Grand Canyon Exploration Log June 21 – June 27, 1869

June 21, — “We float around the long flat rock and enter another canyon. The walls are high and vertical, the canyon is narrow, and the river fills the whole space below, so that there is no landing place at the foot of the cliff. The Green is greatly increased by the Yampa, and we now have a much larger river. All this volume of water, confined, as it is, in a narrow channel and rushing with great velocity, is set eddying and spinning whirlpools by projecting rocks and short curves, and the waters waltz their way through the canyon, making their own rippling, rushing , roaring music.


The canyon is much narrower than any we have seen. We manage our boats with difficulty. They spin about from side to side and we know not where we are going, and find it impossible to keep them headed down stream. At first this causes us great alarm, but soon find there is little danger, to which this whirling is but an adjunct – that is the merry mood of the river to dance through this deep, dark gorge, and right gaily do we join in the sport”.


But soon our revel is interrupted by a cataract; its roaring command is heeded by all our power at the oars, and we pull against the whirling current. The “Emma Dean’ is brought up against a cliff about 50 feet above the brink of the fall. By vigorously plying the oars on the side opposite the wall, as if to pull upstream, we can hold her against the rock. The boats behind are signaled to land where they can”.

The ‘Maid of the Canyon’ is pulled to the left wall, and, by constant rowing, they can hold her also. The ‘Sister’ is run into an alcove on the right, where an eddy is in a dance, and in this she joins. Now my little boat is held against the wall only by the utmost exertion, and it is impossible to make headway against the current”.

On examination, I find a horizontal crevice in the rock, about 10 feet above the water and a boats length below us; so we let her down to that point. One of the men clambers into the crevice, into which he can just crawl; we toss him the line, which he makes fast in the rocks, and now our boat is tied up. Then I follow into the crevice and we crawl along up stream a distance of 50 feet or more, and find a broken place where we can climb about 50 feet higher. Here we stand on a shelf that passes along down stream to a point above the falls, where it is broken down, and a pile of rocks, over which we can descend to the river, is lying against the foot of the cliff”.

It has been mentioned that one of the boats is on the other side. I signal for the men to pull up alongside of the wall, but it cannot be done; then to cross. This they do, gaining the wall on our side just above where the ‘Emma Dean’ is tied”.

“The third boat is out of sight, whirling in the eddy of a recess. Looking about, I find another horizontal crevice, along which I crawl to a point just over the water where this boat is lying, and, calling loud and long, I finally succeed in making the crew understand that I want them to bring the boat down, hugging the wall. This they accomplish by taking advantage of every crevice and knob on the face of the cliff, so that we have the three boats together at a point a few yards above the falls. Now, by passing a line up on the shelf, the boats can be let down to the rocks below. This we do, and, making a short portage, our troubles here are over”.

Below the falls the canyon is wider, and there is more or less space between the river and the walls; but the stream, though wide, is rapid, and rolls at a fearful rate among the rocks. We proceed with great caution, and run the large boats wholly by signal”.

At night we camp at the mouth of a small creek, which affords us a good supper of trout. In camp to-night we discuss the propriety of several different names for this canyon. At the falls encountered at noon its characteristics change suddenly. Above it is very narrow, and the walls are almost vertical; below, the canyon is much wider and more flaring, and high up on the sides crags, pinnacles, and towers are seen. A number of wild and narrow canyons enter, and the walls are much broken. After many suggestions our choice rests between two names, Whirlpool Canyon and Craggy Canyon, neither of which is strictly appropriate for both parts of it; so we leave the discussion at this point, with the understanding that it is best, before finally deciding on a name, to wait until we see what the character of the canyon is below”.

The expedition has just re-entered the present day state of Utah in the southern end of Dinosaur National Monument.

June 22, — “Still making short portages and letting down with lines. While we are waiting for dinner to-day, I climb a point that gives me a view of the river for two or three miles below, and I think we can make a long run. After dinner we start; the large boats are to follow in fifteen minutes and look out for the signal to land. What a headlong ride it is! shooting past rocks and islands. I am soon filled with an exhilaration only experienced before in riding a fleet horse over the outstretched prairie. One, two, three four miles we go, rearing and plunging with the waves, until we wheel to the right into a beautiful park and land on an island where we go into camp”.

“An hour or two before sunset I cross to the mainland and climb a point of rocks where I can overlook the park and its surroundings. On the west it is bounded by a high mountain ridge. A semicircle of naked hills bounds it on the north, west and south”.

“The broad, deep river meanders through the park, interrupted by many wooded islands; so I name it Island Park, and decide to call the canyon above, Whirlpool Canyon”.

June 23, — “We remain in camp to-day to repair our boats, which have had hard knocks and are leaking. Two of the men go out with the barometer to climb the cliff at the foot of Whirlpool Canyon and measure the walls; another goes to the mountain to hunt; and Bradley and I spend the day among the rocks, studying an interesting geologic fold and collecting fossils. Late in the afternoon the hunter returns and with him a fine fat deer; so we give his name to the mountain—Mount Hawkins. Just before night we move camp to the lower end of the park, floating down the river about four miles”.

June 24, — “Bradley and I start to climb the mountain ridge to the east, and find its summit to be nearly 3,000 feet above camp. It has required some labor to scale it; but from the top, what a view! There is a long spur running out from the Uintah Mountains toward the south, and the river runs lengthwise through it. Coming down Lodore and Whirlpool Canyons, we cut through the southern slope of the Uinta Mountains; and the lower end of this latter canyon runs into the spur, but, instead of splitting it the whole length, the river wheels to the right at the foot of Whirlpool Canyon in a great curve to the northwest through Island Park. At the lower end of the park, the river turns again to the southeast and cuts into the mountain to its center and then makes a detour to the southwest, splitting the mountain ridge for a distance of six miles nearly to its foot, and the turns out of it to the left. All this we can see where we stand on the summit of Mount Hawkins, and so we name the gorge below, Split Mountain Canyon”.

We are standing 3,000 feet above the waters, which are troubled with billows and are white with foam. The walls are set with crags and peaks and buttressed towers and overhanging domes. Turning to the right, the park is below us, its island groves reflected by the deep, quiet waters. Rich meadows stretch out on either hand to the verge of a sloping plain that comes down from the distant mountains. These plains are of almost naked rock, in strange contrast to the meadows, — blue and lilac colored rocks, buff and pink, vermillion and brown, and all these colors clear and bright”.

A dozen little creeks, dry the greater part of the year, run down through the half circle of exposed formations, radiating from the island center to the rim of the basin. Each creek has its system of side streams and each side stream has its system of laterals, and again these are divided; so that this out-stretched slope of rock is elaborately embossed. Beds of different colored formations run in parallel bands on either side. The perspective, modified by the undulations, gives the bands a waved appearance, and the colors gleam in the midday sun with the luster of satin. We are tempted to call this Rainbow Park”.

It will be so named later.


Away beyond these beds are the Uinta and Wasatch mountains with their pine forests and snow fields and naked peaks. Now we turn to the right and look up Whirlpool Canyon, a deep gorge with a river at the bottom – a gloomy chasm, where mad waves roar; but at this distance and altitude the river is but a rippling brook, and the chasm a narrow cleft. The top of the mountain on which we stand is a broad, grassy table, and a herd of deer are feeding in the distance. Walking over to the southeast, we look down into the valley of the White River, and beyond that see the far distant Rocky Mountains, in mellow, perspective haze, through which the snow fields shine”.

June 25, — This morning we enter Split Mountain Canyon, sailing in through a broad, flaring, brilliant gateway. We run two or three rapids, after they have been carefully examined. Then we have a series of six or eight, over which we are compelled to pass by letting the boats down with lines. This occupies the entire day, and we camp at night at the mouth of a great cave. The cave is at the foot of one of these rapids, and the waves dash in nearly to its end.

“We can pass along a little shelf at the side until we reach the back part. Swallows have built their nests in the ceiling. And they wheel in, chattering and scolding at our intrusion; but their clamor is almost drowned out by the noise of the waters. Looking out of the cave, we can see, far up the river, a line of crags standing sentinel on either side. And Mount Hawkins in the distance”.

The expedition is now exiting Dinosaur National Monument. They will pass very near the dinosaur quarry on their way out of the monument.

June 26, — The forenoon is spent in getting our large boats over the rapids. This afternoon we find three falls in close succession. We carry our rations over the rocks and let our boats shoot over the falls, checking and bringing them to land with lines in the eddies below. At three o’clock we are all aboard again. Down the river we are carried by the swift waters at great speed, sheering around a rock now and then with a timely stroke or two of the oars”.

“At one point the river turns from left to right, in a direction at right angles to the canyon, in a long chute and strikes the right, where its waters are heaped up in great billows that tumble back in breakers. We glide into the chute before we see the danger, and it’s too late to stop. Two or three hard strokes are given on the right and we pause for an instant, expecting to be dashed against the rock. But the bow of the boat leaps high on a great wave, the rebounding waters hurl us back, and the peril is past”.

The next moment the other boats are hurriedly signaled to land on the left. Accomplishing this, the men walk along the shore, holding the boats near the bank, and let them drift around. Starting again, we soon debouch into a beautiful valley, glide down its length for 10 miles, and camp under a grand old cottonwood”.

This is evidently frequent resort for Indians. Tent poles are lying about, and the dead embers of late camp fires are seen. On the plains to the left, antelope are feeding. Now and then a wolf is seen, and after dark they make the air resound with their howling”.

June 27, –– Now our way is along a gently flowing river, beset with many islands; groves are seen on either side, and natural meadows, where herds of antelope are feeding. Here and there we have views of the distant mountains on the right. During the afternoon we make a long detour to the west and return again to a point not more than half a mile from where we started at noon, and here we camp the night under a high bluff”.

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