July 16th 2009 07:56 am

Moto-Camping Days 7-8 (late post)

Moto-Camping Days 7-8 (late post)

I spent the rest of my time at Black Canyon seeing as much as I could of the area.  I hiked a bunch and took off on a bike tour to the north rim.

On the drive back, it rained pretty hard, but when I got through it, I dried off pretty quickly.  With soap, I’d have been somewhat clean!

The history of the Black Canyon is interesting, and illustrates the complicated situation of the West.  Exploration of the area was entirely prompted by commercial interest–first a railway magnate attempted to forge a railroad through the gorge (partly succeeding) and then agricultural interests pushed for a water tunnel through the south rim mountains to irrigate the Uncompagre Valley (a high desert whose river runs dry in summer).  This latter pursuit was a success, if damming a wild river and diverting some of its flow can be considered a success.

So, the early explorers of the canyon (other than the native tribes, who avoided it) were surveyors–and they were an intrepid lot.  Only two actually went all the way through the main gorge and their tale is a good one.  Essentially, they went down the river (class 5 rapids with huge boulders) on a large rubber raft with supplies.  They tied a rope to each other and to the raft.  Then, one would jump in and make his way to a spot on the riverbank that could concievably be called a bank, he would tug on the line and the upstream man would follow.  Somehow the raft was pulled along as well.  At one particularly hairy spot, legend has it, in the jaws of the gorge (where the water descends 95 feet in a one-mile stretch), the lead guy, Abraham Lincoln Fellows, gave his last wishes to his survey partner, Will Torrence, and jumped in.  He survived and the rest is history…

Except that the reason for the expedition was to find a suitable site for the diversion tunnel–and they did, at East Portal, where I camped.  Thus began the taming of the river, a story told too many times across the West.  And the Uncompagre Valley is fertile and prospering–like the San Joaquin Valley, I suppose.

This is where it all gets complicated. That railroad magnate forged his way miles up the canyon (and he cuts a dashing, if odd, figure in photos)–on the backs of Irish and German immigrants working for virtually nothing.  And although that rail line is gone, the bed remains (and there’s a visitor center), but who know the stories of those laborers?  And as captivating as the Fellows-Torrence story goes, there’s still that damned dam and the diversion tunnel and the politics of water in an arid land.

I took pictures along a loop trail and of the bike after “my” storm.  The next post will have pictures of critters I encountered during my stay.

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