Through the Grand Canyon from Wyoming to Mexico
E. L. Kolb
Part 5 out of 5
Colorado channel was fifteen miles from the mouth of the river, and
was not a slough as we had supposed. Doubtless the ranch was up there.
Our best plan was to return to the head of the tide, going up the
Colorado, then if we did not find the ranch we would abandon the boat,
snare some birds, keep out of the scorching heat, and travel in the
morning and evening. Two active men should be able to do that without
So the hours passed, with the breakers driving the boat toward the
line of cliffs. When it had reached its highest point, I pulled into a
slough and tied up, then woke Al as we had agreed. While I slept, he
climbed the cliffs to have a last look. An hour after daybreak he
returned. Nothing but rock and desert could be seen. We dragged the
boat down in the slime of the slough until we caught the falling tide.
Then Al rigged up his sail. With the rising sun a light breeze blew in
from the Gulf. Here was our opportunity. Slowly we went up against the
falling tide. Then as the breeze failed, the tide returned. Fifty feet
away a six foot black sea bass floated; his rounded back lifted above
the water. With the approach of the boat he was gone. The sharks were
Two hours later we had entered the mouth of the river carried by the
rising tide. Several miles were left behind. Another breeze came up as
the tide failed, and the sail was rigged up again. Things were coming
our way at last. Al knew how to handle a boat. Running her in close to
the top of the straight falling banks I could leap to the land, take a
picture, then run and overtake the boat, and leap on again.
Then the wind shifted, the tide turned, and we tied up, directly
opposite the point where we had camped the afternoon before. It was
the hottest day we had seen Whirlwinds, gathering the dust in slender
funnels, scurried across the plains. Mirages of trees bordering
shimmering lakes and spreading water such as we had come through below
Yuma were to be seen, even out towards the sea. Then over toward the
cliffs where the old Colorado once ran we saw a column of distant
smoke. Perhaps it was a hunter; it could hardly be the ranch. As we
could do nothing with the boat, we concluded to walk over that way. It
was many miles distant. Taking everything we had, including our last
lunch, we started our walk, leaving a cloth on a pole to mark the
point where our boat was anchored. But after going four miles it still
seemed no nearer than before, so we returned. It was evening. The
water was drinkable again; that was something to be thankful for. By
ten o'clock that night the tide would come up again. After dark we
found that our boat was being beached. So we ran it down and began
pulling it along over a shoal reaching far out from the shore. As we
tugged I was sure I heard a call somewhere up the river. What kind of
a land was this! Could it be that my senses were all deceiving me as
my eyes were fooled by the mirage? I had heard it, Al had not, and
laughed when I said that I had. We listened and heard it again,
plainly this time, "Can't you men find a landing? We have a good one
up here," it said.
We asked them to row down, advising them to keep clear of the shoal.
We waded out, guided by their voices, in the pitch darkness and neared
One shadowy form sat in either end of a flat-bottomed boat. There was
a mast, and the boat was fitted for two oarsmen as well. Evidently the
load was heavy, for it was well down in the water. The sail cloth was
spread over all the boat, excepting one end where there was a small
sheet-iron stove, with a pan of glowing wood coal underneath. The
aroma of coffee came from a pot on the stove. As I steadied myself at
the bow I touched a crumpled flag,--Mexican, I thought,--but I could
not see. Both figures sat facing us, with rifles in their hands, alert
and ready for a surprise. Smugglers! I thought; guns, I imagined. They
could not see our faces in the dark, neither could we distinguish
theirs. Judging by their voices they were young men. I thought from
the first that they were Mexicans, but they talked without accent.
They could see that we carried no arms, but their vigilance was not
relaxed. They asked what our trouble was and we told them of the
beached boat, what we had been doing, and why we were there. They said
they were out for a little sight-seeing trip down in the Gulf. They
might go to Tiburone Island. One of them wondered if it was true that
the natives were cannibals. He said he would not care about being
shot, but he would hate to be put in their stew-pot. We asked them how
much water they carried. A fifteen-gallon keg was all They hoped to
get more along the coast. It is quite well known there is none. They
professed to be uninformed about the country, did not know there was a
ranch or a tidal bore, and thanked us for our information about the
tides, and the advice to fill their keg when the water was lowest,
which would be in half an hour. They could not sell any provisions,
but gave us a quart of flour.
As we talked an undermined bank toppled over, sounding like shots from
a gun. One cocked his rifle on the impulse, then laughed when he
realized what it was. Just before we parted one of them remarked, "You
came through the Bee River four days ago, near a telephone, didn't
you?" "Yes, but we didn't see any one," I replied.
"No? But we saw you!" And we felt the smiles we could not see.
They said the large ranch had some Chinamen clearing the highest
ground, and building levees around it to keep the water out. The
telephone and a motor boat connected the different ranches. Their
advice to us was to keep to the river, not to look for the ranch, but
to get on the telephone and raise a racket until some one showed up.
Then we parted to go to our respective landings, with mutual wishes
for a successful journey. The boat was pulled down. The tide was on
the point of turning, but it would be an hour before there would be
any strength to it. I went to shore and built a fire of some
driftwood, for the long stand in the water had chilled me. Al stayed
with the boat. Earlier in the day, I cautiously shook the sticks loose
from the matted grass, fearing the rattlers which were everywhere. In
this case nothing buzzed. But I had no sooner got my fire well started
when a rattler began to sing, roused by the light and the heat, about
twenty feet away. My fire was built beside one of the many sloughs
which cut back through the grass and ended in the barren soil. These
sloughs were filled with water when the tide was in and made ideal
landing places, especially if one had to avoid a big tidal bore.
Getting on the opposite side of the fire, I tossed a stick
occasionally to keep him roused. Soon another joined, and between them
they made the air hum. By this time I was thoroughly warmed and felt
that the boat would be the best place for me. Carefully extinguishing
my fire, I went down to the river just as the tide returned. Without
any sign or call from the shore we were carried up with the tide. We
were both weary but I dared not sleep, so I merely kept the boat away
from the shores and drifted, while Phillipps slept. I had picked out a
guiding star which I little needed while the current was running
strong, but which would give us our course when the tide changed, for
we could be carried out just as easily.
But an hour after we left our camp another light appeared, growing
larger and larger. It was one of two things. Either my fire was not
extinguished, or a match thrown down by one of the others had fired
the deep dry grass. I consoled myself that it could not spread, for
the sloughs and the barren soil would cut it off. I had a grim
satisfaction when I thought of the snakes and how they would run for
the desert land. This was a real guiding star, growing larger and
larger as we were carried up the stream. I slept on shore when the
tide would take us no farther. Phillipps got breakfast. We were now
about three miles from the slough. After breakfast we alternately
towed the boat, for there was no wind to carry us up this morning, and
two hours later arrived at the diverging streams. Near by we saw some
mules showing evidence of having been worked. It was clear now that
the ranch was near. There was still a chance that we would take the
wrong stream. Over on the opposite side was a tall cottonwood tree.
This I climbed, and had the satisfaction of seeing some kind of a shed
half a mile up the east stream. The land between proved to be a large
island. As we neared the building two swarthy men emerged and came
down to the shore. "Buenos dias," Al called as we pulled in to the
"Buenos dias, Senor," they answered with a smile.
They were employees of the Rancho La Bolso, which was a half-mile up
Did we make the big fire which had burned until morning?
Our answer seemed to relieve their minds.
What would we do with our boat? It was theirs to do with as they
pleased. Leading two horses from out of the building, they mounted and
told us to climb on behind, and away we rode across some water-filled
sloughs. Hidden in the trees we came to the buildings--three or four
flat-topped adobe houses. Some little brown children scattered to
announce our coming.
As we dismounted two white men approached. "Why, hello, Phillipps!"
the ranch boss said when he saw my companion. "This is a long walk
from Yuma. You fellows are just in time to grub!"
[Footnote 1: The various expeditions which are credited with
continuous or complete journeys through all the canyons and the dates
of leaving Green River, Wyoming, are as follows:
Major Powell, 1st journey. May 24, 1869.
Major Powell, 2nd journey. May 22, 1871. Discontinued at Kanab
Canyon in the Grand Canyon.
Galloway. Sept. 20, 1895 and 1896.
Flavell. Aug. 27, 1896.
Stone. Sept. 12, 1909.
Kolb. Sept. 8, 1911.
For a more complete record of the earlier parties see appendix.]
[Footnote 2: The initials E.C. apply to my brother, Emery C. Kolb;
E.L. to myself. These initials are frequently used in this text. For
several years the nick-name "Ed" has been applied to me, and in my
brothers' narratives I usually figure as Ed.]
[Footnote 3: It is not unusual for certain individual animals to be
outlawed or to have a price set on their heads by the stockmen's
associations, in addition to the regular bounty paid by the counties.
At the time this is written there is a standing reward of $200 for a
certain "lobo," or timber wolf which roams over the Kaibab Forest
directly opposite our home in the Grand Canyon. In addition to this
there is a bounty of $10 offered by the county. This wolf has taken to
killing colts and occasional full-grown horses, in addition to his
regular diet of yearling calves.]
[Footnote 4: Brown-Stanton. May 25, 1889.
Russell-Monnette. Sept. 20, 1907.
For a more complete record of these expeditions, as well as others who
attempted the passage of the canyons below this point, see appendix.]
[Footnote 5: Left by the Stone expedition.]
[Footnote 6: While Major Powell was making his second voyage of
exploration, another party was toiling up these canyons towing their
boats from the precipitous shores. This party was under the leadership
of Lieutenant Wheeler of the U.S. Army. The party was large, composed
of twenty men, including a number of Mojave Indians, in the river
expedition, while others were sent overland with supplies to the mouth
of Diamond Creek. By almost superhuman effort they succeeded in
getting their boats up the canyon as far as Diamond Creek. While there
is no doubt that they reached this point, there were times when we
could hardly believe it was possible when we saw the walls they would
have to climb in this granite gorge. In some places there seemed to be
no place less than five hundred feet above the river where they could
secure a foothold. Their method was to carry a rope over these places,
then pull the boats up through the rapids by main force. It would be
just as easy to pull a heavy rowboat up the gorge of Niagara, as
through some of these rapids. Their best plan, by far, would have been
to haul their boats in at Diamond Creek and make the descent, as they
did after reaching this point. The only advantage their method gave
them was a knowledge of what they would meet with on the downstream
run. Lieutenant Wheeler professed to disbelieve that Major Powell had
descended below Diamond Creek, and called his voyage the completion of
the exploration of the Colorado River. In a four days' run they
succeeded in covering the same distance that had taken four weeks of
endless toil, to bring their boats up to this point.]
[Footnote 7: See appendix, History of Cataract Canyon.]
Back to Full Books