The Yampa River winds through Castle Park to its confluence with the Green River in Echo Park. The Yampa is Colorado's second largest body of water and runs wild, apart from a few small dams and diversions. The Green River starts high in Wyoming's Wind River Range and is the chief tributary of the Colorado - the most endangered river in America. Dinosaur is fascinating for it's geography, cultural and ecological significance, and diversity. It was also the scene of a major conservation battle over the proposed damming of Echo Park, with the Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society leading the fight to keep the rivers running free. Photographer Philip Hyde was commissioned by Sierra Club president David Brower for the book This Is Dinosaur in 1955 - he became the Sierra Club's primary conservation photographer. Thank you to LightHawk for providing the aerial support to fly this mission.
I met LightHawk volunteer pilot Jim Grady at oh-dark-thirty in Grand Junction, CO last week to fly over Dinosaur National Monument in northwest Colorado. Jim and I flew together once before, over the Gunnison Basin last year, so I knew I was in for a great flying experience with a great plot. Jim has that kind, generous spirit that is typically LightHawk, and will stay out there as long as it takes to get the right images. I was excited to climb into his 1953 suped-up Cessna 180 with the huge window opening – the window just hovers, held open by airflow. My only worry was nausea-inducing turbulence, but there was none of that in the cool, stable morning air. Dinosaur has been on my radar for awhile for the significance of the wild rivers, cultural and conservation history, and its central role as the wild in northwest Colorado. I came to think of Dinosaur in a regional context when I photographed Vermillion Basin and Brown’s Park NWR a few years ago, areas that tie into the Dinosaur complex. Their protection bolsters the ecological sustainability in a region that is under heavy drilling development pressure that could turn Dinosaur NM into a protected island in a sea of industrialized drilling; an ironic twist when you consider the struggle between conservationists and politicians hellbent to dam Echo Park in the ’50′s. I’m mindful of the courage of David Brower, Philip Hyde, and Wallace Stegner as we soar over the confluence and peer into deep canyons slicing the wrinkled landscape of the Moenkopi and Weber Sandstone formations. Those early conservation greats found a way to make Dinosaur matter and kept dams out of all national parks and monuments. The modern threat fragments surrounding lands that sustain the ecosystem and steals millions of gallons of water for every fracked well. The threat may have changed, but the challenge to see the future is no different today than it was in the 1950′s. (more…)