I am thrilled to join this commemorative 150 expedition with USGS from the Great State of Alaska, where the themes of wild adventure, spectacular Nature, scientific discovery, indigenous knowledge, and sustainable development all converge on a near daily basis in my work to evoke the momentous legacy of John Wesley Powell. Ironically, my first chore with the raft team involved delivery of refreshing ICE to the sweltering crew at the confluence of the Dirty Devil and Colorado rivers. I hope to explore many more interesting associations between Powell's career and Alaska in the days ahead.
Despite coming from far away, I feel a close affinity to the mission of this trip and the visioning exercise that it seeks to promote. By training, I am an environmental anthropologist, currently serving as Deputy Regional Director in Anchorage, beginning my third year with USGS. As an ethnographer and social scientist, my career trajectory--like Powell--has focused on promoting actionable science across disciplinary, institutional, and cultural boundaries.
Although I love whitewater, I am excited to join the expedition in this particular stretch through the serene and majestic waters of Glen Canyon. Here the original expedition saw their first Moqui ruins on the cliffs, with evidence of cut away stairs. Powell described the tranquility of the region with musical metaphor....as an "interlude for a pastoral flute". But by the end of the Glen Canyon stretch, with low supplies of food, rancid bacon, ragged clothing, lost equipment, and mental exhaustion, the crew became frustrated with Powell's science measurements and began “rumblings of rebellion with hints of mutiny”. It was then, as the crew passed Glen Canyon into the depths of the Grand Canyon, Powell famously wrote in his diary, “we have an unknown distance yet to run; an unknown river yet to explore. What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls ride over the river, we know not. Ah, well! we may conjecture many things" (217 miles remained).
The sheer bravery of that moment is inspiring even today. ...What puts the "ape" in apricot...what have they got that I ain't got? ... I, for one, am very glad that we are not attempting any sort of re-enactment of the original expedition, but rather a careful reflection on the past as an opportunity to re-envision the future of stewardship for our precious natural resources.