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November/December 2005

Utah Hikes: The Case For Glen Canyon

Drought is giving Glen Canyon--and those who love it--a second chance. Here are four spectacular reasons why we should protect this Southwest wilderness by making it America's next national park.

Smith Fork

An ecological orgy where the reservoir once ruled

My 8-year-old son, Austin, has had enough of Lake Powell: the boat-engine exhaust, the desert of open water, the lifeless shoreline of sizzling sand and rock. “Where are we going now?” he asks, skeptical about this hike my husband, Mike, and I have planned. He scans the barren slickrock and scowls…until I point to the glowing green corridor nestled 300 feet below in a twisting orange canyon.

We step into the drainage at the lake’s high-water mark. Upcanyon are sinuous narrows and a tunnellike inlet that harbors a shady swimming hole, but we head downcanyon to explore the resurrected 2-mile section of Smith Fork. We splash through a spring-fed stream that sparkles in the sunlight; young cottonwood and willow trees line the canyon between towering alcoves sheltering fine, cool sand. “I love this place,” Austin announces as he scoops up tadpoles.

Compared to the reservoir’s monotonous landscape, recovered canyons like Smith Fork are toy boxes of natural wonders. Before the dam, biologists counted 500 species of plants and animals in Glen Canyon, including 150 different birds. It was an oasis in the desert, an embarrassment of ecological diversity. And now it appears much of that life has returned, flocking like us to the ribbons of green.

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