The Colorado River Basin’s importance cannot be overstated. Its living river system supplies water to roughly forty million people in the United States, contains Grand Canyon National Park, Bears Ears National Monument, and wide swaths of other public lands, and encompasses the ancestral homes of twenty-nine Native American tribes. John Wesley Powell, a one-armed Civil War veteran, explorer, scientist, and adept federal administrator, articulated a vision for Euro-American colonization of the “Arid Lands” that has indelibly shaped the basin—a pattern that looms large not only in western history, but also in contemporary environmental and social policy.
One hundred and fifty years after Powell’s epic 1869 Colorado River Exploring Expedition, this volume revisits Powell’s vision, considering both its historical character and its relative influence on the Colorado River Basin’s cultural and physical landscape in modern times. In three parts, the volume unpacks Powell’s ideas on water, public lands, and Native Americans—ideas at once innovative, complex, and contradictory. With an eye toward climate change and a host of related challenges currently facing the basin, the volume turns to the future, reflecting on how—if at all—Powell’s legacy can inform our collective vision as we navigate a new “Great Unknown.”