Glen Canyon: A River Guide Remembers, A Museum Exhibit

Last spring (2018) I was asked if I was interested in providing content for a museum exhibit to be show-cased in the John Wesley Powell Museum in Green River, Utah. The exhibit titled, “Glen Canyon: A River Guide Remembers” is intended to present the landscapes of Glen Canyon before it was flooded by the waters of Lake Powell. The exhibit is centered around the experiences of early river runner Ken Sleight, who was an outfitter running trips in Glen Canyon during the 1950’s, pre-dam era. Ken later used his experiences to become an advocate for the protection of these natural landscapes and associated cultural resources.

I was asked by the museum staff if Hopi people have a connection to this region and if so, would I be willing to share some of that information to museum visitors? Of course I said Yes! Being a river guide myself, I have a deep respect for not only river running history, but also the natural and cultural landscapes that we travel through. It is often through personal experiences within these outdoor settings that individuals gain a very personal and emotional connection to these places. Hopefully out of these unique experiences, we all gain a deeper appreciation for these areas and continue to strive for their protection and preservation.

After consulting with the museum staff about the overall message of the exhibit, I produced the following write-up, which is displayed next to a large photo of the Smith Fork Petroglyph panel that was completely covered by the waters of Lake Powell. The exhibit recently closed at the John Wesley Powell Museum, but is now being relocated to an empty art gallery located across from Ray’s Tavern in Green River. I was honored to be involved in this project and look forward to visiting the exhibit and hopefully running the Green River for the first time!

Thank You to the museum staff for this opportunity! It is often these smaller museums that tell some of the more compelling and personal stories. If you are ever in the area, be sure and stop by the new exhibit location and check it out!

Relocated location of the “Glen Canyon: A River Guide Remembers” exhibit.
(Photo: Martha Ham)

Footprints Upon the Sandstone: Hopi Connections to Glen Canyon

For Hopi People, Glen Canyon is recognized as part of a larger landscape that contains numerous connections to our ancestral past. This is ancient land of Hopi ancestors, the Hisat’sinom, “The People of Long Ago”. For millennia, Hopi ancestors lived in this region, inhabiting the sandstone mesas, canyons and river bottom. They were among the first to experience this unique landscape and call it Home.

The tangible evidence of Hopi ancestors who lived in Glen Canyon is found within the archaeological record as artifacts; the metaphorical “footprints of the ancestors”. These include prehistoric villages, ceramics, lithics, groundstone, textiles and burials. Hopi people believe these “footprints” were left behind as physical proof that our ancestors once occupied this region.

Another connection exists in Hopi histories, songs and prayers that speak of landforms found in and around Glen Canyon; Toko’navi – Navajo Mountain, Namiqw-wunu – Rainbow Bridge, Pisis’vayu –The Colorado River and Yotse’vayu – The San Juan River. These places are associated with important events in Hopi culture. An ancient Hopi oral history details the adventures of a Tiyo, a young Hopi boy who floated down the Colorado River in a cottonwood raft, starting his journey somewhere within Glen Canyon, perhaps near Toko’navi. Hopi people claim that Tiyo was the first “river runner” in the southwest, centuries before Powell took his own journey. We keep this history alive, not just within our minds, but we know it is written upon the landscape.

Museum exhibit photo of the Smith Fork Petroglyph Panel.
(Photo Martha Ham)

In modern times, Hopi people continue to visit the Glen Canyon area. We come seemingly as any visitor. We come to boat and fish in Lake Powell. We come to hike and explore. Yet we also come to pay respect to our ancestors. We recall the history of our people who once filled the canyons with their physical presence and spiritual essence. We know that among the sandstone mesas and canyons, and even below the waters of Lake Powell, there is a landscape that contains memories of Hopi history.

Today when a Hopi person visits ancestral landscapes, we don’t simply see the remnants of a by-gone era, we see reflections of who we once were and what we have now become. We witness the artistic and technical accomplishments of Hopi ancestors, but we recall the spiritual accomplishments of our ancestors as well.

Hopi People would like that the natural landscape of Glen Canyon be restored to its former beauty; hallowed ground that is alive with the spirits of the ancestors, who remain as spiritual guardians over a Hopi Cultural Landscape.

Exhibit panels being installed in their new location.
(Photo Martha Ham)

2 thoughts on “Glen Canyon: A River Guide Remembers, A Museum Exhibit

  1. sonofjoseph

    Lyle,
    If you do run the Green, I would be thrilled to book a trip with you.
    I imagine the rivers will all be running high and quick this spring.
    All the best to you, love the posts.
    Dan Keith

    ________________________________

    Like

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