Landscape Photography Blogger’s 100th Blog Post started a short three part series on Glen Canyon by Philip Hyde…
A Lament for Glen Canyon by Philip Hyde, Part 3
Continued from the blog post, “Glen Canyon Lament by Philip Hyde 2.”
Originally published in The Living Wilderness magazine September 1980
‘Lake’ Powell’s Coyote Gulch Invasion Brings a Flood of Painful Memories
By Contributing Editor Philip Hyde
(To see the photograph full screen Click Here.)
I was introduced to the canyon country in 1951 as the controversy over the Upper Colorado River Storage Project was warming. I was commissioned by the Sierra Club to find out what was in Dinosaur, and bring back photographs of it. On the way home, I had glimpses of other parts of the canyon country: following the wheel tracks of uranium trucks on the then primitive road through Monument Valley, and a stop at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. I remember well the landscape shock that the early geologist Dutton said comes to those from well watered regions when they first confront the Plateau Province. The heat, haze and dryness that dulled my mind, fogged the shadows of my photographs and obscured the vast distances were still leaving their imprint on me when I made my first river trip through Glen Canyon four years later, but there were more important things leaving their imprints, too. The light! The bare rock forms of the land, and the color! These began to impress me more than the discomforts and initial strangeness. Those early impressions formed the core of my feeling for this country and programmed me for my continuing preoccupation with it.
In the spring of 1962, several years after politics had decided that the main artery of the wild Colorado would be bled for kilowatts, I backpacked in to Rainbow Bridge to help in a study that sought ways of protecting this magnificent natural span of stone from the coming encroachment of the reservoir. Later, in June, a second float trip from Hite to Lee’s Ferry really got me into Glen Canyon. Our itinerary was made up of places that must be seen for the last time, for a short time later the gates of Glen Canyon Dam’s diversion tunnels were to be closed and the great canyon condemned to drown.
In 1964, I got my first real look at Escalante Canyon and its tributaries on the last half of a trip that started out as a wake for Glen Canyon. Paddling off from Wahweap on 200-plus feet of water, we floated over the roof of Music Temple and peered through the green water trying vainly to see the great overhang in Moqui Canyon, marked now only by the top of the curve. Floating through the narrows of Aztec Canyon, we landed a short distance below Rainbow Bridge and strode up to pay our respects.
Continuing up the lake, as we entered between the high walls of the Escalante Arm we watched a great sand dune collapsing, undercut by the rising waters. We found Clear Creek just out of the rising pool below the entrance to the Cathedral in the Desert, so we saw the Cathedral pristine, but we learned later that summer that the water had come in and flushed out the lovely green moss carpet on the floor of that great vaulted stone chamber. This June, the last vestiges of the Cathedral were flooded.
We boated past the entrances of half-drowned Davis Gulch and Soda Gulch—too late—straining to imagine their vanishing beauty. In Soda Gulch, we found the water lapping at the base of Gregory Natural Bridge—one named glory among uncounted unnamed glories flickering out.
That sample of the Escalante River Canyon made me want to see more of it, but I wanted to explore a part that wasn’t condemned. So when the opportunity came a few years later to walk down the Escalante River from Harris Wash and back out through Coyote Gulch, I leapt at it. Finding arches and grottoes, plunge pools and great overhanging walls, small waterfalls and desert varnished cliffs—two marvelous weeks of it—was like finding again an old friend you’d thought dead.
You ask me to tell you why the flooding of Coyote’s mouth is a blow? I can only answer that it is quite possible to love a piece of country as one would love a friend, and grieve perhaps nearly as much when it is taken from you.
Twice I have returned to Escalante-Coyote country since that walk down the river. A number of times I have just driven by the edge to look into it, on the way to somewhere else. Wherever I travel in the canyon country, I find myself comparing new impressions to those first excited glimpses, much as you might compare new loves with your first romance. Emotional? Yes, but what finer emotion is there than love? This planet needs more of its people’s love, and less of some other emotions such as greed, or mankind may cease to be its people.
I am not really worried about the planet. It has survived countless cataclysms over the eons of geologic time, and I am certain it can survive the worst that humans can do to it. The planet does not need us as much as we need it. We need unpolluted air and water. We need the life support systems that nature provides. Man, with all his expensive, high-powered technology, can only imitate. And we need the spiritual stimulus that wilderness gives us to continue to grow as humans. The “good life” must include wild nature for our spirits, as well as unfouled nests, or mankind will simply become one of history’s extinct species. So, burn another candle to the memory of Glen Canyon, and listen to the bells, as John Donne urges. They toll for you and me.
To read more about and view Philip Hyde’s landscape photography of Glen Canyon see the blog post, “Glen Canyon Portfolio.”
Afterward (December 2010)
“Lake” Powell after taking 17 years to reach full capacity in 1980 remained more or less full for less than 15 years. Starting with droughts in the late 1990s, and reaching an all-time low in 2003-2004, the water level in Glen Canyon ranges between 50 and 100 feet down from its 1980 apogee. Experts now say that “Lake” Powell will most probably never fill completely again, due to evaporation, over-commitment of Colorado River water, recurring droughts and climate change. A movement is gaining momentum for removing dams that destroy river ecosystems and do not live up to their economic promises. See the blog post, “A River Will Run Through It.” Future blog posts will also include reviews of two new books on Glen Canyon that offer the history and a new outlook for the future:
1. Ghosts of Glen Canyon: History beneath Lake Powell by C. Gregory Crampton, foreward by Edward Abbey with 15 color photographs by Philip Hyde, 2009, University of Utah Press.
2. Resurrection: Glen Canyon and a New Vision for the American West by Annette McGivney, foreward by Bill McKibben with photographs by James Kay and “Cathedral In The Desert” by Philip Hyde, 2009, Braided River Press.