Leslie Allen Jones’ rare and utterly idiosyncratic scroll map of Idaho’s Clearwater River and its tributaries. Lewis and Clark visited with the Nez Perce along the Clearwater in the Fall of 1805 before descending the river in dugout canoes until they reached the Snake. I’ve never been, but today the Clearwater is renowned as one of the country’s great steelhead trout fisheries.
Clocking in at more than 36 feet long, the map depicts some 390 miles of the North and Middle Forks of the Clearwater, along with the Lochsa and Selway tributaries of the Middle Fork. The map contains an amazing amount of information compiled by Jones from a 1924 survey by the U.S. Geological Survey, his own extensive knowledge of the river, and fellow river runners. The map includes distances, gradients, water levels, rapids and other hazards, the topography of the surrounding landscape, resting places, camp sites, and so on.
Like all Jones’ maps, this one has a homegrown feel: The printing is somewhat uneven, with “joints” between map sections clearly visible, the notations are all in his own handwriting, and a panel at one end—present on every Jones map I have seen—admonishes the user to “Ride the wilderness whitewaters in reverence before God—with a prayer his strength will be in you”. Further, this map is clearly what we might call an “early state”, as it bears notations by Jones requesting further information, with the promise to incorporate this on updated versions: One adjacent to the title reads: “Oz—add what ratings and info you can and return copies—I will incorporate and return with new ones. Les”. Along the Lochsa River a note reads “(Profile is being completed[.] Send your info and I will enter it on the map).”
Leslie Allen Jones
Jones (1925/6-2020) got his start running the Green River in the late 1940s with his cousin Bus Hatch. Jones was hooked, and—a civil engineer by training—he designed a unique canoe-kayak-raft hybrid of aluminum, in which he first ran the Grand Canyon in 1953. In 1954 he helped found the Western River Guides Association and was in charge of its mapping and/or safety programs. A devout Mormon, he eventually quit the group because its meetings featured “too much drinking, swearing, and rock and roll”. (Webb) A straight arrow, perhaps, but also quirky: He gained the nickname “Buckethead” for filming his river adventures with a camera (later, a movie camera) mounted on a leather football helmet, protected with a paint can with a cutout for the lens.
Prior to Jones there were no guides or maps designed for use on Western rivers. The most valuable resource was the Plan and Profile of Colorado River published by the USGS in 1924… a superb piece of work, but printed on 21 large sheets of paper and hopelessly ill-suited for use on the water. Some river runners cut up and mounted or rolled the sheets of the Plan and Profile to create jury-rigged river guides, but Jones chose to start from scratch.
“I’d noticed when I’d run with the Sierra Club the rapids all kind of ran together as a blur, and I couldn’t remember the details well enough, and I didn’t have any identification points. So I started my scroll maps—I didn’t like the wind on the U.S. Geological [Survey] maps, so I started building my scroll maps.
“The outline of the maps was taken either from aerial photographs and drawn artfully, or traced directly from the contour maps of the U.S. Geological Survey, putting the river end-to-end, instead of cut up in segments like the USGS did, . . . so I could line the river out on a seven-inch scroll strip and then take it from one end to the other, without having to run off the scroll.” (Jones, quoted in Quartaroli, 158)
Jones’ early scroll maps were whiteprints on paper, thus tending to fade in sunlight and deform or tear when wet, so at some point he began to print them on waterproof mylar. Another Jones innovation, of a piece with his hybrid kayak and “Buckethead” photo rig, was the provision of a clear, waterproof plastic bag with each map, one of which accompanies this map of the Clearwater River system. The bags bore his printed instructions for how to seal a map inside so that “you can roll 20 feet of map a minute, keeping 5 to 10 miles visible at a time all the time inside the waterproof bag”. I don’t know how a paddler was to manage this while keeping an eye on the river, but who am I to gainsay a legendary guide like Jones?
As with the map offered here, Jones’ other maps are distinctive in content as well as form, including among other things historical notes; aesthetic, geographic and geological comments; conservation messages; and spiritual aphorisms. I offered up some examples earlier, but here are a couple of favorites from other Jones maps, both revelatory of his values and personality.
“The Lord God of Israel Lives And speaks through His prophets. In America”.
“Fools walk in where wise men go prepared. Experience and outfit unequal to the most a proposed expedition may require of you may require your life—if not the life of someone following your bad example.”
Best as I can tell, Jones produced dozens of scroll maps of rivers as far afield as the Colorado River basin, Montana, Utah, British Columbia and Mexico, many in multiple variants. It is however difficult to track the evolution of the maps, as he was haphazard in his use of titles, publication dates and revision dates. It does seem however that he revised and reissued at least some of them. For example, I recently handled a collection including three maps of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River: The first dated to 1964 and features the familiar contour lines of U.S. Geological Survey maps; while two others dating to May 1971 were on an entirely different format, with elevations indicated by hachuring.
The somewhat haphazard nature of the maps’ manufacture is also interesting. I have for example seen side-by-side two of Jones’ scroll maps of the Grand Canyon, identical in most respects but printed by a different method, with a different arrangement of statistical panels and other explanatory information.
A remarkable map of Idaho’s Clearwater River system, both eminently useful and idiosyncratic, from one of the most accomplished Western river guides of the 20th century.
Not in OCLC. Herm Hoops, “A Brief History of Early River Maps and Guides on the Colorado River System” (2006), accessed at riversimulator.org, Feb. 2022. Richard D. Quartaroli, “Evolution of the Printed Colorado River Guide in Grand Canyon, Arizona”, in Michael F. Anderson, ed., A Gathering of Grand Canyon Historians (Grand Canyon, AZ: Grand Canyon Association, 2005), pp. 155-162). Roy Webb, obituary of Jones posted on Facebook, June 18, 2020, accessed Feb. 2022. See also this audio recording of a 1994 interview with Jones on the web site of Northern Arizona University. That interview is reprinted in Boatman’s Quarterly Review, vol. 14 no. 2 (Summer 2001), pp. 22-31.