A Canyon Voyage

Friday at the Historic Book Library #4

#1 In and Around the Grand Canyon by George Wharton James

#2 Grand Canyon Treks by Harvey Butchart

#3 The Man Who Walked Through Time by Colin Fletcher

A Canyon Voyage by Frederick S. Dellenbaugh

A Canyon Voyage by Frederick Dellenbaugh First Edition
A Canyon Voyage is one of the most beautiful Grand Canyon books.

The Book:

A Canyon Voyage was published in 1908 by G.P. Putnam’s S0ns of New York and London.  Frederick Dellenbaugh was an assistant topographer on the Powell Expedition of 1871-72.  The book is Frederick Dellenbaugh’s narrative of this amazing river expedition down the Green and Colorado Rivers, and the time spent off river, surveying and mapping the region.




Dellenbaugh was not even 20 years old when he explored the Grand Canyon with John Wesley Powell.

The Author:


Frederick S. Dellenbaugh was born in 1853 in McConnelsville, Ohio.  He gained notoriety for being an assistant topographer for the John Wesley Powell’s second expedition through the canyon’s of the Colorado River in 1871-72.

Dellenbaugh was part of an All-Star cast on the Harriman Alaska Expedition of 1899.  The expedition included notable explorers of the day including John Muir, Karl Grove Gilbert, and George Bird Grinnell.  The expedition explored the coast of Alaska from Seattle to Siberia, discovering 600 undocumented new species along the way.

Dellenbaugh spent the summer of 1903 painting Zion Canyon.  These paintings were displayed at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.  From 1909-1911 he served for the American Geographical Society as their Librarian.  He was one of the founding members of the Explorers Club and became a fellow of the American Ethnological society.  Dellenbaugh retired to upstate New York.  He passed away in 1935.


Dellenbaugh Butte
Dellenbaugh Butte at the confluence of the Green River and San Rafael River.

Why Its a Great Grand Canyon Book:

A Canyon Voyage is a work of art.  The cover and binding are exquisite.  The cover artwork displays the title at the top of the book surrounded by the cliffs and canyons of the Colorado River.  The image on the front shows two men working hard to portage a boat through some jagged rocks along the edge of a rapid.

The book was used by the Kolb Brothers during their river trip in 1910.  “This book[A Canyon Voyage] has been our guide down to this point[Kanab Creek].  We could not have asked for a better one.”  Dellenbaugh is good at describing the river and canyons of the Green and Colorado Rivers.  The book includes many of Beamans photos from the 1871 trip. Emery and Ellsworth Kolb presented their copy of the book to Dellenbaugh in May of 1921 at the Powell Monument.  The same day Dellenbaugh unfurled the flag flown by the Emma Dean in 1871 marking the 50th anniversary of the expedition leaving Green River, Wyoming.  “That priceless volume, tattered and battered and filled with sand by the exposure to the elements during consultation in the boat by day, and by the fire at night.”

Dellenbaugh also does a really good job at making you feel like you know the participants of the expedition.  Here is his description of John Wesley Powell:  “Major Powell was a man of prompt decision with a cool, comprehensive, far reaching mind.  He was genial, kind, never despondent, always resolute, resourceful, masterful, determined to overcome every obstacle.”  And here is his description of Almon Thompson “Professor Thompson possessed invaluable qualities for this expedition:  rare balance of mind, great cheerfulness, and a sunny way of looking on difficulties and obstacles as if they were mere problems in chess.  His foresight and resourcefulness were phenomenal and no threatening situation found him without some good remedy.”

Dellenbaugh also describes the Powell Expeditions time off river in Kanab, Utah.  He describes the fort and the customs of the Mormons staying in Kanab during the winter of 1871-72.


Second Powell Expedition Lining Boats Around Chandler Rapid
E.O. Beaman photograph of the second Powell Expedition lining their boat around Chandler Rapid in Desolation Canyon.

Favorite Passage:

Dellenbaugh’s passage about Desolation Canyon stirs the emotions.  He describes it perfectly:  “The high cliffs, two thousand feet, red and towering in the bright sun, became sombre and mysterious as the night shadows crept over them, the summits remaining bright from the last western rays when the river level was dim and uncertain.  There was plenty of driftwood, and our fires were always cheery and comfortable.  The nights were quite cold, or at least chilly, while the days were hot as soon as the sun came over the edge of the cliffs.  Through some of the narrow promontories at this particular camp there were peculiar perforations suggesting immense windows looking into some fairer land.  I would have been glad to examine some of these closely, but as it was not necessary they were passed by.  It would also have been difficult to reach them as they were very high up.”

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