Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Water Fight on the River - Round Fifteen

15. Question. Did the River Sidon have any major obstructions that inhibited movement up and down the river? See the article "Asking the Right Questions" in this blog.

15. Answer. No. The text describes difficult travel both up and down river, but nothing that required a major detour.
15. Exhibit. The Usumacinta is a relatively placid river along its entire course. Outfitters who take adventure travelers down the Usumacinta in motorized rafts do not emphasize whitewater - there isn't much. They advertise pristine jungle with awe-inspiring Mayan ruins set amid luxuriant flora and fauna. The Mezcalapa-Grijalva, on the other hand, has one 13-kilometer stretch that everyone talks about: the world-famous El Sumidero Canyon just downstream from Chiapa de Corzo and Tuxtla Gutierrez.
El Sumidero Canyon from an eye altitude of 380 kilometers. 
El Sumidero is a deep canyon with shear vertical walls rising as high as 800 meters (2,600 feet) above the river. The head of El Sumidero is the dividing point between the upper and lower Mezcalapa-Grijalva.
El Sumidero Canyon from an eye altitude of 14 kilometers.
The river makes sharp 90-degree bends and the water is very deep, giving the Sumidero a well-deserved reputation for danger. Many would-be river runners lost their lives in this canyon before an elite Mexican army team finally ran it in the 1960's. It is also a popular but deadly BASE jumping destination.
El Sumidero Canyon from one of the
lookout points along the canyon rim.
The slope gradients along this part of the Mezcalapa-Grijalva River are very steep. As a result, the 261- meter high Chicoasen dam just downstream from El Sumidero Canyon produces more electricity than any other hydroelectric installation in Mexico.
El Sumidero Canyon from the Mezcalapa-Grijalva River.
Some notable facts about El Sumidero Canyon:
  • This 13-kilometer section of river has 35 rapids that become more violent in the dry season
  • During the rainy season, many waterfalls cascade down the steep canyon walls
  • It was Mexico's entry in the New Seven Wonders of the Natural World Competition
  • It is the second most popular tourist attraction in Chiapas (after Palenque)
  • The Chiapa commited mass suicide jumping off the cliffs rather than submit to the Spaniards
  • In the 2009-2010 season, six tourists drowned along this treacherous section of river.
El Sumidero Canyon looms so large in the history and popular culture of Chiapas that it is the most prominent feature on the state seal.
El Sumidero Canyon on the Chiapas State Seal.
Thomas A. Lee, Jr., in his excellent article, "The Historical Routes of Tabasco and Northern Chiapas and their Relationship to Early Cultural Development in Central Chiapas," in Mesoamerican Communication Routes and Cultural Contacts, Provo: BYU-NWAF Paper Number 40, 1978, observed that the  natives gave wide berth to both the Mezcalapa-Grijalva river and the rugged terrain around the river for a full 75-kilometer stretch from Cahuare upstream from El Sumidero Canyon to Quechula near the eastern edge of the modern Malpaso reservoir.
75-kilometer section of the Mezcalapa-Grijalva in red that 
the Chiapas natives detoured widely around because  
travel in the area was so difficult and dangerous. 
15. Conclusion. You can travel up and down the Usumacinta without major barriers. People anciently did not travel up and down the Mezcalapa-Grijalva through the El Sumidero Canyon area. They went around it - way around it. The Usumacinta better fits the text of the Book of Mormon. Advantage Usumacinta.
15. Running Score. Mezcalapa-Grijalva 0. Usumacinta 15.