CHAPTER XXII. SHORT OF PROVISIONS IN A SUNLESS GORGE
In the mud at Kanab Canyon we saw an old footprint of some person who had come down to the river through this narrow, gloomy gorge. It was here that Major Powell terminated his second voyage, on account of extreme high water. A picture they made showed their boats floated up in this side canyon. Our stage was much lower than this. F.S. Dellenbaugh, the author of "A Canyon Voyage," was a member of this second expedition. This book had been our guide down to this point; we could not have asked for a better one. Below here we had a general idea of the nature of the river, and had a set of the government maps, but we had neglected to provide ourselves with detailed information such as this volume gave us.
Evening of the following day found us at Cataract Creek Canyon, but with a stage of water in the river nearly fifty feet lower than that which we had seen a few years before. The narrow entrance of this great canyon gives no hint of what it is like a few miles above.
The Indian village is in the bottom of a 3000-foot canyon, half a mile wide and three miles long, covered with fertile fields, peach and apricot orchards. It even contained a few fig trees. Below the village the canyon narrowed to a hundred yards, with a level bottom, covered with a tangle of wild grape vines, cactus, and cottonwood trees. This section contained the two largest falls, and came to an end about four miles below the first fall. Then the canyon narrowed, deep and gloomy, until there was little room for anything but the powerful, rapidly descending stream. At the lower end it was often waist deep and fifteen or twenty feet wide. It was no easy task to go through this gorge. The stream had to be crossed several times. The canyon terminated in an extremely narrow gorge 2500 feet deep, dark and gloomy, one of the most impressive gorges we have ever seen. The main canyon was similar, with a few breaks on the sides, those breaks being ledges, or narrow sloping benches that would extend for miles, only to be brought to an abrupt end by side canyons. There are many mountain-sheep in this section, but we saw none either time. We could see many fresh tracks where they had followed these ledges around, and had gone up the narrow side canyon. It was cold in the main canyon, and no doubt the sheep could be found on the plateaus, which were more open, and would get sun when the sun shone. This plateau was 2500 feet above us. At the turn of the canyon we could see the other walls 2000 feet above that. The rapids in the section just passed had been widely separated and compared well with those of Marble Canyon, not the worst we had seen, but far from being tame. There was plenty of shore room at each of these rapids.
Cactus of different species was now a feature of the scenery. The ocotilla or candlewood with long, lash-like stalks springing from a common centre - that cactus, which, when dried, needs only a lighted match to set it afire - flourishes in the rocky ledges. A species of small barrel-cactus about the size of a man's head, with fluted sides, or symmetrical vertical rows of small thorned lumps converging at the top of the "nigger-head," as they are sometimes called, grows in great numbers in crevices on the walls. The delicate "pin cushion" gathered in clusters of myriad small spiny balls. The prickly pear, here in Ha Va Su Canyon, were not the starved, shrivelled, mineral-tinted cactus such as we found at the beginning of our trip. Instead they were green and flourishing, with large fleshy leaves joining on to each other until they rise to a height of three feet or more and cover large patches of ground to the utter exclusion of all other growth. What a display of yellow and red these desert plants put forth when they are in bloom! A previous visit to Ha Va Su was made in the month of May when every group of prickly pear was a riot of pure colour. All this prolific growth is made possible by the extreme heat of the summer months aided in the case of those plants and trees which flourish in the fertile soil of Ha Va Su by the sub-irrigation and the spray from the fall.
After making an inventory of our provisions we concluded not to try the tedious and uncertain trip up Cataract Creek. With care and good fortune we would have enough provisions to last us to Diamond Creek.
With our run the next day the inner gorge continued to deepen, the walls drew closer together, so that we now had a narrow gorge hemming us in with 3000-foot walls from which there was no escape. They were about a fourth of a mile apart at the top. A boat at the foot of one of these walls was merely an atom. The total depth of the canyon was close to 4500 feet. There is nothing on earth to which this gorge can be compared. Storm-clouds lowered into the chasm in the early morning. The sky was overcast and threatening. We were travelling directly west again, and no sunlight entered here, even when the sun shone. The walls had lost their brighter reds, and what colour they had was dark and sombre, a dirty brown and dark green predominating. The mythology of the ancients, with their Inferno and their River Styx, could hardly conjure anything more supernatural or impressive than this gloomy gorge.
There were a few bad rapids. One or two had no shore, others had an inclination to run under one wall and had to be run very carefully. If we could not get down alongside of a rapid, we could usually climb out on the walls at the head of the rapid and look it over from that vantage point. The one who climbed out would signal directions to the others, who would run it at once, and continue on to the next rapid. They would have its course figured out when the last boat arrived.