Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

John Wesley Powell – a Determined One-armed Man

My knowledge of John Wesley Powell and his accomplishments was minimal before we stopped at a museum in south-central Wyoming that bears his name.  Our friends, Nancy and Ginger, mentioned the museum was in Green River and when we stopped for fuel near the museum we decided it was worth a look.

John Wesley Powell was a determined one-arm man that overcame many challenges.  His thirst for exploring the natural world drove him to explore the mighty Green and Colorado Rivers which ended with the first known passage through the Grand Canyon – his most famous achievement.  Powell was determined to map the Green and Colorado Rivers and follow their confluence through uncharted territory.  His watery quest led him down rushing rapids and torrent waters with nine men and four wooden boats for ten months. The apparent danger caused some men to abandoned the expedition but Powell and others persisted.  The expedition shoved off the banks of the Green River in Wyoming and rode into history books. He mapped the area and described many of its natural and biological features that were key to opening the area.

This remarkable man was not just an explorer but is credited as being a naturalist, geologist, historian, ethnographer, Army officer, college professor, and museum curator.  His accomplishments were many.

Powell rode down the rivers in a wooden boat named after his wife, Emma Dean.  He sat on a chair for a better view and to look for dangerous rocks.

The Green and Colorado Rivers flow from alpine lakes to the desert floor and the museum describes all these ecosystems.
The museum also highlights other "river runners".  
While the expedition down through the Grand Canyon was a scientific achievement, it was Powell’s interest in people and cultures that is also remarkable.  His feelings for Native Americans differed from those of white men in the west.  He viewed them as struggling people with a long history that should not be altered or suppressed by white men.  Their culture should be understood and preserved.  He became the director of the Bureau of Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution and his leadership saw the publication of an influential classification of North American Indian languages.

Powell’s significant contributions to the nation were honored with a place in Arlington National Cemetery.  Powell has a lake named after him (Lake Powell a reservoir on the Colorado River), a county (Powell County, MT), a city (Powell, Utah), and a Federal Building (The USGS National Center in Reston, Virginia). 

While I knew Powell as an explorer, I was glad to learn about his many other accomplishments and his legacy that shaped many facets of this country.

The Book Cliff Mountains with the Green River in the foreground.

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