: Duty to Disobey...by Sean Prentiss and Katie Phelan
, a now 82-year-old former river-runner and activist, had lost.
Even for all his
efforts to preserve the river country he
called home, the dam and its waters swallowed entire canyon systems in southern Utah and northern Arizona.
The resulting reservoir became known as Lake Powell, which Sleight
dubbed "Lake Foul."
Before the dam scarred Glen Canyon
guided about fifteen raft trips a year on the Colorado River, and bristled at
the threat of the impending dam.
This indignation led him to join what would be his
first of many protests: a small affair of protesters without a permit, carting signs and posters.
"When do you have to have a permit just to walk around?
asks, eyes wide.
"And we were stopping traffic around the river of course.
And the Park Service down there came over and stole all of our signs.
Our hokey signs.
"We didn't know how to do things.
If that came up today, boy would we know how, yes, we would know how!
arms fly wide like a bird taking flight, his
Before the dam, Glen Canyon
was a kind of sanctuary, largely unexplored.
The red rock walls rose like pottery around the river that reflects them, that Colorado red, winding in and out of slices of sunshine.
, no matter how many tours he
led as the rock lit up in the descent of the day, had to catch his
Now, the Carl B. Hayden Visitor Center
offers free tours of the lake and the power plant, but steel rods have replaced deep, boundless canyons.
"One of the thrills of river running is the freedom you feel," Sleight
"You're not regimented.
The dam took away the thrill."
starts talking hard and fast.
Too much," Sleight
But boy, how he
In the days leading up to the damming of the Colorado, Sleight and six other river-running friends formed Friends of Glen Canyon.
Sleight also became the first elected chair of the Glen Canyon Group of the Sierra Club's Utah chapter.
In 1999, he
won the David R. Brower award for Outstanding Service in the Field of Conservation.
And when Lake Powell flooded Rainbow Bridge National Monument, he
sued the government for illegally flooding a national park property.
Rather than address the issue, the government changed its laws, rendering the flooding legal and Sleight
"I could have done more," Sleight
, whose voice crescendos wildly during his
passionate retellings of the old days and the old battles, isn't beaten yet.
Case in point: he
yet hopes to see the destruction of Glen Canyon Dam, preferably while he's
still alive (he talks about getting on his
knees and praying for the dam to crumble, just like Abbey wrote about in The Monkey Wrench Gang).
Case in point: Just last week he
tore out a real estate sign pressed into the soft soil of Pack Creek's
property, because it violated neighborhood regulations.
always does this," Sleight
, feeling reinforced in his
argument, continues to define justice, or rightness, as he
"It can mean lying down in front of machines, or tearing down signs, or disrupting meetings or whatever.
If you feel so deep down that what they're doing is unjust, sometimes you have a duty to disobey."
In 1991, armed with only conviction and a horse named Knothead, Sleight
fulfilled this duty-he saddled up, rode to Amassa Back Mesa in Moab, and stood down bulldozers before they began to take down several hundred acres of juniper forest.
Although the D-9 Caterpillar blades advanced to within inches of his
showed no sign of surrender.
And the bulldozers stopped.
Seldom Seen Slim, an ornery Mormon character with features and mannerisms undeniably reminiscent of Sleight
, was known for his
monkey wrenching of governmental plans.
's old friend Abbey never formally declared that the character was sketched from Sleight, but to Abbey's fans and followers, there can be no doubt.
"Yeah, you get an image," Sleight
says, though for many years he
would not admit to the similarities.
has always been willing to fight, but he's
also been willing to change.
A self-proclaimed liberal, he cites his days of being a Republican and the gradual shift to the left side before becoming the county Democratic chairman.
"When I was at the University of Utah
, boy, I was conservative as all hell.
I was just like all the other Mormons.
I was invited to John Birch meetings.
Never did join the son of a…," Sleight
pauses and clears his
throat, dimples flashing.
"We got out, and we were so pissed off at everything that was happening… we took those boxes of beer cans and threw them on the road," Sleight
"They weren't supposed to have this dam.
pauses, and his
anger hangs in the air for a moment.
As the light fades on the porch, Sleight
details the book he
plans to write.
"That book thing has been a joke all these years.
I'm not going to get it done," Sleight
says with a nod.
made several references over the past couple days to the book he
will someday publish, and this is the first negative one.
takes a swig of beer and continues, "But writing, you always hope you take some of your thoughts and give them to other people.
2 comments for " Ken Sleight
: Duty to Disobey...by Sean Prentiss and Katie Phelan"
Nice to know that Ken
is still fighting the good fight, though.