Do you love your work? Georgie White did. Her free spirit and appetite for Western landscapes and ferocious rivers led to a long, passionate career.
What’s YOUR passion? Veteran adventurer Georgie White turned her passion into a career by combining the need to make a living with her love for the desert rivers of Utah and Arizona. Along the way, she became a pioneer of commercial river rafting, now one of Utah’s most important outdoor recreation industries.
Georgie White first saw the Grand Canyon on a hike with her friend Harry Aleson in 1944. They couldn’t afford a boat, so made plans to “swim" the Colorado River through part of the canyon. The following summer, Harry and Georgie navigated powerful currents and near-hypothermic conditions during their 3-day, 60-mile swim to Lake Mead. Georgie was hooked.
With the end of World War II, surplus boats were plentiful, and the pair obtained a neoprene raft that proved ideal for running rapids. Georgie ran many trips alone in Grand Canyon -- sometimes up to three weeks – before she hit upon the idea of "sharing the expense." In 1951 her new Royal River Rats company began regular no-frills raft trips, and by 1955 was guiding passengers down the San Juan, Cataract, Glen, and Grand Canyons. Georgie was the first woman to run the Grand Canyon as a commercial enterprise, and developed the "G-Rig," which was three rafts lashed together for stability in large rapids. After a successful passage through Grand Canyon, Georgie would initiate her passengers into the “Royal River Rat Society” by breaking a raw egg over their heads. Life Magazine profiled a 1961 trip that included then-Interior Secretary Stewart Udall. The magazine called her "a new kind of iron-nerved mermaid." She was known to navigate the G-Rig with the tiller in one hand and a beer in the other, wearing a full-length leopard-skin leotard.
Georgie’s passion for river-running kept her in business for 45 years, until her death at 81. She once said, "I fell in love with the river, married it, and I don't plan no divorce." We should all be so lucky.
Utah State Historical Society © 2017
Image: Georgie Clark, c. 1960s. Painting "Woman of the River" on a raft. Courtesy of Northern Arizona University, Cline Library.
See Jeffrey D. Nichols, “Daredevil Georgie White Ran Utah's Great Rivers,” History Blazer, Utah State Historical Society, August 1995; Richard Westwood, Woman of the River: Georgie White Clark, Whitewater Pioneer, Logan: Utah State University Press, 1997: Rose Marie DeRoss, Adventures of Georgie White, TV's Woman of the Rivers, Palm Desert: Desert Magazine Press, 1958; "Share the Expense River Trips, "River Rats Advertisement, Georgie and J.R. White, 1955; "The Summer Spectacle: Its Lures, Thrills, Risks," Life, August 4, 1961; Harry Aleson Collection, Manuscript B-187, Utah State Historical Society.