Except for the distant cry of a raven, there were only the sounds of my children and my friend Sloan and I peeling and munching on orange slices. It was noontime and we were squatting under the cottonwoods in a ravine beneath the Castle, an exquisitely constructed silo-like structure of sandstone at Hovenweep, a cluster of Anasazi ruins in the Utah desert. The trees offered the only shade in the area.
Hovenweep was the northernmost advance of the Anasazi, or Ancient Puebloans to use the politically correct term.
Why these people, whose origins have been traced to Mexico in about 1,200 BC, migrated north onto the Colorado Plateau -- present day Arizona, Colorado and Utah -- is barely understood. But it is their sudden disappearance about 700 years ago, leaving Hovenweep (which means "deserted valley" in the Piute-Ute languages) and other contiguous "cities" deserted and much as they looked when we passed the heat of the day in that ravine, that remains the most enduring mystery of the Southwestern U.S.* * * * *In the mind's eye of the armchair tourist, historic Southwestern sites are far from man's long and sometimes destructive reach. That is sometimes the case, but not so with Hovenweep, which I learned to my surprise is adjacent to ranches, farms and orchards on my first expedition there with Sloan in 1995.
For the most part, those neighbors have been respectful of the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and Hovenweep National Monument, which includes the Castle complex and five other prehistoric villages spread over a twenty-mile expanse in Utah and Colorado, as well as two wildlife sanctuaries.
Then late in the winter, a small sign designed to be missed by all but the most curious passersby was posted on the site of a former campground on County Road 10. It stated that the new owners of the land were applying for a "High Impact, Special Use" permit for the construction of "The Outhouse Recycling Facility."
That may sound rather benign, but it is anything but. In fact, the facility (to be located in the middle left area on the map) would be the largest gas waste site on the Western Slope.
The site would consist of eight evaporation ponds, each one eight feet deep and four acres in size, two four-acre pits for concentrated sludge and a sixteen-acre area for contaminated soil. Exploration and production wastes would be trucked from gas wells in the four adjoining states down a narrow shoulderless farm road to a site above a San Juan River tributary in an area upwind from some of the most productive alfalfa fields and pinto bean farms in the country.
As well as Hovenweep.* * * * *The Bush environmental record is, of course, atrocious. The last eight years has seen not just a relaxation of environmental rules but extraordinary encroachment into pristine areas in the West and Southwest that had been off limits to oil and gas exploration and drilling, let alone dumping toxic waste.
In this instance the waste would be liquid and contain one or two pounds of salt per gallon, along with contaminants like volatile hydrocarbons and heavy metals.
The waste would be allowed to evaporate and become concentrated into a solid that would be excavated to expedite a drying process helped by winds that regularly guest over 40 miles per hour, lifting and carrying the waste unhindered to those neighboring ranches, farms and orchards, which are on a migration route for heron, ducks, geese and bald and golden eagles. (The waste site is in the lower left of the aerial photo above with prevailing winds blowing to upper right.)
Extraordinarily, the developers claim that a site sized to hold over 100 million gallons of liquids and solids would result in minimal traffic flow and have absolutely no impact on neighboring land owners.
* * * * *
A strange-bedfellows alliance of ranchers, farmers, environmentalists and my friend Sloan have come together to form the Hovenweep Alliance. They need your help.
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Environmental Outrage: Toxic Waste Site Proposed For Area Of Prehistoric Ruins
Top photograph by Wally Pacholka