Grand Canyon Exploration – Daily Log May 31 – June 6, 1869

Posted on History

May 31, 1869 — , “We start down another canyon and reach rapids made dangerous by high rocks lying in the channel; so we run ashore and let our boats down with lines. In the afternoon we come to more dangerous rapids and stop to examine them. I find we must do the same work again, but being on the wrong side of the river to obtain a foothold, we must cross over – no easy matter in such a current, with rapids and rocks below. We take the pioneer boat, “Emma Dean,” over, and unload her on the bank; then she returns and takes another load. Running back and forth, she soon has half our cargo over. Then one of the larger boats is manned and taken across, but is carried down almost to the rocks in spite of hard rowing. The other boats follow and we go into camp for the night”.
“At the foot of the cliff on this side there is a long slope covered with pines; under these we make our beds, and soon after sunset are seeking rest and sleep. The cliffs on the other side are of red sandstone and stretch towards the heavens 2,500 feet. On this side the long, pine-clad slope is surmounted by perpendicular cliffs, with pines on their summits. The wall on the other side is bare rock from water’s edge up 2,000 feet, then slopes back, giving footing to pines and cedars.”

June 1, — “Today we have an exciting ride. The river rolls down the canyon at a wonderful rate, and with no rocks in the way, we make almost railroad speed. Here and there the water rushes into a narrow gorge, the rocks on the side roll it into the center in great waves, and the boats go leaping and bounding over these like things of life. At times the waves break and roll over the boats, which necessitates much bailing and obliges us to stop occasionally for that purpose. At one time we run twelve miles in an hour, stoppages included”.

“At last we come to calm water, and a threatening roar is heard in the distance. Slowly approaching the point whence the sound issues, we come near the falls, and tie up just above them on the left. Here we shall be compelled to make a portage, so we unload the boats, and fasten a long line to the bow of the smaller one, and another to the stern, and moor her close to the brink of the fall. Then the bowline is taken below and made fast; the stern line is held by five or six men, and the boat let down as long as they can hold her the rushing waters; then, letting go one end of the line, it runs through the ring; the boat leaps over the fall and is caught by the lower rope”. “Now we rest for the night.”
Note: I am not able to follow Powell’s directions for letting the boats down as he references a ring that I find non-existent elsewhere in his narrative.

June 2, — “This morning we make a trail among the rocks, transport the cargoes to a point below the fall, let the remaining boats over, and are ready to start by noon”.
“On a high rock by which the trail passes we find the inscription: ‘Ashley 18-5’. The third figure is obscure – some of the party reading it 1835, some 1855. James Baker, an old-time mountaineer, once told me about a party of men starting down the river, and Ashley was named as one. The story runs that the boat was swamped, and some of the party drowned in one of the canyons below. The word ‘Ashley’ is a warning to us, and we resolve on great caution, “Ashley Falls” is the name we give to the cataract”.

“The river is very narrow, the right wall vertical for 200 or 300 feet, the left towering to a great height, with a vast pile of broken rocks lying between the foot of the cliff and the water. Some of the broken down from the ledge above have tumbled into the channel and caused this fall. One great cubical block, thirty or forty feet high, stands in the middle of the stream, and the waters, parting to either side, plunge down about twelve feet, and are broken again by the smaller rocks in the rapid below. Immediately below the falls the water occupies the entire channel, there being no talus at the foot of the cliffs”.
“We embark and run down a short distance, where we find a landing place for dinner”.
“On the waves again all the afternoon. Near the lower end of this canyon, to which we have given the name of ‘Red Canyon’, is a little park, where streams come down from distant mountain summits and enter the river on either side; and here we camp for the night under two stately pines”.

Red Canyon is noted for its many strangely eroded rock formations.
June 3, — “This morning we spread our rations, clothes, etc., on the ground to dry, and several of the party go out for a hunt. I take a walk of five or six miles up to a pine grove park, its grassy carpet be-decked with crimson velvet flowers, set in groups on the stems of pear-shaped cactus plants; patches of painted cups are seen here and there, with yellow blossoms protruding through scarlet bracts; little blue-eyed flowers are peeping through the grass; and the air is filled with fragrance from the white blossoms of the Spiraea (Bridal Wreath). A mountain brook runs through the midst, ponded below by beaver dams. It is a quiet place for retirement from the raging waters of the canyon”.

As Powell walks he describes the flora, fauna and geology of the high country about him.
“I climb the mountain overlooking this country. To the east the peaks are not very high, and already most of the snow has melted, but little patches lie here and there under the lee of ledges of rock. To the west the peaks grow higher and the snow fields larger. Between the brink of the canyon and the foot of these peaks, there is a high bench. A number of creeks have their sources in the snowbanks to the south and run north into the canyon, tumbling down 3.000 to 5,000 feet in a distance of five or six miles”.

“The little valleys above are beautiful parks; between the parks are stately pine forests, half hiding ledges of red sandstone. Mule deer and elk abound; grizzly bears, too, are abundant; and here wild cats, wolverines, and mountain lions are at home. The forest aisles are filled with the music of birds, and the parks are decked with flowers. Noisy brooks meander through them; ledges of moss-covered rocks are seen; and gleaming in the distance are the snow fields, and the mountain tops are away in the clouds”.
The expedition has just entered present day Colorado.

June 4, — “We start early and run through Brown’s Park. Halfway down the valley, a spur of a red mountain stretches across the river, which cuts a canyon through it. Here the walls are comparatively low, but vertical. A vast number of swallows have built their adobe houses on the face of the cliffs, on either side of the river. The waters are deep and quiet. But the swallows are swift and noisy enough, sweeping by in their curved paths through the air or chattering from the rocks, while the young one stretch their little heads on naked necks through the doorways of their mud houses and clamor for food. They are a noisy people. We call this swallow Canyon”.

“Still down the river we glide until an early hour in the afternoon, when we go into camp under a giant cottonwood standing on the right bank a little way back from the stream. The party has succeeded in killing a fine lot of wild ducks, and during the afternoon a mess of fish is taken”.

June 5, — With one of the men I climb a mountain, off on the right”.
His climbing companion is William Dunn. The two has chosen to climb a hogback, a ridge with a sharp escarpment on one side. Powell chose the ridge top while Dunn made the assent through a gulch that gives access to the summit; it takes them the better part of 2 hours to attain the summit. To the north they see the plains of the Green; to the west are the snow clad peaks of the Wasatch Range; to the east they are looking up the valley of the Vermilion River; historic in that John Fremont made his way up the Vermillion, leaving the Green on his way to Colorado’s great parks in 1842.

“The readings of the barometer taken, we start down in company, and reach camp tired and hungry, which does not abate one bit our enthusiasm as we tell of the day’s work with its glory of landscape”.

June 6, — “At daybreak I am awaked by a chorus of birds. It seems as if all the feathered songsters of the region have come to the old tree. A real morning concert for me; none of your matinees! Our cook has been an ox-driver, or bull whacker; in the midst of the concert, his voice breaks in: ‘Roll out! Roll out! Roll out! Bulls in the corral! Chain up the gaps! Roll out! Roll out! Roll out! And this is our breakfast bell. Today we pass through the park and camp at the head of another canyon”.

Walter Mow