A PARTIAL LUNAR ECLIPSE, THE LONGEST IN 580 YEARS, IS COMING THURSDAY NIGHT ~ The Washington Post

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The ‘beaver moon’ will be 97 percent blocked by the darkest part of Earth’s shadow, becoming a ‘blood moon’

A lunar eclipse is framed within Turret Arch at Arches National Park near Moab, Utah, on Dec. 10, 2011. (Julie Jacobson/AP)

By Matthew Cappucci

Skywatchers on Thursday night will be treated to a near-total lunar eclipse as the full moon is plunged into the blood-red light cast by Earth’s shadow. The spectacle will be visible from all of North America, with the exception of eastern Greenland, including the entire Lower 48, Alaska and Hawaii, as well as parts of South America and Russia.

Though it’s technically not a total lunar eclipse, it’s about as close as one can get to totality without actually being there. At peak, 97 percent of the moon will be covered by the umbra, or the darkest part of Earth’s shadow. Only a sliver on the bottom left of the moon will remain faintly illuminated.

A striking element of Thursday night’s eclipse will be its duration — 3 hours, 28 minutes and 24 seconds, according to Space.com, which it says makes it the longest partial eclipse in 580 years.

Remembering the 2019 total solar eclipse over La Serena, Chile

At the time of the eclipse, the moon will be full. Some refer to the November full moon as the “beaver moon,” a name assigned by Native Americans when beavers were particularly active in preparation for winter and it was time to set traps, according to NASA. The November full moon is also sometimes called the frost, frosty or snow moon for the wintry conditions beginning at this time of year, NASA writes.

A moon, once eclipsed, is also sometimes called a “blood moon” because of its reddish or rusty tone.

The eclipse will begin when many are asleep along the East Coast, but those residing on the West Coast don’t need to be night dwellers to take in the best parts of the show.

The lunar eclipse will begin at 1:02 a.m. Eastern time Friday, or 10:02 p.m. Pacific time Thursday. That’s when the penumbra, or peripheral darkening associated with the Earth’s shadow, will nick the moon. There won’t be much noticeable difference in how the moon appears. For that, you’ll have to wait until 2:18 a.m. Eastern time, when the umbra begins traversing the moon.

There won’t be any “totality,” but the eclipse will grow deeper and more intense until 4:02 a.m. Eastern time, when more than 97 percent of the moon will be immersed in the umbra. It’s not technically a total eclipse, but for all intents and purposes, it is from a visual standpoint.

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THIS COLORADO ‘SOLAR GARDEN’ IS LITERALLY A FARM UNDER SOLAR PANELS ~ NPR

November 14, 2021

KIRK SIEGLER

~~~ LISTEN ~~~

When Byron Kominek returned home after the Peace Corps and later working as a diplomat in Africa, his family’s 24-acre farm near Boulder, Colo., was struggling to turn a profit. 

“Our farm has mainly been hay producing for fifty years,” Kominek said, on a recent chilly morning, the sun illuminating a dusting of snow on the foothills to his West. “This is a big change on one of our three pastures.” 

That big change is certainly an eye opener: 3,200 solar panels mounted on posts eight feet high above what used to be an alfalfa field on this patch of rolling farmland at the doorstep of the Rocky Mountains. 

Getting to this point, a community solar garden that sells 1.2 megawatts of power back into the local grid, wasn’t easy, even in a progressive county like his that wanted to expand renewable energy. When Kominek approached Boulder County regulators about putting up solar panels, they initially told him no, his land was designated as historic farmland. 

“They said, land’s for farming, so go farm it,” Kominek says. “I said, well, we weren’t making any money, you all want to be 100% renewable at some point so how about we work together and sort this out.” 

They eventually did, with help from researchers at nearby Colorado State University and the National Renewable Energy Lab, which had been studying how to turn all that otherwise unused land beneath solar panels into a place to grow food. 

With close to two billion dollars devoted to renewable power in the newly passed infrastructure bill, the solar industry is poised for a win. But there have long been some tensions between renewable developers and some farmers. According to NREL, upwards of two million acres of American farmland could be converted to solar in the next decade.

But what if it didn’t have to be an either or proposition? What if solar panels and farming could literally co-exist, if not even help one another. 

That was what piqued Kominek’s interest, especially with so many family farms barely hanging on in a world of corporate consolidation and so many older farmers nearing retirement. 

For about 50 years, Byron Kominek’s family grew alfalfa and raised some cows on their farm near Boulder, Colo.Kirk Siegler/NPR

Last year, Boulder County updated its land use code. And soon after Kominek installed the solar panels on one of this pastures. They’re spaced far enough apart from one another so he could drive his tractor between them. 

Still, when it came time to plant earlier this year, Kominek was initially skeptical. 

But he soon discovered that the shade from the towering panels above the soil actually helped the plants thrive. That intermittent shade also meant a lot less evaporation of coveted irrigation water. And in turn the evaporation actually helped keep the sun-baked solar panels cooler, making them more efficient. 

By summer, Kominek was a believer. 

Walking the intricately lined rows of veggies beneath the panels, he beams pointing out where the peppers, tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, lettuces, beets, turnips, carrots were all recently harvested. The farm is still bursting with chard and kale even in November. 

“Oh yeah, kale never dies,” Kominek says, chuckling. 

Kominek’s farm, rebranded as Jack’s Solar Garden (Jack is his grandfather’s name), is part of a burgeoning industry known as agrivoltaics. It’s a relatively new field of research and Kominek’s farm is one of only about a dozen in the United States known to be experimenting with it. 

But agrivoltaics is drawing particular interest in the West, now in the grips of a 22 year megadrought. 

“Around the western US, water is the reason to go to war,” says Greg Barron-Gafford, a University of Arizona professor who is considered one of the country’s foremost experts in the field.

“Water is the reason we have to have real big arguments about where we’re going to get our food from in the future,” he says.

Barron-Gafford’s research in the Arizona desert showed some crops grown underneath solar panels needed 50% less water. He and other scientists have their eyes on the infrastructure bill and are pushing to get some of the estimated $300 million included in it for new solar projects to go toward agrivoltaics. 

“If you really want to build infrastructure in a way that is not going to compete with food and could actually take advantage of our dwindling resources in terms of water in a really efficient way, this is something to look at,” Barron-Gafford says. 

Researchers say there needs to be financial incentives for family farmers to add solar to their portfolio, if solar gardens like Byron Kominek’s are really going to take off and become mainstream. 

In Kominek’s case, he literally bet the farm in order to finance the roughly $2 million solar arrays. 

“We had to put up our farm as collateral as well as the solar array as collateral to the bank,” he says. “If this doesn’t work, we lose the farm.” 

But farming is all about taking on risk and debt, he says. And early on anyway, it’s looking like his bet could pay off. 

“That humming [you hear] is the inverters making us money,” he says, pointing toward an electric converter box mounted near a row of kale. A series of wires carry the power out to the county highway and onto the local Xcel Energy grid.

The inverters here generate enough power for 300 homes to use in a year. Kominek hopes to soon grow enough food beneath the panels to maybe feed as many local families.

MAGIC MUSHROOMS, A LOVE STORY ~ The New Yorker

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A graphic novel tells the story of the couple whose love for fungi and each other laid the foundation for the serious study of psilocybin

By Françoise Mouly and Genevieve Bormes

November 12, 2021

Image may contain Tree Plant Housing Building Outdoors Ornament and Nature

Today, R. Gordon Wasson is credited with, among other contributions to American mycology, coining the term “magic mushrooms” to describe the varieties of fungi that can induce hallucinogenic experiences when ingested. Brian Blomerth’s new graphic novel, “Brian Blomerth’s Mycelium Wassonii,” chronicles how Wasson, an executive at JPMorgan who thought mushrooms were disgusting, became one of the pioneers of research on their psychedelic uses. Wasson’s conversion from mushroom hater to mushroom evangelist began shortly after he married Valentina (Tina) Pavlovna, a Russian-born pediatrician. Pavlovna had been taught to forage for mushrooms by her mother, and they were a part of her heritage. When she found some mushrooms during the couple’s honeymoon, in the Catskills, Wasson refused to partake when she cooked them for dinner; the next morning, finding that his wife had not been poisoned by the meal, he tasted the leftovers and discovered that he liked them. Driven by Tina’s passion for mushrooms and Gordon’s love for his wife, the couple devoted much of their time to mycological research.

Blomerth’s fanciful and colorful illustrations offer a largely joyous overview of the couple’s work together, which Wasson continued to do for decades after Pavlovna’s death in 1958. The book recounts, among other stories, the couple’s trip to observe the ritual use of hallucinogenic mushrooms among the Mazatec people in Mexico; the fraught role Wasson played in exposing, against her wishes, the Mazatec curandera María Sabina to enlightenment-seeking spiritual tourists; the covert involvement of the C.I.A. in Wasson’s research; and the scientific isolation of psilocybin, the compound responsible for mushrooms’ trip-inducing properties. The book also celebrates another altered state: love and the irrevocable effect one person can have on another’s interests, career, and life.

The graphic novel will be published by Anthology Editions, one side of the company that includes Anthology Recordings, a label that reissues psych and surf-rock music from the nineteen-sixties and seventies, among other releases. To date, the Brooklyn-based publisher has also collaborated with Blomerth on Xak’s Wax, a zine, and “Brian Blomerth’s Bicycle Day,” a book about Albert Hofmann’s work on LSD, as well as his relationship with his wife, Anita. “Brian Blomerth’s Mycelium Wassonii” continues what Anthology and Blomerth hope will be a larger series about various altered states and the stories of the people behind them.

In the chapter “1949,” excerpted below, the couple receive a letter from a famous poet as they start to work on a mushroom cookbook.

Magic Mushrooms a Love Story
Image may contain Comics and Book
Image may contain Comics and Book
Image may contain Human and Person
Magic Mushrooms a Love Story
Magic Mushrooms a Love Story
Magic Mushrooms a Love Story
Magic Mushrooms a Love Story

This excerpt is drawn from “Brian Blomerth’s Mycelium Wassonii,” by Brian Blomerth, out this month from Anthology Editions.

FLY FISHING IN ITALY ~ NYT

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By Kenneth R. Rosen

  • Nov. 10, 2021

On an early morning in late autumn 2019, I drove with two friends from my family’s small rural home in Northern Italy toward the town of Bassano del Grappa, where we would meet our fishing guides. The car axles whimpered through each turn. The road was flanked by walls of dolomite, valley floors of grapevines and verdure.

Passing through villages with roads no wider than toothpicks, we intersected the Brenta River several times, crossing old wooden bridges and new steel overpasses with the water breaking below. The river wriggles from two serene lakes in the Trentino-Alto Adige region in the Italian Alps, and after more than 100 miles dismisses itself into the Adriatic Sea.

After an hour’s drive we made it to the river bend where we would fish that day. The sun hardly crested the horizon. It was only in this very specific stretch of water outside Bassano that we were allowed to fish, a condition of the country’s strict permitting and controls on fishing. The regulations make for good fishing and a protected river ecosystem.

Italy never appears on lists featuring the world’s best fishing locales. Wyoming? Definitely. Argentina? Naturally. New Zealand? No question. But the wonder of Italian alpine fishing is now making itself known thanks to tourism campaigns launched in the last five years and an explosion of guides offering tours that blend traditional fly fishing with cultural outings.

Aside from the cool factor of accessing backcountry tributaries near Roman ruins and the packed lunch that is likely to be haute if low-key, the wonderment of Italian fishing is threefold: the accessibility (although permitting is painless for guests and residents alike, the rules are extensive), the abundance (recent fishery management efforts have made the waters of Northern Italy a trout heaven) and the rolling seasons (lake trout and chars from January to October, rainbow trout from February to October, graylings from May to October and pike from May to December).

But the real beauty may be this: “The fisherman can say, ‘We’re going to Italy!’” said Angelo Piller, who operates a fly fishing lodge, tackle shop and guiding service in Pieve di Cadore, about two hours north of Venice. “He can fish and the rest of the family thinks they’re just going on vacation.”

Matteo de Falco, a fly fisherman and guide, in the Brenta River near the town of Bassano del Grappa.
Matteo de Falco, a fly fisherman and guide, in the Brenta River near the town of Bassano del Grappa.Credit…Susan Wright for The New York Times
Fishing in the Brenta River offers views of the Ponte degli Alpini, whose earliest form dates to the 1100s.
Fishing in the Brenta River offers views of the Ponte degli Alpini, whose earliest form dates to the 1100s.Credit…Susan Wright for The New York Times

When we arrived in Bassano we walked along the water’s edge across a path trussed by stone walls. To get to the Brenta, we had to first climb a stone wall and then lower ourselves into the brackish river water.

Fly fishing is most associated with waders, hats pricked full of hooks resembling various insects and artful wrist work. But this was more. As the water reached my chest, I walked further into the river. Downstream was the Ponte Degli Alpini, a covered wooden pontoon bridge whose earliest version dates to the 1100s and is named for the Italian mountain military forces. I could see lines forming outside the Nardini Distillery, where soon we would see patrons clutching shot glasses of grappa and steins of cider. Beyond the waterline breached a series of turrets, a castle keep and curtain walls.

Fly fishing uses a rod with artificial bait with a hidden hook, known as a fly. A shiny, colorful fly is cast into running water (a river or stream) and sunk and reeled to attract fish, mimicking the appearance of another insect or prey. Attached to the fishing line is a buoy, which helps an angler know when a fish is nibbling; a split shot weight, which helps adjust the water depth of the fly; then the fly itself, independent of the other two parts.

The buoy and split shot work in tandem to offer more forgiveness when the fly is cast into a stream or river. Adjustments can be made to lower or raise the fly, and when a fish bites, the angler knows when to yank on the line.

I had thought myself a decent angler, acquainted with what I believed was the only fly fishing technique, until Matteo de Falco, our guide, handed me a 10-foot pole and wished me a good first cast. I looked at him, bewildered. The pole was massive, much longer than the 8-foot poles I most often used.

Cinemagraph
Credit…By Susan Wright

Many anglers who fish in the Dolomites do so using a method dating back to the late 19th century and adapted from an old American technique known as nymphing, after the type of flies needed to angle in shallow waters.

The first written mention of the technique was in the 1920s, according to George Daniels, the lead instructor of the Penn State University fly fishing program, who teaches angling courses and operates a full-time guiding and fly fishing educational service called Livin On The Fly. Frank Sawyer, the creator of a popular fly called the Pheasant Tail nymph, wrote about using an 11-foot pole with especially long leaders (the business end of a fishing line, difficult for fish to see and where flies are attached) while fishing in English chalk streams. The technique was called European nymphing. “The tactic is so good that many anglers do nothing but Euro nymph,” Mr. Daniels told me.

The European nymphing technique is not about stalking a trout in a slow pool, standing for hours waiting for the fish to meet a fly. It is more aggressive, faster action, throwing many casts in fast water right on a fish, never patient, always hunting.

In Patagonia, I once caught trout using only a tin can spooled with fishing line. In Alberta, Canada, I have thrown the wriggly line of a regular fly fishing rod at gin-clear waters for what felt like hours without the slightest hint of a bite. This nymph technique was otherworldly.

Diego Riggi is a well-known fisherman and creator of flies who runs the Mosca Tzè Tzè fly shop.
Diego Riggi is a well-known fisherman and creator of flies who runs the Mosca Tzè Tzè fly shop.Credit…Susan Wright for The New York Times
A trout being released back into the water. 
A trout being released back into the water. Credit…Susan Wright for The New York Times

“The technique is special and has started to become more famous because you can fish lower with a small fish, lighter flies, good sensitivity and the possibility to attach two flies,” Diego Riggi, a well-known fly-tier and guide, said from his home office in Tre Ville, 2,707 feet above the Sarca River in Trentino-Alto Adige. In 2019, he sold 12,000 flies across greater Europe through his website Mosca Tzé Tzé.

European nymph fishing is fishing by feel: no strike indicator, no split shot, but a longer leader and two or more faster-sinking flies. An angler feels the tension of the line, is more connected to all that is happening beneath the surface and is largely in charge of the progress of the fly as it transits downstream. It is more difficult, but some anglers argue that without all the trappings of “advanced fly fishing,” this holistic method yields better results. It is also the international standard for competitive fly fishing, where the use of strike indicators is typically forbidden. An overly simplified explanation of European nymph fishing is this: It is a pared-down, purist fly fishing technique, stripped of devices that do the fishing for an angler.

Brown Trout are found in the streams in the Misurina Valley in the Veneto region of the Dolomites.
Brown Trout are found in the streams in the Misurina Valley in the Veneto region of the Dolomites.Credit…Susan Wright for The New York Times
Fly fishing in the Passirio River in the town of Merano, Alto Adige region.
Fly fishing in the Passirio River in the town of Merano, Alto Adige region.Credit…Susan Wright for The New York Times

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Rest Day ~ The Land Desk

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~~~ SHARE THE DESK ~~~

And a power grid nerd video!

Jonathan P. Thompson
Nov 8
Lubrication, Atomic City, Idaho. Photo illustration/digital painting by Jonathan P. Thompson. 

The big news these days is that Congress finally got its sh*% together and passed an infrastructure bill (though they’ve failed to do anything with the Build Back Better bill which is perhaps more important). There’s a lot of stuff in there—like $1 trillion worth—and I’m still combing through it to get an idea of what it might mean for Western states. More on that in a coming dispatch. 

In the meantime a few headlines, in brief. I wrote last week about how the Biden administration had deferred auctioning off a big portion of parcels nominated for oil and gas leasing in Wyoming. In Colorado they went even further, deferring 95 percent of nominated parcels due to potential impact to wildlife. It seems as if the administration is doing de facto leasing reform, which is better than nothing. 

Down in Arizona the big utility, APS, wanted a rate increase to help it fork out a significant amount to help communities transition economically after the closure of coal mines and power plants. It’s certainly worth debating whether the ratepayers or shareholders should be paying for these things, but certainly someone should be. Arizona regulators, however, don’t seem to think so: They gave APS a revenue cut, rather than hike, meaning the utility is only making a “token payment” to these struggling communities and tribes. 

In more Methane Madness news: California regulators allowed Southern California Gas Co to increase the capacity of Aliso Canyon storage field. Nearby residents and environmentalists wanted the facility closed, altogether, given that it was the site of a massive methane leak in 2015 that sickened people and contributed 100,000 metric tons of potent greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. 

And, the U.S. Forest Service granted a right-of-way for a proposed oil-hauling railroad that would connect Utah’s Uinta Basin with the national rail network, thereby facilitating more drilling. 

Finally, a reader sent us this awesome piece from John Oliver explaining the electrical grid in easy-to-understand, entertaining terms. It seems appropriate here since the grid is one of the beneficiaries of the infrastructure bill! 

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INSIDE THE GUNNISON TUNNEL, THE FIRST MAJOR WATER DIVERSION SYSTEM IN THE U.S. ~ The Colorado Sun

The first bore of the Gunnison Tunnel opened in 1909, becoming a model for moving Western water beneath mountains .

Jason Blevins4

Nov 7, 202

The Gunnison Tunnel, which carries about 500,000 acre-feet of water west from the Gunnison River to the Uncompahgre Valley each year, photographed on Nov. 4, 2021. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

MONTROSE — After more than a half-hour splashing through the dank dark of one of the world’s longest irrigation tunnels, Dennis Veo grins in the sunshine showering the cliffs of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River. 

“The guys who did this were dang sharp,” says Veo, the operations manager of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association. “The engineering that went into this back in the early 1900s, it’s just hard to wrap your head around.”

The 120-year-old, 5.8-mile tunnel was the largest irrigation tunnel in the country when it opened in 1909. It was also the first major transmountain diversion in the U.S., becoming a model for moving Western water beneath mountains, connecting wet basins with dry deserts. 

Today, the Gunnison Tunnel can move more than 500,000 acre-feet of water a year, more than the entire Eastern Slope draws from the Upper Colorado River Basin.

Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association Manager Steve Anderson walks through the Gunnison Tunnel Thursday morning. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

That water, roughly 1,150 cubic-feet-per-second when filled to the ceiling of the granite-blasted tunnel, irrigates about 83,000 acres for 3,000 members of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association and also delivers water to more than 50,000 people in the three-county Project 7 Water Authority. The water that pours from the Gunnison Tunnel is the lifeblood of the Uncompahgre Valley, flowing through 128 miles of major canals and 438 miles of lateral ditches in Montrose and Delta counties.

“We are the largest diverter of water in Colorado,” says Steve Anderson, the second-generation general manager of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association. “We can take about the same as the entire Front Range takes from the Colorado River. And about the same as the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California takes out of the Colorado River. That is a lot of water.”

An engineering marvel 

In the late 1800s, it became clear that the fickle flows of the Uncompahgre River alone could not irrigate enough acres in the river valley between Delta and Montrose. There were close to 100,000 acres homesteaded by farmers but only enough water to irrigate a fraction of that.  

Members of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association drive through the Gunnison Tunnel to inspect its condition. Since 1912, the tunnel has transported crucial Gunnison River water used by Western Slope agricultural operations and municipalities. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

An ambitious plan to connect the Gunnison River with the Uncompahgre River valley started in the early 1900s, when a pair of intrepid engineers with the local power company and the U.S. Geological Survey descended the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River on rubber air mattresses. With cameras and rudimentary surveying equipment, they searched for a place to build a diversion dam and tunnel. 

The first bore of the Gunnison Tunnel opened in 1909. It was the first major project approved by the Department of the Interior under the 1902 Reclamation Act. More than 26 men died during construction of what was then the longest irrigation tunnel ever built. Countless more workers were maimed. The manual diggers — crews of 30 men working around the clock from both ends of the tunnel — were off by only 6 inches when they met in the middle, Veo said. By 1912, water was flowing through the tunnel and irrigating crops from Delta to Montrose.

In 1973, the American Society of Civil Engineers honored the Gunnison Tunnel as a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. A few years later it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Gunnison River flows through the Black Canyon near the East Portal entrance of the Gunnison Tunnel, right, Thursday. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

“What’s amazing about it is, on a good day, if the air flows just right, you can get in there just a little ways and shut the lights out and you can actually see the light at the other end,” says Veo, standing on the banks of the Gunnison River by the East Portal. “That’s pretty incredible thinking about the people who built it so many years ago, with what technology did they have? A plumb bob and a ruler?” (And lots of dynamite.)

The Gunnison Tunnel is the critical link of the Wayne N. Aspinall Unit, one of the four projects that make up the 1956 Colorado River Storage Project. The Aspinall Unit, named after Colorado’s 24-year U.S. Rep. Wayne Aspinall, includes Blue Mesa Dam, Morrow Point Dam and Crystal Dam, all of which provide storage and generate electricity along a 40-mile stretch of the Gunnison River. 

Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association Manager Steve Anderson, left, and UVWUA Operations Manager Dennis Veo walk through a gate leading to the East Portal of the Gunnison Tunnel in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison on Thursday. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The other units created under the 1956 Colorado River Storage Project Act include the Flaming Gorge Dam on the Green River in Utah, the Navajo Reservoir in New Mexico and Lake Powell in Utah. The network of reservoirs and dams are used by Upper Colorado River Basin states to store water and generate electricity as part of the Colorado River Compact that divides up the river between seven states and Mexico.

That venerable compact — the so-called Law of the River — is getting extra scrutiny now as a warming climate, reduced snowfall and increased demand stress the ability of the Colorado River to provide water to more than 40 million people. Farmers and ranchers, who use about 80 percent of the Colorado River’s water, are being asked to reduce their consumption while growing cities increase storage and weave conservation into their long-term planning. 

As a prolonged drought withers water supplies in the seven-state Colorado River Basin, deeper cuts in water allocations are looming. This summer the Bureau of Reclamation for the first time ever ordered the Upper Basin’s Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa and Navajo reservoirs to send nearly 200,000 acre-feet down the Colorado River to Lake Powell so the Glen Canyon Dam could continue producing hydroelectricity through the winter. 

Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association Manager Steve Anderson, right, and Operations Manager Dennis Veo drive inside the Gunnison Tunnel to inspect its condition Thursday. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

“Without it, there would hardly be anything here.”

The engineering masterpiece has sustained a lush vibrancy along the Uncompahgre River. It’s pretty simple to imagine what the valley would look like without that tunnel, says John Harold, who farms corn, onion and beans in the valley. 

“Just look at everything when you drive south out of Grand Junction. All desert,” says Harold, whose Tuxedo Corn Co. holds the patent on the Olathe Sweet variety of sweet corn planted on about 1,700 acres in the Uncompahgre Valley. “We get an average of 9 inches of rain a year, which isn’t enough to grow anything. Without this tunnel we would be a desert. If anything ever happens to that tunnel and that water went away, there’s no question this valley would return to a desert.” 

Tuxedo Corn Company farmer and founder John Harold of Olathe checks his crop in a field west of Olathe on July 16, 2021. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Agriculture consumes a lion’s share of the water that flows through the Gunnison Tunnel. But that share has dwindled in recent decades as municipalities grow and farmers fade in the drought. 

The importance of that tunnel beneath the mountains is not lost on residents in the valley. It is the region’s animating force, even as its economy grows and diversifies beyond a sole reliance on farming. 

“I’ve been looking forward to going down that hole for 70 years,” says Loren Dikeman, whose daughter works for the water users association and secured an invite for the annual trip into the tunnel once the water turns off for the season. “It took a lifetime to get it done.”

Dikeman’s family moved from the Eastern Plains in 1951 and started farming on about 160 acres. His trip through the tunnel was a chance to see the artery that pumps life into his hometown. 

Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association Operations Manager Dennis Veo walks inside the Gunnison Tunnel to inspect its condition. This is a once-a-year task that occurs when irrigation water is turned off for the year. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

“Everyone here really appreciates this tunnel,” Dikeman says. “How could they not. Without it, there hardly wouldn’t be anything here.”

Huddling in his rain jacket in the back of a rusty 1984 Chevy pickup as it bounces down the fetid channel, he laughs at the thought of a breakdown or a flat.

“Boy that would be a long, long walk in the dark,” he says. 

Guest Post: Desert Dreamworks ~ The Land Desk

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I’ll say it once and I’ll say it again: Thank you for your support. I couldn’t do this without you. Don’t let your friends miss out! Tell them about the Land Desk or, better yet, buy them a gift subscription. 

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A photo essay by Samuel Shaw

Jonathan P. Thompson
Nov 5

The following photos and words are by Samuel Shaw, a photographer and writer. They are from his series entitled Desert Dreamworks.

Fresh builds on the outskirts. Samuel R. Shaw photo. 

As Americans, we are scarred by the dream of innocence. In our hearts, we still believe that the only truly beautiful landscape is an unpeopled one. So to wash our eyes of the depressing evidence we have raced deeper and deeper into the wilderness, passed the last stagecoach stop and the last hotel, to see and claim a section of God’s own garden before our fellows arrive to spoil it.” – Forward to Robert Adams’ “The New West,” 1974 

Thornton is on the advancing edge of a large and highly successful concrete organism called the FRUC, or the Front Range Urban Corridor. I exit my car on the border of one of its many moonscapes. This one’s called Willow Bend, a subdivision marketing single-family homes for the low 400’s. Right now, in the feral heat of August, there is little more than scraped earth and the smell of tar bubbling through cracks on the access road, but a vast choreography of heavy machines, framing crews, and landscape teams will see to Willow Bend’s transformation in little more than a year. I crouch in the shade beside a parked excavator and take a photo. 

Earth movers. Samuel R. Shaw photo. 

This image may look familiar. In fact, it owes a serious debt. Fifty years earlier, another photographer stood five miles from me on the boundary of Arvada’s first automobile suburb. Robert Adams’ eerily prescient photo series, “The New West,” indexed an unfolding process in its infancy: new roads and gas stations, oil wells usurping coal mines, the tract homes burrowing deep into open space—they are a portrait of this century as much as the last. For that reason Adams’ project is also unfinished. And perhaps it never can be, as long as the FRUC sprawls outward. 

From 2010 to 2017, Northeast Denver saw the fastest suburban growth in the country, fueled by multi-national investment giants like Berkshire Hathaway. One of the newest single-family developments in their Colorado portfolio is called The American Dream. Its foundations are being poured within earshot of America’s third busiest airport and fourth largest landfill. 

In places like Weld county’s Wyndham Hill development, the relationship between land and speculation, resource and extraction, is close enough to fit in a single camera frame. Oil wells feet from homes are common here, just as the spills are; twelve in the first two weeks of October, according to the Greeley Tribune. A hundred yards away, local kids play on a dirt mound while framers lash together one of the last houses in the sub-division.  

Signs of change pop up early by freeway off-ramps a few miles away in Prospect. Clip-art families and dogs and fit young people are affixed to outdoor displays long before any construction starts, as if to announce the lebensraum. “New Homes Coming Soon,” reads a wooden totem. The other side of its square shaft replies, “city with a side of nature.” Like ancient steles in Mesopotamia, they carry some ideological heft. One Broomfield billboard skipped the lifestyle imagery entirely. In their place was a six word mantra: “Big ideas start with heavy equipment.”  

I went through my roll of 35mm shots, comparing them to ones Adams took half a century ago. Other than the billboard design and slight shifts to our frontier architecture style, most photos are difficult to distinguish at all. That radiant Colorado sun, still, somehow, extracts an unlikely beauty from an undeserving subject. 

In moments like this I imagine a world in reverse, where the ice sheets annex shipping lanes and the FRUC retreats, its parking lots split and swallowed by prairie grass. These are pipe-dreams of course, but an aborted—and admittedly crude—2019 ballot initiative to slow development across eight counties gives me hope that the machine can be arrested, or evolve into something more efficient: less thirsty for water and greedy for land. 

Then I think of Louisville, where I grew up, and an unusual visitor to our tract home a few years back. A small pick-up truck loitered for a moment at the end of the cul-de-sac when a middle-aged man stepped out onto the driveway and approached the door. He was one of the original occupants of our house, constructed in 1983. He’d come to see what it looked like now. “Behind the fence there, that’s where the buildings stopped. No Rec Center, no anything up to South Boulder road. This was just open space,” the man said, pointing at the neighbors’ porch. The edge has become the center. 

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Samuel R. Shaw is a recent MAJ graduate from Goldsmiths University who grew up outside of Boulder. He founded The Speer, an independent magazine covering land-use issues around Denver, and currently works with Denver-based photographer Ron Pollard on the site WKE, which serves as a virtual gallery for critical, Colorado-focused art projects