The Emerald Mile by Kevin Fedarko (2013)

 

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Christmas break was full of good reading for me, and The Emerald Mile tops my list.  Given to me by my son, the book is a must read for anyone who plans to visit (or has visited) the Grand Canyon.  I’m heading there in April, and I’m grateful to know so much history about the canyon, its geology, the river, its earliest explorers, the dams, the wooden dories, and all that relates to the canyon. Emerald Mile is a wooden dory from the 1970s that had a good run but crashed so badly in 1977, so beyond repair, that it was set to be burned.  Instead, it was rebuilt by Kenton Grua, and in 1983, he, Steve Reynolds, and Rudi Petschek raced it down the Grand Canyon in 36 hours, breaking the speed record (also set by The Emerald Mile) by more than 10 hours.

However, to understand this feat, one must understand everything that led up to it: the spring run-off of 1983; the near overflow at the Glen Canyon Dam creating the fastest and highest water ever seen on the river; the history of the wooden dories (vs. the large, rubber rafts); the background, skill, and personality of the three rafters; the head of the dory raft company (Martin Litton); environmental regulations, and so much more.  So much so that the actual record breaking trip on Emerald Mile starts on page 277 of the book (although we get a three page teaser rat the very beginning).  Everything else leads up to this speed trip.  But I appreciated every page.  I love this description of the Colorado River (prior to the Glen Canyon Dam): “The unusual combination of gradient, volatility, and sediment distinguishes the Colorado as the most tempestuous river on the continent, savage and unpredictable, often dangerous and almost psychotic in its surges…no other river on earth has every cut canyons to rival those of the Colorado” (38-39).  I’m sure there a hundreds of other Grand Canyon books, but this one brings together so many converging stories—from the 1500s to present day— to bring the canyon’s waterway, its geology, its people, and its history to life.

I’m more excited than ever to head to the GC in April, but now I also hope that I can some day experience it from the river–and If I do so, I think a trip in a wooden dory is the way to go.

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