It is a dogged courage of which the author of this book is the serene possessor - shared equally by his daring brother; and evidence of this bravery is made plain throughout the following pages. Every youth who has in him a spark of adventure will kindle with desire to battle his way also from Green River to the foot of Bright Angel Trail; while every man whose bones have been stiffened and his breath made short by the years, will remember wistfully such wild tastes of risk and conquest that he, too, rejoiced in when he was young.
Whether it deal with the climbing of dangerous peaks, or the descent (as here) of some fourteen hundred miles of water both mysterious and ferocious, the well-told tale of a perilous journey, planned with head and carried through with dauntless persistence, always holds the attention of its readers and gives them many a thrill. This tale is very well told. Though it is the third of its kind, it differs from its predecessors more than enough to hold its own: no previous explorers have attempted to take moving pictures of the Colorado River with themselves weltering in its foam. More than this: while the human race lasts it will be true, that any man who is lucky enough to fix upon a hard goal and win it, and can in direct and simple words tell us how he won it, will write a good book.
Perhaps this planet does somewhere else contain a thing like the Colorado River - but that is no matter; we at any rate in our continent possess one of nature's very vastest works. After The River and its tributaries have done with all sight of the upper world, have left behind the bordering plains and streamed through the various gashes which their floods have sliced in the mountains that once stopped their way, then the culminating wonder begins. The River has been flowing through the loneliest part which remains to us of that large space once denominated "The Great American Desert" by the vague maps in our old geographies. It has passed through regions of emptiness still as wild as they were before Columbus came; where not only no man lives now nor any mark is found of those forgotten men of the cliffs, but the very surface of the earth itself looks monstrous and extinct. Upon one such region in particular the author of these pages dwells, when he climbs up out of the gulf in whose bottom he has left his boat by the River, to look out upon a world of round gray humps and hollows which seem as if it were made of the backs of huge elephants. Through such a country as this, scarcely belonging to our era any more than the mammoth or the pterodactyl, scarcely belonging to time at all, does the Colorado approach and enter its culminating marvel. Then, for 283 miles it inhabits a nether world of its own. The few that have ventured through these places and lived are a handful to those who went in and were never seen again. The white bones of some have been found on the shores; but most were drowned; and in this water no bodies ever rise, because the thick sand that its torrent churns along clogs and sinks them.
This place exerts a magnetic spell. The sky is there above it, but not of it. Its being is apart; its climate; its light; its own. The beams of the sun come into it like visitors. Its own winds blow through it, not those of outside, where we live. The River streams down its mysterious reaches, hurrying ceaselessly; sometimes a smooth sliding lap, sometimes a falling, broken wilderness of billows and whirlpools. Above stand its walls, rising through space upon space of silence. They glow, they gloom, they shine. Bend after bend they reveal themselves, endlessly new in endlessly changing veils of colour. A swimming and jewelled blue predominates, as of sapphires being melted and spun into skeins of shifting cobweb. Bend after bend this trance of beauty and awe goes on, terrible as the Day of Judgment, sublime as the Psalms of David. Five thousand feet below the opens and barrens of Arizona, this canyon seems like an avenue conducting to the secret of the universe and the presence of the gods.
Is much wonder to be felt that its beckoning enchantment should have drawn two young men to dwell beside it for many years; to give themselves wholly to it; to descend and ascend among its buttressed pinnacles; to discover caves and waterfalls hidden in its labyrinths; to climb, to creep, to hang in mid-air, in order to learn more and more of it, and at last to gratify wholly their passion in the great adventure of this journey through it from end to end? No siren song could have lured travellers more than the siren silence of the Grand Canyon: but these young men did not leave their bones to whiten upon its shores. The courage that brought them out whole is plain throughout this narrative, in spite of its modesty. - OWEN WISTER.