FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Down the River With Vladimir Putin

This is an excerpt from Born Under a Bad Sky: Notes from the Dark Side of the Earth.

You don’t see the Grand River coming. It sneaks in from the northeast, down a vaulted corridor of rock. You feel its muscular pulse first, sucker-punching you with a new surge to the current. The river runs a vibrant reddish-brown, the color of native America.

Here at the marriage of the Grand and the Green is where the real Colorado River is born. It flows freely for 18 miles, then dies beneath the chill waters of Lake Powell. These 18 miles are the only free-flowing stretch of the Colorado River from here to the Sea of Cortez, turbulent, tepid, freighted with silt.

The river that runs through Grand Canyon is not free. It bears no resemblance to the natural Colorado. Its flow is minutely fine-tuned by the hydro-engineers that operation Glen Canyon Dam. The water emerges from the spillways at 47 degrees, 50 degrees cooler than the Colorado on an average summer day. Cold enough for rainbow trout. Frigid and blue. Cataract Canyon is all that remains of the river Powell encountered. And half of it has been drowned.

Our guide, John Weisheit, motions us over to a beach on river right where several other rafts are anchored. This is the famous Spanish Bottom. One of the guides is leading a group of jolly Germans, who look almost as Aryan as the suburban saints of Provo. He gestures at our rafts and kayaks and tells his clients with a smirk and a theatrical shake of his head, “Those are self-baling boats.”

Then the rival guide pushes his raft (a non-bailing bucket boat) off the beach and heads off down Cataract Canyon. On the bucket boat’s stern, the icon of authenticity wears a propeller. I guess that’s how you run Fast Food Rapids. Get ‘em in, get em out. Slam, bam, thank you mam. The whitewater quickie.

But who is bailing the hydrocarbons?

* * *

The river clientele are becoming increasingly international, as younger Americans opt for extreme sports, such as base jumping, or root themselves in front of online gaming monitors and swell to such obese proportions that they can no longer squeeze through security screens at airports, never mind stuff themselves into a kayak.

Moab is a favored destination for Germans, obsessed with John Wayne, who urge their guides to haul them off  to places where they can get their photos snapped in front of locations from John Ford films.

Australians come to the river to tempt death, badgering their guides to take the most dangerous course through the biggest rapids. One Aussie offered Weisheit $1,000 to intentionally flip his raft in the cauldron of Big Drop One. “I’m not going to do that,” Weisheit told him. “But will you still pay me $1,000 if the river flips us anyway?”

The English, as a group, tend to be prissy. They refuse to swim naked, make odd, animal-like noises in the Groover, wear dress shoes in the raft and, according to the late river-runner and writer Ellen Meloy, insist on referring to each river eddy as, yes, an Edward.

It will surprise no one that the French come to dispute.

They complain about the lack of standing room in their tents, the omnipresence of bugs, the paucity of rapids prior to Cataract, the soaking from the rapids themselves, and, most viciously, they bitch about the quality of riverside meals, prepared by the river guides following a hard day rowing in sweltering heat. After being offered a plate with Indiana-grown corn-on-the-cob lathered in garlic butter, a French tourist shoved the fare back at the guide and exclaimed, “Why do you serve me this pig food?” These are the clients you send for firewood near the scorpion’s nest and the faded midget rattlesnake’s den.

But the consensus of the guides is clear. The crudest, cheapest and most demeaning patrons are Russian men, led by their President Vladimir Putin.

A couple of years ago Vladimir Putin journeyed to the American Southwest to take his son on an initiation ritual. The boy’s mother is now an American citizen. First stop was a big game ranch in Texas, where Putin and Jr blasted zebras, antelopes and bison. Apparently, Putin, reenacting a scene out of Mailer’s Why Are We In Vietnam, marked his son’s forehead in the blood of one of these hapless creatures.

Then it was on to Moab, Utah, for a raft trip down Cataract Canyon on the Colorado River. The Moab river guide community is still shaking its head from its close encounter with the Russian president and former KGB man. “We get a lot of whacked-out people coming down the river, but Putin really is a dangerous guy, a real mobster,” a guide told me.

“His packs were loaded with guns, vodka and tens of thousands of dollars in cash,” the guide said. “He seemed to be a little on edge. He was a real bully. He was drunk much of the time and bossed people around as if they were his personal slaves. They refused to use the Groover. They pissed and shat wherever they wanted. They fired off their guns. They caught channel catfish and bashed their heads in with rocks.”

Putin and his son were soon bored with the redbrick canyons and Class five rapids. “By the third day, Putin demanded that the guides call in a helicopter to have his party picked up and flown out. Then he got drunk and began to threaten the guides. He started bragging about how many people he had personally killed. More than 40, he said.”

The rafts finally exited Cataract and motored across 30 miles of Lake Powell’s flat water to the marina complex at Hite The next step on the Putties’ tour was supposed to be a four-wheeler excursion tearing up the desert in the bizarre Needles District of Canyonlands. But Putin opted for a more traditional form of initiation for his son, straight out of Notes from the Underground. From the Hite marina, he placed a call to Las Vegas.

“Get us some whores,” Putin shouted into his cellphone. “Price is no object.”

* * *

As Weisheit and Brian deal with some administrative matters and check the rigging of the rafts for the first rapids, I take a short walk through the meadows of Spanish Bottom, following a trail that winds up into the Maze to the Chocolate Drops, the surrealistic Harvest Panel pictograph and a group of strange multi-colored rock spires called the Doll House, which could pass for Utah’s version of Antonio Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Cathedral.

Cairns mark the way, even though the way is obvious. Everyone wants to leave their testimonial to treading the wilderness. I leave my own by toppling the cairns as I pass them, scattering the stones among the yellow beeplants and Indian ricegrass.

I stumble across a lithified mound of cowshit. Cows haven’t grazed here in at least forty-five years, since Canyonlands became a national park and all the bovine marauders were finally evicted. Even the most mundane scars take decades to heal in this desert. Putin’s shit is probably out there too, slowly turning to stone.

To be continued.

Remaking Cataract Canyon: Part One.

Remaking Cataract Canyon: Part Two.

Remaking Cataract Canyon: Part Three.

Remaking Cataract Canyon: Part Four.

Remaking Cataract Canyon: Part Five.

JEFFREY ST. CLAIR is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon: Tales of Corruption and Profiteering from the War on Terror. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

More articles by:

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter  @JSCCounterPunch

January 21, 2019
W. T. Whitney
New US Economic Attack Against Cuba, Long Threatened, May Hit Soon
Jérôme Duval
Macronist Repression Against the People in Yellow Vests
Dean Baker
The Next Recession: What It Could Look Like
Eric Mann
All Hail the Revolutionary King: Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Binoy Kampmark
Spy Theories and the White House: Donald Trump as Russian Agent
Edward Curtin
We Need a Martin Luther King Day of Truth
Bill Fried
Jeff Sessions and the Federalists
Ed Corcoran
Central America Needs a Marshall Plan
Colin Todhunter
Complaint Lodged with European Ombudsman: Regulatory Authorities Colluding with Agrochemicals Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
The US War Against the Weak
Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail