George Steck's Glen Canyon Film

GLEN CANYON BEFORE THE DELUGE OF LAKE POWELL
(A Rustic Film by George Steck)

Published January 7, 2013

Prologue
The celebrated Grand Canyon author and hiker, George Steck (1925 - 2004), was among the relative few last people on the planet to raft through the serene interior of Glen Canyon before its eventual inundation by the deep waters of Lake Powell. That idol and idyll was in 1959. George recorded the highlights of the excursion on a vintage 16mm camera and named his movie “Beauty Lost” (whose featured video is below). Years later, in the late 1980s, I met George at one of my IMAX Grand Canyon Ballads presentations and we became friends. It was the early 1990s when I received a dinner invitation at George’s house, and afterward view the relic movie he called “Beauty Lost.” The equally vintage time machine (projector) was primed to feed the film through twin spools, and with a steady clicking in the background, like metallic-sounding white noise, that equally relic apparatus heralded the movie. For the first time in some thirty years since George and his wife, Helen, watched the movie, bygone images changed a modest-sized silver screen into another kind of time machine: the Glen was reborn in faded Kodak color and sequential segments which George apologized for not having properly edited. But none of that mattered to me. It was still Glen Canyon’s bucolic haunts showing on the screen and I savored every frame in passing. My surrogate name for the movie was also the longer, “Revisiting The Lost Atlantis Of Canyons.” Ergo, the comely profile of Glen Canyon’s erstwhile milieu contrasted with the 1960s ersatz Glen Canyon-Lake Powell mien that was engineered by the Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corps of Engineers, starting in the late 1950s.

The aftermath of that prodigious canyon-to-storage basin transformation created a 200-mile-long leviathan. Hence, an admittedly beautiful blue-oasis in the desert Southwest’s canyon country which reached its targeted full pool level in the early 1980s. Despite the success of this future aquatic mecca straddling southeast Utah and northeast Arizona, near Page, Arizona, the lost beauty, as captured on George’s homespun movie, only confirmed what the late David Brower (former director of the Sierra Club) referred to as a “great environmental sin,” and caused by a gargantuan-sized wan-colored wall of cement (the Glen Canyon Dam). In other words, a veritable coverup that drowned a canyon lady beneath some 550 feet of deep, cold water!

Realizing what was soon to happen to Glen Canyon’s remote backcountry adjacent to the Colorado River’s channel, indeed what the renowned photographer Eliot Porter named his epic text of compelling photographs, The Place No One Knew, the ‘quiet’ announcement to the public about the damming and damning of Glen Canyon incited the Steck’s and four of their friends to slip away on a spring break getaway on the muddy-brown Colorado. Thus, a two-week slow passage through the heart of the real Glen Canyon.

Richard Kerry Holtzin

Albuquerque, NM 2014

::

ABOUT THE NUANCES OF THIS FILM
This 30-minute antediluvian movie, “Beauty Lost,” is raw, vintage filming that may be too primal for some tastes. Nevertheless, the scenery represents Glen Canyon prior to her drowning affair, starting around the mid-1960s. After the third premier showing of the film (when I first saw the movie) I asked George if I could make a video copy of the film, and merely for the sake of preserving the fragile celluloid that had been stored in a vault since 1960. To my surprise and delight, George agreed, and later surprised me even more by offering to do a voice over narration of the film. (Hence, the version this YouTube program features.) In time, CDs were fashionable and I converted the video to said format. Marred by age, faded color, and without editing, the movie manifestly has its flaws, yet remains timeless as it is atmospheric. George’s “Beauty Lost” may also be the only complete movie of its kind that remains extant, that is, viewable to the public (i.e., later I donated the silent version to Northern Arizona University’s Cline Library, which has been in circulation for over twenty years.) All things considered, through George’s keen eye for scenery, Glen Canyon, as a former backcountry environs truly like no other canyon setting, is preserved in this unsophisticated film. So, take it as it is.

The movie begins with a scenic flight George and Helen took to the put-in (at Hite, Utah). The naked sandstone country in that era is quite alien compared to modernity’s development throughout northeast Arizona and southeast Utah, where Glen Canyon’s shadowed and serpentine chasm shows up fairly early in the film. Once on the ground, the six ‘river rats’ in the rafting party are soon off for their bucolic adventure. So, sit back, relax, and take a mental seat on the jumble rubber raft and enjoy seeing the American Southwest’s ‘Lost Atlantis’ before the dam works were completed. Even then, the workers and engineers were busy bees building that colossal and sweeping cement barrier.

POSTSCRIPT
In the sample writings below, there is more literary background about both the movie and two articles that I wrote for the Daily Kos community some time ago. Namely, IT WASN’T NICE TO DROWN A CANYON LAND and THE LOST ATLANTIS OF CANYONS. Eventually, I wrote a book about Glen Canyon’s before and after appearance, which, hopefully, will one day be published. For this admittedly nostalgic tome favoring what nature had bequeathed, I borrowed George’s apt title for this tome: Beauty Lost.

::