Mere words cannot convey the sweeping extent of our loss
at the untimely death of one of our own, Kenton Grua. Kenton, a.k.a. “the
Factor”, was a brief, blazing comet of a man whose trailing colors
have seared their way into the collective conscience of our souls, forever
changing the lives of those who loved the canyon as he did. Some years
ago, he was given the nickname “Factor” because that’s
what he was—that intangible, undeniable, intensely dynamic factor
that you always had to take into account whenever you were with him, be
it down river, up a trail—wherever—he was always a factor.
Kenton got hooked on rivers at age twelve on a birthday present trip with
his dad down the Yampa through Dinosaur with Shorty Burton as his guide.
He knew from that first trip that he wanted to be a boatman, and with
an early demonstration of the intensity and conviction with which he lived
his entire life, he never wavered from that goal. He started with Hatch
River Expeditions in ’69, and then began with Grand Canyon Dories,
where he worked most of his commercial seasons.
Always somewhat of a restless spirit, he embarked on grandiose adventures
too numerous to count, but with which many of us are familiar—his
hike through the canyon in ’76, the speed run on the high water
of ’83, founding Grand Canyon River Guides, jumping the chasm at
Deer Creek narrows, climbing to the Anasazi footbridge—and on and
on—any one of which, taken by itself, is a remarkable feat, but
when viewed together, are daunting and awe-inspiring. Yet, it was never
the notoriety that he was after—rather, it was the love of the challenge
to himself and the desire to endeavor to do it right. In fact, he’d
rarely mention any of these accomplishments to you unsolicited. You could
know him for years and never hear him recount his exploits. And that is
what I think I’ll remember most about him—his quiet, confident
It would warm his heart to know that what people recall the most is his
gentle, loving support that he gave as he worked and learned alongside
them, mentored them and championed the river and her needs. But I’m
not trying to deify him—nor would he want that—he was a complex,
improbable combination of qualities—most endearing, others maddening—all
of them forthright and earnest.
I will always chuckle at his incessant “Factorizing”—deciding
to rearrange his hatches just as you’re pulling away from shore,
gear scattered all over his decks, with his head below deck, buried waist
deep, aware of your departure, but engrossed nonetheless; discussing,
impassioned, his theory on the formation of columnar basalt or the origins
of the canyon and the now extinct course of the river in her earlier days;
his gentle way of encouraging the most apprehensive of passengers up and
over a ledge, so that they might behold the splendor of the canyon that
he loved so well; regaling passengers with the history of the canyon and
its geology, always ignoble in his delivery, never pretentious; waking
up at three a.m. and looking over to see his headlamp on—still on;
him rattling around his boat, playing guitar or flossing his teeth or
rethinking some project for the thousandth time; his resolute commitment
to the mission of gcrg and his unflinching pursuit of what was right for
the canyon—not what was right for the outfitters or the privates
or the Park Service, but what was right for the canyon and for the guides,
the stewards of that wonderful place.
Selfishly, though I relish my memories of him on the river, my most treasured
memories will always be those of Kenton as he was in more recent times.
He had scaled back his trips downstream, in pursuit of the one adventure
that had, until recently, eluded him—parenthood. Like a duck to
water or a boatman to a rapid, he hit it straight on, with his heart wide
open, never happier or more content than when he was playing with his
three children. As he did with the canyon, he had the courage to follow
his heart and change course in midstream, against all odds, in pursuit
of the nourishment that his soul so sorely craved. He had finally done
it all, and his peace was obvious to those who knew him.
How fitting that a man who lived life so fully would die in such a perfect
way, on a beautiful day, riding down a rolling mountain trail under fading
summer skies, and without the slightest hint, slip peacefully from the
bonds that hold us here, moving on to that next great adventure. I know
I’m not the only one who will miss the sight of that hard, hairy
body rowing his dory downstream or maneuvering his motor rig through the
Big Ditch. I will remember him as he always was—smiling, intense,
and oh, so in the moment. So between now and then, ’til I see you
again, I’ll be loving you. Love, me.
Sabra Lynn Jones
Friends and fellow Grand Canyon River Guides mourn the loss of Sabra
Lynn Jones, md who was tragically killed in an accident at Havasu Canyon
on August 12, 2002.
Born in Berkeley, CA. in 1957, she graduated with a degree in Physiology
from U.C. Berkeley in 1980. Sabra attained her md on an honors grant from
Yale Medical School in 1984, and completed her residency through Georgetown
University. She became the only board certified interventional radiologist
in the Four Corners area.
Sabra’s limitless energy and compassion for the less fortunate was
reflected in her medical services at various medical centers on the Navajo
Nation and Zuni Pueblo, where she used her special language skills to
communicate with patients in Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, and Spanish. She worked
with the Gallup Radiologist Group at Rehoboth McKinley Hospital in Gallup,
nm until her death.
Sabra also was a board member of Nepal seeds (Social Educational Environmental
Developmental Services), “providing relief at the most basic grass
roots level to some of Nepal’s poorest villages.” Sabra made
several trips to Nepal to participate in these projects. She also completed
an eleven day bicycle trip to raise funds for a Mexico orphanage.
In 1973, at the age of sixteen, Sabra completed her first Grand Canyon
river trip with her father. Her sense of adventure and insatiable curiosity
kept bringing her back to become more intimate with the canyon. The spiritual
centers of her universe became the Nubri Valley, Nepal, home to many seeds
projects, and the Grand Canyon.
Sabra’s openness with people, hardworking can-do attitude, love
of life, family, friends, patients, and dedication to her work will be
missed by all who came to know her.
She is survived by her mother, brother, and sister. Contributions in Sabra’s
memory can be made at www.nepalseeds.org.
Nate was a Dock Marston grandson; he loved the River. When your grandfather,
grandmother, and father are all among the first hundred river runners,
there is an overwhelming heritage that draws you to something so wonderful
as the Canyon.
He loved it, however, in his own way. It gave him peace and a sense of
being. He wanted to be a part of the canyon and loved its natural beauty,
changes in the river itself, and how people influenced its future.
Nate’s one Grand Canyon trip was the family charter in 1992. He
loved every minute of the twelve days. At the end of the trip ten Marstons
had run the river.
Nate was diagnosed with a form of bone marrow cancer called Multiple Myeloma
in 1996. He was not able to take part in the family trip on the Salmon
in 1998, but his wife Dianna and daughters Kaela and Sorrell were on the
The next Marston Grand Canyon trip was 2001 and Nate’s health had
deteriorated significantly. Although there was a chance that he would
not see her again, Nate insisted that his daughter, Sorrell, go on the
trip. She grew up on the trip and “lived” on the paddleboat.
At of the end of the trip, fifteen Marstons (four generations) had run
the river. Kaela chose to stay home to be with her father, but promised
to go down the Grand Canyon soon. His wife, Dianna and Kaela, are committed
to make it seventeen.
Nate was proud of his grandfather’s research in the canyon and wanted
to finish some of his work while recovering from his stem cell transplant.
His goal was to research the River, read, and complete his grandfather’s
work, and help people see the River as it was, where it is today, and
its future. The disease would not allow Nathan to white water raft the
canyon any longer but the prospect of research and helping to finish some
of his grandfather’s work gave Nate the strength to go through his
treatment that offered him the best chance to overcome cancer. The river
is many things to each person, but for Nate it was its natural beauty,
the strength of the water, side canyons, wildlife, flora and fauna, its
history, geographic formation, and cultural history.
Nate died on May 17, 2002, peacefully with his family around him.
Willis Johnson was picking watermelons in Green River, Utah, When Buzz
Holmstrom and Amos Burg floated into town in search of a helper. The story
goes that Willis began campaigning for the job by showing up each evening,
telling them grand stories, then leaving before he could finish the tale.
They took him on to find out how the stories ended.
Johnson proved a strong helper, steady cameraman, and steadfast friend
on the trip, and joined Holmstrom the following year for his uprun of
the Snake River. He then rowed the Middle Fork of the Salmon with Burg,
Doc Frazier, Frank Swain and several other Vernal boaters.Although Johnson
spent the majority of his years as a miner, he continued to run the San
Juan, Glen Canyon and the rivers of Idaho whenever he could.
Johnson, who died in his sleep on July 21, had been suffering from Alzheimers
Disease for the last few years. He had been to a family reunion in Salt
Lake City that afternoon. As his sister Cora Lee Johnson describes the
afternoon, “He didn't respond much to anyone. I don't think he moved
too much. But one of the nephews said to him, "Uncle Willis, are
you about ready for a river trip?"
And he threw both his his arms in the air and said "Yes, river trip,
Patrick Mark Geanious passed away on Sunday, October 13, 2002, in Phoenix,
Arizona. He had been ill with cancer for a year and a half.
Patrick was a Grand Canyon river guide with over 150 trips. He made his
last run in June and July 2002, running every rapid in spite of the, at
times, nearly debilitating symptoms associated with advanced metastasized
melanoma. Patrick exhibited incredible courage and strength throughout
Patrick came to the River in 1979 and ran trips for the next 23 years.
He was a favored running mate and a favorite with the passengers. Patrick’s
legacy lives on in the careers of the numerous boatmen he introduced to
Grand Canyon River running. He mentored a dozen or more into the avocation
he loved so much.
Patrick graduated from Eureka High School, Eureka, Illinois, in 1973 where
he excelled academically and lettered in football, baseball, and wrestling.
He attended Western Illinois University from 1973 to 1975, and graduated
from the University of Illinois at Urbana in 1978 obtaining a Bachelor’s
degree in Zoology.
In 1996 Patrick earned a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy
from the University of Washington, Seattle. For the past six years Patrick
had worked in several Phoenix Elementary School districts, doing physical
therapy with grade-school students with severe developmental and physical
disabilities. Patrick felt that helping children cope with and overcome
their disabilities was one of his greatest and most cherished achievements.
He is survived by one sister, Mary Beth Geanious and three brothers: Michael,
Gregory and Christopher.
Patrick, Michael, and Chris all worked as commercial guides in Grand Canyon
and ran many trips together during the 1980s and ’90s. The Geanious
brothers have logged over 600 trips through the Canyon between them. They
had the good fortune to run together again this summer during Patrick’s
A memorial fund has been created in Patrick’s name to benefit disabled
children in Arizona including those he worked with. Send donations to:
Patrick Geanious Memorial Fund
166 Chaco Trail, Flagstaff, AZ 86001
J. Frank Wright
Frank Wright was a legendary fast water man, highly respected among those
who ran the undammed Colorado River. His guiding career spanned the transitional
years of 1948–1957.
Frank was my dad’s [Norm Nevills] head boatman, a position he wryly
likened to chief cook and bottle washer. River running was a seat of your
pants proposition in the 1940s. My dad and Frank had met in Blanding,
UT, and daddy had offered to trade Frank a San Juan river trip for mechanical
repairs he was doing on one of our vehicles. Frank arrived in Mexican
Hat the morning of the launch. He looked around and wondered where the
second boatman was because he only saw my dad busily getting the two boats
ready. Daddy told him the other boatman hadn’t shown up but he knew—he
just new—Frank would make a great boatman! I wonder if he knew how
great? At any rate, Frank demurred, so my dad brought out his biggest
gun…my mom. In telling me this story, Frank smiled in memory and
said softly “Well, you know Doris—how could anyone refuse
In spring of 1949 Frank and I were on a San Juan-Glen Canyon trip together.
He would become a constant during my lifetime although I couldn’t
know that then. After 1949, Frank took time to come see me and also wrote
to me throughout the years. The presence of that steadfast man meant more
than he could ever know. He had such an air of quiet competence it was
easy not to notice his expertise in everything he did—it simply
looked easy. He was a pilot, a creative mechanic, a perfectionist boat
builder, a fine photographer and a thoroughly gifted river man.
Sandy Nevills Reiff
He called me his true friend, loved the fact that I went
barefoot, signed his letters “Love ye.’” What began
as an intellectual pursuit attached to an academic project became a very
deep friendship between two people separated by age, gender, and religious
belief, but joined by a common love for an immense and unforgiving landscape
and the way one feels on a boat on a river in a canyon.
He would tell me to begin at the beginning, and the last thing he told
me was to write about our friendship. I was writing a master’s thesis
on early river-running in the Grand Canyon. Sandy Reiff asked Frank if
he would share his memories of these times with me. When he began to speak
of the river, the years fell away from his face and the most amazing blue
eyes were sparkling and dancing and he was a young man again.
Sometimes when I showed up he would be in the garden, tending his tomatoes,
or in the kitchen making his delicious white bread, or in his shed mending
a hole in a chickie pail. We would talk for a few hours and then part
ways again, sometimes for months or for years. But I always knew I would
be welcome, and that he would only gently chastise me for not visiting
Frank was an honest man, and a loyal man. He hesitated to speak ill of
anyone, alive or dead. He cherished his friendships with men and women,
especially those who were a little wild. He loved his children and his
grandchildren and his great grandchildren. His eyes were saddest when
he talked about the son who was gone from him.
I know he missed the river, but he didn’t want to go back. Too different
now, he thought, too crowded. And although he spent a great deal of time
in some amazing places in Grand Canyon, it was the other stories I enjoyed
the most—his childhood in the Four Corners, the time he hiked back
to Blanding while building the Abajos road because the crew had consumed
all their food save some potatoes, floating with Georgia O’Keefe
in Glen Canyon as she painted, the times he spent in Glen Canyon with
Tad and Katie. He missed Glen Canyon—one entire wall of his living
room was a beautiful print of one of his photographs of Glen Canyon, off-setting
the huge picture of the Salt Lake Mormon temple which occupied another
wall of the living room. Although he cherished his time in the canyons,
he did not romanticize his experience or his times—he often told
me that his days on the river were consumed more by concern for his passengers’
safety than any spiritual wonderment of the landscape.
Most of the time I miss him more than words can express. I remind myself
that now his amazing spirit, as reflected in those incredible eyes, is
free of the limitations of his aging body. I remind myself that he was
living in a world without his son and without some of his closest friends.
I remember everything about all the time we spent together, and I keep
a photograph of him, at Elves Chasm on the Sandra, very close to me.
Lying on the back deck of the Sandra, in "fisheye"
position—face down, head hanging over the stern, legs spread-eagle
in front of the splashboards, toes hooked under the ropes-I feel the change
immediately and know, without a glance, that Frank has taken back the
oars. The blades cannot be heard entering the water, they slide into the
ripples like a kiss; the stern no longer jerks from right to left; one
gentle nudge and the boat moves with the river's purpose, to a channel
written for him in Braille on its chocolate surface—doesn't even
have to see it, feels it through the seat of his pants. The blades rise
from the water with a motion as smooth and compliant as the breeze against
my cheek. Frank rests, allowing the river, the weight and design of the
boat to do the work. This is what Norm Nevills meant when he called Frank
Wright "a natural." He was a picture of the dedicated, reliable
But let this boatman speak for himself:
"From the beginning the rivers gave me a whipping at most every turn.
The first one taken with Norm Nevills was a nightmare from beginning to
end and the others taken with him weren't much better: Always under pressure
and most of the time too damn tired to care what happened to whom. Never
the complete freedom do as I pleased because there was always responsibility
whether I liked it or not. My back and arms ached from pulling on oars.
I was fooled by the smug grin on the face of the water and sucked into
deep holes and into other dangers. I lay awake at night listening to the
talking of the waters in the rapids, taunting and defying me to come out
and fight! I have held my tongue when people have been rude and thoughtless
in their actions and words. And when I tried to fight the river with motors
it just laughed and ground up props and other equipment about as fast
as it could be placed in the water. I have been cursing the river under
my breath at the same time that others have been enjoying the thrills
that only a person in a boat on a wild river can experience. I have gone
to bed so tired that nothing except a river song and a sky full of stars
could give me adequate reasons for ever wanting to see a river again."
Then, the boatman does an end-o:
"But in spite of all the trouble I have had and the adverse conditions
I have had to put up with, the river trips have given me more pleasure
and satisfaction than any one thing that has happened in my life—the
wonderful people I have met there, the interesting conversations I've
enjoyed, the many things I've learned from others—people helping
me to see things from a different angle. Do I need glasses?"
Frank was an "original", though he professed he never wanted
to be a riverman. He was a machinist, a music teacher, a gentle, generous
soul who hated conflict, a man of the old school—where a handshake
and a few words sealed an agreement. Because of his honesty and responsible
nature he was taken advantage of by his church, his business associates
and friends. Such things left scars, hurting him deeply, yet rarely if
ever would he let his feelings show, much less express them in words,
or take any of his defectors to task. He was a man in his mid fifties,
of heavy duty Mormon faith, deep in family responsibilities, always trying
to make ends meet. Until the "We Three" trips he'd never had
the opportunity to relax on the river, to see it for its true beauty and
mystery. Then and there he formed a relationship of thoughtful awareness
and genuine love for the place—he began to see-hear-feel the canyon
and the river through his own new eyes; then emotions, hitherto held in
check, came rushing as he pulled those beautiful scenes from the developer
in his darkroom.
"I would like to spend a whole year with you and Tad doing the things
that we like to do—run rivers and take pictures in the summer, travel
and give lectures in the winter. None of that hurry stuff though! Just
enough work to make us appreciate the fun we could have—look what
happens to those who work too hard without playing a little—they
get heart trouble, don't they? I still get sick in the tummy when thinking
of reasons that could blast the dream Castle and our plans for the 24th
to Hell! [our 2nd “We Three” Glen Canyon trip]. Well, anyway
I have lived in one for a short time and know what it is like to be really
happy and no one can take those happy memories away from us"
Whatever happiness Frank found with us cannot be equalled or even measured
against what he did for us and for so many others. He was councillor,
dearest friend and sole support, all my years on the road from gig to
gig; from one end of the U.S. to the other; from one love affair to the
next, in and out of two marriages; through triumphs and rejections, there
was always Frank. The letters, the photos, the tapes, the phone calls,
the support—always it came when most needed, in the hardest and
saddest of times. Frank never left the oars.
(Frank Wright’s quotes taken from the Katie Lee/Frank Wright letters
file: Sept 29,1953–Sept 19, 2002)