Saying goodbye to our friend, Herman Hoops.
By: Cody M. Perry
Herm Hoops. Dedicated river runner, historian, advocate, and general pain in the ass passed away at his home in Jensen, Utah on Monday afternoon, November 23rd. I like to think that as he pushed off this last time, the Green River inexplicably swelled to flood stage. A final gesture to an old friend. Let the following be a humble tribute in grief and love, waving farewell to this unforgettable character in the toucan hat.
Herm grew up as a ruff-and-tumble farm kid in tristate New York. The Hoops family had a small but notable operation raising horses, cows and producing hay. It’s here where Herm molded his adventurous spirit with plenty of open spaces and the oars of little row boat to pull around the farm pond.
His first introduction to the wide West was through the window of a 50’s station wagon during a family road trip. That trip, the scale of it all, left an indelible impression on the Hoops family; but it’s clear that for Herm it was the beginning of something altogether different.
Herm learned to love running rivers in Vermont, but nothing could have prepared him for the seductive labyrinths of the Colorado Plateau. These were the halcyon days of early river running during the 1970s. Rafting wasn’t near as popular, pedestrian, or middle class as it is today. The boats, the gear, even the river access were far more primitive. With no crowds and no permits necessary, Herm fanned out running rivers in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho. But there seemed to be a special chemistry, a kind of destiny with one canyon in particular: Desolation.
I came to know of Herm as a guy who did a ton of trips through Desolation Canyon. He always seemed to be on the river. I saw his name credited in every book I could get my hands on about the Deso. From the Belknap Guides to James Aton’s classic, “The River Knows Everything” and many, many more. There’s a solid chance any given river guide in Desolation or Dinosaur either knew, loved, tolerated or were terrified of Herm Hoops. An imposing, large, grizzly of a man, who is always introduced as a legend and known to wear a toucan hat on the river, and little else.
Herm was mercurial. He was serious, obsessive and could dig in with no intention to budge. He was also a hopeless romantic, he was reflective, self deprecating and FUNNY! Herm somehow managed to be an outlaw and a sheriff in the river community all at once, and he did that across decades. He knew the owners and operators of major inflatable boat manufacturers and, maybe more importantly, every bartender at Ray’s Tavern in Green River.
I can speak for the river community that we’ve lost an elder and an icon. His absence will be felt in the circles of average river rats, federal water managers, congressional staffers, and anyone foolish enough to let Herm Hoops get ahold of your email address. It’s been a single day and I can feel the immense undertow of his absence; and an empty green parrot hat.
A few years ago, I was returning some borrowed gear to Herm and we sat down for a moment in his garage to catch up. You have to imagine this space, a two door bay with a boat in some stage of repair. The walls are covered in river memorabilia. Posters, stickers, maps, photographs, and gear. All of it is well used and organized, “Hoops,” stenciled on every ammo can. We looked out over the fields toward the Green River and suddenly, Herm told me he had been diagnosed with cancer. Not knowing what to say, I asked him if he wanted to go down Deso.
Herm’s love for rivers isn’t unusual; but his lifelong dedication to their conservation is. Years of participating in the mundane public comment process, attending countless late-night water meetings across the region, drafting letter after letter to all levels of decision-makers. Herm did all this — he made a difference. He made worthy friends and advisaries.
He straddled a time before and after standardized western river regulations were developed, before designer life jackets and Facebook forums. Herm led generations of boaters toward his own brand of a conservation ethic before river conservation was an assumed pillar of rafting culture. Herm understood that threats came from not only oil and gas, or water development; but also unchecked recreation along these treasured rivers. When it came to protecting a place, Herm never stopped pushing the rafting industry, the boating community or stirring the pot.
Herm’s passion went beyond the deep canyons of the Colorado Plateau and into the arms and support of his loving partner Valerie. Herm met Val while he was working as a ranger in Dinosaur National Monument and lucky for him, convinced her to come on a river trip. Val is beautiful, quiet and shy. Herm is large, bellicose and gregarious. Like a swirling eddy, they balanced each other. Herm and Val had a tradition of conducting a romantic dinner on the banks of the river. Herm looking dapper in a formal military mess dress uniform and Val dazzling in a black mini skirt cocktail dress. They’d set out a table complete with candles and champaign. Toasting their union, enveloped in majesty around them, enveloped in each other.
Herm loved being a father to his two kids: Hatteras and Gillian, introducing them both to the river as toddlers. At the put in, Herm would place young Gill in the truck with her foot on the gas, Herm would run back to blow up the boat with a hose of engine exhaust. Herm told his kids there was never any room for a tent, they’d have to sleep under the stars. There was no room for hot cocoa, only coffee, no room for Hatt’s walkman either. Herm instead suggested they indulge themselves with the sound of water dripping off the oars and the song of the canyon wren. Hatt and Gill may not have understood it at the time, I wouldn’t have either, but Herm was weaving the river into his kids very being. He made sure that the river would flow from within.
By nature all rafters have river families, and Herm is no exception. The canyons were sacred, like a key to the universe for Herm. More than anything he loved the intoxicating joy of sharing these places with his river family. People like his sister Brenda Hoops Rouse, Michael Dean Smith, Tamsin McCormick, Pamela Derby, Leif Johnson, Scott Warthin, Daniel Earth and many others.
That day in the garage, when I asked Herm if he wanted to go down Deso, it wasn’t to escape the fact that death comes for us all. It was about completing a circle. Coming back to where one started. You see Herm rowed boats into places he fell in love with, but he also kept rowing boats onto a realization that social and environmental justice won’t happen on their own. He rowed boats into the hearts of people he loved. He still rows boats in the hearts and minds of many. So we set out to tell Herm’s story, one we all need more now than ever.
Not long after that last Deso Trip with Herm and Val, Hoops sent me a letter containing a single skeleton key, and with it, some advice:
“Take this Brother, a key to the Rivers, may it serve you well… Proceed with caution, there are many distractions. Befriend bureaucrats but know they don’t report to the rivers. Stick up for the little guy with a cheap boat and little money, they are the future protectors. Read, ask questions and from time to time, throw yourself on the sword.”
Herm Hoops, editor-in-cheif of the Utah Utardian.
Herm Hoops, 2019 River Runner Hall of Fame inductee.
Herm Hoops, NPS Admin & Ranger at Dinosaur National Monument.
Herm Hoops, RMS, Outstanding Contribution to River Management.
Herm Hoops, Inflatable Boat Historian and Author.
Herm Hoops, River Runner, Mentor, MFA quicksilver ballet.
Herm Hoops, The Outlaw Sheriff.
Herm Hoops, husband, father, brother and friend.
There will never be another like you.