Book Reviews

The Old San Juan

In the united states, most written histories are overwhelmingly anglocentric. More liberal views of history have appeared in recent years, but even they remain overwhelmingly people-centric in scope. In River Flowing from the Sunrise: An Environmental History of the Lower San Juan, James Aton and Robert S. McPherson have attempted something far grander—a true environmental history of the San Juan River. From the emergence of the Colorado Plateau and the origin of the San Juan itself, they trace the evolution and change, not only of the geologic substrate, but of the history and interrelationship of the life forms that have dominated the region, from Wooly Mammoth to hungry cow, from paleolithic hunter to river runner. If the human species dominates the tale it is only because they have been the prime force of change over the last ten millennia.
Concentrating on the Lower San Juan—from Shiprock to the navel of the Powell Reservoir—the story Aton and McPherson tell is not a pretty one. Pleistocene overkill of the large mammals, Anasazi overuse of the resource, overgrazing by white and Navajo, and the Mormon battle with the river that is so hopeless as to be almost hilarious. The San Juan always wins. The authors go on to tell of recent environmental catastrophes: dams, exotic species, extinction, then take a bold leap from the biologic environment to the literary, and trace the San Juan's evolution as an idea in the American mind, much as Stephen Pyne has done for Grand Canyon.
If you are a fan of the San Juan, you must have this book. If you are Grand Canyon-centric, you should have it anyhow. As Aton and McPherson point out throughout the book, everything is connected to everything else, and the old San Juan is part of the family.
Brad Dimock

Sunk Without a Sound
I assume most readers of the bqr are familiar with the outline of the Glen and Bessie Hyde story. The “Lost Honeymooners” is a standard river story on the Grand Canyon now. Most of us have heard it told with varying degrees of success (and accuracy) on river trips, and maybe even read the outline of it provided in the great book by David Lavender, River Runners of the Grand Canyon. Now Brad Dimock has provided a book that should prove to be the first and last word on what did, what didn't, and what may have happened on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon in November of 1928.
Sunk Without a Sound is actually many stories. Obviously, the story of Glen and Bessie's trip is here, but there is also an in depth biography of Glen Hyde and Bessie Haley Hyde. There is the amazing story of the epic search for the couple, as well as the story of a trip made in a similar scow by the author and his wife in 1996. The final story concerns the tracking down of the many theories about whether the couple did survive or even could have survived.
This book is filled with information about the early life of Glen Hyde and his wife Bessie Haley Hyde. A smart farm boy from Idaho, Glen was hardworking, industrious, good with his hands, and a quick study in running whitewater. After some whitewater canoe experience in Canada, he built a sweep boat and ran the Salmon River from Salmon down to Lewiston on the Snake River. Bessie Haley was an independent-minded young woman who grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Bessie had attended college to study art, and had what some of Glen's family felt was a “bohemian” attitude. Bessie met Glen on a steamship headed from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Who they were, and hints of who they might have become are revealed by reading excerpts from high school and college yearbooks, old letters, old poems and journals. Additional details are filled in by sharing interviews with relatives and newspaper articles from the time of the trip. The trip started in October 1928 at Green River, Utah, with the intention of taking out in Needles, California. The couple built a sweep scow, a sort of a large wooden box, variously described as resembling a horse trough or a mortar box. A sweep boat is not easily propelled, merely guided, using two sweeps, large oars, one in front and one in back. This was the type of boat Glen used on his previous run down the Salmon River. The trip on the Green and Colorado down to Bright Angel Creek was not uneventful, but they ran Cataract and Glen Canyon with only a few bumps and bruises reported, and a swim or two. Significantly they did not bring life jackets. They stopped and talked with folks at Lees Ferry, and had a layover at Bright Angel Creek, where they walked to the rim, and met with expert boatman Emery Kolb. They had a good meal at the El Tovar, but declined to stay there for the night, as the price was a little “steep.” They bought supplies and had them packed to the boat. At the beach they met Adolf Sutro, a wealthy tourist who talked his way into coming along from Bright Angel to Hermit Creek. They stopped at Hermit Creek and hiked up to Hermit Camp with him (Hermit Camp was a concession something like Phantom Ranch, situated on the Tonto Platform near Hermit Creek). Leaving Hermit Camp after lunch on the 18th of November, they returned to the river to continue their trip. It is not known if anyone went down to watch them run Hermit. They were never seen again. Much of the story of the trip is told from a journal kept by Bessie during the trip, letters sent out by the pair at Grand Canyon and historical accounts of people who talked to Glen and Bessie during the trip.

Glen Hyde had told his father in Idaho to expect a telegram from Needles, California on December 9th, or at the latest, December 11th. When no telegram arrived on the 11th, Rollin Hyde started packing. He was on a train to Las Vegas, Nevada on the 12th, and was organizing a search. The story of the search is the part of the story that most readers will find new. The amount of country to be searched was extensive, from Needles, California upstream to Hermit Rapid. The first step was to interview anyone living at the few populated spots below the Grand Canyon. The next step was to find someone to launch river trips from any and all access points, including Bright Angel Creek, Diamond Creek, and Pearce Ferry. The Army Air Corps was enlisted to search the river from the air. Starting at Needles and working their way upstream, they found the Hyde's boat floating in an eddy near Mile 237. The boat was unharmed, with food and gear intact. The Hydes were gone, the search continued, with Glen's father, R.C. Hyde, the driving force.
Most of us have heard that there was an older woman on a Grand Canyon commercial trip, who after hearing the Glen and Bessie story told, said, “I know, I was Bessie.” This story made it to television, on the show Unsolved Mysteries. The author examines this story, and how it grew, as well as looking into several other supposed “Bessies” and “Glens.” Some of the coincidences are uncanny.
It's hard to understand what running a sweep boat is like for those of us who have never run one, or never rowed a triple-rig (probably Grand Canyon's closest equivalent). The author and his wife built and ran a sweep boat based on Glen Hyde's, from Diamond Creek to Lake Mead, then from Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek. The story of that trip is woven into this book, and it is a story worth reading. I'm not sure that adventure is worth repeating, but reading about it is fun. Building and running this boat clearly increased the authors understanding of, and respect for the Hydes.
If you want to know more about the Glen and Bessie story, this is the book for you. If you just want to read an adventure story, this is still the book for you. If you want to understand how a Grand Canyon river story takes on a life of its own, and how to track it down, this is the only book I know of its kind. This book is a must-have for Grand Canyon boatmen.
John O'Brien


More River Hikes

Two years ago, long-time river guide and writer Tyler Williams and his Funhog Press brought us Canyoneering Arizona, a sharp, definitive guidebook for exploring gorges and slots throughout the Grand Canyon state. He's at it again, focusing now on hikes in the Big Ditch to and from the Colorado River in Grand Canyon River Hikes.
Williams is a humorous, descriptive and clever writer, which is a pleasant surprise in the vast library of guidebooks, which are often stale and chaste—not much fun to read. Of a trek to Columbine Falls, he writes “just when you've seen all the monkey flowers you can stand, smooth walls of limestone close in, replacing the Elves Chasm scenery with something more similar to Matkatamiba.” That's enough to add it to your “to do” list. His demeanor is enthusiastic and contagious, yet cautioning about danger, protection and stupidity. His reminders about accepting responsibility and being prepared are right on.
The excellent photos (black and white, and color) taunt you this time of year when river season is still too many weeks away. The maps are simple and help orient the reader, but should not be relied upon. Williams suggests the use of detailed topo maps for more information. The layout of the guide and hike descriptions follow the breezy, easy-to-read style of his first guide, with tidbits of history, personal observations, diversions and camp options.
Readers should know that the author did not aim to share his comprehensive knowledge of every gnarly, cool and cryptic hike from the river, but rather the standard hikes that most long time guides already know. In his words, “To find the truly spectacular spots you must hike farther, climb higher, and nearly die of thirst once or twice.” Though in just skimming the selections, you probably will find a few new side-hike options and reminders of old favorites not often visited or still coveted, especially on the lower end and beyond Diamond Creek. It's a great library addition for those who find themselves on too-quick trips, but occasionally have a few extra days to devote to less-frequented side canyons. It is a must-have for private river trips, though a bit more history and factoids on certain hikes would have been a good addition, especially for those making their first journey without a seasoned guide.
Williams' book, begun several years ago, is similar in subject matter to Tom Martin's Day Hikes from the River published last year. But in Williams' opinion, “Tom's book is for hardcore types—mega-hikes for private trips with lots of layovers. My book deals more with standard hikes. Both fill a need.” Serious boaters will be pleased to know this Funhog's next book project is tentatively titled “Southwestern Whitewater”, focusing on creek and river runs in the Four Corners states.
You can order Grand Canyon River Hikes through your local bookstore, or directly from Funhog Press at 520-779-9788

bqr Staff