“A million cascade brooks unite to form a thousand torrent creeks; a thousand torrent creeks unite to form half a hundred rivers beset with cataracts; half a hundred roaring rivers unite to from the Colorado, which rolls, a mad, turbid stream, into the gulf of California”
– J. W Powell 1869
An Unknown River is the first chapter in Houghton’s latest body of work exploring the romance of the Colorado River. Drawing on themes of exploration, time and spiritual ecology the work is inspired by the journals of John Wesley Powell.
In 1869 John Wesley Powell set off on a government-funded expedition to explore the Utah canyons of the Colorado River. Powell and his men spent three months travelling down the rapids of the Colorado River documenting the canyons, places and native people living along the river’s banks. Powell’s journals provide some of the most detailed and poetic accounts of the canyons to date.
Flowing from the Rocky Mountains down to the Gulf of Mexico, the Colorado River has shaped the American landscape. Providing a large percentage of America’s drinking water, the river has been manipulated by humans into vast lakes and reservoirs, bleeding into the surrounding landscape. Over the course of history, the fast flowing river has carved out vast deep canyons through the land. To be in the presence of the canyons is to be able to look back in time, to see signs of civilisation slip away, bathed in the pure sounds of the river, allowing the constructs of time to wash over and away from you.
Every year the canyons attract a huge number of visitors to the National Parks and surrounding areas. Pulled by the flow of the rivers calling, they are dwarfed by the immense scale of the river’s canyon home. The desire to capture, climb, swim, paddle and camp all over, a natural playground for rewilding, provides visitors with an experience largely untouched by the development of humankind. Through the landscapes grandeur they are able to take a small piece of the rivers wild spirted experience home with them.
The rivers cool blue waters contrast with the red land burning bright, sunsets paint wide open spaces, the earth falls away, confronted by the echoes of time layered in the surrounding rocks, stories of the past woven into the fabric of the landscape, existing long before us the river will continue to flow and outlive us in every way.