How The Photograph, ‘Junipers, Wall, Escalante Wilderness’ From Slickrock With Edward Abbey, Became ‘Hyde’s Wall, Escalante Wilderness’ Now The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah
Guest Blog Post By Natural Historian And Landscape Photographer Of The Western U.S., Stephen Trimble
LP Blogger On Stephen Trimble:
Writer and photographer Stephen Trimble won the Ansel Adams Award for photography and conservation for his book, The Sagebrush Ocean: A Natural History of the Great Basin Stephen Trimble lives in Salt Lake City and in Southern Utah’s redrock country just outside of Torrey near Capitol Reef National Park. For more about his books, his conservation projects and other work visit his website at www.stephentrimble.net. Stephen Trimble is author of over 20 books on the natural West including
photographs by Philip Hyde and the last living interview of the master landscape photographer. Stephen Trimble teaches writing in the University of Utah Honors College and spent the 2008-2009 academic year as a Wallace Stegner Centennial Fellow at the University of Utah’s Tanner Humanities Center. The Lasting Light Exhibition has been on a national tour with the Smithsonian Institute since 2006, when the show opened at the Historic Kolb Studio, father’s day weekend after Philip Hyde passed away.
By Stephen Trimble
In the long-ago spring of 1976, the side canyons of Utah’s Escalante River were more remote than they are now, and they are still pretty remote. My two buddies and I had driven without incident in our hand-me-down family sedans across the Circle Cliffs to the Moody Creek trailhead. We found no other vehicles parked at the end of the road. Once we set off on foot, we weren’t expecting to see anyone else for the next week.
As a college student, I had pretty much memorized the Sierra Club exhibit format books. I aspired to photograph like Philip Hyde and Eliot Porter and Ansel Adams. Though I used a 35 mm camera rather than their large-format view cameras, I knew I could learn a lot from thinking—and seeing—like they did. And I respected with all my heart their dedication to saving wild places.
I knew Philip Hyde’s photographs in Slickrock, the 1971 Sierra Club book he created with Edward Abbey on the southern Utah Canyon Country, and when I photographed in Capitol Reef and the Escalante, Hyde’s eye influenced what I framed in my viewfinder. I had always harbored a secret wish to stumble on the patch of lichened sandstone he chose for the cover of Slickrock.
Instead, I found Hyde’s Wall.
My friends and I made camp at the junction of East Moody Canyon and the Escalante. In the lengthening iridescent light of late afternoon we wandered up East Moody Canyon. Each rounding curve brought new walls. Desert varnish streaked the crossbedded sandstone, black swaths across lavender and vermillion. Here, the color fields of Rothko; there, the bold strokes of Franz Kline.
One wall in particular drew me. I moved my tripod this way and that, aiming my camera past piñons and junipers to a canyon wall reflecting purples and mauves, textured with fractures and cracks. The light had bounced down between canyon walls from the sky and the stars, distilled to an unbelievable saturation. I had never seen such surreal and intense colors. As I wandered back to camp, I realized that this just might be the very same wall Philip Hyde had photographed for Slickrock: Endangered Canyons of the Southwest with Edward Abbey and for Philip Hyde’s Glen Canyon Portfolio. I was intensely curious to see if my hunch was correct, but of course I couldn’t verify the match until I had my slides back from processing and I had the book in my hand. Once verified, the fact that we had both found our way to this inspirational wall in the middle of nowhere struck me as incredibly cool and serendipitous.
In 1979, I first published my version of the East Moody wall in its desert-varnished sunset splendor, in my first book with a spine: The Bright Edge: A Guide to the National Parks of the Colorado Plateau Not long afterwards, I heard back from friends who were with Philip Hyde when he first picked up a copy of The Bright Edge and saw my version of his wall—and they reported that he wasn’t pleased. So I contacted Philip to make amends, and I started captioning the photo “Hyde’s Wall” as a tribute whenever I had control of captions—most notably in Blessed By Light: Visions of the Colorado Plateau (1986).
Years later, I had the wonderful opportunity and honor to interview Philip by phone for my book, Lasting Light: 125 Years of Grand Canyon Photography in December 2005, just three months before his death in March 2006. He was still passionate, still inspiring. He told me that he was down there photographing in the Grand Canyon in the 1960s and 70s “because we wanted to keep the dam builders out,” but the place itself was most important: “Here was this magnificent canyon full of wonderful things to photograph. It’s a matter of seeing, not deciding where you are going to photograph but just looking around, opening your eyes.”
I often have quoted Philip Hyde’s preface to Slickrock, in which he articulated the wilderness photographer’s fear:
The focus of this book is on a part of Earth that is still almost as it was before man began to tinker with the land… Telling thousands about it—to get their help in what must be a prolonged struggle to keep it wild—is a calculated risk…. I have some hesitation in showing more people its delightful beauty—hesitation born of the fear that this place, like so many others of great beauty in our country, might be loved to death, even before being developed to death. So, if our book moves you to visit the place yourself sometime, first make sure you add your voice to those seeking its protection.
For every place, Philip Hyde said, “There will always be people that want to exploit it, and there will always be people—hopefully—that want to save it and keep it as it is.” Better to publish your photographs and rally the troops. What’s in the frame of the photograph matters artistically, to be sure, but what’s outside the frame can destroy it. The generation that followed—including myself—knew that the Grand Canyon was saved from dams, in part, by Philip Hyde’s photographs. We knew the power of nature photography. And we have tried to live up to his legacy.
Landscape Photography Blogger Note: In 2012, this kind of inadvertent image similarity happens more regularly than it did in 1976 because many, many times the number of landscape photographers are out exploring the wilderness now; not to mention that many, many times more landscape photographs exist in the collective psyche as well. Discover more about Slickrock and Philip Hyde’s collaboration with Edward Abbey in the blog post, “Who Was Edward Abbey?” and under the blog post tag Edward Abbey: Blog posts that mention Edward Abbey.