Life in Transport: From GCY Guide to Grad School and Back Again
By Madeline Friend
While on my first Grand Canyon trip ever as a participant with Grand Canyon Youth in 2009, I had never heard the words “fluvial geomorphology.” Like many people, I mistakenly used “hydrology” and “fluvial geomorphology” interchangeably. I had an interest in water flowing, water moving, water dancing, but I had not yet been exposed to the systematic study of these phenomena.
So, as a nervous 17-year-old heading down to the river for the first time, I prepared my required educational project on what I knew: hydrology. Ever the diligent student, I came prepared with notecards, activities, big ideas, and big questions. Through our time on the river, I got to see these questions in action: a classic pool-drop river with fan eddy complexes and fascinating hydraulics.
Of course, I did not learn those terms until years later, when as a volunteer trip coordinator on a GCY Partners In Science trip, I met fluvial geomorphologists Alan Kasprak and Joel Sankey. I was preparing to apply for graduate school and knew I wanted something in the water realm, something of rock and suds and grit. Dr. Kasprak and Dr. Sankey, besides being great boat buddies, were scientists at the USGS Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center. The sandbar research our group helped them with was fascinating and sparked the technical link I was looking for in my pursuit.
This led me to earn a graduate degree from Utah State University in the Department of Watershed Sciences. Fittingly, Dr. Kasprak served on my advisory committee, along with Dr. Belize Lane and Dr. Peter Wilcock, my main advisor. These scientists helped me develop my character as a researcher, ask enduring questions in the field, and effectively communicate my work. Most importantly, they supported my drive to work and give back to the Colorado River system.
Through my past ten years as a river guide, slipping seasons in around grad school and international travel, I still take the most glee in walking up and down sandbars with youth, asking questions and doing our best to understand the character of this indomitable river.