Taylor Graham never thought he would have the chance to explore Glen Canyon in Southern Utah.
The canyon, in southern Utah and extending into Arizona, was flooded in 1963 when the controversial Glen Canyon Dam was built, creating Lake Powell reservoir in the Arizona portion of the canyon, leaving many side canyons and an untold number of archaeological sites buried under water.
“Glen Canyon was a place I’d always heard about growing up in Durango and growing up in the river-running community,” the documentary filmmaker said. “I’d always heard of this wonderful world that was lost when Glen Canyon Dam was built in 1963.”
Graham, a Durango native and son of former City Councilor Scott Graham and Susan Graham, now lives in Salt Lake City. He said climate change and the Colorado River being “basically sucked dry in many parts” has caused Lake Powell to drop to a level that side canyons are emerging.
“I felt like it was an opportunity for me to go back and explore some of these places that I thought I would never see in my life,” he said.
Graham chronicled his exploration in the film “Glen Canyon Rediscovered.” It is a story about an epic 350-mile journey “to the remote and lost wonders of Glen Canyon,” but he said there was a bigger purpose for making the movie.
“I set out to make the film to highlight the ways in which climate change and resource mismanagement are affecting the Colorado River and to connect my generation with the story of the loss and resurrection of Glen Canyon,” he said.
Graham and a crew of three – Courtney Blackmer-Raynolds, Micah Berman and Isabelle La Motte – loaded up sea kayaks in fall 2017 and took off on a 42-day expedition on the reservoir. According to the film’s official website, the group started in Moab, Utah, paddled through Cataract Canyon and across the length of Lake Powell to the Glen Canyon Dam site near Page, Arizona.
The film itself was about a year-and-half-long endeavor, Graham said. “Glen Canyon Rediscovered” was released in December through National Geographic, which also helped fund the project with an explorer grant. It will be screened as part of “The Cause and the Call Adventure” program during the Durango Independent Film Festival, which will run Feb. 27 through March 4.
On the waterGraham said packing camera supplies and camping equipment in kayaks for a long trek proved to be one of the expedition’s biggest challenges.
The region’s geography didn’t help make the journey easier, either, he said.
“Once we got out there, Lake Powell doesn’t have a whole lot of places to camp because it has a lot of sheer sandstone walls coming right down to the lake, so many times during that expedition, we had to paddle for miles and miles before we found a place to camp,” he said.
On one occasion, a windstorm whipped up and nearly flipped Graham and the crew into the water. On another, the group had be careful to avoid a 25-foot waterfall that developed because of dropping water levels that forced the river over a large sandstone butte.
“We paddled down a segment of the San Juan to reach a separate arm of Lake Powell to explore some of the recovery that was happening there as the lake dropped,” Graham said. “We paddled down the river on our way to the reservoir and had to navigate our way around this waterfall and very carefully pull our boats to the side to make sure none of us went downstream too fast and got washed over this big, dangerous waterfall. Fortunately, we were able to do that safely.”
The take-awayGraham, who started making ski films with his friends at Purgatory in the sixth grade, said he wants people who see his film to leave with a sense of optimism for the future of the climate.
“I think with a lot of doom and gloom when it comes to discussions around the Colorado River and managing water in the West – and there certainly should be because we are presented with some really monumental challenges in terms of sustainability, the added impact of climate change – I think I want folks to have a bit of hope, to take a bit of hope away from this film,” he said. “We have the opportunity, particularly other young folks, to really have an impact and rethink our relationships to these rivers.”