Glen Canyon Portfolio 2
Photographer’s Comment From The Original Vintage Black And White Glen Canyon Portfolio
Continued from the blog post, “Glen Canyon Portfolio 1.”
By Philip Hyde
(See the photograph full screen Click Here or view the entire Glen Canyon Portfolio. The first 20 images are from the original Glen Canyon Portfolio. The photographs that follow those are scans of the other best 8X10 vintage black and white prints.)
It is ironic that Glen Canyon has come to be known as the “place no one knew.” It was well known by those tireless engineers of the 1930s and 1940s who combed the West searching out all possible dam sites. It was known by the National Park Service as early as the 1930s when a proposal was made for an Escalante National Park to Harold Ickes, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Secretary of Interior. Such a park would have encompassed all of Glen Canyon and many of its tributaries, but the proposal succumbed to the ambitions of the dam builders, as was revealed when the Park Service published Survey of the Recreational Resources of the Colorado River Basin in 1950. The survey lists all the potential dam sites and accompanying “recreational” plans, while potential areas for preservation are conspicuously absent. It is only fair to say here, that while the Park Service knew Glen Canyon’s qualities, its voice for preservation was stifled in the Interior Department where the Bureau of Reclamation had become the powerful tail that wagged the dog.
Glen Canyon was also known by legions of Boy Scouts who kayaked or rafted through and by hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who went through and on their own (anyone could, for Glen Canyon’s Colorado River was mild) or with early professional river runners like Moki Mac, Georgie White, Bus Hatch, Pat Reilly, and others. The place wasn’t unknown. Its partisans just couldn’t be heard over the roar of political power.
It may seem further irony to some that while Glen Canyon went down the drain, another area survived because it had a boundary line drawn around it.
When the bill to authorize the Upper Colorado River Storage Project was in Congress, it was opposed by conservationists and actually stopped, temporarily. As constituted then, it would have authorized two dams in Dinosaur National Monument at Echo Park and in Split Mountain, in addition to Flaming Gorge dam on the Green River just north of Dinosaur, Glen Canyon Dam, and several smaller projects.
It is important to note that conservation in the mid-1950s was far from the strong and united force it is today, and it seemed doubtful whether Glen Canyon and the two Dinosaur dams could have been kept out of the final project. The spectre of opening the national parks to dam projects must have heavily influenced the conservationists’ decision when they finally agreed to withdraw opposition to the Upper Colorado River Storage Project if the dams in Dinosaur National Monument were deleted. This done, Congress authorized the Project—a political decision made to build another big dam on a river that could not adequately supply the first one. The best that can be said for the loss of Glen Canyon is that more “big dam foolishness,” as Elmer Davis called it, eventually aroused enough opposition to help stop two more dams proposed for the Grand Canyon a few years later.
Though I consider Glen Canyon’s loss tragic, I am certain that had dams been authorized in Dinosaur National Monument, no national park area would have been secure. The precedent would have opened the gates to at least eight national park areas, including Grand Canyon, where Bureau of Reclamation or Corps of Engineers dam proposals were already on drawing boards.
As things worked out, the building of Glen Canyon dam became literally, the high water mark of the Bureau’s power, and it has receded ever since—for which lovers of the land everywhere can be grateful. –But not complacent; for old dam projects, like old soldiers, never die; they just lie low until revival looks safer.
The reservoir behind Glen Canyon dam has been called “the most beautiful man made lake in the world.” That should tell you something of the quality of the wild canyon when you realize what you see today is but a remnant.
The scenic climax of Glen Canyon was along the Colorado River and at, or near, the tributaries’ junctions with the river. Cutting down to the river’s base level, the small streams (and flash floods) created grottos and waterfalls, carved great vaulted chambers, and deeply incised meanders in the final plunge to the master stream. These places of magnificent rock sculpture were among the first to go when the reservoir started rising, and they now lie hundreds of feet under water. Gone are the river and stream edges softened by riparian vegetation—grass, moss, even large trees where enough soil accumulated—willows, gambel’s oak, cottonwood, box elder. Gone, too, is the remoteness and feeling of adventure, reduced to the commonplace of reservoir recreation by gasoline power, noise, and smoke.
Though Glen Canyon gave its name to the dam, it is like the name inscribed on a tombstone that can only hint at the life that was. So, this portfolio hints at what was, to trigger memory in those who knew and to celebrate the life and beauty that was there for those who didn’t know.
To read more about Glen Canyon see the blog post, “Glen Canyon Lament By Philip Hyde 1,” “Glen Canyon Lament By Philip Hyde 2,” and “Glen Canyon Lament By Philip Hyde 3.” To read what David Brower wrote about Glen Canyon go to, “Let The River Run Through It.” To read about the movement to remove dams see the blog post, “A River Will Run Through It.”
The first 20 images in the website portfolio are the same as the original Glen Canyon Portfolio. The photographs that follow those are scans of the other best 8X10 vintage black and white prints. Click on the title here: Glen Canyon Portfolio to view the images. Enjoy.
This series on the Glen Canyon Portfolio continued with the blog post, “Glen Canyon Portfolio 3.”