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Ten Books to Read Before and After You Visit the Grand Canyon

As I started my guiding career in the Grand Canyon, I was given a piece of great advice from a longtime boatman (thanks Joe) to pick up a book before every river trip at the Marble Canyon Lodge. Since then, I have compiled a good amount of knowledge from the following books on the Grand Canyon for one reason or another. On my last trip, a group of wonderful women requested I create a list of books I think people would enjoy reading before and after their journey through the canyon.

​1. Beyond the Hundredth Meridian

Author: Wallace Stegner
Suggested: Read Before

This is a classic biographical book about the OG who started it all here in the Grand Canyon. John Wesley Powell was commissioned by Congress in 1869 to survey one of the last unknown environments in the United States. In doing so, Powell made a point to exaggerate a lot of the information he sent back (who needs to exaggerate about the Grand Canyon?) However, this is a great book for anyone wanting to know about what the Grand Canyon was all about prior to the creation of Glen Powell Dam and sheds light on some of Powell’s eccentricities. A little-known fact highlighted in the books is Powell’s involvement in the Underground railroad!

Find it on Amazon

​2. The Doing of the Thing

Author: Vince Welsh, Cort Conley, Brad Dimock
Suggested: Read After

This is one of my favorite books (the first half anyway) about a small-town smelly gas station attendant named Buzz Holmstrom (from my neck of the woods in Oregon) which describes his upbringing growing up dirt poor, his journey in exploring rivers in boats he built himself, and eventually becoming the first person to completely (debated) run the entire stretch of the Grand Canyon alone. Because of this feat, Buzz becomes famous across the country and the book describes how much he learns to despise the fame and how he eventually gets back to what matters most to him. Running rivers and forgetting to bathe.

Find it on Amazon

​3. Sunk Without a Sound: The Tragic Colorado River Honeymoon of Glen and Bessie Hyde

Author: Brad Dimock
Suggested: Read After

As the title suggests this book ends in tragedy and highlights the cheery fact that nature doesn’t care about you. This is something I try to impart to all of my guests in the beginning of trips in the hope that they practice caution when they are in the canyon and the importance of looking out for one another. (BUCKLE UP YOUR LIFEJACKET!) Anyway, back in 1928, Glen had this great idea to take his not-so-excited wife Besse on a river trip down the Grand Canyon for their honeymoon with no life jackets, a boat made for lakes, and little to no river running experience. What could go wrong?

Find it on Amazon

​4. River to Rim

Author: Nancy Brian
Suggested: Read After

River to Rim gives an excellent overview of some of the magical places in the Grand Canyon. A must-read for anyone who has been to the Grand Canyon and wants to relive the memories.

Find it on Amazon

​5. Over the Edge: Death in The Grand Canyon

Author: Thomas Myers, Michael Ghiglieri
Suggested: Read after (for obvious reasons)

Everyone knows a sure-fire way to get a rapid named after you in the Grand Canyon is to either die or do something incredibly stupid there. This book documents the 550 people (at the time of publishing) who have perished in the Canyon. Some of these stories show how many of these deaths were highly preventable and are a “what not to do” guide to make it out safely.

Find it on Amazon

​6. Woman of the River ~ Georgie White Clark, Whitewater Pioneer

Author: Richard E. Westwood
Suggested: Read Before

Georgie is one of those larger-than-life characters and is one of my top picks for people I would love to meet if they were still alive. Anyone old enough to know Georgie has told me that this woman was a force to be reckoned with and that it was always a bad idea to bend over in front of her. This book talks about the tragic motivations that brought Georgie to the Grand Canyon in the first place and the legacy she built that still lives on today.

Find it on Amazon

7. There’s this River~ Grand Canyon Boatman Stories

Author: Christa Sadler
Suggested: Read During

Some people say that the only way to know if a boatman is telling a tall tale is to see if their lips are moving. Nevertheless, I discovered some real gems while reading this book full of short stories from boatmen from all walks of life and the crazy stories that definitely “happened” the way they wrote them. I highly recommend the story about the raven or the big horn sheep and urge you to always hide your shiny valuables while in camp!

Find it on Amazon

​8. The Very Hard Way ~ Bert Loper and the Colorado River

Author: Brad Dimock
Suggested: Read before

Bert Loper was born in 1869 which coincidently enough was also the same year-grumpy old JW Powell made his first voyage down the Grand Canyon. Like Buzz Holmstrom, Bert grew up dirt poor and worked most of his life performing extremely low-paying grunt work in order to make ends meet. This book documents how after years of struggle Bert found solace and contentment in the Grand Canyon and some of his adventures that are still the stuff of legend.

Find it on Amazon

​9. I am the Grand Canyon: The story of the Havasupai People

Author: Stephen Hirst
Suggested: Read Before

Every time we visit Havasu on our 6-day trips I am always reminded of this book. This story centers on who we know now as the Havasupai people (Havsuw Baaj: Blue Creek people) and their struggle to remain in the place that they have called home for thousands of years. I was surprised to learn that at one time with the help of irrigation the inhabitants were able to grow corn, melons, beans, squash, pumpkins, and a variety of fruit trees there. The current climate and lack of rain have made this practice much more difficult. The book also describes the use of sweat lodges for purification and serious healing along with the tradition behind cradleboards for infants. If you want to learn more about the Blue Creek people's battle to keep their sacred traditions, land, and way of life intact, I highly recommend giving this one a read.

Find it on Amazon

​10. The Emerald Mile ~ The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in the History of the Grand Canyon

Author: Kevin Fedarko
Suggested: Read Before

If you can only read one book about the Grand Canyon this is it! The Emerald Mile gives a very entertaining overview of the history of the dams that forever changed the Grand Canyons landscape along with character profiles on legends like Burt Loper, Georgie White, JW Powell, Martin Litton, The Kolb Brothers, and many others. Along the way, the story builds the legend around the men who took advantage of the insane high flow year of 1983.

Find it on Amazon

​11. Podcast - Big Adventures with Brian Dierker

Hey not all of us can read and that’s ok! This is a great podcast about a legend still running the Grand Canyon and who on occasion will still snipe your campsite. Regardless, Brian brings on a large array of guests from rock nerds (scientists) to salty river runners with great stories of the good old days. I highly recommend the podcast with a former river guide turned cameraman for the World’s Deadliest Catch!

Visit Podcast Home Page

​Bonus! The Best Joke Book Ever

Author: Wayne Brindle
Suggested: Read Before

River guides are notorious for bad jokes so here is a great book to spice up the “don’t take it for granite” puns that the guides are sure to spring on you while you are down here.

Find it on Amazon