“A ruin should always be protected but never repaired – thus may we witness full the lingering legacies of the past.”
THE STORY BEHIND THE PHOTO:
North of the long-abandoned De La O headquarters and not too far away from what is presently called River Road, is a ruined dam near the mouth of one of several canyons feeding into the area. As in so many other spots of this desert, the structure was built over where other cultures once existed. Mortars and metates abound along both walls of the chasm.
How long it has been here is open to conjecture, the style and materials appear to date sometime around the early 1930s. By eye I estimate the dam at about seventy feet in length and at least twenty feet high, and large enough to make photographing the structure difficult due to the size and location.
Who built it also remains a question in my mind. My two likeliest guesses would be either Wayne Cartledge or Homer Wilson, or perhaps it was an old CCC project. The site is closer to the Cartledge holdings but that is only a matter of distance, which often had little to do with who actually had what. On occasion ranchers in this country would swap acreage on little more than a handshake, as natural terrain features served as better boundaries than any man-made fence line.
Homer Wilson had been a military officer in World War One and was an engineer by training and experience, and the quality of the remaining design and materials utilized makes me think of him. Plus the size itself, this structure is one of the largest of its type that I know of in the lower Big Bend.
The size is probably what led to its ultimate downfall. Though some might opine that it fell victim to high explosives after the National Park Service took over, I know of no other instance involving the demolition of a dam inside this park. Not to say they did not blow up many other things, but if true this would be a first to my knowledge.
More likely is the sheer force of water converging during a flash flood through this lower bottleneck for the chasm. Though it appears to have been well anchored on both sides into solid rock, evidently it was overcome by Mother Nature herself during one of her thunderhead-crowned fits in the form of a massive deluge.
And as far too common in my life-long explorations of this enigma of a land, I am left with too many questions, an overabundance of speculation and very few answers.
Yet my personal journey continues in search of the mostly unanswerable.
God bless to all,
Ben H. English