In The Footsteps of Dave Rust

Through our life’s adventures, we come across a few people that make a difference in the direction we take.  The obvious people are one’s parents or the inspirational professor.  I recently added a new person to my list, Dave Rust.   I was visiting with a friend a few weeks ago who guides horse trips in the Escalante River Basin and on the Aquarius Plateau.  He asked if I had read this book, Dave Rust: a life in the canyons, by Fredrick H. Swanson.  I said “no, never heard of it or him.”  He showed me the book and said I really should read it.  I glanced through it and became instantly engrossed.

It turns out that Dave Rust was one of the first guides in south central Utah and north central Arizona during the early 1900’s.  Additionally, when the tourism industry for this area was getting started and he was poised to get in on the ground floor, he choose to guide in a different manner.  Instead of tourism that is a checklist of sights, which are seen from a tour bus with fifteen minute stops at key points, Dave wanted his clients to gain a deeper understanding of the land and the environment.   Spending hours at an off-the-path location and understanding the geology or ecology of the area was far more important than taking clients to as many locations as possible in a three day sightseeing tour.  In fact,  most of the places Dave went were not accessible by vehicles and his excursions often were measured in weeks instead of days.  His clients were more of the explorer nature than the tourist nature.  This approach provided him and his clients richer and more rewarding experiences that at times developed into life long friendships.

Amazing, as Desert DAWN readies for its first official season, I had stumbled on the person who was leading the type of excursions I started Desert DAWN to lead and he did it in the time frame that I am using for inspiration for the Desert DAWN program.  Needless to say I obtained a copy of the book and excitedly read it.  I realized that I had been and will continue to walk in the footsteps of one of the greatest guides of this area.   I have a new mentor, and a new inspiration in Dave Rust.   Interestingly, some others in my life who I consider  mentors – Dave Wescot and Mike Ryan – have also walked in the footsteps of Dave Rust.

The land that Dave Rust explored was vast covering what is today divided into numerous State Parks, National Forests, National Monuments and National Parks.   The Aquarius Plateau and the Escalante River though are still very much the same.  There is more tourist traffic, because now there are roads.  Interestingly,  the overwhelming majority of this traffic – as in Rust’s day – still does not stray far from the roads.  A few trails have become popular for day hikes, however,  a person can still walk for weeks without meeting another person.  The view points that Dave Rust indicates are still as spectacular.  The cultural history has been added to over the last century.

At the end of the book, Mr. Swanson notes that Dave commented on looking forward to visiting in his hereafter with the guides that he worked with over the years.  It would certainly be amazing to listen to those campfire stories.  I could only hope they would invite me to join their circle, what an honor that would be.


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