Cathedral In The Desert

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In 1956, when the American government approved the Colorado River Storage Project Act, it was considered a significant achievement towards taming the Colorado River and powering to the southwest. The region, however, was laden with beautiful landscapes, which would be flooded by the project’s proposed dams.

To protect Dinosaur National Monument, a compromise site was chosen in a remote region between Arizona and Utah, 20 miles upriver from the Grand Canyon — a decision the environmentalists would come to regret immediately afterwards. David Brower, the executive director of The Sierra Club, who initially supported the dam, visited the area before it was flooded and reversed his position. He would partner with photographer Eliot Porter to publish the book The Place No One Knew, a photographic documentation of Glen Canyon which would be submerged.

Porter traveled through Glen Canyon eleven times, but his photos failed to convince President Johnson to halt the dam. The environmentalists also faced a formidable opponent in Floyd Dominy, who would went on to become the the longest-serving head of the Bureau of Reclamation. Directing the bureau’s funds to local districts, Dominy managed to influence the lawmakers, and insisted that, “there was nothing there,” in Glen Canyon. Dominy calling a Colorado River without dams “useless to anyone,” adding, “I’ve seen all the wild rivers I ever want to see.”

Brower got another photographer Philip Hyde, whose photograph above, “Cathedral In The Desert, Glen Canyon, Utah, 1964” was considered one of the top 100 photographs of the 20th century by American Photo Magazine. Yet, these were the early days of the environmental movement, and The Sierra Club was unable to sway the public opinion against the Glen Canyon Dam. For the next 17 years, the dam slowly filled the 186-mile long reservoir behind it, submerging Hyde’s Cathedral in the Desert and other landmarks, and prompting Edward Abbey to write his cult novel about an attempt to blow up the dam, The Monkey Wrench Gang.

 

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