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Walking an Emerald Mile in the Grand Canyon with Kenton Grua

Ever meet someone famous, and you didn’t know it until later?


There I was in 1996, guiding folks back from Beaver Falls in the intermittent afternoon shade of Havasu Canyon on a 6 day Western River Expedition, when I met “The Factor”. Before saying anything about who he was, he assertively asked questions about me; I felt somewhat interrogated.


Sometimes I felt that way up at Lee’s Ferry while loading boats for launch the next day – bus tourists would approach and ask a lot of questions about rafting in the Grand Canyon. We are obvious targets for such lines of questioning there at the boat ramp, but here, in the heart of the canyon, after days and days of rafting, it seemed off kilter somehow. As at the Ferry, I politely answered each question as it came. Even stranger, he seemed not to just be a curious tourist, but to be a fellow guide: Flip flops, straw hat, bold red and white Hawaiian print shirt, buttoned randomly… tanned skin and golden hair on his chest and arms.


Finally, I asked him his name. “Kenton Grua” came the reply. I didn’t know he was the founder of Grand Canyon River Guides Association, the man who played John Wesley Powell in the IMAX movie – purposely flipping in Lava Falls for the shot, and one of the three that rowed the boat named the “Emerald Mile” on the fastest run through the Grand Canyon in the floods of 1983. The book, of the same name as the boat is making it’s way around the interwebs this summer, making dreamers of many readers familiar with the Canyon and the floods of the early 80’s. Listen to the podcast of the author telling the story here. Or read an article from Outside Magazine here. Here is a link to buy the book, The Emerald Mile.



I could tell by his reaction that I was supposed to have at least an idea who “Kenton Grua” was. The air of someone who prided himself on a nickname of “The Factor” was definitely filling up the space between us as we talked. But to his credit, he did not blather a resume on me. He simply kept asking me about my guiding career, who I worked for, what I loved most about the canyon and guiding. Looking back on it, I see that he was “factorizing” on me as a guide. He was probing my dedication to the job. We parted ways as I tended to guests’ needs along the trail, but I remembered the chance meeting.


Okay, so maybe he became more famous after I met him, but the things he’d done to become famous were things I could have asked him about in person…I wish I would have known to ask, or maybe even snapped a photo with him at my side in the very canyon we both loved.


Ah well, as we think about the past, it should help us look at what we’re doing with the present. Are we doing what we love? Are we doing it with passion and undying dedication to improvement and tinkering? Are we living life to the fullest possible by trying new things? Just a few questions The Factor may ask if he were here now.

Kam Wixom

Kam began guiding in the Grand Canyon in 1991, met & guided with his wife in 2000, and is the proud daddy of 5 kids. He now works as the Marketing Director for Western River Expeditions.

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