The Effects of the Glen Canyon Dam on Archeological sites - Rainbow Bridge


Prior to the filling of Glen Canyon and the creation of Lake Powell, there were a recorded 2000 Anasazi sites within Glen Canyon (Cadillac Desert: An American Nile, 1997). All of these sites now lay deep under the surface of Lake Powell. The Rainbow Bridge, a geological formation which has had great significance to native peoples, also lies within Glen Canyon, although it is not yet submerged.

Effects on the Rainbow Bridge

It is believed that the Rainbow Bridge was discovered by the Desha people 7000 to 8000 years ago. The Anasazi farmers had also found it sometime between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. Yet it was the Navajo Indians who found the Rainbow Bridge in our times when they came to an area just west of the Rainbow plateau in 1863, as a result of a flight from United States troops at Fort Sumner. Upon arrival in this area the Navajo performed many “evilway” rites, which were exorcistic rites. These were performed more often than “Holyway” rites which were rites of reconciliation. The Navajo rituals performed were primarily of two kinds: Protectionway and Blessingway rites. These rites were performed to reconcile with gods: namely Head of Earth and Monster Slayer. The reasoning behind these rituals was to ward off United States troops. Yet, when life with the outside world became more peaceful the rites were performed for the general health of the people. Monster Slayer was born and raised in one day and on the same day he fended off the United States troops, hence he became a model for speedy help. When someone became ill Monster Slayer's help was there to aid them. The Protectionway rite gave rise to Rain-requesting rites. This rite was used first used in the 1880's and was only practiced by a few tribesman and was viewed as not important to the warriors of the tribe. This rite varied according to rainfall and wasn’t noted as being practiced again until the 1920's.

Upon the completion of Glen Canyon Dam, the Navajo’s had a new problem to worry about. The rise of Lake Powell’s waters into the wash below Rainbow Bridge threatened the arch itself, and with that the Navajo rites surrounding it. Today the Rainbow Bridge still stands, but has become a national monument and is frequently visited by tourists. Undoubtedly, this title has made it difficult for the traditional Navajo’s to practice their rites on this sacred ground (Luckert, 1977).

Effects on archeological sites

The Glen Canyon Dam changed the pattern of erosion, and sediment deposition throughout the down river canyons. The result is that archeological sites that were once protected by sandbars became increasingly exposed, making them vulnerable to erosion and ultimately destruction. None of the flow alternatives could stop this erosion completely although some will allow for the long-term preservation of these sites. Before 1989, it was thought that the operation of The Glen Canyon Dam did no harm to the cultural resources of the down stream canyons. As a result, many sites had already been destroyed by the time it was recognized that this needed to be factored into the operation of the dam. The national park service conducted an archeological inventory of the sites in August 1990. It found that there were 475 sites in the Colorado River corridor. It was determined that 336 of these sites had or could be affected by the operation of the dam. In addition to the 336 sites, many Native American cultural properties and resources, such as plants and animals have been directly affected by the dam (USBR&USDI, 1996).

Clearly the Glen Canyon Dam has had a profoundly negative effect on the Navajo sacred site of the Rainbow Bridge, and on a number of down river native sites, which is not to mention the 2000 Anasazi sites that lay at the bottom of Lake Powell.

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