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The upper continuation of the Colorado River of the West is Green River which heads in the Wind River Mountains at Frémont Peak. From this range southward to the Uinta Mountains, on the southern boundary of Wyoming, the river flows through an open country celebrated in the early days of Western exploration and fur trading as "Green River Valley," and at that period the meeting ground and "rendezvous" of the various companies and organisations, and of free trappers. By the year 1840 the vast region west of the Missouri had been completely investigated by the trappers and fur-hunters in the pursuit of trade, with the exception of the Green-and-Colorado River from the foot of Green River Valley to the termination of the now famous Grand Canyon of Arizona. The reason for this exception was that at the southern extremity of Green River Valley the solid obstacle of the Uinta Range was thrown in an easterly and westerly trend directly across the course of the river, which, finding no alternative, had carved its way, in the course of a long geological epoch, through the foundations of the mountains in a series of gorges with extremely precipitous sides; continuous parallel cliffs between whose forbidding precipices dashed the torrent towards the sea. Having thus entrapped itself, the turbulent stream, by the configuration of the succeeding region, was forced to continue its assault on the rocks, to reach the Gulf, and ground its fierce progress through canyon after canyon, with scarcely an intermission of open country, for a full thousand miles from the beginning of its entombment, the entrance of Flaming Gorge, at the foot of the historical Green River Valley. Some few attempts had been made to fathom the mystery of this long series of chasms, but with such small success that the exploration of the river was given up as too difficult and too dangerous. Ashley had gone through Red Canyon in 1825 and in one of the succeeding winters of that period a party had passed through Lodore on the ice. These trips proved that the canyons were not the haunt of beaver, that the navigation of them was vastly difficult, and that no man could tell what might befall in those gorges further down, that were deeper, longer, and still more remote from any touch with the outer world. Indeed it was even reported that there were places where the whole river disappeared underground. The Indians, as a rule, kept away from the canyons, for there was little to attract them. One bold Ute who attempted to shorten his trail by means of the river, shortened it to the Happy Hunting Grounds immediately, and there was nothing in his fate to inspire emulation.
The years then wore on and the Colorado remained unknown through its canyon division. Ives had come up to near the mouth of the Virgin from the Gulf of California in 1858, and the portion above Flaming Gorge, from the foot of Green River Valley, was fairly well known, with the Union Pacific Railway finally bridging it in Wyoming. One James White was picked up (1867) at a point below the mouth of the Virgin in an exhausted state, and it was assumed that he had made a large part of the terrible voyage on a raft, but this was not the case, and the Colorado River Canyons still waited for a conqueror. He came in 1869 in the person of John Wesley Powell, a late Major in the Civil War, whose scientific studies had led him to the then territory of Colorado where his mind became fired with the intention of exploring the canyons. The idea was carried out, and the river was descended from the Union Pacific Railway crossing to the mouth of the Virgin, and two of the men went on to the sea. Thus the great feat was accomplished—one of the greatest feats of exploration ever executed on this continent.