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Grand Canyon history

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Ram, Apr 3, 2020.

  1. Ram


    This is fun so I thought I would share it from HOME

    It’s the summer of 1957. It’s early July. It’s hot and humid at Phantom Ranch with a trace of monsoons trying to cool things down a bit. And the river? It’s on a rampage, clocking in right at 100,000 cfs. It's full of trees, telephone poles and the occasional bit of washed out bridge timber. Coming down the river is an illegal river trip without a permit. There is one man that can stop them. He is Ranger Dan Davis and he has been stationed at Phantom Ranch to do just that.

    How did this showdown occur? What set this up?

    For the last decade I have been slogging through archives across the country studying the history of river runner management on the Green and Colorado rivers.

    The National Park Service made a conscious choice in the mid to late 1940's to let commercial river trips proceed, but stop the "venturesome" and "thrillseekers," the do-it-yourself river runners. This was done in the name of safety but didn't follow the data on injuries that showed commercial river trips were just as dangerous as the do-it-yourself ones. The NPS was also worried they could be sued by injured DIY river runners, while the commercial folks had to have their own insurance and the NPS would not be liable.

    One man, Otis “Dock” Marston, complained all the way to the Washington level about the discrimination he saw. It was for naught. The local Superintendent at Dinosaur National Monument, Jess Lombard, Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent, John Mclaughlin, and Regional Director Tillotson thought otherwise. The NPS was encouraged on by the local commercial river operators such as Norm Nevills (before he died in 1949), Bus Hatch, Frank Wright and Georgie White, and they carried the day.

    By 1955 in Dinosaur and 1956 in Grand Canyon, new permit regulations were put in place. Anyone without a permit was confronted by NPS Law Enforcement Rangers. And you couldn't get a permit unless you had prior experience running the river you wanted a permit for. It was very clever. And, none of this management history ever made it into any of the subsequent river management plans.

    With the permit system in place, it was time to enforce the rules and punish the lawbreakers. Someone alerted the NPS that a DIY group was launching at Lees Ferry July 1, 1957, without a permit. Was it Gaylord Staveley and Frank Wright’s commercial rowing trip that launched the same day? I don’t know yet. But Ranger Dan Davis was waiting for them at Phantom.

    The permitless trip was made up of two motorized bridge pontoons. They camped just downstream of Redwall Cavern their first night on a small ledge. The second night was at Nancoweap, and late in the day on day three, they pulled into Phantom Ranch. On board were two doctors, two brilliant lawyers, and almost all the trip participants had various amounts of river skill. Here is one of the doctor’s journal entry for what happened next.

    “At Bright Angel, we had only been there shortly when the River Ranger (Davis) who had been advised of our presence on the river, arrived. His already disturbed state was greatly heightened by discovering Bill Geary working on Ty’s 5-horse motor which he had clamped onto a park service sign smeared with dirt and oil from the engine. It turned out that our arrival had been anticipated and when the good ranger asked “Who’s in charge here?” Geary’s reply of “Who wants to know,” did not smooth some already ruffled feathers. Davis sought out Ty who spent many hours that evening visiting with him and ultimately completely placated him. I had never thought of Ty as a diplomat, but on this occasion, he was most skillful and on the next day we proceeded without a citation or a hearing.”

    The trip left Phantom early the next morning with a permit after Davis learned that the trip leader, Tyson Dines, had run Grand Canyon in 1954 and none of the people on the trip knew they needed to get a permit.

    Tyson’s group were lucky. But that same year and in the years to follow, DIY river runners in their hundreds were turned away from obtaining permits. And the rest as they say, is history that doesn’t include this key bit of NPS management. I think it is critically important for the future of river running to know the rich heritage of do-it-yourself boating, and with knowledge of the past, we can and will build a better river running future.

    Tom Martin PT
    Council Member
    River Runners For Wilderness
    PO Box 30821, Flagstaff, AZ 86003

    Rich Rudow and Tom Martin at Deer Creek Camp
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