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Stanton Repeat Photography

Mile 179.3, Lava Falls Rapid, Downstream View from River Left (Stake 1510b)

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Stake 1510b, 27 February 1890 View Larger Image
27 February 1890
The night of February 26-27, 1890 was the coldest experienced during the Stanton expedition. Stanton and his crew had decided to portage goods and line boats on the left side of Lava Falls Rapid, but the weather was frigid on the morning of the 27th. To keep warm, John Hislop decided to set fire to the dry vegetation that surrounds the warm springs at the base of the rapid. Stanton waited until 11:00 AM for the smoke to clear to get a better view of the rapid. Note the chaotic appearance of the rapid at a discharge of about 10,000 ft3/s and the large rock (about fifteen feet across) at right center in the rapid (the “missing rock”).
Photo credit: Robert B. Stanton, 57-RS-621, courtesy of The National Archives

Stake 1510b, 11 February 1990 View Larger Image
11 February 1990
The rapid has changed considerably in the century between the views because of debris flows from Prospect Canyon (left). A debris flow that occurred in 1939 deposited the prominent low terrace at left center; subsequent debris flows in 1954, 1955, and 1963 contributed to changing the upper left of the rapid from a relatively quiescent area to whitewater choked with boulders. As a result of the 1939 debris flow, flow through the rapid was forced to the right and the “missing rock” rolled downstream and was submerged. This rock is the cause for what is now called the “Big Wave,” a formidable obstacle to navigation on the right side of the rapid. The “Ledge Hole,” which appears at lower right, formed after the 1955 debris flow and gained is full width after the 1963 debris flow. Creosotebush in the foreground has persisted, and the lone barrel cacti present in 1890 is dead with only a couple of new ones in the left foreground.
Photo credit: Raymond M. Turner

Stake 1510b, 6 March 1995 View Larger Image
6 March 1995
Steady rainfall on March 5, 1995 caused a debris flow in Prospect Canyon in the early morning hours of March 6, confining the river to a channel about 40% of its previous width. This image, taken mid-morning, shows the newly-formed debris fan as it was still being eroded along its distal margin, stabilizing a few hours later with the river at about half of its former width. The Ledge Hole, which had a new rock lodged on its left side, is a different shape, with a sharper drop and a stronger wave, but also affording passage along the left side. The Big Wave has disappeared because more water is flowing down the right side, while the V-Wave has stronger hydraulics. The vegetation in Prospect Creek was removed by the debris flow.
Photo credit: Dominic Oldershaw

Stake 1510b, 26 March 1996 View Larger Image
26 March 1996
This image was taken just before the 1996 controlled flood through Grand Canyon at a discharge of 5,000 ft3/s. The debris fan has been partially reworked, widening the rapid, but is still constricts the river more than in 1990. Although the desert vegetation in the foreground appears much the same as it did in 1990, pricklypear cactus and cholla are now just visible, heralding a major change in the view.
Photo credit: Dominic Oldershaw

Stake 1510b, 8 April 1996 View Larger Image
8 April 1996
This image was taken just after the 1996 controlled flood, which peaked at about 47,500 ft3/s and lasted for 5 days. During the rising limb of the flood, about 5,900 cubic meters of material were removed from the debris fan, increasing the width of the rapid by five meters. Ten boulders with radio tags embedded in their sides moved an average of 750 feet downstream, and one of the smallest reached the top of Lower Lava Rapid. The Big Wave reappeared, and the left run became rocky.
Photo credit: Dominic Oldershaw

Stake 1510b, 29 March 2003 View Larger Image
29 March 2003
The river channel has not changed since the 1996 flood. A few new barrel cacti have become established in the foreground, and the creosotebush appear to be much larger than they were in 1890. Lack of disturbance on the debris fan has permitted the re-establishment of riparian vegetation, mostly tamarisk and mesquite with desert broom between the larger species.
Photo credit: Thomas O’Dell

Stake 1510b, 11 March 2005 View Larger Image
11 March 2005
The rapid appears unchanged in the two years between photographs, although subtle changes in the 10 years since the debris flow and 9 years since the reworking flood have altered the left run even more, making it difficult to navigate for most multiperson watercraft at typical water levels. The pricklypear has grown somewhat larger, and a cholla has become established in the left foreground. The riparian vegetation has continued to increase in stature and density.
Photo credit: Bruce Quayle

Stake 1510b, 27 September 2010 View Larger Image
27 September 2010
The foreground vegetation is similar, although the pricklypear and cholla having grown in stature and are now an obvious element in the view that was not present in 1890. The riparian vegetation, leafed out in the warm season, appears to be denser, reflecting increases in size for all individuals previously established and perhaps new individuals of desert broom. There have been no changes to the rapid.
Photo credit: Bill Lemke

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