Climate change is sucking the Colorado River dry

Chinese charater for the respect of nature

July 19, 1869

Bradley and I start this morning to climb the left wall below the junction.

The way we have selected is up a gulch.

Climbing for an hour over and among the rocks, we find ourselves in a vast amphitheater and our way cut off.

We clamber around to the left for half an hour, until we find that we cannot go up in that direction.

Then we try the rocks around to the right and discover a narrow shelf nearly half a mile long.

In some places this is so wide that we pass along with ease; in others it is so narrow and sloping that we are compelled to lie down and crawl.

We can look over the edge of the shelf, down 800 feet, and see us rolling and plunging among the rocks.

Looking up 500 feet to the brink of the cliff, it appears to blend with the sky.

We continue along until we come to a point where the wall is broken down.

Up we climb.

On the right there is a narrow, mural point of rocks, extending toward us, 200 or 300 feet high and 600 or 800 feet long.

We come to the base and find it cut off from the main wall by a great crevice.

Into this we pass; and now a long, narrow rock is between us and the river.

The rock itself is split longitudinally and transversely; and the rains on the surface above have run down through the crevices and gathered in channels.

The crevices are usually narrow above and, by erosion of the streams, wider below, forming a network of caves, each cave having a narrow, winding skylight up through the rocks.

We wander among these corridors for an hour or two, but find no place where the rocks are broken down so that we can climb up.

At last we determine to attempt a passage by a crevice, and select one which we think is wide enough to admit of the passage of our bodies and yet narrow enough to climb out by pressing our hands and feet against the walls.

So we climb as men would out of a well.

Bradley climbs first; I hand him the barometer, then climb over his head and he hands me the barometer.

So we pass each other alternately until we emerge from the fissure, out on the summit of the rock.

And what a world of grandeur is spread before us!

Below is the canyon through which the Colorado runs.

We can trace its course for miles, and at points catch glimpses of the this world.

From the northwest comes the Green in a narrow winding gorge.

From the northeast comes the Grand, through a canyon that appears bottomless from where we stand.

Away to the west are lines of cliffs and ledges of rock - not such ledges as the reader may have seen where the quarryman splits his blocks, but ledges from which the gods might quarry mountains.

Between us and the distant cliffs are the strangely carved and pinnacled rocks of the Toom'pin wunear Tuweap'.

On the summit of the canyon wall are rock forms that we do not understand.

A way to the east a group of eruptive mountains are seen the Sierra La Sal, which we first saw two days ago through the canyon of the Grand.

Their slopes are covered with pines, and deep gulches are flanked with great crags, and snow fields are seen near the summits.

So the mountains are in uniform, green, gray, and silver.

Wherever we look there is but a wilderness of rocks, deep gorges where the rivers are lost below cliffs and towers and pinnacles, and ten thousand strangely carved forms in every direction, and beyond them mountains blending with the clouds.

Now we return to camp. While eating supper we very naturally speak of as of better fare, musty bread and spoiled bacon are not palatable.

Soon I see Hawkins down by the boat, taking up the sextant - rather a strange proceeding for him - and I question him concerning it.

He replies he is trying to find the latitude and longitude of the nearest pie.

July 20 This morning we go out to climb the west wall of the canyon, for the purpose of examining the strange rocks seen yesterday from the other side.

Two hours bring us to the top, at a point between the Green and Colorado overlooking the junction of the rivers.

A long neck of rock extends toward the mouth of the Grand.

Out on this we walk, crossing a great number of deep crevices.

Usually the smooth rock slopes down to the fissure on either side.

Sometimes it is an interesting question to us whether the slope is not so steep that we cannot stand on it.

Sometimes, starting down, we are compelled to go on, and when we measure the crevice with our eye from above we are not always sure that it is not too wide for a jump.

Probably the slopes would not be difficult if there was not a fissure at the lower end; nor would the fissures cause fear if they were but a few feet deep.

It is curious how a little obstacle becomes a great obstruction when a misstep would land a man in the bottom of a deep chasm.

Climbing the face of a cliff, a man will without hesitancy walk along a step or shelf but a few inches wide if the landing is but ten feet below, but if the foot of the cliff is a thousand feet down he will crawl along the shelf.

At last our way is cut off by a fissure so deep and wide that we cannot pass it.

Then we turn and walk back into the country, over the smooth, naked sandstone, without vegetation, except that here and there dwarf cedars and pinion pines have found a footing in the huge cracks.

There are great basins in the rock, holding water, some but a few gallons, others hundreds of barrels.

The day is spent in walking about through these strange scenes.

A narrow gulch is cut into the wall of the main canyon.

Follow this up and the climb is rapid, as if going up a mountain side, for the gulch heads but a few hundred or a few thousand yards from the wall.

But this gulch has its side gulches, and as the summit is approached a group of radiating canyons is found.

The spaces drained by these little canyons are terraced, and are, to a greater or less extent, of the form of amphitheaters, though some are oblong and some rather irregular.

Usually the spaces drained by any two of these little side canyons are separated by a narrow wall, 100, 200, or 300 feet high, and often but a few feet in thickness.

Sometimes the wall is broken into a line of pyramids above and still remains a wall below.

There are a number of these gulches which break the wall of the main canyon of the Green, each one having its system of side canyons and amphitheaters, inclosed by walls or lines of pinnacles.

The course of the Green at this point is approximately at right angles to that of the Colorado, and on the brink of the latter canyon we find the same system of terraced and walled glens.

The walls and pinnacles and towers are of sandstone, homogeneous in structure but not in color, as they show broad bands of red, buff, and gray.

This painting of the rocks, dividing them into sections, increases their apparent height.

In some places these terraced and walled glens along the Colorado have coalesced with those along the Green; that is, the intervening walls are broken down. It is very rarely that a loose rock is seen.

The sand is washed off, so that the walls, terraces, and slopes of the glens are all of smooth sandstone.

In the walls themselves curious caves and channels have been carved.

In some places there are little stairways up the walls; in others, the walls present what are known as royal arches; and so we wander through glens and among pinnacles and climb the walls from early morn until late in the afternoon.

expedition notes of John Wesley Powell, The Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons

just the way it needs to be

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