1976 FlashBack !



It was the Spring of 1976, I had just started on my PhD program at Utah State University (USU) and we were anticipating the arrival of our third child, Rachel, whom we were adopting in July of that year. This is Rachel a few years later:


My Major Professor, Jerry Jurinak, was very good at helping me find paying work, I never went without during my two-and-a half-years as his student. And the first of these jobs was in support of a contract between the university and Southern California Edison.

They were wanting us to help study the potential environmental impacts of building a very large electric power-plant, using locally mined coal, on the western edge of the Kaiparowits Plateau in Southern Utah.

This coal-mining power-plant proposal was very controversial. You can read about it that controversy and its status here.

Some Southern Utahns organized themselves to preserve their wilderness areas, and here is a website that discusses the coal-mining and power-plant fight from their preservationist perspective.  

Other Utahns were all for the project, of course.

Professor Jurinak told me we did not have a dog on either side of this fight: our job was to come up with scientifically defensible information that would feed into the overall environmental impact statement. We were going to apply the best science available and let the outcome be whatever the data and models indicated. Good.


The website linked here  does a very nice job driving you from Big Water, Utah, to Escalante, Utah, along the “Smoky Mountain Road.”  That is not the way we went, since we started in Escalante and ended up in Big Water (then called Glen Canyon City).

A BLM map I consulted suggested the road I was on was the “Smoky Hollow Road.” I could not really pin this down, but I believe our road meets the Smoky Mountain Road on top of the plateau.  Smoky Mountain is a place where coal naturally burns underground, sending smoke up out of the ground through fractures.  It sits on top of the plateau.  

Several USU professors and students went across the Kaiparowits Plateau that same Spring to add some details to soil maps that had been obtained. After they returned they set marks on the map suggesting soil sampling locations. I was given the privilege of going to get those soil samples. Cool!

Those who had been there before me said a Jeep was essential, so the good Professor called and arranged a Jeep rental for me in Escalante. He had no problem with my taking my wife, Audrey, so she came along just for the adventure of it.

In Escalante, the Jeep renter had only one un-rented Jeep (ours) and it was stuck somewhere in the desert below the plateau and it would be at least a day to tow it back and even then it might take days to do repairs.

So the next morning we drove our giant 1967 Chrysler New Yorker, christened "Chrissy," south along a dirt road to see how far we could get and how much of the sampling we could do without a Jeep.

The page about the “Smoky Mountain Road” linked above tells of a ride in this area in which it became clear that at some point there was no way to successfully turn back.  We learned the same lesson, but will get to that later.

These photos are what I recovered when going through old "stuff" in preparation for moving in 2010.

Originally there were many more photos, several for each soil-sampling spot, but they were turned in with the samples to become part of the data package. Since we were on a “business trip,” we did not take the time to see some of the more spectacular rock formations that attract tourists to this area. If you Google 'Kaiparowits photos' you will find lots of splendid photos of the highlights of this remote and very wild area.

It helps to take a look at the area we are about to traverse, and this 3-D map is a good way to point out a few things:

Just off the left forefront of the above map lies Escalante, Utah. Near the top (to the southeast) is the dark mass of Navajo Mountain, a 10,000+ foot peak sacred to the Navajos just on the other side of the Colorado River. That straight-edged range between Escalante and Navajo Mountain is the edge of the triangular Kaiparowits Plateau that extends off to the right (west). Our course was to follow a road that runs along this vertical ridge until we turned right to climb onto the plateau through the canyon in the photo.  Once on top we turned south and got quite near Lake Powell and then the road turned west to meet highway 89 (visible coming in from the right and almost touching the plateau where the little town of Big Water is located).  

So we began near Escalante and drove alongside the mountain ridge that is the edge of the Kaiparowits Plateau.

Along this route that follows the Escalante River, there was a choice to go to a place called Hole in the Rock, or to go to Harris Wash.  I believe it was soon after this sign that we turned right and headed up onto the plateau:

Along this red-rock-route, not far from Escalante, sits a tourist attraction called Devils Garden.  That is Audrey, waving carefree at the start of this adventure:

On the next page, we will be on top of the plateau.

Go to the Second Kaiparowits Page

Go to the Third Kaiparowits Page

See some of Lake Powell from the Air

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