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Canyons of the Colorado



October 31, 2008 – Comments (0)

By J.W. Powell, PH.D., LL.D.,

Formerly Director of the United States Geological Survey.  Member of the National Academy of Sciences, etc., etc.

First Published  1895

(This excerpt is from page 23. It refers to the Green River. The entire diary is available for reading at  )

On the east side of the Green, mesas and plateaus have regular escarpments with points extending into the valleys, and between those  points canyons come down that head in the highlands. Everywhere the escarpments are fringed with outlying buttes. Many portions of the region are characterized by bad lands. These are hills carved out of sandstone, shales, and easily disintegrated rocks, which present many fantastic forms and are highly colored in a great variety of tint and tone, and everywhere they are naked of vegetation. Now and then low mountains crown the plateaus. Altogether it is a region of desolation.

Through the midst of the country from east to west, flows an intermittent stream known as Bitter Creek. In seasons of rain it carries floods; in seasons of drought it disappears in the sands, and its waters are alkaline and often poisonous. Stretches of bad-land desert are interrupted by other stretches of sage plain, and on the high lands gnarled and picturesque forests of juniper and pinion are found. On the west side of the river the mesas rise by grassy slopes to the westward into high plateaus that are forest-clad, first with juniper and pinion, and still higher with pines and firs. Some of the streams run in canyons and others have elevated valleys along their courses. On the south border of this mesa and plateau country are the Bridger Bad Lands, lying at the foot of the Uinta Mountains. These bad lands are of gray, green, and brown shales that are carved in picturesque forms—domes, towers, pinnacles, and minarets, and bold cliffs with deep alcoves; and all are naked rock, the sediments of an ancient lake. These lake beds are filled with fossils;--the preserved bones of fishes, reptiles, and mammals, of strange and gigantic forms, no longer found living on the globe. It is a desert to the agriculturist, a mine to the paleontologist, and a paradise to the artist.

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