What started as a scientific expedition turned into a harrowing adventure through some of the roughest and most beautiful country in America. It was May 1869 when a civil war veteran and nine other men descended with four boats into a branch of the Colorado river for what they believed would be a ten-month excursion through the last unmapped territory of the continental United States. Three months and one thousand miles later, six emaciated men in two boats emerged in the open waters of the virgin River. They had survived famine, attacks, mutiny, and some of the most dangerous rapids known to man. Their story, recounted by John Wesley Powell in his journals, remains as fresh and exciting today as it did in 1874 when it first appeared in serial form in Scribner's magazine.
Powel writes very clearly and the excitement of exploration of a new unknown area comes through. Also coming through in his writing style are the apprehension of the dangers in following an uncharted river into areas they would not be able to escape from the water became impassible. Powell was awed by the majesty of the landscape and he does well in passing this on to the reader . There are many black and white photos and drawings throughout the book, almost every other page. The drawings seem very accurate to me, having been in the region. Tip-offs to the accuracy is the portrayal of iron stainings coming down some smoth sandstone surfaces in a way I have often seen them.
This book gives the reader a feel for both the majesty of the landscape through which the Colorado and green Rivers pass and also the excitement of exploring an unknown area with its associated unknown dangers.
Powell describes many active Indian villiages and abandoned zIndian dwellings, camps and towns, replete with abuntant arrowheads and petroglyphs. The photos actually go further at illustrating the Indian architecture and culture than the text does. What I like about the inclusion of the Indian culture is that at the time Powell witnessed the Indians living and working in their native environment, not having to describe just abandoned ruinsand infer from that.
This book gives a good feel for what exploration of the west was like back when there was no form of communication with the known world until the expedition reached its end. It gives a good framework of what the untamed river and its canyons were like before dams and widespread agriculture affected streamflow and turbidity. it gives an accurate picture of the Indian's daily lifestyle and cautious attitude towards non-Indians.
In summary, Powells book is a very good window into how the expedition went, how early expeditions went in general back then, the majesty of the southwest, particularly around the canyons, and the daily lives of the Indian before they became familiar with white-man culture.
The second and more quickly paced section of the book is the diary of J.W. Powell, but there are some points where it can be somewhat confusing because one of the other party members is also named Powell. The diary covers the first trip down the Green River and then the Colorado River through Glen Canyon and Grand Canyon. The third section of the book is really more of an ethnography than exploration and seems to be written in 1890, a good deal after the actual journey. In hindsight, Powell's outlook on the natives he encounters would seem archaic compared to modern anthropology, but given the time and circumstances, it was quite surprising to read his relatively modern views on the matter.
Overall, a nice edition to any exploration literature collection. It covers a lot of subjects and might not be for everyone, especially if your looking to read a book about a rafting trip and not a book about native story telling.