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The Powell Survey of the 1870s: Art & Science from the Saddle
January 23, 2009
The most excellent professional papers produced by the Powell Survey (1871 to 1879), and formally called the United States Geographical and Geological Survey of the Rocky Mountain Region, were accomplished more from land-based expeditions, than the famous river expeditions of 1869 and 1871.
The professional papers of the Powell Survey are:
1876 - Geology of the Eastern Portion of the Uinta Mountains by John Wesley Powell
1877 - The Geology of the Henry Mountains by Grove K. Gilbert
1879 - Lands of the Arid Regions of the United States by Powell, Gilbert, Dutton and Almon H. Thompson.
1880 - Report on the Geology of the High Plateaus of Utah by Clarence E. Dutton.
1882 - Tertiary History of the Grand Canyon District, also by Dutton.
The collective work of Powell, Dutton and Gilbert laid the foundation for the earth science we now call geomorphology.
The artwork of the Powell Survey are:
Art by William Henry Holmes.
Maps by Almon Thompson and others.
Newberry was a charter member of the National Academy of Sciences. He used his influence with Congress to secure funding for the Powell Survey. Newberry's influence also convinced Congress to consolidate the four national surveys into one entity, the United States Geological Survey (USGS), of which Powell served as it's second director.
As director of the Ohio Survey, Newberry personally mentored Grove K. Gilbert, who became America's great engine of scientific research. Both Newberry and Gilbert have written professional papers on the igneous intrusive mountains of the Colorado Plateau--the Abajos and the Henry's, respectively.
Click here to read more about the federal surveys before the Civil War.
John Wesley Powell (1834-1902). Without a doubt, no man of the 19th century knew the Colorado Plateau better than Powell. The first chapter in Exploration of the Colorado River of the West testifies to this fact.
The Colorado Plateau geophysical province is divided into six sections, all traveled by Powell on the saddle: the Uinta Basin, Canyonlands, High Plateaus, Grand Canyon, Navajo, and Datil. See Cenozoic Geology of the Colorado Plateau by Charles Hunt (1956).
Powell also had an intimate knowledge of the Colorado River through the geophysical provinces of the Rocky Mountains and the Basin and Range. Generally, in his prepared talks or testimony, Powell framed the river's big picture with his audience via the watershed approach.
Grove K. Gilbert (1843-1918). Gilbert defected from the survey of Lt. George Wheeler upon Powell's invitation to attend his. Gilbert was with Wheeler in the autumn of 1871 when that survey rowed/towed boats up the Colorado River to Diamond Creek in Western Grand Canyon, and then left the area by trail on horseback.
Gilbert did this because Powell sincerely intended to produce the highest quality science and literature without wasting time and money. Gilbert understood that this could not happen under Wheeler's direction.
Edwin McKee, considered the father of Grand Canyon geology, viewed Grove K. Gilbert as America's greatest geologist. Few would argue this point: twice Gilbert served as the president of the Geological Society of America. Gilbert was Powell's first choice to serve as his successor in the USGS. The post went to Charles Walcott, another famous Grand Canyon geologist. Gilbert instead preferred to serve as chief geologist for the USGS, where he established the principles of nomenclature and cartography.
His writings are masterpieces interpreting such subjects as igneous intrusive mountains (laccolith), Basin and Range extension, the glacial phenomenon, pluvial lakes (Lake Bonneville), the denudation of the Colorado Plateau, and debris flows. After the death of his wife Fannie (whom he met at a dance in Powell's home) he partnered with Alice Eastwood (whom he met on a Sierra Club excursion). Ms. Eastwood was a botanist who conducted research on the Colorado Plateau before meeting her husband.
His monograph The Tertiary History of the Grand Canyon District (1882) is highly prized by modern-day book collectors. Dutton's geologic insight was impressive, but his ability as a nature writer was uncanny. Dr. Wallace Stegner did his graduate thesis on the literary work of Dutton and called him "the John Muir of the Colorado Plateau." Stegner's infamous book Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West is an outreach of that graduate work.
Great Surveys of the American West, by Richard A. Bartlett
How the Canyon Became Grand, by Stephen J. Pyne.
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