Ruminations From the Western Slope

Ruminations From the Western Slope
Colorado River near Moab, Utah

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Under the Influence of the Confluence

The meeting of two rivers is not unlike that magical afterglow when two lovers have conjoined for the first time. On the surface all is mostly placid and calm while beneath the surface the currents roil and intermingle. The two rivers become one as they move downstream. They collectively carry the silt, the sand, the shoreline momentoes with them as they glide along. Together now they will experience calm spots and stretches of rough water.

I currently live in a town whose name celebrates the confluence of two great western rivers, the Gunnison and the Grand (now called the Colorado). Grand Junction was so named in 1881. Yet that very confluence is difficult to find anymore, merging as it does in the heart of a forgotten industrial area, below dilapidated private lots. There is no trail to the site. No overlook. You might be able to catch a glimpse of it from the old railroad bridge. But it is not an advertised destination...

...Unlike the confluence farther downstream where the Colorado and Green Rivers meet in the heart of Canyonlands National Park in Utah. For four years of my life, in the late 1970s, I had the privilege of living just a few miles from the spot, in an enclave of National Park Service trailers in the Needles District of Canyonlands. I saw the Confluence often, at least several dozen times a year when I would patrol the back side of Elephant Hill through terrain of the roughest and most beautiful kind.

The Confluence was a major park destination because first-time visitors had different expectations about what they might see out there, thinking that they would gaze down into a gorge and see a wild, frothing mist arising from the collision of two mighty, churning waterways. Their expectations would grow as they endured the rugged, 4-wheel drive and the final half mile hike to the brink where they would be confronted with........sublime silence, solitude and space.

One thousand feet below them, in the midst of an austere landscape of layered rocks and eroded landforms, were the seemingly still, sinuous ribbons of the two great rivers, the redder Colorado flowing in from the northeast and meeting the pea-soup green Green curving down from the northwest. Depending on the time of year, the stronger and larger Colorado would capture the colors of the Green and subdue them quickly, continuing its muddy red flow to the south.

In spite of the lack of frothing drama below, visitors were seldom disappointed. After all, there they were at one of the loneliest overlooks on the continent in a landscape the human mind could barely conceive of, looking down....and up...and around. And experiencing maybe for the first time that sublime silence, solitude and space.

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