Photographed by E.E. Olsen and produced by the Dudley Pictures Corporation, the 1947 Danger River is the “first professional motion pictures ever taken of the dangerous journey down the raging” Colorado River. The film opens with shots of massive rapids of the Colorado River as it rushes through the Grand Canyon (00:34). This stretch of the Colorado is known as “Danger River,” and the remains of men who attempted to run the river (01:31; 05:56) serve as a testament to how dangerous it is: over 125 men have tried to run these waters, but less than 60 have accomplished the feat. Norman Nevills (01:40) is in charge of this expedition of plywood boats reinforced with strips of oak. The expedition arrives at the river (02:33), and get the boats on the water, load provisions, then push off. During the first stretch, the men face the treacherous waters of Badger [Creek] Rapid (02:42) and explosion waves with 40-foot suction holes (05:15). Taking a needed break, the men climb 2,000 feet above the river to the ancient cliff dwellings of the Pueblo Indians (06:11), drift up a side canyon off the river, and fly fish for rainbow trout. Then its back to the river, where the expedition shoots Sockdolager Rapid in the river’s Granite Gorge (07:08), which is known as “Graveyard of the Colorado” with waves measuring 30-feet high. At times, the boats are completely sucked under the surface of the water. Finally, Rapid 233 marks the last of the rough water (08:12), and the expedition finally arrives at Lake Mead (08:27), having conquered the mighty Colorado.
Norman D. Nevills (April 9, 1908 - September 19, 1949) was a pioneer of commercial river-running in the American Southwest, particularly the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. He led trips including Dr. Elzada Clover and Lois Jotter, the first two women to successfully float the Grand Canyon (which occurred in 1938), and Barry Goldwater. In 1940, Nevills took Barry Goldwater, a young man from a family which owned Arizona's largest chain of grocery stores, as a paying customer down the Grand Canyon. Nevills allowed Goldwater to take the oars, and Goldwater flipped the boat in one rapid. Following his trip, Goldwater began giving slide shows in movie theaters and other venues, often to sold-out crowds. His statewide barnstorming tour convinced Goldwater that he had a knack for public speaking—which he parlayed into his very successful career in politics.
Successful trips down the Grand Canyon followed in 1941 and 1942. The 1942 Grand Canyon trip included passengers Ed Hudson, Ed Olsen and Otis Marston. On that cruise boatman Wayne McKonkie flipped a boat in Lava Chuar Rapid. Olsen made the film Facing Your Danger after the trip, which won the Academy Award for short subjects in 1947. Marston would proceed to travel more river miles with Norm than any other of Norm's boatman. Restrictions on travel caused by World War II ended Norm's Grand Canyon trips for the duration. Nevills stayed in Mexican Hat throughout the war, leading an occasional river trip, including some on the San Juan river and one on the Colorado through Cataract Canyon. In 1946, challenged by a Salt Lake City newspaper writer, Nevills went to Idaho to run trips on the Main Salmon and the Snake Rivers. These were very successful and Nevills considered expanding his business to include these rivers, but that never came about. He ran the upper Green River in 1947, as well as the Grand Canyon; then ran only the San Juan and Grand Canyon in 1948. In 1949, his last season on the river, he ran the Grand Canyon, finishing the trip in August. In ten years of leading paying customers down the Colorado, San Juan, and Green Rivers, Nevills never lost a customer, and he himself never capsized a boat, although some of his boatmen did. Magazines and newspapers labeled him "The World’s No. 1 Fast-Water Man."
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