CHAPTER XII. THE RIO VIRGEN AND THE UINKARET MOUNTAINS.
A year has passed, and we have determined to resume the exploration of the canyons of the Colorado. Our last trip was so hurried, owing to the loss of rations, and the scientific instruments were so badly injured, that we are not satisfied with the results obtained; so we shall once more attempt to pass through the canyons in boats, devoting two or three years to the trip.
It will not be possible to carry in the boats sufficient supplies for the party for that length of time; so it is thought best to establish depots of supplies, at intervals of 100 or 200 miles along the river.
Between Gunnison's Crossing and the foot of the Grand Canyon, we know of only two points where the river can be reached - one at the Crossing of the Fathers, and another a few miles below, at the mouth of the Paria, on a route which has been explored by Jacob Hamblin, a Mormon missionary. These two points are so near each other that only one of them can be selected for the purpose above mentioned, and others must be found. We have been unable up to this time to obtain, either from Indians or white men, any information which will give us a clue to any other trail to the river.
At the headwaters of the Sevier, we are on the summit of a great watershed. The Sevier itself flows north and then westward into the lake of the same name. The Rio Virgen, heading near by, flows to the southwest into the Colorado, 60 or 70 miles below the Grand Canyon. The Kanab, also heading near by, runs directly south into the very heart of the Grand Canyon. The Paria, likewise heading near by, runs a little south of east and enters the river at the head of Marble Canyon. To the northeast from this point, other streams which run into the Colorado have their sources, until, 40 or 50 miles away, we reach the southern branches of the Dirty Devil River, the mouth of which stream is but a short distance below the junction of the Grand and Green.
The Paunsa'gunt Plateau terminates in a point, which is bounded by a line of beautiful pink cliffs. At the foot of this plateau, on the west, the Rio Virgen and Sevier River are dovetailed together, as their minute upper branches interlock. The upper surface of the plateau inclines to the northeast, so that its waters roll off into the Sevier; but from the foot of the cliffs, quite around the sharp angle of the plateau, for a dozen miles, we find numerous springs, whose waters unite to form the Kanab. A little farther to the northeast the springs gather into streams that feed the Paria. Here, by the upper springs of the Kanab, we make a camp, and from this point we are to radiate on a series of trips, southwest, south, and east.
Jacob Hamblin, who has been a missionary among the Indians for more than twenty years, has collected a number of Kai'vavits, with Chuar'-ruumpeak, their chief, and they are all camped with us. They assure us that we cannot reach the river, that we cannot make our way into the depths of the canyon, but promise to show us the springs and water pockets, which are very scarce in all this region, and to give us all the information in their power. Here we fit up a pack train, for our bedding and instruments and supplies are to be carried on the backs of mules and ponies.
September 5, 1870. - The several members of the party are engaged in general preparation for our trip down to the Grand Canyon.
Taking with me a white man and an Indian, I start on a climb to the summit of the Paunsa'gunt Plateau, which rises above us on the east. Our way for a mile or more is over a great peat bog, which trembles under our feet, and now and then a mule sinks through the broken turf and we are compelled to pull it out with ropes. Passing the bog, our way is up a gulch at the foot of the Pink Cliffs, which form the escarpment, or wall, of the great plateau. Soon we leave the gulch and climb a long ridge which winds around to the right toward the summit of the great table.
Two hours' riding, climbing, and clambering bring us near the top. We look below and see clouds drifting up from the south and rolling tumultuously toward the foot of the cliffs beneath us. Soon all the country below is covered with a sea of vapor - a billowy, raging, noiseless sea - and as the vapory flood still rolls up from the south, great waves dash against the foot of the cliffs and roll back; another tide comes in, is hurled back, and another and another, lashing the cliffs until the fog rises to the summit and covers us all. There is a heavy pine and fir forest above, beset with dead and fallen timber, and we make our way through the undergrowth to the east.
It rains. The clouds discharge their moisture in torrents, and we make for ourselves shelters of boughs, only to be soon abandoned, and we stand shivering by a great fire of pine logs and boughs, which the pelting storm half extinguishes.
One, two, three, four hours of the storm, and at last it partially abates. During this time our animals, which we have turned loose, have sought for themselves shelter under the trees, and two of them have wandered away beyond our sight. I go out to follow their tracks, and come near to the brink of a ledge of rocks, which, in the fog and mist, I suppose to be a little ridge, and I look for a way by which I can go down. Standing just here, there is a rift made in the fog below by some current or blast of wind, which reveals an almost bottomless abyss. I look from the brink of a great precipice of more than 2,000 feet; but through the mist the forms are half obscured and all reckoning of distance is lost, and it seems 10,000 feet, ten miles - any distance the imagination desires to make it.