Grand Canyon Photography and Movie History

Ellsworth and Emery Kolb, brothers who founded a photography studio at the Bright Angel trailhead, gained their notoriety as the first men to make a motion picture of the Colorado River amid its entire course through the Grand Canyon.

Seeking a life of adventure, Ellsworth arrived at the Grand Canyon in 1901 and worked as a bellhop at the Bright Angel Hotel. At his brother’s request, Emery made his way to the Canyon a year later with hopes for landing a mining job. When he arrived, though, the mine was closed.

Searching for another endeavor, Emery found a photography business for sale. Since he had experience in the field, he bought the business and moved it to the Grand Canyon, where the Kolb brothers opened a studio in 1903 photographing visitors who rode the Fred Harvey mule trains down the Bright Angel Trail.

Initially, the studio was housed in a small cave in the side of a canyon wall. The brothers placed a blanket over the entrance so they would have a makeshift darkroom. A year later, they built a two-story wooden structure on a rock shelf blasted out of the canyon wall.

In 1912, the Kolb brothers embarked on a historic boat trip down the Colorado River. They were the first individuals to record their exploits with a movie camera. The adventure started in Green River, Wyoming where John Wesley Powell’s famous expedition departed in 1869. The journey took two months and saw the brothers traverse the Green River to the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. The trip ended in Needles, Calif.

After completing the adventure and finalizing their movie, they toured the world promoting the film and then returned to the Grand Canyon. In 1915, they started showing the movie daily in an auditorium they built at their studio. It was part of a three-story addition (including living quarters). Ellsworth lost interest in the business and headed west for Los Angeles in 1924, but Emery operated the film daily until his death in 1976.

Today, historic Kolb Studio is open year-round. It features an exhibit venue, bookstore, and information center operated by the Grand Canyon Association, a nonprofit organization. Proceeds from sales at the bookstore are used for the continuing restoration and care of the building. Fully remodeled in 2004 for the Kolb Studio Centennial, the bookstore now contains a tribute to the Kolbs’ photography of mule riders at the Grand Canyon.

Adventure seekers today can experience what the Kolb brothers saw during their Colorado River adventure like emerald pools, hidden waterfalls, colorful flowers and thriving wildlife. Grand Canyon Expeditions offers eight-day motorized boat tours and 14-day to 16-day Dory boat trips on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.

The guided tours include hiking remote areas of the canyon, learning about the natural splendor and scintillating history of the area, swimming in side canyons and running class IV whitewater rapids.

The Grand Canyon features a diverse and majestic geological extravaganza. It stretches for 277 miles, measures from four to 18 miles in width, and averages a mile in depth. Covering more than 1.2 million acres, the semi-arid canyon consists of raised plateaus, steep-walled canyons, desert basins at lower elevations and forests at higher elevations. Canyon walls provide wide-ranging fossil specimens, a vast array of geological features and rock types, and numerous caves.

Though the Grand Canyon is a desert, it is teeming with plants and wildlife. Cactus and wildflowers dot the riverbanks as well as cool glens with tumbling waterfalls and ferns.  Grand Canyon Expeditions passengers might see bighorn sheep, mule deer, coyotes, and ringtail cats along the riverbanks and in tributary canyons. Hawks, golden eagles, falcons, great blue herons and egrets fly overhead.

The eight-day excursions cover the entire 277 miles of the canyon, beginning at Lees Ferry, Arizona (in Grand Canyon National Park) and ending at Pearce Ferry on Lake Mead. During the adventure, passengers will negotiate nearly 200 exciting white water rapids in safety and first-class comfort.

For people who want to experience the grandeur of the river and the canyon at a more leisurely pace, Grand Canyon Expeditions offers the 14-day to 16-day Dory trips. Sturdy wooden vessels that are designed to withstand the rigors of whitewater, Dory boats allow passengers to see the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon much like Powell and his men.

To make reservations for any Grand Canyon Expeditions tour, visit, e-mail or call 800-544-2691.

Before embarking on one of the tours, guests can get a preview of the Grand Canyon’s splendor at the Visitor Center. Located at the south rim entrance of the Grand Canyon National Park, the Visitor Center is home of the IMAX film, Grand Canyon: The Movie and the famous Condor Encounter Live Bird Show.

The Visitor Center and Grand Canyon Expeditions has teamed to offer an eight-day Grand Canyon rafting trip for two. To enroll for the contest, visit.