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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

"Canyons of the Colorado" by John Wesley Powell

Since reading the diary of the “Lewis and Clark” and that famed expedition, I wondered how that book compared to other explorer's diaries.  Amazon’s kindle has another free book by another explorer; John Wesley Powell's “Canyons of the Colorado”.

I was expecting this book to be similar to William Clark’s book, a daily log of entries, but this book really surprised me!  This book was written after Powell’s journey down the Colorado river and it summarized what he saw and experienced.  He describes the landscape like poetry.
  • "The lakes are often fringed with beautiful aspens, and when the autumn winds come, their golden leaves are carried over the landscape in clouds of resplendent sheen."
Doesn't that just make you swoon?  It does me.  My heart started to pitter patter as I read his words, sighed, and then gazed out the window while his words came alive.

Powell discusses the geology like a scientist and when you read what he says about rock formations you know he speaks as an educated man.   He shares the culture and languages of the Native American Indians and you can tell he had a great respect for other cultures.  His writings pulled me in as he used expressive words that helped me see the vermillion cliffs and the painted landscapes. It was as if I was sitting right there, becoming captivated by his expressive descriptions.

In the 1860’s, the area around the Colorado River was a blank space on a map.  This was a section of land was just one to two hundred miles wide and three to five hundred miles long.  It was unknown and unexplored and Powell, 33 years old at the time and a former military leader, (who lost an arm in the Civil War) wanted to know what was out there.

John Wesley Powell’s expedition was unlike the Lewis and Clark expedition. Powell’s expedition had no fanfare. It wasn’t ordered by the government.  The funding came mostly from Powell himself along with the Illinois Natural Historical Society (for which Powell was the Secretary of that Association) and the Illinois Industrial University. There was no press, no publicity, no army, and no military send off. There was only 10 other men, passion, and a LOT of curiosity

After reading Powell's book, I have a great deal of respect for this man. He seemed wise, brave, and smart. In fact, I picture him a lot like the fictional character Captain Jean Luc Picard (from the Star Trek Next Generation TV series).  After all, both of these characters were well read scientists, interested in rocks and other civilizations. They also seemed to respect all life forms and had a gentile manner in dealing with other people.  They were risk takers and VERY curious.

I picture John Wesley Powell saying the same words as Jean Luck Picard, “Let’s see what’s out there!” and thus beginning his 99-day adventure exploring the Colorado plateau.


A powerful motivator. It is part of our internal drive that can make us all explorers in our own way.