This past August, the Grand Canyon lost one
of its most serious admirers, Flagstaff photographer George Lamont Mancuso.
In recent years, George was frequently found at his favorite place, the
confluence of the mainstream and Little Colorado Rivers, during much of
the summer, where he made many friends and acquaintances in the river
Having grown up in Bloomfield, N.J., George arrived at the Grand Canyon
in the early 1980s. For awhile he was employed with the burro removal
project, and also worked on a pipeline project in the canyon. Soon his
captivation with Grand Canyon scenery led to more serious explorations
on foot, and a serious interest in photography. Always in search of new
discoveries, George became obsessed with seeing as much of the canyon
as possible and capturing it on film. In 1986, he started his own business,
Granite Visions, publishing his images of the canyon on postcards. Between
jaunts into the canyon, he worked hard developing outlets for his cards,
and later posters and framed photographs.
Unlike many photographers who have seen the canyon primarily from the
rim, he captured many of his best images deep within the canyon. His unique
views of places familiar to backpackers and river runners brought the
wonders of the inner canyon to hundreds of thousands of tourists who have
never ventured below the rim.
The sale of his postcards—distributed by tourists to the appreciation
of a worldwide audience—enabled George to spend most of his time
doing what he liked best of all, being in the Grand Canyon. Between trips,
he lived lightly on 40 acres in Alpine Ranches east of Flagstaff in a
small Airstream trailer, hauling his own water and using solar panels
to generate electricity.
George was well known to many
who shared his fascination with the Grand Canyon—river runners,
backpackers, photographers, and others who saw, and appreciated, his photos.
In 1997, he was featured on the cover of Backpacker Magazine as one of
the “expert” hikers of the Grand Canyon. This past July, George
did his first full river trip through the Canyon as an assistant on an
Arizona Raft Adventures (azra) trip. I was impressed when I saw he brought
only a single dry bag, containing all his essentials (including cameras
and film) and nothing extra—probably the least amount of gear I
have ever seen anyone bring on a river trip.
In early August, George and his companion Linda Brehmer, also from Flagstaff,
returned to his favorite place, the Little Colorado River, during a break
in the monsoon. When the rains began again they were reluctant to leave,
and instead decided to spend August 7th in Big Canyon, a tributary of
the the Little Colorado River just upstream from Salt Trail Canyon. While
it rained intensely along the highway north of Cameron that afternoon,
it’s likely that it was clear fifteen miles to the west, at the
mouth of Big Canyon, where the flash flood caught George and Linda in
a narrow slot with no place to get out of the way.
Linda’s body was found near the mouth of Big Canyon about two weeks
later, after it was reported that they had failed to return from their
hike. A few days later, George was found in shallow water at the Confluence,
seven miles downstream from Big Canyon. Even death couldn’t keep
him away from the place he loved best in all the world.