Stories From the Vault: Cathedral in the Desert

The inaugural launch of Cathedral in the Desert, a dory named in honor of late OARS founder George Wendt

Cathedral in the Desert, the newest dory in our fleet, launched on its inaugural voyage August 6, 2021. Built in honor of late OARS founder George Wendt, and keeping with the long tradition of naming dories after wild places lost or compromised at the hands of man, this boat is a special remembrance of George and the place that sparked his calling.

In a 1994 interview by Lew Steiger for the River Runners Oral History Project, George revealed that if he had his choice, he’d name a dory, “‘Cathedral in the Desert’—one of the beautiful amphitheaters in the Escalante that was impacted, flooded, by Glen Canyon Dam…one of those places that has been very special to me over the years.”

Cathedral in the Desert | 1964 | Photo: Bruce Julian

Before it was lost, famed conservationist David Brower called Cathedral in the Desert “the ultimate magical place in Glen Canyon.” Others who’ve experienced it first-hand describe it as a cavernous amphitheater with rock spires towering toward the sky and a waterfall that plunges from a narrow opening at the top. Much like a cathedral, it’s a place that beckons silence, solemnity and reflection.

“I had been privileged to go down Glen Canyon in 1962,” George recalled. “We saw the canyon just before most of it was inundated by Lake Powell, and that really was the catalyst which got me interested in river trips.”

Remembrance of OARS founder George Wendt

Since the completion of Glen Canyon Dam more than 50 years ago, the Cathedral has primarily remained hidden underwater except during a few occasions—most recently in 2021—when the reservoir levels have dropped more than 100 feet due to severe drought conditions.

“After the drowning of Glen Canyon, I experienced a profound sense of loss and with it came the realization and sense of urgency that places like this need to be shared, preserved and protected for future generations,” George later shared. “It became my calling to deliver people into the wilderness and generate excitement for these wild places.”

OARS guide and skilled dory builder, Sean Bothman, who built Cathedral in the Desert

Special thanks to OARS guide and skilled boat builder, Sean Bothman, who made this dream a reality. You can watch the making of Cathedral in the Desert here.

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Photos: Cathedral in the Desert circa 1964 – Bruce Julian; Dory photos – Amy Martin