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

The Yo-Semite Valley

Yo-Semite.—‘How shall we go?’ is the question asked by the tourist as soon as he begins to talk of visiting this renowned Valley. There are agents for the different routes, who, of course, decry all save their own. For two weeks I canvassed the merits of the various routes, talking with those who were almost daily returning from the visit. The time of making the trip is very important; for, if you desire to see the waterfalls in their glory, you must go in flood-time—that is, just at the breaking-up of the snows, when everything seems turned to water; for, be it remembered, the waterfalls of the Yo-Semite are made from streams swollen by the melting snows, and later in the season many of them dry up entirely, while all become only a mere trickling compared with their volume at flood-time. If the waterfalls are a secondary consideration, then it is much more easy and pleasant to make the journey across the mountains in July or August after the roads have become free from snows.

The Yo-Semite is situated a little south of east from San Francisco, and, in a direct course, is distant 155 miles; but to reach the Valley we must travel at least 250 miles.

The three routes are denominated ‘Merced and Mariposa,’ ‘Coulterville,’ and ‘Chinese Camp and Big-oak Flat.’ By the first, we have the great Mariposa Grove of Big Trees within five miles of the line; by the second, the shortest saddle-ride; and, by the latter, we visit the Calaveras Grove.

Of one fact there can be no doubt—that is, that you should go into the valley on one side and out of it upon the other; for thus you have new and inspiring scenery and fine views while accomplishing a journey which, of necessity, is very hard and tiresome. To see the ‘big trees’ in the Mariposa Grove, we chose to enter the valley by way of Clark’s, or the first route, and return by the way of Coulterville; although, if time had permitted, we should have taken the other route, and visited the Calaveras Grove upon our way.

On the afternoon of June 6 we left San Francisco for our journey, taking along with us only such luggage as seemed necessary, and arranging our dress ‘to rough it.’ The train leaves the city at 4 p.m., and reaches Lathrop, on the line of Sacramento, at about 8.30, where we change cars, and start up the San Joaquin Valley to Merced City, which lies some fifty miles to the south. After a slow and tedious ride we reached the unfinished city and the unfinished hotel, named ‘El Capitan.’ The genial landlord—Bloss by name— gave us the very best accommodation that he could under the circumstances, even sleeping cars being drawn up on the side-track to accommodate the guests. My unfurnished room, and the excessively hot, oppressive atmosphere, were not very inviting surroundings for the first night on the way; but I resolved not to complain of any reasonable hardship, leaving that to the young city belles, of whom you always meet more than a complement for comfort upon such expeditions.

The morning found us early looking about the settlement. Four months ago there was not a house in sight from the spot where the hotel now stands. This great house was erected by the Central Pacific Railroad Company to accommodate the tourists to the Yo-Semite. It is four stories high, 115 by 40 feet, with two wings and broad piazzas, and to be furnished with all modern improvements. Its cost will be over $75,000, and the furniture $40,000 more. The railroad offices are all in the building. Merced is made up of three large livery-stables, a dozen saloons, and any number of unoccupied city lots. It is the centre of many mining villages—as Mariposa, Bear Valley, Hopeton, and many others—to nearly all of which daily lines of stages start, which, together with the many carriages departing for and arriving from the Yo-Semite, make lively times at morning and evening about the hotel.1

1The hotel has since been completed, and is spoken of by tourists with much praise.

There are in the place, all told, about 300 people; and one good citizen who had taken up his residence here persisted in telling us of this ‘pup of city,’ and assured us that, when it got grown, it would astonish us with its ‘barking and growling.’

I strongly advise tourists to arrange for a private conveyance from here, for the stages are often overcrowded, go by longer roads to leave the mail, and are not so comfortable in any respect.

At the appointed time, 7 o’clock, we are off for the foot-hills, which in the distance bound the great valley of the San Joaquin on the east. For about twenty miles we pass vast fields of wheat and barley, covering the earth on all sides as far as the eye reaches, only relieved here and there by the cabin of the rancher, or a little growth of timber along the banks of some creek. The grain, which is now ripened, or nearly so, looks fine; and the fields which have been ‘headed’ are yielding immense crops—by far greater than any previous year in this valley.

Beyond these grain-fields we strike into the gravelly country which lies at the entrance to the foot-hills—vast rolling fields, which Nature has made the home of the sheep and goat; and now these great pastures are well stocked with these wool-producing animals. This region gives us a good idea of the foot-hills of the Sierra Nevadas. During our ride our driver has grown familiar, aided, no doubt, by the contents of a small bottle which he occasionally takes from his pocket, and, drawing the cork with his teeth, manages to keep his team in motion and at the same time empty some of the liquid into his mouth. He tells his history—his life upon the ‘box,’ the ups and downs which have checkered his career, and describes the people who live at the ranches we are passing. Some of these stories are ‘big;’ but we are in the land of big things, no wonder a stage-driver’s yarns (never lacking in wonders) should here partake of the general character of immense size. He with grave face informs us that the region is exceedingly healthy. ‘Die!’ he says, ‘no one out here would ever die, if it wasn’t for whisky and doctors.’ He, not liking the last mode, had evidently adopted the first-mentioned course to end his days within the time appointed for mortals.

As we come in among the hills our attention is attracted by the great ledges of sandstone which project from the surface, and often rise in the form of spires or domes, or in fantastic shapes, giving to the landscape peculiar beauty. This change is very agreeable; for the fields of ripening grain become very tiresome to the eye, as do also the great sheep-pastures, relieved only by the moving herds. There is here a rock-formation which is worthy of note. The strata of slate stand at almost right angles to the underlying sandstone, and crop out of the ground in shape like grave-stones, covering the sides of the hills with a seeming ‘city of the dead.’ The rock-croppings are called ‘buttes;’ that is, according to colour of the rock—red buttes, white buttes, &c. A few trees are seen and acres of the chaparral. The most common tree is the Pinus sabiniana.

Our first stop was at Indian Gulch, a mining-camp, once quite a settlement; but as gold has become scarce, it has dwindled down to a little dilapidated village of a few Italians and a few negroes.

A mile or so beyond this village we enter the great Mariposa Estate, owned by a company bearing that name. The stock of this company, by its fluctuations, has ruined more men, and has especially been the cause of the fall of more bank-officers, than any other in the long list of those ‘doubtful commodities’ which they sell to the bulls and the bears who frequent Wall and Threadneedle streets.

We take our course over the road through the estate, and are very must interested in observing Chinamen mining in the gulches. They erect a little sluiceway into which they shovel the dirt, and wash away the coarser portion: that which is left is then put into a ‘pan,’ as they call it, which is filled with water; and, by a peculiar twisting of it, the contents are made to revolve, till gradually the specific gravity of the gold causes it to settle to the bottom, and the refuse dirt to go over the side of the pan. Here we also saw the rocker, one of the utensils used in mining which has never been improved upon, and is today just as it was in the early days of California placer-mining. It takes the place of a sluice, and is more economical in the use of water. The chief mining on the Mariposa Estate is, however, quartz. The stamp-mills are the largest and most costly of any in the State.

Our driver says presently, ‘Do you see those grave-stones?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘W-a-a-l, now I tell you, you can always know you are coming to a town when you see them things; they always stand up first, to let you know they have got a grave-yard. I have seen the same thing East; and I tell you I have known ’um out here, when they lay out a new town, to kill a man to start a graveyard; for you see, here nobody dies of his own accord.’ Soon after which odd announcement of our approach to it, we enter the old town of Mariposa—once a thriving city, now a crumbling, ruined place. All the people of standing have left here; and only a few shop and saloon keepers, and a large number of miners, and I was told some desperadoes, remain. It is a sad story which the city tells of hopes blasted, of fortunes lost, and of glory for ever gone.

Along the main street I saw brick and stone houses, with iron shutters and richly ornamented fronts, all now wholly deserted. On a hill at one end of the town is the jail, built of hewn stone, which must have cost a vast sum in the early days when it was erected, but it is evidently too large and too costly for the present town. There are two churches, but when I inquired of my friend about the creed to which they held, he carefully explained to me that ‘they don’t go now.’ Mariposa is only one of many towns in California which depended wholly upon gold-mining, and when the placers had been worked out, their prosperity vanished and decay came upon them.

A stay of an hour, and we were off again, in a mountain wagon drawn by two horses, for White and Hatch’s, where we are to stay over night. The ride in the cool evening air of the mountains was refreshing after the dust and heat of the plains. Three hours brought us to our destination. As soon as we stepped upon the piazza, we were assured of a good supper and a clean bed; for the marks of a Yankee housekeeper were ‘hung upon the outer walls.’ We were not long in finding out that these people came here from Maine some twelve years ago, erected a saw-mill, and went into the lumber business; they began by entertaining a few stray travellers at long intervals, but the tourists to the mountains increasing, they were forced to enlarge their little house; and by successive additions, they have now quite a ‘tavern,’ where you are so kindly received by Mrs. Hatch, who spreads for you such a table of good things that Yankees are satisfied; and when they are pleased, who in the world is left to find fault?

A refreshing sleep prepared us for an early start; and by a delightful drive among the hills, under the shade of huge pines, we are taken to Clark’s. The road leaves White’s and Hatch’s at an elevation of 3,000 feet, ascends Chowchilla Creek, and crosses the divide at an elevation of 5,800 feet, between the waters of this creek and the Merced. When we reach Clark’s, we are at an elevation of 4,100 feet, and on the banks of the South Merced River, which, with swift current, flows near the house. The river is now at flood between 75 to 80 feet wide, clear as crystal, and is tossed in foam by its rocky bed as it speeds along to join the north fork in the Yo-Semite Valley. Mr. Galen Clark, from whom this ranch is named, is one of the pioneers of the section, who came into the country as early as 1853, and in 1855 settled on this farm. His first tavern was a tent, the ground his table, and tin plates served for China. At night the camp-fire was lighted, and around it his guests wrapped themselves in blankets, and slept. In a year or two he built a log-cabin, had three-legged stools and a pine table, with a tent for a dormitory, which in those days were luxuries indeed. The increase of travellers forced him to erect larger and more substantial buildings; now there are good accommodations, which the prolonged visits of tourists attest. Mr. Clark, in his early days, was a great hunter, and is still a dead-shot with his rifle. He is plain in his habits, a lover of nature, and keeps up the custom of nightly lighting the camp-fire, and gathering his friends about it to talk over ‘the days that are gone.’

During the afternoon of the day of our arrival, there came galloping into the yard on a mustang an old Indian, with a white silk handkerchief about his head, pantaloons of great size and white in color, a flannel blouse, and a striped shirt. Dismounting, he walked with the gait of age directly to the piazza where we were sitting, and greeted Mr. Clark with the utmost cordiality. Mr. Clark addressed him as Capt. John, and spoke to him with great kindness. After a little conversation in broken English and Spanish, Mr. Clark told us that he was a chief of the once powerful tribe of Indians called ‘Fresno,’ was on his way for a visit across the mountains, and over to Mono Lake. After much difficulty, Capt. John was made to understand that we lived about three thousand miles away, and ‘on the other ocean;’ and, with a face full of animation, the old man said, ‘Whew! too muchy far—old Injun.’

No, indeed! neither he nor any of his tribe will ever see that ‘other ocean’ of which the soothsayers had told them around the council fires. They are fast passing away, and soon they will be numbered with their brothers of the Atlantic, while the tribes in the great middle ground will survive but a few years longer the calamities which have overtaken the red-men, dwellers by either Ocean.

A singular interest attaches to him, as he was one of the Indians who guided the first white men into the valley. The Indians in 1850 being very troublesome, and having a stronghold far up the mountains, a company, under command of Capt. Boling, started in pursuit of them, and under the guidance of friendly Indians, with their chief, Te-na-ya, were taken into the wonderful valley; and for the first time white men looked upon some of the grandest scenery in the world. So long as I staid at Clark’s, Capt. John and I were good friends; and he would often exclaim ‘I sarva you,’ meaning that he could understand me. At night, when the Indians of the little settlement near the house returned with their trout, and sold them to Mr. Clark, reserving only enough for supper, we visited their camp, and observed their mode of cooking them. A hole is dug in the ground, and a fire made therein; and, while the coals are glowing, they are raked away, the fish put in and covered with them, and thus cooked. From the meal made from dried acorns they make a kind of paste, which they call bread, and which, from a water-tight basket, they eat with their fingers. Capt. John so urged us to eat with them, that we tried the fish, and found them delicious; but the paste was beyond us. Our table was the earth; our knives and forks were our fingers; and we sat in a reclining position on our table, the whole lighted up by the fire, which was blazing near by. As the Indians ate, they grunted at each other—their language being a succession of grunts.


The Mariposa Grove of Big Trees.—The grove is reached over a trail of some four miles from Clark’s; but the ‘rounds,’ in visiting both the upper and lower groups of trees, and in the return, make a horseback ride of a little more than twelve miles. Our horses and mules, bridled and saddled, were led up by eight o’clock; and the selecting and assigning of animals immediately began. The ladies were first mounted for the trip. For me, I preferred a mule, as being surer footed, and, looking among them, I selected one, not the best-looking, but well built. When I jumped upon his back, he turned a queer countenance towards me, and for some moments seemed to consider, then whirled round several times, and then looked at me again. Notwithstanding his suspicious conduct at first, he soon proved to be ‘as good a mule as mule could be.’ For my whole stay in the mountains I kept him, called him Aesculapius, treated him kindly, rested and fed him; and, were I to go again into that region, I should look for that mule, which I trust will ever be well used.

I noticed one thing — that those who bragged most of their horsemanship made the poorest show when they were upon the animals. One poor child, who talked loudly of his experience, and who tried to be very nice, came to grief, sprawled in the dirt; for his mule persisted in not being led in a city way. No one pitied him, for he had put away all pity by his course. The ladies also showed the same fact — that much bragging, or even Eastern horsewomanship, don’t always succeed in conquering a mustang pony or a mountain mule.

But, all ready! and we are off over the trail for those wonders in the vegetable world. If we had not read of those bigger trees, we should have been satisfied with those about us—the hotel standing in a grove of trees from 6 to 12 feet in circumference, and from 125 to 175 feet high, mostly pines. The trail is a very pleasant one, being up the side of a hill, under the shade of those magnificent great pines and spruces which cover the Sierras far up their sides. About an hour and a half was occupied in reaching the ‘Upper Grove,’ as it is called. These groups of big trees are at an elevation of about 5,500 feet above sea level—in a little valley, a sort of depression in the side of a ridge.

Congress has made a reservation about two miles square, which includes the two distinct groves of these trees, and has declared this a national park. The Upper Grove contains just 365 trees of this species, over one foot in diameter; while in the Lower Grove, which is situated to the south-west of the first mentioned, the trees are more scattered, and less in number.

For a long time, a learned discussion was carried on both in France and England as to the name to be given this tree; but now, by consent of all, it is named Sequoia gigantea. It is undoubtedly a twin-brother of the redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), of which the major part of the trees in the great Sierra forests is composed.

The trees have signs placed upon them, giving each a name, as Grant, Lincoln, Lesseps, the Twins, the Sisters, Pluto’s Chimney, &c., but which have not, and should not, become popular. The highest in this grove is 272 feet; the highest in the Calveras Grove is 325 feet; while the largest known tree in circumference in the world is here in the Lower Grove; and there are in all, in the two groups, 125 trees, each over 40 feet around. The trees which are found intermingled with the big trees are the pitch and sugar pines, the Douglas spruce and white fir, together with the bastard cedar, which nearly resembles the Sequoia.

The great tree in the southern portion of the grove is the one known as the ‘Grisly Giant,’ which is 93 feet 7 inches in circumference at the ground, and 11 feet above is 64 feet 3 inches. It is at the base over 31 feet in diameter. Its branches are as large as our largest elms, many being fully 6 feet in diameter. Desiring to take home something which would show the size of this tree, we stretched a cord around it as nearly as we could 5 feet from the ground, making no allowance for the decrease in size by the burning on one side; and this cord (which I now have, as well as the measurements of two others) measures just 92 feet 8 inches in length. The age of this tree is variously estimated; but it is safe to say (from the data of those which have fallen) that it is fifteen hundred years old. Through a fallen trunk, which was hollowed by decay and fire, we rode on mule-back; and into another tree, still growing, but into whose side the fire had worked, I rode and turned my mule round. There was one where the fire had made a rent directly through the tree, large enough for us to ride through, and it was still growing, its top showing no signs of decay. These are great vegetable wonders; and probably no trees ever found have created so much comment as these, all the scientific journals of the world having given them full descriptions and reviews. We lunched amid these giants of the mountain forests, and let our thoughts contemplate the wonders of Nature, thankful that we had been privileged to behold them.

We returned somewhat tired with our first experience in mule-back riding over a mountain-trail; but, nevertheless, the lighting of the camp-fire found us with the ranchers, listening to their stories. Passing the door of the parlour later in the evening, a city belle said to me, ‘I should not think you would like to stay with those rough men.’ Surprised at first at the extreme ignorance shown by this lady—only a specimen of the great majority who make such trips—I could only tell her that Mr. Clark was a gentleman; that his son was a recent graduate of Yale College; that Mr. Moore (now the business partner with Mr. Clark) was a man of great information; that I had derived much knowledge from the conversation; and, by mingling with them, I had learned their mode of life. If a person can travel through our Great West, and associate as he ought with the people, and have any respect for fashionable pretensions afterwards, I deem him beyond hope; for here the Governor of the State dresses in home-spun, and the sturdy ranchers and men of business forget the colour of their shirt, if it be only clean.


The Wonders of the Yo-Semite Valley.—We made an early start from Clark’s for a long saddle-ride into the Valley. There were many to go, and every horse and mule was brought into requisition. By a bridge we cross the South Fork of the Merced River; and by a trail, ascending very rapidly, we reach the plateau, which lies between the main river and the branch mentioned. A journey of six miles brings us to a creek named Alder, along which the trail leads to its source in a great mountain-meadow. We have now reached an altitude of 7,100 feet above the level of the sea, or nearly 1,000 feet higher than Mount Washington, 1 1/2 mile above tide-water. To know just what a mountain-trail is, you must follow one; but some idea can be had by imagining the roughest road you ever went over, and by far more crooked than any cow-path in the old pastures, and then narrow it down to a way just wide enough for one animal to pass, and then set this path at an inclination little less than perpendicular, then across it throw occasionally a snow-drift ten feet deep, and you can know something of the trail which we are going over to-day (June 10). Up here in the mountains it is early spring; the snows are melting; the streams are swollen; and, in the spots where the snows are gone, the grass is just springing up. There must have been an immense quantity of snow here; for the drifts, packed hard enough for us to pass over the crust, are from 6 to 10 feet in depth; and the ground in the shadows of rocks and trees is still ‘clothed in the white.’ A trail is peculiar; it follows the path first struck out, even though further, and takes great pains to go a long way around a fallen tree or a rock, when the labour of a few hours would open a new path; but still there is something fascinating in following the windings of our narrow road.

The character of the trees has changed; and now we have those which delight in these elevated places, as Pinus contorta, Picea grandis, Picea amabilis: of these the forests of the high Sierras are formed. The early flowers, too, are blossoming, and opening their bright eyes to the sun; but it is too early in the season for the floral beauties which later cover the ground, and make you forget the frosts and the snows.

By one o’clock we reached a place called ‘Mountain View Meadow’—a great basin, as it were, in the mountains, whose lofty peaks rise on every side, covered with snow. We are now in the high Sierras, and are brought face to face with the grandest mountain-range on the continent. We lunch at the Mountain View House, a pretentious name for a log-cabin and one small frame house, with partitions made of cotton cloth. The property is owned by one Peragoy, who came from Baltimore to the Mariposa country to dig gold. Stock-raising takes him into this meadow during each summer; and Mrs. Peragoy takes charge of lunching travellers to and from the valley, and she does it well. For her the mountains have no charm, the great meadow in which she lives no beauty; but a well-set and well-loaded table, with well-paying guests around it, who call loudly for extras, is to her the grandest sight upon which her eyes can rest.

From Peragoy’s the trails diverge; one entering the valley by Inspiration Point, and the other by Glacier Point. The country between is rolling; now rising in sharp ridges, and now settling back into a pretty meadow, where the grass is springing up, offering abundant food for cattle during the few weeks that they are free from snows. In crossing these meadows, now filled with surface water, often my mule would plunge to his knees; and in his efforts to get out, the mud would fly at a great rate; or, in crossing a creek which seemed shallow, down he would sink, and my feet would find water, to my discomfort. The highest point which we reach upon the trail is 7,400 feet above the sea; and at this altitude the air is so rarified it is impossible to walk or run at any speed; and until one has become accustomed to it, care should be taken not to exert one’s self, as evil results often follow.


We will pause here to add a general description of the range of mountains up the sides of which for several days we have been climbing. It is known as ‘Sierra Nevada,’ and is limited to California, extending from Mount Shasta in the north to Tejon pass in the south—a length, as estimated, of 550 miles. Beyond Mount Shasta this range, with greatly diminished elevations, stretches away through Oregon and Washington Territory under the name of the ‘Cascade Range,’ while from Tejon pass they become assimilated with the Coast Range geographically., but still, to the geologist, the two ranges retain their respective characteristics. Eighty miles is given as the average width of this mountain range, the western slope of which, by a gradual descent, finds its level on the shores of the Pacific; while the eastern is more abrupt, rising from the great basin up to the lofty peaks, within a space of a few miles. Deep gorges have been ploughed through this range, which are denominated passes.


Inspiration Point.—We now catch glimpses of the huge walls and towering peaks which rise upon the farther side of the Valley; and a mile or so takes us to that famed spot, Inspiration Point. Here we get our first view of a portion of the Valley. Dismounting, we walk out upon the jutting rocks; and then opens to our view the enchanting, awe-inspiring scene. The sun is just sinking behind the granite hills which rise in the west; in front of us, seemingly but a little way off, but really more than a mile, the Bridal Veil throws its white, flowing robes over the face of Po-ho-no, and, falling 630 feet from the top of the rock to the river, breaks into a great cloud of spray. We are far above this fall. On our left rises the huge form of El Capitan, almost perpendicularly, 3,300 feet above the level of the Valley. This rock the Indians called Tu-tock-a-mu-la, which signifies the cry of the crane as it sweeps down into the Valley from the top of this rock. In the distance, where the Valley seems to close up, we see the North and South Dome, the latter of which rises nearly 5,000 feet above the Valley; while away up among the very clouds we see the great peaks called Lyell and King, and Cloud’s Rest, and many more, but which, from this point, appear like one great mountain, up the sides of which you can climb into and above the clouds, up to those shining orbs, the stars. Below us, a small part of the Valley level appears, dotted over with great trees, and through which a river flows, its waters sparkling in the sun.

To attempt to describe the grandeur of this scene would be folly; to tell of the feelings of awe, of humility, of reverence, which are here aroused, is all that can be done. Inspiration Point gives the most enchanting view of the Yo-Semite. While from other points we have a more extended view, from this the landscape is clothed in more beauty. Enraptured by the scene, we all lingered long after our guides told us that darkness would come on before we reached the hotel.


The Valley is about six miles long by from half a mile to a mile and a half in width; its area is nearly level, and its sides rise almost perpendicularly from the surface, the rock being solid granite of the finest grain. It is sunken almost a mile below the general level of the mountain region just around it; and the general direction of this depression is north-east by east, until near its upper end, where it makes a sharp turn, and divides into three cañons, up through which wild gorges we can climb to the higher Sierras beyond.

Prof. Whitney, State geologist of California, calls the Valley ‘a gigantic trough,’ and sums up its characteristics as follows: ‘The principal features of the Yo-Semite, and those by which it is distinguished from all other known valleys, are: first, the near approach to verticality of its walls; second, their great height, not only absolutely, but as compared with the width of the Valley itself; and, finally, the very small amount of talus or débris at the base of these gigantic cliffs. These are the great characteristics of the Yo-Semite, throughout its whole length; but besides these, there are many other striking peculiarities and features, both of sublimity and beauty, which can hardly be surpassed, if equalled, by those of any mountain valleys in the world. Either the domes or the waterfalls of the Yo-Semite, or any single one of them even, would be sufficient in any European country to attract travellers from far and wide in all directions. Waterfalls in the vicinity of the Yo-Semite, surpassing in beauty many of those best known and most visited in Europe, are actually left entirely unnoticed by travellers, because there are so many other objects of interest to be visited that it is impossible to find time for them all.’1

1 Yo-Semite Guide Book, published by order of the Legislature of California; Whitney, State Geologist, pp. 53, 54.

We will start down the trail; and we must make a steep climb of 2,970 feet before reaching the bottom of the Valley. At each step of the way we have new and inspiring views presented to us. A little way down, we have the spot where Bierstadt made his sketches for his great picture; and, a little off the trail, the spot where Hill found the view which to him seemed grandest, and which he has transferred to canvas not only in outline, but in spirit. As we approach nearer El Capitan, we are impressed with its massiveness; and, as it stands out into the Valley, it seems to present a sharp edge of granite, but is really very wide. At points the trail is very steep, and of course some care must be taken to avoid accident; for although guides say there is no danger, still a misstep of your animal would surely cause serious trouble.

On our right is the Bridal Veil Falls, which we now begin to look up to, instead of down upon it, as we did at Inspiration Point. On our left we have a fall called Virgin’s Tear, a little more than 1,000 feet high; but this fall dries up as the season advances. We pass in our journey Cathedral Rock, 2,660 feet high; the Spires, which are distinct granite columns, rising, as their names indicate, some 500 feet, and, as the sun brings out their lines and forms, they are of rare beauty. On the other side are those rocks, rising one over and above the other, called by the Indians Pom-pom-pa-sus, or ‘Leaping Frog Rocks,’ from their resemblance to three frogs, but which are named in the survey ‘The Three Brothers.’ The highest of these rises 3,830 feet. As we approached the Bridal Veil, its beauty increased; and as the wind swayed its mass of foaming spray, losing itself among the tall trees which grow at its base, it seemed like the flowing of a long white veil. There seemed to be a dozen streams running from this fall into the Merced. Leaving the rest of the party, some of us rode up among the trees, and got quite near the base of the fall, at least where the spray came over us like a shower of rain. It was a weird spot just as darkness came on; and the sound of the wind striking the column of water made it all the more awful. The Indians as they came here gave to the fall the name of ‘The Spirit of the Night Wind,’ in their language Po-ho-no.

A mile brought us to the first hotel, Leidig’s; and a little further on we came to Black’s, where we had determined to stay. The roar of the great Yo-Semite Fall was heard; and in the moonlight we could see the spray. To the back of the hotel the great tower-like rock rises, which is called ‘The Sentinel Rock;’ and the house where we are has the name ‘New Sentinel Hotel.’ Too tired to eat, and with minds crowded full of the incidents of the day, we soon retired, to be lulled to sleep by the roar of the ‘Great Grisly Bear,’ as the Indians called the great waterfall just on the opposite side of the valley.

Liberty Cap, Yosemite Valley
[click to enlarge]

Before the sun rose, we were out watching for its first beams in the Valley, and were amply repaid for our early start. In the Valley it was quite dark; but the spires and pinnacles of the surrounding mountains were gilded with the morning rays; and as the sun rose higher, his beams glided over the rocks, and gradually slid down their sides, bringing out in bold relief their forms marked and scarred by time, until at last his full rays burst in glory upon the whole Valley, causing rocks and trees and waterfalls to shine and sparkle in his light. Nothing could be more beautiful; and those who persisted in remaining in bed till the breakfast-bell rang lost one of the most beautiful views of Nature which we enjoyed in the Valley.

In the early morning, or just at sunset, we have the best view of the Yo-Semite Fall. This is probably the greatest attraction in all the Valley, and in height (2,634 feet) surpasses all other known waterfalls in the world with like volume of water. It is formed by a creek of the same name, which heads ten miles away, in Mount Hoffman, and is fed by melting snows. It has its bed in solid granite, and, where it pours over the rock, is from 20 to 40 feet in width, and from two to three feet in depth, with a current of a mile an hour. Where it pours over, the granite is polished so smooth, that it is dangerous to step upon it. The fall is divided into three parts; the first a vertical descent of 1,500 feet, where it strikes upon a shelf, which makes back nearly 2,000 feet from the front of the lower cliff; and, by a series of cascades, it finds its way down (the descent being, in a perpendicular, 626 feet) to the edge of the cliff, where it makes a final plunge upon a pile of débris, and by rivulets is carried into the Merced. The volume of water is too great to be broken by the fall; and the wind has such an effect upon it, that it sways the foaming mass, so that it widens out, before it reaches the shelf, to some 300 feet in breadth, at flood-time. As it tumbles from the cliff, it falls in rocket-like masses, which whirl around in their course. By this motion air is collected, and as the great mass of water and air falls upon the flattened shelf of granite, a sound like the report of a cannon is heard through the Valley. The view of this fall varies very much in different positions; in some it appears like one continuous fall without break; in another the cascades appear between the two perpendicular falls; and from any point, whether near, or across the valley (here more than a mile in width), the sight is amazing, and far more enchanting than Niagara.

We next set out for Mirror Lake. The trail brings us soon to a centre of business—Hutchings’s Hotel, Smith’s Cosmopolitan Saloon, a store, the photographic gallery of Hazeltine, the telegraph office, &c. These structures are somewhat rude. All elaboration is omitted, as the materials of which they are built, and with which they are furnished, were brought over the mountains from Coulterville upon pack-mules. Near Hutchings’s we cross the Merced upon a bridge which ought to span the river; but the water is so high, that, when we get at the end of the bridge, we are only across the main channel, and our animals go leg-deep in the water over a great meadow. Soon the Valley narrows between lofty mountains. On the left we have the Royal Arches, Washington Column, and that great dome-shaped mass of granite rock called the North Dome. At this point the Valley divides into three cañons—Tenaya, through which a branch of the Merced of that name flows; the Nevada, or middle one, through which the main Merced flows; and the right hand, or that to the south-west, the Illilouette, through which the South Fork flows.

A little way up the Tenaya we come to a great mass of broken granite rock, evidently the moraine of a glacier; and, climbing over this, we find that it has dammed up some of the waters of the river; and this they call ‘Mirror Lake.’ At the proper time of the day, the reflexions in the water are undoubtedly fine; but to call it a lake is a misnomer, and the great number of mosquitoes make it a very uncomfortable place. Mirror Lake is a humbug, and does not pay for the time and trouble of getting to it. To our right we have South or Half Dome, which is the loftiest and most imposing rock which belongs to the Yo-Semite. It rises 4,737 feet above the river. It is perfectly inaccessible to man. On the side towards Tenaya Cañon, for more than 2,000 feet down its side, it presents a perpendicular face of smoothly cut granite. This rock and the North Dome consist of concentric layers, a form not uncommon in the Sierra Nevada, where Professor Whitney tells us that the dome-shaped formation is developed upon a grander scale than in any other granite region with which geologists are familiar.

On our way we visited a ranchero of Merced Indians, and had a chance to see the squaws pounding acorns into meal; and some of the men, who deem it a disgrace to work, but are willing to be supported by others.

I will add a story which has credence in the Valley.

A tall, gaunt-looking Yankee, is said to have made his appearance here one day, and offered his services to the proprietor of the mule-trains. Although he had never been in the Valley, he declared that his experience in the mountains would enable him to follow the trail, and his study of the map of the Yo-Semite would make him familiar with the points of interest. Pete—for that is his name—talked so plausibly, that at length a bargain was struck; and he started off with a party. Good judgment took them safely into the Valley, and Pete had a ready answer to all questions. Coming to those three great rocks which I have described as looking like three frogs, some of the party inquired their name. ‘Them are the Missouri Sisters,’ said Pete, with an air of confidence; and ain’t them handsome ones?’ The party reached Hutchings’s all right; and, after tea, Mr. Hutchings, while discoursing upon the beauties of the grand scenery, alluded to ‘Those three huge rocks which lie one upon another, which we call the Three Brothers.’ At this, one of the party suddenly looked up in amazement, and cried, ‘Why, Pete, you told us they were the Missouri Sisters.’ Pete, ever ready, answered, ‘Hang it! no one can keep track of Hutchings’s names, for he changes them every week.’

And these popular names do change, and often have no significance at all. How much better it would have been to have preserved the old Indian names which have been handed down from generation to generation, and each of which had some appropriateness! And even the word ‘Yo-Semite,’ which is retained, is Anglicized; for the Indian pronounces it ‘Yo-ham-e-ta,’ and it signifies the most awful thing to him—a great grizzly bear.


Nevada Cañon.—Vernal and Nevada Falls are among the most pleasing of all the waterfalls. To reach them, we leave the Valley proper at the point where the three cañons begin. Our way lies up the middle one, Nevada Cañon, where flows the main river. The Merced, in coming from the high mountain-plateau down into the Yo-Semite, makes a descent of more than 2,000 feet in two miles; and, besides the roaring cascades, we have the two falls mentioned. We follow up the river, and, after a ride of a mile or more, cross the Illilouette, which is a stream about 20 feet in width, but shallow. Here we go over an immense deposit of huge angular granite blocks, which, undoubtedly, have been torn from the mountains by some great ice-floe. The trail rises very rapidly, and follows the tearing and surging river, which you perceive, from the inclination of its bed, must flow at a fearful rate. We soon arrived at the first fall, which has received the popular name of Vernal, but which the Indians called Pi-wy-ack, or Sparkling Water —a name which has some appropriateness. The height of the fall is 400 feet, as nearly as can be measured; for the great body of water which flows over this squarely-cut ‘step,’ as it were in the cañon, is broken into spray, which rises nearly half as high as the fall. As the sun shines upon this fall, beautiful rainbows are produced. One loves to linger about this spot, climbing up the rocks within the spray which is thrown by the fall on every side. Around the falls, where the moisture covers the rocks, cryptogamous plants thrive; and here a collection of mosses could be made, which would be very valuable.

In a little more than two miles, by a very steep trail, along a sharp ridge, we reach Nevada Fall. This is a grand sight, the volume of water being very large; and by a projecting rock, just at the edge of the lip of the fall, a whirling motion is given to the central volume of water. At the foot, the spray is thrown in all directions, upon and among the great trees which grow near. This fall is 600 feet high; and the river between the falls descends 300 feet.

To our left rises a mass of rock, which stands alone in its grandeur. It is about 2,000 feet high, and has several names, but the one generally adopted is ‘Cap of Liberty.’ Two days before we visited the spot, a large slide took place, which levelled great trees, filled up gorges, and, for many rods around, filled the air with flying stones; and to-day we have everything covered with granite-dust. Those who chanced to be here at the time described the scene as grand, yet producing extreme fear; for the very rock where they were shook under their feet.

While in Nevada cañon, we lunched at the little house kept by Albert Snow and his wife, Yankees from Vermont. Although there were more than 100 at the little inn, Mrs. Snow gave all enough, and won great praise for excellent care of her guests.

Grace Greenwood (Mrs. Lippincott) was here, and many other people from the east; and all seemed to drink in the beauties and sublimity of the scenes about them.


Whoever visits the Yo-Semite Valley should find and become acquainted with John Muir, the scholar and enthusiast, who has seen more of the Valley and adjacent country than any other white man. Visiting the Valley about four years ago, he became so much impressed with its grandeur and sublimity, that he returned home, closed up his business, and then took up his permanent residence here; and for three years, now, he has ‘been reading this great book of nature,’ as he says. Our evenings we spent in his little cabin; and one night the clock struck three in the morning before we ended what to me was a most instructive discussion, upon the different theories which have been advanced to account for the formation of the Yo-Semite.

The theory advanced by Whitney never did satisfy me; and the more I observed, the more doubts arose; and from Mr. Muir facts enough were obtained to lead me to believe with Agassiz, that all such deep-ploughed gorges have been made by immense ice-floes. It seems strange that so few of our scientific men have visited the Valley, and made a thorough examination; for, so far, only superficial glances have been made, and crude theories are the result. This Valley is upon so much grander a scale than any other yet found, that geologists have shrunk from advancing a theory grand enough to explain it. Until we can describe an ice-floe broader and deeper by a thousand times than any now known, and shall find its terminal moraine in the great valleys of the Sacramento and San Joaquin, we shall fail to discern in the Yo-Semite, one of Nature’s grandest works.

Another person who must be seen is Mr. John Lamon, who was the first white man to take up a permanent residence in the Valley. He came into it and selected a few acres as early as 1860; and, for a number of years, he has staid during the winter in the Yo-Semite. He has set out and cultivated a fine orchard of apple-trees, has a strawberry-patch, and raises some vegetables.

Mr. J. M. Hutchings has lived in the Valley since 1858; during the summer he keeps his hotel, and seems bound to make money. As is well known, Congress ceded this Valley, and the territory back from the line of the rocks (one mile all around), to the State of California, to be for ever preserved as a park. Commissioners were appointed, who began their work of making a plan of the valley-level and hills around, and issuing instructions to those who had already settled, or proposed to settle in the Yo-Semite; but nothing has ever been done, as through the efforts, principally of Mr. Hutchings, all their plans have been thwarted; and he is continually urging the legislature and Congress to recognise his private claims, and give him in fee 160 acres of that which is manifestly intended for a nation’s park. Remissness on the part of some one exists; for there should be a good carriage-road, at least, into the Valley; good hotel accommodation should be had, and the prices to be paid should be regulated. The State should take the matter in hand, that many of the inconveniences which now attend a journey to the Valley may be removed.1

1By the efforts of the Union and Central Pacific Railroad Companies, a carriage-road has been made into the Valley on the Mariposa side, and which, as we go to press, is opened for use.

There is a new trail opened this year up to Glacier Point, from which position a more extended view is obtained of the Valley than from any spot now accessible with any reasonable exertion. Year by year new paths will be made; and it is impossible to go upon any trail, or upon any of the mountains, without finding new views, and each with its own elements of beauty.

We were disappointed in not being able to reach Cloud’s Rest and the higher Sierras, but the snows prevented us and those who had attempted the ascents were of opinion that another week would pass before the snows would be packed hard enough to allow a passage over the crusts. It must be borne in mind that, as the summer’s sun rises over these mountains, the snow becomes an icy mass so firmly packed that it will sustain the weight of a mule and its rider. In this way, during late July and August, they go over beds of snow from 10 to 20 feet in depth, and often even deeper, in both the Sierra Nevadas and the Rocky Mountains.

During our stay in the Valley, we were every hour filled with a sense of the grandeur of the scenery; and we could only regret when at last the morning came for our departure; and we promised ourselves that, should life and health permit, we would again visit this enchanting spot, and satiate ourselves with its glories.


Flora of Yo-Semite.—The most pleasing flower was the great masses of what we call swamp-cheese (Azalia occidentalis), whose blossoms were both superb and deliciously fragrant. On the banks of the river we find Hellenium grandiflorum, whose flowers are yellow, and very showy. In a little pond, yellow pond-lilies are seen, and ferns in great variety, and, in the swampy meadows, some very peculiar and rare sedges, or coarse grasses. The principal trees are alder (Alnus viridis), Douglas spruce (Abies Douglasii), Balm of Gilead poplar (Populus balsamifera), yellow pine (Pinus ponderosa), the cedar (Libocedrus decurrens). Among the shrubs are the Cornus Nuttallii, Rubus Nutkanus, the manzanita (Arctostaphylos glauca), the wild rose (Rosa blanda). In sandy places we have several varieties of pentestemon, the Fraugula Californica, the brake (Pteris aquilina), the Spraguea umbellata, together with many smaller and less characteristic flowers and shrubs, covering the ground in patches.


To get out of the Valley as we had proposed, we had to cross the river in a flat-bottomed boat, called ‘The Ferry,’ and pass directly around the face of old El Capitan. By a very sharp grade we make our way to the top of the hill; the trail being about four miles and a half from Black’s to the foot of the hill, and two miles and a half to the top, and the ascent equivalent to a vertical rise of more than 3,000 feet. At a sharp turn in the path we meet a party coming down into the Valley. Here is a case for a compromise, for one of the parties has to turn back. After some parleying, it is left for the guides to decide; and all, save a woman or two, acquiesce. To add further to our difficulties, a little further on we meet a drove of four wild cattle, being driven into the Valley; and here is danger, which is averted by the quick movements of the Mexican lad who is driving them. Spurring his horse out of the trail, he gets in ahead of the cattle, and drives them on the rocks above us, allowing us all to pass in safety. At length the top of the hill is reached, and we are at the house well known as Gentry’s Station. But they have christened a new addition ‘Altamont Hotel,’ which will do for tourists and strangers; but it will always be called Gentry’s by the old ranchers and hunters of the region, as well as by the drivers who bring their stages to this point.

This is the end of the carriage-road on this side of the mountain, whether you come by way of Coulterville or Big Oak Flat. After a good dinner, we were off upon our return trip.


Seven miles brought us to Crane Flat. The village consists of a large barn, two frame houses, and a saloon; the latter being the popular resort of travellers. As our team was tired out by their drive the day before, we were obliged to stay over night; and Mrs. Ann Gobin, who keeps the inn while her husband looks after his 15,000 sheep, took good care of us with the accommodations which she had. Enough to eat there was; but, as the buildings have few partitions, there was some difficulty in arranging beds for a large company.

We were told that the South Tuolumne Grove of Big Trees was within three miles from this place, and we resolved to see them. Arranging with Master Gobin to conduct us in the morning, we retired early; for breakfast was announced to be ready at six, and the stage to be off at seven. An uncommonly early start; and we were soon among the tall sugar-pines, which, in the gray light of morning, seemed like sentinels keeping watch of the surrounding hills. To add to the interest of our walk, just as we entered the forest where the Sequoia were, our guide sang out, ‘Keep this way for there’s a grizzly’s hole;’ and, not caring to encounter one of these fellows, we did ‘keep this way’ in good earnest. The trees stand upon the northerly slope of the hill, in a sheltered position; and, although not so large as those at Mariposa, still there are some specimens which, for beauty of form, are unsurpassed by any others. There is a stump left of a partly-burned tree, which must have been 23 feet in diameter.

The trees are scattered, but the grove is worthy of a more extended examination than we could give it. We made our way out to the carriage-road which has recently been completed through this section, which we followed back to the house, where we arrived rather late for breakfast, and only in time for the stage which was to take us on to Merced.


Our road hence is a narrow way, built around the sides of the hills, and, by a steep grade, takes us down to the San Joaquin Valley. Our continual fear is that we may meet a carriage coming in the opposite direction, and, as a rule, our fears become facts. A few miles on, in seemingly the worst place, we met an up-stage. ‘What will they do?’ cried the ladies; and the men, unused to such incidents, looked troubled. A few words between the drivers seemed to put things to rights; for the driver of the up-stage began to unhitch his horses, accomplishing which, he drove the horses by our stage, and gave them in charge of one of the passengers; then he made the people in his wagon get out, and pass on; then they drew the carriage along with two of the wheels down the bank, and a half-dozen of us holding it up to prevent it tumbling down into the valley several hundred feet. In this position, our stage passed slowly by; the up-stage was drawn up again upon the road, the horses attached, the people seated, and went on. Along all the mountain-paths here and there is seen the wreck of a stage or some vehicle, sometimes many hundred feet below in the valley, sometimes overturned by the roadside; and very frequently is seen a carcass of a horse or mule, which, falling by the way, has been killed, its whitening skeleton telling of the toilsome journeys.


About noon we reached Pechart’s Ranch, upon which is Bower Cave. This cave is in a limestone formation. The rock, having been worn away by subterranean streams until it was too slight to hold up the super-incumbent mass, has fallen in, carrying with it the trees and earth, so that now, in the bottom of this great hole, are four large trees which fell with the earth. Some little crevices in the rock can be explored; a little pool of very transparent water is there, upon which a little boat floats; and this is the ‘Cave.’ Lady Franklin visited it in 1862, and we in 1872; but, notwithstanding this, I cannot recommend anyone to make much exertion or delay to visit Bower Cave.

At about six o’clock we reached Coulterville, distant from Crane Flat thirty-three miles. This place was named after a man who was an early miner, amassed a great fortune, which he spent in gambling, and at last died poor. It is a dead place, and decay and stagnation are seen on every side. It lies on the great quartz vein of the State; and some fine stamp-mills have been erected in the vicinity, but to-day they are all still. We are at an elevation of 1,800 feet, and on the middle ground between foot-hills and mountains. We visited in the evening Mr. Adolph Sinning, who in 1850 left Germany, and came to the Mariposa country. Unsuccessful as a miner, he again turned his attention to his trade as a worker in nice woods; and, in his little shop and house (for he lives entirely alone), we saw some of the finest work in wood which we ever found. Specimens of his handiwork have been sent over Europe and this country. He remains here to be near to the trees which give him his finest woods, which he fashions into exquisite forms of boxes, tables, canes, &c.


To insure our reaching Merced in time for the train in the afternoon, it was arranged to start by 5 a.m. We had a meagre breakfast; and, from our experience at Coulterville, I would advise everyone to arrange not to remain here over night until a better house is opened, for the treatment which guests receive is a general complaint. The early start got us well on our way before the sun was high enough to trouble us with heat; but the latter part of our way was hot, dusty, and tedious. We came out of the foot-hills a few miles south of the point where we entered them.

About one o’clock we drove into the lively village of Snelling, the seat of Merced County, situated on the Merced River, which is here a beautiful stream, and would furnish good water-power if there was any demand for it. We found the Galt House a good place to get a dinner. A few miles out, crossed the river upon a ferry. It was such a ferry as is seldom seen in America, and is called a ‘tidal ferry.’ A stout cable is stretched across the river; and the boat, by means of ropes and hawsers, is held to the cable, attached by a tackle-block in which is a large pulley which rolls along the cable. The boat is pushed into the stream, headed just right, the hawsers secured; and the current pushing down the boat which is held, carries it swiftly towards the opposite bank. The apparatus was crude; the boat was managed by two men, one a Chinaman. As the boatman was not at his post when we drove up, but in his house, a long distance away from the river, it took a deal of noise from our driver to rouse the fellow up, who, when he came, complained of being taken from his dinner. This delay nearly lost us our train at Merced.

By urging our horses, and especially the driver, by the promise of an allowance over regular wages, we were enabled to reach the city of Merced just as the train was starting; and without delay we changed our coach for the cars, and were soon on our way towards the main line from Sacramento to San Francisco, which this road (the Visalia Division) leaves at Lathrop.

As we again looked over the vast San Joaquin plain, so level, and so different in character from the country in which, for two weeks, we had lived, we could not but exclaim—

Level leagues forsaken lie—
A grassy waste extending to the sky.

A few weeks ago, the land was covered with ripened wheat, from which now the heads had been cut, leaving the straw standing on either side as far as the eye could reach.


Wheat Farming in the San Joaquin Valley.—The soil of the San Joaquin Valley looks like sand, and is, in fact, a pulverized and decomposed granite, ground into dust by the ice-floe which made the Yo-Semite. The custom is to begin to plough as soon as the autumn rains begin. Gang-ploughs having seven blades are used, and immediately behind them follow the seeders, also drawn by horses, which drop the seed, cover, and roll, at the same time. Nothing more is done to the field till the grain is ready for the harvest. They plough and plant almost to the ripening of the first sowing; and this plan, year after year, is followed. When the grain is ripe, they run a header through the field. This is a great cutting-machine, which simply clips off the heads of the grain. The horses push it along, instead of dragging it; the grain is carried upon an apron into the wagon, which follows alongside of the header; the heads are carried to convenient piles, where a steam-engine is driving a threshing machine, which leaves the grain perfectly clean and ready to be put at once into bags and sent to market. Here no rains interfere with the harvest. The straw is all burned off; and, by the time the ground is cleared, the rains begin (early in October), and the ploughs are started.

Mr. John Mitchell, the largest farmer in California, owns between 50,000 and 60,000 acres in this valley, and, this year, had above 30,000 acres in wheat alone. His ranch is divided into sections of different sizes; and upon each he has houses and barns, and a rancher, to whom he furnishes seed, and takes one-half the crop. Of these sections, or small ranchos, he has about 100, and spends his time in riding in his buggy, drawn by a team of fine bays, from house to house, and directing the work on his vast domain. His income from his lands this year will be not less than $250,000 or 50,000l.

The average yield of wheat in this valley will be but little more than ten bushels per acre; although those ranchos which were well ploughed and seeded will yield twenty bushels per acre, and in a few instances more. The price of wheat, at the time of which I speak, was two cents per pound at the ranch.

Our excursion to the Yo-Semite region terminates in our approach by way of Merced to Stockton. The pleasant party of tourists who have casually come together prepare to separate for their various destinations, and manifold regrets are expressed. Long shall I remember the trip, and my desire is now far greater than before to go and spend a summer among the wonders of the Yo-Semite.

It would be a pleasing task to describe the beautiful flowers which are seen in this journey. In going to such an elevation, all the seasons are found. In the San Joaquin Valley, it was autumn; the plants had blossomed, produced their seed, and were at rest. Up the mountains a short distance, it was midsummer, and the earth was covered with bright flowers. At an elevation of, say, 5,000 feet, it was early spring; the plants were just pushing out of the ground; and, at 7,000 feet, it was winter, the snow still covering the earth. All these gradations in plant-life are seen in a ride of, say, two days. The flowers of the mountains of California are very brilliant in colour, the yellow prevailing to a great extent, seemingly, as Grace Greenwood prettily said, ‘to let us know that yellow gold is under them.’


Stockton.—We re-enter the San Joaquin Valley, and shortly find ourselves at this ‘city of windmills.’ It is a port of entry; has a line of steamers to San Francisco, which come up the San Joaquin River and into the slough (always pronounced here s-l-u), upon which the city is situated. Among steamboat men this place is always called ‘Slu-city.’ Imagine a kind of channel making up from the main river, with a dozen sloughs emptying their (usually stagnant) waters into it, with long wooden bridges (often only for foot-passengers) over them in all directions, with buildings erected upon the ridges of dry land between these sloughs, with a short line of wharf along the main channel, a place which seems to be all under water, with stagnant pools breeding miasma, a few good buildings, but mostly poor old structures, and upon each a fantastic windmill, and you have the city of Stockton. It contains about 10,000 people; is the outlet of the great San Joaquin Valley, but has been greatly injured by the railroad, which goes by, instead of through, the city, as it ought to have done. Once its trade was large; but now it has dwindled away, and the city seems ‘under a cloud,’ as well as under water. It is so badly situated, so injured by the railroads, and so unhealthy in summer, that I cannot see any good reasons to anticipate a large future growth. It is too near Sacramento, the State capital, and has not in itself any elements which will command prosperity. As a winter residence, Stockton is peculiarly favourable to invalids who are injuriously affected by sea air, even although always mild. The climate is singularly like that of Naples, with few extremes, and is especially dry. Its accessibility, its good hotels, and good society, commend it as a winter home to those seeking a mild climate.

At the western extremity of the city begin the tule-lands, which stretch away to the West to the very horizon. These are formed by the overflow of the great rivers called San Joaquin and Sacramento, and consist of soft, porous soil, thoroughly saturated with water. There are bayous which make far into these lands, many of them quite deep, but all of which have the title ‘slu.’ Covering the country for miles, and growing in the porous soil, is the rush called tule (tui-lă), which attains a height of from 5 to 8 feet. In August, when the river has become low, and has drained these vast areas, and the plants have become somewhat dry, the steamboat-hands have a custom of firing them along the banks of the river; producing fires rivalling those of the Western prairies. Experiments are being tried for reclaiming these lands, under the patronage of the State. An immense dike is made around a number of acres, keeping out the water; and one season dries the soil sufficiently to allow of its being ploughed, and in the next season it is fit for planting. I was told that satisfactory crops of wheat had been raised; but the farms seem better adapted for raising vegetables for the San Francisco market. The work is done by Chinamen; and I know of no other class of labourers who could be found to go into such a country, and survive the dangers of disease to which they are exposed; but they seem to be destined to be the power which shall reclaim these vast acres, and fit them for cultivation.

We lingered on the tule-lands one day until the sun went down, and beheld the most gorgeous sunset we ever looked upon. Talk of the Italian sunsets! of those in New England in the Indian summer-time!— they cannot be compared with those which are seen upon the banks of these rivers. The moisture which rises from the lands offers its innumerable particles as so many reflectors, all increasing the brilliancy of the scene. As the sun sank in this sea of mist, his parting beams were shot far up towards the zenith, seemingly striving to catch the rising beams which the morning brings from the east.

During our stay we visited the Insane Asylum, where were collected a larger number of patients than in any similar institution in the world. On the day of our visit there were more than 1,300 at the institution. By the politeness of Dr. Titus, physician in charge, we were enabled to make an extended examination of the asylum; and, in company with Dr. Langdon, we visited all the various wards, and beheld insanity in all its forms of development.

The great excitement under which the people live— especially those who gamble in stocks—produces terrible wrecks of the nervous system. That there is a climatic tendency to over-excitement, and consequent waste of nerve-power, is very evident. The physicians give the causes which lead to insanity in the State, as—1st, Dissipation; 2nd, Business losses; 3rd, Homesickness; and all aggravated by the climate, and, of course, developing more readily in persons with an hereditary tendency towards the disease than in others. The institution is greatly overcrowded, and it is a very serious question how the insane poor are to be cared for in the State. When it is considered how great is the floating population, it can be understood how great is the responsibility resting upon California to take adequate care of this class of unfortunates. Having visited all the wards in both the male and female asylums, and all the departments of administration, I must bear witness to the general order, neatness, and attention to the comfort of the patients, shown throughout; and this, too, when the buildings are so overcrowded, that cots are nightly placed in the halls, transforming them into dormitories. As we went from ward to ward entirely unannounced, and when not expected, if, on the part of the various attendants, there had been any serious neglect in their duties, I should have discovered it without doubt; but I must say that I saw little of which to complain, save what was too evident—that there were more patients than could be properly and conveniently cared for.


A steamer leaves Stockton daily for San Francisco; and I resolved to enjoy a sail down the San Joaquin on our return to the ‘Golden Gate.’ For six miles we go down the slough, which is narrow, and, at low water, unnavigable; and then, by a turn so sharp that the stern of the steamer goes ‘high and dry’ upon the mud bank, we shoot out into a wider stream, the main river; and by the most crooked of all crooked streams—often so narrow that you could step from the steamer upon the banks, then so shallow that the keel would drag in the mud— we make our way through the great ‘grass’ fields; for seemingly the vessels which we see all around us, the river being crooked, and the sloughs so numerous, were sailing through the grass. The steamers are propelled by double horizontal engines, driving side-wheels; for often it would be an impossibility to turn, unless they could work one wheel, while the other acted as pivot.

We made several stops at places where the work of reclaiming these lands was being carried on. At sundown we came out into Suisun Bay, into which flow the two great rivers Sacramento and San Joaquin, which, for several miles back, are separated only by a narrow strip of land so low that you see plainly from one river the sloops and steamers in the other. We make a landing here, and take in coals from the lately discovered deposits of Monte Diablo. From Suisun Bay our course lies down through San Pablo Bay to San Francisco, and soon I am again comfortably quartered at the Lick House.


Advice.—I commend to visitors to the Yo-Semite these rules, based upon my experience, in travelling among the mountains:—Dress warmly, but in clothes which you are not afraid to have soiled. A woollen shirt is desirable; and wear English walking-shoes, rather than boots. Over your shoulders, and tied quite tightly about your neck, wear a white silk handkerchief; for, although the air is cool, the rays of the sun at high altitudes often produce very injurious effects. Avoid drinking much snow-water, and allay thirst with a bit of biscuit until a spring is found. Do not descend from a high altitude to a low one suddenly, as congestion of the lungs is the effect. Always choose a mule instead of a horse, as they are surer footed. Above all, never complain because you do not have city comforts, but be contented wherever you may be, assured that nothing is had without some work and hardships. And by all means let me urge you to map out well your journey before starting; understand where you are going, and what ought to be seen; arrange for your whole trip, with reference to cost of conveyances, guides, horses, mules, tolls, and all charges as far as can be, and thus you will be saved many inconveniences and annoyances. Many were the disappointments which I saw occasioned by not considering the journey before it was undertaken.

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