Posts Tagged ‘side canyons’

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.

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.”

Grand Canyon Book Review: “Path Of Beauty” by Christopher Brown

June 19th, 2013

Review Of Christopher Brown’s New Coffee Table Photography Book On The Grand Canyon: Path of Beauty

"Path of Light" Book Cover: "Colorado River In The Grand Cayon, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, copyright Christopher Brown.

“Path of Beauty” Book Cover: Colorado River In The Grand Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, copyright 1986 Christopher Brown.

Wilderness Guide, River Captain and Photographer Christopher Brown has given the world a photography book that highlights the Grand Canyon as grand vista, secret garden and old friend. Certainly great craft and care are evident in Brown’s intimate images of luminous side canyons, but his big scenes of the Grand Canyon show us the Canyon’s vast size like never before.

Chris Brown’s well-written text also puts the reader right into the canyons of sun-drenched rock, rampaging white water and hidden oasis gardens. We feel the desert heat and the cold wave spray. We sense the weight of time drifting slowly by as we descend into the deep gorges that Brown has explored for more than 50 years.

Christopher Brown gets into Path of Beauty by showing us various ways to get into Grand Canyon National Park. His discussion of Geography and the forces that shape the canyon is more wild than dry, the wildest forces being the raging of water in the river and the dumping of water from the sky in Monsoons and flash floods that choke the Colorado River with sticks, boulders and other material from side canyons. Brown vividly illustrates with active, interesting language and his powerful photographs how debris flows from side canyons produce increased excitement and danger in the rapids on the river.

Crystal Rapid is an example of this rapid building process. When Major John Wesley Powell navigated the Grand Canyon in 1867, “Crystal was a small riffle spread across the canyon bottom. It was mentioned only in passing in river journals for almost 100 years. Until 1966.” That year, a major flash flood “pushed several thousand tons of rocks and boulders” into the Colorado River, changing it’s course and raising the pool level above the rapid, making the rapid’s drop much more precipitous, concentrated and swift, as well as adding a giant hole created by an immense new underwater boulder. Brown describes how the rapid is run now:

A boat caught in the hole can surf around for a moment on the wave, do a pirouette, flip back into the hole, sometimes with a half or full twist, and can window shade, flipping over and over. A swimmer going into a big hole can be driven to the bottom of the river by the strong down current, and tumbled along the rocks on the bottom while being thrashed around in every which direction by the water currents trying to break her arms and legs and pound the air out of her lungs. It’s dark down there too. On a good day, which is most of the time, she will come to the surface a hundred or more feet downstream, gasp for air, and wonder for a second if she is alive or in boatman heaven, and which would be preferable. Hopefully she won’t be tangled up with her boat, which usually comes out of the hole just behind her. This is one of life’s longest 15 seconds.

Chris Brown goes on to share sometimes scary, sometimes humorous accounts of other mishaps and adventures he witnessed or participated in during his many decades rafting the wild Colorado River. Few men alive today know the Grand Canyon the way Brown does and it shows in his hard-won river wisdom and in his astonishing and vivid photographs.

Path Of Beauty And The Photography Of Natural Landscapes

In the back of the book, Brown includes a chapter on his approach to photography:

To begin I ask myself: “Where do I want to be today; what is calling me?” There may be a favorite place I want to revisit, or a new place I want to see. I don’t expect to see anything in particular, or to take a specific photograph. Mostly I want to photograph in a place where I enjoy being, and that is sufficient. I begin right there, and I go where I am drawn. I might wander off in one direction, and for no apparent reason, go off in another. I follow the slightest impulses and urgings, wherever the moment pulls me. I generally end up in a good place, and sometimes I wonder how I got there. Over the years I have learned that the intuition that guides me works well, so I trust it… When I hear someone espousing rules of composition I divert my eyes and cover my ears… If I have the desire to take a preconceived photograph, one that is in my head, or to find a certain light, I will feel this expectation and will see only this imaginary photograph, and nothing else. If I don’t find what I desire, I will feel nothing but frustration… The desire to create a good photograph can tie me in a knot of anxiety and paralysis. If it has to be good, this is an invitation for the gremlin of judgment and criticism to sit on my shoulder, just out of sight. He questions if something is really good, suggests it has been done better before, and tells me it’s not worth the time and effort. This is the kiss of death for any creative endeavor. I have learned to simply ignore this voice when I am working on anything creative, and the decision to ignore it is actually quite simple, and totally freeing. I have to remind myself of this every time I go out, because desire and expectation creep up unnoticed. I find that the less I expect, the more things will reveal themselves to me.

Brown’s photographs, while spontaneously found, also exhibit a thoughtful, deliberate method once in process. His selection in the field and his processing of the image at home is carefully orchestrated, sometimes right down to each individual pixel. He spends at least many hours and most often many days working on each image in post-processing to get it exactly right. His images capture the context and character of the Grand Canyon, like few have ever done for any place. Brown took his friendship and insights from Philip Hyde seriously in that he has shown the world sights and insights that they might not have ever seen or realized otherwise. Through Path of Beauty, you can treat yourself to a whole new, more lifelike version of the Grand Canyon, the next best thing to being there. Though be hereby warned, Brown’s book will most certainly entice you to go there and perhaps inspire you to photograph the place yourself from a different perspective than you might have before.

The only aspect missing from the book, in my opinion, is at least some mention of the grave threats to the ecosystems and doubts as to the very survival of the river itself, as it is known, going into the future. Nonetheless, keeping in mind this is not an environmental activism project or a book for a cause specifically, except perhaps the cause of natural beauty and the enjoyment of an unparalleled visual journey through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River, this canyon and this river cannot receive too much praise or recognition for aesthetic and wilderness qualities alone. Feast your eyes on Path of Beauty. You will not be sorry, but you may be changed by the experience.

About Christopher Brown’s Friendship With Philip Hyde And Learning Photography

The North Canyon Pool, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, copyright Christopher Brown.

The North Canyon Pool, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, copyright 1990 Christopher Brown.

In the last 40 years, Christopher Brown has become a leading and award-winning full-time “professional” creative photographer and master print maker. He teaches photography and print making in Boulder, Colorado. His work is displayed in many private and public collections across the United States, including the Denver Art Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Brown was a guide and boatman for Outward Bound for over 30 years, during which time he began to make photographs of the natural landscape.

In the early 1970s, Brown decided to become more serious about photography and wrote a note to Galen Rowell, Eliot Porter, Bill Ratcliff and to Philip Hyde. He received a reply from all of them, but the reply from Philip Hyde was in Chris Brown’s words, “by far the longest and most thoughtful.” Not long after, Brown asked Hyde and Porter to review his portfolio. Porter wrote back to say that he was very busy and that Brown ought to do what he, Porter, had done and study the work of the masters. Hyde wrote Chris a letter that was “six pages, single spaced, both sides.” Brown, in a taped interview in 2005, said that he and Hyde in many ways had a similar approach to the world:

If somebody wrote me today, I would just send them a copy of that letter because what Philip said is what I would say to aspiring photographers now. He talked a lot about that if you are going to be an artist, you make your own path and you design your own life. I’ve always been that kind of person, a do it yourself guy. It was good to hear from him and realize that the struggles I was having, in terms of how to do this, were basically what it was going to be like. Nothing was going to change and that was ok.

Christopher Brown and his wife Elizabeth Black, a painter, went to visit Ardis and Philip Hyde in their mountain home in the Northern Sierra of California. “It was like we were on the same river trip. He was just a lot further downstream.” Brown and Hyde went on to travel together many wilderness miles, including self-guided river trips down the Rio Grande and the San Juan Rivers, in the Needles and Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park.

Early in their correspondence Brown wrote to Hyde that he occasionally felt the need for the perspective controls and depth of field possible with a large format camera. He saw switching to a 4X5 film camera as an inevitability that he was not ready for at the time. Hyde wrote back regarding many of the advantages and disadvantages of large format photography. (Stay tuned for future blog posts that will include portions of these letters.) Brown at first used his medium format camera more, then converted to large format for several decades. Brown described his relationship with Hyde in Path of Beauty:

Photographer Philip Hyde let me be his friend, and we hung out together on the Rio Grand and in Canyonlands, laughing at each other fumbling with lens caps, debating whether an exposed piece of film was empty or full, while we searched for the next “snap.” Phil refused to be a guru or give advice, and steadfastly lived the belief that each artist has to find his own path.

In another section of Path of Beauty where Brown discusses the “art of seeing,” he recalls,

Photographer Philip Hyde said to me: “If you see a picture, better take it.” Life is always uncertain, so why not take yet another chance? You can debate the merits back in the studio. I try to save my analysis and critique for later. It is a distraction while I am photographing. “Shoot first and ask questions later.”

This may not be good advice for the use of guns, but it probably is the best policy for the use of cameras.

(More of the Philip Hyde—Chris Brown correspondence, the merits and drawbacks of color versus black and white photography and David Leland Hyde interviewing Christopher Brown in future blog posts.)

What is your process for making photographs?