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European and American Explorers

See stories of explorations.

Language is powerful - and can be destructive.

Great Salt Lake
: Who discovered the Great Salt Lake?

Answer: Who knows??

We have no idea who “discovered” the Great Salt Lake—because whoever it was lived a long, long time ago—maybe 10,000 years ago. And she (or he) didn’t write about it.

It’s funny, or maybe it’s not funny, that most of the time when we say someone "discovered" a place, what we’re really talking about is the first person of European ancestry to see a place.

A simple phrase can almost make it seem like the indigenous people don’t count, or didn’t even exist!

Europeans and American explorers made a difference.

The first non-native people to visit and describe places did make a difference for the people who followed--when they described the places in journals, maps, or books for others to learn about. 

old wagon wheels in the Salt Desert

Old wagon wheels left on the Great Salt Lake Desert in 1846 by the Donner Party. They were found in the 1930s by another group of explorers who wanted to trace the Donner Party's route.

Would you like to be an explorer?

Why would someone head out into completely unknown territory (no Wal-Marts out there!) with a few companions, a gun, a horse, and a few pack mules maybe? 

If you did this, you’d have to deal with:

Some people liked these challenges! They liked solving problems and accomplishing hard things using their skills and wits.

And--lots of people still do like all these things.

four people and boats

Members of the Norm Nevills expedition of 1938 from Green River, Utah, to Lake Mead. The trip included these two women botanists, who collected plant specimens. Nevills is on the right.

The quest: to answer questions.

Before the 1700s, non-indigenous people knew of a vast land north of Santa Fe and between St. Louis and the West Coast. But they didn’t know much about it.

People explored to:

And, sometimes, to:

Get an overview of explorers and trappers in Utah, 1765-1850s.

See these specific stories:

How are people still exploring today? 

Not all exploring is about investigating the land.  You can explore ideas, ways to make the world better, scientific and social questions, and also history.