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Modern landscape processes affecting archaeological sites along the Colorado River corridor downstream of Glen Canyon Dam, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona

August 29, 2017

The landscape of the Colorado River through Glen Canyon National Recreation Area formed over many thousands of years and was modified substantially after the completion of Glen Canyon Dam in 1963. Changes to river flow, sediment supply, channel base level, lateral extent of sedimentary terraces, and vegetation in the post-dam era have modified the river-corridor landscape and have altered the effects of geologic processes that continue to shape the landscape and its cultural resources. The Glen Canyon reach of the Colorado River downstream of Glen Canyon Dam hosts many archaeological sites that are prone to erosion in this changing landscape. This study uses field evaluations from 2016 and aerial photographs from 1952, 1973, 1984, and 1996 to characterize changes in potential windblown sand supply and drainage configuration that have occurred over more than six decades at 54 archaeological sites in Glen Canyon and uppermost Marble Canyon. To assess landscape change at these sites, we use two complementary geomorphic classification systems. The first evaluates the potential for aeolian (windblown) transport of river-derived sand from the active river channel to higher elevation archaeological sites. The second identifies whether rills, gullies, or arroyos (that is, overland drainages that erode the ground surface) exist at the archaeological sites as well as the geomorphic surface, and therefore the relative base level, to which those flow paths drain. Results of these assessments are intended to aid in the management of irreplaceable archaeological resources by the National Park Service and stakeholders of the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program.