Grand Canyon Exploration Log July 5 – July 11, 1869

July 5 – “The last two days have been spent in studying the language of the Indians and in making collections of articles illustrating the state of arts among them”.

“Frank Goodman informs me this morning that he has concluded not to go on with the party, saying that he has seen danger enough. It will be remembered that he was one of the crew on the ‘No Name’ when she wrecked. As our boats are rather heavily loaded, I am content that he should leave, although he was a faithful man”.

We start early on our return to the boats, taking horses with us from the reservation, and two Indians, who are to bring the animals back”.

“Whirlpool Canyon is 141/4 miles in length, the walls varying from 1,800 to 2,400 feet in height. The course of the river through Island Park is 9 miles. Split Mountain Canton is 8 miles long. The highest crags on its walls reach an altitude above the river of from 2,500 to 2,700 feet. In these canyons cedars only are found on the walls”.

The distance by river from the foot of Split Mountain Canyon to the mouth of the Uinta is 67 miles. The valley through which it runs is the home to many antelope, and we have adopted for it the Indian name Won’sits Yauv – Antelope Valley”.

The expedition has logged 226 miles thus far in its journey, one member of the party has left and one of its boats has been wrecked, but morale in the rest of the party remains high.

July 6 — “An early start this morning. A short distance below the mouth of the Uinta we come to the head of a long island. Last winter a man named Johnson, a hunter and an Indian trader, visited us at our camp in White River Valley. This man has an Indian wife, and, having no fixed home, usually travels with one of the Ute bands. He informed me that it was his intention to plant some corn, potatoes, and other vegetables on this island in the spring. And, knowing that we would pass it, invited us to stop and help ourselves, even if he should not be there; so we land and go out on the island. Looking about we soon discover his garden, but it is in a sad condition, having received no care since it was planted. It is yet too early in the season for corn, but Hall suggests that potato tops are good greens, and, anxious for some change from our salt-meat fare, we gather a quantity and take them aboard. At noon we stop and cook our greens for dinner; but soon one after another of the party is taken sick; nausea first, and then severe vomiting, and we tumble around under the trees, groaning with pain. I feel a little alarmed, lest our poisoning be severe. Emetics are administered to those who are willing to take them, and about the middle of the afternoon we are all rid of the pain. Jack Sumner records in his diary that — potato tops are not good greens on the 6th day of July”.
NOTE: Green potato tops contain the alkaloids Nicotine

“This evening we enter another canyon, almost imperceptibly, as the walls rise very gently”.

July 7 – “We find quiet water to-day, the river sweeping in great and beautiful curves, the canyon walls steadily increasing in altitude. The escarpments formed by the cut edges of the rock are often vertical, sometimes terraced, and in some places the treads of the terraces are sloping. In these quiet curves amphitheaters are formed, now in vertical rocks, now in steps”.

“The salient point of rock within the curve is usually broken down in a steep slope, and we stop occasionally to climb up at such a place, where on looking down we can see the river sweeping the foot of the opposite cliff in a great , easy curve, with a perpendicular or terraced wall rising from the water’s edge many hundreds of feet. One of these we find very symmetrical and name it Sumner’s Amphitheater. The cliffs are rarely broken down by the entrance of side canyons, and we sweep around curve after curve with almost continuous walls for several miles”.

“Late in the afternoon we find the river very much rougher and come upon rapids, not dangerous, but still demanding close attention. We camp at night on the right bank, having made 26 miles”.

July 8 – “This morning Bradley and I go out to climb, and gain an altitude of more than 2,000 feet above the river, but still do not reach the summit of the wall.

“After dinner we pass through a region of the wildest desolation. The canyon is very tortuous, the river very rapid, and many lateral canyons enter 0n either side. These usually have their branches, so that the region is cut into a wildness of gray and brown cliffs. – Piles of broken rock lie against these walls; crags and tower-shaped peaks are seen everywhere, and away above them, long lines of broken cliffs; and above and beyond the cliffs are pine forests, of which we obtain occasional glimpses as we look up through a vista of rocks. The walls are almost without vegetation; a few dwarf bushes are seen here and there clinging to the rocks, and cedars grow from the crevices – not like the cedars of a land refreshed with rains, great cones bedecked with spray, but ugly clumps, like war clubs beset with spines. We are minded to call this the Canyon of Desolation”.

“The wind annoys us much to-day. The water, rough by reason of the rapids, is made more so by head gales. Wherever a great face of rocks has a southern exposure, the rarified air rises and the wind rushes in below, either up or down the canyon, or both, causing local currents. Just at sunset we run a bad rapid and camp at its foot”.

Powell’s description of the turbulent air currents in the canyon highlights search and rescue operations limited ability to air lift people out of the canyon.

July 9 – “Our run to-day is through a canyon with ragged, broken walls, many lateral gulches and canyons entering on either side. The river is rough, and occasionally it becomes necessary to use lines in passing rocky places. During the afternoon we came to a rather open canyon valley, stretching up toward the west, its farther end lost in the mountains. From a point to which we climb we obtain a good view of its course, until its angular walls are lost in the vista”.

July 10 – “Sumner, who is a fine mechanic, is learning to take observations for time with the sextant. To-day he remains in camp to practice. Howland and I determine to climb out, and start up a lateral canyon, taking a barometer with us for the purpose of measuring the thickness of the strata over which we pass. The readings of the barometer below are recorded every half hour and our observations must be simultaneous. Where the beds which we desire to measure are very thick, we must climb with the utmost speed to reach their summits in time; where the beds are thinner, we must wait for the moment to arrive; and so, by hard and easy stages, we make our way to the top of the canyon wall and reach the plateau above about two o’clock”.

“Howland has his gun with him, sees deer feeding a mile or two back and goes off for a hunt. I go to a peak which seems to be the highest in this region, almost a mile distant, and climb, for the purpose of tracing the topography of the adjacent country. From this point a fine view is obtained. A long plateau stretches across the river in an easterly and westerly direction, the summit covered by pine forests, with intervening elevated valleys and gulches. The plateau itself is cut in two by the canyon. Other side canyons head back away from the river and run down into the Green. Besides these, deep and abrupt canyons are seen to head back on the plateau and run north toward the Uinta and White rivers. Still other canyons head in the valleys and run toward the south. The elevation of the plateau being about 8,000 feet above the level of the sea, it is in a region of moisture, as is well attested by the forests and grassy valleys. The plateau seems to rise gradually to the west, until it merges into the Wasatch Mountains. On these high table-lands elk and deer abound; and they are favorite hunting grounds for the Ute Indians”.

“A little before sunset Howland and I meet again at the head of the side canyon, and down we start. It is late, and we must make great haste or be caught by the darkness; so we go, running where we can, leaping over the ledges, letting each other down on the loose rocks, as long as we can see. When darkness comes we are still some distance from camp, and a long, slow, anxious descent is made toward the gleaming campfire”.

“After supper, observations for latitude are taken, and only two or three hours for sleep remain before daylight”.

Desolation Canyon cuts through the very heart of the Tavaputs Plateau, one of the most remote areas in the 48 contiguous states. In some places the canyon walls reach 5,000 feet above the river. Desolation Canyon was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1968.

July 11 – “A short distance below camp we run a rapid, and in doing so break an oar and then lose another, both belonging to the ‘Emma Dean’. Now the pioneer boat has but two oars. We see nothing from which oars can be made, so we conclude to run on to some point where it seems possible to climb out to the forests on the plateau, and there we will procure suitable timber from which to make new ones”.

“We soon approach another rapid. Standing on the deck, I think it can be run, and on we go. Coming nearer, I see that at the foot it has a short turn to the left, where the waters pile up against the cliff. Here we try to land, but quickly discover that, being in swift water above the fall, we cannot reach shore, crippled as we are by the loss of two oars; so the bow of the boat is turned down stream. We shoot by a big rock; a reflex wave rolls over our little boat and fills her. I see that the place is dangerous and quickly signal to the other boats to land where they can.

“This is scarcely completed when another wave rolls our boat over and I am thrown some distance into the water. I soon find that swimming is very easy and I cannot sink. It is only necessary to ply strokes sufficient to keep my head above water, though now and then, when a breaker rolls over me, I close my mouth and am carried through it. The boat is drifting ahead of me 20 or 30 feet, and when the great waves have passed I overtake her and find Sumner and Dunn clinging to her. As soon as we reach quiet water we all swim to one side and turn her over, In doing this, Dunn loses his hold and goes under; when he comes up he is caught by Sumner and pulled to the boat. In the meantime we have drifted down stream some distance and see another rapid below. How bad it may be we cannot tell; so we swim toward shore, pilling our boat with us, with all the vigor possible, but are carried down much faster than the distance toward shore is diminished. At last we reach a huge pile of driftwood. Our rolls of blankets, two guns, and a barometer were in the open compartment of the boat and, when it went over, these were thrown out. The guns and barometer are lost, but I succeeded in catching one of the rolls of blankets as it drifted down, when we were swimming to shore; the other two are lost, and sometimes hereafter we may sleep cold”.

“A huge fire is built on the bank and our clothing spread to dry; and then from the drift logs we select one from which we think oars can be made, and the remainder of the day is spent in sawing them out”.

Don’t you just love it when they stop like this, shades of the Perils of Pauline..

by Walter Mow