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Know the West

A new generation comes to terms with Lake Powell

  The loss of Glen Canyon to Lake Powell grieves many people deeply, including those too young to have known "the place no one knew." At 25, Provo, Utah, native Jared Farmer has known only Lake Powell, the prized destination of a new generation. Yet in his new book, Glen Canyon Dammed: Inventing Lake Powell and the Canyon Country, he, too, longs for the canyon below the water.

More personal than Russell Martin's A Story that Stands Like a Dam or Philip Fradkin's A River No More, and more historical than Katie Lee's All My Rivers Are Gone and Bruce Berger's There Was a River, Farmer's book is something new: an attempt at reconciliation.

Farmer regrets Lake Powell, but still appreciates those families whose annual vacation at Powell has become the most important week of their year.

He respects the rights of Page, Ariz., residents to their livelihoods, and he recognizes that draining the reservoir would simply "replace one group of mourners with another." The reservoir's mourners, he makes clear, would have the advantage of numbers: Some 3 million people visit Lake Powell in a year.

At the same time, Farmer does not shy away from condemning out-of-control partying on the lake and the ecological and archaeological destruction caused when water flooded seven miles of river canyon.

The cast of characters and events in Glen Canyon Dammed includes river runner Norm Nevills, dentist-turned-author Zane Grey, Mormon pioneers carving the Hole-in-the-Rock road to the world's most profitable gas station at Dangling Rope Marina; and the "discovery" of the Rainbow Bridge and its current status as lakeside attraction - trademark registered by concessionaire Aramark.

The story is fittingly surreal - as surreal as a huge blue lake in the middle of the Colorado Plateau.

Now working on a Ph.D. in history at Stanford University, Farmer wrote much of this book during the summer of 1996, when he was an intern at High Country News.

Doug Johnson studies geography at San Francisco State University.