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Exploring ‘Last of the Great Unknown’ at 5Point

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Courtesy 5Point Film Festival"Last of the Great Unknown," director Dan Ransom's film about the Grand Canyon, shows Saturday at the 5Point Film Festival in Carbondale.
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CARBONDALE – Something like 4 million people each year travel to northern Arizona to stand on a platform, the Skywalk, and gape down nearly a mile to the Colorado River directly below, take an long look at the expanse of rock and desert and sky around them, and go home content that they have seen the Grand Canyon.

If they only knew how much of the Grand Canyon they didn’t see.

Dan Ransom, a 29-year-old Salt Lake City photographer, is making his way into film work with “Last of the Great Unknown.” The 22-minute documentary, which shows Saturday at the 5Point Film Festival in Carbondale, is an extensive look at what exists in the Grand Canyon away from the Skywalk: an enormous network of limestone-walled slot canyons, cold pools of water, massive spaces that Ransom calls “ballrooms” that are vast distances below the canyon rim.



And even Ransom feels he has only caught a glimpse of the Grand Canyon.

“The tiniest little sliver,” he said. “You could live multiple lifetimes trying to ferret out the mysteries that are down there.”



Ransom points out that Grand Canyon National Park – the entire area below the rim – covers some 1.2 million acres and is up to 18 miles wide. And most of its wonders are expertly hidden away, reserved for only the most adventurous travelers, who will hike miles just to get to the spots where they can set up ropes and rappel down the walls for closer examination.

“What fascinates us is, you can’t see them,” he said. “Even if you fly over, you just don’t know. There are all these intimate micro-environments that you don’t know exist until you get down in there. There are freezing cold canyons full of water; ballrooms – these big places of red-wall limestone, like cathedrals; carpets of monkey flower. All these things you don’t expect to see in a desert. It’s almost bizarre.”

The main figure in the film is Rich Rudow, a devoted Grand Canyon hiker/climber/swimmer. But Ransom dives into the history of Grand Canyon exploration, going back to the efforts of John Wesley Powell’s 1869 expedition that lasted three months and documented much of the canyon.

Despite the history of human presence in the canyon, including those 4 million visitors annually, this is wilderness.

“That’s one of the points that’s hard to convey,” Ransom said from Phoenix, where he had just attended a private screening of “Last of the Great Unknown.” “It’s not Nepal. But in terms of the Lower 48, it’s legitimate remote, backcountry wilderness. You can’t even fly over it in a plane and see it.”

Ransom wants his film to at least give an idea of what they can’t see from the Skywalk. “It’s mind-numbing when you think about how many people come to the Grand Canyon and have no idea what’s in there,” he said.

But Ransom also believes he might have inadvertently given viewers a false sense of the canyon’s vastness. He expresses some regrets about the title of his film – “Last of the Great Unknown” can convey the idea that the movie covers all of what had been left unexplored. But the film also makes the point that it is still possible to wander many slot canyons that have never been seen by human eyes.

“It’s so big and so vast, the only thing that limits you is how much punishment you’re willing to take,” he said.

stewart@aspentimes.com


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