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Literature / Wet Desert: Tracking Down a Terrorist on the Colorado River

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Wet Desert: Tracking Down a Terrorist on the Colorado River, by Gary Hansen, is a book published in 2007.

It deals with a plot by an Eco-Terrorist to bring down the Glen Canyon Dam in the United States, and by the effort by a manager of the Bureau of Reclamation to prevent a catastrophe.

Wet Desert: Tracking Down a Terrorist on the Colorado River provides examples of:

  • The Antagonist: Much of the plot resolves about both identifying and stopping the bomb and the flood caused by the first bombing.
  • Antagonistic Governor: The governor of Nevada is a jerk at first and prevents Hoover Dam from opening its spillways, increasing the danger from the incoming flood.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: When the governor of Nevada asks the commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation what Grant should have done, if not enlarging Hoover Dam with sandbags.
  • Artistic License – Geography:
  • Big Dam Plot: The bomber is aiming at bringing down Glen Canyon Dam.
  • Break the Haughty: When the jerk governor of Nevada is informed that Hoover Dam will overtop, he becomes a lot more concerned and conciliatory.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The spillways at Hoover Dam are described in detail, as well as the flood of 1983 when they were put in use. Fred wonders whether he'll see them in use again; sure enough, they are later used to drain the lake when the floodwaters from Lake Powell reach the dam.
  • Closed Circle: As the water in the Grand Canyon retreats, David and the others find themselves trapped on a ledge high over the river.
  • Company Town: Boulder City, Nevada was formerly a company town erected by the builders of Hoover Dam, a history referenced in the story.
  • Cool Plane: Grant does admire how luxurious the Bureau's Gulfstream jet is, with wide windows and blinds, polished wood grain hand rests, a leather seat and wide room inside the plane.
  • Cutting the Knot: Greg cuts the rope of the Mastercraft boat when the dropping water levels in Lake Powell cause the rope it was attached to to become too tight and loosening it difficult.
  • Death Course:
    • Upon hearing of the evacuation order, Sid and Ryan realize that they'll have to go back through the rising water to escape the Grand Canyon.
    • When Lake Powell drops and marinas are closed, the Crawfords have to sail around Antelope Island to get to one of the last working marinas, right past the failing Glen Canyon Dam.
  • Demolitions Expert: They are called in to blow up the spillways at Hoover Dam so that water can be drained at lower water levels.
  • Desk Jockey: The Commissioner Roland is completely out of depth at the Hoover Dam crisis, being more used to politics and money than at crisis management.
  • Disney Villain Death: The bomber meets his end upon letting himself fall from a helicopter.
  • Dramatic Pause: In-Universe, when Grant asks the people handling the crisis at Hoover Dam whether Lake Mead should hold all the incoming water. Nobody dares to answer positively.
  • Eco-Terrorist: The book is, as the title might suggest, about tracking down an eco-terrorist who wants to destroy a dam on the Colorado river to restore the habitat.
  • End of an Age:
    • Upon having a proposal for a dam on the Snake River rejected by the bureau, Grant realized that the era of dam building in the United States was over and no new dam projects would be built.
    • Julie considers Lake Powell to have been one of the world's most beautiful places and is saddened by its disappearance.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Grant realizes that the bomber is aiming at restoring the Colorado River delta, after figuring that the bomber's warning of a poisoning of the All-American Canal does not fit that of a terrorist trying to kill people.
  • Face Death with Dignity: The bomber, upon seeing his plan of restoring the Colorado River delta completed, does let himself fall to death with a smile in his face.
  • Fantastic Fragility: While the Glen Canyon Dam could not be brought down by crashing an aircraft into it or a torpedo, a hole and the erosion from the water leaking through said hole could.
  • FBI Agent: Susan Williams is a FBI agent sent to investigate the bombing at Davis Dam.
  • Foreshadowing: The first chapter opens up with the controlled demolition of a dam in Colorado, foreshadowing the bombing and destruction of the Glen Canyon Dam during the course of the story.
  • Gaia's Vengeance: The motivation of the bomber is to bring back the natural flow of the Colorado River by blowing up the dams that are holding it back.
  • Genre Savvy: Keller realizing how bad the dam breach must be for the water level to rise the way it is. Ryan telling Sid to ditch their packs so they can make it up the trail before the water rises too high.
  • Goal in Life: Grant's goal of life is to build dams.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: The chief of security at Glen Canyon Dam has an outburst when he is told that a security guard let the bomber in without confirming that the supposed elevator maintenance guy was in fact an elevator maintenance guy.
  • Hanging by the Fingers: The bomber for a short time holds himself to a helicopter's landing gear by hand, before letting go.
  • Hate Sink: Howard. Being a lawyer in an engineer and manager setting such as the Bureau of Reclamation, rumour has it that he was installed there by politicians in order to sabotage the Bureau's operation. He's also described as having a terrible relationship to other characters, to the point that Grant wishes that he'll be eaten by a bear during his vacation in Yellowstone National Park. And later, when the FBI is considering the possibility that the bombings were an inside job, Grant smiles when he imagines Howard being responsible and in the process of being arrested for the bombings.
  • Heat Wave: The heat at Lake Powell is giving characters who are recreating there discomfort.
  • Hey, Wait!: The bomber is surprised by a security guard while he's arranging the bomb at Glen Canyon Dam, but the guard is merely asking if everything is OK, not having realized what the bomber is actually aiming for.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: The bomber knows that blowing up Glen Canyon Dam will result in causalities, but knows it is an unavoidable consequence of restoring the river.
  • The Infiltration: The bomber dresses himself and his truck as that of an elevator maintenance company to bypass security at Glen Canyon Dam.
  • Inside Job: The bomber disguised himself as a member of the Bureau of Reclamation when targeting Davis Dam, making Grant suspect it may be an insider at the Bureau.
  • Local Angle: The bomber thinks that local news will carry the bombing story first.
  • MacGyvering: "Hoover-Two" is a makeshift dam made out of sandbags on top of Hoover Dam, to hold back more water and prevent Davis and Parker dams downstream from overtopping.
  • Media Scrum: Large crowds of reporters accompany the governor of Nevada at Hoover Dam as he makes a press statement on the situation and the attempt to raise the dam with sandbags.
  • Motive Misidentification: After excluding Islamic terrorism, the investigators at first think that the bomber may have had a vendetta against boaters or the like, until the Colorado River Aqueduct is bombed.
  • New Era Speech: The President announces that while the dams on the Colorado will be rebuilt, some water will be appropriated to keep the Colorado River delta alive, something that was not occurring before.
  • Never Found the Body: The body of the bomber is never found.
  • Noble Bigot: The family of casino security workers who, while assuming that the terrorist must be a Muslim, also Jumped at the Call to fill bags with dirt in order to make a dyke and prevent the collapse of the Hoover Dam.
  • No Name Given: The bomber is usually not referred to by name in the book. Eventually it's revealed that his name was Jeffre Calhoun.
  • No Party Given: While not directly relevant, the political affiliation of the governor of Nevada is never stated.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: The governor of Nevada delays the opening of the spillways at Hoover Dam when he's informed that people have to be evacuated in preparation from the towns beneath the dam.
    • This is subverted after his first scene, when the danger is described to him in frank and understandable terms, and he spends the rest of the novel scrambling to help Grant in every way he can.
    • Some of the managers in charge of various dams are also reluctant to breach them to control the flow, with the attitudes of some bordering on I Reject Your Reality, but generally do after some cajoling.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • The flight attendant gasps when she sees the leak in Glen Canyon Dam.
    • Grant's and Fred's reaction to the phone call informing them of the bombing at Davis Dam involves dropping the cutlery.
    • Just about all of the hikers, boaters and such in the Glen Canyon area when they finally realize why the water is rising.
  • Percussive Maintenance: A worker tries to unjam the fifth spillway gate at Parker Dam by hammering it.
  • The Place: Each chapter is named after the setting in which it takes place.
  • Race Against the Clock:
    • The sandbag dike on top of Hoover Dam needs to be finished before the floodwaters from Lake Powell reach it.
    • And Davis Dam must be repaired after the explosion before it fails or waters that are being dumped from Hoover Dam overtop it.
  • The Reveal: Sid and Ryan are informed of the failure of the Glen Canyon Dam by a helicopter loudspeaker as the Grand Canyon is being evacuated.
  • Right on Queue: Greg and the others are stuck for over 45 minutes in a long line of boats waiting to be refueled at Dangling Rope Marina in Lake Powell.
  • Road Block: The bomber has to hurry to avoid getting caught in one of these.
  • Skinny Dipping: Julie desires to skinny dip in Lake Powell.
  • Status Quo Is God: The President is planning to rebuild the dams that were destroyed during the flood.
  • This Is a Work of Fiction: The book includes a disclaimer:
    This is a work of fiction. Although many of the places referenced in the book are real, some characteristics have been changed to fit the story. Some real and historical characters and events have been included to enhance the story. However, the characters and events in this book are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
  • Time Bomb: The ignition mechanism for the bomb at Glen Canyon Dam ignites the bomb 18 seconds after triggering the elevator, so that the bomb will have been transported down the dam and can thus cause more damage.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The agents beneath Headgate Rock Dam should have fled instead of arguing about whether the dam would really fail. One man with a hard hat waits too long and is swept away by the water when the dam breaches.
  • Uncertain Doom:
    • As the Crawfords travel down the draining Lake Powell, they encounter a capsized boat with an empty life jacket. There is nobody to be seen and Julie is sure the boat's passengers are dead.
    • When David, Afram and Judy can no longer hold on their raft, it and the other passengers are swept off the cliff where it had stranded and down the Colorado river towards Granite Narrows where the flood has probably formed a large waterfall. Keller and the others try to control the raft for some moments more before he is thrown off in a waterfall. The text ends with a mention of how he falls into the water and loses his senses. It is later revealed that their bodies and life jackets were found beneath Granite Narrows.
  • Villain Has a Point: Grant and the FBI can't help but find the bomber's aim to restore the Colorado River delta to be understandable.
  • Water Source Tampering: When the bomber realizes that the All-American Canal is too heavily guarded for another bombing, he forces its shutdown with a bogus threat of having poisoned the water.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The bomber’s goal is to restore the Colorado River delta. He’s not specifically out to hurt anyone, but he knows and accepts that his plan will kill numerous people.
  • Western Terrorists: The bomber is considered to be one by the FBI, as his profile does not match that of conventional terrorists.
  • Where's the Kaboom?: For an instant, the bomber thinks that the bombing has gone wrong when the explosion does not immediately manifest.