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River Flowing From The Sunrise

An Environmental History of the Lower San Juan

James M. Aton and Robert S. McPherson

Publication Year: 2000

 The authors recount twelve millennia of history along the lower San Juan River, much of it the story of mostly unsuccessful human attempts to make a living from the river's arid and fickle environment. From the Anasazi to government dam builders, from Navajo to Mormon herders and farmers, from scientific explorers to busted miners, the San Juan has attracted more attention and fueled more hopes than such a remote, unpromising, and muddy stream would seem to merit.

Published by: Utah State University Press


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pp. vi

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Foreword: A River in Time

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pp. ix-x

St. John the Divine ended his Book of Revelation with “a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.” On either side of that river grew the tree of life, bearing all manner of fruits every month of the year and shiny green leaves that could heal all the nations. ...

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pp. xi-xii

Writing an environmental history is much like setting afloat for a trip on the river. Indeed this project began as we sat beside the San Juan under the yellow cottonwood leaves of fall, savoring peanut butter and jam sandwiches. It has taken a long time and many “miles” since that afternoon to bring us to this point in the journey. ..

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Introduction Twelve Millennia on the San Juan

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pp. 1-12

When the famous explorer John Wesley Powell passed the mouth of the San Juan River on 31 July 1869, he barely acknowledged it. During the next decade, when his geologists and archaeologists fanned out to explore, map, and generally reconnoiter the Colorado Plateau, the last blank spot on the United States map, they ignored ...

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I Prehistory: From Clovis Hunters to Corn Farmers

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pp. 13-28

Humans have hunted and herded animals, gathered and cultivated plants, and generally made a living in the San Juan River area for at least the last twelve thousand years. Although always a marginal area, the river valley’s population reached a high point during the Anasazi occupation between 1500 B.C. and A.D. 1300.1 ...

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II Navajos, Paiutes, and Utes: Views of a Sacred Land

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pp. 29-41

Close to the time (roughly a.d. 1300) when the Anasazi abandoned their alcove dwellings and floodplain farms for lands south of the San Juan River, the tribes that would be present at the start of the historic period arrived to take their place. Fortunately, because of written records and a healthy oral tradition, there is a much better ...

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III Exploration and Science: Defining Terra Incognita

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pp. 42-64

Navajo, Ute, and Paiute sacred views of the San Juan River and its environs were about to meet their greatest challenge when the Spaniards arrived in the eighteenth century. The ways in which the Indians eventually adopted European ways of life, however, were slow and selective. In fact, the process was indirect at first ...

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IV Livestock: Cows, Feed, and Floods

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pp. 65-83

As the San Juan River has coursed through the Four Corners area, it has both encouraged and denied economic opportunities to Native American and Anglo-American entrepreneurs alike. Its system of canyons and floodplains offers forage for livestock, channels movement, suggests strategic locations for trade, ...

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V Agriculture: Ditches, Droughts, and Disasters

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pp. 84-98

The Southwest is known for its arid climate, dramatic beauty, and turbulent weather. To the inhabitants who wrest a living from this land, its unpredictability, especially supplying water, provides one of the greatest challenges. The Colorado Plateau and the Four Corners area are consummate examples. The San Juan River ...

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VI City Building: Farming the Triad

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pp. 99-112

Today a traveler, coming in sight of Bluff from the desert and canyon country to the west, is struck by the contrasting redrock cliffs and gnarled, green cottonwood trees. Indeed the trees are implausible until one sees the sinuous bend of the San Juan River, snaking its way against the bank that abuts the southern bluff. ...

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VII Mining: Black and Yellow Gold in Redrock Country

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pp. 113-128

Once a beautiful, well-dressed woman visited the home of a powerful stranger. The master of the house invited her inside, asking who she was. She replied that she was the goddess of wealth, which pleased the master, who in turn entertained her with kindness. Soon another woman appeared, but this one was ugly and dressed in rags. ...

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VIII The Federal Government: Dams, Tamarisk, and Pikeminnows

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pp. 129-149

The federal presence on the San Juan appears in the khaki-and-green uniforms of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the National Park Service (NPS), the Fish and Wildlife Service, and other public-land agencies that have jurisdiction over parts of the river. Of all public-land issues, water development has loomed ...

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IX San Juan of the Imagination: Local and National Values

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pp. 150-166

This book has focused primarily on the riparian landscape that people found along the San Juan and what they did with it. Clovis hunters stalked mammoths and mastodons and perhaps killed them to extinction. Indians, from the Clovis down to contemporary Utes, Paiutes, and Navajos, gathered ricegrass, ...

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EPILOGUE Visions: Flowing from the Sunrise or a Water Spigot?

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pp. 167-171

Since the first Earth Day, 22 April 1970, predicting the planet’s future has become almost an obsession for environmental prognosticators. While very few today envision a rosy scenario for the planet if the world continues on its present course, some positive developments have occurred since 1970. The 1997 Kyoto Global- Warming ...


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pp. 172-197


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pp. 198-211


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pp. 212-216

E-ISBN-13: 9780874213973
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874214031

Publication Year: 2000