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In the summer of 1923, the USGS organized an expedition to make a new map of the Grand Canyon, which was the last stretch of the Colorado River that had not been accurately surveyed. Up until that time, only 27 men were known to have traversed the length of Marble and Grand canyons and of those, only two had any scientific knowledge (one of those two men was John Wesley Powell, the second director of the USGS, who led the first expedition down the river in 1869).
This 251-mile stretch of the river extended from Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek. Claude Birdseye, who was the Chief Topographic Engineer of the USGS, was the expedition leader; Roland W. Burchard of the USGS was the expedition topographer; Eugene Clyde LaRue, the Chief Hydrologist for the USGS, was the expedition hydrologist and photographer; and Dr. Raymond C. Moore from the University of Kansas was the expedition geologist.
Their party also included a cook, four boatmen (whose skill and nerve were crucial to the success of the expedition), a combination rodman/boatman, and four wooden boats.
Birdseye was charged with making an unbroken level survey line through Marble and Grand canyons and running the survey line up side canyons. In addition, the party was to survey possible dam sites under the direction of LaRue (Westwood, 1992).
The expedition launched from Lees Ferry on August 1, 1923. They completed the survey at Diamond Creek on October 13 and landed the boats at Needles, California on October 19, 1923.
Birdseye was especially suited for the arduous work of leading the expedition. He was a highly skilled organizer whose surveying experience included Mount Rainier and the crater of Kilauea in Hawaii.
Burchard, who did most of the mapping work, had already surveyed the lower stretches of the Colorado River from thirty-five miles inside the Grand Canyon to the Boulder Canyon dam site and on to Needles, California. Of "powerful physique, great endurance, and a cool, steady head," Burchard was an ideal man for the rough work (Westwood, 1992).
Except for the first day, Burchard made the entire Colorado River survey. Burchard and Birdseye shared the task of surveying the many side canyons they encountered.
View film footage from the 1923 Grand Canyon expedition. This is the earliest film made by the USGS and one of the first black and white films distributed nationally.