Ten Years After

Last issue’s story, 1955, described the river running scene and its setting during the birth of soft adventure…

   It is astounding, really, what the passage of time can do. By 1965, whitewater recreation had been defined in Grand Canyon: row, motor, kayak. Paddle on occasion. I say defined. What I mean is basic Grand Canyon boating, the primal origins of what river trips are now. The 1965 COR was not 500 words—less than two pages. Imagine! Grand Canyon did not know much about firm inflatable boats, sanitary toilet systems or strict food codes. Indeed. People ate whatever got thrown at them, however it was served, whenever it was served, and maybe not. After eating they shat where they pleased, sometimes with the aid of a shovel; a plain, very simple, arrangement.

   547 people floated the Colorado that year. NPS was all over it by then. Believe it. And by most accounts NPS did as well as outfitters when it came to counting numbers. Which is another thing. The Concessions Policy Act, PL 89-249, became law in 1965. Sanctioned outfitters became part of the landscape in Grand Canyon.

   In the nation at large, a massive power outage briefly plunged the Northeast into darkness. Elsewhere Hunter S. Thompson declared 1965 the best year to be a hippie; Timothy Leary advised people to “...drop out, turn on and tune in.” Weird, oh wow and far out became vernacular at the same time. Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society,” only just conceptualized, quickly foundered under the mounting lie of Viet Nam. The bombings began in February and the first 50,000 troops were committed following US losses at Pleiku; the battle for Il Drang wasn’t acknowledged as a disaster because we killed more of them than they did of us. Campus unrest ran rampant. Sit-ins, sing-ins, marches and demonstrations were commonplace, their focus on human rights or Viet Nam or both: David Miller burned his draft card in 1965. People were pissed off—witness the assassination of Malcolm X. The United States was rent wide by ghetto riots, Watts notable among them and, sadly, only one of many. The Free Speech movement ran amok when the New Left embraced Marx, Mao and Marcuse as spokesmen. Say what? Even the SDS repealed its own ban on admitting Communists and ‘Birchers.’

   It was a radical, wide open time. Marijuana had snuck into middle class America, especially its Anglo-Saxon high school students, who were obviously in rebellion of some sort. Maybe it was a rebellion against rebellion. People yelled you-know-what out loud, in public. Occasionally these people were naked! This due perhaps to Ken Kesey and the Pranksters, retiring from FURTHER adventures to California, the end of Route 66, where LSD was still legal.

   The Odd Couple played Broadway. Best Picture went to The Sound of Music while Lee Marvin was Best Actor in Cat Ballou. On TV came Wild Kingdom then Gunsmoke, The Farmer’s Daughter and Smothers Brothers, for something called “prime time viewing.” In the same breath Amos ‘n Andy got yanked from syndication following protests of stereotyped images of Blacks. Life, with photos of Gemini astronauts on their first spacewalk, was what everybody read, while Playboy uncovered new territory issue by issue. Ballad of the Green Berets, Eve of Destruction and (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction were top ten hits on radio. Their result, after adding a few Jefferson Airplane riffs, was acid rock.

   Lindblad Travel, a.k.a. Lindblad Cruises, began regularly scheduled tourist service to Antarctica in 1965. Outside of the cold and ice and many remarkable stories about historic expeditions there, Antarctica was the absolute outback of the world. It still is, Lindblad or not, however that tale goes, and I’ll bet its a dandy, just like old Grand Canyon stories... But, anyway, my point is the difference between Antarctica and Grand Canyon was nil in 1965. Both were on the cutting edge of an infant adventure travel industry. They represented the same thing to those in the know.

   The Environmental Movement was on. People wanted environmental experiences. Earth was calling. Warm, fuzzy stuff. Like cuddling penguins, climbing a mountain or running a river. Rachel Carlson’s Silent Spring had said it all in 1962: Mankind is poisoning Mother Nature, killing Her. And Mother Nature, ghastly ill, frail and feeble and so laid on her deathbed, was paid homage by those monied enough to afford such destinations after pondering the book. But Carlson’s message had not hit home. Not yet. To discover, explore and experiment with wilderness and its evolving manifest—wilderness adventure for Everyman—was, at the time, more important than the consequences of doing so. In 1965, few of the individuals who ran the Colorado seemed to mind the fluctuating flows from an almost new Glen Canyon Dam or the men and machinery encountered at Marble Canyon or Bridge Canyon, damsites under investigation further downstream. In 1965 people were immune to such things. The suburbs needed electricity.

Shane Murphy