A Unique Trip Through The Grand Canyon Rivers

September 25, 2015


by Paul Cooley

For the evening of September 10th, Tom Martin figuratively diverted a portion of the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon by the Church of the Red Rocks. He talk splashed the Sedona Westerners with tales of Otis Reed "Dock" Marston and his book "From Powell to Power, A recounting of the First One Hundred River Runners through the Grand Canyon", which Martin edited.

Martin told the audience how a friend of Marston's, Neill C. Wilson, participated in a San Juan River trip with Norman Nevills and convinced Marston to go with Norm on a Grand Canyon Cruise. Thus in 1942 Marston began his fascination with river running the Grand Canyon, accompanied by Wilson and their sons with Norm as their guide. Marston grew a beard on the trip and was told he looked like an "old time pill-roller" or "Doc." Marston embraced the nick name, which he later changed to "Dock", as in the dock at the end of the trip.

Inspired by the 1942 experience, 5 years later Marston began documenting in book form a history of river running in the Grand Canyon, Martin stated. What began as a 6 month project turned into a 30 year epic achievement recounting the history of the first 100 Grand Canyon river-runners. Marston gathered a collection of first person accounts from river-runners, beginning with James White in 1867 who successfully navigated the Canyon on a log raft to the first power boat runs through the Canyon in 1949 through 1951.

Martin became involved in the editing and publishing of Marston's book, which for publication rights reasons was not released until 2012. In this project, Martin interviewed Marston's friends and family and visited first hand locations where Marston had once lived and compiled his work.

Speaker Tom Martin

Martin related that Marston was a "stickler for detail" and would ferret out the truth behind many of the tall tales told about Colorado River running not only through the Grand Canyon but through Glen Canyon prior to its being dammed. One such tale was a purported citing in 1889 and 1891 of an inscription in Glen Canyon by fur trapper Denis Julien which dated to 1836. In March 1964, as Glen Canyon was filling behind the newly constructed dam, Marston and three friends, using a Sportyak, cruised through Cataract Canyon and located the historical inscription. Once the reservoir filled, the inscription was covered and has not been seen again since.

Marston was born in Berkley, California in 1894 and passed away in San Francisco in August of 1979. Marston was the eighty-third person to complete the water transit of the Grand Canyon, and made a total of twenty two river trips through the Grand Canyon. He recorded a number of "firsts" regarding navigation of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon that included the following: in 1947 Dock swam Dubendorff Rapid without a life jacket or air mattress, it was the first record of anyone intentionally swimming a Grand Canyon rapid free of any flotation device; in 1949 he recorded another first, by being the first person to navigate the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in a motorized boat and in 1957 Marston ran the Grand Canyon on 126,000 cubic feet per second, the highest Colorado River flow ever navigated.

Tom Martin, in addition to hiking and river rafting in the Grand Canyon since 1969, has worked over 20 years as a physical therapist at the Grand Canyon, South Rim. Martin has authored various books relating to the Grand Canyon including "Day Hikes from the River" and "Big Water, Little Boats", the latter being a dissertation on building a life size 1954 replica dory which Martin named "The Bloody Boat". Martin has co-authored with Duwain Whitis "Guide to the Colorado River In the Grand Canyon, Lee's Ferry to South Cove", which won the 2007 National Outdoor Book Award.

Information sources for this story included the resume of Tom Martin and information found online at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otis_R._Marston.

If you are interested in joining the club, please go to our website at http://sedonawesterners.org or just come to one of our monthly meetings. The next one will be on Thursday, November 12, 2015 at 7 pm at Saint John Vianney Parish 180 St. John Vianney Lane, Sedona AZ 86336



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