In 1923, America paid close attention, via special radio
broadcasts, newspaper headlines, and cover stories in popular
magazines, as a government party descended the Colorado to survey
Grand Canyon. Fifty years after John Wesley Powell's journey, the
canyon still had an aura of mystery and extreme danger. At one
point, the party was thought lost in a flood.
Something important besides adventure was going on. Led by
Claude Birdseye and including colorful characters such as early
river-runner Emery Kolb, popular writer Lewis Freeman, and
hydraulic engineer Eugene La Rue, the expedition not only made the
first accurate survey of the river gorge but sought to decide the
canyon's fate. The primary goal was to determine the best places to
dam the Grand. With Boulder Dam not yet built, the USGS, especially
La Rue, contested with the Bureau of Reclamation over how best to
develop the Colorado River. The survey party played a major role in
what was known and thought about Grand Canyon.
The authors weave a narrative from the party's firsthand
accounts and frame it with a thorough history of water politics and
development and the Colorado River. The recommended dams were not
built, but the survey both provided base data that stood the test
of time and helped define Grand Canyon in the popular
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