Mar 10, 2008
Nonfiction Monday Review
Down the Colorado: John Wesley Powell, the One-Armed Explorer
Written and illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray
Frances Foster Books/FS & G
Map, author’s note, chronology, bibliography
I'm joining the many bloggers in Nonfiction Mondays, a roundup found at Anastasia Suen's blog Picture Book of the Day.
Art and story present a portrait of one of the great explorers of the west. A series of brief chapters (a full page illustration and facing page of text) relate in straightforward language Powell’s early life as the son of an abolitionist preacher; his home-schooling by a self-taught naturalist and growing love for the outdoors; his late teens and 20’s spent teaching and as a student of the natural sciences; time fighting in the Civil War and losing an arm; and his first trip to the Colorado Rockies leading a university field trip. A second trip to the Rockies and exploration of the Upper Colorado led him to his plan for exploring the river’s unknown canyon. Preparations and then the exciting, dangerous journey make up the second half of the book with dramatic paintings adding to the adventure and capturing the unique landscape of narrow canyon walls and river rapids. Excerpts from Powell’s writings add another historic layer and also personal nature to the story. After 99 days, 1000 miles and 500 rapids Powell and his remaining crew of five men arrived at the mouth of the Virgin River in Arizona. He made a second expedition down the Greene and Colorado Rivers, later served as the first director of the Bureau of Ethnology and Director of the U.S. Geological Survey.
I’m writing this at a campsite in Zion National Park with the Virgin River 20 feet behind me. It’s a different canyon with different challenges and explored earlier than the Grand Canyon but it lends some perspective on this incredible feat and I acknowledge as the author does, the courage, determination, and strong need to explore the unknown that these men had to complete such a expedition in small wooden boats.