By Walter Mow
June 7, — “To-day two or three of us climb to the summit of the cliff on the left, and find its altitude above camp to be 2,086 feet. On a rock we find a pool of clear, cold water, caught from yesterday evening’s shower. After a good drink we walk out to the brink of the canyon and look down to the water below.”
In a contemplative mood, Major Powell describes the afternoon and evening.
“When we return to camp at noon the sun shines in splendor on vermillion walls, shaded into green and grey where the rocks are lichened over; the river fills the channel from wall to wall, and the canyon opens, like a beautiful portal, to a region of glory. This evening as I write, the sun is going down and the shadows are settling in the canyon, The vermillion gleams and roseate hues , blending with the green and gray tints, are slowly changing to somber brown above, and black shadows are creeping over them below; and now it is a dark portal to a region of gloom – the gateway through which we are to enter on our voyage of exploration tomorrow. What shall we find”?
The expedition is 107 miles into its journey and the “Dark Portal” Powell has described is: “The Gate of Lodore”. The Gate of Lodore and the canyons of the Green and Yampa River’s inclusion into Dinosaur National Monument expansion of the Monument in 1938 created the Monument Powell and his expedition experienced some 69 years earlier.
June 8, — “We enter the canyon, and until noon find a succession of rapids, over which our boats have to be taken”.
“When we approach a rapid, or what on other rivers would be called a fall, I stand on deck to examine it, while the oarsmen back water, and we drift on a slowly as possible. If I can see a clear chute between the rocks, away we go; but if the channel is beset across, we signal to the other boats, pull up to land, and I walk along the shore for closer examination. If this reveals no clear channel, hard work begins. We drop the boats to the very head of the dangerous place and let them down by lines or make a portage, frequently carrying both boats and cargoes over the rocks”.
Powell goes on to explain the nature of running rapids, how to avoid whirlpools and standing waves that develop. Unlike the river rafters of today using rubber inflatables, Powell’s group were confined to the technology of the time and wood boats was that technology.
“If the boat, in going over the falls, chances to get caught in some side current and is turned from its course, so as to strike the wave ‘broadside on’ and the wave breaks at the same instance, the boat is capsized; then we must cling to her, for the water tight compartments act as buoys and she cannot sink; and so we go, dragged through the waves, until still waters are reached, when we right the boat and climb aboard. We have several such experiences today”.
“At night we camp on the right bank, on a little shelving rock between the river and the foot of the cliff; and with night comes gloom into these great depths. After supper we sit by our campfire, made of driftwood caught by the rocks, and tell stories of wild life: for the men have seen such in the mountains or on the plains, and on the battlefields of the South. It is late before we spread our blankets on the beach”.
From the depths of the canyon, “The stars appear to be in the canyon. I soon discover that it is the bright star Vega; so it occurs to me to designate this part of the wall as the Cliff of the Harp”.
June 9, — “One of the party suggests that we call this the Canyon of Lodore, and the name is adopted”.
Robert Southey penned a poem, “The Cataract of Lodore” in 1820, could this be the impetus for the name of this wild water place?
“Very slowly we make our way, often climbing on the rocks at the edge of the water for a few hundred yards to examine the channel before running it. During the afternoon we come to a place where it is necessary to make a portage. The little boat is landed and the others are signaled to come up”.
“When these rapids or broken falls occur usually the channel is suddenly narrowed by rocks which have tumbled from the cliffs or have been washed in by lateral streams. Immediately above the narrow, rocky channel, on one side or both sides, there is often a bay of quiet water, in which a landing can be made with ease. Sometimes the water descends with a smooth, unruffled surface from the broad, quiet spread above into the narrow, angry channel below a semi-circular sag. Great care must be taken not to pass over the brink into this deceptive pit, but above it we row with safety”.
Powell disembarks to scout the rapids, leaving a man to signal the boats to shore. As one boat comes ashore Powell returns to scout the rapid. “I hear a shout, and, looking around, see one of the boats shooting down the center of the sag. It is the ‘No Name’ with Captain Howland, his brother, and Goodman. I feel that its going over is inevitable, I turn down stream and scramble along to look for the boat that has gone over”.
As the boat goes over it is in the grip of the current, falling some 12 feet then begins a series of rapids that descend rapidly in a constricted channel strewn with large rocks.
“I pass around a great crag just in time to see the boat strike a rock and, rebounding from the shock, careen and fill its open compartment with water. Two of the men lose their oars; she swings around and is carried down at a rapid rate, broadside on, for a few yards, when, striking amidships on another rock with great force, she is broken in two and the men are thrown into the river. But the larger part of the boat floats buoyantly, and they soon seize it, and down the river they drift, past the rocks for a few hundred yards, to a second rapid filled with huge boulders, where the boat strikes again and is dashed to pieces, and the men and fragments are soon carried beyond my sight”.
“I turn a bend and see a man’s head above the water, washed about in a whirlpool below a great rock. It is Frank Goodman, clinging to the rock with a grip upon which life depends”.
“Coming opposite, I see Howland trying to go to his aid from an island on which he has been washed. Soon he comes near enough to reach Frank with a pole, which he extends toward him. The latter lets go the rock, grasps the pole, and is pulled ashore. Seneca Howland is washed farther down the island and is caught by some rocks, and, though somewhat bruised, manages to get ashore in safety”.
J. C. Sumner brings the Emma Dean down and the three stranded men are rescued from the island. Half a mile down the river the after cabin of the boat is stranded on the rocks; they decide not to risk salvage and return to the boats and camp for the night.
“No sleep comes to me in all those dark hours. The rations, instruments, and clothing have been divided among the boats, anticipating such an accident as this; and we started with duplicates of everything that was deemed necessary to success. But, in the distribution, there was one exception to this precaution – the barometers were all placed in one boat, and they are lost! There is a possibility that they are in the cabin lodged against the rock, for that is where they were kept. But, then, how to reach them? The river is rising. Will they be there tomorrow? Can I go out to Salt Lake City and obtain Barometers from New York?”
June 10 – “I have determined to get the barometers from the wreck, if they are there. After breakfast, while the men make the portage, I go down again for another examination. There the cabin lies, only carried 50 or 60 feet further on. Carefully looking over the ground, I am satisfied that it can be reached with safety, and return to tell the men my conclusion”.
“Sumner and Dunn volunteer to take the little boat and make the attempt. They start, reach it, and out come the barometers! The boys set up a shout, and I join them, pleased that they should be as glad as myself to save the instruments”.
“When the boat lands on our side, I find that the only things saved from the wreck were the barometers, a package of thermometers, and three- gallon keg of whiskey. The last is what the men were shouting about. They had taken it aboard unknown to me, and now I am glad they did take it, for it will do them good, as they are drenched every day by the melting snow which runs down from the summits of the Rocky Mountains”.
“We come back to our work at the portage and find that it is necessary to carry our rations over the rocks for nearly a mile and to let our boats down with lines, except at a few points, where they also must be carried. – The greater part of the day is spent in this work. Then we carry our cargoes down to the beach and camp for the night”.
“While the men are building the camp fire, we discover an iron bake-oven, several tin plates, a part of a boat, and many other fragments, which denote this is the place where Ashley’s party was wrecked”.
June 11, — This day is spent in carrying our rations down to the bay – no small task, climbing over the rocks with sacks of flour and bacon. We carry them by stages of about 500 yards each, and when night comes and the last sack is on the beach, we are tired, bruised, and glad to sleep”.
June 12, — Today we take the boats down to the bay. While at this work we discover three sacks of flour from the wrecked boat that had lodged in the rocks. We carry them above high water mark and leave them, as our cargoes are already too heavy for the three remaining boats. We also find two or three oars, which we place with them”.
“As Ashley and his party were wrecked here and as we have lost one of our boats at the same place, we adopt the name ‘Disaster Falls’ for the scene of so much peril and loss”.
“Though some of his companions were drowned, Ashley and one other survived the wreck, climbed the canyon wall, and found their way across the Wasatch Mountains to Salt Lake City, living chiefly on berries, as they wandered through an unknown and difficult country. When they arrived at Salt Lake City they were almost destitute of clothing and nearly starved. The Mormons gave them food and clothing and employed them to work on the foundation of the Temple until they had earned sufficient to enable them to leave the country. Of their subsequent history, I have no knowledge”.
Construction on the Mormon Temple foundations began in February 1853.
June 13, — Rocks, rapids and portages still. We camp to-night at the foot of the left fall, on a little patch of flood plain covered with a dense growth of box-elders, stopping early in order to spread the clothing and rations to dry. Every thing is wet and spoiling”.