Growth is a major issue in the contemporary American West, especially as more and more towns and states turn to tourism to spark their economies. But growth has a flip side—loss—about which we seldom think until something is irrevocably gone.

Where once was Glen Canyon, with its maze of side-canyons leading to the Colorado River, now is Lake Powell, second largest reservoir in America, attracting some three million visitors a year. Many who come here think they have found paradise, and for good reason: it’s beautiful. However, the loss of Glen Canyon was monumental—to many, a notorious event that remains unresolved.

Focusing on the saddening, maddening example of Glen Canyon, Jared Farmer traces the history of exploration and development in the Four Corners region, discusses the role of tourism in changing the face of the West, and shows how the “invention” of Lake Powell has served multiple needs. He also seeks to identify the point at which change becomes loss: How do people deal with losing places they love? How are we to remember or restore lost places.

By presenting Glen Canyon as a historical case study in exploitation, Farmer offers a cautionary tale for the future of this spectacular region. In assessing the necessity and impact of tourism, he questions whether merely visiting such places is really good for people’s relationships with each other and with the land, suggesting a new ethic whereby westerners learn to value what remains of their environment. Glen Canyon Dammed was written so that the canyon country’s perennial visitors might better understand the history of the region, its legacy of change, and their complicity in both. A sobering book that recalls lost beauty, it also speaks eloquently for the beauty that may still be saved.

PUBLISHER: The University of Arizona Press (1999).


“A genuine post-ironic history of place, full of passion and insight.”
Hal Rothman, author of Devil’s Bargains: Tourism in the Twentieth-Century American West

“This work peels away the myths surrounding the loss of a canyon and the creation of a lake.… A compassionate exploration of the range of emotions evoked by a place of unsurpassed beauty.”
Scott Thybony, author of The Painted Desert: Land of Wind and Stone


“Jared Farmer … had not been born when Glen Canyon was dammed and Lake Powell created in 1963, but he has a superb sense of the glory of the place before the Bureau of Reclamation came and put it under water.… There are several stories in this book, each important and well-told.… From the title to the last poignant line of his book, Farmer is a soul-mate of writer John McPhee.”
Rocky Mountain News

“Often cited as a turning point in the environmental movement, the loss of Glen Canyon was a rallying cry that spawned Earth First! and nationalized and strengthened the Sierra Club. Farmer covers the natural history of the region before the dam but focuses on the growth of ‘industrialized tourism’ fueled by the creation of paved roads and easy access to an area that had previously been one of the most remote and wild in the country. He also looks realistically at efforts to remove the dam and includes a useful outline history of Glen Canyon before the dam as well as a good subject bibliography.”
Library Journal

“Farmer moves the history of Glen Canyon and Lake Powell away from a simple two-sided story of development versus preservation and into a more complex and realistic story that includes both good and evil, gain and loss.… Throughout this study, Farmer’s writing is entertaining and eloquent, imbued with the passion of a native Utahn. Anyone interested in the history of place, the effects of tourism on the West, or a fresh approach to the story of Lake Powell should read this fine and complex book.”
Andrew M. Honker, Environmental History

“One has to admire his sensitivity to very different points of view, and for what may well be one of the first postmodern readings of one of the West’s most contested places.”
Mark Harvey, Journal of Arizona History

“This attractive, well-written, and well-researched book is much more than a study of Glen Canyon and its notorious dam and associated reservoir, Lake Powell, so passionately hated by many while loved by hordes of others. It is a book about the soul of the West, using history to understand its body, with Glen Canyon perhaps as its heart.… Farmer, like most good writers, does write with passion, but it is a glow that illuminates his writing; it does not characterize it. He is not preaching to either the choir of dam lover or of haters.… The book does not so much attempt to bridge the gap between positions as to help elucidate the passion behind the positions, the paradoxes and dilemmas facing both camps. It does not vilify those of opposing camps as either knaves or fools—the West has always engendered conflicting views from those who often shared a surprisingly similar love and passion for the landscape.… Problems of change and loss and our evolving attitudes towards ‘wilderness’ will continue with us into the new millennium; to his credit and our benefit Jared Farmer has tried to articulate the problems in this very rewarding book, which will benefit readers of whatever political stance or environmental position.”
Richard Firmage, Utah Historical Quarterly