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A Brief History of River Guides on the Colorado River System

By Herm Hoops

Until the 1970's a river trip remained an expedition. Shuttles were long and difficult, river information was hard to obtain, and once you launched there was little help in case of a mishap.

When John Wesley Powell planned his descent of the Green and Colorado Rivers in 1869 he accumulated as much information about the rivers and their surroundings as was possible. That desire for river information continues to this day. Today’s river guides contain a wealth of information, from natural and human history to regulations, access and shuttle information, hikes and camps and maps of the river. Some even include drawings of rapids with little lines that indicate how the rapid should be run!

Modern guides are in color and come in waterproof editions. Powell had no such luxury, making his maps and notes on onionskin paper with pencil and ink. Although the intent of Powell’s maps and information were intended to fill in an unknown section of the country, early river runners found them the only information available to plan their trips. From then until the 1950's Colorado Plateau river maps, guides and information were hard to come by.

By the mid-1970's non-commercial river running began in earnest. Land managing agencies provided simple maps showing major rapids, campsites and basic information. U.S. Geological Survey maps also provided information to river runners, but even at that late date some sections like the Orange Cliffs were only in draft stages. Bureau of Reclamation had detailed maps that included features like river profiles, but a person had to know they were available and ferret them out.

LES JONES SCROLL MAPS Les Jones, of Heber City, Utah, was an engineer and avid river runner. Jones began running rivers at the age of eleven. He built a kayak, running most rivers solo, and taking movies from a camera mounted on a football helmet.

By the early 1950's Les began taping USGS maps together and filling in the missing contours (early USGS maps were usually detailed only to the headwaters of the planned impoundment.). Les began using aerial photos, USGS maps and his own drawings and notes to trace and draw detailed maps on a scroll paper strips 7-10 inches wide. The maps were not waterproof and faded in sunlight, so they had to be protected from water and sunlight. Later his maps were copied onto waterproof mylar. Jones copied a river profile on the map above the river segments, labeling rapids and features on both. The maps contained rapid ratings, drawings of major rapids, Powell and other historic river camps, historic inscriptions and other detailed information. Les was one of the first maps to contain conservation messages. His Flaming Gorge/Red Canyon map included the following message: “Oppose Marble canyon Dam M. Pt. 37 ½ below Lees Ferry and Bridge Canyon Dam M. Pt. 238 in the Grand Canyon. They cut off river boating forever thru Grand Canyon Park & back reservoir into Grand Canyon Parks. Get Lees Ferry to Lake Meade plus Dinosaur National Monument on the Wild Rivers Bill S1446. WRITE % Mr. Church Wild Rivers Bill House of Congress Washington D.C. The Grand Canyon is the worlds

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