Nature Magazine: East Of Zion 2

July 21st, 2011 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

East Of Zion By Philip Hyde, Part 2

Continued from the blog post, “Nature Magazine: East Of Zion 1.”

Originally published by Nature Magazine, March 1957

(Nature Magazine was published by the American Nature Association and taken over by Natural History Magazine in 1960.)

Mission of Nature Magazine: “To stimulate public interest in every phase of nature and the outdoors, and devoted to the practical conservation of the great natural resources of America.”

A Glimpse of the Geology of Zion National Park:

Celebrating The Divine Artistry Of Falling Water Through Deep Canyons

By Philip Hyde

Cascade, Tributary To Clear Creek, Zion National Park, Utah, copyright 1978 by Philip Hyde. From "Drylands: The Deserts of North America." 4X5 Baby Deardorf Large Format View Camera. Original dye transfer prints, Original Cibachrome prints, archival digital prints by Carr Clifton.

(View the photograph large, “Cascade, Tributary To Clear Creek, Zion National Park, Utah, 1978.”

The great architect of this beautiful landscape is moving and falling water, and to this builder and remover of the landscape can be attributed the deep canyons of the region. The violence and power of moving water is often forcefully demonstrated during a summer thunderstorm. One of the writer’s earliest and most vivid recollections of travel in this area stems from a summer visit to Zion Canyon, when he arrived in the midst of a cloudburst. The violence of the storm was enough to justify repetition of Chicken Little’s oft-quoted exclamation: “The sky is falling!” I still have a vivid mental picture of the brown torrent that was the Virgin River, gnawing great chunks from its banks, ripping out trees, carrying debris before it in the surging current. After the climax of the storm passed, the raging water quickly abated, and within a few hours the brown flood disappeared, to be replaced by the river’s normally quiet murmurings.

Even during its quieter periods, however, the river is actively working on the confines of its bed. The low resistance of sandstone to erosion, combined with the steep gradients of the streams in this region, result in a rapid deepening of the stream canyons. Because of these two factors, the stream plays a lesser part in the process of widening the canyon. Seepage of ground water, direct action of rain water, and frosts produce the curves and crenelations that add so much to the sculptured beauty of the canyon walls.

The east side of Zion National Park displays progressive steps in the erosion cycle. In the beginning of this cycle, the land is relatively flat, illustrated by the present tops of plateaus. Where a stream gathers its waters from a small area, the stream remains small, probably runs only in response to rainfall, and manages to cut only a small canyon. The east Zion area contains many examples of this phenomenon; they are within walking distance of the highway, and can be more closely studied. In many respects these small streams are miniatures of the larger ones. They demonstrate processes and effects similar to those evidenced on a larger scale by their bigger brothers.

Another most interesting feature of the Zion region is the frequent occurrence of rock pedestals on the broad stone pavements near the highway. A closer examination of such pedestals reveals that they are capped by a material differing from the soft sandstone of the base; a layer of iron oxide that geologists believe was intruded, in solution into the sandstone. Since this material is harder, and therefore more resistant to erosive forces, it has protected the softer material directly beneath it while the surrounding material was being eroded away. So, when you look at these pedestals, you are really seeing a remnant of the layers of stone that formerly covered the presently exposed surface. The balance of this material has been carried away, either as wind-borne sand, or by stream action, to be deposited as part of a sandbar somewhere downstream. Or, perhaps it will find its way eventually to the sea, to be laid down as part of a delta at the Colorado River’s mouth.

In these pedestals, as in the rest of the landscape, can be read one of the grand lessons of geology—that Nature is not at rest, but is ever active, ever changing the face of the Earth; that even the stones, cold and dead to our eyes, have their own inner life and being. In the slow passage of geologic time, the surface we look at today will pass away to join its predecessors, each succeeding layer following in its turn, until Nature decrees a major change—such as has occurred we know not how many times past—to commence the cycle again at what men are pleased to call the beginning.



  1. pj says:

    Once again, a fine piece of writing. It’s truly an incredible legacy of words and photographs that your dad left you. It’s great to see you bringing it back to life for a whole new generation.

  2. Hi PJ, I am grateful to have regular readers like yourself who enjoy these writings. Maybe when I get some of my other projects further along or completed, I will be able to truly promote this blog the way it ought to be done to get the word out to more people. However, it seems to develop and grow its own following without as strong a push. Maybe that’s more in keeping with the way Dad did it anyway. He allowed his written and visual expression to speak for itself without an over amount of horn blowing. It is somewhat of a grass-roots up approach, which will eventually work just as well and probably be more solid.

  3. Sharon says:

    A beautiful photograph with a moving essay from your father, David – I very much enjoyed them. I ordered a couple of books through your Amazon link – Ghosts of Glen Canyon, which is very beautiful. I look forward to reading it and Slickrock by Edward Abbey with your dad’s work. Unfortunately, they sent me some mystery called Slickrock instead. I’ll have to try ordering again!! 🙂


  4. Hi Sharon, I appreciate your readership and compliments as well. Thank you for ordering through my link to Amazon. A heads up about ordering Dad’s books: I find that because they are out of print, older and often there are several editions, it is best to contact the seller ahead of time to double-check that what they’re selling is indeed the original hardbound edition. The original hardbound edition of Slickrock came out in 1971. There was also an original Sierra Club paperback edition that is worth even more as a collector’s item. The 1987 Gibbs Smith edition is also an oversize paperback and not as collectible as the original Sierra Club editions. Original publishing dates of the first editions of all of Dad’s major books can be found on under the INFO tab by clicking on “List of Books As Primary Photographer,” or just go here:

  5. Greg Russell says:

    I just never get enough of these journal entries, David. This one is no exception–lovely image AND writing.

    One thing that strikes me about Zion is that for a small park, there are endless images there, hidden deep in the canyons, not only off the main canyon, but off of the little drainages in the high country of the east and north. Your dad has images that have stood the test of time, and are not part of the repertoire, and I still haven’t seen such passionate writing about this place anywhere.

  6. Thank you, Greg. Zion National Park is one of those places that will never give the big scene copycat landscape photographer anything much worthwhile. It is a place one has to get to know, a place that only gives up its secrets after a few visits, or perhaps after some exploration at the least. It appears that you have paid your dues, my friend, having explored much of the park. You are earning your stripes and following in the footsteps of those who were the true LANDscape photographers, connected to the land.

  7. Derrick says:

    Allow me to echo the other’s thoughts – wonderfully written and that image is spectacular.

    Thanks for the sharing and the motivation!

  8. Much appreciated, Derrick. You seem plenty motivated to me. You are going great guns over there at “My Sight Picture.”

  9. Frank Field says:

    David — I can only second the earlier comments. Thanks again for continuing to share this wonderful legacy. Frank

  10. Hi Frank, thank you for your comment and Welcome to Landscape Photography Blogger. I just took a look at your photo blog. I appreciate your sensitivity and awareness of nature that shows up in your images. Interesting that you are a Winter Wildlife Docent at Point Reyes National Seashore. My father was the illustrator of the Sierra Club book “Island In Time: Point Reyes Peninsula,” that helped raise the funds to buy the ranches that made up Point Reyes National Seashore. Did you ever hear anything there about my father’s participation in the campaign to make the national seashore? Also, I noticed you showed your work a number of times in Gualala, California on the north Mendocino County Coast. My uncle Nick King was a long-time resident of Point Arena and I am fairly familiar with the area. He and 10 of his friends were part of the original “back to the land” movement, dropping out of the San Francisco hippie scene in the 1960s and moving to a remote plot of 100 acres in the middle of a redwood forest on either side of the Garcia River. The 10 of them bought the land for very little then, but with all those old growth redwoods on it and the Garcia River, the land is now worth a mint. They’re still a bunch of old hippies though, much the same, but much more financially secure than most hippies. Investing in land, putting down roots, building an orchard, a community and a shared garden in the mid 1900s was a good move, probably a good move even now. My uncle’s other claim to fame was that he was one of the organizers and builders of the Watts Towers in Los Angeles. He was a rebel and peaceful revolutionary: a great role model and inspiration to his nieces and nephews. What does this have to do with Zion National Park, landscape photography or Point Reyes? First of all there’s the common thread of connection to the land, secondly we are talking about the appreciation of place. My uncle Nick King and his land epitomize many of the people and settlers of the California north coast. In addition, connection to nature and roots, I feel, and my father felt, is an important part of nature and landscape photography, one that is often overlooked. It is good to see that you are involved with wildlife and nature and have spent time out there, rather than just taking Sunday drives looking for pretty pictures, not that Sunday drives are inherently wrong, but the quick trophy shoot mindset is unfortunately detrimental to landscape photography, in my opinion.

  11. Frank Field says:

    Hi David —

    I have recently seen and enjoyed a copy of your father’s book on Point Reyes. I think Point Reyes is a special place and all the more so given it is only 30 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge. Thanks to the work of your father and others, that special place was saved from suburban-like development that was about to descend on it in the early 1960s. The two model homes that were built are now used for park staff housing! Fortunately, development did not get beyond the two model homes.

    Part of the reason for volunteering at Point Reyes is also to learn more about the environment, flower and fauna of the west coast. I’m a relatively recent transplant from the east coast. I look forward to volunteering again next during next winter’s season.

    I don’t know of your uncle in Point Arena. PA continues to be a place that marches to its own tune and rhythms. People clearly are dedicated to their community. We enjoy doing some volunteer work there also.

    Thanks again for all you are doing with your blog. I have much enjoyed each post.


  12. Hi Frank, thank you for your interest in this blog and the volunteering you do for our National Park System. Sometimes people who move here from other areas of the country or world appreciate it more than native Californians.

  13. Greg Boyer says:

    Not much that I can add, I enjoy your fathers writing as well as yours also. Sounds like your uncle is quite the character.

  14. Thank you, Greg. My uncle WAS quite a character, to put it mildly. He was about as colorful as they come. I say “was” and I wrote the comment above as though he has not passed on yet. He hasn’t, but he has a worsening case of Alzheimer’s. He’s in a home for those in his condition and is almost 100 percent incoherent at this point. I guess his carrying a license for medicinal cannabis didn’t help as much as originally claimed. It’s hard to overcome the effects of various environmental toxins including amalgam mercury fillings, of which he had 19. If you do a little digging, it is interesting all the scientific evidence you can find linking environmental pollution to degenerative illnesses. All of it is, however, kept pretty quiet in the mainstream, big pharmaceutical and big industry supporting media. And, oh, by the way, the symptoms for mercury poisoning and for Alzheimer’s are identical. Probably just coincidence. The American Dental Association has said for years that amalgam fillings are safe, even though the FDA has recently for the first time taken the opposite position on amalgam mercury fillings in response to tremendous evidence and citizen pressure. In journalism school I learned, “There is no conspiracy. Just follow the money.”

  15. Greg Boyer says:

    If we had a government that was responsive to the needs of the public and not the needs of the corporate aristocracy we wouldn’t find ourselves in the position of being poisoned for profit. There is hope though, I heard today on NPR that there is a serious attempt to form a third party….Not Tea Party.
    Sorry your uncle has fallen to this particularly nasty disease. Just remember him as he was.

  16. Hi Greg, thank you for returning with these well-articulated points. I just read in one of the local Boulder, Colorado newspapers about a national grass roots movement to reverse the laws that give corporations the same rights as people. The time for a third party is way past due, but it is difficult to put together successfully in the US political theater. As for my uncle, he was his own political party. What you suggest is the trick, isn’t it? That’s what we have to do in these situations with degenerative illness, remember who they once were. My father also had Alzheimer’s in the last five years of his life, but luckily he did not progress to where my uncle is now. Interesting enough, Dad quit having hallucinations at night after we had his amalgam fillings removed. He ended up dying of a stroke, which saved his dignity. It does get much worse toward the end of the Alzheimer’s progression. I watched it happen to a long-time neighbor in California, who was essentially a second father to me. It was very sad. The people around him kept in mind the great mentor, example and teacher he had been because the later version was so dramatically different it was depressing.

  17. Beautiful image, but for me it is the writing that illustrated the depth of artistry that your father had. So often we photograph landscapes, yet understand very little about the nature and geology of the location. This inspires me to learn more about our wonderful planet and in doing so I can only hope to improve my perspective and approach to telling stories through imagery. Thanks for sharing as always!


  18. I appreciate your comment, Robert. My father studied the land and geology with great interest. It was one of his favorite hobbies and added much to his photography. Many landscape photographers today study weather and the positions of the moon and sun at various times of day. Galen Rowell, with his scientific mind, studied light itself and its various properties in different atmospheric conditions. My father’s photographs were more about the land itself and this naturally led to a study of geology and the history of the land’s evolution over time.

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