Exploring the Grand Canyon – 150 Years Later

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Today, the USGS and partnering organizations are embarking on a trip down the Green and Colorado rivers to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Powell Expedition.

Crew of later-day Powell Expedition preparing to embark, circa 1872.

Crew of later-day Powell Expedition preparing to embark, circa 1872.  (Public domain.)

On May 24, 1869, a team of 10 men in four small wooden boats led by scientist and Civil War amputee John Wesley Powell departed Green River Wyoming. The three-month voyage was known as the “Powell Geographic Expedition”.

Only six men and two boats completed the 95-day journey, which took them through the Grand Canyon and ended near the present-day Lake Mead, Nevada.  The expedition succeeded in recording some of the earliest known maps, data, topographic measurements, geology and local Native American culture, for much of the treacherous Colorado River that runs through modern-day Grand Canyon National Park.

You can follow along with this year's 70-day, 1,000-river-mile expedition by University of Wyoming-based Sesquicentennial Colorado River Exploring Expedition (SCREE). Also, you can see where SCREE is on this map and send the crew your questions for real-time answers from camp.

Blog posts from the SCREE crew, including USGS scientists, will be published at  https://www.powell150.org/expedition-news

Example of a modern-day raft that will be used for the 150th Powell Anniversary expedition.

Example of a modern-day raft that will be used for the 150th Powell Anniversary expedition. (Public domain.)

Additionally, you can follow the USGS Youth and Education in Science Instagram (@USGS_YES) for images of USGS data collection on the river, Find a Feature Challenges relating to the Green and Colorado rivers, and Paper Powell pictures.

During the down river journey, expedition support staff will recreate quotes made by Powell and this years crew at @MajorJWPowell and @Powell150.

The USGS continues to do important science along the river and to contribute information to decision-makers who are working to manage the river basin as a resource for water, recreation and power in Western states. The focus of the education and outreach efforts surrounding the Powell150 Expedition is to inform and engage the public around the geology and ecology of rivers in general and this river system in particular and to raise public awareness of the natural resources of the Colorado River Basin and USGS science.

Fun Fact: Powell later became the second director of the USGS as well as the U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, the first director of the Bureau of Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution, and a co-founder of the National Geographic Society. His science legacy, along with the contributions of those who assisted him, impact us virtually every day.