Tuesday, May 22, 2012

To fly, to cross that river

Peregrines and people seem to have the same aesthetic taste. Twice I have been on falcon research trips and had a companion turn to me with a slight shake of the head and a faraway look in his eye and say, 'They sure know where to live'.

—Dan O'Brien, The Rites of Autumn

In two dozen tries, we managed to get not a single photograph that showed the bird in focus, but this peregrine at Marble Canyon's Navajo Bridge reminded me, as peregrines so often do, of O'Brien's words. This place is hard but beautiful, a realm of rock, water, and air to which the peregrine is perfectly suited.

As I watched the peregrine soaring over Marble Canyon, it occurred to me—not for the first time—how limited, how restricted, how utterly earthbound we humans are as individuals. We cross this river through collective effort, at great expense and by dint of ingenuity. Prior to the construction of Navajo Bridge, the only crossing of the Colorado River between Moab, Utah and Needles, California—some five or six hundred river miles apart—was at nearby Lee's Ferry. Its establishment in 1871-72 had been at the direction of the Mormon church, and the church itself operated the ferry after the execution of John Lee for his involvement in the Mountain Meadows massacre. Clearly, the ability to cross the river was deemed of not just economic but also strategic importance by the region's settlers.

As important as it was, Lee's Ferry was unreliable, as both seasonal and episodic flooding affected its operation. When the original Navajo Bridge was completed in 1929, visitors and dignitaries came from all over the Southwest to view what was not only a feat of engineering but a vast leap forward in transportation—an all-weather crossing that permanently linked Utah and Arizona, that made it possible for men and their machines to effectively "fly" over the canyon at their convenience.

That original Navajo Bridge is now a pedestrian walkway, a second span for vehicular traffic having been completed in 1995 at an estimated cost of $15 million.

And the peregrines make it look so easy...

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