CHAPTER XVI. A WARNING
We camped that night at the Ute Ford, or the Crossing of the Fathers; a noted landmark of bygone days, when Escalante (in 1776) and others later followed the inter-tribal trails across these unfriendly lands. Later marauding Navajo used this trail, crossing the canyon to the north side, raiding the scattered Mormon settlements, bringing their stolen horses, and even sheep, down this canyon trail. Then they drove them across on a frozen river, and escaped with them to their mountain fastness. The Mormons finally tired of these predatory visits, and shut off all further loss from that source by blasting off a great ledge at the north end of the trail. This ruined the trail beyond all hope of repair, and there is no travel at present over the old Ute Crossing. The fording of the river on horseback was effected by dropping down to the river through a narrow side canyon, and crossing to the centre on a shoal, then following a centre shoal down quite a distance, and completing the crossing at a low point on the opposite side. This was only possible at the very lowest stage of water.
The morning following our arrival here, we walked about a mile up the gravelly slope on the south side, to see if we could locate the pass by which the trail dropped down over these 3000-foot walls. The canyon had changed in appearance after leaving the mountain, and now we had a canyon; smaller, but not unlike the Grand Canyon in appearance, with an inner plateau, and a narrow canyon at the river, while the walls on top were several miles apart, and towering peaks or buttes rose from the plateau, reaching a height almost equal to the walls themselves. The upper walls were cream-tinted or white sandstone, the lower formation was a warm red sandstone. We could not discover the pass without a long walk to the base of the upper cliffs, so returned to the boats.
About this time we heard shots, seeming to come from some point down the river, and on the north side. Later a dull hollow sound was heard like pounding on a great bass drum. We could not imagine what it was, but knew that it must be a great distance away. We had noticed instances before this, where these smooth, narrow canyon had a great magnifying effect on noises. In the section above the San Juan, where the upper walls overhung a little, a loud call would roll along for minutes before it finally died. A shot from a revolver sounded as if the cliff were falling.
Our run this morning was delightful. The current was the best on which we had travelled. The channel swung from side to side, in great half circles, with most of the water thrown against the outside bank, or wall, with a five-or six-mile an hour current close to the wall. We took advantage of all this current, hugging the wall, with the stern almost touching, and with the bow pointed out so we would not run into the walls or scrape our oars. Then, when it seemed as if our necks were about to be permanently dislocated, from looking over one shoulder, the river would reverse its curve, the channel would cross to the other side, and we would give that side of our necks a rest. Once in a great while I would bump a rock, and would look around sheepishly, to see if my brother had seen me do it. I usually found him with a big grin on his face, if he happened to be ahead of me.
We rowed about twenty miles down the river before we learned what had caused the noises heard in the morning. On rounding a turn we saw the strange spectacle of fifteen or twenty men at work on the half-constructed hull of a flat-bottomed steamboat, over sixty feet in length. This boat was on the bank quite a distance above the water, with the perpendicular walls of a crooked side canyon rising above it. It was a strange sight, here in this out-of-the-way corner of the world. Some men with heavy sledges were under the boat, driving large spikes into the planking. This was the noise we had heard that morning.
The blasting, we learned later, was at some coal mines, several miles up this little canyon, which bore the name of Warm Creek Canyon. A road led down through the canyon, making it possible to haul the lumber for the boat, clear to the river's edge. The nearest railroad was close to two hundred miles from this place, quite a haul considering the ruggedness of the country. The material for the boat had been shipped from San Francisco, all cut, ready to put together. The vessel was to be used to carry coal down the river, to a dredge that had recently been installed at Lee's Ferry.
The dinner gong had just sounded when we landed, and we were taken along with the crowd. There were some old acquaintances in this group of men, we found, from Flagstaff, Arizona. These men had received a Flagstaff paper which had published a short note we had sent from Green River, Utah. They had added a comment that no doubt this would be the last message we would have an opportunity to send out. Very cheering for Emery's wife, no doubt. Fortunately she shared our enthusiasm, and if she felt any apprehension her few letters failed to show it.
We resumed our rowing at once after dinner, for we wished to reach Lee's Ferry, twenty-five miles distant, that evening. We had a good current, and soon left our friends behind us. We pulled with a will, and mile after mile was covered in record time, for our heavy boats.