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Every week we scour dozens of sources to bring you the latest environmental news for the Desert Southwest. Click a date above to read that day's edition. Want your news included? Email us.

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Report from the Blythe Spirit Run

Report from Blythe

by Bob Ellis

The Colorado River Tribes ( the Chemehuevi, the Fort Mojave, the Quechan) put out the call:  A Spiritual Run to Protest the Blythe Solar Project: from the Blythe Intaglios by the Colorado River; by mining roads and Indian trails over a pass in the Big Maria Mountains; across the Rice Midland Road; and west toward the McCoy Mountains to the so-far largest planned industrial solar project in the world.

We came from various towns in the desert and cities, ready to learn and support the effort to stop this dreadful misuse of public lands.  An initial gathering circle was incredibly moving as treasured tribal staffs, brought there in support of the spirit run by a member of a non-Colorado River tribe (from the Palm Springs area) were unveiled and offered to the runners to carry from the Blythe Intaglios along the 25 miles to the project site.  Sage was burned, chants were made, folks from all tribes expressed their strong objections to the project and to the way they had been ignored by the BLM and the California Energy Commission.  No “government-to-government” consultation as required by federal law has occurred.  The tribal elders were determined to do all they could to build support from all peoples to prevent this project.

Unfortunately the Blythe Solar Project, recently approved by both the BLM and the California Commission, has not attracted strong environmental defenders.  A few organizations commented at the scoping level, but no group has acted as intervenors or attempted to publicize the special problems with the Blythe project as they have with the Ivanpah Solar Project.  As with the other approved projects, significant unmitigable impacts will occur and the direct signature of the Secretary of the Interior has overridden any of the normal environmental protest channels.  Most important for this project are the large number of cultural sites that will be affected, both those documented and those not yet documented, that the tribes are very concerned about.

After a prayer the runners gathered. Non-Indians were invited to run and three of us stepped forward willing to go at least part way.  Together ten of us started off, joined the four who had led the way, and eventually fourteen of us—ranging from nine years to 69 years old—walked and ran the six miles through the Big Maria Mountains wilderness up to and over the pass, and down into Midland Valley north of Blythe.  It was great to be moving, it was great to be accompanying the other runners—two of whom had participated in inter-tribal Spirit runs from Alaska to Mexico.  What excitement as we came down from the pass to meet folks gathered there to greet us.

None of the invited press representatives had shown up to report the event. We were running late. The runners broke into relays to complete the run, twelve miles west past the project site and then south to the evening fire circle gathering near an off-ramp of I-10.  While the runners finished, those of us who had not visited the solar project site were taken to see the Kokopeli and a neighboring geoglyph, surrounded by the planned southern portion of the project.  One of these two large impressive and unfenced figures already had a motorcycle trail crossing it. The solar project has said the Kokopeli figure will be fenced off, but how can it be thought that any further spiritual use can be made of a sacred site surrounded by miles of industrial mirrors?

We gathered for a fire circle. The tribes provided dinner and dancers, singers, a healing circle, and an opportunity for all to express their feelings from the events of the day.  Most strongly felt was the determination to save these sites from destruction, to save this valley from destruction,  to educate the outside world as to what was at stake in this mad rush for solar at any price.

Here the price is too high.  Here for native peoples and all society are special values which outweigh the land-rush mentality currently spreading out from Washington.  Determination to gather together in new ways to stop this industrial smear was the byword.  We felt we would ultimately win as our cause was just.

Several of us camped near Kokopeli that night.  The next day we were shown several undocumented figures on sacred sites in and near the project site.  The rush to destroy what you may not yet be aware of is happening here to the detriment of plants and animals, sacred sites and landscapes.  Spread the word.

Save Kokopeli! Solar on Rooftops, Not Sacred Sites

Good job reporting, Bob.
It was nice to meet you on the Spirit Run.
Chris - on behalf of the DPC: I’d appreciate greatly if you would welcome my presence on the El Paisano and DPC’s website, as well as ongoing efforts on behalf of Solar Done Right - which is awesome - to lobby in Washington on behalf of the solar issues in the California deserts.

I’ll be blunt: I have to say I’m feeling marginalized in ongoing discussions. As a lifelong native of the Mojave Desert, editor of No Place for a Puritan: the literature of California’s deserts (heyday 2009) and a professor of English & California desert literature at College of the Desert…(and former wildland firefighter for the CA Desert District, 1986-87) .I lecture widely on issues related to CA desert conservation and history and culture and literature and much more on a continous basis throughout California….so, why isn’t my voice and presence being welcomed and invited here? The last time I was invited to write or say anything on behalf of DPC was in 2008. Please, I’d appreciate immediate attention on this. It’s strange and actually downright upsetting to know that I’m being shelved and not more welcomed into this broader discourse.

I am a solid, lifelong presence in the California deserts. I have passion and depth from a lifelong perspective. I haven’t just “adopted” this place as an adult; this is my one and only home. Not dis-similar to the Native Americans of the region. Which gives me quite a bit of insight into some of their perspectives - along with the fact that I also teach California Native American literature at College of the Desert and for UCR-extension.

Ruth Nolan

Ruth, we certainly hadn’t intended to shelve you! Glad you said something though. I had intended to ask you about some verse for this new site post-launch, as well as for the next El Paisano. You are very much welcomed here and in the DPC world, and we’re always grateful for your spirit and your hard work.

More in your email in a few minutes.

Hi Jesus,
  I hope you are well and enjoying
The holiday season with your family.
If you celebrate Christmas, Merry
  It was nice to meet you, your
Opening ceremony was uplifting. Thank
You for the healing; I feel lighter,
Calmer,and more centered.
  Did you participate in the blessing
Of a new park in Vista last May? Iread
The article in The Sun Runner: sounds
Like a blessed event.
Sincerely yours,. Jeannie Ortiz

Hi Ruth,
  I enjoyed meeting you and listening
To your poetry.I read your article
About the Spirit Run. I’m glad you went
And your article made me feel as if I
Were there. Nice. Happy Holidays/
Christmas to you and your family.
  Jeannie Ortiz

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