Naked, Kickass Katie Lee

Much publicity has been garnered from the beautiful black and white photos of Katie Lee nude in Glen Canyon in the 1950s that were taken by photographer Martin D, Koehler and printed for a special fine arts edition by master printer Richard Jackson of Flagstaff, AZ.


The photos are now part of the Katie Lee archives at Cline Library, Northern Arizona University, in Flagstaff, Arizona, in the special collection “Colorado Plateau.”

At no level did I ever see these photos of Katie as being ‘sexy.’ Katie was as natural in the wilderness as any wild animal, completely unselfconscious, in a manner that very few people are when they are naked.


“The Nymph,” photo by Martin D. Koehler, is part of a poster sold by Glen Canyon Institute.

Yes, she was a remarkably beautiful woman when the photos were taken, but when she was in those canyons, she was part of the sandstone that she said she was born with in her veins. It was as though these canyons were part of her body.

In Katie’s comments about the photos, she said, “When I met Glen Canyon it was love at first sight—a place far from the inbred taboos of our society— closer to a dreamland than to reality. I have never posed as a model and am not doing so here…only doing what I always did in Glen Canyon—climbing, dancing, walking, touching, talking to the stone, swimming in the river, lying in the shallows, sliding down the falls, crawling through ruins, inching up crevasses, hanging from tree limbs, covering myself with mud, playing, singing, living with the canyon. I can always tell when a model is photographed in a place she’s never seen or experienced before; it’s in body language that can’t be hidden.”

Hiking and Boating with Katie

Anyone who has ever hiked or boated with Katie in the wilderness knows she will shed her clothes as quickly as she possibly can and not put them on again until she gets close to her car.

Nakes katie with guitar.jpeg

Although this photo was taken when she was able to boat down Glen Canyon I had the pleasure of hearing her play her guitar in Gravel Canyon when we backpacked there together many years ago. She was singing in harmony with the coyotes.

Wasn’t she afraid of getting ‘scratched’ someone once asked. I remembered walking naked with Katie and Joey in an absolutely fabulous cactus forest in Southern Baja California. You just had to pay attention, a perfect lesson in ‘being present’ in that silent, but very vibrant world.


The second of Katie Lee's trilogy about a lost eden

The second book of Katie Lee’s trilogy of a lost eden., Cover art by Serena Supplee.

In her book Sandstone Seduction: Rivers and Lovers, Canyons and Friends, Katie wrote: “When I suggested to someone that reveling in that nude world was like taking a bath in awareness, they asked, “Of yourself?”

“Oh no,” Katie said. “Awareness of the earth, the elements, that blue roof up there, the old stone dune with its birthmarks, that fitting hollow, the sound that sometimes comes from the tone when I put my ear to it.” For her, it was the canyons that were sexy: “The luscious sandstones of Glen Canyon began their beckoning call to me after my first year in these sequestered erogenous zones—those deep sinuous paths between Mother Earth’s labia, so private, so impermissible, I’d back away. Should we even be allowed to see such things?” (page 162)
Dandy Crossing

The cover of Katie’s book, Ghosts of Dandy Crossing, featured herself nude, =grinning and pointing a Ruger at her friend and lover, the cowboy-miner Buck.

Book cover of Katie Lee's latest book.

Dandy Crossing was a ferry crossing on the old Colorado River between Hite Village and White Canyon, about three miles downstream from what is now Hite Marina.  The book is still available from her website

Perhaps more than any other book about Glen Canyon that Katie wrote, this one is about the people that lived and worked there before the canyon was dammed—the miners, cowboys, the ferryman, people who explored and settled the west. She felt at home with them and vice versa, whether or not she was nude. Their lives were upended with the building of Glen Canyon reservoir, a sadness some did not recover from, including Katie, who made her life’s work getting rid of the dam and restoring the flow of the Colorado River.

She had no airs in the company of those folk. She always said that the life she led as a performer was only to make money to get her back to her friends in Glen Canyon, exploring its labyrinths and byways.

KT 2 at The Gate

Katie Lee, the glamorous folk singer in the nineteen fifties.

And in those days, that meant performing in places like the Gate of Horn in Chicago or the Hungry Eye in New York.

Perhaps one of the more poignant passages in that book is when Jason, one of her river companions, goes to visit a glamorous Katie when she was singing in Chicago, an awkwardness between them that can’t be bridged, both unable to reach the easy communication with each other that was part of their river journeys, where she was always totally naked.

Do Any Famous Artists Live in Jerome?

Katie was comfortable with her nudity throughout her old age, when her body was full of sags and crinkles, freckles and liver spots. She just didn’t care. Sometimes you’d go to her house, and she’d meet you nude at the door.

I was once asked by a tourist visiting Jerome, “Do any famous artists live in Jerome.” I thought about this and answered, “Katie Lee.” “Oh, isn’t she the woman that rode naked through town on her bike?”

Katie told me she’s likely to be more famous in Jerome for her ride than for her books and music. Sadly, she was right. No stores in Jerome carry her books and music. During the last couple of years, a few Katie-come-lately’s (as my friend Richard Martin put it) laid claim to knowing her, but few have read her books or listened to her music.

An exception is the song written by Katie’s friend Kate Wolf called “Old Jerome, which Wolf wrote while staying at Katie’ house. The song was adopted as the official town song by the Jerome Town Council in the 1990s and is often played and sung by Jerome’s Ukilele Orchestra.

And yes, Katie is famous in Jerome for riding her bike through town naked except for a helmet and boots when she was seventy-seven years old. She howled with laughter as she sailed the mile downhill from Main Street to her house. It was her way to shed the glum, sad feelings she had after a close Jerome friend died.

Katie on her bike

Jane Moore, one of the owners of Made in Jerome, made this plate for Katie for her 93rd birthday commemorating her famous ride

The day she decided to do it was the kind of sticky and hot it gets just before a summer monsoon. “Friends were snapping at each other like loony birds in a tank of toxins and the humidity was a wet, down comforter under a 110-degree heating pad.” (Sandstone Seduction, “The Ride”)

She streaked past bar owner Paul Vojnic as he talked with Ray, the town cop. Paul said, “Well, aren’t you going to arrest her?” “What am I going to arrest her for” Ray said. “Floppy tits?”

Even before Katie reached her house, people who saw her started shaking the phone calls with their laughter. “Do you know what Katie Lee just did?”

Years later, friends put together a memorial to that ride on Katie’s maybe 87th birthday, where they rode their bikes, dressed up in fake big balloon boobs and padded bras over their clothes, before congregating on the steps opposite Paul and Jerry’s Bar. Only Katie and I showed up bare-breasted.

Foul-Mouth, Kick Ass Katie Lee

Maybe more than the nude photos, Katie was known for her foul-mouth. “It took me almost 20 years to get used to her saying the word ‘F. . . .K’, a close friend recently told me. The word would just roll out of her mouth—in conversation, but especially at lectures on the loss of Glen Canyon and the bottled up Colorado River.

Although most of our friends knew that Katie in the nude was her natural self, Katie in front of an audience put clothes and words together for shock and awe, including swear words. She was trained as an actress and used that training when she sang and lectured or was being filmed. Her appearances were not only unforgettable, but often brought audiences to tears. She was a fabulous performer. Then, she was happy to be known as a bad ass or a kick ass. It’s what she was going for. (The phrase ‘Kickass Katie Lee’comes from a short film by the same name that is produced by Beth and George Gage and shown at the 2016 Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride.

The only time I saw Katie embarrassed was when she delivered a commencement address at Prescott College to graduating teachers sometime in the 1990’s. It was laced with swear words and rants. Many graduates were Navaho women who were hugely offended. Afterwards Katie said to me, “This is the first time I’ve ever given a speech when absolutely NO ONE came back to tell me how great it was.” “Well, Katie,” I said, “look at your audience, young Navaho women, who had never heard another woman swear like that.“ First time I ever saw her blush.

Katie wouldn’t back off when I suggested she rename her book Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle, A History of the American Cowboy I Song, Story and Verse. She instantly hit red-line anger and screamed at me, “It’s a famous f….king cowboy song, goddammit.” That book might have been a classic hit among ranchers were it not for the title. The famed Western Folklife Center in Elko, Nevada wouldn’t carry the book; and many cowboy poetry festivals wouldn’t hire Katie either.

One of the best histories ever written about cowboys.

“A beautiful job, exact, comprehensive and witty. Should remain a basic history of the subject for many year to come.”  Edward Abbey

I sure hope the University of Arizona Press, current publishers of the book, will continue to reprint it and keep it alive. Some copies are still available at Katie’s website: (The odd website name, by the way comes from a conflation of the word Katydid, one of Katie’s favorite insects, and the phrase ‘doo dit.’ She couldn’t call the website by her real name because there was a cookbook author and chef by the same name who had taken the website name for herself.

The word tact was not in Katie’s vocabulary. Whatever she said or felt, she told you. I once chided her: “Katie, sometimes it might pay to be more tactful.” Again, full redline scream: “Tact is a f…..king waste of time.” She said that to me when she was just about the same age as I am now (78) and I try to say exactly what I mean, just not using the swear words.

I was fortunate to know most aspects of Katie— at home sewing, making beads, hiking nude, driving, performing—a giant kaleidoscope. And wherever I landed, what I saw is what I got. Inimitable Kick Ass Katie Lee.  I am still immensely sad at her passing on November 1, 2017.

If you want to read more about Katie: My personal tribute:

And a great obituary in The New York Times:

Copyright 2017 Diane Sward Rapaport

Katie Lee: I Will Return

Copyright 2017 by Diane Sward Rapaport

My close friend Katie Lee died peacefully in her home in Jerome on November 1, 2017. She was 98 years old. I am immensely sad.

Activist Katie Lee

Katie Lee was a vibrant, energetic, and eloquent singer, author and activist never stopped fighting to drain it and return the natural flow of the Colorado River.

Katie lit a wildfire in her heart about the loss of Glen Canyon when it was drowned to become Lake Powell Reservoir. She called it Loch Latrine or Rez Foul. Often called the “Grand Dame of Dam Busting,” she never stopped fighting to drain it and return the natural flow of the Colorado River.

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.

I once asked Katie why she was so attached to Glen Canyon. She replied,It’s as if my feet are still stuck in the sand at the edge of the river. It’s where I live. This other life I walk around in all day—well, that’s a passing thing. And in many ways it’s my defense against the sadder mechanisms of life around us. And God knows we all need those mechanisms from keeping ourselves from going crazy in this mad world.”

Although she leaves a potent legacy, one she was fortunate to realize in her lifetime, I offer here a few personal memories.


The last time I saw Katie was two years ago when I took her to lunch in Cottonwood, Arizona on her birthday. She cussed at me all the way down the mountain from Jerome for my atrocious driving.You’re f****g braking too often, you need to learn to downshift around these curves; you’re too jerky.” And of course, the more she cussed and yelled, the more nervous and jerky I got. By the time we reached the restaurant, Katie was carsick, and I was mortified.

Then I remembered her acknowledgments about me in her book Sandstone Seduction under the heading, Category Indefinable: “I can teach her only two things: where to hike and how to drive.”

Katie learned to drive from her third husband, Brandy, who was a racecar driver. She became superb at driving fast and smooth, cursing and honking at anybody in her way.

She just never managed to teach me.


Katie did teach me where to hike. Her topo maps showed me how to choose the places where there was virtually no possibility of seeing anyone else. (Hikes she has taken are highlighted with yellow or orange markers on topo maps, which will be archived at Northern Arizona University’s Cline Library).\

At 42 years old, I was a backpacking neophyte; a city slicker newly arrived in Jerome, AZ, who had made some waves in the music industry. I had never before spent a night that was not in a national park with groomed trails and signs telling me where to take a photo. Katie took her mate Joey, my husband Walter and I, and her friend Merlin on a ten-day trip into Gravel Canyon, in Utah’s White Canyon area—possibly not traveled by anyone (including the cows) since the Native Americans left in the fourteenth century. We accessed it from the top. Katie drove up some scraggy, scarred dirt road, which scared the piss out of me, one of my first experiences with Katie behind the wheel.

We started down canyon over many large tree trunks and refrigerator size boulders left by years of flash floods, sending Merlin ahead, sometimes for many hours, to see whether the canyon would continue to “go” or would box us out. He was training for some Chilean snowbound mountain backpacking and carrying 70–80 pounds.

Katie is her most natural self in these wild places—funny, easy to be around, and helpful. She is a gifted storyteller and those wonderful canyon amphitheaters inspired her and turned anybody with her into a rapt audience. The most magical moments were when she played her beat-up guitar and sang, with the coyotes adding their wild harmonies.

We found side canyons full of untrammeled ruins, whole pots, areas strewn with corncobs and grinding stones, and other remnants of lives long gone.

After we rappelled down a forty-foot cliff to walk out, Katie broke one of her two steadfast rules: Never tell anybody where you went. (The other was Don’t go down something you can’t get back up). We found a mauled and looted grave at the end of the rappel, human bones scattered everywhere, and it made Katie furious. We stopped at the Kane Gulch ranger station and told the ranger about it. “How did you happen to find it?” asked the ranger. “We came down canyon,” Katie blurted out. “Oh,” said the ranger, “I didn’t know you could come down that canyon.” Two years later, Outside Magazine did a story on it.

Hikes with Katie taught me to appreciate why those lonesome places are shelters for our emotional upheavals and havens for spiritual growth.

Je Reviendral

Katie loved making bead necklaces for her friends. A few weeks before she died, she told me she was making a necklace for her friend Candace of natural green polished stones and four tiny silver charms: a snake (“because I love them”); a pen (“because I’m a writer”); and a ladder (“of success”); the fourth was a tiny disk engraved with the words Je reviendral (“I will return”).

I’d like to think that maybe, just maybe, Katie never left. The wildfires that she set in my heart continue to spread.

More info:

A lovely video of Katie singing “Song of the Boatman,” accompanied by Peter McLaughlin, at a birthday party about a week before she died. Lyrics by Katie Lee. Music adapted from the song “Cry of the Wild Goose,”by Terry Gilkyson. Katie gifted the guitar she played for so many years to him. Video by Michael.

An elegant obituary in The New York Times on November 10 written by Robert Sandomir.


In case you missed the NBC special on its Today show: