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Haldane “Buzz” Holmstrom on the Colorado River: A Gallery

In 1937, Haldane “Buzz” Holmstrom became the first person to successfully navigate the Colorado River alone. Holmstrom grew up in southern Oregon logging camps; after his father’s death, the young Holmstrom took a job at a filling station to help support his family. Then in the 1930s, Holmstrom began to dream of river running—and to build and design boats at home and to study everything he could about the subject. After a solo run of the Salmon and Snake rivers in central Idaho, Holmstrom set his sight on John Wesley Powell’s route on the Green and Colorado. For this feat, he built Julius F. Launching at Green River, Wyoming, on October 4, 1937, Holmstrom spent over six weeks on the water before arriving at Lake Mead.

Holmstrom’s accomplishment earned him unwanted fame and attracted the attention of another adventurer from Oregon, Amos Burg. Burg had himself navigated rivers throughout North America, using his travels as material for articles, photographs, lectures. He approached Holmstrom and suggested a second voyage down the Green and Colorado rivers—this time with the cameras rolling. Holmstrom agreed, and the second run began late in the summer of 1938. Two men joined Holmstrom and Burg on separate stretches of their journey: Phil Lundstrom, a Portland cartographer, and Willis Johnson, a young Utah miner. Among the many remarkable aspects of this adventure was Burg’s choice of an inflatable rubber raft, which he ordered from the B. F. Goodrich Tire Company for the trip and christened Charlie.[1]

The following photographs dated from Holmstrom’s second trip down the Green and the Colorado accompanied by Burg, Lundstrom, and Johnson.

1_Squaretop

With Julius F. and Charlie at headwaters of the Green River, with Squaretop Mountain in the background. The men embarked on their trip from Green River Lakes in Wyoming in late August 1938.

2_Triplet-Falls

Buzz Holmstrom in Julius F., running Triplet Falls in Lodore Canyon, mile 232.3. Of his September 11, 1938, run of Triplet Falls, Holmstrom wrote, “Triplet Falls Ran both boats ok—I scraped rock in head of rap—rest OK . . . Amos hung up on a sharp rock at head—pushed bottom of boat up in his face—but got loose.”

3_Ft-Bottom

Buzz Holmstrom at Fort Bottom, looking downstream. Big Horn Mesa is in the left foreground; Steer Mesa is in the background.

4_Inscriptions

Amos Burg viewing inscriptions in Cataract Canyon, mile 204.5, 1938. John Wesley Powell named the canyon—which is also known as the Graveyard of the Colorado—for its dangerous rapids. On shore, Holmstrom and Burg hiked to the canyon rim, carrying the camera equipment with them, while Willis Johnson stayed with the boats. When the two boatmen reached the rim, they called down to Johnson, who wrote “They are a long ways a way but I could hear them distinctly.” In his own journal, Holmstrom made notations of the inscriptions pictured here.

5_PC-front

“On the Colorado River 1938”: Amos Burg sent these postcards, designed by Phil Lundstrom, throughout the 1938 adventure. Burg mailed this postcard, dated October 16, 1938, from Marble Canyon to Russell “Doc” Frazier in Bingham Canyon, Utah. Frazier was a local river runner who had introduced Buzz Holmstrom to another boatman and the namesake of Holmstrom’s craft, Julius F. Stone.

6_PC-back

Back side of “On the Colorado River 1938” postcard. Burg mailed this postcard, dated October 16, 1938, from Marble Canyon to Russell “Doc” Frazier in Bingham Canyon, Utah. Frazier was a local river runner who had introduced Buzz Holmstrom to another boatman and the namesake of Holmstrom’s craft, Julius F. Stone.

7_Granite-Rapids

Looking upstream below Granite Rapid (also called Grand Falls or Granite Ledge Rapid), Grand Canyon, mile 93.7.

8_Hoover

Buzz Holmstrom, Amos Burg, and Willis Johnson arrived at Hoover (or Boulder) Dam on November 7, 1938. The journey had spanned seventy-four days and 1,100 miles. From Boulder City, Nevada, Holmstrom telegraphed his mother in Oregon: “OK Again. Haldane. 11 AM.”

 

[1] Brad Dimock, ed., Every Rapid Speaks Plainly: The Salmon, Green and Colorado River Journals of Buzz Holmstrom (Flagstaff, AZ: Fretwater Press, 2003), ix–xix; Vince Welch, The Last Voyageur: Amos Burg and the Rivers of the West (Seattle: Mountaineers Books, 2012), 180–217.