Photo Gallery: Martin Litton’s Life and Legacy

As the 'Martin's Boat' film premieres across the country, we take a look at Litton's contributions to conservation and river running

Martin Litton was born in 1917 and grew up in Gardena, California. Photo courtesy of the Litton Family.
He served as a glider pilot in the Army Air Forces during World War II. He would continue to fly small aircraft throughout his life. Photo courtesy of the Litton Family.
Litton goofing off in his long johns. Photo courtesy of the Litton Family.
Martin Litton and Esther Clewette were married in 1942. They had two sons and two daughters. Photo courtesy of the Litton Family.
Litton made his first descent of the Grand Canyon with in 1955. He is pictured here on a 1956 trip. Photo courtesy of the Litton Family.
Litton was an outspoken conservationist from early on. Before he even floated the Grand Canyon, he'd penned pointed pieces arguing for the protection of the Colorado River and its tributaries as well as other wild places in the American West. Photo courtesy of the Litton Family.
Litton working one of his dories with a little help from the family. More elegant -- and more fragile -- than inflatable rafts, dories weren't used on commercial Grand Canyon trips until Litton came along. Photo courtesy of the Litton Family.
Litton worked as an editor for Sunset magazine and a freelance writer for the Los Angeles Times throughout the 50s and 60s, but he still found time to get out on the river. Here he is relaxing in camp in 1962. Photo courtesy of the Litton Family.
Launched by Litton in 1969, Grand Canyon Dories continues to take passengers down the Colorado River. Photo courtesy Rudi Petschek.
Litton named each of his dories after a significant place that had either been lost to development or conserved in perpetuity. Photo courtesy Rudi Petschek.
As a lifelong conservationist, Litton "wracked up a number of impressive victories and an even longer list of painful defeats," writes Kevin Fedarko, "but the greatest of his crusades took place inside the grandest canyon of all, where he helped to spearhead a battle against a trio of hydroelectric dams that were designed to drown the unearthly paradise at the bottom of the abyss and to still the river running through it." Photo courtesy Rudi Petschek.
Sierra Club president David Brower famously called Litton "my environmental conscience.” Photo courtesy Rudi Petschek.
Cooling off on a side hike up Havasu Canyon in 1983. Photo courtesy Rudi Petschek.
Litton shooting a rapid in the Grand. Photo by John Blaustein.
A 90-year-old Martin Litton in the Grand Canyon with his son Don. Photo courtesy of the Litton Family.
The new film 'Martin's Boat' follows the recently constructed Marble Canyon dory on a 14-day trip down the Grand. Litton was instrumental in defeating the proposed Marble Canyon Dam in the 1960s that would have flooded the canyon. Photo by Pete McBride.

“In the annals of wilderness conservation, Martin Litton is a singular force of nature—a Category 5 hurricane of eloquence, passion, and pig-headed obduracy quite unlike anything that has ever blown across the American landscape.” Author Kevin Fedarko wrote these words in the March 2009 issue of Canoe & Kayak when noted conservationist and pioneering river runner Martin Litton was 91 years old. Fedarko’s remarks were certainly no overstatement. As a World War II veteran, writer, editor, and Grand Canyon outfitter, Litton left an unmistakable imprint not only on the commercial rafting industry but on the landscape itself. In the 1950s and 1960s, he took an unwavering stance against three dams in the Grand Canyon and inspired Sierra Club president David Brower to help him wage an all-out, ultimately successful battle against the flooding of one of America’s most iconic national treasures. Brower would later call Litton "my environmental conscience.” Litton passed away in 2014 at the age of 97.

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Take a deeper look into Litton’s life and legacy by browsing through the gallery above. Many of the archival images appear in Martin’s Boat a new short film by Pete McBride and O.A.R.S., which operates the company Litton founded, Grand Canyon Dories. Now premiering at film festivals across the country, Martin’s Boat follows a dory built in Litton’s honor down the Grand Canyon and provides insight into his many conservation campaigns. Look for its release online this June.

— In 2012, C&K readers voted to grant Litton our Lifetime Achievement Award and we were humbled to have him attend the award show where he delivered a moving acceptance speech.

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