The Canyon Wren
Our Bozeman, Montana, store is unique in its own right. The downtown location has passed through very few owners in the past couple hundred years. We’ve found all kinds of historical paraphernalia in the basement. It’s equipped with its own sewing facility where we make garments on site. And one of the coolest things happening there is the drift-boat-turned checkout counter, which once belonged to a master boatman and whitewater fanatic from Pagosa Springs, Colorado, named Lincoln Frye.
The checkout counter at our Bozeman, Montana, store, which once belonged to a master boatman and whitewater fanatic from Pagosa Springs, Colorado, named Lincoln Frye.
It’s called the Canyon Wren, aptly named for the bird that inhabits many of the river canyons throughout the southwestern United States. You hardly see them, but you always hear them – their song is very distinct. Lincoln built the boat in 2008 and has steered it down just about every major river in the West; the Yampa, San Juan, the Gates of Lodore on the Green River, the Colorado down through the Grand Canyon (four times), all at about 20,000 cubic feet per second (CFS), flood stage.
“And now it gets repurposed,” said Lincoln, jovial, sturdy, always grinning.
Labor of Love
Lincoln built the boat in preparation for a trip through the Grand Canyon, loosely basing its design on a Briggs Dory. But unlike the traditional Briggs, it’s comprised of plywood and fiber glass with a stitch-and-glue construction, making it much lighter. It’s also taller than the standard Briggs, is able to hold more gear, and is wider at the gunnels, so that two Paco pads fit perfectly on the floor. “Great for sleeping on the river.”
Lincoln also designed and installed a bailing system that runs on a little electric motor. Though it takes a few minutes, it’ll drain the fully flooded boat and saves you the exertion of doing it by hand.
“This boat took a long time to build,” said Lincoln. “Lots of hours; a labor of love.”
The Canyon Wren, as mentioned, is a popular bird in all river canyons in southwest. And it’s what inspired the folk art paint job you see on the boat today. This particular wren has a white throat, mottled shoulders, and a tail that’s shaped sort of like an arrow.
“I wanted the paint job to be unique,” said Lincoln. “And also something that doesn’t show too much dirt and is easy to patch up.” Patch up he did; several times. Including using the universal fix-everything tool: duct tape.
The Canyon Wren inhabits many of the river canyons throughout the southwestern United States. You hardly see them, but you always hear them – their song is very distinct.
The Duct Tape
Lincoln’s last trip in the Canyon Wren was in the spring of 2018 through the Grand Canyon.
“At Crystal, and especially if you’re running wood, you have to stay left of the hole,” he said. “Running it like that, there’s always the danger of getting too close to the wall. Well, my friend and I went too far left and a gust of wind was the knockout blow that threw us up against the wall. Even though we both high-sided, the boat flipped. I had a pretty long swim and eventually got picked up by another boat. By the time I had a chance to locate my boat, my friend had already flipped it back over and was running the bilge pump.”
Lincoln’s dory had hit the rocks harder than he thought, rendering a few leaks. So they took a layover day to patch it up (with, you guessed it, duct tape) and did the last 100 miles of the Grand Canyon just like that. It floated, if not a little worse for wear.
“The boat got filled to the brim at one point. It was a struggle to get it to the beach, but we made it!”
A Special Story
On their 35th wedding anniversary, Lincoln and his wife took the Canyon Wren on the San Juan River from Bluff, Utah, down to Mexican Hat. When they launched, the river was rolling at a moderate 1,000 CFS. On their last night out, they camped at Fossil Stop. A storm rolled in. The river quickly came up to 10,000 CFS overnight. The next morning, with eight miles remaining, they launched the boat into the rapidly rising river. What would normally be a four-hour trip took them about 20 minutes. With the entire day remaining, they shuttled back up to Bluff, got another permit to launch again that morning, and did 30 miles in just a few hours. It was an anniversary to remember.
The Final Incarnation
The retired dory now rests easy in our Bozeman store, located at 17 E. Main Street in the historic downtown. You could say that the boat itself is a piece of history – the miles its covered, the stories that live within its hull.
The canyon wren inspired the folk art paint job you see on the boat today.
And while it wouldn’t last much longer running the big rivers of the West, it’ll certainly serve its purpose as a point of sale for many years to come. Since building and riding dories is part of the Frye family tradition (Lincoln’s son and daughter have both built and ridden dories down the Grand), Lincoln’s days on the whitewater are far from over. It’s only the Canyon Wren that’s being retired.
“I have so many good memories with this boat,” Lincoln said. “But I’m excited for it to live on in another incarnation.”