Note To Dkos Readers: If you are just joining me for this series of diaries on, please read the introduction in the first diary (http://www.dailykos.com/...). I also recommend reading the ensuing diaries. It will help explain the essence of both the adventure and the social politics behind same.
The Soaring Gateway To The 'Great Unknown': Desolate enough to suit a love-sick poet. One of Major Powell’s men, probably Sumner, made this comment about the next canyon down the line, Marble. On August 5 the expedition camped above the start of this sixty mile sinuous chasm, which today is part of the Grand Canyon’s province. But none of the men, including Major Powell, knew their exact position. The major only had a rough idea they were much closer to the end of the line, with a reference to a small Mormon community in Nevada, Callville. He designated this next canyon below Lee's ferry Marble Canyon, and he wanted to use this same designation for Cataract Canyon. Due to the way the walls of Marble Canyon reflected the sunlight it looked like marble from a distance, although Major Powell certainly knew marble from limestone. The men had a rough time with some of the rapids in the canyon but managed to get through them without any serious mishaps. Then again, by this stage they were pretty adept to how to run, or at least how to read, the whitewater. They were boatmen with experience, albeit their boats were still difficult to manage and made the task all the more difficult.
Historic Grand Canyon photo appearing in Dellenbaugh's "Romance of the Colorado" (from the second expedition):
The mighty test they faced began almost immediately upon entering Marble Canyon, and would become a common template for the rest of the journey both canyons had in store for the men. Bradley noted in his journal on August 5 that he and the others had come to like the rapids, yet they came upon two others (Badger and Soap Creek) that didn’t suit him too well. His other chief complaints were the usual: the nearly constant drenchings from the monsoons followed by the uncomfortable sauna effects of a boiling sun.
The following day Bradley turned armchair geologist and wrote about the strata of the multi-colored rocks. He astutely noted how the vertical hard rocks (i.e., limestone in this case) was a sign of rapids to come, whereas the softer rocks on either side of the river made the channel less frenzied and dangerous. He also mentioned in that entry how lucky they were because of how the strata (of the rocks) dipped.
Yet the extremely harder metamorphic rocks of the Grand Canyon’s deep interior awaited them. They were still in the reaches of the Upper Colorado River, whereas the Lower segment would assail the men once they go there. Still, there were, in places, long and calm stretches of water, and any respite from the peril of the rapids was always welcomed by the men.
Historic photo, likely Marble Canyon's ramparts:
Later in time, Major Powell would beautify (by his usual prose-like text embellishment) his river-diary thoughts and turn his mundane material into a more creative and engaging writing exercise, even though he was prone to some exaggeration in recalling what took place on this first run through Marble and Grand Canyons. In his published work, Down The Colorado, he let his imagination play and what some readers today think is the best description detailing this phase of the journey:
“With some feeling of anxiety, we enter a new canyon this morning. We have learned to closely observe the texture of the rock. In softer strata, we have a quiet river; in harder, we find rapids and falls. Below us are the limestones and hard sandstones, which we found in Cataract Canyon. This bodes toil and danger. Besides the texture of the rocks, there is another condition which affects the character of the channel, as we have found by experience. Where the strata are horizontal, the river is often quiet; but, even though it may be very swift in places, no great obstacles are found. Where the rocks incline in the direction traveled, the river usually sweeps with great velocity, but still we have few rapids and falls. But where the rocks dip up stream, and the river cuts obliquely across the upturned formations, harder strata above, and softer below, we have rapids and falls.
Into hard rocks, and into rocks dipping up stream, we pass this morning, and start on a long, rocky, mad rapid. On the left there is a vertical rock, and down by this cliff and around to the left we glide, just tossed enough by the waves to appreciate the rate at which we are traveling.”
The expeditioners were well into the new canyon and the walls continued to rise higher above the river’s channel. The gradient of the bed topography bore deeper into the more ancient rocks of the Earth, revealing more layers of the majestic foundation that showcases today's Marble Canyon's annex. In fact, just below the Paria River the first of the Grand Canyon’s upper formations comes into view, the Kaibab. Next comes the Toroweap, then the Coconino, the Hermit, and so on. As Major Powell’s party ventured into the sun-lit walls of Marble Canyon, each of the Grand Canyon’s older formations arose on either side of the channel. For someone like Major Powell it was like moving through an open textbook of the planet's geologic history. He was obviously delighted with the visual effect, while the men were doubtless still looking for ways to supplement their meager rations.
Historic photo near the Paria River (not too far downstream from Lee's Ferry (photographer and date unknown):
There were also idyllic scenes and calm stretches where the oarsmen could relax a bit, but only for a bit. . .
Before long, they were back on the river again, rowing into a wider segment of the canyon where the Colorado River turned slightly to the right and would end up headed in a general south-southwest direction from there. On the left, a new river entered the main channel. The three canyons merged in one great foyer, where the towering walls soared high over their heads. Ordinarily, this junction, known as the Little Colorado River Gorge, is one of the most spectacular scenes in the Grand Canyon. To these men, however, it was anything but an enticing view, especially the muddy Little Colorado. It's too bad they came here during the monsoon season, because ordinarily the Little Colorado is the color of turquoise, the same as Havasu Creek much farther downstream. Both bodies of water are travertine fed, or for part of the journey they are, especially where each empties into the Colorado River and thereby creates quite a contrast of color.
Another historic photo (inside the Grand Canyon), which, again, was likely taken during the 2nd expedition:
From The Bottom Of The Abyss: Although he had never set eyes on the canyon, Major Powell read an earlier report by Lieutenant Joseph Christmas Ives about his expedition into the western ramparts of the Grand Canyon. That event took place in 1857-58, when the young lieutenant was assigned to the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers. He is credited with being the first white man to venture into the Grand Canyon from either end. However, in his Report upon the Colorado River of the West, he pretty much thought the setting was valueless, at least what he and his men got to explore. In his dire assessment, which was not at all fitting to the Grand Canyon Major Powell would one day know, Lieutenant Ives wrote—
“The region last explored is, of course, altogether valueless. It can be approached only from the south, and after entering it there is nothing to do but leave. Ours has been the first, and will doubtless be the last, party of whites to visit this profitless locality. It seems intended by nature that the Colorado River, along the greater portion of its lonely and majestic way, shall be forever unvisited and undisturbed.” (From Edward Dolnick's tome, Down The Great Unknown)
Valueless indeed, sir!
Historic painting by F. W. Egloffstein entitled "Big Canon (sic) at Mouth of Diamond River":
Fortunately, the lieutenant's eloquent and left-handed prose missed the essence of the Grand Canyon by a universe, for in this seldom seen frontier is now considered the Colorado Plateau’s crowning glory. Major Powell read the stoic lieutenant’s report but was not swayed by its antipathy for the backdrop and unique display of geology the major must have intuitively sensed he would strongly admire. There simply was nothing ‘valueless’ about it, although his men would work for every stroke of the oars to get them safely through its arduous snare.
From reading what Major Powell published about the Grand Canyon in particular one gets the sense it packed an intellectual punch that must have literally knocked him out. When he first set eyes on it, he must have gazed up at the high rims overlooking the river's channel and felt something primal and peerless about the numerous stratified layers above the inner gorge. More than likely he may have even thought of his father in this chasm more than the others he and his men had explored. But he wasn’t thinking along the lines of what his father’s faith embraced. To the major, Truth was written in the rocks and not in the Bible. (Dolnick p.219) Reading those rainbow-like layers while understanding what happened to create each and every one of them, as variable marine and terrestrial events, was far more important to Major Powell than reading what the river was telling him to do. After all, he had his men to man the oars. Whenever there wasn’t a rapid for him to scout its dangers, he used his eyes and judgment to add to his reverie that far surpassed anything he had ever learned from his father, including what the Bible taught. Mostly, the major’s work at that time and place involved the science of exploration—not the river running itself, although by training his concerns were more along the lines of a naturalist than a scientist.
Up until the time of his canyon exploration throughout the expedition, Major Powell had taught himself to think. He knew something about fossils and geologic time, though not all that he needed to know for a man in his self-appointed scientific position as leader of the group. He guessed at quite a bit of what he later reported in his writings, completely got it right in some cases, and the rest would be like any scientific mystery. In time, it would all fall in place once more data came in and better sense could be made of his discoveries. For him, the geology and the setting of the canyon country he wandered through was a visceral response to his senses and imagination. More importantly, and in spite of his religious upbringing as nurtured by his father, the key to everything in the canyon country was geology, not theology. To him, the Earth’s history could not possibly be measured in mere thousands of years, as some religious people advocated. Major Powell saw and knew what the open geologic textbook of the canyons revealed to him. Even upon scant or cursory inspection, the depositions that had hardened over time were something immensely older, running into the millions and hundreds of millions of years. Major Powell would study and dispute the question that concerned the Biblical song, Rock of Ages.
So, from the Rock of Ages motif to something akin to a library of the gods, the astute observer, Powell, didn't have to know all that he read from such a complex geologic text. Yet he would be the forerunner of this science who would return to tell others about it. He would also fill in the precious lines and figures on the maps the government hoped he might return with. He did. Still, this same august body of congressmen and senators didn’t pay anything for the initial work, other than to offer him vouchers for supplies if and when needed. Of course, he would have to be close to such posts. Furthermore, there would have to be supplies for him to obtain, which was not the case at the last and only stop he had made in Utah.
Consider another passage from Dolnick's tome that attests to the above:
"No man before Major Powell's time ever took more delight in the glories of geology than he did. The sheer scale of the Grand Canyon made other men feel insignificant—even Powell wrote occasionally of man’s puniness in comparison with nature’s majesty—but in truth he seemed more exalted than humbled." (p.219).
And quoting the major on this point, Major Powell writes—
“In the Grand Canyon there are thousands of gorges like that below Niagara Falls, and there are a thousand Yosemites....Pluck up Mt. Washington by the roots to the level of the sea and drop it headfirst into the Grand Canyon, and the dam will not force its waters over the walls. Pluck up the Blue Ridge and hurl it into the Grand Canyon, and it will not fill it.” (reprinted from Dolnick's Down The Great Unknown, p.219)
It is in this writing where Major Powell declares he had discovered the most sublime spectacle on the planet.
Historic photo and overview of the Grand Canyon (source/time unknown):
Over a mile deep inside the chasm with its impressive, soaring, and laminated walls was where the men would soon face their greatest physical and mental toil. Each man would also learn how to deal with the stringency of this final canyon as best as he could. He would do with the prospects of dwindling rations and augmented personal disputes that mostly were directed at, or else caused by the major himself. As far as the physical challenge they faced, they would continue to fight a running battle with the rapids. The monsoonal rains would continue, almost on a daily basis. First, the drenchings. Then the quick cool-down of their bodies, followed by the sauna effect of drying off in stifling heat and humidity. The constant repairs necessary to keep the Whitehalls afloat was also time-consuming. None of the men even knew just how much more the boats could withstand, although the rapids would be as punishing as those in Cataract Canyon, only this newest canyon abode had many more trying stretches to throw at them.
The Mood Worsens: On August 8 Bradley provided another psychological insight of himself and the others. It was mostly his coherent reports on the physical and mental condition of the crew that is so important to note. He made the keen observation that sums up the view and disposition of just how much this trip took its toll on the men. He told how they were a ragged looking set and wear very little clothing to cover their naked bodies. You can feel the rocks radiating with fierce heat in Bradley’s commentary. But he mentions in the entry they are now interested in just one thing: getting through the canyon alive and reaching civilization. They are still confident they’ll succeed, although their ever diminishing (and spoiled) rations are against them. He makes another quip about how lucky and happy they are (at this point, at least), and that they’ll simply make do with the meager servings Hawkins dishes up, swearing sweating as Bradley portrays him.
This seeming sanguine entry is curious for several reasons. Bradley’s disposition may have been mercurial, as dictated by how full or empty his stomach was, or else something he simply didn’t agree in respect to certain decisions Major Powell had made. But in this particular entry we see how he, and the others, were in a fit state of mind and still anxious to get through this last canyon, seemingly in two major segments (i.e., Marble Canyon and then the Great Unknown) and finish the assignment. But did the major really foresee the smoke signals that suggested all was not sanguine with some of the others in the group, particularly the grousing that took place between the major and Bill Dunn, or with Oramel and Major Powell’s disapproval of some of his work? We will leave this point for the time being and return to it later, simply because the drama that unfolds at this time will come to an eventual head at the near end of the line.
In the meantime, there is a passage favored by many readers that takes place around this time. The words are from Major Powell, and garnished as the words are, his seasoned reflections were published many years after the expedition and are still poignant today. I personally believe his poetic license here pretty much captures some of the mood Bradley might even agree with. Here is the entirety of what he published in Scribner’s Monthly (in 1874-75) and in a book form under the longer title, Explorations Of the Colorado River Of The West And Its Tributaries (1875):
“We are now ready to start on our way down the Great Unknown. Our boats, tied to a common stake, are chafing each other, as they are tossed by the fretful river. They ride high and buoyant, for their loads are lighter than we could desire. We have but a month’s rations remaining. The flour has been resifted through the mosquito-net sieve; the spoiled bacon has been dried, and the worst of it boiled; the few pounds of dried apples have been spread in the sun, and reshrunken to their normal bulk; the sugar has all melted, and gone on its way down the river; but we have a large sack of coffee. The lighting of the boats has this advantage: they will ride the waves better, and we shall have but little to carry when we make a portage.
We are three-quarters of a mile in the depths of the earth, and the great river shrinks into insignificance, as it dashes its angry waves against the walls and cliffs, that rise to the world above; they are but puny ripples, and we but pygmies, running up and down the sands, or lost among the boulders.
We have an unknown distance yet to run; an unknown river yet to explore. What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls rise over the river, we know not. Ah, well! we may conjecture many things. The men talk as cheerfully as ever; jests are bandied about freely this morning; but to me the cheer is somber and the jests are ghastly.” (p.109, 110)
Perhaps the major should have quit there, especially in view of the more ‘credible’ psychology of the men who were also eager to get down the river, if not altogether finish the trip and be done with it. But Major Powell’s above journal entry continues—
“With some eagerness, and some anxiety, and some misgiving, we enter the canyon below, and are carried along by the swift water through walls which rise from its very edge....” (Ibid)
He would name this part of the canyon the Upper Granite Gorge, with the Middle and Lower segments appearing at certain intervals of this great, long, and winding canyon. From this same manuscript he wrote on the following day —
“...We can see but a little way into the granite gorge, but it looks threatening.” (Ibid)
In actuality, his river journal entries from this famous inner canyon axis juncture (i.e., the Little Colorado River, which is 60 (and some authors, like Dolnick, claim 61.5) miles downstream from Lee’s Ferry) are sparsely written observations, mostly geological in nature. One thing is for certain, though, and that is Major Powell had many years to rethink himself on what he experienced in 1869, and again just two years later; at least, partway through the Grand Canyon he got a reprise of what he and the original crew had already experienced.
In these, the hardest and oldest rocks of the Grand Canyon, the men would soon experience not too long after they left the Little Colorado River confluence, which the major and the men sometimes referred to as the Flax or the Chiquita. The rapids below this point would also pose the most serious challenge to the men and would become a consistent gauntlet that tried their nerves and patience. Some they could run, or were forced to run, while most of them they lined and/or portaged. As Bradley would record in his journal dated August 14, the eighty-third day, it was categorically the wildest day of the trip so far! He noted the fierceness of the rapid and its arsenal of waves. Once more, he refers to the crew as a lucky set and how their good luck held.
His reference in that entry pinpointed one of the more notorious rapids inside the Grand Canyon, Sockdolager. Below it was another brute, Grapevine. Interestingly, Major Powell wrote about Sockdolager how they had they had no other choice except to run it (i.e., there was no bank or talus slope to speak of). He also quipped, Good luck! and told how his boat filled with water on two occasions. The more rapids to follow. Later that night he and the men spent a miserable night in a cave somewhere in the middle of Grapevine Rapid.
Historical depiction of the famous Sockdolager (from Dellenbaugh's Romance of the Colorado" text):
Historical photo from above the rapid, whose caption by J. K. Hiller states "a fall of about 80-feet in one-third of a mile":
Major Powell is rather prosaic about those two rapids, although even he admits in his journal entry they might have altogether failed had they not gotten around Sockdolager. However, with Bradley’s message there is a critical aspect to his tone. Mainly, he’s being critical about the major’s leadership, that is, the lack thereof, and some readers of his critical remarks at this point would say there is a hint of mutiny in what Bradley wrote. Possibly. One thing is for certain, and that is how he must have recalled his earlier thoughts about hoping all the bad rapids were behind him, only to find more monsters that rose up before the men, bared their whitewater fangs, sans fire, and had to be run. He also admitted to other paltry conditions he and the others faced during this time. For example, a few days earlier (August 11) he noted he gave away his clothing and was reduced to the likes of someone who had been shipwrecked. Bradley figured he was the most destitute of the bunch. It is in this same entry where Bradley wrote the now famous words—
“Thank God the trip is nearly ended for it is no place for a man in my circumstances, but it will let me out of the Army and for that I would almost agree to explore the River Styx.”
Indeed, he and the others might as well been on the River Styx, for the Colorado through this part of its course was often referred to as the river of hell.
In his August 11 entry Bradley once again relates just how anxious he and the other men are to get through the canyon. He wrote about how the men were uneasy, discontented, and anxious to continue down the river. He also made the remark about the major needed to do something before too long, or else there would be consequences. Bradley underscored this remark by saying how the major seemed to be contented eating the meager fare of sour and musty flour (biscuits) and a few dried apples. However, Bradley didn’t think this was nearly enough to sustain such hard labor he and the others were forced to endure. But there the major was in his elements. With intentional sarcasm in his concluding remarks, Bradley said the major would be happy to study geology, despite the lack of shelter and proper food. Bradley and the others were obviously harboring an entirely different point of view.
Is Bradley hinting at a mutiny in these remarks that he made on this particular day? It would seem so. It would seem that he prepares himself for such a crisis one day soon they must all face and try and work out together. However, I think he was more peeved at the situation and was antsy to get on with the rowing, including getting Major Powell’s mind off the geology for a change.
As for what Bradley thought of the state of Arizona they had recently entered, his entry on that day wasn’t enamored with the specimine (sic) of Arrazona (sic). On the following day (August 12) he expressed more of his fine, wry sense of humor. He noted how surprised he was about the daily downpours in a region that was touted as being mostly arid.
The next day they plowed into another roaring rapid, now named Hance. It was the longest rapid they had seen since the start of the trip. Of course, there were others in the vicinity, like the above mentioned Sockdolager, Grapevine; also, Tanner. But Hance truly is a marvel and a holy terror to see and then try to get through its wild looking snare. Once more, Bradley gives his readers a firsthand look at the experience. His words are both descriptive and true, as most of his observations mirrored the truth and he told his story without the kind of embellishment Major Powell would later use to fill out his meager river notes into a full-blown text.
The thirteenth day of the month, and now eighty-two long and difficult days into the seemingly unending odyssey, Bradley noted how the rapids were now nearly innumerable. He has more concerns about the diminishing rations and the augmenting difficulty of getting through the whitewater. They are now camped at the head of what Bradley considers the worst rapid to date, now called Hance. And it probably is. But he mentions a curious side note about a man who allegedly claimed he came through these same waters on a raft. However, Bradley clearly denied ever happened. If anything, Bradley thought the man might have skirted the danger by walking along the shoreline.
Today's vivid Hance Rapid sign post (source unknown, though likely NPS):
B/W photo of Hance Rapids (19687 GCNP: Historic River Photo (circa 1998, NPS, quinn):
Like the other men, Bradley had already heard the story of James White, though what they each thought about this man's story was anyone's guess. More than likely he thought, as did the major and many others, White was out of his mind when he related the details. Certainly, he was later proven wrong with respect to what he described and what the first Powell expedition proved in the way of scenery, the peril, and the length of the canyon. As Bradley noted about the Grand Canyon—there was no other place like the Grand Canyon that could create such monster rapids.
Somehow the men managed to get through this rugged segment of (mostly) schist and gneiss that defines much of the basement rocks overlooking the constricted river's channel. The boats were pounded by the rocks and in bad shape from the long days spent on the river. They were fatigued with the punishing labor that was necessary to get them safely through the rapids, and they also suffered from proper nourishment. Factor in the constant inner canyon heat, the daily monsoons, and the fact there was no relief in sight from any of these constants that wore on them day in and day out, it must have seemed heaven, itself, must have conspired against them. They also were running low on oars and had to fashion new ones before they could continue with the expedition. In short, this canyon threw everything it had at them in the way of a challenge. Their patience wore thin and their attitudes continued to plummet to new depths.
At Silver Creek: On August 15 the expedition came to a clear side stream entering from the right. Major Powell called it Silver Creek (now Bright Angel). It is thought the major bestowed the name to this popular stream to contrast the naming of the Dirty Devil, which he presumably may have named after Bill Dunn. Bright Angel Creek rushes by what is now the most popular inner canyon tourist mecca, Phantom Ranch. Partially viewed from Mather or Yavapai points on the South Rim, the pink and black facade of the schist and gneiss displays the oldest rocks in the Grand Canyon and is an idyllic world unto itself far below the South or North Rims. It was also camp number thirty-two for the men according to Major Powell's journal. Here they would spend a couple of long days, resting and doing what needed to be done to the boats, including getting material to make new oars. Unfortunately, there was no game anywhere near this locale for the men to try to supplement their rations.
The following day, Bradley remarks in his journal that he thought the trip was nearly ended. However, where they laid over for a couple of days was less than a third of the way into the Grand Canyon’s 277 miles (present-day). Around mile 90 is also the modern boundary that marks the Upper and Lower Colorado Rivers. Of course, none of the men knew exactly where they were, and Bradley’s guess might have been more of a wish than a practical observation.
Historic depiction at Silver Creek:
On August 17 they were back on the river again. The men were still counting on soon being through whatever remained of the canyon. Besides, Major Powell had already assured them he thought Callville was close, although he still didn’t know the exact number of miles until the end of the canyon. Meanwhile, their rations were seriously diminished. What was left had been spoiled and water logged to the point the food tasted awful and was revolting to the eye.
The following day Bradley noted in his journal how their hard work and little distance gained seemed to be the nature of the canyon. The rapids were even more numerous than before and kept them from getting too far down the river. The rocks in the channel were immense and sometimes blocked the river, forming the worst kind of rapids to deal with. He felt if they could run those stretches instead of having to line or portage the boats, it would offset the worries of the diminished rations. The bad coffee and un-leavened bread simply wasn’t doing too much for their stomachs.
Here is why Bradley voiced his concerns in these journal entries. Not too far below Bright Angel Creek, the men were in for another surprise of irony. There were a series of nasty rapids, like Horn, Granite, and Hermit, and each would pose its own peril in how the men got through these places. They were in what the major called the Middle Granite Gorge. Here the river fussed and made a lot of noise through the high, dark, narrow walls that continued to hem the men in. There was only an elongate band of blue or gray over their heads, which made the window of sky even more narrow from their perspective. None of the higher canyon formations were visible. Only the dark, brooding halls of the inner gorge defined most of the passing view and contributed to the anxiety some of the men must have felt at this time. Besides, as one canyon wall bent this or that way, another panel of black rock followed, the river singing its bass solo above the fury of the standing waves that lined the way.
Again, we have Bradley to thank for his ongoing observations about the day by day perspective he recorded. For example, on August 19 he tells us about the full effect and flavor of running the rapids and what wild rappids (sic) are made of and how difficult it was to escape the bowlders (sic). He also talked about the rain, another capsizing of the Emma Dean, about whirlpools, about the misery of getting soaked, and about all the mishaps some boatmen simply have to endure along the way. And he mentioned they had run just 5 & 3/4 quarters miles that particular day and how nothing was lost in the way of equipment, save for a pair of oars.
But on August 20 Bradley turns the bad news around and notes rather optimistically in his journal they must be getting close the Mormon settlement, Callville. He mentioned this based on the fact they had just run a decent 15 miles. However, he was sadly mistaken about how close he thought they were to the end of the line. That night they made camp thirty-six and were no farther than river mile 108. By the following day, August 21st, later in the afternoon, the inner canyon changed from its predominate lithology of granite and schist back to sedimentary rock and the c.f.s. was less hurried than it was. Bradley also added to his journal notes that day that he was feeling poorly due to be constantly drenched. Yet he also stated he remained in good spirits despite the scanty food that had reduced his resistance to repel his illness. Closing the entry, Bradley mentioned he threatened all sorts of revenge once he sat down to a good meal. One has to wonder what he meant by this curious remark.
This late into the expedition the journals of the diarists, as well as Major Powell’s thoughts, generally described pretty much what had shadowed the men all along. Namely, rapids, specifically the difficulty of these frequent segments in the Grand Canyon, the impressive sights, like Deer Creek Falls that comes rushing out of a sandstone spout some two hundred feet above the river (at mile 136.5), then more vertical walls of granite. The reason the river's channel changed from old to younger rock was because the bed topography followed a monocline. When the bed topography was elevated, the younger rocks were encountered. When it descended, then the rocks were older. Otherwise, the geologic record would continue to get older as the river channel continued its course. All of the men waited for the time and place when they no longer have to worry about the imprisonment of time and ancient rocks half as old as the planet. They were especially concerned about the wear and tear on their boats, for they are all leaky and in dire need of repair. Yet the end was not near and the boats continued to suffer from the damage caused by the rocks that beset the channel. There had already been too much miscalculation with respect to the distance to go that some of the men were told or had assumed. But here Bradley had something almost sardonic to say about this fact, too, for he wrote on the ninety-third day of the excursion, August 24 how surprised they were to discover just how far they had to go before reaching the Grand Wash Cliffs. He admitted he was in error about his previous estimate (i.e., about the Mormon settlement) and estimated they had run over 120 miles. Yet they still had 70 to 80 miles to go by the estimates Bradley mentioned in the entry. He also figured the error he made had something to do with the distance by way of the river is much shorter than by land.
This map's depiction, of course, eventually mapped the terrain and took note of the Grand Canyon's sectors. Just imagine running the river and not knowing anything about what was waiting around the bend and had to be negotiated!
This observation of Bradley’s is a plausible explanation. He even backs it up with his keen, though felonious, observation in the same journal entry and noted how crooked the river had been ever since the Little Colorado. It naturally followed to Bradley that they really weren’t very far from that juncture unless the river somehow turned back again. Then again, Bradley thought this likelihood wasn’t going to happen.
Meanwhile, Major Powell continues to conduct his investigations and observations he figures are bona fide scientific and therefore valid in the way of empirical science. He got some of the picture right and made decent calculated guesses in other cases. After all, this region was a geologist’s dream come true. The fact was, geology is the youngest of all the sciences, and in Major Powell’s time there were more guesses than
demonstrable facts. For this, alone, Major Powell deserves some credit for being the first scientific type to set eyes on the canyon’s walls that practically shouted for his attention.
The Notorious Lava Falls: At mile 179 is arguably the toughest stretch of whitewater on the Colorado River. This rapid is some one hundred miles from the canyon's terminus and here the magma flows once spilled down from the rim country and eventually damned up much of the inner canyon gorge. Towering basaltic dams were frozen in place and had impeded the river's flow. Massive in size, the dams backed up the Colorado River hundreds of miles and stood in place for decades until the water found a way to break through the barrier. Then down came the dams. The deluge of water must have been formidable every time this happened. Major Powell realized what happened here: at least in part he must have understood. But what did he think about this very hairy rapid that all modern day boatmen must pay homage to before plunging into its wild water? Actually, he didn't say too much about how technical it was, or its being ornery, or anything along such lines. Instead, in his journal notes dated August 25, he wrote about the setting, mainly the geology, the height of the canyon walls, and so on. He was clearly impressed with the backdrop. He could envision the lava that once flowed into this sector. Consequently, he called the rapid Lava Falls, because he noted how the lava monument was in the middle of the river, then to lava falls.
Historic J. K Hillers photo from the foot of Lava Falls along the right shore:
Another historical and comparison photo taken in 1894 (NAU Cline Library archives):
(Okay, I feel obliged to insert this photo which I believe was taken years ago by a passenger on a trip from another boat. . .and taken of yours truly who almost nicked the wall on Lava. . .not good!)
(And, no, I didn't hit the wall. Otherwise. . .you know.)
Additionally, in this sector of the canyon what mainly seemed to be on the major's mind was how he espoused on geology, which is the last entry he wrote in this particular journal on that day of running the big, nasty rapid. When he published his notes in the larger format years later, here is what he poetically described in the last part of the journal for August 25:
“What a conflict of water and fire there must have been here! Just imagine a river of molten rock, running down into a river of melted snow. What a seething and boiling of the waters; what clouds of steam rolled into the heavens.” (Down the Colorado, p.131)
He ends his remarks with —
“Thirty-five miles today. Hurrah!” (Ibid)
Just two days later and all hell broke loose. The men were upon the worst rapid they had seen thus far. That was hell in itself. Exacerbating the challenge was a serious breakdown in Major Powell's command, which had been coming on for quite some time.
A Showdown Of Mortal Consequences: Bradley had previously noted in one of his journal entries the lamentable circumstances of their meager rations. He thought they had subsistence for some five days and here they had worked half a day to try to get around the troublesome rapid, and was later in time called Separation Rapid. He also wrote in the latter part of that journal entry how there was discontent in the camp that night. Bradley also mentioned his fear that some of the men might even leave the party and declares it is the darkest day of the trip thus far. Yet he, himself, wasn’t going to give into the dispair (sic). He wanted to run the rapid rather than try and make it to the mountains on the North Rim side of the canyon. He also quoted a popular dictum, “’Tis darkest just before the day’” and he felt their day was about to start.
This critical entry Bradley wrote was exactly what he sensed about how strained some of the men were. He knew there was something ominous brewing, but couldn’t predict when the psychological volcano would blow its top. Here at mile 239.5 it obviously did.
And what did Major Powell think about the situation Bradley and the others were undoubtedly concerned about, that is, what were Powell’s concerns were at that time? He merely added to his journal some numbers and degrees that defined their position on a map still to be completed. Powell also mentioned they came to a bad rapid around noon and spent the afternoon exploring it!!!
Years later, and well after the major had a lot of time to think about the incident, something far differently flowed out of his mind and ended up getting published. After a somewhat lengthy report about the rapid and the difficulties it posed, he talked about his decision to run the rapid in the morning. Then he related what he may have overheard coming from some of his men—
“After supper Captain Howland asks to have a talk with me. We walk up the little creek a short distance, and I soon find that his object is to remonstrate against my determination to proceed. He thinks that we had better abandon the river here. Talking with him, I learn that his brother, William Dunn, and himself have determined to go no farther in the boats. So we return to camp. Nothing is said to the other men.” (Down The Colorado, p.135-137)
Since Oramel was one of the few men on the expedition who had never been in the military service, the reference to Howland, as captain, was due to his rank as a crew member. Understandingly, it was the worst report that any commander could hear from his men. In fact, three of the expedition’s crew had just said, by way of the spokesperson, Oramel, they intended to abandon the expedition at this point. Moreover, Oramel thought the major and the others should also consider taking this option. But the major was unwilling to do it and wrote in this same entry how he sat down to plot a course, which he admitted to some of the men he hadn’t done for the last two days. He also intended to find his exact position by a method known as dead reckoning. Powell used the sextant to make observations for latitude, then learned the astronomic determination agreed very nearly with that of the plot based upon a meridian observation on some planet that was also visible in the clear sky. He figured he was something like forty-five miles from the mouth of a familiar landmark (i.e., the Virgin River and noted in his journal as the Rio Virgen). It was a direct line basis that Major Powell concluded and he figured the meandering course of the river would end up being something like eighty or ninety miles remaining in the trip. However, he was way off base on his calculations as you will soon discover. In fact, he and his men were much closer to the finish line.
After he concluded these thoughts, he woke Oramel up and told him this news. Howland then went back to sleep. This is what the major later published and described about his thoughts during that time—
“...for me there is no sleep. All night long, I pace up and down a little path, on a few yards of sand beach, along by the river. Is it wise to go on? I go to the boats again, to look at our rations. I feel satisfied that we can get over the danger immediately before us; what there may be below I know not.” (Down the Colorado, p.137)
At this point the major pondered whether or not he really should go on, or else do what Oramel had suggested — climb out of the canyon and abandon the mission. Major Powell even admitted there might be a chance for them to make such an exit and almost concluded to leave the river there and then. The more he thought about it, he changed his mind again. In the next sentence he
“But for years I have been contemplating the trip. To leave the exploration unfinished, to say that there is a part of the canyon I cannot explore, having already almost accomplished it, is more than I am willing to acknowledge, and I determine to go on.” (Ibid)
Historic photo of Separation Rapid (17098 GCNP/U.S.G.S. Claude Birdseye 1923 expedition; photo by C. LaRue):
From this perspective and description we see how Major Powell was determined to continue with the exploration of whatever distance remained. He tells us then when he relates how he woke up the other men in the party, starting with his brother. He wanted to find out where they stood on the matter. The remaining five men agreed to continue on with the major. For this, alone, the major was grateful. Nevertheless, it was a classic Pyrrhic victory for the six men who decided to take their chances with the river, starting with the fierce cataract they still had to run. The major was about to lose three of his men, two of whom he previously chastised for one reason or another (i.e., the less than desired map-making ability of Oramel and a rather volatile incident involving a watch that Dunn had ruined through no fault of his own—see below).
Soon after sunrise all the men assembled. The three men's decision to abandon the party still stood and all of the men who were divided on this issue were sad. There were no more secrets and the Howland brothers and Bill Dunn were prepared to leave the party. As Major Powell noted in his publication the meal was as solemn as a funeral.
Despite the depressive situation, the major was an optimist. He thought he still had a chance to convince the three men the wiser course, albeit fraught with calculated risk and danger, was to continue down river and rejoin the party. Major Powell thus informed the Howlands and Dunn that he would leave the Emma Dean behind. Once he and the other men got through the rapid, which the major was certain they could do it, then they (the Howlands and Dunn) should follow. This is what he wrote in his published account about what happened that fateful day. He also mentioned he left two rifles and a shot gun with the men, then implored them to take whatever share of the rations they felt they needed. But the rations were so poor, or else in such wretched condition, they refused the major's offer. His mentioning how Hawkins made biscuits for dinner and left them on a rock for the Howlands Dunn was also a nice touch to a sad parting.
There was nothing more any of them could do at this point. The six men who chose to run the river prepared to man the remaining two boats. Before departing, the major asked Oramel if he and the others would wait at the top of the rapid until the two boats were safely through. The three men agreed to wait. Then all he men bid each other a final farewell. Major Powell wrote that some tears were shed; that it was a solemn parting; and each party thought the other was taking the more dangerous course.
For reasons still to be discussed further along, the major may have written his version of this incident with less than candid feelings on the matter, namely his own. Naturally, as the commander he had misgivings about Oramel's decision to leave the party, which more or less came down to his inability to persuade Oramel and the others to change their minds. They chose to go anyway and that decision must have wounded Major Powell's pride. After all, he was the leader of the expedition and he wanted to keep his men together, in spite of how these three men objected to running the rapid. But why they chose to leave was more than a decision based on the imminent danger that particular rapid posed. Actually, the breakdown in Major Powell's command had already happened days before the nine men arrived at this now infamous place in the Grand Canyon.
Here is just one incident that probably best describes the how and when and where and why the three men finally came to a decision to abandon the party.
Not too long after the expedition party entered the dark walls and winding, narrow corridor of the Grand Canyon, the incident of the aforementioned ruined watch lit the fuse that exploded the emotional powder keg that probably had been in place for the past two or three weeks. When Dunn stepped into the river with the watch still in his pocket, the water damaged the watch. It happened to be one of the few remaining watches that worked and was necessary for making accurate barometric readings. The major was furious with Dunn for this oversight and had ordered him to leave the party or else pay for the watch. This argument was possibly the worst outbreak of the entire journey. It was also meteoric in how unevenly divided the men were on this seemingly trivial point. Mostly, it was the Powell brothers against the others, and as a flash point that set off the emotional furor, even time and attention to other details would not defuse the powder keg. Major Powell must have been surprised by the reaction of his men who rallied to support Dunn. However, to the major the incident of the ruined watch was anything but trivial. Possibly, he had other issues with Dunn that he simply could not forgive, even trivial issues concerning Dunn’s alleged unkempt appearance. (One is also reminded of why the major likely named an upstream river after Dunn: the Dirty Devil).
Whatever reasons were behind the matter of the three men choosing to leave the party, the mixed feelings did not dissipate as Major Powell and the others had counted on. Indeed, it was a maudlin parting on the river that day and Oramel, still the assumed spokesmen for the group, didn’t back down. His mind was made up and so were the other two men in his company. The major could not persuade them to reconsider and he may have figured these three departing souls were not only making a serious mistake by leaving, but were, in fact, deserting. As a commander on another kind of a battlefield, Major Powell was powerless to keep them from leaving, although in the military he could have them shot. His only hope would be their changing their minds at the last minute. May may even have presumed they would follow in the Emma Dean once he and the others safely got through the rapid. Of course, no one really knows what was on the major’s mind at this time, but it is obvious what was on the Howland brothers and Bill Dunn’s mind: they would not run another rapid with the major or the others and that was that.
One has to assume the five men who decided to follow the major and face the peril of the rapid manned the boats for the sake of duty over fidelity to his command. The two concepts are therefore not the same. We can only infer what was on each of their minds in this respect. All that we know is the five men left with the major and decided the best option was to remain with him and take their chances on the river.
Sumner wrote about that pivotal day and his terse entry on August 27th summed up his thoughts, though not his truer feelings or say in the matter. He simply noted how many miles they ran that day (12), how many bad rapids they came across (also 12), and then they came to the place where the three men decided to call it quits. He thought they were nearly 190 miles downstream from the Little Colorado but the actual mileage was 178 miles. There were no further entries on the remaining three quarters of this blank journal page. Bradley’s report made on August 28 was written in his usual informative style. He described how they tried to get around or down the cliff but their efforts were in vain. Still, they were determined to run the rapid. He also noted the Howlands and Dunn refused to continue at this point. According to Bradley’s reflection on the matter, he said the three men left with good feelings, even though he and the others regretted the parting. Bradley also pointed out the Howlands and Dunn were fine fellows as was his good fortune to meet. Whether or not the major would concur with Bradley’s assessment is not known. Based on the fact Powell had lost part of his command one can assume he certainly wasn’t happy about Oramel’s decision to do this his (Oramel’s) way.
Today, this stretch of whitewater that stymied the men and split the party in two is no longer there. That’s because Lake Mead backed up into the western region of the Grand Canyon, and as the dam engineers coin the phrase, the rapid was smoothed out. Bradley’s description of the event is nonetheless discerning, although he hardly says anything about the three men who stood and waited at the top of the rapid and watched the six men run the intimidating snare of potential catastrophe. But he did say the men waved adieu. When the triumph of the rapid was behind them, the two boats and the relieved boatmen pulled into an eddy. Then someone in the party fired off a couple of shots to let the other three know they had safely made it through. Here is where the major may have counted on the Howlands and Dunn returning to the river and following the success of the others. Had they done so he might have forgiven them for their effrontery to challenge his command. The fact is, the three men were already on their way out of the canyon.
Not too much farther down the river another rapid made its appearance. It was even worse than the one where the nine men separated. Bradley noted in his journal they had never run a worse rapid than this latest bad stretch. He’s referring to a rapid that has also been smoothed out by Lake Mead, called Lava Cliff. It proved to be the mother of all rapids these men had encountered thus far and there was no hyperbole this time with respect to just how tough it was for the men to run.
Historic photo of Lava Cliff Raid (13988 GCNP Stone expedition, river mile 236; photo by Raymond Cogswell, 1909):
Troublesome in every respect, it took quite a lot of time for the men to get through its tricky snare and fierce hydraulics. In fact, Major Powell almost lost his life in this monstrous rapid. Bradley related how the rapid was so loud he couldn’t be heard over the commotion, neither could the others see him. They had lined the boats down the rapid and Bradley was in the boat when it got pinned beneath a ledge of cliff on that side of the river. He said he was a mere four feet short of rope and the boat could go no farther. Stuck beneath the ledge of a cliff, Bradley had no other choice except to wait for the others to get more rope and line him down a little farther. He considered cutting the rope and taking his chances in the fury of the rapid. Suddenly, the boat broke loose and Bradley was catapulted into the main current, then managed to keep the boat upright until it was safely below the rapid. Gesturing with his hat to the others, Bradley noted how the major later told him nothing gave him more joy than to see Bradley swing his hat. Otherwise, Bradley thought he was headed to the proverbial happy hunting grounds.
Lava Cliff was a tough SOB rapid by any standard and had earned the men's respects. They all got through it and Bradley rated it the A-1 rapid of the entire journey. He and the others finally met the real dragon of all rapids.
These remaining oarsmen managed to cheat death or serious injury once more, even managing to save both boats. It was the last rapid the Colorado River would throw at them. It seemed the river saved the best and strongest punch for last. These former green horns that set out in late May proved to be excellent oarsmen, especially considering the kind of craft they had to deal with. The two rivers had taught them much and the remaining six men passed the grade, simply because they made it through the last of the whitewater.
And what did Major Powell write in his journal that day (August 28)? His mind seemed to be elsewhere, for he mentioned only the fact the boys left us, they successfully got through the last of the whitewater, Bradley’s boat was damaged, and they camped on left side of the river, which was camp number 44.
It was the final known writing by Major Powell on this expedition (i.e., as recorded in his handwritten river note journals). Of course, he had lots to say and write about in his published manuscript. Like Bradley, the major described the epic feat at Lava Cliff rapid on the 28th of August. Unlike Bradley, he added too much prolix to the flavor of what he tried to convey to the reader. One would think he might have at least mentioned something about the three men that were left behind. But he didn’t say anything one way or the other. It was as though they had walked out of the major’s mental space, just as they had physically left the expedition at Separation Canyon.
Historical photo of Separation Canyon (Phillip Hyde, photographer):
Sumner’s entry on August 28 did mention the three men and said quite a lot about the men separating at the rapid. In essence, he recorded the Howlands and Dunn decided to abandon the outfit—and that was the word he wrote in his journal, abandon, and the rest of them went down river to find the Mormon settlements near the Virgin River. Sumner also related what the three men took with them, which amounted to three guns and as much ammunition as each man wanted. They also had some provisions. He makes no mention of the maps that Oramel took with him, however. Sumner said the Howlands and Dunn left him and the others to go it or swamp. The rest of the entry pretty much describes the success of their getting through the rapid, including the next suspenseful stretch that pins down Bradley for a while. Then comes the unfinished thought about the Maid of the Canyon that got damaged, Bradley’s boat. The entry doesn’t elaborate on anything beyond the news of the damaged boat and marks the end of Sumner’s entry for the 28th of August, the ninety-seventh day of the expedition.
To be continued tomorrow (posting in the late afternoon). As always, your thoughtful commentaries are welcomed.
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