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Water-use saga: The return of Glen Canyon

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For Lee, her love affair with Glen Canyon began more than 50 years ago when she first floated down the Colorado River into a rare wilderness area that Annette McGivney, author of a new book about Glen Canyon, says is “possibly more beautiful than [the] Grand Canyon.”

Landscape photographer James Kay was only a child when the dam flooded the canyon, but he later heard stories that described the landscape lying below the surface of Lake Powell as an “inspiring, magical place.”

In 1995, he visited the site of Cathedral of the Desert, one of those submerged natural formations. Reflecting back on the moment, he remembers thinking, “I probably will never get to see it, and it’s really a shame.”

Lee and Mr. Kay may have felt something of an affinity with the characters in Edward Abbey’s 1975 novel, “The Monkey Wrench Gang,” who planned the destruction of Glen Canyon Dam. But now the Colorado River and Glen Canyon aren’t what they once were – and it has nothing to do with fictional ecoterrorists.

A drought beginning in 1999 caused a 145-foot drop in Lake Powell’s water level by 2005, exposing the once-submerged canyons to sunlight, air, and public view.

When Kay discovered the lake’s plummeting levels, he put on his backpack, grabbed his camera, and, along with Ms. McGivney, documented a “resurrection” of Glen Canyon over a period of five  years, hiking areas untouched by humans for decades.

McGivney notes how she felt: “I’m like an explorer going into a place that has never been charted before.”

At one point, Kay trekked to Cathedral of the Desert, which was no longer submerged, and “spent six hours in there photographing it as the light changed and the sun moved through the canyon. It was one of the most profound days of my life.”

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