"Mexico is a good place to keep away from just at present." This was the invariable answer to a few casual inquiries concerning what I would be likely to meet with in the way of difficulties, a possible companion for the voyage to the Gulf, and how one could get back when once there. I received little encouragement from the people of Yuma. The cautions came not from the timid who see danger in every rumour, but from the old steamboat captains, the miners, and prospectors who knew the country and had interests in mineral claims across the border. These claims they had lost in many cases because they had failed for the last two years to keep up their assessment work. There were vague suggestions of being stood up against an adobe wall with a row of "yaller bellies" in front, or being thrown into damp dungeons and held for a ransom.

The steamboat men could give me little information about the river. The old channel had filled with silt, and the river was diverted into a roundabout course little more than a creek in width, then spread over whole delta. The widely spread water finally collected into an ancient course of the Colorado, known as the Hardy or False Colorado. As nearly as I could learn no one from Yuma had been through this new channel beyond a certain point called Volcanic Lake. Two or three parties had come back with stories of having attempted it, but found themselves in the middle of a cane-brake with insufficient water to float a boat. With a desire to be of real assistance to me, one old captain called a Yuma Indian into his office and asked him his opinion, suggesting that he might go along.

"Mebbe so get lost in the trees, mebbe so get shot by the Cocopah," the Indian replied as he shook his head.

The captain laughed at the last and said that the Yuma and Cocopah Indians were not the best of friends, and accused each other of all sorts of things which neither had committed. Some Mexicans and certain outlawed whites who kept close to the border for different reasons, and the possibilities of bogging in a cane-brake were the only uncertainties. In so many words he advised me against going.

Still I persevered. I had planned so long on completing my boating trip to the Gulf, that I disliked to abandon the idea altogether. I felt sure, with a flood on the Colorado, there would be some channel that a flat-bottomed boat could go through, when travelling with the current; but the return trip and the chances of being made a target for some hidden native who had lived on this unfriendly border and had as much reason for respecting some citizens of the United States as our own Indians had in the frontier days, caused me considerable concern. I knew it was customary everywhere to make much of the imaginary dangers, as we had found in our other journeys; but it is not difficult to discriminate between sound advice and the croakings which are based on lack of real information. I knew this was sound advice, and as usual I disliked to follow it. At last I got some encouragement. It came from a retired Wild West showman, - the real thing, one who knew the West from its early days. He laughed at the idea of danger and said I was not likely to find any one, even if I was anxious to do so, until I got to the La Bolso Ranch near the Gulf. They would be glad to see me. He thought it was likely to prove uninteresting unless I intended to hunt wild hogs, but that was useless without dogs, and I would have trouble getting a gun past the custom officers. His advice was to talk with the Mexican consul, as he might know some one who could bring me back by horseback.

In the consul I found a young Spaniard, all affability, bows, and gestures; and without being conscious of it at first I too began making motions. He deplored my lack of knowledge of the Spanish language, laughed at any suggestion of trouble, as all trouble was in Eastern Sonora, he said, separated from the coast by two hundred miles of desert, and stated that the non-resident owner of the La Bolsa cattle ranch happened to be in the building at that moment. In a twinkling he had me before him and explained the situation. This gentleman, the owner of a 600,000-acre grant, and the fishing concession of the Gulf, stated that the ranch drove a team to Yuma once a week, that they would bring me back; in the interval I must consider myself the guest of the Rancho La Bolsa. The consul gave me a passport, and so it was all arranged.

In spite of the consul's opinion, there were many whispered rumours of war, of silent automobiles loaded with firearms that stole out of town under cover of the night and returned in four days, and another of a river channel that could be followed and was followed, the start being made, not from Yuma, but from another border town farther west. A year before there had been an outbreak at this place of certain restless spirits, - some whites included, - and they went along the northern line of Mexico, sacking the ranches and terrorizing the people. The La Bolsa ranch was among those that suffered. The party contained some discharged vaqueros who were anxious to interview the ranch foreman, but fortunately for him he was absent. Then they turned south to Chihuahua and joined the army of Madero. War, to them, meant license to rob and kill. They were not insurrectos, but bandits, and this was the class that was most feared.

Meanwhile I had not given up the idea of a possible companion. Before coming to Yuma I had entertained hopes of getting some one with a motor boat to take me down and back, but there were no motor boats, I found. The nearest approach to a power boat was an attempt that was being made to install the engine from a wrecked steam auto on a sort of flat-bottomed scow. I heard of this boat three or four times, and in each case the information was accompanied by a smile and some vague remarks about a "hybrid." I hunted up the owner, - the proprietor of a shooting gallery, - a man who had once had aspirations as a heavy-weight prize fighter, but had met with discouragement. So he had turned his activities to teaching the young idea how to shoot - especially the "Mexican idea" and those other border spirits who were itching for a scrap.

The proprietor of the shooting gallery drove a thriving trade. Since he had abandoned his training he had taken on fat, and I found him to be a genial sort of giant who refused to concern himself with the serious side of life. Even a lacing he had received in San Francisco at the hands of a negro stevedore struck him as being humorous. He did not seem to have much more confidence in his "power boat" than the others, but said I might talk with the man who was putting it together, ending with the remark "Phillipps thinks he can make her run, and he has always talked of going to the Gulf."

On investigation I found Al Phillipps was anxious to go to the Gulf, and would go along if I would wait until he got his boat in shape. This would take two days. Phillipps, as he told me himself, was a Jayhawker who had left the farm in Kansas and had gone to sea for two years. He was a cowboy, but had worked a year or two about mining engines. In Yuma he was a carpenter, but was anxious to leave and go prospecting along the Gulf. Phillipps and I were sure to have an interesting time. He spoke Spanish and did not fear any of the previously mentioned so-called dangers; he had heard of one party being carried out to sea when the tide rushed out of the river, but as we would have low tide he thought that, with caution, we could avoid that.

At last all was ready for the momentous trial. The river bank was lined with a crowd of men who seemed to have plenty of leisure. Some long-haired Yuma Indians, and red and green turbaned Papagos, gathered in a group off a little to one side. A number of darkies were fishing for bullheads, and boys of three colors besides the Mexicans and a lone Chinaman clambered over the trees and the boats along the shore.

It was a moment of suspense for Phillipps. His reputation as an engineer and a constructor of boats hung in the balance. He also had some original ideas about a rudder which had been incorporated in this boat. Now was his chance to test them out, and his hour of triumph if they worked.

The test was a rigid one. The boat was to be turned upstream against an eight-mile current with big sand-waves, beginning about sixty feet from the shore, running in the middle of the river. If the engine ran, and the stern paddle-wheel turned, his reputation was saved. If she was powerful enough to go against the current, it was a triumph and we would start for the Gulf at once.

On board were Phillipps, a volunteer, and myself. Before turning the boat loose, the engine was tried. It was a success. The paddle-wheel churned the water at a great rate, sending the boat upstream as far as the ropes would let her go. We would try a preliminary run in the quiet water close to the shore, before making the test in the swift current. The order was given to cast off, and for two men, the owner and another, to hold to the ropes and follow on the shore. The engine was started, the paddle-wheel revolved, slowly at first but gathering speed with each revolution. We began to move gently, then faster, so that the men on shore had difficulty in keeping even with us, impeded as they were with bushes and sloping banks. Flushed with success, the order was given to turn her loose, and we gathered in the ropes. Now we were drifting away from the shore and making some headway against the swift current. The crowd on shore was left behind.

But as we left the bank the river increased in speed and the boat gradually lost. Then she stood still, but began to turn slowly, broadside to the current. This was something we had not foreseen. With no headway the rudder was of no avail. There was no sweep-oar; we had even neglected to put an oar on the boat. With pieces of boards the stranger and I paddled, trying to hold her straight, but all the time, in spite of our efforts, she drifted away from the land and slowly turned. A big sand-wave struck her, she wheeled in her tracks and raced straight for a pier, down the stream.

About this time our engineer began having trouble with his engine. At first we feared it would not run, now it seemed it would not stop.

A great shout went up from the shore, and a bet was made that we would run to the Gulf in less than a day. A darky boy fell off a boat in the excitement, the Indians did a dance, men pounded each other and whooped for joy. Then a bolt came loose, and the engine ran away. Driving-rod and belts were whirled "regardless," as the passenger afterwards said, about our heads.

Then the crash came. Our efforts to escape the pier were of no avail. I made a puny effort to break the impact with a pole, but was sent sprawling on the deck. Al tumbled headlong on top of the engine, which he had stopped at last, our passenger rolled over and over, but we all stayed with the ship. Each grabbing a board, we began to paddle and steered the craft to the shore.

With the excitement over, the crowd faded away. Only two or three willing hands remained to help us line the craft back to the landing. The owner, who had to run around the end of the bridge, came down puffing and blowing, badly winded, at the end of the first round. Without a word from any one we brought the boat back to the landing.

Al was the first to speak.

"Well, what are you going to do?" he asked.

"Me? I'm going to take my boat and start for the Gulf in ten minutes. I'll take nothing that I cannot carry. If I have to leave the river I will travel light across the desert to Calexico. I think that I can get through. If you want to go along, I'll stick with you until we get back. What do you think about it?"

It was a long speech and a little bitter perhaps. I felt that way. The disappointment on top of the three days' delay when time was precious could not be forgotten in a moment. And when my speech was said I was all through.

Al said he would be ready in half an hour. Our beds were left behind. Al had a four-yard square of canvas for a sail. This would be sufficient covering at night in the hot desert. We had two canteens. The provisions, scarcely touched before arriving here, were sufficient for five days. I was so anxious to get started that I did not take the time to replenish them in Yuma, intending to do so at the custom-house on the Arizona side twelve miles below, where some one had told me there was a store. I counted on camping there. After a hurriedly eaten luncheon we were ready to start, the boat was shoved off, and we were embarked for Mexico.

Half an hour later we passed the abandoned Imperial Canal, the man-made channel which had nearly destroyed the vast agricultural lands which it had in turn created. Just such a flood as that on which we were travelling had torn out the insufficiently supported head-gates. The entire stream, instead of pushing slowly across the delta, weltering in its own silt to the Gulf, poured into the bottom of the basin nearly four hundred feet below the top of this silt-made dam. In a single night it cut an eighty-foot channel in the unyielding soil, and what had once been the northern end of the California Gulf was turned into an inland sea, filled with the turbid waters of the Colorado, instead of the sparkling waters of the ocean. Nothing but an almost superhuman fight finally rescued the land from the grip of the water.

A short distance below, just across the Mexican line, on the California side, was the new canal, dug in a firmer soil and with strongly built gates anchored in rock back from the river.

Half a mile away from the stream, on a spur railway, was the Mexican custom-house. I had imagined that it would be beside the river, and that guards would be seen patrolling the shore. But aside from an Indian fishing, there was no one to be seen. We walked out to the custom-house, gave a list of the few things which we had, assured them that we carried no guns, paid our duty, and departed. We had imagined that our boat would be inspected, but no one came near.

The border line makes a jog here at the river and the Arizona-Mexico line was still a few miles down the stream. We had passed the mouth of the old silt-dammed Colorado channel, which flowed a little west of south; and we turned instead to the west into the spreading delta or moraine. About this time I remarked that I had seen no store at the custom-house and that I must not neglect to get provisions at the next one or we would be rather short.

"We passed our last custom-house back there." Al replied, "That's likely the last place we will see until we get to the ranch by the Gulf."

No custom-house! No store! This was a surprise. What was a border for if not to have custom-houses and inspectors? With all the talk of smuggling I had not thought of anything else. And I could tell by Al's tone that his estimation of my foresight had dropped several degrees. This was only natural, for his disappointment and the jibes still rankled.

At last we were wholly in Mexican territory. With the States behind, all of our swiftly running water had departed, and we now travelled on a stream that was nearly stagnant. All the cottonwood logs which had finally been carried down the stream after having been deposited on a hundred shores, found here their final resting place. About each cluster of logs an island was forming, covered with a rank grass and tules.

Ramified channels wound here and there. Two or three times we found ourselves in a shallow channel, and with some difficulty retraced our way. All channels looked alike, but only one was deep.

Then the willow trees which were far distant on either shore began to close in and we travelled in a channel not more than a hundred feet wide, growing smaller with every mile. This new channel is sometimes termed the Bee River. It parallels the northern Mexico line; it also parallels a twenty-five mile levee which the United States government has constructed along the northern edge of this fifty-mile wide dam shoved across the California Gulf by the stream, building higher every year. Except for the river channel the dam may be said to reach unbroken from the Arizona-Sonora Mesa to the Cocopah Mountains. The levee runs from a point of rocks near the river to Lone Mountain, a solitary peak some distance east of the main range. This levee, built since the trouble with the canal, is all that prevents the water from breaking into the basin in a dozen places.

We saw signs of two or three camp-fires close to the stream, and with the memory of the stories haunting us a little we built only a small fire when we cooked our evening meal, then extinguished it, and camped on a dry point of land a mile or two below. I think we were both a little nervous that night; I confess that I was, and if an unwashed black-bearded individual had poked his head out from the willows and said, "Woof!" or whatever it is that they say when they want to start up a jack-rabbit, we would both have stampeded clear across the border. In fact I felt a little as I did when I played truant from school and wondered what would happen when I was found out.

Daybreak found us ready to resume our journey, and with a rising sun any nervousness vanished. What could any one want with two men who had nothing but a flat-bottomed boat?

All the morning we travelled west, the trees ever drawing closer as our water departed on the south, running through the willows, arrow-weed, and cat-tails. Then the channel opened into Volcanic Lake, a circular body of water, which is not a lake but simply a gathering together of the streams we had been losing, and here the water stands, depositing its mud. All the way across had no depth but a bottomless mud, so soft it would engulf a person if he tried to wade across.

On the west there was no growth. The shore was nothing but an ash-like powder, not a sand, but a rich soil blown here and there, building in dunes against every obstruction, ever moving before the wind. Here were boiling, sputtering mud pots and steam vents building up and exhausting through mud pipe-stems, rising a foot or two above the springs. Here was a shelter or two of sun-warped boards constructed by those who come here crippled with rheumatism and are supposed to depart, cured. Here we saw signs of a wagon track driven toward Calexico, the border town directly north of the lake. The heat was scorching, the sun, reflected from the sand and water, was blistering, and we could well imagine what a walk across that ash-like soil would mean. Mirages in the distance beckoned, trees and lakes were seen over toward the mountains where we had seen nothing but desert before; heat waves rose and fell. Our mouths began to puff from the reflected sun, our faces burned and peeled, black and red in spots. There was no indication of the slightest breeze until about three o'clock, when the wind moved gently across the lake.

We had skirted the northern part of the circle, passing a few small streams and then found one of the three large channels which empty the lake. As it happened we took the one on the outside, and the longest. The growth grew thicker than ever, the stream choked down to fifty feet. Now it began to loop backward and forward and back again, as though trying to make the longest and crookedest channel possible in the smallest space. The water in the channel was stagnant, swift streamlets rushed in from the tules on the north, and rushed out again on the south. It was not always a simple matter to ascertain which was the main channel. Others just as large were diverted from the stream. Twice we attempted to cut across, but the water became shallow, the tules stalled our boats, and we were glad to return, sounding with a pole when in doubt.

Then we began to realize that we were not entirely alone in this wilderness of water. We saw evidence of another's passage, in broken cat-tails and blazed trees. In many places he had pushed into the thickets. We concluded it must be a trapper. At last, to our surprise, we saw a telephone equipment, sheltered in a box nailed on a water-surrounded tree. The line ran directly across the stream. Here also we could see where a boat had forced a way through, and the water plants had been cut with a sharp instrument. What could it be? We were certain no line ran to the only ranch at the Gulf. We had information of another ranch directly on the border line, but did not think it came below the levee, and as far as we had learned, there were no homes but the wickiups of the Cocopah in the jungles. It was like one of those thrilling stories of Old Sleuth and Dead Shot Dick which we read, concealed in our schoolbooks, when we were supposed to be studying the physical geography of Mexico. But the telephone was no fiction, and had recently been repaired, but for what purpose it was there we could not imagine. After leaving the lake there was no dry land. At night our boat, filled with green tules for a bed, was tied to a willow tree, with its roots submerged in ten feet of water. Never were there such swarms of mosquitos. In the morning our faces were corrugated with lumps, not a single exposed spot remaining unbitten.

The loops continued with the next day's travel, but we were gradually working to the southwest, then they began to straighten out somewhat, as the diverted streams returned. We thought early in the morning that we would pass about ten miles to the east of the coast range, but it was not to be. Directly to the base of the dark, heat-vibrating rocks we pulled, and landed on the first shore that we had seen for twenty-four hours.

Here was a recently used trail, and tracks where horses came down to the water. Here too was the track of a barefooted Cocopah, a tribe noted for its men of gigantic build, and with great feet out of all proportion to their size. If that footprint was to be fossilized, future generations would marvel at the evidence of some gigantic prehistoric animal, an alligator with a human-shaped foot. These Indians have lived in these mud bottoms so long, crossing the streams on rafts made of bundles of tules, and only going to the higher land when their homes are inundated by the floods, that they have become a near approach to a web-footed human being.

Our stream merely touched the mountain, then turned directly to the southeast in a gradually increasing stream. Now we began to see the breeding places of the water-birds of which we had heard. There was a confusion of bird calls, sand-hill cranes were everywhere; in some cases with five stick-built nests in a single water-killed tree. A blue heron flopped around as though it had broken a wing, to decoy us from its nest. The snowy white pelican waddled along the banks and mingled with the cormorants. There were great numbers of gulls, and occasional snipe. We were too late to see the ducks which come here, literally by the million, during the winter months. There were hawks' nests in the same groups of trees as the cranes, with the young hawks stretching their necks for the food which was to be had in such abundance. And on another tree sat the parent hawks, complacently looking over the nests of the other birds, like a coyote waiting for a horse to die. At Cocopah Mountain a golden eagle soared, coming down close to the ground as we rested under the mesquite. Then as we travelled clear streams of water began to pour in from the north and east, those same streams we had lost above, but cleared entirely of their silt. Now the willows grew scarce, and instead of mud banks a dry, firm earth was built up from the river's edge, and the stream increased in size. Soon it was six or seven hundred feet wide and running with a fair current. This was the Hardy River. We noticed signs of falling water on the banks as though the stream had dropped an inch or two. In a half-hour the mark indicated a fall of eight inches or more; then we realized we were going out with the tide. A taste of water proved it. The river water was well mixed with a weak saline solution. We filled our canteens at once.

We saw a small building and a flagpole on the south shore, but on nearing the place found it was deserted. A few miles below were two other channels equally as large as that on which we travelled, evidently fed by streams similar to our own. There were numerous scattered trees, some of them cottonwood, and we saw some grazing cattle. We began to look for the ranch house, which some one had said was at the point where the Colorado and the Hardy joined, and which others told us was at the Gulf.