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The Atlantic to the Pacific: What to See and How to See it (1873), by John Erastus Lester

The Overland Tour Reviewed.

The Overland Tour Reviewed.Its Cost.—Either through ignorance, or to influence people to undertake the journey, estimates have been made which were so far from the facts, that I cannot well understand how they were computed. I did not follow those which I had seen, and that, too, in respectable journals; for I found, when I inquired about the mere cost of car-fare and living on the way, that the estimates were wrong. I may as well state here the results of my experience. The figures which I shall give will be liberal, for I did not refuse myself any comfort, but will not include extras or sundries. It must be borne in mind that after you enter California your payments are made in gold; and, while I was in the State, the value of greenbacks fluctuated from 88 1/4 to 92 1/2; but, as a rule in trade, they are taken at ninety cents on a dollar. Actual experience is the best teacher; and my figures will be a safe guide to one whose wants are simple, but who believes that a first-class hotel is the cheapest place to stop at, and wants the best of the market, although he never ‘calls a hack’ to ride a block, and never has an item upon his hotel bill denominated ‘extras’ or ‘sundries.’ The amounts are reduced to currency.


For car-tickets from Boston to San Francisco, and return,$28600
For sleeping-berths (Pullman-cars)3200
For meals4000
For Salt Lake City, and return to Ogden600
For three days’ board, at $41200
For two weeks in San Francisco, $3 per day (in gold), and for porters, hacks, and horse-car rides, $1 more (parlours and fires extra)6500
For the Geysers, and return (4 clays)3500
For San José and Santa Clara (3 days)2000
For the Yo-Semite. and return (2 weeks), including all charges15000
For travel upon the railroads of California per mile05
For hack-rides the charges are five times our own for same service, and payable in gold. For the short excursions to Oakland, Alameda, Mare Island, Vallejo, San Raphael, &c2500
For trips in Southern California (Los Angeles)15000
For Lakes Donner and Tahoe5000
For Virginia city (Nevada)3000
For Colorado, Denver, Golden, Idaho Springs, and the mining-country at Black Hawk and Central, allowing two weeks20000

By allowing 4s. for one dollar and then adding ten per cent. for exchange, the cost can readily be computed in English coin.

From which data it is seen that a round trip, including the chief points of interest in California, will cost about $800; and $1,200 can be profitably spent by including Nevada, Colorado, and Utah; and these places ought not to be omitted.


Weather.—We had been enjoying the usual cool weather of summer at San Francisco, when on Wednesday morning, June 19, the thermometer suddenly rose to 92° Fahrenheit, which, for this city, was extreme; and, dressed in winter-clothing, one suffered much: but all advised no change of dress, for they said a sudden change would soon come. By noon telegrams came pouring in from all parts of the State of great heat, as at Napa City 107°, and San José 104°. That day over, the next was warmer, and 96° was reached—a higher figure than a record of eleven years showed, and many said higher than ever before. So you see, the great wave of heat which swept over the East, overpowering so many in our great cities, also swept over the West in unprecedented fierceness. On Friday, about noon, the change did come, and indeed suddenly; for, seemingly in an hour, an overcoat was needed, and by sundown we required a fire in the hotel parlour.

This is their summer weather; in the winter, it is more equable, with no fogs.


The Season to visit California.—The rains begin about October 1, and, with an intermission of a few weeks in January and February, continue till March; from which time, to October again, they have no rain at all: hence this is a state of either mud or dust, with short seasons of extremely delightful weather. The plants and trees, instead of resting in winter by means of frosts, rest here in late summer by means of drought. Before I left the State (late in June), many plants, and some of the trees, had already completed their growth, and having ripened their seed and wood, were at rest. On most of the deciduous trees, the old leaves remain until pushed off, as it were, by the new ones. So many months of drought, as can be imagined, from the lack of rain in England for even two weeks, make everything extremely dry, and to see a green thing is delightful; so that, in the small gardens, constant irrigation is resorted to, to keep a little grass green, and the trees and the shrubs in leaf.

The roads, during the rainy season, are almost impassable by reason of the mud, and, in the summer, by the dust, which, I apprehend, is far more disagreeable than mud, if my experience with it gives any data for a judgment. It is of the utmost importance, then, that the journey to California be made at the proper season. And this is my advice:—Leave the Atlantic coast about the first of April, as then the snow-storms of the Rocky Mountains are over, and go direct to San Francisco, which make, as a Frenchman would say, your point d’appui. Spend at least two weeks in looking about the city and immediate vicinity; and, if you propose a trip to Los Angeles and Southern California, go there first, and then return to the city. Make your excursion through the Santa Clara Valley, and to the Geysers. By this time the trails will be open to the Yo-Semite; and to this famed place it is best to go early, that those wonderful waterfalls may be seen in their majesty. From a month to six weeks (as you go to Southern California, or not) will thus be fully employed.

Returning over the Central Pacific, from Truckee, visit Lakes Donner and Tahoe; and from Reno go to Virginia City and the great silver mines of Nevada. Either of these excursions will occupy three days fully. From Ogden, go down to Salt Lake City, which will be in her lovely Spring dress, and the Wahsatch range still snow-clad, where two or three days ought to be spent, and more if the mines are visited.

At Cheyenne, on the Union Pacific, leave the main line for the journey through Colorado; make a stay of a few days at Denver, and then go to Golden; from which point start by private carriage for the great mines and smelting-works and stamp-mills at Central, Georgetown, Blackhawk, and Nevada City. A narrow-guage railroad is now completed up Clear-creek Cañon, to Central, so that the whole distance can be made in the cars. The cañon abounds in beautiful scenery throughout its entire length. But either in going to or returning from Central City, the journey ought to be made over the carriage-road, it being one of such unusual interest. If time permits, the ‘Parks’ in the mountains can be visited, and many other interesting points. Two weeks, at least, should be spent in Colorado.

At Omaha a stop should be made to look over the city, and also to examine the great iron bridge over the Missouri River at this point. There are several places in Iowa and other Western States, where a little time can be spent very profitably on your way back to the east; or, say, to Niagara Falls, where you arrive just as the season begins, and where I have many times found the ‘International’ one of the choice houses, where to take a good rest.

To citizens of the United States a trip to California is far more pleasing than one to Europe: they are all the while in their own country, and with people speaking their own language; and the places visited are of far more beauty and interest. The round trip cannot be made any more cheaply than a trip to London and Paris in the summer; but if, of the many thousands who every year go to Europe, more would go to California, or even to Colorado and the Rocky Mountains, they would be far better pleased and much more instructed. To enjoy Europe properly, a certain knowledge of languages is required; but almost every one can find enjoyment in our Great West. To some, her vast resources will be most pleasing; to others, her grand scenery will be a full enjoyment. Travelling is made as comfortable as can be, saving only a few inconveniences on the longer roads; and many of these will be remedied during the year.

These words were written especially for American readers, but they contain good advice to my English friends. In visiting the United States they are all the time among English speaking people, and under the protection of a Government allied to their own by every tie of sympathy and International policy. The passage of the Atlantic is now made quite a pleasure-trip, and when they journey in the States, from what I have said they must be assured of comfort and as interesting scenery as can be found on the European Continent, and on a scale incomparably grander and more magnificent.

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