WESTERN RIVER EXPEDITIONS – “Run the Wild River” Documentary
“Run the Wild River”, is a 1962 documentary of the first descent of El Sumidero Canyon, near Chiapas, Mexico and other exploits of Jack Curry’s Western River Expeditions in the very early years of the company’s history. By 1970, Jack had compiled enough footage (including “promotional” footage of his J-Rigs running the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon) to edit the documentary into a film reel worthy of showing in auditoriums across the states. Much of El Sumidero Canyon is now submerged under a man-made reservoir, so among many other things, there is real history on these reels.
In 1961, when Curry established Western River Expeditions, the idea of “running rivers” was very much a novelty. Roughly 100 years had passed since John Wesley Powell’s original exploration of the canyons and rivers of the west, and only about as many souls had travelled those rivers. Jack was one of them. He was convinced that the new rubber raft designs he’d been tinkering with (the patented “J” Rig design) would open the floodgates to taking more people down the rivers of the west. While much has changed in the wide-spread interest of a Grand Canyon rafting vacation, (maybe thanks in part to Curry’s documentary), the coveted prize of seeing the canyon from the river is still a relatively rare experience.
What is fascinating in the film is the hardy nature of the adventures, and of course the adventurers themselves in this footage. A number of disasters and near disasters are documented in the first descent of El Sumidero and the Grijalva. Not to mention the adventure of simply “getting there” with planes catching fire, wings clipping tree branches on remote landing strips, etc. But, undaunted, the adventure rolled on… and into the history books.
Sit down on the couch tonight, pop some corn, and watch “Run the Wild River”. I think you’ll enjoy it!
Side Note: Georgie White (Georgie’s Royal River Rats, inc.), a contemporary, and competitor of Curry’s on the rivers of the west, had earlier attempted a first descent in El Sumidero. Perhaps of better judgement, she abandoned the effort. The next summer, when Georgie crossed paths with some of the Western River crew in Glen Canyon (now Lake Powell), and perhaps jealous of the media attention Western had garnered from the successful El Sumidero descent, she told them (in her famously salty way) that “they didn’t ‘first descend’ anything” with all the safety ropes they used to line the boats down the falls and rapids…. Georgie, a charismatic and flavorful character of the west was a force in and of herself and would get plenty of media attention over her career – running the rivers into her late eighties… in the leopard skin swimwear she was also famous for.