Saving Grand Canyon river running history

Brynn Bender


Modern adventurers have been traveling through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River since 1869. The Grand Canyon National Park Museum collection contains 18 boats that have made historic journeys on this amazing river from 1909 to 1965. The history of running such an important river is captured in this collection. This article will include an overview of the National Park Service’s project to preserve and exhibit these boats. The project has been a highlight for the park and the river running community. It has involved numerous volunteers, river runners, architects, historians, and park staff over the past five years. Overall, the boats are in good structural condition but their surfaces were damaged from outdoor storage conditions.

Getting the boats into appropriate storage posed interesting challenges due to their size and public interest. Treatments of the four oldest wooden boats have been undertaken over the past four years. Condition problems thus far have involved dirt, staining, excessive linseed oil, unstable paint, torn and distorted canvas, and corrosion. Stabilization of these large boats required multi-disciplinary techniques. Future treatments include cleaning and stabilizing a rubberized canvas on a kayak, a painted polyethylene raft, a homemade fiberglass kayak, oxidized gel-coated fiberglass jet boats, and two jet propulsion systems and three motors. An inflation support for a large WWII rubber raft must also be located.

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2008 | Denver | Volume 15