Damming Grand Canyon: The 1923 USGS Colorado River Expedition

Damming Grand Canyon: The 1923 USGS Colorado River Expedition

Damming Grand Canyon: The 1923 USGS Colorado River Expedition

Damming Grand Canyon: The 1923 USGS Colorado River Expedition

Excerpt

Our interest in the 1923 expedition in Grand Canyon came from several sources. First and foremost, this U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) trip was the first that our agency sponsored in Grand Canyon. This is a notably poignant reason given that some USGS scientists, including the authors, have spent much of their careers in the challenging environment of the canyon, toiling to collect scientific data. Despite its significance, the 1923 trip is underrepresented in our agency’s written history. Second, USGS has a rather onerous review process of its publications, passionately attempts to stay nonpartisan, and avoids advocacy by its employees. A rather dim institutional memory holds that this policy was initiated in response to the aftermath of the 1923 expedition. Finally, the 1923 trip, one of the great surveying exploits of the twentieth century, yielded scientific data that form a cornerstone of our scientific research on

1. Robert Follansbee, “A History of the Water Resources Branch of the United States Geological Survey,” vol. 2, ‘Years of Increasing Cooperation July 1, 1919 to June 30, 1928” (Reston, VA: U.S. Geological Survey, unpublished manuscript, n.d.), barely mentions the 1923 Grand Canyon expedition. The official history of the U.S. Geological Survey, by Mary C Rabbitt, Minerals, Lands, and Geology for the Common Defence and General Welfare, vol. 3, 1904–1939 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1986), 243–44, devotes only one paragraph to this trip, and most of this discusses the death of President Warren Harding, a largely irrelevant incident during the expedition.

2. This institutional memory comes from the two published forms of Walter Langbein’s article on La Rue and his effect on USGS publication policies. One form is in an obscure USGS publication, Walter B. Langbein, “L’Affaire LaRue,” U.S. Geological Survey Water Resources Division Bulletin (April–June 1975): 6–14. The other is in a historical journal, Walter B. Langbein, “L’Affaire LaRue,” Journal of the West 22 (1983): 39–47. The articles are similar but are not identical. We quote from both of them, and use the date of publication to differentiate the two versions.

3. According to a motion picture made about the expedition many years later, it was “the most difficult survey ever undertaken by government engineers.” Fred Watkins (producer), The 1923 Surveying Expedition of the Colorado River in Arizona by the United States

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