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The Promise And Mystery Of The Grand Canyon

With Linda Wertheimer

Rafting the Grand Canyon is a wondrous adventure, but the first time, 150 years ago, no one knew what the canyon was like.


John F. Ross, historian and journalist. Author of “The Promise of the Grand Canyon: John Wesley Powell’s Perilous Journey and His Vision for the American West

Emily Benson, assistant editor of High Country News specializing in water and water policy (@erbenson1)

From The Reading List

Smithsonian Magazine: The Visionary John Wesley Powell Had a Plan for Developing the West, But Nobody Listened — “Only a few years after losing his forearm to a minié ball at the battle of Shiloh, he had organized the most daring exploration in American history. Ten men had climbed aboard puny wooden rowboats and pulled out into the Southwest’s Green and Colorado rivers, then spent three months flying, crashing and bounding through the terrible unknown cataracts of the canyonlands, and, finally, through the Grand Canyon itself, not knowing whether a falls or killing rapid lay around the next bend.”

The Wall Street Journal: The Prophet of the Dust Bowl — “Today, as we learn from two new papers in the current issue of the American Meteorological Society’s journal Earth Interactions, the arid West is again on an eastward march. In an attempt to understand the interplay of climate change and geography, the Columbia University climatologist Richard Seager and his team of researchers revisited a groundbreaking concept first put forth in 1877 by the scientist and Grand Canyon explorer John Wesley Powell, who drew a longitudinal line cleaving the U.S. into two realms, the arid West and the verdant East. Stunning in its simplicity, yet revolutionary in its implications, the idea that Powell proposed marked the first volley in the conflict over climate change. The so-called 100th Meridian would come to play a major role in how Americans saw their continent.”

High Country News: In The Southwest, ‘Drought’ Doesn’t Tell The Whole Story — “While experts say the Southwest will continue to experience swings in precipitation from year to year, overall climate change is making the region and its river basins hotter and drier. That means humans must adapt to life with less water. “We have to fundamentally change the mindset of the public, and the way we manage this resource,” says Newsha Ajami, a hydrologist and the director of urban water policy at Stanford University’s Water in the West program. “And one of the ways you do it is, you have to change the terminologies that we use in dealing with water.””

Photos From The Grand Canyon


Read An Excerpt Of ‘The Promise Of The Grand Canyon’

From THE PROMISE OF THE GRAND CANYON by John F. Ross, published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2018 by John F. Ross.

Every year, more than four million people visit the Grand Canyon to raft, hike, even bungee jump. But 150 years ago, the canyon wasn’t on the map. John Wesley Powell led the first known expedition right through it.  It was a wild ride of danger, adventure and discovery.  And it set him on a path to study the West and its water, new ideas about climate and conservation. This hour, On Point: The Promise – and the prophet — of the Grand Canyon. — Linda Wertheimer.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Photo by Miriam Wasser
Photo by Miriam Wasser