From Green River, Wyoming on May 24, 1869 Major John Wesley Powell and a group of
voyagers set out to discover the mysteries of one of the last unexplored regions in the continental
United States the Green and Colorado Rivers. Powell was a disabled veteran who lost his right
arm in the Civil War. Later he turned to exploration, and in 1869 and 1871 led crews down the
rivers and through the Grand Canyon.
The town of Green River was chosen as the starting point because it was here that the river
and the transcontinental railraod met. The newly completed Union Pacific Railroad brought
boats and supplies to the launch site.
Powell's expeditions departed from an area around a small island in the Green River. In 1969
the site was designed a National Historical Place and renamed Expedition Island.
Years later the wild river that Powell knew as the Green was tamed and changed by the
installation of two dams; Fontenelle, fifty miles upstream from Green River, and Flaming
Gorge, seventy miles downstream.
Powell was later appointed director of the Smithsonian's Bureau of Ethnology and directory of
the United States Geological Survey. He died in 1902 and is buried in Arlington National
The Powell expeditions fired the imagination of the American public with the romance of
exploring a final frontier, but more importantly, the scientific studies of the river basins were the
first done in the remote Colorado Plateau, and formed the basis for a new arid land policy.