Mt. Garfield, Western Colorado
This picture of Mt. Garfield was taken from the vantage point of The Colorado National Monument. These two iconic geographic sites are located across the valley from each other, with the towns of Grand Junction and Palisade between them. Mt. Garfield, which marks the highest point in The Bookcliffs range, rises to a height of just slightly over 6,700 feet, and the Colorado National Monument is also at about that same elevation, but more to the south and west of town. The towns of Palisade, and Grand Junction lie between them in what is called “The Grand Valley.” The Colorado River flows through this valley and, in fact, created it over many millennia. The Colorado River was once called “The Grand River”, thus the name “The Grand Valley” is derived from that, as is “The Grand Canyon” which was also cut by that same river. Anyone who has ever driven past Mt. Garfield on I-70 has probably noticed and been awed by it. I know I first remember seeing it in 1972, when our family took a cross country road trip to Michigan, from our home in California. It certainly never occurred to me at that time that I would one day live in the shadow of that amazing formation and see it every day.
I’m not a geologist, but I’m told that Mt. Garfield consists of something called Mancos Shale and is topped with Mesa Verde sandstone, which is a harder type of stone than Mancos shale. Mancos shale has a texture more like very dense sand. This sand was left in place after the inland sea that was here, disappeared about 100 million years ago. The sandstone cap on the mountain keeps it from completely disintegrating. When viewed up close though, you can see that time and weather are beginning to take their toll, and that the mountain is in fact continuing to disintegrate. Many parts of it have fallen, very much like a sandcastle disintegrates as it is worn down by incoming waves. I wish that I would have had my little Kodak Brownie camera with me in 1972 when I first saw it, and had taken a picture, but alas, I did not. It would be interesting to see what it looked like in 1972 compared to how it looks now.
I sincerely doubt that Mt. Garfield will disintegrate at any time during my life, but it’s possible, perhaps even likely, that it will disintegrate entirely at some point, even if it’s another 100 million years from now.
The other day, I wrote about the word hiraeth, a Welsh word that refers to a type of homesickness one feels that isn’t necessarily attached to a particular place, but perhaps more to a time in our lives, or just the sense of wanting to go home, even if we’re already as home as we’re ever going to be. It’s a bit of nostalgia, perhaps, that can’t fully be identified, but is only felt. A similar word in English is Solastalgia, which is a hybrid word that joins the words solacium, which means comfort in Latin, and algia the Latin word for pain. This word describes what many people feel when their environment changes around them, such as in the context of weather patterns, climate change, population increases, decreases, or is re-distributed in such a way that it changes the appearance or the quality of life in their home environment. Things just aren’t the way they used to be, and this makes people feel sad at times.
Most environmental changes take place over a longer time, and we don’t notice them right away, kind of like the proverbial frog being boiled in water, who doesn’t notice it until it’s too late. Now, if a bomb fell out of the sky and flattened Mt. Garfield, everyone would notice it and be horrified right away, but if it just slowly disintegrates over 100 million years or so, no one will notice, and it will be just a historical footnote: A place where a distinctive mountain once stood. Maybe somebody will put a plaque there.
In the meantime, we in the west have other disastrous environmental changes happening that we must deal with, and one of the most problematic is the on-going drought and lack of water. I saw an article just yesterday, that basically said that The Colorado River, which provides water to people from Colorado to California and throughout The Southwest, is drying up at such an alarming rate, that it may soon be extinct. Some of the largest reservoirs in the system, from Blue Mesa in Colorado to Lake Powell in Utah, are at dangerously low levels. In some places the towns that were flooded when the reservoirs were created 50 years ago or so, have become visible again. Dead bodies are turning up in weighted barrels at the bottom of Lake Mead, just outside of Las Vegas. These bodies have been submerged for decades, but the low water levels are revealing them. The human population in the west continues to rise as the water availability continues to decline. These two facts are bound to intersect at some point soon, causing Solastalgia for many of us.