Special Collections and Archives blog

New Exhibit Showcases Early Days of Rafting the Grand Canyon

Johnny Walker in Lava Falls, 1978. Photo Michael Collier

Cline Library has unveiled a new exhibit, “THE GRAND CANYON; A Boatman’s Perspective.” The exhibit, curated by photographer Michael Collier, features 47 photographs that portray and reflect upon the experiences of river running of the 1970s and 1980s. 

The images were drawn from Michael Collier’s photographic collections.  We meet Collier and his river running comrades, paddle alongside them, and begin to feel how the experience was different then – new, raw, and full of unproven successes and failures.  The show’s QR codes connect viewers to Collier’s narrative, telling the stories behind the images. The narration provides insight into an experience that once defined what it meant to be a ‘Boatman’. 

Helen Fairley in Buck Farm Canyon, 1985. Photo Michael Collier

What was Grand Canyon river running like in earlier days?  According to Collier:   

Sediment was plentiful, and the beaches were bigger.  Wild floods held vegetation in check until Glen Canyon Dam was completed in the early 1960s. Trips were cheaper, and wages were lower.  Passengers came from a broad cross-section of society.  There were few Park Service regulations.  The people of Grand Canyon – and the Canyon itself – were different in those days.

Collier first paddled through the upper Grand Canyon in 1970.  In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he rowed commercially for the precursor of Arizona Raft Adventures, which provided support for the exhibit. He received degrees in geology while studying a fold in the Muav limestone that could only be reached by raft.  He rowed and motored on science, administrative and private trips within the Canyon.  Always, he photographed. 

Gary Mercado below Thunder River, 1975. Photo Michael Collier

The exhibit, which is free and open to the public, is located on the east side of the Jean Collins Reading Room on the first floor of Cline Library and is available whenever the library is open.  Cline Library is located at the intersection of Knoles Drive and McCreary Road on the campus of Northern Arizona University (NAU). For information on public parking options, visit nau.edu/parking

The exhibit is part of the library’s commitment to providing educational and cultural opportunities for NAU students and the surrounding community.  For more information on Cline Library, visit nau.edu/library. 

The exhibit will be installed on the first floor of the library in the public exhibit space through December 15, 2023.  For more information, contact Kevin Ketchner via email kevin.ketchner@nau.edu.

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