|A Reconnnaissance of the Northestern part of Grand Canyon National Park!
Glen E. Sturdevant,
Since the Grand Canyon was created a national park in
1919, the extreme
northeastern portion has remained an unknown quantity to the National Park
Service. Although prospectors visited the region in search of precious metals
in the early days and each year sees thousands of visitors peering over the
eastern rim at the beautiful red stratified rocks before the river enters the
Granite Gorge, no one has penetrated the region, comprising a half - score
of side canyons, to determine and report on the exact nature of the terrain.
Whether there are streams suitable for trout, unusual Indian ruins, whether
deer drift into the region to winter, or if beaver are present in the permanent
streams, whether traces of life may be found in the old Algonkian rocks, or a
dozen other questions, could be answered only by a patrol into the region.
Covering approximately forty - five miles by auto, one hundred and thirty - five
miles on foot, five miles by canvas boat, and consuming sixteen days of time,
Chief Ranger James P. Brooks, Ranger Arthur L. Brown, and the park naturalist
traversed this hitherto little known portion of the park.
We left Grand Canyon by auto Thursday morning
November 15th for Nava-hopi
Junction Ranger Station. The road took us through a portion of the beautiful Tusayan
National Forest of majestic yellow pines, and through the pinions, junipers, and oaks.
Snow had fallen the previous day and as the sun rose higher the road became softer.
By leaving an extremely crooked path in the slippery road we at last pulled up in front
of the ranger station.
The following morning the supplies were loaded on the
mule pack train and we started
for the head of the old Ky Tanner trail. Ky Tanner was probably the first pioneer into
this region. He had built a trail into the Canyon and carried on mining operations previous
to the early eighties. The trail is about one and one-half miles from the station. The chief
ranger and the park naturalist preceded the pack train with an ax to chop out whatever
branches overhung the trail while Ranger Brown remained behind to assist Jack Way,
the Government packer, with the supplies. On the way we saw a coyote run across the road
and disappear among the junipers and pinons. The trail is sadly in need of repairs. It was
necessary to do considerable chopping for the first two miles to permit the pack train to
pass. After that the trees gradually dropped out - we were below the snow line and
entering the warmer life zone. Deer tracks were numerous and we were fortunate in
seeing two large bucks in a draw. They appeared undisturbed by our intrusion for after
raising their heads to gaze at us they resumed feeding.
Arriving at the foot of the Tanner Trail shortly
after noon we established a base camp
and lunched. The packer headed his mules up the trail and the chief ranger, Ranger
Brown, and the park naturalist journeyed down the river to see the lay of the land.
The chief thing of interes was the discovery of two Indian ruins and a matate stone.
Although it was cold enough to form ice in our
canteens we slept very comfortably on the
sand with arrow weed for a mattress and a blanket and a quilt each. Nothing disturbed
our slumbers but we found numerous small track around our beds and discovered that
some nocturnal visitant had eaten on the boiled ham and roast beef.
With light packs and provisions for a day we followed
an old trail down the river.
Several ducks occurring in groups up four were observed on the Colorado. Wild
burro and deer tracks were numerous and in all we counted thirteen wild burros -
probably the only living relics of prospectors days. Grass was scarce near the river
and the burros had numerous trails containing innumerable zig-zags up the canyon
side to reach what vegetation existed at the higher levels.
That night we camped near the mouth of Cardenas Creek
but like many of the so-called
streams of the southwest - it has a name but no water except after a storm. Mesquite and
cats claw tha grow near the river banks proved to be superior wood for our evening
campfire, yet we generally availed ourselves of the large piles of drift lodged among the
rock when the last high water receded. Among other various and sundry woods could be
found railroad ties, telephone poles, parts of a fence with the wire still attached, an end
gate to a wagon box, fence gates, and beaver gnawed cottonwood and birch.
After an early breakfast we returned to the base
camp. With Ranger Brown carrying
a rifle to dispose of any predatory animals encountered, the afternoon was spent in
traveling a couple of miles up the rivers course. Ranger Brown who was slightly in
the lead was seen to raise his gun and aim at some singular object. To our surprise
and probably to the surprise of the animal, we saw him fire two shots at a large
plateau wild cat. The cats hurried strides carried him over a ridge and up a side
canyon out of danger.
On the following day we went up the river to the
region above Carbon Canyon. Here the
Canyon walls narrowed in so close to the river that it was impossible to progress farther.
Opposite the mouth of Chuar Creek are a number of old mining claims. Standing frames
of tent houses and an old boat showed that active mining operations were once carried on.
The sides of one mine tunnel that we entered were heavily incrustated with carbonate of
copper and salt. Near the river we saw where a deer had recently crossed at the old Tanner
crossing. The sand was still wet along the tracks leading up from the rivers edge where
the deer had dripped after his icy plunge. A badger and a green-winged teal were noticed
lying on the sand where they had lodged after being carried an unknown distance by the river.
Upon the return to camp, Chief Ranger Brooks made
some excellent noodle soup. When
asked his recipe, he replied, "Well you start with muddy river water." This start was
necessary in most of the cooking. If allowed to settle for twelve hours the water
becomes quite clear. If one is thirsty the sediment is not bad at all, and it adds to the
taste to know that he is partaking of the soils of Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico,
Utah, and Arizona.
While sitting around the campfire we noticed
something moving in the bushes nearby.
At first we thought it was a ring-tailed cat but we were not kept long is suspense for
out walked a little spotted skunk - sometimes known as the hydrophobic skunk. He
started under the canvas where our provisions were kept. We yelled at him and he
started down a ravine, somewhat hastened in his departure by a stone tossed by the
chief ranger. At last the mystery of the numerous tracks and the disappearance of
healthy portions of our boiled ham and roast beaf was solved. The little spotted skunk
apparently has a decidedly short memory concerning the fact that our provisions were
not for him for soon after retiring we heard the dishes rattling under the canvas and in
spite of our yells he refused to budge. It was necessary to remove the canvas from our
food supplies before he finally took to hint to leave. As he started down the ravine
Brown fired his rifle and it evidently made such a favorable impression on him that
he failed to return again that night.
During the ensuing day two trips were made with
supplies up the river to the old Tanner
Crossing opposite the mouth of Chuar Creek. Our canvas boat was assembled preparatory
to a trip into the Chuar Creek region the following day. With a heavy growth of mesquite
to our backs to break the wind, a blazing fire of drift wood to the front and with a good
mattress of arrow weed, it appeared that we would be most comfortable for the night.
About midnight the park naturalist was awakened by something pulling at his hair. He
raised up to see a little spotted skunk scampering away. It could not be determined
whether the skunk was after nesting material or food. Later in the night the chief ranger
was awakened by the little pest walking over his bedding.
After breakfast our canvas boat and supplies for six
days were carried to the rivers edge
in anticipation of our first boat experience on the temperamental Colorado. Although each
man was provided with a life preserver no one cared to try them out in the icy water. The
chief ranger and the park naturalist tested the boat first. Without any baggage the boat was
rowed over and back without mishap. It was even possible to make slight progress against
the current in midstream. After that the supplies, and finally Ranger Brown were carried
across the river.
The boat and unnecessary supplies were cached and we
started up the Chuar Creek.
Although Chuar Creek appears on the contour map as an intermittent stream, we found
it contained water throughout its course. Near the mouth of the stream we found the
tracks of a large mountain lion. Possibly the presence of the mountain lion was the reason
the deer had crossed the river two days previously. The water of Chuar Creek is clear
and good-tasting and one would need a much longer time to get his "pock of dirt" than
by drinking the river water.
Camp was established under some cottonwoods about two
and one-half miles up the
stream. During the afternoon we explored a short distance above camp. Presently
we came to a small branch stream of the Chuar. Following up the branch a short
distance we came to its source seeping from a ledge densely covered with maiden
hair ferns. As we mounted a ridge to survey the surrounding country we glanced back
and saw the remains of an old camp. After noting the main course of the stream by the
growth of cottonwood we returned to examine the old camp - abandoned as we thought
by some prospector.
An old ditch led out from the source of the water and
finally a trough carried the water
in days gone by to the camp. As the trough was V-shaped and lacked riffles it seemed
a poor sluice box to catch gold. Among the articles around the camp were several bottles
of an old type, a Dutch over, thirteen kegs, two fifty gallon barrels, a large mash box, a
wooden paddle, and a stone fire place. The rock was un-mineralized and it looked more
like a distillery than a placer claim. Ranger Brown who had gone on a short distance yelled
back that he had solve the mystery. When we arrived he pointed to a cottonwood tree.
There we saw an old coffee grinder spiked to a stump of a cottonwood tree. The stump
had since sprouted around the base and the branches, one of which was fully seven inches
in diameter, had grown completely around the grinder. It was a complete distillery which
was probably used by some prospector to combine business with his poor-paying mining
We were undisturbed during the night by nocturnal
prowlers and the following morning
we took the major portion of our supplies and started up the main flow of Chuar Creek.
About two miles up stream we left our packs near a dry wash and continued up Chuar
Creek. Old beaver nawings were numerous but no fresh beaver signs were seen.
Occasionally a water ouzel would fly up and minnows would dart to cover as we neared
some pool. Ranger Brown picked up a bleached head of a deer containing a freak set
of horns. Two points and four long eye guards were present on each side.
Broken pieces of pottery near the banks of the stream
indicated the presence of
a former race. Search in the vicinity revealed the existence of thirteen ruins and
one well-preserved food cache. The largest ruin was about twenty feet by thirty
feet and contained two inner compartments. Near the head of the stream and about
a mile above occurred the best ruins found. Here was an Indian fort and five dwelling
under a cliff. The Indian fort, made of stone with mud mortar, was in an excellent
state of preservation. On one side there was a stone door twenty by twenty-four
inches with an opening over the top. On the side facing the stream were seven
openings three by four inches. It appeared that the fort evidently commanded a
one-time Indian trail from the Kaibab down Chuar Creek.
In the afternoon we returned to our pack and
supplies. During the evening we
heard a ring-tailed cat giving his bird-like call. If one were not familiar with this
interesting animal he might readily think the call was made by a bird.
At breakfast the following morning we saw a large
buck with a magnificent set of antlers
staring at us as he remained practically motionless silhouetted against the sky line. He
retained this position for several minutes and finally disappeared over the ridge.
After breakfast we studied the contour map and picked
out what appeared to be a feasible
route to the Kwagunt, the next large canyon to the north. We broke camp and followed
up a dry stream bed to its head. Six deer were seen along the way. They were in excellent
conditions and seemed curious about our intrusion upon their domain.
The descent into the Kwagunt was difficult but with a
long rope we enabled ourselves to
get over the bad ledges. In a dry tributary we found a small seep in the rocks. Fresh deer
tracks and several well-worn trails indicated that they came to the place regularly for
water. A single deer was seen in the vicinity. In the main stream bed were several holes
in the sand where deer had been digging for water. About four miles above the mouth of
Kwagunt Creek we found a permanent flow where we established camp. A number of
cottonwood trees had been felled by beaver and unknown to themselves they provided us
with a bountiful wood supply. In the short time that remained before darkness we looked
along the stream and discovered several beaver dams. The upper-most dam showed
beautiful workmanship with a mixture of cottonwood and willow branches, leaves,
stones and mud. Their food supply of cottonwood branches had been cut into two
foot lengths and submerged in the water. A slide and a house were also present.
During the evening we approached the dam and listened
while they worked. Although
it was too dark to see their movements it was most interesting to hear these animals
toiling - these constructive engineers whose forefathers caused James O, Pattie and
his father to visit the Grand Canyon in 1826 as the fore runners of beaver trappers.
As they pounded away at the dams during the stillness of the night they sounded like
a small army at work.
The following morning we crossed the ridge separating
the Kwagunt from Nankoweap
Creek. Once over the ridge we looked down on the Nankoweap Canyon which is the
last large valley to the north. From our distant view we could make out a line of
cottonwoods along the borders of Nankoweap Creek. It was impossible to reach
the stream and return before night so we decided to turn back. It started to rain
upon our arrival at Kwagunt Creek nearly a mile below camp so Ranger Brown
returned to look after our supplies while the chief ranger and the park naturalist
followed down the Kwagunt to its mouth. The chief things of interest down to the
river were the discovery of a mummified buck deer with ten points on each antler,
numerous deer tracks, several beaver tracks, and a view of the Kwagunt Rapids.
When we reached camp Ranger Brown announced the
discovery of a "lost city"
containing at least twenty-five ruins. He discovered several pictographs under a
ledge and collected a flint skinning knife, several arrow heads and pieces of pottery.
Along each permanent stream within the park one will invariably find traces of a
The next day we broke camp and returned to Chuar
Creek making the greatest
single hike of the trip. Instead of following our old trail back we stayed nearer the
Colorado River making it necessary to cross Malgosa, Awatubi, Sixty mile, and
Carbon canyons before reaching our first camp in Chuar Creek. We estimated
that we had covered sixteen miles during the day.
The following morning we started back to our base
camp at the foot of Tanner trail. Near
the mouth of Chuar Creek we discovered a crippled mud hen which was easily captured
when it started to run into the mesquite bushes. It was released after posing for a picture
with the freak set of deer antlers.
Our boat and surplus supplies were undistrubed and we
had no difficulty in making
two crossings of the river. Rather than make two trips packing the boat and supplies
down to the base camp it seemed a better proposition to load the supplies in the boat
and drift down with the current. It was decided that Ranger Brown walk down and
carry the cameras while the chief ranger and the park naturalist manned the boat
loaded with our supplies. By unloading the boat and portaging it and the supplies
around the dangerous rapids we reached the base camp in safety.
The Unkar region to the south and on the opposite
side of the river remained to be
explored. It was decided to make a three-day trip into the region. The supplies were
loaded into the boat next morning and we drifted down stream a short distance where
we crossed and entered the Unkar region. Fresh deer tracks were numerous in spite
of a lack of good browse. One lone wild burro was encountered. This animal has no
doubt lived a lonesome life in the area for a number since it was turned loose by some
prospector. Like the other side canyons, prospectors had visited this one in the early
days as was evidenced by the discovery of their camp sites, and numerous monuments
piled up where they had located their claims. Wherever there is a fault in the strata
or an outcrop of igneous rock one will inevitably find the monuments piled up where
their carins were staked out.
After spending two nights and major portion of three
days in the region without making
any unusual finds we started back to our base camp. Upon arrival at the latter place the
boat was dried and our supplies packed in kyack boxes to be taken out by the pack train
at a later date.
We were up before daylight the following morning and
well on the way up the long
Tanner trail before the shadows of the rising sun came over the Canyon rim. To one
who has remained two weeks in the Grand Canyon, cut off from contact with the
outside world, and with stone walls towering on all sides nearly a mile above him, the
homeward trip is the most pleasurable part of the journey. He views with triumph each
formation he leaves beneath him, he enjoys the snow that greets him as he approaches
the Canyon rim, and in fact he enjoys the entire homeward trip such as we made to the
ranger station and on into the village area.
Although the trip was not entirely fruitful,
nevertheless, the northeastern portion of the
Grand Canyon is no longer a mystery - it is a known part of the park.