Glen Canyon Portfolio 3
Photographer’s Comment From The Original Vintage Black And White Glen Canyon Portfolio
Continued from the blog post, “Glen Canyon Portfolio 2.”
By Philip Hyde
(See the photograph full screen Click Here.)
My involvement with the Colorado Plateau province and its centerpiece, the Colorado River, began in 1951 when I was commissioned by the Sierra Club to find out and to photographically document what was in Dinosaur National Monument, particularly along the Yampa River and Green River, that would be impacted by the dams proposed in the Upper Colorado River Storage Project.
It was a tough assignment for a fledgling photographer whose only other exposure to the landscape of the Colorado Plateau province had been as a boy on a visit to Grand Canyon. My work up to that time had been in the well-watered forests and mountains of the Pacific Coast, and I was at first a victim of the landscape shock Dutton speaks of in his Tertiary History of the Grand Canyon Region. I had to learn how to cope, both physically and photographically, with the heat, haze, and dryness that dulled the mind, fogged the shadow, and made the distances disappear.
I needed more time to digest what I saw in the arid lands, and besides I still had a love affair going with mountains. It wasn’t until 1955 that I went back to accompany a Sierra Club group that floated the length of Glen Canyon from Hite to Lees Ferry. One of the high points of this trip, oddly enough, was the prelude, a two-day school bus ride around the canyon overland from Lees Ferry to the start of the river trip at Hite. The frustration of being imprisoned on a bus going through such radically different and beautiful country was so great that it etched that country in my mind and programmed me to spend the next twenty-plus years trying to find some of those retinal images that had rushed past too fast, unfixed on film. Leaving Lees Ferry we scanned the Vermillion Cliffs while climbing up the edge of the Kaibab, then the White Cliffs while climbing the Southern Utah plateaus; we then made the long descent down the slopes of Thousand Lake Mountain through Capitol Reef, past the soft gray shales of Caineville, into the deepening, sinuous White Canyon to Hite and the Colorado River.
In my memory of the river trip, nights on rocks radiating too much heat for sleeping are mingled with days of growing awe of the strange forms of this stone country. My awareness of water as a miracle was born in the shining trickles in canyon bottoms and the sudden springs that gushed out of rock as though piped through the water bearing Navajo Sandstone. These imprints went deep. This landscape took hold of me, in spite of physical discomforts and the initial visual strangeness.
An opportunity for a closer look at a piece of Glen came in the spring of 1962, when I joined a backpack expedition into Rainbow Bridge whose purpose was to study the possibility of building a small dam to prevent the reservoir’s waters from undermining Rainbow Bridge’s sandstone base.
Later, in June, I joined another float trip, this time with fewer people and a slower pace that provided better opportunities for making photographs. The collection made on this trip provided a majority of the photographs in this portfolio. A high point was climbing to the top of Rainbow Bridge at David Brower’s urging, with his climbing expertise to assure success.
Glen Canyon Dam was nearly finished at this point; a short time after the trip, the gates of the diversion tunnels were closed to begin the filling of “Lake” Powell.
Two years later, in 1964, I participated in a wake for Glen Canyon. Starting near the dam on two hundred feet of water, we floated over Music Temple and passed over the Great Overhang in Moki Canyon well known to river travelers, but now barely traceable by the top of its great curve. We boated through the narrows of Aztec Creek, floating over what had been a most beautiful stream junction, with small, sculptured pools in lovely curves linked by a trickle of water. Landing a short distance below Rainbow Bridge, we walked past groups of people in yachting clothes to pay our respects to the now domesticated bridge. We then returned to our raft to push out of the narrows past some small boats in a cove cowering from the howling gale roaring across the reservoir’s open water; such gales were unknown on the river with its high, sheltering walls. Oh, there were some healthy winds on the river, but they gave you a choice: if blowing downstream, you could continue; if blowing upstream, you found the nearest sandbar, made camp, and hoped the wind would abate after sundown.
Continuing up the stormy “lake,” we entered the Escalante arm, crossed its flooded lower reaches to Clear Creek while marveling at the sheer height of the canyon walls, and walked the remaining mile of canyon above slack water into the Cathedral in the Desert. This place was not drowned yet, but later that summer we learned that the water had come in for the first time and flushed out the floor, destroying the lovely rich green moss carpet the ages had furnished.
Investigating half-drowned Davis Gulch and Soda Gulch, we floated past half-submerged entrances, straining to imagine their lost beauty, up to the point where the boat grated on sand at water’s edge; then we walked up canyon as far as we could. In Soda we found the water lapping at the base of Gregory Natural Bridge, a named glory among uncounted, unnamed glories flickering out.
In subsequent trips to the Colorado Plateau province, I have passed the remnants of Glen Canyon to go on to happier places to walk and photograph. Somehow, the passing of Glen Canyon gave me a better reason to see as much of the province as I could, before all of it changed. These trips took me to the Grand Canyon, Navajoland, slickrock country – Escalante, Waterpocket Fold, Canyonlands – from the edge of the Great Basin to the feet of the Rocky Mountains. Subconsciously I always kept looking for something as fine as Glen Canyon, holding my memories of Glen Canyon up to new country as a standard for color, sculpture, and fineness of detail.
My search confirms an early belief that Glen Canyon was one of the two grand climaxes of the land of the sediments, both born of the river. The other, kindred though quite different, but not less glorious, is Grand Canyon. One is flooded. The other, owing its life to the sacrifice of the flooded one, still lives.
To read an impassioned essay by Philip Hyde on the failings of the Glen Canyon Dam project see the blog post, “Lament For Glen Canyon By Philip Hyde 1.” To read about Canyonlands National Park and other areas of the land of sediments see the blog post, “Earth Day Celebration Of Ardis And Philip Hyde And Canyonlands.”