Man chronicles characters in Colorado River’s history |

Man chronicles characters in Colorado River’s history

Stina Sieg
Post Independent Staff

Glenwood Springs Co Colorado
In this 1916 photograph, Bert Loper and Ellsworth Kolb portage around a section of the Colorado River near Glenwood Springs. On Thursday, writer and historian Brad Dimock will give a talk on the mythic life of Loper, a grizzled river man who disappeared into the Colorado at the age of 80.

By Stina Sieg

Post Independent Staff

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” To truly capture someone in words is no easy feat. As a historian and writer, Brad Dimock lives that dilemma daily.

As he spoke about the subject of his latest book, “The Very Hard Way,” however, his voice was light and joking, his sentences flowing without caution. After six years of studying Bert Loper’s world, Dimock seemed relieved to finally understand him a bit.

“He loved the canyon, and he loved the river,” Dimock started, from across a phone line. “He’s just a part of the place.”

In that moment, Dimock might as well have been speaking about himself, too. Like Loper, he fell hard for the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon. A river guide for nearly 35 years, Dimock, 55, has also spent the last decade telling the tales of “the old river folk.”

On Thursday, he’ll bring a bit of that “river magic” to this valley. During his traveling talk and slide show, he will attempt to separate fact from fiction about the legendary boater. A painfully poor, hard-living fellow, Loper became a mythic figure at the age of 80, after he disappeared into the Colorado River. It was 1949, and he had set out to run through Grand Canyon in his wooden, home-built vessel. It would be 25 years before anyone would find his body.

“That river has a power that won’t let us go,” explained Dimock, of his boating community. Surrounded by 2,000 books on the river and canyon, he seemed to know what he was talking about.

But that was never a plan of his. In Dimock’s words, he “fell into” the Colorado River much as he did with writing. What was supposed to be a “fun summer job” as a boater turned into decades of passion, taking him to rivers around the world. With writing, what began as a few stories in “Boatman’s Quarterly” grew into an editorial position and later, three books of nonfiction. He had no degree in English, had never thought of being a writer, but his work spoke to people. Though his talent had “grown out of the earth,” he said, it felt as real as anything.

As he talked about this, his storytelling voice was inviting and clear, not verbose. He feels it’s that simplicity he brings to his work. Though he never knows where his years of digging through history will go, in the end, he tries to make his writing coherent and enjoyable. Most of all, he just wants to portray the people as they were.

“It’s a huge, huge responsibility,” he said.

Before his books are published, he’s telling and retelling the stories as he guides on the river. Sitting around a campfire, sharing a bottle of gin, he’s sharing the tales, honing them. His subjects are all enigmas, he said, and he’s constantly trying to give them “the fair shake.”

While he cares deeply, it’s never easy. Once, after writing the book “Sunk Without a Sound,” about a couple who disappeared into Colorado River, Dimock found himself shouting at the river’s edge. He was desperate, asking the ghosts what really took place. To his surprise, in his mind, he saw a vision of Glen Hyde, the husband. Hyde was angry and surprised and offered no real answers. It makes you wonder, what does it take to get to the truth?

With Loper, it meant five years researching and writing, pouring over his diary. Dimock knew the guy was a boater since 1893. He knew about Loper’s orphaned childhood, his several marriages. But he didn’t truly understand the man. Then, recently, something changed, and the book seemed to write itself. While he didn’t pretend to fully get Loper, on one level, he saw him. Loper just loved the river.

Perhaps that’s all that Dimock needed to understand, anyway. He didn’t seem miffed, either. As a writer, it’s his job to uncover whatever he can ” and make it work.

“At this point, I’ve just sort of given myself over to this,” he said. “This is my place. This is my reason for being here.”

And though these words were his, he sounded like any one of his past subjects. Just another river person.

Contact Stina Sieg: 384-9111

Glenwood Springs CO Colorado

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