Posts Tagged ‘Escalante River’

Toward a Sense of Place by Philip Hyde 3

January 30th, 2010

(CONTINUED FROM BLOG POST “Toward a Sense of Place 2“)

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Horse and Cottonwoods at the Mouth of Canyon de Chelly, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona, 1963, by Philip Hyde. From Navajo Wildlands, Sierra Club Books.

Toward a Sense of Place 3

By Philip Hyde

From Navajo Wildlands: As Long As The Rivers Shall Run

Sierra Club—Balantine Books

*Note: Beware of using this as a travel guide. The areas where people are allowed and the approaches to them may have changed since 1967. Also, the politically correct term for the native people now is their own word, “Dineh,” in its various spellings, rather than the Spanish word in common practice then, “Navajo.”

Our Navajo Mountain adventure took on a new aspect two mornings later when our packer brought up his retinue of three horses, four people, and two dogs. Walking down into Painted Rock, where we would set up our base camp for exploring the westside canyons, we learned that the first four miles don’t prepare you for the spectacular climax. The trail traverses the slopes of the mountain—lightly dusted with snow on that early morning—crosses several incipient canyons, climbs a bit, and passes through a narrow sandstone defile called Sunset Pass on one side and Yabut on the other. Then the trail peels off like a dive bomber into a funnel-shaped abyss, Cliff Canyon, and its great sheer cliffs of warm yellow sandstone. The canyons that twist their way eventually into the waters of Lake Powell come into view, and the long backbone of the Kaiparowits Plateau recedes in a straight line northwestward into the blue slopes where the Escalante River begins.The isolated bulk of Cummings Mesa intervenes to the south. If you look when you are high enough, and it is a clear day, you will see the great arch of the Kaibab Plateau on the far southwestern horizon. We saw it. To the north, Waterpocket Fold, and its Circle Cliffs are partly cut off by the northwestern shoulder of Navajo Mountain. Within this arc you see what is left of the climax of the Glen Canyon system. They still have beauty, but to those of us who knew Glen before it was flooded this remains a supreme act of bureaucratic vandalism. Happily, little of the unnaturally—and temporarily—blue water of “Lake” Powell is visible from the trail.

Two miles beyond the great drop into Cliff Canyon is First Water. A mile beyond that, our trail turned out of Cliff Canyon to climb through a narrow cleft in the sandstone, Redbud Pass. At this turn, we saw the pictographs that gave Painted Rock its name. We camped, and spent one day exploring Cliff Canyon and Forbidden Canyon. The second we went as far as Oak Canyon on the trail leading around the Mountain. On the third day we reached around the Mountain. On the third day we reached the perigee of our five-day orbit when we decided to walk down to Rainbow Bridge.

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Rainbow Bridge from Downstream, Navajo Mountain in the Distance, Rainbow Bridge National Monument, Arizona, 1964, by Philip Hyde. Before Glen Canyon Dam filled and Lake Powell flooded Forbidden Canyon. Reached Hiking with a Backpack.

Our first view of the Bridge had been some years before, after coming up five miles from the river through a magnificent canyon of beautiful rock sculpture and delightful long, narrow pools. We were almost reluctant to go to the Bridge again after that fine, wild memory of it, knowing that it was now only a mile and a half from the rising edge of Lake Powell that is engulfing the stream that created the bridge.

We had been three days in the wilderness, with all that is implied in getting close to the land and letting it get close to you. For more on wilderness see the blog post, “Wallace Stegner: The Wilderness Idea.” We rounded the last great curve above the Bridge and began to see tourists. I sniffed the air and—sensed something extraordinary about it, but was not quite able to name it. Then I knew: it was perfume, emanating from some immaculately clad yachtsmen—or was it the yachtwomen among them—busily signing the register under the Bridge. The Bridge looked the same, or did it? Was it only an illusion that it looked a little like a reasonable facsimile, a little plastic? To know what the real Bridge looks like, don’t you have to participate in the finding of it, a little arduously along the stream that made it possible, the heat and the cobbles and the water and the time that all combined to build that Bridge? Can you merely sit, throttle, steer, and saunter and still begin to know what it was? For more about the color photograph of Rainbow Bridge see the blog post, “The Making Of ‘Rainbow Bridge From The Upstream Side.'”

I think of the land of the Navajos as a living entity of moods—of light moments and gloomy. Above all I think of color—color constantly changing with the light, color that infused the life of the people who have passed over this land.

Overpoweringly, this place testifies to man’s transitory nature—and yet confirms his continuity. That continuity may end if this should ever cease to be a land of time enough and room enough. The automobile could obliterate both, and along with them, the wilderness experience.

I still remember the climax of that experience for us. It was the walk to Keet Seel, and what we felt there. Keet Seel, the most remote of the three great Anasazi ruins in Navajo National Monument, is about eight miles by trail through the sandy canyons of the Tsegi system cut into the mesas just west of Monument Valley. The great ruin itself is not visible until the last quarter of a mile, and then it seems diminutive. Not until you are under the edge of the great sandstone shell sheltering the ruin does its scale become apparent.

Great Kiva, Mummy Cave Ruin, Canyon del Muerto, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona, by Philip Hyde.

We climbed up the ledge, into the ruin, and suddenly believed we were the discoverers. There were few footprints, and we saw only a lone Navajo looking for strays. The silence was so pervasive that we found ourselves speaking in low tones—I guess out of respect for the people who had just departed 700 years ago. The wind blew everywhere we went that spring, but it was still now. The silence grew as we cooked supper and rolled out our bags on a lower level beneath the ruin. A tiny seep, with a depression beneath it just big enough for a cup, gave us our nightcap, and we went to sleep where the ancient ones had gathered food and looked out and talked, and had put their children to sleep.

Philip Hyde, April 1967

To read more about Navajo Country go to the blog post, “The Making Of ‘Rainbow Bridge From the Upstream Side.'”

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.

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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“)