A westward-bound train was bearing me across the Mojave Desert one day in May. In a few swiftly passing hours we had made a six-thousand foot descent from the plateau with its fir and aspen-covered mountain, its cedar and pinon-clothed foot-hills, and its extensive forests of yellow pine. Crimson and yellow-flowered cactus, sage and chaparral, succeeded the pines. The cool mountains had given way to burned-out, umber-coloured hills, rock-ribbed arroyos, and seemingly endless desert; and the sun was growing hotter every minute.

If the heat continued to increase, I doubted if I would care to take a half-planned Colorado River trip down to the Gulf. Visions of the California beaches, of fishing at Catalina and of horseback rides over the Sierra's trails, nearly unsettled my determination to stop at Needles, on the California side of the river. This was my vacation! Why undergo all the discomfort of a voyage on a desert stream, when the pleasures and comforts of the Pacific beckoned? One thing was sure, if I was not successful in securing a boat at Needles, the very next train would find me on board, bound for the Western Slope. By mid-afternoon the chaparral had disappeared and only the cactus remained - the ocotilla, covered with a million flowers, wave upon wave of crimson flame, against the yellow earth. Violet-veiled mountains appeared in the west, marking the southern trend of the Colorado. The air was suffocating. The train-created wind was like a blast from a furnace; yet with the electric fans whirring, with blinds drawn and windows closed to keep the withering air out, it seemed a little less uncomfortable in the car, in spite of the unvitalized air, than under the scorching sun.

We were beside the Colorado at last. I had a good view of the stream below, as we crossed the bridge - the Colorado in flood, muddy, turbulent, sweeping onward like an affrighted thing, - repulsive, yet with a fascination for me, born of an intimate acquaintance with the dangers of this stream. The river had called again! The heat was forgotten, the visions of the coast faded, for me the train could not reach Needles, ten miles up the river, quickly enough.

With my brother, I had followed this stream down to Needles, through a thousand miles of canyon. I had seen how it carved its way through the mountains, carrying them on, in solution, toward the ocean. At last I would see what became of all these misplaced mountains. I would see the tidal bore as it swept in from the Gulf. I had heard there were wild hogs which burrowed through the cane-brake. It may be that I would learn of a vessel at some port down on the Mexican coast, which I might reach and which would take me around the Lower California Peninsula. I felt sure there was such a port. No doubt I could have found books to tell me exactly what I would see, but too much information would spoil all the romance of such an adventure. It was all very alluring. With the spring flood on, the river could not help but be interesting and exciting, a pretty good imitation of the rapids, perhaps. If I could only secure a boat!

Half an hour later I was meeting old acquaintances about the hotel, connected with the station. The genial hotel manager, with the Irish name, was smilingly explaining to some newcomers that this was not hot; that "a dry heat at 110 degrees was not nearly as bad as 85 degrees back in Chicago," "and as for heat," he continued, "why down in Yuma" - then he caught sight of me, with a grin on my face, and perhaps he remembered that I had heard him say the same thing two years before, when it was even hotter; and he came over with out-stretched hand, - calling me uncomplimentary names, under his breath, for spoiling the effect of his explanation; all which was belied by his welcome. It takes an Irishman to run a big hotel in the middle of the desert.

A few inquiries brought out the information that I was not likely to get a boat. The stores did not keep them. I should have given my order two weeks before to an Indian who built boats to order at $2.00 a foot. This was a new one on me. Suppose a fellow wanted - well say, about $15.00 worth. It would look something like a tub, wouldn't it? Perhaps it was to be the coast, for me, after all.

The Colorado River in flood is a terrible stream. Unlike the Eastern rivers, there are no populous cities - with apologies to Needles and Yuma - along its shores, to be inundated with the floods. Unlike the rivers of the South, few great agricultural districts spread across its bottoms. Along the upper seven hundred miles there are not a half-dozen ranches with twenty-five acres under cultivation. But if destructive power and untamed energy are terrible, the Colorado River, in flood, is a terrible stream.

After changing into some comfortable clothes I sauntered past the railway machine shops down to the river, and up to where a fight was being waged to save the upper part of the town from being torn away by the flood. For a month past, car after car of rock had been dumped along the river bank, only to disappear in the quicksands; and as yet no bottom had been reached. Up to this point the fight was about equal. The flood would not reach its crest until two or three weeks later.

Beyond a fisherman or two there were few men by the river. The workmen had finished their day's labour. A ferryman said that I might talk an Indian into selling his boat, but it was doubtful. My next job was to find such an Indian.

A big, greasy Mojave buck lay on an uncovered, rusty bed spring, slung on a home-made frame, before his willow and adobe home, close to the Colorado River. In answer to my repeated question he uncoiled and stretched the full length of his six foot six couch, grunted a few words in his native tongue to other Indians without a glance in my direction, then indifferently closed his eyes again. A young Indian in semi-cowboy garb, - not omitting a gorgeous silk handkerchief about his neck, - jabbered awhile with some grinning squaws, then said in perfectly understandable English, "He will sell his boat for $18.00. It is worth $30.00." This was decisive for an Indian. It usually takes a half-day of bickering to get them to make any kind of a bargain. I told him I would take it in the morning.

It was a well-constructed boat, almost new, built of inch pine, flat-bottomed, and otherwise quite similar in shape to the boats my brother and I had used on our twelve hundred mile journey through the canyons of the Green and Colorado rivers, - but without the graceful lines and swells that made those other boats so valuable to us in rapids. The boat was nearly new and well worth $30.00, as boat prices went in that town. Why he was willing to sell it for $18.00, or at the rate of $1.00 a foot, I could not imagine. It was the first bargain an Indian had ever offered me. But if I paid for it that evening, there were doubts in my mind if I should find it in the morning, so I delayed closing the bargain and went back again to inspect the boat.

That evening I inquired among my acquaintances if there was any one who would care to accompany me. If so I would give them passage to Yuma, or to the Gulf of California in Mexico, if they wished it. But no one could go, or those who could, wouldn't. One would have thought from the stories with which I was regaled, that the rapids of the Grand Canyon were below Needles, and as for going to the Gulf, it was suicide. I was told of the outlaws along the border, of the firearms and opium smugglers, who shot first and questioned afterward, and of the insurrectos of Lower California. The river had no real outlet to the ocean, they said, since the break into Salton Sea, but spread over a cane-brake, thirty miles or more in width. Many people had gone into these swamps and never returned, whether lost in the jungles or killed by the Cocopah Indians, no one knew. They simply disappeared. It was all very alluring.

My preparations, the next day, were few. I had included a sleeping bag with my baggage. It would come in equally handy whether I went down on the Colorado or up into the Coast Range. A frying-pan, a coffee-pot a few metal dishes and provisions for a week were all I needed. Some one suggested some bent poles, and a cover, such as are used on wagons to keep off the sun. This seemed like a good idea; and I hunted up a carpenter who did odd jobs. He did not have such a one, but he did have an old wagon-seat cover, which could be raised or dropped at will. This was even better, for sometimes hard winds sweep up the river. The cover was fastened to the sides of the boat. The boat, meanwhile, had been thoroughly scrubbed. It looked clean before, but I was not going to take any chances at carrying Indian live-stock along with his boat. My surplus baggage was sent on to Los Angeles, and twenty-four hours after I had landed in Needles, I was ready to embark.

My experience in camping trips of various sorts has been that the start from headquarters occupies more time than any similar preparation. Once on the road, things naturally arrange themselves into some kind of a system, and an hour on the road in the evening means several hours gained the next morning. Added to this, there are always a number of loafers about railroad towns, and small things have a way of disappearing. With this in mind, I determined to make my start that evening, and at 7 P.M. on the 23d of May, 1913, I embarked on a six to eight mile an hour current, paced by cottonwood logs, carried down by the flood from the head waters in Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado.

When sailing on the unruffled current one did not notice its swiftness - it sped so quietly yet at the same time with such deadly intent - until some half submerged cottonwood snags appeared, their jagged, broken limbs ploughing the stream exactly like the bow of a motor-driven boat, throwing two diverging lines of waves far down the stream. One would almost think the boat was motionless, it raced so smoothly, - and that the snags were tearing upstream as a river man had said, the day before, "like a dog with a bone in his teeth." A sunken stone-boat, with a cabin half submerged, seemed propelled by some unseen power and rapidly dwindled in the distance.

So fascinating were these things that I forgot the approaching night. I first noticed it when the stream slackened its mad pace and spread over its banks into great wide marshes, in divided and subdivided channels and over submerged islands, with nothing but willow and fuzzy cattail tops to indicate that there was a bottom underneath. Here there was no place to camp had I wished to do so. Once I missed the main channel and had a difficult time in finding my way back in the dark. After two or three miles of this quiet current, the streams began to unite again, and the river regained its former speed. I was growing weary after the first excitement, and began to wish myself well out of it all and safely anchored to the shore. But I knew there was a level bank above the river close to the bridge, which would make a good camping place; so I rested on my oars facing down the stream with eyes and ears alert for the treacherous snags. Then the stars began to appear, one by one, lighting up the cloudless sky; a moist, tropical-like breeze moved up the stream, the channel narrowed and deepened, the snags vanished, and the stream increased its swiftness.

And with eyes wide open, but unseeing, I dozed. It was the lights of a passenger train crossing the bridge, just a short distance away, that made me realize where I was. The train thundered into the darkness; but louder than the roar of the train was that of the water directly ahead, and hidden in the impenetrable shadow over on the right shore was a noise much like that made by a Grand Canyon rapid.

Wide awake now, I pulled for the left, and after one or two attempts to land, I caught some willow tops and guided the boat to the raised bank. Beyond the willows was a higher ground, covered with a mesquite thicket, with cattle trails winding under the thorny trees. Here I unrolled my sleeping bag, then went up to interview the operator and the watchman, and to get a drink of clear water, for I had no desire to drink the liquid mud of the Colorado until it was necessary. In answer to a question I told them of my little ride. One of the men exclaimed, "You don't mean to say that you came down on the flood after dark!" On being informed that I had just arrived, he exclaimed: "Well I reckon you don't know what the Colorado is. It's a wonder this whirlpool didn't break you against the pier. You ought to have brought some one with you to see you drown!"