icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Hells Canyon: The Deepest Gorge on Earth

"Rarely has the struggle to save a portion of America's natural heritage been so well documented and excitingly written....Ashworth's narrative of that valiant fight reads like a suspense thriller." --Larry Williams, former Executive Director, Oregon Environmental Council

"This is not just the best book that has been written to date on saving Hells Canyon. This is the best book that could be written. Bill Ashworth has excitingly recreated every moment, every meeting, and every hope that was dashed and reclaimed until finally the greatest jewel of the American landscape was saved forever." --Senator Bob Packwood


In the northeast corner of Oregon, lapping over into Idaho and Washington, lies a badly broken basalt upland that geographers call the Snake River Plateau. Scarcely anyone but a geographer would recognize it as a plateau. Great chunks of it have lifted to form mountain ranges, and deep canyons have been incised into it, carving away much of the original surface to leave behind a bewildering jumble of echoing depths and long, level ridges. One of these canyons, the deepest gorge on this planet, is the canyon of the Snake River itself, rolling for slightly more than one hundred spectacular miles.

"The grandeur and originality of the views presented on every side," wrote Benjamin L. E. Bonneville, one of the canyon's earliest explorers, "beggar both the pencil and the pen. Nothing we had ever gazed upon in any other region could for a moment compare in wild majesty and impressive sternness with the series of scenes which here at every turn astonished our senses and filled us with awe and delight."

Indeed awesome, Hells Canyon, as it came to be known, is as splendid as it is full of surprises. Here a fisherman may catch a fish twice as long as a man is tall, and here the botanist could find at least twenty-four species of plants that can be found nowhere else in the world.

While the 7,400-foot-deep Snake River canyon has long been a playground for naturalists, to modern engineers it has meant a theoretical potential energy of nearly 2.85 million horsepower annually. Because of this single characteristic, Hells Canyon - ruins, Indian relics, rare plants, rapids, and all - was destined to become the subject of one of the most intense political whirlwinds in the history of U.S. resource management.

This amazing tale - from the ancient history and exploration of the canyon and its natural wonders to the dramatic congressional battles that were fought and won over its preservation - is chronicled here in its entirety for the first time. Including a most unusual cast of characters, from explorers and miners to murderers and madmen, the tale unfolds with all the color and suspense of the canyon itself. The story of the intense congressional struggle - one that the world will long remember as a most stunning victory for the cause of conservation - is told here in a moving narrative that will capture the heart of anyone who has ever believed that at least a part of this earth should be preserved - forever.

--from the jacket

Hardback published by Hawthorn Books, New York (1977)