Katie Lee

The iconic Katie Lee in Glenn Canyon in the 1950s. Courtesy photo

Author, musician and environmental activist Katie Lee died Wednesday in Jerome, Ariz. at the age of 98 according to a press release on her website written by her friend, Diane Rapaport.

Lee grew up in Tucson and made a career as a folk singer and a Hollywood actress, but became attached to the Colorado River during a trip with a friend in 1953. She became one of the early female river runners in the earliest days of river running.

Lee was well known for her love of the Colorado River, especially Glen Canyon before the dam and Lake Powell were created.

The river trip gave her a new perspective on the canyon. "The Grand is an experience no matter how you see it," Lee said in an interview in 2012. "You see it from the top down, it's a knockout. If you see it halfway down you'll get another impression. If you go from the bottom up, it's a totally different world."

In the press release announcing Lee’s death, Rapaport said Lee continuously fought to remove the Glen Canyon Dam.

“Often called the ‘Grand Dame of Dam Busting,’ she never stopped fighting to drain it and return the natural flow of the Colorado River,” Rapaport said. “She left a torch that won't be extinguished. She knew how to scorch with her words, whether in her books, stories, songs or lectures. I seldom met an audience of hers that didn't shed tears and give her a standing ovation.”

Lee published five books: “Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle - A History of the American Cowboy in Song, Story & Verse,” “Glen Canyon Betrayed - A Sensuous Elegy,” which was also called “All My Rovers Are Gone,” “Sandstone Seduction - Rivers and Lovers, Canyons and Friends,” "The Ghosts of Dandy Crossing” and “Ballad Of Gutless Ditch” along with dozens of essays, stories and music published in various periodicals.

Lee was inducted into the Arizona Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame in 2011. In her biography for her hall of fame induction, Lee is called “one of the Southwest’s most outspoken environmental activists.”

Lee served on the advisory board for the Glen Canyon Institute, which advocated for draining the Lake Powell Reservoir.

The reporter can be reached at cvanek@azdailysun.com or 556-2249.

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Corina Vanek covers city government, city growth and development for the Arizona Daily Sun.

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