Gila Canyon

The Great Canyon on the Gila – Today’s Needle’s Eye Wilderness

Upon leaving the Iron Mountain campsite of October 25, Whipple’s survey party approached an impassable section of the canyon and were forced to interrupt their survey of the river and find a detour. Here’s Lt. Whipple’s diary entry from Dr. David H. Miller’s typescript:

Monday Oct. 27 [1851] “After walking a mile (for mules could not be riden [sic] down the rocks,) and wading the river twice the precipices of the cañon narrowed to 30 feet which pass was blocked up by boulders 15 feet high between which the river dashed in deep but narrow channels. The precipices upon each side were estimated from 1000 to fifteen hundred feet in height. They were beautifully worn into curious shapes and often terminated in spires or towers as perfect as if formed by the hand of man. The sketch by Mr. Wheaton shows the present termination of the survey.”

-Whipple Collection, Oklahoma Historical Society

On the left is the beautiful watercolor by Seth Eastman, showing the "jumping off place" of the survey. This watercolor was made circa 1853 from a field sketch by another artist. Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI. The photograph at right shows the Needle's Eye Wilderness area at its narrowest point during a rare dry season. Tom Jonas photo, 2003

On the left is the beautiful watercolor by Seth Eastman, showing the “jumping off place” of the survey. This watercolor was made circa 1853 from a field sketch by another artist. Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI. The photograph at right shows the Needle’s Eye Wilderness area at its narrowest point during a rare dry season. Tom Jonas photo, 2003

Eastman’s watercolor above was made in about 1853 from an 1851 field sketch done by an artist in the survey party, possibly Frank Wheaton. An interesting point here is Eastman’s depiction of the direction of the river flow. His watercolor shows the river flowing toward the viewer when it actually flows the opposite direction. Eastman was never at the site and obviously guessed wrong about the river flow. This canyon is indeed impassable whenever the river is flowing. The canyon here narrows to only about 150 feet from wall to wall. The astonishing accuracy of the field sketch and the watercolor suggest that the field sketch was made with the help of a camera lucida.

 -See my REPHOTOGRAPHY section for more on this location-

 

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