Martin Litton believed the best way to get people to understand the majesty of the Grand Canyon, and thus the need to preserve it, was to put them on the river. His preference in doing so was a wooden dory, a boat more commonly used in Oregon, and which Martin is credited with pioneering on the Colorado. Litton and his dories were pivotal in keeping dams out of Grand Canyon National Park, and his advocacy efforts were also crucial to establishing Redwoods National Park and keeping ski area development out of California’s Mineral King Valley.

From the age of 18, when he first penned a letter to the Los Angeles Times advocating for the preservation of Mono Lake, up until his death in 2014 at the age of 97, Martin was a staunch conservationist. A member of the Sierra Club Board of Directors from 1964 to 1973, Martin took the lead in a number of environmental crusades, both victories and defeats. In the L.A. Times obituary, former Sierra Club executive director David Brower called Litton his conscience. “”When I would waver in various conservation battles, he would put a little starch in my backbone by reminding me that we should not be trying to dicker and maneuver,” Brower said in the Times. “I guess I got some of my extremism from Martin Litton, and I’m grateful for it.”

Litton eventually used his dories to take tourists down the Grand. In 1971, he formed Grand Canyon Dories, and ran commercial trips in his wooden boats until selling the company in 1988. His tradition was to name his boats after wild places that had been developed of compromised by man.

In 2015, filmmaker Pete McBride honored Litton’s legacy with a film titled “Martin’s Boat.” For the film, friends and fellow river advocates built a boat in the stylings of Litton and named it the Marble Canyon for the majestic site just below the Glen Canyon Dam. The film follows the Marble Canyon on its maiden voyage through the Grand. Just as Litton did decades ago, it exhibits why it is important to preserve the crown jewel America’s national park system from the perspective of being on the river itself.

The 22-minute film hit the mountain film festival circuit this past winter. You can now watch it in its entirety at



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Derek Taylor is the managing editor of He lives in Huntsville, Utah.
Derek Taylor is the managing editor of He lives in Huntsville, Utah.

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