CHAPTER VI. FROM FLAMING GORGE TO THE GATE OF LODORE.
One must not think of a mountain range as a line of peaks standing on a plain, but as a broad platform many miles wide from which mountains have been carved by the waters. One must conceive, too, that this plateau is cut by gulches and canyons in many directions and that beautiful valleys are scattered about at different altitudes. The first series of canyons we are about to explore constitutes a river channel through such a range of mountains. The canyon is cut nearly halfway through the range, then turns to the east and is cut along the central line, or axis, gradually crossing it to the south. Keeping this direction for more than 50 miles, it then turns abruptly to a southwest course, and goes diagonally through the southern slope of the range.
This much we know before entering, as we made a partial exploration of the region last fall, climbing many of its peaks, and in a few places reaching the brink of the canyon walls and looking over precipices many hundreds of feet high to the water below.
Here and there the walls are broken by lateral canyons, the channels of little streams entering the river. Through two or three of these we found our way down to the Green in early winter and walked along the low water-beach at the foot of the cliffs for several miles. Where the river has this general easterly direction the western part only has cut for itself a canyon, while the eastern has formed a broad valley, called, in honor of an old-time trapper, Brown's Park, and long known as a favorite winter resort for mountain men and Indians.
May 30. - This morning we are ready to enter the mysterious canyon, and start with some anxiety. The old mountaineers tell us that it cannot be run; the Indians say, "Water heap catch 'em"; but all are eager for the trial, and off we go.
Entering Flaming Gorge, we quickly run through it on a swift current and emerge into a little park. Half a mile below, the river wheels sharply to the left and enters another canyon cut into the mountain. We enter the narrow passage. On either side the walls rapidly increase in altitude. On the left are overhanging ledges and cliffs, - 500, 1,000, 1,500 feet high.
On the right the rocks are broken and ragged, and the water fills the channel from cliff to cliff. Now the river turns abruptly around a point to the right, and the waters plunge swiftly down among great rocks; and here we have our first experience with canyon rapids. I stand up on the deck of my boat to seek a way among the wave-beaten rocks. All untried as we are with such waters, the moments are filled with intense anxiety. Soon our boats reach the swift current; a stroke or two, now on this. side, now on that, and we thread the narrow passage with exhilarating Velocity, mounting the high waves, whose foaming crests dash over us, and plunging into the troughs, until we reach the quiet water below. Then comes a feeling of great relief. Our first rapid is run. Another mile, and we come into the valley again.
Let me explain this canyon. Where the river turns to the left above, it takes a course directly into the mountain, penetrating to its very heart, then wheels back upon itself, and runs out into the valley from which it started only half a mile below the point at which it entered; so the canyon is in the form of an elongated letter U, with the apex in the center of the mountain. We name it Horseshoe Canyon.
Soon we leave the valley and enter another short canyon, very narrow at first, but widening below as the canyon walls increase in height. Here we discover the mouth of a beautiful little creek coming down through its narrow water-worn cleft. Just at its entrance there is a park of two or three hundred acres, walled on every side by almost vertical cliffs hundreds of feet in altitude, with three gateways through the walls - one up the river, another down, and a third through which the creek comes in. The river is broad, deep, and quiet, and its waters mirror towering rocks.
Kingfishers are playing about the streams, and so we adopt as names Kingfisher Creek, Kingfisher Park, and Kingfisher Canyon. At night we camp at the foot of this canyon.
Our general course this day has been south, but here the river turns to the east around a point which is rounded to the shape of a dome. On its sides little cells have been carved by the action of the water, and in these pits, which cover the face of the dome, hundreds of swallows have built their nests. As they flit about the cliffs, they look like swarms of bees, giving to the whole the appearance of a colossal beehive of the old-time form, and so we name it Beehive Point.
The opposite wall is a vast amphitheater, rising in a succession of terraces to a height of 1,200 or 1,500 feet. Each step is built of red sandstone, with a face of naked red rock and a glacis clothed with verdure. So the amphitheater seems banded red and green, and the evening sun is playing with roseate flashes on the rocks, with shimmering green on the cedars' spray, and with iridescent gleams on the dancing waves. The landscape revels in the sunshine.