The centerpiece of scenic grandeur in the American West is the Grand Canyon,
one of the great natural wonders of the world. How it came to be has captured
the imagination not only of millions of visitors to the canyon, but for over
135 years, the best American geologists as well. They recognized that the Colorado
River carved this scenic masterpiece, but exactly when and how it did so eluded
them. Only in the last few years has a consensus begun to emerge and now, for
the first time, author James Lawrence Powell tells the fascinating story of
how the mystery came to be solved.
Not only have geologists discovered the reasons for the majestic width and
depth of the Canyon, they have found that at one time the Colorado River ran
through it in the opposite direction. At another time, hundreds of feet of
gravel buried an ancestor of today's Colorado River. Then erosion removed the
gravel and resurrected the river, in what James Lawrence Powell has dubbed
the Lazarus Theory.
Readers of this book will discover and rediscover a great American river?one
of astonishing energy and power, a majestic rival to the celebrated Mississippi.
Beginning in the Colorado Rockies, the river cuts its way first across the
Colorado Plateau and then the Basin and Range Province, finally to reach the
sea in the Gulf of California. This river of "liquid sandpaper" today sometimes
drops 15 feet per mile; by contrast, the gentle Mississippi rolls across the
plains to the Gulf of Mexico at a gradient of a few inches per mile. Ultimately,
the waters of the Colorado are not only key to understanding the geology of
the West, but also to the management of our most precious western resource.
What makes James Lawrence Powell's narrative so compelling, apart from the
grandeur of its subject, is the richness of the characters who participated
in this detective story. John Wesley Powell, the most famous of the nineteenth-century
Canyon expedition leaders, the man for whom Lake Powell is named, discovered
key geologic principles that helped to crack the puzzle. His two brilliant
assistants, Grove Karl Gilbert and Clarence Dutton, built on Major Powell's
findings to make historic scientific advances. Indeed, James Lawrence Powell
shows how Dutton's work in the Grand Canyon led directly to our modern understanding
of Continental Drift and Plate Tectonics. Twentieth-century geology of the
Canyon culminated at a meeting in 2000 on the Canyon rim at which geologists
debated the Lazarus Theory and other ideas far into the night. The solution
on which they converged resonated around the world.
The 16 pages of photographs Powell collected for this sweeping tale bring
to life the people and places of the story. The maps and geological time charts
are useful references as to when and where the action took place. James Lawrence
Powell has created a work of nonfiction that is an eloquent, educating, and
exciting ride down to the bedrock of the American West and its most spectacular
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