Grand Canyon Exploration Daily Log-May 24 to May 30, 1869

Posted on History

Grand Canyon Exploration Daily Log
NOTE:   All quotes in italics are Powell’s except where noted; as this is Powell’s story, the punctuation is that of Powell as well.
May 24 to May 30, 1869…

May 24, 1869 – “The good people of Green River City turn out to see us start.  We raise
our little flag, push the boats from shore, and the swift current carries us down”.  

The heavily laden boats will strike sand bars and rocks, loose and break oars and all before lunch.  A more serene afternoon brings the party to its first camp. Powell walks to a high point and views the country, the Green River Badlands made of colored bands of stone with little soil and very sparse vegetation.  “high peaks thrust into the sky, and snow fields glittering like lakes of molten silver, and pine forests in somber green, and rosy clouds playing around the borders of huge, black masses; and heightsand clouds and mountains and snow fields and forests and rock-lands are blended into
one grand view”

May 25, – “An early start”.    At midmorning another gravel bar requires the men to get out of the boats to float them over the bar.  Nature conspires against them as rough water and rain showers make all “wet, chilled and tired to exhaustion, we stop at a cottonwood grove on the bank, build a huge fire, make a cup of coffee, and are soon refreshed and merry”.

Under a clearing sky they continue; sighting some mountain sheep they go hunting, the hunt produces a fat lamb for a 4:00 o’clock dinner after which they continue down the river to just below the mouth of Black’s Fork and camp for the nightand camp for the night.
May 26, — The party glides down the Green and look with wonder on the landscape.  “Thinly laminated shales and sandstones of many colors, standing above in vertical cliffs and buttressed below with a water- carved talus; some of which attain an altitude of nearly a thousand feet above the river.”  Powell terms this view as “mauvaises terres”, a French term meaning “Bad Lands”, an appropriate translation for the Green River Badlands.
After a lunch of wild goose it’s back to the boats, through a narrow canyon into a wide valley where a cache of supplies and instruments were placed last summer.  Finding the cache undisturbed they continue to the foot of the Uinta Mountains and camp in a cold storm.

Here the Green River bisects the Uinta Range with a spectacular canyon.  “We name it Flaming Gorge.  The cliffs, or walls, we find on measurement to be about 1,200 feet high”.
The party has just entered present day Utah, they will spend three days here doing scientific studies and mapping the area.
May 27, — A rainy day and repairs to some instruments take up the majority of the day.  A tedious repair of a barometer; “It is a delicate task to do this without breaking the glass; but we have success, and are ready to measure mountains once more”.
May 28, — “Today we go to the summit of the cliff on the left and take observations for altitude, and are variously employed in topographic and geologic work”.
May 29, — Maj. Powell accompanied by Geo. Bradley climb to a vantage point overlooking the valley where they were camped.  “To the south of the valley are the Uintas and the peaks of the Wasatch Mountains can be faintly seen in the far west.  To the north, desert plains, dotted here and there with curiously carved hills and buttes, extend to the limit of vision”.
“The distance from Green River City to Flaming Gorge is 62 miles.  The river runs between bluffs, in some places standing so close to each other that no flood plain is seen.  At such a point the river might properly be said to run through a canyon.  The bad lands on either side are interrupted here and there by patches of Artemesia, or sage brush.  Where there is a flood plain along either side of the river a few cottonwoods may be seen”.

The current runs fast, bracketed by towering cliffs that reach 1,500 feet above the river.   The canyon widens into a small park then abruptly turns to the left and enters what they will later name “Horse Shoe Canyon”.   The channel is tortuous, broken rock from the cliff face restricts the channel. “Our boats reach the swift current: a stroke or two, now on this side, now on that, and we thread the narrow passage with exhilarating velocity, mounting the high waves, whose foaming crests dash over us, and plunging into the troughs, until we reach quiet water below.  Then comes a feeling of great relief.  Our first rapid is run.  Another mile and we come into the valley
again.”

At one point hundreds of swallows have built nests under an overhang of the cliff face.   “As they flit about the cliffs, they look like swarms of bees, giving to the whole the appearance of a colossal beehive of the old-time form, and so we name it Beehive Point”.
They set up camp at the foot of a canyon they name Kingfisher Canyon.
“The opposite wall is a vast amphitheater, rising in a succession of terraces to a height of 1,200 or 1,500 feet.  Each step is built of red sandstone, with a face of naked red rock and a glacis clothed with verdure.  So the amphitheater seems banded in red and green, and the evening sun is playing with roseate flashes on the rocks, with shimmering green on the cedars’ spray, and with iridescent gleams on the dancing waves.  The landscape revels in the sunshine”.
It has been quite a week but this is only the beginning…

Walter Mow