Martin Litton, who died last week at 97, spent much of his life defending wild places – in particular, the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. He and David Brower led the Sierra Club’s quixotic fight against plans in the 1960s to build “bookend” dams on either end of the Grand Canyon, orchestrating a nationwide campaign to defeat the powerful alliance of the federal government and private developers. Perhaps he died too soon. The newest plan to despoil that area is the Grand Canyon Escalade, a $1-billion tourist complex proposed for 420 acres of Navajo lands just above the confluence of the Colorado and little Colorado rivers. The developers talk about the need for “a balance”. They offer instead Hobson’s choice “between having a job and a decent place to live or saving the environment and stopping development.”
The belief in any place as sacred has become a romantic relic for affluent hippies and premodern primitives, where the environment must be sacrificed to the economy and beauty must give way to utility.
But sacred places sustain our bodies as well as our spirits. For years, photographer John Trotter has documented the destruction of the Colorado – the river and the people it sustains. His series is called simply No agua, no vida. No water, no life.
When it comes to sacred places, Martin Litton said, “what you give away will never come back – ever. When it comes to saving wilderness, we can’t be extreme enough. To compromise is to lose.”