Congress memorialized Major John Wesley Powell at this site along the West Rim Drive of Grand Canyon. The memorial, a raised platform from which visitors can catch a better view of the gorge, contains a brass plaque.
The Congress that dedicated the memorial deemed Powell “the first explorer of the Grand Canyon,” an accolade that later generations realize is not true. Humans had lived in and around Grand Canyon for thousands of years before Powell put his first boat in the waters of the Colorado River in 1869.
The Science journal of 1916 described the newly constructed memorial as “a structure worthy alike of the rugged, forceful personality of the man and of the titanic chasm which it overlooks.”
Congress appropriated $5,000 in 1909 for a memorial to Powell for his servicees as director of the U.S. Geological Survey. The original vision was for a Roman chair, facing the Canyon, but instead a landscape engineer at the National Parks designed the “altar decorated in Indian imagery” made of local, rough-hewn stone.
At the time of the Science article, Grand Canyon had not yet been named a National Park, but at least the article’s unnamed author expected that designation to follow, which it did in 1919.
Written By Patricia Biggs
- “Memorial to John Wesley Powell,” Science. (New York: The Science Press, 1916), 16.