The far-famed Yosemite Valley lies well back on the western slope of the Sierra, about a hundred and fifty miles to the eastward of San Francisco. It is about seven miles long, from half a mile to a mile wide, and nearly a mile deep, carved in the solid granite flank of the range. Its majestic walls are sculptured into a bewildering variety of forms—domes and gables, towers and battlements, and sheer massive cliffs, separated by grooves and furrows and deep, shadowy canyons, and adorned with evergreen trees. The bottom is level and park-like, finely diversified with meadows and groves, and bright, sunny gardens; the River of Mercy [Merced], clear as crystal, sweeping in tranquil beauty through the midst, while the whole valley resounds with the music of its unrivaled waterfalls.
It is a place compactly filled with wild mountain beauty and grandeur floods of sunshine, floods of snowy water, beautiful trees of many species, thickets of flowering shrubs, beds of flowers of every color, from the blue and white violets on the meadows, to the crimson pillars of the snow-flowers glowing among the brown needles beneath the firs. Ferns and mosses find grateful homes in a thousand moist nooks among the rocks, humming-birds are seen glinting about among the showy flowers, small singers enliven the under-brush, and wide-winged hawks and eagles float in the calm depths between the mighty walls; squirrels in the trees, bears in the canyons; all find peaceful homes, beautiful life of every form, things frail and fleeting and types of enduring strength meeting and blending, as if into this grand mountain mansion nature had gathered her choicest treasures, whether great or small.
Three good carriage roads enter the valley by way of Big Oak Flat, Coulterville, and Raymond, the greater part of the journey from San Francisco being made by rail. Each of the three roads, according to the measurements of rival agents, is the shortest, least dusty, and leads through the finest scenery. No one, however, possesses any great advantage over the others. All are dusty and, to most people, monotonous throughout their lower courses in the foothills, and all necessarily pass through belts of the noblest coniferous trees to be found in the world so that a journey to Yosemite by any possible route, even with Yosemite left out, would still be worth the exertion it costs a thousand times over.
In May, when the travel to Yosemite begins, the snow is still deep in the upper forest through which the roads pass, but the foothill region is already dry and forbidding. The whole country, soil, plants, and sky seems kiln dried, most of the vegetation crumbles to dust beneath the foot, the ground is cracked, and the sky is hot, withered, dim, and desolate though glowing, and we gaze through the white, hazy glare towards the snowy mountains and streams of cold eager longing, but not one is in sight. Lizards glide about on the burning rocks, enjoying a constitution that no drought can dry, and small ants in amazing numbers seem to be going everywhere in haste, their tiny sparks of life only burning the brighter with the sun-fire however intense. Rattlesnakes lie coiled in out-of-the-way places, and are seldom seen. The noisy magpies, jays, and ravens gather beneath the best shade trees on the ground, with wings drooped and bills wide open, scarce a sound coming from any one of them during the midday hours. These curious groups, friends in distress, are frequently joined by the large buzzard, or California condor as it is sometimes called, while the quail also seeks the shade about the tepid alkaline water-holes in the channels of the larger streams, now nearly dry. Rabbits scurry from shade to shade beneath the ceanothus bushes, and the long-eared hare may be seen now and then as he canters gracefully across the wider openings where there is a sparse growth of oaks. The nights are about as dry as the days, dewless and calm, but a thousand voices proclaim the abundance of life, notwithstanding the desolating effects of the fierce drought. Birds, crickets, hylas, etc., make a pleasant stir in the darkness, and coyotes, the small despised dogs of the wilderness, looking like rusty bunches of hair, bark in chorus, filling the air with their keen, lancing notes and making it hot and peppery, as if filled with exploding fire crackers. On the upper edge of this torrid foothill region the curious Sabine pine is found, the first of the mountain conifers met by the traveler in ascending the range. Nobody at first sight would take it to be a pine or conifer of any kind, it is so loose and widespread in habit, and its foliage is so thin and grey. The sunbeams sift through even the leafiest trees with scarce any interruption, and the weary, heated traveler finds but little protection in their shade. It grows only on the dry foothills, seeming to enjoy the most ardent sunshine like a palm, springing up here and there singly or in scattered groups among scrubby white-oaks and thickets of ceanothus and manzanita.
The generous crop of sweet, nutritious nuts it yields renders it a favorite with the Indians and bears. Indians gathering the ripe nuts make a striking picture. The men climb the trees and beat off the magnificent cones with sticks, while the squaws gather them in heaps, and roast them until the scales open and allow the hard-shelled seeds to be beaten out. Then, in the cool evenings, men, women, and children, smeared with resin, form circles around their campfires on the bank of some stream, and lie in easy independence, cracking nuts, and laughing and chatting as heedless of the future as bears and squirrels.
Fifteen to twenty miles farther on, at the height of from 2,000 to 3,000 feet above the sea, you reach the lower edge of the main forest belt, composed of the gigantic sugar-pine, yellow pine, incense-cedar, Douglas spruce, silver-fir, and sequoia. However dense and sombre the woods may appear in general views, neither on the rocky heights or down in leafiest hollows will you see any crowded growth to remind you of the dark malarial selvas of the Amazon and Orinoco with their boundless contiguity of shade, nor of the monotonous uniformity of the Deodar forests of the Himalaya, or of the pine woods of the Atlantic States. These giant conifers wave in the open sunshine, rising above one another on the mountain benches in most imposing array, each species giving forth the utmost expression of its own peculiar beauty and grandeur with inexhaustible variety and harmony. All the different species stand more or less apart in groves or small irregular groups, through which the roads meander, making delightful ways along sunny colonnades and across openings that have a smooth surface strewn with brown needles and cones. Now you cross a wild garden, now a ferny, willowy stream, and ever and anon you emerge from all the groves and gardens upon some granite pavement or high bare ridge commanding glorious views above the waving sea of evergreens far and near.
The sugar-pine surpasses all the other pines in the world, not only in size, but also in kingly majesty and beauty. It towers sublimely from every ridge and canyon of the range at an elevation of from three to seven thousand feet above the sea, attaining most perfect development at a height of about five thousand feet. Full-grown specimens are commonly about two hundred and twenty feet high, and from six to eight feet in diameter near the ground, though some grand old patriarch is occasionally met that has enjoyed five or six centuries of storms and attained a thickness of ten or even twelve feet, living on undecayed, sweet and sound in every fiber. The trunk is a smooth, round delicately tapered shaft, mostly without limbs to a height of one hundred feet. At the top of this magnificent bole the long, curved branches sweep gracefully outward and downward, sometimes forming a palm-like crown sixty feet in diameter, or even more, around the rim of which the magnificent cones are hung. When ripe, in September and October, the cones are commonly from fifteen to eighteen inches long, and three in diameter, green, shaded with purple on their sunward sides, but changing to a warm, yellowish brown after the seeds are discharged. Then their diameter is nearly doubled by the spreading of the scales, and they remain pendant on the ends of the branches, producing a fine ornamental effect all winter. The wood is fine-grained, fragrant, and is considered the most valuable of all the Sierra pine.
From the heartwood, where wounds have been made, the sugar, from which the common name is derived, exudes in crisp, candy-like masses. When fresh, it is white and delicious, but inasmuch as most of the wounds on which it is found have been made by fire, the exuding sap is stained on the charred surface, and the hardened sugar becomes brown. The Indians are fond of it, but because of its laxative properties only small quantities may be eaten.
The most constant companion of this species is the yellow-pine, and a worthy companion it is. The Douglas spruce, libocedrus, sequoia, and the silver-firs are also more or less associated with it, but on many deep-soiled mountain sides, about five thousand feet above the sea, it forms the bulk of the forest. The majestic crowns approaching each other in bold curves make a lofty canopy through which the tempered sunbeams pour, silvering the needles, and gilding the boles and flowery ground into a scene of enchantment. On the warmest slopes the chamoebatia, a small shrub belonging to the rose family, is spread in a continuous growth like a carpet, brightened in the spring with the crimson sarcodes, or snow plant, and the wild rose. On the northern slopes the boles are more slender, and the ground is mostly occupied by an under-brush of hazel, ceanothus, and flowering dogwood, but never so dense as to prevent the traveler from sauntering where he will.
The yellow or silver-pine (P. ponderosa)) ranks second among the Sierra pines as a lumber tree, and almost rivals the sugar-pine in size and nobleness of port. Seen in winter laden with snow, or in summer when its brown staminate clusters hang thick among the shimmering needles, and its large purple cones are ripening in the mellow light it forms a magnificent spectacle. But it is during cloudless wind-storms that these colossal pines are most impressively beautiful. Then they bow like willows, their leaves streaming forward all in one direction, and when the sun shines on them at the required angle they glow as if every needle were burnished silver. The fall of sunlight on the royal crown of a palm as it breaks upon the glossy leaves in long lance-like rays, is a truly glorious spectacle, like a mountain stream breaking upon boulders. But still more impressively beautiful is the fall of the light on these lofty silver-pines; it seems beaten to the finest dust, and is shed off in myriads of minute, glinting sparkles that hide all the green foliage and make one glowing mass of white radiance.
The famous big tree, sequoia gigantea, extends from the well-known Calaveras Grove to the head of Deer Creek, near the big bend of Kern River, a distance of nearly two hundred miles, at an elevation of about five to eight thousand feet above the sea. From the Calaveras to the south fork of Kings River it occurs only in small, isolated groves among the pines and firs, and is so sparsely and irregularly distributed that this portion of the belt is not easily traced. Two gaps nearly forty miles wide occur in it between the Calaveras and Tuolumne groves, and between those of the Fresno and Kings rivers. From Kings River the belt extends across the broad, rugged basins of the Kaweah and Tule rivers to its southern limit on the head of Deer Creek, interrupted only by deep, rocky canyons, the width of this portion of the belt being from three to nearly eight miles, and the length seventy miles.
In the northern groves few young trees or saplings are found promising to take the places of the failing old ones, giving rise to the notion that the species is doomed to speedy extinction, as being only an expiring remnant of an ancient flora once far more widely distributed. But careful study has shown that the Big Tree has never formed a greater part of these post-glacial forests than it does at the present time, however widely it may have been distributed in the pre-glacial forests.
To the southward of Kings River no tree in the woods appears to be more firmly established in accordance with climate and soil. For many miles they occupy the surface almost exclusively, growing vigorously over all kinds of ground—on rocky ledges, along water-courses, and on moraines and avalanche detritus, coarse or fine, while a multitude of thrifty seedlings and saplings, and middle-aged trees are growing up about the old giants, ready to take their places and maintain the race in all its grandeur. But, unfortunately, fire and the axe are already busy on many of the more accessible portions of the belt, spreading sure destruction, and unless protective measures be speedily adopted and applied, in a few decades all that may be left of this noblest of trees will be a few hacked and scarred monuments.
There is something wonderfully telling and impressive about sequoia, even when beheld at a distance of several miles. Its dense foliage and smoothly rounded outlines enable us to recognize it in any company, and when one of the oldest patriarchs attains full stature on some commanding ridge it seems the very god of the woods. Full-grown specimens are about fifteen and twenty feet in diameter, measured above the swelling base, and about two hundred and fifty feet high. Trees twenty-five feet in diameter are not rare, and one is now and then found thirty feet in diameter, but very rarely any larger. The grandest specimen that I have measured is a stump about ninety feet high, which is thirty-five feet, eight inches in diameter, measured inside the bark, above the bulging base. The wood is dull purplish red in color, easily worked, and very enduring; lasting, even when exposed to the weather, for hundreds of years. Fortunate old trees that have passed their three thousandth birthday, without injury from lightning, present a mound-like summit of warm, yellow-green foliage, and their colossal shafts are of a beautiful brown color, exquisitely tapered, and branchless to a height of a hundred and fifty feet. Younger trees have darker, bluish foliage, and shoot up with tops comparatively sharp.
The Calaveras Grove is the northmost, and was discovered first of all. It may be visited by tourists to the valley by way of Milton, Murphy’s Camp, and Big Oak Flat, though it is not on any of the roads leading directly to Yosemite. The flowery leafiness of this grove is one of its most charming characteristics. Lilies, violets, and trientales cover the ground along the bottom of the glen, and carpets of the blooming chamoebatia are outspread where the light falls free, forming a beautiful ground of color for the brown sequoia trunks; while rubus, dogwood, hazel, maple, and several species of ceanothus make a shaggy underbrush in the cooler shadows.
Most of the larger trees have been slightly disfigured by names carved and painted on marble tablets and countersunk into the bark, and two have been killed; one of them by removing the bark in sections to be set up in the London exposition, the other felled because somebody wanted to dance upon the stump, and the noble monarch now lies a mass of ruins. With these exceptions, the grove has been well preserved, that is, let alone, the underbrush and smaller plants in particular retaining their primitive wildness unimpaired.
travelers to the valley, by way of Big Oak Flat, pass through the small Tuolumne Grove of Big Trees on the dividing ridge between the waters of the Tuolomne and Merced rivers. Those who take the Raymond route may visit the Mariposa and Fresno groves, by stopping over a day at Clark’s Station. While those who choose the Coulterville route will pass through the Big Tree Grove of the Merced. These groves on the different routes are not equally interesting to most people, but all contain giants that are worthy representatives of their race. The traveler, however, who would see sequoia gigantea in all its glory, must visit the forests of the Kaweah and Tule rivers.
From the Big Tree groves the roads conduct for a few hours through forests of sugar-pine and silver-fir which become yet more beautiful and interesting as you advance. Then, looking and admiring as best you can while being rapidly whirled onward through dust in a coach drawn by six horses, Yosemite Valley comes suddenly into view, and in an hour you are down the nerve-trying grade—out of the shadows from the noblest forest trees in the world, into the midst of the grandest rocks and waterfalls. Riding up the valley through stately groves, and around the margin of emerald meadows, the lofty walls on either hand looming into the sky with their marvelous wealth of architectural forms, bathed in the purple light of evening, and beating time to the tones of the falls, the whole seems a work of enchantment.
The first object to catch the eye on entering the valley is the Bridal Veil Fall, 900 feet in height—a soft, delicate-looking thing of beauty, as seen at a distance of a mile or two, pouring its snowy folds and irised spray with the utmost gentleness, while the wind sways it from side to side like a downy cloud. But on a near approach it manifests the speed and wild ungovernable energy of an avalanche.
On the other side of the valley, almost immediately opposite the Bridal Veil, there is another fine fall, considerably wider at times when the snow is melting, and more than a thousand feet in height from the brow of the cliff where it first leaps free into the air to the head of a rocky talus, where it strikes and is broken up into ragged cascades. It is called the Ribbon Fall or Virgin’s Tears. During the spring floods it is a magnificent object, but the suffocating blasts of spray that fill the recess in the wall which it occupies prevent a near approach. In autumn however, when its feeble current falls in a shower it may then pass for tears with the sentimental onlooker fresh from a visit to the Bridal Veil. Just beyond these two falls are the grand outstanding masses of the Cathedral and El Capitan rocks, 2,700 and 3,300 feet in height, the latter making a most imposing display of sheer, enduring, unflinching granite, by many regarded as the most sublime feature of the valley. Then the Three Brothers present themselves—a vast mountain building of three gables, the highest 4,000 feet above the valley floor. On the south side, opposite the Brothers, the Sentinel Rock, 3,000 feet high, stands forward in bold relief like some special monument, gracefully adorned with a beautiful cascade on either side and fringed at its base with spruce and pine.
The general masses of the walls between the more prominent rocks thus far mentioned, are sculptured into a great variety of architectural forms, impossible to describe separately, each fitted to its place in this grand harmony.
Beyond the Three Brothers the Yosemite Fall is at length seen in one grand view throughout its entire length, pouring its floods of snowy rejoicing waters from a height of 2,600 feet down to the groves and green meadows of the valley, bathing the mighty cliffs with clouds of spray, and making them tremble with its deep, massy thunder-tones.
At the head of the valley, now clearly revealed, stands the Half Dome, the loftiest, most sublime and the most beautiful of all the rocks that guard this glorious temple. From a broad, sloping base planted on the level floor of the valley, it rises to a height of 4,750 feet in graceful flowing folds finely sculptured and poised in calm, deliberate majesty. Here the main valley sends out three branches, forming the Tenaya, Merced, and Illilouette canyons. Tracing the Tenaya Canyon from the valley up Tenaya Creek, you have the Half Dome on the right, and the Royal Arches, Washington Column, and the North Dome on the left. Half a mile beyond Washington Column you come to Mirror Lake, lying imbedded in beautiful trees at the foot of Half Dome. A mile beyond the lake the picturesque Tenaya Fall is seen gleaming through the rich leafy forest that fills this portion of the canyon, and to the left of the fall are the Dome Cascades, about a thousand feet in height, filling the canyon with their deep booming roar.
Just above the Tenaya Fall, on the left side, rises the grand projecting mass of Mt. Watkins, with a sheer front of solid granite like El Capitan, and on the right, the lofty wave-like ridge of Clouds Rest, a mile in height.
A little farther up the canyon, you come to the Tenaya Cascades, 700 feet in vertical descent gliding in a showy plume-like ribbon down a smooth incline of bare granite. Above the cascades you pass a succession of less showy cascades and falls, and many small filled-up lake-basins, with charming lily gardens, and groves of pine and silver-fir, set in the midst of waving folds of shining glacier-planed granite and rocks of every form, until, at a distance of about ten miles from the valley, the canyon opens into the beautiful basin of Lake Tenaya, and the noble Cathedral Peak, with its many spires on the east, towers above it.
The Illilouette Canyon, through which the beautiful Illilouette basin is drained, is about two miles long. From different standpoints in its rough, boulder-choked bottom, a series of most telling and strangely varied views of the head of the valley may be obtained. The Illilouette Fall, near the head of the canyon, is one of the most interesting in the valley. It is nearly 600 feet high, but is seldom visited on account of the roughness of the way leading to it over the rocks. The canyon of the main middle branch of the river extends back to the axis of the range in the Lyell Group, and contains so many waterfalls, cascades of every kind, lakes, and beautiful valleys with walls that are sculptured like those of Yosemite, that nothing like a complete description of it can be given here.
About a mile up the canyon from the main valley, along the margin of wild dashing rapids charmingly embowered, you come to the beautiful Vernal Fall, 400 feet in height. At the head of the fall lies the small Emerald Pool, and a mile beyond, the snowy Nevada Fall is seen, which, next to the Yosemite, is the grandest of all. It is about 600 feet in height, and on account of its waters being so tossed and beaten before reaching the brink of the precipice it is intensely white; while all the way down to the head of the Vernal Fall the river forms a continuous chain of cascades and rapids, hardly less interesting to most travelers than the falls. The majestic rock called, from its shape, the Liberty Cap, rises close alongside the Nevada, adding greatly to the grandeur of the view.
Tracing the river back from the head of the fall, you pass through the Little Yosemite Valley. It resembles the main Yosemite, though formed on a smaller scale. Then you find a long train of booming, dancing cascades, alternating with rapids and lakes and short, tranquil reaches, and a grand variety of smaller Yosemite valleys, garden patches and forests in hollows, here and there, where soil has been accumulated, until at length the icy fountains of the river are reached among the alpine peaks of the summit.
The Yosemite Valley was discovered in 1851, by Captain Boling, who then, with two Indians as guides, led a company of soldiers into it from Mariposa to punish a band of marauding Indians who occupied the valley as their home and stronghold.
The regular Yosemite pleasure travel began in 1856, and has gradually increased until the present time. Considering the remoteness of many of the fountains of this current of travel, its flow has been remarkably constant. The regular tourist, ever in motion, is one of the most characteristic productions of the present century; and however frivolous and inappreciative the poorer specimens may appear, viewed comprehensively they are a hopeful and significant sign of the times, indicating at least a beginning of our return to nature; for going to the mountains is going home. Perhaps nowhere else along the channels of pleasure travel may so striking and interesting a variety of people be found together as in this comparatively wild and remote Yosemite. Men, women, and children of every creed and color come here from every country under the sun; farmers, men of business, lawyers, doctors, and divines; scientists seeking causes, wealthy and elegant loafers trying to escape from themselves, the titled and obscure, all in some measure seeing and loving wild beauty, and traveling to better purpose than they know, bome onward by currents that they cannot understand, like ships at sea.
Arriving in the valley most parties keep together and fall into the hands of the local guides by whom they are led hastily from point to point along the beaten trails. Others separate more or less and follow their own ways. These are mostly members of Alpine Clubs, sturdy Englishmen and Germans, with now and then a cannie Scotchman, all anxious to improve their opportunities to the utmost. Besides rambling at will into odd comers of the valley, they climb about the canyons, and around the tops of the walls; or push out bravely over the adjacent mountains, radiating far into the High Sierra among the ice and snow. They thread the mazes of the glorious forests, and trace the wild young streams in their courses down from the glaciers through grandly sculptured canyons, past garden hollows and lake basins, and down glossy inclines, sharing in all their exhilarating rush and roar.
Gentle, contemplative grandmothers, and a few fine-grained specimens of fewer years, spend most of their time sauntering along the banks of the river, and sitting in the shade of the trees; admiring sky and cliff, and falling water, in a quiet way, enriching their lives far more than their neighbors who keep themselves in perpetual motion, following each other along dusty trails, painfully “doing” the valley by rule.
Little children are, of course, the most delightfully natural of all the visitors, flashing around the hotel verandahs, or out beneath the trees, glowing in rainbow-hued ruffles and ribbons like butterflies and scarlet tanagers. They consider the lilies and birds and bees, nor are they altogether unconscious of the glorious sublimities about them; for one may see them at times gazing silently with upturned faces at the mighty cliffs, and at the white water pouring out of the sky, their pure, natural wonderment offering a refreshing contrast to the mean complacency and blindness of the finished tourist, who has seen all, knows all, and is engulfed in eternal apathetic tranquillity.
The Yosemite Fall is partially separated into an upper and lower fall, with a series of smaller falls and cascades between them, but when viewed in front they appear as one, only slightly interrupted by striking on what seems to be a narrow ledge. First there is a sheer descent of about 1,600 feet; then a succession of cascades and smaller falls nearly a third of a mile long, and making altogether a descent of 600 feet; then a final sheer fall of about 400 feet is made to the bottom of the valley. So grandly does this magnificent fall display itself from the floor of the valley few visitors take the trouble to climb the wall to gain nearer views, unable to realize how vastly more impressive it becomes when closely approached, instead of being seen at a distance of from one to two miles.
The views developed in a walk up the zigzags of the trail leading to the upper fall are as varied and impressive and almost as extensive, as those on the well-known Glacier Point Trail. One rises as if on wings. The groves, meadows, fern-flats, and reaches of the river at once gain new interest, as if never seen before, and all become new over and over again as we go higher from point to point; the foreground also changes every few rods in the most surprising manner, although the bench on the face of the wall over which the trail passes is very monotonous and commonplace in appearance as seen from the bottom of the valley. Up we climb with glad exhilaration, through shaggy fringes of laurel and ceanothus, and glossy-leaved manzanita and live oak from shadow to shadow across bars of sunshine, the leafy openings making charming frames for the valley pictures beheld through them, and for the glimpses of the high alps that appear in the distance. The higher we go, the farther we seem to be from the summit of the vast carved wall up which we are creeping. Here we pass a huge projecting buttress whose grooved and rounded surface tells a wonderful story of the time when the valley now filled with sunshine was filled with ice, when a grand old glacier, flowing river-like from its many fountains on the snow-laden summits of the range, swept through the valley with its crushing, grinding floods, wearing its way ever deeper, and fashioning these sublime cliffs to the varied forms of beauty they now possess. Here a white, battered gully marks the pathway of an avalanche of rocks, now we cross the channel of an avalanche of snow. Farther on we come to a small stream clinging to the face of the cliff in lace-like strips, or leaping from ledge to ledge, too small and feeble to be called a fall, trickling, dripping, slipping, oozing, a pathless wanderer from the upland meadows, seeking a way century after century to the depths of the valley without having worn any appreciable channel. Constant dropping has not worn away these stones. Every morning, after a cool night, evaporation being checked, it gathers strength and sings like a bird, but as the day advances, and the sun strikes its thin currents outspread on the heated precipices, most of its waters vanish long ere the bottom of the valley is reached. Many a fine, hanging garden aloft on these breezy inaccessible heights owe to it their freshness and fullness of beauty; ferneries in shady nooks, filled with adiantum, woodwardia, woodsia, aspidium, pellaea, and cheilanthes; rosetted and tufted and ranged in lines, daintily overlapping, thatching the stupendous cliffs with softest beauty, the delicate fronds seeming to float on the warm, moist air, without any connection with rock or stream. And colored plants, too, in abundance, wherever they can find a place to cling to; the showy cardinal mimulus, lilies and mints, and glowing cushions of the golden bahia, together with sedges and grasses growing in tufts, and the butterflies and bees and all the small, happy creatures that belong to them.
After the highest point on the lower division of the trail is gained it conducts along a level terrace on the face of the wall, around a shoulder, and into the deep recess occupied by the great Upper Yosemite Fall, the noblest display of falling water to be found in the valley, or, perhaps, in the world. When it first comes in sight, it seems almost within reach of one’s hand, so great is its volume and velocity, yet it is still nearly a third of a mile away, and appears to recede as we advance. The sculpture of the walls about it is on a scale of grandeur, according nobly with the fall, plain and massive, though elaborately finished, like all the other cliffs about the valley.
In the afternoon an immense shadow is cast athwart the plateau in front of the fall, and far over the fields of chaparral that clothe the slopes and benches of the wall to the eastward, creeping upward upon the fall until it is wholly overcast, the contrast between the shaded and illuminated sections being very striking in near views.
Under this shadow, during the cool centuries immediately following the breaking up of the Glacial Period, dwelt a small residual glacier, one of the few that lingered on this sun-beaten side of the valley after the main trunk glacier had vanished. It sent down a long winding current through the narrow canyon on the west side of the fall, and must have formed a striking feature of the ancient scenery of the valley; the lofty fall of ice and fall of water side by side, yet separate and distinct.
The coolness of the afternoon shadow and the abundant dewy moisture from the spray of the fall make a fine climate for ferns and grasses on the plateau, and for the beautiful azalia, which grows here in profusion and blooms in September, long after the warmer thickets down the valley have withered and gone to seed. Even close to the fall, and behind it at the base of the cliff, a few venturesome plants may be found, undisturbed by the rockshaking torrent.
The basin at the foot of the fall into which the current directly pours when it is not swayed by the wind is about ten feet deep, and fifteen to twenty feet in diameter. That it is not much deeper is surprising, when the great height and force of the fall is considered. But the rock where the water strikes probably suffers much less erosion than it would were the descent less than half as great, since the current is outspread, and much of its force is spent ere it reaches the bottom; being received on the air as upon an elastic cushion, and borne outward and dissipated over a surface more than fifty yards wide.
This surface, easily examined when the water is low, is intensely clean and fresh-looking. It is the raw, quick flesh of the mountain wholly untouched by the weather. In summer droughts, when the snowfall of the preceding winter has been light, the fall is reduced to a mere shower of separate drops without any obscuring spray. Then we may safely go to the back of the fall and view the crystal shower from beneath, which, when the sun is shining, is extremely beautiful, each drop wavering and pulsing as it makes its way through the air, and flashing off jets of colored light of ravishing beauty. But all this is invisible from the bottom of the valley, like a thousand other interesting things. One must labor for beauty as for bread here as elsewhere.
During the time of spring floods the best near view of the fall is obtained from a ledge on the east side above the blinding spray, at a height of about 400 feet from the base of the fall. A climb of about 1,400 feet from the valley has to be made, and there is no trail, but to anyone fond of climbing, and who is at all stirred by a love of adventure, this will make the ascent all the more delightful. The ledge runs out back of the fall on the sheer front of the cliff, so that the fall may be approached as closely as we wish. When the afternoon sunshine is streaming through the thronging masses of down-rushing waters the marvelous firmness and variety of their forms are beautifully revealed. The whole fall is a majestic column of foaming, snowy water, ever wasting, ever renewed. At the top it seems to burst forth from some grand, throbbing heart of the mountain in irregular pulses, comet-like spurts succeeding one another in sublime rhythm. Now and then one mighty throb sends forth a mass into the free air far beyond the others, which rushes alone to the bottom of the fall with long, streaming, tail-like, combed silk, illumined by the sun, while the others, descending in clusters, gradually mingle and lose their identity. They rush past with amazing velocity and display of power, though apparently drowsy and deliberate in their movements when observed from the bottom of the valley at a distance of a mile or two. The heads of these comet-like masses are composed of nearly solid water, and are dense white in color, like pressed snow, from the friction they suffer in rushing through the air, the portion worn off forming the tail, between the white lustrous threads and films of which, faint, greyish pencillings appear, while the outer, finer sprays of waste water-dust, whirling in sunny eddies, are pearl grey throughout.
At the bottom of the fall there is but little distinction of form visible. It is mostly a driving, boiling, upswirling mass of scud and spray, through which the light sifts in grey and purple tones, while at times, when the sun strikes at the required angle, the whole is changed to brilliant rainbow hues. The middle portion of the fall is the most openly beautiful; lower, the various forms into which the waters are wrought are more closely and voluminously veiled, while higher, towards the head, the current is more simple and compact. But even at the bottom, in the boiling clouds of spray, there is no confusion, while the rainbow light makes all divine, adding glorious beauty and peace to glorious power. The Upper Yosemite Fall has far the richest, as well as the most powerful voice of all the falls of the valley, its tones varying from the sharp hiss and rustle of the wind in the glossy leaves of the live oaks and the soft, sifting, hushing tones of the pines, to the loudest rush and roar of storm-winds and thunder among the crags of the summit peaks. The low bass, booming, reverberating tones, heard under favorable circumstances five or six miles away, are formed by the dashing and exploding of heavy masses of water and air upon two projecting ledges on the cliff, 400 and 600 feet above the base of the fall. The torrent of massive comets is continuous at time of high water, while the explosive, booming, notes are wildly intermittent, because, unless influenced by the wind, most of the heavier masses shoot out from the face of the precipice, and pass the ledges upon which at other times they are wrecked. Occasionally the whole fall is swayed away from the front of the cliff, then suddenly clashed flat against it, or vibrated from side to side like a pendulum, giving rise to endless variety of forms and sounds.
Once during a violent wind-storm, while I watched the fall from the shelter of a pine-tree, the whole ponderous column was suddenly arrested in its descent at a point about midway between the base and top, and was neither blown upward or turned aside, but simply held stationary in mid-air as if gravitation below that point had ceased to act. Thus it remained for more than a minute, resting in the arms of the stormwind, the usual quantity of water meanwhile coming over the brow of the cliff and accumulating in the air as if falling upon an invisible floor, swedging and widening. Then, as if commanded to go on, scores of arrowy water-comets shot forth from the base of the suspended fountain, and the grand anthem of the fall once more began to sound. After bathing so long in the spray of the fall it is natural to look above and beyond it and say: “Where does all this chanting water come from?” This is easily learned by going and seeing.
The Yosemite Creek is the most tranquil of all the larger streams that pour over the valley walls. The others, while yet a good way back from the verge of the valley, abound in loud-voiced falls and cascades or rushing rapids, but Yosemite Creek, as if husbanding its resources, after the descent of its main tributaries from the snowy heights of the Hoffman Range, flows quietly on through strips of level meadow and smooth hollows and flats, with only a few small cascades, showing nothing in all its course to suggest the grandeur of its unrivaled falls in the valley.
Its wide and shallow basin is so crowded with domes it seems paved with them. Some castellated piles adorn its western rim, while the great Tuolumne Canyon sweeps past it on the north, and the cool, shadow-covered precipices of the Hoffman Range bound it on the east and northeast. During winter and spring most of the waters of the basin are derived directly from snow, but in summer only two or three, and in the drier seasons only one of its many streams draws its source from perennial fountains of snow and ice. Then the main dependence of the many tributaries are moraines of the ancient glaciers, in which a part of the melting snows and rains are absorbed.
Issuing from their moraine fountains, each shining thread of water at once begins to sing, running gladly onward, over boulders, over rock-stairs, over dams of fallen trees; now groping in shadows, now gliding free in the light on glacier-planed pavements, not a leaf on their borders; diving under willows, fingering their red roots and low-dipping branches, then absorbed in green bogs; out again among mosaics of leaf, shadows and light, whirling in pools giddy and ruffled, then restful and calm, not a foambell in sight; whispering low, solemn in gestures as full grown rivers, slowly meandering through green velvet meadows, banks embossed with bryanthus and yet finer cassiope, white and blue violets blending with white and blue daisies in smooth, silky sods of the Alpine agrostis; out again on bare granite, flowing over gravel and sand mixed with mica and garnets and white crystal quartz, making tiny falls and cascades in rapid succession, until at length all the bright, rejoicing choir meet together to form the main stream which flows calmly down to its fate in the valley, sweeping over the tremendous verge beneath a mantle of diamond spray. Amid the varied foams and fine ground mists of the mountain streams that are ever rising from a thousand waterfalls, there is an affluence and variety of rainbows scarce at all known to the careworn visitor from the lowlands. Both day and night, winter and summer, this divine light may be seen wherever water is falling in spray and foam, a silent interpreter of the heart-peace of nature, amid the wildest displays of her power. In the bright spring mornings the black-walled recess at the foot of the Lower Yosemite Fall is lavishly filled with irised spray, which does not simply span the dashing foam, but the foam itself, the whole mass of it, seems to be colored, and drifts and wavers, mingling with the foliage of the adjacent trees, without suggesting any relationship to the ordinary rainbow. This is perhaps the largest and most reservoir-like accumulation of iris color to be found in the valley.
The lunar rainbows, or spraybows, are grandly developed in the spray of the Upper Fall. Their colors are as distinct as those of the sun, and as regularly and obviously banded, though less vivid. They may be seen any night when there is plenty of moonlight and spray.
Even the secondary bow is at times distinctly visible. The best point from which to observe them is on the upper ledge, 400 feet above the base of the fall on the east side. For some time after moonrise the arc is about 400 to 500 feet span, set upright, one end planted in the spray at the bottom, the other in the edge of the fall, creeping lower, of course, and becoming less upright as the moon rises higher. This grand arc of color, glowing with such invincible peacefulness and mild shapely beauty in so weird and dark a chamber of shadows, and amid the rush and roar and tumultuous dashing of this thunder-voiced fall, is one of the most impressive sights offered in all this wonder-filled valley.
Smaller bows may be seen in the gorge on the plateau between the upper and lower falls. Once toward midnight, after spending a few hours with the wild beauty of the upper fall, I sauntered along the edge of the gorge, looking in here and there, wherever the footing felt safe, to see what I could learn of the night aspects of the smaller falls that dwell there. And down in an exceedingly black, pit-like portion of the gorge, at the foot of the highest of the intermediate falls, while the moonbeams were pouring into it through a narrow opening, I saw a well-defined spraybow, beautifully distinct in colors, spanning across from side to side of the pit.
In the pool at the foot of the fall pure white foam waves were constantly springing up into the moonshine, beneath the beautiful bow, like a band of dancing ghosts.
The leaping waves so foamy white, amid rocks and shadows so weird and black, and the mystic circle of colored light, made a scene in the general gloom of the night marvelously vivid and wild. Another marvelous night scene, but not a safe one, is a view of the full moon through the edge of the Upper Fall, from the narrow ledge that extends back of it, 400 feet above its base. But the ledge is less than a foot wide on the face of the wall at one place, and though considerably wider behind the fall, it is rounded on the edge by the action of the water, and the fall is liable to be swayed against it even in calm nights; therefore one is in danger of being washed off. My own experiences one night back of the fall, when it was booming in all its glory, were such that I shall never venture there again. But the effect was enchanting; wild music above, beneath, around. The moon appeared to be in the very midst of the rushing waters and struggling to keep her place, on account of the ever-varying density and forms of the masses through which she was seen; now darkened by a rush of opaque comets, now flashing out through openings of gaudy tissue, suffering a rushing succession of eclipses that lasted but a moment—a rare astronomical phenomenon, a transit of a thousand comets across the disc of the moon.
A very telling excursion may be made to Glacier Point and Sentinel Dome, thence across the Illilouette and Little Yosemite Valley, and return to the valley past the Nevada and Vernal falls. On the trail leading up the craggy wall to Glacier Point, the main rocks and falls of the valley are seen in striking positions and combinations, developing marvelously grand and beautiful effects as you climb from point to point. At an elevation of about 500 feet, a wide sweeping view down the valley is obtained past the Sentinel, and between Cathedral Rock and El Capitan. At 1,500 feet the wide upper end of the valley comes in sight, bounded by the great Half Dome, that looms sublimely into the azure, overshadowing every other feature of the landscape.
From Glacier Point you look down over the edge of a sheer wall 3,000 feet high, upon soft green meadows and innumerable spires of the yellow pine, with the bright ribbon of the river curving through their midst. On the opposite side of the valley a fine general view is presented of the Royal Arches, North Dome, Indian Canyon, and Eagle Cliff, with Mt. Hoffman and the dome-paved basin of Yosemite Creek in the distance. To the eastward, Clouds Rest is seen beyond the Half Dome, and Mt. Starr King girdled with silver firs, the deeply sculptured peaks of the Merced Group, and about Mt. Lyell on the axis of the range, and broad swaths of forests growing on ancient moraines, while the Nevada, Vernal, and Yosemite falls, in full view, are as distinctly heard as if one were standing in their spray.
Here the attentive observer will not fail to perceive that all this glorious landscape is new, lately brought to light from beneath the universal icesheet of the Glacial Period, and that the loftiest domes have been overswept by it as boulders are overswept by a flood. Hence the most resisting parts of the landscape are the highest. Every dome, ridge, and mountain in the fore and middle grounds are seen to have rounded outlines, while those of the summit peaks are sharp, the former having been overflowed by the heavy grinding folds of the ice-sheet while the latter were downflowed, thus grinding them into sharp peaks and crests. Here you see the tributary valleys or canyons of the main Yosemite Valley branching far and wide into the fountains of perpetual ice and snow. Adown these wide polished valleys once poured the ancient glaciers that united here to form the main Yosemite Glacier that eroded the valley out of the solid [rock], wearing its channel gradually deeper, crawling on, unhalting, unresting, throughout the countless centuries of the Ice Period.
The distant views from the summit of Sentinel Dome are still more extensive and telling, and many charming Alpine plants—phlox, telinum, eriogonae, rock-ferns, etc. are found there.
On the way to Little Yosemite a view of the Illilouette Fall may be obtained from its head, though it is much inferior to the view obtained at the foot of the fall by scrambling up its rocky canyon from the valley. The fall in general appearance most resembles the Nevada. Before coming to the brink of the precipice its waters are severely dashed and tossed by steps and jutting angles on the bottom and sides of its channel, therefore it is a very white and finely textured fall. When in full play it is columnar and richly fluted from the partial division of its waters on the roughened lip of the precipice. It is not nearly so grand a fall as the Upper Yosemite, so symmetrical as the Vernal, or so nobly simple as the Bridal Veil; nor does it present so overwhelming an outgush of snowy magnificence as the Nevada, but in the richness and exquisite fineness of texture of its flowing folds it surpasses them all. After crossing the Illilouette Valley the trail descends into the Little Yosemite near the lower end, and thence down past the Nevada and Vernal falls to the main valley. But before returning, a visit should be made through the Little Yosemite. It is about four miles long, half a mile wide, and its walls are from 1,500 to 2,500 feet in height, bold and sheer and sculptured in true Yosemite style. And, since its rocks have not been so long exposed to post-glacial weathering, they are less blurred than those of the lower valley, large areas of the wall surfaces showing a beautiful glacial polishing that reflect the sunshine like glass.
The bottom of the valley is flat and covered with showy gardens, meadows, rose and azalia thickets, and beautiful groves of silver-fir and pine; while the river, charmingly embowered, flows through the midst of them, softly gliding over smooth, shining sands in peaceful, restful beauty. At the head of the valley there is a showy cascade where the river flows over a bar of granite so moderately inclined that one may enjoy a climb close alongside the glad dancing flood, with but little danger of being washed away.
This used to be a favorite hunting ground of the Indians, where they found abundance of game—mountain quail, grouse, deer, and the cinnamon bear—gathered together as if enclosed in a high-walled park with gates easily guarded. But the noisy, destructive methods of tourist sportsmen have driven most of the game away.
As the river approaches the Nevada Fall after its tranquil flow through the valley levels, its channel is roughened with projecting rock-ribs and elbows, the object of which seems to be to fret the stream into foam and fit it for its grand display. And with what eager enthusiasm it accepts its fate, dashing on side angles, surging against round, bossy knobs, swirling in pot holes, upglancing in shallow, curved basins, then bounding out over the brink and down the grand descent, more air than water, glowing like a sun beaten cloud. Into the heart of it all any one with good nerve and good conscience may gaze from the end of a granite slab that juts out over the giddy precipice and is brushed by the flood as it bounds over the brink.
Blinding drifts of scud and spray prevent a near approach from below until autumn. Then, its thunder hushed, the fall shrinks to a whispering web of embroidery clinging to the face of the cliff, more interesting and beautiful to most observers than the passionate flood-fall of spring.
The view down the canyon is one of the most wonderful about the valley—the river, gathering its shattered waters, rushing in wild exultation down the Emerald Pool and over the Vernal Fall; the sublime walls on either hand, with the stupendous mass of the Glacier Point Ridge blocking the view in front, forming an immense three sided, hopper-shaped basin 3,000 feet deep, resounding with the roar of winds and waters, as if it were some grand mill in which the mountains were being ground to dust. A short distance above the head of the fall the river gives off a small part of its waters, which, descending a narrow canyon to the north of the fall, along the base of the Liberty Cap, forms a beautiful cascade, and finally joins the main stream again a few yards below the fall. Sometime ago the officer in charge of the valley seemed to regard the cascades as so much waste water, inasmuch as they employed an enterprising and ingenious gentleman to “fix the falls,” as he said, by building a dam across the cascade stream where it leaves the river, so as to make all the water tumble and sing together. No great damage was done, however, by this dam or any other improvement. Mending the Yosemite waterfalls would seem to be about the last branch of industry that even unsentimental Yankees seeking new outlets for enterprise would be likely to engage in. As well whitewash the storm-stained face of El Capitan or gild the domes.
The Vernal Fall is a general favorite among the visitors to the valley, doubtless because it is better seen and heard than any of the others, on account of its being more accessible. A good stairway leads up the cliffs alongside of it, and the open level plateau over the edge of which it enables one to saunter in safety close to its brow and watch its falling waters as they gradually change from green to purplish grey and white, until broken into spray at the bottom. It is the most staid and orderly of all the great falls, and never shows any marked originality of form or behavior. After resting in Emerald Pool, the river glides calmly over the smooth lip of a perfectly plain and sheer precipice, and descends in a regular sheet about 80 feet wide, striking upon a rough talus with a steady, continuous roar that is but little influenced by the winds that sweep the cliffs. Thus it offers in every way a striking contrast to the impetuous Nevada, which so crowds and hurries its chafed and twisted waters over the verge, which seemingly are glad to escape, as they plunge free in the air, while their deep, booming tones go sounding far out over the listening landscape.
From the foot of the Vernal the river descends to its confluence with the Illilouette Creek in a tumultuous rush and roar of cascades, and emerges from its shadowy, boulder-choked canyon in a beautiful reach of rapids, stately spaces forming a wall on either side; while the flowering dogwood, rubus nutkanus, azalea, and tall, plumy ferns, well watered and cool, make beautiful borders. Through the open, sunny levels of the meadows it flows with a clear, foamless current, swelled by its Tenaya and Yosemite Creek tributaries, keeping calm and transparent until nearly opposite the Bridal Veil Fall, where it breaks into grey rapids in crossing a moraine dam. In taking leave of the valley, the river makes another magnificent stretch of cascades and rapids on its way down its lower canyon, a fine view of which may be had from the Coulterville road that runs across the bottom of a rough talus close alongside the massy surging flood, and past the beautiful Cascade Fall.
Climbing the great Half Dome is fine Yosemite exercise. With the exception of a few minor spires and pinnacles, the Dome is the only rock about the valley that is strictly inaccessible without artificial means, and its inaccessibility is expressed in very severe and simple terms. But longing eyes were nonetheless fixed on its noble brow, until at length, in the year 1875, George Anderson, an indomitable Scotchman, succeeded in making a way to the summit. The side facing the Tenaya Canyon is an absolutely vertical precipice from the summit to a depth of about 1,600 feet, and on the opposite side it is nearly vertical for about as great a depth. The southwest side presents a very steep and finely drawn curve from the top down a thousand feet or more, while on the northeast where it is united with the Clouds Rest Ridge, one may easily reach the Saddle, within 700 feet of the summit, where it rises in a smooth, graceful curve a few degrees too steep for unaided climbing.
A year or two before Anderson gained the summit, John Conway, a resident of the valley, and his son, excellent mountaineers, attempted to reach the top from the Saddle by climbing barefooted up the grand curve with a rope which they fastened at irregular intervals by means of eye-bolts driven into joints of the rock. But, finding that the upper portion of the curve would require laborious drilling, they abandoned the attempt, glad to escape from the dangerous position they had reached, some 300 feet above the Saddle.
Anderson began with Conway’s old rope, which had been left in place, and resolutely drilled his way to the top inserting eye-bolts five to six feet apart, and making his rope fast to each in succession, resting his feet on the last bolt while he drilled a hole for the next above. Occasionally some irregularity in the curve or slight foothold, would enable him to climb a few feet without the rope, which he would pass and begin drilling again, and thus the whole work was accomplished in less than a week. Notwithstanding the enthusiastic eagerness of tourists to reach the crown of the Dome, the views of the valley from this lofty standpoint are far less striking than from many other points comparatively low, chiefly on account of the foreshortening effect produced by looking down from so great a height. The North Dome is dwarfed almost beyond recognition, the grand sculpture of the Royal Arches may not be noticed at all, and the whole range of the walls on both sides seem comparatively low and sunken, especially when the valley is flooded with noonday sunshine; while the Dome itself, the most sublime feature of all general views of Yosemite, is beneath one’s feet. Little Yosemite Valley is well seen, but a better view of it may be obtained from the base of the Starr King cone. The summit landscapes, however, toward Mounts Ritter, Lyell, and Dana, are very effective and grand. My first view from the top of the Dome, in November, after the first winter snow had fallen on the mountains, was truly glorious. A massive cloud of pure pearl luster was arched across the valley, from wall to wall, one end resting on the grand abutment of El Capitan, the other on Cathedral Rock, apparently as fixed and calm as the brown meadow and groves in the shadow beneath it. Then, as I stood on the tremendous verge overlooking Mirror Lake, a flock of smaller clouds, white as snow came swiftly from the north, trailing over the dark forests and, arriving on the brink of the valley, descended with imposing gestures through Indian Canyon and over the Arches and North Dome. On they came with stately deliberation, nearer, nearer, gathering and massing beneath my feet, and filling the Tenaya abyss. Then the sun shone free, painting them with rainbow colors and making them bum on the edges with glorious brightness. It was one of those brooding, changeful days that come just between the Indian summer and winter, when the leaf colors begin to grow dim and the clouds come and go, moving about among the cliffs like living creatures; now hovering aloft in the tranquil sky, now caressing rugged rock-brows with infinite gentleness, or, wandering afar over the tops of the forests, touch the spires of fir and pine with their soft silken fringes as if telling the coming of the snow. Now and then the valley appeared all bright and cloudless, with its crystal river wavering and shimmering through meadow and grove, while to the eastward the white peaks rose in glorious array keenly outlined on the dark blue sky; then the clouds would gather again, wreathing the Dome and making a darkness like night.
On the crown of the Dome, notwithstanding its severely bare appearance, there are four clumps of pines representing three species; Pinus albicaulis, P. contorta, and P. ponderosa, var. Jeffreyi, all three repressed and stormbeaten. The alpine spiraea grows there also, and blooms freely with potentilla, ivesia, erigeron, solidago, pentstemon, eriogonum, and four or five species of grasses and sedges, like those of other granite summits of the same elevation.
When the all-embracing ice-mantle of the Glacial Period began to grow thin and form separate glaciers that flowed like rivers in the canyons, Half Dome was probably the first of the Yosemite rocks to emerge from the ice, burnished and glowing like a crystal. Centuries of storms have passed over it since first it came to light, but it still remains a telling monument of the glaciers that brought it into relief from the general mass of the range. Its flinty surface, scarcely at all wasted, is covered with glacial inscriptions from base to crown, and the meaning of these is the reward of all who devoutly study them.
The quick, smart visitor to the valley who buys his ticket early, determined to take the water-falls by the forelock, when their streaming manes are whitest, and when the flooded meadows are covered with mirrors, can have but dim conceptions of the beauties of the peaceful yellow autumn when these same Yosemite waters flow gently and calm in the thick golden haze of the Indian summer. The river then forms a series of pools united by gentle trickling currents that glide softly over brown pebbles and sand with scarce an audible murmur. In and out, in bay and promontory, their shore lines curve, giving to each pool the appearance of lake, with banks embossed with briar and azalea, sedge and grass; and above these, in all their glory of autumn colors, a mingled growth of alder and willow, dogwood, and balm of Gilead. Mellow sunshine overhead, mellow shadows beneath, flecked with dashes of free-falling light, the yellow sunbeams falling on the ripe leaves, streaming through their countless thousands of windows, makes an atmosphere of marvelous beauty over each glassy pool, the surface stirred gently in spots by bands of whirling water-beetles, or startled trout glancing from shelter to shelter beneath fallen trees or some overhanging portion of the bank. The falls, too, are quiet; no wind stirs; the whole valley floor is a finely blended mosaic of ripe, painted leaves, all in bloom every morning with crystals of hoar frost. Even the rocks seem strangely mellow and soft, as if they too had ripened, all their flinty strength hidden and held in abeyance.
In December comes the snow, or perhaps in November. The clouds descending clasp the mountain from base to summit. Then follows an interval of brooding stillness. Small flakes or single crystals at length appear, glinting gently in zigzags and spirals in the dull grey sky. As the storm progresses the thronging flakes darken the air, and soon the rush and roar, and deep muffled booming of avalanches are heard; but we try in vain to catch a glimpse of their noble currents until rifts occur in the clouds and the storm ceases. Then, standing in the middle of the valley, we may witness the descent of several of the largest size within a few minutes or hours, according to the abundance and condition of the snow on the heights. When the mass first slips on the upper slopes of the mountain a dull, rumbling sound is heard, which increases with heavy deliberation, seeming to come nearer and nearer with appalling intensity of tone. Presently the grand flood is seen rushing with wild, outbounding energy over some precipitous portion of its channel, long, back-trailing streamers fringing the main body of the current like the spray and whirling folds of mist about a waterfall. Now it is partly hidden behind fringes of live-oak, now in full view, leaping from bench to bench, spreading and narrowing and throwing out long fringes of rockets airily draped with convolving gossamer tissue of snow-dust.
Compared with waterfalls, these snow-falls have none of the keen, kissing, clashing sounds so common in some portions of the currents of waterfalls, but the loud, booming thunder-tones, the pearly whiteness of the mass, with lovely grey tones in the half shadows, the arching leaps over precipices, the narrowing in gorges, the expansions into lace-like sheets upon smooth inclines, and the final dashing into upswirling clouds of spray at the bottom are the same in both.
In winter the thin outer folds and whirling spray of the great Yosemite Fall are frozen while passing through the air freely exposed, and are deposited around the base of the fall in the form of a hollow, truncated cone, which sometimes attains a height of more than 400 feet.
In the building of this cone, part of the frozen spray falls directly to its place in the form of minute particles like the dust of wind-beaten snow, but a considerable portion is frozen upon the face of the cliff along the edges of the fall, and attains a thickness of a foot or more during the night. When the sun strikes this ice-coating on the cliff it is cracked off in large masses and built into the walls of the cone, while in windy, frosty weather, when the fall is swayed from side to side, the whole surface is drenched, binding the whole mass of loose blocks and dust firmly together. While in process of formation the surface is smooth, and pure white, the outlines finely drawn, the whole presenting the appearance of a beautiful crystal hill wreathed with clouds of irised spray, with the fall descending into the heart of it with a tremendous roar, as if pouring down the throat of a crater. In spring, however, while wasting and breaking up, it is strewn with leaves, pine branches, stones, sand, etc., that have been carried over the fall, making it look like a heap of wasting avalanche detritus.
After being engulfed and churned in the stormy interior of the cone, the waters of the fall issue from arched openings at the base seemingly chafed and weary and glad to escape; while belching spray, spouted up out of the throat of the cone past the sides of the descending waters, is wafted away in irised drifts over the evergreen bushes and trees, making a most enchanting show when the sun is shining; the wet pines, warmly green, drenched with billows of rainbow dust, waving with noble gestures, as if devoutly bowing their acknowledgments of the marvelous blessing.
During wind-storms, when the fall is blown aslant, one may look down the throat of the cone from the ledge above. The mouth is then seen to be an irregular oval about 100 and 200 feet in diameter, with heavy, uneven, forbidding lips, white and glowing in contrast with the gloomy depth of the abyss.
Once I scaled the side of the cone and held my ear close down upon it while it sounded like a huge, bellowing, exploding drum; but falling ice from the wall, and choking drifts of spray, when the wind wavered, prevented my reaching the summit.
The best general view of the fall, and the ice-cone, and their grand surroundings, may be obtained without danger from a standpoint about 200 yards from the base of the cone. On bright days in March or February, when the sunshine is streaming into the grand amphitheater at the most favorable angle, the view from here is truly glorious. Out of the blue sky into the white crater the vast torrent pours, irised spray rising and falling steeping everything in rainbow colors—grey cliffs, wet black rock, the white hill of ice, trees, brush-fringes, and the surging, roaring torrents escaping down the gorge in front, glorifying all, and proclaiming the triumph of Peace and eternal invincible Harmony.
The summit peaks of the Sierra decorated with snow-banners was the most sublime winter phenomenon I ever witnessed, far surpassing the most imposing effects of the water-falls, floods, or avalanches.
Early one winter morning I was awakened by the fall of pine cones on the roof of my cabin. A noble storm-wind from the north filled the valley with its sea-like roar, arousing the pines to magnificent activity, swaying the most steadfast giants of them all like supple reeds, plucking off branches and plumes and strewing them on the clean smooth snow. The sky was garish white, without clouds, the strange glare being produced no doubt by fine snow dust diffused through the air. The wild swirling and bending of the pine-trees, the dazzling light, the roar of the wind sweeping around the grand domes and headlands and eddying in many a rugged canyon and hollow, made altogether a most exciting picture; but afar on the summits of the range the storm was expressing itself in yet grander terms.
The Upper Yosemite Fall was torn into gauzy strips and blown horizontally along the face of the cliff leaving the ice-cone dry.
While making my way to the top of the overlooking ledge on the east side of it to seize so favorable an opportunity of studying the structure of the cone, the peaks of the Merced Group appeared over the shoulder of the Half Dome, each waving a resplendent banner in the blue sky, as regular in form, and as firm and fine in texture as if made of silk. Each banner was at first curved upward from the narrow point of attachment, then continued in long, drawn out, lustrous sheets for a length of at least 3,000 feet, judging from the known height of the mountains and their distances apart.
Eager to gain a general view, I pushed my way up through the snow by Indian Canyon to a commanding ridge beyond the walls, about 8,000 feet in height, where the most glorious storm-view that I had ever beheld awaited me. Every alpine peak along the axis of the range as far as the view extended had its banner, from 2,000 to 600 feet in length, streaming out horizontally, free, and unconfused, slender at the point of attachment, then widening gradually as it extended from the peak until it was a thousand to fifteen hundred feet in breadth, each waving with a visible motion in the sun glow, and clearly outlined on the dark blue sky without a single cloud to mar their simple grandeur.
The tremendous currents of the north wind were sweeping the northern curves of the mountain peaks just as the glaciers they once nourished were swept down, a supply of wind-driven, wind-ground, mealy, frosty snow being incessantly spouted upward over the peaks in a close concentrated current, owing to the peculiar sculpture of their north sides. Thus, everwasting, ever-renewed, these glorious banners, a mile long, waved in the gale, constant in form, and apparently as definite and substantial as a silken streamer at a masthead.
The vast depth of the valley, and the sheerness of its walls and westerly trend, causes a great difference between the climates of the north and south sides, more so than exists between many countries hundreds of miles apart, because the south wall is constantly in shadow during the winter months, while the north is bathed in sunshine every clear day, which falls vertically or nearly so on a great portion of the beveled rocks, making mellow spring weather on one side of the valley, while winter rules the other.
Far up the northern cliffs, even where they seem perpendicular, many a sheltered nook may be found, closely embraced by warm, sunny rock-bosses, in which flowers bloom every month of the year. Butterflies too swarm in these high winter gardens, and may be seen any day except when storms are in progress, and for a few days after they have ceased. In January, near the head of the Lower Yosemite Fall, I found the ant-lions lying in wait in their warm sand-cups, rock-ferns being unrolled, club-mosses covered with fresh growing points, the flowers of the laurel nearly open, and the honeysuckle vines abounding there were rosetted with bright, young leaves, every plant telling of the spring and tingling with vital sunshine. All the winter birds resort to the warm shelters of the north side, and make out to pass the short days in comfort, seldom suffering when the snow is deepest.
Even on the shadow side of the valley the frost is never severe. The average temperature on 24 days in January at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. was 32°F. minimum 22°, maximum 40° Another specimen of January weather gave three days rainy, three cloudy, two snowy, and ten clear sunshine.
The winter birds sweeten these shadowy days with their hopeful chatter and song. They are not many, but a cheerier set never sang in snow. First and best of all is the water-ouzel, a dainty, dusky little bird about the size of a robin, that sings a sweet fluty song all winter—all summer—in storm and calm sunshine and shade—haunting the wild rapids and water-falls with marvelous constancy, building his nest in the cleft of a rock bathed in spray. He is not web-footed, yet he dives fearlessly into foaming rapids, seeming to take the greater delight the more boisterous the stream, cheerful and calm as any linnet in a grove. All his gestures as he flits about amid the loud uproar of the falls bespeak the utmost simplicity and confidence—bird and stream one and inseparable. What a pair, yet well related. A yet finer bloom than the foambell in eddying pool is this little bird. Like some delicate flower growing on a tree of rugged strength, the little ouzel grows on the booming stream, showing savage power changed to terms of sweetest love, plain and easily understood to human hearts. We may miss the meaning of the loud resounding torrent, but the flute-like voice of this little bird—only love is in it. A few robins, belated on their way down from the upper meadows, linger in the valley and make out to spend the winter in comparative comfort, feeding on the mistletoe berries that grow on the oaks. In the depths of the mountain forests, in the severest solitudes, they seem as much at home as in the old apple orchards about the busy habitations of man. They ascend the Sierra as the snow melts, following the green footsteps of Spring, until in July or August the highest glacier meadows are reached on the summit of the range. Then, after the short summer is over, and their work in sweetening and cheering these lofty wilds is done, they gradually make their way down again in concord with the weather, keeping ahead of the snow, lingering here and there to feast on huckleberries and frost-nipped wild cherries growing on the upper slopes. Thence down to the vineyards and orchards of the lowlands to spend the winter, and about the Bay of San Francisco, and along the coast; entering the gardens of the great towns as well as parks and fields, where the blessed wanderers are too often slaughtered for food—surely a poor use for so fine a musical instrument: better make stove-wood of pianos to feed the kitchen fire.
The kingfisher winters in the valley, and the golden-winged woodpecker, likewise the species that lay up large stores of acorns in the bark of trees; wrens also; with a few brown and grey finches, and flocks of the arctic bluebird, which make lively pictures among the snow-laden mistleberries. About six species of ducks are found among the winter birds, as the river is never wholly frozen over. Among these are the mallard and beautiful wood duck, though now less abundant than formerly on account of being so often shot at.
Flocks of wandering geese usually visit the valley in March or April, driven down by hunger, or weariness, or stress of weather while on their way across the range. They come in by the river canyon, but oftentimes are sorely bewildered in trying to get out again. I have frequently seen them try to fly over the walls until tired out and compelled to re-alight. They would rise from the meadow or river, wheel around in a spiral until a height of 400 feet or thereabouts was reached, then form their ranks and fly straight toward the wall as if resolved to fly over it. But Yosemite magnitudes seem to be as deceptive to geese as to men, for they would suddenly find themselves in danger of dashing against the face of the cliff, much nearer the bottom than the top. Then turning in confusion, they would try again and again until exhausted. I have occasionally observed large flocks on their travels crossing the summits of the range at a height not less than 14,000 feet above the level of the sea, and even in so rare an atmosphere as this they seemed to be sustaining themselves without extra effort. Strong, however, as they are of wind and wing, they cannot fly over Yosemite walls, starting from the bottom.
Eagles hunt all winter along the northern cliffs and down the river canyon, and there are always plenty of owls for echoes.
Toward the end of March carex sprouts on the warmer portions of the meadows are about an inch high, the aments of the alders along the banks of the river are nearly ripe, the libocedrus is sowing its pollen, willows put forth their silky catkins, and a multitude of happy insects and swelling buds proclaim the promise of spring.
Wild strawberries are ripe in May; the early flowers are in bloom; the birds are busy in the groves, and frogs in the shallow meadow pools.
In June and July the Yosemite summer is in all its glory. It is the prime time of plant-bloom and water-bloom, and the lofty domes and battlements are then bathed in divine purple light.
August is the season of ripe nuts and berries—raspberries, blackberries, thimbleberries, gooseberries, shadberries, blackcurrants, puckery choke cherries, pine-nuts, etc., offering a royal feast to squirrels, bears, Indians, and birds of every feather. All the common orchard fruits as well as the cereal, grow well in the valley, and have been successfully cultivated there for many years by the old pioneer, Lamon, the first of all the Yosemite settlers who cordially and unreservedly adopted the valley as home. In the spring of 1859 he loaded an old horse with fruit-trees and a scant supply of provisions, and made his way into the valley from Mariposa, built himself a cabin beneath the shadow of the great Half Dome, cleared a fertile spot on the left bank of Tenaya Creek, and planted an orchard and garden; toiling faithfully as he was able, under hardships and discouragements not easily appreciated now that the valley has been opened to the world. His friends assured him that his trees would never bear fruit in that deep valley surrounded by snowy mountains, that he could raise nothing, sell nothing, and eventually starve. But year after year he held on undaunted, clearing and stirring the virgin soil, planting and pruning; remaining alone winter and summer with marvelous constancy. He was surprised to find the weather so sunful and kindly. When storms were blowing he lay snug in his cabin, pushing out now and then to keep the snow from his door and to listen to the thunder of the avalanches.
Late in the autumn, while Lamon thus lived alone, three Indians, who were hunting deer on the headwaters of the Bridal Veil Creek, killed a man by the name of Gould, who was on his way from Mono to Mariposa, and hid the body in a dense part of the forest beneath leaves and bark. The division of the spoils—gun, blankets, and money—brought on a quarrel, and one of the Indians confessed the murder. Lamon being the only white man known to be in the Yosemite region, it was feared that he was the victim, and two men were immediately sent into the valley to seek him. This was in January, and the appearance of the two weary messengers coming up the valley in midwinter was a grand surprise. After learning their errand, he assured his friends that nowhere else had he ever felt so safe or so happy as in his lonely Yosemite home.
After the fame of Yosemite had spread far and wide, and he had acquired sufficient means to enjoy a long afternoon of life in easy affluence, he died. He was a fine, erect, whole-souled man more than six feet high. No stranger to hunger and weariness, he was quick to feel for others, and many there be, myself among the number, who knew his simple kindness that gained expression in a thousand small deeds. A block of Yosemite granite, chiselled and lettered, marks his grave, and some of his fruit trees still live, but his finest monument is in the hearts of his friends. He sleeps in a beautiful spot among trees and flowers near the foot of the Yosemite Fall, and every crystal pressing on his coffin vibrates in harmony with its sublime music.
Before the Sierra was explored, Yosemite was generally regarded as a solitary, unrelated wonder. But many other valleys like it have been discovered, which occupy the same relative positions on the flank of the range, were formed by the same forces in the same kind of granite, and have similar waterfalls, sculpture, and vegetation. One of these, called “Hetch Hetchy” by the Indians, lies in a north-westerly direction from Yosemite, at a distance of about eighteen miles, and is easily accessible by a trail that leaves the Big Oak Flat road at Bronson Meadows, a few miles below Crane Flat.
As the Merced River flows through Yosemite, so does the Tuolumne through Hetch Hetchy. The bottom of Yosemite is about 4,000 feet above the level of the sea, the bottom of Hetch Hetchy is about 3,800 feet, and in both the walls are of grey granite, and rise precipitously from a level bottom, with but little debris along their bases.
Standing boldly out from the south wall, near the lower end of the valley, is the rock Kolàna, considerably over 2,000 feet in height, and seeming still to bid defiance to the mighty glacier that once pressed over and around it. This is the most strikingly picturesque rock in the valley, forming the outermost of a group that corresponds with the Cathedral group of Yosemite. Facing Kolàna, on the opposite side of the valley, there is a rock 1,800 feet in height which presents a sheer massive front like El Capitan, and over its brow flows a stream that makes, without exception, the most graceful fall I have ever seen. Tuccoolala it is called by the Indians. From the brow of the cliff it leaps clear and free for a thousand feet, then breaks up into a ragged foaming sheet of cascades among the boulders of an earthquake talus. Towards the end of summer it shrinks and vanishes, since its fountain streams do not reach back to the lasting snows of the summits.
When I last saw it in June, 1872, it was indescribably beautiful. The only fall that I know of with which it may fairly be compared is the Yosemite Bridal Veil, but it excels even that fall in floating, swaying gracefulness, and tender repose. For if we attentively observe the Bridal Veil, even toward the end of summer when the wind blows aside the fine outer folds of spray, dense, comet-shaped masses may be seen shooting with tremendous energy, revealing the stem fixedness of purpose with which its waters seek the new world below. But from the top of the cliff all the way down the snowy form of the Hetch Hetchy Veil is in perfect repose, like a plume of white cloud becalmed in the depths of the sky. Moreover, the Bridal Veil inhabits a shadow-haunted recess, inaccessible to the main wind-currents of the valley, and has to depend for its principal wind gestures upon broken waves and whirlpools of air that oftentimes compel it to rock and bend in a somewhat fitful, teasing manner; but the Hetch Hetchy Veil, floating free in the open valley, is ever ready to offer graceful compliance to the demands and suggestions of calm or storm. Looking across the valley on a bright, calm day about the beginning of June, the view is surpassingly glorious. The Hetch Hetchy El Capitan is seen rising out of a dense growth of shining live oaks, glowing with sun-gold from its green grovy base to its brow in the blue air. At intervals along its dizzy edge a few venturesome pines are seen looking wistfully outward, and before its sunny face, immediately in front of you, Tuccoolala waves her silvery scarf, gloriously embroidered, and burning with white sun-fire in every fibre. In approaching the brink of the precipice her waters flow fast but confidingly, and at their first arching leap into the air a little eagerness appears, but this eagerness is speedily hushed in divine repose, and their tranquil progress to the base of the cliff is like that of downy feathers in a still room. The various tissues into which her waters are woven, now that they are illumined by the streaming sunshine, are brought out with marvelous distinctness. They sift and float down the face of that grand grey rock in so leisurely and unconfused a manner, and with such exquisite gentleness, that you may examine their texture and patterns as you would a piece of embroidery held in the hand. Near the bottom the width of the fall has increased from 25 to about 100 feet. Here it is composed of yet finer tissue, more air than water, yet still without a trace of disorder. Air, water, and sunlight are woven into a cloth that spirits might wear.
On the same side of the valley thunders the great Hetch Hetchy Fall, called Wapama by the Indians. It is about 1,800 feet high, and is so near Tuccoolala, that both are in fall view from one standpoint. Seen immediately in front it appears nearly vertical, but viewed in profile from farther up the valley it is seen to be considerably inclined. Its location is similar to that of the Yosemite Fall, but its volume of water is much greater.
No two falls could be more unlike to make one perfect whole, like rock and cloud, sea and shore. Tuccoolala speaks low, like a summer breeze in the pines; Wapama, in downright thunder, descending with the weight and energy of an avalanche in its deep rocky gorge. Tuccoolala whispers, he dwells in peace; Wapama is the thunder of his chariot wheels in power.
This noble pair are the principal falls of the valley. A few other small streams come over the walls with bird-like song, leaping from crag to crag too small to be much noticed in company so imposing, though essential to the grand, general harmony. That portion of the north wall immediately above Wapama corresponds both in outline and details of sculpture with the same relative portion of the Yosemite wall. In Yosemite the steep face of the cliff is terraced with two conspicuous benches fringed with live-oak. Two benches, similarly situated, and fringed in the same way, occur on the same relative portion of the Hetch Hetchy wall, and on no other.
The floor of the valley is about three miles long, and from a fourth to half a mile wide. The lower portion is mostly level meadow, with the trees confined to the sides, and separated partially from the sandy, park-like upper portion by a low bar of glacier-polished granite, across which the river breaks in swift-gliding rapids. The principal tree of the valley is the great yellow-pine, attaining here a height of 200 feet. They occupy the dry sandy levels, growing well apart in small groves or singly, thus allowing each tree to be seen in all its beauty. The common pteris grows beneath them in rough green sheets, tufted here and there by ceanothus and manzanita, and brightened with mariposa tulips and golden-rods. Near the walls, on the earthquake taluses that occur in many places, the pines give place to the mountain live oak, which forms the shadiest and most extensive groves of the valley. Their glossy foliage, densely crowded at the top, forms a beautiful ceiling, containing a few irregular openings for the admission of sunbeams, while the bare grey bunks and branches, gnarled and twisted, are exceedingly picturesque. This sturdy oak, so well calculated for a mountaineer, not only covers the angular boulder slopes, but climbs along fissures, and up steep side-canyons, to the top of the walls and far beyond, dwarfing as it goes from a tree 30 to 40 feet high and 4 to 6 feet in diameter near the ground to a small shrub no thicker than one’s finger.
The sugar-pine, sabine-pine, and two-leafed pine, also the Douglas spruce, incense-cedar, and the two silver-firs, grow here and there in the cool side-canyons and scattered among the yellow pines, while on the warmest spots fine groves of the black-oak occur, whose acorns form so important a part of the food of Indians and bears. Bees and hummingbirds find rich pasturage flowers—mints, clover, honeysuckle, lilies, orchids, etc.
On a stream that comes in from the northeast at the head of the valley there is a series of charming cascades that give glad animation to the glorious wilderness, broad plumes like that between the Vernal and Nevada of Yosemite, half sliding, half leaping down smooth open folds of the granite covered with crisp, clashing spray, into which the sunbeams pour with glorious effect. Others shoot edgewise through a deep narrow gorge chafing and laving beneath rainbow mists in endless variety of form and tone.
Following the river from the head of the valley, you enter the great Tuolumne Canyon. It is 20 miles long, 2,000-4,000 feet deep, and may be regarded as a Yosemite Valley from end to end, abounding in glorious cascades, falls, and rocks of sublime architecture. To the lover of pure wildness, a saunter up this mountain street is a grand indulgence, however rough the sidewalks and pavements which extend along the cool, rushing river.
The new Kings River Yosemite is larger, and in some respects more interesting, than either the Hetch Hetchy or the Yosemite of the Merced. It Is situated on the south fork of Kings River, about 80 miles from Yosemite in a straight line, and 40 miles from Visalia, the nearest point on the Southern Pacific railroad. It is about nine miles long, half a mile wide at the bottom, and 5,000 feet above the level of the sea. The walls are quite as precipitous as those of Yosemite, 3,000 to 4,000 feet high, and sculptured in the same grand style so characteristic of all the valleys of this kind in the Sierra. As to water-falls, those of the new Yosemite are less striking in form and in the songs they sing, although the whole quantity of water pouring into the valley is greater, and comes from higher sources. The descent of the Kings Valley waters is made mostly in long, dashing cascades, and falls of moderate height, that are far less showy in general views than those of Yosemite.
My last visit to this magnificent valley was made with a small party in July, 1875, when the beauty of its wildness was still complete. We set out from Yosemite, pushing our way through the wilderness, past Clark’s Station, through the Mariposa grove of big trees, and the luxuriant forests of upper Fresno, down to the dappled plain of the San Joaquin. Thence, skirting the margin of the foot hills, we crossed the stately current of Kings River near Centerville, and facing eastward, climbed again into the sugar-pine woods, and on through the grand Sequoia forests of the Kaweah. Here we heard the sound of axes, and soon came upon a group of men busily engaged in preparing a section of one of the big trees they had felled for the Centennial Exhibition. This tree was 25 feet in diameter at the base, and so fine was the taper of the trunk it still measured 10 feet in diameter at a height of 200 feet from the ground. According to the testimony of the annual wood-rings, it was upwards of 2,000 years of age.
Out of this solemn ancient forest we climbed yet higher into the cool realms of the Alpine pines, until at length we caught a long sweeping view of the glorious Yosemite we were so eagerly seeking. The trail by which we descended to the bottom of the valley enters at the lower or west end, zigzagging in a wild, independent fashion over the south lip of the valley, and corresponding both in position and direction with the old Mariposa trail of Yosemite, and like it, affording a series of grand views up the valley, over the groves and meadows between the massive granite walls. So fully were these views Yosemitic in all their leading features it was hard to realize that we were not entering the old Yosemite by Inspiration Point.
In about two hours after beginning the descent we found ourselves among the sugar-pine groves at the lower end of the valley; and never did pines seem more noble and religious in gesture and tone.
The sun, pouring down mellow gold, seemed to be shining only for them, and the wind gave them voice; but the gestures of their outstretched arms appeared wholly independent of the wind, and impressed one with a solemn awe that overbore all our knowledge of causes, and brought us into the condition of being newly arrived from some other world. The ground was strewn with leaves and cones, making a fine surface for shadows; many a wide even bar from tapering trunk and column, and rich mosaic from leaf and branch; while ever and anon we came to small forest openings wholly filled with sunshine like lakes of light.
We made our first camp on the river bank, a mile or two up the valley, on the margin of a small circular meadow that was one of the most perfect flower gardens I have ever discovered in the Sierra. The trampling mules, whom I would gladly have kept out, fairly disappeared beneath the broad over-arching ferns that encircled it. The meadow was filled with lilies and orchids, larkspurs and columbines, daisies and asters and sun-loving golden-rods, violets and roses and purple geraniums, with a hundred others in prime of bloom, but whose names few would care to read, though all would enjoy fresh, wild beauty. One of the lilies that I measured was six feet long, and had eleven open flowers, five of them in their prime. The wind rocked this splendid panicle above the heads of the geraniums and briar-roses, forming a spectacle of pure beauty, exquisitely poised and harmonized in all its parts.
It was as if nature had fingered every leaf and petal that very day, readjusting every curving line and touching the colors of every corolla; and so, she had for not a leaf was misbent, and every plant was so placed with reference to every other, that the whole garden had seemingly been arranged like one tasteful bouquet. Here we lived a fine, unmeasured hour, considering the lilies, every individual flower radiating beauty as real and appreciable as sunbeams. Many other wild gardens occur along the river bank, and in many a cool side dell where streams enter, but neither at this time nor on my first visit to the valley were any discovered so perfect as this one. Toward the upper end of the valley there is quite an extensive meadow stretching across from wall to wall. The river borders are made up chiefly of alder, poplar, and willow, with pines and silver-fir where the banks are dry, and the common fringe of underbrush and flowers, all combined with reference to the best beauty and the wants of the broad crystal river.
The first two miles of the walls, beginning at the lower end of the valley, are bevelled off at the top, and are so broken and soil-besprinkled that they support quite a growth of trees and shaggy bushes; but farther up, the granite speedily assumes Yosemitic forms and dimensions, rising in stupendous cliffs, abrupt and sheer, from the level flats and meadows. On the north wall there is a rock like the El Capitan, and just above it a group like the Three Brothers. Further up, on the same side, there is an Indian Canyon, and North Dome, and Washington Column. On the south wall counterparts of the Cathedral and Sentinel Rocks occur in regular order, bearing the same relations to each other that they do in the old Yosemite. Our journey up the valley was perfectly enchanting, every bend of river presenting reaches of surpassing beauty, the sunbeams streaming through the border groves, or falling in broad masses upon white rapids or deep, calm pools. Here and there a dead pine, that had been swept down in floodtime, reached out over the current, its mosses and lichens contrasting with the crystal sheen of the water, and its gnarled roots forming shadowy caves for speckled trout, where the current eddies slowly, and protecting sedges and willows dip their leaves. Amid these varied and everchanging river views the appreciative artist may find studies for a lifetime. The deeply sculptured walls presented more and more exciting views, calling forth enthusiastic admiration. Bold, sheer brows, standing forth in a full blaze of light; deep, shadow-filled side canyons and gorges, inhabited by wild cascades, groups of gothic gables, glacier-polished domes coming in sight in ever changing combinations and with different foregrounds. Yet no rock in the valley equals El Capitan, or the great Half Dome; but, on the other hand, from no part of the Yosemite walls could a section five miles in length be selected equal in beauty and grandeur to five miles of the middle portion of the south wall of the new valley.
We camped for the night at the base of the new Washington Column, where ferns and lilies reached to our heads, the lavish exuberance of the vegetation about us contrasting with the bare, massive fronts of the walls. The summer day died in purple and gold, and we lay watching the fading sunshine and growing shadows among the heights. Each member of the party made his own bed, like birds building nests. Mine was made of overlapping fern fronds, with a few mint spikes in the pillow, combining luxurious softness and fragrance, and making the down beds of palaces and palace hotels seem poor and vulgar.
The full moon rose just after the night darkness was fairly established. Down the valley one rock after another caught the silvery glow, and stood out from the dusky shadows in long, imposing ranks like weird spirits, while the thickets and groves along the river were masses of solid darkness. The sky bloomed with stars like a meadow with flowers. It was too surpassingly beautiful a night for sleep, and we gazed long into the heart of the solemn, silent grandeur ere the weariness of enjoyment closed our eyes.
Next morning we continued on up the valley in the sunshine, following the north bank of the valley to where it forks at the head. The glacier-polished rocks glowed in the slant sunbeams in many places as if made of burnished metal. All the glacial phenomena of the new valley—the polished surfaces, roches moutonnées, and moraines are fresher, and therefore less changed, than those of the old. It is evidently a somewhat younger valley, a fact easily explained by its relations to the fountains of the ancient glaciers lying above it among the loftiest summits of the range. Like the old valley, this is a favorite resort of Indians because it produces acorns, and its waters abound in trout. They, doubtless, have names for all the principal rocks and cascades, and many grotesque and ornamental legends relating to them, though as yet I have not learned any of them.
This valley is already beginning to attract tourists from all parts of the world, and its fame may yet equal that of the old. It is quite accessible, the greater part of the distance from the railroad being by a good wagon-road, and all the necessary supplies may be obtained at Visalia. A good mountain trail conducts out of the valley at the head along the edge of the cascading river, and across the range by the Kearsarge Pass to Owens Valley, which we followed, and reached Independence on the east side of the Sierra in two days. From here we set out for the summit of Mt. Whitney. Then turning northward, we skirted the eastern flank of the range until we reached the Mono region. Thence crossing the range by the Bloody Canyon Pass, we entered the Yosemite Valley from above. Thus through the grand old forests, from mountain to mountain, from Yosemite to Yosemite we drifted free, making a round trip without wheels or tickets, that for grandeur and general interest cannot be surpassed in all the Sierra, or perhaps in any other mountain range in the world.