Glen Canyon Lament By Philip Hyde 3

December 17th, 2010 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »
Landscape Photography Blogger’s 100th Blog Post started a short three part series on Glen Canyon by Philip Hyde…

A Lament for Glen Canyon by Philip Hyde, Part 3

Continued from the blog post, “Glen Canyon Lament by Philip Hyde 2.”

Originally published in The Living Wilderness magazine September 1980

‘Lake’ Powell’s Coyote Gulch Invasion Brings a Flood of Painful Memories

By Contributing Editor Philip Hyde

Escalante River Near Willow Canyon, Glen Canyon, Utah, 1964 by Philip Hyde.

(To see the photograph full screen Click Here.)

I was introduced to the canyon country in 1951 as the controversy over the Upper Colorado River Storage Project was warming. I was commissioned by the Sierra Club to find out what was in Dinosaur, and bring back photographs of it. On the way home, I had glimpses of other parts of the canyon country: following the wheel tracks of uranium trucks on the then primitive road through Monument Valley, and a stop at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. I remember well the landscape shock that the early geologist Dutton said comes to those from well watered regions when they first confront the Plateau Province. The heat, haze and dryness that dulled my mind, fogged the shadows of my photographs and obscured the vast distances were still leaving their imprint on me when I made my first river trip through Glen Canyon four years later, but there were more important things leaving their imprints, too. The light! The bare rock forms of the land, and the color! These began to impress me more than the discomforts and initial strangeness. Those early impressions formed the core of my feeling for this country and programmed me for my continuing preoccupation with it.

In the spring of 1962, several years after politics had decided that the main artery of the wild Colorado would be bled for kilowatts, I backpacked in to Rainbow Bridge to help in a study that sought ways of protecting this magnificent natural span of stone from the coming encroachment of the reservoir. Later, in June, a second float trip from Hite to Lee’s Ferry really got me into Glen Canyon. Our itinerary was made up of places that must be seen for the last time, for a short time later the gates of Glen Canyon Dam’s diversion tunnels were to be closed and the great canyon condemned to drown.

In 1964, I got my first real look at Escalante Canyon and its tributaries on the last half of a trip that started out as a wake for Glen Canyon. Paddling off from Wahweap on 200-plus feet of water, we floated over the roof of Music Temple and peered through the green water trying vainly to see the great overhang in Moqui Canyon, marked now only by the top of the curve. Floating through the narrows of Aztec Canyon, we landed a short distance below Rainbow Bridge and strode up to pay our respects.

Continuing up the lake, as we entered between the high walls of the Escalante Arm we watched a great sand dune collapsing, undercut by the rising waters. We found Clear Creek just out of the rising pool below the entrance to the Cathedral in the Desert, so we saw the Cathedral pristine, but we learned later that summer that the water had come in and flushed out the lovely green moss carpet on the floor of that great vaulted stone chamber. This June, the last vestiges of the Cathedral were flooded.

We boated past the entrances of half-drowned Davis Gulch and Soda Gulch—too late—straining to imagine their vanishing beauty. In Soda Gulch, we found the water lapping at the base of Gregory Natural Bridge—one named glory among uncounted unnamed glories flickering out.

That sample of the Escalante River Canyon made me want to see more of it, but I wanted to explore a part that wasn’t condemned. So when the opportunity came a few years later to walk down the Escalante River from Harris Wash and back out through Coyote Gulch, I leapt at it. Finding arches and grottoes, plunge pools and great overhanging walls, small waterfalls and desert varnished cliffs—two marvelous weeks of it—was like finding again an old friend you’d thought dead.

You ask me to tell you why the flooding of Coyote’s mouth is a blow? I can only answer that it is quite possible to love a piece of country as one would love a friend, and grieve perhaps nearly as much when it is taken from you.

Twice I have returned to Escalante-Coyote country since that walk down the river. A number of times I have just driven by the edge to look into it, on the way to somewhere else. Wherever I travel in the canyon country, I find myself comparing new impressions to those first excited glimpses, much as you might compare new loves with your first romance. Emotional? Yes, but what finer emotion is there than love? This planet needs more of its people’s love, and less of some other emotions such as greed, or mankind may cease to be its people.

I am not really worried about the planet. It has survived countless cataclysms over the eons of geologic time, and I am certain it can survive the worst that humans can do to it. The planet does not need us as much as we need it. We need unpolluted air and water. We need the life support systems that nature provides. Man, with all his expensive, high-powered technology, can only imitate. And we need the spiritual stimulus that wilderness gives us to continue to grow as humans. The “good life” must include wild nature for our spirits, as well as unfouled nests, or mankind will simply become one of history’s extinct species. So, burn another candle to the memory of Glen Canyon, and listen to the bells, as John Donne urges. They toll for you and me.

To read more about and view Philip Hyde’s landscape photography of Glen Canyon see the blog post, “Glen Canyon Portfolio.”

Afterward (December 2010)

“Lake” Powell after taking 17 years to reach full capacity in 1980 remained more or less full for less than 15 years. Starting with droughts in the late 1990s, and reaching an all-time low in 2003-2004, the water level in Glen Canyon ranges between 50 and 100 feet down from its 1980 apogee. Experts now say that “Lake” Powell will most probably never fill completely again, due to evaporation, over-commitment of Colorado River water, recurring droughts and climate change. A movement is gaining momentum for removing dams that destroy river ecosystems and do not live up to their economic promises. See the blog post, “A River Will Run Through It.” Future blog posts will also include reviews of two new books on Glen Canyon that offer the history and a new outlook for the future:

1. Ghosts of Glen Canyon: History beneath Lake Powell by C. Gregory Crampton, foreward by Edward Abbey with 15 color photographs by Philip Hyde, 2009, University of Utah Press.

2. Resurrection: Glen Canyon and a New Vision for the American West by Annette McGivney, foreward by Bill McKibben with photographs by James Kay and “Cathedral In The Desert” by Philip Hyde, 2009, Braided River Press.



  1. pj says:

    Wise words from your father, especially about the survival of earth.

    We don’t need to save the earth. Like he said, it will survive our antics. What we need to save is that interconnected life-support system that makes life as we know it possible. If that breaks down we’re done. We do seem to have a hard time grasping that, don’t we?

  2. Hi PJ, thank you for the comment. I always thought this was one of his most insightful statements, but the idea has not been picked up on, or the quote spread around. I think it is a little much for people. We have a hard time coming to terms with the probability that we will above all else specifically and exclusively cause our own destruction if we continue on the path we’re on. Environmental groups seem to want to keep the discussion centered on the destruction of our surroundings, mainly the flora and fauna, which is understandable, but making the connection that this is leading to our own demise gives a stronger warning to the selfish and greedy, i.e. all of us who participate in the petroleum economy, in my opinion.

  3. Greg Russell says:

    Reading your Dad’s writing is making me want to take a creative writing class to improve my own writing skills. He writes about this place with such sentiment, its difficult not to be moved, infuriated, and engaged while reading.

    You and PJ have some great points above. As a parent, I’d like to add that while I know the earth will survive, I’d like some of our natural wonders to survive long enough to instill a sense of reverence in my son.

    Sorry I’ve been absent, David; the day job has really kept me hopping…

  4. Hi Greg, I appreciate your participation when and as you can do it. I get swamped with other projects too and can’t always stay up with comments and commenting, though the community it creates is quite enjoyable and rewarding. It is great to hear that you are moved by Dad’s writing. This kind of article is where he was at his best. Some of his writing could have been better in my opinion, but in many cases his writing was superb. When he was fired up about something he could be very persuasive. Writing is an important tool for photographers. Part of what made Galen Rowell so well-known and widely acclaimed was his superb writing. Ditto with Ansel Adams, Robert Adams and others. Good writing about photography or the places one is protecting, in Dad’s case, is part of what takes a photographer to the top. Edward Weston was famous for his Daybooks, the list goes on… You are blessed with a wonderful family, Greg. Though I have yet to have any, I have always been interested in children and future generations myself, much like my father. He was strongly motivated by what life would be like for our children’s children. I can understand you wishing your offspring to have inspirations and influences from the natural world as you have had. This is perhaps a grain of something you can write about. Dad liked to write about his family, but did it in a limited way. He kept his public photography work and private family life separate, except where they obviously overlapped, which I see the wisdom of in his case. However, I have seen other photographers integrate their families with their creative expression quite effectively.

  5. The last paragraph and in particular this line is most significant and inspirational for me:

    “And we need the spiritual stimulus that wilderness gives us to continue to grow as humans.”

    This pretty much summaries why I love spending my time in nature, and your father has said it so eloquently. This is something many of us are forgetting and you can see the ramifications all around us. Let’s hope the movement to remove the dams actually becomes a reality, and as Greg said above, not so much for me, but for my 7 yr old son who will have to deal with much of our arrogance in his lifetime.

    Absolutely love the photo btw – beautiful tonalities and composition…much to learn.

  6. Hi Robert, thank you for your observations about Dad’s words. At least now there are more and more people like you who are receptive to his message. Also, the movement to remove dams is definitely a reality. Hundreds of dams have been removed around the country and more around the world. The blog post, “A River Will Run Through It” gives examples and links. Of course there are colossal exceptions in certain places where huge dams are still being built, such as China and Russia, but generally the trend is by a large majority going in the other direction, which is good news as rivers are the heart’s main arteries in the world’s ecosystem.

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