Field notes : October 15-November 3, 1879

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Charles D. Walcott records observations of geological formations in Kanab Canyon enroute to the Colorado River in 1879. Entries are handwritten, and listed by date. They detail weather, challenges of travel along the trail due to fallen rocks, details and enjoyment topography and landscape, collected fossils, plants observed growing along the cliffs, challenges of traveling the trail, and expectations research results from collecting.

Date Range


Start Date

Oct 15, 1879

End Date

Oct 03, 1879

Access Information

Many of SIA's holdings are located off-site, and advance notice is recommended to consult a collection. Please email the SIA Reference Team at


  • Geology
  • Paleontology


  • United States
  • Kanab Canyon
  • Colorado River
  • Arizona


  • Fieldbook record
  • Field notes
  • Illustrations

Accession #

SIA RU007004

Collection name

Charles D. Walcott Collection,1851-1940 and undated

Physical Description

1 folder

Physical Location

Smithsonian Institution Archives


Box 32 Folder 1

Kanab Canyon Arizona Wednesday Oct 15th 1879 Up early and Jerry prepared to leave for Kanab to carry in a pack of fossils, letters and to bring mail in return. The morning was a dismal one. Cold. cloudy + windy. A late fall day. Cleaned up a little and grew warmer towards night. I went five or six miles south and measured a portion of the sandstone of the upper dimension of the Carboniferous. Yesterday took the measurement of the upper portion by Locke level and barometer, each gave 775 feet. To day added 615 feet more. These measurements are much greater than those obtained by Mr. Gilbert so I took unusual pains to have them correct. Returned and prepared my supper & then, caught a few Branchifus,
[[start page]] after eating it. This is the first time I ever saw these beautiful little crustaceans alive. At sunset the eastern cliffs were very beautiful [[strikethrough]]as[[/strikethrough]] The dark red base and gray mass above was capped by a golden crown, as the sunlight just touched the summit. The afterglow was also fine after the sun had set. Very tired. Wrote a little + turned in. [[underlined]] Alone in my tent. [[/underlined]] 16th. Awoke at daybreak and heard a loud report, a rumble and then the rolling of rocks down the canon. A portion of the cliff had broken off. The [[underline]] sunrise salute [[/underline]]. Went up the east side 1600 feet + measured the sandstone + limestone, also secured a fine lot of fossil sponges from the chert nodules. Returned and prepared for the night. Just after dusk Jerry came bringing 14 letters and a great pile of papers. Two weeks mail. How pleasant it was [[end page]]
[[start page]] 3 to read those from home. To learn of the welfare of loved ones and the general life of all my home friends. Sig G. Cappellini of Bologna Italy writes acknowledging the receipt of my Utica slate paper + invites me to meet him at Bologna 1881 at the International Congress of Geologists. Prof. Geinitz of Dresden also acknowledges receipt of U.S. paper, but as it is written in German I cannot read it. One of the beauties of an imperfect education. Left papers for future reading. After breakfast next morning packed and started down the canon. Entered the massive sandstone at leaving camp and for several miles, the canon gradually deepened until we were in a canon within a canon. The outer walls retreating back leaving the cut in the sandstone. Now + then we caught a glimps of the white [[end page]]
limestone 2000 feet above and back from the inner canon. The inner canon curves and winds down tho' the sandstone and then into the sandstone beneath. [[image - a pen sketch showing the inner canon winding within the walls of the outer canon. A point "a" is marked on the inner canon and point "b" is marked on the outer canon.]] At (a) the inner wall is 1000 feet the outer 1700 at (b). Camped at night beside a water pocket. A hole in the bed of the stream. The canon is very narrow. Not over three rods broad + the solid limestone, stained red, rises 1000 feet to the brink. The high walls back cannot be seen. The change from the sandstone with its curious and beautiful sculpture and picturesque coloring to the massive perpendicular limestone wall is very striking. It seems a lonely and long journey down this canon, but nature places her treasures and rare beauties where
[[start page]] 5 energy and work is necessary to obtain or see them. Thus far my trip has well repaid the labor by the simple seeing the beautiful and grand features of the natural scenery. Not to mention the knowledge gained by a study of the geological structure. Twilight is falling + it is short in this region so will prepare to nest as the tent will not be put up to night. Will read by the firelight and turn in early. Oct 18th. Last night I lay awake a long time looking up at the stars the canon walls formed an oval frame to a beautiful blue sky. The north star forming the center of the northern end and towards midnight Jupiter the center of the southern extremity. The quiet broken only by the stirring of [[?]] animals. The gloom of the great canon and above all the blue sky and bright stars above gave an impression
of the solemnity of nature in the hour when she is at rest that will not soon be effaced. Up at daybreak, breakfasted, collected a few fossils and then bid adieu to our camp. All were glad to leave it. A puddle to drink from and no feed for the animals. The canon continued to wind first east then west and in fact to all points of the compass. The trail was good and a few miles down a little clean water was was seen in the bed of the channel and soon a small brooklet glided over the rocks. Springs added to its volume and to night the music of a noisy brook breaks the stillness. On our way down the canon a drove of cattle was ahead of us. At one point they stopped and refused to be driven ahead. We let them pass by and found a rocky barrier in our path. By an hours work a path was formed and we passed over only to find a still greater mass of fallen rocks with
7 a deep pool of water between two high blocks of limestone. Off with the tack & saddles drive the animals in for a swim. Carry the luggage over the rocks repack & then find the trail obstructed again. A log 20 feet long is hauled by ropes up the side of a slanting rock fastened there and stones & dirt thrown against it to form a path. The white mule rebels, lies down, rolls half over. Unpack pull her up, [[underlined]] beat [[/underlined]] well for future admonition not to repeat the caper. Drive her over carry the pack & start down the canon. The sun is getting low so a level freshet sand beach is selected and the tent put up. A hearty supper & soon the cares of the day are forgotten in reading & writing. The grass is high along the stream & all are content once more. One object not mentioned is worthy of it
Down after reaching the running water a mass of green was seen ahead attached to the side of the cliff. Approaching, it was seen to be a great cluster of plant attached to the cliff where a spring came out. Jutting out from the cliff twenty feet and so high a horse could pass under. The leaves were small & of a deep olive green, scattered thickly over the entire mass were star shaped, brilliant scarlet flowers. Thro' the mass the water penetrated and rained down as from a great sponge. It was quite a refreshing sight as nothing of the character has been seen in many a long day. Tomorrow is sunday & I hope it will be a day of rest for man & beast as all need it. An [[strikethrough]] earense [[/strikethrough]] emense mass of limestone has fallen from the cliff a short distance below & a trail must be built over or around it. (50 mile from the nearest house we lie down to sleep gently and without fear.
9 The same Father watches over us here that does at our homes and life is secure if care and foresight are given to its protection. [[horizontal line drawn across page]] Sunday P.M. 19th Oct. After breakfast climbed up the cliff a hundred feet to a dark spot & found a great cluster of ferns and wild plants. The fern resembles our own beautiful maidenhair and altho' not as delicate and graceful may be a variety of it or another species of the same genus. [[underlined]] Adiantum [[/underlined]]. Slipped coming down & fell whereby getting a black thumbnail & a sore thumb. Read papers until noon. ate a lunch and went down the canon to examine the canon & trail. we can pass the fallen limestone by going over a very rough & steep mass of rock and dirt. A hard looking road. Blocks of limestone 40 X 50 X 30, (60000 cubic feet) are piled where the trail formerly led. The mass has fallen recently
as the dust has not washed off the rocks. What a sight it would have been to have seen this great mass, 1000 feet high topple over & plunge into the canon beneath filling it to a depth of 100 feet. Luckily it was in a broad portion of the canon or our path would have been permanently obstructed. The cliff looks as tho' it had lost a chip off its red surface leaving a long white seam. Small masses fall frequently as we have seen them freshly broken lying in the bed of the canon. I trust they will hold up until we return tho' [[strikethrough]] the by [[/strikethrough]] canon and by then I do not care to be blocked in [[here?]] or crushed. To die here would be unfortunate. Not so much to me as to those left behind. I prefer to meet that friend or foe as the case may be among those that have a care for my comfort and
11 the [[care?]] of that left [[with?]] them. [[So?]] a soul that lives the [[?]] of loved ones praying the tributes of their love to that which held the last of the life now gone. Oct 20th. Ten hours of hard work + three miles gained. We built the trail around the fallen mass of rocks and a rough one it was but by putting a portion of the packs on Jane + Charlie we pulled tho'. Another slight mending of the trail + a camp at the mouth of a canon entering from the east. A hard day for man and beast but soon to be forgotten if we reach the Colorado tomorrow. The rock is becoming more shaly and little benches from along the lower portion of the canon walls. It is warm + pleasant so that the tent will not be unpacked tonight. Jerry has baked a loaf
of bread cooked hominy and dried beef + I guess we can eat a good square meal as a piece of dry bread + beef has answered since breakfast at sunrise. Oct 21st 1879. Left camp early and reached the Colorado at noon. No without some rough road however as at one place it was swim or stop for the animals. But we are here at last + I feel repaid for the labor altho' I am about used up tonight. Head ached at noon but that has passed off. My right thumb nail is coming off result of a bruise + is troublesome. a blow on the left thumb with my stone hammer consequent upon the right being out of order, has healed the end of that and in a
[[start page]] [[circled]]15[[/circled]] Oct 23 The sun has set and twilight is falling. A quart of beef tea and a large slice of raisin bread ought to inshure me to write but on the contrary I am lazy. The view however is grand and inspiring To the right and left the canon walls rise in a clean cliff over 2000 feet. In front, down the river a great mass of the outer wall rises like an immense castle pile falling to ruin. Four thousand feet above to the summit of its gray cap. To night it is a great black mass, yet small as compared with the greater extent of canon walls beneath. By the light of the rising sun the effect [[end page]]
[[start page]] from my seat is reversed. The canon is all gloom and shadow + turning above it stands our ruin. A silver gray mass resting in the dark red rock beneath. Projecting headlands [[then?]] deep shadows and form the buttresses supporting the main mass. This is a thousand feet higher and twice or thrice as long. How small it looks two miles away its base a half a mile above the river. ---- The canon is far more impressive to me now than on first acquaintance. Its great proportions and ever changing features as it is seen from different points at various hours of the [[end page]]
[[start page]] 17. day give one opportunity for study & reflection. The river is now low but the water is a pink hue from the contained sediment washed in by recent rains away up the country. Drinking from it yesterday, the taste of the clay was evident. Hapily we have a clean, running brook coming down the Kanab canon for our use. Twilight has faded into night and now I am in our tent writing by the "glimm" as the [[underlined]]"tallow drip"[[/underlined]] is often called. My [[underlined]]thumbs[[/underlined]] are improving and from present appearances I shall finish my work here sooner than I anticipated and [[underlined]]dig[[/underlined]] out, on up the canon. If possible I wish two or three [[end page]]
[[start page]] at Upper Kanab to review the stratigraphical work done there last month. If I can find a place up near the great natural sponge that will permit of my climbing to the top of the inner wall, 1300 feet, I shall save a week. Otherwise dry camps and such pleasant incidents will occur. I wish to write to Ed tonight so will let this scribble answer for todays addition to my notes for Mother + sister Jessie. (One note to fill this out.) The peculiar softness of the atmosphere tends to smooth and soften the stark edges and rugged outlines so that a distance the rock scenery is greatly improved by this factor. Often I think a cliff is quite smooth but find it broken on near approach. [[end page]]
[[start page]] [[circled]]19[[/circled]] Oct 24: Worked up the Kanab Canon. Nothing of special incident occurred. Found that a part of Mr Gilberts limestone series is sandstone. [[image- a pen sketch showing the terrain of Kanab Canyon as seen from inside it, looking along its winding course, showing various layers of the rock formations. In a circle drawn in the lower right corner, is a tent campsite and two people, one wearing a hat. Labeled "Yours truly"]] A ten minute sketch of my old ruined sketch. It may be that I can get a photograph of this point as the photographer was down here a few years ago. Will [[end page]]
[[start page]]do so if possible. I am now gaining in energy + spirit and if nothing unforeseen occurs shall hope to push along so as to gain strength myself and keep the work in good control. One reason of depression on arriving here was coming from a higher colder atmosphere to the lower level and warmer weather. Our food is now excellent. Beef, bread, rice, dried fruit hold out in good order. We eat a loaf of bread per day weighing 2 1/2 to 3 pounds + plenty of other [[underlined]]"truck"[[/underlined]] as Jerry calls it. My meals are immense. Do not drink tea or coffee + have no desire for milk, butter or eggs. Pink Valley cured me of those articles for a time at least. Would like a potato tho'. Will have some too in two weeks if I return to Upper Kanab. [[end page]]
[[start page]] [[circled]]21[[/circled]] [[underlined]]Saturday eve.[[/underlined]] The sun has just gone down behind my old ruin and a half hour remains ere darkness will drive me in. [[underlined]]Jerry calls supper. O.K.![[/underlined]] Rich beef tea, rice, peaches, bread [[underlined]]"To witch a wino".[[/underline]] To day has been a busy one. Up the Colorado Canon a mile over the rocks to examine strata. Return to dinner + then up the Kanab Canon to pound away until 3.30 P.M. to obtain a few rare fossils. Return to camp, put ferns in press gathered in the way and then up for a wash + nefarious scrub, personal and washing of stockings, towel etc. Mended shirt. Sewed a patch on boots & fixed up generally. And altho' feeling tired this evening do not [[end page]]
[[start page]] feel at all unwell. Tomorrow is Sunday but we shall leave & go up the canon a few miles. The sooner we get above the bad places the better. The barometer is falling. Jerry's rheumatism speaks and to get caught down here with high water above means trouble. It may not rain in three or four days but by that time I hope to be above desolation camp as we called it. I shall not be sorry to turn homeward. This is a grand canon and much there is that is beautiful about it. Still I have seen it & I think under favorable conditions & am ready to leave it. "Farewell forever! farewell forever! To the wild Colorado with its rapids & its rocks, it will trouble us no more." [[end page]]
[[start page]] (23) Last night, the light of the moon woke me about 3 o clock. I got up & went outside the tent, as I tho't the scene must be fine. I was not mistaken. The weird effect of the moonlight was to heighten the gloom of the great canon and at the same time to give its northern walls a picturesque beauty that no other light could give. The shadows were deep and the salient angles bathed in the soft silvery light made each separate cliff a study by itself. The walls appeared twice as high as by daylight and almost seemed to touch the stars on the eastern side. It was a sight that only an artist could picture out before you. My few feeble words cannot half express what little I could see. Down at the foot of the great [[end page]]
[[start page]] black cliff the river went rushing roaring along. I could not help thinking of Dante's Inferno where [[D?]] has represented the dark rushing river Styx. Soon this will be all stored in memory's walls and my trip to the Colorado a thing of the past. There it will be placed, side by side with Mt. [[Des?t]] & a few other places I treasure & think of when tho't is left free to wander back to the beautiful and striking objects that have crossed my little wanderings in this small world. Small as it is I fear I shall never compass its mysteries as hidden in the lower rocks. Still to that I would like to give my energy for years to come. May perhaps if it will be so. Who knows?. [[end page]]
(25) Sunday Oct 26th 1879 We were up & eating breakfast at sunrise + soon after were packing up. All went smoothly until old Billy, a poor old used up pack horse, made a mistep going along a narrow part of the trail. He failed to recover and after turning a complete summersault landed down in a pool of water three feet deep and lay there helpless. By rolling him over he gained his feet and we soon had him out. Decided to camp a mile above and when we unpacked Billys pack a nice mess it was. First on top came my valises. Just one half wet. note book, diary, etc. suffered most. Matches, sugar, rice
hominy soaked. Luckily the opposite pack did not get soaked + our flour + my package of books escaped. The air is very dry + all is in order again as far as can be. The tent is up, the stones cleared away, [[dirt thrown in?]]. Willows cut + laid over it and my bed is in order. A large flat rock serves for a candlestick and table + all is comfortable. It is still warm. Last night I hardly kept one thickness of blanket over me. The camp is directly opposite a spot in the canon wall where I can get up two or three hundred feet and carry up the section nicely I hope.
28 Oct 29th 1879. Nothing of special incident has occurred the past three days. We have made another camp below desolation camp & I have collected a lot of fine fossils and also added to the measured section. Have taken several hand climbs up the canon walls but cannot get to the top yet. Tomorrow I propose searching for fossils & next day moving out & up above all the bad places. On our way up here we passed the hole where old Billy set me in the water. Tonight I write lying on my side, head [[bolstered up?]]. A boil on the knob of the neck is under full head[[?]]
[[start page]] and is very painful. Hinders me about my work. Last spring I had them because I was run down. That cannot be the reason now. Jerry has just had a large one on his neck + he is well and strong. I wish it had kept away a week longer. It is severe work to climb + pound with a hammer when every blow & movements hurts. Still it is nothing but a Jobs comforter and can be endured for a few days. Jerry is getting homesick to get out of this canon. He says he wishes to get where he can see something & see outside of these rocky walls. I cannot blame him very much as it is not a cheerful place by a long ways. (Good night) [[end page]]
(29) Oct. 31th 1879 Farewell October. To me you have been an eventful month in many ways and tonight I bid you goodbye willingly, still, not without a sense of regret as your bright beautiful days have appealed to the higher esthetic sense and more practically have enabled me to work with energy & comfortable surroundings. I bid bid you farewell. At 8.A.M. we left the camp. Jane carried the heavy pack & the other three animals the remainder of our worldly goods. Slowly and sure we wound in & out, up & down, around great boulders, thro' the water and after twice unpacking & once making a swim we reach our present camp at the natural sponge (mentioned when going down) above all the bad places and near the trail altho' rough in places will
permit us to remain in the saddle until Kanab is reached. Four weeks yesterday since we left. As provisions are running low we shall probably go in by the 7th or 8th of November. The weather is warm & comfortable. The brook & the hanging spring make music that is pleasant to the ear & on this little grass plot our camp fire burns & the tent, our little home, is bright & pleasant. I am getting quite accustomed to the manner of living and today am more willing to remain out another month than since starting. My boil has reached its maximum development & is now on the decline.
(31) Monday morning [[underline]]Nov 3rd 1879.[[/underline]] Like some of the folks of old I worked all day Sunday and will keep another day. Our provisions are nearly out & after today will live on bread & a slice of bacon per day until we reach Kanab. Under the circumstances working on Sunday was necessary if the work was done at all. There remained one hard, dangerous climb to measure a section of limestone that hitherto had been guessed at as it was nearly inaccessible. Jerry accompanied me & we chose a cliff about two miles above camp as looking the most favorable. On the start there was a bad place but then better for 200 feet up. The struggle commenced here - a reentering angle of the cliff gave a little hold & up nearly a perpendicular wall clinging to points jutting out
an inch or two up the face of the cliff we went for over 200 feet & near the top found a spot where the rock overhung the only spot we could get up. It was hard to back out so I managed to get my hands up over & getting a hold swing out & pulled up over. A slip there would have sent me 400 feet as our path had taken us out over the steep face of the cliff below. I then helped Jerry & we were soon at the top. By a line measured the section & then decided that we would rather walk ten miles up the canon rather than attempt the descent by the path we came up. Decided upon we started off over rocks & rough ground as our path lay at the foot of the outer range of cliffs 2000 feet high, two miles up we were
(33) stopped by a side canon. That we started to go up & around. At one place its walls were broken & we started down & struck an old Indian trail. After a rough climb we landed at the bottom of the canon, only to find our way stopped by a fall of 30 feet over a ledge in a very narrow place. Up the side & along narrow ledges 150 feet above the bottom & then down a place not any too safe & the base was reached again. Three miles scramble over the boulders & our animals were reached. Seven hours of hard work was over. [[underline]] Evening. [[underline]] Today have felt rather used up but did the work laid out & feel well tonight. Tomorrow we start out for Kanab. Will
probably spend three days on the way. We leave an unusually pleasant camp to go north & up 2000 feet or more where it will be cold & wintry. It is beautiful October weather here. Just at sunset I took a bath beneath the great sponge, as we call it, letting the water stream over me. (I will tell you more of this sponge on my return.) This will probably close my long letter to you as on the march there will be no time to write & the tent is not put up at night. Please keep this as I may wish to read it some time. I shall register it as it has been too much trouble to write it to have it lost. Your affect, Chas.
[[underline]] N.B. No. 6. [[/underline]] p. 5 bottom to p. 6. [[crossed check]] " 8-9. [[crossed check]] " 12 [[crossed check]] " 13-14 Begin under left 20 on p. 12 [[crossed check]] " 15 [[crossed check]] " 16.-18-[[crossed check]] " 19- sep-sheet for [[Shin asump?]] - [[crossed check]] " 21 - Base of [[Frias?]] [[crossed check]] " [[strikethrough]] 22 - 28. 29 [[/strikethrough]] 22-37. [[crossed check]] " 40-41 Note on wood - etc [[crossed check]] " 43 [[crossed check]] " 44-47 [[crossed check]] " 48-51 [[crossed check]]