Posts Tagged ‘Western United States’

Book Review: Picturing America’s National Parks

September 1st, 2016

Book Review: Picturing America’s National Parks by George Eastman Museum Assistant Curator Jamie M. Allen

Cover of "Picturing America's National Parks" by Jamie M. Allen (2016).

Cover of “Picturing America’s National Parks” by Jamie M. Allen (2016). (Click on Image to See Larger.)

Landscape Photography Classics and Much More

To accompany the George Eastman Museum exhibition, Photography and America’s National Parks, the Eastman Museum and Aperture Foundation teamed up to publish assistant curator Jamie M. Allen’s new comprehensive book on the history of photography in our nation’s parks called Picturing America’s National Parks.

The George Eastman show, made up of the work of more than 50 photographers from all eras in the history of photography, includes landscape photography greats such as Ansel Adams, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Imogen Cunningham, John K. Hillers, Philip Hyde, William Henry Jackson, the Kolb Brothers, Eadweard J. Muybridge, Eliot Porter, Bradford Washburn, Carleton E. Watkins, Edward Weston and Minor White, as well as a good number of other renowned photographers who also happened to make exposures in the National Parks such as George Eastman, Andreas Feininger, Lee Friedlander, Johan Hagemeyer, Martin Parr, Stephen Shore, Garry Winogrand and others. The exhibition has also turned out to be one of the most popular and prominent museum shows of the year.

You See It “Everywhere”

As such, during the run of the exhibit from June 4 – October 2, 2016, Photography and America’s National Parks has enjoyed significant publicity, while the book, Picturing America’s National Parks, already has attracted even greater press exposure. The exhibition or the book or both were introduced or reviewed in Antiques Magazine, Outdoor Photographer magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Aperture, Real Clear Life, the Rochesteriat, the Nature Conservancy magazine, the Rochester City Newspaper, Smithsonian Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Fortune Magazine, Museum of Photographic Arts, Visit Rochester, The Atlantic, Tween Tribune, Artsy, Outside Magazine, AnOther magazine, Mother Jones magazine, USA Today, Yahoo News, Slate, Audubon magazine, Artbook, Travel & Leisure magazine, Pop Photo, and many others. The book can be found online to purchase, borrow or to read more reviews at Amazon.com, Aperture Foundation, Target.com, Bookshop.com, eBay, Google Play, Library Resource Finder, Sweet, Abelardo Morell, Schaumburg Library, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art bookshop, Worldcat, Fraser Muggeridge Studio, Loot, LibraryThing, Lenscratch, Photolucida, ALA Booklist, Beyond Words, PDN Online and many, many others too deep in Google search results to track down.

Fascinating, Well-Written and Leavened With Significant Detail

Like her pre-show introductory article in Antiques magazine, assistant Curator Jamie M. Allen’s main essay in the book is well written, smooth flowing and easy to read, yet packed with interesting history of both the national parks and early photography in them. The rest of the book displays the photographs with titles and an accompanying text for each of the featured photographers, interspersed with several paragraphs at a time on various historically relevant points such as the invention of the mass produced Kodak camera, the increase in availability of the automobile, the development of photomechanical and photolithographic postcards for sale at park concessions, 18-by-60-foot Colorama photo advertisements for the national parks, caretakers in the national parks and the National Park Service’s social media campaign #findyourpark.

Interspersed with the images from each major contributor at approximately every 16 pages, a timeline page provides the reader with significant dates in the history of photography and the history of the national parks. These timeline pages are loaded with fascinating tidbits that enrich the reading experience of the book. Despite many details included, the timelines present history in general, broad strokes. There are significant points of history, especially of the parks that are not detailed, but this would require a much larger, more difficult to read book.

A Popular Populist Approach

Ms. Jamie M. Allen approaches her subject from a populist perspective, which is somewhat unusual for a museum curator. More than one of the reviews of Picturing America’s National Parks said it was a comprehensive history of photography in the national parks. This is partly true, depending on the definitions of these terms. On a more close reading though, I would say that this volume is not necessarily the history of fine art photography or landscape photography in the national parks, but it could more accurately be described as the history of all photography in the national parks, or a history of cameras and images of any kind from any source made in the national parks.

This populist view of photography in the national parks puts significant emphasis on the various ways that photographs have helped to establish, preserve, depict and popularize the national parks. Allen observes that the history of the national parks is inextricably intertwined with the history of photography. After reading this inspiring book, I would go beyond saying that photography helped popularize the national parks to say that apparently the national parks helped popularize photography. In the development of the West, Allen points out that images produced on location at several of the most popular parks such as the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite became a hot commodity. A cottage industry in photograph sales developed with photographers establishing small shops where tourists could purchase various types of photographic reproductions of the scenery they had enjoyed during their visit and in some cases purchase photos of themselves in the scenery.

Intertwining Histories of National Parks and Photography

The development of postcards, the snapshot camera and many other aspects of photography that were popular rather than professional, were a large part of the story of the intertwining histories. In addition these aspects make a more interesting read than a mere compilation of the great photographers who have depicted the national parks. Because some of the professionals have been left out, the collection of photographs represented acts less as a survey of those famous for photographing the parks and more as a compilation of famous people and ordinary people who also made images in the national parks.

Both the exhibition and the book tie all of this history into current trends by bringing to light the masses of images and selfies made each day and shared hourly on social media. However, Allen and the Eastman Museum go beyond the mere mention of this phenomenon, to incorporating it as an activity at the exhibit. In the entryway to the show a photograph of the Grand Canyon containing a life-sized figure of George Eastman standing on the rim gives visitors to the show an opportunity to make a selfie with Mr. Eastman and the Grand Canyon in the background to take home, share on social media and discuss the exhibit with friends online. This feature and the encouragement of phone snapshots in the museum makes the visitor experience more fun while portraying the museum as cool and up to date in their delivery of history, not to mention making the show and the museum extremely popular, as well as the objects of considerable buzz.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Allen and her team are to be commended for their fanning of the media flames through her appearance on local TV and the comprehensive development of publicity across the country, but also in their exhaustive and colossal volume of research necessary for such a project. As excellent as done, their research was not necessarily perfect, or perhaps for sake of simplicity and accessibility they chose to leave some information out. For example: the timeline for the 1960s is missing the introduction of color to photography books. Though the timelines are a small part of the overall book presentation, this was a major breakthrough for the parks, for photography and for the fortunes of Kodak because it caused a huge spike in the popularity of color film. It also was part of what led to the popularization of the coffee table photography book, which changed the face of the photography industry and paved the way for more photographers to make a living in the medium.

In the timelines, there is also no mention of the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series, which during the 1960s, especially in the Western U.S., but also all over the world, greatly advanced the momentum of the movement to conserve more public lands and to further popularize the national parks themselves. The timeline entry for 1963 mentioned that David Brower and Eliot Porter published several books on the parks, but the mention of popular books by Philip Hyde in the Exhibit Format Series, who is represented in the Eastman Museum collection, also is omitted. David Brower called Philip Hyde his go-to photographer because he produced the images for many books that made or protected national parks just in the 1960s alone, such as The Last Redwoods (1963), Time and the River Flowing: Grand Canyon (1964), The Wild Cascades: Forgotten Parkland (1965), Not Man Apart (1965) Navajo Wildlands (1967), The Grand Colorado (1969) and even more volumes in the 1970s.

Philip Hyde’s book, Island In Time: The Point Reyes Peninsula (1962) was the first book to ever raise funds to purchase land to make a national park service unit, Point Reyes National Seashore. It was also published the same year as Eliot Porter’s In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World, (also not mentioned in Picturing America’s National Parks) in 1962, giving both books the shared title of the first major book projects published in color.

Outstanding Image Choice and the Making of an Evergreen Title

I like Allen’s image choices for the sections on Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Minor White and many of the others because she used photographs we don’t often see from these well-known masters. Adams as usual gets a huge amount of credit for his work in the national parks, most of which is well-deserved. However, also as usual, Adams gets credit for some of the accomplishments of other photographers such as the help in conservation and formation of national parks, which Adams did do some and quite effectively, but not more than or even at the same level as photographers such as Philip Hyde and Eliot Porter, who essentially took over the Sierra Club Books from Ansel Adams after they transitioned to color. The description under Ansel Adams carried on at length about conservation and the national parks, whereas the Philip Hyde description mentioned it only briefly, especially in light of his much greater volume of work on wilderness and national park protection campaigns. When I asked Allen about the difference, she said that originally her text included much more about Philip Hyde’s work in preserving national parks, but that her editors cut some of it. Apparently editors need educating as well about the figures behind major conservation efforts.

To illustrate this point and to show an example of how the descriptions were presented, here is the entry for Ansel Adams:

Ansel Adams‘ (American, 1902-1984) lifelong passion for the national parks began in 1916 when, at the age of 14, he read James Mason Hutching’s 496-page book In the Heart of the Sierras (1886) and convinced his parents to take him on vacation to Yosemite Valley. Equipped with a No. 1 Brownie camera that his parents had given him, Adams took his first images of Yosemite that year. Soon after, he became involved with the Sierra Club, starting as the custodian for the club’s headquarters in Yosemite and later leading tours and participating in trips to the Yosemite High Country. He was eventually elected to the board of directors and lobbied for additional areas to be set aside as national parks and monuments. By the 1930s, Adams’ photographic work had become well known, and in 1941 he was invited to participate in a project to photograph all the national parks. Organized by the Secretary of Interior, the initiative was abruptly cancelled when the United States entered World War II. Adams continued the project independently, supported by a series of Guggenheim Fellowships. His images of the parks have come to represent the grandeur of the American landscape, conjuring a sense of pride for American viewers in both the land itself and the preservation of these spaces through the National Park Service. Adams’ photographs have also had broad international appeal, establishing the national parks as globally recognizable icons.

Compare that to the entry for Philip Hyde, which is also excellent, but not as thorough:

In 1946, Philip Hyde (American 1921-2006) became one of the first students to attend the newly formed photography program at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute). Here he studied under Edward Weston, Minor White, Imogen Cunningham, Dorothea Lange, and many other influential photographers of the time. After graduating, Hyde served as the official photographer of the Sierra Club High Trip during the summer of 1950, thus beginning his long relationship with the organization. His involvement with the club blossomed into relationships with other groups, including the Wilderness Society and the National Audubon Society. Hyde’s photographic work was used to advocate for and realize the preservation of places such as the Grand Canyon. While he photographed the characteristic vantages of many national parks, his images also show atypical views, such as a sand dune at the Grand Canyon.

Regardless, even with some omissions, Picturing America’s National Parks is destined to be a staple of bookstores, libraries, schools and universities for many years to come. I like the accessibility of the approach, the innovative layout and the depth of information presented in an easy to digest format. I like the cover art, but don’t particularly like the no dust-jacket cover. However, this keeps the costs down also adding to accessibility. Besides, this type of jacketless cover will likely prove ideal when the book is used as a textbook. It certainly ought to be mandatory reading for anyone studying photography, the national parks or any related outdoor curriculum.

New Releases: Philip Hyde Signature Desert Landscapes

April 9th, 2015

New Releases: The History Behind Philip Hyde Desert Icons

Archival Chromogenic Prints from Large Format Film

Evening Light On West Mitten Butte, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Utah-Arizona, copyright 1963 Philip Hyde. From Navajo Wildlands in the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series. (Click on the image to see it large.)

Evening Light On West Mitten Butte, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Utah-Arizona, copyright 1963 Philip Hyde. From Navajo Wildlands in the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series. (Click on the image to see it large.)

Philip Hyde began photographing the desert Southwest with large format film in 1951. At that time, he used primarily black and white film, but did expose some large format color transparencies too. The Sierra Club book, This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park and It’s Magic Rivers, with introduction, one chapter and editing by Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Wallace Stegner, included as many color plates as black and white, but editor, journalist, conservationist, pilot and river guide Martin Litton also made nearly as large a share of these images in the book as Hyde. To read more about the making of This Is Dinosaur see the blog post series, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth of Modern Environmentalism.” To read more about Martin Litton see the blog post series, “Martin Litton: David Brower’s Conservation Conscience.”

While on his way back and forth from his Northern Sierra home in California to Dinosaur National Monument, Philip Hyde explored and photographed much of Nevada, Utah, Arizona and parts of New Mexico. For more on his early travels in the deserts of North America, see the blog post series, “Toward a Sense of Place,” and the blog post, “Images of the Southwest Portfolio Foreword by Philip Hyde.” Below is the history of three Philip Hyde signature desert photographs that both exemplify his style of photography and inspired two generations of photographers.

Based on the photograph locations in Hyde’s Sierra Club Books Exhibit Format Series volumes Navajo Wildlands: As long As The Rivers Shall Run (1967) and Slickrock: Endangered Canyons of the Southwest (1973) with Edward Abbey and in other Hyde books for Sunset and the prominent travel and natural history magazines of the day, large format film photographer Tom Till said that Hyde was the first to photograph areas of The Maze District of Canyonlands National Park and Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef National Park. Large format photographer David Muench, who was 15 years younger than Hyde, a little later was also the first to photograph some iconic desert landscapes.

Evening Light on West Mitten Butte, Monument Valley

Possibly one of the most emulated American classics of all-time, Philip Hyde’s 1963 “Evening Light on West Mitten Butte, Monument Valley,” came into the public eye just as the quality of color printing in books developed enough for such books to become popular. “Evening Light on West Mitten Butte” enjoyed much recognition when it first appeared in the Exhibit Format Series book, Navajo Wildlands in 1967. Since 1967, hundreds of thousands of similar photographs have been made and many published of this view of Monument Valley. Navajo Wildlands helped the Navajo Nation, now more correctly called by their own name Diné Nation, to form seven Navajo Tribal Parks to preserve some areas of the reservation for all generations.

Ripples on Kelso Dunes, Mojave Desert

Ripples on Kelso Dunes, Mojave Desert, California, copyright 1987 Philip Hyde. From Drylands: The Deserts of North America.

Ripples on Kelso Dunes, Mojave Desert, California (Drylands Crop) copyright 1987 Philip Hyde. From Drylands: The Deserts of North America. (Click on the image to see it large.)

Two other Philip Hyde desert landscape icons have been emulated much since their creation, but they were neither the first, nor even early in the evolution of similar images, merely the most widely known and observed for inspiration. Ridges and ripples on sand dunes had been famously photographed by Brett Weston, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and many others well before Philip Hyde made the color photograph, “Ripples on Kelso Dunes, Mojave Desert, California” in 1987. Hyde’s photograph perhaps was early in relation to all color images of this type of scene. Regardless, it was not until after “Ripples on Kelso Dunes” appeared in Drylands: The Deserts of North America that close up images of ripples on sand dunes flooded the photography market. Hyde’s original photograph was an unusual vertical that showed the ripples on the sand dunes in the foreground with the ripples fading into the distance at the horizon. Yolla Bolly Press, the packagers of Drylands, who also packaged Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light: In Search of the Dynamic Landscape, convinced Hyde to crop “Ripples on Kelso Dunes” to a horizontal for the front pages of Drylands. This version only showing the bottom half of the original vertical, the close up part of the image, became popular for its abstract qualities. Many still today find the Drylands crop of “Ripples on Kelso Dunes” a stronger image than the original vertical.

Chinle Shales, Circle Cliffs, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument

The second signature desert landscape that Hyde made as late as 1982 was “Chinle Shales, Circle Cliffs, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Utah.” This photograph also graced the pages of Drylands. Photography historians have found earlier photographs with vague similarity to this image, but it was not until after 1987 that similar images showed up in numerous magazines and other publications and now on the internet on various websites of photographers of the American Southwest.

Chinle Shales, Circle Cliffs, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Utah, copyright 1982 Philip Hyde. From Drylands: The Deserts of North America.

Chinle Shales, Circle Cliffs, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Utah, copyright 1982 Philip Hyde. From Drylands: The Deserts of North America. (Click on the image to see it large.)

So what? What is the point of researching who came first and who came later? This kind of tracking is not necessarily done for further recognition in and of itself, but it does serve to further establish and educate scholars, art historians and the public in this regard: it is important for determining the influence of an artist like Philip Hyde on his medium. Influence has a great deal to do with the perception of the significance of the life’s work of any artist and how his or her work is positioned in the historical record. These three photographs play a consequential role in the history of photography, particularly of landscape photography and photography of the Western US and Colorado Plateau. Similar photographs of a location do not necessarily emulation make, but in Hyde’s case, many of the who’s who of nature photography today acknowledge having been influence by his work.

Philip Hyde made six or fewer original dye transfer or Cibachrome hand made color prints of each of these four images. Only three original dye transfer prints remain of “Havasu Falls,” two of “Chinle Shales” and none of “Evening Light, West Mitten Butte” or “Ripples on Kelso Dunes.” Please consider acquiring our new archival chromogenic prints of these images, produced in a special numbered open edition, while they are at a special introductory price for a limited time. For more about new release pricing, see the blog post, “New Releases Now at Special Introductory Pricing.” For more information about the difference between archival digital prints and archival chromogenic prints, see the blog post, “About Archival Fine Art Digital Prints.” To purchase prints, see the images large and read more descriptions see the New Releases Portfolio on the Philip Hyde Photography website.

Have you ever seen photographs similar to any of these three?

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?

The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 8

May 20th, 2011

Glen Canyon, Grand Canyon, The Escalante Wilderness And Other Regional Repercussions Of The Battle Over Dinosaur National Monument

(FROM THE CATEGORY, “Excerpts Of New Book,” CONTINUED FROM THE BLOG POST, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth of Modern Environmentalism 7.”)

Anasazi Grain Storage In The Sandstone, Dinosaur National Monument, copyright 1951 by Philip Hyde.

The reservoirs on the Colorado River are currently at all-time lows because they lose more water annually to evaporation and seepage than they conserve, especially in drought years. Water and its management will increase in political prominence in the future as populations grow and the supply of water as a resource declines. The Glen Canyon Institute today is campaigning to have Glen Canyon Dam bypassed. As water in the Western United States grows more and more scarce, this idea is destined to gain momentum.

Immediately after the dams in Dinosaur National Monument were dropped from the Upper Colorado River Storage Project and the corresponding bill passed both houses of Congress, David Brower, still in Washington, spoke by telephone to a group of Sierra Club Board Members back in San Francisco, urging them to continue the fight and remain in opposition to Glen Canyon Dam. Unfortunately, in The History of The Sierra Club, Michael Cohen explained, “Bestor Robinson felt that such a purist stand would result in defeat, since the Club had made a compromise, saying in effect that the Bureau of Reclamation could have Glen Canyon. Bestor Robinson later said that ‘if you didn’t have the Grand Canyon then Glen Canyon should be preserved’; but, he argued, ‘the trade-off was necessary.’” For more about how long it took to fill Glen Canyon and other Glen Canyon miscalculations and mistakes, see the blog post, “Glen Canyon Lament By Philip Hyde 1.”

The Virtues And Vices Of Compromise

“Bestor Robinson was worse than a compromiser,” Martin Litton said. “It was as if he were on the other side. The point is, no matter how hard you fight, you are going to end up with a compromise. If you start with a compromise, you have lost. Richard Leonard, Sierra Club President, believed the compromise had to be kept if the Sierra Club was to maintain credibility.”

Martin Litton said that Richard Leonard expressed concern in Sierra Club Board Meetings that Congress would be convinced the ‘preservationists’ were unreasonable.

“Richard Leonard was afraid we would be accused of suggesting the waste of the ‘entire Colorado River,'” Martin Litton said. “He thought Congressmen would say conservationists intended the Colorado River to be ‘unused’ and allowed to flood away into Mexico and the Gulf of California, as if that would have been so bad.” Studies now show that the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez, is dying because its salt content has increased to unnatural levels with less and less fresh water from the Colorado River reaching it.

“Richard Leonard believed that the Sierra Club would not have been able to keep dams out of the Grand Canyon if Glen Canyon Dam had not been built,” said Martin Litton. “I disagreed with him. We had the public’s confidence in us, and we had the nation on our side as a result of Dinosaur. We could have carried that momentum right through the whole Colorado River system. I don’t mean there never would have been any pressures, but there wouldn’t have been any dam or reservoir once we got the great Escalante National Park.”

The Proposed Escalante National Park

Escalante National Park had been discussed by some members of Congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt much earlier before World War II. It would have surrounded the entire area of Glen Canyon, the Escalante Wilderness and thousands of additional acres in the region. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the entry of the US into World War II, Congress turned its attention to more pressing matters and Escalante National Park never materialized beyond the idea stage, not even as a proposal. Escalante National Park would have saved Glen Canyon. The Escalante Wilderness finally became officially part of the National Park System in 2000. President Bill Clinton signed Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument into existence on his last day in office. An act that enranged off-road vehicle users and local Utah anti-wilderness conservatives. The main drawback to President Bill Clinton’s National Monument is that under political pressure, he designated the new Monument under Bureau of Land Management care rather than the National Park service. The two agencies have significantly differing policies regarding their care and preservation of wilderness lands. President Bill Clinton compromised.

David Brower wrote in his autobiography about Glen Canyon, “My own bitter lesson there was that you don’t give away something that you haven’t seen; you don’t suggest alternatives until you’ve been there.”

The Green River, Yampa River And This Is Dinosaur

In 2005, the runoff was again higher than normal after years of drought, helping the reservoirs of the Upper and Lower Colorado River Storage Projects to recover from severe depletion. On the Green River below Steamboat Rock in Echo Park, Dinosaur National Monument, a river crew lifted a white three-pontoon river raft up the beach to the truck. The side of the boat’s inflatable outer pontoon said, “Outward Bound.”

The Outward Bound crew was one of hundreds of groups that float through the Dinosaur National Monument river canyons now every summer. Back when Philip Hyde ran the Green River and Yampa River, the Sierra Club had just overcome the myths of unknown danger and begun to prove to the American people that rafting through Dinosaur National Monument was safely possible.

Ardis and Philip Hyde ran the Yampa River in 1955 with a Sierra Club group. By then, many Sierra Club and other groups had run the Yampa River and the Green River since the first Sierra Club trip braved the canyons in the summer of 1951. That same year, 1951, Philip Hyde covered Dinosaur National Monument by land. It was the first photography assignment on behalf of an environmental cause. The Sierra Club sent Philip Hyde to see what Dinosaur National Monument had to offer and whether it was worth saving. Philip Hyde’s assignment and a group of essays by prominent river guides and naturalists of the time became the book This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country And Its Magic Rivers with introduction and a first chapter by Wallace Stegner and documentary and landscape photographs by Philip Hyde and Martin Litton.

(CONTINUED IN THE FINAL BLOG POST OF THE SERIES, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 9.”)

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.

Who Was Edward Abbey?

October 14th, 2010

Edward Abbey: The Thoreau of the American West

Green River At Hardscrabble Bottom, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, 1971 by Philip Hyde. First published in "Slickrock: The Canyon Country of Southeast Utah," 1971, in the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series. (RAW SCAN--not yet printing.) Edward Abbey's caption for this photograph in "Slickrock" was "Hardscrabble Bottom along the Green. A great good place. A man could whittle away his life down here and never lose a minute."

(See the RAW SCAN of the photograph full screen Click Here.)

Novelist, essayist, philosopher, conservationist, environmentalists, social critic, gadfly, anarchist, self-declared extremist, lover, father, original monkey wrencher and author of 21 books of fiction and non-fiction, Edward Abbey may have been one of the most popular writers to take the American West and most often the Southwest as his subject. Larry McMurtry called Edward Abbey, “The Thoreau of the American West.”

Edward Abbey attracted a cult following but was uncomfortable with it. His books today enjoy an ever-widening readership, as the modern environmental movement that he helped popularize continues to grow. Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey’s crowning achievement is a lament for wilderness lost, a celebration of a quiet life in the desert landscape and a portrayal of the Southwest unlike any other. Edward Abbey’s enjoyable romping anarchist novel The Monkey Wrench Gang is on a similar list for environmental activists who would prevent the plundering of natural resources. His wry wit and vivid prose carry on the legend of Edward Abbey.

Edward Abbey And Philip Hyde Meet In Canyonlands

In the introduction to Slickrock: The Canyon Country of Southeast Utah by Edward Abbey and Philip Hyde, John G. Mitchell, editor of Sierra Club Books, described how Edward Abbey and Philip Hyde first met in a remote part of Canyonlands National Park:

Edward Abbey and a friend had been exploring a small canyon near the Doll’s House (In the Maze, Canyonlands). Friend, scrambling solo, encounters man with tripod on the rimrock. Cameraman explains he is doing a book. Funny, friend says, so is my buddy. Cameraman asks identity of buddy. Edward Abbey, says Friend. Funny, says Cameraman, same book. Friend hollers down canyon: Hey, Ed. Guy up here says you’re collaborators. Abbey scrambles up. Ed Abbey, says Friend, meet Philip Hyde.

Edward Abbey and Philip Hyde Describe Each Other

There will be more on Slickrock: The Canyon Country of Southeast Utah in blog posts to come. In Slickrock, Edward Abbey described Philip Hyde. His description is on the home page of PhilipHyde.com. For more about Philip Hyde in Canyonlands see the blog post, “Earth Day Celebration Of Ardis And Philip Hyde And Canyonlands.” Philip Hyde also described Edward Abbey on the back flap of the original 1971 edition of Slickrock:

I remember Abbey in a sandstone window overlooking a maze of canyons that wind off toward the deep gorge of the Colorado River. He was chewing on a blade of grass and his sombrero was low again in observance of sundown. Darkness was coming on fast. Time to return to camp. Abbey removed the hat and holding it level, slowly extended his arm toward the big river. Though it struck me as an unusual gesture, it was at once natural and moving. Abbey, saluting the Slickrock with that silly sombrero, reaching out to the stark chiseled bounties of that wild beyond.

Edward Abbey On How To Get To Know Canyon Country

One of Edward Abbey’s most well-known quotes gives advice on how to connect with the natural world:

Do not jump into your automobile next June and rush out to the Canyon country hoping to see some of that which I have attempted to evoke in these pages. In the first place you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the…cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll see something, maybe.

Greg Russell of Alpenglow Images wrote a thoughtful post yesterday called “Aspen Trees and Staying Close to Home” in which he wrote about Edward Abbey and also decided to photograph near his home rather than traveling for Fall color. His results were just as fine, in my opinion.

A Tribute To Edward Abbey

Edward Abbey born in Pennsylvania in 1927, now has a state historical marker commemorating his birth and life:

Author and defender of wilderness,
most famous for his two books Desert
Solitaire
and The Monkey Wrench Gang.
Born in Indiana, Pa., in 1927, Abbey grew
up in and around the village of Home.
Although he moved to the western U.S.
in 1948, books such as Appalachian
Wilderness
, The Journey Home, and The
Fool's Progress
describe his native
county, where he learned to love nature.
Abbey died in Tucson, Arizona, in 1989.

PENNSYLVANIA HISTORICAL AND MUSEUM COMMISSION 1996

From an environmental activism perspective, possibly the most important historical fact about Edward Abbey is that he helped start the environmental organization called Black Mesa Defense Fund, the first radical environmental group, after which Dave Foreman later patterned Earth First. The Black Mesa Defense Fund direct-action campaign against the strip mining on Black Mesa, shared by the Navajo and Hopi people, was organized by the American Indian Movement, Edward Abbey, Marc Gaede (a photographer and environmentalist who also taught a few workshops with Philip Hyde), and others in 1970. Black Mesa Defense Fund is considered the first modern-day environmental confrontational protest organization.

Edward Abbey References

(Click on each for more information or to purchase)

Abbey’s Web

Slickrock: The Canyon Country of Southeast Utah by Edward Abbey and Philip Hyde

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey

The Monkey Wrench Gang By Edward Abbey

Down the River by Edward Abbey

The Serpents of Paradise by Edward Abbey

Beyond the Wall: Essays from the Outside by Edward Abbey

Resist Much Obey Little: Remembering Ed Abbey edited by James R. Hepworth and Gregory McNamee

Confessions of a Barbarian: Selections from the Journals of Edward Abbey by Edward Abbey

Adventures with Ed: A Portrait of Abbey by Jack Loeffler

Edward Abbey: A Life by James M. Cahalan

Epitaph For A Desert Anarchist: The Life And Legacy Of Edward Abbey by James Bishop, Jr.

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.

Covered Wagon Journal 1

February 8th, 2010

Did you have a favorite vehicle growing up? What kind of rig do you use for photography or other work you do?

Covered Wagon Journal 1

By Philip Hyde (1955)

With Introduction by David Leland Hyde (2010)

1952 Chevrolet Pickup, Perhaps much as Covered Wagon looked new, perhaps slightly greener and a little less shiny.

In the early 1950s, pioneer landscape photographer Brett Weston drove back and forth from New York to California via Texas, up and down the East Coast, to Mexico and widely explored the Western United States. For more on Brett Weston, his photography and his influence on all of landscape photography see the blog post, “The Hidden Brett Weston.” In 1955, Brett Weston settled down for a time in Carmel to help print his father, Edward Weston’s photographs. Brett Weston in the Spring of that year, sold his traveling rig to Ardis and Philip Hyde. The dark-green 1952 Chevrolet step-side pickup complete with a metal canopy made the ideal photographer’s camper.

Knowing my parents, if Brett Weston had already called it “Covered Wagon,” they might have named it something else. It seems like an Ardis and Philip Hyde name, but you never know. I seem to remember my mother saying, “We’ve always called it our Covered Wagon.” Whether Brett Weston gave it the name or gave it another name, and which of his many journeys he took the truck on, is yet to be discovered. Regardless, after the pickup came from Carmel to the Northern Sierra Nevada, it did not stay home for long. Fate ordained it would be a traveling truck for many years, even after I was born in 1965.

I knew Covered Wagon well. By the time I grew to the age I would remember anything though, the old dark-green truck was going on 20 years old and had long since shed its silver corrugated metal rounded shell that made it look like a covered wagon. By the 1970s our old friend had been relegated to local trips to buy groceries and hauling horse manure, hay and rocks for the garden. Besides gardening, landscaping and building supplies, Covered Wagon had become primarily a wooding truck with tall wooden framed-in sides for the back end. I loved that old truck. It had running boards and the spare tire on the side behind the flared front wheel well.

You would often spot similar trucks in the rural area where I grew up in the Northern Sierra Nevada, California. These brother and sister trucks were sometimes lowered, sometimes raised with huge wide tires, brightly painted in orange, red or yellow with decals of flames on the sides, extra long chrome tail pipes and spoke rims. They made a sputtering, rumbling sound that exploded into the noise of a 50-caliber machine gun when their driver stomped on the gas and screeched the tires for 50 yards. Whenever I went with my mom to shovel barnyard cargoes, older kids that I looked up to would come over and say, “Wow, what a cool truck. You could really do something with this. Put in a 4-barrel carb, raise the hood, metallic paint, new rims, bad man.”

As a boy who felt inadequate in many ways, especially in junior high school, I wanted my parents to give Covered Wagon to me so that I could “jack it up” and attain the status of cool. My parents did hold on to Covered Wagon much longer than most vehicles they bought new, owned for exactly 10 years and sold. When Mom and Dad finally did sell it to a local guy who liked old trucks, while I was away at prep school in the early 1980s, I made a big protest, even though I had outgrown my hot-rodding fantasies by then. It was the end of an era.

Even so, I wish my parents somehow could have kept that old truck. I would still have it today. I never went with them on any long trips in it, but I loved it just the same because of all the memories of shorter trips. For more memories of eventually being able to work with my father see the blog post, “Memories of Finally Working With Dad.”

Covered Wagon, as you shall soon read in Dad’s own words, made its maiden Philip Hyde photographic journey in 1955 to Grand Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Dinosaur National Monument and elsewhere in the West, shortly after it left off wandering with Brett Weston. Covered Wagon was a loyal, faithful comrade to my family for many years. So without further  ado, here’s Philip Hyde’s Covered Wagon Journal as first published in the Sierra Club Bulletin in December 1956…

Covered Wagon Journal

Extracts from a Summer Journal of Travels Through the Western National Parks and Monuments

By Philip Hyde

In June 1955, my wife and I set out in our newly acquired camping pickup to find out how a summer of being on the move would help us to accomplish our prime purpose of studying and interpreting photographically the western natural scene. Our plans were flexibly hitched to a series of Sierra Club outings. What follows is a collection of extracts from our trip journals of some of the high points of our summer.

(See the photograph full screen: Click Here.)

Capitol Reef from Cohab Canyon, Capital Reef National Park, Utah, 1978, by Philip Hyde. Nationally exhibited and first published in “Drylands: The Deserts of North America” by Philip Hyde. Some say this is a stronger, more majestic image than an earlier photograph made from the same location published in “Slickrock: The Canyon Country of Southeast Utah” by Edward Abbey and Philip Hyde.

June 7. From our sandy bedsite by the Colorado River at Hite, Utah, we are recalling the activities of the past two days. Yesterday morning we got aboard a school bus at Marble Canyon Lodge, Arizona, for the climb over the edge of the Kaibab Plateau, and north, to Richfield, Utah, where we turned off the highway into some of the most colorful scenery of the Southwest. Last night we watched the moon flood its rising light over the great white and red cliffs of Capitol Reef National Monument. This morning, after a brief sampling of the Monument, we got back on the bus to rattle on through the heart of the uranium country. In every direction the landscape is punctuated by claim-marking cairns. Will any stones be left unturned before the tide of the uranium madness recedes in this once remote and austerely beautiful desert wilderness?

(In 1970 Edward Abbey helped start Black Mesa Defense Fund to keep uranium mining off of Navajo and Hopi lands on Black Mesa. In 1971 the Sierra Club published Slickrock: The Canyon Country of Southeast Utah by Edward Abbey and Philip Hyde in the Exhibit Format Series to assist in a campaign to protect the delicate desert landscapes of the region. For more on Edward Abbey and Black Mesa Defense Fund read the blog post, “Who Was Edward Abbey?”)

June 13. We started our walk up Aztec Canyon to Rainbow Bridge under heavy overcast. There is a wonderful passage where Bridge Canyon cuts through the walls of Aztec Canyon. One of the choicest bits of canyon we have seen, this proves to be the precise spot where the Bureau of Reclamation proposes to build a cut-off dam to protect Rainbow Bridge from the waters that will be impounded by Glen Canyon Dam. Entering Bridge Canyon we walked on to the grand climax of the Glen Canyon trip. Rainbow Bridge’s mighty, free-standing arch was as impressive in the overcast lighting as it might have been in sunlight.

(For more about Rainbow Bridge and the making of the color photograph of it that appeared in the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series Book Navajo Wildlands: As Long As The Rivers Shall Run, see the blog post, “The Making Of Rainbow Bridge From The Upstream Side.”)

June 14. We were thoroughly awakened at 4:30 a.m. by a crescendo in the chorus of rain that had been constant for most of the night. A short time after it began, it was coming into the tent in wholesale quantities. A large rock falling off the ledge above us tore a huge gap in the tent and we were forced to leave. Fortunately, it hit to one side, missing us. As we ran toward shelter under some large boulders, we heard an ominous roaring, and looked up to see a full-blown waterfall cascading down into what had been the camp kitchen. But for the quick thinking of some of those who had been sleeping close to the kitchen, much of our equipment and supplies might have been carried into the Colorado River…

(CONTINUED IN BLOG POST, “Covered Wagon Journal 2“)

Covered Wagon is also mentioned in the blog post, “What Urban Exploration Photography Learned From Nature.”

Did you have a favorite vehicle growing up? What kind of rig do you use for photography or other work you do?

The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth of Modern Environmentalism 1

January 24th, 2010

Steamboat Rock, Echo Park, Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado, 1951, by Philip Hyde, published in “This Is Dinosaur” edited by Pulitzer Prize winner, Wallace Stegner.

(See the photograph full screen: Click Here.)

The Campaign to Keep Dams Out of Dinosaur National Monument and the Birth of Modern Environmentalism in the United States 1

Revised April 5, 2006

San Francisco emerged from the Depression before World War II and flourished as the financial hub for development of the Western United States. In 1945 Bank of America became the largest bank in the world. Bechtel built Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River in the early 1960’s, and by the 1970’s developed into the largest privately held corporation in the world.

Just up the hill from Kaiser, Bank of America, Bechtel, Utah Mining and Construction and others in San Francisco’s financial district, stood the Mill Towers headquarters of what developers called the “enemies of progress,” the Sierra Club. Before the 1950’s the Sierra Club had only a few thousand members, but in just two decades its numbers soared into the hundreds of thousands. While the West boomed after the War, the conservation movement transformed into modern environmentalism; adding the twist of public pressure through media, tourism, letter writing and lobbying on the national level of politics to the land protection ideals of the early conservationists such as writer and activist, Henry David Thoreau and John Muir, explorer, author and founder of the Sierra Club. Those who knew him said John Muir died of heartbreak over the loss of Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park to the dam builders. Hetch Hetchy, sister Valley to Yosemite, before the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation commissioned a dam and flooded it, once contained waterfalls and verdant grottos lush with native grasses, trees, waterfowl and wildlife. The Sierra Club leaders after John Muir vowed to never let such a tragedy happen again.

Today, in the new millennium, an international trend toward removing dams is gaining momentum because dams rarely pay for themselves economically. Most dams, especially the larger ones, are economic losers without even factoring in the tremendous cost to ecosystems, fishing, tourism and other industries. Today scientists know that rivers are the heart of the limited fresh water cycle on planet Earth. My dad, landscape photographer Philip Hyde, often ranted about “Big Dam Foolishness.” He was one of the first to say that tomorrow’s wars would be over water and other limited resources. Dad came of age in the same era as the Sierra Club and corporate America, two opposing forces that would shape his career and life.

After the Japanese dragged the U.S. into World War II by attacking Pearl Harbor, Dad, like many young men then, enlisted in the Army Air Corp. He did not begin service until the fall of 1943 because he had been enrolled in San Francisco City College. He took photography classes, but he was much more inclined toward his flight training courses because he wanted to be a pilot.

In the days leading up to the War, Martin Litton, later a prominent Sierra Club leader, famous river guide and pilot, wrote travel and editorial features for the Los Angeles Times. Martin Litton today is still an activist at age 94. He travels, speaks and writes articles for the campaign against logging Giant Sequoia trees in Sequoia National Monument, which is administered by the Bureau of Land Management rather than the National Park Service, and is next to Sequoia National Park. He said that before World War II, “the entire region of Glen Canyon and the Colorado River all the way up to the town of Escalante was proposed as Escalante National Park by FDR and the sexy-movie-star-turned-U.S. Congresswoman from California Helen Gahagan Douglas.”

In A Story That Stands Like a Dam, Russell Martin explained that the Roosevelt administration planned to “establish an enormous new preserve straddling the Colorado River and reaching from Lee’s Ferry, near the Utah-Arizona border, north and east all the way to the town of Moab, Utah, on the main stem of the river, and up the arm of the Green almost as far as the town of Green River, Utah. It would encompass 280 miles of the Colorado’s winding canyons, including all of Glen and Cataract canyons, 150 miles of the San Juan River, 4.5 million acres in all.”

The political climate changed during World War II and Escalante National Park died before it could become more than a proposal. “A lot of dirty work was done during the War,” Martin Litton said. “Various parts of government had projects up their sleeve that they wanted to do, but the public would not let them. They waited until the public was distracted or away and then they did things like the road through the paradise that was Malibu Canyon.” Michael Cohen in The History of the Sierra Club explained that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in 1943 had obtained “permission to survey a dam site within Dinosaur National Monument, on the grounds of national security and the need for power.” Dinosaur National Monument straddled the Utah-Colorado border at the upper end of the Colorado basin on the Green River and Yampa River, tributaries to the Colorado River. During the War 134 potential dam sites on the Colorado watershed became part of a study the Bureau of Reclamation published in 1946 called The Colorado River: A Comprehensive Report on the Development of Water Resources.

The same year, Dad freshly “separated” from the Army Air Corp and safely back in San Francisco, enrolled in the first summer class of Ansel Adams’ newly founded Photography Department at the California School of Fine Arts, later renamed the San Francisco Art institute. Also in 1946, Dad took classes at the University of California Berkeley where he fell in love with my mother, Ardis Marie King, of Sacramento. They married at the Clairmont Hotel in Berkeley on June 29, 1947.

Meanwhile three states away, in the remote northeast corner of Utah…

(CONTINUED IN BLOG POST, “Dinosaur: Birth of Modern Environmentalism 2“)