Randall Henderson founded Desert Magazine in 1937. For more
than twenty years he published adventures, lore, and photographs
of the desert Southwest. Henderson made several river trips with
Norman Nevills, often running stories about them in Desert.
On August 4, 1947 Henderson wrote to the Superintendent of Grand
Canyon National Park, describing some of the graffiti he had seen
on his recent trip with Nevills. He suggested a less tacky way for
river travelers to record their passage:“Our own records
of the trip were typewritten sheets which I prepared and placed
in bottles and cairns which I constructed at the night camps…”
Indeed, Nevills's journal from the 1947 trip states: “July
12, Camp… Nice spot. Randall leaves note in cairn on ledge
just down from little canyon. It's been a full and exciting
“July 13… After dinner Majory, Pauline, Ros, Al, Kent
and I go up to explore the big cave where I found the Stanton note
in 1940. We have a lot of fun exploring, crawling around and poking
into odd corners. I leave a note typed by Randall, pinned to the
wall in the same place with the same stick as the Stanton note.”
“July 28… Left note in can under ledge.”
This story concerns the note Henderson left at Tapeats Creek. The
river was running 21,000 cfs and falling. It was 111° in the
shade. On the evening of July 24, 1947 he pulled out his typewriter
and wrote up the past two days' events. He put the note in
a small jar and stashed it beneath a cairn.
Seven years later, on July 22, 1954, Georgie White was bouncing
down river on around 6,700 cfs, when she stopped at Tapeats for
dinner. Just days before, at Boucher Rapid, she had tied her three
10-man rafts together, side-by-side for the first time, inventing
the triple rig. Walter Blalock, a photographer on Georgie's
trip, was poking around and found the Henderson note. He added one
from his group.
Another twenty years passed and an arta trip of California geology
students stumbled across the cairn and signed in. Few knew the location
of the notes, and as recently as the late 1980s they were in very
Then things got a little weird. Someone visited the site and left
a new note in the jar. A subsequent visitor, finding the new note,
apparently felt that only the “historic” notes belonged
there, and removed the new one. Some time later, the leaver of the
recent note returned to find his (or her) note gone. Outraged, she
(or he) took all the historic notes hostage, and left a ransom note.
Until his (or her) party's note was returned, the three older
notes would be held captive.
Mark O'Neill, who was working for the Park Service River Patrol
at the time, left a plea in the empty jar for any information as
to the whereabouts of the missing notes. No response came for ten
Then, in October of 1997, a boater found another cache, several
hundred yards from the original site. Upon investigation, the crumbling
fragments of paper turned out to be the original notes from '47,
'54 and '74. Unfortunately, they were in such poor shape
that they would not last much longer. They have been stabilized
by Cline Library and are now at the Grand Canyon National Park Collection.
Copies have been placed in both stash sites.
On the following pages, through the magic of computer reassembly,
are replicas of the original notes. Of the three, Henderson's
tells the most outrageous tale. So outrageous that we had to do
a little research to find out if it was true.
Kent Frost, who was there, says yes. In fact, he rowed out and picked
up Marston and Desloge Jr. (Desloge Jr. still without life jacket)
at the foot of the Dubendorff. Henderson elaborated on the swim
in Desert Magazine: “Joe is a giant in the water, and Otis
formerly was a swimming coach. It is not a stunt for a weak swimmer.
‘It is all in the breathing,' explained Otis Marston.
‘Any strong swimmer who knows how and when to breathe will
come through without trouble at this stage of the water when there
is no danger of collision with rocks.' But woe to the swimmer
who tries to fill his lungs at the wrong time—for in such
turbulent water one cannot always be on the surface.”
Joe Desloge Jr. wrote us to add:“…we were told Dubendorff
had never been successfully swum, but that a previous adventurer
had drowned in the attempt.
“I had just returned from wwii and was therefore indestructible!
Papa knew I was an excellent swimmer but suggested I wear a life
jacket. Cocky me—I told him I didn't need one, so he
asked Kent Frost to wait below Dubie to pick up the body.
“Luckily the water was high enough to allow me to avoid the
rocks. On the wave crests I grabbed hunks of air. I marvel today
at my total lack of sense and feel the angels were watching over
Thanks to: Joe Desloge Jr., Garth Marston and Kent Frost for corroborating
the tale; Roy Webb for Nevills's journal entries and Henderson's
note to the nps; Dan Cassidy of Five Quail Books for the Desert
Magazine article and research; Richard Quartaroli for stream flows.
Special thanks to the anonymous boatman who found the notes and
took the proper course of action. Which brings up a point of ethics
regarding antiquities in the Canyon:
The rule of thumb is to leave things where you found them, and take
your own stuff with you. Ideally, take only memories, don't
even leave footprints.
Should you come across something like these crumbling notes, that
are in imminent danger of being destroyed or lost forever, notify
the park. They belong to all of us.