« PreviousContinue »
RIGINALLY it was my intention to descend the canyon in the usual, conventional style, with a guide and a burro train, but when two gentlemen in the tourist party from Bright Angel Hotel announced their intention of following afoot, I promptly made up my mind to be one of them. Before the caravan started to slowly file down the zigzags that seemed to drop almost over the edge of a sheer precipice, the two would-be pedestrians, whose timidity overcame them at the last minute, left me to make the journey alone. But it was better so, to view the awful grandeur of this tremendous gap in the face of nature alone with my own thoughts and my faithful camera to record my various impressions from standpoints not to be gained by traveling on muleback or with the average tourist, whose intentions are simply to "do the canyon" in a hurry.
I wanted to take my own time going down and wander off the beaten path when a certain composition struck my fancy for a snapshot. This I knew would be impossible when one went with a party, for guides usually travel on schedule time and grow impatient if one does not always keep in sight of the tourist party.
I was told that the trail was a perfectly safe one, and the distance was only four miles from the hotel on the "rim" to the top of the granite wall overlooking the great "gorge" through which the river sullenly roars.
Shortly after sun-up the caravan started; and when the last one disap
peared over the "rim," the leader of the party passed me several hundred feet below the top where I made my first halt to view the panorama from a favorable outlook. Fifteen miles across at the distant horizon was the opposite "rim" which I could trace by line of light gray stone. How unbelievable it all seemed! And yet only the day before I had seen through a telescope a cluster of tents in the canyon, that from this outlook appeared like several little scraps of paper. These, I was told, were three miles distant. This fact established in mind might have given me a basis upon which to make a comparison; but there are times when well established facts make no impression upon one's mind, and this was one of them.
Halting for breath upon this natural rock observatory, shaded by Douglas spruces, I stood long and gazed intently at the wonderful panorama spread beneath. All around and above me for hundreds of feet towered the jagged rim, while below, more than a half mile, stretched the great plateau over which zigzagged the narrow trail. The place was silent as the tomb-save at intervals when the faint voices of the descending tourists stole upwards through the morning air. A stray bird now and then chattered in the Pinon trees, but aside from these, there were no other noises save the crunching of the stones under my feet as the course ever led me downward.
Above to the very edge of the "rim" the growth of yellow pine and juniper was never lost sight of. Below this fringe of
sombre green are vertical walls of sparkling white, blue, pink and red sandstone. These are the faces of solid strata, some of them hundreds of feet in thickness, through which the main, or upper, canyon is cut. The sloping banks of broken stone, known to the geologist as taluses, which lie between the various perpendicular strata bear trees and bushes. The dry bottom of the upper canyon, some thirtyfive hundred feet below the rim, supports a stunted growth of sage, yucca, cactus and other desert plants. Thus mingling with the brilliant colors of the vertical rock faces, are the dull greens and grays of the taluses and bottom of the upper canyon. The entire effect, under a brilliant sun in a perfectly clear atmosphere, is gloriously beautiful. Then when great billowy cumulus clouds, purple-toned on the under side, cast their fantastic blue-violet shadows over table lands, peaks and minor canyons, the effect is like one vast, rare mosaic. These constantly changing effects linger long in one's memory. Beautifulthe most evanescent of gradations of lights and shadows strangely blending with the soft buffs, blue grays, pinks and dul Indian reds of the canyon recur at every morning and evening hour. Towards noon the lightest rocks appeared almost white in the glare of the Arizona sun; but, as afternoon cast long, purplishblue shadows across side canyon and across perpendicular walls, the pinks and buffs and Indian reds grew warmer. About four in the afternoon, the low rumble of thunder broke the death-like stillness of the apparently bottomless pit filled with this marvelous mixture of colors, dark below and light above.
From every turn in the trail new vistas opened out; now it was a butte of reddish brown-stone that stood out prominently from the trail-the "Battleship," so named from its fancied resemblance to a modern man-of-war. After passing the awful grandeur of the upward gorge, with many a backward turn at the gradually increasing height of the tawny cliffs, the tributary canyon of Bright Angel Creek loomed up in the distant perspective, a dark, violet zig-zag gash in the canyon walls on the opposite side of the river. Soon the trail became less precipitous. It brought me to the spot known as the Indian Gardens,
where the colony of tents mentioned heretofore cozily nestled amid a cool growth of willows. The presence of running water here was very welcome to my parched tongue as nowhere else on the trail was there the slightest suspicion of a spring. After inspecting a ruined stone building and refreshing myself with the lunch put up by the hotel people, and copious draughts of the delicious mountain water, I decided to take the trail to the left and view the river from the top of the great granite gorge, 1200 feet overhead, instead of going the remaining distance to the bank of the river itself. The rest of the distance was mostly along the banks of Willow Creek and then over a rather level plateau sparsely covered with talus, sage brush, cactus and other desert growths. No friendly junipers nor pinon furnished. me with their grateful shade once I left the willow-fringed banks of the creek and struck out over the dimly defined trail across this miniature desert. To add to the sun's uncomfortable rays the unapproachable cacti often thrust their stinging spines unceremoniously into my nether limbs in a most aggravating fashion. For a while the scenery did not impress one, but when the end of the journey was reached, like a climax in a great story, the granite gorge opened up beneath the jagged, rocky shelf that hangs dizzily over the terrible abyss and offered a magnificent point of observation from which to obtain photographs. The panorama here is less extensive than from the rim, and shows up to better advantage on a 4x5 ground-glass focusing screen than the latter, which, outside of an 8x10 and a telephoto lens is a mere jumble of inconsequential ridges and furrows.
Dwarfed by such prodigious mountain shores, which rise immediately from the water's edge at an angle so acute that would deny footing to a mountain sheep, it is not easy to estimate confidently the width and volume of the tawny, muddy flood whose dull, sullen roar faintly reached my ears. I wandered up, as though spell-bound, upon a mighty monolith or shelf of rock that commands a view up stream and down for many miles. Beyond, the river disappeared, apparently behind the mountain walls. Beneath me it slipped by with an oily smoothness for a