Grand Canyon Legends - John H. "Harvey" Butchart

A page dedicated to Dr. Butchart has been long overdue on this site. I have had it on my list for a long time and just never seemed to get around to it. The Canyon is such a big place that I manage to frequently loose myself in it, even as far as this web site goes. And so, now, finally, here is my tribute to my hero of Grand Canyon backcountry travel Mr. J. H. "Harvey" Butchart.

John H. "Harvey" Butchart, or just plain, old "Harvey", as his friends would call him is a true legend of Grand Canyon backcountry travel. His Grand Canyon hiking career spans some 42 years, beginning in 1945 and ending in 1987, when at age 80 he finally had to give it up. In that time he has spent 1,024 days in the canyon and has logged 12,000 miles on various trails and routes, some well-known, but many discovered by himself. The Backcountry Office at the Grand Canyon National Park (south rim) has a copy of his hiking map hanging on a wall for all to see.

Some of his many accomplishments include the following:

  • Discovery of a route through the Canyon from Lees Ferry to Havasu Canyon.
  • Discovery of 116 rim-to-river routes through the Redwall.
  • First-ascents of 25 out of 148 of the Canyon's named buttes, temples, shrines, etc.

Harvey never wore hiking boots and normally travelled the Canyon in inexpensive work shoes bought at Sears or K-Mart. He averaged about 12 miles per day on his hiking trips, throughout his career. Among other rather dangerous undertakings, he would often float downstream or across the Colorado River on cheap air mattresses. He would initially walk for 2 solid hours at the beginning of a hike before taking his first break and he limited all of his breaks to five-minute periods, timed with a pocket watch. When hiking in his 60s and 70s he would still leave his much younger hiking companions in the dust.

He was injured in the backcountry on a number of occasions and has broken ribs, both heels and a wrist. In his entire hiking career he only had to be airlifted out of the Canyon on one occasion, when a particularly nasty injury found him incapacited about 200 yards upstream from the Royal Arch in November 1967.

Harvey Butchart was born to the parents of missionaries, in Hofei, China in 1907, and he received his early education at the American school there. The Butchart family returned to the America in 1920 when his father died. Back in the U.S. he attended Eureka College from which he graduated in 1928. He later attended the University of Illinois where he earned his master's and doctorate degrees in 1929 and 1932. In 1945 he began his teaching career at the University of Northern Arizona (which was then called Arizona State College) where he taught mathematics until his retirement in 1976. During his hiking career Harvey has written three hiking guides to the Grand Canyon backcountry: Grand Canyon Treks I, II, and III.

The University of Northern Arizona has one of five known copies of Harvey's hiking log, which exceeds 1000 pages, and contains detailed notes regarding his hiking routes as well as the geology and wildlife he encountered along them. The University of Northern Arizona's Cline Library also has a collection of over 7,000 of his photographs. Some of these have been digititized can be found on-line here.

Check out Dr. Butchart's Slide Collection at Northern Arizona University's Cline Lbrary.

Harvey Butchart
Harvey Butchart signing a copy of one of his Grand Canyon hiking guides, Grand Canyon Treks, at the Annual Grand Canyon Pioneers Society Picnic at Shoshone Point
June 1996

Harvey's Hiking Boots
Harvey's Hiking Boots
From the Grand Canyon Museum Collection

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