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From the Rough Draft of an Unpublished Article By Philip Hyde Originally Titled, “In Quest of Dinosaur.”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