Glen Canyon Portfolio 3

April 14th, 2011 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

Glen Canyon Portfolio 3

Photographer’s Comment From The Original Vintage Black And White Glen Canyon Portfolio

Continued from the blog post, “Glen Canyon Portfolio 2.”

By Philip Hyde

Cathedral In The Desert (Horizontal), Glen Canyon, Utah, 1964 by Philip Hyde.

(See the photograph full screen Click Here.)

My involvement with the Colorado Plateau province and its centerpiece, the Colorado River, began in 1951 when I was commissioned by the Sierra Club to find out and to photographically document what was in Dinosaur National Monument, particularly along the Yampa River and Green River, that would be impacted by the dams proposed in the Upper Colorado River Storage Project.

It was a tough assignment for a fledgling photographer whose only other exposure to the landscape of the Colorado Plateau province had been as a boy on a visit to Grand Canyon. My work up to that time had been in the well-watered forests and mountains of the Pacific Coast, and I was at first a victim of the landscape shock Dutton speaks of in his Tertiary History of the Grand Canyon Region. I had to learn how to cope, both physically and photographically, with the heat, haze, and dryness that dulled the mind, fogged the shadow, and made the distances disappear.

I needed more time to digest what I saw in the arid lands, and besides I still had a love affair going with mountains. It wasn’t until 1955 that I went back to accompany a Sierra Club group that floated the length of Glen Canyon from Hite to Lees Ferry. One of the high points of this trip, oddly enough, was the prelude, a two-day school bus ride around the canyon overland from Lees Ferry to the start of the river trip at Hite. The frustration of being imprisoned on a bus going through such radically different and beautiful country was so great that it etched that country in my mind and programmed me to spend the next twenty-plus years trying to find some of those retinal images that had rushed past too fast, unfixed on film. Leaving Lees Ferry we scanned the Vermillion Cliffs while climbing up the edge of the Kaibab, then the White Cliffs while climbing the Southern Utah plateaus; we then made the long descent down the slopes of Thousand Lake Mountain through Capitol Reef, past the soft gray shales of Caineville, into the deepening, sinuous White Canyon to Hite and the Colorado River.

In my memory of the river trip, nights on rocks radiating too much heat for sleeping are mingled with days of growing awe of the strange forms of this stone country. My awareness of water as a miracle was born in the shining trickles in canyon bottoms and the sudden springs that gushed out of rock as though piped through the water bearing Navajo Sandstone. These imprints went deep. This landscape took hold of me, in spite of physical discomforts and the initial visual strangeness.

An opportunity for a closer look at a piece of Glen came in the spring of 1962, when I joined a backpack expedition into Rainbow Bridge whose purpose was to study the possibility of building a small dam to prevent the reservoir’s waters from undermining Rainbow Bridge’s sandstone base.

Later, in June, I joined another float trip, this time with fewer people and a slower pace that provided better opportunities for making photographs. The collection made on this trip provided a majority of the photographs in this portfolio. A high point was climbing to the top of Rainbow Bridge at David Brower’s urging, with his climbing expertise to assure success.

Glen Canyon Dam was nearly finished at this point; a short time after the trip, the gates of the diversion tunnels were closed to begin the filling of “Lake” Powell.

Two years later, in 1964, I participated in a wake for Glen Canyon. Starting near the dam on two hundred feet of water, we floated over Music Temple and passed over the Great Overhang in Moki Canyon well known to river travelers, but now barely traceable by the top of its great curve. We boated through the narrows of Aztec Creek, floating over what had been a most beautiful stream junction, with small, sculptured pools in lovely curves linked by a trickle of water. Landing a short distance below Rainbow Bridge, we walked past groups of people in yachting clothes to pay our respects to the now domesticated bridge. We then returned to our raft to push out of the narrows past some small boats in a cove cowering from the howling gale roaring across the reservoir’s open water; such gales were unknown on the river with its high, sheltering walls. Oh, there were some healthy winds on the river, but they gave you a choice: if blowing downstream, you could continue; if blowing upstream, you found the nearest sandbar, made camp, and hoped the wind would abate after sundown.

Continuing up the stormy “lake,” we entered the Escalante arm, crossed its flooded lower reaches to Clear Creek while marveling at the sheer height of the canyon walls, and walked the remaining mile of canyon above slack water into the Cathedral in the Desert. This place was not drowned yet, but later that summer we learned that the water had come in for the first time and flushed out the floor, destroying the lovely rich green moss carpet the ages had furnished.

Investigating half-drowned Davis Gulch and Soda Gulch, we floated past half-submerged entrances, straining to imagine their lost beauty, up to the point where the boat grated on sand at water’s edge; then we walked up canyon as far as we could. In Soda we found the water lapping at the base of Gregory Natural Bridge, a named glory among uncounted, unnamed glories flickering out.

In subsequent trips to the Colorado Plateau province, I have passed the remnants of Glen Canyon to go on to happier places to walk and photograph. Somehow, the passing of Glen Canyon gave me a better reason to see as much of the province as I could, before all of it changed. These trips took me to the Grand Canyon, Navajoland, slickrock country – Escalante, Waterpocket Fold, Canyonlands – from the edge of the Great Basin to the feet of the Rocky Mountains.  Subconsciously I always kept looking for something as fine as Glen Canyon, holding my memories of Glen Canyon up to new country as a standard for color, sculpture, and fineness of detail.

My search confirms an early belief that Glen Canyon was one of the two grand climaxes of the land of the sediments, both born of the river. The other, kindred though quite different, but not less glorious, is Grand Canyon. One is flooded. The other, owing its life to the sacrifice of the flooded one, still lives.

To read an impassioned essay by Philip Hyde on the failings of the Glen Canyon Dam project see the blog post, “Lament For Glen Canyon By Philip Hyde 1.” To read about Canyonlands National Park and other areas of the land of sediments see the blog post, “Earth Day Celebration Of Ardis And Philip Hyde And Canyonlands.”



  1. Greg Russell says:

    This is a fantastic commentary, David; I’m happy to see you continuing it so soon after the last installment!

    Its interesting to read your Dad saying how he had a little trouble warming up to the Colorado Plateau photographically–or at least trouble learning to cope with it. I feel the same way when I go to the dense forests and ocean. Regardless, I can sympathize with his need to digest the place…that area can be a tough stone to swallow, so to speak.

    The last couple of paragraphs speak volumes, too.


  2. Hi Greg, thanks for the feedback. I have been thinking it would be preferable in general to post follow up blog posts in more frequent succession. My father often talked about how the Sierra Nevada and other mountain ranges of the West Coast States exhibit a clear and obvious beauty. When photographing them Ansel Adams statement applies, “A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” While this is also often true in the Southwestern deserts, it is not as simply applied. Dad found that an unusual camera position, arrangement for a close up or other adjustments were often necessary. The desert is often stark and the beauty very subtle. Making the selection of what to include and exclude without the resulting image looking like every other desert landscape can be more challenging than merely pointing the camera at a beautiful mountain and lake scene. Even though the mountain and lake scene may also look like many other photographs, this is often forgiven by the viewer if the mountain landscape is different from others he or she has seen. Whereas the red rocks of Utah look much like the red rocks of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, Mexico or any other province with desert lands. Desert landscape photography for my father was more about finding nuances in various color shades or unusual arrangements of shapes more than discovering uncharted grand scenes of beauty, though he did a fair amount of the latter in both deserts and mountains.

  3. pj says:

    Love the post. It’s interesting to read your dad’s own words about his experiences. I’m sure learning to cope visually with unfamiliar surroundings is pretty common. I know I’ve struggled with it in the past, and still do.

  4. Thank you, PJ. It appears you’re going through that some now. I personally find the idea of photographing in Los Angeles just as exhilarating as in the wilderness, but I am still somewhat green in some ways and am at times playing the counterpart role to my father. On the other hand, my impression from your blog and our conversations is that your passion is more inclined toward northern wilderness landscapes. Nonetheless, you seem to be adjusting well as your images of the Southland are turning out wonderfully.

  5. pj says:

    Thank you David.

    You’re right — I’m much more tuned in to northern landscapes, but hopefully my fascination with abstract patterns, funky buildings, and other interesting things I see on the streets will serve me well once I really get my feet on the ground here.

  6. That’s what I noticed about you too PJ. You have a trained eye that picks up beauty in old doors, walls and all sorts of objects besides the natural scene.

  7. Wonderful post, David. This is one of my favorite photographs of your father’s. The majesty of the canyon walls is awe-inspiring.

    I wonder if the word “gulch” is strictly an American word.


  8. Hi Sharon, I appreciate your visit here. Cathedral In The Desert must have been incredibly beautiful before the canyon walls were caked with “Lake” Powell sediment. Even though most of Cathedral In The Desert is now out of the water due to a succession of droughts that have caused the reservoir to recede, it may take years, perhaps decades for the mud to wash off. Good question about the word “gulch.” Were your European blogging friends unfamiliar with the word? I just looked “gulch” up in the giant print Webster’s dictionary which says the word came from the Middle English “gulchen” meaning deep cleft.

  9. Greg Russell says:

    I definitely can sympathize with the “honeymoon” period of getting to know a new place photographically. Sometimes, I also notice that I have trouble connecting–photographically at least–with places I know quite well.

  10. Hi Greg, interesting what you say about getting to know a new place and connecting with familiar places photographically. I sometimes don’t connect to places I know well photographically because in some instances I find myself mistakenly thinking that I have photographed everything there is to photograph, which of course is impossible. I notice that other photographers make this same miscalculation, even the most seasoned professionals.

  11. By the time the river enters the Grand Canyon at its altitude has fallen to 3 110 feet dropping over one mile since its beginning. The river will drop another 2 200 f.eet before it reaches the other end of the Grand Canyon the 277 miles away…The river contains alternating sections of rapids and calm sections. The rapids represent only 10 percent of the rivers total length through the Grand Canyon but are responsible for more than half of the total drop in altitude…The Colorado River was originally named Rio Colorado or Red River by the Spanish.

  12. Thanks Business Daily, interesting information. The Colorado River after being named the Rio Colorado by the Spanish went through another period when it was named the Grand River through the Grand Canyon. John Wesley Powell had something to do with the naming at some point, but I don’t remember how it later became the Colorado River all the way from headwaters in the state of Colorado to the Sea of Cortez, or the Gulf of California in Mexico. I suppose it is easy enough to look up.

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