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Love and loss in the Grand Canyon

February 28, 2019

A true story about three people, passion, a place — and triumphing over tragedy

Editor's note: This story is part of an ASU Now series celebrating the centennial of the Grand Canyon National Park.

The Grand Canyon has incredible power. 

It united three backpackers with a shared passion, then separated them in tragedy.

Ultimately, it elevated them.


Andrew Holycross is the third person to have walked the length of the Grand Canyon on both sides of the river, and the ninth to thru-hike the canyon. A thru-hike is walking from Lees Ferry at the eastern end to Pearce Ferry at the western end (or vice versa) in one continuous push, without leaving the canyon.

Thousands have summited Mount Everest. Twelve people have stood on the moon. Fewer than 10 people have thru-hiked the Grand Canyon.

And Holycross did it the year after his wife fell to her death there.


Matthias Kawski is a President’s Professor in Arizona State University’s School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences. He came to the university in 1987 because of Arizona’s canyons and mountains.

He backpacked the Grand Canyon the year he arrived, and the year after that. He was hooked. 

“That was the reason I stayed,” Kawski said.

Holycross walked the south side in sections over a decade. Kawski was with him on most of those trips.


Ioana Hociota and Holycross, a herpetologist and adjunct professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences, met in 2006. A Romanian immigrant, Hociota earned dual degrees from ASU in biology and mathematics. A year after they met, they went backpacking in the canyon.

She loved it. They returned, over and over.

Andrew Holycross and Ioana Hociota in Grand Canyon

Kawski had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2004. His doctor told him his goal had to be minimize immobility. The German math professor in love with wide open spaces was told he faced using a wheelchair, blindness and brain fatigue over the next five to 10 years.

“I was totally devastated,” Kawski said. “Ioana brought me back to life."

The trio did 12 serious, sustained, six- to 10-day trips together in freezing conditions in extremely remote parts of the canyon.

“You are up and down, up and down,” Kawski said. “You’re walking on whatever ledge is there until the walls come together and there is no more left. You either have to go 1,000 down or 1,000 feet up.”

Eventually they started looking at the map.

“We had these big gaps where we hadn’t hiked,” Holycross said. “It was like, ‘Hey, let’s put the pieces together.’ We started going in and knocking out the gaps.”

Andrew Holycross, Ioana Hociota, Matthias Kawski at Grand Canyon

In 2010, Hociota convinced Kawski, then six years post-MS diagnosis, to come on an eight-day trip along the Sinyala fault in the western canyon. It’s a 17-mile-long fracture breaking through a cliff band.

Kawski told his neurologist.

“No way,” was the response. Way too dangerous. Tripping. Falling. Sudden paralysis. Probably a helicopter rescue.

“The turnaround of my life was the winter hike of the Sinyala fault in 2010,” Kawski said. “Ten years later (that neurologist) admits that the inspiration, commitment to such exploration and challenges likely have helped keep my (multiple sclerosis) under control.”


In June 2011, Holycross and Hociota were married on the rim.

Holycross - Hociota wedding Grand Canyon

The following winter, Hociota asked Kawski to join her in knocking out a section Holycross and another friend had already completed. It was a loop around the Great Thumb Mesa, a finger of land on a bend in the river in the western end of the canyon, next to the Havasupai reservation. The route was 16 miles. They planned to do it in three days. They would start Feb. 24 and hike out on Feb. 26.

When the terrain wasn’t too difficult, they followed different paths. When it was challenging, they stayed closely together. On the second day, Hociota contoured around a hill while Kawski chose to go over the top.

Kawski heard rocks tumble, then a sharp scream.

Hociota fell about 300 feet. No one knows exactly what happened. She was not a reckless hiker, according to Holycross. More than likely, it was just bad luck. A misstep on the wrong rock.

About 12 people die each year in the Grand Canyon. The tally to date is about 700, according to "Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon," the definitive work on the subject. 


At the time of her death, Hociota had logged 830 miles in the canyon. She had 80 miles left to become the youngest person to complete a sectional thru-hike of the entire canyon.

“Before she fell, we had scheduled the last trip, and it was for March,” Holycross said. “She fell in February, on the 26th.”

Feb. 26, 2019, is the park’s centennial.

Ten days after her death, Holycross and Kawski went back to the canyon.

“That was a hard trip, but it was necessary to finish it because she had planned to be on that," Holycross said. "I carried her backpack and a lock of her hair so that she could complete it too.”

Why keep going back after her death?

“My first inclination when we got the news was a visceral hatred of the canyon because, in my mind, that’s what took her,” Holycross said. “But I realized that feeling doesn’t make sense; it’s not rational.

“That feeling didn’t last long. It was sort of a fleeting thing. Later, the more I thought about it, that was the place where Ioana and I were at our best. As a couple we were peas in a pod down there. She loved it there. In fact, there’s a saying in Romanian when you get married: ‘Casa de Piatră.’ House of Stone. We said that was the canyon for us.

"The canyon transcends all that, all of the horrors of our lives and everything else. It’s there and waiting for you. You accept it on its terms. Part of it is — what would she want? Would she want me to stop going there? Would she want Matt to stop going there? She would have kept going, I’m reasonably sure. She was passionate about the canyon, passionate about its conservation and wild places, passionate about challenging yourself more than anything else. … Why walk away from that?”


Then came the thru-hike.

“Before Ioana passed, we had decided we were going to do a thru-hike with a couple of friends,” Holycross said. “After she passed, I felt like I still needed to do that. Sixty-five days, Lees Ferry to Pearce Ferry.”

The park has four different types of trails. Corridor trails are the superhighways like Bright Angel and South Kaibab, where the mule trains travel and which rangers recommend to first-time visitors. Corridor trails are regularly maintained and patrolled, with water stations and other goodies. Threshold trails, like Hermit and Thunder River, are maintained when something is damaged by storms or floods. They’re regularly visited, but not by the hordes you see on Bright Angel. Primitive trails are far out there. You’re not likely to see anyone else. Nankoweap is the hairiest of the primitive trails, with some crazy exposure, meaning there’s a long way to fall.

Then there are wilderness routes. Triple black diamond. You won’t see another soul. These are footpaths or animal trails — at best. You’d better know what you’re doing, because you are out there. There are no trails along 95 percent of the North Rim or along 80 percent of the South Rim.

Being a great outdoorsman is not about being great at one thing. It’s about being great at 1,000 little things. How to stay warm. How to stay cool. How to read terrain, maps and ground for routes that “go.” Or don’t go. How to assess risk, judge it and execute it. Where people like Holycross and Kawski go, something as small as a broken bootlace can lead to your death 48 hours later. Make one mistake, and problems combine, compound and get worse.

“A lot of it is luck,” Holycross said. “There’s skill, but there’s luck too.”

When people do a sectional hike of the canyon, they go up on weekends and vacations and knock out sections. It can take people decades to complete. Only about 40 people have done it.

A thru-hike means you don’t come out of the canyon until it’s done. You don’t take breaks by taking a weekend off in a town, for instance. You might take a layover day where you stay in camp and repair gear and catch up on sleep, but you don’t leave.

“Staying down there, and not coming up … can be extremely difficult,” Holycross said. “The temptation to come out ... see the people you love … and simply take a warm shower and eat a steak … can be powerful. There is something to be said for resisting that temptation from ferry to ferry.”

When Holycross did his thru-hike on the north side, it was more than 500 miles. But because hiking Grand Canyon is almost never in a straight line, he estimates he walked close to 600 miles. 


Holycross cached half of his supplies ahead of time, stored in five-gallon buckets hidden in the canyon. The remaining buckets were placed by friends from the river. “I had to find them,” he said. “That was nerve-wracking.” There were 11 buckets total.

He had custom topographic maps printed out — he doesn’t like GPS — and each section was stashed in his cache buckets.

“My training for Grand Canyon was to get as fat as I could,” he said. “Honestly. I knew I was going to lose weight. And I did. I lost 30-some-odd pounds in two months.”

What does two months of solitude do to your head?

“It gives it a different kind of scramble than this place does,” Holycross said, sitting in a Starbucks under a flight path and next to six lanes of rush-hour traffic.

“The thing that people find the most overwhelming about the canyon — and I’m talking about the places away from the trails, which is most of it — is not just how isolated you are, but how wild it is, and how frickin' quiet it is,” he said. “You get into this different head frame. All of this noise is gone, and all of the schedules and 'have-tos' and people asking for things — it’s all gone. Your body gets into this rhythm of sunrise and sunset. My most important concern of the day is ‘What’s my camp going to be like tonight?’ and ‘Is there going to be water there?’ You don’t really care about anything else.”

Find water. Find the route. Stay safe.


Kawski was way behind Hociota and Holycross when they expected to have section-hiked the length of the canyon on the south side in spring 2012.

“I never had any intention of doing the same,” he said. “But afterwards, I decided to do it — a tribute to Ioana, who helped me so much.”

So, eight years after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Kawski decided to hell with the disease, he was going to do it. At that time he had completed the Old Park and Monument, and a small section of Marble Canyon. Sixty miles of Marble Canyon remained — a very different landscape and challenge, consisting of steep slopes with little vegetation, narrow terraces on the east and south sides, and extreme bushwhacking on the final section along the river.

A year later, he completed his sectional thru-hike at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers. Kawski is among the approximately 40 people who have completed this feat.

Matthias Kawski completes hike of Grand Canyon

“I am still trying my best to fight MS — Ioana had a huge impact,” he said. “The Grand Canyon did, too. But I credit the inspiration, and the ultimate challenge to complete such amazing trips to my survival, the strength not to succumb to such an awful, incurable, so often debilitating, disease.”


Tragedy can transform. Hociota's example of honoring life by living it fully left an indelible mark. Holycross now is remarried to another remarkable and vibrant woman; the couple have two beautiful daughters. Kawski and Holycross remain the closest of friends and have continued to raft and hike the canyon over the past seven years.

Kawski and Holycross established the Ioana Elise Hociota!!! Memorial Mathematics Scholarship at ASU to honor her life. The scholarship helps support the educational dreams of immigrant women in mathematics. There have been seven recipients from seven countries to date. 

Make donations to the scholarship to increase the number of recipients reached.

Ioana Hociota in Grand Canyon

All photos courtesy of Andrew Holycross and Matthias Kawski.

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


Arizona high-schoolers delve into new cultures at ASU Language Fair

February 27, 2019

Whether used to decipher an ancient culture or connect with the people around us, language is a cornerstone of societies around the world. This week, the breadth of that impact was showcased at Arizona State University’s annual Language Fair.

Now over two decades old, the exhibit gathers some 2,300 students from high schools around the state for an inside look at the School of International Letters and Cultures in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Students from the Learning Foundation and Performing Arts school in Gilbert perform a traditional Peruvian folk dance called valicha at the Memorial Union on the Tempe campus during the School of International Letters and Cultures' annual Language Fair. Students from the Learning Foundation and Performing Arts school in Gilbert perform a traditional Peruvian folk dance called valicha at the Memorial Union on the Tempe campus during the School of International Letters and Cultures' annual Language Fair. Download Full Image

“This is the largest language fair for high school students in the Southwest and one of the largest outreach events at ASU,” said Nina Berman, a professor and the school’s director. “We are very proud to host it.”

A diverse lineup of graduate and undergraduate programs offer ASU students courses in more than 20 languages in any given year. With a lively schedule of mini-lessons, language competitions, informational tables and cultural performances, the event provides a platform to bring younger students into the fold. 

As the world becomes more connected, being able to communicate in international contexts is increasingly important. But Enrico Minardi, an Italian and French lecturer at ASU who helped organize the event this year alongside Arabic instructor Umar Sulayman, said foreign language studies are often not made a priority in public education spheres in the United States. Initiatives like the Language Fair help bridge the gap for students looking to continue studying a language after high school, or discover a new one.

“We want to raise young students’ interest in foreign languages,” he said. “Moreover, it has already been shown that more and more employers look for candidates with these skills.”

It is through that interdisciplinary lens that Evanna Rouhani, a sophomore at The College’s School of Politics and Global Studies, chose to enroll in Arabic courses at ASU. Working as a volunteer at Language Fair, she met younger students hoping to leverage the same opportunities.

“I would like to go into immigration and asylum law, so learning Arabic really helps me communicate with people and connect with their culture,” she said. “I talked to a high school student who was looking to learn Arabic for the same reasons, and it was really cool seeing how excited they are about learning languages.”  

Students put their own talents on display in cultural performances spanning traditional dances, foreign language plays and pop songs interpreted in American Sign Language. For Carla Whitehead, a Spanish teacher at Tempe’s McClintock High School, the event was a chance to expose her students to new opportunities. But as a teacher whose classroom includes students learning English as a second language, she said it was also an opportunity to show them the value of their native languages.

“We have a lot of Spanish speakers who like seeing that their language is not just a requirement for high school graduation, but in fact something other people are trying to master,” she said.

Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


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The future of visiting the Grand Canyon

February 25, 2019

Several issues will affect tourism at the famed national park in the coming years, say two ASU experts

Editor's note: This story is part of an ASU Now series celebrating the centennial of the Grand Canyon National Park.

Grand Canyon National Park draws visitors from all over the world to bask in its beauty, making it not only a precious ecological resource to cherish but also a major economic driver for the state of Arizona. 

Balancing the twin missions of access and preservation is key to its future, according to experts at Arizona State University.

“When you think about the Grand Canyon itself, there’s so much to it,” said Megha Budruk, an associate professor in the School of Community Resources and Development in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. 

“There’s something for geologists, there’s something for artists, something for historians, the tourists,” said Budruk, who teaches a course called Wilderness and Parks in America.

“The park is physical, but the meanings we ascribe to it allow people to connect to it in different ways,” she said.

And many more people are connecting to the Grand Canyon. The park had 6.2 million visitors in 2017, up 42 percent from a decade earlier. The month of November 2018 had 10 times more visitorsAbout 410,000 in November compared with about 38,000 in 1919. than the entire year of 1919, when Grand Canyon National Park was formed.

All those tourists generated $648 million — along with 9,800 jobs. The total economic benefit to Arizona, according to the National Park Service, was more than $900 million.

In fact, the park is so important that Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order in early 2018 calling for the Grand Canyon to remain open in the event of a federal government shutdown. When the government did shut down in late 2018, the state’s tourism and parks offices paid to keep day-to-day operations running.

Crowd and Shuttle

Along with the revenue, tourism brings crowds requiring roads and parking lots and toilets and maintained trails. The National Park Service, in a 2017 report, estimates that the backlog of maintenance and repairs totals nearly $12 billion nationwide. About $330 million of that is needed at the Grand Canyon. Photo by Michael Quinn/National Park Service

More popular than ever

Christine Vogt, a professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Tourism, and Budruk have done research on the Grand Canyon’s economic impact in the region.

“It’s very clear there’s a prominent route starting in Las Vegas and doing the North Rim and coming around, including the Grand Canyon and Navajo parks and back up to Utah,” Vogt said.

“The whole region, with Las Vegas and its marketing machine, is getting a lot of international visitors,” she said. “The Grand Canyon, Zion, Monument Valley, Moab — all are getting increased tourism.”

Budruk said the spillover effect is felt throughout northern Arizona, which includes Canyon de Chelly, Montezuma Castle, Navajo, Parashant, Pipe Spring, Sunset Crater Volcano, Tuzigoot, Walnut Canyon and Wupatki national monuments, Glen Canyon and Lake Mead national recreation areas, Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site and Petrified Forest National Park. The Navajo Nation is home to four tribal parks, including Monument Valley, and there are several state parks in the Flagstaff area.

“What we found is that most visitors did not have the national monuments as their primary destination but were stopping over as part of their Grand Canyon visit,” Budruk said.

But along with the revenue, all that tourism brings crowds who require roads and parking lots and toilets and maintained trails. In fact, all of the national parks are badly in need of infrastructure work. The National Park Service, in a 2017 report, estimates that the backlog of maintenance and repairs totals nearly $12 billion nationwide. About $330 million of that is needed at the Grand Canyon, mostly for water systems and trails.

“The recent shutdown shed light on what it takes to keep a park open and friendly and clean and safe,” Vogt said. “But over the course of my professional time, the backlog of infrastructure and money needed to run these parks has not changed.

“There needs to be a more significant mechanism for paying for the management and enhancing the overall park infrastructure, which then improves the park experience.”

Adding infrastructure with conservation in mind

Vogt said that one change that likely will continue is the increased role of advocacy groups like the Grand Canyon Conservancy

“They play a very important partner role with the National Park Service in fundraising and in helping to pay for infrastructure and improvements,” she said.

“They’ve supplemented and in some places have taken over the guide and interpretation programs.”

Among the Flagstaff-based nonprofit’s projects: replacing light fixtures in the park to preserve dark skies, restoring and maintaining trails and completing renovation of the Desert View Watchtower and murals. The Grand Canyon Conservancy also runs a Field Institute that offers guided day hikes, backpacking trips, cultural classes and certification courses.

Vogt and Budruk said that the Grand Canyon has done a good job of trying to balance welcoming big crowds while mitigating their effect on the environment. One solution was the redevelopment of the South Rim a few years ago to add shuttle buses and limit driving and parking.

In 2010, the park approved a climate change action plan, warning that a hotter climate could lead to changes in weather and animal habitats, more insects, an increase in frequency and intensity of wildfires and floods and changes to water flows in the Colorado River. The sale of water bottles was eliminated, solar panels were added to the visitors center and the park increased recycling and added a system to reuse wastewater for toilets and irrigation.

Another way to control crowds is to keep the North Rim open only part of the year, which allows it to rest. The lack of infrastructure, including roads and personnel, keeps the crowds down and allows visitors a more solitary experience.

Technology, including social media and wildlife cams, have been cited as a driver of tourism at the national parks, but Vogt said that the Grand Canyon has to consider limiting technology to protect the environment.

“I think a big issue is dark skies and noise pollution. Regulating drones and helicopters is important,” she said.

“I don’t think people go to the parks to have technology in their faces. One reason you go to a park is to step away from that,” she said.

Managing the park on the macro

Michelle Sullivan Govani is a PhD student in School of Life Sciences who is studying preservation across the national park system. Her research project is examining the National Park Service mandate to preserve natural resources for future generations. She has interviewed top agency officials, administrators and park rangers from around the country to see what preservation means to them and how it has changed since the agency was formed in 1916.

“In the beginning, it was about these spectacular scenes and feeling emotionally and mentally invigorated,” she said. Over time, the mission has evolved.

“It’s not that scenery isn’t still important, but it’s not what defines preservation or the park service’s mandate any more, as they would tell it,” she said.

“They’re more concerned with ecosystems and with ecological processes.”

So now, just like each park is embedded in an economic network, each park also must be managed as part of a regional ecosystem.

“Ecosystems aren’t defined by the political lines that parks are defined by, so how do we work outside those boundaries to make sure we’re preserving ecosystems as they function in reality and not just for the scenes they provide to us?” Sullivan Govani said.

“You see that in the way they’re managing parks across boundaries. They’re working with the Bureau of Land Management, with the U.S. Forestry Service and with private landowners.”

Using science to inform the management of the park system has always been part of balancing competing interests, she found. 

“The thing about National Park Service history that’s fascinating is that you see all these starts and stops with regard to how they incorporate science-based management. It’s not that whoever is in charge doesn’t support research, but priorities differ and there’s a limited budget,” she said, noting that customer service is always a concern.

Going forward, it also will be important for the Grand Canyon, as part of the National Park Service, to be more representative of the American public. The agency released a report in 2018 that revealed that its workforce is 81 percent white, 62 percent male and 42 percent over the age of 50. 

“It helps to have an agency that reflects the American population so they see somebody like themselves and feel that, ‘This is a place for me too, where I am welcomed,’” Budruk said.

Top photo: Crowd of tourists gather at an overlook at the Grand Canyon. Photo courtesy of Getty Images/iStockphoto

Audio interview by Karie Dozer.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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Stories of the Grand Canyon

"This incredible hole in the ground" — ASU faculty share Grand Canyon memories.
February 25, 2019

A national park, a university and a century: Trail tales and river reports from across ASU

Editor's note: This story is part of an ASU Now series celebrating the centennial of the Grand Canyon National Park.

“For each man sees himself in the Grand Canyon.” 
— poet Carl Sandburg.

Feb. 26 marks the centennial of Grand Canyon National Park and the sesquicentennial of John Wesley Powell’s expedition down the Colorado River. Literally and figuratively, it’s Arizona’s biggest attraction. Naturally, it draws the attention of artists, faculty, and scientists from Arizona State University, the state’s biggest university.

“Oh my gosh! We are so fortunate,” said geologist Steve Semken. “We are the Grand Canyon State. What we like to say is, ‘There are bigger canyons than the Grand Canyon, and there are deeper canyons than the Grand Canyon, but none are as grand as Grand Canyon.’ It’s an iconic landscape. It exposes 2 billion years of Earth’s history. It is absolutely spectacular. It also incorporates tremendous amounts of human cultural history.”

When you’re in the world below the rims, you realize that it’s not one world; it’s a million worlds in one. Tiny grottos lined with ferns and moss and monkey flowers tinkle with water. Vast slickrock benches bake in the sun. There are broad sandy beaches; twisting, convoluted slot canyons; silent, towering stone hallways; glittering creeks and waterfalls; and yawning chasms. 

“The Grand Canyon is not just a natural environment,” said ASU history Professor Paul Hirt. “It’s an environment that takes your breath away. It’s an environment that hits you over the head with the profundity of the evolution of the planet. Looking into that incomprehensibly huge hole in the earth and thinking about the forces of erosion that shaped that, and how long it took, gives you an ability to think about things way beyond the human timescale and the human perspective.”

The best way to tell the story of the canyon and the draw it has had on the university community is that way, by examining one small world at a time. You will hear the experiences of a disparate group of people. Some of them have only gazed into its depths from the edge. Some have vanished into the place for months at a time. Their stories join to tell a single story, in the way hundreds of side canyons snake together to form one Grand Canyon.

The canyon’s story is a story of love and death and loss, fascination and obsession, of the passions of humankind and how a place reflects them.

“Every time I go I’m like, ‘My God, why don’t I go here more often?’” said geology Professor Ramon Arrowsmith.

Moon over canyonA yellow full moon just above the horizon of a canyon rim. On the left a pointed peak of orange and white stone layers. The view is from Powell Memorial on the South Rim of the park. Photo by Michael Quinn/National Park Service

The university president

It’s 1962. A carsick 7-year-old Michael Crow and his three siblings are in the back of a 1956 Pontiac Star Chief, driving from San Diego to Iowa. They ate ham — from a can you opened with a key — with saltines and drank Pepsi. His father was the type of driver who usually stopped only for gas. On this trip, he also stopped at the Grand Canyon. Crow’s father liked to frighten his kids, so he pretended he was mad and gunned the car toward a rim overlook.

“I remember seeing it and being inspired by not just its size, but what somebody told me: that most of the erosion was not the water, it was the wind,” Crow said. “Even as a kid I was like, ‘How is that possible? How can the wind do that?’ And I had no concept of time and what the wind could do over millions and millions of years, or water and the wind. I just remember being awe-inspired by the thing.”

The family got back in the car and went to the Painted Desert, where Crow got in a fight with his brother, dirtied his clothes and had to spend the rest of the trip in his underwear.

His subsequent Grand Canyon adventures have been no less memorable. He has hiked down to the river and back in a day seven times, and he has done two rim-to-rim hikes.

One of those two rim-to-rims was a contest hosted by former Arizona Regent Greg Patterson. Two months before the hike, Patterson ran into Crow. “You don’t look like you’re training,” he said. “You look fat.”

“I’m training,” Crow said, tapping his temple. “Right here.”

“Well, I hope that works out well for you,” said Patterson.

Crow decided to make the hike a mental challenge, inspired by natural beauty and the challenge itself. His objective was to hike the whole thing nonstop. No breaks at all.

The group started on the North Rim before dawn on a beautiful October day. Crow and a 17-year-old lacrosse player took off at the same time.

“He was like a rabbit to me,” Crow said, referring to the fakes that racing greyhounds chase. “I’m going to do my best, whatever it takes to keep up with that kid as if everything depends on that. I kept up with him until Indian Gardens.”

At that point it’s another four and a half miles to the South Rim, but it’s very steep, with about 3,800 feet of elevation gain. Crow discovered the big toenail on his right foot was no longer attached.

“It’s causing me a little bit of pain, so I decided to pull it off. My wife is always thrilled when my toenails fall off in my hiking boots. For whatever reason, I was probably going too fast, didn’t have my toenail trimmed to perfection. That was the one time I stopped. … After that I’ll say I was much less effective.”

The last mile and a half was the hardest part for him, but he went through the canyon in eight hours and 45 minutes, finishing in the top five.

Patterson took 16 hours, finishing 34th out of the group of 34. “I was back in Phoenix before he got out of the canyon,” Crow said with a laugh.

Four years ago, Crow almost drowned in the Colorado River.

“That was the second-closest I’ve ever come to drowning,” he said.

He was on a six-day August paddle boat trip from Lees Ferry to the Bright Angel trail when the guide told everyone they could ride through a small rapid in their life jackets. The river is bitter cold because it comes out of Glen Canyon Dam from the bottom of Lake Powell. It doesn’t heat up, even in summer.

Crow watched his teenage daughter and a few other people plunge in and shoot through the rapids without incident. So he jumped out of the boat.

“I had not checked my life jacket carefully enough. I’m a pretty good swimmer, but my life jacket didn’t fit, so it shot up over my head.”

He was underwater, with the life jacket pinning him down and the 40-degree water sending him plunging into hypothermia.

“It’s not allowing me to get any air. I thought to myself, ‘Really? You? Eagle Scout? Trained lifeguard? A person that knows how to hike and swim and all that? You’re going to drown from some stupid little life jacket problem with your kids down there waiting for you?’ I guess the only thing I could think to do was try to pull it down and hold it, and then kick with my legs.”

Meanwhile, his son and another passenger were in the boat, laughing their heads off.

“They thought this was the most hilarious thing they’d ever seen. They dragged me in. I had a few superlatives to say about my life jacket. They throw me in the raft, which had about this much water in it, and my head is underwater. They let me drown in that for a little bit and pulled me out and said, ‘Are you relaxed?’”

Other than almost drowning, it was a great trip. They hiked to waterfalls and Anasazi granaries high above the river and lay on warm sand at night gazing at the stars. Would Crow float the river again?


Rafting Lava Falls

Boaters running Lava Falls Rapid on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. Photo by Mark Lellouch/National Park Service

The floating professor

Paul Knauth is a professor emeritus of geology who retired in 2016. While at the university, he led 32 geology rafting trips sponsored by the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

Knauth also led 70 student field trips to the South Rim. “With the student trips, we’d do some 'death marches' down the Kaibab Trail, have them work on the rocks, and then have them come out — (we'd) do that two days in a row,” he said.

Back in camp, his students would work on describing and interpreting the stories in each layer of rock. What was it? What did it look like the day that unit was made and deposited? What caused it?

“That night, sitting around the campfire in Mather Campground, which is my second home, was the most satisfying thing to me in teaching,” Knauth said. “Those people were on a high. They had confidence. They felt like they were geologists. Not only that, they felt they owned the Grand Canyon because they had not just stood at the rim and looked, they’d gone down there and interacted with it in the deepest way possible. To be around a group of people like that, with that kind of feeling … it was a wonderful experience for me as a teacher. If they didn’t have that, I would have been very disappointed. You let the canyon do that to them. I just got out of the way.”

ASU's first float trip was in 1962. A PhD candidate named Everett Gibson decided the university needed to do a geology rafting trip. He contacted Hatch River Expeditions and set the idea in motion. They did three day trips from Lees Ferry to Phantom Ranch, then hiked out.

Knauth went for the first time in 1984. The next year he led the trip.

Calm boating Colorado Grand Canyon

Boating down the Colorado River below Havasu Creek in Grand Canyon National Park. Photo by Mark Lellouch/National Park Service

The ASU geology trip is open to the public and costs $3,000. It’s not advertised, but it sells out every year. People come from all over the world for it. For many years it was 36 people on three boats. Eight years ago the park service cut them down to two boats.

“Now it’s even harder to get on this trip,” said Knauth, who will be going again this year. 

While at ASU, Knauth taught sedimentology, geology of the Grand Canyon and astrobiology, among other courses.

“Where else in the country can you teach a class, go up on a Friday, do a day and a half in the canyon, and be home for supper on Sunday night?” he said. “I took full advantage of it when I taught geology. … It’s the greatest teaching resource you can have. … That’s recreation and tomfoolery and research. I’ve done it all at the canyon.”

The geomorphologist

Kelin Whipple is a geomorphologist at ASU. He studies how wind, water, climate and tectonics shape the Earth.

How the canyon was formed is a bit of a chicken-and-egg question. Before 6 million years ago, there was no river running along that path.

“It’s a young river, geologically speaking,” Whipple said. “The canyon was cut quite young, cut quite quickly sometime soon after 6 million (years). After that, everything is debated. How much is uplift of the plateau playing a role, and how much is just a river cutting back into a preexisting uplifted plateau? It’s very much a topic of debate.”

How was the canyon cut, and when did the Colorado River appear in that formation? It’s tough to study, because the canyon is a net erosional environment. Simply put, most of the evidence is gone. The river is silty and the plateau is windy.

“It’s been studied a lot, and it’s been debated the whole time, for the 100 years (of the park's existence) and before that, since Powell 150 years ago,” he said. “Today, it’s about the age and timing of the Colorado and other rivers, the San Juan and the Goosenecks. It’s been debated constantly.”

Mather Point inversion Grand Canyon

View from Mather Point on the South Rim. Cloud inversions are formed through the interaction of warm and cold air masses. Photo by Erin Whittaker/National Park Service

A controversial 2012 University of Colorado study made quite a splash when the authors put the canyon at 70 million years old.

“But the main, young, canyon is less than 6 (million), we think,”” Whipple said. “In my view, that thermochronology data — clever as it is — there must be something incomplete in our understanding of how to interpret that data to allow it to look like it’s that old when it’s not. That’s an unresolved debate that’s going on. There’s more scientists that believe in the Younger Canyon side than the Older Canyon side.”

Whipple looks at erosion rates outside the canyon vs. inside the canyon. Erosion rates are faster in the canyon, and the rates are about right to carve that deep of a canyon in about 6 million years.

Most of Whipple’s work has either been remote or done on rafting trips. He’s gone on a two-week raft trip where they stopped everywhere they could get access to a new rock unit.

“Pile out of the raft real quick, pull out all the seismic gear, run out a line of geophones, do the rock hammering thing on a steel plate, record the signals that give you the velocity that the acoustic waves go through the rock, and that is correlated with the rock strength and its density and all that stuff,” he said, describing a typical day. “You gather the stuff back together, you get it in the raft, fight for your life to survive the next rapid, and get out and do it again. We’ve done a couple of trips doing that.”

If scientists want to float the river for research, they need a research permit and they have to apply in the lottery as well. On Whipple’s trip, the crew of about 20 all entered the lottery. (He got the permit, earning him the enviable position of trip leader. The trip leader sets the rules — they usually don’t cook, for instance. “TL does nothing,” Whipple said with a laugh.) “There’s a great community sense on those trips, when you’re all cooking and cleaning together and you’re pretty isolated. It’s pretty fun.”

And, of course, he goes to the canyon for recreation.

“It’s still astounding to me,” he said. “I feel like every time we approach that canyon it’s like a religious experience. You just drive across this low-relief plain. There’s no indication a canyon is coming, then all of a sudden, WHOOSH! There it is — this incredible hole in the ground, with really spectacular scenery with all the colors and different ledges. It’s mind-blowing to me every time.” 

The volcanologist and the ecosystem scientist

Heather Throop is an ecosystem scientist in the School of Life Sciences and the School of Earth and Space Exploration. She studies drylands across the globe. Christy Till is a volcanologist in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. Both run trails for fun, often together. Last fall they decided to do a rim-to-rim run.

“I like having goals, and planning for trips, and this seemed like a really good goal to have,” Throop said.

ASU professors Heather Throop and Christy Till take a selfie during a trail run in the Grand Canyon

ASU faculty Heather Throop (left) and Christy Till did a rim-to-rim trail run last fall, just for fun.  

They ran from the South Rim to the North Rim, down the Bright Angel Trail and up the North Kaibab Trail, “to torture ourselves with more uphill,” Throop said. “I think most people go the other way, but we very intently went the other way.”

They enjoyed the geology during the run. Till has hiked the canyon before, spending more time staring at rocks than she did during the run.

“But it’s also nice to see it all in one go,” she said. “You’re always impressed with the scale of it, but you’re moving very quickly through units, so you get a little bit more of a story. ‘Oh, now we’re in a marine unit; we’re underwater. Now we’re in a shallow, beach-like environment’ — things like that. You kind of get that story as you move through everything, which is fun.”

They checked out every major rock layer. They brought a cheat sheet, but Till amused herself by looking at it with a scientist’s eye.

“Part of the fun as a geologist is trying to see if you can reason your way through it rather than memorize it; ‘Oh, yeah, I can see these ripple marks or these cross-beds that tell me they were sandstone dunes in the past,’” she said.

They stopped at the Great Unconformity for pictures. An unconformity is a surface in the rock record representing a time from which no rocks are preserved. It could represent a time when no rocks were formed, or a time when rocks were formed but then eroded away. In the Grand Canyon the length of time varies along its length, anywhere from 175 million years to 1.6 billion years, depending on where you are.

“We were going quickly, but we were stopping a lot,” Throop said. “That was way more satisfying to me than someone who just wanted to run it for a goal of the time.”

At the river they stopped on the bridge, then for a lemonade break at Phantom Ranch.

“It’s kind of fun to be down there,” Till said. “There are people who are on a river trip or whatever. There are people who are staying at Phantom Ranch, and everyone is having a different experience. ... Everyone is very nice and sort of courteous, and there’s sort of a trail culture where everyone says hello to each other.

“I hadn’t been up on the north side since I was a child, and getting to experience how different the South and the North Rim are from each other, you see slightly different rocks going up and down both sides,” Till said. “It was a wonderful way to take it in as a whole. ... That was really cool.”

Throop was stunned by the contrast in vegetation between elevations.

“You’ll go around a corner in the canyon and the vegetation changes completely,” she said. “That was pretty neat to see at the speed of running.”

Commercial raft launch Lee's Ferry Grand Canyon

Rafts at Lees Ferry prepare for a trip through the Grand Canyon. Additional side floats will be attached for the downriver trip. Essential supplies await loading. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The resource management expert

Legendary boatman Regan Dale and his extended family spent a whopping 103 days in the canyon, the crowning glory of the '70s trend of slow-boating — making a trip last as long as possible. Called the Hundred Days Trip, it has not been repeated. 

Dave White came close, though. A professor in the School of Community Resources and Development at ASU, White was a grad student in the summer of 1998 when he spent 60 days on the river for a social science research project studying how visitors experience it, to inform the National Park Service's Colorado River Management Plan. 

“What struck me the most was the quirkiness of the people who recreate and work down there,” White said.

For the research, White was randomly assigned to travel with commercial and private trips where he conducted observational research and administered survey questionnaires to rafters and guides. On commercial trips, he contributed to the chores as part of the crew and blended in. Private trips, where everyone usually knows each other well, were another story. Imagine going to a stranger’s house for Thanksgiving — and Thanksgiving lasts up to 18 days. He floated with Christians who sang “Onward Christian Soldiers” through the rapids and with partiers who enjoyed various substances throughout the trip.

After two months of sleeping under the stars and listening to the trill of canyon wrens and the gurgle of water, White got off his last trip and flew from a dirt airstrip to Las Vegas. Ninety minutes later he was in a busy casino restaurant, gobsmacked by the noise and bustle and lights.

That summer on the river inspired White’s work as director of the Decision Center for a Desert City, where he carries out climate, water and decision research for cities dependent on Colorado River water. The river reaches far beyond its banks. It is in our food, the cotton on our backs, our yards and in every aspect of life in the Southwest. Twenty million people directly depend on the river, and White works to ensure that it will be sustainable into the future.

Anasazi granaries Nankoweap Gran Canyon

Prehistoric granaries along the Colorado River above Nankoweap in Marble Canyon. The oldest human artifacts found within the park are nearly 12,000 years old and date to the Paleo-Indian period. There has been continuous use and occupation of the park since that time. Photo by Mark Lellouch/National Park Service

The education researcher

Sports like baseball and basketball are taught in schools, but outdoorsmanship is not. Like hunting and fishing, it’s usually passed down from generation to generation. This is a story of three generations at the Grand Canyon.

It was 1973 and Scott Marley was 2 years old. The Marley family visited Havasupai Falls in the canyon. They carried him down there, but on the way out they let him do the final mile, a steep climb up a switchbacking cliff trail.

Marley now is an associate professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Each year he spends about 50 to 60 days backpacking the canyon. He’s working on finishing up his sectional hike of the canyon’s full length.

“It’s one of those things where if I took two weeks off I could probably go finish it,” Marley said. “You’re kind of just plunking along at whatever you feel like. Eventually you’re like, ‘Oh, I’ll go sew the line up.’ It’s not as dedicated as ‘I’m going to do this piece, this piece and this piece.’”

His father is one of the few people who have hiked the length of the canyon. Robert Marley did it with a partner in 55 days on the south side in 1980.

“We spent our summers up there, bouncing around the rim on the dirt roads, camping out for weeks,” Marley said. “He was always poking around, trying to find some line or something. That was a pretty lucky childhood, I’d say. We thrived off of it.”

Before his epic hike, Robert Marley was involved with a Phoenix Boy Scout troop in the 1970s, along with a lot of fathers who were hiking fanatics.

“They did a lot of lines that break the norms,” Marley said. “I don’t think anyone else has really done it since. Everyone’s Boy Scout troop has been down to Grandview. Everyone’s troop has been down to Bright Angel campground. But whose troop has hiked the Walter Powell Route? (A 2.4-mile beast with 3,200 feet of elevation gain.) Whose Boy Scout troop has done the Freefall Route in Marble Canyon? The fact that parents would let their kids go on some of these hikes, it has to be because they just didn’t know.”

By the time Scott Marley came of age to tackle those envelope-pushing trips, the Boy Scouts hit the brakes on them. His father went off to do his own thing, eventually culminating in his epic 1980 hike. Then he became obsessed with rafting. The Marleys rafted the Colorado and rivers across the West.

Marley has a 3-year-old son. “I took him down to Havasupai to re-enact it, and he had a blast down there, playing around the waterfalls, that kind of thing. It was good stuff. I hope he buys into it the way my brother and I have. I just think it’s good for kids, a good thing for them to do.”

Hilairy Hartnett field geochemistry class at Horseshoe Bend

Oceanographer Hilairy Hartnett's field geometry class at Horseshoe Bend. As part of Hartnett's project to study carbon cycling in the Colorado River, the students took samples at 12 sites along the river, from Yuma to Wyoming. Photo courtesy of Hilairy Hartnet.

The oceanographer

Hilairy Hartnett, an oceanographer in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the School of Molecular Sciences, won a National Science Foundation award to study carbon cycling in the Colorado River. The study ran from 2009 to 2014, and the last papers are being written up now.

The work was to understand the types of carbon that get put into the river from the land, from bacteria and algae in the river that create organic matter, from human-influenced material and from other sources. How does that carbon change as it moves downstream? Is it broken down by sunlight in the reservoirs? Does it get buried in sediments in reservoirs? What happens to it?

The award has a strong education component to it, and this one was to develop opportunities for undergrads to do field research associated with the main research project. As a local project with large-scale scope and impacts, it was a great opportunity. 

“It’s great for Arizona students because it’s place-based,” Hartnett said. “They know the Colorado River. It’s familiar because we live here.”

The project took samples at places like Lees Ferry, where the Grand Canyon begins; at Willow Beach below Hoover Dam; on the river at Blythe; down at Yuma; as far north as Green River, Wyoming, and other places — 12 sites along the river in all. 

Even if those students didn’t go into science as a career, they learned about a vital resource and are more informed and concerned citizens as a result. Twenty million people depend on the river.

In the summer of 2016, Hartnett and her husband went on Paul Knauth’s geology raft trip through the Grand Canyon. Despite years of experience as an oceanographer and studying deep-sea sediments and teaching about geology and inland seas, she wasn’t prepared for the experience.

Hilairy Hartnett and Stan Klonowski during a Grand Canyon rafting trip

Associate Professor Hilairy Hartnett and her husband, Stan Klonowski, on Paul Knauth’s geology raft trip through the Grand Canyon. Klonowski, a lab manager in the Fulton Schools, had previously been Knauth’s lab technician for almost 15 years. Photo courtesy of Hilairy Hartnett  

“I think of it as I know the Colorado,” she said. “It’s my river. I study it. I’ve taken students to it. I teach about it. And until I’d gone down the river in a boat, I didn’t know anything about the river. ... Until you’re at the bottom of the Colorado, looking up at essentially a mile of sedimentary rock, imagining oceans over your head depositing sediment very slowly over billions of years, you don’t ever internalize the idea that you’re sitting in a place that was a lot of the ocean once. It was amazing — amazing!

“Then you realize this river has carved down through billions of years of time. Those rocks are ancient. It was pretty spectacular. It was astounding to me as a geoscientist and earth scientist. It’s mind-blowingly beautiful, even to someone who studies rocks. ... If you haven’t been to the bottom, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like.”

Hartnett loves the fact that through science, she has a strong connection to a quintessential piece of Arizona.

“I’m not from Arizona, but when I moved here I wanted something regional with real science attached to it that I don’t know much about,” she said. “The biogeochemical study of the river surprisingly hadn’t been done much before I started that project. That was cool.”

She and her husband are planning a kayaking trip on the river.

The historian

Paul Hirt is an ASU history professor who specializes in environmental history and sustainability. His first trip to the canyon was in 1976. That summer he was hanging out with some friends in Flagstaff, camping out in City Park. A German tourist stopped by, looking for someone to backpack into the canyon with.

“I said, ‘I’ll come,’ because I had my backpack and I had nothing better to do,” Hirt said.

They got a ride to the South Rim and picked up a permit to enter the canyon, but all the campgrounds were full.

“The only campground that had a space left in it was all the way down to the river and all the way up Bright Angel Creek to Cottonwood Campground, so it was like 13 miles,” Hirt said. “It was my first hike into the Grand Canyon, with inappropriate equipment, a crappy old backpack from Boy Scout days … I had more blisters on my feet that day than I’ve ever had in my life.”

Hirt directed a multimedia educational project, “Nature, Culture and History at the Grand Canyon,” that includes a digital audio tour of Grand Canyon Village, a walking tour brochure and Travelin’ Trunks for K-20 teachers.

“First I researched the Grand Canyon because I loved it, rather than loving the Grand Canyon because I researched it,” he said. “I was going to the Grand Canyon long before I turned it into a scholarly project, and I will go to the Grand Canyon long after I retire from my scholarly career.”

Hirt may be inspired by the creative things found in cities, like great restaurants and art exhibits and craft beer and performances, but not fulfilled.

“There’s so much to do in the city, but the city doesn’t bring me equanimity,” he said. “I get perspective and inspiration that lasts when I go to nature, when I’m quiet, when the noise around me is silenced and I’m filled with the environment around me, rather than hundreds of details of things competing for my attention in the city: honking cars, traffic lights changing, neon signs and stuff like that. The universe has been here for 12 billion years. The planet has been here for 5 billion years. The Grand Canyon has been here for 5 or 6 million years. Our lifetime, this year, this presidential administration, this career that I have, is such a small, tiny piece of the larger world. When you go to a place like the Grand Canyon you really gain the kind of perspective that lets you put your own life in perspective when you get back from it.”

Trail of Time Grand Canyon

The geographic Trail of Time is set up at the Grand Canyon. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

The geoscience educator

Steve Semken was part of a project at the canyon that helps visitors put things in perspective.

A team from different universities created an interpretive project to explain the canyon’s geology to visitors, helping them make an “intellectual and emotional connection” to the park, as officials say.

“It was the most fun project I’ve ever been a part of,” said Semken, a geoscience educator in the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

The Trail of Time is a 2.83-mile interpretive walking timeline focusing on Grand Canyon geology. It helps visitors to explore and understand the geologic time of Grand Canyon rock layers and landscapes.

The exhibit follows the paved rim trail on the South Rim of Grand Canyon between Yavapai Observation Station and Grand Canyon Village and is marked by brass markers every meter, representing 1 million years of time.

“Basically one long step represents a million years, which is an amount of time in itself almost incomprehensible. … You actually walk out the history,” Semken said.

The team spent four years at the canyon working on the Trail of Time, visiting at least once a month. Almost 50 rock samples were brought up from the canyon by raft and helicopter. They brought parts of the canyon that are usually very difficult to get to up to the rim. Mockups of the design were built and tested at ASU. The trail was completed in 2010.

“We think the Trail of Time is one of the most rigorously evaluated exhibits in the whole National Park system,” Semken said. “Our evidence suggests it is.”

Semken leads an ASU field trip to the canyon at least once a semester. He has three river trips under his belt. He enjoys hiking up side canyons on his own, where it’s just him and the wildlife.

“As big as the canyon seems from the rim — and it does seem very big — when you’re down in the bottom of it it seems endlessly bigger,” Semken said. “Your entire reality is down there. We talk about the rim world, which is everything outside of the canyon. When you’re down there, you’re usually down there for two weeks. You start at Lees Ferry and you end at Pearce Ferry. It’s 277 river miles, and very little interaction with civilization. You stop at Phantom Ranch perhaps and provision yourself and get water and maybe make a phone call and have an ice cream cone, and then you’re back on the river again. The only other people you see are fellow river travelers. … Communication is spotty. We take a satellite phone, which works most of the time but not always. … So you’re really isolated for two weeks. You’re just there with your companions and the wildlife and the river.”

Mark Klett Anvil Pan

Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe, 2008 photograph: "At the canyon's edge: From the foot of the Toroweap to the 'Devil's Anvil' overhang with an upstream view of the Colorado River" contains pictures from William Bell taken in 1872. Bell's photos are courtesy of the National Archives.

The fine art photographer

Family hops out of car, runs to rim, stands in a row in front of viewpoint, has picture taken. It happens thousands of times a day at the canyon, and it has been happening since 1883, when organized tourism began. Canyon photos through the decades show women wearing Victorian high-collar blouses in the 1890s, cloche hats in the 1920s and bouffants and miniskirts in the 1960s.

Canyon photos have been made for all different reasons. Photographing the canyon began during the 19th-century surveys, when the government was trying to figure out what was there. Ansel Adams and others made fine art photos. High modernist photos were made in the 20th century. Commercial photos were taken to sell to tourists. The railroads and park service made promotional photos.

“People don’t really know the visual history of the canyon — seeing all the relationships that were occurring there between different kinds of photographers making different images of the same spot,” said fine art photographer Mark Klett, a Regents' Professor in the ASU School of Art.

Klett and partner Byron Wolfe, a former MFA student, have collaborated on projects for more than 20 years. They did a project in Yosemite where they overlaid contemporary photos with vintage illustrations and photos. They began thinking about the history of photography in national parks. Klett suggested they work on Grand Canyon.

“We realized there was just thousands and thousands of pictures made there in the 19th and 20th centuries that we could start to mine,” Klett said. “There’s this really broad range of all these different kinds of pictures of the same subjects. You never see them put together in a way that’s meant to show the contrasting ways of seeing the canyon, made by different people with different purposes. ... Now, with tourist images, since the advent of digital and smartphones and so on, social media is just packed.”

They began in 2007. Digital cameras had just gotten good, and the duo could do research online, onsite.

“We could go to the El Tovar and sit in the lobby and get on their wifi and look at the images in the National Archives or the USGS or any number of places where we could tap into and start downloading pictures, then we could just get out there and check them out. It was pretty cool, having all the resources right there,” Klett said. “Everything was incredibly convenient, working at the canyon. We loved it there.”

"Reconstructing the View: The Grand Canyon Photographs of Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe" was published in 2012 after five years of work.

Klett Adams Point Imperial

Point Imperial was photographed by Ansel Adams in 1941 and Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe in 2008. Adams' photo courtesy of the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona.

“We had a really good response to it,” Klett said. “I think people really like that idea of linking history to their present experience.”

Technically the project was challenging. It wasn’t as simple as holding up an image to a view and going, “That’s it; here’s the spot.”

Klett explained: “Once you get to that spot, and you know where that picture was made, then you have to think about things like the lens, focal length, time of day and stuff like that. The time of day and time of year can matter.”

Almost all survey photographs in the 19th century were done in the summer, because that's when the crews were there. But Klett found one photo from the North Rim that couldn't have been done in summer because the light was too low.

“I went back every month for like a year until I finally figured out it was done in late December or early January,” he said. “It was totally unexpected. … Sometimes you just have to keep going back.”

He still keeps going back. He first went to the canyon in 1983, and he has grown fond of a few particular spots over the years: the North Rim in general, Point Sublime, the remote stretches around Kanab Creek where he has had to lower bags of camera gear down 50-foot pour-overs and Toroweap.

“That’s maybe the best spot where you can get literally right over the river and there’s a big drop and you can look both upstream and downstream. You’re sort of right above Lava Falls, and it’s just a gorgeous part of the canyon.”

The geologist

Ramon Arrowsmith, a geology professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, has published a couple of papers on active faults in the western part of the Grand Canyon. This summer he is doing interpretation on a weeklong float down the river sponsored by the Institute of Human Origins. He and another ASU faculty member will tell stories during cocktail hour on the beach.

“It’s a chance for us to talk about our work,” Arrowsmith said. “Our idea is to share our enthusiasm for the history of the Earth and the history of life on Earth by this really amazing field experience.”

Arrowsmith has floated the river six times. His first time was on a private trip, when he was in grad school.

Flatwater rafting Grand Canyon

Two rafts float on the Colorado River. Photo courtesy of Getty Images/iStockphoto

“We were down there for 18 days,” he said. “Talk about an attitude adjustment. It was amazing. We were in oar boats and we took our time. … I was kind of an inefficient rower, and we’d get caught in those late afternoon up-canyon winds, and if we weren’t careful we’d be pulling ourselves down the canyon. That was hard work. They gave me that job because I was the drone, you know?”

At the bottom the canyon is 1.8 billion years old. There are trilobite trails and nautiloid fossils.

“It’s so cool,” Arrowsmith said. “We always talk about the rim world and the river world. As you go down, your sense of time changes because you tell time by sunlight rather than by your clock.

“The idea is to get up early and get on the river and get going, and pull over to some side canyons and do some hikes and see some spectacular features both kind of the modern flora and fauna and geomorphology of the river — but also it’s an amazing opportunity to look back in time. When you talk about Earth science and geology as a sort of time machine, that’s the place you really feel it.”

Colorado River night camp

"River Mile 202, melancholy about the end, buoyed by star- and firelight." Photo by Phillip Engle, courtesy of Ceiba Adventures River Outfitting Services   

The unbearable lightness of insignificance

Being deep within the bones of the Earth, surrounded by silence and towering cliffs that blot out much of the sky, can bring on the realization that we are nothing but tiny specks and our whole lives are an eyeblink.

Hirt finds that stimulating rather than depressing.

“Some people, when they’re made to feel small, it’s really oppressive,” he said. “I think that the way the Grand Canyon makes you feel small is expansive. … Most people, you stand on the rim and look down: It’s really, really hard not to be silent and awestruck. We use that word ‘awesome’ all the time. It’s kind of overused, but there is a deep cultural meaning to the word ‘awe’ and ‘awesome.’ I’d say the Grand Canyon is one of those places — if you’re not sure what ‘awesome’ is, in the most literal sense, go to the Grand Canyon and stand on the rim and you will understand for the first time.”

Klett feels the solitude and sense of feeling insignificant is substantial and important.

“Everything focuses on the here-and-now when you’re there," he said. "You realize that you’re, in some ways, less significant in that situation. You wouldn’t think about that sort of thing when you’re not there. You think about your daily routine and how much you have to do and stuff like that. It puts you in a different place. … It’s liberating, and I think it’s wonderful. It’s a little humbling. … You look all around you and realize this is a place that took a long time to form. Not only are you this little speck down there, but the time that you’re spending there is just this blink of time.”

Andrew Holycross is a herpetologist and an adjunct professor in the School of Life Sciences. He is the ninth person of 10 to thru-hike (to walk without leaving) the length of Grand Canyon and only the third person to walk the length on both north and south sides. There is a yin and yang to his view of the sensation.

“I feel that in terms of the physicalness of existence, because of the scale of the canyon and the stars at night and things like that, you realize how small you are physically in the universe," Holycross said. "But from a spiritual point of view, you feel more a part of everything, so maybe bigger in a way. It’s kind of weird those two things are opposites.”

Top photo: End-of-day sun hits the tops of the canyon walls. Photo by Craig Zerbe/Getty Images/iStockphoto 
Special thanks to Ceiba Adventures, River Outfitting Services, Flagstaff, Arizona. 

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


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A Grand moment

February 25, 2019

In honor of the canyon's centennial as a national park, ASU Now looks at the landmark's past and future

The Grand Canyon National Park turns 100 on Feb. 26, but the canyon's history goes back far beyond that.

Its history is layered with discovery, reverence and adventure. It is where we journey to find ourselves, to lose ourselves, to pick up a new trail and continue onward.

The history of the Grand Canyon is tied into the history of our state and its peoples, both ancient and newly arrived. To honor the park's centennial, ASU Now has gathered some of those stories — stories of play, stories of loss, stories of exploration and protecting what is there.

Come to the edge and see. Let us take a fresh look at an ancient wonder.


Stories of the Grand Canyon

Literally and figuratively, the Grand Canyon is Arizona’s biggest attraction. Naturally, it draws the attention of artists, faculty and scientists from Arizona State University, the state’s biggest university. From a university president who took an unexpected plunge to a photographer who travels through time, here are their stories.

The future of visiting the canyon

Grand Canyon National Park draws visitors from all over the world to bask in its beauty, making it not only a precious ecological resource to cherish but also a major economic driver for the state of Arizona. Balancing the twin missions of access and preservation is key to its future, according to experts at ASU.

Verses inspired by the vistas

Perhaps the most stunning of natural wonders is the Grand Canyon. ASU Now asked some of the university’s most dynamic wordsmiths to wax poetic about the famous landmark — hear them read their new works.

Mapping the canyon

Without maps, we would not be able to see the Grand Canyon. Only a bird could see the immense gash in the Earth’s crust, almost 300 miles long. At the end of February, ASU will host the first conference exploring the art, science and practice of Grand Canyon cartography.

Native American views of the centennial celebration

Native Americans view the Grand Canyon through myriad lenses: As a land tied to their place of origin. As a place to be both feared and revered. As a place of opportunity. As an inspiration for cultural expression. And they view it territorially among themselves. All these elements run as deep and as wide as the canyon. 

Love and loss in the canyon

This is a story about three people, passion, a place, and triumphing over tragedy. Three passionate backpackers and the Grand Canyon, the place which united them, and separated them. And then elevated them.

Ooh and awe: The science behind our fascination with nature

If you gasped the first time you saw the canyon in person, you aren't alone; many visitors are awestruck. Associate Professor of social psychology Lani Shiota is an expert on the emotion of awe. She's working to uncover the secrets of the emotion, and she has made some interesting discoveries.

A light dusting of Grand history

In river lingo, what's a yard sale? What famous people have rafted through the canyon? What role did the Colorado River play in Barry Goldwater's political career? Find out in our sampler of history and trivia.

FEATURED IN 'THE CONVERSATION': How a place once called 'valueless' became grand  

WATCH: 'Beyond the Rim: The Next 100 Years of Grand Canyon National Park,' a documentary from AZPBS

MORE TO EXPLORE: The 100 Years of Grand Canyon Centennial Project is a collaboration between ASU Library, Northern Arizona University Cline Library, and Grand Canyon National Park.

Top map courtesy of the ASU Library Map and Geospatial Hub

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Mapping the Grand Canyon

February 25, 2019

ASU hosts first conference on cartography of the natural wonder

Editor's note: This story is part of an ASU Now series celebrating the centennial of the Grand Canyon National Park.

Without maps, we would not be able to see the Grand Canyon.

Only a bird could see the immense gash in the Earth’s crust, almost 300 miles long. Maps allow us to see the whole thing at once or particular aspects like the geology, points of interest and river rapids.

At the end of February, Arizona State University will host the first conference exploring the art, science and practice of Grand Canyon cartography.

ASU’s collection of 240 Grand Canyon maps includes an 1852 military map, where the Colorado Plateau is mostly blank, and a Spanish colonial map with the same blank spaces. A territorial map from 1880 shows the now-drowned Glen Canyon. There are aeronautical charts showing no-fly zones below 14,000 feet, cartoon maps with female tourists swooning over lanky cowboys, and the gas station maps people of a certain age will remember. Some maps capture lost landscapes, like rapids long overtaken by Lake Mead. Some are digitized copies, and some are originals.

Matthew Toro is the director of maps, imagery and geospatial services at the ASU Library Map and Geospatial Hub. He leads projects and programming at the center for GIS, remote sensing and related technologies. The idea for a conference came to him when he was in the canyon on a rim-to-rim hike.

“You think, there’s this giant hole in the ground — how did they map it?” Toro said. “Here I have the privileged position of running this little mapping shop. The history of mapping Grand Canyon is a history of exploration. It’s a history of science. It’s a history of technology. It’s a history of art. There’s a lot of history here.”

Toro did some research and found out no one had ever hosted a conference on mapping the canyon.

“Believe it or not, no one’s ever looked into that angle of Grand Canyon history: How the Grand Canyon was mapped,” he said. “And it was a surprise to me. This is one of the most iconic landscapes on the face of the Earth, not only for North America, for the United States, or Arizona. ... I realize the notion of thinking of the Grand Canyon as a whole is very much an abstraction. When you think how we know the Grand Canyon, most of our knowledge of the canyon is through maps. ... I realized there’s a fascinating history here and no one’s really looked at it holistically.”

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

Among other projects, Toro is currently constructing a cartographic history of the greater Grand Canyon region. When he started work at the university, he found a set of maps in a back room that belonged to a famous cartographer, mountaineer and photographer named Bradford Washburn.

Washburn created one of the most famous maps of the Grand Canyon, “The Heart of the Grand Canyon,” published by the National Geographic Society in 1978. It remains celebrated among cartographers today.

Comments on cartography websites: “If only all maps were made to this standard.” “It’s the epitome of dedication and commitment to the craft of making a map.”

The achievement is mentioned in the first paragraph of Washburn’s obituary in the New York Times.

Ansel Adams called Washburn one of the best mountain photographers of all time. Washburn shot from unpressurized planes and helicopters, with doors removed, at temperatures far below zero, while tethered to the cabin. He made landmark climbs in Alaska and Europe, employing the unprecedented use of glacier landings and supply drops. In 1939, he took a job as director of the New England Museum of Natural History (later to be called the Museum of Science) in Boston, transforming an old, rundown joint into the greatest children’s museum in the world. In 1992 he was a member of the survey team that made the first laser measurement on top of Mount Everest, discovering the mountain was 7 feet higher than previously thought.

In the early 1970s, Washburn visited the Grand Canyon and decided there wasn’t a good enough map of it. There were U.S. Geological Survey maps, but they weren’t up to the latest standards.

“He felt they were inadequate,” said Michael Fry, the collection manager and senior map librarian at the National Geographic Society's Library and Archives since 2010. “It wasn’t useful enough for casual users like hikers and it wasn’t good enough for scientific use, so whether you were looking at the canyon for geologic or archaeological purposes, it just wasn’t something good enough for anybody. He seemed to be the sort of person when he saw a need, he wanted to fill it, and this was right up his alley.”

Washburn approached the National Geographic Society and asked the Committee for Research and Exploration for a grant to do the cartography. They were familiar with him and his work.

“The internal response here was, ‘That’s a good idea. It’s one of the most remarkable natural features on Earth. It would be right up our alley. We need to support that,’” Fry said.  “And we gave him money.”

Washburn and his hand-picked team spent four and a half years on the project, with 144 days in the field. They made 712 helicopter landings to survey lines. Washburn called it mapping “a mountain upside down.”

Bradford Washburn Nu

Bradford Washburn and his wife perched on Dana Butte, one of the reference points used in measuring and mapping the Grand Canyon, in June 1972. Photo by Gary Settle/The New York Times

GPS didn’t exist back then. Washburn used a theodolite, a laser instrument for measuring angles, elevations and distances; aerial photos; a helicopter; and his feet.

“It was a huge, huge effort,” Fry said. “He was just a dedicated, driven guy, just tenacious and skilled and had lots of experience. ... What’s remarkable about it is how much dedication and expertise went into the surveying of the canyon, the production of the cartography, the artwork that is the basis for the map.”

The map is extremely detailed. Much of the Grand Canyon is vertical. It’s cliffs. On a contour topographical map, contour lines dictate the terrain. If they’re close together, the terrain is steep. If they’re far apart, the terrain is mostly flat. A cliff is shown by a lot of lines clustered together in thick line. In a place like the Grand Canyon, that would have obscured the terrain.

“They came up with an interesting solution, which was to replace the contour lines that are typical of topographic maps, with hand-drawn cliffs,” Fry said. “That would give an effect of the verticality of the terrain without obscuring the terrain, which is what would have happened if you had taken contour lines and pushed them closer and closer and closer.”

The map’s scale is at 1:24,000, just over 2.5 inches to the mile. At that scale, Washburn represented the canyon in a way never before seen. He and his wife received the Alexander Graham Bell Medal for “unique and notable contributions to geography and cartography.” Fry will give a presentation on the map at the conference.

“I cannot overstate the caliber of the speakers we have put together,” Toro said.

One of the most famous maps of Grand Canyon is Harvey Butchart’s personal map, which hangs in the park’s backcountry office. Butchart was a Flagstaff math professor who hiked more of the canyon than anyone else in history, logging more than 12,000 miles and becoming the first to hike the length of the park. Peter Runge, head of special collections at Northern Arizona University, will be doing a presentation on Butchart’s map. “We have a dedicated presentation just on that,” Toro said.

Famed geologist Karl Karlstrom will give an overview of geologic mapping in the canyon.

“We have gathered rock stars from the worlds of geology, history and cartography,” Toro said. “We have Tom Patterson, who is the recently retired senior cartographer for the National Park Service. When you go to the Grand Canyon and you get your National Park maps, all those maps were made by one of our keynote speakers. … We’re going to be celebrating the centennial, the sesquicentennial, and the very ancient act of mapping.”

Matt Toro ASU examines Grand Canyon maps

Matthew Toro (right), director of maps, imagery and geospatial services at the ASU Library Map and Geospatial Hub, and Eric Friesenhahn, who completed his bachelor's degree in geographic information science in December, look at Grand Canyon maps at Arizona State University. Photo by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

The event is free and open to the public.

“A lot of this is fascinating history,” Toro said. “I think (the public) would get a real kick learning some of these stories, learning about how maps are made. Everyone takes maps for granted these days. ... No one thinks about where all that data comes from. That data helps inform our consciousness of the world and space and this giant hole in the ground carved over millions of years. ... One need not be a geographer or historian or geologist to love the Grand Canyon, and to love maps and to love history. It’s really the convergence of those various themes that we want to host this conference for.”

Free and open to all, the Feb. 28-March 1 conference promises a full two-day program of map-based storytelling, transdisciplinary analysis, state-of-the-art geospatial and cartographic demonstrations, engaging hands-on activities and open community dialogue. For more information and to register, visit the ASU Library website.

Those who can’t make it to the conference can watch it live. A recording will also be available at the ASU Library YouTube channel.

Top photo: Matthew Toro (right), director of maps, imagery and geospatial services, and recent grad Eric Friesenhahn look at maps at ASU's at the Map and Geospatial Hub. Photo by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


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A light dusting of Grand Canyon history

February 25, 2019

From Goldwater to whitewater, we share a sampler of trivia, jargon and timeline

Editor's note: This story is part of an ASU Now series celebrating the centennial of the Grand Canyon National Park.

“He sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth ... ”
— Kenneth Grahame, "The Wind in the Willows"

Oceans of words have been conjured about the Grand Canyon. The majesty! The spectacle! The grandeur of nature’s glory!

What did the very first visitors think of it?


In September 1540, García López de Cárdenas y Figueroa, a conquistador with Coronado’s army, was the first European to see the Grand Canyon. Guided to the South Rim by Hopi, the Spanish spent three days trying to reach the river. They failed. Since the Hopi have been going into the canyon for millennia, it seems obvious they were playing the conquistadors. (It worked. No other non-Indians came back to the canyon for 300 years.) The only comment the Spanish made about the canyon was that a rock they had seen from the rim was “bigger than the great tower of Seville.” That was it. No other description. If they were around today, they’d likely be the type of tourist who complains the McDonald’s in Barcelona isn’t as good as the one at home.

Flash-forward to 1857. The federal government had acquired a lot of land out West and had no idea what was out there, so a series of expeditions trudged off to have a look. Lt. Joseph Ives led such an expedition through the area, traveling along the South Rim.

"The region is, of course, altogether valueless,” Ives reported. “It can be approached only from the south, and after entering it there is nothing to do but leave. Ours has been the first, and will doubtless be the last, party of whites to visit this profitless locality. It seems intended by nature that the Colorado River, along the greater portion of its lonely and majestic way, shall be forever unvisited and undisturbed."

More than 6.25 million canyon visitors proved Ives wrong in 2017, according to park records. They came from all corners of the globe to gawk at it, fly over it, float through it, hike down into it and marvel at it. 

In honor of the Feb. 26 centennial of Grand Canyon National Park, we present a sampler of history and trivia.

Below the rim

Only 5 percent of the roughly 6.25 million people who visit the Grand Canyon every year go below the rim, and only about 10 percent of those make it to the river.

In 2017, slightly more than 25,000 people rafted the river — 18,547 people on commercial trips; 6,607 people on private trips. What’s the difference?

Commercial trips cost around $3,000. They haul it through the canyon, usually in about six or seven days, like jogging through the Louvre. You travel with a bunch of people you don’t know. You don’t do any work. Commercial rafts are motorized, so there’s the joy of listening to an engine all day. There’s almost no danger of flipping.

Private trips cost about $1,500. You travel in oar rafts or dories, rowed by designated amateur boatmen. You do all the work, such as cooking, camp setup and toilet management. You’re with friends or family. The big rapids soak you in adrenaline as well as water. The main difference is they’re long — at 16 to 18 days, they're one of the world’s longest popular floats.

To get a permit for a private trip, you enter a lottery. In the main lottery for private trips held in 2017, 6,650 people applied for 463 launch dates. People from around the world apply for permits, mostly from the developed West. More Coloradoans and Californians apply than any other state (Arizonans come fifth).

Before the river became crowded and the park service slapped restrictions on trip lengths, private boatmen in the '70s vied at slow-boating, or making a trip last as long as possible. The crowning glory of slow-boating has gone down in river history as the Hundred Days Trip. Legendary boatman Regan Dale and his extended family floated away from Lees Ferry and spent a whopping 103 days in the canyon. They hiked every side canyon, spent as long as a week in favorite camps like Nankoweap and Granite Park, baked their own bread and wallowed in the vast silence of stone cathedrals broken only by the rustle of the river. The moon waxed and waned three times while they were there. There will never be another trip like that.

The senator

The Goldwater Center for Science and Engineering at ASU is named after Arizona’s native son, Barry Goldwater.

The senator was fond of saying, “If I ever had a mistress, it would be the Grand Canyon." He thought Thunder River Falls in the canyon was the most beautiful spot in the state.

In 1940, Goldwater joined Norman Nevills, the pioneer of commercial boating, on a 42-day trip down the Green and Colorado rivers. This landed him on the roll call of the first 100 river-runners to travel from the headwaters of the Colorado to Lake Mead.

Barry Goldwater 1940 Grand Canyon

Barry Goldwater was among the first people to float the length of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

The bill of fare was canned food. Because everything got wet and the labels wore off, Nevills had Goldwater and another guy paint the cans: red for meat, green for vegetables, etc. “Well, we painted all the cans the wrong color on purpose,” Goldwater chuckled in a documentary about running the Colorado. “Norm was pretty mad about that.”

The river was the catalyst that sent Goldwater into politics. He shot a film on the Nevills trip that he showed around Arizona. He became so used to chatting with a wide variety of people, politics was the next natural step.

“Well, once you’ve been in the canyon and once you’ve sort of fallen in love with it, it never ends,” he said in an interview for an oral history project done by the nonprofit Grand River Guides organization.

The senator’s ashes were scattered along the Colorado River.  

Barry Goldwater Grand Canyon laundry 1940

Barry Goldwater at the bottom of the Grand Canyon in 1941.

Canyon time

Here’s what you don’t hear in the canyon:

Back-up alarms. Smartphone alerts. Car stereos. “COME ON DOWN TO THE CARPET BARN!” The neighbor’s Chihuahuas. Jackhammers. Motorcycles. “Have you had your home’s heating system checked yet?

Here’s what you don’t think about:

What you’re going to eat for dinner. If you should put more in your 401(k). What you’re going to do two weekends from now. Getting ready for that thing that’s due at work next month. How bad the traffic will be on the drive home. Getting your home heating system checked out.

A handy guide to river carnage

Terms you may want to know before you head down the Colorado river in a boat:

Flip: The bottom of your boat is facing the sky.

Dump truck: Your boat goes up and comes back down right-side-up, but nobody is in it.

Clean sweep: Your boat goes up and comes back down, but only the boatman is in it.

Yard sale: Your gear is scattered along the shore.

Maytagged: Being spun underwater in a rapid. Combines all the fun of being beaten up by five people in a parking lot with drowning.

Top five rapids for flips: Lava, Crystal, Upset, 209 Mile, House Rock.

Top five rapids for injuries: Crystal, Lava, Hance, Horn Creek, Granite.

Rafting Grand Canyon

A raft maneuvers Lava Falls on the Colorado River. This is one of several images captured during a 200-mile,16-day trip through the Grand Canyon. Photo by Dave Morgan/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Fame and whitewater

Celebrities who have rafted the Colorado through Grand Canyon make up a really disparate list of people. The tone was struck in 1967 when Robert Kennedy took down a group that included journalist George Plimpton, crooner Andy Williams, humorist Art Buchwald and Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Everest.

The others? You could put Danny DeVito, Ray Romano, Pierce Brosnan and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in a “Last People You’d Expect to See in the Grand Canyon” group, but there’s no pigeon-holing the rest:

Edward Abbey, Al Gore, James Taylor (he played guitar in Redwall Cavern), Tom Cruise, Tony Danza, John McCain, Jimmy Carter, basketball player Bill Walton, John Denver, Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Edward Norton, George Winston, Bruce Babbitt, Ted Turner, Sean Penn, Penny Marshall, Carrie Fisher, Paul Simon, Liz Phair and Rita Wilson.

James Watt, Ronald Reagan’s secretary of the Interior, couldn’t stand it and had himself choppered out on Day 4.

Modern timeline of Grand Canyon

1857: Lt. Joseph Ives embarks on a government expedition through the area, traveling along the South Rim. Unimpressed, Ives declared it "altogether valueless", predicting they would be "the last party of whites to visit this profitless locality.”

1869: John Wesley Powell boats the Colorado from Green River, Wyoming, on May 24, floating almost 930 miles to the mouth of the Virgin River on Aug. 30. Powell’s personality proves worse than the rapids and four men desert, setting a pattern for future Powell expeditions. 

1883: Organized tourism begins when stagecoaches carry tourists from Flagstaff to the South Rim. The 79-mile trip takes 11 hours.

1908: U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt declares the Grand Canyon a national monument (later declared a national park by Woodrow Wilson in 1919).

1909: The Julius Stone Expedition becomes the first pure pleasure trip to float the canyon. Despite running out of food, shooting bighorn sheep to eat, and becoming injured, everyone has a great time.

1938: Amos Burg rows the first inflatable raft down the river.

1945: Flagstaff math Professor Harvey Butchart first hikes the Grand Canyon. Butchart hiked more of the park than anyone else in history, including rangers. His backcountry map still hangs in an office at park headquarters. He hiked more than 12,000 miles, climbed 83 features within the canyon and pioneered more than 100 new routes from the rim to the river. In 1963 he became the first to hike the length of the park. Butchart was banned from leading hiking groups by the Coconino County Sheriff after losing students on trips around northern Arizona.

1956: A midair collision between two commercial airliners over the canyon helps lead to the creation of the Federal Aviation Administration.

2016: Speed record down the Colorado is set by Ben Orkin in a kayak in January. Orkin paddled from Lees Ferry to Pearce Ferry in 34 hours and two minutes — a 277-mile distance.

2018: In October, Christof Teuscher, a computer science professor at Portland State University, completes the first quadruple rim-to-rim-to-rim hike. The eight crossings add up to 168 miles with about 44,000 feet of elevation gain. His time was 58 hours and 11 minutes. Teuscher was supported (met with supplies after each double crossing) because he explained, “I’m getting old, feeble and lazy."

Top photo: Winter still offers dramatic views of Grand Canyon National Park from the South Rim Historic District. Photo by Michael Quinn/National Park Service. 

Special thanks to Ceiba Adventures, River Outfitting Services, Flagstaff, Arizona. 

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


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Colleen Jennings-Roggensack receives Pioneer Award

February 24, 2019

Executive director of ASU Gammage has made an impact on African-American culture in Phoenix for decades

The syncopated rat-a-tats and rhythmic dance moves of a traditional African drummer heralded the final weekend of Black History Month at the La Sala Ballroom on Arizona State University’s West campus Saturday night during the 18th annual Pioneer Award Dinner.

The ceremony recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to the life and culture of African-Americans in the Phoenix metropolitan area. This year, Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, the university’s vice president for cultural affairs and executive director of ASU Gammage, was honored with an award, along with Student Pioneer Ayanna Shambe.

Jennings-Roggensack accepted the award on behalf of her parents, who she credits for her success and that of her siblings. 

“They knew the world was a bigger place and that it belonged to us,” she said.

Following the processional, New College Dean and West campus Vice Provost Todd Sandrin welcomed the more than 200 dinner guests, who included such prominent African-American community leaders as Vice President of Sun Devil Athletics Ray Anderson, director of ASU’s Center for the Study of Race and Democracy Lois Brown and Miss Black Arizona USA 2019 Marian Omidiji.

Sandrin remarked that it was an exciting time for ASU, having been named the most innovative university in the country for the fourth year in a row in 2018, and that the evening served as a reflection on the university’s mission to “assume fundamental responsibility for the … communities it serves.”

Charles St. Clair, an academic professional and fine arts specialist at New College, and Duku Anokye, an associate professor of Africana language, literature and culture in the School of Humanity Arts and Cultural Studies, served as emcees. Anokye kicked things off with an African libation ritual in which ancestors and deities are invoked as a tribute to their guidance of the living.

“We cannot work apart and think we can be successful,” Anokye said, calling on the crowd to unite through the call and response portion of the ritual.

Dinner was followed by a handful of select songs, including “What About Love” from "The Color Purple" and “Wheels of a Dream” from "Ragtime," a nod to Jennings-Roggensack’s instrumental role in bringing a great many Broadway musicals to ASU Gammage over her 26 years with the university.

“I’m not sure people even recognize how important you are to this Valley and this state,” said Jeffery Kennedy, assistant professor in the School of Humanities, Art and Cultural Studies who was on hand to serve as musical accompaniment to the evening’s singers. 

“It’s not just the arts,” Jennings-Roggensack brings to the community, Kennedy continued, “it’s culture, too. And we are having experiences that change us because of that.”

Ayanna Shambe

Ayanna Shambe, a double major in women and gender studies, and biology, accepted the Student Pioneer Award. Photo by Emma Greguska/ASU Now

Shambe, a double major in women and gender studies, and biology, accepted the Student Pioneer Award by thanking friends and family for their support and encouragement. A student in Barrett, The Honors College, Shambe has served as president of the ASU Programming and Activities Board and spearheaded the revival of the Black Student Union. 

Before Jennings-Roggensack took to the stage to accept her award, the audience was treated to a short documentary about her life and service.

Born an Air Force brat in a small town in Texas, she lived in 13 states and two foreign countries before she went off to college. At the age of 5, she saw her first opera, "Madame Butterfly," and in later years, remembers “second-acting“Second-acting” refers to sneaking into a theater at intermission before the second act.” Broadway shows with her aunts in New York City.

As a child, Jennings-Roggensack said, her parents gave her and her siblings “three sacred texts” to live by: 1) Broaden your horizons. 2) Give back. 3) Get a job.

Though her first and lasting passion will always be dance, she eventually found her way into academia, taking on cultural programming for Colorado State University in 1977. After stints with Western States Arts Federation and Dartmouth College, she came to ASU in 1992 at the request of then-president Lattie Coor, who tasked her with reinvigorating the university’s lagging public-events program.

ASU Gammage has since flourished under Jennings-Roggensack, who has brought the likes of Maya Angelou, Boots Riley and the Dance Theatre of Harlem to perform there. She has also helmed several successful ventures, including K-12 art programs, community engagement initiatives and cultural revitalization projects. 

At ASU, she serves as the chair of the MLK Committee and oversees Sun Devil Stadium 365, a universitywide initiative to reimagine and redesign the use of Sun Devil Stadium as a community union used 365 days a year by faculty, staff, students and the entire Arizona community for events and activities beyond athletics.

Jennings-Roggensack chairs the Broadway League's Diversity and Inclusion Committee and has also served on the National Council on the Arts and been involved with such groups as Arizonans for Cultural Development and the Tempe Convention and Visitors Bureau.

In November 2018 she was honored by Valley Leadership, a regional program designed to challenge local business and nonprofit leaders to make a difference in the community, with their Woman of the Year award for her impact on the lives of others. 

At Saturday night’s ceremony, Jennings-Roggensack shared a story from her childhood about how her mother often read from “The Journal of Negro History” to her and her siblings at bedtime. Before turning out the light, she recalled, her mother would turn to her children, but she wouldn’t say “good night” or “I love you.” 

“She would say, ‘Know your negro history,’” Jennings-Roggensack said, because she wanted them to know that they were “somebody” and that they came “from a long line of somebodies.”

“We didn’t forget our negro history,” she told the crowd. “And I am because you exist.”

Top photo: Colleen Jennings-Roggensack accepts the Pioneer Award at the West campus on Saturday, Feb. 23, as emcees Charles St. Clair and Duku Anokye look on. Photo by Emma Greguska/ASU Now

Emma Greguska

Reporter , ASU Now

(480) 965-9657

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Buckhorn Baths, baseball and a bevy of critters

Goal is to use Buckhorn Baths collection as educational tool for children.
February 21, 2019

The classic motel that helped jump-start spring training in Arizona has gifted its huge taxidermy collection to ASU

Boasting a bevy of Gila monsters, horny toads, chuckwallas and ring-tailed cats, the iconic Buckhorn Baths Motel in Mesa, Arizona, was once home to the state's largest taxidermy collection. It was also, at one point, the largest private natural history collection in the state.

Once a spring training destination, the motel also hosted New York Giants owner Horace Stoneman and the likes of baseball players Johnny Mize, Mel Ott and Bobby Thomson, who first came to the motel in 1947. The athletes were attracted by its hot mineral springs that soothed aching muscles. Perhaps they also enjoyed trading glances with the infamous jackalope or the 62 mule deer and 26 javelina in the motel’s collection. The Giants’ first spring training foray helped lead to the growth of Cactus League baseball in the Valley.

Recently, the Buckhorn Baths — under a new owner — donated its entire collection to a biodiversity center at Arizona State University. 

Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Last year, Charlotte Johnston, manager of vertebrate collection in ASU's Natural History Collections, received a phone call asking the department to come load as many specimens as could be carried and to help find a way to keep the collection preserved.

The university answered the call, and the School of Life Sciences moved the collection to its Alameda facility, the home for ASU’s Natural History Collections. There, Johnston has catalogued more than 300 specimens from the Buckhorn Baths.

“I think the first reaction when people walk in … is ‘wow,' ” Johnston said.

But she admits, "We can't really keep 62 mule head deer. We plan to donate to other institutions who are willing to take on some of these specimens."

Johnston has been identifying partners at ASU, Maricopa Community Colleges and even an auction of some specimens through Arizona Game and Fish with proceeds going to law enforcement.

“Our goal is to take the collection and use it as a tool for education for children,” she said.

Top photo of Buckhorn Baths Motel by Marine 69-71 at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

ASU program inspires students to positively impact couples and families in the community

February 20, 2019

A specialized program at ASU has trained nearly 200 students who have entered the workforce in careers that have a positive and profound impact on society.

Now in its 12th year, the master’s degree in advanced studies in marriage and family therapy (MAS-MFT) program has produced student interns responsible for more than 56,220 hours of individual, couple and family therapy to the local community. Picture of students around a table discussing a class topic Marriage and family therapy students exchange ideas during a rich classroom discussion.

Following the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics' mission to focus on “the well-being of children, youth, families and their communities across the lifespan”, Rick Fabes, founding director of the school, conceived of an idea for an accelerated, applied program to provide expert training to those passionate about serving others.

This led to the development of the MAS-MFT program by co-directors Mary Doyle and Karissa Greving Mehall (both Arizona-licensed marriage and family therapists). In 2007, the MAS-MFT program was piloted with 14 students before being granted approval by the Arizona Board of Regents in 2008. Since then, 196 students have graduated from the program, with another 23 on track to graduate next fall.

For those wishing to work as clinicians within the marriage and family therapy discipline, one unique program feature is its accelerated, applied design. A traditionally-paced program would take two to three years for a student to complete. ASU’s MAS-MFT course can be completed in just 15 months, allowing students to begin supervised employment immediately upon completion.

Preparing graduates for immediate career opportunities has paid great dividends for not only the students, but for local practitioners as well.

“I have had the pleasure of working with and supervising countless ASU-MFT graduates over the years,” said Melissa A. Baker, president of the Arizona Association of Marriage and Family Therapy. 

“Today, there are strong graduates from the ASU-MFT program in positions of direct client care, supervision, management and administrative leadership at many behavioral health agencies and private practices around the state, from the Valley to Tucson to the White Mountains,” said Baker.

The applied emphasis also means that students are able to focus their education and training on the skills they will need as professional clinicians working in the behavioral health field instead of having to take classes devoted to research training or to complete a master’s thesis. 

This applied emphasis is one reason why Holli Gonzalez, parenting skills program director at Human Resource Training Inc., has partnered with the ASU-MFT internship program for the past 12 years.

“The interns come to our program well-informed about not only tried-and-true ways to engage clients, but also aware of the newest ideas in therapy," said Gonzalez. "At one point, interns helped inform the writing of our 2010 RFP because they knew about many evidenced-based therapies that could be used with our client population. 

“We have worked with interns from other programs, but one area that stands out about the ASU-MFT program is the individual attention each intern has received from Mary and Karissa."

Developers took great care and preparation to ensure the program met the highest standards. The program’s curriculum has been granted official approval (granted in five-year increments) by the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners, Arizona’s licensing board. Students can be confident that their graduate curriculum will be accepted by the board when they apply for licensure.

Another unique feature about the program is its cohort-based format. Each group of students attends all classes together in the same sequence. They share a distinctive experience together as students, and many forge professional relationships after graduation. Collaboration and mutual support, rather than competition, is encouraged for all students. 

What program graduates say

“We received rigorous training and therapeutic models, real-world experience through a clinical internship and support from accomplished and knowledgeable professors. While many graduate programs within this field focus on outdated text, this program included a balance of historical therapeutic approach as well as modern research studies and realistic application to practice.”
— Haley Edris, clinician, Behavioral Health at Arizona’s Children Association and its family of agencies

“I cannot say enough good things about how my experience in the program has shaped my perspective, practice and leadership. It gave me access to a deeper level of understanding about people and what drives them, especially working in groups, and how to motivate them towards a common goal. The program training played a large part in my advancement to the CEO role, and I am forever thankful for all that I learned.” 
— April Rhodes, chief executive officer, Spectrum Healthcare Group 

“The program helped to solidify my career in behavioral health. I had previously worked in the field but in a different capacity. However, this degree enabled me to move into different positions and has given me the possibility to work in private practice. At the time of graduation, I knew exactly the steps to be taken to pursue licensure in the state, while many colleagues I spoke to struggled to navigate the process and keep track of their requirements.” 
— Jessica Reynoso, 2012-13 cohort

“I had the pleasure of entering the program in 2007 as a member of the first cohort. Since graduation I have served on the board of the Arizona Association of Marriage and Family Therapy and the Arizona Marriage and Family Therapy Credentialing Committee. I’ve also had the privilege to be appointed to the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners, most recently serving as chairperson, and I have been able to teach undergraduate- and graduate-level courses. This program helped open all of those doors for me.” 
— Patricia Dobratz, director of operations and clinical services, Arizona Marriage & Family Therapy Clinic

The average rate of employment for program graduates within the first year is over 80 percent, and the rate of passing the national licensing exam is approximately 90 percent on the first attempt. The cohort is small and select — only 22-24 students are accepted each fall. 

For more information, please visit the MAS-MFT program webpage, which includes a comprehensive FAQ section and the student handbook.

Prospective students are invited to attend one of two informational sessions on the Tempe campus this fall. Meet the program’s co-directors, Mehall and Doyle, and learn more about the program. No RSVP necessary. The informational session dates, times and locations will be posted on the program’s webpage this summer

John Keeney

Media Relations Coordinator, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics