John Denver: Let This Be a Voice
River Roll On: Traveling Down the Colorado River

When he was still a child, John Denver was moved to write his first song by the rushing waters of a Colorado River tributary. In Let This Be A Voice, the adult songwriter returns to the Colorado’s mighty waters for the first time as an adult, taking an exciting raft trip with his children. Along the way, they marvel at the fossilized remains of ancient sea creatures and cavort in sparkling waterfalls. Denver even uses a riverside cavern as an impromptu concert hall, his music echoing off stone walls carved by time.

Once, riding the Colorado’s towering whitewater rapids was considered impossible. Today, however, the advent of modern inflatable rafts has allowed thousands of people every year to ponder the river canyon’s beauty — and fury — in safety. Indeed, up to 23,000 people take the 300-mile journey down the canyon each year with professional guides, with another 3,500 setting out on their own private expeditions. Either way, the river has become so popular that permits are required to limit the number of trips and prevent aquatic traffic jams. In fact, some private expeditions must wait a dozen years to take their turns, though you can usually reserve a spot on a guided trip just a few months in advance.

Still, “private permits to raft the Colorado through the Grand Canyon are some of the most sought-after river permits in the world,” notes a river ranger with the National Park Service, which regulates use of the river. “They allow river runners to challenge themselves against nature, experience the wilds of the Grand Canyon, and run rapids that exceed the majority of North American rivers.”

In their floats down the Colorado, visitors may feel as if they’re making a conquest of an undiscovered country, but they are actually retracing the route of a remarkable traveler, a one-armed explorer who shared John Denver’s appetite for adventure and love for nature. Like Denver, he also found music in the pools and canyons of the Colorado River. His name was John Wesley Powell, and, in 1869, he led the first successful trip down the Colorado. The thousand-mile journey, made by 10 men in four high-sided rowboats, was considered suicidal at the time.

But the 35-year-old Powell, a geologist and teacher who had lost an arm in the Civil War, proved up to the task. Though half the party abandoned the expedition before it was over and several members were killed by Indians, Powell emerged at the end with proof that the river could be tamed.

Like Denver, Powell brought a sense of wonder to the canyon. “We are now ready to start on our way down the Great Unknown,” he wrote in August, 1869, in an account reprinted in his 1895 THE CANYONS OF THE COLORADO. “We are three quarters of a mile in the depths of the earth. The great river shrinks into insignificance as it dashes its angry waves against the walls and cliffs that rise to the world above.”

Amidst the magnificence, however, Powell also found music. “The Grand Canyon is a land of song,” he wrote, in a sentiment that would be echoed generations later by a talented musician. “Mountains of music swell in the rivers, hills of music billow in the creeks, and meadows of music murmur in the rills that ripple over the rocks. Altogether it is a symphony of multitudinous melodies. All this is the music of waters.” If you raft the Colorado and follow in the path of Powell and Denver, you may someday hear that music for yourself.

  • Tasha

    John sure seemed to Live life,do what he Loved & tried to protect it as well & then try to bring it back to us,Thank You…

  • Christy H from Connecticut

    YES John Loved nature from the SOUL thats where the music came from! John knew and respected the water and had many spiritual connections – he was in awe of Indian ways and connections with nature, the earth and the very essence of life, itself. He had and still is no doubt a very very special soul….he had a very special mission, he felt those connections so deeply, those missions it was difficult at times to just exist not being able to make all the differences he felt were so needed as quickly as he felt they were needed. many did not understand that but I certainly can. The need to share, the need to impart love and respect and knowledge of the gifts as well as fragility of nature and the Earth – a great MISSIOn and a GREAT responsibility to BEAR,
    why he was taken from us SO EARLY still confuses and hurts many…I don’t think he knew really how many so loved him deeply and his gifts of music, wisdom, kindness and kindredship with nature…And how we need that so much more than ever now!! America needs it so desperately! Our rivers, streams, ponds lakes and natural areas have been and are under the GREED ASSAULT EVERYWHERE! If we don’t stand tall and strong our children, their children and grandchildren will never catch or even see a live Brookie trout in a little babbling brook, will never see or hear the song of a little bluebird or Pilated woodpecker in the wold ..only from pages in a book, pictures on a CD or movie….John your gifts are so greatly needed!!

  • David ball

    I KNOW JOHN DENVER BECUSE I SAW HIM OH GOD THE MOVIE AND FOXFIRE AND HIGHER GROUND AND OTHER MOVIE LIKE JOHN DENVER LET THIS BE A VOICE

  • Mike McKinnis

    I saw John Denver in concert in North Carolina. He was an amazing singer/songwriter and was a nature lover through and through. His talent of music and knowledge of the enviroment will be sadly missed forever. Great listening to you John….thanks for the memories.

    Mike McKinnis

  • Beverly Biggs

    John Denver touched my soul, the first time I saw him. He was waiting to perform in this smokey bar in Dallas. No clue WHO he was, but he had his guitar, where the pool tables were, sitting on a bar stool. Heading for the exit, what struck me, was how ALONE he looked. Enough so, that I stopped to say “hello”. Told me that he would be entertaining there. Wished him good luck & walked out the door. Moved to St. Louis, Sunday paper had a story about one JOHN DENVER. By that time his music was being played, everywhere, I LOVED it. Hit me like a bolt of lighting, THAT was the John Denver I met in Dallas. GO!!! JOHN!!!

    I’m Choctaw/Cherokee. His music/life lived touched everything I believe in. Became a flight attendant, because I loved the SKY/CLOUDS that much! It felt “FREE” to me, a peacefulness unlike anything I’d ever felt before. First time I saw the Smokey Mountains, holding my son in my arms, looking ALL around — I WEPT/CRIED like a baby! My husband stood there & did NOT move. I felt my ancestors around me & what the “Trail of Tears” must have felt like to THEM that day/days….. & forever.

    JOHN DENVER captured all of those emotions in his music & life’s work. He was/is a treasure!

    B.Biggs

  • Henry Timpone

    I am presently listening to John denver on tv singing Rocky Mountain High It brings back so many memories of him
    They are playing most of his songs. it is two people telling all about his life. His singing are sending chills down my spine I admired him and the way he lived. Its ashamed he is not living to-day Henry T

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