SITUATED in the heart of the beautiful Coconino Forest, where at night the wind goes whispering through the pines and by day the sun sheds his glorious rays upon many-colored walls and chasms of indescribable beauty, is America’s most sublime evidence of Nature’s handiwork—the Grand Canyon. To call it wonderful were idle, to say that it is beautiful, inadequate, and to describe it, impossible. As the name suggests, it is a deep gorge formed by the erosive action of a river, which flows at its bottom. It is rather, we should say, a series of gorges, each one a thousand feet or so deeper than the one before, converging from the two sides and terminating in the final gorge through which flows the Colorado river.
Perhaps the name Grand Canyon leaves doubt in the minds of some as to the exact location of the wonder referred to. But although this name has often been erroneously used to designate other canyons, there is only one worthy of the name. It is situated in the northern part of Arizona, and is drained by the remarkable Colorado river which flows at its bottom, six thousand feet below its rim. This canyon is two hundred and seventeen miles long, and varies in width from five to thirteen miles. To give some idea of its grandeur, it may not be out of place to quote the words of Robert Brewster Stanton, one of the few men who have traveled through its entire length.
“Cataract and Narrow Canyons are wonderful. Glen Canyon is beautiful, Marble Canyon is mighty ; but it is left for the Grand Canyon, where the river has cut its way down through the sandstones, the marbles and the granites of the Kaibab Mountains to form those beautiful and awe-inspiring pictures that are seen from the bottom of the Black Granite Gorge, where above us rise great wondrous mountains of bright red sandstone, capped with cathedral domes and spires of white, with pinnacles and turrets and towers in such intricate form and flaming colors, that words fail to convey any idea of their beauty and sublimity.”
The first white men to see the Colorado river were the Spaniards. Less than fifty years after Columbus first landed on our shores, they were traveling along its banks. Their explorations were largely the result of the first trans-continental journey, which was made by Don Alvar Cabeza de Vaca. The stories he told led to the sending out of a preliminary expedition under the Franciscan friar, Marcos de Niza, who went east as far as the Pueblos of Zuni, New Mexico. These, he was told, were the seven cities of Cibola.
Upon his reporting favorably, a large and imposing expedition was sent out, under the young and adventurous Don Vasquez de Coronado, in the year 1540. At Zuni, he heard of a large river and dispatched twelve men to find it. After twenty days journey through desert country, they arrived, as they said, at the banks of the river which seemed three or four leagues below where they stood.
Simultaneously with Coronado, Hernando de Alarcon started out by sea. He was instructed to keep in touch with the former, but was nowhere able to do so, although he reached the mouth of the Colorado, and twice sent boats up its waters.
In September of the same year, Melchoir Diaz set out from the Valley of Hearts to find Alarcon. He reached the mouth of the Colorado at the head of the Gulf of California, and at the foot of a tree found a jug containing a letter from Alarcon, saying that he had been, forced to abandon his expedition.
Besides the Spaniards, many other explorers tried from time to time to conquer the wild and treacherous Colorado. Many failed at the start, while others succeeded only partially. It remained for the untiring zeal and fearless daring of Major John Wesley Powell to achieve what Indians, prospectors and Spanish explorers had declared impossible. On the 24th of May, 1869, with four boats and provisions for ten months, he left Green River City. In the latter part of August he emerged from the canyon at the Grand Wash, which is its lower end.
During those few months, Major Powell and his men had experiences enough to fill volumes. On the fifth day of their journey they passed through a narrow gorge where the water is rolled in great waves from the rocky sides to the center, and where the boats leap about and careen as if wild. A little farther on, they came to two falls, the first about ten feet high, and the second much higher. One of their boats became unmanageable and went over both falls. At the bottom it struck a rock—rebounded— and was carried broadside down the river, with the three men who had been its occupants clinging to its side. Some distance further on, it struck another rock and was broken in two. The men still clung to one of the parts, which floated because of a water-tight compartment, and were rushed down the river. Reaching a rapid whose channel was filled with huge boulders, the part of the boat t o which they clung was dashed to pieces, and the m e n left to the mercy of the torrent. Two of them were washed on an island, and they succeeded in rescuing the third.
After many hardships, which, however, were but the precursors of worse ones to come, the party entered the errand Canyon. Thenceforth, until they emerged a t the lower end, they beheld daily an ever-changing panorama of walls and castles and gorges in such a variety of form and colors as to dazzle the most inartistic. Having finally reached the end of their journey, they disembarked—rejoicing as did Columbus when he first sighted land.
For him -who wishes to behold this mighty canyon, there are t w o ways of getting to it. The one most universally used is, of course, the railroad, which now extends to within a short distance of the canyon rim. The other, and the one entirely used before the advent of the railroad, is the stage from Flagstaff, Arizona. Though there are roads from other of t h e small towns in the vicinity, the journey from Flagstaff is the most pleasant, and the town itself presents interesting features found nowhere else in the country.
From whatever direction you approach Flagstaff; whether from the blazing sands of the desert to the west, or from the barren prairies of New Mexico to the east, you are certain to be surprised and delighted with the grandeur and stateliness of the pines which surround the locality. At this point the whole appearance of the country changes. Where formerly was nothing but rolling prairies and stunted sagebrush and cactus, now are picturesque mountains and fertile valleys.
Having arrived at the canyon by either one of the two ways, let us now descend into it and view it from within.
Altogether there are about ten trails into the heart of the Grand Canyon; but of these only three are used to any extent at the present time. They are the Mystic Spring Trail, named after a spring which seems to ooze out of solid rock; the Grand View Trail from whose head the outlook is particularly beautiful, but which is falling more and more into disuse; and the Bright Angel Trail, which is at the terminus of the railroad and is, therefore, the best known and most accessible.
The last named trail has a total length of about seven miles. Leaving the hotel, it drops westward for a quarter of a mile until the cross-bedded sandstone is reached. Here, immediately to our left, we see a huge pile of red sandstone, which, because of its shape, is called the Battleship Iowa. We next descend the Zig-Zag which is a very difficult piece of trail, and reach the summit of the red wall limestone— one of the most prominent of the canyon strata, having a thickness of one thousand feet. Looking up from here, we see many pillars of erosion—rocks cut out of the limestone by the wind and rain.
At the base of the red wall limestone we breathe easier; for, although there is little danger, it seems as though at every moment our burro is going to walk off of the trail and hurl us into the abyss below. These animals always insist upon keeping to the outside of the trail, and refuse to be guided to safer channels.
Going along Boulder Bed, where huge rocks lie all around, and where small shrubs and plants are in abundance, we come next to the Indian Gardens, having travelled about one-half the distance to the river. There is here a large spring, and a camp, whose lights, like a will o’ the wisp, are seen at night from the hotel. Stopping here for a short rest, we soon resume our journey and go out along level ground to the end of Angel Plateau, where twelve hundred feet below us we see—and listening may hear the roar of the raging Colorado.
We must now descend the jagged face of the gorge to get to the banks of the river. The trail for the most part is difficult, and in one piece—called Devil’s Corkscrew—it is necessary to dismount and walk. The descent completed, we are at last on the very banks of the most remarkable and also most cruel river in the world. Nearby flows the crystal clear Bright Angel creek, whither we hasten to quench the thirst developed by our arduous trip.
The question most likely next to arise is, “How was this gigantic chasm formed?” The answer, according to the generally accepted theory is that it was cut down by the action of the Colorado river on a plateau which was undergoing a process of uplift. The torrent now raging at the bottom of the canyon was once a quiet stream flowing on a level with the surrounding country. For untold ages it flowed on, cutting ever deeper and growing ever swifter.
According to some geologists, there were once ten or eleven thousand more feet of strata than now exist on the plateau which occupies this whole locality. Then, as the strata were uplifted to form a dome, the rasping forces of Nature began acting upon them, and particle by particle carried them away to the sea. Had this uplift not ceased, the river would have cut its way through thousands of feet of Archaean and Plutonic rocks which form the Black Granite Gorge. Even as it is, the river is still cutting deeper and deeper, and before the last of the sons of Adam shall have been called to his eternal rest, who can say what proportions will have been reached by this mighty chasm of the Colorado?