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Biographies Unit Biographies

John Wesley Powell 1834-1902
Solving the Mysteries of the Grand Canyon

Four boats swept through the roaring whitewater rapids of the Colorado River. Red canyon walls towered high above the men in boats. The year was 1869. Scientist John Wesley Powell was leading an expedition down the Colorado River and right through the heart of the Grand Canyon. Powell had traveled nearly 1,000 dangerous miles to learn how such a unique place had been created. He solved part of the mystery.

Powell learned that erosion caused by the powerful river had helped carve the deep canyon. This information helped other scientists to gain a better understanding of the region.

Powell later helped to establish the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Under Powell's direction, the USGS mapped the West and studied the nation's natural resources. Today, the USGS continues to conduct scientific research about the country's land and resources.

Comprehension Check

Powell learned that the Grand Canyon was partly shaped by:

Critical Thinking

Why is it helpful to have a government organization like the United States Geological Survey today?