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The Boathouse Blog

Wilderness & Sublimity: the Conservation of Hells Canyon

“Holy Smoke. Is this in my state?” ~Senator Bob Packwood after viewing photos of Hells Canyon.

In May of this year, we had the opportunity to take an important figure in Hells Canyon’s history down the Snake River through Hells Canyon. It wasn’t Boyd Norton’s first time on this stretch of river. In fact, it was nearly 50 years ago his photos of this wild and remote stretch of wilderness kept this section of the deepest river canyon in North America from going underwater.

In the late 1960s, the last wild, un-dammed section of Hells Canyon was under threat of flood by damming. Engineering field surveys and core sampling was underway and companies were in the courts trying to decide if the dam was to be run as a private or public corporation. During this time, photographer Boyd Norton ran the river by raft and took his photographs to the desk of Senator Bob Packwood. Senator Packwood, astounded by the beauty and scale of Hells Canyon, led the charge in Congress to conserve this segment of the Snake River in Hells Canyon from damming. This conservation story is a testament to the power of photography and the importance of wilderness to our culture.

In May, Norton was joined by 5 fellow photographers, including Kendrick Moholt, to capture Hells Canyon’s beauty today. The adventure-seeking group braved springtime flows of 55,000 cfs which provided a dramatic backdrop for their images. The photos were part of an exhibit at the Josephy Center for Arts & Culture in Joseph called “Wilderness and Sublimity: Photography and the Conservation of Hells Canyon”. The exhibit will be on display at the Pendleton Center for the Arts in February, 2018. We are proud to be part of this historic adventure in Hells Canyon.