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Spirits of Glen Canyon - Part 1

Mark Heckey is a retired city planner with a passion for writing.

Part 1 of a multi-part historical/creative non-fiction of the Colorado River.

June 18, 1869

The one armed man breathed heavily as he leaned against the rock wall, trying to recover his energy. He looked down to the canyon floor where his men gazed up at the rock shelf where he and Bradley had found a foot hold. He felt embarrassed by his blunder.

Without a rope, he and Bradley had scaled up 800 feet to the top of Echo Rock. He led them up a point where a sheer precipice projected a few feet out above them. Jumping out to a foothold below the rock shelf, he stranded himself — he could not get over the shelf and no handhold presented itself for a return.

As exhaustion set in, he found himself trapped. Bradley stripped to his underwear, pulled off his undergarments, and knotted them together. He threw the makeshift lifeline to his one-arm companion.

"My God, Bradley, that was quick thinking!" the one-arm man praised his companion. "You saved me with your long Johns!"

Bradley held up the improvised cloth rope he had created, smiled and replied, "They sure came in handy. Maybe my stench made them stronger! Next time Major, let's bring some rope and pegs."






The sun moved lower on the horizon. The late afternoon light bounced among the red and yellow rocks and crags of the canyon. Below the figures of eight men were silhouetted next to the profile of two wooden boats.

A few days earlier, another similar boat had been lost over a waterfall. The rapids of the Colorado had proven to be a mighty obstacle. They would have to be more cautious and portage when facing the churning brown waters.

When they calmed their heartbeats and recaptured their breath, Bradley and Major Powell made their way down the rock face and returned to camp. The major was a short but powerfully built man. His sweat soaked shirt outlined his sinewed shoulders and back. His left arm had grown as thick as two with overuse.

He lost his right arm at Shiloh by a battlefield hospital tent in 1864. His unkept beard bristled down beyond his Adams apple. As commander of the expedition, he knew to hide his fears, especially to contain talking about his folly. That was a close call caused by his own poor judgement. He resolved to not be so foolhardy again.

Continued next month with part 2.

~ Mark Heckey






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