This section is from the book "Grand Canyon Of The Colorado River - John L. Stoddard's Lectures", by John L. Stoddard. Also available from Amazon: John L. Stoddard's Lectures 13 Volume Set.
Mist In The Caņon.
A Stupendous Panorama.
A Tangled Skein Of Canons.
It was my memorable privilege to see, one afternoon, a thunder storm below me here. A monstrous cloud-wall, like a huge gray veil, came traveling up the Caņon, and we could watch the lightning strike the buttes and domes ten or twelve miles away, while the loud peals of thunder, broken by crags and multiplied by echoes, rolled toward us through the darkening gulf at steadily decreasing intervals. Sometimes two flashes at a time ran quivering through the air and launched their bolts upon the mountain shrines, as though their altars, having been erected for idolatrous worship, were doomed to be annihilated. Occasionally, through an opening in the clouds, the sun would suddenly light up the summit of a mountain, or flash a path of gold through a ravine; and I shall never forget the curious sensation of seeing far beneath me bright sunshine in one Caņon and a violent storm in another. At last, a rainbow cast its radiant bridge across the entire space, and we beheld the tempest disappear like a troop of cavalry in a cloud of dust beneath that iridescent arch, beyond whose curving spectrum all the temples stood forth, still intact in their sublimity.
At certain points along the Caņon, promontories jut out into the abyss, like headlands which in former times projected into an ocean that has disappeared. Hence, riding along the brink, as one may do for miles, we looked repeatedly into many lateral fissures, from fifteen hundred to three thousand feet in depth. All these, however, like gigantic fingers, pointed downward to the centre of the Caņon, where, five miles away, and at a level more than six thousand feet below the brink on which we stood, extended a long, glittering trail. This, where the sunlight struck it, gleamed like an outstretched band of gold. It was the sinuous Colorado, yellow as the Tiber.
On The Brink.
A Bit Of The River.
One day of our stay here was devoted to making the descent to this river. It is an undertaking compared with which the crossing of the Gemmi on a mule is child's play, Fortunately, however, the arduous trip is not absolutely necessary for an appreciation of the immensity and grandeur of the scenery. On the contrary, one gains a really better idea of these by riding along the brink, and looking down at various points on the sublime expanse. Nevertheless, a descent into the Caņon is essential for a proper estimate of its details, and one can never realize the enormity of certain cliffs and the extent of certain valleys, till he has crawled like a maimed insect at their base and looked thence upward to the narrowed sky. Yet such an investigation of the Caņon is, after all, merely like going down from a balloon into a great city to examine one of its myriad streets, since any gorge we may select for our descending path is but a tiny section of a labyrinth. That which is unique and incomparable here is the view from the brink; and when the promised hotel is built upon the border of the Caņon, visitors will be content to remain for days at their windows or on the piazzas, feasting their souls upon a scene always sublime and sometimes terrible.
On Hance S Trail.
Section Of The Colorado River In The Caņon.
A Vision Of Sublimity.
Nevertheless, desirous of exploring a specimen of these chasms (as we often select for minute examination a single painting out of an entire picture gallery) we made the descent to the Colorado by means of a crooked scratch upon a mountain side, which one might fancy had been blazed by a zigzag flash of lightning. As it requires four hours to wriggle down this path, and an equal amount of time to wriggle up, I spent the greater part of a day on what a comrade humorously styled the "quarter-deck of a mule." A square, legitimate seat in the saddle was usually impossible, so steep was the incline; and hence, when going down, I braced my feet and lay back on the haunches of the beast, and, in coming up, had to lean forward and clutch the pommel, to keep from sliding off, as a human avalanche, on the head of the next in line. In many places, however, riding was impossible, and we were compelled to scramble over the rocks on foot. The effect of hours of this exercise on muscles unaccustomed to such surprises may be imagined; yet, owing to the wonderfully restorative air of Arizona, the next day after this, the severest physical exertion I had ever known, I did not feel the slightest bad result, and was as fresh as ever. That there is an element of danger in this trip cannot be doubted. At times the little trail, on which two mules could not possibly have passed each other, skirts a precipice where the least misstep would hurl the traveler to destruction; and every turn of the zigzag path is so sharp that first the head and then the tail of the mule inevitably projects above the abyss, and wigwags to the mule below. Moreover, though not a vestige of a parapet consoles the dizzy rider, in several places the animal simply puts its feet together and toboggans down the smooth face of a slanting rock, bringing up at the bottom with a jerk that makes the tourist see a large variety of constellations, and even causes his beast to belch forth an involuntary roar of disenchantment, or else to try to pulverize his immediate successor. In such a place as this Nature seems pitiless and cruel; and one is impressed with the reflection that a million lives might be crushed out in any section of this maze of gorges and not a feature of it would be changed. There is, however, a fascination in gambling with danger, when a desirable prize is to be gained. The stake we risk may be our lives, yet, when the chances are in our favor, we often love to match excitement against the possibility of death; and even at the end, when we are safe, a sigh sometimes escapes us, as when the curtain falls on an absorbing play.