The US Geological Exploration of the 40th Parallel began its examination of the American West under the leadership of Clarence King. The survey team explored northern Utah, and provided an in-depth analysis of Utah’s geography and environment.
In 1867, the United States Geological Exploration of the 40th Parallel, under the leadership of twenty-five-year-old Clarence King, began its examination of the American West, including northern Utah. Two of the main goals of the expedition were to provide a survey of the land for the Union and Central Pacific railroads, and to conduct a scientific and geological study of the area between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean in the general area of the transcontinental railroad.
Over the next six years, Clarence King, James Hague, Arnold Hague, and Samuel Emmons, along with other members of the survey, collected information related to geology, mining, paleontology, and ornithology as well as other sciences. In Utah, the group extensively studied the Uinta Mountains, Wasatch Front, and the Great Salt Lake. Clarence King noted that the Great Salt Lake had risen eleven feet since Howard Stansbury’s survey of the Great Basin the late 1840s. And Emmons and Arnold Hague wrote that, “One of the most striking peculiarities of this lake is the great density and pungent bitterness of its waters!”
Robert Ridgway, an ornithologist who joined the expedition in 1867 at the age of sixteen, identified species unique to Utah and the Great Basin region. He also discovered the raucous nature of gulls that modern Utahns are familiar with: while studying gulls’ nests on the Great Salt Lake, Ridgeway found that, “While their nests were being despoiled, the Gulls kept up a constant clamor, some hovering over our heads . . .”
The United States Geological Survey of the 40th Parallel provided an in-depth analysis of Utah’s geography and environment; built upon the works of previous expeditions; and aided the future exploration and development of Utah. Seven volumes of findings were published between 1870 and 1878. In Utah, Kings Peak and Mt. Emmons, among other geographical locations, bear names bestowed by this group of explorers.
Image: Clarence King. King (1842-1901) was a geologist and a mining engineer that explored and documented landscapes throughout Utah. Courtesy of Utah State Historical Society.
See Godfrey, Matthew W. “Traversing the Fortieth Parallel: The Experiences and Letters of
Robert Ridgeway, Teenage Ornithologist.” Master’s Thesis, Utah State University, 1997; Johnson, Michael W. Daggett County: A Modern Frontier. Utah Centennial Series.