The Monkey Wrench Gang


Lake Powell

Glen Canyon Dam – Bridge View

Edward Abbey, author and Southwest naturalist wrote a number of books about his beloved desert, but certainly his most famous work, a work of fiction was The Monkey Wrench Gang. In this book an eclectic quartet of environmentalists commit acts of vandalism for the sake of preserving the natural order of things. They would certainly be dubbed terrorists now, but in the book the gang starts small. There eventual goal is the destruction of the Glen Canyon Dam, releasing the waters of Lake Powell and restoring Glen Canyon to its original condition. Part of the charm of the book is the gang’s relative ineffectiveness. They destroy some construction equipment, but none of their work is anything more than an annoyance and really doesn’t impede ‘progress’ much.

The books opening scene details the destruction of the dam’s highway bridge that spans the Colorado River, in the middle of its dedication ceremony. We only learn at the end of the book that this scene occurs after all of the book’s other events. So, it is more of a postscript than a preamble. Abbey took liberty with the facts when he wrote this scene. In the book the bridge was completed after the dam, when in reality it was the other way around. The dam is a National Monument and the park service conducts daily tours of the dam. There is even a gift shop in the dam’s interpretive center. Many of Abbey’s books were for sale in this shop, but I did not see any copies of The Monkey Wrench Gang for sale. Maybe they were just temporarily sold out of it? 

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