New Found Land; James Kay Documents The Return Of Glen Canyon

The story begins with a battle over water that dates back to the 1920s. Eventually the upper basin states of Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming, to hold back water from the lower basin states of Nevada, Arizona, and California, began in 1956 to build the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River. The dam created the reservoir known as Lake Powell—and it flooded Glen Canyon, effectively drowning some 160,000 acres of a magnificent landscape that was termed the most beautiful canyonland of the Southwest.

Morning light illuminates cliffs across from Lake Powell’s abandoned Hite Marina boat ramp. The reservoir’s bathtub ring is clearly evident on the base of the cliff at upper right. When the reservoir was last full, in 1999, a person standing at this location would have been 95 feet below the surface of the water (the water here is a stagnant pool trapped in the mud flats of the reservoir).
All Photos © 2009, James W. Kay, All Rights Reserved

But in the past six years, because of drought and the diminishing snowpack in the Rockies, the water in Lake Powell has been dropping. In April, 2005, it reached a historic low of 145 feet below full pool, revealing much of the drowned land. Glen Canyon was coming back.

The incredible, intriguing story is detailed in Resurrection: Glen Canyon and a New Vision for the American West, by Annette McGivney, with photographs by James Kay.

The upstream face of Glen Canyon Dam with the water level of Lake Powell 145 feet below its normal full-pool capacity on April 12, 2005. At this level, the reservoir had lost nearly 70 percent of its total water volume. The reservoir’s white bathtub ring stains the canyon wall.

It was in 2003 that Jim realized something unique was happening. “I felt I had to get down there and photograph these newly revealed places that I knew about from books, but thought I’d never see,” he says. Jim worked over a period of five years, backpacking in, spending days hiking, exploring, and photographing, sometimes renting a pontoon boat or a small ski boat to follow the tributaries through the revealed canyon. “I’d spend two or three days in locations where the lake used to be. In some of these places maybe a mile of canyon had drained out, and I’d explore and check the light.” Often the key was seeing the light move one day and coming back the next to make pictures.

(Left) A hiker passes the reemerged skeleton of a cottonwood tree, originally drowned by the rising waters of Lake Powell when it was first filled in the 1960s.
(Right) A kayaker below a natural bridge in the narrows along Lehi Canyon at a location once 100 feet below the surface of Lake Powell. As the reservoir dropped, as much as 25 feet of accumulated sediment, which once smothered these narrows, was washed away by flash floods.