Kim Crumbo

   I went into the Navy in ‘67, went into underwater demolition team training and went into the Seal Team immediately after that and did two tours... It’s always been something that I [ironic chuckle] didn’t particularly enjoy at the time, but that’s been an important kind of turning point in my life. That had a real major impact on how I perceive things.

   Have you ever talked to Wesley Smith?

   I have never talked to him about his experiences.

   Boy, talking to Wesley was a mind-boggler. It sounded like a madhouse over there.

   Well, I did over seventy combat ops with Seal Team. You know, small unit, generally seven guys. Had a fairly good tour, then had a real shitty tour. You gotta leave that stuff pretty much behind you in terms of what happens. But Seal Team, you had a lot more control in terms of situations you got into. Invariably you felt more in control—you didn’t feel victimized like somebody that’s in infantry or Marines that has to take a bunker or hold a piece of ground at all costs. You’re looking for people, and if you got compromised, or somebody shot at could get out of there. That was a reason for leaving. Bad things happened, but bad things happen to a lot of people.

   When you say you were looking for people. . . . Do you mind talking about this?

   No, that’s fine.

   You mean you were just looking to find out where the enemy was and stuff? Or you were looking for people to go get them?

   Seal Team involved setting up an intelligence network—you knew who the people were in these villages, and you were looking for Viet Cong big wigs—people who were running the operation. You would have informants come in and tell you who they were, you’d pay people to give you information, and you would go out and try to find these people who were operating the weapons delivery or were the tax-collector-type people. You target them and then go get them, based upon what you learned. And you get all dressed-up in your camouflage outfit, and you’d either go in by boat and patrol in, or go in by helicopter and land in their village and run and grab them or run and shoot them, depending. You wanted to capture them, because they provided more information. And if that didn’t work out...

   Then you would just shoot them?

   Then you’d just shoot them, yeah.

   You said you had a good tour and then a bad one. What makes you say that? What was the good one all about, and what was the bad one?

   Well, we lost a good friend on the first tour, but we... Most everybody came back, we didn’t lose anyone besides my friend, the corpsman. The second tour was when I went over as a combat cameraman-type. It was good that I could go from platoon to platoon, I wasn’t stuck in one particular place. But the people that I operated with. . . . They name platoons after the alphabet, like “Charlie Platoon.” My platoon was “Mike,” for “M.” It was the one I went with the first time. But “X-ray Platoon” was for “X.” That platoon had the worst casualties of any Seal platoon over there in the history of Seal Team.

   X-ray Platoon?

   X-ray Platoon. And it was in actually 1970-1971. They operated for about a month and got hit, and then that’s when I started working with them. They got hit three times. You’ve got a fourteen-man platoon with four people killed, and about 110 percent casualties, because people were getting hit, going to the hospital, coming back and operating again, getting hit again. That kind of stuff. And they shut them down after three months, because there was nobody, not enough people to run the show. That’s what I mean by. . . . [ironic chuckle] Very depressing.

   Did you ever question it all? Did you ever question what the hell we were doing over there?

   When I went through underwater demolition team training, and they picked me to go directly on the Seal Team, I had no idea what that was. And I was starting to wonder about the war. What I wanted to do was play volleyball on the beach and be a scuba diver and chase women and stuff like that. And you go into the Seal cadre course, and they say, “Okay, what we’re going to be doing is ambushing people. Anybody know the definition of ambush? Ambush is mass murder at point blank range. This is what you’re going to be doing.” You’re kind of going, “Now wait a minute. Do I really want to do this?” And I had to go through all that before I finally ended up going overseas with these guys. So I’d already gotten it pretty clear in my mind as to what I was getting into. You never really know what you’re getting into, but I had already decided that... I really, honestly, I reached the point where it was either protest the war and go to jail, or go to Vietnam with the Seal Team. The options in between, you know, you could go to Canada. I thought that wasn’t the right thing to do. Going back out on a ship, you’re still supporting the war, you’re still contributing to the war, but you’re safer. Or go with a Seal Team and...that’s what I did. I got sick and tired of it, and I got really pissed off a lot, but I was a good Seal operator, and I was so glad when it was over. It was so nice putting your boat in on Westwater and Cataract, and the next year you start running Grand Canyon. It gives you a certain perspective. [chuckles] It was a real important shift to me, anyway; and probably one of the reasons Grand Canyon has always meant so much.


   Kim Crumbo started out in Grand Canyon as a boatman working for Ken Sleight in 1972. He became a river ranger with the NPS in 1979, and in 1988 he transferred from the River Unit to Resources. Quietly and without fanfare, sometimes almost singlehandedly, he has been responsible for the best trail maintenance, erosion control, and beach/campsite stabilization ever done in the river corridor. Extensive projects at Saddle Canyon, Nankoweap, Cremation, Galloway, Deer Creek, and Havasu-to name just a few-have gone a long way toward channeling and minimizing human impacts in Grand Canyon.
   A couple of years ago a little band of stalwarts in the commercial sector- namely Laurie Staveley, Bill Gloeckler, and Rob Elliott-recognized the value of Crumbo’s efforts and began organizing and funding co-operative trips staffed with volunteer boatmen and sending them downriver once or twice a year to pitch in with him.
    Next time you’re gliding along smoothly up the trail to wherever, and the surroundings are untrammeled and you notice the steps seem to miraculously appear just where needed, but it doesn’t look like anybody’s really been there or put too much unnatural effort into it, just remember: somebody was there; and they have been putting in the effort, for quite some time now.
    We caught Crumbo at home back in June, and after splitting a six-pack of truth serum (Budweiser), waded on out into dangerous territory.


   I had a friend who worked for Jack Curry, named Marty Taylor. We did canoe trips and stuff, but I didn’t do my first white-water trip until either 1969, or it might have been 1970. I borrowed boats from the military—little seven-mans that we used for assault boats—and they let me borrow them. You put a ten-man frame on it and went and Westwater was my first white-water trip. If you’ve never done white water before [laughs], it’s pretty impressive. Yeah! I just thought it was pretty neat. Marty went in the Navy about the same time I was getting out. He was an officer and a pilot. I kind of bullshitted Dee Holladay, saying I had all this experience. He gave me a job.
    Dee was kind of a part-timer. He worked for Bennett Ford as a mechanic, and he was just trying to get his business going, and it took off that year. He said I could probably do a couple of trips; he only had part-time boatmen. But we were busy all summer, well into the fall. Then I just got G.I. bills, going to college in the winter. The next season, which was 1972, Ken [Sleight] was starting his rowing trips down here and asked Dee for help...because Dee ran triple-rigs, you know, so there was sort of this affinity for that boat... I got my first number of trips down here as a rear oarsman for a triple-rig.

   It was just, “Okay, now we’ll take these down in Grand?”

   Well, when you go down Grand, this is the boat I’ve been running, so this is the boat I’m going to take. I think it’s what you’re used to... I remember Amil Quayle was one of the rear oarsmen for Ken, which was really fun to watch too: two of these guys who didn’t really like that boat. Ken liked his motor because he could take it anywhere he wanted. Amil Quayle didn’t like the boat, period. These guys would be arguing back and forth as to which way they’re going to go! [laughs]

   If they didn’t like it, how come they were running it? Was there a perception that the Grand Canyon was big?

   Well, yeah, I think part of it. And I remember when we finally said, “Ken, let’s just run single boats.” He’d always wait down at the bottom of the rapids, and he was telling everybody, “These guys are probably going to flip here.” [laughs] You know, that kind of stuff.

   Oh, the single boats?

   Oh yeah! [laughter] And we wouldn’t, and he’d be all bummed. [laughter] Like Stuart [Reeder] and myself, we just finally convinced him, “Let’s just run separate trips.” But that’s kind of what he was looking towards: he was running his trips, and then he couldn’t do all of them, and then he wanted to run rowing trips. Which I’m sure he looks back on as a big mistake, because here he was running his own show and doing things the way he wanted to, and then all of a sudden he’s got to hire assholes like us [laughs] to deal with! Once you start working with Ken... Ken did things differently. But it was the persona of Ken Sleight—you know, the old-time river runner, but there was more to it—somebody who was hopelessly in love with the country down there. You know, it was almost... It was inspirational on one level. He was somebody you admired as a person, and somebody who saw the Canyon for what it was and he enjoyed bringing people there.

   So, making the change to the Park Service... It was a combination, there wasn’t any one overriding, philosophical, revelatory shift...

   Well, you know, I had a lot of college courses in resource management and outdoor recreation, those types of things. And I wanted to apply those. But it was also, there was a sense that it could be a career, that you could be making a career choice which kind of tied some things together. But at the time, I had a problem with the Park Service, philosophically. And I’ve always had problems with organizations—always have. The only group of people I really identified with was Seal Team and boatmen. To this day, those are the two roots I have, where I feel, “Oh yeah, I’m one of those.” [chuckles] There was a monetary consideration. It was the chance of starting to make some money to support a family, too, but still be associated with Grand Canyon, basically.

   What’s the problem you’ve always had with organizations?

   In order to fit in, you have to make adjustments-I’m not going to call them compromises. But it’s real difficult, when you’re a boatman, to identify with the Park just sort of... It was a major effort for me to make that transition. I think anybody coming from the guiding community, who’s been around for a while, that’s hard to do. I mean, it just is. I had to do that.
   My first job with the Park Service was in Dinosaur, and it was in 1979, and I was working for Sleight, and they hired me. They said they’d hire me and Sleight got pissed off. I went and ran one trip for them... They weren’t going to let me wear flip-flops! In fact, they weren’t going to let me wear shorts! [laughs] And I go, “Well, wait, that’s stupid!”

   As a boatman, you’re running a boat?

   Yeah, you get your feet wet. You don’t want to wear long pants, you’ll be wet and cold, you’ll get crotch rot—all those things. But I was also saying, “Why are we running trips down here?” They said, “Well...” You know, they had the outhouses. I said, “Why don’t we get rid of these outhouses. You don’t need those.” And they had these big fire pits, and I said, “Let’s clean up these fire pits.” “Well, you know our supervisor...” blah, blah, blah. “Why don’t we fill the outhouses up with the fire pits?!” [laughs] And they just weren’t into it. Basically, they wanted somebody down there to put toilet paper in the shitters and kind of just be there. At the end of the trip, I just told the woman, who was a good friend of mine—up to that point—I said, “I can’t do this.” She said, “Well since the pay period is two weeks, work the pay period out and then train the other new boatman coming on,” who’d had one trip down the North Platte in a canoe. It was the Yampa, and only one rapid there. So when that trip was over, I just said, “Hey, it’s all yours,” and I went back working for Sleight-under somewhat strained conditions. [chuckles]

   Yeah, he calls government the “federales.”


   Yeah, his perspective, I guess, starting out when it was really, really free... So when you went to work for Grand Canyon...

   That was in the fall. I became a river ranger. That was the one skill I had that was saleable to the Park Service, because at that time they were looking for people who knew how to run boats. And I was also a vet, so it was pretty easy for them to get me. It seemed like—particularly with the crew I was working with: Marv Jensen and Steve Martin and [all the others] seemed like there was a purpose. I was down there to help take care of the place, but it was working with the guides who we knew, it was working with what the Park Service had to try to achieve that. And so those first years were fun, and they were good. We were helping with some of the early research, and it just felt like you were getting involved in that, and moving from guiding to the more varied...job—but still feeling like you’re... It didn’t feel separate from the guiding, but there was just more to it—there were more dimensions, which made it interesting for me. It was at the time when I thought the Park Service was composed of people who were concerned about the parks, what’s out there, and the people who were going down there—in a positive sense. And after Marv left and Steve left, and then when Curt Sauer left—you know, his leaving was real pivotal, because all of a sudden I was exposed to...a different mindset.
   ...They [the new guys] wanted to have a high-profile presence down there, a law enforcement presence. They were real upset that the outfitters and guides applauded when Tom Workman came into the room. They thought, “He obviously isn’t doing his job.” It never occurred to them he might be doing it real well. And I realized that Curt Sauer was dealing with that constantly, but he filtered it through. It’s really a tough one, because it’s not just being from the river community, confronting that—it’s a whole system of values, where... I just think it’s inappropriate to insist upon a certain type of control over your employees or the public. And that’s what the law enforcement mentality in the Park Service wants—they want that control. And you can get into all kinds of philosophical reasons why people are that way. I just think it’s off-base. Many of those guys are not really well-versed on what’s out there—in terms of people, in terms of the plants and the animals and the ecological processes. That’s not what they’re interested in. And so it’s really hard to work for them.

   Let me see if I’ve got this straight: the thrust is, “We’re here to control the entire situation?”

   I think it’s just... It’s like when you go backpacking and say you want to go out and have this wonderful wilderness experience. Really, the last thing you and I’d want to see is a ranger down there, checking up on you at every turn. I think most people don’t mind that, because they have some questions like “Where’s the water,” or “How bad is the hike?” That should be the function of any ranger contact. Well, if these people need some information, and obviously they don’t have a big bonfire going, I can tell that. And maybe I do need to know if they have a permit—we can find out about that. But the main thing is, they’re okay, they’re having fun, or they’re not having fun. They know where they are, or they’re lost. You just try and work that out. And how they use the areas—we’re trying to spread out people, permits are important, so that you don’t have fifty people camping there. And that’s the reason why you’re doing all that, is to make it a good experience for them. What they do—”they” meaning some of the rangers—they go, “These guys are off itinerary, they don’t have a permit.” Or, “They’re doing something wrong—I’m not sure what it is, but they’re doing something wrong!” You know, that mentality. Some of these guys are wearing guns down there in the back country, for Christ’s sake. You know, like, why? It’s because... God knows why. But it’s a symbol of imposed authority, and it’s something that I think is totally out of line. And I’m not just picking on that. It’s that “you are going to—because I am representing the authority—you are going to defer to my wishes.” The authority should lie... not just with regulations, but with shared values and concerns, regarding the place. It’s the place that’s important. I mean, this approach assumes that the ranger and the visitor are both concerned with protecting the area...but ideally it’s the Canyon that forms the basis of the authority.

   But usually there’s no thought given to, “Is this contact going to be positive or negative?”

   Some are concerned about that. There’s a danger in having a stereotype, but I’m afraid that a significant percentage of rangers are not really worried about whether this is positive or negative, but “are they screwing up or not?” Generally, people are screwing up [laughs] no matter what, because they’re beat to death, they’re are at the bottom of this big hole down there—they’re over their head in a lot of ways, and they’re generally hurting. But most of them are having a reasonably good time. And you want to make that a positive experience for them. It’s not rape or murder if they have a fire. You want to say, “Okay, you got a fire, it’s going to cost you fifty bucks.” That’s the end of it, you know.

   I wonder if that’s apt to change.

   It could. It could change.

   Is that just a function of who’s the middle management or something like that. Or is it more national? Is it more generic?

   I think what the Park Service has to do is start pulling a lot of the middle managers—whatever you want to call them—in from other ranks. I think resource management is a good area. I think interpretation is a fine area. There’s people in those divisions that are oriented, one, toward resources. Even though I’m a resource management specialist, I hate that word, “resource,” because it kind of. . . . But anyway, that’s the word we’ll use. But interpretation is dealing with people to provide information, kind of enhance what they’re getting out of the experience here. So it has a positive connotation. You have a positive attitude about approaching people. When you’re in law enforcement, it’s the reverse, and you’re looking for things they’re doing wrong. And I think that is a major divide in terms of how you perceive what those people are doing out there, and why you have the job you do. If you’re an interpreter, it’s to make it a broader, richer experience, if you can—because the Canyon is the Canyon. I mean, you can only do so much, one way or the other.

   Yeah, you can’t take somebody by the hand and say, “Now here, have this religious experience.”

   No. But some of these people are really good at being in tune with that. They’ll be looking at the group, and they’ll be asking questions. Some of them won’t even say anything for a while. People are just kind of staring out there. It’s a real art to do it right, and most of the interpreters are striving to do that. I think it’s just, you get more of those people running the Park Service, I think you’ll be better off.

   Well is it built-in, that they come from the law enforcement ranks?

   That’s the major... You don’t go anywhere unless you’re a ranger. You don’t go anywhere unless you get your law enforcement commission.

   And that’s nationwide?

   Pretty much. They frown on interpretation. They think resource management guys are a bunch of nerds. Of course nobody would say that to my face. But that’s the perception. Now, somebody that’s a cop in Phoenix-God, I wouldn’t have that job for anything. I mean, I think those guys are... That’s scary!

   Yeah, or L.A.

   Yeah, places like that. I think that’s as bad as it can get. But the Grand Canyon?! or Zion?! You know, you have to be careful when you’re pulling a car over for speeding, but people in the back country or on the river?! I mean, how many firefights have you seen on the river? I can count them on one hand, I’m sure. [laughter] But, to me, that’s what had happened. And that’s kind of how my career ended up where it is now, is that realization...

   So, when you joined the Park Service, what did you think its mission was? Or, what did you join the Park Service to do?

   Well, pretty much what I do at Resource Management: you try to correct problems that exist; you try to establish procedures, whether it’s for recreation or for research permits to protect the environment down there; and to protect people’s experience. And they go hand-in-hand. You do things to make that as good as it can be, without getting worse—the Great Bottom Line—but try and make things better, and if you have problems, try and correct them in a fashion that’s appropriate. And that’s what I thought we should be doing: taking care of the place and protecting people’s experience so that when they come to a National Park, it’s a special thing for them. They come out of it saying, “Yeah, that was really nice. That was better than I even thought.” And then you’ve done your job. And that’s why I’d say, having the humpback chub living down there is real important to me. Or just having the whole scene unspoiled—the plant communities there, so people who are interested in that, they know it’s okay, they know that there are these creatures living there, the big horn sheep. Even if I don’t see that, I know they’re there, I know how important that is. And it’s really neat if I can see them, but if I don’t, at least I know that here’s a place they live. And I become part of that in a real direct sense when I come down the river: “me” meaning myself and the person on their first or only trip, or their two-hundredth trip. It’s special, and it should stay that way. But unfortunately what we do will impact it. We can either protect it or destroy it, or something in between.
   People are important too, of course. You have to take care of that; you have to have all the pieces down there in place, but what people get out of it is the end product.

   That ties-in with what we were talking about earlier, before we turned on this tape, just about this being an interesting time. As a society, we’re being forced to examine the values that a National Park stands for, by this continued crush of people. I mean, the population, the demand here—I guess the population is ever-increasing. You know, all the people who want to check this place out from here, from the Rim—and I think it’s the same on the river—although it’s not supposed to increase, it seems like it has.

   Oh, the traffic has, but there are a lot of reasons for that. The demand for wilderness trips is decreasing.

   Oh, it is?!

   Yeah, nationwide. There’re several reasons for that. A lot of the people who came out of the sixties and seventies really into it are getting out, getting older. But it’s a minor decline—there’s still a lot of use, but it’s not that exponential growth, and it leveled out and now it’s just a slight dip. A lot of people want to do it. Grand Canyon river running is...

   Through the roof.

   Yeah, continues to grow. There’s more people, they know about Grand Canyon. It’s an international gig now. River running has just grown incredibly: Do-it-yourselfers, and also the publicity for the commercial trips—it will always be high demand. There’s more demand; in particular, we create more demand. It’s always going to be there.

   At this Constituency Panel Meeting that I went to this spring [in Feb. 1994... this interview was recorded June 2], which we were talking about earlier, the interesting thing to me, about the river, was... I got the distinct impression that the Park had actually been trying to fill up the quota lately-that there was this huge User Day Pool and they’d actually been trying to make sure it all got used. I heard somebody say that, and I was absolutely flabbergasted.

   They’re not supposed to do that.

   They’re not doing that?

   No, they are doing that.

   I know! I mean, I heard them say that, and I thought, “My God, I can’t believe they’re actually actively working to do that.” And the reason I thought that is because I have the perception that sometimes it’s way too crowded already.

   Well, the thing is, the whole User Day thing is a bag of worms. I mean, there’s a problem with User Days. But when they re-issue those User Days, they’re saying, “This is not a goal, this is a limit. You know, we’re not going to exceed this. But it’s not a goal, we’re not shooting for this.”

   To me, it’s germane, because I heard [***] say that, and I thought, “Oh, well, they’re doing that because that’s their job as laid out by the law.”

   It isn’t. It isn’t.

   My perception of river management for the next century, for the next twenty years-you know, barring some kind of overall collapse of society or war or look at the river down the road, and you see the demand ever-increasing. And if you put a physical limit on it, and then you don’t do anything else, then what’ll happen? Well, the price just goes up.


   Or, so you put a limit on the price, and then what happens? Then everybody... I mean, it’s a hell of an issue that we gotta wrestle with, or whoever’s going to figure this out really has to wrestle with, how are you going to figure out who gets to go, how many people should go, what kind of time should they have when they are down there?

   That’s where we get to the controversial concept, which has been opposed for a long time, by the river community, by the Park Service, and that came up in the 1980 River Management Plan, which ended up, unfortunately, in an “oars versus motors” confrontation—but, it’s the wilderness consideration for the Park. The river and the Park are proposed wilderness now. It has to go through Congress to become wilderness. But we’re supposed to be managing the Park as wilderness until Congress deals with it. And there’s a nonconforming use, which is motors on the river, which we allow, because of the politics of the situation. But everything else should be managed in accordance to “wilderness” guidelines. So what we should be doing down there is saying, “Okay, it’s too crowded down there in certain times of the week.” We should be trying to make that better—provide, at least in terms of group size, the number of groups you see—the crowding, congestion... these things are supposed to be addressed. We’re supposed to be actively trying to make that better. We run through a lot of scenarios—Susan [Cherry] and myself and others—and I think, given existing use, we can probably do that through this model—just spread things out so people aren’t crashing into each other. We’re supposed to be doing that. We’re not supposed to be filling up that Canyon.

   Okay, now what’s this model?

   It’d just be a simulation model: You know, like you allot so many trips a day, they’re going a certain speed, average speeds, and you try and predict what happens down the river.

   This is a computer model?

   Well, it has to be. That’s what we’re trying to work on, because you can’t figure all the variables in your head—it’s just too hard. And if you want to change the schedule, you want to know what it’s actually going to do down there, and you can’t guess. But we’re supposed to be doing that. But let me get back to the wilderness... if you’re looking at the long-term management of the Park, if you’re required to manage for wilderness experience under the Wilderness Act, and based on sociological studies, people have expectations about what a wilderness experience involves...[Your definition probably varies from my definition, which varies from, probably somebody from New York, versus somebody from Nome, Alaska.] But they have a fairly good body of literature saying, “On river trips, I really don’t want to see more than five groups a day, and it’s better if I only see two or three, and I’d rather not see any. I’d rather be with a group of ten people, but if it gets up to twenty-five, that’s about as many as I really want, generally speaking.” Well, you can do that. You can get, basically, all the people down there, and spread it out. The problem with motors—there’s two things: one is the noise. It does create a barrier between you and the sounds of the river. Okay, and to me, that’s a big thing. Some people, it isn’t. And the other thing is, you start offering shorter trips, you create additional demand for something that’s already in high demand... There’s a big demand out there. There’s a big demand for commercial trips; there’s an eight-year waiting list for privates with 65,000 people represented on that list [you know, probably 5,000 times thirteen people]. Granted, there’re some problems with that interpretation. There’s a horrendous demand for that. And short trips reach a larger segment of society, but they increase that demand. So the river community has to come to grips with the issue of allocation, the issues of demand—and creating additional demand—and type of trip. All those things tie together. It’s real easy for me to come up with a solution.

   What is it?

   I think designate it wilderness, eliminate the shorter trips, see how that all settles out over the course of ten years, in terms of trying to establish what is a real legitimate demand of the private and commercial sector. But do it incrementally, so that you’re not screwing anybody out of their company that they’ve worked all their lives to create. I don’t think it’s going to affect guides so much, because I think there’s always going to be a demand for guides. I’ve really thought about it, and I came up with some scenarios where you could basically keep all the river outfits running. You have to extend the season—same User Day allocation, but go into launches. You know, everybody gets a launch, or so many launches, based upon the size of their company. But it’s not going to be painless, and it would be a big huge fight.
   What’s happened now, in terms of the recommendation for wilderness—and we’re trying to get a bill through Congress, into Congress—is to designate the Park wilderness, designate the river, call it “potential wilderness,” which basically says, “Okay, there’s motorized trips down there. At some point in time, if the motors are eliminated, it qualifies for wilderness. Until that happens, it’s going to be potential wilderness. Park Service has to manage for all these other parameters and let somebody else deal with the motor issue somewhere down the line.” Which I think has potential as a compromise, has some benefits.

   Well, if you call it potential wilderness, does that build in that somewhere down the line, somebody has to mess with the motors?

   Given the way government works, no. But that would be implicit in there, either saying, “Okay, we’ve got to allow motors to continue, therefore it’s not going to be wilderness.” Or, “We have to get rid of motors to make a wilderness complete.” And that’s where the outfitters would be real nervous, I’m sure.
   But the thing is, if you pull it out of wilderness consideration, you have no legal cap on numbers of people. And what happened in 1980 where they gave the outfitters an increase, and the private sector an increase, that is going to continue down the line. So those are the trade-offs. When you try to present that to the guiding community, you say, “Okay, there are no easy choices any more. These are things you gotta weigh.” And as long as so many guides are down there screaming, “Keep it at a certain level,” and they don’t get fired for doing that, it’ll work. But you’ve got a lot of experience down there, you’ve seen how things go.

   Well, what I’ve seen is that. . . . I did my first trip in 1971, and I started working in 1972, and ever since then it’s gotten gradually more crowded, pretty much. Which isn’t to say it’s been bad, because I’ve had a lot of great times. I mean, I still do. Like, I just got off one of the better trips I’ve ever done. People still have great times.

   There’s no question about it. There’s no question that people have a good time.

   I mean, I did a trip that was in April, we didn’t see hardly anybody. Everybody had an absolutely great time.

   Well, there’re things you can do. Like, if you’re going in the summer, you’re going to have to, let’s say, accept a more rigid schedule. As a guide, you have to accept that. As for the passengers, they don’t know any difference.

   A lot depends on how all the guides are playing the game.

   Yeah. And to the noncommercial guy you’d say, “Well, you can’t go for eighteen days in the summer.” If you want to go in the summer when everybody wants to go, you’re going to have to go for fourteen days. You know, those types of trade-offs. And if you want to run a five-day trip, you gotta launch on a certain...we gotta make this work, so we’re not running into everybody. You’re going to have to do several things to make it work down there, so that there are not going to be three hundred people at Havasu. You’re only going to run into a couple of trips at the attraction sites. You may be passing a lot of people here or there, but the real important areas, you know, there’re things you can do to make that work. And if somebody wants to say, “I don’t want to deal with that bullshit,” well, you go down in December, January, February, and you’re always going to get that wilderness experience. But there’s no long-term guarantee, in terms of law. In terms of good will, you could probably work it out, but in terms of real protection...

   Can’t you just write it down in the Plan? Write the Management Plan so that that step is built-in? I mean, do you have to go through Congress?

   Well, the thing is, a Management Plan is something that can be rewritten. You can have somebody write in any kind of change they want.

   And there it is.

   And that’s why the Wilderness Act was passed, because they said, “We’re tired of this bullshit. We have primitive areas, we have parks, we have all these things and you guys just screw it up. You just take little chunks and pieces and make changes.” It was just finally saying, “Okay, you’ve got to manage for wilderness.” The Park Service hates the Wilderness Act, Forest Service hates it, BLM hates it, because it just really restricts what they can and cannot do. But it really... It was something that was basically forced on the agencies to protect land resources, and protect experience. Visitor experience is a key component in that. And it’s the only legislation that deals with that now. They come up with a different law or bill or something else and get it through Congress—it accomplishes all that. And laws can be changed, but they’re a hell of a lot harder.

   It’s like the Grand Canyon Protection Act or something—you get it on the books and there it is, and then they gotta go through all that.

   Yeah. It’s politically, there would be some problems getting it through. The thing that the outfitters have to deal with right now is the allocation thing, because it is so, on the surface, blatantly unfair.

   Commercial versus private?

   And that, to me, has to be resolved.

   See, to me. . .  [sighs] Well, I’m not sure how I feel about it overall. I know people who do a private trip every single year, a bunch of them.

   Yeah, I do too.

   And also, I have this sense that there’re people out there who are waiting the full time on the list. There are a bunch of people who don’t care, who want to do a trip eight years down the road, and that’s why they’re on there now. I know people who have put their kids on the list. People who are figuring like eight years from now would be about right. And then there’re the people who don’t know that if you really want to do one, you just start calling them up.

   But see, I know all that, and I’ve been on the list for four years now. I’ve been trying to get a summer date.

   You want to get. . . . Keep calling.

   I’ve been calling. And you know, I know Susan!

   And you can’t get on?

   Oh, she won’t. I mean, there’s no way she would... I mean, she is so... She just says... I mean, wouldn’t even... I tried it once, a couple of years ago, saying, “Hey Susan...” and she goes, “Hell no!” Then you feel bad about asking. “But if a cancellation comes up, can you let me know?” That kind of stuff. She said, “Well, you gotta call in like anybody else.” Sue Cherry has a sense of right or wrong that makes the Pope look like Lee Marvin! She really frustrates a lot of people because she doesn’t bend stuff. That’s something you’ve got to give her credit for—she’ll go up against anybody on that. When I sent in my interest card, I said, “I’m in the office next door, can I just give it to you?” She said, “No, it has to be postmarked.” [laughter] “You mean I’ve gotta go all the way down to the post office?!” She said, “Yeah.” That’s the way she is. And you’re just going, “Well, why?” And she says, “If I make an exception for you, I know what’s going to happen.” Which is right. But I’ve been on there for four years, trying to get, so that Daniel and Zack—so I can take my family down. If a cancellation comes up tomorrow, it’s really difficult... And I’m beginning to see it’s really difficult to pull that off, and there are some people who can. I think there is a real problem, and the solution is not a fifty-fifty thing. We don’t know what the solution is.
   The thing is, you’re going to have to say—given all the short trips, long trips, all that—you’re going to have to discriminate against somebody. Right now, they’re discriminating—the extent is debatable, but the fact is, you’re discriminating against those people who do it themselves...

   Who just want to go.

   Yeah, who just want to do a longer trip.

   Or their own.

   And the people you’re providing for are the ones who just want to pay for the trip, but also want a short trip. You know, if you want a short trip, there’s other places. You could hike in and out and that kind of stuff, and that would work for a good portion of the people, but not all of them. There’s other places to go, there’s other river trips. So you gotta make the choice. I mean, who am I gonna start thinking about discriminating against? If you hypothetically get rid of the shortest, let’s say, six-day trips or shorter, what is the demand for commercially-guided trips? I’d say you could fill your trips.

   In fairness to the outfitters running those trips, this urge for speed, that’s America. And the user-day system has done nothing but encourage them to provide for that.


   The faster ones-I was talking to Bruce Winter, and he told me—Hey, they put these eight-day trips on their schedule, and they have the six-day trips too, and the six-day trips [chuckles] all filled up, and then the eight-day trips filled up after the six-days were all gone.

   Okay, all personalities aside, you’re right. I mean, that’s where you’re going to have to make some decisions, because that’s what you fill. And if you could offer a three-day jet boat trip through that Canyon, you would be a millionaire in no time at all.

   Still, I mean, to me, even—like I’m an old motorboatman—the difference between six days to the pad and seven days to the pad [Whitmore Wash] is incredible. I mean, that one extra day, there’s a significant difference in overall quality. It’s kind of intangible, you can’t sit there and totally articulate it.

   But you’ve done it enough to know that’s a fact.

   Oh, it’s a noticeable difference. It affects the entire tone of the trip. And an eight-day is even that much more so. What it translates to is room for the people to experience it themselves. I think every individual who goes down there needs “X” amount of space around them. The key issue is making a personal connection with the Canyon. The only way you can kinda do that is if there’s enough time and space for you to get out there in it where—just for a minute or two—it’s just you and the place. On a motor trip, where that happens is, if you’re out there hiking, and there’s a little extra time and you don’t have to be racing around.

   Yeah, racing and camping.

   Or maybe it’s even in camp. There’s a quiet peaceful evening, or morning, without a bunch of hoopla going on-nobody is going “ya-ta-ta-ta-Ta-ta”. And you just get to sit out there somewhere at some point in time and reflect a little... And the place does whatever it does, and there’s an individual thing that happens. The shortest and fastest motor trips, what happens sometimes is, we’ve gotten it down so wham-bam that we rob people of that time and space to make a real connection.
    But if you ask those people who go on those trips, “Did you have a good time?” They had a great time! A: they’ve just spent umpteen hundred bucks and there’s no way they want to even think that maybe they should’ve bought into another brand of trip... You’re just not going to find any answers by asking people if they had a great time or not. Because they’re going to have an ok time anyway! The thing is, are we doing the best job we can... ?

   We don’t want it to be an “us versus them,” “motors versus oars,” “private versus commercial,” undertaking. We want to look at... what—you know, there’s always the fairness issue—but the question is “What do we want the Grand Canyon and the Grand Canyon experience to be five, ten, thirty, fifty years from now, and how do we go about achieving that? And I don’t think there are any simple solutions. There are just too many... You’ve got all these privates lined up for eight years or more. You’ve got all these people that are wanting to go on commercially-guided trips. And if you let them all go... People are going to have to wait in line, regardless. I think that’s probably inevitable, even for the commercial sector, and some people do, if they prefer to go with a particular company. They could probably go with another company this year, but they want to wait a year to go with the ones that they want to go with. That happens a lot now, so it’s not unusual. But I don’t know if one year is the same as waiting eight years! [chuckles] So you’ve got to resolve that issue, with all the problems that we talked about, how people pad the waiting list, and how they manipulate it. Those problems have to be identified and some solution, at least, or attempt at solving that...

   ...has to be made?

   There’s got to be give and take on all sides—there has to be if this is going to be fairly resolved.

   Okay, what haven’t we covered on this issue?

   Bosnia and Somalia. [laughs]

   Actually, just because I’m thinking of it now, I want to ask you this one question. Early on in this conversation, you said that Vietnam was a major event for you, that it totally changed your life. I find that kind of reverberating around in my brain, and wanting to ask you what that’s all about. What is the change that it made? How did it affect you? Can you put that in some kind of nutshell?

   Sure. It’s something I’ve thought about for a long time. What I went through as a man of nineteen years old—basically a kid—was the realization that I was responsible for what was happening, I wasn’t to blame, but I was responsible.

   I don’t quite get it. You mean you’re saying that you are responsible for the choices you make?

   Yeah. I mean, we’re responsible for what’s going down in Grand Canyon—whether we do or don’t act. We probably can’t change a damn thing down there, but we can’t run away from it. We are involved in that whole thing. We cannot pull ourselves out and say, “I’m innocent, I’m guiltless, I’m through.” ...The advice I gave my brothers on Vietnam is the same advice that Bill Clinton took. That’s what I could have told him, that’s what I told... 

   What was that?

   Don’t go in the Army, or don’t go in the service. This is really a fucked situation. You’re going to get... Don’t do it.

   But you didn’t get that until you were already in?

   Yeah. I think if it would have happened two years later, given the circumstances, I probably would have made a different choice. I definitely wouldn’t have volunteered for Seal Team. I don’t regret it. But there are just a lot of things that happened. I like to look back and say, “Yeah, I was just the brave and the bold” and all this other stuff. I got myself in a fix and I made some choices. The hard choice was, if you’re going to be in Seal Team, you’d better be a damned good Seal operator, because that’s the only way you’re going to come back.

   Doing your job really good, you mean.

   You had to. I mean, you had to do it real good. [pause] And that gives you something, but it takes some big chunks away. I really don’t regret it, but it does sadden you to see what that’s all about. You know, and what can happen.

   Well, what you said about responsibility kind of rings...

   I think that was the main lesson.

   Whether you choose it or not, whether you get blamed for it or not.

   It just depends on how you... You can only do so much with your life, but you can’t say, “Well, that’s not my problem.” Well, it is. Maybe I can’t deal with Bosnia, but I sure can deal with my family or my relationships, or the Grand Canyon, or those types of things. You can only give so much of yourself, but you can’t [chuckles] pull yourself away from it. You’re stuck with it.


   I mean, I’ve screwed up a number of times, but I figure the only major screwup I’ve ever done running rivers was starting [laughs] running rivers!

Lew Steiger