Here to return to
FROM THE MOUTH OF THE UINTA RIVER TO THE JUNCTION
JULY 6. — Start early this morning. A short distance below the mouth of the Uinta, we come to the head of a long island. Last winter, a man named Johnson, a hunter and Indian trader, visited us at our camp in White River Valley. This man has an Indian wife, and, having no fixed home, usually travels with one of the Ute bands. He informed me it was his intention to plant some corn, potatoes, and other vegetables on this island in the spring, and, knowing that we would pass it, invited us to stop and help ourselves, even if he should not be there; so we land and go out on the island. Looking about, we soon discover his garden, but it is in a sad condition, having received no care since it was planted. It is yet too early in the season for corn, but Hall suggests that potato tops are good greens, and, anxious for some change from or salt meat fare, we gather a quantity and take them aboard. At noon we stop and cook or greens for dinner; but soon, one after another of the party is taken sick; nausea first, and then severe vomiting, and we tumble around under the trees, groaning with pain, and I feel a little alarmed, lest or poisoning be severe. Emetics are administered to those who are willing to take them, and about the middle of the afternoon we are all rid of the pain. Jack Sumner records in his diary that “Potato tops are not good greens on the sixth day of July.” 1
This evening we enter another cañon, almost imperceptibly, as the walls rise very gently.
July 7. — We find quiet water to-day, the river sweeping in great and beautiful curves, the cañon walls steadily increasing in altitude. The escarpment formed by the cut edges of the rock are often vertical, sometimes terraced, and in some places the treads of the terraces are sloping. In these quiet curves vast amphitheaters are formed, now in vertical rocks, now in steps.
The salient point of rock within the curve is usually broken down in a steep slope, and we stop occasionally to climb up, at such a place, where, on looking down, we can see the river sweeping the foot of the opposite cliff, in a great, easy curve, with a perpendicular or terraced wall rising from the water’s edge many hundreds of feet. One of these we find very symmetrical, and name it Sumner’s Amphitheater. The cliffs are rarely broken by the entrance of side cañons, and we sweep around curve after curve, with almost continuous walls, for several miles.
Late in the afternoon, we find the river much rougher, and come upon rapids, not dangerous, but still demanding close attention.
We camp at night on the right bank, having made to-day twenty-six miles.
July 8. — This morning, Bradley and I go out to climb, and gain an altitude of more than two thousand feet above the river, but still do not reach the summit of the wall.
After dinner, we pass through a region of the wildest desolation. The cañon is very tortuous, the river very rapid, and many lateral cañons enter on either side. These usually have their branches, so that the region is cut into a wilderness of gray and brown cliffs. In several places, these lateral cañons are only separated from each other by narrow walls, often hundreds of feet high, but so narrow in places that where softer rocks are fond below, they have crumbled away, and left holes in the wall, forming passages from one cañon into another. These we often call natural bridges; but they were never intended to span streams. They had better, perhaps, be called side doors between cañon chambers.
Piles of broken rock lie against these walls; crags and tower shaped peaks are seen everywhere; and away above them, long lines of broken cliffs, and above and beyond the cliffs are pine forests, of which we obtain Occasional glimpses, as we look up through a vista of rocks.
The walls are almost without vegetation; a few dwarf bushes are seen here and there, clinging to the rocks, and cedars grow from the crevices — not like the cedars of a land refreshed with rains, great cones bedecked with spray, but ugly clumps, like war clubs, beset with spines. We are minded to call this the Cañon of Desolation.
The wind annoys us much to-day. The water, rough by reason of the rapids, is made more so by head gales. Wherever a great face of rock has a southern exposure, the rarified air rises, and the wind rushes in below, either up or down the cañon, or both, causing local currents.
Just at sunset, we run a bad rapid, and camp at its foot.
July 9. — Our run to-day is through a cañon, with ragged, broken walls, many lateral gulches or cañons entering on either side. The river is rough, and occasionally it becomes necessary to use lines in passing rocky places. During the afternoon, we come to a rather open cañon valley, stretching up toward the west, its farther end lost in the mountains. From a point to which we climb, we obtain a good view of its course, until its angular walls are lost in the ,vista.
July 10. — Sumner, who is a fine mechanist, is learning to take observations for time with the sextant. To-day, he remains in camp to practice.
Howland and myself determine to climb out, and start up a lateral cañon, taking a barometer with us, for the purpose of measuring the thickness of the strata over which we pass. The readings of a barometer below are recorded every half hour, and or observations must be simultaneous. Where the beds, which we desire to measure, are very thick, we must climb with the utmost speed, to reach their summits in time. Again, where there are thinner beds, we wait for the moment to arrive; and so, by hard and easy stages, we make or way to the top of the cañon wall, and reach the plateau above about two o’clock.
Howland, who has his gun with him, sees deer feeding a mile or two back, and goes off for a hunt. I go to a peak, which seems to be the highest one in this region, about half a mile distant, and climb, for the purpose of tracing the topography of the adjacent country. From this point, a fine view is obtained. A long plateau stretches across the river, in an easterly and westerly direction, the summit covered by pine forests, with intervening elevated valleys and gulches. The plateau itself is cut in two by the cañon. Other side cañons head away back from the river, and run down into the Green. Besides these, deep and abrupt cañons are seen to head back on the plateau, and run north toward the Uinta and White Rivers. Still other cañons head in the valleys, and run toward the south. The elevation of the plateau being about eight thousand feet above the level of the sea, brings it into a region of moisture, as is well attested by the forests and grassy valleys. The plateau seems to rise gradually to the west, until it merges into the Wasatch Mountains. On these high table lands, elk and deer abound; and they are favorite hunting grounds for the Ute Indians.
A little before sunset, Howland and I meet again at the head of the side cañon, and down we start. It is late, and we must make great haste, or be caught by the darkness; so we go, running where we can; leaping over the ledges; letting each other down on the loose rocks, as long as we can see. When darkness comes, we are still some distance from camp, and a long, slow, anxious descent we make, towards the gleaming camp fire.
After supper, observations for latitude are taken, and only two or three hors for sleep remain, before daylight.
July 11. — A short distance below camp we run a rapid, and, in doing so, break an oar, and then lose another, both belonging to the Emma Dean. So the pioneer boat has but two oars.
We see nothing of which oars can be made, so we conclude to run on to some point, where it seems possible to climb out to the forests on the plateau, and there we will procure suitable timber from which to make new ones.
We soon approach another rapid. Standing on deck, I think it can be run, and on we go. Coming nearer, I see that at the foot it has a short turn to the left, where the waters pile up against the cliff. Here we try to land, but quickly discover that, being in swift water, above the fall, we cannot reach shore, crippled, as we are, by the loss of two oars; so the bow of the boat is turned down stream. We shoot by a big rock; a reflex wave rolls over or little boat and fills her. I see the place is dangerous, and quickly signal to the other boats to land where they can. This is scarcely completed when another wave rolls or boat over, and I am thrown some distance into the water. I soon find that swimming is very easy, and I cannot sink. It is only necessary to ply strokes sufficient to keep my head out of the water, though now and then, when a breaker rolls over me, I close my moth, and am carried through it. The boat is drifting ahead of me twenty or thirty feet, and, when the great waves are passed, I overtake it, and find Sumner and Dunn clinging to her. As soon as we reach quiet water, we all swim to one side and turn her over. In doing this, Dunn loses his hold and goes under; when he comes up, he is caught by Sumner and pulled to the boat. In the meantime we have drifted down stream some distance, and see another rapid below. How bad it may be we cannot tell, so we swim, toward shore, pulling or boat with us, with all the vigor possible, but are carried down much faster than distance toward shore is gained. At last we reach a huge pile of drift wood. Our rolls of blankets, two guns, and a barometer were in the open compartment of the boat, and, when it went over, these were thrown out. The guns and barometer are lost, but I succeeded in catching one of the rolls of blankets, as it drifted by, when we were swimming to shore; the other two are lost, and sometimes hereafter we may sleep cold.
A huge fire is built on the bank, or clothing is spread to dry, and then from the drift logs we select one from which we think oars can be made, and the remainder of the day is spent in sawing them out.
July 12. — This morning, the new oars are finished, and we start once more. We pass several bad rapids, making a short portage at one, and before noon we come to a long, bad fall, where the channel is filled with rocks on the left, turning the waters to the right, where they pass under an overhanging rock. On examination, we determine to run it, keeping as close to the left hand rocks as safety will permit, in order to avoid the overhanging cliff. The little boat runs over all right; another follows, but the men are not able to keep her near enough to the left bank, and she is carried, by a swift chute, into great waves to the right, where she is tossed about, and Bradley is knocked over the side, but his foot catching under the seat, he is dragged along in the water, with his head down; making great exertion, he seizes the gunwale with his left hand, and can lift his head above water now and then. To us who are below, it seems impossible to keep the boat from going under the overhanging cliff; but Powell, for the moment, heedless of Bradley’s mishap, pulls with all his power for half a dozen strokes, when the danger is past; then he seizes Bradley, and pulls him in. The men in the boat above, seeing this, land, and she is let down by lines.
Just here we emerge from the Cañon of Desolation, as we have named it, into a more open country, which extends for a distance of nearly a mile, when we enter another cañon, cut through gray sandstone.
About three o’clock in the afternoon we meet with a new difficulty. The river fills the entire channel; the walls are vertical on either side, from the water’s edge, and a bad rapid is beset with rocks. We come to the head of it, and land on a rock in the stream; the little boat is let down to another rock below, the men of the larger boat holding to the line; the second boat is let down in the same way, and the line of the third boat is brought with them. Now, the third boat pushes out from the upper rock, and, as we have her line below, we pull in and catch her, as she is sweeping by at the foot of the rock on which we stand. Again the first boat is let down stream the full length of her line, and the second boat is passed down by the first to the extent of her line, which is held by the men in the first boat; so she is two lines’ length from where she started. Then the third boat is let down past the second, and still down, nearly to the length of her line, so that she is fast to the second boat, and swinging down three lines’ lengths, with the other two boats intervening. Held in this way, the men are able to pull her into a cove, in the left wall, where she is made fast. But this leaves a man on the rock above, holding to the line of the little boat. When all is ready, he springs from the rock, clinging to the line with one hand, and swimming with the other, and we pull him in as he goes by. As the two boats, thus loosened, drift down, the men in the cove pull us all in, as we come opposite; then we pass around to a point of rock below the cove, close to the wall, land, and make a short portage over the worst places in the rapid, and start again.
At night we camp on a sand beach; the wind blows a hurricane; the drifting sand almost blinds us; and nowhere can we find shelter. The wind continues to blow all night; the sand sifts through or blankets, and piles over us, until we are covered as in a snow-drift. We are glad when morning comes.
July 13. — This morning, we have an exhilarating ride. The river is swift, and there are many smooth rapids. I stand on deck, keeping careful watch ahead, and we glide along, mile after mile, plying strokes now on the right, and then on the left, just sufficient to guide or boats past the rocks into smooth water. At noon we emerge from Gray Cañon, as we have named it, and camp, for dinner, under a cottonwood tree, standing on the left bank.
Extensive sand plains extend back from the immediate river valley, as far as we can see, on either side. These naked, drifting sands gleam brilliantly in the midday sun of July. The reflected heat from the glaring surface produces a curious motion of the atmosphere; little currents are generated, and the whole seems to be trembling and moving about in many directions, or, failing to see that the movement is in the atmosphere, it gives the impression of an unstable land. Plains, and hills, and cliffs, and distant mountains seem vaguely to be floating about in a trembling, wave rocked sea, and patches of landscape will seem to float away, and be lost, and then re-appear.
Just opposite, there are buttes, that are outliers of cliffs to the left. Below, they are composed of shales and marls of light blue and slate colors; and above, the rocks are buff and gray, and then brown. The buttes are buttressed below, where the azure rocks are seen, and terraced above through the gray and brown beds. A long line of cliffs or rock escarpments separate the table lands, through which Gray Cañon is cut, from the lower plain. The eye can trace these azure beds and cliffs, on either side of the river, in a long line, extending across its course, until they fade away in the perspective. These cliffs are many miles in length, and hundreds of feet high; and all these buttes — great mountain-masses of rock — are dancing and fading away, and re-appearing, softly moving about, or so they seem to the eye, as seen through the shifting atmosphere.
This afternoon, or way is through a valley, with cottonwood groves on either side. The river is deep, broad, and quiet.
About two hors from noon camp, we discover an Indian crossing, where a number of rafts, rudely constructed of logs and bond together by withes, are floating against the bank. On landing, we see evidences that a party of Indians have crossed within a very few days. This is the place where the lamented Gunnison crossed, in the year 1853, when making an exploration for a railroad route to the Pacific coast.
An hour later, we run a long rapid, and stop at its foot to examine some curious rocks, deposited by mineral springs that at one time must have existed here, but which are no longer flowing.
July 14. — This morning, we pass some curios black bluffs on the right, then two or three short cañons, and then we discover the moth Of the San Rafael, a stream which comes down from the distant mountains in the west. Here we stop for an hour or two, and take a short walk up the valley, and find it is a frequent resort for Indians. Arrow heads are scattered about, many of them very beautiful. Flint chips are seen strewn over the ground in great profusion, and the trails are well worn.
Starting after dinner, we pass some beautiful buttes on the left, many of which are very symmetrical. They are chiefly composed of gypsum of many hues, from light gray to slate color; then pink, purple, and brown beds.
Now, we enter another cañon. Gradually the walls rise higher and higher as we proceed, and the summit of the cañon is formed of the same beds Of orange colored sandstone. Back from the brink, the hollows of the plateau are filled with sand disintegrated from these orange beds. They are of rich cream color, shaded into maroon, everywhere destitute Of vegetation, and drifted into long, wave like ridges.
The course of the river is tortuous, and it nearly doubles upon itself many times. The water is quiet, and constant rowing is necessary to make much headway. Sometimes, there is a narrow flood plain between the river and the wall, on one side or the other. Where these long, gentle curves are found, the river washes the very foot of the outer wall. A long peninsula of willow bordered meadow projects within the curve, and the talus, at the foot of the cliff, is usually covered with dwarf oaks. The orange colored sandstone is very homogeneous in structure, and the walls are usually vertical, though not very high. Where the river sweeps around a curve under a cliff, a vast hollow dome may be seen, with many caves and deep alcoves, that are greatly admired by the members of the party, as we go by.
We camp at night on the left bank.
July 15. — Our camp is in a great bend of the cañon. The perimeter of the curve is to the west, and we are on the east side of the river. Just opposite, a little stream comes down through a narrow side cañon. We cross, and go up to explore it. Just at its moth, another lateral cañon enters, in the angle between the former and the main cañon above. Still another enters in the angle between the cañon below and the side cañon first mentioned, so that three side cañons enter at the same point. These cañons are very tortuous, almost closed in from view, and, seen from the opposite side of the river, they appear like three alcoves; and we name this Trin-Alcove Bend.
Going up the little stream, in the central cove, we pass between high walls of sandstone, and wind about in glens. Springs gush from the rocks at the foot of the walls; narrow passages in the rocks are threaded, caves are entered, and many side cañons are observed.
The right cove is a narrow, winding gorge, with overhanging walls, almost shutting out the light.
The left is an amphitheater, turning spirally up, with overhanging shelves. A series of basins, filled with water, are seen at different altitudes, as we pass up; huge rocks are piled below on the right, and overhead there is an arched ceiling. After exploring these alcoves, we recross the river, and climb the rounded rocks on the point of the bend. In every direction, as far as we are able to see, naked rocks appear. Buttes are scattered on the landscape, here rounded into cones, there buttressed, columned, and carved in quaint shapes, with deep alcoves and sunken recesses. All about us are basins, excavated in the soft sandstones; and these have been filled by the late rains.
Over the rounded rocks and water pockets we look off on a fine stretch of river, and beyond are naked rocks and beautiful buttes to the Azure Cliffs, and beyond these, and above them, the Brown Cliffs, and still beyond, mountain peaks; and clods piled over all.
On we go, after dinner, with quiet water, still compelled to row, in order to make fair progress. The cañon is yet very tortuous.
About six miles below noon camp, we go around a great bend to the right, five miles in length, and come back to a point within a quarter of a mile of where we started. Then we sweep around another great bend to the left, making a circuit of nine miles, and come back to the point within six hundred yards of the beginning of the bend. In the two circuits, we describe almost the figure 8. The men call it a bow-knot of river; so we name it Bow-Knot Bend. The line of the figure is fourteen miles in length.
There is an exquisite charm in or ride today down this beautiful cañon. It gradually grows deeper with every mile of travel; the walls are symmetrically curved, and grandly arched; of a beautiful color, and reflected in the quiet waters in many places, so as to almost deceive the eye, and suggest the thought, to the beholder, that he is looking into profound depths. We are all in fine spirits, feel very gay, and the badinage of the men is echoed from wall to wall. Now and then we whistle, or shout, or discharge a pistol, to listen to the reverberations among the cliffs.
At night we camp on the south side of the great Bow-Knot, and, as we eat or supper, which is spread on the beach, we name this Labyrinth Cañon.
July 16. — Still we go down, on our winding way. We pass tower cliffs, then we find the river widens out for several miles, and meadows are seen on either side, between the river and the walls. We name this expansion of the river Tower Park.
At two o’clock we emerge from Labyrinth Cañon, and go into camp.
July 17. — The line which separates Labyrinth Cañon from the one below is but a line, and at once, this morning, we enter another cañon. The water fills the entire channel, so that nowhere is there room to land. The walls are low, but vertical, and, as we proceed, they gradually increase in altitude. Running a couple of miles, the river changes its course many degrees, toward the east. Just here, a little stream comes in on the right, and the wall is broken down; so we land, and go out to take a view of the surrounding country. We are now down among the buttes, and in a region the surface of which is naked, solid rock — a beautiful red sandstone, forming a smooth, undulating pavement. The Indians call this the “Toom’-pin Tu-weap’,” or “Rock Land,” and the “Toom’-pin wu-near’ Tuweap’,” or “Land of Standing Rock.”
Off to the south we see a butte, in the form of a fallen cross. It is several miles away, still it presents no inconspicuous figure on the landscape, and must be many hundreds of feet high, probably more than two thousand. We note its position on or map, and name it “The Butte of the Cross.”
We continue or journey. In many places the walls, which rise from the water’s edge, are overhanging on either side. The stream is still quiet, and we glide along, through a strange, weird, grand region. The landscape everywhere, away from the river, is of rock — cliffs of rock; tables of rock; plateaus of rock; terraces of rock; crags of rock — ten thousand strangely carved forms. Rocks everywhere, and no vegetation; no soil; no sand. In long, gentle curves, the river winds about these rocks.
When speaking of these rocks, we must not conceive of piles of boulders, or heaps of fragments, but a whole land of naked rock, with giant forms carved on it: cathedral shaped buttes, towering hundreds or thousands of feet; cliffs that cannot be scaled, and cañon walls that shrink the river into insignificance, with vast, hollow domes, and tall pinnacles, and shafts set on the verge overhead, and all highly colored — buff, gray, red, brown, and chocolate; never lichened; never moss-covered; but bare, and often polished.
We pass a place where two bends of the river come together, an intervening rock having been worn away, and a new channel formed across. The old channel ran in a great circle around to the right, by what was once a circular peninsula; then an island; then the water left the old channel entirely, and passed through the cut, and the old bed of the river is dry. So the great circular rock stands by itself, with precipitous walls all about it, and we find but one place where it can be scaled. Looking from its summit, a long stretch of river is seen, sweeping close to the overhanging cliffs on the right, but having a little meadow between it and the wall on the left. The curve is very gentle and regular. We name this Bonita Bend.
And just here we climb out once more, to take another bearing on The Butte of the Cross. Reaching an eminence, from which we can overlook the landscape, we are surprised to find that or butte, with its wonderful form, is indeed two buttes, one so standing in front of the other that, from our last point of view, it gave the appearance of a cross.
Again, a few miles below Bonita Bend, we go out a mile or two along the rocks, toward the Orange Cliffs, passing over terraces paved with jasper.
The cliffs are not far away, and we soon reach them, and wander in some deep, painted alcoves, which attracted or attention from the river; then we return to our boats.
Late in the afternoon, the water becomes swift, and or boats make great speed. An hour of this rapid running brings us to the junction of the Grand and Green, the foot of Stillwater Cañon, as we have named it.
These streams unite in solemn depths, more than one thousand two hundred feet below the general surface of the country. The walls of the lower end of Stillwater Cañon are very beautifully curved, as the river sweeps in its meandering course. The lower end of the cañon through which the Grand comes down, is also regular, but much more direct, and we look up this stream, and out into the country beyond, and obtain glimpses of snow clad peaks, the summits of a group of mountains known as the Sierra La Sal. Down the Colorado, the cañon walls are much broken.
We row around into the Grand, and camp on its northwest bank; and here we propose to stay several days, for the purpose of determining the latitude and longitude, and the altitude of the walls. Much of the night is spent in making observations with the sextant.
The distance from the moth of the Uinta to the head of the Cañon of Desolation is twenty and three-quarters miles. The Cañon of Desolation is ninety-seven miles long; Gray Cañon thirty-six. The course of the river through Gunnison’s Valley is twenty-seven and a quarter miles; Labyrinth Cañon, sixty-two and a half miles.
In the Cañon of Desolation, the highest rocks immediately over the river are about two thousand four hundred feet. This is at Log Cabin Cliff. The highest part Of the terrace is near the brink of the Brown Cliffs. Climbing the immediate walls of the cañon, and passing back to the cañon terrace, and climbing that, we find the altitude, above the river, to be 3,300 feet. The lower end of Gray Cañon is about 2,000 feet; the lower end of Labyrinth Cañon, 1,300 feet.
Stillwater Cañon is forty-two and three-quarters miles long; the highest walls, 1,300 feet.
1 Potato tops do make good greens when they are young, but become poisonous as they mature, like poke shoots. (Ed.)