Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"The Missouri River" from VOA

This is Shirley Griffith. And this is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program, EXPLORATIONS.

Today, we tell about another important American river, the Missouri. It is the longest river in the United States. The first American Indians to live along the Missouri River called the river the Mine Sose. It means the muddy river. Even today, the Missouri is called "the Big Muddy" by many people. This is because it carries huge amounts of dirt from the land through which it flows. The dirt makes the river a brown color for much of its length.

The Missouri begins in the Rocky Mountains of North America. It is formed by three rivers that come together in what is the north central state of Montana. The three rivers are the Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin Rivers. They become the Missouri River in the southwestern part of Montana, more than 1,200 meters above sea level. The river is clear and flows rapidly as it begins its travels east and south. It moves more slowly as it flows down to the waters of the Mississippi River, about ten kilometers north of the modern-day city of Saint Louis

The Missouri travels 4,000 kilometers from the high mountains in the north to the low lands of the south. It flows along the borders of seven states: Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and finally Missouri.

The first Europeans who reported seeing the river were at the mouth of the Missouri where it empties into the Mississippi. They were French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet. In Sixteen-Seventy-Three, they were traveling down the Mississippi in a small wooden boat when they heard a great noise of water moving at great speed. Father Marquette wrote that he felt great fear. He saw large trees floating into the Mississippi River. They were carried in violently moving muddy water. The muddy water was the Missouri River which emptied into the western side of the Mississippi

French Fur Traders and
Native American
The Missouri was a violent river, making travel along it difficult. Yet explorers and settlers used it as a way to move west. In the early Seventeen-hundreds, French fur traders began to travel along the Missouri to the lands of the great American west. The first non-natives to explore the river, from its mouth to its beginnings, did so in 1805 and 1806. President Thomas Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the area.

The United States government had bought from France a large area of land called the Louisiana Territory. This land extended from the Gulf of Mexico northwest to the Pacific coast. The story of Lewis and Clark's travels up the Missouri River and on to the Pacific Northwest is one of the great stories of American exploration.

President Jefferson sent the two men to explore the little-known river to learn all about the land on both sides of it. Lewis and Clark completed the trip in two years. The explorers were the first Americans to cross the Missouri lands to the Pacific Northwest.

Lewis and Clark brought back to Washington a detailed report about the plants, trees, animals, climate they found on their travels. Many different scientists have long studied these facts.

The two men also returned with a lot of information about the different Indian nations of the West. Since then, the Indian names have become well known through the many stories and books written about them. The Mandans, the Nez Perce, the Sioux, the Blackfeet, the Chickasaws, the Pawnees and the Crows were some of these nations

Most of the Indians Lewis and Clark met along the way were a great help to them. One of the most famous was a woman named Sacagawea. She was a Shoshone Indian who had been captured by the Mandan tribe. The two explorers knew that the Shoshone Indians who lived near the Rocky Mountains had good horses. Since the two explorers began their trip, they had been traveling up the Missouri River by boat. They knew that they would need horses to help them in the next part of their exploration over land

So, Lewis and Clark took Sacagawea with them. She could help them deal with the Shoshone tribe when they left the river and crossed over the tall, rough mountains. Today, the image of Sacagawea is on the American dollar coin. It honors her part in helping Lewis and Clark explore what became the western United States.Soon after Lewis and Clark explored the territory, settlers began moving west along the Missouri River. They began their western travels on boats that took them from Saint Louis to either Kansas City or Saint Joseph in western Missouri. Then they took wagons to Oregon and California on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. It was the Missouri River that started them on their way to new homes in new lands.

A large part of the river became the border between two kinds of land, and two ways of life. On the east side were beautiful woodlands and lakes. On the west side were great open plains, stretching all the way to the high western Rocky Mountains.

The two sides of the river were different when the first European explorers traveled the Missouri. On the east side of the river, the explorers found Indian woodsmen living in tents hidden among trees. These tribes hunted deer. They fought their enemies by surprise attacks from hidden places

On the west side of the river, the explorers found strong Indian buffalo hunters and fighters on horses. These Indians attacked out in the open and wanted no cover to protect themselves only the backs of racing horses.

There are similar differences today. On the eastern side of the Missouri are farms and tall corn. On the western side are horses and cows and cowboys.It is said that you need to look in the middle of the Missouri River to find where the American West begins. The state of Missouri is in the center of the United States. It is named after the great river that flows from west to east through its center

Independence, Missouri, 1906
The city of Independence is in the western part of the state. It is considered the geographical center of the continental United States

One of the city's most famous citizens was Harry Truman, who was the Thirty-Third President of the United States. He was president from 1945 until 1953. When he left office, Truman returned to his home in Independence, on the shores of the Missouri River

For many years after Lewis and Clark's exploration, only fur traders used the river to carry the goods they wanted to sell. They carried their furs in small boats that were light on the water and did not hit the bottom

Beginning in 1830, the American Fur Company began to use steam boats to carry goods up and down the Missouri. This trade began to disappear in 1859. It was then that a railroad was completed between Hannibal, on the Mississippi River in the east, and Saint Joseph, on the Missouri River in the western part of the state of Missouri. It was easier to move goods and people by train.

After World War Two ended, the United States government approved a major plan to develop the areas along the Missouri River. The plan included flood control and development along the river. Now a series of six huge dams in the middle area of the river control the flow of the Missouri. More than 100 smaller dams are on smaller rivers that flow into the Missouri. The dams contain the water from the melting snows in the north. They reduce the flooding that once happened down river almost every spring.

Gavin Dam on the Missouri River
Today, the once wild river is controlled. Boats continue to carry goods and people up and down the Missouri River as they have for centuries.This Special English program was written by Oliver Chanler. This is Steve Ember. And this is Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for another EXPLORATIONS program on the Voice of America.


1. Sacagawea was a member of the ______________________ tribe .
a: Shoshone
b: Mandan
c: Nez Perce
d: Blackfoot

2. _________________ never saw the Missouri River.
a: Meriwether Lewis
b: Louis Jolliet
c: Thomas Jefferson
d: William Clark

3. ___________________ is considered the geographical center of the United States.
a: Saint Louis
b: Independence
c: Kansas City
d: Saint Joseph

4. When settlers moved west, their journey started in Saint Louis, then they traveled ______________ to Kansas City or Saint Joseph in Western Missouri.
a: by boat
b: on horseback
c: by foot
d: by covered wagon drawn by oxen

"The Big Muddy" refers to ____________________________ .
a: the mud the Missouri carries for much of its length
b: the mud that is piled up on the Missouri's banks
c: untrue fictions about the Missouri River
d: The Missouri River

6. The east and west sides of the Missouri River had ________________________ land.
a: very different kinds of
b: pretty much the same kind of
c: excellent land for raising sheep
d: excellent land for the timber industry

7. The first Europeans to see the Missouri River felt _____________________ .
a: great fear because it was a violent river
b: great peace because it was a quiet river
c: great emotion because it was a beautiful river
d: great distaste because it was a muddy river

8. By now, the Missouri River ________________________ .
a: has continued to be a wild river
b: has lost all the mud it once had
c: has for the most part dried up and is only a small stream
d: has been largely been controlled by dams

9. The Missouri River begins in ______________________ .
a: the state of North Dakota
b: the Rocky Mountains
c: the Gulf of Mexico
d: the city of Saint Louis

10. By 1859, steam boats no longer carried as many goods and passengers as before because _____________________ .
a: of the invention of the railroad
b: it was no longer profitable to sell goods in western states
c: the river's violence made the steam boats unsafe
d: the river's mud splashed on the products

11. The Missouri River flows into _____________________ .
a: The Mississippi River
b: the Gulf of Mexico
c: The Colorado River
d: The Pacific Ocean

A Youtube Video about Missouri River Dams.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"Life in an Ant Colony" from Edcon Publishing.

This ant colony has many rooms, and each room has a special purpose.

Staying alone can be a nice way to live. Still, most people do better with the company of others. When people live together, they can be of great help to each other. That is why human beings have always lived in groups. Even cave men and women lived in groups in their caves. Some hunted and some cooked. Some acted as guards. By living and working together, they lived through many hard times.

For American Indians, living together has long been a part of their way of life. Indians are free to live where they choose. Yet many Indians still live on reservations. On the reservations they can live much as they would in other places. But they are with other humans who have some of the same needs and problems as they have.

Animals, as well as humans, live and travel in groups. There are many different names for these animal groups. Fish swim in "schools." Wolves run in "packs." We speak of a "pride" of lions. One of the most familiar and interesting groups of all, though, is found in the insect world. It is the "colony" of ants.

The most important ant in each colony is the queen. Sometimes an ant colony has more than one queen. Queens spend their lives laying eggs. The other ants in the colony are children of the queen. It is the children who do all the work. The children are called "workers." Some workers build the rooms and tunnels of the colony. They burrow through the ground, making the colony home larger and larger. Scratching their way through the soft earth, they build tunnels and rooms that lead to other tunnels and rooms. They burrow this way and that way, always busy. They also carry some of the earth outside, grain by grain, forming a small hill around the open hole. We know this as the familiar ant hill.

The workers build a special room for the queen in the middle of the colony. They build other rooms for the new baby ants that hatch from the queen's eggs. Some workers act as nurses to take care of the babies. Some workers take care of the queen. As the babies grow, they, too, become workers.

Some workers become hunters. They leave the colony each day, searching for food. A piece of garbage carelessly tossed by a human hand can become a feast for the ants. A crumb from a human can be an ant's dinner. An ant has two stomachs. One stomach is for the food she eats when she is hungry. The other stomach is for the food she saves. Often, a hunter ant will bring back food in this stomach to share with the other ants. She can pass the food from her stomach to the stomach of a hungry ant.

Sometimes a hunter ant will try to bring a large piece of food back to the nest, but will not be able to do it alone. If it is too heavy for her to carry, she will return to the colony for help. One or more ants will go back with her to share the load. Have you ever seen ants around a garbage pail? Did you wonder how so many of them got there? Sometimes a hunter ant will find food that cannot be brought back to the colony. Then she will return and let the others
know about her find. The ants that are able will follow her back to the food.

Sometimes ants "milk" other insects, much as humans milk cows. At an ant's gentle touch, the little insect will let out a sweet, wet drop for the ant to drink. Some ants act as guards for the ant colony. These ants have larger heads than the other ants. Their heads are too large for the inside work of building and taking care of the queen and babies. Carrying those big heads around, they get tired quickly if they hunt for food. Instead, they spend most of their time near the ant hill, protecting the colony. Sometimes they fight enemy ants.

When the weather becomes really cold, the workers close the ant holes. All the ants crawl into the deepest rooms and settle into a winter sleep. They do not wake again until the weather becomes warm. Working and sharing together, ants get much done. For their size, it is a wonder that they do it all. Ants do not give up. If one cannot do something alone, others will help. If one is in trouble, others will help. Ants could teach humans a good lesson, if we would pay attention.


1. People have lived in groups ______________
a. only in the past few years.
b. only in this country.
c. for a long, long time.
d. for a short time only.

2. Ants live in _______________
a. a school.
b. a colony.
c. a reservation.
d. a pride.

3. The queen's job is to _________________
a. build rooms.
b. build tunnels.
c. hunt for food.
d. lay eggs.

4. The queen is the most important ant in the colony ___________
a. because she is so pretty.
b. because she has a special room.
c. because she lays all the eggs.
d. because she is a good hunter.

5. The worker ants are ____________
a. friends of the queen.
b. children of the queen.
c. enemies of the queen.
d. food for the queen.

6. The worker ants __________________
a. all do the same job.
b. sleep all summer.
c. lay eggs.
d. do different jobs.

7. Ants have ______________________
a. two heads.
b. four eyes.
c. two stomachs.
d. ten legs.

8. The ants with larger heads ______________________
a. build the rooms.
b. are the hunters for the colony.
c. milk insects.
d. fight enemy ants.

9. Another name for this story could be ____________________
a. "Ants Are Funny."
b. "How to Live Alone and Like It."
c. "The Poor Little Ant."
d. "Group Living."

10. The main idea of the story is ______________________
a. too many ants live together.
b. Indians should live on reservations.
c. living things can be of help to each other.
d. it is better to live alone.

Rescue at Sea

Susan B. Anthony

Sunday, April 3, 2011

"Seven Natural American Wonders" from VOA.


I'm Steve Ember.


And I'm Barbara Klein with Explorations in VOA Special English. We received a special request in a letter from a listener in Nagano, Japan. Atsumi Shimoda asked for a report about what the Special English writers thought were the seven natural wonders of the United States.



So now we will visit these natural wonders. Some are huge. Some are powerful. And some are even a little frightening! But, we will keep a safe distance. The first stop is a natural wonder that the United States shares with Canada.


That thundering crash is the tens of thousands of cubic feet of water that flow each second over Niagara Falls which includes the American Falls and Horseshoe Falls. The American Falls in New York State extends more than three hundred twenty meters across part of the Niagara River. The American Falls is more than fifty meters high.

American Falls

Canada owns the larger Horseshoe Falls. It is about eight hundred meters wide and almost fifty meters high. It is shaped like the letter U, or a horse's shoe.


Niagara Falls formed about twelve thousand years ago when huge melting sheets of ice formed the Great Lakes. The land was uneven with several drops in level, some very sharp. Water from Lake Erie began to flow north to Lake Ontario as a result of the loss of the ice barrier.

In modern times, several people have gone over Niagara Falls, most of them on purpose. Most also survived. But, we think the beauty and power of Niagara Falls is best experienced from near the water, not in it.

Now we travel southeast to the state of Florida. We will visit the area once called "the liquid heart" of that state -- the Everglades.



Hundreds of birds fly in a sunny blue sky. The only sounds are bird calls and the soft noise made by tall grasses as the water slowly moves them. Hidden in the grasses, dark green alligators move at the edge of the water, like part of the Earth come alive.

The Everglades

This is the Everglades -- a low, watery, partly coastal area that covers ten thousand square kilometers. The area is filled with sawgrass. This plant grows in sharp, thin pieces that are three to ten meters tall. The Everglades is sometimes called "river of grass."

The area also contains forests of palm, cypress, mangrove and pine. And beautiful plants and sweet-smelling flowers grow in the Everglades. These include several kinds of the highly prized and rare flower, the orchid. Animal species are plentiful. Many colorful birds and butterflies live here. So do snakes, foxes, frogs and even big cats, called Florida panthers. But the Everglades alligators and crocodiles are probably the animals most identified with the Everglades. No other place in the world is home to both.



Now we travel to the north central part of the country. We are in the state of South Dakota. The land is big and mostly flat with many fields of corn, wheat and soybeans. But as we travel west, the cropland gives way to wild grasses. A strong dry wind blows continuously from the west.

Suddenly, the land becomes torn and rocky, dry and dusty -- no longer green and gold. It is now a light red-brown color. All around are broken disordered forms. There are hills and valleys of all sizes and strange shapes.


These are the Badlands. Hundreds of thousands of years ago the area was grassland. But, then, forces of nature destroyed the grass. Water and ice cut into the surface of the Earth. They beat at the rocks, wearing them away. The result is one of the world's strangest sights.

All together, the Badlands cover more than fifteen thousand square kilometers. About ten percent is national parkland. The area is a study in extremes. Temperatures in the summer have been as high as forty-six degrees Celsius. In the winter they have dropped to as low as forty-one degrees below zero. Life in the Badlands is difficult. But animals do survive. The most well known is the prairie dog. This small mammal lives in a series of underground passages.

Prairie Dogs



As we continue west we also take a sharp dive south. We want to see the huge hole in the Earth, called the Grand Canyon in the state of Arizona. The first sight is breathtaking. The Grand Canyon stretches for hundreds of kilometers before us and hundreds of meters below us. It is about twenty-four kilometers across at its widest point. Its deepest point is almost two thousand meters down.

Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is a series of deep long cuts in rock. There are many passages and large raised areas. There are forests on the top level and desert areas down below. They provide support for several different ecosystems. The Colorado River flows through the Grand Canyon. The Canyon offers a lot of information about the physical history of Earth. There is a huge amount of fossil evidence. And its walls provide a record of three of the four major periods of the Earth's geologic time.



Now, we are at the hottest, driest and lowest place in North America. Death Valley is part of the Mojave Desert. It lies mostly in the western state of California although part of it reaches into Nevada.

An area called Badwater sits about eighty-six meters below sea level. There is not really any water there. The area gets fewer than five centimeters of rain a year.

During the summer the temperature in Death Valley can reach fifty-seven degrees Celsius. But, it can be dangerously cold in the winter there, too. And storms in the mountains can produce sudden flooding on the valley floor.

In other words, Death Valley is an unforgiving place. The heat has killed people in the past. And it will continue to kill those who are not careful in dealing with the area's extreme climate.

Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley

Death Valley holds much evidence of nature's past violence. For example, there is Ubehebe Crater. This hole is about one kilometer across and more than two hundred thirty meters deep. It is the remains of a major volcanic explosion about two thousand years ago.



Now it is time to cool off in the far northern state of Alaska. We could probably just call all of Alaska a natural wonder. But of special interest are its glaciers. These huge, slow-moving masses of ice cover about seventy-five thousand square kilometers.

About one hundred thousand of these rivers of ice flow down mountains. Some start from thousands of meters up a mountain. They can flow to areas just a few hundred meters above sea level. The largest Alaskan glacier is called Malaspina. It is more than two thousand two hundred square kilometers.


Malaspina Glacier seen from space

Most glaciers move very slowly. But sometimes one will suddenly speed ahead for a year or two. These are called surge-glaciers. The most recent surges were in two thousand. The Tokositna glacier and Yanert Glaciers now have deep, narrow cuts on their formerly smooth surfaces. Yanert Glacier dropped ninety-one meters as a result of the surge. It is always very cold on the glaciers. Next we go to a hot spot. Sometimes very hot.



Welcome to Mount Kilauea, the world's most active volcano. It is on the island of Hawaii. Kilauea is not far from Mauna Loa, the largest volcano in the world.

Kilauea has been releasing burning hot liquid rock called lava continuously since nineteen eighty-three. The lava flows down the mountain to the Pacific Ocean. Its fierce heat produces a big cloud of steam when it hits the cold water. Kilauean lava continues to add land to the island. Sometimes visitors are able to walk out near the edge of this new black volcanic rock.


These seven natural American wonders, from waterfalls to volcanoes, are not the only ones in the United States. What about the Great Salt Lake, the Old Faithful Geyser, the Mammoth Cave and the giant redwood forests? We will have to report about them and other natural wonders another time.


Redwoods in Big Basin Park


This program was written and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Barbara Klein.


And I'm Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.


1. The Everglades in Florida is the only place in the world that is home to both crocodiles and _____________________ .
a: foxes
b: panthers
c: orchids
d: alligators

2. Evidence of a two thousand year old volcanic eruption, _________________Crater, can be found in Death Valley, California.
a: Malaspina
b: Ubehebe
c: Tokositna
d: Kilauea

3. The world's most active volcano is located in the state of ___________________.
a: Alaska
b: California
c: Washington
d: Hawaii

4. The small prairie dog that burrows in tunnels under the ground is one of the few who can survive the rough conditions of _____________________ .
a: New York City
b: the Badlands in South Dakota
c: the Everglades
d: Death Valley

5. Most glaciers are slow. Glaciers that suddenly speed ahead are called ______________ .
a: speed glaciers
b: glacier racers
c: surge-glaciers
d: ice rolls

6. One great wonder of American nature is not included in this list because the writers could only list seven. It is _____________________ .
a: Niagara Falls
b: the Badlands
c: the Redwood Forests of the West Coast
d: the Everglades

7. Niagara Falls is composed to two sets of falls. On the New York side, it's the American Falls. On the Canadian side, the _______________ falls is shaped like a "U".
a: Half Track
b: Half Circle
c: Horseshoe
d: Half Moon

8. A natural wonder that the United States shares with Canada is ____________________ .
a: Niagara Falls
b: the Everglades
c: the Badlands
d: the Grand Canyon

9. The walls of the ____________________ present a record of three of the four major periods of the Earth's geological history.
a: Grand Canyon
b: Niagara Falls
c: the Empire State Building
d: Sierra Mountains

10. Two places in the American Wonders list are very hot in the summer. They are _____________________ .
a: Kilauea and Mauna Loa
b: the Badlands and Death Valley
c: the Everglades and White Sands National Park
d: New York and New Hampshire