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“Journey Into the Great Unknown”




Premiere of new film at the John Wesley Powell River History Museum

Boatmen hit the rapids in the filming of the, “Journey Into the Great Unknown.”

The long awaited film for the John Wesley Powell River History Museum was unveiled at a premiere showing on May 21. Movie producer Gray Warriner, Camera One Productions was on hand to introduce the film to the large crowd gathered in the theatre at the museum. “The Journey into the Great Unknown,” follows Major Powell and his crew through the first expedition on the Green and Colorado rivers.
“This film was a labor of love and something I have wanted to do most of my life. The film was three years in the making.” Warriner also worked on the Lewis and Clark bicentennial film while working on the Major Powell film as well.
“This is my favorite because it is told through the journals and letters from the crewmen on the trip. You see these men in the film as ghosts from the past who come and go. We didn’t have a way to identify these men too closely and for several of the men there were no photographs.
“We call the process ghost imaging,” said Warriner. He described the filming process as being very difficult, they shot the background and the people and the camera can’t move or everything won’t match up. The composite scenes and special effects took six months to complete.
Major Powell took two voyages, one in 1869 and another in 1871. In his book, “Canyons of the Colorado,” he combined the two expeditions into one book. He wrote the book a long time after the expeditions and notes and memories failed in the interpretation and retelling of the stories. Some of Powell’s facts were different from the stories told by Powell’s boatsmen.
Warriner told of the help he had in getting this film made. Dee and Sue Holladay of Holladay Expeditions helped. Warriner told of the time Dee fell out of the boat which is the first time he’s ever fallen out of a boat. “Dee is an excellent boatsman” said Warriner.
Dee was the object of much teasing for this one incident where he fell overboard into the water.
“Major Powell was a character of self-promotion. He almost left the men out in the telling of his story. But, without his men the trip wouldn’t have been possible. In the filming we had a saying that although Major Powell only had one arm, he never let his disability disable him. He lost his arm in the Civil War. But, he didn’t do it alone. This film helps to see both sides of the story.
Warriner introduced some of the people instrumental to the making of the film. Greg Munson was the cameraman who previously worked at Mesa Verde. He had never been on an overnight boat trip before. Munson said he thought it was a special experience to follow in Major Powell’s footsteps. “I learned so much, it was an amazing challenge of courage and skill.”
Bud Barton from Green River shot the aerial photography used in the film. Roy Webb read the script for the film. “There is no denying the impact that Major Powell had. There have been so many things about Powell, but when I saw this script and an early copy of the documentary where the voices of the men are brought in, I knew this was special,” said Webb.
Seventeen men kept journals along the route and many wrote long letters home and also sent articles to their local newspapers.
Warriner said the film was shot with motion picture film and is a high quality product. The 80 minute film will be condensed into a 20 minute film for the theatre at the museum. Full length copies of the film will also be on sale at the museum gift shop.
It was 20 years before anyone else followed Major Powell down the Green and Colorado rivers. The film was shown to the audience. Jack Sumner was one of Powell’s crewmen. He commented at the beginning of the voyage, “If you go slow and careful, you’ll be allright.” He also said that there were a lot of things in Powell’s book besides the truth.

Gray Warriner speaks at the premiere of the, “Journey into the Great Unknown.”

Major Powell was a professor of geology and he understood canyons. He had no fear even though it was unknown where and how the Colorado plummeted only that it did before it reached its final destination. Crewmen did not feel prepared for what lay ahead on the journey. Venturing out into the unknown was frightening for them. They began their journey on May 24, 1869 at Green River, Wyo. a small but thriving frontier town. The townspeople gathered to watch the four boats enter the river and they waved as the journey into the unknown began. Many of the crewmen were Civil War Veterans.
The crewmen said the area they floated through was barren and desolate, yet a place of beauty. When the group came to Flaming Gorge, it appeared to them the rocks were flaming with fire. Major Powell named the area, Flaming Gorge, which in present day is the site of a dam. Below Flaming Gorge, the expedition hit rapids and crewmen said, “we traveled with the speed of wind,” between rapids in the calm water they bailed water from the boats. At one point in seemingly endless rapids and narrow channels, the boat called the No Name hit a rock and broke in half and the men were deposited in the river and carried away. The men clung to rocks in the river and were picked up by the other boats, but precious cargo and provisions were lost in the river. Two barometers also went down and Major Powell, launched a recovery effort to find the barometers. They were successful, recovering the barometers and a keg of whiskey. They named the spot of the mishap Disaster Falls.
George Bradley, crewman said, “The river roars and foams like a wild beast, if we succeed, it will be dumb luck,” on June 13, 1869. A fire started in one of the camps along the way, they lost a few more provisions and had to take to the water to put out their clothes which were on fire. The river increased in size with the influx of the Yampa River. The river widened out to form islands with large wooded areas in between the water. They called the area Island Park.
Sumner wrote in his journal, “This is utterly worthless country, unless you’re an artist or a geologist.” When the group reached the Uintahs, Major Powell hiked out and posted mail from the crewmen. It was a 25 mile hike to an Indian settlement.
Frank Goodman decided he did not want to go on and complete the journey. He left the party. The party entered what Major Powell named, Desolation Canyon. Major Powell and one other crewman were hiking far above the canyon when Major Powell became stranded on a ledge. The man he was with removed his pants and hung them down to where Powell could reach them and he pulled Powell back up to safety.
“The rapids were bad, we could only go slow and safe, for to walk out was impossible,” recorded the crewmen. After passing Desolation Canyon, the river opened to a vast open plain. The landscape seemed to waver and shimmer in the hot, dry sun. Powell named the canyon Labyrinth due to its intricate passages and high canyon walls. The canyon was desolate and lonely. The three boats and nine men floated on through red sandstone with no vegetation soil or sand, only rocks. At this point, the group had two months supply of food left.
Powell named Cataract Canyon and described it as the most abrupt rapids to date on the trip. At this point in the trip, crewmen speculated over the future and what would lie ahead on their journey. They saw a dead reptile, lying on a rock and deemed him sensible to die, before the descent to the rapids. The canyon was filled with 15-20 foot falls.
The journeyers discovered Native American ruins and explored a kiva and mysterious potholes along the way. Major Powell named Glen Canyon for its splendor as a secluded, musical place where the music seemed to flow off the canyon walls like a musical glen. On Aug. 5, 1869 the group entered the Grand Canyon. They took some time to repair the boats as they knew toil and danger lay ahead. Bradley said, “The boats are growing older than we are.”
The Grand Canyon held 2,500 feet high walls of polished sandstone. In a land where it seldomrains, dark clouds gathered and the skies poured causing great brown waterfalls to run off the tops of cliffs into the river. The men went ashore and overturned their boats to use as shelter from the cloudbursts. The men discovered that when the walls of canyons turned to a hard granite, the rapids and narrows were more severe than when traveling through sandstone. The pinnacles extended into the water and the men had misgivings about entering this stretch of the canyon. Bradley said, “We must run the rapids or abandon the river.” At this point in the trip the crew only had 10 days of flour left and a few dried apples. They felt as if they were in a granite prison.
The group approached a place in the river where lava flows extended out into the water. They marveled at this place where fire and water mixed. The canyon walls turned into granite again and the group reached a place that came to be known as Decision Point. Major Powell determined to go on, he had planned the trip for years and was not going to abandon it. Some in the party decided not to brave the rapids again and took to the mountains.
It was a solemn time for the group as decisions were made. Bradley said he would run the rapids or perish, “Three men left and we regret their loss.” The group persevered on to take the next rapids, Bradley said, they lost not an oar and as they got into the thick of it, it wasn’t as bad as some rapids they had already been through. They had flour enough for five days. On Aug. 29, 1869 they emerged from the canyon into a valley. They regretted that those who took to the mountain were not there to share. They had endured the gloom and toil and the gloom disappeared. They felt joy and ecstasy at reaching their destination. Major Powell was a driven man and this determination saw them through to the end of the journey.
The three men who took to the mountain were never heard from again.
Sumner said, “People said I was a damn fool to embark on this journey and now we got through, they are saying I’m a damn fool for the same thing.”
This group of tough minded frontiersman made the journey into the great unknown possible. The journey was a triumph of determination of the human spirit.

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