National Geographic : 1936 Jul
DOWN IDAHO'S RIVER OF NO RETURN By PHILIP J. SHENON AND JOHN C. REED LEADERS OF TIll NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY-U. S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY SALMON RIVER EXPEDITION With Illustrations from Photographs by Maynard Owen Williams IN 1803 President Jefferson gave his blessing to an expedition led by Lewis and Clark, whose achievement is his tory. The leaders of the Nation's first over land expedition to the Pacific turned back only once-when they faced the precipitous walls and "white waters" of the Salmon River Canyon. Thus the Salmon remained unconquered until about 40 years ago, when Captain Harry Guleke piloted a flat-bottomed scow through its thundering rapids to its mouth (page 98). HOW GULEKE CONQUERED THE SALMON Like Phoenician mariners, using islands as stepping stones to far-away shores, Guleke and Sanderland, his first mate, braved one rapid after another, learning the secrets of each before venturing farther into the unknown. Boats were smashed on hidden rocks, and lives were lost, but one-way traffic on the Salmon had come to stay. The trip is still known as "the wildest boat ride in America." Unlike Guleke, we, as geologists working in the high mountain country above the river for the United States Geological Sur vey, were challenged not by the rapids but by problems of scientific and economic in terest, solution of which appeared to lie partly in the canyon that yawned below us. How did the granite mass known as the Idaho Batholith invade the rocks surround ing it? (Page 105.) How far did the veins exposed on the plateau above extend into the canyon? Why did the Salmon River cut directly across the grain of the rocks, and why did some tributary streams flow scores of miles to pass again within four or five miles of their sources? The National Geographic Society saw the value of an expedition through the canyon and sponsored our plans. Dr. Maynard Owen Williams, photographer and writer, of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE staff, was sent with the expedition. Mr. Howard R. Flint, Regional Forest Inspector of the United States Forest Serv ice, was assigned by that organization to study the plants and animals. Dean A. W. Fahrenwald, metallurgist and educator, accompanied the expedition in his capacity as Director of the Idaho Bureau of Mines and Geology. U. S. Representative D. Worth Clark, of Idaho, an enthusiast for the trip since it was first proposed, was made a member of the expedition because of his interest in the primitive areas of his native State. The Salmon River rises amid rugged peaks of the Sawtooth Range, over 10,000 feet high. From this spectacular beginning the river flows through valley and canyon to its confluence with the Snake near where Oregon, Washington, and Idaho meet (map, page 105). In 390 miles it falls more than a vertical mile. The Salmon River Canyon is one of the deepest and most rugged in North America. From rim to river its depth in several places exceeds 6,000 feet. This is more than that of the equally wide Grand Can yon of the Colorado, about 5,500 feet deep near Bright Angel Canyon, but less than that of the Snake River Canyon, which not far from He Devil peak is 7,900 feet deep. MANY MET DEATH FROM "LEAD POISONING" Except for occasional Indians, man played little part in the early history of the country. In 1861 gold was discovered near the canyon brink. Waves of pros pectors from California and Oregon swept eastward, meeting a westward-advancing army from the Atlantic. Road agents and gamblers rubbed shoulders with miners and merchants. Before vigilante committees curbed crime, many met sudden death by "lead poisoning." From mushroom mining camps at Flor ence, Elk City, Warren, Dixie, Leesburg, and Grantsville (now part of Leesburg) mil lions poured into the war-depleted treasury of President Lincoln. Rich pockets sometimes yielded a hun dred dollars to a shovelful. When the richest ground was skimmed, the impatient miners departed, leaving the "diggins" to Chinese, who flocked to the placers after helping to complete the Central Pacific Railroad (page 122).