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| Donald Worster on: The Unknown Territory
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Donald Worster on: The Unknown Territory
Donald Worster Q: When he did find his way out West, early on, he heard about the Colorado, the unexplored regions of the Southwest. What was the image of that territory, at that time? What do people know about it? What stories might he think about?

DW: Well, the main maps that were available, after the Civil War, 1867-1868, had a kind of dotted line that was supposed to be the Colorado River, but across southern Utah, northern Arizona were the words Unknown Territory, because nobody had thoroughly explored that country. All around it, there had been exploration going on, by the military, by fur trappers, Mormons in Utah, some prospectors perhaps, but there was this big blank spot that sits where Utah is right now--southern Utah, northern Arizona.

Indians told him that the river went underground for long sections and never came out or they didn't know where it exited. There were stories of enormous water falls, higher than Niagara that he would have to go over. All that most people knew was that there was just a great blank on the map that nobody had completely penetrated or understood. I think he was expecting a lot more abundance of wild life, up and down the river that they could live on by hunting. When people had penetrated the upper tributaries, the Green, the Grand, they'd come up from the Gulf of California, Lieutenant Joseph Ives had come up, right before the Civil War on a steam ship--almost up to present day Hoover Dam-- before crashing against a rock. He had poked his nose into some part of the canyon. So, people knew that there were these deep, deep canyons with walls, you know, a mile high and that sort of thing. But he had no way of knowing what kind of treacherous conditions he would experience. He knew there were rapids. He had to know there were rapids. He saw rapids on the Green. The Green River comes down out of Wyoming and joins the Grand to become the Colorado. He knew those rapids. He walked along that riverbank, both sides, looking at rapids, deciding whether or not he could navigate them and thought it looked possible. So, that he understood and he could figure out by the elevation, where the river started and where it ended up, you know, what its gradient more or less had to be over a mile. So, it was on that basis, that he himself calculated that there were not going to be any huge water falls, Niagara kind of falls, etc. He knew the river came out. I think, he was able to discount a lot of the more scary legends, but nonetheless he certainly did not know just how big and treacherous and how frequent some of the rapids were going to be.

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