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The photographic history of construction at Glen Canyon Damsite - 1956 to 1966

March 14, 2023
by John S. Weisheit

1962 - Glen Canyon Dam construction site; upstream and downstream coffer dams and the rising superstructure.
1962 - Glen Canyon Dam construction site; upstream and downstream coffer dams and the rising superstructure.

This site is also under construction

PROJECT: Colorado River Storage Project Act (1956); Glen Canyon Dam (GCD) & Glen Canyon Reservoir (now Lake Powell) in northern Arizona; principal agency is Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation).

The first picture of the damsite, by coincidence, was taked in 1889 by Franklin Nims of the Stanton & Brown Expedition of 1889. This photo was matched in 1992, by Robert H. Webb. Click here to view this fine example of repeat photography.

Special thanks to Tom Martin at River Runners for Wilderness for taking the time to build this photographic collection from federal archives.

  • Commissioner of Reclamation in 1957: Wilbur A. Dexheimer
  • Commisssioner of Reclamation in 1959: Floyd Dominy (oral history)
  • Chief Engineer (on site) for GCD Project: Lemuel (Lem) M. Wylie
  • Chief Design Engineer of Concrete Dams: Ernest R. Schultz (design features)
  • Public Affairs Officer for GCD Project: W.L. (Bud) Rusho (oral history)
  • Contractor: Merritt-Chapman & Scott Corporation, New York City.
  • A six-month dispute from the labor force emerged in the second half of 1959.
  • The Merritt-Chapman & Scott Corporation suffered bankruptcy and by 1971, operations were dissolved. Wikipedia.
  • Oral History: Commissioner Daniel Beard & repurposing operations at Glen Canyon Dam.

There were nine baseline objectives to complete the construction of Glen Canyon Dam:

  1. Geology: Navajo sandstone as bedrock for this facility was the greatest challenge for the design engineers. GC Dam is the first dam by Reclamation to utilize computer programming to calculate the stress load of a cantilevered arch dam. GC Dam is not a gravity dam. To qualify as a gravity dam, the dam's weight must exceed the load and the hydraulic lift potential of a full reservoir.
  2. Community: Build a community (Page, Arizona) with utilities (water, power and sewage), provide housing, warehouses and office space for a federal bureaucracy and for contractor and sub-contractor employees.
  3. Mobility: Build a highway bridge to connect the western and eastern rims of a wide and entrenched Glen Canyon.  This included the placement of various suspended footbridges, and various suspended mobile cable and pulley assemblies (vertical and horizontal positioning) to lift and lower workers, heavy equipment and materials from the canyon rim to canyon bottom. Build a vented, switchback tunnel sytem for vehicles to drive from rim to powerhouse station.
  4. Foundation: Preparations to dewater the river and expose the bedrock below the sand and gravel beds (photos of paleoflood scour).
  5. Concrete: Preparations to build forms to accept a matrix of reinforced steel and concrete, and then circulate refrigerated water through pipes to dissapate the heat of setting concrete. This includes the batching of sand, gravel, portland cement and pozzolan (a binder of volcanic origin).
  6. Grouting and rock bolts: (1) Drill holes into bedrock to install rock bolts to prevent the delamination of Navajo Sandstone. (2) Drill holes through the hardened concrete and/or bedrock to inject grout to seal the voids and cracks and prevent seepage and hydraulic lift of the superstructure (two phases of injection: low-pressure & high-pressure). Note: The dam does leak and sandstone slabs do exfoliate (AGU paper); this will be discussed at a later time.
  7. Electric power and transmission: Prepartions to build a powerhouse of turbines and a network of transmission lines and towers to distribute electrical power. Revenues from power production was the political priority for authorizing the projects of the Colorado River Storage Project Act of 1956, and why Commissioner Floyd Dominy popularized the term: "cash register dam."
  8. Reservoir filling: Seal (plug) the diversion tunnels with concrete and fill the reservoir, which took 17-years, and more on that subject at a later time. General Principles to Govern, and Operating Criteria for, Glen Canyon Reservoir (Lake Powell) and Lake Mead During the Lake Powell Filling Period. See also: Reservoir elevation data from 1963 to 2023.
  9. Public relations: Control the narrative of the project; build a Visitor Center; and organize a dedication ceremony by Lady Bird Johnson.


  • Minimum hourly wage - $1.15
  • Median annual income - $5,700
  • Average cost of a new car $4,300
  • Median total cost of modest home - $18,000
  • Median cost for a dozen eggs - $0.57
  • Median cost for a gallon of fuel - $0.31
  • Median cost for a pack of cigarettes - $0.25
  • Median cost for a six pack of beer - $1.71


  • Daily average discharge of hydropower turbines: 22,548 acre-feet.
  • Daily average reservoir evaporation:1,452 acre-feet.
  • Daily average sediment load into reservoir: 12,164 tons or 101 acre-feet.
  • Annual accumulation of turbidity flows (fine-grain sediment) at forebay of Glen Canyon Dam: 2.7 inches
Bureau of Reclamation



Glen Canyon National Recreation Area 
  • Topography below the 3,700 feet contour; download this very large zip file.
  • 1922 - USGS Dam Survey Maps from confluence with Green River to Lee's Ferry; download this zip file.
  • Note: The USGS elevations of 1922 have a deviation near Glen Canyon Dam of +5 feet. The deviation near the Big Drop Rapids of Cataract Canyon is +10 feet.  

GEOLOGIC HAZARDS - During and after reservoir filling and dewatering
1963 to 2023: Photos and movies


Thirteen photographers total

 J. L Digby 

  • 1958 - 29 photos: Colorado River bridge; mobile cableway towers; concrete batching; diversion tunnels; employee housing; excavate spillway approach; excavate keyways.
  • 1959 - 73 photos: sandstorms; grouting; coffer dams; tunnel adit for service road to rim; concrete batching; excavate keyways; excavate powerhouse building; garage building.
  • All Digby photos combined

J.H. Enright

  • 1957 - 21 photos: batching aggregate, cement & pollazon; excavate diversion tunnels; warehouse construction; lateral adit to left diversion tunnel.
  • 1958 - 31 photos: diesel-powered generators; highway bridge; water storage tank; sewer treatment plant; water treatment plant; mobile 50-ton highline cable span; excavate spillway approach; construct municipal building and laboratory; river crossing foot bridge; excavate foundation inspection tunnels.
  • All Enright photos combined

Fred S. Finch (qualitative photos)

L. E. Fine

  • 1962 - 8 photos: electric transmission towers
  • 1963 - 2 photos: communication towers & facilities
  • All Fine photos combined

H. Freebury

R. C. Gaulke

C. V. Gezelius

  • 1959 - 19 photos: pozzolan mining/processing; portland cement mining/processing.
  • 1960 - 1 photo: pozzolan mining/processing.
  • 1961 - 6 photos: pozzolan mining/processing.
  • 1962 - 3 photos: pozzolan mining/processing.
  • All Gezelius photos combined

Owen Hill

V. E. Larson

C. R. Long

W. L. Rusho - Public relations officer and supervisor for the project photographers.

  • 1960 - 4 photos: test flow at right diversion tunnel; spillway gates; concrete transport buckets.
  • 1961 - 1 photo: aggregate hauling.
  • 1962 - 1 photo: massive bridge component for powerplant.
  • All Rusho photos combined
  • Note: Rusho has many photos in various collections.

F. B. Slote

  • 1956 - 2 photos: access road along river corridor; lowering heavy equipment into canyon.
  • 1957 - 22 photos: right diversion tunnel portal; housing for construction workers; highway construction; aggregate processing; bridge; construction of tower for highline cable lift; highscalers on cliff face removing loose rocks; groundwater drill rig; installing rock bolts; air compressor station.
  • All Slote photos combined

A. E. Turner (quantitative photos)

  • 1957 - 60 photos combined: asphalt and concrete mixing plants; diversion tunnels; spillway intakes; Colorado River bridge; highway construction to Bitter Springs Junction (Hwy 89); water and sewage treatment plants; contractor housing; warehouse construction; vehicle tunnel from rim to powerplant; foot bridges; cable lifts for equipment and workers; diesel-powered generators
  • 1958 - 140 photos combined: Spillway approaches; diversion tunnels; vehicle tunnel; laboratory; telephone office; Colorado River bridge; water and sewer treatment plants; concrete batching and mixing; lining tunnels with concrete; vehicle tunnel; rock bolting; keyway excavationj; hospital constructions; municipal admin building; residential homes; mucking materials for road base at canyon bottom and coffer dams;
  • 1959 - 96 photos combined: water refrigeration station; concrete and aggregate batching stations; armouring upstream coffer dam; diversion portals, gates and trashracks; foundation inspection tunnels; concrete lining of diversion tunnels; excavation of power plant machine shop; dedication of Colorado River bridge; administrative buildings; construction of perched concrete batch plant near right abutment; arrival of manufactured steel pipes/tubes; excavation of keyways; fire station and government garage; diversion tunnels and coffer dams completed; excavation of river bed to bedrock; 50-ton truck scale; police building; seismograph station;
  • 1960 - 139 photos combineda pivotal year; workers strike has concluded; coffer dams will be completed; river diversion tunnels will be operational; Colorado River bridge is completed; excavation of river bed to expose bedrock is underway; excavation of keyways and powerhouse are nearly complete; preparations for massive concrete batching and delivery will be ready; Page is a functional community.
  • 1961 - 227 photos combined: public relations; construction of churches and amenities for Page; sand and aggregate processing and stockpiling at streambed of Wahweap Canyon; concrete placement for dam and power plant begins in earnest (day and night shifts); quality control laboratory for testing concrete integrity; placement of penstock steel tubes; armor downstream diversion tunnel portals with concrete to protect bedrock from erosion; install drain pipes to discharge seepage;  placement of river outlet steel tubes; technical instruments and connecting cables installed into concrete blocks with adits for access; upstream coffer dam seepage (sump pumps not required as dam height increases); concrete lining of spillways; spillway radial gates installation; preparations for concrete aprons to control erosion from discharge portals (tailrace).
  • 1962 - 216 photos combined:
  • 1963 - 145 photos combined:
  • 1964 - 136 photos combined:
A. E. Turner




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