"Dock" Marston on the Colorado River, September 1963

The Colorado also introduced Bill to a man who became one of his closest friends and associates, river historian Otis "Dock" Marston. With Dock, Bill ran the Colorado several times, starting with a 1950 motorboat trip down the river. Dock and Bill were both on the 1960 Grand Canyon jet boat trip, which made the first and only up river run (sixteen-year-old Buzz Belknap was one of the jet boat pilots). In 1963, when the gates at the newly constructed Glen Canyon Dam were closed to begin filling Lake Powell reservoir, the Colorado River through Grand Canyon, just downstream of the dam, was reduced to a trickle. The National Park Service commissioned Belknap to photodocument these extremely low flows. Bill, Buzz, Dock, Mack Miller, Cliff Segerblom and his children, Robin and Tick, paddled and pulled Sportyaks, seven-foot long plastic dinghies, down the sluggish current and around and through the hulking boulders that normally defined major rapids.

"Grand Canyon N.P.--Dragging boats around Ruby Rapid during extreme low water, Colorado River. [1963]"

Fran Belknap and Grand Canyon Guide--August 1973 Trip to Cataract Canyon

It was during those golden years of river running that Buzz conceived the idea of preparing river guide books, containing detailed maps and photographs, as well as information on geology, archaeology, history, and natural history. The Powell Centennial Grand Canyon River Guide made its appearance in 1969. Many of the photographs splashed on the pages were Bill's, and Fran and Loie also played key roles in preparing the guides. The endeavor evolved into the Belknap family's own publishing firm, Westwater Books, and grew to include guides for Canyonlands National Park, Dinosaur National Monument, the Snake River, and Desolation/Gray Canyons.

"Fastwater Expeditions Sport-yakkers enjoy fall colors along the Green River in Desolation Canyon, UT"

Of all of Bill's endeavors, the one that was probably dearest to his heart was Fastwater Expeditions, a family-operated river running company. Once again, the Belknaps turned to Sportyaks. The tough, versatile craft allowed each passenger the opportunity to guide his or her own boat. As Bill put it, why let your boatman have all the fun? Bill's gentle teaching style enabled hundreds of people of all ages and sizes to successfully navigate the Green, San Juan, and Dolores rivers from 1974 to 1986. Participants also benefitted from Bill's knowledge of photography--some of the trips were even designated as photo workshops--and from his extensive musical knowledge. When energy was lagging on a hike, Bill's singing would help to liven weary steps.

Delores River Trip, June 1980

In a 1979 interview, R.J. Johnson asked Bill in what aspect of photography he thought he most excelled. Without hesitating, Bill responded "teaching." Bill gave and taught throughout his life, and his photographic legacy continues the tradition.

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