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BC Generations: Legacies of high scaler, raft trip founder celebrated on ride down river

It was a perfect match of local Colorado River and Hoover Dam history.

A trip made in heaven.

Black Canyon River Adventures recently hosted two iconic Boulder City families with strong ties to the Colorado River in the Black Canyon and the construction of Hoover Dam on a reunion raft trip.

Dorothy (Kine) Rants joined her brother, Dean, and her three sons, John, Chuck and Steve on a raft trip from the base of Hoover Dam to Willow Beach in Arizona that honored her father, Joe Kine Sr., an iconic high scaler who worked on the canyon walls during the Boulder Canyon Project to build Boulder Dam, later renamed, Hoover Dam.

Jill Rowland-Lagan, the daughter of Jim Bob Rowland’s Raft Tours founder, Jim Bob Rowland, was also onboard with her family. The trip was a welcome back to Black Canyon where she developed her entrepreneurial spirit and worked side-by-side with her father, also a creative, hardworking entrepreneur.

“This is the first time my girls have taken this trip,” said Rowland-Lagan of her daughters, Alexis and Abby.

The trip was an emotional reminder of her father, who died recently.

Rowland-Lagan remembers work being completed on the “first design of the motor inset for the raft in my granddaddy’s backyard.”

The early incarnation of the raft design included four army surplus inflatable rubber tubes laced together with a motor inset placed in the back of the unit. A few years later a passenger inset was included that allowed raft passengers to sit comfortably on a pair of bench seats.

The raft trip was a dream of Rowland, who had to work with the National Park Service to develop an approved narration and safety plan. A “concession” contract was created in 1982 by the NPS to run a raft trip along the 12-mile stretch of the Black Canyon between Hoover Dam and Willow Beach.

Rowland eventually sold the concession to a local family, who renamed it Black Canyon Raft Tours. Today, Forever Resorts LLC operates the trips as Black Canyon River Adventures.

The original narration was researched and written by Boulder City High School and Harvard graduate Will Julian, who received a degree in geology. He was helped by his wife, Mimi, one of the original narrators for Rowland’s trip.

“He did all of the work. I followed him around and did all of the typing,” said Mimi Julian. “We talked about everything as it was put together.”

The narration, hand-typed on old-fashioned onion-skin paper, is still in existence and remains the basis for current trips through the canyon.

Also a requirement for a safe trip still in effect almost 40 years later is the use of towels to keep passengers wet on hot summer days. Hand towels are dipped into a bucket of cold, clear Colorado River water, then passed out to passengers to put on their heads or around their necks.

“I remember washing those towels at home after raft trips,” said Rowland-Lagan.

The current longtime CEO of the Boulder City Chamber of Commerce, Rowland-Lagan started her first business at the age of 15 while working with her father.

“We used to give out a (lapel) pin of a bighorn sheep to the first passenger to spot a sheep while on the trip,” she said. “I used to sell hats and T-shirts during the trip, so I figured if they (passengers) would buy hats and T-shirts they would buy a pin, so I started selling the pins. I made my first $1,000 selling hats, T-shirts and pins. My company was River Rat Outfitters. It was my first business.”

At the start of the raft trip, floating near the base of Hoover Dam, Kine’s descendants looked up and scanned the canyon walls. Kine and his fellow high scalers dropped from the rim of the construction zone attached to ropes, carrying pneumatic drills, jackhammers and dynamite to drill holes in the canyon walls, set charges, and blast away loose rock and rubble above the construction area. Their job ensured that men working at the bottom of the canyon would be less likely to be hit by falling rock.

A statue at Hoover Dam commemorates the high scalers and Kine was the figure the bronze is based on.

Two men. Two legacies. One enjoyed the canyon from the top looking down. The other enjoyed the canyon from the bottom, on the river, looking up.

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