By: Justin Malloy

Humans have a long and rich history of naming their boats. The Greeks and Romans bestowed upon their vessels the names of gods out of fear and superstition, hoping the honor would bring them good luck and please the ancient ones enough to ensure a safe voyage. Later, Christians would choose the names of saints for similar reasons, and later still, feminine names became the norm, though the reasons behind this tradition have been lost to history.

For his fleet, Dee Holladay had a specific intention. Holiday’s mission has always been “to protect our nation’s wild lands” and one way he sought to do that was through education. He believed the more people knew about the natural world, the more love and respect they would have for it, and therefore the more likely they would be to protect it. One way he sought to encourage this was to name his boats after important people, places, and things related to these wild lands, so when guests climbed aboard a certain vessel, they may be prompted to ask, “So, why is this boat named…” and the guide could share the story and its importance.

Each year Holiday adds new boats to our fleet, we choose a pertinent theme to draw names from, so each boat in a certain generation is related. A few examples of previous themes are historical figures, native fish, and indigenous culture.

This year, Holiday has set out to chronicle all of the boat names we have used since our founding in 1966 and write each of their stories down to share. We will be publishing these stories, organized by theme, with the mission to keep history alive and encourage those conversations that Dee promoted during his life and career. We are excited to spread these stories to a wider audience and hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

For the first edition in this ongoing series, we are showcasing the theme of “Rivers of the Colorado Plateau”.

Grand boatGrand

The stretch of river we all know today as the Colorado has not always shared its current namesake with the state from which it originates. Before the Europeans arrived in the West, each indigenous tribe who lived in the region had their own name for the river, such as the Navajo “Tó Nts’ósíkooh”, the Hopi “Pisisvayu”, and the Mohave “Aha Kwahwat”. As Europeans began exploring and mapping the region, they did away with most of the indigenous names and attempted to adopt their own. Many different explorers gave it many different names, but by the time John Wesley Powell had arrived, the river above the confluence with the Green was known as the Grand River, and it was called the Colorado River below the confluence.

The name Grand persists in many places around the Colorado River Basin… Grand County, Grand Junction, Grand Lake, and Grand Valley, to name a few. It wasn’t until a Congressman and Glenwood Springs resident by the name of Edward Taylor assembled and argued a case to the U.S. House of Representatives to rename the river after his beloved state. His reasoning was simple: the largest river in the region should bear the name of the state from which it originates, especially since it already bears that name downstream. The motion was passed on July 25, 1921, and the Grand River officially became the Colorado River.

Colorado

Spanish for “color red”, the Colorado River originates as a tiny stream draining a wet meadow at La Poudre Pass in Rocky Mountain National Park, just 55 miles northwest of Denver. At its headwaters, the river is diverted for the first of many times: a man-made diversion called the Grand Ditch redirects some of the river’s flow to water farmland to the east. Soon after, the river travels through its first canyon, known as Little Yellowstone Canyon, before exiting Rocky Mountain National Park and filling two more man-made lakes, called Shadow Mountain and Granby, respectively. From here, the Colorado meanders west, generally paralleling the U.S. Highway 40 and the Union Pacific Railroad until it reaches Utah. By the time it reaches the Stateline, over a dozen tributaries join the river, including the Fraser, Williams Fork, Muddy Creek, the Blue, the Piney, the Gunnison, and the Eagle. 

After crossing into Utah, the Colorado flows through Horsethief, Ruby, and Westwater canyons before meandering through Castle Valley and past Moab on its way to the heart of Canyonlands National Park. Here lies the confluence with the Green River just above the tumultuous Cataract Canyon. After Cataract, the river fills Lake Powell behind the Glen Canyon Dam, which empties into the Grand Canyon before reaching Lake Mead behind the Hoover Dam. In total, the Colorado is dammed or diverted 17 times by the time it reaches Lake Mead.

GreenGreen boat

Originally known as “Seeds-kee-dee-Agie” (Agie being the name for “river”) by indigenous peoples, Spanish explorers dubbed the river Rio Verde. By the time William Ashley arrived in the region in 1811, the name Green River was widely accepted. The exact reason for the name has been lost to history, with the leading theories including the color of the vegetation on the riverbanks, the color of the water, or the last name of an early explorer. No one account has proved to be authoritative.

The Green River originates from the eastern slopes of Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains and travels south through the Green River Valley before filling the Fontenelle Reservoir at the town of La Barge, and the Flaming Gorge Reservoir at the Wyoming/Utah state line. Red Canyon, Browns Park, and the Canyon of Lodore follow in quick succession as the river makes its way around the uplift of the Uinta Mountains. 

After joining the Yampa River in Echo Park, the Green flows through Whirlpool Canyon, Island Park, and Split Mountain Canyon in Dinosaur National Monument before turning south and meandering through farmlands and basins before reaching Desolation and Gray Canyons.

The Green emerges from Gray Canyon just above the town of Green River, Utah, and travels another 30 miles before reaching its final two canyons, Labyrinth and Stillwater, meeting with the Colorado River thereafter.

While the Colorado River carries more water by volume, the Green River is the longer of the two, traveling 730 miles from its headwaters to the confluence. Of those 730 miles, approximately 450 are in the state of Utah.

Yampa

The name “Yampa” comes from the indigenous word “yampha”, the name given to a white flowering, parsley-like plant, Periderrida gairdneri. The roots of this plant were a common food source for many native tribes. The word Yampa has been misinterpreted to mean “bear”, leading to the river being incorrectly called the Bear River for a period of time.

The Yampa River Rafting TripThe Yampa River headwaters are in the Park Range of the Rocky Mountains, just outside of Steamboat Springs near the town of Yampa. Here, the Bear River and Phillips Creek meet to form the Yampa River. It is the major tributary on the Colorado Plateau that remains unregulated. However, that does not mean there is not a dam on the Yampa; the river is dammed just above the town of Steamboat Springs at Stagecoach Reservoir. Stagecoach is a gravity dam with the ability to hold over 33,000 acre feet of water at full capacity. The dam does not have the ability to regulate the flow of the Yampa, only store water.

From Steamboat, the Yampa turns sharply to the west and flows through a wide valley, receiving the Elk River and Williams Fork before passing through the town of Craig, Colorado. More arid sagebrush country comes next before the river enters Cross Mountain Canyon, the first major canyon on the river and its first significant whitewater rapids. After exiting Cross Mountain Canyon, the river meanders through Lily Park, where it meets up with its largest tributary, the Little Snake River. Next comes Deerlodge Park, where most river rafting expeditions begin. The next 46 miles are through a breathtaking sandstone canyon, with lush vegetation and thrilling whitewater. The Yampa ultimately flows into the Green River in Echo Park, nestled in the heart of Dinosaur National Monument

San Juan

The Navajo name for the San Juan River is Są́ Bitooh, meaning “Old Age River” or “Old Man’s River”. The Navajo people still live in the area today with the river serving as the northern border of their reservation. Juan Rivera, an early Spanish explorer of the southwest, was the first person to refer to the river as Rio San Juan in the year 1765. San Juan is the Spanish name for the historical religious figure Saint John the Baptist.

The river’s headwaters are high up in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. Both its East and West forks originate above 10,000 feet, and where they meet in Archuleta County, Colorado, is considered the beginning of the San Juan River proper. The river is dammed by the Navajo Dam, just north of the New Mexico state line, before joining with its largest tributary, the Animas River. It meanders through miles of arid country in the Four Corners region before passing through the town of Bluff, Utah and carving through unbelievable sandstone canyons, popular with river runners and hikers alike. The last 70 miles of the river, as well as its natural confluence with the Colorado River, are flooded by Lake Powell.

Justin Malloy Writer

Originally from the suburbs near Cleveland, Ohio, Justin made his way to Utah after graduating from Ohio University with a degree in exploring and having fun… If not on the river or in the kitchen, you’ll find him wandering the mountains, drinking coffee, or writing down words he hopes will come across as sensical.