Posts Tagged ‘western landscape’

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.”

Ansel Adams On What A Mountain Means

June 13th, 2013

An Excerpt And Commentary On Ansel Adams’ Short Essay, “What Can A Mountain Mean?”

Last Light On Mt. Hough, Plumas County, Northern Sierra Nevada, California, copyright 2009 David Leland Hyde.

Last Light On Mt. Hough, Plumas County, Northern Sierra Nevada, California, copyright 2009 David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90.

(See the photograph large: “Last Light On Mt. Hough, Indian Valley, Northern Sierra, California.”)

Within a few years of John Muir’s founding of the Sierra Club in 1892, charter members formed a committee to oversee the writing, compiling and production of a Sierra Club Handbook. The handbook went to all new members as an overall orientation, an introduction to outdoor etiquette and a guide to Sierra Club philosophy. Half a century later, David Brower became the editor of the handbooks, as well as the Sierra Club’s first Executive Director. The 1957 edition of the Sierra Club Handbook included on its Editorial Committee such renowned environmental leaders as Ansel Adams, William E. Colby, Charlotte E. Mauk, Harriet T. Parsons and Blanche Stallings.

David Brower wrote in the introduction:

America’s resources of scenery that we explore and enjoy today are not set aside through accident. National Parks and forests, state and county redwood groves and beaches, wilderness areas and primeval regions—these are not now open to free public enjoyment just through happenstance, just because the country is so big and its resources so limitless that no one has yet got around to fencing them in. These areas, to which millions go each year for escape, exercise, or rest, are available only because people have fought for them. We who enjoy the mountains today owe a debt to generations of those now gone, or now no longer able to be fully active, who have thought in terms of long-range public use and enjoyment rather than immediate development and exploitation.

The Handbook told the reader the story of the Sierra Club, educated about the Sierra Club’s conservation role, provided information on mountaineering, wilderness outings, Sierra Club lodges and lands, winter sports, administration of the Club, trails, the human need for tranquility, the library, scientific background, new films, how to contribute, folklore, directors, chairmen and honorary members, publications, Sierra Club Books, periodicals and the Sierra Club by-laws, but the highlight of the handbook was a signature of 16 glossy black and white photographs by Ansel Adams. The series included such famous plates as Moon Over Half Dome, White House Ruin, Yosemite Valley From Valley View, Old Faithful and The Grand Tetons from Oxbow Bend. The irony is that these locations have now become like treasure map stops on checklists kept by some of today’s landscape photographers.

Accompanying his photographs, and equally as moving, Ansel Adams wrote a brief essay titled, “What Can A Mountain Mean?” This short plea for people to look more deeply at nature applies today even more than when written. The following is an excerpt:

We are seeking a closer contact and deeper understanding of the natural scene in both its vast and delicate aspects. Our ultimate function was never the mere making of maps and the collation of physical data; rather it was to interpret the assembled facts in terms of enjoyment and spiritual experience, and to assist others to seek and comprehend the heart of nature. After all, in the strictly materialistic sense, a mountain is simply an object of inanimate stone garnished with vegetation. It can be measured, weighed, climbed, and even removed or destroyed. Gravity, weather, geologic processes determine its form and the flow of the rivers at its base. These streams posses potential water power, provide irrigation, and contain fish. The timber on the slopes may be salable, and on the surface and inside of the mountain valuable minerals may be found and mined. Obviously the corpus and the spirit of the mountain are two very different entities. A mountain provides an impressive symbol of the wonder and beauty of the natural world, of contact with the primal purities of nature, of the cleanliness and the emotional stimulus of the realities of the earth.

At the time Ansel Adams wrote his short introduction to accompany his photographs in the Sierra Club Handbook, the term ‘landscape photography’ had not yet come into common use. Ansel Adams and his associates called the outdoor photographer who photographed wilderness, a ‘photographer of the natural scene.’ Whatever term you use to describe photography of the landscape, flora and fauna; today many practitioners of it, including myself at times, approach it more like those who are making maps or collecting data, rather than with the intent to impart joy or share a transcendent experience stemming from a more developed connection with the land.

While the internet is a superb tool for showing, viewing and critiquing landscape photography, it sometimes encourages the photographic sport of trophy hunting. Some online photographers objectify nature like pornography and subliminally sexual advertising objectify women and sometimes men. If one photographer has a photograph of a Grizzly Bear, the Aurora Borealis, Antelope Canyon or another trophy that others also have, then we feel we must bring home similar big game to hang on the wall and join the icon club. In contrast, to create photographs with meaning and make a contribution to the art, we must examine our motives. Are we purely profit or recognition-driven? Are we grabbing and bagging moments rather than living them? Are we carving notches in our camera cases? Or are we embracing nature; studying, living and breathing our subjects? Are we getting to know the places we portray, or are we defacing rock art, trampling flowers, stomping on and digging up the mountain, like destructive miners only interested in a payoff?

Until a photographer experiences and imparts the intrinsic values of a natural scene, he or she will not obtain the same long-term satisfaction with his or her images. There is nothing wrong with photographing an icon from time to time, but if they dominate a portfolio, it may be time to re-evaluate. Perhaps the commoditization of landscape photography will continue. Maybe digital photography will be more of an industry than an art, but why be part of the problem? Why not set your own sail, calibrate your own gyroscope by what fulfills you from the inside? Each person sends out a ripple effect. The world needs more sensitivity to nature, not more objectifying of natural subjects. In fact, this adjustment in perspective, this shift in vision, may be exactly what can save us. Photography is much more powerful than many realize. Through it the vision of an entire society is examined, determined and cast. What version of society will we choose? Will future generations see us the way we wish to be seen? What kind of civilization and what kind of people are we?

Relevant Blog Posts:

The Trophy Shot – A Nature And Landscape Photographer’s Dilemma by Gary Crabbe

A Big Light Night – Are You Too Old for Trophy Hunting Photography? by Darwin Wiggett

Aboutness by Guy Tal

What do you think? What is your opinion about exploitation versus inspiration?

New Portfolio: Yosemite And Sierra Black And White Prints

August 30th, 2011

New Portfolio Added To PhilipHyde.com: Yosemite, Kings Canyon And Sierra Nevada Vintage Black and White Prints

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.  –John Muir

McClure Meadow, Evolution Valley, Kings Canyon National Park, Sierra Nevada, California, copyright 1970 by Philip Hyde. Deardorff 5X7 Large Format Camera. Widely exhibited and published including in “The Range of Light” with quotes by John Muir. Still available as an original vintage darkroom black and white print. Three 8X10 vintage prints left available for sale at this time. Other original vintage black and white prints in the “Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sierra Portfolio” also available in limited quantities. Please inquire for details.

(See the photograph larger: “McClure Meadow, Evolution Valley, Kings Canyon.”)

In his preface to The Range of Light, with Selections from the Writings of John Muir, my father pioneer landscape photographer Philip Hyde wrote about choosing photographs and John Muir quotes for his book. To read more about The Range of Light see the blog post, “Philip Hyde’s Tribute To John Muir.” Philip Hyde described his process in the Preface to The Range of Light:

It was a labor of love rereading John Muir some fifty years after my first reading. In searching for quotations to use with my photographs, I found the same inspiration and delight I recall feeling in the past—more, really, since my love for the mountains has only increased with the familiarity experience has given me… I wanted to go out again, to go in further, to explore all the places I had missed, and I wanted to improve on the pictures I had made to illustrate the heightened savor I was finding in his words. In nearly a lifetime of returning again and again, I began to feel I had barely scratched the surface. But over the life of the project, my view began to shift from unfulfilled desire to gratitude. I was coming to see that I would never satisfy my thirst for wildness and mountains. I could never make all the definitive photographs of them. But hadn’t I already had more than most men’s share of them? In general, the matching of quotations with pictures should be understood as equivalents—some descriptive, some expressing an experience of feeling that seems to parallel in some way one which John Muir describes. Others are visual equivalents of the words in less direct, more personal ways. There was a basic purpose in all this: my hope to somehow discharge a little of my debt to John Muir for his keen observation that informed and sharpened my own; for his words that amplified my feeling and experience, and colored them both brighter; for his boundless enthusiasm for Nature; for his clear vision that it would not be enough, living in an exploitive culture just to love Nature, but essential for Nature’s continued existence unimpaired, that one work to carry those “good tidings” to others who would, in their turn, work to protect Nature.

In 1938, just before he turned 17, Philip Hyde first visited Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevada. On that trip he made his first photographs with a Kodak Readyset 120 camera that he borrowed from his sister. He brought the camera along thinking he would photograph his Boy Scout friends, but when he had the film developed, he discovered that most of the photographs were of nature rather than people, a tendency that stayed with him throughout his career. For more on Philip Hyde’s early trips to Yosemite National Park, see the blog post, “Lake Tenaya And Yosemite National Park.” His wilderness photographs participated in more environmental campaigns than any other photographer of his time and helped to establish the genre of landscape photography as a recognized art form while his photographs served as the backbone of the groundbreaking Sierra Club Books Exhibit Format Series. The Exhibit Format Series, invented by Ansel Adams, David Brower and Nancy Newhall, became known for popularizing the coffee table photography book and helping to establish many national parks and wilderness areas of the Western U. S. Beginning with participation in the first book in the Sierra Club Books Exhibit Format Series, This Is The American Earth, Philip Hyde went on to publish more photographs in more volumes in the series than any of the other photographers, including Eliot Porter, who was known for illustrating the best selling book of the series, In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World with quotes by Henry David Thoreau. To read more about these photographers and the development of the Sierra Club Books Exhibit Format Series see the blog post, “How Color Came To Landscape Photography.”

Though the various book projects influenced a generation of photographers and brought his work acclaim, Philip Hyde himself said, “I didn’t want to be distracted by fame.” He was more apt to spend his time working on any of many local environmental campaigns around the West, rather than talking to photography galleries, museum curators or photography agents. Although the best art museums and collectors did take interest in his work, often through recommendations from mentors such as Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Minor White; Philip Hyde, until recently has been less well-known than some other leading landscape photographers. Now for the first time in more than a decade, Philip Hyde’s vintage black and white prints, as well as his original dye transfer and Cibachrome prints are offered by a select number of the world’s best photography galleries. To read more about the galleries who carry Philip Hyde’s work see the blog posts in the category “Galleries for Philip Hyde” or go to “About Vintage And Black And White Prints.” A limited number of his vintage and original prints are still available for viewing and acquisition on the Philip Hyde Photography website. As we scan Philip Hyde’s original vintage black and white prints and film, a few new images, and on a few rare occasions a whole new portfolio is added to PhilipHyde.com. The selection of photographs chosen for the new “Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sierra Black and White Portfolio” were carefully reviewed by many experts in the art world, in photography galleries and by other professional photographers. Please enjoy and write me as you have questions.

What writers, artists or other influences helped you connect to a place?

Winter Snow On Desert Landscapes

March 7th, 2011

Angular Boulders, Snow Covered Mesa, San Rafael Swell, Utah, 2009 by David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90.

A road trip across the Western United States can take many courses. Often when driving from the Denver area to Northern California people travel north on Interstate 25 into Wyoming, then take Interstate 80 west into Utah and Nevada. This route is the fastest by a little over an hour, but it is more developed and goes through flatter, less interesting country than other alternatives. The route I like is direct and nearly as fast, but much more scenic and remote. I take Interstate 70 west from Denver over the Rocky Mountains, down into the Colorado River canyon, through Grand Junction and into Utah’s Canyon Country, past the turnoffs for Moab and Canyonlands National Park, Arches, The Grand Canyon, Capitol Reef, Bryce and Zion National Parks, over the San Rafael Swell, until Interstate 70 meets Interstate 15. To read more about one special trip to some of these destinations see the blog post, “Earth Day Celebration Of Ardis And Philip Hyde And Canyonlands.” I then go south on Interstate 15 a short way to Beaver, Utah, turn west on Utah State Highway 21, go through Milford and into Nevada, onto US Highway 50, the “Loneliest Highway in America,” past Great Basin National Park and Wheeler Peak, through Ely, Eureka, Austin, Reno and into California.

Wheeler Peak With Snow Streamer, Great Basin National Park, Nevada, 2010 by David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90.

This itinerary takes me on a traverse of one of the world’s most majestic mountain ranges, the Rocky Mountains, climbing to over 11,000 feet at the top of Loveland Pass. It winds through the enchanting headwaters and upper canyons of the Colorado River and the verdant foothill farmland of the Rocky Mountains’ West Slope. From the great heights of the Rockies, Interstate 70 drops all the way to 4,075 feet when it crosses the Green River in Utah. It then rises again to cross the plateaus, canyons, hoodoos, monuments, bluffs, arches and other spectacular formations of the Colorado Plateau of Southern Utah. With all of this breath-taking scenery left behind, many people consider Nevada plain, but Nevada has an elusive beauty of its own with the roller coaster traverse of Basin and Range, mountains and valleys. Nevada is one of the places where the West lives up to its reputation for wide open spaces. With up to 80-mile straightaways, Highway 50 crosses huge dried up prehistoric glacial Pleistocene lake beds, sometimes still in the form of mud flats, sometimes sprinkled with sage, sometimes lush with grasslands and ranches. Then the “Loneliest Highway In America” roller coaster ride makes a few turns and rises over mountain ranges between the giant valleys. Each mountain range sequesters its own secret old mines, ghost towns, rugged canyons, forests, mountain meadows, rushing streams, snow-capped peaks, small settlements, ranches and mineral deposits. US Highway 50 is a road tripper’s dream, but its beauty is somewhat hidden and subtle, it does not blare at the traveler, but whispers like the ghosts lurking on its dusty side roads.

Juniper Tree Skeleton Along US Highway 50, Nevada, 2010 by David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90.

In the winter any route from Colorado to Northern California is susceptible to sudden storms, icy roads, blizzards, bitter below zero daytime high temperatures, heavy snows and snow drifts. Driving is risky with few guard rails on the steep, winding, approaches to the passes over the many mountain ranges that run north-south and all but block passage to the unprepared traveler. Any venture through this near wilderness, must not be taken lightly in the winter season and must be planned around the weather. Such adventures must be well-timed to avoid heavy winter storms that pass from West to East across the open expanses and often leave unwary motorists stranded for days in their vehicles waiting for assistance that may never come, or at the least may come too late.

So far I have been fortunate most of the time to have good traveling days even in the winter, with only minor snow or rain showers while on the road. One time I drove in horizontal snow with up to five inches on the pavement, not able to see far beyond the front of the hood, just trying to limp to the next town with a motel. In mid November 2010, a low pressure system hit the Western states. This storm system produced heavy snows and temperatures as low as -15 degrees Fahrenheit in mountain towns in Northern California and in Boulder, Colorado, as well as -25 degree weather on the Colorado Plateau in Utah. The roads were treacherous enough to question making any kind of journey at all, but according to the Doppler radar a window of opportunity opened up where it looked as though I could leave Boulder, Colorado and make it over Loveland Pass, out of the Rocky Mountains and down into lower terrain in Utah before the next major rack of clouds and snow hit. Sure enough I made it over the Rockies and into Utah by evening sailing clear. I imagined that I would drive as far as I could before the storm hit, find a good place to stop and wait out the system’s passing over night.

Dried Desert Flowers In The Snow, Along US Highway 50, Nevada, 2010 by David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90.

As I breezed through Green River, Utah the sky was still completely clear and full of bright stars and moonlight. From Green River it is about 104 wide open empty miles to the next town of any kind, Salina, Utah. About half-way to Salina the wind started to blow much harder and clouds began to dot the sky. Within another 10 miles tiny flakes of snow mixed in with the high winds. I was still about 40 miles from Salina. As I drove directly into the storm, the snow fell heavier and heavier. Soon it was piling up on the pavement. Fortunately, I was in my truck, which is four-wheel-drive and good at negotiating snow, unless the roads are also icy due to cold temperatures as was the case that night. By this time I was about 30 miles from civilization in Salina, the snow had become very heavy and the road was obliterated beyond recognition, even though Interstate 70 is a four lane freeway in that area. I thought about stopping, but decided I would press on because I didn’t want to get buried in snow on the side of the road. Needless to say, the last 25 miles were very slow and half the time I was merely hoping I was mostly on the road. Apparently the locals and other travelers had turned off for the night and retreated from the storm. I was nearly alone on the Interstate. Then far ahead I spotted a lone big rig truck plowing its way through the mess. I drove up behind and used the big truck’s taillights as a guide, hoping that his sense of the road would prove accurate. This went on for what seemed like hours and then we came up on a snow plow. The truck and I had been going about 10 miles an hour, but the snow plow was going about five miles an hour. The last 12 miles took 2 1/2 hours. I have never been more happy to see a freeway off ramp than that night in Salina. As I slowed even more to nose down the off ramp, my truck began to slide to one side. Fortunately I was able to correct and stay on what was left of the off ramp. I fish-tailed to the right, across and up what looked like the driveway to a local motel. The cheesy, low-budget room with internet access, color TV, half-broken wooden veneer furniture and musty bedding seemed like the coziest room I had ever slept in.

Rabbit Tracks And Shadows Along US Highway 50, Nevada, 2010 by David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90.

Morning came quickly as I had arrived late and hit the hay around 2:00 am. I dragged myself to the 1970s era window curtain, pulled it open and beheld a new world. There was about six inches of new snow, but the skies were blue. I waited until around 9:30 am to get rolling, hoping that by then the snow plows would have made a few passes. Once I made it onto the freeway, both lanes were clear and the slow lane was even half dry. I didn’t loose any time as I drove off down the Interstate at near normal travel speed. Driving late into the night was now taking its toll on my body, but my persistence paid off as I had smooth sailing nearly all day except some snow patches on the road on the high passes and some slow-going around Ely, Nevada where there was still a lot of snow on US Highway 50. The real payoff came in the form of the gorgeous scenery freshly covered with new snow. I was on a deadline and couldn’t stop too often, but I did allow myself to stop for as many photographs as I possibly could dare. I made it to my meeting late, but it was quite a day photographing along the “Loneliest Highway in America,” well worth driving one evening in a blizzard and risking getting stuck on the side of the road in the middle of the high desert in the snow.

Reader Recommendation: Steve Sieren On A Mountain Top

May 10th, 2010

All this talk of mountain photographers brings me to recommend a recent blog post:

<< From the Talus Slopes of Mt. Agassiz >>

By Steve Sieren on his blog called “Thoughts, Ideas and Experiences.” While Steve Sieren is not strictly a mountain photographer, he does it with skill and a has a knack for getting way out in the backcountry in all types of terrain.

Palisades Glacier, Sierra Nevada, 2010 by Steve Sieren. From the top of Mt. Agassiz, the 20th highest peak in California.

I first heard from Steve by e-mail. He wrote to say that he had been a fan of outdoor photographer Carr Clifton and had heard of my father, pioneer landscape photographer Philip Hyde through Carr Clifton. He told me he would unfortunately miss the Santa Monica Exhibition but just after it came down when I was in Los Angeles, he offered to show me some little known photo spots around the area. He came across as a genuine, approachable, friendly and kind person. Since then we have kept in touch and he has been helpful regarding many subjects. I still plan to go on one of his field workshops where he takes people out and shows them areas they perhaps have never seen in California, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. “Most of the workshops are in the California deserts, mountains and coastal areas,” Steve Sieren said.

One of the reasons I admire Galen Rowell is that he was a self-taught photographer. Steve Sieren is also essentially self-taught, though he took some workshops including one from Marc Muench. He said he did have help from “many friends and mentors along the way…in other fields of photography.” Los Angeles offers some of the world’s best photographers in a number of genres and is one of the up and coming world art scenes.  I admire Steve Sieren because even though he lives in a major metropolitan area, he values wilderness and getting out in it. Also, he is a great story teller. Visit his latest blog post for some real action and excellent images. It shares his adventures on a spontaneous hike and unplanned overnight stay at the top of California’s 20th tallest peak. Hats off to Steve Sieren who is doing today what some of the early pioneer landscape photographers did back in the day, but with a more adventurous and spontaneous twist. Be sure to also scroll down or poke around and find his blog post about snow camping too.

Why Not Walk? by Philip Hyde

April 9th, 2010

From THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR Thursday, August 21, 1958 by Philip Hyde

(The original article appeared on the front page of the second section and incorporated five large black and white photographs by Philip Hyde)

Grass On Tarn, Sierra Nevada High Country, Kings Canyon National Park, California, 1951 by Philip Hyde. This was one of the photographs with the original Christian Science Monitor article, "Why Not Walk?" by Philip Hyde.

(To see photographs full screen Click Here.)

Next time you visit one of our national parks, why not try walking? If this proposal seems startling to you in this mechanized age, you might consider some of the qualities that make up the natural scene that is observed in our system of national parks.

One of the most rewarding aspects of nature is the exquisite beauty found in minutiae: the patterns of snow-flakes, the form of a tiny butterfly, or the interlaced perfection of leaf forms. None of these are easily observed from a moving automobile, yet most visitors to our nature preserves depend primarily on wheeled locomotion to “see” the parks.

You can look at the grand landscapes in the parks through the windshield. But to really see them you must get out of the car, at least enough to look at the foreground.

No mountain is so grand that knowing its foreground of small stones, tiny plants, and even the animals that inhabit it does not enhance its grandeur. For the natural world is not a miscellaneous collection of unrelated pieces, but a unified, harmonious whole, interacting and inter-dependent.

What is your favorite place to walk?

Do you walk when you go to national parks?

Memories Of Finally Working With Dad

March 8th, 2010

When I Was Young, I Traveled With Dad, But Never Worked With Him Until Much Later…

This blog post is partly based on an e-mail I sent to the Philip Hyde updates list in May 2009. (Read more about the Hyde’s 1971 trip to Alaska and see the photograph below full size: Click Here.)

Lake Near Susitna River, Alaska Range, Alaska, 1971, by Philip Hyde. David was with his father when he made this photograph. Ardis, David and Philip Hyde spent June, July and August in Alaska. The Hydes celebrated David's sixth birthday in their Avion Camper.

Someday I would love to start a foundation for the archives of photographers. Many have died and their name and work just fades away.

Only the photography of the few who are the most recognized continues to be seen by the public. Even many of those who are well-known have their works locked away in some climate controlled vault, never to be seen again. There should be an organization that continues to circulate exhibitions and promotes the work of photographers who had an impact.

I will eternally regret that I didn’t get more interested in my dad’s photography earlier. The main obstacle was that he never thought his work was worth extra promotional effort, or that it would be profitable. Isn’t that silly. I talked to him about it several times but he never thought his work could earn more than a living for he and my mother. Hard to imagine now, he actually said it was not worth my time. I never had anything as worthwhile going in my life, even when I made a lot of money.

Because he spent his whole life working hard to develop his own voice as separate from his father, Leland Hyde, who was a painter, Dad thought I would want to do the same…and I did. However, while I was growing up, somewhere along the trail I learned to love the natural world and the western landscape as much as he did. For years I went in a completely different direction, but I carried a love of the mountains and the desert latent inside me. Eventually one day in 1992, when I was living in Los Angeles, during the Rodney King Riots, I just threw everything in my Mercedes and headed out of town. I did not stop driving until I made it to New Mexico. In the pinon smoke and pueblo dust of New Mexico, I reconnected with the land.

Around that time I started writing again. I wrote often and much. I wrote in my journal. I wrote about my youth. As I developed as a writer I realized that photography and writing are complementary. Dad and I could work together. I wrote a short book that I wanted to have Dad’s photographs illustrate. I do not know why I never tried to publish that little book. I even picked out photographs and Dad made me 4X5 contact proofs. Maybe it was not time yet. I still have it.

He and I did have the chance to spend more time together again in the last four years of his life. I am grateful that we did finally work together starting in 2002. I interviewed him for a book about his life and work. We made nearly 40 tapes. The interviewing gave him a reason to get up in the morning after he had lost his eyesight and my mother, the two loves of his life. He was very happy I was going to write a book about him. He was glad he did not have to do it. He loved the sections I read to him. We had a great time talking about his life as he answered my questions on tape.

His short-term memory had become quite poor, though his long-term memory stayed solid for several more years. After that though, even the long-term memories started to get twisted up with each other and mixed up in time. One day he confused bike riding in his youth at Point Reyes with a bike ride he and my mother and I took at Point Reyes. After that I phased out the interviewing because the facts were no longer adding up. Everything was getting muddled. I wish I had kept interviewing right to the last day of his life, even when he did tell conflicting stories. It would have kept more wind in his sails.

For a long time I have been struggling with his life’s story and it’s incredibly productive story arc, but tragic ending. Yet as I am looking deeper now, I realize it was not a tragic ending except only on the surface. His was a story of triumph over adversity throughout and especially at the end. His spirit is one that anyone could be proud to emulate. He had his bad days, but most of the time he stayed cheerful even in the darkest times. He did have his days he did not want to get out of bed, but we all do. The point is that he did keep getting up. For a heartfelt tribute to Dad see the blog post, “Celebrating Wilderness By William Neill.”

In 2001, I remember thinking after he lost his eyesight, “Well it can’t get any worse.” Then we lost my mom in March 2002. I thought it could not possibly get any worse because he still had great memories of his incredible life traveling in and defending the wilderness, but by the end he could not even find his way around his own house that he designed, built and lived in for 50 years.

I still miss him more than anything, but I like to imagine that in some way he is perhaps still with me, watching as I am inspired again by his words and images. One of the most worthwhile endeavors in my life has been going through his photographs. It is a joyful, uplifting experience that no amount of challenges, setbacks and expense can blight. Making the transition of the work to digital is not easy but I feel it is important. Of course, I am his son. Yet I imagine that almost anyone in my position would feel as strongly as I do about the work getting out to the world. For more on how Dad helped to expand Canyonlands National Park and a tribute to his life, work and contribution to future generations see the blog post, “Earth Day Celebration Of Ardis And Philip Hyde And Canyonlands.”

I greatly appreciate those who have contacted me through the website or blog and added their comments to the discussions, shared an anecdote about a trip they had with Dad, or related a story that happened on a workshop. I have done some of my best interviewing through e-mails written back and forth over months. Sometimes I hear the wind rustle the leaves and I can almost hear Dad’s laughter in his studio. Or I stop for a moment, breathe deeply and observe the warm sunshine flooding through the tall windows he put in by hand. In those moments I remember his whole face twinkling with enthusiasm as he tracked down the next “picher.” I look at photographs of our trips together and I think how lucky I was to have the childhood I did.

What are your favorite nature or childhood memories?