Martin Litton, a beloved environmentalist and harbinger for wilderness died November 30th, but his legacy lives on in the policies and parks he fought for and the friends he influenced along the way.
Dee Holladay and Martin Litton met at a Western River Guides Association meeting in 1972’. As Sue Holladay recalls, “They were doing the same kind of work for years but never knew each other”. While Martin and Dee’s path seldom crossed in the Colorado River canyon, their river ethic drew them together. Dee remembered Martin Litton as, “a leader in many environmental battles” and particularly as someone ardently opposed to boat motors. Dee described the friendship as “being each others refuge” in a culture drawn more and more towards motorized rafting. While many motorized trips continue down the Colorado and Grand Canyon, this ethic is still alive today in the way Martin’s company “Grand Canyon Dories” and Dee’s company “Holiday River Expeditions” go about getting their guests down the canyon.
At Holiday River, this ethic of motor-less river experiences is tied deeply to Dee Holladay’s initial wish for guests to have a truly unique experience that takes them far away not simply physically but mentally from their daily life. Without motors on the river, everything changes. First and foremost, the trip is slow and steady. While going through whitewater can zip boats along at upwards of 25 mph during high-water, typically seeing the world at a slower pace is an important overall step to setting a tone of relaxation and allows for more chances to notice the nuances of the landscape around you. This is augmented by the smell of fresh desert and mountain air or the sound of the moving currents below the boat; all of which are negated by the noise and petro-chemical smell of motor-craft.
Another critical benefit of motor-less trips is small boat sizes mean more interaction with the river guides. Most of us behind the oars not only love these canyons but know a fair amount about the history, ecology, archeology and geology around us. In fact, Dee Holladay put together a series of “Interpretive Helpers” that are foundational for all guide training. Having one guide for every five people, as opposed to one guide for every 12-20 people creates a dramatic difference in the rich conversations that present between rapids.
Lastly, motor boats allow for much higher speeds and thus have the ability to have a much wider ripple effect on the river and its banks. The waves created by high-speed motor boats wash away beaches and negatively impact the ecosystem in more ways than a small slow boat could ever do. It is for this and the many other reasons stated that oar-boat trips are still so sought after.
My grandfather Dee always quoted an old adage, “take only pictures and leave only footprints”. It’s this mindfulness in nature that Dee shared with Martin Litton. To enjoy these places for the wild refuges they were, and not impact them more than was absolutely necessary. Litton was tenacious in his fierce defense of these lands and waterways and his presence in the broader environmental movement will be felt and sorely missed. Luckily companies like Grand Canyon Dories and Holiday River Expeditions continue to imbue this ethic in not only our words but our ways. May we all continue to tread, (water) lightly out of respect for those bastions of wilderness who have come before us.
Written by Lauren Wood
I have been a river runner my entire life and ever since my first river trip at age two muddy water has run a current through my veins and into my heart. It was learning from the boatwomen and men of the 1990′s that led me to find my own oars. I have been a guide for Holiday River Expeditions since 2009. In the off-season I volunteer as a member of Peaceful Uprising and work on national climate justice campaigns with Rainforest Action Network. I find that the lessons from the river inform my climate justice work and truly all aspects of my life. I love investigating the way natural cycles could work with our cities and influencing the currents that direct and shape our communities.