C. Fraser changing camera plates at his camp on Navajo Creek
during his 1916 traverse of the northern Navajo Reservation.
Journeys in the Canyon Lands of Utah and Arizona,
by George C. Fraser
Foreword by Hal Rothman
Edited by Frederick H. Swanson
University of Arizona Press
Softcover, 224 p., $19.95
Have you ever wished that you could
stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon with one of the great
geologists of the nineteenth century--perhaps John Wesley Powell
or Clarence E. Dutton--and listen to them tell the story of
the Canyon's evolution? Perhaps you've read Powell's
Exploration of the Colorado River or Dutton's Tertiary
History of the Grand Caņon District and gained new insights
into this most sublime of the Earth's spectacles. Nearly
a hundred years ago, a well-to-do explorer from Morristown,
New Jersey, felt the same call to explore the landscapes of
the Plateau Province, taking along for his guides the works of these
master exponents of canyon geology.
George Corning Fraser was a successful attorney
with a Wall Street practice, but his interests were decidedly
rustic. He had read the accounts written by early-day geologists
and explorers of the Colorado Plateau and wanted to see this country from the same exposed
rims and deep canyon bottoms. He decided to retrace the routes
that Powell, Dutton, G. K. Gilbert, and other scientists had
taken through the region and, with their reports and maps in
hand, reach a fuller understanding of the "Great Denudation,"
as Dutton called the sixty-million-year excavation of the stair-stepped
topography of the region.
Beginning in 1914, Fraser made a series
of ambitious journeys on horseback and by wagon into the country
lying between Flagstaff, Arizona and the Mormon towns of central
Utah. Several qualities set Fraser apart from most travelers:
he seemed ready for almost any adventure, no matter how difficult;
he had a gift for careful observation, both of the landscape
and of the people who lived and worked there; and (most important
for us) he could relate his adventures in elegant and descriptive
1914 Fraser photographed the view from Dutton Point on
the Powell Plateau, one of the great overlooks on the
North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Point Sublime is in the
Journeys in the Canyon Lands presents
three of Fraser's detailed travel journals, covering trips he
made to the Kaibab Plateau and Grand Canyon region, the Utah
high plateaus, and the northern Navajo Indian Reservation. He
describes the Zion Narrows, the view from the Toroweap, the
monoliths of Cathedral Valley and dozens of other features in
lively but straightforward language. He was intensely interested
in people, and he got all manner of folks to tell him their
life stories. And in the company of one or more of his family
members and his guide, David D. Rust of Kanab, Utah, he got into
canyons and mesas that are still tough to reach today.
When I came across Fraser's journals,
which are archived at the Princeton University Library, I felt
I'd been transported to a time before the tourist's heyday.
The settling of the frontier was several decades past, but much
of this landscape was unknown to the outside world, and
Fraser's reactions to it convey the sense of amazement that
many of us have felt upon first seeing the Colorado Plateau.
He is a marvelous writer, eschewing the flowery language of
the Victorian travelers or the purple prose of Zane Grey, and
he lets the features of the country speak for themselves. Yet
he weaves understated humor throughout his journals as he encounters
the hardships of travel in this rugged country and observes
the lives and practices of its inhabitants.
Perhaps, like me, you've wondered how
the canyon country looked and felt to those who got there before
the highways and tour operators. If so, you'll enjoy these narratives
from a most unusual and observant traveler.
courtesy of LDS Church Archives (masthead); Rust family (middle);
Fraser family (lower)