Grand Canyon Exploration Log July 12 – July 18, 1869

July 12 – This morning the new oars are finished and we start once more. We pass several bad rapids, making a short portage at one, and before noon we come to a long, bad fall, where the channel is filled with rocks on the left which turns the waters to the right, where they pass under an overhanging rock. On examination we determine to run it, keeping as close to the left hand rocks as safety will permit, in order to avoid the overhanging cliff”.

“The little boat runs over all right; another follows, but the men are not able to keep her near enough to the left bank and is carried by a swift chute into great waves to the right, where she is tossed about and Bradley is knocked over the side; his foot catching under the seat, he is dragged along in the water with his head down; making great exertion, he seizes the gunwale with his left hand and can lift his head above water now and then”.

“To us who are below, it seems impossible to keep to keep the boat from going under the overhanging cliff; but Powell, for the moment heedless of Bradley’s mishap, pulls with all his power for a dozen strokes, when the danger is past; then he seizes Bradley and pulls him in. The men in the boat above, seeing this, land, and she is let down by lines”.
“Just here we emerge from the Canyon of Desolation, as we have named it, a more open country, which extends for a distance of nearly a mile, when we enter another canyon cut through gray sandstone”.

“About three o’clock in the afternoon we meet a new difficulty. The river fills the entire channel; the walls are vertical on either side from the water’s edge, and a bad rapid is beset with rocks. We come to the head of it and land on a rock in the stream”. The little boat is let down to another rock below, the men of the larger boat holding the line; the second boat is let down in the same way, and the line of the third boat is brought with them. Now the third boat pushes out from the upper rock, and, as we have her line below, we pull in and catch her as she is sweeping by at the foot of the rock on which we stand”.

“Again the first boat is let down stream the full length of her line and the second boat is passed down by the first to the extent of her line, which is held by the men in the first boat; so she is two lines’ length from where she started. Then the third boat is let down past the second, and still down , nearly the length of her line, so that she is fast to the second boat and swinging down three lines’ lengths, with the other two boats intervening”.

“Held in this way, the men are able to pull her into a cove in the left wall, where she is made fast. But this leaves a man on the rock above, holding to the line of the little boat. When all is ready, he springs from the rock, clinging to the line with one hand and swimming with the other, and we pull him in as he goes by. As the boats, thus loosened, drift down, the men in the cove pull us all in as we come opposite; then we pass around a point of rock below the cove, close to the wall, land, make a short portage overt the worst places in the rapid, and start again”.

“At night we camp on a sand beach. The wind blows a hurricane; the drifting sand almost blinds us; and nowhere can we find shelter. The wind continues to blow all night, the sand sifting through our blankets and piling over us until we are covered as in a snowdrift. We are glad when morning comes”.

July 13, — “This morning we have an exhilarating ride. The river is swift, and there are many smooth rapids. I stand on deck, keeping careful watch ahead, and we glide along, mile after mile, plying strokes, now on the right and then on the left, just sufficient to guide our boats past the rocks into smooth water. At noon we emerge from Gray Canyon, as we have named it, and camp for dinner under a cottonwood tree standing on the left bank”.

“Extensive sand plains extend back from the immediate river valley as far as we can see on either side. These naked, drifting sands gleam brilliantly in the midday sun of July. The reflected heat from the glaring surface produces a curious motion of the atmosphere; little currents are generated and the whole seems to be trembling and moving about in many directions, or, failing to see that movement in the atmosphere, it gives the impression of an unstable land. Plains and hills and cliffs and distant mountains seem to be floating vaguely about in a trembling, wave-rocked sea, and patches of landscape seem to float away and be lost, and then to reappear”.

What Powell is seeing is Atmospheric Refraction, more commonly known as a Mirage. Objects may appear to float and or shimmer in the heat waves.

“Just opposite, there are buttes, outliers of the cliffs to the left. Below are composed of shales and marls of light blue and slate colors; above, the rocks are buff and gray, and then brown. The buttes are buttressed below, where the azure rocks are seen, and terraced above through the gray and brown beds. Along line of cliffs or rock escarpments separates the table-lands through which Gray Canyon is cut, from the lower plain. The eye can trace these azure beds and cliffs on either side of the river, in a long line extending across its course, until they fade away in the perspective. The cliffs are many miles in length and hundreds of feet high; and all these buttes – great mountain masses of rock – are dancing and fading away and reappearing, softly moving about, — or so they seem to the eye as seen through the shifting atmosphere”.

“This afternoon our way is through a valley with cottonwood groves on either side. The river is deep, broad, and quiet. About two hours after noon camp we discover an Indian crossing, where a number of rafts, rudely constructed of logs and bound together by withes, are floating against the bank. On landing, we see evidences that a party of Indians have crossed within a very few days. This is the place the lamented Gunnison crossed, in the year 1853, when making an exploration for a railroad route to the Pacific coast”.

Interstate 70 passes through the Gunnison Valley, crossing the Green River at the town of Green River, Utah; and basically follows Captain John W. Gunnison’s survey west over the Wasatch Mountains. He and part of his command died at the hands of Indians near the present day town of Delta, Utah, October 26, 1853.

“An hour later we run a long rapid and stop at its foot to examine some interesting rocks, deposited by mineral springs that at one time must have existed here, but which are no longer flowing”.

July 14, — “This morning we pass some curious black bluffs on the right, then two or three short canyons, and we discover the mouth of the San Rafael, a stream which comes down from the distant mountains in the west. Here we stop for an hour or two and take a short walk up the valley, and find it is a frequent resort for Indians. Arrowheads are scattered about, many of them very beautiful; flint chips are strewn over the ground in profusion, and the trails are well worn”.

“Starting after dinner, we pass some beautiful buttes on the left, many of which are very symmetrical. They are chiefly composed of gypsum, of many hues, from light gray to slate color; then pink, purple, and brown beds. Now we enter another canyon. Gradually the walls rise higher and higher as we proceed, and the summit of the canyon is formed of the same beds of orange-colored sandstone. Back from the brink of hollows of the plateau are filled with sands disintegrated from these orange beds. They are a rich crème color, shading into maroon, everywhere destitute of vegetation, and drifted into long, wave like ridges”.

“The course of the river is tortuous, and it nearly doubles back on itself many times. The water is quiet, and constant rowing is necessary to make much headway. Sometimes there is a narrow flood plain between the river and the wall, on one side or the other. Where these long, gentle curves are found, the river washes the very foot of the outer wall. A long peninsula of willow bordered meadow projects within the curve, and the talus at the foot of the cliff is usually covered with dwarf oaks. The orange-colored sandstone is homogenous in structure, and the walls are usually vertical, though not very high. Where the river sweeps around a curve under a cliff, a vast hollow dome may be seen, with many caves and deep alcoves, which are greatly admired by the members of the party as we go by”.


“We camp at night on the left bank”.

July 15, — “Our camp is in a great bend of the canyon. The curve is to the west and we are on the east side of the river. Just opposite, a little stream comes down through a narrow canyon.

We cross and go up to explore it. At its mouth another lateral canyon enters, in the angle between the former and the main canyon above. Still another enters in the angle between the canyon below and the side canyon first mentioned; so that three side canyons enter at the same point. These canyons are very tortuous, almost closed in from view, and seen from the opposite side of the river, they appear like three alcoves. We name this Trin-Alcove Bend”.

“Going up the little stream in the central cove, we pass between high walls of sandstone, and wind about in glens. Springs gush from the rocks at the foot of the walls’ narrow passages in the rocks are threaded, caves are entered, and many side canyons are observed”.

“The right cove is a narrow, winding gorge, with overhanging walls, almost shutting out the light. The left is an amphitheater, turning spirally up, with overhanging shelves. A series of basins filled with water are seen at different altitudes as we pass up; huge rocks are piled below on the right, and overhead there is an arched ceiling. After exploring these alcoves, we recross the river and climb the rounded rocks on the point of the bend. In every direction, as far as we are able to see, naked rocks appear. Buttes are scattered on the landscape, here rounded into cones, there buttressed, columned, and carved in quaint shapes, with deep alcoves and sunken recesses. All about us are basins, excavated in the soft sandstone; and these have been filled by the late rains”.

“Over the rounded rocks and water pockets we look off on a fine stretch of river, and beyond are naked rocks and beautiful buttes leading to the Azure Cliffs, and beyond these and above them the Brown Cliffs, and still beyond, mountain peaks; and clouds piled over all”.

“On we go, after dinner, with quiet water, still compelled to row in order to make fair progress. The canyon is yet very tortuous. About six miles below noon camp we go around a great bend to the right, five miles in length, and come back to a point within a quarter of a mile of where we started. Then we sweep around another great bend to the left, making a circuit of nine miles, and come back to a point within 600 yards of the beginning of the bend. In the two circuits we describe almost the figure8. The men call it a ‘bowknot’ of the river; so we name it Bowknot Bend. The line of the figure is 14 miles in length”.

“There is an exquisite charm in our ride to-day down this beautiful canyon. It gradually grows deeper with every mile of travel; the walls are symmetrically curved and grandly arched, of a beautiful color, and reflected in the quiet waters in many places so as almost to deceive the eye and suggest to the beholder the thought that he is looking into profound depths. We are all in fine spirits and feel very gay, and the badinage of the men is echoed from wall to wall. Now and then we whistle or shout or discharge a pistol, to listen to the reverberations among the cliffs”.

“At night we camp on the south side of the great Bowknot, and as we eat supper, which is spread on the beach, we name this Labyrinth Canyon”.

July 16, — “Still we go down on our winding way. Tower cliffs are passed; then the river widens out for several miles, and meadows are seen on either side of the river and the walls. We name this expansion of the river Tower Park. At two o’clock we emerge from Labyrinth Canyon and go into camp”.

July 17, — “The line which separates Labyrinth Canyon from the one below is but a line, and at once, this morning, we enter another canyon. The water fills the entire channel so that nowhere is there room to land. The walls are low but vertical, and as we proceed they gradually increase in altitude. Running a couple of miles, the river changes its course many degrees toward the east. Just here a little stream comes in on the right and the wall is broken down; so we land and go out to take a view of the surrounding country. We are now down among the buttes, and in a region the surface of which is naked, solid rock – a beautiful red sandstone, forming a smooth, undulating pavement. The Indians call this the ‘Toom’pin Tuweap’, or ‘Rock Land’, and sometimes the ‘Toom’pin wunear’ Tuweap’ or ‘Land of Standing Rock’”.

“Off to the south we see a butte in the form of a fallen Cross. It is several miles away, but it presents no inconspicuous figure on the landscape and must be many hundreds of feet high, probably more than 2,000. We note the position on our map and name it ‘The Butte of the Cross’”.

“We continue our journey. In many places the walls, which from the water’s edge, are overhanging on either side. The stream is still quiet, and we glide along through a strange, weird, grand region. The landscape everywhere, away from the river, is of rock – cliffs of rock, tables of rock, plateaus of rock, terraces of rock, crags of rock – ten thousand strangely carved forms; rocks everywhere, and no vegetation, no soil, no sand. In long gentle curves the river winds about these rocks”.

“When thinking of these rocks one must not conceive of piles of boulders or heaps of fragments, but of a whole land of naked rock, with giant forms carved in it; cathedral shaped buttes, towering hundreds or thousands of feet, cliffs that cannot be scaled, and canyon walls that shrink the river into insignificance, with vast, hollow domes and tall pinnacles and shafts set on the verge overhead; and all highly colored – buff, gray, red, brown, and chocolate – never lichened, never moss covered, but bare , and often polished”.

“We pass a place where two bends of the river come together, an intervening rock having worn away and a new channel formed across.

The old channel ran in a great circle around to the right, by what was once a circular peninsula, then an island; then the water left the old channel entirely and passed through the cut, and the old bed of the river is dry. So the great circular rock stands by itself, with precipitous walls all about it, and we find but one place where it can be scaled. Looking from its summit, a long stretch of river is seen, sweeping close to the cliffs on the right, but having a little meadow between it and the wall on the left. The curve is very gentle and regular. We name this Bonita Bend”.

“And just here we climb out once more. To take another bearing on The Butte of the
Cross. Reaching an eminence from which we can overlook the landscape, we are surprised to find that our butte, with its wonderful form, is indeed two buttes, one so standing in front of the other that from our last point of view it gave the appearance of a cross”.
“A few miles below Bonita Bend we go out again a mile or two among the rocks, toward the Orange Cliffs, passing over terraces paved with jasper. The cliffs are not far away and we soon reach them, and wander in some deep, painted alcoves which attracted our attention from the river; then we return to our boats”.

“Late in the afternoon the water becomes swift and our boats make great speed. An hour of this rapid running brings us to the junction of the Grand and the Green, the foot of Stillwater Canyon, as we have named it. These streams unite in solemn depths, more than 1,200 feet below the surface of the country. The walls of the lower end of Stillwater canyon are beautifully curved, as the river sweeps in its meandering course”.

“The lower end of the canyon through which the Grand comes down is also regular, but much more direct, and we look up this stream and out into the country and obtain glimpses of snow-clad peaks, the summits of a group of mountains known as the Sierra La Sal. Down the Colorado the canyon walls are much broken”.

“We row around into the Grand and camp on its northwest bank; and here we propose to spend several days; for the purpose of determining the latitude and longitude and the altitude of the walls. Much of the night is spent in making observations with the sextant”.
July 18, — “The day is spent in obtaining the time and spreading our rations, which we find are badly injured. The flour has been wet and dried so many times that it is all musty and full of hard lumps. We make a sieve of mosquito netting and run our flour through it, losing more than 200 pounds by the process. Our losses, by the wrecking of the ‘No Name’, and by various mishaps, together with the amount thrown away to-day, leave us little more than two months’ supplies, and to make them last thus long we must be fortunate enough to lose no more”.

“We drag our boats on shore and turn them over to recaulk and pitch them, and Sumner is engaged in repairing barometers. While we are here a day or two, resting, we propose to put everything in the best shape for a vigorous campaign”.

Major Powell and his companions have journeyed eight weeks and 520 miles; and they have just now arrived where the two rivers form the Colorado River. With no opportunity for a re-supply, the loss of so much of their ration supply would be the driving force for a “Vigorous Campaign”.

Walter Mow




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