CHAPTER VIII. EXPLORATIONS AND SURVEYS (Continued).


Up: Contents Previous: CHAPTER VII. EXPLORATIONS AND SURVEYS (Continued). Next: CHAPTER IX. THE MILITARY.


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Major Powell's First Exploration of the Grand Canyon—Cataract Canyon—Description of Walls of Canyon—Three of Party Leave and go Overland—End of First Exploration—Mormons—Approximate Distance by River—Major Powell's Second Exploration of the Grand Canyon—White's Story Branded Fabrication by Dellenbaugh.

Two years later, in 1869, Major Powell organized his first expedition for the exploration of the Canyon, a short sketch of which he gave to the press in 1869, as follows:

‘‘

For two or three years I have been engaged in making some geographical studies in the mountains to the east and north of the Colorado Basin, and while pursuing them the thought grew into my mind that the canyons of this region would be a book of revelations in the rock-leaved Bible of geology. The thought fructified, and I determined to read the book; so I sought for all the available information with regard to the canyon land. I talked with Indians and hunters; I went among the Mormons to learn what they knew of this country adjacent to the 'Kingdom of God,' the home of the 'Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints'; I read the reports of the United States' Surveys, and I explored canyons of the tributary streams that I thought would represent


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somewhat the nature of the Grand Canyon, on account of similar geological and physical features. From the fabulous stories, the facts, and the reports, and from the knowledge of other canyons, I came to the belief that the 'Grand Canyon of the Colorado' could be explored by descending the river in small boats. I also arrived at the conclusion that what was known as the 'Grand Canyon' was in fact a series of canyons, forming the banks or walls of the Upper Colorado and the lower portions of the Green and Grand, that unite to form it. These two streams unite in canyons, and some persons held that the vaguely defined 'Grand Canyon' was continued up the Green, and others that it was continued up the Grand, while others still asserted that these streams united in a valley. One man assured me that he, with several others, had laid out a city at the junction, but was driven away by Indians.

Having made up my mind to explore the gorge, I came from the mountains to Chicago last spring, to procure outfit and build boats. Four of these were made on a model devised for the purpose of navigating canyon streams; and taking them out to Green River Station, where the Union Pacific Railroad crosses the Green, I was ready to embark. There I had a party of nine men awaiting my arrival, and anxious to enter the 'Great Unknown' with me—men all experienced in the wild life of the country, and most of them in boating on dangerous streams.

On the 24th of May we started. For a few days our way was through a river of low canyons and small green valleys, until we reached the


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Uintah Mountains. Through this range the river has cut a winding channel, forming the Uintah system of canyons. Near the lower end of this series Yampa river enters the Green by a canyon. Further down, in a valley portion the Uintah and White rivers come in. About thirty miles below this point we enter another series of canyons. Low walls of grey, buff, and rust colored sandstone shut us in. These walls slowly increase in height as we advance; the grey rocks are lost; dark red sandstone appears; the walls are broken down by lateral canyons, increasing in number until we are in the heart of the Canyon of Desolation. Sometimes these lateral canyons are so crowded, that the rock between them stands as a narrow wall hundreds of feet high, the end being, of course, towards the main canyon.

Some lateral canyons have their own lateral canyons, then a fourth series, cutting the wall into sections, whose towering summits, though large enough to support cathedrals, seem scarcely to furnish footing for man. Two thousand feet—three thousand feet overhead is the summit of the walls, while rockes and crags, and peaks rise higher, and still higher away back from the river, until they reach an altitude of nearly five thousand feet. These rusty, grey, and dark red sandstones have no beauty of colour. A few greenish brown cedars are seen, looking not like shoots of evergreen spray, but like clumps of knotty war clubs bedecked with spines. These, with a little sage, constitute all the verdure. We next ran through Coal Canyon, and passed the mouth of Little White


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River; then came a valley region, where we passed the mouth of the San Rafael, and soon entered Stillwater Canyon. The river winds through this with a quiet current, as if in no haste to leave this beautiful canyon, carved out of orange sandstone. All along its walls domed alcoves and amphitheatres have been cut out of the solid rock; grottoes and caves abound, narrow lateral canyons, channels of rivulets, born of a shower, and born again of a shower, are cut as clefts in the rocks; and at every curve on the inner side is a spot of willow bordered meadow. Then the walls grow higher, the river swifter, and we glide down to the junction of the Green and Grand. Here the walls are nearly 1,300 feet high. But away back from the river are lateral canyons, and canyon valleys, the floors of which are at about the same altitude as the immediate walls of the main canyon, and the walls of this upper set are hundreds of feet higher, and still further back again the country is cut into a labyrinth of canyons. The main walls at the junction are not vertical, but have the slope of broken rocks tumbled down, while the lateral canyons have mostly vertical walls with a sloping talus at the base.

We remained at the junction several days, and then rowed out into Cataract Canyon. Soon we heard the roar of waters, and came upon a succession of rocky rapids and cataracts. Over some of these we were compelled to make portage; usually only the cargoes were carried over the rocks and the boats were let down with lines; but now and then boats and all had to be carried. When these cataracts and rapids were


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unobstructed by rocks, or where there was any passage, we were able to run them, never finding any fall greater than nineteen feet in this canyon. Sometimes the waves below would roll over a boat and fill the open part; but they could not sink it, as each was decked fore and aft, and so had a watertight compartment at either end. Now and then a boat would roll over; but, clinging to its sides until they could right it, the men would swim to shore, towing it with them. We found much difficulty in the whirlpools below; for at times it was almost impossible to get out of them. They would carry us back under the falls, they would dash us against the rocks, or they would send us whirling down the river. For twelve days we toiled through this canyon, stopping once to measure the altitude of its walls near its highest point, and finding it nearly 2,500 feet. This was at the axis of a vast fold in the strata, and from that point the upper rocks slowly came down with a gentle dip to the southwest until we reached the foot of the canyon, 45 miles from its head. A rocky valley canyon was found here on the left, and the river made a bend around a sharp point on the right, which point was set with ten thousand crags and rocks. We called it Mille-crag Bend, and sweeping around this in a rapid current, our boats shot into Narrow Canyon, down which we glided almost at railroad speed, the walls rising vertically from the water 1,300 feet at its head, and coming down to high-water mark at the foot, 7 miles below, where the Dirty Devil, a river of mud, enters from the right. Now we had come


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again to the red and orange sandstone, and the walls were of beautiful bright rock, low at first, but as we cut down through the strata, rising higher and higher. Now and then, on this and that side, the rocks were vertical from the water's edge; but usually they were cut into mounds and cones and hills of solid sandstone, rising one above the other as they stretched back in a gentle slope for miles. These mounds have been cut out by the showers from the bright orange rock, and glitter in resplendent beauty under the midday sun. Hour after hour have we gazed entranced on them, as they faded in the perspective and retreated to the rear; for the river was gentle, though swift, and we had but to steer our boats, and on we went through this land of beauty and glory.

On the 31st of July we reached the mouth of the San Juan, at the foot of Mound Canyon, and went into camp for a day or two's rest. Then we started again. We had now run once more into dark red and chocolate coloured sandstones, with slate coloured beds below; these usually formed vertical walls, occasionally terraced or broken down, and from the crest of these the orange mounds sloped back, bearing on the top of each mound some variegated monument, now vertical, now terraced, now carved by time into grotesque shapes, such as towers, pinnacles, etc. These monuments stood alone or in groups, and spread over the landscape as far as the eye could reach. The little valley of the Paria River terminates this canyon, making it about 100 miles long. We named it Monument Canyon.


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By this time the river had cut through the sandstones and reached the limestones below them at this point, and as we advanced the channel was cut into this new strata. We entered between walls, low but vertical, which gradually increased in altitude to the foot, where they were 2,900 feet high, terraced and broken down into crags above. Halfway down the canyon we found the lower strata appearing as marble; the marbles were white, grey, and slate coloured, then pink, purple and brown; other strata appeared which were variegated with these colours intermixed, until at last we had 400 feet of marble wall, mostly variegated, from the water's edge. They were fretted by the water, embossed with strange devices, and polished into beauty. Where there were patches of marble floor left bare, large shallow water basins appeared, hollowed out by the whirlpools of the flood season, and filled with clear, sparkling water—a beautiful contrast to the red muddy river. Springs gushed from these limestone strata, forming fountains which plunged into marble fonts, and formed a strange contrast, after every shower, to the cascades of red mud which poured over the walls from the red sandstone above, with a fall of hundreds of feet. We called this Marble Canyon; it terminated at the mouth of the Little Colorado (Colorado Chiquito), and was about 36 miles long.

Here a short rest, and then we pulled out on the home stretch—not a very short one either—nearly 300 miles by river to the mouth of the Virgen. The lower members of this carboniferous formation are of dark rust coloured sandstones,


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sometimes almost black. We soon ran through these, and through silurian red sandstone, and about 15 miles below the mouth of the Little Colorado, struck the granite.

From the mouth of that stream to the mouth of the Virgen, our objective point, the general course of the river is to the west; but it makes three great curves to the south and three corresponding curves to the north. At the extremity of the southern curves the walls are granite at the base, reaching to an altitude of 800 feet. This usually rises from the water in almost vertical cliffs, set above with ragged crags, then a sloping terrace 100 to 500 yards wide, then walls of sandstone and marble towering 200 or 300 feet towards the heavens. In the northern bends the marble comes down to the water's edge. In the southern bends the river runs raging through a narrow gorge filled with rapids and cataracts, often falling at a plunge from 5 to 20 feet—the greatest being 22 feet. Over these we usually had to run, as the granite walls rarely gave foothold, though some portages were made. The roar of a cataract could always be heard for half a mile or more, so that we never came upon them unappraised of danger.

In the last great bend to the south we came upon a series of cataracts and rapids crowded together into a distance of three-fourths of a mile; a stream came down through a narrow canyon on either side, and above their mouths we found a foothold to land, so we stopped to examine. On the river there seemed to be great danger, and no portage could be had. We arrived in the morning, and the day was spent


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in exploring and trying to decide some method of getting over the difficulty. I found that we could climb to the summit of the granite, 800 feet high, and passing along the terrace could descend to a point below; but it would require ten days to get our boats and cargoes over, and we had scant five days' rations. When I returned to camp at night I announced to the men that we must attempt to run it. After supper one of them came to me and asked if I was willing that he and two others should leave the river and walk out over the mountains; they thought that they could climb out of the canyon, up the channel of the right hand creek. Of course, I objected, but they were determined to go. An hour's talk failed to shake their resolutions; so I sat up all night, made observations for the latitude and longitude of that point, and then walked up and down a little sand beach until morning.

On the morrow the men were still determined to go, and I hastily fitted out the little party with guns, ammunition, and a small store of rations. In the meantime those going down the river were ready to start. Not being able to man it, I tied up one of the boats and abandoned it. When all was ready we shook hands, and some tears were started, as each party thought the other going to destruction. 'Goodby,' and away went our boat over the first cataract, then amongst the rocks and over the second to the left of a huge rock and whirlpool, and then leaping a third, it shot into an eddy below.


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The boats were half filled with water, but that was of common occurrence; we really found it less dangerous than a hundred we had run above. The men that were left sat on the cliffs and watched us go safely over, so we went into camp and waited two hours, hoping that they would join us with the boat left tied to the rock above. But we never saw nor heard of them since.

The same afternoon we passed one more dangerous rapid, and then had fair sailing to the end of the canyon, where the river debouches into Mormon Valley, so named by our party.

This ended the exploration of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado—its head at the confluence of the Little Colorado, its foot at the entrance of Mormon Valley, its length 238 miles, its altitude from 2,500 to 4,000 feet. A number of clear streams flow into it from either side, the largest coming down from the Buckskin Mountains on the north, which we named Right Angle River.

I have mentioned the terraces of the southern bends; these have been the sites of ancient Indian villages, inhabited by a race of diminutive people now almost extinct. Their little clusters of houses, found on the south side of the river, were 800 or 1,000 feet above the water. They were built of stone laid in mortar, and seem to have had reservoirs for water. Fragments of their pottery are found scattered about in great profusion, and deeply worn foot paths leading from village to village, or down to the river, or up to the summit plain, were frequently seen. On the northern bend their


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dwellings were near the river. Some of the ruins seem to be centuries old, and others to have been inhabited by the present generation—the latter were found near the mouth of the Little Colorado. Other ruins and fragments of pottery were found in the canyons above, and away up in the valleys of the Uintah. Only a few villages of these interesting people now remain in the country to the southeast.

Below the Grand Canyon the river and adjoining country had been explored by Mormon parties, and here ended the 'Great Unknown,' no longer thus to be designated. One party had crossed through Mormon Valley; another had brought a skiff down the Grand Wash just below it, and descended in it to the mouth of the Virgen—to Call's Landing, and still other parties have passed through the country whose reports I find quite correct, except that they a little over estimated the distances. Alternating valleys and canyons were passed till we reached the mouth of the Virgen, where we came upon three white men dragging a seine. They proved to be Mormons, who had been sent on to prepare for a large settlement of people, which will be sent here by the Church, to build up another of those wonderful villages seen only in the 'Kingdom.'

The whole region was one of great scenic beauty and grandeur; the constant change in geological structure made a constant change of scenery. The high walls enclosing a tortuous river, shut off the view before, and as we advanced, it opened out, ever bringing into view some new combination of marvel or beauty.


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The impression of this scenery was the more vivified by a little anxiety—the shadow of a pang of dread ever present to the mind.

Of my party, I should like to say that some left me at the start, cutting the number down to ten, including myself. One left me at the mouth of the Uintah, three left me as mentioned before, and five went through. These were Captain W. H. Powell, John C. Summer, George T. Bradley, W. Rhodes Hawkins, and Andrew Hall.

’’

I append a table of approximate distances, from source to mouth of the Rio Colorado, collected from the most authentic sources, 925 miles of which were traversed and measured by Major J. W. Powell:

APPROXIMATE DISTANCES BY RIVER. GREEN RIVER
Miles Intermediate. Total in Miles.
From headwaters of Green River to Green River Crossing (on the U. P. R. R.) about… 130 130
Through valley to mouth of Henry's Fork… 60 190
Through Uintah series of Canyons 70 260
Through valley past mouths of Uintah and White rivers… 50 310
Through Lower Green River system of canyons to junction of Green and Grand… 190 500


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RIO COLORADO
Miles Intermediate. Total in Miles.
Through Cataract Canyon… 45 545
Through Mound Canyon… 7 552
Through Narrow Canyon to mouth of San Juan River… 68 620
Through Monument Canyon to mouth of Paria River… 100 720
Through Marble Canyon to mouth of Little Colorado… 36 756
Through Grand Canyon… 238 994
Through valley to mouth of Virgen 43 1,037
Through Callville… 18 1,055
Fort Mojave… 75 1,130
The Needles… 25 1,155
Mouth of Bill Williams's Fork… 60 1,215
Fort Yuma… 190 1,405
Head of the Gulf of California… 150 1,555

This was the first scientific investigation ever made of the Grand Canyon. Major Powell made a second expedition two years later, full accounts of which have been written by F. S. Dellenbaugh in two books entitled The Romance of the Colorado River, and A Canyon Voyage.

Dellenbaugh brands White's story as a fabrication, but the fact remains that White was taken up at Callville in an exhausted condition. Everyone who knew W. H. Hardy, who is quoted as one of the persons who interviewed White, knows that the old gentleman was the last man on earth to be imposed upon by any fictitious story. According to White's story, a few days


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before arriving at Callville, he was drawn out of the water by a band of Indians. These Indians were, unquestionably the Havasupais, who had inhabited that portion of the Colorado Canyon for many years, how long, no one knows. Whipple, in his survey in 1854–55, speaks of them, and they are cultivating the same land to this day. White was by no means a boaster. He was a quiet, industrious, peaceable man, and after recovering his health, his only ambition was to return to his old home in Wisconsin. I would not detract from the laurels Major Powell has honestly earned. He was an indefatigable explorer and scientist, and as this history proceeds it will be shown that he did much for the conquest of the arid West.

Up: Contents Previous: CHAPTER VII. EXPLORATIONS AND SURVEYS (Continued). Next: CHAPTER IX. THE MILITARY.




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