collapse of a political framework in the territory that had effectively created secular and sectarian political parties, the time was right for another attempt at statehood.
In December 1893 the territorial delegate for Utah, Joseph L. Rawlins, recommended a bill for Utah statehood in the Federal Congress. It passed both chambers, which led to President Grover Cleveland signing the enabling act for Utah statehood on July 16, 1894. The enabling act authorized the people of the territory to: elect delegates to a state constitutional convention; draft a state constitution; and elect officials to fill roles within a new state government framework.
In November 1894 the process was started with the election of delegates to a state constitutional convention. The constitutional convention met in the Salt Lake City and County Building between March 4th and May 8th of 1895, and produced Utah’s State Constitution. Interesting facets of this founding document include a provision that forever prohibits the practice of polygamy in the state, a guarantee of perfect toleration of all religious sentiment, a call for schools to remain free of sectarian control, and a provision restoring women’s suffrage within the new state.
In the November election of 1895 the people of Utah voted to ratify the new state constitution and elected officials to serve in newly proposed state offices. The Utah Commission certified the election results and made a formal recommendation for statehood to Federal officials in Washington. Utah entered the Union as the 45th state when President Grover Cleveland signed the Utah Statehood Proclamation on January 4, 1896. When news of the signing was received businesses shut down and there were celebrations in the street. Two days later, on January 6th, formal celebrations took place with the swearing in, and inaugural address, of Utah’s first statehood governor, Heber M. Wells.
Ellsworth, G. (n.d.). Utah’s Road to Statehood. Retrieved January 3, 2019, https://archives.utah.gov/community/exhibits/Statehood/intronew.htm
Haddock, Marc. January 4, 2010. Utah Remembers Its Roots With Statehood Day. Retrieved January 3, 2019, https://www.deseretnews.com/article/705355950/Utah-remembers-its-roots-with-Statehood-Day.html
Munson, H. January 4, 2013. Utah’s Very Interesting Path to Statehood. Retrieved January 3, 2019, https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/utahs-very-interesting-path-to-statehood
On the cusp of the calendar rolling over into 2019 it seems appropriate to take a minute and reflect on the successes I’ve had with my website this year (as well as express some of my intentions for the new year). First off, this year has to be considered a wild success simply because I finally started delivering content into the framework I have spent ample time building out. The bookshelf section of the site is up to date, and I’ll be adding to it in real time as I finish books. My linked Peakery site is also up to date, though I intend to flesh out each of my summit posts more in 2019. And, I have been successful in putting out blog content every Saturday since July. With all of the other moving pieces in my life this one feels like a genuine success. It has become part of my weekly practice, and I aim to keep it as such.
So, what is in store for 2019? Well, as I already mentioned, I plan on keeping book and summit info updated in real time. I also plan on beefing up my photo gallery. In addition to adding more images I want to move the whole thing into a new platform that is prettier than Flicker. Haven’t landed on the exact solution for that just yet. As for my blog, it is my intention to continue delivering weekly content that explores the things I am learning and discovering during my time on Spaceship Earth. At the moment I’m thinking this might include some deeper, Utah-centric dives into the details that inform the weird and wonderful place I call home. Whatever shape it takes, it feels good to end 2018 on a website high note and to consider all of the potential that 2019 holds!
Wide Open Spaces:
Exploring Varying Conceptions of Place in the Western Film Genre
The small southern Utah city of Kanab is in a state of slow moving flux. Located near the Utah-Arizona border this small enclave was once trumpeted as “the Hollywood of Utah.” Today the Little Hollywood Museum sits not far removed from the Parry Lodge which was built in 1931 to accommodate Hollywood production companies and actors who trekked in to tell stories reliant on the unique red rock landscape that surround this place. But times have changed and despite an identifiable civic pride in the towns colorful history Hollywood doesn't visit this dusty corner of the southwest very often anymore. Instead, like most of Utah, Kanab’s economy has become increasingly reliant on the tourist dollars spent by recreational pleasure-seekers who have found it to be a handy stop in between Bryce Canyon (to the North), Zion Canyon (to the West), and the Grand Canyon (to the South). Movie memories in the form of photographs and mixed pieces of ephemera hang on the walls of several local businesses, but even these sites are giving way to the chain restaurants, hotels, and other assorted services that tend to grow rapidly in the wake of industrial tourism. In its own way this small Utah town provides a powerful example of the shifting and transitory nature of place.
Sense of Place and the “Old West”
Exploring the divides between how place exists not only as a geographic, physically bound area but also as location for ascribed human value is of central interest to environmental criticism. Conceptually place has a variety of built in assumptions and implications. Theoretical treatments of place open dialogues and debate to a number of questions and issues in need of consideration. Without firm place-based attachments do people miss out on something essential to the human experience? How does place as a concept continue to hold value in the face of mass migrations and meshing of humans and cultures that have acted to blur formerly held boundaries in our globalized world? And what does place truly mean in the context of a highly constructed and visual culture?
Many ecocritical approaches acknowledge the broadness and multiplicity of place, and it is often positioned against the idea of space as a way of framing. Lawrence Buell offers one general conceptualization wherein space merely exists as environment that lacks any ascribed human meaning. In this sense “up to a point, world history is a history of space becoming place” (63). This anthropocentric view presents place as a subjective phenomena. Because of this place must reckon with temporal forces that keep it from being a static “thing” and instead render it inherently unstable. As time passes place is subject to change and a centrally located issue becomes how it retains its relevancy in the face of inevitable alteration. Edward Casey argues that places are “something in process, something unconfinable to a thing. Or to a simple location. Place is all over the place, not just here or there, but everywhere” (337). An obvious point here is that regardless of its specific conception there are uniquely human feelings, ideas, and emotions tied to the development of a sense of place. This is to say that place has something uniquely human ascribed to it that acts to differentiate it from any other place (or space) on the planet.
But what of this issue of living in a wholly unique time in the history of our species when (via technology) we are able to “visit” and conceptualize places that we never actually enter into physically? And what to make of places that even more sinisterly have never truly existed? It is an issue that takes on special import within a globalized context. This blurring of boundaries that comes with globalized living troubles the issue of place further. In his argument for more versatile and adept conceptions of nature and ecocriticism, Timothy Morton pays specific attention to the idea of place as it has been traditionally understood in ecocritical thinking. Morton’s meditation leads him to wonder “what if globalization…revealed that place was never very coherent in the first place?” (170). This idea takes on special resonance in a world where the primacy of visual images in discourse has become increasingly ubiquitous. In a global context, (where images and ideas find immediate, widespread use) one critical question becomes what kinds of places are finding their way into the cultural imagination?
Films from the Western genre serve as a unique opportunity to explore this issue of place and some of its potential ramifications in a global setting. Western films are unique in their construction in that they are situated in a specific temporal location, but generally have little else to with the complex historical realities that lay at the heart of the place or time they are conveying. Being both ahistorical and simulacra, the Western genre has offered writers and filmmakers a wide pallet on which to paint their ideas. Central to this argument is the unique role environment plays in Western film narrative. As Lee Clark Mitchell points out “the landscape celebrated consistently in the Western [offers] opportunity for renewal...it always signals freedom to achieve some truer state of humanity” (5). In this respect the Western has a facet similar to many forms of nature writing that focus on particular insights and epiphanies that are assumed to only come through a retreat from civilization and a return to corporeal contact with nature. Furthermore Mitchell argues that “the joining of body and landscape persists as a central dynamic of the Western...because it helps define an ideal of masculinity” (173). But through this fusing of environment, characters, and ideals the Western place become a culturally constructed area riddled with a variety of conflicts and issues worthy of consideration.
Under critical assessment troubling questions about this culturally constructed “Old West” arise. Do the touchstone films of the Western genre convey certain shared values such as self-sufficiency, pragmatism, and heroic (mostly male) virtue? Or do these films perpetuate myths of white male dominance and the inevitability of Westward expansion? Do Western films offer an idea of “progress” that acts to justify and perpetuate hegemonic beliefs that are of central concern to many environmental and social justice theories? Contrasting the modernist film making of John Ford with that of postmodernist Sergio Leone demonstrates some of the central issues that trouble this idea of Western place. As important cultural touchstones they also provide a springboard into the analysis of contemporary projects that deal in many of the same tropes, environments, and ideas and force us to more deeply consider the complexity of place construction and whether or not they are truly areas we should esteem as a source of shared cultural value.
John Ford and Monument Valley
The malleability of place and its fractured implications are on full display in the Western films of John Ford. Over the course of a career that spanned six decades, and produced 54 Westerns, Ford relied heavily on the dramatic landscapes and natural architecture of Monumental Valley (on the southeastern Utah-Arizona border). As the distinctive landscape came to play a recurring character throughout his Western films a question becomes how iconic and fixed they are in the public's mind as the primary environment of “the West.” That Ford was fully cognizant of the importance of the geographically fixed Monument Valley in the construction of his narratives is evident when he states, “I think you can say that the real star of my Westerns has always been the land…I have been all over the world, but I consider [Monument Valley] the most complete, beautiful and peaceful place on Earth” (qtd. in Florence 37). This thread was picked up and perpetuated further by Ford's biographer, Andrew Sinclair, who wrote that “the landscape is truly part of Ford's technique in translating the Western into legend” (D'Arc 208). But obviously a cinematic narrative is not just a series of fixed images, and it is the thorny junction of environment, characters, attitudes, and events that become fertile ground for ecocriticism and social justice theory.
That John Ford was a modernist filmmaker is revealed in his reliance on narratives that convey a “grand narrative” that assumes the implicit rightness and progress of its protagonists. One way to conceptualize the meanings and motivations of Ford in this context is to consider three separate films that rely on the distinctive environment of Monument Valley as situated environment. Examining Fort Apache (1948), The Searchers (1956), and Cheyenne Autumn (1964) provides evidence of the troubled and conflicting aspects of John Ford's culturally constructed "West."
Fort Apache is a loose adaptation of the historical loss suffered by General George Custer at the battle of Little Big Horn. Starring Henry Fonda and John Wayne the film tells the story of brash Colonel Owen Thursday (Fonda) who oversees a U.S. Calvary unit in a mythical Western setting fabricated in Monument Valley. His low opinion of the neighboring Apache tribe and refusal to listen to the experienced advice of Captain York (played by Wayne) eventually leads to conflict and a suicidal military order that gets many of his men killed in battle. The film is unique in its portrayal of the hostile Indian nation as being something slightly more nuanced than violent savages, as they end up sparing the life of York who they esteem as an honorable warrior. However, the ultimate motivation of the film is not to provide critique of the complex and troubled relationship between U.S. military forces and Indian tribes, but rather a glorification of the regiments who died in battle. In this way it conveys a sense of the inevitable “rightness” of U.S. military expansion in the West and perpetuates a frontier myth that has deep, troubling roots in American culture.
Made eight years after Fort Apache in the same Monument Valley locale, The Searchers is far more disturbing in its overtly racist sentiment toward Indians. It stars John Wayne as Ethan Edwards, a man on a mission to hunt down a Comanche raiding party who has kidnapped his niece (Natalie Wood). Over the course of his five year search he has determined that the point of his mission is not rescue, but rather to kill the niece who he assumes has been fully assimilated into the Indian way of life. He is joined in his search by an adopted nephew Martin (Jeffery Hunter) who is part Indian. The overt racism exhibited by the Edwards character, particularly positioned against the attitudes of his young nephew, speak to the racially divisive context of 1950's America in which the film was made. Ford's portrayal of Indians in this film is far from nuanced or sophisticated which is fairly ironic as Ford was inducted as an honorary member of the Navajo tribe during its filming (D'Arc 217). At the end of the film Edwards rescues his niece and returns her to her family before walking off into the wilderness while a door literally (and metaphorically) slams shut on his receding image. This last shot is conflicted in its message, particularly in light of Ford's quoted views on Indian conflict. One could argue that in this final image Ford is making a comment that the attitudes and ideas of an elder generation portrayed by Wayne are coming to an end. However, Ford himself seems to refute this reading when he states, “the Indian didn't welcome the white man...and he wasn't diplomatic. We were enemies and we fought. The fight against the Indian was fundamental to the story of the West” (qtd. in Libby 286). Such a position speaks to a limited conception of the true cost of Westward expansion as well as the complicated historical context that lead to conflict. But, as Ford had a unique means to convey his particular beliefs and attitudes in the rhetorically forceful combination of word and image (and that said product has found international audience within a globalized context) the troubling implication of Western place becomes all the more significant.
Finally consider the curious example of Cheyenne Autumn which doubles as the final Western film Ford directed. It tells the story of a Cheyenne Indian tribe moving from a reservation in Oklahoma back to their ancestral lands in Wyoming. The U.S government perceives this move as an act of aggression and the film becomes an interesting commentary on failed U.S. policies toward Indian tribes as well as something of a departure for Ford in his usual treatment of Indians. Cast in a much more sympathetic light the Indians of this film are tragic figures that come closer to representing the noble savage trope that has a long history of use in the Western literary tradition. Traditionally the noble savage is a member of a vanishing (or lost) civilization who is imagined as having fundamental insights into ways of living peacefully and in harmony with each other (and nature) that have been lost in the face of colonial conquest and the march of progress. Positioned against the attitudes conveyed in Ford’s earlier films Cheyenne Autumn stands distinctively apart. And with the iconic landscape of Monument Valley once again serving as background it creates a very different conception of place than that provided by either Fort Apache or the Searchers.
So, what do these examples show about the modernist vision of John Ford’s West? Critic Jon Tuska contends that one of Ford's greatest flaws is found in his troubling treatment of Indians and the way “he couched his racism behind a facade of apparent paternalism” (61). By relying on members of the Navajo tribe in Monument Valley to fill in an assortment of Indian roles in his films one could argue that Ford's interest had absolutely nothing to do with conveying the customs and complexity of indigenous culture in a historically accurate sense. Another criticism that can be leveled at Western films in general (and Ford specifically) is their uneven treatment of women. Positioned against virtuous, heroic male characters Tuska argues that “that the roles assigned to women have been invariably prescriptive. All we can learn about women from the vast majority of Western films is what roles the patriarchy felt they ought to play, and nothing at all of the roles they really did play on the frontier” (235). However, these challenges to Ford are balanced against the technical skill and ability he had in creating “pictorial splendor and images of memorable composition and striking beauty” (Tuska 61). This visual component is certainly under heavy consideration in understanding how these stirring images and ideas have constructed and maintained a certain perspective of the West as a specific place in the cultural imagination.
John Ford’s West is unique in that it is a place of numerous characters and ideas often positioned against the same unchanging backdrop of Monument Valley. Critical analysis opens his films to the question of whether his portrayals reflect the rugged individualism, pragmatism, and self-reliance often associated with the Western hero. Or do said portrayals feed into Western hegemonic assumptions about assumed power relationships (between both sexes and cultures). Furthermore, in his treatment of native populations does Ford perpetuate a myth that reinforces the “rightness” of white settlement in the West? These are all troubling questions that suggest how the kinds of place presented in the Western film genre are conflicted and open for valuable ecocritical analysis.
Sergio Leone and the Spaghetti Western
Now consider the examples of a West in which the same formal elements and conventions that are a hallmark of Ford are used in wildly different ways (and in exotically distinctive locales). The spaghetti Westerns of Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone provides a premium example for comparison. As Neil Campbell posits in The Rhizomatic West, Leone's work provides a clear turn towards postmodern film making in the Western genre. Working outside of the American Hollywood system afforded Leone the opportunity to create Western film narratives that are familiar in their design but wildly different in their meaning and implications, in effect “creating rich and playful texts that...delve into and analyze established ideologies, iconographies, and histories of the West” (119). One example of Leone's ability to create a fractured sense of seemingly recognizable place is found by contrasting the iconic actor he often relied on (Clint Eastwood) against the figure so often associated with John Ford (John Wayne). In such Ford films as Stagecoach (1939) and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) the characters portrayed by John Wayne tend to demonstrate the rugged individualism and myth of heroic male virtue that are central to Ford's modernist vision. Balanced against the equally iconic Man With No Name characters portrayed by Clint Eastwood in the Leone classics A Fistful of Dollars 1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (1966), the central aims of Leone stand out in sharp relief. The characters of Eastwood are mysterious, ambiguous, and morally conflicted. “The Man” (Eastwood) often places his own needs and self-preservation over any assumed nobility or sense of community (both of which find resonance as tropes throughout the mythic Hollywood West).
Another point central to the argument of the ambiguity of place can be found in the simulacra environments of Leone that convey a place called North America, but that were in actual reality created an ocean away in areas of Spain and Italy. That these films have found reverberation with a worldwide audience and effectively convey a sense of the mythic North American West in question speaks to the shifty nature of place. This postmodern effect of knowingly twisting formal elements (such as environment) is played with to even greater effect by Leone in his masterpiece Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). In this film he pays homage to the film making of Ford by traveling to America and utilizing many of the same environments that Ford drew upon (including Monument Valley). However, as Neil Campbell explains the use of this environment is done while telling a story that is both similar in form and completely different in tone and meaning to a classic Hollywood Western (123-129). In the film Henry Ford is cast as the villain (an ironic choice as he was the tragic hero Tom Joad in Ford’s 1940 Grapes of Wrath) who is found working for an unscrupulous railroad baron. The “progress” and “connections” associated with the railroad and its assumed virtue in helping settle the West is presented as a conflicting element in Once Upon a Time in the West and in this way it presents a complex example of a filmmaker creating a new vision of place with wildly different expectations and outcomes than the type that has deep roots in the American cultural imagination.
Working firmly outside of the Hollywood system offered Sergio Leone the opportunity to reimagine and reconstruct the West in provocative and powerful new ways. That Leone considered himself firmly outside the American context that produced traditional Westerns “permitted...a unique 'outside' vision to emerge” opening up “a critical dialogue asking questions about the West as history and representation” (Campbell 149). This “participation without belonging” afforded Leone the opportunity to establish dialogism with the Western film genre in which he borrowed key themes, imagery, and ideas while alternately employing them in ways that offer powerful critique to American attitudes and assumptions that lie at the heart of the formal Hollywood Western. His critiques seemingly embrace subversive attitudes toward the assumed virtue of the male hero, the promise of inevitable progress, and the prescribed roles of various groups including women and Indians. Lee Clark Mitchell contends that the films of Leone “clearly spoof the classic Hollywood Western” and that the genre provided him “with a recognizable structure that freed him to express a surreal sense of dismay at the genre” (239). In this respect the spaghetti Westerns of Italy provide a fractured sense of Western place that offer a variety of challenges to the kind constructed by American filmmakers like John Ford. The questioning, rebellious nature of Leone's film and the ways they subvert and challenge assumptions that underlie many Hollywood Westerns fit well into the chaotic social context of the 1960's in which they were produced. It can be argued that they have ultimately proven more enduring over time than their American counterparts, and it is the effects of this fractured West offered by Leone and how his postmodern reinterpretations have found echo in the contemporary popular culture that we now turn.
A central question becomes how the West has evolved and changed in the cultural imagination since the Westerns of John Ford and Sergio Leone. While the genre has seemingly lost popularity (as evidenced by the sheer decline in the number of Westerns made on a year-to-year basis) the familiar forms and tropes continue to find use. One offbeat example of a deconstruction and mocking of the “Old West” imagined by filmmakers like John Ford is found in Mel Brooks’ 1974 comedy, Blazing Saddles. Filmed in California ten years after passage of the American Civil Rights Act, Blazing Saddles creates an ironic western place in which Bart (Cleavon Little), a black man, is made sheriff of the fictional town of Rockridge. The film ironically deconstructs notions of the rightness and inevitability of white progress and Westward expansion by portraying a black protagonist who ultimately proves wiser and more sophisticated than any singular white character in the film. In fact, the white characters of the film are largely portrayed as menacing brutes or bumbling idiots (while the Jewish Brooks makes one brief cameo as an Indian Chief!). In these ways Blazing Saddles presents a narrative that satirizes many of the assumptions and stereotypes that are central to copious American Western film narratives.
Another way to look at this twisting perpetuation of complex place is to turn to the Western films of Clint Eastwood, specifically his award-winning, Unforgiven (1992). Throughout his Western films Clint Eastwood demonstrates the profound influence working with Sergio Leone had upon him. This influence finds ultimate form in the story of his highly conflicted character, William Munny. Through back story we learn that Munny is a notorious killer who has tried to leave his past behind him and fashion a new family life as a frontier farmer. He is lured back into a world of violence by a reward being offered by a brothel of prostitutes who are looking for justice after violence is done on them by two passing cowboys in the fictional town of Big Whiskey. Throughout the film Munny is conflicted and at odds with the violent past he has tried to leave behind and the hope for a better life he can offer his children with the reward money. The film also provides an interesting and complex treatment of its female characters. The prostitutes of Big Whiskey show a greater degree of nuance than women are generally afforded in Western film, and the sense of community that exists between them ultimately proves stronger than almost any other human relationship portrayed. Much like the work of Leone, Eastwood recycles formal elements from the Western genre and in doing so presents a narrative that supplies a greater degree of sophistication in its treatment of Western place.
And as the example of Sergio Leone’s Italian-produced Westerns demonstrate, the forms and tropes of the genre have the potential to be lent vibrant new life outside of a strictly American context. One powerful example of this is found in Australian filmmaker John Hillcoat’s 2005 film, The Proposition. Taking place in the “wild West” of the 19th century Australian outback the narrative focuses on a morally conflicted criminal named Charlie (Guy Pearce) who is offered a pardon from his life of crime if he is willing to help colonial English forces track down his outlaw brother Arthur (Danny Huston). Couched in a historical era that is every bit as complex and conflicted as that of the American West, the narrative deftly moves between characters and imagery that are instantly recognizable as key to the Western genre. To escape the law of colonial forces Arthur has taken to the outback and found refuge with aboriginal tribes of the area (an indigenous group of human beings whose real life history of pain and persecution is remarkably similar to that of the American Indians). Ultimately Charlie kills his brother Arthur, leaving the viewer with a divergent set of emotions. In one respect the elements of colonial force and “progress” are continually portrayed throughout the film as sinister and wrong (making the film similar to the postmodern ideas and commentary offered by Leone). However, by the end the motivations that lead Charlie to side with the agents of this progress and kill his “wild” brother Arthur are complicated and unclear. One interpretation may be that the text is attempting to convey a tragic sense of the inevitability of violence and the fracturing of human bonds (like brotherhood) in the face of massive global change. In this way The Proposition demonstrates a potent way in which the tropes, forms, and imagery associated with the Western genre can potentially be utilized in new ways to provide not only new conceptions of place, but also the ramifications of globalization. Films like this have the power to raise questions about the cost of civilization as well as the assumed inevitability of Westward progress, which, in turn, has had profound implications for American (and global) culture.
One final example demonstrates how advancing technology has increased the number of available platforms for perpetuation of the fractured Western conceptions of place. With the 2010 release of the highly popular video game Red Dead Redemption on Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3, Rock Star Games introduced a new generation to many of the recycled elements and tropes that have helped inform a cultural sense of the West. Following a narrative thread that is more similar to the postmodern vision of Sergio Leone than the grand narratives imagined by John Ford, Red Dead Redemption relies heavily on a virtual construction of rendered environments that echo many of the Southwest locales that have become iconic and fixed in the cultural imagination. The protagonist of the game is a troubled anti-hero in the Eastwood tradition and the music and extended tracking shots used to establish mood and tone are hallmarks of Leone. Overall the game offers just one view of how Western place conception is finding new life, and thus why it is important to consider its construction and perpetuation in the future.
Returning to the Vermillion Cliffs outside of Kanab, this is an environment that has seen heavy use as a filming locale, from decidedly Western epics like Clint Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) to the otherworldly science fiction of Planet of the Apes (1968). The wide open spaces and unique nature of the land make it a source of almost limitless possibility and imagination. Local history attests that this is the literal ground for almost inexhaustible storytelling opportunity, and couched in this framework the idea of place as it has been conceived, constructed, and portrayed in the Western film genre takes on crucial weight. As Noel Sturgeon argues in Environmentalism in Popular Culture, many of the frontier myths and tropes that were once pivotal to the Western genre are now finding new life in narratives that reach beyond the borders of our planet and into outer space (54-57). That the physical environments used to construct and portray these new alien worlds happen to be some of the same Southwest locales that formed many famous Western films brings the argument full circle. It underscores the complex and shifting nature of place as well as the vital role a sense of place holds for human beings. The unique demands of living in a highly technological and globalized context make it imperative that we are critically aware and continually push ourselves to imagine and construct places that are truly worth inhabiting.
Buell, Lawrence. The Future of Environmental Criticism. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2005.
Campbell, Neil. The Rhizomatic West. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008.
Casey, Edward S. The Fate of Place. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.
D'Arc, James V. When Hollywood Came to Town: A History of Moviemaking In Utah. Layton: Gibbs Smith Publishing, 2010.
Florence, William R. “John Ford...The Duke...And Monument Valley.” Arizona Highways September 1981: 37.
Libby, Bill. “The Old Wrangler Rides Again.” John Ford Made Westerns. Ed. Gaylyn Studlar and Matthew Bernstein. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001. 286.
Mitchell, Lee Clark. Westerns: Making the Man in Fiction and Film. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.
Morton, Timothy. Ecology Without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009.
Sturgeon, Noёl. Environmentalism in Popular Culture. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2009.
Tuska, Jon. The American West in Film: Critical Approaches to the Western. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985.
The twin concepts of “the west” and the “the frontier” are endlessly interesting to me because of how often they are re-purposed, re-visioned, repackaged, and resold (in all mediums). I have been playing a LOT of Red Dead Redemption 2 lately, which is the latest take on a re-visioned west in video game format. Its predecessor remains my favorite video game of all time, and so far this one is living up to expectations by being even bigger and more complex. Its attention to detail is also on point and the game is simply stunning to look at. Video games in and of themselves are a fascinating method for interactive storytelling, and it is doubly fun to pick out all of the cultural influences that have made their way into RDR2. And, because it is a big, complex video game it still has some glitches that need to be ironed out. The internet being the weird (and periodically hilarious) place that it is, people have been compiling these glitches into a YouTube video that is well worth the watch…
This is the third (and final) in a series of re-purposed blog posts written in my role as an archivist at the Utah State Archives and Records Service. These posts will illuminate the story of Utah’s role in the larger western movement to try and tame the Colorado River and use its waters for unprecedented development in the arid west.
ENVISIONING THE CENTRAL UTAH PROJECT
Due to circumstances of geology and demographics, the bulk of Utah’s population lives on the eastern edge of the Great Basin, hundreds of miles (and thousands of feet of elevation) removed from the Colorado River water promised to the state by the Colorado River Compact. In 1946 the first scheme for addressing this disconnect was conceived. Modeled on successes by the Bureau of Reclamation in the early 20th century at Utah’s Strawberry Reservoir and nearby Heber Valley, local planners developed the concept of the Central Utah Project (CUP).
According to its proponents, the CUP would guarantee full use of Utah’s allotted share of the Colorado River by implementing a series of aqueducts, diversion and storage dams, and tunnels that would effectively move water from the eastern Colorado River Basin to other areas of the state, including the growing population centers along the Wasatch Front.
The first attempt to create the CUP came in 1946 when federal legislation was proposed by Utah senator, Abe Murdock. This legislation was met with defeat, as it was determined that any attempt at such a massive project in Utah needed to be bound up with larger planning in the Upper Colorado River Basin as a whole. Up to that point, the states of the Upper Basin hadn’t even determined how the Upper Basin allotment would be divided between them. This, in turn, spurred negotiations that would lead to the 1948 Upper Colorado Basin Compact, an agreement that granted Utah 23% of the 7,500,000 acre feet of water apportioned to the Upper Basin by the Colorado River Compact.
In that same year (1948), the Colorado River Storage Project Act (CRSPA) was also proposed. This legislative action proposed a comprehensive plan for developing the Upper Colorado River Basin. However, a variety of delay’s prevented the Congress from authorizing it until 1956. Upon its authorization, the Central Utah Project was born, effectively serving as the largest single participating unit in the CRSPA plan.
This early history of the CUP’s origination and initial planning is reflected in records held by the Utah State Archives, which includes correspondence records from the office of Utah Governor J. Bracken Lee (1946-1956), as well as Colorado River Commission case files created by the Utah Attorney General.
In simplest terms, the CUP serves to build the infrastructure needed to impound and transport water from the eastern Utah river basin to other water-starved regions in America’s second most arid state. The organizational apparatus for developing the CUP water delivery systems was born in 1964, with the legal organization of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District (CUWCD). The original seven-member board of the CUWCD was composed of one representative from each county in Utah impacted by CUP projects. This original board included members from the counties of Salt Lake, Summit, Wasatch, Utah, Juab, Uintah, and Duchesne. Later the board would expand to include representation from Garfield, Piute, and Sanpete counties. The CUWCD was established to both oversee the management of water projects associated with the CUP, as well as manage Utah’s repayment of federal funds that had been allocated for CUP projects by the Colorado River Storage Project Act.
The CUWCD set to work by first organizing water development projects around the state into seven distinct geographic units: Vernal, Upalco, Jensen, Bonneville, Uinta, and Ute Indian. Setting project priorities and allocating resources has often proved contentious, particularly as projects went over time and budget throughout the latter 20th century. For example, in 1965 the Bonneville Unit (the single largest unit of the CUP) was allotted $302 million in funds to complete its associated water projects. Construction delays and the passage of time meant that, by 1985, over $2 billion in funds had actually been spent developing the Bonneville Unit.
The early history of work done for the CUP, as well as ongoing debates of how to fund the project appear throughout several record series held by the Utah State Archives. These include Upper Colorado River project files from the office of Governor George D. Clyde (1957-1965), correspondence records from the office of Governor Calvin Rampton (1965-1977), natural resource working files from the office of Utah Governor Scott Matheson (1977-1985), and correspondence records from Governor Matheson’s office.
COMPLETING THE CUP
Over time it became increasingly clear that the broad, ambitious goals of the CUP would be bogged down by both slow construction, as well as a lack of adequate ongoing funding and support from the federal government. Funding for the CUP (through the Bureau of Reclamation) was often a contentious point of debate among federal lawmakers, and the entire project was nearly defunded completely during the term of President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981).
The tendency to stall or delay water projects ultimately led to an unprecedented action in 1992, when Utah’s state and local officials asked the federal government to turn over authority to complete all unfinished CUP work to the CUWCD. This request was granted with passage of the 1992 Central Utah Project Completion Act (CUPCA). This legislation authorizes the CUWCD to oversee completion of CUP projects, particularly those in the Bonneville unit which includes areas of exploding population growth along the Wasatch Front. In addition, the legislation provides a means for over-site and environmental mitigation of CUP work to be overseen by the U.S. Department of the Interior through a newly created CUPCA office.
This climactic moment in the CUP’s history, as well as the negotiations that took place to secure passage of the CUPCA, can be traced in records held by the Utah State Archives, including Governor Norman Bangerter’s Washington Office records, as well as Governor Bangerter’s Chief of Staff correspondence records.
The future of the Colorado River, and its millions of users, is a hazy one. How reliable will the river’s flow remain, particularly in the face of changing environmental conditions and exploding population centers in the western United States? Water allocations from the Colorado River have been re-calibrated at points in the past, based on lower flows and the fact that the original numbers agreed to in the 1922 Colorado River Compact were based on unusually (and unsustainable) high years of river flow.
A similarly unknown future faces the major water storage projects along the river, including those that compose the Central Utah Project. Consider, for example, the unknown fate of the Hoover Dam, an aging structure holding back a dwindling water supply that is currently being drawn on by more people than at any other point in its history.
Major questions concerning the Colorado River, and its use, face each of the western states that rely heavily on its water. Will the answer be a doubling down on the types of costly reclamation efforts that were meant to help the arid southwest “bloom like a rose?” Or will the answers increasingly take the shape of users learning how to more efficiently utilize the regions most critical resource? Whatever way the future flows, it is clear that the Law of the River is still, very much, a work in progress.
This is the second in a series of re-purposed blog posts written in my role as an archivist at the Utah State Archives and Records Service. These posts will illuminate the story of Utah’s role in the larger western movement to try and tame the Colorado River and use its waters for unprecedented development in the arid west.
UPPER COLORADO RIVER BASIN COMPACT
With the passage of the Colorado River Compact of 1922, the Colorado River Basin was divided into a Lower Basin unit (comprised of Arizona, California, and Nevada), and an Upper Basin unit (composed of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming). For the first twenty-five years after the compact was ratified, the bulk of development that took place on the river occurred in the Lower Basin. The construction of Hoover Dam, and other projects in the Lower Basin, had a direct impact on growing the human populations of the southwest. This, in turn, fueled the need for ever-more water in the region.
With the lower basin’s voracious hunger for water, a movement to begin developing the Upper Basin’s water allotment gained real momentum. This movement was fueled, in part, by concerns among leaders in the Upper Basin that unclaimed water in the north would be forever captured and taken by the unquenchable thirst of agriculture and populations sprouting up in California, Arizona, and southern Nevada.
Negotiations for how to divide the Upper Basin share of the river began when representatives from each Upper Basin state met to discuss the issue in 1946. Utah’s interests in this ongoing negotiation were represented by both Governor Henry Hooper Blood, as well as Utah State Engineer, Ed H. Watson. Records from Watson’s office, in particular, reveal how prominently involved the State Engineer was in ensuring Utah received an equitable portion of the Upper Basin river allotment.
Two years of negotiation and planning ultimately culminated in the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact of 1948. This new accord added another chapter to the expanding Law of the River by guaranteeing a fixed percentage of water from the Colorado River to each Upper Basin state on an ongoing annual basis. Under the terms of this agreement, Colorado would receive 52% of the Upper Basin share, Utah 23%, Wyoming 14%, and New Mexico 11%. In addition, Arizona was allotted a 50,000 acre foot share for the small portion of the state that lies north of the division boundary line at Lee’s Ferry.
With an agreement between the Upper Basin states on how to share their allotment of the Colorado River, the stage was set for the emergence of a massive, federally backed plan that would usher in an era of unprecedented change in the Intermountain West.
THE COLORADO RIVER STORAGE PROJECT ACT
With a compact among the Upper Basin states in place, a plan begin to take shape that would coordinate and guide development in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Over the course of eight years, planning and negotiations took place that finally culminated with passage of the Colorado River Storage Project Act (CRSPA) of 1956.
The provisions of this plan were broad and complex. At its heart the CRSPA sought to set in motion the construction of major water storage projects in the Upper Basin, as well as devise the means for transporting water across vast areas for the benefit of municipalities in the Colorado River Basin. CRSPA also marked a moment of important transition for the Bureau of Reclamation, and how it approached dam construction in the arid west. Prior development in the Lower Basin was done for the primary purpose of impounding a water supply that could be used for irrigation. Hoover Dam allowed for the generation of electrical power, but power generated by the dam was sold to growing populations in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, with the cash generated from that sale being used to pay off the original construction costs for the dam.
With CRSPA, a new model employed by the Bureau of Reclamation in its dam construction and management. Under this new method, the preeminent use of impounded water in the Upper Basin was no longer for irrigation, but rather for hydroelectric power generation that could be sold cheaply to the public. Revenues generated by these “cash register” dams were then used to subsidize farmers in the Upper Basin who, due to environmental constraints inherent to the Intermountain West, were generally unable to grow the wide variety of agricultural commodities routinely produced by their counterparts in the Lower Basin. This thorny issue of balancing a public utility produced by a government agency against the interests of private public utility companies became one of extreme importance to the administration of Utah Governor George D. Clyde in the early 1960’s.
In the ensuing decades after the passage of the CRSPA, its ambitious goals began to take tangible shape on the western landscape. One of its faces became the dams associated with the Curecanti Project in Colorado. Another was the Navajo Dam constructed in northwestern New Mexico. Along the Utah and Wyoming border CRSPA took shape in the form of the Flaming Gorge Dam. And, perhaps most famously, CRSPA led directly to the controversial construction of the Glen Canyon Dam along the Utah and Arizona border.
CONTROVERSY IN ECHO PARK
The story of Glen Canyon Dam remains a contentious moment in U.S. environmental history, as it squarely pitted the interests of the Bureau of Reclamation and western developers against those of a burgeoning American environmental movement.
When planning first began on the Upper Basin developments that would culminate with dams at Flaming Gorge and Glen Canyon, planners first cast their eyes east towards Utah’s Uinta Basin. In the mid-1950’s planners and promoters pushed for the construction of two dam sites in Dinosaur National Monument, one at Echo Park (at the confluence of the Yampa and Green rivers), and one at Split Mountain.
An unexpected push against placing the dams in Dinosaur National Monument by an organized environmental movement ultimately led planners to abandon the effort, and the U.S. Congress to enact laws that better spelled out the types of development that could occur in National Park Service areas. The complex legal discussions pertaining to Echo Park and Glen Canyon can be traced through records created by Utah’s Attorney General, and held at the Utah State Archives. With the Echo Park development off the table, and a promise from the Sierra Club not to oppose a dam site at Glen Canyon, the Bureau of Reclamation moved forward with development along the border of Utah and Arizona.
With passage of CRSPA, and allocation of $760 million in federal funds for Flaming Gorge and Glen Canyon, construction on Glen Canyon Dam began in late 1956. Upon its completion in 1966 its impounded waters (named Lake Powell after General John Wesley Powell who had first navigated the whole of the Colorado River in 1869) could reach a full capacity of 26, 214,900 acre feet, making it the second largest development along the Colorado after Lake Mead. The construction of the Glen Canyon Dam has long served as a significant moment of loss for many who were able to witness Glen Canyon before it was flooded by the dam.
CRSPA was a crucial moment in both the river’s history, as well as Utah’s relationship to it. In addition to providing the mandate and funds to build the dam sites at Flaming Gorge and Glen Canyon, this legislation also authorized the creation of the Central Utah Project (CUP), a federal water project specifically tasked with overseeing Utah’s use and development of its allotted share from the river.
The story of federal efforts to establish and manage the Central Utah Water Project, which has proven to be among the most complex and costly provisions of CRSPA, will serve as the subject for the final blog post in this series.
Reisner, Marc. Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water. New York: Penguin Books, 1993.
Worster, Donald. Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
This is the first in a series of re-purposed blog posts written in my role as an archivist at the Utah State Archives and Records Service. These posts will illuminate the story of Utah’s role in the larger western movement to try and tame the Colorado River and use its waters for unprecedented development in the arid west.
THE COLORADO RIVER BASIN
The Colorado River originates in the high Rocky Mountains of Colorado, before making its 1,750-mile journey to the Pacific Ocean, emptying at the Bay of California. Along the way it gathers run-off from a drainage basin 244,000 square miles in length, carves out the dramatic cliffs and canyons of southeastern Utah and Arizona’s Grand Canyon, and carries a silt load higher than any other river of comparable size.
The Colorado is an international river, draining water from seven western states, (Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California) as well as Mexico. Moving from the highest peaks of the Continental Divide down to the low, arid deserts of the Sonoran and Mojave, the Colorado River is a vital artery running throughout some of the American southwest’s most spectacular (and unforgiving) landscapes.
For much of human history, the Colorado River, and its tributaries, have served a vital role in providing life-giving water to the region’s inhabitants. Many Indian tribes of the southwest practiced dry farming and simple irrigation techniques using scant available water resources. This model was later expanded on by white settlers in the region, particularly the early Mormon settlers of Utah.
The Colorado gained some measure of national celebrity from the famed expeditions taken down it by John Wesley Powell, first in 1869 and again in 1871-1872. These scientific trips gave Americans a better sense of the canyon country frontier, as described vividly by Powell, as well as providing Major Powell with some sense of the harsh environmental realities imposed by the arid deserts of the southwest.
The story of the Colorado River in the 20th century, a period when it would become the most legally regulated river on Earth, begins with the explosive population growth witnessed in Southern California at the turn of the century. Water projects that carried water from California’s Owens Valley helped fuel tremendous growth in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.
Similar efforts to carry (and control) Colorado River water to the famously dry Imperial Valley for irrigation and flood control raised serious questions among all of the western states in the Colorado River Basin. The legal history of water in the west had placed water rights under the provision of prior appropriation. Simply put, the first to develop a water right was the first to own it: “first in time, first in right.”
What if California’s rapacious, and seemingly unending, thirst lay claim to the bulk of available Colorado River water, and blocked anyone upstream from making later use of it? What if earthworks built by California to tame unpredictable floods from the Colorado locked in place an inequitable infrastructure, forever in favor of the Golden State?
With these fundamental questions in mind, representatives from the seven basin states (as well as U.S. Commerce Secretary, Herbert Hoover) met on January 26, 1922 and began work on an expansive interstate compact to regulate and share the Colorado River among all of its interested parties.
NEGOTIATING A COMPACT
In the eleven months between January and November, 1922 multiple meetings were held that would culminate in the Colorado River Compact. Over the course of its legal history, the various compacts, agreements, and legal decisions that have been placed on the Colorado River have come to be known as “the Law of the River.” In this regard, the Colorado River Compact is the backbone that serves to connect everything else together.
Utah’s representative to the 1922 negotiations was State Engineer, R.E. Caldwell, having been appointed by Utah Governor Charles Mabey. Records from the State Engineer documenting Caldwell’s work on the Colorado River Compact (as well as other river-related records from the office) are held by the Utah State Archives in series 13912.
The major provisions ultimately agreed to in the Colorado River Compact were unique, and critical in dictating all future development made on the river.
The first of these provisions was the decision to effectively create two separate artificial basins within the larger Colorado River Basin. The Upper Basin was to consist of the mountain states of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico (the states that provide the bulk of the flow to the river). The Lower Basin was formed from Nevada, Arizona, and California. The line of demarcation separating these two units was designated at Lee’s Ferry in northern Arizona.
A second consequential provision of the compact stipulated how much flow from the river each basin was eligible to claim. Calculations for the Colorado’s annual flow were taken from dubious readings maintained by the Bureau of Reclamation during a multi-year period that saw the river rage higher than at any other point in its recorded history.
Based on these flawed Bureau estimates, the flow of the Colorado River averaged 17.5 million acre-feet of water annually. The Colorado River Compact stipulated that 15 million acre feet of this share was to be divided equally between the Upper Basin and the Lower Basin. The Lower Basin was awarded an additional 1 million acre feet under the threat that its representatives would walk away from the negotiations without that bonus allotment. The final 1.5 million acre-feet of flow was reserved for Mexico, a number that was cemented into law by an international treaty in 1944. It was left for the states within each basin to determine the percentage of their allotted flow that would go to each state.
Each member representative from the compact negotiations signed the accord and returned to their respective state, leaving final ratification of the compact to state legislatures or voters. In Utah, the Colorado River Compact was ratified immediately by the Utah state legislature during its 1923 session, and the compact was filed with the lieutenant governor, where it is currently found in series 20221.
The process of ratifying the agreement did not come easily for other states, however, as interstate squabbles arose over a host of issues. The most divisive of these occurred between Arizona and California, who couldn’t agree on how to divide the 8,500,000 acre-feet granted to the lower basin.
For six years the Colorado River Compact languished until the U.S. Congress intervened with passage of a bill that simultaneously provided a path for formal ratification of the Colorado River Compact, as well as authorized the Bureau of Reclamation to begin work on what would become the largest dam project on Earth, up to that point.
BOULDER CANYON PROJECT ACT
The Boulder Canyon Project Act of 1928 paved the way for nearly a century of reclamation activity on the Colorado River that has left a decidedly mixed legacy. One major provision of this piece of legislation was to make the Colorado River Compact legally binding. It sought to do this by settling the feud between California and Arizona over their shared water allocation. Accordingly, California was limited in its annual diversion to 4.4 million acre-feet per year, while Arizona was granted 2.8 million acre-feet (leaving the remaining 300,000 acre feet in the lower basin to Nevada). The Boulder Canyon Project Act went on to say that the Compact would become legally binding upon ratification by six of the states, one of those states needing to be the compact’s biggest player, California. This was accomplished, in spite of the fact that Arizona (out of protest) refused to formally ratify the compact until 1944.
In 1927, the year before the Boulder Canyon Project Act was passed, the Utah legislature formally repealed their original 1923 ratification of the compact. This was followed, in 1929, by a second ratification of the Colorado River Compact by the state of Utah, as well as the creation of a Utah Colorado River Commission. This commission, whose records can be found in series 165, was made up of three members appointed by Governor George Dern, and tasked with representing Utah’s interest on all matters related to the Colorado River.
The second major provision of the Boulder Canyon Project Act, was a mandate to build the first major dam site on the Colorado River. The location chosen for this was in the Black Canyon near Las Vegas. Construction on the Boulder Dam (later renamed Hoover) commenced during the heart of the Great Depression, in 1931. Over the course of six years thousands of workers built massive diversion tunnels, rerouted the Colorado River from its bed, sunk the foundations for the dam at bedrock, and ultimately constructed a 726′ plug in the Black Canyon that could hold back up to 28,537,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water in the impounded area named Lake Mead.
The water held at Hoover Dam has served a variety of purposes in the ensuing decades. A canal built downstream (named the All-American Canal) carries water from the Boulder project west, into California’s Imperial Valley. The water of Lake Mead has been used for recreation, irrigation, industrial use, and municipal use in both Las Vegas and the cities that mushroomed in southern California throughout the 20th century. Hydroelectric power derived from the dam has played a pivotal role in growing the populations in one of North America’s most inhospitable environments. Electricity generated at Hoover Dam has helped build industry, attract tourism, and provide critical hydration and conditioned air in a region often devoid of both.
VIEW FROM THE UPPER BASIN
The Hoover Dam served as the first vivid example of what a massive, federally backed water project on the Colorado River could look like. Upstream, leaders of the Upper Basin states kept a keen eye on the tremendous growth in the Lower Basin spurred by the Boulder Canyon Project. In many ways, the dam provided a template for future projects in the Upper Basin, as well as providing incentive for the Upper Basin states to organize into a coalition, lest they eventually lose their allotted water share to future projects in the Lower Basin.
Evidence that developing the state’s Colorado River share was a pressing issue for Utah leaders is found in records kept by two different governor’s of that era. Governor George Dern (1925-1933) maintained a subject file on the Colorado River Compact (series 206) that reflect Utah’s interaction with other western states on Colorado River issues, as well as the negotiations and discussions that went on with the 1928 Boulder Canyon Project.
Dern’s successor, Governor Henry Blood (1933-1941), in turn, maintained a Colorado River correspondence files (series 22918), which contains legislative bills, resolutions, general correspondence, minutes and reports related to Utah’s earliest attempts to help devise an Upper Basin reclamation plans to assure its share of water as designated in the Colorado River Compact of 1922.
The Colorado River Compact and the Boulder Canyon Project Act provided the thread upon which all of the states in the Colorado River Basin would ultimately go about drawing on their share of the Colorado River’s seemingly vast potential.
The story of Utah’s participation in developing a reclamation plan for the Upper Basin, and the implementation of projects based on that plan, will serve as the story for the next blog in this series.
Reisner, Marc. Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water. New York: Penguin Books, 1993.
Worster, Donald. Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Sticking with the western theme I started last week, here is a reading response to Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses that I wrote in a “literary topography” class back in grad school…
Throughout All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy draws attention to a number of crossings that are crucial to both driving the story and exploring many of the themes that underpin interests found throughout his work. These crossings take on a variety of forms that help to shape and drive the narrative.
The most obvious crossing takes place at the transitional space of dawn when John Grady Cole and Lacey Rawlins leave out from their Texas home into the unknown (at least to them) lands of Mexico. It is not long after their entrance into the country that they have a physical crossing with the kid, Jimmy Blevins, whose fate because intertwined with their own. This theme of crossing and the introduction of potentially potent variables into our lives that we have no true control over is a recurrent one for McCarthy. It finds powerful expression in No Country for Old Men where the villain, Anton Chigurh, explicitly informs those whose lives he has left subject to a coin toss that the fate that brought him, death, and the coin together at once were each independent and unavoidable.
Another crossing of critical importance in the narrative is the physical and emotional one between John Grady Cole and Alejandra. Their sexual crossing and illicit love supplies the impetus for driving the narrative from the pastoral ideal Cole and Rawlins find on Don Hector’s horse ranch to the subsequent hell of a Mexican prison. The juxtaposition of these events (and crossing between them) clearly marks John Grady Cole in a profoundly existential way. Recounting the events later to the Judge, Cole wonders why anyone would make him out to be anything special. The guilt and loss he is carrying from his accumulated crossings have scarred him in both body and spirit.
The final crossing I will address comes with the heroes return to his native land, deeply changed by the experiences taken up in his quest. Unfortunately for Cole, he quickly realizes that the transitional moments narrated in this interfacing between two worlds have effectively left him without country in either place. He cannot return to the Mexico that has scarred him, and the Texas home he is returning to is no longer the same (owing to the death of his father while he was away, as well as the fact that his mother has presumably sold off the ranch land that he initially wanted to run at the outset of the book upon his grandfathers death). John Grady Cole is left to ride into the West a troubled figure without a clear destination.
This tenuous nature of country and our attachments to it is a major theme of McCarthy and is echoed throughout the book. For some (like the vaquero's Cole visits when he returns to speak to Alejandra's aunt, Doña Alfonsa) " a man leaves much when he leaves his own country...the weather and seasons that form a land form also the the inner fortunes of men in their generations are passed on to their children and are not so easily come by otherwise." In other words, our places continually interface and exchange with our interior being, producing the internal topographies of our existence. Seemingly when these places are trespassed, violated, or otherwise destroyed we are left in the position of Cole, riding out looking desperately for country that can sustain us.
Recently, I started playing Red Dead Redemption 2 on my PS4. I’m not a HUGE video game nerd, but I’ll play a good game when time allows, and the original Red Dead remains the best video game I have ever played. RDR2 (so far) is even larger and more epic than its predecessor, with a sandbox world you can run around in that is stunningly gorgeous. The level of absurd detail they have packed in to the game is also worth mentioning.
Abruptly switching gears, this past weekend I took a break from my gaming to visit my brother, sister-in-law and new niece in Bozeman, MT. I took the route that skirts across the western edge of Yellowstone and over the Gallatin Mountains. At dusk, covered in a light brushing of snow, it was the RDR2 landscape brought to life.
Taken together, I now have a desire to segue my way out of two months of horror films and scary stories, and into a month or two of exploring Westerns (on film and in print). It is something that I dedicated some time and effort to back in grad school, when I was making connections between Western myth and subsequent (rough) treatment of environment, and I am very much looking forward to picking it up again (and possibly sharing what I discover in this blog). In typical fashion, I have made a Spotify playlist for the journey! Saddle up…
THE SUPERCONDUCTING SUPER COLLIDER
The history of human activity in Utah’s Great Salt Lake Desert suggests that it is a place where the biggest of human ideas can take root. During the 1980’s this tendency took the shape of a detailed proposal to turn a section of Great Basin desert into the world’s most cutting edge science and research destination.
The story begins in 1987 when the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced plans to undertake a site-selection process that would find a home for the world’s largest superconducting super collider (SSC). The design of a super collider called for two proton beams to be aimed at one another. In a super collider, particles moving at near the speed of light smash into one another and are broken down to their most basic subatomic particle units. In this way conditions that appeared moments after the Big Bang are replicated and scientists are able to learn more about the most basic forces that govern our universe.
For Utah leaders the SSC appeared to have the more tangible benefits of potentially spurring massive social and economic growth along the Wasatch Front. With Governor Norman Bangerter acting as Utah’s principle agent, state planners determined that Utah would make a formal proposal to the DOE for construction of the SSC in Utah’s Great Basin Desert. Early estimates pegged the project’s construction cost at $600 million per year over a six or seven year period. This included an influx of approximately 4,000 construction jobs and an annual operating budget for the SSC upon completion that would have totaled $270 million per year.
The consulting firm of Dames and Moore was hired by the state to conduct a site review and help draft the formal proposal that fit the site specific qualification criteria demanded by the DOE. Dames and Moore was assisted in the process by the Ralph M. Parsons Company, Roger Foott Associates, Inc., Bear West Consulting, the Wasatch Front Regional Council, and the Data Resources Section of the Utah Office of Planning and Budget.
The qualification criteria for the SSC that was issued by the DOE reveal the massive energy and resource needs of the project. The design of the SSC called for a tube 10 feet in diameter to be buried 20 feet below the ground surface, in order to shield above ground monitoring areas from radiation. This tube would have run 52 miles in an oval raceway measuring 17.4 miles by 14.6 miles. The above ground monitoring and campus facilities were to be connected to the underground testing areas. The DOE estimated that 4,000 acres was needed for above ground operations, with additional rights to another 4,000 to 5,000 acres for future tunneling. The power and water demands for the SSC and its off-site support facilities would have been equivalent to a town of 30,000 people.
Two initial reports were created by Dames and Moore in February and March of 1987 that laid out the specifications of the SSC, as well as an initial assessment of areas in Utah that could prove feasible for construction. Based on these reports, two areas in Utah’s west desert were chosen for a more thorough assessment and review.
Ultimately two separate multi-volume proposals were created for the sites in question. The first, entitled the “Cedar Mountains Siting Proposal” focused on a region 52 miles west of Salt Lake City, near Skull Valley. The second proposal, entitled the “Ripple Valley Siting Proposal” focused on an area 69 miles west of Salt Lake City, near the Knolls exit on Interstate 80. The reports generated for each site proposal focused on geology, local environment, public land availability, regional conditions, and available utilities and infrastructure. They also laid out concessions the state of Utah was willing to make to the DOE to ensure site selection. The formal siting reports were submitted to the DOE for review on September 02, 1987.
Due to the immensity of the SSC proposal, multiple government agencies were involved in its planning. The records created from this process are now held by the Utah State Archives. They include SSC proposal records from the Utah Energy Office, SSC Task Force records from the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, special project files from the Utah Department of Natural Resources Geological Survey, economic development recordsfrom the office of Governor Norman Bangerter, and SSC records from the Utah Office of Economic Business and Research.
FATE OF THE SSC
In December 1987, the National Academy of Science, and the National Academy of Engineering made a recommendation to the U.S. Department of Energy that Utah not be included on the shortlist of sites for the SSC. Instead, the project was ultimately awarded to Texas in November 1988. Construction on the SSC (now nicknamed “Desertron”) began in 1991 near the central-Texas town of Waxahachie.
During construction seventeen shafts were sunk and 14.6 miles of tunnel were bored (out of an estimated 54.1 miles needed) before claims of government mismanagement, sky-rocketing costs, an oncoming recession, and shifts in federal political power combined to end construction on the project for good in 1993. By the time construction was halted the federal government had spent $2 billion dollars on the SSC (with an estimated price tag of an additional $12 billion needed to successfully finish it).
Some of the massive costs associated with the project can be pinned on the extreme difficulties workers encountered with tunneling through bedrock and creating the needed infrastructure deep underground. Had the SSC project been completed, its two 20 TeV per proton energy beams would have made it the largest super collider on Earth (even larger than the Large Hadron Collider that was built near Geneva, Switzerland that became operational in 2009).
The DOE ultimately deeded the SSC site in Waxahachie to Ellis County, Texas after construction was halted. In 2006 the site was sold to a private company which began marketing it as a data center. The site was sold again in 2012 to chemical company, Magnablend.
In retrospect, it is interesting to consider the fate of the SSC had the site selection process landed on Utah, making this one of the better “what if” stories in recent Utah history!
Utah State Archives and Records Service, Utah Energy Office, Superconducting Super Collider Proposal, Series 353.
Utah State Archives and Records Service, Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, Superconducting Super Collider Task Force Records, Series 10263.
Utah State Archives and Records Service, Department of Natural Resources Geological Survey, Special Report Files, Series 25708.
Utah State Archives and Records Service, Economic Business Research, Superconducting Super Collider Records, Series 83904.
Kevles, Daniel J. “Good-bye to the SSC: On the Life and Death of the Superconducting Super Collider.” Engineering and Science Winter, Vol. 2 (1995): 15-26. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.
I have dedicated posts this month to sharing info on the music and the books that have informed and colored my September/October celebration of the macabre. With this serving as my last post for October, it makes sense to dedicate it to the scary movies I have been watching the last two months. As per usual, it ended up being a good mix of old favorites and newer titles I have been wanting to get around to watching. Didn’t make it through my full list, but I now have a head start on planning for next year! So, with all of that said, here is the list of spooky movies for Rocktober 2018, accompanied by a one sentence (or maybe even one word!) thought/review…
Little Evil: Could have been better.
The Fly (1986): Awesomely gross.
IT: Mostly effective.
The Babysitter: Could have been worse.
The Blob (1988): Unexpectedly awesome.
The ‘Burbs: I miss comedic Tom Hanks.
Jennifer’s Body: Complicated.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space: The opposite of complicated.
Creep: Good job, good effort.
A Ghost Story: Left me feeling haunted.
High Spirits: Steve Guttenberg sucks as much as this movie.
Autopsy of Jane Doe: Scarier before its big (telegraphed) reveal, but still really really good.
Hellraiser: Clive Barker is rad and everyone in this movie is awful and deserves a special place in hell.
Get Out: Required viewing and even better the second time around.
Mandy: LOVED IT!
House of the Devil: Terrific 80’s-style throwback.
Dead Ringers: Unsettling.
Deathgasm: Great premise, okay execution.
Psycho: Holds up remarkably well.
Halloween: An all-time favorite.
Halloween (2018): A (new) all-time favorite.
The Thing: John Carpenter is just the best.
Evil Dead 2: Sam Raimi is second only to John Carpenter.
The Shining: That time one of our great auteur’s decided to make a classic, atmospheric horror movie based on a classic Stephen King effort.
I have already delved into the music that has filled in the uncanny spaces this season. Next up, I want to provide a brief synopsis of the books I have been reading. Every year I reserve October for “scary stories” and it always seems like I never have enough time to get through everything I had hoped. This year I adjusted and started my season reading on September 01. Over the last 60+ days this is what I have read (as well as what I plan on finishing before the month is up):
The Elementals by Michael McDowell: An unexpectedly great Southern Gothic novel by the guy who wrote the screenplay for Beetlejuice. It is clear that he had a thing for haunted houses and precociously gothic teenage girls. He also happens to be skilled at writing about uncanny environments that are beyond human understanding.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me by Lindsay Hallam: Critical theory that firmly situates David Lynch’s misunderstood masterpiece as a high water mark for the horror genre.
Halloween: The History of America’s Darkest Holiday by David J. Skal: From the writer who has written (well) on the various popular iterations of vampires and movie monsters. Gives a good perspective on what a hodgepodge weirdo amalgam of culture Halloween truly is. It’s cathartic and we need it and it evolves. I love it for those reasons (and many, many more).
Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix: An unexpectedly fun horror romp through a haunted IKEA-esque big box that sits on the former grounds of a panopticon prison run by a sadistic warden who can’t stay dead. Blends horror and comedy well and manages to flesh out its various characters reasonably well in spite of the short(ish) page count.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado: A collection of haunting short stories that really run the gamut. Some play on old-timey classics, some are apocalyptic, and some are about doppelgängers dwelling in the SVU universe.
The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride by Daniel James Brown: One of the few nonfiction books on this list, but maybe the scariest book I’ve read this year. It follows the doomed route of the Donner Party using party-member, Sarah Graves as an anchor point. It is harrowing on all levels: the environment indifferently conspiring against human hope; the misguided decisions human beings make with bad and/or incomplete information; the depths that human beings can sink when dire realities set in. Can’t recommend this one enough.
I do have hope for making it through at least a two (or three) more before Halloween. These include:
We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix: As of this writing I am about halfway through this book. It encompasses so many things I love…horror…metal…that might be it, but it has still been GREAT. \m/
The Hunger by Alma Katsu: A historical fiction horror take on the Donner Party. After reading Indifferent Stars, I’m slightly worried about tackling a fictionalized version featuring characterizations of the real human beings I now have some understanding of. That said, the premise here is too promising to turn down.
Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey: Another nonfiction exploration of haunted places and the ghosts that haunt them.
I am currently out of town, so I am offloading the bulk of this week’s (haunted) blog to the research and writing of my colleague at the Utah State Archives, Gina Strack, who has spent considerable time and effort piecing together the bizarre story of one of Salt Lake Cemetery’s weirder ghosts. Enjoy!
A little over a year ago I volunteered to serve on my city’s historic committee. It is an active group that has spent its 10+ years of existence putting up interpretive historic signage around the city, documenting historic structures, and producing a local history of the area. One common agenda item that has come up at multiple council meetings is what to do with the largest, and most historic, building in the city boundaries: the Old Mill.
Cottonwood Heights is one of the more interesting suburbs of Salt Lake. The city itself is just over a decade old but the area was among the earliest explored and settled by the first Mormon settlers. Human activity is always tied to environmental opportunity, and modern day Cottonwood Heights is no different. It was a source of early interest to settlers due to the fact that it sits near the abundant water and timber resources of Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons.
In 1883 the Mormon proprietors of the Deseret News began exploiting these water and wood resources to run a paper mill. The mill produced pulp from rags and tress of the nearby canyon until 1892 when it caught on fire. The skeletal remains were rebuilt in the 1920’s to serve as an open-air dance hall. The building had a fitful history until it was ultimately condemned in 2005.
In the ensuing years the Old Mill has served as the namesake for the massive housing development that has taken root along the east bench of the city. For a time it also spent every October being repurposed as a haunted house. I am old enough to remember October evenings of my early adolescence spent getting scared at the Old Mill. Knowing what I know now, I’m grateful the thing didn’t cave in on my friends and I.
As far as I know, the Old Mill doesn’t have any proper ghosts tied to its history. Yet, its mere presence in the middle of an affluent suburb (near canyons that are now famed for their ski resorts) is more than a little haunting. I take my dogs on weekend walks past the Old Mill, and it does this horror-loving heart good to see a place where it feels like it’s Halloween every day.
As I mentioned, the Cottonwood Heights Historic Committee discusses the place often. There is a deep desire to turn the most visible historic structure in the city into something more than a decrepit ruin. My hunch (based on the state of the place) is that it will stay empty and haunted until an event (be it time or a well-placed earthquake) brings the whole thing collapsing in on itself.