The Making Of “Rainbow Bridge From The Upstream Side”

August 10th, 2010 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

The Making Of The Landscape Photograph That Is Now A Limited Edition New Release:

“Rainbow Bridge From The Upstream Side, Now Rainbow Bridge National Monument, Utah, 1965” FROM the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series book, “Navajo Wildlands: As Long As The Rivers Shall Run” by Stephen C. Jett and Philip Hyde.

Rainbow Bridge From The Upstream Side, Now Rainbow Bridge National Monument, Utah, (Color) 1965 by Philip Hyde.

(View the photograph full screen CLICK HERE.)

It was the end of November and the Northern Sierra Nevada winter set in. Long cold rains, sleet and snow alternated with ever lower night temperatures when the weather cleared. The telephone rang, Ardis Hyde answered. She set the receiver on the desk, walked out the back door and looked up to where Philip Hyde was hurriedly putting a roof on his new studio addition on a precious day of dry weather.

“It’s David Brower on the phone,” Ardis Hyde shouted. “Something about a new project.”

“Tell him I’ll call back a little later,” Philip Hyde yelled back.

“He said it was very urgent.”

“OK, tell him I’m coming,” Philip Hyde replied. He climbed down the ladder and came to the phone. David Brower told him there was not much time. There were urgent threats to the Navajo lands in Northeastern Arizona. Proposed dams on the rivers, Uranium and mineral strip mining, oil drilling, and civilization’s encroachment on the Navajo way of life were just a few of the dangers to the desert landscapes that the Navajo had called home for a thousand years undisturbed.

Professor Stephen C. Jett had written his dissertation after a “detailed study of the recreational resources of the Navajo Country.” His dissertation was “an introduction to Navajo attitudes toward land, a guidebook, an inventory, and a series of recommendations…” David Brower was emphatic, “We need to get some photographs of these areas as soon as possible and pair them with a text by Dr. Jett to spearhead a campaign to save Navajo Country.”

Philip Hyde gathered several layers of thick tarps and plywood, put them over the roof skeleton of his newly framed studio and in less than a week he and Ardis Hyde were off to Navajo Country in Arizona. He would take his chances with putting on the roof. Hopefully the heavy snows would hold off until he returned. Hopefully there would be enough clear weather to finish the roof before too many January snows made it impossible until Spring and a whole season was lost.

Ardis And Philip Hyde Explore Navajo Country In The Cold

By December 8, 1964 Ardis and Philip Hyde were on the road and by nightfall December 9 they arrived in Gallup, New Mexico near the Arizona border and the Navajo Reservation. Fortunately they did not camp out but stayed in the Ramada Inn because the low that night was 12 degrees Fahrenheit. Early the next day they drove out to catch the morning light on Window Rock. The Navajo Tribal Council was in session. The Hydes met with Navajo Tribal Council Representative Sam Day. Ardis Hyde wrote in the Travel Log, “We had a brief but illuminating talk about what we should see in the way of tribal parks present and proposed…. He is recording chants and rituals in the evenings.” Ardis and Philip Hyde visited the Good Shepherd Mission and a few trading posts. They bought a beautiful 4’X6’ Navajo rug for $22. They spent the night in Chinle at Thunderbird Ranch in a new unit for $9.00. Because the dining room was closed, Ardis Hyde cooked soup and coffee on the SVEA portable stove in place of room service. In the morning they went to the new Navajo visitor’s center to meet with the liaison officer between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Navajo Indian Tribe for more guidance on what landscapes to photograph. They also bought several reports on Navajo planning and affairs.

Philip Hyde photographed Ship Rock and other landmarks, some that had never been photographed before. By Monday, December 14, temperatures were down to 3 degrees Fahrenheit and it was hard to photograph. The next day the sun warmed the air enough to make photography easier. A Navajo guide showed the visitors into Monument Valley where Philip Hyde made two exposures that later became well-known landscape photographs, “Evening Light On West Mitten Butte” and “Anasazi Bighorn Sheep Petroglyphs” on the wall that Ansel Adams made a photograph at a different angle. In the days to follow they traveled on to Batatakin Ruin, Muley Point, the Grand Canyon and finally Canyon de Chelly. For more on these Navajo adventures see the blog posts, “Toward a Sense of Place 1” and “Toward a Sense of Place 2” by Philip Hyde. Many fine photographs went home in the 4X5 and 5X7 view camera film holders. Yet the Hydes found they had barely touched what the country had to offer.

Ardis And Philip Hyde Hike 24 Miles From Rainbow Lodge To Rainbow Bridge And Back, Six Months Pregnant

After successfully finishing the roof and weathering the worst of the winter cozy at home in Northeastern California, Ardis and Philip Hyde were back in Navajo Country by April 1965. Ardis Hyde was five months pregnant when they arrived, but that didn’t slow them down. For a month they traveled around Navajo Country photographing and getting to know the land and people. May 26 they finally succeeded in lining up a pack trip from Rainbow Lodge down to Rainbow Bridge and back. The journey of 12 miles each way took several days walking on foot with pack horse support. The trail winds around sacred Navajo Mountain in one long gradual ascent punctuated by one very steep descent and ascent through a canyon. Ardis Hyde wrote in the Travel Log:

At about mile 4 the trail leaves flat terrain and enters interesting country making a transition from soft rock with ledges into sculptured rock with good views of White Mesa, Cummings Mesa, Dome Canyon, No Name Mesa and the Kaiparowitz Plateau. Just past mile 5 we ate lunch in a good spot to see the summit of Navajo Mountain with fresh snow. This was Philip’s first picture of the day and more followed around the pass.  We started down a steep descent into Cliff Canyon, which narrows more at the bottom with a green canyon floor of lush grasses. On top we saw a few larkspur in bloom. Now there were brilliant yellow Mariposa Lilies as well as paler lavender ones. The wild flower display became more and more profuse until as the canyon leveled after mile 7 it was just like one continuous garden in all colors. Mallow, Asters, yellow and white daisies, larkspur, pink prickly pear cactus, spiderwort, evening primrose, Cliff Rose, Sand Verbena, wild onion, Bricklebush, Spanish Bayonet in bud and Juniper berries still abundant…

Ardis And Philip Hyde Camp Under The Stars Next To A Hopi Wood Fire

That night they camped under the Cottonwoods and stars after threat of rain had passed. ‘Sheep’ frogs made a “chorus at assorted pitches of bleating.” The Hydes could see the glow of a beautiful sunset on all of the high domes across the landscape but they nestled into their “shady enclosure with the smell of a Hopi wood fire and snug beds after a nine mile day.” The next day they hiked on in the canyon bottom slowly picking their way and “stumbling over streambed rocks most of the time.” It heated up. They saw a few pools of clear water to swim in but decided to wait until they reached Aztec Creek. However, Aztec Creek turned out to be brown with the recent storm. They climbed out of the canyon up onto the “Slickrock domes” for views of the mountains and surrounding landscape. Then back down to hot chocolate and another early bedtime. The next day as they entered Bridge Canyon they came to very clear water under cottonwoods, dense foliage and three horses grazing on wild flowers.

The View Of Rainbow Bridge

Bridge Canyon was beautiful with dense foliage and high vertical walls until the last mile before Rainbow Bridge when an inner gorge develops out of darker red sandstone in layers. Here the trail continues above a ledge and we look down into the gorge to see the stream. We pass many tempting pools and catch our first glimpse of Rainbow Bridge about 10:30 am, unfortunately in flat light. From this upstream approach Rainbow Bridge appeared finer, not as massive as from below. At the last turn above Rainbow Bridge we hear voices. We coincided with a boating group coming in. They were immaculately dressed in white and light-colored pressed clothes. There were two families of shrill children. Philip took some photographs of Rainbow Bridge from the west side on a ledge above the stream and we hurried away to each lunch in quiet upstream. Philip bathed in two pools. There were frequent overhangs with seeps apparent. At one of these we found enough water to fill our cups. Saw a bee collecting pollen and at another seep we saw a ‘Sheep’ frog up close. He had no webbed toes, a gray-black back and orange-cream sides. We heard an occasional canyon wren call. I spotted some kind of flycatcher with rufous tail, white side feathers and a horse, gargling call. The trail through Redbud pass was all in the shade. We paused to admire a butterfly with a Navajo rug design and vegetable dye colors gaining strength in his wings after emerging from his chrysalis.

From Navajo Wildlands: As Long As The Rivers Shall Run

Toward A Sense Of Place by Philip Hyde

Excerpted from the blog post, “Toward A Sense Of Place 3.”

Our first view of Rainbow 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 Rainbow 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. We rounded the last great curve above Rainbow Bridge and began to see tourists. I sniffed the air and—sensed something extraordinary about it… 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 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? 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.

More about the flooding of Glen Canyon in the blog post, “Glen Canyon Lament By Philip Hyde 1.”

For sizes, pricing and more information, see the blog post, “Limited Edition New Release: Rainbow Bridge From The Upstream Side (Color)” on Fine Art Collector’s Resource Blog.

For more about Philip Hyde and his relationship with wilderness and landscape photography see the blog post, “Celebrating Wilderness By William Neill.” For more on wilderness backpacking see also the blog post, “The 1970s Backpacking Boom, Conservation and Photography.”



  1. Richard Wong says:

    I got a little chuckle from your dad trying to tell David Brower that he would call him back later. It really says a lot about how few people were doing that sort of work back in the day compared to now. If someone were to do that now, the assignment probably wouldn’t be there anymore by the time they called back.

    It also says a lot about your dad’s dedication though once he found out what the call was about.

  2. Hey Richard, thanks for writing. Is this THE Richard Wong writing from Alaska, or an impersonator, or are you back? It seems like you. You’re right about the assignments and calling back the way it goes today, but Dad had a specific relationship with David Brower. To be David Brower’s “go to man” took a high level of belief, and a development of a history that enabled David Brower to know that when he called Dad, the results would be the best work possible. Both of them were zealots. I can certainly use that term for them. They were a breed apart and understood each other well. There were many, many photographers who came and went through the Sierra Club books and even the Exhibit Format Series, but none had the relationship with David Brower that Dad did. When David Brower called Dad, he seriously wanted him for the job. There probably wasn’t anyone else to call of Dad’s caliber by 1965-1967. Remember Ansel Adams was doing his own work in black and white, photographing the National Parks and printing up a storm and there were rifts in the Sierra Club by then. Eliot Porter was a full-time doctor and couldn’t drop everything at short notice and go galavanting across the West. He brought finished projects and influence to David Brower, as did Ansel Adams. However, by then Ansel Adams was on David Brower’s case as were many on the Sierra Club board. David Brower was too forceful in making projects happen and saving wilderness and many in the Sierra Club wanted to be more diplomatic and conservative with the Sierra Club treasury. Dad was young, desperate, talented, inspired, dedicated, willing to work for next to nothing and go anywhere any time. He was a loyal David Brower supporter too and vice-versa.

  3. Richard Wong says:

    Yup. I’ve definitely been back for a few days now. That is interesting to know. Was Porter really still a F/T doctor by that point in his life? From reading his books I had thought he gave that up by 1950 if not before.

  4. Hi Richard, thank you for this. Geez, what do I know? I am not that well-versed on Eliot Porter’s time-line. I certainly need to be before slinging statements around. I am not sure when he left off his practice. Does it say when, in the book you read? Which book are you referring to?

  5. Another excellent story, David. I surely enjoyed reading it.


  6. Hi Sharon, thank you. There is a lot of excellent material in my parent’s lives.

  7. Man, do landscape photographers have it made today. Each time I read about the adventures of your parents and the hardships of photographers in the past, I have to chuckle. We find photographers hiking short distances with the latest and lightest of equipment in attempts to duplicate the images of photographers such as your father.

  8. Hi Monte, I appreciate your visit and observation. From an equipment and distance of hiking standpoint Dad did take a more difficult path than many landscape photographers today. However, that road less traveled made all the difference for him and he loved it. It is getting easier and easier to make great landscape photographs, which means the quality of the best work is getting better and better. Meanwhile, people like me who approach it as a hobby, don’t have professional training and don’t put even one tenth of the dedication my father did, can get lucky here and there and make some very good photographs from time to time.

  9. I like how you said that, “…he loved it.”

  10. Thank you, Monte. Yes, he used to say it was a “labor of love.” He and my mother were very hard workers and they loved what they did and being so engaged in it. They loved art and landscape photography and they loved the outdoors and being immersed in the wilderness for days, weeks or even months on end. They also loved the idea of sharing nature with the world.

  11. Richard Wong says:

    Hey David. In regards to Porter, I have his “In Wildness…” and “Chaos” books so anything I might have read about his medical career might be in there. I don’t know the details but I was under the impression that he had left that behind for a career in photography before he became an old man.

  12. Hi Richard. I appreciate this information. I am fortunate to have a well-read cyber friend like you for general information and fact checking. I will look into this to be sure of the accuracy of my statements.

  13. Greg Russell says:

    David, this is a fantastic account of your parents’ journeys in what you know is one of my favorite areas of the West. Its pretty exciting to think that your father’s photos played such a strong role in shaping the conservation of the West.

    Can I safely assume your mother was pregnant with you on this journey?

  14. Thank you, Greg. Mom and Dad had many great adventures and extremely interesting lives. As an only child, I was sort of a side show, a major one at times and more in the background later. My parents doted on me in many ways but were also very busy and ignored me sometimes too. I learned to entertain myself, though Mom, being a teacher and good with kids, had a lot of them around to properly socialize me even though I was raised in the wilderness. What strikes me now is how many wild places they were able to go into easily or with easily obtained permissions, that few people are allowed into today. In those days being a reputable landscape photographer opened many doors and was sort of a curiosity to people. People especially oogled the big cameras.

  15. This is a useful article. I’m always looking for smart resources to show clients and colleagues, and your post is absolutely worth sharing!

  16. Hi Shirlene, thank you for the comment. I like the idea of Green Remodeling too.

  17. pj finn says:

    Just a quick two cents on the Porter thing, for what it’s worth. I have an old book with an interview with Eliot Porter. He mentions that a showing Stieglitz gave him at An American Place in 1939 led him to decide that his energies were better spent in photography than in medical research, and by the end of World War II he had left medicine and devoted himself totally to photography.

    Once again David, I admire your dad’s dedication to his work and his efforts for a cause he believed in. I can’t help but wonder though — did he ever finish that roof?

  18. Hi PJ, thank you for the info on Eliot Porter. I would like to read more about it anyway, but this gives us a better sense of the timing. It’s funny though because Dad talked about Eliot Porter being a doctor and Dad wouldn’t have met Eliot Porter until the 1950s or 1960s. Maybe Dad was referring to something that had been in the past, which was not clear to me. Above in the article, under the heading, “Ardis And Philip Hyde Hike 24 Miles From Rainbow Lodge To Rainbow Bridge And Back, Six Months Pregnant” I explain what happened with the roof. I understand you may have been reading fast. I do that sometimes with blogs. This is a pretty long post, maybe too long, but I didn’t want to break it up. I notice many bloggers do put up a long post like this from time to time. Thanks again for helping to clarify the Eliot Porter information.

  19. pj finn says:

    Heh. Didn’t think I was reading that fast. Oh well… must have been a ‘senior moment’ or something.

  20. Hi PJ, I can relate. I have those regularly in between moments of brilliance, ha ha.

  21. Greg Russell says:

    David, you’re right…along with most other recreationists, our freedoms have been reduced over the last few decades.

    I think about the Boy Scouts, and how some wilderness rangers I’ve been friends with basically equate them with “destruction.” Its a shame that a few individuals have ruined the reputation of a whole group, but I am afraid that its the same for photographers as well–a few individuals have done a lot to harm our image.

    I know that isn’t the point of this post, but it does show how times have changed. Your father did some amazing work in furthering conservation efforts in the West–I only wish we could all still work for the same goals.

  22. Hi Greg, thank you for your observations which are true about how the perception of photographers has changed. Back then Dad was an honored guest in many places, but now photographers are considered pests because we often are, but its sometimes the only way to get access to the land. It is especially bad in the Colorado Rockies. One rancher-celebrity reportedly removed his historical split-rail fence with mountain views behind because too many photographers kept sneaking into his property. Another guy had his pond filled in because “landscape” photographers were wearing a path to the opposite side of it to get the reflections, which ruined his own undisturbed view.

  23. Derrick says:

    I always enjoy these types of posts from you, David!

    Good stuff.

  24. Hi Derrick, thank you for the comment. Seems like many others like this type of blog post based on the Travel Logs too. It is my favorite to post as well and the basis of my book, which also makes it even more worthwhile and productive. I do like the other types of blog posts as well in between for variety, but these are one of the main reasons for the blog.

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