Review: The Glen Canyon Reader

"An anthology that gathers the literature on a pivotal ecological and political failure is a necessary preventative learning tool…"

ISBN 0-8165-2242-1

Certain ideas seem obvious in retrospect. Looking back to 1963 the question of drowning the sandstone cliffs and slickrock wall splendors of Glen Canyon to create Lake Powell now seems unthinkably barbaric. Embedded in the story of how the dam came to be and the struggle that failed to save the canyon are fascinating insights into the nascent conservation movement.

David Brower, who served as Executive Director of the Sierra Club from 1952-1969, is represented in his eloquent essay “Let the River Run Through It” as he wrestles with his personal sense of blame for not stopping the dam and proposes a redemptive plan to drain the dam and restore the canyon.

Editor Mathew Gross tries to include the various viewpoints on Glen Canyon / Lake Powell but found few literary defenses of Lake Powell as he notes “houseboating, one supposes, being less conducive to literary composition than other outdoor activities.” The anthology starts its survey of the literature on Glen Canyon at the beginning of European mentions with a passage from the 1776 Dominguez-Escalante Journal translated by Fray Angelico Chavez and proceeds to excerpts from the journals of John Wesley Powell, with a fine list of notables recounting the Mormon road building saga along the way. Some of the West's best‑known writers‑‑Zane Grey, Edward Abbey and Ellen Meloy‑‑as well as Pulitzer Prize winners Wallace Stegner and John McPhee are included along with the river journal of Senator Barry Goldwater.

The most personal essay is Frank Griffin’s “Visit to a Drowning Canyon” wherein Griffin recalls an encounter with tourists as he emerges from a final trip watching the waters rise through Glen Canyon in its death throes. “...The (drowned ) beavers, deer and birds, the trees and creeks which were being destroyed, the ancient ruins being covered, the “go-go” boys throwing empty cans and other litter on the remaining ledges or in the lake. I also mentioned the growing laziness of men who must build roads into every wilderness for themselves and for thousands of careless visitors unconcerned with man’s defacement of nature’s wonders.”

Griffins recounts that he cried out “It was a terrible mistake, a crying shame to destroy so many “live” canyons in order to provide an overgrown straight-walled bathtub for the boys to run their motorboats in.”

Forty years after the dam, certain other ideas seem obvious too. Why did no one assemble this book until now? An anthology that gathers the literature on a pivotal ecological and political failure is a necessary preventative learning tool and, while welcome, it seems overdue.

—Nancy Fay

To purchase this book, please consider your local independent bookstore:

In Santa Fe:

Collected Works Bookstore
208B West San Francisco
Santa Fe, NM 87501
Tel: (505) 988-4226
Fax: (505) 988-2208
Toll Free: (877) 988-4226

In Taos:

Moby Dickens Bookshop
124A Bent Street
#6 Dunn House
Taos, NM 87571
505.758.9391 fax
888.442.9980 toll free