John Wesley Powell's Exploration of the Colorado River
At the mouth of the Yampa River, they camped in a
place they called Echo Park and soon ran into still another canyon.
. . . very narrow with high vertical walls. Here
and there huge rocks jutted into the water from the walls, and the
canyon made frequent and sharp curves. The waters of the Green are
greatly increased since the Yampa came in, as that has more water than
the Green above. All this volume of water, confined as it is in a narrow
channel, is set edying and spinning by the projecting rocks and points,
and curves into whirlpools, and the waters waltz their way through the
canyon, making their own rippling, rushing, roaring music.
The boats were managed with difficulty, spinning as
they did in eddies, and rearing and plunging with the waves. Before
sunset, the party reached a quiet valley in which they camped, naming
the place Island Park. After 2 days spent recalking the heavily leaking
boats, they resumed their journey.
More rapids were run in Split Mountain Canyon, which
they entered on June 25. The next forenoon was spent in portaging and
then more gliding on gently flowing water, until on June 28, as George
Bradley recorded in his diary, they
. . . reached the desired point at last and have
camped close to the mouth of the Uinta River. The White River comes in
about a mile below on the other side. Now for letters from home and
friends, for we shall here have an opportunity to send and receive those
that have been forwarded through John Heard.
Several of the party went to the Uinta Indian Agency;
Captain Howland observed that
This valley, as also the valleys of the White and
Uinta for twenty-five or thirty miles, has the appearance of being very
fine for agricultural purposes and for grazing. The Indians on Uinta
Agency have fine looking crops of corn, wheat and potatoes, which they
put in this spring, on the sod. They have also garden vegetables of all
kinds, and are cultivating the red currant. Everything is said to look
well. Most of the Indians are now from the agency to see the railroad,
while the rest stay to attend to their stock and keep their cattle from
getting in and eating up their crops.
Here, Frank Goodman left the party, feeling he had
had sufficient adventure.
They left the mouth of the Uinta on July 6 and
trouble continued to plague them. On July 8, Powell almost lost his
life. Through years of mountain climbing Powell had become used to
heights. He could sit seemingly undisturbed on the edge of a 2,000-foot
precipice. He often scrambled out of gorges to the rims of surrounding
canyons, usually encumbered by bulky equipment. Most often he returned
long after dark.
One day while he and Bradley were climbing a
particularly precipitous cliff (Echo Rock), Powell reached a place where
he could not go up or down, but could only cling to a crevice in the
rocks with the fingers of his one hand. Powell later described his near
. . . by making a spring, I gain a foothold in a
little crevice, and grasp an angle of the rock overhead. I find I can
get up no farther, and cannot step back, for I dare not let go with my
hand, and cannot reach foothold below without. I call to Bradley for
help. He finds a way by which he can get to the top of the rock over my
head, but cannot reach me. Then he looks around for some stick or limb
of a tree, but finds none. Then he suggests that he had better help me
with the barometer case; but I fear I cannot hold on to it. The moment
is critical. Standing on my toes, my muscles begin to tremble. It is
sixty or eighty feet to the foot of the precipice. If I lose my hold I
shall fall to the bottom, and then perhaps roll over the bench, and
tumble still farther down the cliff. At this instant it occurs to
Bradley to take off his drawers, which he does, and swings them down to
me. I hug close to the rock, let go with my hand, seize the dangling
legs, and, with his assistance, I am enabled to to gain the top.
Running a rapid.
The two men continued their climb to the top of the
cliff to make their scientific observations, and returned to camp
apparently unmoved by the near disaster.
They were now into a "region of wildest
. . . The canyon is very tortuous, the river very
rapid and many lateral canyons enter on either side. The walls are
almost without vegetation; a few dwarf bushes are seen here and there
clinging to the rocks, and cedars grow from the crevicesnot like
the cedars of a land refreshed with rains, great cones bedecked with
spray, but ugly clumps, like war clubs beset with spines. We are minded
to call this the Canyon of Desolation.
July 11A short distance below last night's
camp we run a rapid, and in doing so break an oar and then lose another,
both belonging to the "Emma Dean." Now the pioneer boat has but two
oars. We see nothing from which oars can be made, so we conclude to run
on to some point where it seems possible to climb out to the forests on
the plateau, and there we will procure suitable timber from which to
make new ones.
We approach another rapid and standing on deck, I
think it can be run and on we go. We try to land at the foot of the
rapids but crippled as we are by the loss of two oars, the bow of the
boat is turned downstream. We shoot by a big rock; a wave rolls over our
little boat and fills her. I see that the place is dangerous and quickly
signal to the other boats to land where they can. Another wave rolls our
boat over and I am thrown some distance into the water. I soon find that
swimming is very easy and I cannot sink. It is only necessary to ply
strokes sufficient to keep my head out of water, though now and then,
when a breaker rolls over me, I close my mouth and am carried through
it. The boat is drifting ahead of me 20 or 30 feet and when the great
waves have passed I overtake her and find Sumner and Dunn clinging to
As soon as the three men reached quiet waters, they
turned the boat over to learn that their blanket rolls, two guns, and a
barometer were lost.
Last Updated: 28-Mar-2006