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Michael Ghiglieri on: The Great Unknown
Michael Ghiglieri Q: What did Powell know before he went of the first expedition?

MG: Powell was blessed by a combination of ambition, optimism and ignorance. I think had he known what was awaiting him in the series of canyons ahead, he might never have left, or might have left differently equipped. But, fortunately for him, he wanted to explore this great last great unknown and was naive as to the level of dangers that he'd encounter. I think this was essential for him to actually leave.

Q: What was the image of the place - what did he know, what had he heard?

MG: Well, he probably had heard very little to nothing, except a little bit from trapping expeditions and so on that had been on the very upper sections of the river that were, not well known but known a bit. But, what he did to prepare was a lot of foot work on the upper tributaries, of the Colorado, in the State of Colorado. And, he had an idea what sort of things might be ahead, but not the magnitude. He knew the character, but not the size.

Q: What was the word on the river, that sort of scuttle butt around western trading posts? What were the rumors?

MG: The rumors were that you would disappear. It was a black hole, it was unknown land and the river had not even been seen, not even witnessed in various sections, let alone run. And, so it was a complete mystery and there might have been great falls and so on. The only thing he knew was that there was a vast distance in a couple, three thousand feet, a drop. And, he knew, over the stretch of the river, it could have a water fall, but if he were lucky, it would be dropping in small increments and it would all be navigable or somehow manageable.

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