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Mapping the Grand Canyon in 1923

The Birdseye Expedition

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photograph of topographers surveying

Roland Burchard (left) and Claude Birdseye (right) in upper Granite Gorge.

photograph of two topographers at work

Roland Burchard (right) at an unknown location, circa 1920.

photograph of men repairing the bottom of a boat that is lying on its side

Repairing a boat after running Badger Creek Rapids. Left to right: Claude Birdseye, Leigh Lint, and Emery Kolb.

Looking for maps of the Grand Canyon? Go to the USGS Store and click on “Map Locator and Downloader” to download free digital topographic maps or to purchase paper maps. Also download or purchase a geologic map of the canyon.

During the expedition, minor injuries were frequent. On October 1, Burchard fell backward onto a barrel cactus with fishhook spines. Fortunately, he had earlier repaired a hole in the seat of his pants using the leg of a discarded boot, and was thus saved from serious damage.

Later that day, he fell again, landing on the corner of his instrument box and fracturing a rib. Burchard was in serious pain, but continued with his demanding work. His fortitude was rewarded on October 13 when he spotted a pyramid of white rocks that he had erected three years earlier to mark the highest upriver point of his 1920 survey. When the 1920 and 1923 surveys were tied together, their elevations were within four and half feet of each other. This was a remarkable achievement considering that many of the elevation angles were measured using survey shots as much as half a mile long.

photograph of Roland Burchard in military uniform

Lt. Roland Burchard on leave to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, circa 1916. (Photograph used with permission of Burchard family)

The expedition was met by friends and family members at several points where trails came down the canyon walls to the river. On August 19, boatman Emery Kolb's daughter, Edith, joined their camp for a day at the bottom of the Hance Trail at Hance Rapid. Kolb consented to let Edith ride the rapid as a passenger in Leigh Lint's boat, making her the first woman to run a dangerous rapid in Grand Canyon. "Edith was wet but game, showing good nerve" (Westwood, 1992).

photograph of some expedition members standing with friends and family in front of the USGS water resources building at the canyon

At the home of the USGS hydrographer stationed at the mouth of Bright Angel Creek in Grand Canyon National Park, August 27, 1923. E.C. LaRue and his wife are on the far left. Roland Burchard is on the far right.

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.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3
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