Today’s guest blogger is Lucy Jane Bledsoe, author of the new book Lava Falls, a collection of twelve stories.
A deep canyon divides this continent, our country. I’m not talking about the political divide, but rather an actual geographical feature. The Grand Canyon, however, can also be seen as a massive metaphor.
The National Parks are as American as baseball and apple pie, and Grand Canyon National Park is perhaps the most iconic of them all. It’s no surprise this gash is at the center of so many American conflicts.
The current administration in Washington is enthusiastically embracing lobbyists aiming to roll back the environmental protections on our nation’s 640 million acres of public land, including that surrounding the Grand Canyon. Uranium miners are particularly eager to get their hands on new ground and have already succeeded in grabbing parts of Bears Ears and Escalante National Monuments. Environmentalists and Native Americans, such as the Havasupai who live in the region, are fighting back.
But environmental threats are not the only trauma rocking Grand Canyon National Park. The Colorado River corridor has been at the heart of a sexual harassment disaster ripping through the National Park Service, with a years long history of female guides and rangers being physically attacked, propositioned for sex, and retaliated against after reporting incidents. The isolated environment of the Colorado River corridor, where small groups of travelers are dependent upon one another for literal survival, makes an unfortunately perfect habitat for predation. National Park Service managers knew for years about the sexual harassment in the Grand Canyon and failed to take action. The scandal resulted in the resignation of park superintendent Dave Uberuaga, and also reportedly left the river corridor unpatrolled for at least two summers.
It is in the context of these stories of abuse—of the land itself and of the women who love it—that I wrote my novella, “Lava Falls.” As a way of reclaiming the majestic red walls of the Grand Canyon, and the sparkling emerald river running through it, I sent a group of six women on a rafting trip, each with her own story for why she’s making the journey.
As the trip progresses, the women discover secrets in the canyon and encounter the sources of the contemporary conflicts gushing through it, all while trying to survive the desert and monster rapids, including the famous Lava Falls rapid.
I wrote “Lava Falls” because I’m interested in the layers of earth’s history revealed by the Grand Canyon, the way they mirror the layers of human history. People have been living along and inside the Colorado River and Grand Canyon for thousands of years. There still exists a rickety bridge across a gap in the canyon wall built centuries ago by the Anasazi people. Compare this to the Hoover and Glen Canyon Dams bracketing the canyon today, not so rickety, and yet sure to eventually crumble and wash away.
Our country is deeply divided, by our political views and by a gorgeous canyon. I hope that one day soon the national parks, especially the stunning landscape of the Grand Canyon, will return to its role as the crown jewel of America, a source of spiritual renewal and nourishing water, a reminder of our short and precious history on this planet.
A Thin Bright Line and The Big Bang Symphony and the adventure essay collection The Ice Cave. She has traveled the length of the Grand Canyon, skied through Yellowstone National Park, kayaked and hiked in Alaska, and voyaged several times to Antarctica. She lives in Berkeley, California.is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction, including the novels