likes of Buzz Holmstrom, Norm Nevills, Don Harris, Bert Loper, Lois Jotter, Frank Wright, and Doc Marston. Bill was an avid river runner with many notable runs including the jet boat up run of the Grand Canyon in 1960.
In the 1950's the Belknap family conceived the idea of producing river guidebooks. Bill, Buzz, Fran and Loie Belknap all played key roles in preparing the guides. Their endeavor evolved into the Belknap family’s publishing firm, Westwater Books, and included guides for Westwater Canyon & Canyonlands National Park, Dinosaur National Monument, and Desolation & Gray Canyons. The guides that eventually were published in waterproof editions contained accurate maps, interpretive material covering history, geology, flora and fauna, and many of the Belknap photographs. These guides were the forerunners of today’s modern river guides. Still in publication and revised regularly the Belknap guidebooks still contain some of the best information on rivers for river runners.
MAJOR RIVER RAFTING BOOKS Until the early 1970's most river books were oriented to canoeing and Eastern Rivers. In 1973 Michael Jenkinson published Wild Rivers of North America, a potpourri of river information and history. The book was an important link to sources for Western river rafters.
In 1975 William McGinnis, a graduate student at a California university published a river runner’s guidebook for his master’s thesis project. McGinnis book, Whitewater Rafting, was the irst major de initive and inclusive compilation of information about Western Rivers.
In 1972 I traveled around the country running rivers to gather information to write a detailed river guide. During my travels I ran a 12' Selway down Lodore and flipped in Disaster Falls. Shaken, I roped my boat down all major rapids in Dinosaur. On that trip I met Bill McGinnis, and shared all of my information with him - which he copied and used as the basis for his book. In the meantime I had sent my draft out to a many river runners for their review and comment. I received many suggestions, but a disturbing remark from a long time Oregon river runner left its mark on me: “Are you writing this guide because you love the rivers and want to help them, or to feed your ego.” After several weeks hurt and deep thought about that remark - I burned my manuscript and began looking at rivers and river running in a different light.
River guidebooks can provide important information to river runners. But river runners should understand that conditions can change rapidly and dramatically, rendering a guide meaningless. While a river guide’s basic orientation can be critical, too often river runners allow the guidebook to take away their right to discovery of places and self. As Kenny Ross told me: “Recognize, don’t memorize. The river tells you what it is doing and what its about to do.”
In these days of store-bought river runners and agency bought information, there is no feeling comparable to making one’s own discovery. To learn to scan for anomalies that contain miracles and nonsense along the river is to begin to understand our place in these beautiful and fragile canyons.
A river guide does not take you down the river - you must do that.