CHAPTER XII. COULD WE SUCCEED?
An hour or two at the oars the next morning sufficed to bring us to the junction of the Green and the Grand rivers. We tied up our boats, and prepared to climb out on top, as we had a desire to see the view from above. A mile back on the Green we had noticed a sort of canyon or slope breaking down on the west side, affording a chance to reach the top. Loading ourselves with a light lunch, a full canteen, and our smaller cameras, we returned to this point and proceeded to climb out. Powell's second expedition had climbed out at this same place; Wolverton had also mentioned the fact that he had been out; so we were quite sure of a successful attempt before we made the climb.
The walk close to the river, over rocks and along narrow ledges, was hard work; the climb out was even more so. The contour maps which we carried credited these walls with 1300 feet height. If we had any doubt concerning the accuracy of this, it disappeared before we finally reached the top. What we saw, however, was worth all the discomfort we had undergone. Close the top, three branches of dry, rock-bottomed gullies carved from a gritty, homogeneous sandstone, spread out from the slope we had been climbing. These were less precipitous. Taking the extreme left-hand gully, we found the climb to the top much easier. At the very end we found an irregular hole a few feet in diameter not a cave, but an opening left between some immense rocks, touching at the top, seemingly rolled together.
Gazing down through this opening, we were amazed to find that we were directly above the Colorado itself. It was so confusing at first that we had to climb to the very top to see which river it was, I contending that it was the Green, until satisfied that I was mistaken. The view from the top was overwhelming, and words can hardly describe what we saw, or how we were affected by it.
We found ourselves on top of an irregular plateau of solid rock, with no earth or vegetation save a few little bushes and some very small cedars in cracks in the rocks. Branching canyons, three or four hundred feet in depth, and great fissures ran down in this rock at intervals. Some were dark and crooked, and the bottom could not be seen. Between these cracks, the rock rounded like elephants backs sloping steeply on either side. Some could be crossed, some could not. Others resembled a "maze," the puzzle being how to get from one point to another a few away. The rock was a sandstone and presented a rough surface affording a good hold, so there was little danger of slipping. We usually sat down and "inched" way to the edge of the cracks, jumping across to little ledges when possible, always helping each other.
The rock at the very edge of the main canyon overhung, in places 75 to 100 feet, and the great mass of gigantic boulders - sections of shattered cliffs - on the steep slope near the river gave evidence of a continual breaking away of these immense rocks.
To the north, across the canyon up which we had climbed, were a great number of smooth formations, from one hundred to four hundred feet high, rounded on top in domes, reminding one of Bagdad and tales from the Arabian Nights. "The Land of Standing Rocks," the Utes call it. The rock on which we stood was light gray or nearly white; the river walls at the base for a thousand feet above the river were dark red or chocolate-brown; while the tops of the formations above this level were a beautiful light red tint.
But there were other wonders. On the south side of the Colorado's gorge, miles away, were great spires, pointing heavenward, singly and in groups, looking like a city of churches. Beyond the spires were the Blue Mountains, to the east the hazy LaSalle range, and nearest of all on the west just north of the Colorado lay the snow-covered peaks of the Henry Mountains. Directly below us was the Colorado River, muddy, swirllng, and forbidding. A mile away boomed a rapid, beyond that was another, then the river was lost to view.
Standing on the brink of all this desolation, it is small wonder if we recalled the accounts of the disasters which had overtaken so many others in the canyon below us. Many who had escaped the water had climbed out on to this death trap, as it had proven to be for them, some to perish of thirst and starvation, a few to stagger into the ranch below the canyon, a week or more after they had escaped from the water. Small wonder that some of these had lost their reason. We could only conjecture at the fate of the party whose wrecked boat had been found by the Stone expedition, a few miles below this place, with their tracks still fresh in the sand. No trace of them was ever found.
For the first time it began to dawn on us that we might have tackled a job beyond our power to complete. Most of the parties which had safely completed the trip were composed of several men, adding much to the safety of the expedition, as a whole. Others had boats much lighter than ours, a great help in many respects. Speaking for myself, I was just a little faint-hearted, and not a little overawed as we prepared to return to the boats.
While returning, we saw evidences of ancient Indians - some broken arrow-heads, and pottery also, and a small cliff ruin under a shelving rock.
What could an Indian find here to interest him! We had found neither bird, nor rabbit; not even a lizard in the Land of Standing Rocks. Perhaps they were sun worshippers, and wanted an unobstructed view of the eastern sky. That at least could be had, in unrivalled grandeur, here above the Rio Colorado.
The shadows were beginning to lengthen when we finally reached our boats at the junction. Camp was made under a large weeping willow tree, the only tree of its kind we remembered having seen on the journey.