John Wesley Powell, American Badass

John Wesley Powell, American Badass

February 25, 2023

John Wesley Powell began exploring the Colorado River and canyons on the staircase in 1869.  Prior to his expedition, most white explorers who came to this area regarded the canyons as unimpressive geological formations that stood in the way of easy travel through the area.  When he completed surveying the area he stated, ‘“I tell you gentlemen, you are piling up a heritage of conflict and litigation over water rights, for there is not sufficient water to supply these lands!”’ (Sadler, The Colorado, 2018).  In this same book Sadler also shares a famous quote from Mark Twain, ‘“whisky’s for drinking, water’s for fighting over.”’  If only we could have controlled our American greed and impatience and listened to him.  Here’s a commonly used image of him as a young man when he went on his adventure.


Powell is largely self-taught.  He did attend some college in the 1850’s, but the majority of his education was in the field following his passions for botany, zoology, and geology.  In 1869 Powell assembled a group of men for an expedition down the Green River and Colorado River through The Grand Canyon.  None of them were experienced boatmen and the boats they built for the expedition turned out to be a poor design for this trip.  They lost one boat and a third of their supplies including scientific instruments in some rapids and after this Powell had the men carry to boats and supplies around rapids or steer them around rapids from outside the boat by holding lines attached to the boats.  Both of these methods were backbreaking work for the men.  The territory that they explored was previously unmapped and just known as unknown lands.  By the time they reached the Grand Canyon their food supplies had diminished to rancid bacon, coffee, moldy flour, and a few dried apples.  Most of the men had tattered clothing and no shoes and slept on rock surfaces under the rain.  The maps and books that Powell published following this and a subsequent expedition are still used today by people navigating the river.  He also did all this with only one arm.  I have not visited parts of the river that have rapids yet, but these spots that I have visited look like intimidating places to navigate with lots of equipment and wooden rowboats.  Pictured below are photos I have taken at Horseshoe Bend in Page, AZ and Marble Canyon which is the town next to Page.  Once you’re in that canyon, I think you’re in it for the long haul.  I reckon they weren’t going to haul their boats and equipment up those steep canyon walls.

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At that time the railroads owned a vast amount of land that they wished to sell to people looking to settle the West.  Powell gave many strong warnings about the inability to farm and irriagte a majority of this land as only 2% of the land was near a water source and suggested a new plan for settlement of the west by establishing watershed commonwealths.  However, heavy lobbying from speculators looking to make money and settlers who wanted the land caused the government to ignore Powell’s warnings.  One stupid professor named Cyrus Thomas told people that plowing the land would cause the water under the soil to evaporate and lead to increased rainfall.  This was not actually based on any science at all, but it was widely believed that ‘rain follows the plow’ and settlers came.  As a result many suffered and failed in their attempt to set up settlements and farms in the west in the Dust Bowl of the 1920’s and 30’s.  We shall see what the future holds for the west as the water allotments for the 7 states and Mexico who share these resources is based on a period when the rainfall and water levels were unusually high and as a result, more water has been promised than what actually exists.  As the climate changes our country very slowly grapples with the inevitable changes we must make.  I hope we have enough brilliant people working on these changes to usher us through.

We are getting ready to leave the Entrada Escalante and move back into our RV at Yonder.  I started bringing back some things I knew we wouldn’t need in the next few days and we planned moving day for March 1st.  I also did some baking to take advantage of the full size kitchen as much as I can before we go.  I won’t post a photo of the heart shaped pastry with Nutella and raspberry I made as aesthetics when baking have never been my focus.  I did also make a delicious pecan pie.

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I also finished this little miniature ice cream shop I’ve been working on.

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It snowed here for most of the past week so we did go outside to run around every now and again, but we mostly did indoor stuff.

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We did have one or two nice days so Sara and I went down Burr Trail road since she was not familiar with this area.  We checked out Singing Canyon, marveled at the scenery or Long Canyon, and she found a nice little hole to climb up into.

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I decided to play with the 90mm macro lens a bit since I haven’t used this a lot and I wanted the practice.  I first tried to capture a snowflake, but then realized that my macro lens did not magnify enough to do this.  There’s a statue of a lizard in front of the visitor center where I volunteer and I thought it’s eye looked cool with water from snowmelt in it.  Then I thought it would be even cooler as a composite image.  I may still add another element to this so I’ll share the next iteration of it next week if that comes to pass.

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I also had a little fun playing with water, oil, and food coloring with the macro lens.

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Luke finished the website for Entrada and it went live last night! I think it turned out beautifully and the managers here were happy and did not ask for any changes which was the best case scenario.  One day I saw him working on his computer with a dreamy look in his eye so I asked what he was working on.  His response was, “my personal knowledge management system” which just led me to more questions.  That evening I learned about this whole other part of Luke’s inner world that I didn’t fully grasp until now.  Luke has always used tools such as Evernote and DEVONthink to store notes, documents, and websites, etc., but I always assumed that he used these tools for work tasks.  Oh no, Luke stores data about everything; thoughts, ideas, images things he’s learned.  He describes his system as being similar to using index cards, but these are all stored online and linked together.  His system has evolved since he has started writing his book.  Today he said, “I’m tending my personal knowledge garden”.  Then he offered to show me something cool which turned out to be a screen with a bunch of little bubbles that webbed together when he grabbed one of them to show how one part linked to others.  This is just one of the examples of what makes Luke so interesting and lovable.  Do you have a personal knowledge garden that you tend to help you keep track of and remember things that are important to you?  Perhaps you should talk to Luke about how to start one or maybe one day he will make a video about this for us.  I asked him for a screenshot of his knowledge garden and this is what he shared with us.  The app he uses for this is called Obsidian and he seems to really be in love with it’s capabilities.  He also uses Todoist as a task manager and says with dismay that he would prefer to use Omnifocus, but it’s expensive and we don’t live fancy no more.  The man also does a round up every year of all the tools he is currently using.  Welcome to Wonderland, Alice.

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Note: the title this week was inspired by this gem of a movie.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. David Allen famously said “The mind is for having ideas, not holding them” – and that is true. Personal Knowledge Management is very important.

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