A photo of Major Powell less than ten years after his final Green and Colorado rivers expedition. (But it likely was the politics and his position in same that did most of the aging!)
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.
Below The Confluence To Victory & Mystery: Cataract Canyon 60 or so mile passage is a tough run for any who dare to take on its series of rapids. Make that many rapids, most of them Class IV and V. By tough, I also mean physically and mentally challenging. For the oarsmen of this first expedition it was truly the worst stretch of whitewater they encountered. There were eighteen rapids inside and waiting for the men in that eternally long (though relatively short) canyon. They were also forced to line and/or portage most of the rapids. Getting through the canyon was tediously slow going in places and there was nothing the men could do to speed things up. As Sumner noted about Cataract Canyon, they encountered the worst rapids thus far seen in their adventure. Bradley concurs, where he wrote in his journal on July 21st, the fifty-ninth day of the trip, the Colorado River is not an easy river to navigate.
What Sumner and the others still didn’t know about the rigorous new challenges they were forced to deal up to this point was how the worst of the rapids were farther down the line with separated by one long canyon of the calmest water thus far in their adventure. Had they known this with any certainty some of the men very well might have left the expedition somewhere in Mound Canyon, which today the name has been changed to Glen Canyon. Actually, the overall morale of the men was diminished at this time of their ordeal and a few of them who likely considered such drastic plans, that is, if and when an opportunity presented itself. In the meantime, they were all committed to the single task of getting through Cataract Canyon's formidable gauntlet and making it out alive. From the nearly constant sound of the thundering rapids, the men must have sensed they were in another Lodore Canyon, only this 'new' Lodore was far worse than the original.
On July 17, Sumner, for a change of pace and writing style, wrote like a poet and talked about the vivid display of a passing storm that shook the cliffs with peals of thunder that only added to the dismay and desolation of the setting the men were in. He also noted on that fifty-fifth day of the excursion they were down to about 600 pounds of flour whose quality was already poor. He also felt they were obliged to continue due to their remaining meager provisions.
On the following day, which was another Sunday, Bradley was the poet in his brief description of the storm the night before. He equated the backdrop of a thousand spires that pointed heavenward that reminded him of happier days and better scenery. Like Sumner, Bradley also thought there was no recourse other than to move down river due to the status of their remaining provisions.
By adding the quotes of this last sentence we get the point he, along with the others, must have felt more concern for all of their welfare and safety than at any other time prior to this time of entry. Meanwhile, the men somehow managed to get through the rough stretches of whitewater, Major Powell continued his geology notes in his journal (the second journal). He also included other observations in the other journal, mostly about how some of the rapids were run (i.e., portaged or otherwise) and sometimes gave a basic description of where they camped.
Historic photo of running whitewater (or about to):
For example, on July 22, in the first journal, the major takes a departure from his usual remarks and delights in the antics of Billy Hawkins on that date, whom he still refers to as Rhodes in his journal. He mentioned they were in camp number 12 and that Hawkins apparently amused himself by using the sextant to try to determine the latitude and longitude of the nearest pie. Perhaps this folly Powell mentioned had something to do with his opening remark, supper poor, and how all the men felt about their skimpy rations.
The following day Bradley says more about the deplorable conditions all of them faced. He relates a series of furious rapids that have to be portaged and how there is still 2,500 feet to go before they reach Fort Mojave (well beyond the terminus of the Grand Canyon). But if the drop in elevation were to come all at once, Bradley thought, they could get all of the hard work out of the way once and for all. Then again, were that to happen over the next hundred miles or so Bradley thought they might have to start rowing uphill. He employed his usual witticism in this entry and admitted rivers don’t go upstream.
A liberated Google Image of running Big Drop 2 (a J-rig contraption designed by a former rafting company I worked for in the 1970s):
In this entry, Bradley’s guarded optimism prevails in his casual writing style. That, and the faith the remaining elevation drop in the river will eventually become more manageable. But the heat continues to be oppressive and feels like they’re rowing through an oven that becomes more unbearable at each turn of the canyon walls. The water is also much higher than it had been, due to the monsoonal flow. He points out the tide mark on the wall of the canyon, so indicated by previous flows. The evidence is telltale and demonstrates how the water level could be much higher, which Bradley estimated was fifteen to twenty feet higher. Then he mentions how it must be fun in this canyon stretch when the water does get that high. He may have merely been kidding himself, however.
In view of the danger, Bradley is still more keen to run the rapids than portage or line down such fiercer stretches, which is what most of the other men, sans Major Powell, also think. In his July 24th entry, the sixty-second day, Bradley stated as much. He felt the rapids were far more interesting to row through compared to the laborious and time-consuming portaging (or lining) that didn’t agree him. Despite the concerns about his constitution, most of the rapids were too dangerous to run in Cataract Canyon and the men ended up portaging more than running those stretches. Their spirits remained fairly high, however. This usual display of attitude was in spite of the occasional drenching rain and the usual terrible inner canyon heat.
On July 27 something else happened that, for a change, benefited the group. Immensely, in fact. Sumner killed two mountain sheep and noted in his journey it was a Godsend. Their bread and spoiled bacon was simply not enough to nourish their bodies and the constant hard work that Sumner noted in his journal entry that day.
A couple of days later (July 29) a new river entered into the Colorado, or the major thought it was new. It was dirty looking and smelled like sulfur. The major had named it the Dirty Devil, which (allegedly) he intended to name this body of water after Bill Dunn due to his usual unkempt personal appearance. Perhaps there was more to the remark than just this. Bradley noted on July 29th the major called the new stream Dirty Devil Creek which Bradley said he felt the name was complimentary. But there was something behind Bradley’s blithe remark, for he noted the name the major designated matched Powell’s character and that anyone could read him like a book. As it turns out, Bradley was right. Powell equated the stream to Bill Dunn’s scruffy personal appearance. There was much more to it, of course, and that part of the story has some bearing on what will happen later on in the expedition.
By the end of the month they were finally out of the throes of Cataract Canyon and headed into the canyon down the line, Mound. Most assuredly, the nightmares the men faced in Cataract Canyon would continue to haunt the men in their sleep. Combined with the rigors of Lodore Canyon, the challenge was far from over. In time, the Great Unknown, the last chasm to run, would end up being far more punishing. This trinity of canyons would turn out to be the kind of whitewater intimidation none of the men could have imagined in their wildest dreams. Compared to modern day boatmen, the men who rowed for Major Powell were not enthusiastic about running the rapids for the challenge and excitement. It was simply part of the job they had signed up to do. Yet one has to wonder if they had realized the dangerous stretches, like Lodore and Cataract, that had to be negotiated, would they have gone on the expedition?
At Last, A Welcomed Respite From Gnarly Whitewater: It was the most tranquil canyon they had been in thus far. Then again, after Cataract Canyon anything would have seemed more friendly.
Mound Canyon, parted by a much smoother avenue of water, barely had any rapids. Even ripples and fast water was a rarity. The current and smooth-flowing river was an utter contrast to what the expedition had just encountered. In a way, the Colorado River through here became somewhat of a contradiction given its usual turmoil and temperament. Despite the heat and slower pace of the river, the scrimshaw creation of the canyon's pristine backdrop was indeed a welcomed respite to all of the men.
A Glen Canyon overview photo taken well before the dam days (1963 onward):
Another relatively historical picture of the Glen (likely a Phillip Hyde photo):
And this 1922 photo of Sentinel Rock by Eugene LaRue (from the Stereograph Collection of the U. S. Library of Congress) shows just how truly magnificent and peerless this canyon nexus was given all its features:
The next river the men encountered, which they may not even have noticed its emptying into the Colorado, was the Escalante. Like its sister river coming in from the east, the San Juan, this body of water normally brings in a lot of sedimentary load and adds to the volume of the Colorado River, especially during the spring floods and the monsoon season. Perhaps the major and the men were looking for the San Juan, which was the larger of the two.
An unknown photo, but likely the Escalante, at least this is its usual tincture (and matches that of the San Juan):
In the afternoon of the last day of the month they struck upon it, but were not impressed by its presence. Actually, the canyon, itself, seemed to herald the presence of the river, for there was a colossal awning-striped sandstone wall that turned the Colorado River in a sharp right-hand bend. In their eyes, the San Juan was just another muddy stream of mahogany color like most of the others the men had passed. Rivers were always important milestones to come upon and there was time for the men to get out of the boats and do some exploring. They had been on this voyage for a little over two months and now that they reached the San Juan’s terminus, it meant soon another canyon would be under their belts with one more left to follow.
Of notable, although teasing, interest, Bradley, who wasn’t so much preoccupied with the beauty of the new canyon, as he was with his nearly constant pangs of hunger, he and some of the others spied three bighorn sheep in the golden rocks of the canyon. Unfortunately, the hunters failed to get close enough to shoot any of them. Still, he marveled at their ability to cling to the rocks, noting they never stumbled or slipped nor fell, even though they were about a thousand feet above him. Not too long after the sighting of the game the renewed talk of food took on a sharper edge. Obviously, it was survival, and not a variety of food to eat, that was the main issue around the camp. Bradley noted in his July 31 how they were short of everything except the spoiled flour, the bad coffee, and some dried apples. As a matter of fact, on that sixty-ninth day of the excursion Bradley thought their rations would soon be reduced to just these three items.
He plainly referred to, what would infamously be called starvation rations. This topic would be more common to discuss and get irritated about until the end of the voyage. One of Major Powell’s blunders or oversights at this time was his seeming indifference to the low rations and the lousy luck the hunters had when it came to finding and killing game. In fact, he didn’t seem to be in any hurry in this particular canyon, that is, to get through it as soon as possible and continue down stream where the men might have better luck finding game. Indeed, his main focus seemed to be what geologists today call rock-shock. The major was simply in awe of the unfathomable record of time, geologic time, that it took to carve the cathedral-sized caverns he saw in this canyon. He specifically was amazed at one cavern all of the men ventured into (see below for more of that story).
Historic photo of the San Juan River nearing the Colorado River (taken by Timothy H. O'Sullivan who was on the 1873 Wheeler Survey of the 100th Meridian):
With respect to the San Juan River entering the Colorado, Sumner noted the sighting in his July 31 entry. On that sixty-ninth day of the expedition he remarked how there was nothing growing at its junction other than a few trees and estimated they were 116 miles downstream from the Grand River. Again, he was apt to say how he thought the country was worthless. They had also run 45 rapids and portaged 18. By contrast, the halcyon setting of the canyon probably affected only Major Powell.
On the following day Bradley complained in his journal how the major took too much time with his observations, and that they were in the same camp and doomed to be there for a day, and maybe longer. Bradley’s concerns focused on starvation, while the major’s remained utterly scientific, and to a fault in Bradley’s view. Bradley, like the others, simply wanted to get down the river and not face the consequences he anticipated—altogether starving.
These nearly constant reminders of the short rations and desire to continue with the journey are telling. Some of the men are more than likely grumbling to one another about this nagging situation, while others keep their thoughts to themselves. To make matters worse, Major Powell was more and more dissatisfied with Oramel’s topographical work. Either that, or he was still miffed about the incident at Disaster Falls. Most likely he was still stewing about that incident, which was brought to the surface by his continued dissatisfaction over Howland’s work, that is, assuming it was continuing. Anything could have set any of these men off, including Major Powell's demands or requests. Being hungry and hot and weary of the journey certainly didn't help matters any.
As for the incident alluded to above, this seeming innocuous event happened just below the mouth of the San Juan River (which, today, is Mile 55 of Glen Canyon, as measured up from the Glen Canyon Dam). The full impact of the incident doesn’t come out in any of the journals, although some historians think there was something more to it than merely meets the eye. I certainly perceive it this way. This pivotal incident goes as follows. . .
Someone in the group, probably Major Powell, had discovered a stupendous cavern that he named after his brother, Walter. He call it Music Temple, which all of the men visited on August 2. Inside the massive chamber the men scratched their names on the soft sandstone walls. There is nothing unusual about this in and of itself; however, on one wall there were six names, while on the opposite wall there were three others. These were the Howland brothers and Bill Dunn. Some might say the intent to separate their names from the others was prophetic. If there were outright rumblings of rebellion and mutiny around this time it certainly doesn’t show up in any of the writings that were kept at this time. Nevertheless, the men were anxious to move on and Major Powell was probably reluctant to do so, even though he and the men did leave the following day.
Here I think some historical photos of this cavernous canyon is in order, especially due to its historical significance relating to Major Powell's first expedition.
Across from Hidden Passage (today's Lake Powell marker mile 75.9):
A close-up view from a Margaret Eiseman photo:
A partial interior view (again, an historic photo):
What the men chose to think about the canyon was their business and prerogative. However, this canyon in particular delighted Major Powell and he wrote fondly and waxed poetically about the newly named, Glen Canyon, in his 1875 published manuscript; also, further elaborated on the canyon in the more completed (and final) version that was published in 1895. In truth, Major Powell could not afford to dally in his relatively quick run through the canyon, which took only five days. Yet he was deeply affected by its sundry grottoes and lofty alcoves stained with desert varnish (also known as patina), the plentiful fresh water springs, tucked away spacious cavities, like Music Temple, and the overall pastoral quality of the setting. Had it not been for the fact the men desired fresh meat, perhaps they, too, would have loved to laze about in the lush shade of this riparian corridor that more like a reverie, especially compared to the stark-looking Cataract and the violence and physical exertion necessary to traverse through its abode.
Another borrowed historic photo (Phillip Hyde) to highlight the sweeping serenity and unique features of Glen Canyon:
And this photo from the Powell second expedition:
Deeper into this long canyon the men continued. The sweeping curves of the indolent and meandering river had cut for its path easily downplayed the usual sharp angles of other canyons, like Cataract. Major Powell took it all in, where the scenery would one day come back to him in vivid prose to describe the brilliance of the glowing cliffs and bucolic atmosphere he, more than the others, realized was the respite this particular canyon provided. For him, it would be easy to remember this canyon easier than most of the others. Perhaps the Colorado River had finally run its worst course as far as rapids goes, even though there was still considerably more elevation to lose before the reached its terminus. Nevertheless, the serious elevation drop in Cataract Canyon seemed to come all at once. With any luck, what elevation loss that was still ahead might spread itself out more evenly in the next canyon, and possibly still have in store for the men in this canyon. Thus far, there was no sign Mound Canyon had such a dual personality, as far as changing personality, so to speak, in the middle of the stream.
With respect to how the men viewed the canyon, it appears they were not so inclined to look at nature the way the major did, much less feel any rapport for this particular canyon. It was hunger that drove them on, not the view or the mild current that bore them through the canyon's golden, gleaming walls. Even though the fish were plentiful, they weren’t biting. Fortunately, Sumner managed to kill another sheep on August 3 and provided a feast for the men later that day. It would also prove to be the last big game animal shot by anyone in the expedition.
By August the 4th, the seventy-third day, they were out of Mound Canyon and were just above the Great Unknown. They camped near the Paria River, which enters the Colorado River just below Lee’s Ferry.
Another historic photo of Lee's Ferry and its gorgeous, though rugged, backdrop:
The compelling scenery would still prevail, although a changing temperament of the river would soon reveal quite a punch to their senses. It would be as though the calm stretch above was a place where the Colorado River rested and renewed itself in preparation for its run through the last canyon it carved. As far as canyons go, the Grand Canyon would also be its crowning glory, just as the Colorado River would serve up its most challenging whitewater the men would face on a daily basis. In short, the Grand Canyon run would be a combined deja vu experience that more than doubled the severity any of the canyons had dished up thus far, notably Lodore and Cataract canyons.
To be continued tomorrow (posting in the late afternoon). As always, your thoughtful commentaries are welcomed.
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