Canyonlands by John Wesley Powell

A Land of Rock

A Land of Rock-Toni Kaus

As we all know JW Powell had a way with words and his descriptions of the Grand Canyon have rarely been equalled.  Having just finished a Spring rafting trip in Canyonlands National Park we had to share Powell’s diary entry from July 17, 1869.  This entry includes the last 40 miles of the Green River’s course before joining the Grand, forming the mighty Colorado River, and plunging into the perils of Cataract Canyon.  The Colorado Plateau is such a unique place and if you have never seen Canyonlands National Park it is a place to put on your list.  The below entry will inspire your imagination:

-Wayne Ranney Photo

-Wayne Ranney Photo

July 17, 1869. - The line which separates Labyrinth Canyon from the one below is but a line, and at once, this morning, we enter another canyon. The water fills the entire channel, so that nowhere is there room to land. The walls are low, but vertical, and as we proceed they gradually increase in altitude. Running a couple of miles, the river changes its course many degrees toward the east. Just here a little stream comes in on the right and the wall is broken down; so we land and go out to take a view of the surrounding country. We are now down among the buttes, and in a region the surface of which is naked, solid rock – a beautiful red sandstone, forming a smooth, undulating pavement. The Indians call this the Toom’pin Tuweap’, or “Rock Land,” and sometimes the Toom’pin wunear^1 Tuweap’, or “Land of Standing Rock.”

Off to the south we see a butte in the form of a fallen cross. It is several miles away, but it presents no inconspicuous figure on the landscape and must be many hundreds of feet high, probably more than 2,000. We note its position on our map and name it “The Butte of the Cross.”

We continue our journey. In many places the walls, which rise from the water’s edge, are overhanging on either side. The stream is still quiet, and we glide along through a strange, weird, grand region. The landscape everywhere, away from the river, is of rock – cliffs of rock, tables of rock, plateaus of rock, terraces of rock, crags of rock – ten thousand strangely carved forms; rocks everywhere, and no vegetation, no soil, no sand. In long, gentle curves the river winds about these rocks.

When thinking of these rocks one must not conceive of piles of boulders or heaps of fragments, but of a whole land of naked rock, with giant forms carved on it: cathedral-shaped buttes, towering hundreds or thousands of feet, cliffs that cannot be scaled, and canyon walls that shrink the river into insignificance, with vast, hollow domes and tall pinnacles and shafts set on the verge overhead; and all highly colored – buff, gray, red, brown, and chocolate – never lichened, never moss-covered, but bare, and often polished.

We pass a place where two bends of the river come together, an intervening rock having been worn away and a new channel formed across. The old channel ran in a great circle around to the right, by what was once a circular peninsula, then an island; then the water left the old channel entirely and passed through the cut, and the old bed of the river is dry. So the great circular rock stands by itself, with precipitous walls all about it, and we find but one place where it can be scaled. Looking from its summit, a long stretch of river is seen, sweeping close to the overhanging cliffs on the right, but having a little meadow between it and the wall on the left. The curve is very gentle and regular. We name this Bonita Bend.

And just here we climb out once more, to take another bearing on The Butte of the Cross. Reaching an eminence from which we can overlook the landscape, we are surprised to find that our butte, with its wonderful form, is indeed two buttes, one so standing in front of the other that from our last point of view it gave the appearance of a cross.

A few miles below Bonita Bend we go out again a mile or two among the rocks, toward the Orange Cliffs, passing over terraces paved with jasper. The cliffs are not far away and we soon reach them, and wander in some deep, painted alcoves which attracted our attention from the river; then we return to our boats.

Late in the afternoon the water becomes swift and our boats make great speed.. An hour of this rapid running brings us to the junction of the Grand and Green, the foot of Stillwater Canyon, as we have named it. These streams-unite in solemn depths, more than 1,200 feet below the general surface of the country. The walls of the lower end of Stillwater Canyon are very beautifully curved, as the river sweeps in its meandering course. The lower end of the canyon through which the Grand comes down is also regular, but much more direct, and we look up this stream and out into the country beyond and obtain glimpses of snow-clad peaks, the summits of a group of mountains known as the Sierra La Sal. Down the Colorado the canyon walls are much broken.

We row around into the Grand and camp on its northwest bank; and here we propose to stay several days, for the purpose of determining the latitude and longitude and the altitude of the walls. Much of the night is spent in making observations with the sextant.

Looking over the Green-Wayne Ranney

 

THE EXPLORATION OF THE COLORADO RIVER AND ITS CANYONS

FEATURED BOOK OF THE WEEK:

THE EXPLORATION OF THE COLORADO RIVER AND ITS CANYONS
by J.W. Powell

This book can be purchased at the CRATE BOOKSTORE for $12.95

Complete reprint of “Canyons of the Colorado” 1895 edition, with supplementary map. This was the first published account in book format of Powell’s 1869 discovery journey down the Green and Colorado Rivers. 150 illustrations and photographs. Dover Publications.

“The Cataract of Lodore” a poem by Robert Southey

What Andy Hall and JW Powell Saw in 1869

Green River in Lodore Canyon

When the First Powell Expedition reached the end of Brown’s Park on the Green River they came to a deep canyon with swiftwater and rapids. It reminded Andy Hall of a poem named “The Cataract of Lodore.” John Wesley Powell knew the poem by heart and recited it. The expedition decided to name the canyon after the poem, and the name stuck. The canyon is located on the Green River above Desolation Canyon. The canyon was home to the first real rapids that Powell and his men encountered, and they lost one boat in Disaster Falls. The poem was written in 1820.

The Cataract of Lodore by William Southey(written in 1820)

“How does the water
Come down at Lodore?”
My little boy asked me
Thus, once on a time;
And moreover he tasked me
To tell him in rhyme.
Anon, at the word,
There first came one daughter,
And then came another,
To second and third
The request of their brother,
And to hear how the water
Comes down at Lodore,
With its rush and its roar,
As many a time
They had seen it before.
So I told them in rhyme,
For of rhymes I had store;
And ’twas in my vocation
For their recreation
That so I should sing;
Because I was Laureate
To them and the King.

From its sources which well
In the tarn on the fell;
From its fountains
In the mountains,
Its rills and its gills;
Through moss and through brake,
It runs and it creeps
For a while, till it sleeps
In its own little lake.
And thence at departing,
Awakening and starting,
It runs through the reeds,
And away it proceeds,
Through meadow and glade,
In sun and in shade,
And through the wood-shelter,
Among crags in its flurry,
Helter-skelter,
Hurry-skurry.
Here it comes sparkling,
And there it lies darkling;
Now smoking and frothing
Its tumult and wrath in,
Till, in this rapid race
On which it is bent,
It reaches the place
Of its steep descent.

The cataract strong
Then plunges along,
Striking and raging
As if a war waging
Its caverns and rocks among;
Rising and leaping,
Sinking and creeping,
Swelling and sweeping,
Showering and springing,
Flying and flinging,
Writhing and ringing,
Eddying and whisking,
Spouting and frisking,
Turning and twisting,
Around and around
With endless rebound:
Smiting and fighting,
A sight to delight in;
Confounding, astounding,
Dizzying and deafening the ear with its sound.

Collecting, projecting,
Receding and speeding,
And shocking and rocking,
And darting and parting,
And threading and spreading,
And whizzing and hissing,
And dripping and skipping,
And hitting and splitting,
And shining and twining,
And rattling and battling,
And shaking and quaking,
And pouring and roaring,
And waving and raving,
And tossing and crossing,
And flowing and going,
And running and stunning,
And foaming and roaming,
And dinning and spinning,
And dropping and hopping,
And working and jerking,
And guggling and struggling,
And heaving and cleaving,
And moaning and groaning;

And glittering and frittering,
And gathering and feathering,
And whitening and brightening,
And quivering and shivering,
And hurrying and skurrying,
And thundering and floundering;

Dividing and gliding and sliding,
And falling and brawling and sprawling,
And driving and riving and striving,
And sprinkling and twinkling and wrinkling,
And sounding and bounding and rounding,
And bubbling and troubling and doubling,
And grumbling and rumbling and tumbling,
And clattering and battering and shattering;

Retreating and beating and meeting and sheeting,
Delaying and straying and playing and spraying,
Advancing and prancing and glancing and dancing,
Recoiling, turmoiling and toiling and boiling,
And gleaming and streaming and steaming and beaming,
And rushing and flushing and brushing and gushing,
And flapping and rapping and clapping and slapping,
And curling and whirling and purling and twirling,
And thumping and plumping and bumping and jumping,
And dashing and flashing and splashing and clashing;
And so never ending, but always descending,
Sounds and motions for ever and ever are blending
All at once and all o’er, with a mighty uproar, -
And this way the water comes down at Lodore.

George Y. Bradley’s Story of the Fire on the First Powell Expedition

RIVER STORY OF THE WEEK:
FROM THE JOURNAL OF GEORGE Y. BRADLEY JUNE 17, 1869

Green River

Green River Story


On June 17, 1869, according to Bradley’s journal, the First Powell Expedition was camped in Lodore Canyon about 25 miles above the confluence with the Yampa River. After a hard day of portages and rapids the boats were leaking badly. The group camped in a thicket of pines where they could gather some pitch to repair their boats. Here is Bradley’s account of what happened next:



“We camped for this night on a little point where the mountain pine and sage-brush
was very thick and the cook built his fire and had supper on the way when the fire
spread to the pines. At first we took little notice of it but soon a whirlwind swept
through the canon and in a moment the whole point was one sheet of flames. We seized
whatever we could and rushed for the boats and amid the rush of wind and flames we
pushed out and dropped down the river a few rods. May handkerchief was burned that I
had tied around my neck, and my ears and face badly scorched. We had hardly landed
before the fire was again upon us and we were forced to run a bad rapid to escape it.
We got through safe, however, and are all right tonight except that we lost most of
our mess-kit.”

When the second Powell Expedition came through this section a couple years later they found the mess kit and other camp ware.