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Earth Notes
Science and Innovations

Earth Notes: Herbert E. Gregory

Clay Martin/USGS

Herbert Ernest Gregory isn’t exactly a household name among Colorado Plateau residents. But, for more than 40 years, Gregory spent several months each summer exploring and explaining the plateau’s geologic wonderland.  About all that commemorates him here now is his weathered canteen hanging in the visitor center at Zion National Park.

Those in his profession recognize Gregory as a pioneering geologist who contributed classic reports on Zion, the Navajo and San Juan country, and the Kaiparowits Plateau, which he considered the centerpiece of the plateau’s rockbound heart.

Herbert Gregory was born in Michigan in 1869, the same year John Wesley Powell made his epic Colorado River run. Harvard-educated, Gregory became director of Yale’s geology department. But, he ranged widely beyond New England.

His first foray into the Southwest was in 1900, from Flagstaff, to Milford, Utah. He then traveled to the Navajo country, partly to help locals find water. He named the Chinle Formation, did field study and mapping in Zion, and the year before he died he was investigating Bryce Canyon.

In the early days, he went on foot or horseback. But by the 1930s he was flying over and photographing from what he called “grand airplanes.”  Thousands of his photos are now curated at the University of Utah library.

Herbert Gregory died in Hawaii in 1952. One obituary said his passing closed “the active career of a noted and colorful figure from the ranks of American geologists and geographers” — and, a noted chapter in plateau history.

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