y curiosity about the Marble Canyon damsites was piqued when I surveyed archaeological sites with the National Park Service in 1990. Much has been written about the political climate during the time construction of Marble Canyon Dam was considered. But when, I wondered, were these sites worked, and by whom? What was the worker's life like? And why were so many rock anchors scattered up and down on both sides of the river?
I have answered some of the questions to my satisfaction but not the difficult one pertaining to the worker's lifestyle—if anyone has any leads to folks who may have worked on these sites, please let me know.
The Fifties: The Bureau of Reclamation
Marble Canyon damsite was “one of the most inaccessible damsites ever explored by Bureau of Reclamation engineers.” Bert Lucas was the engineer in charge of Bureau investigations at the two proposed sites in Marble Canyon, at river miles 32.8 (upper) and 39.5 (lower). Paul Whipple, I believe, was the drilling foreman. Tom Schlichting, a Bureau surveyor, was one of the first men to climb down to the river from the outer rim. Engineers figured the easiest way to the site was via cable from the rim. First they built a mule trail from the rim down Shinumo Creek to the top of the Redwall above Redwall Cavern. (This trail is still quite passable and accessible from the river at Fence Fault. It makes a nice off-season hike heading upstream to overlook Silver Grotto, or downstream to the old Bureau camp above Redwall Cavern.) Later, during the construction of the dam, at a projected cost of over six and a half million dollars, this route would have been made into a winding road for access to the dam.
In 1949 the Bureau asked for bids to build this cableway. They brought materials down the Shinumo pack trail to construct it. Two trams were constructed —one lowered men and equipment from the rim to the camp on top of the Redwall Limestone—a second went from there to a point upstream of Redwall Cavern on river right. I'm not sure why the Redwall route visible on river left a bit upstream was built—perhaps to access the river during construction of the lower tram terminus. Camps were established both on the rim and atop the Redwall Limestone.
A diamond drilling program was started in June 1950, and completed in January 1951 at the upper site near Redwall Cavern. The single drill rig was operated on a two shift basis, crews working a ten-day-on-four-day-off schedule. Thirty two holes were drilled in the river bed between 44 and 931 feet deep, for a total of 3705 linear feet. At the same time, two 50 foot drifts were excavated for the abutments. The drift in the left wall was begun in September. Finishing it in November they crossed to the right bank and started on the right drift. They finished in January.
The engineers used two long, flat bottomed aluminum barges lashed together as the drilling platform. Two smaller boats, one on each side, powered with outboard motors, positioned the drilling barge. It stands to reason they would tie the rig securely off to the sides for drilling, which explains all the shoreline anchors. At some point there was at least one more of these long aluminum barges, and there are rumors of three of them being used as a helipad in the 1960s.
An interesting aside on these barges: two of them remained sunken on the right bank at the lower damsite for years—a third escaped and was wedged behind a lava outcrop below mile 203 on the left. In 1974 Tour West received a contract to remove them. At the lower damsite they dug the barges out and hacked one to bits with axes, loading it on their motor rig. They inflated a 33' rubber side tube in the other and towed it out. Things went fine until Bedrock, when the motor rig went right and their trailer went left. But that's another story.
The two smaller boats still lie hidden in the mud and tamarisks on river right, a half mile below the lower damsite.
Drilling began on the lower site on August 31, 1951 and was finished on May 12, 1952. As at the upper site, two cableways were constructed. The upper cable stretched 3400 feet from the rim to the camp atop the Redwall. It must have been one of the longest cableways of its day. There was a hoist house on the rim where the cable operator sat and the cable wound onto a large spool. The lower cable went from the camp on the Redwall to a point on the shore across the river, where the remains of the two boats lie today.
This lower site had some problems—due to joints in the rock that ran parallel to the river, more stripping (removal of rock) would be required. This was far outweighed by the advantages however—an additional thirty feet of hydrologic head would generate an additional $3,000,000 in annual revenue, and the water storage at the lower site was some 45% greater than at the upper.
They drilled 35 holes into the riverbed from 35 to 435 feet deep—a total of 5480 feet of drilling. They excavated a drift on the left side of the river that was 100 feet deep and one 75 feet deep across the river. In the ‘60's the Arizona Power Authority would deepen these and blast additional ones.
John Santa, Bureau photographer, and Bill Williams, Bureau Public Affairs person, along with Allen and Jan Macauley, freelance film makers, made a trip to the lower site in late summer of 1951 and gathered material to publicize the project. Santa took pictures of their visit to Bert Loper's boat below mile 41. The boat looked pretty good then, Bert having died just two years earlier. That November Rachel Loper, Bert's widow, came down the cableway and was ferried to the boat. She laid a small marker by it and was able, finally, to say some sort of goodbye to Bert.
Bill Williams was a weak old man when I talked with him a few years ago, but his eyes lit up when I asked him if riding down the cable was scary. “Oh, the first time,” he replied.
It was during that period that the incident with the Chinese cook from Flagstaff took place. I have heard several versions, but the common thread is that the recruited cook refused to ride the cable to the job site. After much drinking he was either persuaded to get on the skip or was trundled on, unconscious. Once in the canyon, he decided to take the job after all.
That's about all I've been able to find on the work in the ‘50s. I'm not sure when or why the tent cabin site at the mouth of Spook Canyon (just below Bert Loper's boat) was used, but a photo of the boats and tent there match the 1950s equipment.
The Sixties: The Arizona Power Authority
Arizonans were upset that most of the benefits from the existing federal projects were going to other states. Like a child that feels it isn't getting its share of candy, Arizona wanted its very own dam. The Marble Canyon dam site and reservoir lie wholly within Arizona's boundaries and Arizonans saw this dam as an opportunity to exert some independence from the Federal government.
In the 1960s the Arizona Power Authority (APA) became involved when they requested studies from Arizona Game and Fish and the National Park Service. In addition, they commissioned an extensive feasibility study at the damsite itself.
Arthur Paul Geuss of Harza Engineering, Chicago, designed the project for APA. Bob Euler was hired in 1960 to look for archaeological sites on a river trip with Jerry Sanderson. This was Euler's first of 40 trips down the river and his introduction to Grand Canyon, where he was to spend much of his professional life.
The APA established a trailer camp on the rim at Buck Farm Point and pilot Lynn Roberts helicoptered men and equipment to work every day. They used ten foot aluminum boats to get across, up and down the river. They drilled and excavated drifts and drilled proposed quarry sites at the top of the Redwall. They stored their drill cores at Marble Canyon Lodge.
The helicopter ran out of gas one day in the inner gorge and Roberts had to make an emergency landing next to the river. They must have had fun getting a can of gas to the stranded ship.
In 1964 Dock Marston's sportyak trip stopped to visit the workers. They were running the tiny plastic one-man boats on the extreme low flows just after the gates of Glen Canyon Dam had been closed. Lynn Roberts kindly flew Fran Belknap and Jean Segerbloom from the rim to the river and back so they could enjoy dinner with their boating husbands.
In 1965 Bob Littleton, Bureau Regional Geologist at the time, jet boated the river in thirteen days in order to make a recommendation about the Marble Canyon damsite. His observation was that the site would “never hold water” due to the solution caves in the limestone upstream. Happily for those who prefer a natural Marble Canyon over a reservoir and subsidized power, we never had to find out if Bob was right.