Here to return to
FROM THE JUNCTION OF THE GRAND AND GREEN
TO THE MOUTH OF THE LITTLE COLORADO
JULY 18. — The day is spent in obtaining the time, and spreading our rations, which, we find, are badly injured. The flour has been wet and dried so many times that it is all musty, and full of hard lumps. We make a sieve of mosquito netting, and run or flour through it, losing more than two hundred ponds by the process. Our losses, by the wrecking of the No Name, and by various mishaps since, together with the amount thrown away to-day, leave us little more than two months’ supplies, and, to make them last thus long, we must be fortunate enough to lose no more.
We drag or boats on shore, and turn them over to recalk and pitch them, and Sumner is engaged in repairing barometers. While we are here, for a day or two, resting, we propose to put everything in the best shape for a vigorous campaign.
July 19. — Bradley and I start this morning to climb the left wall below the junction. The way we have selected is up a gulch. Climbing for an hour over and among the rocks, we find ourselves in a vast amphitheater, and our way cut off. We clamber around to the left for half an hour, until we find that we cannot go up in that direction. Then we try the rocks around to the right, and discover a narrow shelf, nearly half a mile long. In some places, this is so wide that we pass along with ease; in others, it is so narrow and sloping that we are compelled to lie down and crawl. We can look over the edge of the shelf, down eight hundred feet, and see the river rolling and plunging among the rocks. Looking up five hundred feet, to the brink of the cliff, it seems to blend with the sky. We continue along, until we come to a point where the wall is again broken down. Up we climb. On the right, there is a narrow, mural point of rocks, extending toward the river, two or three hundred feet high, and six or eight hundred feet long. We come back to where this sets in, and find it cut off from the main wall by a great crevice. Into this we pass. And now, a long, narrow rock is between us and the river. The rock itself is split longitudinally and transversely; and the rains on the surface above have run down through the crevices, and gathered into channels below, and then run off into the river. The crevices are usually narrow above, and, by erosion of the streams, wider below, forming a network of caves; but each cave having a narrow, winding sky-light up through the rocks.
We wander among these corridors for an hour or two, but find no place where the rocks are broken down, so that we can climb up. At last, we determine to attempt a passage by a crevice, and select one which we think is wide enough to admit of the passage of or bodies, and yet narrow enough to climb out by pressing or hands and feet against the walls. So we climb as men would out of a well. Bradley climbs first; I hand him the barometer, then climb over his head, and he hands me the barometer. So we pass each other alternately, until we emerge from the fissure, out on the summit of the rock. And what a world of grandeur is spread before us! Below is the cañon, through which the Colorado runs. We can trace its course for miles, and at points catch glimpses of the river. From the northwest comes the Green, in a narrow, winding gorge. From the northeast comes the Grand, through a cañon that seems bottomless from where we stand. Away to the west are lines of cliffs and ledges of rock — not such ledges as you may have seen where the quarryman splits his blocks, but ledges from which the gods might quarry mountains, that, rolled out on the plain below, would stand a lofty range; and not such cliffs as you may have seen where the swallow builds its nest, but cliffs where the soaring eagle is lost to view ere he reaches the summit.
Between us and the distant cliffs are the strangely carved and pinnacled rocks of the Toone-pin wu-near’ Tu-weap’. On the summit of the opposite wall of the cañon are rock forms that we do not understand. Away to the east a group of eruptive mountains are seen — the Sierra La Sal. Their slopes are covered with pines, and deep gulches are flanked with great crags, and snow fields are seen near the summits. So the mountains are in uniform, green, gray, and silver. Wherever we look there is but a wilderness of rocks; deep gorges, where the rivers are lost below cliffs and towers and pinnacles; and ten thousand strangely carved forms in every direction; and beyond them, mountains blending with the clouds.
Now we return to camp. While we are eating supper, we very naturally speak of better fare, as musty bread and spoiled bacon are not pleasant. Soon I see Hawkins down by the boat, taking up the sextant, rather a strange proceeding for him, and I question him concerning it. He replies that he is trying to find the latitude and longitude of the nearest pie.
July 20. — This morning, Captain Powell and I go out to climb the west wall of the cañon, for the purpose of examining the strange rocks seen yesterday from the other side. Two hors bring us to the top, at a point between the Green and Colorado, overlooking the junction of the rivers. A long neck of rock extends toward the moth of the Grand. Out on this we walk, crossing a great number of deep crevices. Usually, the smooth rock slopes down to the fissure on either side. Sometimes it is an interesting question to us whether the slope is not so steep that we cannot stand on it. Sometimes, starting down, we are compelled to go on, and we are not always sure that the crevice is not too wide for a jump, when we measure it with or eye from above.
Probably the slopes would not be difficult if there was not a fissure at the lower end; nor would the fissures cause fear if they were but a few feet deep. It is curios how a little obstacle becomes a great obstruction, when a misstep would land a man in the bottom of a deep chasm. Climbing the face of a cliff, a man will walk along a step or shelf, but a few inches wide, without hesitancy, if the landing is but ten feet below, should he fall; but if the foot of the cliff is a thousand feet down, he will crawl. At last or way is cut off by a fissure so deep and wide that we cannot pass it. Then we turn and walk back into the country, over the smooth, naked sandstone, without vegetation, except that here and there dwarf cedars and piñon pines have fond a footing in the huge cracks. There are great basins in the rock, holding water; some but a few gallons, others hundreds of barrels.
The day is spent in walking about through these strange scenes. A narrow gulch is cut into the wall of the main cañon. Follow this up, and you climb rapidly, as if going up a mountain side, for the gulch heads but a few hundred or a few thousand yards from the wall. But this gulch has its side gulches, and, as you come near to the summit, a group of radiating cañons is found. The spaces drained by these little cañons are terraced, and are, to a greater or less extent, of the form of amphitheaters, though some are oblong and some rather irregular. Usually, the spaces drained by any two of these little side cañons are separated by a narrow wall, one, two, or three hundred feet high, and often but a few feet in thickness. Sometimes the wall is broken into a line of pyramids above, and still remains a wall below. Now, there are a number of these gulches which break the wall of the main cañon of the Green, each one having its system of side cañons and amphitheaters, inclosed by walls, or lines of pinnacles.
The course of the Green, at this point, is approximately at right angles to that of the Colorado, and on the brink of the latter cañon we find the same system of terraced and walled glens. The walls, and pinnacles, and towers are of sandstone, homogeneous in structure, but not in color, as they show broad bands of red, buff, and gray. This painting of the rocks, dividing them into sections, increases their apparent height. In some places, these terraced and walled glens, along the Colorado, have coalesced with those along the Green; that is, the intervening walls are broken down. It is very rarely that a loose rock is seen. The sand is washed off so that the walls, terraces, and slopes of the glens are all of smooth sandstone.
In the walls themselves, curios caves and channels have been carved. In some places, there are little stairways up the walls ; in Others, the walls present what are known as royal arches; and so we wander through glens, and among pinnacles, and climb the walls from early morn until late in the afternoon.
July 21. — We start this morning on the Colorado. The river is rough, and bad rapids, in close succession, are found. Two very hard portages are made during the forenoon. After dinner, in running a rapid, the Emma Dean is swamped, and we are thrown into the river, we cling to her, and in the first quiet water below she is righted and bailed out; but three oars are lost in the mishap. The larger boats land above the dangerous place, and we make a portage, that occupies all the afternoon. We camp at night, on the rocks on the left bank, and can scarcely find room to lie down.
July 22. — This morning, we continue or journey, though short of oars. There is no timber growing on the walls within our reach, and no drift wood along the banks, so we are compelled to go on until something suitable can be found. A mile and three quarters below, we find a huge pile of drift wood, among which are some cottonwood logs. From these we select one which we think the best, and the men are set at work sawing oars. Our boats are leaking again, from the strains received in the bad rapids yesterday, so, after dinner, they are turned over, and some of the men are engaged in calking them.
Captain Powell and I go out to climb the wall to the east, for we can see dwarf pines above, and it is our purpose to collect the resin which oozes from them, to use in pitching or boats. We take a barometer with us, and find that the walls are becoming higher, for now they register an altitude, above the river, of nearly fifteen hundred feet.
July 23. — On starting, we come at once to difficult rapids and falls, that, in many places, are more abrupt than in any of the cañons through which we have passed, and we decide to name this Cataract Cañon.
From morning until noon, the course of the river is to the west; the scenery is grand, with rapids and falls below, and walls above, beset with crags and pinnacles. Just at noon we wheel again to the south, and go into camp for dinner.
While the cook is preparing it, Bradley, Captain Powell, and myself go up into a side cañon, that comes in at this point. We enter through a very narrow passage, having to wade along the course Of a little stream until a cascade interrupts or progress. Then we climb to the right, for a hundred feet, until we reach a little shelf, along which we pass, walking with great care, for it is narrow, until we pass around the fall. Here the gorge widens into a spacious, sky roofed chamber. In the farther end is a beautiful grove of cottonwoods, and between us and the cottonwoods the little stream widens out into three clear lakelets, with bottoms of smooth rock. Beyond the cottonwoods, the brook tumbles, in a series of white, shining cascades, from heights that seem immeasurable. Turning around, we can look through the cleft through which we came, and see the river, with towering walls beyond.
What a chamber for a resting place is this! hewn from the solid rock; the heavens for a ceiling; cascade fountains within; a grove in the conservatory, clear lakelets for a refreshing bath, and an outlook through the doorway on a raging river, with cliffs and mountains beyond.
Our way, after dinner, is through a gorge, grand beyond description. The walls are nearly vertical; the river broad and swift, but free from rocks and falls. From the edge of the water to the brink of the cliffs it is one thousand six hundred to one thousand eight hundred feet. At this great depth, the river rolls in solemn majesty. The cliffs are reflected from the more quiet river, and we seem to be in the depths of the earth, and yet can look down into the waters that reflect a bottomless abyss. We arrive, early in the afternoon, at the head of more rapids and falls, but, wearied with past work, we determine to rest, so go into camp, and the afternoon and evening are spent by the men in discussing the probabilities of successfully navigating the river below. The barometric records are examined, to see what descent we have made since we left the mouth of the Grand, and what descent since we left the Pacific Railroad, and what fall there yet must be to the river, ere we reach the end of the great cañons. The conclusion to which the men arrive seems to be about this: that there are great descents yet to be made, but, if they are distributed in rapids and short falls, as they have been heretofore, we will be able to overcome them. But, may be, we shall come to a fall in these cañons which we cannot pass, where the walls rise from the water’s edge, so that we cannot land, and where the water is so swift that we cannot return. Such places have been found, except that the falls were not so great but that we could run them with safety. How will it be in the future! So they speculate over the serious probabilities in jesting mood, and I hear Sumner remark, “My idea is, we had better go slow, and learn to peddle.”
July 24. — We examine the rapids below. Large rocks have fallen from the walls — great, angular blocks, which have rolled down the talus, and are strewn along the channel. We are compelled to make three portages in succession, the distance being less than three-fourths of a mile, with a fall of seventy-five feet. Among these rocks, in chutes, whirlpools, and great waves, with rushing breakers and foam, the water finds its way, still tumbling down. We stop for the night, only three-fourths of a mile below the last camp. A very hard day’s work has been done, and at evening I sit on a rock by the edge of the river, to look at the water, and listen to its roar. Hors ago, deep shadows had settled into the cañon as the sun passed behind the cliffs. Now, doubtless, the sun has gone down, for we can see no glint of light on the crags above. Darkness is coming on. The waves are rolling, with crests of foam so white they seem almost to give a light of their own. Near by, a chute of water strikes the foot of a great block of limestone, fifty feet high, and the waters pile up against it, and roll back. Where there are sunken rocks, the water heaps up in mounds, or even in cones. At a point where rocks come very near the surface, the water forms a chute above, strikes, and is shot up ten or fifteen feet, and piles back in gentle curves, as in a fountain; and on the river tumbles and rolls.
July 25. — Still more rapids and falls today. In one, the Emma Dean is caught in a whirlpool, and set spinning about; and it is with great difficulty we are able to get out of it, with the loss of an oar. At noon, another is made; and on we go, running some of the rapids, letting down with lines past others, and making two short portages. We camp on the right bank, hungry and tired.
July 26. — We run a short distance this morning, and go into camp, to make oars and repair boats and barometers. The walls of the cañon have been steadily increasing in altitude to this point, and now they are more than two thousand feet high. In many places, they are vertical from the water’s edge; in others, there is a talus between the river and the foot of the cliffs, and they are often broken down by side cañons. It is probable that the river is nearly as low now as it is ever fond. High water mark can be observed forty, fifty, sixty, or a hundred feet above its present stage. Sometimes logs and drift wood are seen wedged into the crevice overhead, where floods have carried them.
About ten o’clock, Powell, Bradley, Howland, Hall, and myself start up a side cañon to the east. We soon come to pools of water; then to a brook, which is lost in the sands below; and, passing up the brook, we find the cañon narrows, the walls close in, are often overhanging, and at last we find ourselves in a vast amphitheater, with a pool of deep, clear, cold water on the bottom. At first, or way seems cut off; but we soon discover a little shelf, along which we climb, and, passing beyond the pool, walk a hundred yards or more, turn to the right, and find ourselves in another dome-shaped amphitheater. There is a winding cleft at the top, reaching out to the country above, nearly two thousand feet overhead. The rounded, basin shaped bottom is filled with water to the foot of the walls. There is no shelf by which we can pass around the foot. If we swim across, we meet with a face of rock hundreds of feet high, over which a little rill glides, and it will be impossible to climb. So we can go no further up this cañon. Then we turn back, and examine the walls on either side carefully, to discover, if possible, some way of climbing out.
In this search, every man takes his own course, and we are scattered. I almost abandon the idea of getting out, and am engaged in searching for fossils, when I discover, on the north, a broken place, up which it may be possible for me to climb. The way, for a distance, is up a slide of rocks; then up an irregular amphitheater, on points that form steps and give handhold, and then I reach a little shelf, along which I walk, and discover a vertical fissure, parallel to the face of the wall, and reaching to a higher shelf. This fissure is narrow, and I try to climb up to the bench, which is about forty feet overhead. I have a barometer on my back, which rather impedes my climbing. The walls of the fissure are of smooth limestone, offering neither foot nor hand hold. So I support myself by pressing my back against one wall and my knees against the other, and, in this way, lift my body, in a shuffling manner, a few inches at a time, until I have, perhaps, made twenty-five feet of the distance, when the crevice widens a little, and I cannot press my knees against the rocks in front with sufficient power to give me support in lifting my body, and I try to go back. This I cannot do without falling. So I struggle along sidewise, farther into the crevice, where it narrows. But by this time my muscles are exhausted, and I cannot climb longer; so I move still a little farther into the crevice, where it is so narrow and wedging that I can lie in it, and there I rest.
Five or ten minutes of this relief, and up once more I go, and reach the bench above. On this I can walk for a quarter of a mile, till I come to a place where the wall is again broken down, so that I can climb up still farther, and in an hour I reach the summit. I hang up my barometer, to give it a few minutes’ time to settle, and occupy myself in collecting resin from the piñon pines, which are found in great abundance. One of the principal objects in making this climb was to get this resin, for the purpose of smearing our boats; but I have with me no means of carrying it down. The day is very hot, and my coat was left in camp, so I have no linings to tear out. Then it occurs to me to cut off the sleeve of my shirt, tie it up at one end, and in this little sack I collect about a gallon of pitch.
After taking observations for altitude, I wander back on the rock, for an hour or two, when suddenly I notice that a storm is coming from the south. I seek a shelter in the rocks; but when the storm bursts, it comes down as a flood from the heavens, not with gentle drops at first, slowly increasing in quantity, but as if suddenly pored out. I am thoroughly drenched, and almost washed away. It lasts not more than half an hour, when the clods sweep by to the north, and I have sunshine again.
In the meantime, I have discovered a better way of getting down, and I start for camp, making the greatest haste possible. On reaching the bottom of the side cañon, I find a thousand streams rolling down the cliffs on every side, carrying with them red sand; and these all unite in the cañon below, in one great stream of red mud.
Traveling as fast as I can run, I soon reach the foot of the stream, for the rain did not reach the lower end of the cañon, and the water is running down a dry bed of sand; and, although it comes in waves, several feet high and fifteen or twenty feet in width, the sands soak it up, and it is lost. But wave follows wave, and rolls along, and is swallowed up; and still the floods come on from above. I find that I can travel faster than the stream; so I hasten to camp, and tell the men there is a river coming down the cañon. We carry or camp equipage hastily from the bank, to where we think it will be above the water. Then we stand by, and see the river roll on to join the Colorado. Great quantities of gypsum are found at the bottom of the gorge; so we name it Gypsum Cañon.
July 27. — We have more rapids and falls until noon; then we come to a narrow place in the cañon, with vertical walls for several hundred feet, above which are steep steps and sloping rocks back to the summits. The river is very narrow, and we make our way with great care and much anxiety, hugging the wall on the left, and carefully examining the way before us.
Late in the afternoon, we pass to the left, around a sharp point, which is somewhat broken down near the foot, and discover a flock of mountain sheep on the rocks, more than a hundred feet above us. We quickly land in a cove, out of sight, and away go all the hunters with their guns, for the sheep have not discovered us. Soon, we hear firing, and those of us who have remained in the boats climb up to see what success the hunters have had. One sheep has been killed, and two of the men are still pursuing them. In a few minutes, we hear firing again, and the next moment down come the flock, clattering over the rocks, within twenty yards of us. One of the hunters seizes his gun, and brings a second sheep down, and the next minute the remainder of the flock is lost behind the rocks. We all give chase; but it is impossible to follow their tracks over the naked rock, and we see them no more. Where they went out of this rock walled cañon is a mystery, for we can see no way of escape. Doubtless, if we cold spare the time for the search, we cold find some gulch up which they ran.
We lash or prizes to the deck of one of the boats, and go on for a short distance; but fresh meat is too tempting for us, and we stop early to have a feast. And a feast it is! Two fine, young sheep. We care not for bread, or beans, or dried apples to-night; coffee and mutton is all we ask.
July 28. — We make two portages this morning, one of them very long. During the afternoon we run a chute, more than half a mile in length, narrow and rapid. This chute has a floor of marble; the rocks dip in the direction in which we are going, and the fall of the stream conforms to the inclination of the beds; so we float on water that is gliding down an inclined plane. At the foot of the chute, the river turns sharply to the right, and the water rolls up against a rock which, from above, seems to stand directly athwart its course. As we approach it, we pull with all or power to the right, but it seems impossible to avoid being carried headlong against the cliff, and we are carried up high on the waves — not against the rocks, for the rebounding water strikes us, and we are beaten back, and pass on with safety, except that we get a good drenching.
After this, the walls suddenly close in, so that the cañon is narrower than we have ever known it. The water fills it from wall to wall, giving us no landing place at the foot of the cliff; the river is very swift, the cañon is very tortuous, so that we can see but a few hundred yards ahead; the walls tower over us, often overhanging so as to almost shut out the light. I stand on deck, watching with intense anxiety, lest this may lead us into some danger; but we glide along, with no obstruction, no falls, no rocks, and, in a mile and a half, emerge from the narrow gorge into a more open and broken portion of the cañon. Now that it is past, it seems a very simple thing indeed to run through such a place, but the fear of what might be ahead made a deep impression on us.
At three o’clock we arrive at the foot of Cataract Cañon. Here a long cañon valley comes down from the east, and the river turns sharply to the west in a continuation of the line of the lateral valley. In the bend on the right, vast numbers of crags, and pinnacles, and tower shaped rocks are seen. We call it Mille Crag Bend.
And now we wheel into another cañon, on swift water, unobstructed by rocks. This new cañon is very narrow and very straight, with walls vertical below and terraced above. The brink of the cliff is 1,300 feet above the water, where we enter it, but the rocks dip to the west, and, as the course of the cañon is in that direction, the walls are seen to slowly decrease in altitude. Floating down this narrow channel, and looking out through the cañon crevice away in the distance, the river is seen to turn again to the left, and beyond this point, away many miles, a great mountain is seen. Still floating down, we see other mountains, now to the right, now on the left, until a great mountain range is unfolded to view. We name this Narrow Cañon, and it terminates at the bend of the river below.
As we go down to this point, we discover the mouth of a stream, which enters from the right. Into this our little boat is turned. One of the men in the boat following, seeing what we have done, shouts to Dunn, asking if it is a trot-stream. Dunn replies, much disgusted, that it is “a dirty devil,” and by this name the river is to be known hereafter. 1 The water is exceedingly muddy, and has an unpleasant odor.
Some of us go out for half a mile, and climb a butte to the north. The course of the Dirty Devil River can be traced for many miles. It comes down through a very narrow cañon, and beyond it, to the southwest, there is a long line of cliffs, with a broad terrace, or bench, between it and the brink of the cañon, and beyond these cliffs is situated the range of mountains seen as we came down Narrow Cañon.
Looking up the Colorado, the chasm through which it runs can be seen, but we cannot look down on its waters. The whole country is a region of naked rock, of many colors, with cliffs and buttes about us, and towering mountains in the distance.
July 29. — We enter a cañon to-day, with low, red walls. A short distance below its head we discover the ruins of an old building, on the left wall. There is a narrow plain between the river and the wall just here, and on the brink of a rock two hundred feet high stands this old house. Its walls are of stone, laid in mortar, with much regularity. It was probably built three stories high; the lower story is yet almost intact; the second is much broken down, and scarcely anything is left of the third. Great quantities of flint chips are found on the rocks near by, and many arrow heads, some perfect, others broken; and fragments of pottery are strewn about in great profusion. On the face of the cliff, under the building, and along down the river, for two or three hundred yards, there are many etchings. Two hors are given to the examination of these interesting ruins, then we run down fifteen miles farther, and discover another group. The principal building was situated on the summit of the hill. A part of the walls are standing, to the height of eight or ten feet, and the mortar yet remains, in some places. The house was in the shape of an L, with five rooms on the ground floor, one in the angle, and two in each extension. In the space in the angle, there is a deep excavation. From what we know of the people in the province of Tusayan, who are, doubtless, of the same race as the former inhabitants of these ruins, we conclude that this was a “kiva,” or underground chamber, in which their religious ceremonies were performed.
We leave these ruins, and run down two or three miles, and go into camp about midafternoon. And now I climb the wall and go out into the back country for a walk.
The sandstone, through which the cañon is cut, is red and homogeneous, being the same as that through which Labyrinth runs. The smooth, naked rock stretches out on either side of the river for many miles, but curiously carved mounds and cones are scattered everywhere, and deep holes are worn out. Many of these pockets are filled with water. In one of these holes, or wells, twenty feet deep, I find a tree growing. The excavation is so narrow that I can step from its brink to a limb on the tree, and descend to the bottom of the well down a growing ladder. Many of these pockets are pot-holes, being found in the courses of little rills, or brooks, that run during the rains which occasionally fall in this region; and often a few harder rocks, which evidently assisted in their excavation, can be found in their bottoms. Others, which are shallower, are not so easily explained. Perhaps they are fond where softer spots existed in the sandstone, places that yielded more readily to atmospheric degradation, and where the loose sands were carried away by the winds.
Just before sundown, I attempt to climb a rounded eminence, from which I hope to obtain a good outlook on the surrounding country. It is formed of smooth mounds, piled one above another. Up these I climb, winding here and there, to find a practicable way, until near the summit they become too steep for me to proceed. I search about, a few minutes, for a more easy way, when I am surprised at finding a stairway, evidently cut in the rock by hands. At one place, where there is a vertical wall of ten or twelve feet, I find an old, ricketty ladder. It may be that this was a watch-tower of that ancient people whose homes we have fond in ruins. On many of the tributaries of the Colorado I have heretofore examined their deserted dwellings. Those that show evidences of being built during the latter part of their occupation of the country, are, usually, placed on the most inaccessible cliffs. Sometimes, the mouths of caves have been walled across, and there are many other evidences to show their anxiety to secure defensible positions. Probably the nomadic tribes were sweeping down upon them, and they resorted to these cliffs and cañons for safety. It is not unreasonable to suppose that this orange mound was used as a watch-tower. Here I stand, where these now lost people stood centuries ago, and look over this strange country. I gaze off to great mountains, in the northwest, which are slowly covered by the night until they are lost, and then I return to camp. It is no easy task to find my way down the wall in the darkness, and I clamber about until it is nearly midnight, before I arrive.
July 30. — We make good progress today, as the water, though smooth, is swift. Sometimes, the cañon walls are vertical to the top; sometimes, they are vertical below, and have a mound covered slope above; in other places, the slope, with its mounds, comes down to the water’s edge.
Still proceeding on our way, we find the orange sandstone is cut in two by a group of firm, calcareous strata, and the lower bed is underlaid by soft gypsiferous shales. Sometimes, the upper homogeneous bed is a smooth, vertical wall, but usually it is carved with mounds, with gently meandering valley lines. The lower bed, yielding to gravity, as the softer shales below work out into the river, breaks into angular surfaces, often having a columnar appearance. One cold almost imagine that the walls had been carved with a purpose, to represent giant architectural forms.
In the deep recesses of the walls, we find springs, with mosses and ferns on the moistened sandstone.
July 31. — We have a cool, pleasant ride to-day, through this part of the cañon. The walls are steadily increasing in altitude, the curves are gentle, and often the river sweeps by an arc of vertical wall, smooth and unbroken, and then by a curve that is variegated by royal arches, mossy alcoves, deep, beautiful glens, and painted grottos.
Soon after dinner, we discover the mouth of the San Juan, where we camp. The remainder of the afternoon is given to hunting some way by which we can climb out of the cañon; but it ends in failure.
August 1. — We drop down two miles this morning, and go into camp again. There is a low, willow covered strip of land along the walls on the east. Across this we walk, to explore an alcove which we see from the river. On entering, we find a little grove of box-elder and cottonwood trees; and, turning to the right, we find ourselves in a vast chamber, carved out of the rock. At the upper end there is a clear, deep pool of water, bordered with verdure. Standing by the side of this, we can see the grove at the entrance. The chamber is more than two hundred feet high, five hundred feet long, and two hundred feet wide. Through the ceiling, and on through the rocks for a thousand feet above, there is a narrow, winding skylight; and this is all carved out by a little stream, which only runs during the few showers that fall now and then in this arid country. The waters from the bare rocks back of the cañon, gathering rapidly into a small channel, have eroded a deep side cañon, through which they run, until they fall into the farther end of this chamber. The rock at the ceiling is hard, the rock below, very soft and friable; and, having cut through the upper harder portion down into the lower and softer, the stream has washed out these friable sandstones; and thus the chamber has been excavated.
Here we bring or camp. When “Old Shady” sings us a song at night, we are pleased to find that this hollow in the rock is filled with sweet sounds. It was doubtless made for an academy of music by its storm born architects; so we name it Music Temple.
August 2. — We still keep our camp in Music Temple to-day.
I wish to obtain a view of the adjacent country, if possible; so, early in the morning, the men take me across the river, and I pass along by the foot of the cliff half a mile up stream, and then climb first up broken ledges, then two or three hundred yards up a smooth, sloping rock, and then pass out on a narrow ridge. Still, I find I have not attained an altitude from which I can overlook the region outside of the cañon; and so I descend into a little gulch, and climb again to a higher ridge, all the way along naked sandstone, and at last I reach a point of commanding view. I can look several miles up the San Juan, and a long distance up the Colorado; and away to the northwest I can see the Henry Mountains; to the northeast, the Sierra La Sal; to the southeast, unknown mountains; and to the southwest, the meandering of the cañon. Then I return to the bank of the river.
We sleep again in Music Temple.
August 3. — Start early this morning. The features of this cañon are greatly diversified. Still vertical walls at times. These are usually found to stand above great curves. The river, sweeping around these bends, undermines the cliffs in places. Sometimes, the rocks are overhanging; in other curves, curious, narrow glens are found. Through these we climb, by a rough stairway, perhaps several hundred feet, to where a spring bursts out from under an overhanging cliff, and where cottonwoods and willows stand, while, along the curves of the brooklet, oaks grow, and other rich vegetation is seen, in marked contrast to the general appearance of naked rock. We call these Oak Glens.
Other wonderful features are the many side cañons or gorges that we pass. Sometimes, we stop to explore these for a short distance. In some places, their walls are much nearer each other above than below, so that they look somewhat like caves or chambers in the rocks. Usually, in going up such a gorge, we find beautiful vegetation; but our way is often cut off by deep basins, or pot-holes, as they are called.
On the walls, and back many miles into the country, numbers of monument shaped buttes are observed. So we have a curious ensemble of wonderful features — carved walls, royal arches, glens, alcove gulches, mounds, and monuments. From which of these features shall we select a name? We decide to call it Glen Cañon.
Past these towering monuments, past these mounded billows of orange sandstone, past these oak set glens, past these fern decked alcoves, past these mural curves, we glide hour after hour, stopping now and then, as our attention is arrested by some new wonder, until we reach a point which is historic.
In the year 1776, Father Escalante, a Spanish priest, made an expedition from Santa Fé to the northwest, crossing the Grand and Green, and then passing down along the Wasatch Mountains and the southern plateaus, until he reached the Rio Virgen. His intention was to cross to the Mission of Monterey; but, from information received from the Indians, he decided that the route was impracticable. Not wishing to return to Santa Fé over the circuitous route by which he had just traveled, he attempted to go by one more direct, and which led him across the Colorado, at a point known as El vado de los Padres. From the description which we have read, we are enabled to determine the place. A little stream comes down through a very narrow side cañon from the west. It was down this that he came, and our boats are lying at the point where the ford crosses. A well beaten Indian trail is seen here yet. Between the cliff and the river there is a little meadow. The ashes of many camp fires are seen, and the bones of numbers of cattle are bleaching on the grass. For several years the Navajos have raided on the Mormons that dwell in the valleys to the west, and they doubtless cross frequently at this ford with their stolen cattle.
August 4. — To-day the walls grow higher, and the cañon much narrower. Monuments are still seen on either side; beautiful glens, and alcoves, and gorges, and side cañons are yet found. After dinner, we find the river making a sudden turn to the northwest, and the whole character of the cañon changed. The walls are many hundreds of feet higher, and the rocks are chiefly variegated shales of beautiful colors — creamy orange above, then bright vermilion, and below, purple and chocolate beds, with green and yellow sands. We run four miles through this, in a direction a little to the west of north; wheel again to the west, and pass into a portion of the cañon where the characteristics are more like those above the bend. At night we stop at the mouth of a creek coming in from the right, and suppose it to be the Paria, which was described to me last year by a Mormon missionary.
Here the cañon terminates abruptly in a line of cliffs, which stretches from either side across the river.
August 5. — With some feeling of anxiety, we enter a new cañon this morning. We have learned to closely observe the texture of the rock. In softer strata, we have a quiet river; in harder, we find rapids and falls. Below us are the limestones and hard sandstones, which we found in Cataract Cañon. This bodes toil and danger. Besides the texture of the rocks, there is another condition which affects the character of the channel, as we have found by experience. Where the strata are horizontal, the river is often quiet; but, even though it may be very swift in places, no great obstacles are found. Where the rocks incline in the direction traveled, the river usually sweeps with great velocity, but still we have few rapids and falls. But where the rocks dip up stream, and the river cuts obliquely across the upturned formations, harder strata above, and softer below, we have rapids and falls. Into hard rocks, and into rocks dipping up stream, we pass this morning, and start on a long, rocky, mad rapid. On the left there is a vertical rock, and down by this cliff and around to the left we glide, just tossed enough by the waves to appreciate the rate at which we are traveling.
The cañon is narrow, with vertical walls, which gradually grow higher. More rapids and falls are found. We come to one with a drop of sixteen feet, around which we make a portage, and then stop for dinner.
Then a run of two miles, and another portage, long and difficult; then we camp for the night, on a bank of sand.
August 6. — Cañon walls, still higher and higher, as we go down through strata. There is a steep talus at the foot of the cliff, and, in some places, the upper parts of the walls are terraced.
About ten o’clock we come to a place where the river occupies the entire channel, and the walls are vertical from the water’s edge. We see a fall below, and row up against the cliff. There is a little shelf, or rather a horizontal crevice, a few feet over our heads. One man stands on the deck of the boat, another climbs on his shoulders, and then into the crevice. Then we pass him a line, and two or three others, with myself, follow; then we pass along the crevice until it becomes a shelf, as the upper part, or roof, is broken off. On this we walk for a short distance, slowly climbing all the way, until we reach a point where the shelf is broken off, and we can pass no farther. Then we go back to the boat, cross the stream, and get some logs that have lodged in the rocks, bring them to our side, pass them along the crevice and shelf, and bridge over the broken place. Then we go on to a point over the falls, but do not obtain a satisfactory view. Then we climb out to the top of the wall, and walk along to find a point below the fall, from which it can be seen. From this point it seems possible to let down our boats, with lines, to the head of the rapids, and then make a portage; so we return, row down by the side of the cliff, as far as we dare, and fasten one of the boats to a rock. Then we let down another boat to the end of its line beyond the first, and the third boat to the end of its line below the second, which brings it to the head of the fall, and under an overhanging rock. Then the upper boat, in obedience to a signal, lets go; we pull in the line, and catch the nearest boat as it comes, and then the last. Then we make a portage, and go on.
We go into camp early this afternoon, at a place where it seems possible to climb out, and the evening is spent in “making observations for time.”
August 7. — The almanac tells us that we are to have an eclipse of the sun to-day, so Captain Powell and myself start early, taking our instruments with us, for the purpose of making observations on the eclipse, to determine our longitude. Arriving at the summit, after four hours’ hard climbing, to attain 2,300 feet in height, we hurriedly build a platform of rocks, on which to place our instruments, and quietly wait for the eclipse; but clouds come on, and rain falls, and sun and moon are obscured.
Much disappointed, we start on our return to camp, but it is late, and the clouds make the night very dark. Still we feel our way down among the rocks with great care, for two or three hours, though making slow progress indeed. At last we lose our way, and dare proceed no farther. The rain comes down in torrents, and we can find no shelter. We can neither climb up nor go down, and in the darkness dare not move about, but sit and “weather out” the night.
August 8. — Daylight comes, after a long, oh! how long a night, and we soon reach camp.
After breakfast we start again, and make two portages during the forenoon.
The limestone of this cañon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors — white, gray, pink, and purple, with saffron tints.
It is with very great labor that we make progress, meeting with many obstructions, running rapids, letting down our boats with lines, from rock to rock, and sometimes carrying boats and cargoes around bad places. We camp at night, just after a hard portage, under an overhanging wall, glad to find shelter from the rain. We have to search for some time to find a few sticks of driftwood, just sufficient to boil a cup of coffee.
The water sweeps rapidly in this elbow of river, and has cut its way under the rock, excavating a vast half circular chamber, which, if utilized for a theater, would give sitting to fifty thousand people. Objections might be raised against it, from the fact that, at high water, the floor is covered with a raging flood.
August 9. — And now, the scenery is on a grand scale. The walls of the cañon, 2,500 feet high, are of marble, of many beautiful colors, and often polished below by the waves, or far up the sides, where showers have washed the sands over the cliffs.
At one place I have a walk, for more than a mile, on a marble pavement, all polished and fretted with strange devices, and embossed in a thousand fantastic patterns. Through a cleft in the wall the sun shines on this pavement, which gleams in iridescent beauty.
I pass up into the cleft. It is very narrow, with a succession of pools standing at higher levels as I go back. The water in these pools is clear and cool, coming down from springs. Then I return to the pavement, which is but a terrace or bench, over which the river runs at its flood, but left bare at present. Along the pavement, in many places, are basins of clear water, in strange contrast to the red mud of the river. At length I come to the end of this marble terrace, and take again to the boat.
Riding down a short distance, a beautiful view is presented. The river turns sharply to the east, and seems inclosed by a wall, set with a million brilliant gems. What can it mean? Every eye is engaged, every one wonders. On coming nearer, we find fountains bursting from the rock, high overhead, and the spray in the sunshine forms the gems which bedeck the wall. The rocks below the fountain are covered with mosses, and ferns, and many beautiful flowering plants. We name it Vasey’s Paradise, in honor of the botanist who traveled with us last year.
We pass many side cañons to-day, that are dark, gloomy passages, back into the heart of the rocks that form the plateau through which this cañon is cut.
It rains again this afternoon. Scarcely do the first drops fall, when little rills run down the walls. As the storm comes on, the little rills increase in size, until great streams are formed. Although the walls of the cañon are chiefly limestone, the adjacent country is of red sandstone; and now the waters, loaded with these sands, come down in rivers of bright red mud, leaping over the walls in innumerable cascades. It is plain now how these walls are polished in many places.
At last, the storm ceases, and we go on. We have cut through the sandstones and limestones met in the upper part of the cañon, and through one great bed of marble a thousand feet in thickness. In this, great numbers of caves are hollowed out, and carvings are seen, which suggest architectural forms, though on a scale so grand that architectural terms belittle them. As this great bed forms a distinctive feature of the cañon, we call it Marble Cañon.
It is a peculiar feature of these walls, that many projections are set out into the river, as if the wall was buttressed for support. The walls themselves are half a mile high, and these buttresses are on a corresponding scale, jutting into the river scores of feet. In the recesses between these projections there are quiet bays, except at the foot of a rapid, when they are dancing eddies or whirlpools. Sometimes these alcoves have caves at the back, giving them the appearance of great depth. Then other caves are seen above, forming vast, dome shaped chambers. The walls, and buttresses, and chambers are all of marble.
The river is now quiet; the cañon wider. Above, when the river is at its flood, the waters gorge up, so that the difference between high and low water mark is often fifty or even seventy feet; but here, high-water mark is not more than twenty feet above the present stage of the river. Sometimes there is a narrow flood plain between the water and the wall.
Here we first discover mesquite shrubs, or small trees, with finely divided leaves and pods, somewhat like the locust.
August 10. — Walls still higher; water, swift again. We pass several broad, ragged cañons on our right, and up through these we catch glimpses of a forest clad plateau, miles away to the west.
At two o’clock, we reach the mouth of the Colorado Chiquito. This stream enters through a cañon, on a scale quite as grand as that of the Colorado itself. It is a very small river, and exceedingly muddy and salt. I walk up the stream three or four miles, this afternoon, crossing and recrossing where I can easily wade it. Then I climb several hundred feet at one place, and can see up the chasm, through which the river runs, for several miles. On my way back, I kill two rattlesnakes, and find, on my arrival, that another has been killed just at camp.
August 11. — We remain at this point today for the purpose of determining the latitude and longitude, measuring the height of the walls, drying our rations, and repairing our boats.
Captain Powell, early in the morning, takes a barometer, and goes out to climb a point between the two rivers.
I walk down the gorge to the left at the foot of the cliff, climb to a bench, and discover a trail, deeply worn in the rock. Where it crosses the side gulches, in some places, steps have been cut. I can see no evidence of its having been traveled for a long time. It was doubtless a path used by the people who inhabited this country anterior to the present Indian races — the people who built the communal houses, of which mention has been made.
I return to camp about three o’clock, and find that some of the men have discovered ruins, and many fragments of pottery; also, etchings and hieroglyphics on the rocks.
We find, to-night, on comparing the readings of the barometers, that the walls are about three thousand feet high — more than half a mile — an altitude difficult to appreciate from a mere statement of feet. The ascent is made, not by a slope such as is usually found in climbing a mountain, but is much more abrupt — often vertical for many hundreds of feet — so that the impression is that we are at great depths; and we look up to see but a little patch of sky.
Between the two streams, above the Colorado Chiquito, in some places the rocks are broken and shelving for six or seven hundred feet; then there is a sloping terrace, which can only be climbed by finding some way up a gulch; then, another terrace, and back, still another cliff. The summit of the cliff is three thousand feet above the river, as our barometers attest.
Our camp is below the Colorado Chiquito, and on the eastern side of the cañon.
August 12. — The rocks above camp are rust colored sandstones and conglomerates. Some are very hard; others quite soft. These all lie nearly horizontal, and the beds of softer material have been washed out, and left the harder, thus forming a series of shelves. Long lines of these are seen, of varying thickness, from one or two to twenty or thirty feet, and the spaces between have the same variability. This morning, I spend two or three hours in climbing among these shelves, and then I pass above them, and go up a long slope, to the foot of the cliff, and try to discover some way by which I can reach the top of the wall; but I find my progress cut off by an amphitheater. Then, I wander away around to the left, up a little gulch, and along benches, and climb, from time to time, until I reach an altitude of nearly two thousand feet, and can get no higher. From this point, I can look off to the west, up side cañons of the Colorado, and see the edge of a great plateau, from which streams run down into the Colorado, and deep gulches, in the escarpment which faces us, continued by cañons, ragged and flaring, and set with cliffs and towering crags, down to the river. I can see far up Marble Cañon, to long lines of chocolate colored cliffs, and above these, the Vermilion Cliffs. I can see, also, up the Colorado Chiquito, through a very ragged and broken cañon, with sharp salients set out from the walls on either side, their points overlapping, so that a huge tooth of marble, on one side, seems to be set between two teeth on the opposite; and I can also get glimpses of walls, standing away back from the river, while over my head are mural escarpments, not possible to be scaled.
Cataract Cañon is forty-one miles long. The walls are 1,300 feet high at its head, and they gradually increase in altitude to a point about half-way down, where they are 2,700 feet, and then decrease to 1,300 feet at the foot. Narrow Cañon is nine and a half miles long, with walls 1,300 feet in height at the head, and coming down to the water at the foot.
There is very little vegetation in this cañon, or in the adjacent country. Just at the junction of the Grand and Green, there are a number of hackberry trees; and along the entire length of Cataract Cañon, the high-water line is marked by scattered trees of the same species. A few nut-pines and cedars are found, and occasionally a red-bud or judas tree; but the general aspect of the cañons, and of the adjacent country, is that of naked rock.
The distance through Glen Cañon is 149 miles. Its walls vary from two or three hundred to sixteen hundred feet. Marble Cañon is 65 1/2 miles long. At its head, it is 200 feet deep, and steadily increases in depth to its foot, where its walls are 3,500 feet high.
1 Powell afterwards renamed it Frémont River. (Ed.)