Growing up, my father had more than 1,000 books on his shelves and encouraged us to look at them anytime we chose to, even when we were very young. One of the books on his shelves was the Seventh Annual Report of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to the Secretary of the Interior published in 1888 by John Wesley Powell. In that book were a number of pen and ink drawings that much more resembled black and white photographs, from all corners of the United States. This book, and others like it from my father’s library, likely guided me down the path of becoming a geographer and finding work with the USGS… an agency dedicated to science.
John Wesley Powell embarked on the Colorado River Exploring Expedition 150 years ago to explore the unknown and provide an understanding of the territory. While much is known today about the basin, it does not mean that we understand everything about it, nor that our scientific investigations are complete. As we settled the west and made use of the water and land, our need to understand our impact on it, and ability to properly manage it, has evolved. Our need to more thoroughly understand the complex relationships in the basin continues more now than ever before.
As I started my 6-day segment from Split Mountain Campground near Jensen UT to the Sand Wash Launch Point downriver from Ouray, I understood the benefit of integrating varying science topics so as to better understand the complex ecosystems and processes found in the Colorado Basin. What I was not considering was the value of integrating the very scientists and educators of wide-ranging backgrounds together to quickly and easily expose those connections, relationships, and qualitative characteristics.
Experiencing the broad and extensive exchange of information between the members of the expedition was inspiring. Discussions flowed from quantitative work on endangered, threatened, and invasive species, bird counts, bat detection, discharge measurements of the Green River, and numerous remotely-sensed datasets to more qualitative topics such as wildlife encounters along the river, spectacular sunrises and sunsets, stunning vistas, and the simple fact that we are permitted to use the river and nearby lands to enjoy and study.
Integrating our scientists with one another, with the public/private sector, with artists, conservationists, and directly with the Colorado Basin serves to help us better understand the complex needs of the basin and provides valuable information that will maintain the Colorado Basin as a beautiful natural resource for us all in the future. Involving our youth offers them the opportunity to share in that future, much the way my own father did.