Before sunrise the following morning, I had completed my few camp duties, finished my breakfast and dropped my boat into the whirlpool above the bridge. My two friends watched the manoeuvre as I pulled clear of the logs and the piers which caused the water to make such alarming sounds the night before; then they gave me a final word of caution, and the information that the Parker Bridge was sixty miles away and that Yuma was two hundred and fifty miles down the stream. They thought that I should reach Yuma in a week. It seemed but a few minutes until the bridge was a mile up the stream. Now I was truly embarked for the gulf.

By the time I had reached the spire-like mountainous rocks a few miles below the bridge, which gave the town of Needles its name, the sun was well up and I was beginning to learn what desert heat was, although I had little time to think of it as I was kept so busy with my boat. Here, the stream which was spread a mile wide above, had choked down to two hundred feet; small violent whirlpools formed at the abrupt turns in this so-called canyon and the water tore from side to side. In one whirl my boat was twice carried around the circle into which I had allowed it to be caught, then shot out on the pounding flood. Soon the slag-like mountains were passed and the country began to spread, first in a high barren land, then with a bottom land running back from the river. The willow bushes changed to willow trees, tall and spindly, crowded in a thicket down to the river's edge. The Chemehuevi Indians have their reservation here. On rounding an abrupt turn I surprised two little naked children, fat as butterballs, dabbling in a mud puddle close to the stream. The sight, coupled with the tropical-like heat and the jungle, could well make one imagine he was in Africa or India, and that the little brown bodies were the "alligator bait" of which we read. Only the 'gators were missing. The unexpected sight of a boat and a white man trying to photograph them started them both into a frightened squall. Then an indignant mother appeared, staring at me as though she would like to know what I had done to her offspring. Farther along were other squaws, with red and blue lines pencilled on their childlike, contented faces, seated under the willows. Their cotton garments, of red and blue bandanna handkerchiefs sewed together, added a gay bit of colour to the scene.

Below this were two or three cozy little ranch houses and a few scattered cattle ranches, with cattle browsing back in the trees. All this time it was getting hotter, and I was thankful for my sheltering cover. My lunch, prepared in the morning, was eaten as I drifted. Except in a few quiet stretches I did little rowing, just enough to keep the boat away from the overhanging banks and in the strong current.

The bottom lands began to build up again with banks of gravel and clay, growing higher with every mile. The deciduous trees gave way to the desert growths: the cholla, "the shower of gold," and the palo verde and the other acacias. Here were the California or valley-quail; and lean, long-legged jack-rabbits. Here too were the coyotes, leaner than the rabbits, but efficient, shifty-eyed, and insolent. One could admire but could hardly respect them.

I had entertained hopes of reaching Parker that evening, but supposed the hour would be late if I reached it at all. Imagine my surprise, then, when at half-past four I heard the whistle of a train, and another turn revealed the Parker bridge. I had been told by others that it had taken them three or four days to reach this point on a low stage of water. Evidently the high water is much better for rapid and interesting travel.

Here at the bridge, which was a hundred feet above the river, was a dredge, and an old flat-bottomed steamboat, a relic of a few years past, before the government built the Laguna dam above Yuma, and condemned the Colorado as a navigable stream. Those were the days which the Colorado steamboat men recall with as much fond remembrance as the old-time boatmen of the Mississippi remember their palmy days.

In spite of the fact that the boats were flat-bottomed and small, it was real steamboating of an exciting nature at least. At times they beat up against the current as far as the mouth of the Rio Virgin. In low water the channels shifted back and forth first choked with sand on one side of the stream, then on the other. While the total fall from Fort Mojave, a few miles above Needles, to the Gulf is only 525 feet, considerable of that fall came in short sections, first with a swift descent, then in a quiet stretch. Even in the high-water stage I was finding some such places.

Parker stood a mile back from the river, on top of the level gravelly earth which stretched for miles on either side of the river clear to the mountains. This earth and gravel mixture was so firmly packed that even the cactus had a scant foothold. The town interested me for one reason only, this being, that I could get my meals for the evening and the following morning, instead of having to cook them myself. After I had eaten them, however, there was a question in my mind if my own cooking, bad as it was, would not have answered the purpose just as well. The place was a new railroad town on an Indian reservation, a town of great expectations, somewhat deferred.

It was not as interesting to me as my next stop at Ahrenburg, some fifty miles below Parker. This place while nothing but a collection of dilapidated adobe buildings, had an air of romance about it which was missing in the newer town. Ahrenburg had seen its day. Many years ago it was a busy mining camp, and the hope is entertained by the faithful who still reside in its picturesque adobe homes that it will come back with renewed vigour. Here at Ahrenburg I met a character who added greatly to the interest of my stay. He was a gigantic, raw-boned Frenchman, at that time engaged in the construction of a motor boat; but a miner, a sailor, and a soldier of fortune in many ways, one who had pried into many of the hidden corners of the country and had a graphic way of describing what he had seen. I was his guest until late that night, and was entertained royally on what humble fare he had to offer. We both intended to renew our acquaintance in the morning, but some prowling Mexicans near my boat, croaking frogs, and swarms of mosquitos gave me a restless night. With the first glimmer of daylight I was up, and half an hour later I was away on the flood.

This was my big day. The current was better than much of that above; I was getting used to the heat, and, instead of idly drifting, I pulled steadily at the oars. The river twisted back and forth in great loops with the strong current, as is usual, always on the outside of the loops, close to the overhanging banks. I would keep my boat in this current, with a wary lookout over my shoulder for fallen trees and sudden turns, which had a way of appearing when least expected. At some such places the stream was engaged at undermining the banks which rose eight and ten feet above the water. Occasional sections, containing tons of earth and covered with tall, slender willow trees, would topple over, falling on the water with the roar of a cannon or a continued salute of cannons; for the falling, once started, quite often extended for half a mile down the stream. At one such place eighteen trees fell in three minutes, and it would be safe to say that a hundred trees were included in the extended fall. The trees, sixty feet high, resembled a field of gigantic grass or unripened grain; the river was a reaper, cutting it away at the roots. Over they tumbled to be buried in the stream; the water would swirl and boil, earth and trees would disappear; then the mass of leaf-covered timber, freed of the earth, would wash away to lodge on the first sand-bar, and the formation of a new island or a new shore would begin.

Then again, the banks were barren, composed of gravel and clay, centuries older than the verdure-covered land, undisturbed, possibly, since some glacial period deposited it there. But a shifting of the channel directed the attack against these banks. Here the swift current would find a little irregularity on the surface and would begin its cutting. The sand-laden water bored exactly like an auger, in fast-cutting whirls. One such place I watched for a half-hour from the very beginning, until the undermined section, fourteen feet high, began to topple, and I pulled out to safety, but not far enough to escape a ducking in the resulting wave.

Below this, instead of a firm earth, it was a loose sand and gravel mixture twenty feet above the river. Here for half a mile the entire bank was moving, slowly at the top, gathering speed at the bottom. While close to this I heard a peculiar hissing as of carbonated water all about me. At first I thought there were mineral springs underneath, but found the noise was caused by breaking air bubbles carried under the stream with the sands. All this day such phenomena continued, sliding sand-banks and tumbling jungles. In these latter places some cattle had suffered. Their trails ran parallel with the stream. No doubt they had one or two places where they drank cut down to the stream Knowing nothing of the cutting underneath, they had been precipitated into the flood, and now their carcasses were food for swarms of vultures gathered for an unholy feast.

What powerful, graceful birds these scavengers are, stronger than the eagle even, tireless and seemingly motionless as they drift along searching every nook and cranny for their provender! But aside from a grudgingly given tribute of admiration for their power, one has about as much respect for them as for the equally graceful rattlesnake, that other product of nature which flourishes in this desert land.

The bird life along this lower part of the river was wonderful in its variety. The birds of the desert mingled with those of the fertile lands. The song-birds vied with those of gorgeous plume. Water-birds disported themselves in the mud-banks and sloughs. The smaller birds seemed to pay little attention to the nearness of the hawks. Kingfisher perched on limbs overhanging the quiet pools, ready to drop at the faintest movement on the opaque water; the road-runner chased the festive lizard on the desert land back of the willows. Here also in the mesquite and giant cactus were thrush and Western meadow-larks and mocking-birds mimicking the call of the cat-bird. Down in the brush by the river was the happy little water-ousel, as cheerful in his way as the dumpy-built musical canyon wren. The Mexican crossbill appeared to have little fear of the migrating Northern shrike. There were warblers, cardinals, tanagers, waxwings, song-sparrows, and chickadees. Flitting droves of bush-tit dropped on to slender weeds, scarcely bending them, so light were they. Then in a minute they were gone. In the swamps or marshes were countless red-winged blackbirds.

The most unobservant person could not help but see birds here. I had expected to find water-fowl, for the Colorado delta is their breeding place; but I little expected to find so many land birds in the trees along the river. Instead of having a lonesome trip, every minute was filled with something new, interesting, and beautiful and I was having the time of my life.

I camped that night at Picachio, - meaning the Pocket, - eighty miles below Ahrenburg. This is still a mining district, but the pockets containing nuggets of gold which gave the place its name seem to have all been discovered at the time of the boom; the mining now done is in quartz ledges up on the sides of grim, mineral-stained hills. I was back in the land of rock again, a land showing the forces of nature in high points of foreign rock, shot up from beneath, penetrating the crust of the earth and in a few places emerging for a height of two hundred feet from the river itself, forming barren islands and great circling whirlpools, as large as that in the Niagara gorge, and I thought, for a while, almost as powerful. In one I attempted to keep to the short side of the river, but found it a difficult job, and one which took three times as long to accomplish as if I had allowed myself to be carried around the circle.

Then the land became level again, and the Chocolate Mountains were seen to the west. A hard wind blew across the stream, so that I had to drop my sunshade to prevent being carried against the rocks. This day I passed a large irrigation canal leading off from the stream, the second such on the entire course of the Colorado. Here a friendly ranchman called to me from the shore and warned me of the Laguna dam some distance below. He said the water was backed up for three miles, so I would know when I was approaching it.

In spite of this warning, I nearly came to grief at the dam. The wind had shifted until it blew directly down the stream. The river, nearly a mile wide, still ran with a powerful current; I ceased rowing and drifted down, over waves much like those one would find on a lake driven by a heavy wind. I saw some high poles and a heavy electric cable stretched across the stream, and concluded that this was the beginning of the dam. I began to look ahead for some sign of a barrier across the stream, far below, but I could see nothing of the kind; then as I neared the poles it suddenly dawned on me that there was no raised barrier which diverted all the water through a sluice, but a submerged dam, over which the flood poured, and that the poles were on that dam.

My sail-like sunshade was dropped as quickly as I could do it, and, grabbing the oars, I began to pull for the California shore.

It was fortunate for me that I happened to be comparatively near the shore when I began rowing. As it was, I landed below the diverting canal, and about a hundred yards above the dam. On examination the dam proved to be a slope about fifty feet long. A man in charge of the machinery controlling the gates told me that the dam lacked seven feet of being a mile wide, and that approximately seven feet of water was going over the entire dam.

Great cement blocks and rocks had been dropped promiscuously below the dam to prevent it from being undermined. Even without the rocks it was doubtful if an uncovered boat could go through without upsetting. The great force of the water made a trough four or five feet lower than the river level, all water coming down the slope shooting underneath, while the river rolled back upstream. On two occasions boatmen had been carried over the dam. In each case the boat was wrecked, but the occupants were thrown out and escaped uninjured. I could not help but be amused, and feel a little uncomfortable too, when I saw how nearly I came to being wrecked here, after having escaped that fate in the rapids of the canyons.

I ran my boat back to the diverting canal, then rowed down to the massive cement gates, which looked to me like a small replica of some of the locks on the Panama Canal. With the help of an Indian who was ready for a job my boat was taken out, rolled around the buildings on some sections of pipe, and slid over the bank into the canal below the gates.

In spite of a desire to spend some time inspecting the machinery of this great work, - which, with the canal and other improvements, had cost the government over a million dollars - I immediately resumed my rowing. It was mid-afternoon, and measured by the canal, which was direct, it was twelve miles to Yuma. But I soon learned that great winding curves made it much farther by the river. In some cases it nearly doubled back on itself. The wind had shifted by this time and blew against me so hard that it was almost useless to attempt rowing. In another place there were no banks, and the water had spread for three miles in broken sloughs and around half-submerged islands, the one deep channel being lost in the maze of shallow ones. With these things to contend with it was dusk long before I neared the town, the twelve miles having stretched to twenty. Finally I saw a windmill partly submerged. Some distance away was a small ranch house also in the water. The house, with lights in the upper story, was a cheering sight; the windmill looked out of place in the midst of all this desolation of water. Soon other houses appeared with lights showing through the windows. Once I lost my way and spent a half hour in getting back to the right channel.

Somewhere in the dark, I never knew just when, I passed the mouth of the Gila River. In a similar way in broad daylight I had passed the Bill Williams Fork above Ahrenburg.

At last I neared the town. I could discern some buildings on top of a small hill, evidently one of the back streets of Yuma. After tying my boat, I hid my small load in some mesquite trees, then climbed the hill and passed between two peculiar stone houses dark as dungeons. They puzzled me from the outside, but when once past them, I was no longer in doubt. I had entered the open gateway leading to the courtyard of the Yuma penitentiary. No wonder the buildings looked like dungeons. This was a new experience for me, but somehow I had always imagined just how it would look. I was considering beating a retreat when a guard hailed me and asked me if I was not lost. With the assistance of the guard, I escaped from the pen and found my way to the streets of Yuma, just four days after leaving the Needles bridge.