Mike Adams grew up in the Northern Arizona city of Page during the 1960s. His interest in the history of the town and Glen Canyon Dam, coupled with a desire to share his experiences growing up on the bank of Lake Powell, inspired him to create a photo archive of the history of the region. In conjunction with our May issue on Lake Powell (on newsstands now), we asked Adams a few questions about Page's history, his own experiences and his current work.
What can you tell us about the history of the region?
Page was founded in 1957. Originally, it served as a housing community for those working on Glen Canyon Dam and their families. It was originally called Government Camp and was later named in honor of John C. Page, who served as commissioner for the Bureau of Reclamation from 1936 to 1943. The city of Page was built atop Manson Mesa as the result of a land exchange between the Bureau of Reclamation and the Navajo Nation. The Bureau of Reclamation began the job of paving roads and oversaw the construction of a number of block homes on Manson Mesa, as well as the original hospital and other buildings that served as warehouses and administration buildings during the construction of the town and the dam and bridge. I remember the bureau selling those houses in the late '60s, after work on the dam was complete and the population of Page had dwindled significantly. Homes with a garage originally sold for $12,000, and those with a carport went for $11,500.
What is your family's history and connection to the Page area?
Our family moved to Page in late 1959 or early 1960, and my wife and I moved away in 1985. I started first grade there. My dad was a pilot, and until that point in time, his work consisted largely of crop dusting. When we moved to Page, we literally lived at the airport. Our trailer was located 50 to 75 feet behind the hangar, and since we lived right there, my dad managed the airport after hours for Royce Knight and was one of the pilots who flew scenic flights over the area. I have a lot of good memories from that time, and I remember well what the area looked like from the air. When I wasn’t in school, my spare time was spent in the hangar and/or on the tarmac, watching people who flew in, fueled up and usually flew right back out. There are several posts on my blog featuring aerial shots of the area in those early days.
The construction of Glen Canyon Bridge was complete by the time we moved there, but the construction of the dam was still in its early stages. It was fascinating to walk onto the bridge in those days and look down at the construction of the dam and watch the activity. Watching the trucks below hauling dirt out of the way, and the overhead cranes on either side of Glen Canyon moving large buckets of concrete to their rightful place, was something I will always remember. There was an elevator attached to the canyon wall on the Page side that seemed to run nonstop, carrying people and who-knows-what up and down the canyon wall. The sights and sounds are captured in an episode of the old TV series Route 66. If you can get past the cheesy acting, the background sights and sounds in this episode are worth watching. I wrote a short blog about it that I called Route 66: Season One, Episode Nine. Since writing that blog, I found that episode on Amazon Video and purchased it for a couple bucks. Well worth it.
I spent the next four years watching the dam rise from the vantage point of the bridge, the old visitors center lookout just downstream of the bridge on the Page side of the canyon, and from the air. That visitors center lookout is still there but is closed to the public now.
What was the motivating factor that made you start your photo archive?
I’m a big fan of history, and I love poring over old photos. I started my photo blog as a way to preserve the things I had seen, for myself and for others. I have so many memories of growing up there during the dam construction that I wanted to share the experience. I wanted others to see what I had seen, and I wanted to provide one place on the web where these old photos were available for anyone else who lived there during those early years. I’m by no means the most qualified to do this, but before I started my blog, I spent quite a bit of time searching the web for something similar to what I envisioned. I saw no point in reinventing the wheel. But there wasn’t anything like this on the internet at that time. There were a few pictures scattered here and there, but I couldn’t find one repository by someone else who lived there during that time, like I had. For me, this started as a somewhat selfish hobby, and it continues to be a hobby. It’s one I enjoy.
How long have you been documenting the history of the area?
I had what I call a false start in 2001 or 2002. I started a humble self-hosted website and threw some of my pictures on it. I didn’t have very many of my own, but I wanted to start something in hopes it would grow. It didn’t really go anywhere, and I ended up shutting it down. I started the website that you see today in 2013. I had gathered more pictures by that time, and I used them initially. Some of those are still there, but the quality is suffering. Then a friend, whom I had grown up with in Page, offered me 8x10 pictures his family had of those early years. His dad worked for the USBR, and his family had a great supply of photos. So I bought a scanner. Following that, several others who were there, or had a connection to someone who was, have supplied me with many more.
What is the most interesting thing you've uncovered about the region?
The evidence of what used to be. I love doing “then and now” comparisons. I’ve blogged a few of those. It’s interesting to pour over an old black and white photo and then get on Google Earth and look at the same spot to compare the two. It’s amazing to see the evidence of what used to be there, still there. There was a go-cart track in those early years, and parts of the paved track are still visible on Google Earth if one knows where to look. I blogged on that go-cart track at least once. Search for it on the site and see what comes up. There was also a foot bridge across the top of the canyon, upstream of the dam. Remnants of the parking lot on the west side of canyon are still visible today. The old visitors center parking lot and lookout area are still there but no longer accessible. I posted a great photo of the bridge that was taken from that lookout point. It’s in a post I called A Bridge Under Construction.
Have you made any memorable connections working on this project?
Yes. Some amazing people have come forward to offer photos and their own personal stories of having lived there in those early years. These people have been invaluable in filling in many of the blanks that would otherwise exist and in answering questions that I have, because, believe it or not, even though I was there, there are things I don’t know or don’t remember. I am indebted to everyone who has helped me and to those who continue to support my endeavors. I couldn’t do this without them.
What is something that someone unfamiliar with the area should know about Page and Lake Powell?
It’s a beautiful area that’s perfect for vacationing. The boating is unmatched. The lake is beautiful against the Navajo sandstone. There’s a lot there to explore. If you go, take some of my pictures with you to get a feel of what was there then versus what’s there now. Spend a good amount of time in the dam’s visitors center. Walk up to the upper visitors center parking lots and know that huge cranes used to sit on rails there and lower giant buckets of concrete into the canyon. Watch the movies of the construction of the dam that are offered in the theater inside the visitors center. Become familiar with the area, and you’ll be glad you did.
What is the best way for individuals interested in the project to contribute?
I’m constantly on the prowl for more photos. If you have some you would like to contribute, you can reach me via the contact form on my website. If your pictures are hard copies, I can scan and return them to you. I’m looking for pictures of the construction years, the 1950s and '60s. As much information as can be provided with each photo is appreciated, including who is in them, where was it taken, what’s in the picture, the date (if known) and the photographer (if known).
— Roman Russo
For more information, you can visit Adams' website, www.pageaz.org; follow along on Facebook, at www.facebook.com/pageaz; or follow his Instagram feed, www.instagram.com/page.az.