Sunday, June 25, 2023

My bucket's got a hole in it

Prime waterfront property, Stewart's Point, Nevada.

The view from Stewart's Point.

As to Lake Mead, the story of the 23-year drought is much like Lake Powell's. Each reservoir dipped to its low point in late April. I had read that they were at 26% of capacity then but the boat captain on my Lake Powell excursion told me it was 23% at its low ebb. Landmasses that are now islands were land bridges on April 23. You could walk across parts of the lakes. And narrow channels such as Navajo Canyon at Lake Powell couldn’t be navigated at all. At high water the captain’s favorite diving platform was a rock pillar rising 15 feet out of the lake and in June after two months of foot a day gains it was still 80 feet above us in the boat.

Hoover Dam.

The Colorado River upriver.

Lake Mead’s pattern was a carbon copy. It had gained more than sixty feet of water from the record snowmelt, but the situation is still desperate. According to experts it would take five years of snowfall like we had the past winter for the lake to reach the level it enjoyed forty years before.

The bathtub ring and a cantilevered dock at the water level in 1983. Today it's 185 feet lower as this photograph plainly shows.

Exposed islands from Echo Cove. All that is light colored was once under water.

The dark depression reaching into the desert was once a navigable inlet.

It doesn’t take much imagination to visualize the lakes 185 feet higher in 1983. The bathtub rings so evident in this post would disappear and all but the tallest islands would be under water. The water levels would have been nearly as high as the dams.

Lake Mead differs from Lake Powell in one major way. It’s inhabited along its shore because much of it is private land. Whereas Lake Powell is surrounded by the Navajo Nation. In fact, the land for the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell was acquired in a land swap in the Fifties in return for an enormous patch of desert in Utah just above what would became Lake Powell. My nod to that lakeside population is an abandoned hovel at the northernmost reaches of Lake Mead, Stewart’s Point. There were five dwellings there, three inhabited.

This post is meant to underscore the sad fact that after two months of rising water levels Lake Mead is still a parched patch of Mojave Desert on the outskirts of Las Vegas. In mid-June the place was flirting with 100 degrees and desert coves and inlets once under water were mostly sand traps.

As a recent headline says, the recent gift of water, “is a drop in the bucket.”

Sunday, June 18, 2023

High and Dry

Across Lake Powell from Lake Powell Marina is a 100 feet of bathtub ring that was 60feet higher in late April

I just got back from a four-day photo safari to Lake Powell and Lake Mead. My purpose was to show the record low water levels in each reservoir and to write a story about the desperate situation. I have printed three inches of news reports about the historically low water levels and the need for conserving our water reserves. Thankfully on May 22, 2023, California, Nevada, and Arizona signed an agreement to reduce water use by 3-million-acre feet by 2026. Yet, according to many scientists this goal is far shy of the conservation a twenty three year drought demands.

Here's the Glen Canyon Dam from Page. The last bucket of concrete was poured in 1963 and the project was completed in 1966

The 710 foot dam from Lans Smith's speedboat. Note the white ring to your left. That shows the waterline when the lake was at capacity 46 years ago.

I delayed my trip far too long. Lake Powell and Lake Mead reached their lowest water levels ever on April 23, 2023. That’s when Lake Mead was at 26 percent of capacity and was just 35 feet above Deadpool. Deadpool is the water level below which the dams can no longer release water into the Colorado River. I should have photographed the two manmade lakes when the situation was most dire. Alas, I didn’t.

The gorge of the Colorado River just above the dam.

This rock face deep in Antelope Canyon shows the high water mark more than 100 feet above the water's surface.

Since April 23 the water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead have risen about one foot per day. So, the so-called bathtub ring on July 8 when these photographs were taken was more than 60 feet lower and a helluva lot less impressive than six weeks ago. The same is true at Lake Mead. Assuming Lake Powell’s so-called bathtub ring was 170 feet high in late April, it may be 100 feet now. And the water level will continue to rise through the summer. This is good news in the short term but conserving the water is still critical. I’m dumbfounded that California curtailed its water conservation requirements when saving today’s abundant water stores for the drought that’s certain to come was the common-sense choice. It’s clearly playing to public sentiment which is weary of conserving water. While the state had been asking for a 15% reduction in water usage its citizens delivered a resounding 7%. It’s a lackluster result. Golf courses, lawns, almond orchards, and alfalfa fields ae thirsty beasts. It doesn’t bode well for water conservation in the future.

Today I’ll speak to Lake Powell. The reservoir was created the Glen Canyon Dam which was completed in 1966. The dam and I go way back. Peggy and I visited Page, Arizona with our friends Linda Penny and Chuck Fridenmaker in 1963. I remember little about the construction of the dam and couldn’t tell you what drew us to Page or the dam. I do remember that there were three blocks of churches and a liquor store for every church. That, I can report hasn’t changed a bit.

Happily, we made good use of the first liquor store on our right as we entered town. We bought a six pack of Guinness Stout and drank it in the car in July. Call it 110 in the shade. That thick brew erupts from its bottle in those conditions I’ll tell you that. I wore more than I drank. 

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Lake to Lake

I was the first passenger on the dock for the 1 pm tour of Lake Powell with emphasis on Antelope Canyon which had just opened to big boat traffic. Truth be told I was at the parking lot an hour earlier than suggested. That’s because I wanted to meet the captain and secure my rightful place in the front of the vessel or wherever was best for photographing Lake Powell and where I hoped I could show the desperately low water levels that prevailed in April. This was a big ask since the reservoir had gained a foot a day since its April 23 nadir. In layman’s terms the lake was fifty feet higher than when I should have been there. That’s on me. I shoulda coulda for a month and a half and my story about the drought’s effect on Lake Powell, the Colorado River and Lake Mead downstream was in danger of being washed out after the snow season of a generation. I may have extracted enough images to tell the story, but I made it far too hard. Once I’ve processed all the memory cards I’ll no for sure.

Captain Lans Smith in command

In the meantime, I had fifteen uninterrupted with Captain Lans Smith. That’s how he spells Lance. And, as I have reported countless times, you can know a person pretty well in quarter of an hour. To wit, Lans was born in St. George, Utah, didn’t know what he wanted to do and found himself knocking around Lake Powell some thirty years ago. He and his wife manned Bullfrog Marina before they had kids. You can't get to Bullfrog by land from Arizona. The only way is by boat or from the middle of nowhere, Utah. After some years exploring the lake as hobby earned his Coast Guard Captain’s license and has been leading trips on the lake for 16 years. He plans to do it till he retires. To say he loves it and is masterful doing so doesn’t do him justice. He was engaging, funny, relaxed, skilled and had a breathtaking body of knowledge of the history and the geology of the magical place. When we stopped for a swim, Lans hit the water fully clothed. He said that when it's 110 degrees he dives in at least three times every trip. That dude has fun.

He told me that, "My wife got the education. She's a pharmacist. I'm lucky if I make a quarter of what she makes. So, she's the breadwinner." He and his wife have three children, 29, 25 and 21.

When he delivered his wrap-up, he told the five of us, a family of four from Pennsylvania and me, that Lake Powell Experience had just received its 100th 5 Star review on Trip Advisor. I bet it’s 105 by now.

The bigger story about Lake Powell and Lake Mead will follow shortly. Thirty percent of capacity is better than 26%, I grant you. But It’s still lousy and we still need to conserve. I’m talking to you, California. Those almonds and pomegranates suck water like a sump pump.

Sunday, June 04, 2023

Pilgrims and Martinis

More than 27 years ago, some say 30, Thomas Lauderdale of Pink Martini saw the soon to be legendary surf rock band Satan’s Pilgrims at a Portland music club. In his words, “I fell hard.” He instantly imagined a mashup of piano and surf rock interpreting George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, his favorite Gershwin tune. Mine, too, for that matter. The record was one of the first in the Immel household. Maybe 1945. Gershwin composed the song in 1924. 

In 1997 Lauderdale and Dave Busacker, one of the Pilgrim’s three guitarists, initiated a collaboration dubbed Thomas Lauderdale Meets the Pilgrims. The project was sidetracked by Pink Martini’s meteoric success and hectic touring schedule. It was rekindled In 2011 when most of the songs were recorded yet the album was tabled for the second time. Then 10 years later in 2021 the endeavor was resuscitated, and the illusive album was completed. It was finally released on May 19, 2023.

The album release party at Portland’s Crystal Ballroom on May 18 for Thomas Lauderdale Meets the Pilgrims was a soaring success according to these biased ears.

The album cover above was taken in 2011 as far as I can tell. The players look at least a dozen years younger than their mid-50s selves. It's signed by Thomas Lauderdale and all the current Pilgrims. The late Dave Busacker is the tall one far right. Garrett's signature is bottom right. Thomas Lauderdale is downright cherubic don’t you think?

If Rhapsody in Blue was the song that inspired the collaboration and the record, it’s also thread in the winding journey that got the musicians to the finish line. When Dave Busacker passed away in 2021, our son Garrett was asked to take his place in the band. It was a challenging, if not impossible task to replace Dave, no one could do that after 30 years as a team. It involved learning music beyond the surf genre and Rhapsody in Blue became the test piece for the band and for Garrett. The tune had become the yardstick of the record and of Garrett’s role in the band. He told me they struggled with the piece in the last rehearsal before the show despite playing it flawlessly many times. There was palpable tension when the band began the song. Then they knocked it out of the park.

The drummer Ted Miller told me that, “No one else could have stepped into Dave’s shoes like Garrett did.”  The night of May 18 Garrett became Garrett Pilgrim.

You can Google Thomas Lauderdale Meets the Pilgrims and hear all of the songs on the record. It hit the shelves at your neighborhood Barnes and Noble on May 19.