1900 - Pelton Expedition
Settlement of the Uncompahgre Valley, which lies just to the west of the Black Canyon, began even as the different bands of Utes were being moved to reservations in Utah in 1881. The main draw for settlers was to provide farm crops that could be sold to people living in the high altitude towns supporting the mining industry. The people living in the towns, though, had only a small amount of water from the Uncompahgre River that could be used for irrigating the desert lands in which they lived. By the early 1890s the people of the valley began to seriously look at the Gunnison River, flowing through the Black Canyon, as a source for water for irrigation, and the desire of a tunnel to divert the water evolved.
Talk Turns to Action
The summers at the end of the 1890s were hot and dry; and as many more people discovered the pleasures of Pelton's Lake, more of them began to talk of exploring the canyon to take on the idea. By the summer of 1900 many farmers were fed up with the water problems that plagued the people and a plan began to take shape for a trip through the canyon. Organized by Pelton, the exploring party included John Curtis and E.B. Anderson from Delta, and Frank Hovey, a rancher who ran cows on Coffee Pot Hill, and the superintendent of the Montrose Electric Light and Power Company William Torrence from Montrose.
Each had something to offer: Curtis was the surveyor to run a line of elevation down the canyon, Hovey had perhaps the best in-depth knowledge of the rim, Pelton brought his boats, and Torrence, sometimes credited with leading the group, would help coordinate the possibility of generating electricity, if there was a sufficient drop in the river level to do so. In addition, Torrence was a camera nut, and he brought along his "Kodak." We would know the group today as a self-directed workteam.
A Long and Difficult Journey
A Brief Break
A Final Test
After what was probably a thoughtful discussion and a restless night, the group agreed to abandon the trip and scramble out the canyon. Unfortunately, this time they had to climb a steep draw on the north side of the canyon into territory that was very unfamiliar to all of them. They left behind the boat, maybe a few supplies and a name on the rapid just upstream from where they climbed: "The Falls of Sorrow."
The climb up was no small feat in this very vertical cleft, informally named Torrence Draw. They had extra side draws to decide upon, rocky talus that was terribly loose, and warm dry weather that made them thirsty. Upon reaching the top they had nearly 15 miles to hike before reaching a farm house where someone might give them a ride in the wagon to the train station for the trip back to Delta and Montrose.
Though sorrowful, the trip's end did not mean failure. In fact their excursion brought attention from many in power around Colorado and in Washington D.C. The next time a party would make a trip through the canyon, it would be with more assurance that the tunnel could be built.
Did You Know?
The narrowest part of Black Canyon at the river is only 40 feet across.