What boat did you or will you ride in, and why on earth does it have that particular name? Founder Dee Holladay wanted people to ask exactly that, so he named the boats after interesting local people, places, and things. Many early river explorers lent invaluable insights and discoveries about the rivers we adore today. Filled with bravado, courage, curiosity, or other motivations, those first river runners left legacies still discussed today on the very rivers they rafted many years ago.
WM Manly –
William Manly was a hunter, sometime explorer, and miner ’49er searching for riches in California’s gold rush. His biggest claim to fame was helping rescue lost pioneers attempting a traverse of Death Valley in 1849. Prior to that harrowing experience, however, Manly spent time on the then largely unknown Green River by making use of an old ferry boat, dug-out canoes, and a bulky version of today’s light catamarans. Every step of his journey from Vermont to the promised gold in them thar hills is detailed in his autobiography, Death Valley in ’49.
French fur trapper Denis Julien holds the distinction of probably being the first white person to etch a sketch his name on the cliff walls banding the Green River. In 1836, Julien left his name as well as a crude yet instantly recognizable depiction of a boat to mark his passage on the river. Cataract Canyon and Arches National Park (which of course back then was just an unprotected, fascinating desert jumble of rocks) were also graced by DJ’s John Hancock. Mais oui!
A Vernal, Utah, trapper and prospector named Nathan Galloway left a lasting mark on river rafting today with his “Galloway technique”: he recognized the merits of steering a boat down a river while facing downstream. This enabled him to see the obstacles and better adjust the boats ferrying angles to miss them. Galloway’s technique allowed greater control and hopefully, less likelihood of being dumped in the middle of churning water. During his first Grand Canyon trip in 1893, he may have begun practicing the innovative technique still widely used today.
An engineer by trade, Robert Brewster Stanton hired on as a railroad surveyor for a fateful 1889 Colorado to California trip that planned to explore the Grand Canyon as a potential rail route. Led by a man named Brown who held little understanding of river running, the trip almost immediately met with disaster that resulted in the drownings of three men, including Brown. Rattled yet made wiser by the experience, new leader Stanton re-outfitted the expedition and they sallied forth on a successful four-month journey. Stanton wrote an initial article about the adventures titled “Through the Grand Cañon of the Colorado,” which was published in Scribner’s Magazine in 1890. A more detailed perusal followed some thirty years later. Thankfully, the Grand Canyon was found to be far better suited to river running than railroading.
Written by Julie Trevelyan.
Julie is a freelance writer and wilderness guide in southern Utah. She especially enjoys books, coffee, yoga, wild country, horses, and dark chocolate.