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White Canyon

White Canyon: Remembering the Little Town at the Bottom of Lake Powell by Tom McCourt

Reviewed by L. Bennett


White Canyon gathers its sparse waters from south Elk Ridge in southern San Juan County, UT. You might better recognize the name for its association with Natural Bridges National Monument, through which it winds on its way to Lake Powell. But before Glen Canyon Dam created the lake, White Canyon hosted a small company town and a uranium mill. Situated between Dandy Crossing and the Hite ferry on the Colorado River, the White Canyon community was the seasonal home of Lorin and Bertha Winn and their family, including grandson Tom McCourt.

McCourt recorded his childhood memories in White Canyon: Remembering the Little Town at the Bottom of Lake Powell. With eyes wide in wonder, McCourt and his brother explored tamarisk thickets, played in mill tailings, ate with the miners, and searched for arrowheads. He describes long, hot drives from the family home in Price, through Hanksville, into the river canyon, and across the Colorado on the Hite ferry. He remarks on one of his first, and distasteful, encounters with tourists, and the loss of the town to the rising waters of Lake Powell. He shares stories of events both observed and heard, probably recording these bits of history for the first time.

The book is not a lyrical account, nor is it a history anchored by footnotes (hence some of its factual errors). It is a personal, somewhat romanticized memoir of days and times gone by. Of a youngster who loved his grandparents and rejoiced in his time at White Canyon. The organization of the book is stream-of-consciousness, although the table of contents would suggest otherwise, and is distracting. The author's anthropomorphized characterization of Indian ruins, the river, and even the canyon itself was downright annoying. His phrase "Atomic Monster" betrays some hidden agenda regarding the uranium mining industry, and hints at an anger as yet unresolved. Finally, the book could have benefited from some firm and consistent editing. But as a representation of childhood in a remote part of Utah's desert and canyon country, the book does a fair job.


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