For a River Heritage Museum at Grand Canyon National Park

Georgie Raft

Much as plywood enabled the phasing out of the old Galloway boats, the introduction of neoprene—a durable synthetic rubber—facilitated the invention of inflatable whitewater boats. Their ease of transport and durability in rocky rivers signaled the sunset of wooden boats on the Colorado.

The first inflatable down the Colorado was Amos Burg’s 1938 Charlie, a custom-made 83-pound raft. Although Burg’s trip proved the craft was viable, it was not until the end of World War II, when surplus military rafts flooded the market, that inflatables made a serious showing on the Colorado. Scouting groups from Salt Lake City began running multi-boat rafting trips through Glen Canyon, and it was not long before the boats were common in Grand Canyon.

One pioneer of inflatables was by far the most famous woman boatman of all time, Georgie White. She made her first trips on the river hiking and swimming in the lower Grand Canyon with river runner Harry Aleson. Soon, however, Georgie was rowing her own surplus rafts, then tying two or three together for more stability. By the mid-1950s she had brought huge bridge pontoons to Grand Canyon, powering them with outboard motors. She attracted passengers with her affordable “share-the-expense” trips and opened Grand Canyon to large scale river tourism.

The economics of Georgie’s big rigs soon spread throughout the river business and for a short time in the late 1960s few rowing trips were seen. But by 1970 offerings began to re-diversify and expeditions by rowing raft, and even a few wooden boats, regained their place in the mix.

Georgie continued running her trips aboard her gigantic pontoons past her eightieth birthday, and one of her early rowing rafts is part of the NPS collection. A rapid in Grand Canyon was named for Georgie to commemorate her remarkable role in Colorado River history.

Join Our Mailing List

Donate Here