CHAPTER X. HOSPITABLE RANCHMEN
The appearance of Desolation Canyon had changed entirely in the lower end. Instead of a straight canyon without a break, we were surrounded by mountain peaks nearly 2500 feet high, with many side canyon between them and with little level parks at the end of the canyons beside the river. The tops were pine-covered; cedars clung to the rocky slopes. Some of these peaks were not unlike the formations of the Grand Canyon, as seen from the inner plateau, and the red colouring was once more found in the rocks.
These peaks were gradually dropping down in height; and at one open section, with alfalfa and hay fields on gently sloping hillsides, we found a small ranch, the buildings being set back from the river. We concluded to call and found three men, the rancher and two young cowboys, at work in a blacksmith shop. Emery had forgotten to remove his life-preserver, and the men looked at him with some astonishment, as he was still soaking wet from the splashing waves of the last rapid.
When I joined him he was explaining that no one had been drowned, and that we were merely making an excursion down the river. Mr. McPherson, the rancher, we learned, owned all the cattle seen up the river. The little cabin at our last camp was a sort of headquarters for his cowboys. The cattle were just being driven from the mountains before the snows came, and were to be wintered here in the canyons. Some of these cattle were much above the usual grade of range cattle, being thoroughbreds, although most of them ran loose on the range. This ranch had recently lost a valuable bull which had been killed by a bear up in the mountains - not unlike similar conflicts in more civilized sections of the country. McPherson camped on this bear's trail for several days and nights before he finally hung his pelt on a tree. He was a large cinnamon-coloured grizzly. Four other bears had been killed this same year, in these mountains.
McPherson's home had burned down a short time before our visit, and his family had removed to Green River, Utah. A number of tents were erected, neatly boarded up, and we were informed that one of these was reserved for company, so we need not think of going any farther that day. These men, while absolutely fearless in the saddle, over these rough mountain trails, had "no use for the river" they told us; in fact, we found this was the usual attitude of the cattle men wherever we met them. McPherson's respect for the river was not without reason, as his father, with two others, had been drowned while making a crossing in a light boat near this point, some years before. Some accident occurred, possibly the breaking of a rowlock, and they were carried into a rapid. McPherson's men found it necessary to cross their cattle back and forth, but always took the wise precaution to have on some life-preservers. The cork preservers hung in the blacksmith shop, where they could easily be reached at a moment's notice.
Desolation Canyon, with a slight breaking down of the walls for a short distance only, gave place to Gray Canyon below the McPherson Ranch. A good sized mountain stream, part of which irrigated the ranch above, found its way through this division. We had been told that more rapids lay ahead of us in Gray Canyon, but they were not so numerous in our next day's travel. What we did find were usually large, but we ran them all without difficulty. About noon we met five men in a boat, rowing up the stream in a long, still stretch. They told us they were working on a dam, a mile or two below. They followed us down to see us make the passage through the rapid which lay above their camp. The rapid was long and rocky, having a seventeen-foot fall in a half mile. We picked our channel by standing up in the boat before entering the rapid and were soon at the bottom with no worse mishap than bumping a rock or two rather lightly. We had bailed out and were tying our boats, when the men came panting down the hill up which they had climbed to see us make this plunge. A number of men were at work here, but this being Sunday, most of them had gone to Green River, Utah, twenty-one miles distant.
Among the little crowd who came down to see us resume our rowing was a lady and a little girl who lived in a rock building, near the other buildings erected for the working-men. Emery showed the child a picture of his four-year-old daughter, Edith, with her mother - a picture he always carried in a note-book. Then he had her get in the boat with him, and we made a photograph of them. They were very good friends before we left.
In a few hours we emerged from the low-walled canyon into a level country. A large butte, perhaps 700 feet high, stood out by itself, a mile from the main cliffs. This was Gunnison Butte, an old landmark near the Gunnison trail. We were anxious to reach Blake or Green River, Utah, not many miles below, that evening; but we failed to make it. There were several rapids, some of them quite large, and we had run them all when we came to a low dam that obstructed our passage, While looking it over, seeing how best to make a portage, a young man whom we had just seen remarked: "Well, boys, you had better tie up and I will help you in the morning."
It was 5.30 then, and we were still six miles from Green River, so we took his advice and camped. On seeing our sleeping bags, tightly strapped and making rather small roll, he remarked: "Well, you fellows are not Mormons; I can tell by the size of your beds!"