Books by Frederick H. Swanson

David D. Rust
David D. Rust

Dave Rust: A Life in the Canyons

Winner of the 2007 Evans Biography Award (Mountain West Center for Regional Studies), Best Utah History Book (Utah Historical Society), Best Biography on Mormon History (Mormon History Association) and the Utah Book Award for nonfiction (Utah Center for the Book)

by Frederick H. Swanson

Foreword by Michael F. Anderson

University of Utah Press (hardbound $29.95, soft $19.95)

“You must love my country. Powell loved it, Dutton loved it, I love it, and so must you.” --Dave Rust

In a life that spanned the years between Clarence Dutton’s geologic explorations of the Plateau Province and the completion of the Glen Canyon dam, David Dexter Rust (1874-1963) managed to embody both the desert-wise cowboy and the restless intellectual. He led pack trips to Zion Canyon, Capitol Reef, the Aquarius Plateau, and the Escalante Canyons before these exquisite places became well known to the outside world. Throughout his long career as a backcountry guide and Glen Canyon river outfitter, he made sure that his clients--who were typically well-educated travelers from back East--saw the finest examples of the region’s stunningly exposed geology.

Dave packing a mule on the Aquarius Plateau
Dave packing a mule on the Aquarius Plateau, Utah, 1920

Historian Roy Webb, in his book Call of the Colorado, called Rust “one of the least known but most interesting figures in river-running history.” Rust operated the first commercial float trips in Glen Canyon from 1923 to 1939, taking guests to Music Temple, Rainbow Bridge, the Crossing of the Fathers, and other scenic and historic sights. His regard for the Colorado River ran deep: he prospected in Glen Canyon in the 1890s, and in 1906 he oversaw the construction of a tourist trail down Bright Angel Creek in the Grand Canyon and erected a cable-tram crossing over the river. He ranged widely throughout the Plateau Province, and from 1928 to 1931 he outfitted archaeological expeditions under the auspices of Harvard’s Peabody Museum--research that led to the first recognition of the Fremont culture.

Rust’s career as a backcountry outfitter illustrates many of the changes that have come over the region during the last century. He began as a tourism promoter, working with his father-in-law, Edwin D. Woolley Jr., to encourage Americans to travel to the Grand Canyon via new routes from the north. He finished his wilderness explorations in 1941 by guiding one young man on an extended pack trip into the Escalante Canyons, an area the Park Service was touting as part of a proposed national monument. As federal agencies and the traveling public increasingly turned toward mass tourism, Rust felt the call of the lonely spaces of the canyon country. Always one to row against the current, his evolving outlook on tourism and the art of travel is a major theme of the book.

Dave Rust in boat, Grand Canyon
Dave's friend Emery Kolb photographed him on an upriver excursion in the Grand Canyon in 1909.

Rust made his living during the winter months as a teacher, school principal, farmer, and occasional prospector, living in Kanab, Utah from 1903-1928 and spending the remainder of his life in Provo. But the outback of the Colorado Plateau drew him every spring and summer, when he would saddle up his horses and mules and lead guests from all across the country to his favorite canyons and vista points. He was one of the first to undertake what we now call “wilderness education”--presenting the deserts and high plateaus as worthy of study and understanding.

Dave Rust once wrote that “I’ve gone through two colleges without receiving a degree except perhaps an M.D. I am a mule driver.” If so, he was one of the most accomplished and interesting muleskinners a reader is likely to encounter. His story will take you back to a time when the landscape of southern Utah and northern Arizona offered some of the greatest outdoor experiences a traveler could wish for.

Photos courtesy Rust family