One of Page’s ‘treasures’ has found a new forever home in the John Wesley Powell Museum and Archives (Museum) in Page thanks to the efforts of the US Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau), the Glen Canyon Conservancy (Conservancy), the National Park Service and many volunteers.
Left to right, photos by Phil Clark:
Pat Talbott touches up one of the features on the map with her palette of paint colors.
The road leading to the Glen Canyon Bridge is touched up.
Employees and volunteers carefully place the sections of map together on the leveled place before seams are later sealed and painted to blend in with the rest of the map.
The hand carved three-dimensional map of the upper Colorado River drainage is ready for visitors to closely examine as they plan their exploration of northern Arizona, southern Utah and Lake Powell.
Before Google Earth made it possible to see the Earth’s surface from the comfort of a person’s home, the Bureau, the agency that built Glen Canyon Dam, commissioned the map to introduce the world to the then new Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell. In 1963 Glen Canyon Dam was completed and started to generate electricity, store water and create Lake Powell.
The artist, Robert S. Miller, carved (not molded) the 3D map by hand in his shop and completed it in 1967 for the opening of the Glen Canyon Visitor Center. The Visitor Center was later renamed for US Senator Carl Hayden of Arizona, who served from 1927 to 1969. Miller used aerial photography and topographic maps to create the model. According to nps.gov, the map “can only be described as precisely accurate.”
The map’s seven sections, carved from isocyanate foam, fit perfectly together and is about 15 ft by 19 ft. Many remember the map when it was located at the Visitor Center. The 3D Topographic Relief Map was on display there from 1967 to 2016. The Bureau redesigned the exhibits in 2016 and decided to remove the old map.
The map was so fragile that visitors were not allowed to touch it. For those with visual disabilities, the old map was not accessible. The map was replaced with a new, smaller map at the Carl Hayden Visitor Center. Both the new map and a smaller bronze model are touchable.
The historic map was carefully dismantled and stored at the Bureau warehouse in Page until 2018 when it was donated to the Glen Canyon Conservancy and installed in the Conservancy’s Flagship store, next door to the Museum. After the museum remodel was completed in September 2023, the map was permanently relocated to its current home.
Pat Talbott, a local artist, volunteered to carefully restore the map using various sized brushes, sponges and an “orange stick” typically used for manicures. Considering it an honor, Talbott meticulously cleaned every square inch of the map to remove the decades of dust and grime that had accumulated. Talbott repaired some of the formations and touched up the paint. When it came time to put the sections back together, Talbott sealed and painted the seams so well that they are almost invisible. As a result of her labor of love, the map itself seems to glow with colors that many have not seen in decades. Talbott said “I cried watching [the map)] being dismantled and leaving the … Visitor Center.” She again cried tears of joy when the map was being donated to the Conservancy.
Some people remember looking at the map as the starting point for exploration of northern Arizona and southern Utah as I did in 1982. The details are so intricate, many were able to find specific canyons, arches, natural bridges and other geologic features and get a preview of their outdoor adventures. Miller carved 12 arches and natural bridges into the model. It took Miller almost 2000 hours to create the map, equivalent to 279 eight-hour days. It took around 700 hours to paint the map. By the time the map was completed it took almost 2300 hours, or 365 eight hour work days. The original cost of the map was $24,000 in 1967. In 2023 it would have cost $230,000. To many who have seen and known the map, it is priceless.
As part of the creation of the map, Miller used samples of rock and sand from 38 different locations. These samples resulted in the production of 78 shades of colors used in the map to represent the natural colors of the landscape. The finely carved details were completed using dental tools. All of the attention to detail resulted in a spectacular map that represents 10,000 square miles (about 16,000 square kilometers) of the Upper Colorado River Basin, which includes the landscapes and canyons that drain into the Colorado and San Juan rivers.
Lake Powell is shown in the model as bright blue on the map, representing a lake elevation of 3640 feet, or about 60 feet below the ‘full pool’ elevation of 3700, first achieved in 1980. The highest water elevation in July 1967 was around 3533 ft, according to https://lakepowell.water-data.com. At the time, visitors to the dam could see how the lake would look when it rose another 107 feet.
The horizontal scale on the map represents one mile to be 1.5 inches. The vertical scale is slightly exaggerated with one inch representing 1280 feet to emphasize the topography. In addition to Glen Canyon NRA, the map covers parts of three national parks, four national monuments (including Rainbow Bridge which can be seen in the model), two Navajo tribal parks, two state parks, six rivers and five mountains.
A visitor should include the map in their visit of Page and continue visiting the remaining exhibits within the Museum. Other exhibits include the John Wesley Powell expeditions to map and survey the Colorado and Green Rivers. Two dioramas at the museum originally donated by Grand Canyon National Park in 1999 were restored by Talbott in 2000. One diorama represents the John Wesley Powell expedition at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and another representing the Garcia Lopez de Cardenas expedition in 1540, the first Europeans to see the Grand Canyon.
Dinosaur fans will enjoy the dinosaur skulls and other fossils and the paleontological history of the area. The Museum also includes exhibits about the history of Page, Manson Mesa, rafting the Colorado River, Navajo culture and people and geology of the area. Visitors to the Museum will receive an excellent introduction to the area and it is well worth the stop before visiting the area.
Some consider the 3D map a ‘national treasure’, comparable to significant public art made in the last century such as the murals at the Main Department of Interior building in Washington DC. For more information and how to support the museum, visit canyonconservancy.org. The museum is located at 6 North Lake Powell Blvd in Page, Arizona. Be sure to visit the Glen Canyon Conservancy next door for gifts, books, souvenirs and information to start or enhance the exploration of southern Utah and northern Arizona.