Adding to the variety of artifacts (including my recently re-surfacing essay “Damn the Dam”) about Glen Canyon, which turned into the “home” of Lake Powell, comes this tribute, link assortment and film preview featuring legendary Ms. Katie Lee, the famed model/singer/activist environmentalist who made a noteworthy trip into the canyons – many of which were never documented/explored – with photographers, shortly before the destruction, dam building and subsequent flooding.
Ms. Lee passed away in Nov. 2017 at 98 years old and remained a fiery personality advocating for the wildness of lands until the end.
As such, I’ve assembled a round-up of links about her extraordinary life which follows this film preview and blurb – consider reading all to learn of this exceptionally beautiful renegade.
Originally written for a Creative Writing class at Utah Valley Community College (now Utah State University) taught by Larry Harper. Photos by Johnny Adolphson.
Once upon a time, there was a river, a river and a canyon. Everyone who saw this river in this canyon really liked it. Some lived for it, some died for it, many fought for it, no one hated it. Or admitted they did. All in all though, everyone agreed about its spectacularity. “Every one of these almost innumerable gorges is a world of beauty in itself…. Yet all these canyons unite to form one Grand Canyon, the most sublime spectacle on earth.” This is what John Wesley Powell said about the Colorado River and the canyons it gave life to.
The canyons Friar Francisco Garces described as “…the most profound canyons which ever onward continue.” Powell and Garces knew the Colorado a long time ago; they explored area, an area that is now very different and yet changing even now.
Up until a few years back, people took care of the river, and it took care of them. A relationship that worked well until someone decided that the river could be better used running air conditioners and so they built a dam. No one noticed much then; it was back when few knew much about the wonders this area held. Anyway, there was more than enough of this hostile, rugged area to go around. Dams were built everywhere, lots of them. It was an easy fix for the energy junkies.
“Man has flung down a great barrier in the path of the turbulent Colorado,” proclaimed the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation during the 1960’s. “It has tamed the wild river-made it a servant to man’s will.” The bureau was boasting of Glen Canyon Dam, a 710-foot high monument to technological prowess, but it could have been talking about any dam in the country (Davis 26). Now, the cliffs, the canyons, the plants and birds and rocks and things, and the river is gone.
The Colorado is no longer there as it was. Such dams back up the Colorado that still flows relatively freely and make the canyon a sluiceway between dry hills” (MacDougall 54).
So why do they do it? Why do they try? Electricity and water mostly. People generally need them. A lot of them. Too much? Any alternatives? Sure.
The flood gates should be opened, the river unleashed and the damage repaired. Let Nature reign again. Yee hah and Hieghty ho.
THE RIVER IN QUESTION
Today the Colorado has been rightly compared to hundreds of miles of plumbing system (Sunset 104).
Bob and Otto ran up to Uncle Weed shouting, “Wow, you could probably get a ten count against Jimmy Superfly Snuka!”
“Is he as great a wrestler as Gene Kiniski?” Uncle Weed asked, arching an eyebrow but enjoying the boys’ compliment. “Ah, stop it guys,” he shrugged sheepishly.
Then continued brightly, “Hey, go gather up a bunch of survey stakes and three long, skinny branches,” he instructed, then in passing added, “And,… maybe you should let me explain what happened to your parents myself.”
The boys wondered what the big deal about telling their parents, they had fun and weren’t injured or scared, plus they learned a lot about methods of protecting nature.
Then, following the instructions, gathered up armloads of discarded survey stakes before helping Uncle Weed arrange them in a rock-ringed fire-pit.
Then, under a sliver of moon, the three compadres sat around a little fire, eating creamsicles, roasting marshmallows, and talking. Talking about what they had seen, heard, smelled, touched, tasted, and thought that day.
It was a good night, indeed a good night for just about anything.
Inside the modified shipping container trailer, he propped the security man’s exhausted body up against the refrigerator and duct-taped him securely to it, snug, but still allowing ample space to breathe.
“Well that ought to hold you for the night you silly civil servant,” said Uncle Weed.
“MmmmMMMmmm,” struggled the man. Then, opening the freezer, Uncle Weed selected a variety of creamsicles, fudgesicles and drumsticks. From the cupboard, he borrowed a handful of popcorn kernels and half a bag of marshmallows.
“Listen, my misguided captive,” said Uncle Weed, “I would think twice before I pursued this further. I’d be quite embarrassed if I was you, being defeated by a skinny longhaired,… what did you call me…weirdo hippie? Yeah, think of what your buddies will say when you and your gun were brought down by the likes of me! Ha, I can just see the court-hearing now, even the Judge will get a chuckle I’m sure. They might even put you back on garbage patrol on account of this slacking. I would sure hate to see that happen, for your sake that is. Well, goodnight and cheerio!”
Then Uncle Weed stepped out the door, leaving $3 on the counter for the snacks.
“Oh one more thing,” popping his bearded face back into the fluorescent-lit trailer, your bulldozer might have a hard time starting tomorrow, you might want to consider giving it a good cleaning before firing it up, and probably invest in locking gas tank caps. As old Ed would often say, ‘sand works better than sugar!’”
“MmmmMMMmm,” mumbled the gagged man.
He tipped his hat, walked out and secured the outside door handle with the barrel of the gun.
The man continued blasting off his blunderbuss, shouting with wheezing lungs, “Gosh dang it, you terrorists! Thieves! Bad guys! Criminals! Justice obstructers! Malcontents! You won’t get away!”
Uncle Weed crept up behind him and leapt into action, quickly tackling him to the ground, grabbing his weapon, and tossing it safely away. They wrestled, kicked, yelled and worked up a furious cloud of dust.
“C’mon Uncle Weed!” Bob and Otto cheered, “Give him a wedgie! Pile drive him!”
“How am I doing guys?” Uncle Weed called back while in the midst of showing off his wrestling moves learned during his time on the community college, junior varsity team, “Should I pile drive him? Or maybe a supplex?”
“Arghh!” the man said, “You won’t get away, let go of me! Don’t hurt me! I’m just following orders from my superiors at the head office,” the man huffed and puffed.
“Hey, don’t worry fella, I mean you no harm,” said Uncle Weed as he hauled his struggling body into the government issue, corrugated-steel trailer.
The man stood in the clearing confused for a moment, muttering “Son of a gun, where did that madman feller go?”
He spit on the ground, kicked some rocks, then seemingly confused, he started blasting his shotgun all over the place and shooting at nothing and everything while screaming, yelling.
“Fools, hippies, radicals! You can’t win! You just won’t win! It’s not in the orders! That’s just the nature of the way things is! This is not in my instruction book! We always win in the end!” he bellowed, his voice shaky and rough.
“Yikes, what are we going to do, where’s Uncle Weed? He didn’t ditch us did he?” Otto whispered nervously.
“Relax, he’s over there doing something with that big bulldozer,” answered Bob pointing over to a shadowy shape in the dark.
The new voice spoke again, “I can see you so stand up and walk towards me with you hands up or else they’ll be some real problems. Serious problems.”
“Bob, what are we gonna do, I think we’re in trouble.”
“Don’t worry, he’s just trying to psyche us out, he’s bluffing, he doesn’t really know where we are. Uncle Weed won’t let us down, we’re safe here… I think.”
The man spoke softly now, “Ah, I see, there’s the culprit, there on the dirt machine. One of them monkeywrenchers,… toying with the equipment.” He rushed over towards the action, muttering to himself, “Well I ain’t letting this maniac radical get away this time I tell you for dang sure.”
His shotgun made the noises it does before it fires, a loud CLUCK-THLUNK, and with that noise, Uncle Weed disappeared again. Vanished into the darkness.
The boys sat confused for a minute sorting out what they had just heard.
“C’mon guys, don’t let it get to ya, there’s still a lot more to it than that. Just remember to question everything, everytime someone tries to convince you of something absolute, and always think clearly and for yourself.” He paused and continued cheerily, “Come on, back to the bedrolls.”
They leisurely started back to camp following the trail of survey stakes, pulling the numbered tokens up along the way, snapping them and tossing them into the sagebrush.
Then, someone threw a stake and it didn’t make the soft thud of landing on the ground. Instead, there a sharp metallic sound rung out from the darkness.
“It must of landed on a trailer or a machine or something!” They all thought immediately in surprise.