John Wesley Powell's Exploration of the Colorado River
Lodore Canyon, Green River, Colorado.
Without trouble beyond the normal rigors of the
voyage, the party continued downstream. After passing through Red
Canyon, they camped under a giant cottonwood standing on the river bank.
The party rested for 3 days before attempting the next canyon, which
later they named Lodore.
Sitting high on a cliff over looking the camp, Powell
While I write, I am sitting on the same rock where
I sat last spring, with Mrs. Powell, looking down into this canyon. When
I came down at noon, the sun shone in splendor on its vermilion walls
shaded into green and gray when the rocks are lichened over. The river
fills the channel from wall to wall. The canyon opened like a beautiful
portal to a region of glory. Now, as I write, the sun is going down and
the shadows are setting in the canyon. The vermilion gleams and rosy
hues, the green and gray tints are changing to sombre brown above, and
black shadows below. Now 'tis a black portal to a region of gloom. And
that is the gateway through which we enter our voyage of exploration
tomorrowand what shall we find?
On the morning of June 8 the travelers entered Lodore
Canyon. Aboard the lead boat, the Emma Dean, Powell described how
June 8I must explain the plan running these
places. The light boat, "Emma Dean," with two good oarsmen and myself
explore them, then with flag I signal the boats to advance, and guide
them by signals around dangerous rocks.
When we come to rapids filled with boulders, I
sometimes find it necessary to walk along the shore for examination. If
'tis thought possible to run, the light boat proceeds. If not, the
others are flagged to come on to the head of the dangerous place, and we
let down with lines, or make a portage.
And then disaster
At the foot of one of these runs, early in the
afternoon I found a place where it would be necessary to make a portage,
and signalling the boats to come down, I walked along the bank to
examine the ground for the portage, and left one of the men of my boat
to signal the others to land at the right point. I soon saw one of the
boats land all right, and felt no more care about them. But five minutes
after I heard a shout, and looking around, I saw one of the boats coming
over the falls. Capt. Howland, of the "No Name," had not seen the signal
in time, and the swift current had carried him to the brink. I saw that
his going over was inevitable, and turned to save the third boat. In two
minutes more I saw that turn the point and head to shore, and so I went
after the boat going over the falls. The first fall was not great, only
two or three feet, and we had often run such, but below it continued to
tumble down 20 to 30 feet more, in a channel filled with dangerous rocks
that broke the waves into whirlpools and beat them into foam. I turned
just to see the boat strike a rock and throw the men and cargo out.
Still they clung to her sides and clambered in again and saved part of
the oars, but she was full of water, and they could not manage her.
Still down the river they went, two or three hundred yards to another
rocky rapid just as bad, and the boat struck again amid ships, and was
dashed to pieces. The men were thrown into the river and carried beyond
Although the three men were washed ashore uninjured,
the No Name was completely wrecked. Rations, instruments, and
clothing were lost. Only two barometers and a keg of whiskey were
recovered. With good reason the men later named this place "Disaster
Of the recovered whiskey, Powell later wrote, ". . .
they had taken it on board unknown to me, and I am glad they did, for
they think it does them goodas they are drenched every day by the
melted snow that runs down this river from the summit of the Rocky
Mountainsand that is a positive good itself."
Bad luck continued to plague the explorers. Only a
little more than a week later, they camped in a little alcove bordered
by cedars on one side and a dense mass of box elders and dead willows on
the other. Powell and Captain Howland went to explore the stream coming
down into the alcove, and
While I was away, a whirlwind came and scattered
the fire among the dead willows and cedar spray, and soon there was a
conflagration. The men rushed for boats, leaving all behind that they
could not carry at first. Even then, they got their clothes burned and
hair singed, and Bradley got his ears scorched. The cook filled his arms
with the mess kit, and jumping onto the boat, stumbled and threw it
overboard, and his load was lost. Our plates are gone, our spoons are
gone, our knives and forks are gone; "Water ketch' em," "H-e-a-p ketch'
Repairing a boat in the first Granite Gorge of the Grand
The men were compelled by the blaze to cut the boats
loose, and the swift current quickly carried them down the river and
over a rapids. All landed safely and made their way back to the camp
where they found some clothing and bedding, also a few tin cups, basins,
and a kettle. "This is all the mess kit we now have. Yet we do just
as well as ever."
With great relief, on June 18, they emerged from the
21-mile-long Lodore Canyon.
. . . We are out of Lodore Canyon at last.
Although its walls and cliffs, its peaks and crags, its amphitheaters
and alcoves tell a story of beauty and grandeur, the roar of the waters
was heard unceasingly from the hour we entered it until we landed here.
No quiet in all that time.
Last Updated: 28-Mar-2006