As Climate Change Dries a Southwest Reservoir, a Drowned Canyon Returns

Waterbaby

Moderator
Staff member
#1
https://hyperallergic.com/429203/drowned-river-the-death-and-rebirth-of-glen-canyon-on-the-colorado/
As Climate Change Dries a Southwest Reservoir, a Drowned Canyon Returns
For Drowned River: The Death and Rebirth of Glen Canyon on the Colorado photographers Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe with author Rebecca Solnit explored the return of a flooded Southwest landscape.
Allison Meier

Photograph from Drowned River: The Death and Rebirth of Glen Canyon on the Colorado by Mark Klett, Byron Wolfe, and Rebecca Solnit (courtesy the artists and Radius Books)
Before Glen Canyon was flooded by a reservoir, photographer Eliot Porter documented its sandstone formations, small rivers, and sculptural chasms. The color photographs were published by the Sierra Club in the 1963 The Place No One Knew: Glen Canyon on the Colorado, a eulogy to this place lost to development. Over half a century later, photographers Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe, with author Rebecca Solnit, returned to this disrupted landscape that stretches between Utah and Arizona, setting out to find the places Porter photographed, even though most were underwater. Their discoveries are published in Drowned River: The Death and Rebirth of Glen Canyon on the Colorado, out from Radius Books.
Cover of Drowned River: The Death and Rebirth of Glen Canyon on the Colorado by Mark Klett, Byron Wolfe, and Rebecca Solnit (courtesy Radius Books)

“We found a few,” Klett told Hyperallergic. “But in the end, we made work that referenced Porter’s, not intending to repeat his as we had done in previous projects. … The work became less about the dam and the creation of the lake, and more about what’s happened there since the dam, the outlook for its future, and finally the reemergence of Glen Canyon.”

Klett, Wolfe, and Solnit are longtime collaborators, with work like the 2005 Yosemite in Time: Ice Ages, Tree Clocks, Ghost Rivers, for which they re-photographed some of the most popular images of Yosemite, and the 2012 Reconstructing the View, for which Klett and Wolfe returned to the sites of historic photographs of the Grand Canyon. Due to the changes at Glen Canyon, that kind of study was impossible.

They were asked by Colin Westerbeck, then director of the California Museum of Photography, to take on this investigation. While Glen Canyon and many miles of the Colorado River were transformed into Lake Powell through the dam project, the site is undergoing another metamorphosis attributed to climate change. The lake’s level is dependent on input from the Colorado and San Juan Rivers, and because of drought in recent years, it’s been steadily receding.

“Porter’s book was an elegy for the loss of Glen Canyon and a plea to stop the era of dam building before more natural wonders suffered the same fate,” Wolfe explained. “Our book looks to the future and sees the potential reemergence of what was once lost. But it’s also a warning about climate change and the hubris of playing with the forces of nature.”
Photograph from Drowned River: The Death and Rebirth of Glen Canyon on the Colorado by Mark Klett, Byron Wolfe, and Rebecca Solnit (courtesy the artists and Radius Books)
Photograph from Drowned River: The Death and Rebirth of Glen Canyon on the Colorado by Mark Klett, Byron Wolfe, and Rebecca Solnit (courtesy the artists and Radius Books)

The over 150-page Drowned River features 18 pages of Porter’s book, followed by Klett and Wolfe’s photographs that consider the placid lake, with its mirror-like surface reflecting the surrounding red rock, and offers no hints as to the canyons below. Its stillness is in contrast to the constant flux of the landscape around it, where waterfalls tumble down cliffs after rain, and dust storms churn the earth. Solnit’s essay on their years of visiting Glen Canyon, as well as her archival research into the damming projects of the Southwest, are woven throughout the book. She describes what it was like to navigate their powerboat over the submerged canyon:
The scenery around us was wonderful and, if you remembered that about four-fifths of it was underwater, terrible, like seeing a giantess sentenced to stand immersed up to her neck for decades. The depth finder my companions deployed was a way to chart the underwater topography of the world lost below the flat blue water lapping against the red sandstone walls of Glen Canyon. We were floating nearly two hundred feet above the floor, across the broad upper end of the canyon that would’ve looked, in cross section, like a funnel, but from the surface just looked like an inlet or bay.​
The book includes maps of Glen Canyon before the dam, and its footprint now that the waters are receding. A sonar diagram visualizes how Dungeon Canyon — a winding formation of red canyon walls that Porter used for his cover — is still there, although covered with silt and inaccessible in the water. Yet now it’s possible to imagine some distant future when the lake will again become a river, perhaps even before the over 700-feet-high concrete dam crumbles. Klett and Wolfe photographed the many disused houseboats up on blocks, casualties of dwindling day-tripper tourism, and the forgotten possessions from old campsites being revealed like layers in time. They also documented the chalky ring circling the lake, these whitewashed sections of stone indicating where water levels have dropped.

“We visited the lake at different times of year, mostly the summer, but also in the fall after the peak tourist season, and we came to feel that we were witness to a scene that was changing,” Klett said. “It felt like the party was ending, and the future of the lake is in question. Towards the end of the project we spent a lot of time at the north end of the lake, where the water drops most of its sediment. There we saw the dead pool, or where plains of river-dropped sediment were forming flats in what were former bays of the lake. Driftwood and debris clung high above the present lake level, where former shorelines had been.”
Photograph from Drowned River: The Death and Rebirth of Glen Canyon on the Colorado by Mark Klett, Byron Wolfe, and Rebecca Solnit (courtesy the artists and Radius Books)

In 2012 and 2016, they photographed one sediment plain, where lush vegetation is now flourishing along the new channel of the river. As Lake Powell dies, the Colorado River is returning.

“It was a sign that the processes that formed Glen Canyon were at work once again, and that in the future the canyon would reemerge,” Klett stated. “That was the message of the book, that what had been lost would one day reappear. The only question is if we’ll be around to see it.”

Porter’s book was both a beautiful memorial to Glen Canyon, and an activist protest on why such a loss shouldn’t happen again, an environmental statement echoed in Drowned River. As Solnit writes, “This place with two conflicting names — Glen Canyon for what it had been and will be, Lake Powell for what it has been for half a century — was a good place to think about the madness of the past and the terror of the future, amid the epiphanies of beautiful light and majestic space and the contradiction of the present.”
Photograph from Drowned River: The Death and Rebirth of Glen Canyon on the Colorado by Mark Klett, Byron Wolfe, and Rebecca Solnit (courtesy the artists and Radius Books)
Photograph from Drowned River: The Death and Rebirth of Glen Canyon on the Colorado by Mark Klett, Byron Wolfe, and Rebecca Solnit (courtesy the artists and Radius Books)
Photograph from Drowned River: The Death and Rebirth of Glen Canyon on the Colorado by Mark Klett, Byron Wolfe, and Rebecca Solnit (courtesy the artists and Radius Books)
Photograph from Drowned River: The Death and Rebirth of Glen Canyon on the Colorado by Mark Klett, Byron Wolfe, and Rebecca Solnit (courtesy the artists and Radius Books)
Drowned River: The Death and Rebirth of Glen Canyon on the Colorado is out now from Radius Books.
 

bubba

Well-Known Member
#7
I never turn down an opportunity to purchase any book relating to Powell, I own dozens, from Pete’s and Tiffs pocket book to hardback picture books written by others. Although I do not agree at all about draining Powell, I will confirm the images and writings shared in the environmental angled books are far more interesting than a mis titled hiking guide.

Powell will never be drained, this is an absolute, but the water will one day be displaced by sediment. The dam will in time crumble and flowing water will once again run free, this is also an absolute. Both teams ultimately get what they want.

Enjoy the book for its pictures.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

Fursniper

Active Member
#8
Their ideology of removing man from the ecosystem to preserve canyons is not the environmental thing to do either. The role that man plays in the ecosystem is to have dominion of it and to manipulate it. That is the best thing for the environment scientifically and what we are supposed to do biblically. The death and rebirth of a canyon is not what life is about.....fools!
 
Last edited:
#9
I never turn down an opportunity to purchase any book relating to Powell, I own dozens...

Have you read Wet Desert?, I kinda like the main character... ;)


Is the lake level due to a dry climate, or that we are drawing much more from the lake. We only have about 100 years of recorded rainfall, it looks like this "dry" climate is normal. Most studies reference "the last 30 years", why not all recorded history. The last 30 years does not include the drought in the late 70s, "inflating" the normal rainfall, yet I'd expect even our 100 history is meaningless in the grand scheme.
 

Lake Bum

Well-Known Member
#13
These nerdy drainers wouldn't even get out to enjoy Glen Canyon, even IF Powell was drained. It's a 200 year Dam, it's inevitable someday it will change, but not yet :cool:
 
#14
i would guess many, many more people visit lake powell in a year than ever visited glen canyon...i think powell is one of the top 5 spots to see in the usa! monument valley, bryce, zion, gr canyon, and powell! canyon de chelly is nice as well.
 

Waterbaby

Moderator
Staff member
#18
I read somewhere that research of growth rings of ancient trees have revealed many long term droughts over the ages, as well as periods of wet years.

Yep....... back when we lived in SoCal we went to the LA County Fair every Fall... in the garden section is a huge redwood tree cutting [from a very old tree] and they have the rings all marked and dated showing wet and dry ..... it was a real eye-opener to some long term droughts long before any of us were here. What we're going through right now is normal ebbs and flows and will change. I'm always amazed people ignore at one time the entire planet was covered in ice...... and ice had a lot to do with forming our planet. The Renaissance period was quite warm like today - and there is a reason they called "The Age of Enlightenment" - people do better in warm vs cold weather and it was a time of advancement then the Renaissance was followed by the Elizabethan period which was the Little Ice Age - which was a period of excessive cold and excessive storms and disease and ....we were still coming out of it in the early periods of this nation and it's founding... We human's are here such a short time we tend to expect everything to be the way we think it should be instead of look at history of weather and realize no one can predict what it is going to do. In the 70s they said we were entering another ice age - we didn't [though we had drought] and then the 80's turned wet. Powell was down in the late 70's, up in the 80's, down again in the early 90's, rose again until the early 2000's when this up and down drought period started.