Deer Creek Narrows from the “Patio” to the bottom of the spectacular Deer Creek Falls has been closed to all visitation by Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent David Uberuaga. The Narrows section is where Deer Creek has carved a tight slot canyon exiting far above the Colorado River.
The closure was made without stakeholder or public input, and is considered to be a non-negotiable action. The National Park Service received a number of unsolicited comments and concerns about the closure, and is now officially taking comments on the action.
In support of the closure, Superintendent Uberuaga has released an open letter and other descriptive documents to interested and affected parties in advance of a September 10thteleconference to discuss the action. The pdf files may be downloaded and viewed at the RRFW website: Deer Creek Background Information, Deer Creek closure letter from GC, Deer Creek closure photos.
The Background Information provided by the NPS describes visitor impacts to the entire Deer Creek canyon area including heavy trailing, deterioration of the river bank from boat landings and tourist activity, graffiti, and damage to vegetation and rock art. Other impacts not listed include emergency helicopter evacuations, large stone slabs being rearranged at Deer Spring, and helicopter maintenance flights servicing the Deer Creek Valley backpacker and river runner toilet.
However, none of these impacts apply to the Narrows themselves, only to surrounding areas which remain open and unaffected by the closure. Within the Narrows, plants, foot tracks and rocks are regularly and violently removed by natural flash flood flows, making any human impacts indiscernible.
The document also describes at length the designation of the area as a Traditional Cultural Property (TCP) by area Native American tribes which, among other considerations, claim the area as sacred to spiritual and religious traditions. According to the Park’s own description, depending on the site, a TCP finding does not necessarily require visitor restriction, closure or even preservation.
RRFW has learned that at least part of the motive for the restriction may have been climbing equipment that was abandoned at the top of Deer Creek Falls. Members of the canyoneering community removed the equipment at their own cost and risk.
“Good climbing and canyoneering practices and respect for natural areas require self-policing,” notes Jo Johnson, Co-Director of River Runners for Wilderness. “Regulations to specifically protect against damage from anchor hardware make sense, but a year round closure of the entire portion is an extreme reaction.”
Hiking through some of the Narrows does not require special equipment although a rope as a hand line offers hikers more security. Each year a few visitors, including canyoneers, rappel down the falls, but the vast majority of hikers in the slot canyon simply turn around and retrace their steps back to the “Patio”, leaving no trace of their presence there.
“Visits to the Narrows portion of Deer Creek Canyon are often spiritual and transcendent experiences, treasured by thousands over the many decades since river running began” observed Johnson, who is a climber and river runner. She also noted “Personally, I feel that it is possibly the most hallowed of the many special experiences afforded visitors to Grand Canyon.”
RRFW urges readers to examine the documents carefully and make your opinions known to the Superintendent’s office by sending an email to Laurie Parish at email@example.com. Please also cc RRFW at Riverwire@rrfw.org. Besides including your broader observations, if you have a personal connection to the Narrows, mention that as well.
For a deeper look at canyoneering in Grand Canyon, see a video trailer here: http://www.lastofthegreatunknown.com/
This action was taken by the National Park Service (NPS) in the 2012 Compendium of Designations, Closures, Use and Activity Restrictions, Permit Requirements and Other Regulations.
The 2012 Compendium is posted online here: