On The Road To Dinosaur By Philip Hyde

November 28th, 2011 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

The Beginning Of Ardis And Philip Hyde’s First Trip To Dinosaur National Monument

From the Rough Draft of an Unpublished Article By Philip Hyde Originally Titled, “In Quest of Dinosaur.”

Circa 1951. Edited by David Leland Hyde 11-28-11.

Steamboat Rock, Echo Park, Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado, copyright 1955 by Philip Hyde. Philip Hyde’s most published black and white photograph.

(See the photograph large: “Steamboat Rock, Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado.”)

The creeping death of exploitation was threatening another great natural area. Through certain members of the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society including Martin Litton, Richard Leonard, and Olaus and Margaret Murie, David Brower heard and subsequently I heard about the beauty of Dinosaur National Monument and the proposed destruction of its integrity as a unit of the national park system.

On the phone, in letters and when we visited the San Francisco Headquarters of the Sierra Club, David Brower, Richard Leonard and Martin Litton told Ardis and I about the debates over Dinosaur in Sierra Club board meetings. The Sierra Club board was divided as to whether to remain a California centered organization with a primary emphasis on the Sierra Nevada, or whether to expand regionally and possibly nationally. Already other land use debates in the Pacific Northwest in Oregon and Washington were beginning to heat up. [Read about how campaigns in the Cascade Mountain Range became important blueprints for environmental grass roots organizing across the nation in the blog posts, “Oregon Cascades’ Impact On Conservation,” and “Oregon Cascades Conservation: Mount Jefferson Wilderness Area.” Also, learn more the Sierra Club’s first Executive Director and his contributions to photography and land preservation in the blog post, “David Brower: Photographer and Environmentalist 1.” To find out more about Martin Litton read the blog post, “Martin Litton: David Brower’s Conservation Conscience 1” and later posts in that series.]

Word and newspapers had it that those promoting the building of two dams inside Dinosaur National Monument claimed it was only another inaccessible scramble of river canyons. Defenders of Dinosaur retorted that as a scenic and geological spectacle, it was unique in the world. Now at long last, we were going to see it. We were heading out to the far reaches of Utah and Colorado up near Wyoming where Dinosaur National Monument straddles the Utah-Colorado border. We will see for ourselves if this little known land is worth preserving in its natural state. [To read more about how Richard Leonard and Olaus and Margaret Murie, founders of the Wilderness Society, traveled to Dinosaur and how Richard Leonard and David Brower sent Philip Hyde on the first photography assignment for an environmental cause, see the blog post, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 2.” For an introduction to why Dinosaur was pivotal for the Sierra Club and the entire conservation movement that it transformed into modern environmentalism, see the blog posts, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 1,” and other blog posts in the series.]

Packing and organizing for a photographic expedition of a month is a long chore. The scheduled day for departure found us still packing until early afternoon, but eagerness to get on the road would not allow us to wait another day for an early morning start. When we finished packing, we set off in our trusty Champion, leaving Monterey and crossing California’s great Central Valley toward the mountains and the deserts beyond.

Nightfall found us looking for a dirt road to turn off on for our first night’s sleep in the open, somewhere in the foothills above Auburn, California. The thrill of sleeping under the stars was still new to us, though we had both been doing it most of our lives. This was the first night of a new adventure and it quickened us with anticipation. The next day flew by as did the miles of Nevada’s Basin and Range Province. Our second night found us on an old road on a hill high above the lights of Winnemucca, Nevada. It was early June and the desert nights were still nippy, but we were warmed by the exhilaration of being out again in wide open spaces. Our third night out we spent in the “luxury” of a Salt Lake City motel before embarking on the final lap to our destination. We became tourists for a few hours of sight seeing around Salt Lake City, visiting the Utah State capital, the Mormon Temple and other main attractions of a city we had only traveled through briefly before.

The final hundred miles to Dinosaur took us up over the Wasatch Mountains out of Salt Lake City and along high plateaus covered with whole forests of aspens. Then we dropped gradually down, down to the semi-arid plains of eastern Utah, skirting the Uinta Mountains, whose snow capped summits we could see dimly in the north. Here and there along the plains among the low naked hills were green fields of Alfalfa and other crops. We came to a road sign that said, “Dinosaur National Monument 7 Miles.” This trip would be our first encounter with the infamous Dinosaur dirt roads, sometimes when wet they were made of slippery axel grease, sometimes they were nothing but a jumble of jagged rocks. The first dirt road proved prosaic enough and took us without difficulty to the Monument headquarters and the nearby Dinosaur Quarry.

We introduced ourselves to the Park Ranger on duty, Max James. He found Jess Lombard, the Superintendent of Dinosaur. We were greeted like returned relatives and offered the empty section of the barracks, which we gratefully accepted. The sky looked like it would burst open in torrents any minute, which it did shortly after we made it safely under cover with our gear.

This area was our base during that month in 1951 when we roamed over Dinosaur National Monument. It proved to be a great help to leave some of our equipment and extra film here while we were off for a few days in some remote hinterland of Dinosaur’s canyons. Our first job here involved evolving some kind of plan to see the whole National Monument. In this project the Park Ranger, Max James and the Monument Superintendent, Jess Lombard, were invaluable with their extensive knowledge of the terrain.

Because of unpredictable weather, we decided to stay in the immediate area for a few days to see the Quarry, the sandstone reefs near it and Split Mountain Gorge, the mouth of which, where the Green River emerged and would be flooded by 300 feet of water if the dam builders had their way, could be reached on a branch road about three miles from Monument Headquarters. This was enough to keep us busy for a while. The sandstone reef turned out to be full of fabulous rock forms that could have provided subject matter for the camera for weeks without stopping. [To continue Ardis and Philip Hyde’s adventures in Dinosaur National Monument see the blog post, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 3.”]

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19 comments

  1. Sharon says:

    What a wonderful book this will be, David. Surely one that will stand with many of the other great photographer’s journals, like Edward Weston’s daybooks.

    The goodness of your parents comes through the writing. It is refreshing to read the words of people who had higher goals and a vision. Much of what is available now entertainment-wise is about the degradation of humanity, showing graphic sex and bathroom scenes that reduce man to the level of animals. Then the environmental groups continue this by elevating the natural environment above man.

    I think your parents are a good example of how we are meant to walk this earth – humbly, with dignity and purpose – not as lesser creatures but as custodians and guardians.

    Sharon

  2. Your observations are much appreciated, Sharon. If it’s alright with you and if it fits in, I might quote you in my book. I feel you have connected to the most important part of the message I intend to convey about my parents and what can be learned from them. You state it so well too.

  3. Sharon says:

    I would be honored, David.

    Sharon

  4. Thank you, Sharon. I am honored to be in this position. I remain committed to making sure the tradition is carried on and represented well. However, it is not about me, not about my father, but about each photographer, and those of other professions as well, who become inspired to be sure that nature gets a turn at bat, as my father used to say. He said we must remember to give nature a chance because regardless nature always bats last.

  5. pj says:

    I agree — your father’s photography work, the words of both of your parents, and your own dedication to and continuation of both are a mighty contribution to the literature of American photography. Once again, thanks for what you do.

  6. Hi PJ, You always have something fine to say as well. Now I’m not going to go on telling everyone who comments here that I would like to quote them in my book, but those who are eloquent about photography and passionate about conservation know who they are.

  7. Jim says:

    I’m certainly thankful that Dinosaur National Monument is above water. I went there because I wanted to visit a place that hasn’t been photographed on the scale Yosemite, Canyonlands, Arches, etc. In fact, I have some books on photography locations in Utah and Colorado within which Dinosaur isn’t even mentioned.

    It’s an amazingly beautiful place and I was shocked at how few people were there when I visited in early spring. In two days I encountered only three other vehicles. I had Echo park completely to myself. Truly heaven.

    I enjoyed your comment about the “infamous dirt roads” of Dinosaur, because even today, heaven help you if you’re caught on the road to Echo park during a good downpour! It’s almost pure clay.

    Thank you for the blog. I enjoy reading it regularly.

    Jim

  8. Hi Jim, thank you for following regularly. Dinosaur remains the national monument less traveled probably because it is hundreds of miles from nowhere and even farther from anywhere. Shhhhhh, please!!! Let’s continue the Dinosaur photography guide blackout. I realize many people read photography guides including yourself. You obviously have taste because you appreciate Dinosaur. However, when you think about it, it is either the more lazy landscape photographers, or the more lazy part of any given landscape photographer, that is interested in having someone else tell them where to photograph. The lazy don’t want to have to drive anywhere near as far as Dinosaur to get pretty pictures. Many landscape photographers today often set out to easily harvest what will sell. Anything you can drive to easily has long been beaten to death. Images you have to walk over 10 miles or drive great distances to obtain, just don’t add up either for business or for vanity. However, for the few who seek out wilderness because it is wilderness and seek out truly wild places to photograph, Dinosaur offers great rewards.

  9. Randy Fullbright says:

    Hi David, another wonderful article.You are right, Dinosaur is a wonderful place to wander and make photographs. I have hiked hundreds of miles in this place over the past few years, without ever running into any other people. Dinosaur will always be a place waiting to be discovered,because it is just to rough,rugged,and unforgiving for most. You can float the rivers drive a handful of roads that penetrate this place. But you will never know Dinosaur until you put your boots in the dirt. Thanks again
    Randy

  10. Hi Randy, that’s right, Dinosaur is just too rugged for most. Thank you for reading.

  11. Jim says:

    Hello David,

    Personally, I think modern DSLRs have created a crop of “lazy” photographers. Combine a camera that takes care of the technical side of photography by setting it to “Program Mode” and a guidebook that tells you where to park your car to get the best shot, and you’ve got yourself a business! The cameras, like guidebooks, are only step #1 in the process for any serious photographer. Besides, eventually all of the easily harvested locations will have been (and actually already have been) shot a trillion times, so good luck selling those images.

    Anyway, I think that issue is for another blog post. : )

  12. Hi Jim, Excellent points all. Nearly every time, landscape photographers who believe copying is OK, use as one of their arguments that it is the iconic locations that sell. However, my sense is that you are exactly right. Media buyers and editors are already shying away from the classic cliche landscapes that have been done over and over. Galleries are getting there too. They like to see something completely different of the same old location, as do magazine editors too, but how many different angles can you photograph Delicate Arch or White House Ruin from? Sooner or later ALL the angles will have been done a myriad of times.

  13. I made a 3 week motorcycle trip back in 2004 and crossed by the park on my way to Vernal, Utah. I regret not stopping for a look. There is no reason I cannot make that journey. Now that I down sized all my camera stuff there is no reason I cannot hike into some of these places where few venture. Thanks, David!

  14. You can do it no doubt Monte…but don’t put the photographs on your blog…chuckling out loud. They will be amazing as usual and everyone will want to go to Dinosaur to copy you, although, most of your followers probably have more taste than that.

  15. Greg Russell says:

    Dinosaur is a place I’ve wanted to visit for quite some time, in part because of your father’s fantastic images of the place. I think its good that it remains an “undiscovered” gem…there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.

    I agree with Sharon’s comment above. This book really is going to be fantastic…having all these in one place will be very nice!

    -Greg

  16. Hi Greg, someone will publicize something about Dinosaur National Monument for photographers sooner or later, but hopefully it will be later. I have seen a number of contemporary photographers make superb images in Dinosaur, but it is not a place that is easily photographed. Not only does it appear drab at first, to those who don’t know where the best scenery is, but most of the best subject material is far from paved roads and often even far from any roads. It is not the kind of place that will work as an easy 10 step paint by numbers photography program for the lazy masses. Thank you for the compliment on the sections of my book I have posted. Thank heaven it is not a photography guide. It is the story of our lives and Dad’s life as a wilderness photographer in particular.

  17. Bob Lombard says:

    I just read your excerpt from your book. Jess Lombard was my Grandfather and I would love to find out more about you Dad’s adventure to Dinasour. Did you publish your book? Do you have any photos that might include my Grandfather?

  18. Hi Bob, thank you for reading and for your interest. If you click on “Home” at the top of the blog here and then scroll down, looking on the sidebar for “Post Categories,” you will see there are 13 blog posts in the “Excerpts of New Book” Category. Ten out of the 13 blog posts in that category are about the Dinosaur campaign. They contain the entirety of what will be in the book about Dinosaur National Monument, besides perhaps some rewriting and editing, unless new material comes to light.

    The book is still in progress. I’m currently working on interviewing. I’ve done 108 interviews and have about 50 more to do. I don’t know if I do have photographs of your grandfather, or whether they would be in print form. I might have to look through the negative files. You can also e-mail me through the “Contact Page” you find on the Blog Header above. Please write me that way or comment again when you get a chance to read more of the blog posts, if you are so inclined. By then I will hopefully be less backlogged with work and can at least look through the press print file on Dinosaur to see if there is anything there on your grandfather. I would enjoy further dialog about your grandfather and the national monument. Have you done any other research or reading on Dinosaur or about your grandfather’s life there?

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