The Emerald Mile

The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon

Fedarko, Kevin

(Book - 2013)
Average Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5.
The Emerald Mile
IN THE TRADITION OF THE PERFECT STORM AND SEABISCUIT, THE ENGROSSING TALE OF THE FASTEST BOAT RIDE EVER DOWN THE COLORADO RIVER THROUGH THE GRAND CANYON IN THE WINTER OF 1983, the largest El Niño event on record-a chain of "superstorms" that swept in from the Pacific Ocean-battered the entire West. That spring, a massive snowmelt sent runoff racing down the Colorado River toward the Glen Canyon Dam, a 710-foot-high wall of concrete that sat at the head of the most iconic landscape feature in America, the Grand Canyon. As the water clawed toward the parapet of the dam, worried federal officials desperately scrambled to avoid a worst-case scenario: one of the most dramatic dam failures in history. In the midst of this crisis, beneath the light of a full moon, a trio of river guides secretly launched a small, hand-built wooden boat, a dory named the Emerald Mile, into the Colorado just below the dam's base and rocketed toward the dark chasm downstream, where the torrents of water released by the dam engineers had created a rock-walled maelstrom so powerful it shifted giant boulders and created bizarre hydraulic features never previously seen. The river was already choked with the wreckage of commercial rafting trips: injured passengers clung to the remnants of three-ton motorboats that had been turned upside down and torn to pieces. The chaos had claimed its first fatality, further launches were forbidden, and rangers were conducting the largest helicopter evacuation in the history of Grand Canyon National Park. An insurgent river run under such conditions seemed to border on the suicidal, but Kenton Grua, the captain of that dory, was on an unusual mission: a gesture of defiance unlike anything the river world had ever seen. His aim was to use the flood as a hydraulic slingshot that would hurl him and two companions through 277 miles of some of the most ferocious white water in North America and, if everything went as planned, catapult the Emerald Mile into legend as the fastest boat ever propelled-by oar, by motor, or by the grace of God-through the heart of the Grand Canyon. Grua himself was already something of a mythic figure, a fearless boatman obsessed with the mysteries of the canyon. His quest embraced not only the trials of the speed run itself but also the larger story of his predecessors: the men who had first discovered the canyon and pioneered its exploration, as well as those who waged a landmark battle to prevent it from being hog-tied by a series of massive hydroelectric dams-a conflict that continues to this day. A writer who has worked as a river guide himself and is intimately familiar with the canyon's many secrets, Kevin Fedarko is the ideal narrator for this American epic. The saga of the Emerald Mile is a thrilling adventure, as well as a magisterial portrait of the hidden kingdom of white water at the bottom of the greatest river canyon on earth. This book announces Fedarko as a major writing talent and at last sets forth the full story of an American legend-the legend of the Emerald Mile .
Publisher: New York :, Scribner,, 2013
Edition: First Scribner hardcover edition
ISBN: 9781439159859
Branch Call Number: 979.132 F292e 2013
Characteristics: 415 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates :,illustrations, map ;,24 cm


From Library Staff

It's the spring of 1983 and a massive snowmelt causes the Colorado River to threaten to overtop the Glen Canyon Dam. Beneath a full moon a group of river guides secretly launch a small wooden boat just below the dam's base as engineers begin a massive release of water to avoid a dam failure. The ... Read More »

In spring of 1983, a massive snowmelt sent runoff racing down the Colorado River toward the Glen Canyon Dam. Worried federal officials desperately scrambled to avoid a worst-case scenario: one of the most dramatic dam failures in history.

From the critics

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Oct 17, 2014
  • rpavlacic rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

This true story tells what happens when three vectors collided. First was a power dam on the Colorado River that should never have been built and caused permanent changes to the environment above and below the facility (as well as the story of two more dams that were supposed to have been built but were derailed due to the nascent environmental movement of the 1960s). Second, engineering and budget cutbacks during the construction of the dam lead to a minor but still huge design flaw that led to the dam almost collapsing on itself during the record spring melt of 1983, and Lake Powell, the reservoir that had taken 20 years to fill up, nearly spilling the rim of the dam and in any case causing huge damage to the diversion channels. Third, how the decision to release the outflow to near maximum to save the dam led a scrappy team who ran a river excursion company to decide to take advantage of the crisis and attempt one of the craziest stunts ever pulled - going down the 289 miles of the Colorado between the Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams in the fastest time ever, unmotorized, and despite a travel ban imposed by the US Parks Service after other companies' boats were torn to shreds by the extremely wild currents (which were notoriously wild even at the tamest of times). There's necessarily a lot of science in hydraulics involved here to explain how things came to its course, but the author breaks down each step where it is relevant into layperson's terms; and generally writes an amazing adventure story that celebrates the human spirit while also asking what the price of progress is.

Sep 19, 2014
  • bglassey rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Fantastic! Fascinating read!
One of the best books I have read in years!
It tells several intertwined true stories about the Colorado River, and specifically the Grand Canyon. Thoroughly researched and artfully written.
One can only hope that Kevin Fedarko will find other subjects that interest him in a similar way.

Feb 09, 2014

"An award-winning Outside magazine writer documents the 1983 Colorado River flood that threatened the region with a catastrophic dam failure and prompted oarsman Kenton Grua's near-suicidal effort to navigate the turbulent waters of the Emerald Mile on a small wooden dory to achieve a world speed record." Armchair Travel February 2014 newsletter http://www.libraryaware.com/996/NewsletterIssues/ViewIssue/65a45623-29d8-4930-a050-7045f18b95cf?postId=fbfe1dbc-f888-4b7d-a453-8350c366f628

Dec 18, 2013
  • sess430 rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

Fedarko gave a very interesting presentation of his book at this year's Texas Book Festival. Part of the book reads like a mini-biography of the 3 men who made the 277 mile speed run in the wooden dory in June 1983. These & other colorful, eccentric river guides are depicted in a highly entertaining style. The Colorado river was running at 90,000 cfs that month, which gave the dory a big boost and almost caused a failure of the Glen Canyon dam. I also enjoyed the wonderful pictures & the epilogue, which tells what happened to the characters in the 30 years since '83, when the speed record was set. Highly recommended, especially to those who've seen the Grand Canyon &/or ridden on the river.

Sep 09, 2013

I heard the author speak about this book at the National Archives. If the book is half as good as his talk, it will fantastic!


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