A concerted effort will be made beginning this month to document historically significant inscriptions on the walls of southern Utah river canyons.

Gary Topping, curator of manuscripts for the Utah State Historical Society library, will travel next week to the Grand Gulch Primitive Area in the first of a series of expeditions to record writings dating to the turn of the century.Topping said he plans to begin his documentary travels with a four-day journey through the upper 36 miles of the Grand Gulch Primitive Area in San Juan County.

Other prime stretches with countless inscriptions that need to be recorded for state files include Labyrinth and the San Juan River canyons, Topping said.

"Virtually all those canyons down there have historic inscriptions," he said.

"Grand Gulch was archaeologically very important. There have been archaeologists and cattlemen and explorers in there since the early 1890s."

As part of the new effort, Topping created a form for filing as public record that shows where the inscriptions can be found and their content, with a photograph and information about the person and history behind the writings.

Assistance and information from others knowledgeable about river canyon inscriptions will be solicited so that state files are as complete and accurate as possible, Topping said.

"We just wanted to get a filing system started in the hope that other people who find things will file reports on them," he said.

"This strikes me as a really great thing - bringing history to the people. And it doesn't require specialized knowledge, just a camera, and being able to read. I'd like to see people all over the canyon country filling out forms."

Historic inscription forms are available through the state historical library, 300 Rio Grande, Salt Lake City, UT 84101.

Topping said the idea of formally documenting inscriptions of the lower canyons began as a loftier goal of nominating Labyrinth Canyon to the National Register of Historic Places. However, the process is quite complicated, and formal designation would do little more to preserve the history in an immediate sense than simple documentation will, Topping said.

"This doesn't preclude somebody doing it later," he added.

"At least we're photographing these things. Photographs eventually may be the only record preserved on them. Some are so eroded, and with weathering and vandalism a lot will be lost forever."

Among significant findings in Labyrinth Canyon, a 70-mile stretch of the Green River between the town of Green River and Mineral Canyon near Moab, are several inscriptions by Denis Julien, a fur trapper who rowed the Colorado River Basin extensively as early as 1836.

Other significant sites reveal early presence of river runners Norman Nevills and the Kolb Brothers, Emery and Ellsworth, who were also renowned for river expeditions through the Grand Canyon.

Nevills was the first to develop a substantial business out of commercial river running in southern Utah, Topping said. Among Nevills' many passengers was retired political conservative and former presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, who scratched his name into rock wall at Bowknot Bend in 1940.

Labyrinth Canyon contains so many inscriptions, it is almost an unbroken record about turn-of-the-century tourism development and steamboating, gold-mining activity, oil and uranium mining and exploration, and river running, Topping said.

"There are a couple of places where there are just hundreds of inscriptions on the walls," he said.

Names of early Mormons who made the historic Hole-in-the-Rock expedition to settle Bluff in 1880 are among sites that will be documented on the San Juan River, between Montezuma Creek and Lake Powell.