Katie Lee’s life drastically changed after she first ran the Colorado River through Glen Canyon in 1954. Her experiences in the vast canyon led to her advocacy against Glen Canyon Dam, the inspiration for many of her songs, and the subject of four of her books. She was involved with environmental groups, namely the Sierra Club, Glen Canyon Institute, and Earth First!. She was involved in advocacy against the dam until her death.
I am really looking forward to being with two good friends on the Glen.(Letter from Frank, Glen Canyon Betrayed, pg. 94)
The First Trip
Lee’s first trip through Glen Canyon was a personal catalyst. While her trip through the Grand Canyon in 1953 set her on the path to run Glen Canyon, it was her 1954 trip through Glen that set the tone and purpose for the rest of her life.
Lee described her first trip many times. In Sandstone Seduction, she writes about how the river had its own song, and that it helped her realize the music around her. Unlike the part of the Colorado River that ran through the Grand Canyon, which was loud and angry, the river through Glen was rhythmic and melodic. The river called to her, and she would continue to return whenever she had the chance.
We Three Trips
One of the most impactful and memorable series of trips Lee took in Glen Canyon were with her friends Tad Nichols and Frank Wright. In 1955, 1956, and 1957, Lee, Nichols, and Wright took what they dubbed “We Three Trips.” Except for the third trip, the group was alone, as they enjoyed exploring the canyon without passengers. Photographer Martin Koehler joined the group for the 1957 trip. He took a series of famous nude photographs of Lee in Glen Canyon.
On their trips, We Three practiced conservation of the canyon. They cleaned walls where both historic and recent travelers had chalked or carved their names on the canyon walls. They also documented the locations of Indigenous Peoples’ sites and artifacts. The Tad Nichols Collection has many examples of these artifacts and sites. It is available for viewing at Special Collections and Archives, and select digitized photographs can also be seen online in Cline Library’s Digital Collections.
When Lee heard about Glen Canyon Dam, she was inspired to advocate against it. She wrote letters to representatives, performed protest songs, and became a member of environmental groups like the Sierra Club. After the dam was built, she continued to work with advocates, environmentalists, and conservationists to remove the dam and prevent other such projects in the Grand Canyon and on other rivers.