By Jim Gale, founding member of Park Rangers for Our Lands
In running the Green River, through the Gates of Lodore, Park Rangers for Our Lands envisioned another “Encounter with the Archdruid” type moment might be possible in hopes of drawing some focus to the threats to the national parks from oil and gas leasing.
It was our intent to draw from the power of the river, canyon walls, wildlife and the visitor’s experience to stop the proposed oil and gas drilling – especially those that are marginal or uneconomical. Dave Brower floated this same river in the 1950’s, and through that experience mobilized Sierra Club to protect public lands, not just of the pristine alpine but of the beautiful desert canyons. At that time, a stand was taken to protect the Green and Yampa Rivers from being dammed by the proposed Echo Dam.
Could we gather a common vision to protect public lands? A river trip through Dinosaur National Park was pulled together to gather a diverse group of voices. Discussion would focus on the planned oil and gas drilling proposed for a site directly in view of the Dinosaur Visitor Center. At the behest of U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), a small intrepid group assembled including Colorado State Senator Gail Schwartz, the Senator’s aides, Noah and Shawn, DOI deputy undersecretary, the National Park Service superintendent from Dinosaur National Park, an oil and gas industry representative, a representative of west slope water, a representative from the water commission, and myself from Park Rangers for Our Land.
A ton of energy and excitement were evident as we started our two-day adventure. Tom Kleinschnitz, founder and guide for our river oufitting company, Adventure Bound, prepped the crew with safety tips and urged us onward to fruitful discussions. He also expressed his gratitude for the outstanding conservation efforts when he was just a teenager that has done so much to protect the canyon that we would experience for the next two days. Sen. Bennet welcomed and thanked us all. An osprey surged down pulling a fish before us as we readied to push off the sand bar, a reminder of the wild world ahead.
Five rafts and a fleet of rubber duckies headed downriver. Teams of new and old friends paddled, yakking back and forth.
It was a quick trip and people were talking all the time, everywhere. Here’s a slice of what was discussed as we floated along through the towering walls of the Gates of Lodore.
Talking between the duckies and rafts was a chance to get to know each other or to reacquaint with old friends. Our paddle group included Dinosaur National Park Superintendent Mary Riser, Chief Ranger Lee, and Sen. Bennet.
We floated into our lunch site above Disaster Rapids where in 1869, the John Wesley Powell Expedition shattered a wooden boat which broke in half and emptied coffee and all compasses into the river.
We ate sandwiches and scouted rapids. Guides led us down the suggested route. All 6 of our team in the rubber duckies made it though without a disaster. I was elated having never been in a rubber duckie and only canoeing as a youth.
We all jumped out of the duckies and raft to enjoy floating in the river in the calm sections. It was cold at first but relaxing.
A park staffer explained how the Lodore formation is the organic rock layer that has the oil and gas deposits. He showed us its location below the Madison Layer and how when fractured oil and gas would rise into the limestone above. This combination was essential. At the end, we were all asking why was Dinosaur a proposed drilling site when it is so marginal? We must take a stand and ensure that an approach with oil and gas that also protects our national parks. Outdated plans by BLM do not take into account the necessary reforms as directed by the Secretary of Interior.
Later in evening camp, we circled the chairs for more discussions and escaped the heat down on the boats where it was cooler. Soup, Salad, baked potatoes, steak and Dutch oven peach cobbler. It was delicious, and we were hungry. We sat around the campfire (propane) talking into the night. The next morning we packed and searched for any of our trash or micro-trash. I was very impressed with the cleanliness of the sites – no ants or flies from improper disposal of food waste. Leave No Trace works in Lodore Canyon for all to enjoy its beauty.
Four desert big horn grazed along shore, oblivious to our boats. The sun baked.
Hitting the rapids
Triplett Rapid, Lucifer Rock, and no mercy downriver. We were right behind Sen. Bennet, but little did I see besides standing waves as we paddle hard to the right then at Lucifer we paddle harder and just touch it but forward momentum pulls us to the right.
Three desert bighorns with huge three-quarters curl, (the largest I have ever seen) popped up on spires of rock along the steep side canyon walls with short spurts of elegant moves. They were headed to water and our presence was hidden by the roar of the rapids.
Hells Half Mile. No Clear Route. This was a vast moving broad rapid with many exposed rocks everywhere. About a third of the way down there is a rock and I thought it was better to go left as the rapid had less rocks. The power of the river washed us into the rock and water flipped us out, and somehow we got to the raft. Time to eddy out and grab our paddles. Our rescuers saved the day.
Lunch was with the Uinta formation, which dived into the earth. New formations replaced those, turned on end to stand up in a wave of rock. The awesome power of the Earth revealed itself. Feelings of accomplishment and the beauty, tranquility captivated me. We wanted to slow down and stop paddling as the river trip was going to end. But the river flow sped us on. A monolith of sandstone, Ship Rock, rose. Ahead we could see the Yampa where the clear cold Green River, controlled by Flaming Gorge Dam, was going to hit the warm waters of the muddy Yampa.
Headed to take-out, the rafts of Adventure Bound with their Colorado Flags flying, and one hoisting an American Flag, enjoyed the final stretches of the river. We pondered that the bow of the ship rock would have been underwater if people like David Brower had not had such eloquent and persuasive presentation, and the math to prove that Echo Dam should not be built.
Can we have enough voice and persuasion to stand on the shoulders of those conservationists before us? Can we protect Dinosaur National Monument from the Colorado State BLM? The State Director needs to plan and be smart from the start and not allow oil and gas to threaten and destroy America’s treasured national parks.
Leadership is paramount. If the Secretary of Interior wants the reforms, they need to have the BLM state directors in alignment. It all starts at the top. This is critical for balancing oil and gas development with the future of our national parks.