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From Our Archive: Rapids Ahead!

In November 1969, the National Geographic Society celebrated the centennial of John Wesley Powell’s expedition down the Colorado River. Powell, one of our founding members, embarked on his 98-day journey on May 24 1869. The purpose of his expedition — “Powell, in a last letter from Green River, explained, ‘The object is to make collections...

In November 1969, the National Geographic Society celebrated the centennial of John Wesley Powell’s expedition down the Colorado River. Powell, one of our founding members, embarked on his 98-day journey on May 24 1869.

The purpose of his expedition — “Powell, in a last letter from Green River, explained, ‘The object is to make collections in geology, natural history, antiquities, and ethnology for the institutions assisting the work'” (NGM, May 1969; 686). Those institutions were: The University of Illinois, Illinois Natural History Society, the Chicago Academy of Sciences, and the Smithsonian Institution.

To commemorate Powell’s trip, Joseph Judge (NGM Senior Staff member) was assigned to re-create and lead the journey down the Colorado river in the Summer of 1969. He was joined by several NGS staff, grantees, and their families. The film was shot by NGS photographer and filmmaker, Gerald Wiley, and other notable members on the trip included John and Frank Craighead (and Frank’s son Lance) and Bill Garrett (Assistant NGM editor at the time) and his sons Kenney and Mike.

To hear Joseph Judge’s full account of the trip, please read his article “Retracing John Wesley Powell’s Historic Voyage Down the Grand Canyon” in the May 1969 issue of NGM.

Our NG timeline entry also has Judge’s full narration of the film at the lecture event.

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Meet the Author

Karen Buckley Cerka
Karen Buckley Cerka is Director of the Film and Audiovisual Archive and has worked with the Archive since 2008. The Film and Audiovisual Archive dates back to 1901 and houses 770,000 hours of viewing material. Highlights include Louis Leakey and William Beebe, Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall.