The Guano Caucus

Guano Point sits 75 miles north of Kingman, Arizona, on the southern lip of the Western Grand Canyon, and on it perches the remnants of a tramway system, a launching point for failed dreams and a missing 99,000 tons of guano. 

We’ll return in a bit to the missing guano. 

As Roger Smith tells the story in his book Batchit, Arizona, Harold Carpenter says he spotted a gap in the north canyon wall while boating down Granite Gorge in the Great Depression. Returning later, he spent several days climbing up to it. 

Holy bat cave! Who spends three days getting to a literal hole in the wall? Apparently Mr. Carpenter, and he found a lot of … well, guano. That’s the term for what leaves the hind end of a bat. 

Bats are amazing critters. Mammals that fly, animals that use sonar to hunt delicious insects — and we’re not going to argue with the preferences of animal heroes that eat what bites and stings you and me — and large colonies that excrete voluminously. Before the agricultural Green Revolution and synthetic fertilizer, guano was a farming essential, a true renewable resource. 

And to people willing to gamble on a cave hundreds of feet down a cliff, a potential source of tremendous wealth. There were three tries to mine the bat cave, and the last is what left the tramway terminal as a legacy. 

In the 1950s, a Canadian oil company created an American subsidiary, the U.S. Guano Corporation — a name we should all cherish — and U.S. Guano bought that cave. An engineer estimated that there were 100,000 tons of guano in its recesses. (“I know you’re used to estimating oilfields, Joe, but you’re just going to love this challenge.”) 

That’s 2 million pounds of bat excreta. It’s hard to imagine. But apparently that’s a lot of … stuff. And money. 

So U.S. Guano planned a tramway, not one of those glamorous ski-resort gondolas but a workhorse to carry the guano out of the Grand Canyon by cable. 

If only this had worked out, we’d be knee-deep in guano, or at least our politics would revolve around it the way it revolves around the other extraction industries. Guano would be as important as copper, cotton, citrus, cattle, and climate. Arizona children would learn about the 5Cs and G. 

You could graduate from Arizona State with a degree in guano engineering. There would be a Guano Chamber of Commerce.

But the real guano chamber had less than estimated: a thousand tons rather than the promised hundred thousand. Like so many other ambitious Arizonans, the workers of U.S. Guano found a rock wall at the end of the rainbow. 

In 1960, the mine closed, and within the year, an Air Force jet clipped the tramway wire, leaving just the tower we can now see at Guano Point, near a canyon rim cafe that the Hualapai tribal government operates. While you overlook the canyon, you can order baked chicken, vegetarian masala, and a slice of humble pie while you ponder the state’s lost fortunes. 

So what happened to the wild overestimate, the missing 99,000 tons?

I think Senate President Karen Fann found some of it this year, under her dais in the Capitol. Maybe just a ton or two, but enough for the so-called “audit” that CyberNinjas has botched, spindled, and mutilated. 

Sharpiegate? Guano. 

Rumors that bamboo fibers would prove some fraudulent ballots came from Asia? Racist guano. 

Claims that there were secret ultraviolet marks on ballots? Guano. 

74,000 mail-in ballots over the total that the county sent out? Guano. Pure guano. 

And with the final report coming next week, I’m sure there will be entirely new guano entrees.

Some of her fellow Senate Republicans have by now backed away from the stinking pile — leaving her with a rump caucus trailing her into a private bat cave just for conspiracy theorists. 

A minority of Senators are unable to back up subpoenas of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors but still willing to eat what President Fann keeps dishing. 

The Guano Caucus. 

I don’t know why some of our friends in the Arizona Senate keep up their appetite for this charade. We are all weak-willed at some point in our lives, and for the Guano Caucus in the Arizona Senate, that point is 2021. 

Some of them must realize it doesn’t taste that good, but who among us has not been attracted to at least one all-you-can-eat buffet that we can already see is bad for us? “Marge, I know it’s guano, but there’s enough of it for everyone!” 

I hope this urge passes, because until the next election, Karen Fann still has almost 99,000 tons she can serve.