Glen Canyon Lament By Philip Hyde 1

October 29th, 2010 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

Landscape Photography Blogger’s 100th Blog Post

For more about why dams are bad for rivers and how dams are being removed in a grassroots nationwide movement to restore the main arteries of life on Earth see the blog post, “A River Will Run Through It.” For more on how reservoirs infringe on wilderness read the blog post, “The Making of ‘Rainbow Bridge from the Upstream Side.’”

A Lament for Glen Canyon by Philip Hyde 1

Originally published in The Living Wilderness Magazine September 1980

Cathedral In The Desert, Glen Canyon, Utah, 1964 by Philip Hyde after the Glen Canyon Dam gates were closed. Named by American Photo Magazine one of the top 100 photographs of the 20th Century. Philip Hyde photographed Glen Canyon on river trips with David Brower and other Sierra Club leaders in 1958, 1962 and 1964.

(See the photograph full screen Click Here.)

Burn another candle to the memory of Glen Canyon—this time for a remnant of the great Utah-Arizona canyon system that most lovers of that rugged country thought safe from the clutches of the sprawling reservoir behind Glen Canyon Dam. This time for the mouth of Coyote Gulch, that fine water-sculptured meeting of Coyote with the beautiful Escalante Canyon. And for an Escalante stretch above their junction.

Why in memoriam? Because after 17 years of waiting for the filling of the reservoir euphemistically named “Lake” Powell, this spring it finally happened. And as it did, a lot of people discovered one more error in the calculations made in the planning of Glen Canyon Dam. The maps for the reservoir area originally showed that the maximum pool (highest water level) would reach only to a point well below the Coyote mouth. This June, however, a surge of spring runoff from an unusually heavy snowpack on the Colorado River’s headwaters in the Rockies brought the reservoir level to its operational maximum (3,700 feet above sea level) for the first time since the gates of the dam’s diversion tunnels were closed in 1963. The surge flooded a sixth of a mile or so of Coyote Gulch to a depth of as much as 11 feet and backed up about a quarter of a mile beyond Coyote in the Escalante River Canyon. Thus it proved, the maps were wrong.

Hikers who had thought this the province of land-based, self-powered exploration and enjoyment suddenly found themselves cut off from access, unless they had a boat. Cut off from Escalante Canyon upstream, from the wonderful climb over ledges to the base of Stevens Arch, from Stevens Canyon.

No great loss, says the renamed Bureau of Reclamation (now the Water and Power Resources Service—WAPRS, pronounced woppers), which built and operates the dam. The hikers can swim, or float across on their air mattresses, or scramble up the ledges on a newly cairned detour trail that will even save the hurried some time over the old creek-bed route. Maybe just as well, agrees the National Park Service, which manages visitation in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Coyote was getting too much use anyway, and the water might help divert users to other Escalante entrances—although not the motorboaters, who already are acknowledging their own improved access to the Escalante and Coyote with deposits of beer cans and other “garbage.” “The wilderness ethic of boaters is different,” says an Escalante ranger.

Coyote is indeed wilderness, as is the rest of the superlatively wild Escalante canyon system, although not yet legally so. The lower dozen of Coyote’s 18 miles (as the crow flies) are part of a 588,855-acre Glen Canyon Wilderness proposal (another 49,000 acres could be added later) already recommended by the Secretary of the Interior and awaiting clearance for presidential submission to Congress. The balance of the gulch is on Bureau of Land Management lands, but BLM favors adding it to the recreation area and wilderness unit. But Lake Powell’s clutching fingers are complicating the wilderness prospect, too. Because Congress gave dam needs priority over all else in Glen Canyon, planners decided to make the wilderness boundary the reservoir water line. Thus when Lake Powell expands, the bordering wilderness would diminish. Sometimes Coyote’s mouth would be in, sometimes out. Therefore, what would be its status? “It’s a slippery one,” admits one official.

Park Rangers already are trying to manage the Coyote Gulch and the Escalante River as de facto wilderness, and they are understandably worried not only about the littering by the boaters but by campfire rings and other problems of growing public use. This fall they expect to introduce a permit system in order to control use and combat abuses. This is to the good. But there doesn’t seem to be much official concern about the direct impacts of the flooding—the lasting water damage to canyon walls desert-varnished by eons, or the mess left by silt and debris that collect at the reservoir slack water, or worse, the permanent dirty “bathtub ring” that any fluctuating reservoir inevitably leaves behind, and that Lake Powell will too.

Obviously, the former Bureau of Reclamation had a point to make: that it could fill a reservoir whose benefits and cost justification were based on miscalculation of the amount of water available in the Colorado River. One could use the services of an investigative-reporter team, or perhaps an indefatigable Ph.D. candidate armed with the Freedom of Information Act, to find out just how close Glen Canyon Dam has come to paying off anything during these 17 years of painfully slow filling of the reservoir…

Continued in the next blog post, “Glen Canyon Lament By Philip Hyde 2

To read more about Philip Hyde and the defense of wild places, see the tribute blog post, “Celebrating Wilderness By William Neill.” For more on Glen Canyon and the photographs of it by Philip Hyde see the blog posts, “Glen Canyon Portfolio 1,” “Glen Canyon Portfolio 2” and “Glen Canyon Portfolio 3.”

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37 comments

  1. pj says:

    Congrats on 100 posts David. Great work.

    That’s a well written lament by your father. He was obviously a good writer as well as a master photographer.

    That’s an interesting post on dam removal. We had a dam removal project here just outside of Missoula a couple of years ago on the Clark Fork. The Milltown Dam was by no means as large as many of those others, but it was still quite an undertaking. The river has found it’s natural course, and now after nearly a century of impoundment the Clark Fork, the original ‘River That Runs Through It’, flows freely through here again.

  2. Thank you, PJ for the encouragement. Besides the writing, non-bloggers don’t realize it takes time to put in all the links, research and gather sources and upload the photographs. If I had known how much time it would take, I might not have started this. But now that I’m doing it, I love it and I don’t plan to ever stop, knock on wood.

    Great news about the Clark Fork. I didn’t realize that the original “River Runs Through It” river had a dam on it. It’s good to know that irony has been resolved in the river’s favor. Robert Redford is not the only one who feels Norman Maclean’s novel by the same name is one of the best ever written, and one of the best tributes to nature ever. They had to hot-rod it a bit for Hollywood, adding the romance and all, because no film could ever possibly match Norman Maclean’s prose. Although Robert Redford’s film is not bad as films go. The book made me want to pack right up and head to Montana to see that river. I hope it is still much as he described. I too am haunted by waters.

  3. pj says:

    Actually I misspoke — the river Maclean wrote about is the Blackfoot, which joins the Clark Fork just above where the dam used to be.

    I’m glad you didn’t know what all was involved when you started. I’m even more glad you don’t plan to stop.

  4. Thanks again, PJ. I can’t stop now. I am enjoying the community aspect of blogging, learning so much from other photographers and keeping my finger on the pulse of what is going on in landscape photography. Believe me it is a long way from what the photography gallery people think is going on. They are stuck in the past, while online all around us, the future is taking shape. There is of course nothing wrong with the past, it’s my stock and trade, but I feel that the future is inspiring in photography and must be heeded too. I am blessed with such an incredibly rich variety and depth of material to draw on to put on this blog. I have barely come out of the gate, so to speak. It is exciting to read through the files, folders and travel logs and think, “Gee, I bet they would like that story” and so on. I now have a huge backlog of potential blog posts, people to interview and already interviewed, stories to tell, travels and adventures to share. The discoveries are exciting and the journey is rewarding. I just wish this blogging stuff paid better, but that will come with time…

    The Blackfoot River. That sounds much more like it. It’s been a while since I’ve read “A River Runs Through It,” though I have it on CD now and am planning to listen to it again. Yes, it was the Blackfoot. I did a lot of fishing in my youth on the wild rivers and streams of the Northern Sierra Nevada. That book hit home for me on many levels. And the writing: some of the world’s best. Norman Maclean gave Shakespeare a run for his keep.

  5. Richard Wong says:

    Congrats on the 100th post milestone, David.

    Someday I’ll have to make it out to Glen Canyon. I’ve read many articles about it but haven’t had a chance to go yet.

  6. Hi Richard, thanks for the congrats. Most people don’t call it Glen Canyon anymore now that it is still mostly underwater, even though the area is called Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. If you do go out there you might be more and more likely all the time to find Glen Canyon. There’s a beautiful new book called, “Resurrection: Glen Canyon and a New Vision for the American West” by Annette McGivney with Photographs by James Kay. The book contains Dad’s famous “Cathedral In The Desert” photograph next to a recent image from the same ledge by James Kay. James Kay’s photograph shows how much the water has gone down with the droughts in recent decades. People usually refer to the area as “Lake” Powell, or as Dad called it Lake Foul or Reservoir Powell. He refused to call it a lake and always claimed that technically it wasn’t. I remember one time I poked some fun at him and wrote it as Lake Fowl. He retorted, “That may be prophetic. It certainly is a lame duck.”

  7. Derrick says:

    David – congrats on your 100th post! May we see 100 more! (and even more than that…)

  8. Thank you, Derrick for the congrats. I’m glad you are asking for more, and more and more. There are hundreds, probably thousands of posts worth of material lined up and waiting to be posted on this blog.

  9. Richard Wong says:

    Thanks for pointing out the book. I’ll look it up on Amazon. James Kay has really great work.

  10. Thank you, Richard for the comment. I agree about James Kay’s photography. He has been photographing Canyon Country for over 30 years. Resurrection is a beautiful book. Sooner or later I will write a review on it. I have a backlog of reviews that need to be done. Another book on Glen Canyon that is a high priority to review is “The Ghosts of Glen Canyon: History Beneath Lake Powell” by C. Gregory Crampton and Edward Abbey, repackaged, revised and remade by the University of Utah Press in 2009 with a cover photograph and 15 “new” color plates by Philip Hyde. Dad did some of his best color work in Glen Canyon and the reproductions are gorgeous. You can order it from the “Top 10 List” box in the sidebar on this blog above and I will be paid a few cents to help compensate for the time put in here. Besides these books, in the near future I will be reviewing Guy Tal’s “Creative Landscape Photography,” Ansel Adams new book on the national parks and a number of others that are lined up.

  11. Greg Russell says:

    Recently, while re-reading Ed Abbey’s “Desert Solitaire,” I enjoyed his account of floating Glen Canyon not long before Lake Powell came into existence.

    Glen Canyon must have been a fantastic place to explore and accounts like your Dad’s and Abbey’s make it seem more alive than ghostly.

    I’m looking forward to the next installment in this series, David.

    As a side note, I received in the mail today my copy of “Slickrock” by Abbey and your father…looking forward to digging into it!

    cheers,
    Greg

  12. Hi Greg, thank you for stopping by. I need to re-read Desert Solitaire. I had forgotten Edward Abbey wrote about Glen Canyon in it. He also wrote about Glen Canyon in a few other texts as well. David Brower wrote about Glen Canyon beautifully too. That is so great that you landed your own copy of Slickrock. Right now there seems to be a lot of them around at various booksellers for reasonable prices. A while ago I remember you could hardly find it for less than $100, and often for not less than $300. There may be a run on Slickrock again though. I noticed with all the excitement of the Golden Decade Exhibition, there was a run on The Range of Light, Dad’s last book on the Sierra Nevada. You can’t find it now for less than $90. Mark my words, anyone out there thinking of buying a Philip Hyde book. Sooner or later the supply will dry up and the prices will skyrocket. I’m watching them myself and buying whenever I see a deal.

  13. Steve Sieren says:

    Cheers to your 100th post David.

    There isn’t anything beautiful about the bath tub rings in all of our man made reserviors but Powell’s rings do have a uniqueness to them. I haven’t photographed Powell but have driven by many times, it’s amazing to see how big of a scar in the desert we would leave behind if the the dam is ever removed. What would they do with all of the concrete since there is so much of it?

  14. Hi Steve, I appreciate your cheering me on. Carr Clifton made some nice close-ups of the Lake Powell bathtub rings. They’re quite colorful, especially where seeps flowing over them wear off the silt stains. The bathtub ring supposedly wears off in a matter of time. There are already places around the Lake where it has worn off and left the canyon walls looking much as they always did. The concrete is a bigger problem. I will have to ask the Glen Canyon Institute what the latest thinking on that is. My dad used to say the best solution was to bypass the dam with water tunnels and “Leave Glen Canyon Dam in place as a monument to stupidity,” but some people might not like that huge eyesore being left there clogging up the canyon and the Colorado River. The Bureau of Wreck-the-Nation figured out how to get the dam in there and make it stay. It seems like somebody ought to be able to find a use for the concrete. I heard once that they sometimes pulverize concrete and use it to build new homes. Who knows?

  15. Rick Cortinez says:

    This post about Glen Canyon is understandable, but isn’t Lake Powell beautiful too?

  16. Hi Rick, Thank you for your comment. Many people have asked the same question. “Lake” Powell is beautiful. It is probably one of the most beautiful reservoirs in the world. Nonetheless, while many beautiful winding canyons and backwaters are now available by boat, the majority of the most beautiful scenery is now submerged. The streams, trees, grassy meadows, grottoes and other rich, verdant, greenery of the canyon bottoms offered the most beauty. Also, the most interesting arches, overhangs, and all sorts of geological features are at least for now underwater. Besides, those who had to hike or backpack to reach these canyon oasis, seemed to pollute and litter them less, maintaining their beauty better than some boaters.

  17. T. Wineinger says:

    There is obviously a lot to know about this. Your father apparently knows what he is writing about.

  18. Thank you, T. Wineinger. My father was up on all of the major conservation issues and the majority of the smaller, more obscure ones in the Western U.S. most of his life. Even after he lost his eyesight, my mother, then later myself, read him the environmental news every day from the magazines and newsletters to which he subscribed. When he was more active photographing for the Sierra Club, Wilderness Society, National Audubon, Friends of The Earth, Earth Island Institute and many other organizations, he often knew more about the issues than those who had sent him on assignment. He was on the ground talking to Park Rangers, packers, wilderness explorers and the people we call the grass roots today. He would make recommendations that sometimes became policy or guided-decision making on the campaigns. Sometimes in his travels, he would run across a new environmental cause that the Sierra Club or other organizations did not know about. He sometimes had an uphill battle to convince first David Brower and then to have David Brower convince the Sierra Club Board that action ought to be taken to save a certain place. Martin Litton and Philip Hyde were the first to convince David Brower that there was a colossal disaster happening to the Redwoods. David Brower then was not able to convince the Sierra Club Board to do anything, until the Sierra Club President Edgar Wayburn and his wife Peggy Wayburn went up the coast and saw what was going on. The same kind of thing happened with the fight to prevent proposed dams in Dinosaur National Monument. Even after Dick Leonard had seen the beauty of Dinosaur and he and David Brower had sent Dad out there in 1951, it took over three more years for the Sierra Club to decide whether to get involved in issues outside the Sierra Nevada and California.

  19. David: Congratulations on your 100th post. I’m really enjoying your posts and sharing your father’s great photos and inspirational and compelling writing.

    Keep up the fabulous work.

    Cheers,

    Gary

  20. Hi Gary, Thank you for reading and for your supportive compliments. Dad could really write when he was fired up.

  21. I’m obviously a bit late for the party…but congratulations just the same, David. I’ll save the streamers for the 200th party. I’m glad you got into this and stuck with it. I’m looking forward to continuing my education here regarding the land issues you folks in the west deal with. We have very little wild lands left here in the east and if something can be developed it will be.

    Excellent and impassioned writing by your father, David. It really does not come as much of a surprise that calculations were a bit off in the planning. It also is not a big surprise that rationalizations for the result were so creative. Less litter indeed. I suppose the “lakes” were doing us a service by protecting and preserving what is now hidden beneath.

  22. Hi Steve, thank you for the comment. Hopefully by the 200th party, Glen Canyon Dam will be removed and we can celebrate the Colorado River reclaiming Glen Canyon. I realize you may be trying to see the bright side, but I don’t think having the canyons submerged all these years has done much to “preserve” them as it has buried them in a lot of mud, silt, debris, garbage and mess that will have to be removed before the side canyons can receive their rivers and streams back into their channels and stream beds. It will be many years before the “bathtub ring” will wear away, and probably many more years before wildlife and natural grasses, trees and other vegetation will return to make the spectacular canyon oasis and hidden side grottos what they used to be. Regardless, I appreciate your sentiments and voice added to the lament.

  23. Hi David…I hope you realize my comment about the “lakes” preservation qualities was at best jest and more likely sarcasm for the rationalizations.
    Yes, that would be awesome to have the dam gone and the recovery started by the 200th.

  24. Hi Steve, thank you for the clarification. I had a feeling that was how you meant it, but I started writing and kept rolling to make the point about all the junk at the bottom of Glen Canyon now. I understand on re-reading that you didn’t mean to “see the bright side,” but rather to further poke holes in the strange logic of the “Bureau of Wreck The Nation.” The irony is that many local westerners at the time went right along with “Big Dam Foolishness.” It wasn’t until many people from the East saw the beauty of the canyons of the West, that the localized pro-development powers in the West were overcome by the newly minted modern environmental movement that essentially started in the West and spread to the East. Of course the original “green” leaders such as Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman and others were from the East. It is interesting to note that when the Sierra Club first expanded to the East Coast, membership grew much faster than it had in the West.

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