This year we visited the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River, a place which gets about 4.5 million visitors a year. Most of these visitors never descend into the canyon and until a century and a half ago, most of the canyon had never been traveled by anyone. Indians of the area descended into the canyon and even farmed and lived there in certain areas, but they were not able to and did not travel along the bottom of the canyon for any distance. Travel at the time was in and out of the canyon but not along the canyon.
John Wesley Powell changed all that. The American Civil War had just ended and Powell who had been a Major in the Union Army organized an expedition to explore the Colorado River and its tributaries. The US was still relatively young. Americans were still moving west and if the movement west was going to go forward in earnest then transportation routes were needed, not only to bring people into the region but also to export resources out of the region. Major Powell was the man to find those transportation routes.
I knew the basics of Powell's story but after my own trip to the Grand Canyon, I pulled Powell's report of his journey off my book shelf where it had sat unread by me for a number of decades. It was time to upgrade my knowledge of this piece of Western history.
I have not finished Powell's book so this is an incomplete report, but this being a boat related blog, I will focus on Powell's means of transportation, that is, wooden row boats.
As the journey progressed, the canyons became deeper and the expedition encountered falls and rapids. The picture above shows one of the options for dealing with rapids, that is, to run them.
If the rapids were too severe the boats needed to be unloaded, the gear carried to the bottom of the rapids and then the boats. All this took time and lots of work.
Photos are from the National Park Service site.