Here to return to
FROM FLAMING GORGE To THE GATE OF LODORE
YOU must not think of a mountain-range as a line of peaks standing on a plain, but as a broad platform many miles wide, from which mountains have been carved by the waters. You must conceive, too, that this plateau is cut by gulches and cañons in many directions, and that beautiful valleys are scattered about at different altitudes. The first series of cañons we are about to explore constitutes a river channel through such a range of mountains. The cañon is cut nearly half-way through the range, then turns to the east, and is cut along the central line, or axis, gradually crossing it to the south. Keeping this direction for more than fifty miles, it then turns abruptly to a southwest course, and goes diagonally through the southern slope of the range.
This much we knew before entering, as we made a partial exploration of the region last fall, climbing many of its peaks, and in a few places reaching the brink of the cañon walls, and looking over the precipices, many hundreds of feet high, to the water below.
Here and there the walls are broken by lateral cañons, the channels of little streams entering the river; through two or three of these, we found our way down to the Green in early winter, and walked along the low water-beach at the foot of the cliffs for several miles. Where the river has this general easterly direction, the western part only has cut for itself a cañon, while the eastern has formed a broad valley, called, in honor of an old-time trapper, Brown’s Park, and long known as a favorite winter resort for mountain men and Indians.
May 30. — This morning we are ready to enter the mysterious cañon, and start with some anxiety. The old mountaineers tell us that it cannot be run; the Indians say, “Water heap catch ‘em,” but all are eager for the trial, and off we go.
Entering Flaming Gorge, we quickly run through it on a swift current, and emerge into a little park. Half a mile below, the river wheels sharply to the left, and we turn into another cañon cut into the mountain. We enter the narrow passage. On either side, the walls rapidly increase in altitude. On the left are overhanging ledges and cliffs five hundred — a thousand — fifteen hundred feet high.
On the right, the rocks are broken and ragged, and the water fills the channel from cliff to cliff. Now the river turns abruptly around a point to the right, and the waters plunge swiftly down among great rocks; and here we have our first experience with cañon rapids. I stand up on the deck of my boat to seek a way among the wave beaten rocks. All untried as we are with such waters, the moments are filled with intense anxiety.
Soon our boats reach the swift current; a stroke or two, now on this side, now on that, and we thread the narrow passage with exhilarating velocity, mounting the high waves, whose foaming crests dash over us, and plunging into the troughs, until we reach the quiet water below; and then comes a feeling of great relief. Our first rapid is run. Another mile, and we come into the valley again.
Let me explain this cañon. Where the river turns to the left above, it takes a course directly into the mountain, penetrating to its very heart, then wheels back upon itself, and runs out into the valley from which it started only half a mile below the point at which it entered; so the cañon is in the form of an elongated letter U, with the apex in the center of the mountain. We name it Horseshoe Cañon.
Soon we leave the valley, and enter another short cañon, very narrow at first, but widening below as the cañon walls increase in height. Here we discover the mouth of a beautiful little creek, coming down through its narrow water worn cleft. Just at its entrance there is a park of two or three hundred acres, walled on every side by almost vertical cliffs, hundreds of feet in altitude, with three gateways through the walls — one up, another down the river, and a third passage through which the creek comes in. The river is broad, deep, and quiet, and its waters mirror towering rocks.
Kingfishers are playing about the streams, and so we adopt as names Kingfisher Creek, Kingfisher Park, and Kingfisher Cañon. At night, we camp at the foot of this cañon.
Our general course this day has been south, but here the river turns to the east around a point which is rounded to the shape of a dome, and on its sides little cells have been carved by the action of the water; and in these pits, which cover the face of the dome, hundreds of swallows have built their nests. As they flit about the cliffs, they look like swarms of bees, giving to the whole the appearance of a colossal beehive of the old time form, and so we name it Beehive Point.
The opposite wall is a vast amphitheater, rising in a succession of terraces to a height of 1,200 or 1,500 feet. Each step is built Of red sandstone, with a face of naked, red rock, and a glacis clothed with verdure. So the amphitheater seems banded red and green, and the evening sun is playing with roseate flashes on the rocks, with shimmering green on the cedars’ spray, and iridescent gleams on the dancing waves. The landscape revels in the sunshine.
May 31. — We start down another cañon, and reach rapids made dangerous by high rocks lying in the channel; so we run ashore, and let our boats down with lines. In the afternoon we come to more dangerous rapids, and stop to examine them. I find we must do the same work again, but, being on the wrong side of the river to obtain a foothold, must first cross over — no very easy matter in such a current, with rapids and rocks below. We take the pioneer boat Emma Dean over, and unload her on the bank; then she returns and takes another load. Running back and forth, she soon has half our cargo over; then one of the larger boats is manned and taken across, but carried down almost to the rocks in spite of hard rowing. The other boats follow and make the landing, and we go into camp for the night.
At the foot of the cliff on this side, there is a long slope covered with pines; under these we make our beds, and soon after sunset are seeking rest and sleep. The cliffs on either side are of red sandstone, and stretch up toward the heavens 2,500 feet. On this side, the long, pine clad slope is surmounted by perpendicular cliffs, with pines on their summits. The wall on the other side is bare rock from the water’s edge up 2,000 feet, then slopes back, giving footing to pines and cedars.
As the twilight deepens, the rocks grow dark and somber; the threatening roar of the water is loud and constant, and I lie awake with thoughts of the morrow and the cañons to come, interrupted now and then by characteristics of the scenery that attract my attention. And here I make a discovery. On looking at the mountain directly in front, the steepness of the slope is greatly exaggerated, while the distance to its summit and its true altitude are correspondingly diminished. I have heretofore found that to properly judge of the slope of a mountain side, you must see it in profile. In coming down the river this afternoon, I observed the slope of a particular part of the wall, and made an estimate of its altitude. While at supper, I noticed the same cliff from a position facing it, and it seemed steeper, but not half as high. Now lying On my side and looking at it, the true proportions appear. This seems a wonder, and I rise up to take a view of it standing. It is the same cliff as at supper time. Lying down again, it is the cliff as seen in profile, with a long slope and distant summit. Musing on this, I forget “the morrow and the cañons to come.”
I find a way to estimate the altitude and slope of an inclination as I can judge of distance along the horizon. The reason is simple. A reference to the stereoscope will suggest it. The distance between the eyes forms a base-line for optical triangulation.
June 1. — To-day we have an exciting ride. The river rolls down the cañon at a wonderful rate, and, with no rocks in the way, we make almost railroad speed. Here and there the water rushes into a narrow gorge; the rocks on the side roll it into the center in great waves, and the boats go leaping and bounding over these like things of life. They remind me of scenes witnessed in Middle Park; herds of startled deer bounding through forests beset with fallen timber. I mention the resemblance to some of the hunters, and so striking is it that it comes to be a common expression, “See the black-tails jumping the logs.” At times the waves break and roll over the boats, which necessitates much bailing, and obliges us to stop occasionally for that purpose. At one time, we run twelve miles an hour, stoppages included.
Last spring, I had a conversation with an old Indian named Pá-ri-ats, who told me about one of his tribe attempting to run this cañon. “The rocks,” he said, holding his hands above his head, his arms vertical, and looking between them to the heavens, “the rocks h-e-a-p, h-e-a-p high; the water go h-oo-woogh, h-oo-woogh; water-pony (boat) h-e-a-p buck; water catch ‘em; no see ‘em Injun any more! no see ‘em squaw any more! no see ‘em pappoose any more!”
Those who have seen these wild Indian ponies rearing alternately before and behind, or “bucking,” as it is called in the vernacular, will appreciate his description.
At last we come to calm water, and a threatening roar is heard in the distance. Slowly approaching the point whence the sound issues, we come near to falls, and tie up just above them on the left. Here we will be compelled to make a portage; so we unload the boats, and fasten a long line to the bow, and another to the stern, of the smaller one, and moor her close to the brink of the fall. Then the bow-line is taken below, and made fast; the stern-line is held by five or six men, and the boat let down as long as they can hold her against the rushing waters; then, letting go one end of the line, it runs through the ring; the boat leaps over the fall, and is caught by the lower rope.
Now we rest for the night.
June 2. — This morning we make a trail among the rocks, transport the cargoes to a point below the falls, let the remaining boats over, and are ready to start before noon.
On a high rock by which the trail passes we find the inscription: “Ashley 18-5.” The third figure is obscure — some of the party reading it 1835, some 1855. 1
James Baker, an old time mountaineer, once told me about a party of men starting down the river, and Ashley was named as one. The story runs that the boat was swamped, and some of the party drowned in one of the cañons below. The word “Ashley” is a warning to us, and we resolve on great caution.
Ashley Falls is the name we give to the cataract.
The river is very narrow; the right wall vertical for two or three hundred feet, the left towering to a great height, with a vast pile of broken rocks lying between the foot of the cliff and the water. Some of the rocks broken down from the ledge above have tumbled into the channel and caused this fall. One great cubical block, thirty or forty feet high, stands in the middle of the stream, and the waters, parting to either side, plunge down about twelve feet, and are broken again by the smaller rocks into a rapid below. Immediately below the falls, the water occupies the entire channel, there being no talus at the foot of the cliffs.
We embark, and run down a short distance, where we find a landing-place for dinner.
On the waves again all the afternoon. Near the lower end of this cañon, to which we have given the name Red Cañon, is a little park, where streams come down from distant mountain summits, and enter the river on either side; and here we camp for the night under two stately pines.
June 3. — This morning we spread our rations, clothes, &c., on the ground to dry, and several of the party go out for a hunt. I take a walk of five or six miles up to a pine grove park, its grassy carpet bedecked with crimson, velvet flowers, set in groups on the stems of pear shaped cactus plants; patches of painted cups are seen here and there, with yellow blossoms protruding through scarlet bracts; little blue-eyed flowers are peeping through the grass; and the air is filled with fragrance from the white blossoms of a Spirœa. A mountain brook runs through the midst, ponded below by beaver dams. It is a quiet place for retirement from the raging waters of the cañon.
It will be remembered that the course of the river, from Flaming Gorge to Beehive Point, is in a southerly direction, and at right angles to the Uinta Mountains, and cuts into the range until it reaches a point within five miles of the crest, where it turns to the east, and pursues a course not quite parallel to the trend of the range, but crosses the axis slowly in a direction a little south of east. Thus there is a triangular tract between the river and the axis of the mountain, with its acute angle extending eastward. I climb a mountain overlooking this country. To the east, the peaks are not very high, and already most of the snow has melted; but little patches lie here and there under the lee of ledges of rock. To the west, the peaks grow higher and the snow fields larger. Between the brink of the cañon and the foot of these peaks, there is a high bench. A number of creeks have their sources in the snow banks to the south, and run north into the cañon, tumbling down from 3,000 to 5,000 feet in a distance of five or six miles. Along their upper courses, they run through grassy valleys; but, as they approach Red Cañon, they rapidly disappear under the general surface of the country, and emerge into the cañon below in deep, dark gorges of their own. Each of these short lateral cañons is marked by a succession of cascades and a wild confusion of rocks and trees and fallen timber and thick undergrowth.
The little valleys above are beautiful parks; between the parks are stately pine forests, half hiding ledges of red sandstone. Mule-deer and elk abound; grizzly bears, too, are abundant; wild cats, wolverines, and mountain lions are here at home. The forest aisles are filled with the music of birds, and the parks are decked with flowers. Noisy brooks meander through them; ledges of moss-covered rocks are seen; and gleaming in the distance are the snow fields, and the mountain tops are away in the clouds.
June 4. — We start early and run through to Brown’s Park. Half way down the valley, a spur of a red mountain stretches across the river, which cuts a cañon through it, Here the walls are comparatively low, but vertical. A vast number of swallows have built their adobe houses on the face of the cliffs, on either side of the river. The waters are deep and quiet, but the swallows are swift and noisy enough, sweeping by in their curved paths through the air, or chattering from the rocks. The young birds stretch their little heads on naked necks through the doorways of their mud houses, clamoring for food. They are a noisy people.
We call this Swallow Cañon.
Still down the river we glide, until an early hour in the afternoon, when we go into camp under a giant cottonwood, standing on the right bank, a little way back from the stream. The party had succeeded in killing a fine lot of wild ducks, and during the afternoon a mess of fish is taken.
June 5. — With one of the men, I climb a mountain, off on the right. A long spur, with broken ledges of rocks, puts down to the river; and along its course, or up the “hog-back,” as it is called, I make the ascent. Dunn, who is climbing to the same point, is coming up the gulch. Two hours’ hard work has brought us to the summit. These mountains are all verdure clad; pine and cedar forests are set on green terraces; snow clad mountains are seen in the distance, to the west; the plains of the upper Breen stretch out before us, to the north, until they are lost in the blue heavens; but half of the river cleft range intervenes, and the river itself is at our feet.
This half range, beyond the river, is composed of long ridges, nearly parallel with the valley. On the farther ridge, to the north, four creeks have their sources. These cut through the intervening ridges, one of which is much higher than that on which they head, by cañon gorges; then they run, with gentle curves, across the valley, their banks set with willows, box-elders, and cottonwood groves.
To the east, we look up the valley of the Vermilion, through which Frémont found his path on his way to the great parks of Colorado.
The reading of the barometer taken, we start down in company, and reach camp tired and hungry, which does not abate one bit our enthusiasm, as we tell of the day’s work, with its glory of landscape.
June 6. — At daybreak, I am awakened by a chorus of birds. It seems as if all the feathered songsters of the region have come to the old tree. Several species of warblers, woodpeckers, and flickers above, meadowlarks in the grass, and wild geese in the river. I recline on my elbow, and watch a lark near by, and then awaken my bed fellow, to listen to my Jenny Lind. A morning concert for me; none of your “matinées.”
Our cook has been an ox-driver, or “bullwhacker,” on the plains, in one of those long trains now no longer seen, and he hasn’t forgotten his old ways. In the midst of the concert, his voice breaks in: “Roll out! roll out! bulls in the corral! chain up the gaps! Roll out! roll out! roll out !” And this is our breakfast bell.
To-day we pass through the park, and camp at the head of another cañon.
June 7. — To-day, two or three of us climb to the summit of the cliff, on the left, and find its altitude, above camp, to be 2,086 feet. The rocks are split with fissures, deep and narrow, sometimes a hundred feet, or more, to the bottom. Lofty pines find root in the fissures that are filled with loose earth and decayed vegetation. On a rock we find a pool of clear, cold water, caught from yesterday evening’s shower. After a good drink, we walk out to the brink of the cañon, and look down to the water below. I can do this now, but it has taken several years of mountain climbing to cool my nerves, so that I can sit, with my feet over the edge, and calmly look down a precipice 2,000 feet. And yet I cannot look on and see another do the same. I must either bid him come away, or turn my head.
The cañon walls are buttressed on a grand scale, with deep alcoves intervening; columned crags crown the cliffs, and the river is rolling below.
When we return to camp, at noon, the sun shines in splendor on vermilion walls, shaded into green and gray, where the rocks are lichened over; the river fills the channel from wall to wall, and the cañon opens, like a beautiful portal, to a region of glory.
This evening, as I write, the sun is going down, and the shadows are settling in the cañon. The vermilion gleams and roseate hues, blending with the green and gray tints, are slowly changing to somber brown above, and black shadows are creeping over them below; and now it is a dark portal to a region of gloom — the gateway through which we are to enter on our voyage of exploration tomorrow. What shall we find?
The distance from Flaming Gorge to Beehive Point is nine and two-thirds miles. Besides, passing through the gorge, the river runs through Horseshoe and Kingfisher Cañons, separated by short valleys. The highest point on the walls, at Flaming Gorge, is 1,300 feet above the river. The east wall, at the apex of Horseshoe Cañon, is about 1,600 feet above the water’s edge, and, from this point, the walls slope both to the head and foot of the cañon.
Kingfisher Cañon, starting at the water’s edge above, steadily increases in altitude to 1,200 feet at the foot.
Red Cañon is twenty-five and two-thirds miles long, and the highest walls are about 2,500 feet.
Brown’s Park is a valley, bounded on either side by a mountain range, really an expansion of the cañon. The river, through the park, is thirty-five and a half miles long, but passes through two short cañons, on its way, where spurs, from the mountains on the south, are thrust across its course.
1 General Ashley, the fur trader, made his last journey Into the Far West before 1835. The man here mentioned must have been someone else, of the same family name. (Ed.)