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

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4.38  ·  Rating Details ·  3,284 Ratings  ·  503 Reviews
From one of Outside magazine’s “Literary All-Stars” comes the thrilling true tale of the fastest boat ride ever, down the entire length of the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon, during the legendary flood of 1983.In the spring of 1983, massive flooding along the length of the Colorado River confronted a team of engineers at the Glen Canyon Dam with an unprecedent ...more
ebook, 432 pages
Published May 7th 2013 by Scribner
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Shafjac
Jul 02, 2013 Shafjac rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Best book I've read in a long time. At first it just seems like it's about some dudes trying to break a speed record for running a river, but it turns out to be a history of the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon, the Glen Canyon dam, conservation ... and then the adventure aspect of running the Colorado in flood stage. Impressively well-researched and very well-written. Any of my peeps that are into the outdoors or history -- read this.
Becky
Mar 19, 2017 Becky rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A really brilliant work that encompasses both the natural and man-made history on the Colorado river. The first few chapters stumble a bit but once you get to the beginning of Powell's adventure, Fedarko has found his stride.

Fedarko weaves an intricate, fast-paced narrative with beautiful language and an zeal for his topic. I particularly appreciated Fedarko's fairness in covering the dam, the park rangers, and the river rats.

I found it impossible to not be awed because at its core this is a b
...more
Phil Breidenbach
WOW, best book I've read this year (Of course, it is only Jan. 12th)

The book tells the story of the fasted ride through the Grand Canyon. Since the river had been dammed, the flow has been regulated and it never reaches the peaks that it once achieved in its pre-blocked years. We all have heard of Major John Wesley Powell's trip through the canyon, this 1987 ride rivaled that. Due to large snow falls and an extreme amount of rain, the water levels at the Glen Canyon Dam were getting closer and c
...more
Casey
May 05, 2014 Casey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ok, if you have an issue with whitewater, don't read this before going on a Colorado River trip. Granted, the waters were coming out of the dam at 94,000 cfs rather than 6-8,000 cfs but can't you drown in a bathtub?

Other than scaring the shit out of me before my Grand Canyon trip, it is a great history of the Grand Canyon and how it was changed by Glen canyon dam, the conservation fight to save it from more dams (when the Sierra Club was told by Martin Litton to grow a pair and fight for it ins
...more
Gus
Sep 24, 2013 Gus rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I also would like to rate this higher. Having (met many of the characters as a part of my river family and) grown up hearing these legends and histories told while gathered around the Dories at cocktail hour, I enjoyed reliving this in my imagination. For the son of a dory boatman from the Golden Age of Guiding it was a joy and vindication to read of the superheroes of my childhood in print.

Fedarko captures the magic and eloquence of these boats in a way only a person who has come in close conta
...more
Jake
May 12, 2013 Jake rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Unlike the record-chasing canyon run recounted in The Emerald Mile, I did not race through this work. That is not to say it dragged. The book was engrossing and often quite intense. Author Kevin Fedarko captures the high stakes nature of this historic time in the Grand Canyon's history. He ably pulls together a wide variety of sources to accurately convey the story. The task is challenging given that many incidents happened amid chaos and tend to be scantily documented and skewed by legend lovin ...more
William Goss
Jan 04, 2014 William Goss rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An informative, compelling, amusing, lyrical and, yes, even spiritual narrative on the magnetic attraction of one of the most perfectly beautiful works of nature on this planet...and a cautionary warning of the risks to which it is even now, more perhaps than ever, exposed. Lose this wild place America, and you will lose a big chunk of your soul.

I paddled a kayak down this river in 1989, six years after the events that form the core of this book. Mr. Fedarko has captured all of the emotions of t
...more
Sarah
Jul 23, 2013 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Emerald Mile is so much more than the epic tale of the 1983 dory speed run through the Grand Canyon, though that adventure is brilliantly told. Fedarko is a great writer (I've enjoyed his pieces in Outside for years), and he puts the speed run in context with the Grand Canyon's history, geology and hydrology, river-running culture, and the dam-building era. He juxtaposes the Glen Canyon Dam engineers' race to avoid catastrophic failures during the huge 1983 spring runoff with what was happen ...more
Wilson
Sep 26, 2013 Wilson rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I want to rate this book higher - the subject matter is exactly what I want to be reading... all the time, but I had a couple issues with the book.

For me personally, much of the history (first 2/3s of the book) was stuff that I was already familiar with. That would not be a problem in and of itself, but it is not footnoted well enough to stand strongly as a work of history (ex Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner). Nor does the prose stand on its own like writing by John McPhee.

My other main issue, m
...more
Leslie
Nov 05, 2013 Leslie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Almost five million people visit Grand Canyon National Park annually. While some visitors undertake back-country hikes, most people are content to enjoy the views from the South Rim, and do not venture much below the rim. Kevin Fedarko’s superb book presents the Grand Canyon in a way most people will never see it – from the bottom up, with a strong emphasis on the river that carved the Canyon’s unique features and which provides the most accessible route for the much smaller number of tourists l ...more
Payson
Jun 29, 2013 Payson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have spent two years reading the Donald Worster A RIVVER RUNNING WEST, the Live of John Wesley Powell and am just now half-way through.
On the other hand,I got THE EMERALD MILE for Father's Day and finished it yesterday! It was a most fascinating story of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado with lots of side stories about the Glen Canyon Dam, the whole ecology and hydrology of the Colorado River plus a compelling adventure epic as well. It sure took me back to the day when I was lucky enough to ta
...more
Paul
Dec 28, 2013 Paul rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
In the tradition of Kon Tiki or Touching the Void, The Emerald Mile is a story of adventure that transcends most writing of extreme exploits. What makes the book so compelling is the broader narrative - this is not so much a book about a rafting trip it is a book about the Grand Canyon and America's relationship to wilderness. Eloquently written and well researched the boom covers many facets of the Grand Canyon all focused through the lens of the "speed run." Highly recommend.
Anna Marie
Jul 06, 2017 Anna Marie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fedarko is an excellent writer. His descriptions really do come alive. This is the best non-fiction book I've read, because of the author's beautiful writing. For years Fedarko has been a freelance magazine writer. This is his first book, and I hope he writes more. I don't care the subject, Fedarko will make any topic come alive. This is a fairly long book about the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon from the first non-native explorer to look over the rim to the 1983 spring runoff that helped p ...more
Todd Martin
Sep 05, 2013 Todd Martin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, outdoors
The Emerald Mile is ostensibly a book about Kenton Grua’s illicit speed run through Grand Canyon in a dory when record levels of water were being released from the dam in 1983, but it’s actually quite a bit more. For those that don’t know, the southwest experienced record rainfalls in the El Nino year of 1983. The rain, coupled with warming and snowmelt, caused Lake Powell to rise to the point where Glen Canyon Dam was at risk of being breached. To stave off this disaster the dam’s spillways wer ...more
Jacque
Jan 20, 2017 Jacque rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
I almost didn't finish this book. My expectation based on the title, the cover and the synopsis I read was that it would be an exciting, adventure read. That is not at all accurate. There is a section of the book toward the end that is, but the majority of it is quite the opposite. The entire first half is more of a history and geology lesson about the Grand Canyon and river rafting. There is also a lot of information about dams and the environmental aspect of building them.

Because of my expecta
...more
CT Lin
Apr 16, 2017 CT Lin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another of those books picked up off the coffee table at home: "Hey, who's reading this?" And the daughter has found time ... to READ. For fun.

Well, it's a parent's prerogative to borrow the book, take it on trips out of town, and generally be a nuisance, so I devoured this book. I'm not much of a white-water enthusiast, but I have purchased a seat on a few commercial floats and have enjoyed myself. My most memorable was a 3-day raft trip on the Rogue River in Oregon.

It was my last year as a pri
...more
Garret Christensen
This book does what most popular non-fiction does: jump around across time and space to close up and deep background of a specific event in history. In this case, the background includes the initial discovery of the Grand Canyon by the Spanish, the first running of the river by Major John Wesley Powell, the damming of the river by the Bureau of Reclamation, and more. A lot of this I already knew, and found less interesting in Fedarko's telling than in the other places I had read it (Wallace Steg ...more
Hollyn
Jan 17, 2014 Hollyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think the reason this book got so many 5 star reviews is that most people who choose this kind of book are probably interested in rivers, boating or dams. I read it because it was our book club selection. That said, I will agree it is well-written, but too detail laden and testosterone drenched for me. It reminded me a bit of MOBY DICK which I suffered through in high school. My recollection is that Melville devoted whole chapters to fishing equipment. Fedarko spends quite a lot of words on th ...more
Lisa
Feb 22, 2015 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
This book is not what I expected. I thought it would be more of a sporting/athletic story of the adventure down the river. I was only a little bit of that type of book. The book delves into some of the river personalities, the building of the Glen Canyon dam as well as other surrounding dams and what their construction did to the Colorado river and others including the formation of Powell Lake. It looks at weather and what it does to rivers and geology. We get to ride the rapids on different typ ...more
Mona
Nov 21, 2016 Mona rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
WHY I CHOSE THIS BOOK: It was selected for my monthly book club by another member
SUMMARY: The history of the Grand Canyon and Colorado River from the time of the Spanish Conquistadors up to a speed run by a bunch of macho yahoos
REVIEW: As this book was described to me I was not looking forward to reading this book. It just sounded like the story of a bunch of macho dudes who think the rules don't apply to them doing something dangerous. As I started to listen to this book I was surprised at the
...more
Scott
Jun 01, 2014 Scott rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book on a recent trip to Arizona, and it definitely exceeded my expectations. Based on the subtitle, I thought that the whole thing would really be about these three guys setting the fastest ride record of rowing through the Grand Canyon... but it was much, much more than that. You get a thorough but readable history of the Colorado River going through the canyon, including the controversy over dam building, the history of people taking down boats down the river, and the quirky ...more
Alice Meloy
May 20, 2014 Alice Meloy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Yes, it's an epic story, but not only because it's about breaking a speed record for boating through the Grand Canyon. Fedarko uses the boat ride as a focal point, around which he builds a fascinating framework that includes the history of the Grand Canyon and its exploration, the changing geography of the Colorado River and its tributaries, a description of the life of Colorado River guides, and the politics of energy and environmentalism that surrounded the building of the Hoover and Glen Cany ...more
Mark Wilson
Aug 19, 2014 Mark Wilson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Seductively written, with consummate skill, this is a marvelous evocation of the Grand Canyon and the people who live and work there, strung on the thread of an amazing adventure tale. A little slow going at first, and perhaps a bit long, it nevertheless rewards the reader with gems of writing in almost every paragraph. This author has a stellar gift for language and writing, and has applied all his creative skills, along with a truly ferocious attention to detail and scholarship, to produce a w ...more
Kelly ...
Jun 12, 2016 Kelly ... rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Kevin Fedarko brought to life this thrilling, gripping story of a wild ride through the Grand Canyon which set the speed records and enthralled, enraged, or both those who bore witness to the event. He masterfully interweaves the tale of the race down the river with the context... the history of the Grand Canyon, the story of the dams that hold back the CO River, and the reasons for the wet year. He gives the reader the story that surrounds the race, including the especially wet winter and sprin ...more
J. Bryce
Fedarko presented at the Arizona Library Association last year and I got an autographed copy, just now making time to read it, and it was fascinating. I've read some reviews here that mention the repetitiveness of things like the history of the Grand Canyon itself and the building of the Glen Canyon dam upriver, but for those like me who don't already know better, it's very well done.

And his writing is superb. A lot of the visuals, on both the river run and elsewhere, are pretty alien to many re
...more
Ariel
Oct 16, 2013 Ariel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fict, kindle
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. Based on the initial description, I thought I was launching into another outdoor adventure tale about the wild and scenic, but the author instead does an excellent job of tying together the history of the river, the boaters, and the canyon with the epic tradition of exploration and adventure that draws people to wild places. So great! I also give the author props for deftly wielding suspense and drama into the story: many parts of this book were p ...more
Chandra Boulden
May 23, 2016 Chandra Boulden rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Splendid book! Great story! I don't think there was a rock that was left unturned, he tells the story of the river, the people, the dam, the water! I have a new appreciation for a favorite place of my childhood and a couple of items added to my bucket list! Favorite quote, "Together the canyon and the dam offer a far more meaningful reflection of society that claims them both: thier triumphs and failures; what it has been willing to sacrifice and what it has chosen to preserve; the things it cel ...more
Michael
Jun 05, 2014 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I received this book as a gift and was not particularly excited about it after reading the summary on the cover. The subtitle (The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon) suggests that it is simply a tale glorifying an illegal run of the canyon by a few hot-shot guides. It turned out to be a well-written, engaging book, though, that spent little time discussing the record-breaking trip itself. The book is largely a history of the exploration of the grand ...more
Ned Frederick
Mar 08, 2014 Ned Frederick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book jacket blurb describes this book as being about a speed run by boat through The Canyon. There is some of that, for sure. And those parts read like the best adventure stories you've ever read. But this book is really about The Colorado -a monstrous, dragon-like presence with a fearsome and fascinating personality that attracts fearless and fascinating characters. When I try to find a word or phrase to describe it, I'm so disappointed that I've squandered the word "astounding" on what I n ...more
Susan
May 18, 2013 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a story! What a writer ( although a bit too florid at times)! This book grabs you and holds you in the thrall of its story with no let up. The author also did a masterful job of providing a balanced view of the conflicts between the dam lovers and the river runners. Although I carry around a sign that says 'Free The Colorado' even I was able to see the other side of the story and could respect it.
I read this book as an ebook but I loved it so much, I am buying the hardcover immediately so
...more
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Kevin Fedarko lives in northern New Mexico and works as a part-time river guide in Grand Canyon National Park. In addition to his travel narratives in Outside, where he worked as a senior editor, Fedarko’s work has appeared in Esquire, National Geographic Adventure, and other publications, and has been anthologized in The Best American Travel Writing in 2004 and 2006. Fedarko was a staff writer at ...more
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“But they have preserved an aspect of the American persona that is uniquely vital to the health of this republic. Among many other things, those dirtbag river runners uphold the virtue of disobedience: the principle that in a free society, defiance for its own sake sometimes carries value and meaning, if only because power in all of its forms—commercial, governmental, and moral—should not always and without question be handed what it demands.” 2 likes
“From every direction, the place is under assault—and unlike in the past, the adversary is not concentrated in a single force, such as the Bureau of Reclamation, but takes the form of separate outfits conducting smaller attacks that are, in many ways, far more insidious. From directly above, the air-tour industry has succeeded in scuttling all efforts to dial it back, most recently through the intervention of Arizona’s senators, John Kyl and John McCain, and is continuing to destroy one of the canyon’s greatest treasures, which is its silence. From the east has come a dramatic increase in uranium-mining claims, while the once remote and untrammeled country of the North Rim now suffers from an ever-growing influx of recreational ATVs. On the South Rim, an Italian real estate company recently secured approval for a massive development whose water demands are all but guaranteed to compromise many of the canyon’s springs, along with the oases that they nourish. Worst of all, the Navajo tribe is currently planning to cooperate in constructing a monstrous tramway to the bottom of the canyon, complete with a restaurant and a resort, at the confluence of the Little Colorado and the Colorado, the very spot where John Wesley Powell made his famous journal entry in the summer of 1869 about venturing “down the Great Unknown.” As vexing as all these things are, what Litton finds even more disheartening is the country’s failure to rally to the canyon’s defense—or for that matter, to the defense of its other imperiled natural wonders. The movement that he and David Brower helped build is not only in retreat but finds itself the target of bottomless contempt. On talk radio and cable TV, environmentalists are derided as “wackos” and “extremists.” The country has swung decisively toward something smaller and more selfish than what it once was, and in addition to ushering in a disdain for the notion that wilderness might have a value that extends beyond the metrics of economics or business, much of the nation ignorantly embraces the benefits of engineering and technology while simultaneously rejecting basic science.” 2 likes
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