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Glen Canyon Institute

Dedicated to the restoration of Glen Canyon and a free flowing Colorado River.

Cathedral 1 sm Cathedral in the Desert by James Kay

Cathedral in the Desert

Cathedral in the Desert is a stunning monument located in the heart of one of the most beautiful places on earth, Glen Canyon. Originally named for its natural resemblance to a cathedral, it is currently buried nearly 100 feet under the flood-waters of Lake Powell reservoir. In 1963, Glen Canyon Dam was completed causing the flooding of 186 miles of the Colorado River's main channel. With that flooding, however, also came the loss of 125 major side canyons of Glen Canyon, including the drowning of the spectacular monument, Cathedral in the Desert. David Brower, then head of the Sierra Club, referred to this event as "America’s most regretted environmental mistake."

Cathedral in the Desert was originally named by two modern explorers on a quest to find geologic features outstanding enough to name and include in an environmental article. In the summer of 1954, Burnett Hendrix and Harlon Beamont were on their burros, slowly making their way up Clear Creek, a small canyon just off of the incredible Escalante River Canyon. Not many had preceded them here, yet they had been told that one of the most beautiful places on earth existed at the end of this canyon. They soon found that to be true.

Cathedral with watermarks

Cathedral in the Desert quite literally mimics a common cathedral, with finger-like projections in the sandstone varnish that stretch upward on the narrow canyon walls like spires reaching into heaven. The spires are complimented by a 60 foot waterfall pouring into the giant natural amphitheater of sandstone and slivers of sunlight. In his film, Let the River Run, David Brower said that, "Cathedral in the Desert was the ultimate magical place in Glen Canyon. And it didn’t take you very long to get into the side canyon. And then when you walked into that it was so much like a cathedral that you felt you better be quiet there - and we were."

The image to the left shows the degrees of visibility for Cathedral in the Desert depending on water level. The last time Lake Powell water was low enough to view this magnificent setting was in 2005. However, if flow levels along the Colorado River continue in patterns similar to the last decade, the Cathedral could re-emerge in the next few years. The varying water level marks are measured in msn (mean sea level).