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Katie Lee: I Will Return
Copyright 2017 Diane Sward Rapaport

My close friend Katie Lee died peacefully in her home in Jerome on November 1, 2017. She was 98 years old. Two years later, I am still immensely sad.

Katie lit a wildfire in her heart about the loss of Glen Canyon when it was drowned to become Lake Powell Reservoir. She called it Loch Latrine or Rez Foul. Often called the “Grand Dame of Dam Busting,” she never stopped fighting to drain it and return the natural flow of the Colorado River.

She left a torch that won’t be extinguished. She knew how to scorch with her words, whether in her books, stories, songs, or lectures. I seldom met an audience of hers that didn’t shed tears and give her a standing ovation.

 I once asked Katie why she was so attached to Glen Canyon. She replied, “It’s as if my feet are still stuck in the sand at the edge of the river. It’s where I live. This other life I walk around in all day—well, that’s a passing thing. And in many ways it’s my defense against the sadder mechanisms of life around us. And God knows we all need those mechanisms from keeping ourselves from going crazy in this mad world.”

Although she leaves a potent legacy, one she was fortunate to realize in her lifetime, I offer here a few personal memories.


The last time I saw Katie was when I took her to lunch in Cottonwood, Arizona on her birthday, two years before she died. She cussed at me all the way down the mountain from Jerome for my atrocious driving. “You’re f****g braking too often, you need to learn to downshift around these curves; you’re too jerky.” And of course, the more she cussed and yelled, the more nervous and jerky I got. By the time we reached the restaurant, Katie was carsick, and I was mortified.

Then I remembered her acknowledgments about me in her book Sandstone Seduction under the heading, Category Indefinable: “I can teach her only two things: where to hike and how to drive.”

Katie learned to drive from her third husband, Brandy, who was a racecar driver. She became superb at driving fast and smooth, cursing and honking at anybody in her way.

She just never managed to teach me.


Katie did teach me where to hike. Her topo maps showed me how to choose the places where there was virtually no possibility of seeing anyone else. (Hikes she has taken are highlighted with yellow or orange markers on topo maps, which are now archived at Northern Arizona University’s Cline Library).

At 42 years old, I was a backpacking neophyte; a city slicker newly arrived in Jerome, AZ, who had made some waves in the music industry. I had never before spent a night that was not in a national park with groomed trails and signs telling me where to take a photo. Katie took her mate Joey, my husband Walter and I, and her friend Merlin on a ten-day trip into Gravel Canyon, in Utah’s White Canyon area—possibly not traveled by anyone (including the cows) since the Native Americans left in the fourteenth century. We accessed it from the top. Katie drove up some scraggy, scarred dirt road, which scared the piss out of me, one of my first experiences with Katie behind the wheel.

We started down canyon over many large tree trunks and refrigerator size boulders left by years of flash floods, sending Merlin ahead, sometimes for many hours, to see whether the canyon would continue to “go” or would box us out. He was training for some Chilean snowbound mountain backpacking and carrying 70–80 pounds. We found side canyons full of untrammeled ruins, whole pots, areas strewn with corncobs and grinding stones, and other remnants of lives long gone.

Katie was her most natural self in these wild places—funny, easy to be around, and helpful. She was a gifted storyteller and those wonderful canyon amphitheaters inspired her and turned anybody with her into a rapt audience. The most magical moments were when she played canyon songs with her beat-up guitar and sang, with the coyotes adding their wild harmonies.

After we rappelled down a forty-foot cliff to walk out, Katie broke one of her two steadfast rules: Never tell anybody where you went. (The other was Don’t go down something you can’t get back up). We found a mauled and looted grave at the end of the rappel, human bones scattered everywhere, which made Katie furious. We stopped at the Kane Gulch ranger station and told the ranger about it. “How did you happen to find it?” asked the ranger. “We came down canyon,” Katie blurted out. “Oh,” said the ranger, “I didn’t know you could come down that canyon.” Two years later, Outside Magazine did a story on it.

Hikes with Katie taught me to appreciate why those lonesome places are shelters for our emotional upheavals and havens for spiritual growth.

Je Reviendral

Katie loved making bead necklaces for her friends. A few weeks before she died, she told me she was making a necklace for her friend Candace of natural green polished stones and four tiny silver charms: a snake (“because I love them”); a pen (“because I’m a writer”); and a ladder (“of success”); the fourth was a tiny disk engraved with the words Je reviendral (“I will return”).

I’d like to think that maybe, just maybe, Katie never left. The wildfires that she set in my heart continue to spread.

Goodbye, Katie! (for the 2nd time)
Noel Fray

I had heard about Katie Lee almost from the first moment I moved to Jerome in 1983… the stories were vast and varied to say the least! The first time I had the honor of stepping into her home was when her long time friend, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, came to town to visit her. Ramblin’ Jack had been a folk hero of mine for years so I asked Katie if I might attend the little get together she was hosting and she said “Sure!”. It was an evening I will never forget. Ranblin’ Jack sat in Katie’s front room to a gathering of a dozen or so locals and played many of his songs with Katie joining in on vocals. (I even got him to play his “Tractor” song – which he said nobody ever requested!) That was the beginning of a long wonderful relationship with my dear friend, Katie Lee.

My name is Noel Fray and I have had the unique pleasure of working with Katie Lee for more than twenty years. I started out by becoming her tech guy for her Mac (Apple) computer. I would answer her calls for help on a fairly regular basis in the beginning primarily due to the fact that “the damned thing” didn’t work the way she thought it should. I remember one episode early in our relationship which taught me a valuable lesson about Katie… I was attempting to show her something about how to format some text in her word processing program. She would try to follow my instructions but kept getting it wrong. About her third or fourth attempt she let out a string of expletives that took me completely by surprise! (Now I’m an old Navy man and this language was not unfamiliar to me but… I was not expecting such language from her!). I took a step back from her chair and she noticed and turned around to look at me. The expression on my face must have caught her attention because she smiled at me and said,”Oh, honey… I hope you don’t think I was hollering at you… it’s just this damned computer!” At that point I realized that I had been accepted into Katie’s inner circle and this was just the price of admission!

Around 2007 Katie told me that she was running out of cassette copies of one of her recordings and she was not going to spend the money to have a bunch more copies made. I told her that I could digitize her audio cassettes and create audio CDs for her. It was around that time that I suggested we build her a website and, as they say, the rest is history.

The years that I have worked with Katie (and Joey) have been filled with many stories and anecdotes. One of the most rewarding experiences that I am happy to have been a part of is the amount of “personal” emails that Katie received over the years that her website has been online. It was my regular job to screen emails that came in through her website in an attempt to keep her personal email address private. In this position I was able to see a sampling of how her life and her work impacted many people. Some of these people had known of Katie in one way or another over the span of her multi-talented career but had no idea on how to contact her or if she was even still alive.

Several years ago when a string of these particularly complimentary emails arrived over the span of a few days I found her on the verge of tears when I arrived at her office. I asked her what was bothering her and she told me that she did not understand why all of these people were telling her all of these wonderful things about how her work had affected their lives. Now you should understand that Katie received numerous requests for interviews right up to days before she passed on. This was a regular occurrence as people from various publications or students of all levels expressed a desire to interview her for her stand on the Glen Canyon Dam or her views on the environment or her performing career or her writing. There were also constant invitations to be a guest speaker at one event or another or to be the recipient of some award. These types of emails were a normal thing and most of them came in through her personal email address. But with the creation of her website a whole new audience was now able to find her and reach out to her and I believe these emails caught her off guard!

I did my best to explain to her that her work… especially her books and songs, had obviously inspired a younger generation as well as the older generations and now they had a way to reach out to her to express their appreciation. Truth be told… I don’t think that Katie ever fully grasped the extent or depth that her work had on some people. In her mind I believe that she was driven to express herself concerning what she loved and what she despised in this world. In her younger years I think she did a lot of her work and appearances with the hope that that she could change some minds. In her later years (especially after she stopped playing guitar) she mentioned to me on several occasions that she wondered if anybody really cared about what an “old codger” like her had to say. Obviously, many people do care.

Anybody who spent any time with Katie will have a myriad of anecdotes and stories to share and these are just a few of mine. There are many written and recorded interviews on this website so that you, the reader, can form your own opinion of just who Katie Lee was. If you need more information… read her books and listen to her music.

On November 2, 2017 my dear friend and cohort finally got her wish and was able to leave this world. She had been wanting to go for several years. She no longer could do many of the things she used to enjoy and she had told me so often that she was ready to go. Do I miss her? Of course I do. But I am happy that she was able to go in her sleep as she had made it extremely clear that she did not want a prolonged procedure. I said my goodbyes last year but now it is time for my second goodbye.

Katie and I entered into a contract on November 1, 2015 that provided me the right to maintain her website and online store after her death. She also left the rights to all of her work to the Cline Library at Northern Arizona University. My goal has been to ensure that Katie’s legacy did not disappear after her death. I have been in close contact with the Cline Library since her passing and they have assured me that it is their intent to keep her archival legacy going as well as making all of her work available onsite and online. That being said… I have decided to let go… to say goodbye for the second time.

In June the Cline Library will meet with me and we will transfer Katie’s inventory of items for sale in my possession as well as hand over the reigns to this website. Katie’s online store will be removed from this site but the Cline Library can be contacted via email ( or phone (928.523.5551) for inquiries and orders.

For those of us who had the privilege to know Katie Lee… and I mean to really know her… well, it’s a friendship unique unto itself! For those of you who never had the opportunity to spend time with this wild woman… read her books, listen to her music, peruse this website for the interviews, reviews and anecdotes… you will be entertained and educated.

And… if the Glen Canyon Dam is ever removed (by mankind or by nature)… rest assured that Katie Lee surely had a hand in it somehow!

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