Monday, August 24, 2009

Reservoir dogs: of Navajo and Nighthorse

Someone called it "the New Mexican mating ritual."

There were nine of us sitting on a cliff overlooking an arm of Navajo Reservoir. We jumped fromthe cliffs and swam and just sat gazing out over the flooded canyon filled with blue water, the rounded and crumbling tan sandstone cliffs dotted with pinion and juniper, watching the clouds float above and the boats play below.

It was the last day of the summer for our gaggle of teens, and so, as has been our ritual the last few years, we packed up and headed south for the cool and clear impounded waters of New Mexico's northernmost so-called "lake."

That's when a jet ski driven by a big guy, with a girl with a pennant of brunette hair flying behind and her arms wrapped around the driver's ample waist, buzzing loudly up and down the channel in front of our band of rocks, decelerated and turned into our little cove.

He stopped his machine somewhere on a rock shelf somewhere below us, out of sight. Then he shot loudly out back into sight -- minus his girlfriend -- and proceeded to put on a screaming, splashy display of sharp turns and jumps and spins on his manly machine right in front of us. For the amusement of his girlfriend? To impress her? Or, as someone sharply pointed out, perhaps as some sort of homo motorus mating dance?

Whatever it was, it was damned silly. And loud. And somewhat annoying, even if amusing.

But that is the nature of Navajo Reservoir. It is 35 miles of the San Juan River (plus arms up the Pine and Piedra rivers) flooded and given over to water-borne motorsports in the arid Four Corners highlands.

Yes, despite my personal aversion to big-ass water projects, even we can appreciate coming down here for the cool respite of the lake its cliff jumping and scenery. And I can even enjoy the motorhead wildlife watching, as big, expensive boats circle the busy lake aimlessly over and over and over ...

That's fine. But here's a proposal: How about making Lake Nighthorse -- the reservoir filling Ridges Basin for the Animas-La Plata project -- a lake for non-motorized recreation?

Already in the Four Corners, the major reservoirs backed up behind the region's big dams -- Navajo, McPhee, Glen Canyon, and Vallecito, in particular -- have been given over to the water-machine culture.

So, how about water recreation for those who seek quiet, and peace, and human-powered enjoyment of lakes?

Ridges Basin is perfect: It is surrounded by what's left of the Bodo Wildlife Area, sacrificed for the Animas-La Plata Project -- and originally deeded by the Bodo family to remain forever wild for wildlife) -- and so, despite the travesty of the condemning and destroying of the heart of the wildlife area, would still honor the place and the intent of its creation.

And, I believe, as the only lake set aside for peace and quiet and paddling and rowing, it would become a big tourist draw for the Durango area. The motorheads have plenty of other places to go -- all those once wild canyons now submerged.

Let's have a place for that, even after flooding, still honors that peace. And those of us who seek quiet.

After all, we need places for our mating rituals, too.

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