By Julie Trevelyan,
The History of Holiday River Expeditions Boat Names. The whitewater rafts at Holiday have great names. You might wonder where they all come from. After all, what exactly is an Unktehila? Who was The Major, and why does he rate having a boat named in his honor? All of these questions are exactly the reason founder Dee Holladay decided to name rather than number his boats. He wanted our guests to ask why, what and who for? It opens up the door for the guides to share their knowledge of the river canyons, the colorful history and the cast of characters, both human and Jurassic. We decided to delve into some of the stories behind the names and provide you with a little more knowledge the next time you push off on a river rafting adventure with Holiday River Expeditions.
Ruby –This boat is named after a section of the Colorado River above Westwater Canyon. Ruby Canyon is part of an area generally known to boaters as Ruby/Horsethief. This section has become increasingly popular with boaters over the past decade, for its lovely scenery and gentle flow. River: Colorado
Whirlpool –Named after Whirlpool Canyon on the Green River, Lodore Canyon trip. A favorite rapid of guides through here is known as Headstand Rapid where, you guessed it, people attempt headstands through this gently bubbling rapid! River: Green or Yampa
Split Mountain –This is the last section of the Green River on the Lordore Canyon trip before the take-out. A generally meandering, gentle section of water, Split Mountain still has a few curves to throw the river guides. River: Green or Yampa.
One Eye Smith –A gold digger and trapper in Cataract Canyon, Smith of the single eye was prepared more for capturing animals than running rapids. Deemed to be the first to run the Dark Canyon rapid through Cataract Canyon, he disappeared after his third journey through the famed and rather feared Cataract. River: Colorado.
Unktehila –This mouthful, which actually sounds fairly smooth when you get the hang of it, is often depicted in ancient Utah rock art. Believed by several Native American traditions to be a dangerous water monster, legends of the Unktehila were most likely inspired by ancient discoveries of dinosaur fossils. Beware the ferocious Unktehila, as it may prowl through your dreams in the water-carved canyons of your river trip. River: Green or Yampa.
The Major –John Wesley Powell is well known as the first white man to dare raft the mighty Colorado River. But not everyone knows he was a major during the Civil War. He lost an arm during battle, so he holds the honor of not only being the first white person down the Colorado, but probably one of the very few to do it literally single-handedly. River: Colorado or Green
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.
DJ –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!
Than –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.
Stanton –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.
You’ll learn about Seedskadee, Dr. Babcock, Dr. Miller, George Flavell and Bert Loper. Naming our rafts was deliberate and well thought out by founder Dee Holladay. Constantly looking for fun and easy ways to educate our guests about the history of our beloved river canyons. The fascinating histories of the rivers and their runners often lead to conversations about the waters you’re rafting at that very moment.
Seedskadee – Nowadays, we call it the Green River. But long ago the Shoshone Indians had a name for the river flowing through their lands: Sisk-a-dee-agie, or “river of the prairie chicken,” which was mangled into Seedskadee by fur trappers fumbling with the language. Prairie chickens, also known as sage grouse, used to be numerous in various parts of the country. Since 1900, their numbers have plummeted dramatically due to various factors such as burning and grazing practices in their natural grasslands habitat, environmental conflicts like wind turbines that tend to win confrontations with the confounded grouse, and their general tastiness which resulted in millions of them landing on dinner plates before hunting restrictions applied. Groups devoted to saving the threatened birds have helped them stay out of the extinction game for now.
Dr. Babcock/Dr. Miller – A pair of dentists from Glenwood Springs, Colorado, Dr. Babcock and Dr. Miller are thought to be the first people to run Westwater Canyon. In August of 1887, the adventuresome duo apparently decided it was high time to take a break from filling cavities and being feared by every town child with the misfortune to possess teeth in need of repair, and they set their sights on a part of the Colorado River never before paddled by humans. It seems they successfully navigated their way downstream, then actually paddled back upstream to Moab before returning home to quiet lives. As far as is known, they were never to paddle another river.
Flavell – In 1896, George Flavell and Ramon Montez rowed their hardy wooden boat, the Panthon, down the Green River and then the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. George Flavell, fur trapper, hunter, prospector, and unlikely tattoo artist, also kept a lively journal during their trip. He describes being awakened one night in Desolation Canyon by a thunderous noise and shaking which he first thought an earthquake. He wrote, “But after listening for a few seconds, it stopped with a terrible thud. It was only a portion of a mountain that had wearied of living in such a high altitude and had decided to take up a claim in the canyon below. After reaching its desired location it slept again and so did we.”
Bert – Bert Loper was called the Grand Old Man of the Colorado, with a legacy he shaped himself out of the muddy rivers of the Southwest. As a young man he bounced from one potential career to another until he landed in Blanding, Utah, in 1893, the prospect of gold shining bright in his eyes. Instead, he discovered a passion for the rivers and henceforth lived a life dedicated to his true love. Known for a Westwater Canyon trip with Ellsworth Kolb in 1916, Bert didn’t make a successful run of the Grand Canyon until 1939, at 69 years of age. He died as he lived, running the Grand one more time at 80 years of age, where he succumbed to an apparent heart attack while rowing through a rapid. Prescient about his death, he had not long before penned these words: “If I knew that on a certain day I was to pass on I would get in my boat and would land in Grand Canyon on that day for it seems to me that it would be such a nice place to pass on to one that loves the whole set up as I do.”
If you wonder why your boat is named The Stalker or The Slasher, don’t worry—there really is a good explanation! The American Southwest is known worldwide for its frequent stunning dinosaur fossil discoveries. Those ancient creatures roamed these landscapes millions of years ago, ruling over dino-sized empires and sending prey quaking into the bushes at the sight of their fearsome teeth and claws.
Rex –Rex was perhaps the most terrifying land-based creature to ever walk the planet. Officially known as Tyrannosaurus Rex (Latin for “king of the tyrant lizards”), T. rex or Rex could measure a whopping 42 feet long and weigh about seven tons (yup, as in 14,000 pounds). Rex could also haul along at about 15 miles per hour despite being so huge, so if you were prey, you’d better have been able to run faster. Back in the day old Rex liked to wander around what we now call Utah. Floating along in the Rex boat today, let your imagination run a little wild and ponder being the ruler of all those tyrant lizards. Life must have been pretty sweet if you were a Rex.
Unktehila – This mouthful, which actually sounds fairly smooth when you get the hang of it, is often depicted in ancient Utah rock art. Believed by several Native American traditions to be a dangerous water monster, legends of the Unktehila were most likely inspired by ancient discoveries of dinosaur fossils such as our pal Rex. Beware the ferocious Unktehila, as it may prowl through your dreams in the water-carved canyons of your river trip.
Thunderbird –Thunderbirds hold mythological importance in many native cultures, including some in Southwestern states such as Utah. Held to be large, ferocious birdlike creatures, thunderbirds possibly entered into human stories based on ancient discoveries of Utahraptor fossils. Supposedly, a thunderbird’s giant wings fanned the air currents and caused ominous, rumbling thunder. A thunderbird was considered to be a formidable foe and one it was unwise to anger.
Utah Raptor – The Utahraptor (“Utah thief”) was a decidedly fierce dinosaur with birdlike qualities. A meat-eater, its big claws and serrated teeth meant buh-bye to the prey it ran down. Of four toes on its feet, the second toe was the business end of the matter: it measured about nine to 15 inches! Considering that this Utah thief was about 16-23 feet long and weighed around 2,000 pounds, we’re quite thankful the only part of it around the rivers these days is its name on our boat.
Here we present the endangered native fish boat names. Besides bearing kind of funny names, these fish offer a deeper understanding of the river ecosystems you encounter during your rafting vacation.
Pike Minnow –The Colorado pike minnow is North America’s largest minnow. Often growing two to three feet long and living up to 40 years, this fish was historically recorded as being up to six feet long and weighing upwards of 80 pounds. An endangered native of the Colorado River, it was formerly known as the Colorado Squawfish, with its Latin name being Ptychocheilus lucius. We think calling the boat Pike minnow is an easier mouthful!
Humpback –Fully known as a Humpback Chub, this endangered native Colorado River fish is very distinctive due to a pronounced hump right behind its head. Also a member of the minnow family, humpback populations can be found in Desolation Canyon, the Yampa River, Cataract Canyon, and Westwater Canyon.
Razorback –Call it a Razorback Sucker or call it a Xyrauchen texanus—either way, this fish will catch your eye if you spot it on a whitewater rafting trip. A hump that extends back from behind its head looks like a razor’s edge. Bronze to yellowish in color, this endangered native species can grow up to 15 pounds and is found throughout the upper Colorado River basin.
Bonytail –Gila elegans, more commonly known as the Bonytail Chub, is the most rare of the endangered native fish in the Colorado River. With lifespans that can approach 50 years, the bonytail is an excellent example of natural adaptation with its sleek lines and fins perfectly proportioned to navigating the currents of the Colorado.
The histories behind Holiday’s boat names are varied and in many cases fascinating. They provide extra river rafting lore that add even more depth and interest to your whitewater rafting vacation. The following boats were named after men who all had a hand in shaping commercial river rafting years before it became the recreational choice it is today for thousands of adventurers.
Norm – Norm Nevills became a boatman in the 1930s. After he married his equally river-loving wife, Doris, they took their honeymoon on the San Juan River in an unusual craft: a raft Norm built himself out of an old horse trough. River: Green and Colorado Rivers
Emery –Emery Kolb made his mark as a Grand Canyon photographer. His other claim to fame, spurred on by his brother, Ellsworth, came from a notable 1911-1912 rafting expedition down the Green and Colorado rivers. He and Ellsworth operated Kolb studio, situated right on the rim of the Grand Canyon by the Bright Angel Trail, for 75 years. River: Green and Colorado Rivers
Ellsworth – Fascinated by risk-taking, river running, and moving pictures, Ellsworth Kolb was known as the more daring of the brothers. Part of his early claim to fame was the motion picture he and Emery shot of their Grand Canyon rafting trip in 1912—the first time such a trip was ever filmed. River: Colorado River Rafting
Bus –Back in the 1930s, Bus Hatch started to run Utah rivers, particularly the Green and Colorado. Known for living large and having plenty of fun on the water, his legacy continues today in a family-run operation. River: Green and Yampa
Edward Abbey was a famous (some say infamous) writer of Southwestern literature. Impassioned about the future of the highly-contested western landscapes he loved, Ed Abbey pulled no punches when lambasting the government, what he saw as mindless hordes of tourists, and the greed of those who would destroy fragile and unique lands in search of personal profit. Some of his books are regarded as classics today, including 1975’s The Monkey Wrench Gang. That novel’s premise centered around the blowing up of Glen Canyon Dam, a place and topic still fraught with tension to this day in certain circles. Memorable Monkey Wrench characters lend their names to several Holiday boats. They easily prompt discussions about Abbey and the past, present, and future protections of the lands and rivers through which we travel. Here’s an often-quoted line from his poem, Benedicto: “May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.”
Bishop Love –Characterizing heartless, reckless growth over the innate natural and spiritual beauties of untouched wilderness, Abbey’s Bishop Love was modeled, perhaps a bit overdramatically, on a real person named Cal Black. Black was a wealthy Westerner who backed the building of a nuclear waste site just outside Canyonlands National Park. The fictional Bishop Love symbolizes the more dangerous aspects of modern “progress” when it is jostled up against the wild places and rivers of the West.
Bonnie –Bonnie Abbzug is a young woman from the East who serves as less-than-wide-eyed ingenue in the face of the wanton destruction of the dam. Energetic and intelligent, Abbey perhaps used her character in a way that would be seen as less than feminist today—although many readers regarded and still regard her character as a champion of strong women everywhere.
Doc Sarvis –A wealthy widower who financially backs all the monkeywrenching activities, Doc is also the love interest of Bonnie, despite a twenty-year age difference. A retired surgeon from Albuquerque, Doc’s hobby is to burn down billboards, which he sees as serious affronts to the purity of the American west as well as any smarts left in the American mind.
Seldom Seen – One of the little motorboats that pushes the rafts off Lake Powell at the conclusion of Cataract Canyon rafting trips, Seldom Seen was named after what is perhaps The Monkey Wrench Gang’s most complex character, a polygamist “jack” (nonpracticing) Mormon. Based on real life former river guide and current horse packer Ken Sleight, who still operates a ranch near Moab, Seldom Seen Smith was a character impassioned about saving the wilderness his forebears had settled and then slowly began to colonize and modernize. Seldom Seen called Lake Powell “the blue death” since it drowned countless archaeological and natural wonders beneath its waters.
Hayduke –The other Lake Powell motorboat bears this funny name. A Vietnam veteran and Southwest wilderness lover who harbors a vague anger as well as a penchant for the bottle, the character of Hayduke has become a battle cry for many environmentalists. At the start of The Monkey Wrench Gang, Hayduke perches atop a canyon rim high above the Colorado River and sets loose “a howl…[to] rise in the twilight stillness and spread through the emptiness of the desert evening…. One long and prolonged, deep and dangerous, wild, archaic howl.” Based on Abbey’s friend, a novelist and naturalist named Doug Peacock, Hayduke represents the disillusionment with human urbanization rolling over natural spaces that often are best left alone, and the strong desire to save the wilderness at any cost.
River rafting in the West has a long, fascinating history peppered with folks who lived larger than life and left their mark on the psyches of modern day rafters. Holiday offers self-bailing paddle boat trips for those with a sense of adventure and a willingness to work. Since guests are also responsible for paddling these boats, we named them after rafting adventurers of old, each of whom paddled their way into history. Ann, Georgie, Josie, Glen and Bessie Hyde. Colorful characters from the rich history of river running and life on the Colorado Plateau.
Ann – Ann Bassett lived a life full of color, wild adventure, and high spirits back in a time when most “ladies” were expected to be prim and proper. Raised the daughter of an intrepid female rancher in Brown’s Hole, by the Green River near the intersection of Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado, fiery Ann could ride, shoot, and hunt with the best of them. Nicknamed “Queen of the Cattle Rustlers” for her participation in the late 19th century/early 20th century criminal activity common to the area, Queen Ann was friends with Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch gang.
Josie – Josie Bassett lived life somewhat less temperamentally yet just as extraordinarily as her sister, Ann. Enamored of the Colorado Plateau landscape, she spent her years working hard on the family ranch, unafraid to dig post holes as she worked alongside the male ranch hands. Married five times and boasting a string of lovers throughout her life, if legend is correct Josie’s most famous romantic entanglement was with Butch Cassidy. The family home hosted Butch and his gang at their dinner table many times, and Josie considered the outlaws to be regular people, albeit ones more likely to have the law breathing down their necks than most.
Bessie – In 1928, Bessie Hyde and her new husband, Glen, set off on a rafting trip on the Green and Colorado Rivers. They were never seen again, and the questions and theories behind their disappearance intrigue whitewater buffs to this day. Were they drowned? Murdered? Decided to create new lives and simply vanished to a place such as Mexico? Did Glen butcher his wife in a fit of rage and then hie off himself to places unknown, running and hiding the rest of his life? Did Bessie slit Glen’s throat before taking off herself? Nobody seems to know. Last seen by Grand Canyon photographer Emery Kolb in November 1928, the Hydes left behind haunting photos, interesting pieces of their lives to decipher, and plenty of stories for anyone who rafts the Colorado River today.
Glen – Glen Hyde was a tall, thin man who made part of an attractive and adventuresome couple with his wife, Bessie. Somewhat experienced with rafting before meeting Bessie, Glen had an instant affinity for the rivers. He proposed the honeymoon Colorado rafting trip to Bessie with the ambitious idea they would achieve two immense accomplishments: one, set a new record for rafting speed through the canyon, and two, to make Bessie the first woman to successfully run the Colorado. It is possible they became more famous for their disappearance than anything of major note they might actually have realized had they lived. Regardless, the romance and mystery surrounding them remain to this day.
Georgie – It’s impossible to discuss the rafting history of the Colorado without mentioning Georgie White Clark. A whitewater rafting aficionado, Georgie pioneered commercial rafting and became well-known for the party atmosphere, minimalist accommodations, and endlessly seductive tales of fabulous life on the river. Georgie was seemingly fearless and very determined to do things her own way. In 1945, she and a companion swam the Grand Canyon, mostly to prove they could. Georgie later called the awesome experience “like riding a roller coaster made of water.” At the beginnings of modern commercial rafting, Georgie denounced the prevailing attitude that the “fairer sex” should usually walk around rapids rather than rafting them—she simply did it herself and took her guests right through them, too, regardless of gender. Georgie ran her last river at 80 years of age, a legend till the end.
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. See more of her work here – www.wildgirlwriting.com