Sixtymile - Grand Canyon Notes

Who Was Robert Benson Eschka, 26 Sep 1990.

During a trip with George Steck around Powell Plateau one of the group asked George about Robert Benson, to whom George dedicated Grand Canyon Loop Hikes I. On the beach of Hundred and Twentytwo Mile Canyon, George told us a little about his acquaintance with Robert.

It seems that Robert was born to a fairly well-to-do family in West Germany. At some point in his early life he came into conflict with his father about his studies, and perhaps some other matters as well. He left home for a time on more than one occasion and finally did not return. Eventually he settled in the southwest of the United States, supporting himself as a carpenter, and developed a deep fascination for the Canyons of the Colorado.

I do not recall at this moment the details of how he came to know George, but over a number of years and after sharing many adventures they became quite familiar, but never really close, entirely due to an apparent desire on the part of Robert not to become too tangled up in other people's lives or theirs in his. He would spend the greater part of each year in extended exploration of the most remote parts, most often alone.

George would sometimes make arrangements to meet Robert in the Canyon during his travels, for resupply and probably to assure himself that Robert was accounted for from time to time. By George's account he was clearly an aggressive and capable backcountry explorer, eventually completing travel on both riverbanks from Utah to Lake Mead. In these travels he pioneered a number of new routes, particularly in the western areas.

Robert was in occasional correspondence with his family. He received visits from family members, and his father died, but still he remained. It was a short time after receiving a letter urging him to return home that he drove his truck away into the mountains of New Mexico and ended his life by carbon-monoxide poisoning.

It seems clear that Robert was someone not at ease with himself. George described an aversion to books, and related that Robert seemed to have conserved every scrap of paper connected with his life. These are indications that he was inwardly troubled.

Robert kept a journal of his activities as well and, although the original was returned to his family, George retained a marginally legible copy. According to George, when he tried to interest someone in writing about Robert they replied that people obsessed with such places are not really that unusual or interesting. For those of us who share some small sense of Robert's affliction in being devoted to the Grand Canyon, he deserves a little more admiration, and understanding, whether it would have mattered to him or not.

In violation of NPS policy, George has placed a monument to Robert in a remote place he intended to be kept secret. In "River to Rim" by Nancy Brian the site is identified as the nameless canyon at river mile 155. If this monument should stay there for long enough, it may earn a permanent place of historical significance. ...And there would be nothing wrong with that.


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