Books by Frederick H. Swanson


Excerpt from Dave Rust: A Life in the Canyons

by Frederick H. Swanson

In 1923 Dave Rust led the first of a series of voyages down Glen Canyon on the Colorado River in 14-foot canvas-covered rowboats, inaugurating a new kind of river-guiding venture in the region. His companions were his son, Jordan, and two young Ivy League men, Arnold Koehler, Jr. and Charles P. Berolzheimer. From Chapter 12, “Return to the River”:

At 3:30 p.m. on July 20 they set out into the muddy waters of the Colorado. Rust piloted the lead boat and Jordan the other, with Charles and Arnold as passengers most of the time. That evening they made it to Good Hope Bar, where Dave had worked in the summer of 1898. There came the inevitable problems to deal with on this shakedown trip:

Arnold & Jordan have trouble breaking oars. We took an extra ash from Dandy [Crossing]. On account of broken oars (and uncertain ability) I tow their boat over Trachyte rapid. The Ticaboo rapid gave us a lot of kick--each boat paddled through canoe fashion. A good deal of the time the hind boat was cross wise. Rained at bedtime.

  Glen Canyon 1923
  Charles Berolzheimer (head showing) swims the Colorado in Glen Canyon, July 1923. Dave Rust is at the oars.

Gregory Crampton, who compiled a history of Glen Canyon, described these rapids as dropping about five feet in half a mile, producing fast water at low river levels but no major hazards. Still, this was Rust’s first run on this stretch of river with his new boats, and he was not about to take any chances. The rocks and boulders that had flooded into the riverbed at the mouths of Trachyte and Ticaboo canyons required careful maneuvering to avoid tearing the boats’ canvas fabric. Hitting one of these rocks the wrong way with an oar could easily break them, as they discovered.

Most of the time, though, the Colorado flowed in a broad, steady current, broken only by eddies, boils, and light riffles. Dave described it on another occasion as “muddy beyond description, a thick milk porridge.” He showed the boys how an egg disappeared when dropped in a cup of the fluid. “You have to learn to like the Colorado,” was his advice. Drinking the stuff, though, was another matter, and side canyons with pockets of clear water were especially welcome.

Dave decided his boats needed names. He chose to name his after John Wesley Powell and Jordan’s after G. K. Gilbert, “since we have studied the records of these great explorers on our trip.” His own journal refers to Powell’s original name for the upper stretch of Glen:

Cool breeze, sprinkle, as we float down the graceful bends. An extraordinary panorama-movie. In reality, the shapes & carvings, & weatherings are countless and full of interest & variety, in fancy, there is unlimited opportunity for personification. “Mound” canyon sure enough--the river walls are deep red & usually sheer, the top wall has all sizes of hogans for a roof. And the variety in clouds blends to make the sweetest coloring.

Glen Canyon 1938  
Rust typically used two or three collapsible canvas-covered canoes to outfit his Glen Canyon voyages. Enjoying the scenic and historical features of the canyon was the goal, not luxurious camp living.  

Below the mouth of the San Juan they stopped at one of Glen Canyon’s most outstanding features. Dave had not been here before, but Powell’s book promised a worthwhile stop. Dave’s journal shows his delight and wonderment:

2 miles N.W. [from the San Juan] at the turn we come to Music Temple by Powell’s description. Sure enough the most musical place we’ve ever seen. Everybody tries his voice. Too far from boats to carry stuff so we sleep on white sand in San Juan county & the Piute Reservation. This is exquisite architecture!! The Temple is not an auditorium but a music palace. More than expected. Should like to bring Miss Poll- or some other singer here. Feature this with Rock Cr. Rainbow trip. Try to find names of explorers but cannot. --feel the solemnity & sacredness of place.

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Following their visit to Music Temple, Rust led the young men on the six-mile hike to Rainbow Bridge and also to the Crossing of the Fathers--places he would feature on every subsequent Glen Canyon voyage. He continued to guide parties down Glen through 1939, his clients ranging from young men and women to Utah Governor George Dern. Rust felt that this was "a wonder river and a wonder canyon," and he was among the first to realize its potential as a stirring recreational experience.

Photos courtesy of Rust family