MoboReader> Literature > Arizona Sketches

   Chapter 10 CANON ECHOES

Arizona Sketches By J. A. Munk Characters: 21859

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

The Colorado Plateau, in northern Arizona, is the union of the Rocky and Sierra Nevada mountains in their southward trend, and forms the southern rim of the Great Basin. This depression was once a vast inland sea, of which nothing remains but the Salt Lake of Utah, and is drained by the Colorado river. The entire plateau region is remarkable for its grand scenery--abysmal chasms, sculptured buttes and towering cliffs, which are "brightly colored as if painted by artist Gods, not stained and daubed by inharmonious hues but beautiful as flowers and gorgeous as the clouds." The plateau is an immense woodland of pines known as the Coconino Forest.

The San Francisco mountains, nearly thirteen thousand feet high, stand in the middle of the plateau which is, also, the center of an extensive extinct volcanic field. The whole country is covered with cinders which were thrown from active volcanoes centuries ago. The track of the Santa Fe Pacific railroad, clear across Arizona, is ballasted with cinders instead of gravel that were dug from pits on its own right of way.

Near the southern base of the San Francisco mountains is the town of Flagstaff built in a natural forest of pine trees. It is sometimes called the Skylight City because of its high altitude, rarefied atmosphere and brilliant sky. It is said to have been named by a company of soldiers who camped on the spot while out hunting Indians, when the country was new. It happened to be on the Fourth of July and they celebrated the day by unfurling Old Glory from the top of a pine tree, which was stripped of its branches and converted into a flagstaff. Here is located the Lowell Observatory, which has made many valuable discoveries in astronomy. It is a delightful spot and offers many attractions to the scientist, tourist and health seeker.

One of the many interesting objects of this locality is the Ice Cave situated eight miles southwest of the town. It not only attracts the curious, but its congealed stores are also drawn on by the people who live in the vicinity when the domestic ice supply runs short. The cave is entered from the side of a ravine and its opening is arched by lava rock. How the ice ever got there is a mystery unless it is, as Mr. Volz claims, glacial ice that was covered and preserved by a thick coat of cinders which fell when the San Francisco Peaks were in active eruption. As far as observed the ice never becomes more nor ever gets less, except what is removed by mining.

The region is unusually attractive to the naturalist. It is the best field for the study of entomology that is known. But all nature riots here. Dr. C. Hart Merriam, in his report of a biological survey of the San Francisco mountains and Painted Desert, states that there are seven distinct life zones in a radius of twenty-five miles running the entire gamut from the Arctic to the Tropic.[1] The variety of life which he found and describes cannot be duplicated in the same space anywhere else upon the globe.

But the greatest natural wonder of this region and, it is claimed by competent judges of the whole world, is the Grand Canon of Arizona, which is seventy-two miles north of Flagstaff. Thurber's stage line, when it was running, carried passengers through in one day, but after the railroad was built from Williams to Bright Angel the stage was abandoned. However it is an interesting trip and many people make it every summer by private conveyance who go for an outing and can travel leisurely. It is a good natural road and runs nearly the entire distance through an open pine forest.

Two roads leave Flagstaff for the Canon called respectively the summer and winter roads. The former goes west of the San Francisco mountains and intersects with the winter road that runs east of the peaks at Cedar Ranch, which was the midway station of the old stage line. The summer road is the one usually travelled, as the winter road is almost destitute of water.

The road ascends rapidly from an elevation of seven thousand feet at Flagstaff to eleven thousand feet at the summit, and descends more gradually to Cedar Ranch, where the elevation is less than five thousand feet and in distance is about halfway to the Canon. Here cedar and pinon trees take the place of the taller pines. Cedar Ranch is on an arm of the Painted Desert, which stretches away towards the east over a wide level plain to the horizon. From this point the road ascends again on an easy grade until it reaches an elevation of eight thousand feet at the Canon.

During the long drive through the pine woods the appearance of the country gives no hint of a desert, but beautiful scenery greets the eye on every hand. The air is filled with the fragrance of pine and ozone that is as exhilarating as wine. No signs of severe windstorms are seen in broken branches and fallen trees. If an occasional tree is found lying prostrate it was felled either by the woodman's ax or one of nature's destructive forces, fire or decay, or both. But the large number of shattered trees which are encountered during the day give evidence that the lightning is frequently very destructive in its work. The bark of the pine trees is of a reddish gray color, which contrasts brightly with the green foliage.

The winter road furnishes even more attractions than the summer road on which line a railroad should be built through to the Canon. Soon after leaving town a side road leads to the cliff dwellings in Walnut Canon. Along the wayside a signboard points the direction to the Bottomless Pit, which is a deep hole in the ground that is only one of many such fissures in the earth found on the Colorado Plateau. Four miles east of Canon Diablo a narrow fissure from a few inches to several feet wide and hundreds of feet deep has been traced in a continuous line over one hundred miles.

Further on a group of cave dwellings can be seen among the rocks upon a distant bill. A turn in the road next brings the Sunset Mountain into view. Its crest glows with the colors of sunset, which unusual effect is produced by colored rocks that are of volcanic origin. Black cinders cover its steep sides and its brow is the rim of a deep crater. Between Sunset Peak and O'Leary Peak is the Black Crater from which flowed at one time thick streams of black lava that hardened into rock and are known as the lava beds. Scores of crater cones and miles of black cinders can be seen from Sunset Mountain, and lava and cinders of this region look as fresh as if an eruption had occurred but yesterday.

A peculiarity of the pine trees which grow in the cinders is that their roots do not go down but spread out upon the surface. Some of the roots are entirely bare while others are half buried in cinders. They are from an inch to a foot thick and from ten to fifty feet long, according to the size of the tree which they support. The cause of the queer root formation is not apparent.

The whole plateau country is scarce of water. The Grand Canon drains the ground dry to an unusual depth. The nearest spring of water to the Canon at Grand View is Cedar Spring, forty miles distant. Until recently all the water used at the canon was either packed upon burros from springs down in the canon or caught in ponds or reservoirs from rains or melted snow. Since the completion of the railroad the water is hauled in on cars constructed for that purpose.

The watershed of the canon slopes away from the rim and instead of the storm water running directly into the river it flows in the opposite direction. Only after a long detour of many miles does it finally reach the river by the Little Colorado or Cataract Creek.

Now that the Grand Canon is made accessible by rail over a branch road of the Santa Fe from Williams on the main line, it is reached in comparative ease and comfort. But to stop at the Bright Angel Hotel and look over the guard rail on the cliff down into the canon gives merely a glimpse of what there is to see. A brief stay of one day is better than not stopping at all, but to get even an inkling of its greatness and grandeur days and weeks must be spent in making trips up and down and into the canon.

After having seen the canon at Bright Angel the next move should be to go to Grand View fourteen miles up the canon. An all day's stage ride from Flagstaff to the canon was tiresome, but the two hours' drive through the pine woods from Bright Angel to Grand View is only pleasant recreation.

Seeing the Grand Canon for the first time does not necessarily produce the startling and lachrymose effects that have been described by some emotional writers, but the first sight never disappoints and always leaves a deep and lasting impression.

As immense as is the great chasm it is formed in such harmonious proportions that it does not shock the senses. But as everything about the canon is built on such a grand scale and the eyes not being accustomed to such sights it is impossible to comprehend it--to measure its dimensions correctly or note every detail of form and color at the first glance. As the guide remarked, "God made it so d-- big that you can't lie about it."

To comprehend it at all requires time to re-educate the senses and make them accustomed to the new order of things. But even a cursory view will always remain in the memory as the event of a lifetime in the experience of the average mortal.

Distance in the canon cannot be measured by the usual standards. There are sheer walls of rocks that are thousands of feet high and as many more feet deep, but where the bottom seems to be is only the beginning of other chasms which lie in the dark shadows and descend into yet deeper depths below. The canon is not a single empty chasm, which is the universal conception of a canon, but consists of a complex system of sub and side canons that is bewildering. Out of its depths rise an infinite number and variety of castellated cliffs and sculptured buttes that represent every conceivable variety of architecture. They have the appearance of a resurrected city of great size and beauty which might have been built by an army of Titans then buried and forgotten.

A trip into the canon down one of the trails makes its magnitude even more impressive than a rim view. The distance across the chasm is also much greater than what it seems to be, which is demonstrated by the blue haze that fills the canon. The nearby buttes are perfectly distinct, but as the distance increases across the great gorge the haze gradually thickens until the opposite wall is almost obscured by the mist.

The myriads of horizontal lines which mark the different strata of rocks have the appearance of a maze of telegraph wires strung through the canon.

A ride leisurely on horseback along the rim trail from Thurber's old camp to Bissell's Point, seven miles up the canon, and back is easily made in a day. It presents a panor

ama of magnificent views all along the rim, but Bissell's is conceded to be the best view point on the canon. From this point about thirty miles of river can be seen as it winds in and out deep down among the rocks. The Colorado river is a large stream, but as seen here a mile below and several miles out, it dwindles into insignificance and appears no larger than a meadow brook. The river looks placid in the distance, but is a raging, turbulent torrent in which an ordinary boat cannot live and the roar of its wild waters can be distinctly heard as of the rushing of a distant train of cars.

A second day spent in riding down the canon to Grand View Point and back is equally delightful. Looking across a bend in the canon from Grand View Point to Bissell's Point the distance seems to be scarcely more than a stone's throw, yet it is fully half the distance of the circuitous route by the rim trail.

There are three trails leading into the canon and down to the river, the Bright Angel, Grand View and Hance trails, which are at intervals of eight and twelve miles apart. They are equally interesting and comparatively safe if the trip is made on the back of a trained pony or burro with a competent guide.

The Hance trail is a loop and is twenty miles long. It is seven miles down to the river, six miles up the stream and seven miles back to the rim. It was built single handed by Captain John Hance, who has lived many years in the canon. The trail is free to pedestrians, but yields the captain a snug income from horse hire and his own services as guide for tourists who go over the trail.

Captain Hance is an entertaining raconteur and he spins many interesting yarns for the amusement, if not the edification, of his guests. The serious manner in which he relates his stories makes it sometimes hard to tell whether he is in jest or earnest. His acknowledged skill in mountaineering, and felicity in romancing has won for him more than a local reputation and the distinguished title of Grand Canon Guide and Prevaricator.

He relates how "once upon a time" he pursued a band of mountain sheep on the rim of the canon. Just as he was about to secure his quarry the sheep suddenly turned a short corner and disappeared behind some rocks. Before he realized his danger he found himself on the brink of a yawning abyss and under such a momentum that he could not turn aside or stop his horse. Together they went over the cliff in an awful leap. He expected to meet instant death on the rocks below and braced himself for the shock. As the fall was greater than usual, being over a mile deep in a perpendicular line, it required several seconds for the descending bodies to traverse the intervening space, which gave him a few moments to think and plan some way of escape. At the critical moment a happy inspiration seized and saved him. On the instant that his horse struck the rock and was dashed to pieces, the captain sprang nimbly from the saddle to his feet unharmed. To prove the truth of his statement he never misses an opportunity to point out to the tourist the spot where his horse fell, and shows the white bones of his defunct steed bleaching in the sun.

At Moran's Point there is a narrow cleft in the rocks which he calls the Fat Woman's Misery. It received its name several years ago from a circumstance that happened while he was conducting a party of tourists along the rim trail. To obtain a better view the party essayed to squeeze through the opening, in which attempt all succeeded except one fat women who stuck fast. After vainly trying to extricate her from her uncomfortable position he finally told her that there was but one of two things to do, either remain where she was and starve to death or take one chance in a thousand of being blown out alive by dynamite. After thinking a moment she decided to try the "one chance in a thousand" experiment.

A charge of dynamite was procured and the fuse lighted. After the explosion he returned to the spot and found the result satisfactory. The blast had released the woman, who was alive and sitting upon a rock. He approached her cheerfully and said:

"Madam, how do you feel?" She looked up shocked, but evidently very much relieved, and replied "Why, sir, I feel first rate, but the jolt gave me a little toothache."

He tells another story of how he once took a drink from the Colorado river. The water is never very clear in the muddy stream but at that particular time it was unusually murky. He had nothing with which to dip the water and lay down on the bank to take a drink. Being very thirsty he paid no attention to the quality of the water, but only knew that it tasted wet. The water, however, grew thicker as he drank until it became balled up in his mouth, and stuck fast in his throat and threatened to choke him. He tried to bite it off but failed because his teeth were poor. At last becoming desperate, he pulled his hunting knife from his belt and cut himself loose from his drink.

Different theories have been advanced to account for the origin of the Grand Canon, but it is a question whether it is altogether due to any one cause. Scientists say that it is the work of water erosion, but to the layman it seems impossible. If an ocean of water should flow over rocks during eons of ages it does not seem possible that it could cut such a channel.

Water sometimes does queer things, but it has never been known to reverse nature. By a fundamental law of hydrostatics water always seeks its level and flows in the direction of least resistance. If water ever made the Grand Canon it had to climb a hill and cut its way through the backbone of the Buckskin mountains, which are not a range of peaks but a broad plateau of solid rock. Into this rock the canon is sunk more than a mile deep, from six to eighteen miles wide and over two hundred miles long.

In order to make the theory of water erosion tenable it is assumed that the Colorado river started in its incipiency like any other river. After a time the river bed began to rise and was gradually pushed up more and more by some unknown subterranean force as the water cut deeper and deeper into the rock until the Grand Canon was formed.

Captain Hance has a theory that the canon originated in an underground stream which tunneled until it cut its way through to the surface. As improbable as is this theory it is as plausible as the erosion theory, but both theories appear to be equally absurd.

At some remote period of time the entire southwest was rent and torn by an awful cataclysm which caused numerous fissures and seams to appear all over the country. The force that did the work had its origin in the earth and acted by producing lateral displacement rather than direct upheaval. Whenever that event occurred the fracture which marks the course of the Grand Canon was made and, breaking through the enclosing wall of the Great Basin, set free the waters of an inland sea. What the seismic force began the flood of liberated water helped to finish, and there was born the greatest natural wonder of the known world.

There are canons all over Arizona and the southwest that resemble the Grand Canon, except that they were made on a smaller scale. Many of them are perfectly dry and apparently never contained any running water. They are all so much alike that they were evidently made at the same time and by the same cause. Walnut Canon and Canon Diablo are familiar examples of canon formation.

The rocks in the canons do not stand on end, but lie in horizontal strata and show but little dip anywhere. Indeed, the rocks lie so plumb in many places that they resemble the most perfect masonry.

The rim rock of the Mogollon Mesa is of the same character as the walls of the Grand Canon and is an important part of the canon system. It is almost a perpendicular cliff from one to three thousand feet high which extends from east to west across central Arizona and divides the great northern plateau from the southern valleys. It is one side of an immense vault or canon wall whose mate has been lost or dropped completely out of sight.

In many of the canons where water flows continuously, effects are produced that are exactly the opposite of those ascribed to water erosion. Instead of the running water cutting deeper into the earth it has partly filled the canon with alluvium, thereby demonstrating nature's universal leveling process. Even the floods of water which pour through them during every rainy season with an almost irresistible force carry in more soil than they wash out and every freshet only adds new soil to the old deposits. If these canons were all originally made by water erosion as is claimed, why does not the water continue to act in the same manner now but, instead, completely reverses itself as above stated? There can be but one of two conclusions, either that nature has changed or that scientists are mistaken.

The Aravaipa in southern Arizona is an interesting canon and is typical of its kind. Its upper half is shallow and bounded by low rolling foothills, but in the middle it suddenly deepens and narrows into a box canon, which has high perpendicular walls of solid rock like the Grand Canon. It is a long, narrow valley sunk deep into the earth and has great fertility and much wild beauty. It measures from a few feet to a mile in width and drains a large scope of rough country. The surface water which filters through from above reappears in numerous springs of clear cold water in the bottom of the canon. In the moist earth and under the shade of forest trees grow a variety of rare flowers, ferns and mosses.

Where the canon begins to box a large spring of pure cold water issues from the sand in the bottom of a wash which is the source of the Aravaipa creek. It flows through many miles of rich alluvial land and empties into the San Predo river. The valley was settled many years ago by men who were attracted to the spot by its rare beauty, fertility of soil and an abundance of wood and water.

The land is moist and covered by a heavy growth of forest trees, which will average over one hundred feet high. The trees are as large and the foliage as dense as in any eastern forest. Being sunk deep in the earth the narrow valley at the bottom of the canon can only be seen from above. When viewed from some favorable point it has the appearance of a long green ribbon stretched loosely over a brown landscape. The sight of it is a pleasant surprise to the weary wayfarer who, after traveling over many miles of dreary desert road, finds himself suddenly ushered into such pleasant scenes.

The canons of Arizona are unrivaled for grandeur, sublimity and beauty, and will attract an ever increasing number of admirers.

[1] Results of a Biological Survey of the San Francisco Mountain Region and Painted Desert of the Little Colorado, Arizona. 1890.

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top