Review by Susan Elliott
If you're looking for an iconic Western river trip, you likely have at least one stretch of the John Wesley Powell route on your list. Probably several. In the recently published Falcon guidebook, Paddling the John Wesley Powell Route, Mike Bezemek presents the entire Powell route and then some, from Wyoming's Upper Green River and lakes to below the Lower Colorado river and reservoirs. Geologic wonders to political controversies, extreme weather to lazy sand beaches, glassy pools to tumultuous rapids, Bezemek takes us through them all. The diversity of river systems requires it and Bezemek has successfully taken on the challenge.
Readers can find out a plethora of useful information about each river segment and sections within those segments. Anyone can find an approachable reach of the Powell route, no matter skill level or paddling style. A handy "Trip Finder by Duration and Character" gives readers a great place to start. Aside from a color scheme for headings that forces readers to squint a bit (and bulleted section "Highlights" that feel squeezed into single paragraphs), the logistical information flows in logical ways and the prose is delightful to pour over.
The utility of this book goes beyond decent maps of essential roads and access points, helpful trip logistics and inspirational double-page landscape photography. Bezemek provides a paddler's retelling of the exploratory first Powell expedition in chronologically ordered sidebar stories. You'll progress downstream right along with Powell and his men. Only a river guide and lifetime paddler could sift through and also validate the trip member's hyperbole of the dramatic and harrowing accounts. Quotes from the crew's journals about the whitewater further play to the reader who has a similar appreciation of unplanned lines, high water or surprisingly successful descents through rapids. You'll find yourself flipping to the next section, even if it sits within a stretch of river you aren't currently floating.
Bezemek's guide may also be the beginning of a new format in which we'll search for our river information, one that is not sectioned off by state boundaries but rather by a connecting story. Finding put-in and takeout information these days has become an easy task for the average paddler, while learning about the history of a river still poses a challenge. Sure, we could read full novels or reference geological guides. But at least for the reaches of the Green and Colorado River covered in this book, we get a deeper story of the place. In turn, we end up connecting to that place and adding our experience to the story.
While you'll still want to grab a guidebook for each segment, those will inevitably leave you wanting more. Paddling the John Wesley Powell Route fills this essential gap. Plus, you'll be set to take on a different section of the route for your next trip. Perhaps you'll even become one of Bezemek's Powell Pilgrims.
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