Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The western Arizona Strip: A wartime excursion, 1942

Its always more fun to get out on the land, as NPS planner Olcott did in autumn 1942, along with an archeologist and the Chief Ranger for Boulder Dam NRA, surveying for two weeks the recreational resources of the "Bridge Canyon Reservoir Region" north of the river, and from the GCNM2 down to "Pierce" (Pierces? Pearce?) Ferry. The roads were then, as now, unpaved, though unlike now, there was a Wolf Hole store, and residents in Mount Trumbull settlement, though only Chet Bundy is mentioned. The NPSmen used a pick-up, and had to resupply at St. George a couple of times. With the help of the ever-useful "Indian Country" map (a 1970's edition) of the Auto Club of Southern California, here is a rough sketch of their routes:

They proceeded east to west, the first expedition down Whitmore Wash, then out onto the main Shivwits, and the third in the northern Grand Wash Cliffs. A journey over their routes today would find only minor differences.

At Mount Trumbull -- ten houses and a school-church building --, they arranged for horses from Chet Bundy. (According to Footprints on the Arizona Strip by Cox & Russell, 1973, at that time, "Bundyville" was about a quarter-century old, and many of the men were in the armed forces.) 

Reassured about conditions, they drove south to a ridge overlooking Whitmore, with fine views east to the Uinkarets, Mts. Logan & Emma. A "long, steep" descent got them down into the wash and past a ruin, with further impressive views: the forest-covered hills & volcanic cones, with "great, black lava flows" coming down into the valley center, around and over the cliffs of Coconino and Kaibab. West, the slope up to Whitmore Point was gentler, and a cinder cone right in the lower valley's middle. They then bumped along on the faint trail over the lava to Paw's Pocket, 87 miles from St. George. 

Olcott walked down to a river overlook, where the "full, wonderful beauty of the Grand Canyon could be comprehended". Southwest, the Shivwits' cliffs formed a thousand-foot, deep blue back-drop to red, yellow, white towers and buttes rising from the "level" red Supai esplanade. Beyond the dark river gorge, sparkling like diamonds in a few spots, he traced the Hurricane Fault, the rim rising to 6800'. Easterly, his desire to traverse to Toroweap was aroused by the awesome view of the great lava slide faced on the south by a series of peninsulas fading into the distance. He felt the "full force and beauty of the world" looking down on the cinder cone and the river grinding its course to the sea, then up to snow-covered peaks and the deep blue sky, sitting on a warm sunny sandstone seat, with no sign of man -- although he compared the insects' hum to the "drone of distant bombers" (a sign of the war? as well as the invaded airspace-to-come that is too much the current experience).

Bundy had brought the horses, and, running cattle along the river near Whitmore's mouth, knew the country "like a book". They rode over to Frog Spring (on the map), finding the esplanade dry and not all that level; grass and forage grazed to the roots. From there, they could see Parashont (sic) Canyon, increasingly deeper and narrower as it came south, starting to cut into the Redwall to form a narrow slot. They walked to see the junction of Andrus and Parashont, 1000' down, a "desolate, uninviting scene in the half light of that late October afternoon". Later, they hiked to Cane Spring to find a "level grassy floor", "a peaceful meadow in contrast to the more barren esplanade".

They found the "only good water" at Big Spring Tank and examined the "pueblo" ruins. Their pickup fought the steepness of the road, but they got out and to St. George, experiencing the sunset from Wolf Hole as the "greatest spectacle of color I have seen anywhere". The next day, they went back, this time west of Poverty Mountain and down to Oak Grove, a bit northwest of Mt. Dellenbaugh. The country was open, mostly flats and gravelly washes, going over low rocky ridges, with sparse juniper. 

As they drove to the Waring Ranch, just inside the Boulder Dam National Recreational Area boundary, bumping over a lava ridge to the wide-open sagebrush flat, they were disappointed by the "low, forest-covered knob" of Mt. D. It looked more impressive from afar. No one home, they continued over the (really, really bumpy) lava rocks through dense ponderosa and pinyon-juniper. They found Green Spring, Waring's main water source, seeping out from below the Shivwits' lava cap. Eight miles farther they walked from Dinner Pocket to the rim to discover they were on "a green peninsula in the sky" with below, "a world of brilliant desert canyons stretching far into the distance". All the 5-mph lava bumps were made worth while.

They went to the east rim and Price Butte, above Indian Canyon. A lava knob, it furnished "splendid views in all directions", especially down into Granite Park. They could trace all the side canyons from Whitmore to Diamond, with the green sea of the plateau and the Uinkarets on top. Olcott described the sheer cliffs from Shivwits top with its four knobs, going down 1000-1300' to the wide bench 2-3000' above the river, with deep canyons cutting back into it. Evidences of early occupation were scattered thickly, and he was delighted to find a ruin on a ridge. He also went to the top of Blue Mtn, but could find no trail south to the end of the Shivwits at Sanup (now Kelly) Point. (Too bad!) Going back to Oak Grove, they could not find a trail to Twin Point, either, so went farther west toward Snap Point. They found the views only "interesting". They then had to return to St. George for re-supply.

The next day, north of Grand Canyon country, they went down the "increasingly worse" Pigeon Wash trail to get to the Grand Gulch Mine. An open-pit operation had been once quite active, sending ore to St. George along the Pierce Ferry road. Two men were working there, hand picking ore. The next day they spent even farther north, having an adventure on the Hidden Canyon road. They thought it much more interesting than Pigeon Canyon, with several branches and springs, and a "pleasing" plant succession. Continuing on, "clinging precariously to the steep sides" and up Pocum Wash, they got their best views of the Grand Wash Cliffs. There was a beautiful basin at the mouth of Hubble (sic) Canyon, and they returned up it to Wolf Hole

Although the country they travelled had been known and used, lived on, by other whitefolk since the late nineteenth century, they no doubt had all the sensations of adventure and exploration. Would it not have been obvious, despite the BDNRA, that much of what they had seen excited them because it was the Grand Canyon? Of course, they were charged with reporting on the "Bridge Canyon Reservoir Region". They were not there to find evidence and arguments to justify National Park status for the western Grand Canyon. Weighed down by the assumption there would "soon" be a dam upstream from Lake Mead, they could hardly return to point out that this "Region" ought to be hooked up eastward with the Park, instead of down-lake to the flatwater and basin-and-range of the Boulder Project. 

Certainly, they did note the area's remoteness, entirely off the "beaten paths of tourist travel". Existing travel tracks were only for dry weather. Mount Trumbull was ten small houses, and the BDNRA boundary was 82 miles from St. George, not to mention how far it was from Las Vegas/Boulder City. Grazing only took place in the winter, and there was no recreation to speak of. (Even now, after all, it is only the mass industrial tourism use of helicopters etc. that attracts exploiters, allowing them to severely minimize the time their, ah, groups must spend on a visit.)

So what did they propose? First of all, they skipped their time spent in the canyons of the GWCliffs, dividing what they saw into four: Whitmore/lower Parashont and its esplanade, Andrus/upper Parashont, Shivwits Plateau, and the esplanade/canyons below the plateau. They ranked the Whitmore area first in value for its great SCENIC AND GEOLOGIC variety and interest (my emphasis).

Next, they noted the "fine views" from the Shivwits, then said they were less and lower than those above Prospect Canyon (on Hualapai land). Indeed, those Hualapai lands were "superior recreationally" to the Shivwits. (It is possible that this mis-fire reinforced the bent thinking that led to the attempted inclusion of Reservation land in the NRA; it is certainly what happens when NPS people think they are Godalmighty enough to decide such irrelevant fine points as what part of the Grand Canyon should be saved and what thrown away. What example has NPS set for the Hualapai in tourist development? But that, of course, is another subject.)

Even though the canyon country below the Shivwits "did not appear to hold unique interest  considering the Grand Canyon as a whole" and "while the Whitmore section is the ONLY (my emphasis) part of the area between the Grand Canyon National Monument and the Grand Wash Cliffs that is considered of outstanding RECREATIONAL (me again) value", nevertheless everything inside the BDNRA "is of sufficient recreational value to be preserved for that purpose and should be preserved as part of the broad program for the conservation of the Grand Canyon." Just first build a dam, reservoir, paved roads, power lines, townsites, aggregate pits, etc. all over it.

Olcott that there be a trail from Toroweap into Whitmore, on into Parashont. Toroweap should have overnight accommodations. Possible highways would include from Toroweap to Mount Trumbull connecting to the north-south highway from Bridge Canyon to St. George, and possibly down Whitmore. There should be a ranger station at Green Spring, and a road along the top of the Shivwits, and out to Twin Point, with horse access to the esplanade--unless the highway from Bridge Canyon north provides that access.

Source: "Survey of the Recreational Resources of the Colorado River Basin. Report on Further Study of the Bridge Canyon Reservoir Region", Geo. W. Olcott, Jan 1943

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