CHAPTER III. THE GATEWAY OF ALL THE CANYONS
We awoke the next morning full of anticipation. Something new lay ahead of us, a promise of variety. In plain sight of our camp lay the entrance to Flaming Gorge, the gateway to the entire series of canyons. Hurriedly finishing our camp duties, we loaded the boats, fastened down the hatches, and shoved off into the current, eager to be on our way.
It was cloudy overhead and looked as if we were to have more rain. Even then it must have been raining away to the north, for a dirty, clay-colored torrent rushed through the dry arroyo of the night before, a stream large enough to discolour the water of the Green itself. But we thought little of this. We were used to seeing muddy water in the Colorado's gorges; in fact we were surprised to find clear water at all, even in the Green River. Rowing downstream we found that the country sloped gently towards the mountains. The river skirted the edge of these foot-hills as if looking for a possible escape, then turned and entered the mountain at a sharp angle. The walls sloped back considerably at first, and there was a little shore on either side.
Somewhere near this point runs the dividing line of Wyoming and Utah.
We considered the gateway a subject worthy of a motion picture, if taken from the deck of the boat; but doubted if it would be a success owing to the condition of the light and the motion of the boat. Still it was considered worthy of a trial, and the film was run through.
The colour of the rocks at the entrance was a light red, but not out of the ordinary in brilliancy. The rock formation was stratified, but displaced; standing at an angle and flexed over on top with a ragged break here and there, showing plainly the great pressure to which the rocks had been subjected. The upheaval was not violent, the scientists tell us, but slow and even, allowing the river to maintain its old channel, sawing its way through the sandstone. The broken canyon walls, when well inside the gorge, were about 600 to 700 feet high. The mountains beyond and on either side were much higher. The growth on the mountain sides was principally evergreen; Douglas fir, the bull-pine and yellow pine. There was a species of juniper, somewhat different from the Utah juniper, with which we were familiar at the Grand Canyon. Bushes and undergrowth were dense above the steep canyon walls, which were bare. Willows, alder-thickets, and a few cottonwood trees lined the shores.
Meanwhile the current had quickened, almost imperceptibly at first, but enough to put us on our guard. While there were no rapids, use was made of what swift water we found by practising on the method we would use in making a passage through the bad rapids. As to this method, unused as yet by either of us, we had received careful verbal instruction from Mr. Stone, who had made the trip two years before our own venture; and from other friends of Nathan Galloway, the trapper, the man who first introduced the method on the Green and Colorado rivers.
Our experience on water of any kind was rather limited. Emery could row a boat, and row it well, before we left Green River, but had never gone over any large rapids. While he was not nearly so large or heavy as I, - weighing no more than 130 pounds, while I weighed 170 pounds, - he made up for his lighter weight by a quickness and strength that often surprised me. He was always neat and clever in his method of handling his boat, taking a great deal of pride in keeping it free from marks, and avoiding rocks when making a landing. I had done very little rowing before leaving Green River, so little that I had difficulty in getting both oars in the water at the same time. Of course it did not take me long to learn that; but I did not have the knack of making clean landings, and bumped many rocks that my brother missed. Still I was improving all the time and was anxious to get into the rough water, feeling sure I would get through somehow, but doing my best in the meantime to get the knack of handling the boat properly before the rough water was reached.
An occasional rock would stick up above the surface; the swift water would rush up on it, or drive past on either side. Instead of pulling downstream with might and main, and depending on a steersman with a sweep-oar to keep us clear of obstructions - the method usually adopted on large rivers, and by the earlier parties on the Colorado - by our method the single oarsman reversed his boat so that it was turned with the stern downstream, giving the oarsman a view of what was ahead; then by pulling upstream the boat was held in check. We allowed ourselves to be carried in a direct line with the rocks ahead, approaching them as closely as we dared; then, with a pull on one oar, the boat was turned slightly at an angle to the current, and swung to one side or the other; just as a ferry is headed into the current, the water itself helping to force it across. The ferry is held by a cable; the boat, by the oarsman; the results are quite similar.