I had heard Glen Canyon described, by those who planned to reserve that part of the river for hydroelectric power development, as an unspectacular, gently flowing stretch of the river unruffled by significant rapids, that in fact the Bureau of Reclamation had begun to dam. From the very first day, I was overwhelmed by the scenery--both in prospect and in description grossly underrated. The monumental structure of the towering walls in variety and color defied comprehension.
Eliot Porter made his first rafting trip down the Colorado River through Glen Canyon in 1960. He became captivated by the region's beauty, and over the next decade, returned to it ten times to photograph its weathered trees, colorful rock formations, and hidden slit canyons. This image of a sheer sandstone wall in vivid shades of salmon and purple demonstrates Porter's keen observation of the region's unique beauty.
In the early 1960s, the Sierra Club was in the middle of a campaign to stop construction of a hydroelectric plant on the Colorado River at Glen Canyon. Its director thought a book of Porter's photographs might be persuasive. Porter had already collaborated with the environmental organization on a publication that earned critical praise. In 1963, the Sierra Club and Porter published the book The Place No One Knew: Glen Canyon on the Colorado. Copies were sent to President John F. Kennedy and members of Congress. That same year, construction of the Glen Canyon Dam was completed, creating Lake Powell and flooding hundreds of miles of the river and its tributary canyons. Porter's Glen Canyon photographs became especially meaningful in the aftermath of the dam's construction, as a record of a lost national treasure. Glen Canyon lacked national park status and protection because it was "the place no one knew." Although Porter's efforts did not stop construction of the dam, they did spur federal review of reclamation projects on western rivers and passage of the Wilderness Act.