Diane Prather: Trip 'Down the Colorado River' a marvelous one

Diane Prather

Diane Prather's columns appear in the Craig Daily Press and Saturday Morning Press. You can call her at 824-8809.

— One can only marvel at the courage and conviction of our country's explorers. One of them, for whom Lake Powell is named, is the subject of this week's nonfiction picture book for ages 8 and older.

"Down the Colorado River: John Wesley Powell, the One-Armed Explorer" is a soon-to-be-released book written and illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray. The illustrations, done in transparent watercolor, gouache and colored pencils, are stunning.

The book is well-researched, with an impressive bibliography that includes Powell's own journal. (Excerpts from the journal are found in the book's text.)

Also found in the book are "Author's Notes." "Chronology: John Wesley Powell (1834-1902)" and "The Journey" - accompanied by a map - of Powell's 99-day, 1,000-mile exploration. It was in summer 1867 when John Wesley Powell first heard about the unexplored canyonlands of the Colorado River. It was yet to be mapped, and stories told of its dangerous "roaring rapids and towering cataracts" and of the supposed adventurers who tried to run the river and never returned.

That Powell would want to explore this region is understandable after reading the author's account of his earlier life experiences.

Deborah Kogan Ray begins the book when Wes Powell is 7 years old. That's when George Crookham begins tutoring him. The outdoors is the classroom, but Wes also reads natural history books. He comes to love the outdoors.

By the time Wes turns 17, he's decided not to enter the ministry as his father, Reverend Joseph Powell, had planned. Instead, he takes a teaching job. For 10 years, Wes teaches school and takes college classes in natural sciences and related areas at the same time.

When the Civil War breaks out, Wes enlists. At the Battle of Shiloh, Captain John Wesley Powell's arm is shattered. Later, it has to be amputated, but being one-armed doesn't stop Wes. He goes right back to fighting.

After the war, Wes gets a job teaching geology at a university. Once again, not letting the fact that he has only one arm interfere, Wes and his wife, Emma, take students on a field trip to Colorado to collect mineral specimens. It is summer 1867. That's when Wes heard about the unexplored lands of the Colorado River.

It would be 1869 before the trip begins. There are preliminary studies to be done, finances to gather and expedition boats to be built.

But on May 24, 1869, John Wesley Powell and nine men set out from Green River City in four boats. It is the beginning of an incredible journey, and the book has all the details. There's a lot more, too. This is a must-read, must-have book! Deborah Kogan Ray is an award-winning author and illustrator of children's books. "To Go Singing through the World: The Childhood of Pablo Neruda" is another of her books.

"Down the Colorado: John Wesley Powell, the One-Armed Explorer," published by Frances Foster Books; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, will be available Oct, 16. It costs $17 in hardcover. ISBN 978-0-374-31838-3

If you'd like to see a book reviewed, call me at 824-8809. Copyright Diane Prather, 2007. All rights reserved.

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