BUT LET US GO BACK and pick them up where we left them.
By the time they reached the junction of the Green and Grand the Powell party had been out almost two months, and in that time seen no man white or red except at the Uinta Agency. The ten-month supply of food with which they had started was diminished alarmingly by consumption, spoilage, and the loss of the No-Name. When they sifted their musty flour through mosquito netting and checked over the rations that remained, they found themselves with a frugal two-month supply — if they didn’t lose any more to the river. Their barometers were battered and their clothes considerably used up; the Howlands had only hand-me-downs to clothe their shanks. Nevertheless their camp at the junction was a satisfying one, and they made the most of the opportunity for exploration back from the canyons. Powell’s field notes report nothing for this period, since there is a two-week gap from July 7 through July 19, but his published report, elaborated and enlarged later,1 has a full entry:
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 net work of caves; but each cave having a narrow, winding skylight 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 our bodies, and yet narrow enough to climb out by pressing our 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.
That is an adequate description of the difficulties of travel in the heart of the Land of Standing Rocks. It was hard enough for an able-bodied man, difficult in the extreme for a man with one arm And out on top?
Below is the canon, 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 canon that seems bottomless from where we stand. Away to the west are lines of cliff 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 Toom-pin wu-near Tu-wea. 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,2
Bierstadt never painted a more romantic landscape.
That July 19 was notable for one thing besides the view. On that day Billy Hawkins made his peace with Science. “While we are eating supper,” Powell’s Report says, “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.”3
It was July 21 before they pushed off into the real Colorado, the old man himself, an awesome river wide and deep and the color of cocoa. The thousand yards of serene current visible from the junction lengthened out to three miles. Then rapids, bad ones, in quick succession. They portaged and lined when they could, ran when there seemed no other choice. The Emma Dean swamped again, and Powell, Sumner, and Dunn clung to her through the waves and got her ashore below minus three oars. The other boats took a beating and came through leaking, so that they lay over half a day to calk them with pitch gathered on the rim and to saw new oars out of drift logs. Eight miles, one mile, five miles, three quarters of a mile a day, they fought their way down the furious river, more furious than anything yet. Powell estimated that the stretch ahead of them on July 23 dropped fifty feet in a mile, “and he always,” said Bradley dourly and not quite accurately to his journal, “underestimates.”4
Even lining was too dangerous at some of these cataracts. They had to unload, make a trail among the boulders and talus, and carry everything, including the two ponderous oaken boats, stumbling and staggering in hundred-degree heat down to the foot of rapids where as likely as not a careful look showed them another portage directly ahead. Grousing, underfed, with nothing to console them except the faith that every foot of fall meant calmer water below, they ran or lined or carried their leaking boats past cataract after cataract. Respect for Lodore and the Canyon of Desolation waned; those rapids now seemed mere riffles to these. Bradley, though still willing to run anything Powell would let him, began to speculate on the possibility of a fall too high to run, in a part of the canyon where there was no shore for lining or a portage. Once they ran through just such a slot blind, tense with anticipation of disaster.
A muddy stream not marked on any map swept in from a canyon opening on the right, and from that point on the river improved. They named the bad stretch Cataract Canyon, and the unknown stream, from its color and smell, the Dirty Devil. Later Hawkins and Sumner intimated that Powell named the stream for Bill Dunn, as a deliberate insult,5 which seems unlikely. But the toils of Cataract Canyon had left them edgy: Bradley wrote that the name Powell gave this creek was “in keeping with his whole character which needs only a short study to be read like a book.”6 What he meant by that is vague; probably it has to do with the Major’s impiety and refusal to observe the Sabbath.
But not everything was sour. Full on top of their fatigue and hardship the much-ridiculed hunters brought down two desert bighorn and they feasted gigantically on wild mutton — the best meat, according to mountain men, in all the West.
And the fickle river relented. From the mouth of the Dirty Devil they had fast, easy water. Their daily run jumped from a hard-won mile or two to a comfortable twenty. The walls became lower, became smooth, monolithic, salmon-colored sandstone stained with vertical stripes of “desert varnish,” with maidenhair fern dripping from wet seams in the rock.
Through most of its course the canyoned Green and Colorado, though impressive beyond description, awesome and colorful and bizarre, is scenically disturbing, a trouble to the mind. It works on the nerves, there is no repose in it, nothing that is soft. The water-roar emphasizes what the walls begin: a restlessness and excitement and irritability. But Glen Canyon, into which they now floated and which they first called Monument Canyon from the domes and “baldheads” crowning its low walls, is completely different. As beautiful as any of the canyons, it is almost absolutely serene, an interlude for a pastoral flute. Except for some riffles in the upper section its river is wide, smooth, deep, spinning in dignified whirlpools and moving no more than seven or eight miles an hour. Its walls are the monolithic Navajo sandstone, sometimes smooth and vertical, rounding off to domes at the rims, sometimes undercut by great arched caves, sometimes fantastically eroded by slit side canyons, alcoves, grottoes green with redbud and maidenhair and with springs of sweet water. The first white men to see it except possibly James Ohio Pattie, they felt what every river tourist has felt since: the stillness, the remoteness, the lovely withdrawn quiet of that 149-mile river groove. This country seemed kindlier to human intrusions. They saw their first Moqui ruins on the cliffs, and the Major, climbing out to survey the country, found and used a series of ancient steps hewn in the smooth face of the rock.
Yet idyllic as Glen Canyon was, they could not relax and enjoy it. Their bacon was down to fifteen rancid pounds; they were short of everything but flour, coffee, and dried apples. After two cyclo pean feasts, the mutton had spoiled in the heat, and though they saw other bighorn they were unable to bring any down. Their eyes searched the east wall for the mouth of the San Juan. A Mormon map they had placed it fifty miles below the junction of Green and Grand, while the “official” map made in Washington indicated that it was “probably 100.” 7 But the river’s course lay farther west than the government map put it, and that meant that the mouth of the San Juan might be a long way from where it was supposed to be.
Past the mouth of the Escalante they went without even noticing the river; it is not very noticeable, and perhaps they were all watching the east wall for the San Juan’s mouth. Then in the afternoon of the last day of July they floated down toward a massive awning-striped wall that turned the river in a sharp right-hand bend. Just before the bend the San Juan came in through a trenchlike gorge from the left, a swift, muddy stream as large as White River.
Now the whole enormous drainage basin of the river was floating them, melted snow from the high Wind River peaks, and from the Wasatch, and from the Uintas with their hundred cold streams, Black’s Fork, Henry’s Fork, Ham’s Fork, Kingfisher Creek, Brush Creek, the Uinta; the western slopes of the Colorado Rockies whose creeks poured into the Yampa and the White; the waters all the way from Grand Lake under the shadow of Long’s Peak, and the tributary springs and creeks and runoff gulches that fed the Grand all the way to modern Grand Junction and Moab; and finally the San Juan, muddy from recent rains, its headwaters tangled with those of the Rio Grande in the Five Rivers country of southwest Colorado, its gathering waters coming down from the San Juan Mountains through New Mexico and what would sometime be Arizona and across the southeastern comer of Utah through the country of the Navajo. It was a big river by now, a tremendous surge of muddy water. The whirlpools started by the muddy current of the San Juan hitting the Colorado at a right angle spun them on the bend. Along shore, where willows and alders had a foothold on the bars, the scouring eddies sometimes revolved back upstream with a current almost as strong as that which in the middle swept down.
But it was hot, and there was little shelter from the fierce sun at their campsite. Bradley found the junction desolate and uninviting — which is one sign of strain, for this stretch of Glen Canyon is as beautiful a place as exists in the whole canyon country, a Canyon de Chelly with a great river turned into it from wall to wall.
Bradley’s grousing had a reason and a worry behind it. He was afraid Powell would wait here by the meeting rivers until the eclipse of the sun on August 7 in order to make astronomical observations, and he apparently reflected the attitude of the other men when he wrote, “Major has been taking observations ever since we came here and seems no nearer done now than when he began. He ought to get the latitude and longitude of every mouth of a river not before known, and we are willing to face starvation if necessary to do it but further than that he should not ask us to wait and he must go on soon or the consequences will be different from what he anticipates. If we could get game or fish we should be all right but we have not caught a single mess of fish since we left the junction.”8
Rumblings of rebellion, hints of mutiny. Under pressure from the men, Powell moved on, and from the camp below the elfin grotto he named Music Temple they shoved off on August 3 and ran thirty-three miles through Glen Canyon. Powell’s Report, a retouched description, is full of admiration for the scenery, but his own notes and the journals of Sumner and Bradley do not much dwell on it. They passed the mouth of Padre Creek and recognized this as the place where Father Escalante had made his way back across the river returning to New Mexico in 1776. None of them mentions the striking details of the country, neither the impressive dome of Navajo Mountain southeastward or the prominent Tower Butte directly south. The Navajo sandstone was running down, and coming. in over it were red marly beds of a ledgier and more broken profile. They were at the bottom of Glen Canyon. On the afternoon of August 4 they ran into an open pocket, the canyon ending sharply in a line of high cliffs that came in from the west on the north side of the river, turned at the line of a tributary creek, and crossed the river at right angles, heading in an irregular line into the broken country southward. Though Powell apparently did not recognize it at the time, and Sumner confused it with the Crossing of the Fathers,9 this was the mouth of the Paria, one of the crossings which Brigham Young’s scout Jacob Hamblin had searched out. The cliffs which, swinging southward across the river, mark an end to Glen Canyon were the Echo Cliffs, an extension of the Vermilion Cliffs, and the most striking and beautiful and persistent cliff-wall in the whole plateau country. Just below the Paria the Navajo Bridge now leads Highway 89 across the inner gorge and on across House Rock Valley and up the slope of the Kaibab to Jacob’s Lake and the north rim of the Grand Canyon.10
Almost certainly, Powell would have stopped if he could have. His vision of a leisurely ten-month exploration could not have been abandoned without regrets. But by now he was facing dissatisfaction among the men, overworked and half starved. Jack Sumner had shot another sheep just above the Paria, and they still had a little half-dried mutton, but food-was on their minds. It is clear from Bradley’s journal that even he, who had always delighted in white water, had had about enough.
From the Paria camp, at what is now Lee’s Ferry, they could look straight down river, and in that stretch see white foam for half a mile. They could see also that the river barely got out from the shadow of the Vermilion Cliffs before it began digging in again to make a new canyon. And the rocks below were not soft sandstone like those of Glen Canyon. They were the same hard limestones and sandstones encountered above in Cataract Canyon. Down the upper reach of what they would name Marble Canyon, from a place that Sumner said was “desolate enough to suit a love-sick poet,” they looked with some uneasiness. Bradley talked to himself: “We have all learned to like mild rapids better than we do still water. But some of the party want them very mild.”11
The sixty-five miles of Marble Canyon, which Powell named for the hard polished limestone of its walls and floor, have been historically one of the deadliest stretches on the river. Lodore and Cataract Canyons have capsized boats and ducked boatmen, the Grand Canyon has swallowed people mysteriously, leaving their boat rocking in an eddy for searchers to find, but Marble Canyon has drowned them plainly and in the open. Here, twenty years after Powell’s pioneer voyage, the expedition of Frank Mason Brown and Robert Brewster Stanton, designed with almost-Sam Adams optimism to survey a water-level railway line to the coast, came to grief twice. In the first wreck Brown himself died; in the second two of his men, Peter Hansbrough and Henry Richards, went down. After the second disaster the expedition was abandoned until later that same year, when Stanton returned, still determined to complete the survey. He did so, but only after he had had one more experience with Marble Canyon. On January 1, 1890, his photographer, Nims, fell off a ledge there and broke a leg. They had to climb the wall, walk thirty-five miles to Lee’s Ferry, and bring a wagon back to meet Nims’ stretcher before they could proceed.12 Near the head of this same sixty-five miles of alternating fierce and calm water Bert Loper, one of the bona fide river rats, a skilled boatman but a man too old for his own adventurous spirit, went under in the summer of 1949 and never came up. One of the Marble Canyon rapids (Soap Creek) was never run until the Clyde Eddy Expedition of 1927, bowling down the river with a bear cub aboard for company, ran it in happy ignorance of where they were.
All across the great barren Marble Canyon Platform which stretches north of the river from the monoclinal eastern flank of the Kaibab to the angle of the Vermilion Cliffs, abrupt gorges come in, cut by runoff waters from the higher country. Badger Creek and Soap Creek and other lesser watercourses come in by canyons as deep as the river’s own, and every junction is piled with the boulders of flash floods. Every junction is a rapid; the prevailing strike of the beds is upstream, a condition which is a maker of rapids as surely as hard rock and lateral gorges are. And the Colorado now is a great stream, but squeezed into a narrow frothing channel that reflects every summer shower by sharp rises. Between high and low water in parts of the canyon there is a vertical difference of a hundred feet. At low water the rocks are deadly, at high water the waves toss a boat like a chip. And they are waves of a peculiar ferocity, for they are not ocean waves, where the water remains in place and only the form passes on. Here the form remains and the water passes on, and it goes like fire engines, with a roar that trembles the rocks, and in flood the water itself is heavy with red silt.
THE CANYON COUNTRY
The Artists’ View
Colorado River of the West, lves.
The popular notion of a canyon. Baron F. W. von Egloffstein, artist and topographer with the Ives Expedition of 1857, found in Black Canyon, just above the present Hoover Dam, a subject to fit his own and the public’s preconceptions. The fact that he saw this canyon from the river partly justifies the exaggeration of height and narrowness, but as the following picture indicates, he would have exaggerated them anyway: he saw the canyons that way.
Colorado River of the West, Ives.
The stunned imagination. Egloffstein’s “Big Canyon,” first picture of the Grand Canyon ever made, is essentially a picture of the artist’s dismay. Nothing here is realistic: stratification is ignored, forms are falsely seen, narrowness and depth are wildly exaggerated, the rocks might as well be of the texture of clouds.
Systematic Geology, King, Vol. I.
The romantic imagination. In Gilbert Munger’s chromolith, “Canyon of Lodore,” made for the King Survey and based probably on an O‘Sullivan photograph of the early 1870’s, the details of cliff profiles and stratification are realistic, but the improbable Indian camp is pure Currier and Ives.
The footsteps of history in a land of fable. Across these shallows marked by an angling line of stones, under the fantastic knobs and baldheads of the Navajo sandstone at the lower end of Glen Canyon, Escalante and Maera crossed the Colorado in the first year of the Revolution and added this remote corner of New Spain to the map of the world. El Vado de Los Padres, the Crossing of the Fathers, was ever after a major landmark. One of the two feasible crossings between the Roan Cliffs and the mouth of Grand Wash, it was a war route for Ute and Navajo, and later for Mormons chasing raiders or penetrating the southern Indian country on missions to Hopi and Zuni. Superseded as a crossing by Lee’s Ferry and later by the Navajo Bridge, both a few miles below, it keeps its poetry. Tower Butte and other formations still distort the surrealist horizon, the silence and the sun are the same, the steps that Escalante’s men cut in the smooth rounding sandstone walls at the mouth of Padre Creek could still lead men or mules down to the water’s edge.
U.S. Geographical Surveys West of the One Hundredth Meridian, Wheeler, Vol. I.
This sketch of the Crossing was made by John E. Weyss on the Wheeler Survey expedition of 1872. Major Powell in 1869 had no artist or photographer, and in 1871 his photographer, Beaman, ran out of plates before they passed through here. In 1872, returning with the party that discovered the Escalante River, James Fennemore of the Powell Survey made wet-plate negatives of this stretch of river. In that same summer Wheeler’s photographer Bell took some dry-plate pictures that did not turn out well. Weyss was thus one of the first to picture the Crossing, but his drawing was not published until 1889, years after the Powell Survey photographs had appeared in print and were in hundreds of parlors as stereopticon views. Though without any particular status as an artist, Weyss reproduced with reasonable fidelity the character of the river, the walls, and the fantastic erosional forms, and managed to put into his picture some of the moonlike loneliness of the spot. The stones marking the ford are like the veritable footprints of the first white men to cross here.
An able painter meets a great and difficult subject. “The Transept,” by Thomas Moran, based on an 1880 sketch by W. H. Holmes checked against Moran’s own sketches of 1873, is one of the earliest and remains one of the best of the Grand Canyon paintings. It is painted from careful
Atlas to Accompany the Tertiary History of the Grand Cañon District, Dutton.
observation, but it is realistic only in details where it chooses to be. Elsewhere it is hazed by some of the canyon’s distance and mystery and space. The rattlesnake is ecologically improbable on the rims.
Art without metaphor. Thomas Moran, following Ruskin’s rule and Turner’s practice, blurred and distorted at will so long as he was sure he had the bony structure of a landscape right. William Henry Holmes, the third man to paint the Grand Canyon country, blurred nothing. He did not even permit the atmosphere to blur details for him; his eye was a haze filter. His pictures, which are of more-than-photographic accuracy, which at times approach the diagram, have been justly famous for seventy years as scientific illustration. Yet they have their own devices, their own artistic cunning. Holmes would not transpose or falsify details of his landscape to compose a picture, but he would move himself around indefinitely until the landscape composed itself. He would not falsify proportions, but he would heighten contrasts: the depth, the distance, the persuasive reality of his panoramas is partly the product of this heightening.
Atlas to Accompany the Tertiary History of the Grand Canon District, Dutton.
In the panorama above and below, Holmes has “composed” by taking a position on the eastern brink of the Kaibab Plateau. In the foreground the East Kaibab Monocline (whose illustration is the apparent reason for the picture) rolls the strata down 2400 feet to the Marble Canyon Platform; the sunken ditch is Marble Canyon. The Vermilion Cliffs jut into the upper left corner, and their extension, the Echo Cliffs, reach down intò the Painted Desert across the background. The gate from which the river emerges is the end of Glen Canyon, where Powell crossed to the Hopi with Jacob Hamblin in 1870 and where John D. Lee later established his ferry. The thin lines of gulch barely visible in the left middle ground are Badger and Soap Creeks, whose mouths make two of the nastiest rapids in Marble Canyon. The modern Highway 189 linking the north and south rims of the Grand Canyon comes along the Echo Cliffs and crosses the river at the Navajo Bridge just below Lee’s Ferry.
“A great innovation in natural scenery.” From the top of Mt. Trumbull, on the Uinkaret, Holmes confronted the kind of panorama that demanded a new vocabulary, a new palette, a new eye. In the upper band the view is to the east across 85 miles of wonder. In the background the Grand Canyon cuts through the Kaibab in a maze of rims and buttes. The upper Toroweap Valley is in the foreground. Kanab Canyon comes in from the left, Cataract (Havasu) Canyon from the right. The scale is enormous and deceptive: any of the distant sunken buttes is greater in mass than any mountain east of the Rockies.
Atlas to Accompany the Tertiary History of the Grand Canon District, Dutton.
In the lower band the view is southward. The inner gorge of the Grand Canyon is in dead center, with the cinder cone called Vulcan’s Throne on its brink. The Toroweap Valley enters from the left. The black basalt flows at right and center come from some of the hundreds of cones and vents that dot the “Place of Pines.” And across the distance stretch the repetitive architectural profiles of the cliffs, frieze and pediment, plinth and balustrade, gorgeously colored and strangely carved, whose understanding and appreciation Dutton said were a special culture. He was right: Look again at the drawings of Baron von Egloffstein.
Exploration of the Colorado River of the West, Powell.
Art and record. The photograph above is by E. O. Beaman, one of the last he made before he ran out of plates in Glen Canyon in 1871. It is marred by too much nondescript low-water beach in the foreground, and the blurriness of the negative makes what is actually a promontory look like a monument. In his drawing, Moran has simply dramatized: narrowed the view, heightened the rock and made it an island, reduced the dull foreground and livened it with figures and boats, and enhanced the background with clouds and moon. Literalists have objected that he falsified; it is quite as true that he made poetic what was prosaic, badly executed, and badly composed.
They went with care, lining Badger Creek, portaging Soap Creek. Soaked to the hide all day, pounded by a pitiless sun, sick of the rancid bacon and the mouldy flour cakes and the inescapable dried apples, they camped and died a little exhausted death on the bank and in the morning went on past more rapids. Three times, because Powell remained cautious, they had to portage everything: it was only on the portages that they blessed the emptiness of the boats. At one portage they had to use again the dangerous three-ply lining technique, stringing all three boats out into the rapid and taking them in from the bottom, after which they could carry around the rest of the fall. The boats were badly battered. On August 7 Bradley had to put four new ribs into his, and recalk the whole hull. That was the day Powell and his brother climbed out to the rim, a half mile above the river, and set up instruments for the expected eclipse. Here too the scientific results were doomed to be disappointing. As they sat waiting, clouds matted over the whole sky, and it began to rain. To cap their day they got lost coming down the cliff and had to crouch soaking on a ledge all through a miserable night until daylight showed them a path down.
No observations on the eclipse, hence no longitude, a thing Powell was desperately anxious to determine. And no Sunday rest next day. Probably not even Bradley, considering the state of their rations, would have suggested it. On a muddy and rising river they ran, or rather portaged, a laborious three and a half miles and camped under the dome of an immense water-worn cave in a bend, a little dubious about their shelter because of the rising water, for high water obviously swept this cave like a broom. They could barely rustle enough firewood to cook supper.
Now they ran through a canyon of polished marble of many colors that even in their ragged and hungry state excited their imaginations. Bradley cocked an eye at the notion of collecting specimens and reluctantly gave it up as impractical. The Major found a marble pavement, polished like glass, that ran for more than a mile; the sun glinted on polished parts of the cliffs. Then a rainstorm showed them the polishing agent: within minutes of the first drops, muddy rills from the sandstone rims poured over the limestone walls, scouring them from rim to talus. At a bend where the river turned sharply to the east a wall glittered as if set with gems, and on coming nearer they found springs bursting from the cliffs high up and sheeting the rock in rainbows. Below was a garden of incredible green, moss and maidenhair and redbud and hackberry and ferns. They named it Vasey’s Paradise, after their last year’s botanist from Bloomington.
As they went on the walls grew higher, and still higher, and great buttresses thrust out into the channel to block the river into coves and twist it in whirlpools. But here the channel was wider, the river less swift, so that they could take a more leisurely look at the marble chambers and alcoves and caves. Through the gates of flaring canyons that came in from the right, draining the lofty table of the Kaibab westward, they saw the piney back of that noble plateau. Finally they reached another landmark, one that Lieutenant Ives had tried for but failed to reach in 1858 13 — the mouth of the River of Flax, the Colorado Chiquito of the Spaniards.
By this time Major Powell had determined that what he had called Ute Creek at the foot of the Vermilion Cliffs had been the Paria, had straightened out the rest of his geography, and knew the Little Colorado for what it was.14 It was nothing much to excite any of them. Though at certain seasons of low water on the Little Colorado and high water on the main river the Little Colorado lies in clear sky-blue pools as lovely as the lime-impregnated waters of Havasu Creek in the little paradise near the foot of the Grand Canyon, the Powell party found it, in Bradley’s words, “a loathesome little stream, so filthy and muddy it fairly stinks,” 15 and Sumner wrote it up for “as disgusting a stream as there is on the continent.” 16 Their spirits were not cheered when they heard that they would have to stay here at least two days for the infuriating observations and the absolutely-necessary repairing of the boats.
Above them, where they camped below the cataclysmic Y of the canyons, the walls went up three thousand feet — the highest they had yet measured. From the rim Powell saw that to the westward they were even higher. Their campsite afforded no decent water, no game. It was “filthv with dust and alive with insects,” and they killed three rattlesnakes the first afternoon. Anyone camping on the river learns to shake the scorpions out of his bedding and shoes before dressing in the morning, but Bradley (and others, he observed, were in the same fix) did not even have a pair of boots to catch scorpions in. For lack of footwear that would let him climb the cliffs, he went around camp barefoot, saving his one remaining pair of camp mocassins to put on when the sand got too hot or the rocks too sharp.
“Thank God the trip is nearly over,” he wrote, making full records sitting at a stone table in the Little Colorado camp. “It is no place for a man in my circumstances but it will let me out of the Army, and for that I would almost agree to explore the River Styx.” But the others had no such reward to sustain them. “The men are uneasy and discontented and eager to move on. If the Major does not do something soon I fear the consequences, but he is contented and seems to think that biscuit made of sour and musty flour and a few dried apples is ample to sustain a laboring man. If he can only study geology he will be happy without food or shelter but the rest of us are not afflicted with it to an alarming extent.” 17
Neither commander nor men appeared to understand the precise feelings of the other. The Major, as usual, confided only skeleton data to his field notes, but wrote up in his later Report his feelings at that stage. If he actually felt what he wrote, and there is little reason to doubt that he did, they were not quite the carefree geologizing preoccupations that Bradley supposed. Below the Colorado Chiquito lay the chasm, Ives’ “Big Canyon,” 18 that had been a report on men’s tongues for a good deal more than two hundred years without ever becoming known. Much more than the frowning gate of Lodore it seemed to him ominous, and for cause:
We are now ready to start on our way down the Great Unknown. Our boats, tied to a common stake, are chafing each other, as they are tossed by the fretful river. They ride high and buoyant, for their loads are lighter than we could desire. We have but a month’s rations remaining. The flour has been resifted through the mosquito-net sieve; the spoiled bacon has been dried, and the worst of it boiled; the few pounds of dried apples have been spread in the sun, and reshrunken to their normal bulk; the sugar has all melted, and gone on its way down the river; but we have a large sack of coffee. The lighting of the boats has this advantage: they will ride the waves better, and we shall have but little to carry when we make a portage.
We are three quarters of a mile in the depths of the earth, and the great river shrinks into insignificance, as it dashes its angry waves against the walls and cliffs, that rise to the world above; they are but puny ripples, and we but pigmies, running up and down the sands, or lost among the boulders.
We have an unknown distance yet to run; an unknown river yet to explore. What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls rise over the river, we know not. Ah, well! we may conjecture many things. The men talk as cheerfully as ever; jests are bandied about freely this morning; but to me the cheer is somber and the jests are ghastly.19
Either he was unconscious of the growing sullenness among the men, or for literary effect, writing at a later time, he suppressed that detail. Perhaps that famous passage with which he shoved off into the Grand Canyon reflects a little of both reasons.
An unknown distance, an unknown river. Actually 217 miles, the full length of the Grand Canyon from the Little Colorado to the Grand Wash Cliffs. And then easy water, according to both Jacob Hamblin 20 and Lieutenant Ives, to the mouth of the Virgin and the known world. This was what they faced, this last and most formidable leg of the exploration, as Sam Adams’ crack-brained competing expedition collapsed, far back in Cedar Canyon on the Grand.