CHAPTER XII. THE RIO VIRGEN AND THE UINKARET MOUNTAINS.
We have concluded to go down the canyon, hoping to meet the Shi'vwits on our return. Soon we are ready to start, leaving the camp and pack animals in charge of the two Indians who came with us. As we move out our new guide comes up, a blear-eyed, weazen-faced, quiet old man, with his bow and arrows in one hand and a small cane in the other. These Indians all carry canes with a crooked handle, they say to kill rattlesnakes and to pull rabbits from their holes. The valley is high up in the mountain and we descend from it by a rocky, precipitous trail, down, down, down for two long, weary hours, leading our ponies and stumbling over the rocks. At last we are at the foot of the mountain, standing on a little knoll, from which we can look into a canyon below.
Into this we descend, and then we follow it for miles, clambering down and still down. Often we cross beds of lava, that have been poured into the canyon by lateral channels, and these angular fragments of basalt make the way very rough for the animals.
About two o'clock the guide halts us with his wand, and, springing over the rocks, he is lost in a gulch. In a few minutes he returns, and tells us there is a little water below in a pocket. It is vile and our ponies refuse to drink it. We pass on, still descending. A mile or two from the water basin we come to a precipice more than 1,000 feet to the bottom. There is a canyon running at a greater .depth and at right angles to this, into which this enters by the precipice; and this second canyon is a lateral one to the greater one, in the bottom of which we are to find the river. Searching about, we find a way by which we can descend along the shelves and steps and piles of broken rocks.
We start, leading our ponies; a wall upon our left; unknown depths on our right. At places our way is along shelves so narrow or so sloping that I ache with fear lest a pony should make a misstep and knock a man over the cliffs with him. Now and then we start the loose rocks under our feet, and over the cliffs they go, thundering down, down, the echoes rolling through distant canyons. At last we pass along a level shelf for some distance, then we turn to the right and zigzag down a steep slope to the bottom. Now we pass along this lower canyon for two or three miles, to where it terminates in the Grand Canyon, as the other ended in this, only the river is 1,800 feet below us, and it seems at this distance to be but a creek. Our withered guide, the human pickle, seats himself on a rock and seems wonderfully amused at our discomfiture, for we can see no way by which to descend to the river. After some minutes he quietly rises and, beckoning us to follow, points out a narrow sloping shelf on the right, and this is to be our way. It leads along the cliff for half a mile to a wider bench beyond, which, he says, is broken down on the other side in a great slide, and there we can get to the river. So we start out on the shelf; it is so steep we can hardly stand on it, and to fall or slip is to go - don't look to see!
It is soon manifest that we cannot get the ponies along the ledge. The storms have washed it down since our guide was here last, years ago. One of the ponies has gone so far that we cannot turn him back until we find a wider place, but at last we get him off. With part of the men, I take the horses back to the place where there are a few bushes growing and turn them loose; in the meantime the other men are looking for some way by which we can get down to the river. When I return, one, Captain Bishop, has found a way and gone down. We pack bread, coffee, sugar, and two or three blankets among us, and set out. It is now nearly dark, and we cannot find the way by which the captain went, and an hour is spent in fruitless search. Two of the men go away around an amphitheater, more than a fourth of a mile, and start down a broken chasm that faces us who are behind. These walls, that are vertical, or nearly so, are often cut by chasms, where the showers run down, and the top of these chasms will be back a distance from the face of the wall, and the bed of the chasm will slope down, with here and there a fall. At other places huge rocks have fallen and block the way. Down such a one the two men start. There is a curious plant growing out from the crevices of the rock. A dozen stems will start from one root and grow to the length of eight or ten feet and not throw out a branch or twig, but these stems are thickly covered with leaves. Now and then the two men come to a bunch of dead stems and make a fire to mark for us their way and progress.
In the meantime we find such a gulch and start down, but soon come to the "jumping-off place," where we can throw a stone and faintly hear it strike, away below. We fear that we shall have to stay here, clinging to the rocks until daylight. Our little Indian gathers a few dry stems, ties them into a bundle, lights one end, and holds it up. The others do the same, and with these torches we find a way out of trouble. Helping each other, holding torches for each other, one clinging to another's hand until we can get footing, then supporting the other on his shoulders, thus we make our passage into the depths of the canyon.