I was driving the first time I saw the Golden Gate Bridge, and so befuddled was I by the sight that I almost swerved off the road. I had grown up amid spectacular mountains and canyons, but had never seen anything human-made on that scale. It simply didn’t seem possible. My friend and I, both 19, screamed with awe, fascination and a little bit of terror.
A quarter of a century has passed, and my reaction to larger-than-life infrastructure hasn’t dulled. I’m the dumb hick who gawks up at the skyscrapers in a city, and who cringes in fear as he drives down the casino canyon of the Las Vegas Strip. But to me perhaps nothing is as awesome to behold as Glen Canyon Dam. Like the Golden Gate Bridge, the dam is a spectacle, dwarfing much of the natural world all around. I can stand for hours on the vertigo-inducing bridge that spans the cold, green Colorado just downstream – a 1,000-foot long steel spiderweb suspended gracefully over a 700-foot deep void – simply trying to comprehend Glen Canyon Dam’s concrete enormity: 300 feet thick at its base, 1,500 feet long at the crest. More than that, though, is what it represents: Our effort to control what was once a muddy, wild, tumultuous river, to rein it in with a colossal concrete plug, holding back billions of gallons of water and flooding hundreds of miles of once-sublime canyons.
Photo: gin+gelato/Jonathan Thompson