Adventure caught on film: 3 Grand Junction men journey through South America |

Adventure caught on film: 3 Grand Junction men journey through South America

Brittany Markert
Sam Morrison enjoys the vast views of the Río Marañón. It is considered the Grand Canyon of South America with its steep sidewalls and canyons.
Chad Thatcher |


WHAT: Wednesday Night Wandering showing “The Primary Source”

WHEN: Wednesday, April 29, 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Colorado Mesa University, University Center Ballroom, 1455 N. 12th St., Grand Junction

COST: Free


When faced with the prospect of adventure, three Grand Junction men — Chad Thatcher, Sam Morrison and Tom Morrison — don’t hesitate.

Sam and Tom Morrison, brothers, became involved with Colorado Mesa University’s Outdoor Program in 2005, taking dozens of international trips each year during their college career. Through the Outdoor Program, they got to know Thatcher, who acts as its director.

When the brothers graduated, they decided to continue their world exploration. And when an opportunity arose to tackle Río Marañón (the largest tributary river leading to the Amazon in South America), they not only went for it; they documented their experience, creating a film called “The Primary Source.” It will premier at the Outdoor Program’s Wednesday Night Wanderings on Wednesday, April 29, at 7:30 p.m. The event is planned for University Center’s South Ballroom. It is free to attend and open to the public.


The Morrison brothers brought along their film equipment to capture their adventure down Río Marañón, which is considered to be the Grand Canyon of South America. It is also considered the longest free-flowing river in the world, meaning there are no dams or other obstructions stop the flow as it connects to the Amazon River. The group traveled more than 1,000 miles via kayak, raft and local boats to complete the journey.

“It has the essence of a great adventure,” Thatcher said.

Tom and Sam filmed, produced and edited the entire documentary. They wanted to capture not only the expansive river, but the people who rely on it for resources (like food and mobility from village to village).

“It was cool to talk to the people who lived there, like the villagers who don’t have ways to communicate to the outside world,” Tom said. “It was nice getting to talk to them and hopefully we will tell their story a little better.”

According to Thatcher, many villages may be displaced if dams are built on Río Marañón; and they fear their voices will be lost in the face of progress. This film is meant to create a voice for the villagers, who otherwise may be unheard.


The Morrisons were invited to take a trip on the Río Marañón with a group called Sierra Rios, which was founded by Rocky Contos of San Diego, Calif. Then they invited Thatcher.

“The invite started before the trip really [because we were already] adventuring together and bonding during that time,” Thatcher said. “You don’t typically go up to many friends and mention a trip and have them understand the adventure and overwhelming urge to go and explore.”

Sam and Tom began the trip trekking near the head waters in Cordillera Huayhaush near the Andes in Peru. This is where Río Marañón begins; and where it receives fresh water from the melting snow of the Andes.

The Morrisons then met up with Thatcher and Contos at the head waters of the Río Marañón. From there, they traveled by kayak for three and a half days on class 4-5 rapids.

“There were some terrifying rapids,” Tom added.

Eventually the four men joined another touring group, a total of 10 people, mostly from the United States and South America. They traveled down the river to Imacita in Peru. When they arrived at Imacita, local villages would not give permission for the group to continue its travels.

At that point, the bulk of the group decided it was time to go home; but Tom, Sam, Thatcher and Contos decided to work with the locals and continue one with their help to finish the river trip in Iquitos (the largest city inaccessible by road).

“There aren’t many places where you can start at a creek and end up in the ocean,” Thatcher said. “It’s inheritably beautiful and hard to measure.”

The team eventually ended up in Iquitos, Peru, where Sam, Chad and Rocky were forced to head back home due to jobs. Tom, however, wanted to continue on until he reached the Atlantic Ocean.

After 12 days more of travel on barges, Tom reached his destination.

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