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JOHN_WESLEY_POWELL - A Sierra Club Totebook Words for the...

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A Sierra Club Totebook Words for the Wild:The Sierra Club Trailside Reader Edited by Ann Ronald Sierra Club Books, San Francisco 1987 JOHN WESLEY POWELL (1834-1902) May 24, 1985. – Sitting safely at my desk, I think about John Wesley Powell and his nine companions pushing off into an unknown river cut between overhanging walls of red. One hundred and sixteen years ago today, they spun away from shore (oddly enough, I chose this morning to write about Powell without remembering that it marks the anniversary of his departure). In four wooden boats, they planned to descend the Green River to the Colorado, then drop through its cliffs and rapids all the way to the mouth of the Grand Canyon. The distance, although they didn't know it at the time, would be 900 miles; the journey would take a hundred nerve-racking days; not everyone would survive. Fortunately Powell did, and so did his journal, a series of long and narrow strips of brown paper bound in sole leather. This remarkable piece of writing gives a daily account of the whitewater, the whirlpools, the marble walls, the side canyons, and the unbelievable adventures along the treacherous way. I've tried a lot of things in the wilderness, but river running isn't one of them. Nor will it ever be. So I'm particularly impressed by the courage of Powell and his crew as they braved absolutely unknown, unmapped territory. "And so we hold, and let go, and pull, and lift, and ward–among rocks, around rocks, and over rocks. And now we go on through this solemn, mysterious way. The river is very deep, the canyon very narrow, . . . the waters reel and roll and boil, and we are scarcely able to determine where we can go." I can scarcely conceive of the enormous curiosity arid personal bravado that compelled these men to seek what lay beyond. Their feat, I think, is far more impressive than Lewis and Clark's. Twenty-six years after his first trip down the Colorado, Powell revised and enlarged his journal, wrote more about prior and subsequent explorations, added several descriptive chapters, and published the whole as a book called Canyons of the Colorado . The text remains one of the best descriptions of canyon country ever written (some would say it is the best). Not only are the adventures themselves told with an understated flair that captures the imagination, but the scenery is pictured in such a way that one sees exactly the wonders that opened before Powell's eyes: When thinking of these rocks one must not conceive of piles of boulders or
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heaps of fragments, but of a whole land of naked rock, with giant formscarved on it: cathedral-shaped buttes, towering hundreds of thousands of feet, cliffs that cannot be scaled, and canyon walls that shrink the river intoinsignificance, with vast, hollow domes and tall pinnacles and shafts set on the verge overhead; and all highly colored-buff, gray, red, brown, and chocolate-never lichened, never mosscovered, but bare, and often polished. Reading these words I feel like I'm alongside him, gazing at the stretch between
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JOHN_WESLEY_POWELL - A Sierra Club Totebook Words for the...

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