Posts Tagged ‘cottonwoods’

The Making Of “Reflection Pool, Escalante River Side Canyon”

October 23rd, 2014

Travel Log by Philip Hyde

Group Sierra Club Trip, Escalante River Canyon Backpack

Escalante, Utah, May 1968

Note: Thanks to Bill Clinton, On His Last Day in Office, The Escalante Wilderness Is Now Part of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

By Philip Hyde

May 1: Gates Cabin Camp to Camp Below 25 Mile Canyon

Reflection Pool, Curved Sandbar, Forming Arches, Escalante River Side Canyon, Escalante Wilderness, now Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, copyright 1968 by Philip Hyde.

Reflection Pool, Curved Sandbar, Forming Arches, Escalante River Side Canyon, Escalante Wilderness, now Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, copyright 1968 by Philip Hyde.

(To view the photograph larger or order prints: “Reflection Pool, Forming Arches, Escalante River Side Canyon, Utah.”)

The canyon was narrowing and the river stretches between bends were getting longer while the bends were tighter. We began this day to traverse the upper part of what the wranglers call “The Narrows.” The canyon walls were intermittently higher and the big alcove bends characteristic of the lower Escalante River near Glen Canyon had begun. There were also more short side canyons.

I turned and wandered into one canyon on the left at right angles to the river. Suddenly, another sharp bend next to a large sand slope looked promising, with a narrow bottom and high walls, cottonwoods, box elders and a few Gambel oaks. About two miles up this canyon, it ended abruptly, but there was a small, hard to see passage between two huge angular boulders. I entered the chamber, which was not unlike Cathedral in the Desert—its equal in quality, though not in size.

The vaulted roof was not so soaring and the dimensions of the chamber much less, but the same feeling of remote, secret beauty was there. At the bottom sat likewise a plunge pool for reflections and the beauty of a curved sandbar. This pool was fed by a now-dry set of chute-like chimneys in the roof, rather than a waterfall, like Cathedral in the Desert. The chimneys, one alone and a double-barreled one next to it, were beautifully water-sculptured and made me wish there was some way to ascend to the level of the chimneys to see the carved stream channel above. I spent perhaps two hours there, then left reluctantly, but elated to find this chamber well out of reach of “Lake” Powell’s inundation.

I continued back to the river, then down canyon, crossing through the water back and forth innumerable times. The canyon was really narrow by then and the walls were more impressive, creating a chamber of darkness with a thin strip of sky above. I wandered on, past some sharp bends with great sandstone columns and overhangs. I kept on past the “Wrinkled Eyes,” two rounded out holes high in the wall of the left bank. I passed 25 Mile Canyon, but at first I started into its mouth, went 100 feet or so, reflected on the hour and decided to head for camp instead.

I was the last man in. Campers were having their soup in their Sierra Club cups beneath a deep red cliff perhaps 350 feet high that was catching the last rays of the sun. I ate and then made my bed among the limbs of a medium-sized cottonwood tree—a leafy bower with a sandy floor and more privacy than usual. It was cloudy again with stars and blowing broken clouds overhead, their moisture too diminished by the time they reached us to dump any, though it looked a bit threatening at times. My tarp was ready to be rigged, but no drops came and I slept.

Dinosaur National Monument Today, Part Three

July 3rd, 2014

Dinosaur National Monument, 2013 Visit

Part Three: Down To The Green River And Up To Ely Falls

(Continued from the blog post, “Dinosaur National Monument Today, Part Two.”)

Upper Jones Hole Near Fish Hatchery, Dinosaur National Monument, Utah, copyright 2013 David Leland Hyde.

Upper Jones Hole Near Fish Hatchery, Dinosaur National Monument, Utah, copyright 2013 David Leland Hyde.

Into Jones Hole

As we ambled down the trail away from the Diamond Mountain Fish Hatchery and into Jones Hole, we began to see signs of what Randy Fullbright and the Park Ranger had been talking about: the recent rock slide. High on the cliff we could see the fresh, unstained light tan undercut where giant sandstone boulders, just weeks before, had peeled away from the cliff and come tumbling nearly straight down at least 1,500 feet, landing like bombs in Jones Creek and rolling through the forest smashing trees and everything else in their path.

The Boulders ranged from small house size down to bowling balls and had badly broken up the deciduous forest and riparian undergrowth on both sides of Jones Creek. Jones Creek contained many of the light tan boulders, as did the entire surrounding area in about half a mile radius of the main devastated area. It must have been quite a sight to observe all that sandstone raining down from high on the cliff above–and the noise must have been deafening. The trail had been closed for weeks as the Park Service was still nervous about allowing anyone to hike into Jones Hole. They were afraid more sandstone would come tumbling down and crush unknowing hikers and fishermen. Park Rangers had re-routed the trail to skirt safely around what looked much like a war zone. Randy and I walked into the heart of the devastated area and approached the creek to see the damage. After observing the current effects of geology in action and making a few documentary snapshots, we moved back to the detoured trail and on down the canyon.

Fishing, Hiking And Photographing

Jones Hole attracts fishermen from all over that part of Utah and Colorado. The Park Service still plants Jones Creek with Rainbow Trout from the Fish Hatchery upstream. While Jones Hole generally appeared dry and desert like, cottonwood trees, willows, tamarisk and other riparian plants grew thickly along Jones Creek. Besides, on that day at times it felt like rain could overtake us any minute as the sky brooded overhead. Other times the ceiling thinned and the sun grew brighter trying to break through. The light greens of sage and sagebrush offset by the deeper greens of the larger trees along the creek, with dried yellows and beiges of meadow grasses provided a good mixed palette of colors and textures against the reds, browns and tans of the sandstone cliffs behind.

We mainly hiked, but stopped for photographs occasionally. Randy made only a few photographs the entire day, while I stopped more frequently and he waited in his courteous, quiet way. Photographing Jones Hole took some adjustment as I am used to the lush river canyons of the Northern Sierra in California, or the more complete desert scenes of other parts of Utah further south. Much of the views of Jones Creek were a wild tangle, but the creek itself had character, as did the cliffs all around, if we looked closely. Randy took me on a detour off the trail and over to the cliff across the creek at one point to show me the petroglyphs and pictographs he had promised. These were not large or overly striking, but they were impressive in how well preserved and distinctly they stood out in red-brown against the tan cliffs at that spot. Few people know where they are and Randy said he and the Park Rangers intend to keep it that way.

Back on the main trail, we stopped for lunch along the creek where there were a couple of giant 10X20 foot natural granite “tables” and a good spot for photographs up and down the creek. It was good to sit in the shade or what was trying to be sunshine, stop and breath in the warm desert air with the more fecund smell of mud and life along the water. After a good break from hiking and a dunk of our shirts in the stream, refreshed we set off again. Except for a few sections moving over boulders along Jones Creek, most of the trail was fairly smooth, though a bit sandy in places. The hike still felt fairly strenuous to me at four miles each way, down to the Green River and back to the Fish Hatchery. Across and high on the canyon wall, Randy pointed out where a spring came out of the rock and made a waterfall and place to “shower” and get refreshed high above the trail. Though the spring was only a trickle at that time, we could see a thin silver ribbon of falling water high up against the far cliff.

Green River, Rafting Party, Harpers Corner From Jones Hole, Dinosaur National Monument, copyright 2013 David Leland Hyde.

Green River, Rafting Party, Harpers Corner From Jones Hole, Dinosaur National Monument, copyright 2013 David Leland Hyde.

Dinosaur’s Main Character–The Green River And Its Canyons–Now And Then

Not long after, we emerged from the trees to find ourselves finally at the Green River. Almost immediately after we walked out on the gravel shore, a herd of bighorn sheep passed us. Randy told me some stories of the males being less than friendly in rutting season, but this day the herd passed close by us without much concern. We looked around behind us at a tall, cone shaped promontory towering above Jones Creek. When we got out in the open and could see upstream, we noticed a rafting party beached on a rock and gravel spit above the riffle at the mouth of Jones Creek. Way up the Green River past the rafting party we could make out the outlines of the rock outcropping called Harper’s Corner that I had driven to in 2005 from the Colorado entrance to Dinosaur National Monument. My father, pioneer landscape photographer Philip Hyde, made a black and white photograph, published in 1955 in the National Geographic, from Harper’s Corner looking down over 3,000 feet at the upturned strata typical of the Green River and Yampa River canyons. Harper’s Corner also overlooks Echo Park and Steamboat Rock farther upstream, the proposed site of one of the dams slated for Dinosaur that Dad’s photographs helped prevent. Dad was the first photographer ever sent on assignment for an environmental cause to Dinosaur in 1951 to help prevent two proposed dams that would have flooded 96 out of 104 river miles in the monument. Dad’s photographs and those by river guide and journalist Marin Litton became the illustrations for the first book ever published for an environmental cause, This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country and Its Magic Rivers, edited and with introduction by Wallace Stegner.

The sky had been darkening most of the day and here at the Green River, it finally began to rain lightly. Our shirts we had soaked just an hour earlier were already dried out and the cooling rain felt rejuvenating, even though it passed after only about 15 minutes and everything dried out again quickly. Having worked for the last two months moving furniture and packing boxes at my townhouse in Boulder, Colorado, and having minimal sleep for a number of days, I was already tired, but because this was one chance that might not come again for years, if ever, I agreed to hike with Randy up Ely Canyon to Ely Falls on the way back to the Fish Hatchery.

Ely Canyon was interesting and narrower than the Jones Hole canyon. There were a lot of small dead Juniper tree skeletons dotting the landscape. Ely Creek and Ely Falls were both small, Ely Falls only being about 12 feet high, while the creek was only a foot or two wide in most of its course. However, the falls were set in a greenery-surrounded oasis. Randy and I talked about conservation and my father’s work in the area, as well as the present day prospects of Dinosaur National Monument becoming a national park. More on Ely Creek, Ely Creek Canyon and the movement to form a national park in the next blog post.

(Continued in the blog post, “Dinosaur National Monument Today, Part Four.”)

Have you ever been to Dinosaur National Monument? Have you seen bighorn sheep or any other large wild animal up close?

Glen Canyon Book Review: Resurrection By Annette McGivney With James Kay

September 25th, 2013

Book Review on the Biggest Conservation Story of All Time and New Solutions… Resurrection: Glen Canyon and a New Vision for the American West by Annette McGivney with Photographs by James Kay and Foreword by Bill McKibben (Braided River, 2009)

How We Lost Glen Canyon

Resurrection Book Cover, Photograph copyright 2009 James Kay.

Resurrection Book Cover, Lake Powell at Hite Marina, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah, Photograph copyright 2007 James Kay.

In the mid 1950s, David Brower, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, led a coalition of conservation groups in an effort to permanently banish industrial development from national park lands. The primary battle defending the sanctity of the national park system was over two dams proposed inside Dinosaur National Monument. The proposed dams in Dinosaur would have flooded 96 out of 104 river miles in the monument on the Yampa and Green Rivers.

David Brower in Congressional testimony used 9th Grade math to prove that if Glen Canyon Dam were higher, it could hold back and store more water than both proposed dams in Dinosaur. Congress removed the two dams in Dinosaur National Monument from the Colorado River Compact and passed the bill approving the construction of Glen Canyon Dam. Having never seen Glen Canyon, David Brower and many others did not know the extent or nature of the sacrifice made to protect the national park system. Looking back, especially after he floated through Glen Canyon on the Colorado River for the first time in 1958, David Brower mused that he and the coalition might have pushed on and possibly succeeded in saving Glen Canyon. (For more on David Brower see the blog post, “David Brower: Photographer and Environmentalist 1.”

Ironically, before World War II, Glen Canyon had been part of a proposed national park that would have encompassed more than two million acres spread across much of Southeastern Utah including most of what are now Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Capitol Reef National Park and all of Glen Canyon. The attack on Pearl Harbor interrupted these discussions and turned the attention of Congress to preparations for war.

Drought, Distortions, Glen Canyon Dam And A New Dream Of The West

The Bureau of Reclamation closed the gates on Glen Canyon Dam in 1964, but “Lake” Powell did not reach full capacity until 1980. The reservoir water level ebbed and flowed until the last time it was full in 1996, then drew down over 100 feet by 2003 and has remained nearly half empty or more than half empty ever since. It turns out that the Colorado River flow calculations that justified the building of Glen Canyon Dam in the first place were exaggerated, as were the rainfall estimates on which expansion and development interests based the entire settlement of the Western US plains and Southwestern desert. Tree ring studies and other climate measures show that the 20th Century was one of the wettest ever in the Western US. Today’s much lower rainfall and river flow rates are more characteristic of the region, though big dam proponents are officially calling the present conditions a drought. Nonetheless, scientists project that “Lake” Powell may never be full again. Odds are that both “Lake” Mead and “Lake” Powell will both remain as they are now, roughly half full or less for the foreseeable future.

Annette McGivney, in Resurrection: Glen Canyon and a New Vision for the American West, tells the story of the loss of Glen Canyon, but more importantly the rebirth of life in the side canyons since the reservoir has subsided. Glen Canyon today is the poster child for watershed recovery for both Glen and Grand Canyon, as well as for the resilience of nature in general. McGivney’s easy-flowing text accompanies the photography of James Kay, who for more than three decades has photographed the Colorado Plateau, the seismically uplifted high desert that the Colorado River cuts through in Utah and Arizona. James Kay knows this land and these canyons. His sensitive, artistic eye finds for us the devastation that was, and the haunting, unparalleled paradise that is Glen Canyon.

McGivney and Kay explored many of the tributary canyons together for this project, either by boat, by kayak, but most often on foot, backpacking from the reservoir up canyon; or from the rims of the sandstone tablelands above, down into narrow, winding passages and rock alcoves. These slot canyons, often hundreds of feet tall and in places only a few feet wide, are already verdant with newly rooted cottonwoods, willows, and grasses, as well as teaming with wildlife just as they had been for centuries before everything drowned under the full reservoir.

Annette McGivney quotes Richard Ingebretsen, co-founder with David Brower of Glen Canyon Institute, who asked, “Why keep two reservoirs half empty?” Glen Canyon Institute, founded for the ultimate purpose of reclaiming Glen Canyon and turning it into a national park, is working on a current campaign called, “Fill Mead First.” The idea is to keep “Lake” Mead full because it supplies many cities of the Southwest with water and generates their electricity. If “Lake” Powell were then drawn down, Glen Canyon could be restored and even made into a national park. Many who saw Glen Canyon before the reservoir say that it rivaled the Grand Canyon in beauty.

Canyon Photography On Par With The Best Ever

Kayaker on Lake Powell in Reflection Canyon, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah, copyright 2006 James Kay.

Kayaker on Lake Powell in Reflection Canyon, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah, copyright 2006 James Kay.

James Kay’s photographs in Resurrection certainly provide the proof of this claim to canyon beauty. Traveling by Kayak, powerboat and most often on foot, Kay has shown us as never before, the side canyons and back alcoves of Glen Canyon reborn. His style is both effectively documentary, yet artistically strong. Kay’s experience in the canyons of the Southwest has given him not just an eye for form; he has an eye for gracefully capturing the forms of canyons. His understanding of natural light and how to use it to best portray the curves, edges, near and far, contrasts, shadows and indirect illumination of layers on layers of weather-sculpted sandstone.

Some of Kay’s compositions are simple. For example, one photograph in Resurrection depicts a massive wall of rock that juts out into “Lake” Powell like the prow of a ship. The vantage point of the image is from a boat close to water level. At the bottom of the wall that is about 200 feet tall, we see a small boat dwarfed by the immensity of stone above. The photograph is a work of beauty, while at the same time it accomplishes the practical task of dramatizing just how far the reservoir has receded from the high water line marked by a gray-tan mud stain, or “bathtub ring,” as people call it. The top half of the cliff is the beautiful red-brown of native rock, while the bottom half of the cliff is coated with ugly mud stain.

Other images give us the haunting, far away longing of luminous reflections or newly sprouted grasses, shrubs, cottonwoods and other lush greenery. Some photographs are purposely ugly, some are otherworldly and nearly abstract, while still others incorporate hikers in soaring walled narrows or show us intimate rushing water. If you love the desert and canyons, this is a book and a place different. Yet despite how unusual this place is, those who see it as nothing more than a holding tank, a cash register or a recreation area for motorized tourism, have seemingly never stopped to see it the way James Kay shares it.

The Desert, Progress, Jobs, Money And Other Myths

Despite US Bureau of Reclamation and pro-development rhetoric, the only two justifiable reasons Glen Canyon Dam was ever necessary, and remotely remains necessary, were the Politics surrounding the agreement between the seven Western states that share the water; and the Income from recreation on “Lake” Powell. The viability of Hydropower generation has nearly run out with low water levels often not providing enough gravity water drop to turn the turbines at sufficient speed. Besides, the 1992 Grand Canyon Protection Act no longer allows the fluctuation of water levels caused by increased dam releases during peak power usage.

Politically in relation to water use, the three Upper Colorado River Basin states: Utah, Colorado and Wyoming, for good reason mistrust the four lower basin states: California, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. The lower basin states have all along taken more than their share of Colorado River water. Glen Canyon Dam provides a physical obstruction by which the upper states can regulate the flow to the lower states and keep them from taking more than their allotment, if and when the upper states catch up with the lower states in their land development and thirst for water.

Even though the desert does not inherently provide the water to support the building of industry and commercial buildings, suburbs, golf courses, and abundant water features, the seven Western states of the Colorado River system have been in a race to develop as fast as they can to be sure they obtain as much Colorado River water as possible in relation to the neighboring states. John Wesley Powell, whom the reservoir was named after, warned against developing the West beyond its water capacity. He recommended a number of water saving approaches that have been implemented by a few wise communities, but ignored by most.

Indeed, McGivney reminds us that the cities of the desert tend to flaunt the image of the manufactured oasis. The Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau in 2005 adopted the slogan, “The Desert is a Myth.” A July hike in any direction beyond the edge of a Phoenix suburb like Anthem, for instance, and it becomes readily apparent that the desert is real and it is the lush golf courses that perhaps are already, or soon will be a mirage. Land development in the West has achieved similar temporary high profits and blindness to long-term consequences as recent Wall Street derivative speculation and the banking system near meltdown.

Nonetheless, it is less the cities that would run dry without “Lake” Powell than the farming of water-intensive crops like alfalfa, hay and cotton, grown not to supply market demand, but to take advantage of government subsidies and tax breaks. Dams are portrayed as symbolizing progress and economic growth, but special interests are the primary benefactors. In Utah, for example, mining, ranching and industrial agriculture represent less than 3% of the economy, but they use 85% of Utah’s water. Even though industrial agriculture comprises a decreasing portion of the Western economy, the industry is one of the largest contributors to political campaigns. Thus, even though dam projects, expanded water pipelines and other water infrastructure will not sustain society long-term, these outdated public works continue to garner support of those in political power.

A Dying Motor Tourism Industry And The Future

Cathedral In The Desert, Glen Canyon, Utah, copyright 1964 Philip Hyde. Named one of the top 100 photographs of the 20th Century.

Cathedral In The Desert, Glen Canyon, Utah, copyright 1964 Philip Hyde. Named one of the top 100 photographs of the 20th Century. James Kay used this photograph side-by-side with his own like this in the book Resurrection too.

Cathedral in the Desert, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, copyright 2005 James Kay. Water level of Lake Powell near the lowest point.

Cathedral in the Desert, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, copyright 2005 James Kay. Water level of Lake Powell near the lowest point, with the Cathedral almost fully recovered as only a few feet of water were left in the bottom.

The motorized brand of tourism that thrived on “Lake” Powell in the 1980s and 1990s, has generated significant income for concessionaires and boat operators, who also provide proportionally large support to politicians and boost the local economy. In 1992, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area hosted a record 3.5 million visitors, nearly as many at this peak as visited the Grand Canyon. Yet today with the shrinkage of the “lake” area, the closure of two out of five of the marinas and high gasoline prices area hotel stays and other tourism has dropped by 40 percent. Nearby national parks such as the Grand Canyon and Zion each increased visitation in the last decade. Indeed, the economy is playing a major role in the dying of motorized tourism nearly everywhere. Less disposable income, especially among the upper-middle class and upper class has led to less motorized lake recreation. In the past many high earning tourists have spent discretionary money on Jet Skis, Houseboat shares and other expensive water toys, but in the last 10 years public lands hiking and camping has grown, while motor boating has decreased significantly. Local jobs in Page, Arizona and elsewhere around “Lake” Powell have depended almost entirely on motor tourism. Most local people, including the Native Americans in the area, want to prolong a dying industry to maintain their livelihoods. While denying that their way of life is dying, they are likely missing the opportunities and shift in perspective that could bring them a far more sustainable, Earth-friendly and perhaps most importantly, a more permanent security.

McGivney’s “Step-by-step guide to saving Glen Canyon and then, perhaps the world” offers the kind of forward thinking solutions that thought leaders have begun to discuss in recent years. While these innovative resolutions will become requirements, rather than options in the near future, as a civilization we have a big leap to negotiate before we are ready to leave our self-serving short-term approaches behind and move into a mindset that is more conducive to sustaining our society and all life on Earth. This is perhaps the text’s only flaw, or perhaps it is more of a challenge: the leap from where our watershed management and environmental stewardship are now to where they need to be to sustain life in the Southwest and on Earth long range may be too big. Are we up to the task? Perhaps an even better question is: can we learn to cooperate with, listen to, find new ways to meet the needs of and educate those who have a vested interest in business as it has been for far too long?

For more on Glen Canyon and Philip Hyde’s photography of the lost paradise see the blog posts, “Glen Canyon Portfolio 1,” or “Glen Canyon Lament By Philip Hyde 1.”