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

 

Spring in Canyonlands Rafting, Hiking, and Geology with Wayne Ranney a GREAT SUCCESS!!

Colorado River & Trail Expeditions April 27-May 6, 2013 Spring in Canyonlands Trips was hosted by geologist and author Wayne Ranney.  The trip included 6 nights camping on the banks of the Green and Colorado Rivers in Stillwater and Cataract Canyon.  In addition 3 nights were spent at Red Cliff’s Lodge on the banks of the Colorado River above Moab.  Everyone arrived at Red Cliff’s Lodge the evening of April 27.  On April 28 Wayne led a land based tour around the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park.  Stops included Upheavel Dome and the Canyonland’s overlook of the Turk’s Head.  The tour came back to Moab via the Shafer Trail.

The next day, after a quick suburban ride to the Moab airport everyone was loaded onto planes for a 10 minute flight into the bottom of Stillwater Canyon.  The flight was spectacular in every sense.  The Plane flew down Hell Roaring Canyon most of the time under the rim of the plateau.  Then the plane made a sharp left turn following the Green River to the Mineral Bottom airstrip.  The plane landed on a weed covered dirt runway and we had to turn the plane around manually so it would be able to take off.  The rafts had come down from Green River, Utah about a 70 mile trip to meet the group at Mineral Bottom.  After a quick orientation everyone was loaded onto the rafts and the adventure began.  Shortly after we left ,Wayne was pointing out the incredible geology of Canyonlands National Park.  After a deli lunch on a sandbar we hiked to the hill top ruin at Fort Bottom.

Metoposaurus-An amphibian that lived 220 million years ago

Metoposaurus-An amphibian that lived 220 million years ago

On the way up to the ruins we saw fossilized scutes left behind by Metoposaurusan amphibian that lived during the Triassic Period over 220 million years ago.  These amphibians have been measured up to 10 feet in length.  We also saw petrified wood and checked out the old “Outlaw Cabin” in addition to just taking in the incredible view.  Camp was set up at the beach below Fort Bottom and Outlaw tales about Butch Cassidy were spun around the campfire.

 

 

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Fort Bottom Hilltop Ruin

The second day of the river trip started with a geology presentation from Wayne about the younger rock layers of Canyonlands including the Navajo, Wingate, Chinle, and Moenkopi Formations.  We also were able to check out the Geological Map of Canylonlands National Park and get a bering on exactly where we were in the Colorado Plateau.  On the river stops were made at the rincon and abandoned river channel of Anderson Bottom, the Turk’s Head, for looking at ancestral puebloan granaries and checking out the chert knapping sites used by the ancestral puebloans to craft arrow heads and other tools, and Lunch.  Camp was set up just below Horse Canyon which is 37 miles below Mineral Bottom.  During the night we had a big windstorm and enough rain to set up tents for.  You know it is a great trip when everyone is laughing and telling jokes at one in the morning during a 60 mile an hour windstorm with rain in April.

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View Looking Upstream From Above Stovepipe Camp

Our third day on the river trip took us just 8 miles down river to the Stove Pipe trail and hike.  We set up camp early and ate lunch,  then we hiked up the stove pipe trail about 1300 vertical feet and a couple of miles to an incredible view of the Maze and Needles Districts of Canyonlands from the Island in the Sky.  After checking out the landscape we continued to an amazing double arch in the Cedar Mesa Sandstone.  After hiking to the arch we checked out an old burned down Cabin and peered straight down to our camp on the banks of the Green River.  After the hike everyone went for a swim in the River to wash and cool off.  That evening we had a great dinner followed by a night of SMORE cooking perfections.

 

An incredible journey to an amazing destination.

An incredible journey to an amazing destination.

The morning of the 4th day of the river trip we started with a great lecture from Wayne and then headed down to the Green’s Confluence with the might Colorado.  To river runners this is considered the center of the universe, because most river running started on these two rivers.  At the confluence we were able to locate a couple of really cool inscriptions.  One was an inscription from Stanton’s railroad survery in 1889 another was an inscription from the United States Reclamation Service who was looking to build a dam at the confluence in 1914.  Lucky for us neither of these projects ever were completed.  After Lunch we headed down to sign up for our camps for the next few nights in Cataract Canyon.  Lucky for us Brown Betty, which is probably the best camp in Cataract Canyon was open for a layover day.  We signed up for two nights at Brown Betty and one night below the big drop rapids at Gypsum Canyon where we could search for the Paradox Formation.  Wayne gave another great geology lecture about the Paradox Formation and Cataract Canyon.

Learning about Cataract Canyon, Grabens, Salt Valleys, and the Paradox Formation

Learning about Cataract Canyon, Grabens, Salt Valleys, and the Paradox Formation

Day 5 of our river trip was spent hiking into the Doll’s House of the Maze District.  Once again we hiked up about 1300 vertical feet from the river.  From the Doll’s house we had an incredible view of the Island in the Sky and the Needles, but the view in front of us was even more spectacular.  We took a leisurely loop hike through the spires, narrows, and wildflowers of the Doll’s House.  Lunch was spent on a rock overlooking a Graben where the salt left behind by over 60 ocean episodes had flowed into the vacancy of space left by the river cutting Cataract Canyon leading to a huge slump of land sliding into Cataract Canyon and leaving a “surprise valley” below us.  We then hiked back to our fabulous camp and enjoyed a perfect starry night.

Day 6 it was all about Cataract Canyon whitewater rafting.  we ran rapids 2-14 and then stopped at Capsize Rapid to check out the old inscriptions left by the Stanton Expedition and Best Expedition of 1891 that spent 7 days trying to rescue a boat pinned against one of the many rocks in the rapid.   After Capsize we stopped for lunch and then ran in quick succession Ben Hurt, Big Drop 1, Big Drop 2, and Big Drop 3 as well as the remaining rapids.  Camp was set up at Gypsum Canyon and most of the group did a hike up Gypsum where we did find the Paradox Formation.

The last day of the trip was spent motoring through the lower parts of Cataract Canyon. The trip ended at North Wash just past the Dirty Devil.  After unloading the boats everyone flew back to the Moab airport where a shuttle took everyone back to Red Cliff’s Lodge for a Banquet Dinner.  The trip was incredible and the people were some of the best you could ever hope to meet.