Book Review by Chris Zielinski
When on a Grand Canyon rafting adventure (or visiting Grand Canyon) you may hear the words Zoroaster, Sockdolager, Manakacha, Parisswampitts, and Dox. What are all these strange words, and what do they have to do with Grand Canyon? They are, in fact, all names of points of interest within Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon is a vast and impressive natural wonder and hosts a plethora of mesas, buttes, side canyons, and rapids. If you are someone who wonders where those names originated from, then River to Rim by Nancy Brian is the book for you!
Overview of Nancy’s Work
Nancy Brian has compiled one of the most extensive resources on the meaning and history of Grand Canyon place names. River to Rim is brilliantly researched. Nancy scoured books, newspapers, interpretive brochures, and archive collections to create one impressive catalog of Grand Canyon place names. Great for river guide and guest alike, River to Rim is organized by river miles. That is, the beginning of the book details places found at or near Lake Powell. At the end of the book, she explains places found near Lake Mead.
In my personal opinion, this is both an advantage and disadvantage. The really nice thing about organizing the names in this way is that when you are looking at Yaki point, you can see things that can be found nearby like O’Neill Butte. It helps build curiosity and interest in what you are looking at regardless of whether you are looking up from the river or down from the rim. The disadvantage of organizing the places this way is that it is slightly counter-intuitive, as most people would like a book like this to be alphabetical order. There is of course an index which you can use to look up a certain place. This is a minor issue in what is otherwise an easy to use resource to help you dive into Grand Canyon geography, history and geology.
Some Other Great Resources in the Book
Nancy did include a ‘how to use this book’ section at the beginning of the book to help readers understand how the book is organized. One of the clever things that Nancy Brian did when she put together River to Rim, was to organize rock layers and formations separately at the back of the book. I think this makes sense; it allows you to explore the stories associated with rock names, as you gaze out at the colorful walls of Grand Canyon. There is also a brief discussion at the beginning of the book about the history of place names in Grand Canyon as well as the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, the organization in charge of standardizing and keeping the official names of places. Both sections are interesting and worth reading, as well.
Why I Recommend This Book
The human history of Grand Canyon is fascinating, as it is a long and complex story. I find that by using this book I can help piece together interesting people and their stories in Grand Canyon. People like Chief Jasper Manakacha, a Havasupai chief, for whom Manakacha Point is named after, or Bradley Point, named after Sergeant George Y. Bradley, a union veteran of the Civil War. As people who have lived in and explored the canyon, their stories are the stories that help to make the history Grand Canyon.
The Grand Canyon is a special place. For those who travel through it, or around it, a desire to ‘know it’ more in depth grows. Many of us have probably looked out over the canyon and thought about why we name places? Nancy Brian herself said in the forward, that “[by naming places], they become old friends” (iii). I think this is part of the wonder of exploring the canyon, to understand the story and by extension becoming friends with that spire or butte. You see them and watch them change as you travel along the river or the rim. They become old friends that provide perspective and context to your own adventure. You can make some new ‘old friends’ by bringing this book on your Grand Canyon rafting adventure!
You can purchase River to Rim at our online store Red River Sports or at your Flagstaff orientation before your trip or upon your return to Flagstaff.