The days are getting longer, the air warmer, and the snow is melting in the Rockies and making its way down the Colorado River. This combination has a profound effect on a certain group of people who start to show signs of a seasonal illness. Symptoms include wild predictions made about when and at what level the river will peak (one woman in town swears the river will peak a week after the first roses “pop”), bluster about high water runs of years past, and a flurry of activity as rafts are uncovered and gear is neatly packed for the first time since the previous spring. Everyone agrees, even those with the ailment, that it can cause a bit of battiness. This disease is highly contagious but very rewarding, and has beset some great people of the past.
The first written evidence of this affliction can be traced back to inscriptions left on the side of the river by a French fur trapper named Denis Julien who travelled the river between 1831 and 1844. American fur traders liked to travel by horse close to rivers and streams. The French liked to paddle the waterways they were trapping in. But Denis might have been a bit daft in that he seemed to travel upstream against the current instead of using it to propel his boat downstream.
In 1875 Major John Wesley Powell’s account of his journey from Green River, Wyoming to the mouth of the Virgin River was presented to Congress. In it were measurements, photographs, and details of the rivers and canyons he explored in 1869. It reads as if there was only the one expedition when we know there were two trips from his and his companion’s diaries. Most of the events and all of the photos came from the 1871 journey. The measurements and calculations were from the 1869 journey but there is a profound difference between his notes, which were correct, and the published scientific paper, which were exaggerated sometimes by nearly 300%.
Then came a slew of people trying to operate steamboats as transportation on the rivers. There was the MAJOR POWELL, the UNDINE, the WILMONT, the NAVAJO, the MARGUERITE, the CITY OF MOAB, and the PUNKINSEED. The idea was to ferry tourists and service the oil wells and mines along the river. The problem, as expressed by Virgil Baldwin, “At first the water in the river was low for boating and then about the 15th of May, to the same time in June, almost too high to be safe.” It seemed after this the virus had been eradicated for good.
Until the boom in the 1960’s and ‘70’s when some of the great whitewater pioneers like Georgie White, Mitch Williams, Jim Sarten, Tex McClatchy, Sheri Griffith, and many more brought river running to the masses creating a pandemic. People from all over the world have been infected and come to the Colorado and Green Rivers to get a little relief from that persistent itch.
More river history can be seen at the Museum of Moab, 118 E Center in Moab. Now open from 10:00am – 6:00pm Monday through Saturday. More information on our Facebook Page and at www.moabmuseum.org
The May ArtWalk will be a double feature! In the Barnes Gallery Tim Morse will have his plein air paintings. Downstairs will be the annual quilt show by the Delicate Stitchers; this year’s challenge theme is ‘Panel Play’. Join us May 12 5-8pm for the artist reception!