Friday, May 3, 2013

When The Lake Recedes And Brigadoon is Revealed

Gunnison River normally not seen beneath the lake.
This past weekend, my husband and I, along with our dog, Blue, took a walk on the lake bed of Blue Mesa Reservoir, the largest body of water in Colorado. Blue Mesa is fed by the Gunnison River which eventually flows into the spectacular and dramatic Black Canyon. Once, fifty years ago, farm and ranch lands thrived in the area where the lake now resides. In the early 60's, the state of Colorado began plans to dam up the river, creating the huge reservoir. But this meant displacing homesteads in the valley. By 1965, the deed was complete and houses and ranches that once stood were razed, their trees cut down and foundations left.

The water line can reach as high as the widest part of the top of the pylons. 
Unfortunately, due to drought conditions this past year, the lake is at 40% capacity, which means it is frightfully low, down to the river that originally fed it in some places. But it also means we get to walk along the bed that would normally be covered by water well above our heads. Embedded in the silt are old tires, buckets, shoes and beer cans—all modern artifacts telling stories of boaters and fishermen who, in better water level summers, enjoyed the lake in this area. As we walked, we saw a small, pink shoe wedged in a log. I wondered about the child tubing or perhaps on the nearby shore who might have lost her little shoe. A few feet beyond, we found the matching shoe wedged in yet another log. At least she lost them both.
The matching shoe was stuck just a few feet away.

A bit further on, we discovered a foundation for a house and what looked like a building that was once a shed. There were still old rusty nails and a large rusty pulley laying on the cement foundation. A partial stone walk looked like it led up to a larger cement pad that was probably the house foundation. I scanned the shore to get my bearings. Last summer, when the water wasn’t yet quite this low, I had taken a walk along the shore directly in front of this house and found shards of pottery and crockery. They might have washed up from remnants left behind at this very house. An eerie feeling settled on me, imagining the lives who once inhabited this home.
Brown, roundish object in the foreground is a pulley. You can see the foundation's corner in back.

House foundation. And beyond, evenly spaced posts-- probably the remains of fence posts.
Large tree trunks lined what I imagined was once the yard and driveway. Maybe they had towered and provided welcomed shade, a secluded spot for a child to play under. Fence posts, now shaved close to the ground, were evenly spaced showing where the yard may have been. We walked on behind the house, closer to the river. What an ideal location this had probably been for ranching with a ready water source nearby. Sure enough, we came to cement structures that looked like they were once irrigation canal gates. We could even still see the barriers someone had raised and lowered to control the flow of water.
All that is left of once large shade trees.

Blue is happily lost in smells; the cement remains of an irrigation gate are behind him.
I wondered about the family who once lived here. Did they leave willingly? Was the wife secretly glad to leave this large and lonely patch of land? Did the children finally get to live closer to town, the schools and their friends? Did the rancher feel displaced and lost without the land he, and probably his father before him, had toiled over?  Did the kids ever miss playing under the shade of those big trees? I felt haunted by their stories, the part they played in the history in our town. 

Walking around in the shadows and ghosts of their lives, I couldn’t help thinking about this family and feeling folks like them were the backbone and foundation of our valley's development. I felt a little like uninvited company as I picked up and examined a piece of brick or corner of siding from their home, long buried under water. Like Brigadoon, I couldn't help feeling as if we were rare and privileged visitors of a place that only shows itself in years of drought, when the water recedes revealing the lives of fine folks who one lived, slept, and raised children on this land. 


  1. Beautiful post. We've hiked and camped in around the area you're talking about. Black Canyon of Gunnison immediately comes to mind.

    Thanks for your visit. Wanted to suggest you not leave the link to your google+profile page, getting to it, then trying to find you actual blog isn't easy. Using the drop down box on most blogs you can leave your name and url of your actual blog post so visitors can find you easier. When folks don't have name and url available like here, this is the other option. Leaving a hyperlink, but still use the url of the blog vs a profile page.
    Let me know if you need help with the settings or hyperlink Oozing out your Ears

    1. Hi Sandy, first, thanks for stopping by and yes, this area is very near the Black Canyon-- gorgeous.

      Also, I'm a little confused by your second half of the note. I certainly don't want to make it difficult for you to find my post through Google+ or any other means.

      Thanks for stopping by.