Written by Kevin Fedarko
The photo on the cover shows a wooden dory blasting down the Colorado in the heart of the Grand Canyon but there is so much more to this great book than the fastest ride down the river.
No doubt the drama of that ride is exciting, but the book also provides a delightful account of the Grand Canyon, the origins of the Glen Canyon Dam & the Hoover Dam, the graceful dory, and how the famous Colorado river silt changed the landscape of Southern California including the creation of the Salton Sea.
If nothing else is of interest here, at the very least you'll learn about the secret weapon used by the Sierra Club to fend off other proposed dams inside the Grand Canyon - essentially converting it to a man-made lake - and that is the great environmentalist, Martin Litton. (Martin Litton (environmentalist) - Wikipedia).
Together with David Brower of the Sierra Club they took on the Bureau of Reclamation and its master plan to create several "water storage projects" along the Colorado River. They fought like hell, stopped most of the dams, but stopping the dam at Glen Canyon wasn't to be.
One reason I connected to this somewhat deep immersion into everything "Grand Canyon" is that I had just returned from there, so it was on my mind before I started reading.
Some interesting passages from the book:
"Conservation had yet to develop as a powerful political force, and the word environmentalism had not even been coined. But what made Litton's ideas even stranger - and so at odds with prevailing sentiment - was the depth of his rage. Without quite realizing it, he was emerging as a ferocious and rather prescient expositor of a white-hot, no-surrender brand of environment purism: the unyielding, unapologetic (and his critics would later charge, unreasonable) defense of wilderness. 'People often tell me not to be extreme' he would repeatedly declare. 'Be reasonable!' they say. But I've never felt it did any good to be reasonable about anything in conservation, because what you give away will never comeback - ever. When it comes to saving wilderness, we cannot be extreme enough'. "
"By now, the cascade looked like chocolate-colored cement, and as it tore downhill, this slithering mass began to come alive in a manner that was both surreal and grotesque. The surface was agitated and boiling, like a lava flow from a volcano, but on fast-forward. It also developed some impressive hydraulic features, albeit nothing like what one might encounter on a normal river. When the torrent rounded a bend, for example, it generated so much centrifugal force that the surface actually tilted so that the height of the flow on outside bend was twelve feet higher than on the inside bend, resembling the banked turn of a high-speed racetrack."
"By the spring of 1983, [Georgie] White was entering the fourth decade of what would eventually qualify as the longest and most storied guiding career in the Grand Canyon.
White was both wildly entertaining and gloriously disreputable. She survived mainly on canned tomatoes, wore a leopard-print bathing suit that featured its own tail, and spent her days roaring downstream with one hand on the tiller and the other clutching a can of Coors.
But among her many distinctions, perhaps the most noteworthy was that she piloted the biggest raft in the entire canyon - an inflatable monstrosity consisting of three giant bridge pontoons whose dimensions exceeded the footprint of a double wide mobile home and boasted an estimated gross displacement of thirty-nine tons."
Quotes by Martin Litton:
"A river trip is sometimes called a voyage of life - it's a microcosm of life. The challenge isn't so great at the beginning, and it develops and develops, and you find yourself being able to cope with it - and finally you've done it. You've done the whole thing."
"There is nothing, absolutely nothing quite so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."
If your only experience at the Grand Canyon has been to take a look over the edge, I think this book makes the case that one needs to get inside the canyon to really see what its all about.
Which means, I need to head back, then down-and-in on my next visit. Who's with me?
If you'd like to share your thoughts, comments are encouraged below. The comment password is: life is good