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In the Heart of the Sierras by James M. Hutchings (1888)




Yo Semite Valley, Cal. General View from Artist Point, and Wawona Road.
Photo by Geo. Fiske.Photo-Typo by Britton & Rey, S. F.
Yo Semite Valley, Cal.
General View from Artist Point, and Wawona Road.

Like thoughts whose very sweetness yieldeth proof
That they were born for immortality.
—Wordsworth’s Sonnet.

To him who in the love of nature holds
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
A various language.
—Bryant’s Thanatopsis.

The roaring cataract, the snow topt hill,
Inspiring awe, till breath itself stands still.
—Bloomfield’s Farmer’s Boy.

Voiced impressions of Horace Greeley, Rev. Thomas Starr King, Prof. J. D. Whitney, Samuel B. Bowles, John S. Hittell, Prof. O. S. Fowler, Hon. Robt. Marsham, Prof. Wm. H. Brewer, James Vick, Rev. W. P. Abbott, Benjamin F. Taylor, James A. Garfield (President of the U. S.), Mrs. C. A. Chamberlain, Hon. Thomas Scott, Hon. Therese Yelverton, Helen Hunt Jackson, His Grace the Duke of Sutherland, Albert D. Richardson, Sidney Andrews, Mrs. Jean Bruce Washburn, Charles L. Brace, Mary E. Blake, and others. It is with reluctance and sincere regret that the recorded sentiments of many other distinguished visitors to Yo Semite are necessarily omitted from this representative galaxy.

Of the grandest sights I have enjoyed—Rome from the dome of St. Peter’s, the Alps from the valley of Lake Como, Mount Blanc and her glaciers from Chamouni, Niagara, and the Yo Semite,—I judge the last named the most unique and stupendous. It is a partially wooded gorge, 100 to 300 rods wide, and 3,000 to 4,000 feet deep, between almost perpendicular walls of gray granite, and here and there a dark yellow pine, rooted in a crevice of either wall, and clinging with desperate tenacity to its dizzy elevation. The isolation of the Yo Semite, the absolute wilderness of its sylvan solitudes, many miles from human settlement or cultivation, its cascade 2,000 feet high, though the stream which makes this leap has worn a channel in the hard bed-rock to a depth of 1,000 feet, renders it the grandest marvel that ever met my gaze.—Horace Greeley, N. Y Independent of March, 1860.

Nowhere among the Alps, in no pass of the Andes, and in no cañon of the mighty Oregon Range, is there such stupendous rock scenery as the traveler here lifts his eyes to. Rev. Thomas Starr King, San Francisco.

The peculiar features of the Yosemite are: First, the near approach to verticality of its walls; next, their great height, not only absolutely, but as compared to the width of the valley itself; and finally, the very small amount of debris or talus, at the bottom of these gigantic cliffs. These are the great characteristics of the valley 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 equaled, by those of any other mountain scenery in the world.Prof. J. D. Whitney, State Geologist of California.

The overpowering sense of the sublime, of awful desolation, of transcendent marvelousness and unexpectedness, that swept over us, as we reined our horses sharply out of green forests, and stood upon a high jutting rock that over-looked this rolling, upheaving sea of granite mountains, holding, far down in its rough lap, the vale of meadow and grove and liver—such a tide of feeling, such stoppage of ordinary emotions, comes at rare intervals in any life. It was the confrontal of God face to face, as in great danger, or sudden death. It was Niagara magnified. All that was mortal shrank back; all that was immortal swept to the front, and bowed down in awe.—Samuel D. Bowles, Springfield Republican.

Yo Semite is the crowding of a multitude of romantic, peculiar, and grand scenes within a very small space. —John S. Hittell’s Guide Book.

The longer we look the greater the scenes appear.—Prof. O. S. Fowler, Boston, Mass.

I wish to keep the view in my mind forever.—J. A. Brillinger, Ewingsville, Pa.

I was never so near Heaven in my life.—H. Windel, San Francisco.

I have spent seventeen days in Yo Semite, and I never left a place with so much regret in my life. I have several times visited all the noted places of Europe, and many that are out of the regular tourist’s round; I have crossed the Andes in three different places, and been conducted to the sights deemed most remarkable: I have been among the charming scenery of the Sandwich Islands, the Himalayas of India, and the mountain districts of Australia, but never have I seen so much of sublime grandeur, relieved by so much beauty, as that I have witnessed in Yo Semite.—Hon. Robt. Marsham, Maidstone, Kent, England.

As a member of the State Geological Survey I have visited the Yosemite Valley four times—June, 1863, August, 1864, September, 1864, and April, 1875—and the valley seems grander on this fourth visit than it did on the first.—Prof. Wm. H. Brewer, Yale College, New Haven, Conn.

The road to Yo Semite, like the way of life, is narrow and difficult, but the end, like the end of a well-spent life, is glorious beyond the highest anticipation.—James Vick, Rochester, N. Y

Here speaks the voice of God, and here his power is seen. Let man be dumb.—Rev. W. P. Abbott, New York City.

Yo Semite awaited us without warning, met us without coming. Spectral white in the glancing of the sun, the first thought was that the granite ledges of all the mountains had come to resurrection, and were standing pale and dumb before the Lord. I turned to it again, and began to see the towers, the domes, the spires, the battlements, the arches, and the white clouds of solid granite, surging up into the air and come to everlasting anchor till “the mountains shall be moved.” You hasten on; you hear the winds intoning in the choral galleries a mile above your head; you hear the crash of waters as of cataracts in the sky; you trample upon broad shadows that have fallen thousands of feet down, like the cast-off garments of descending Night.—Benj. F. Taylor’s Between the Gates.

This is the crowning glory of all views on this continent.—Chas. Caspar, Meridian, Conn.

If my business interests lay upon this coast, I would build a railroad to this truly marvelous valley, within one year from this date.—Hon. Thomas Scott, Pennsylvania Central R. R.

I have spent the four happiest months of my life in this glorious valley.Hon. Therese Yelverton (Lady Avonmore).

An indescribable delight took possession of me; the silence seemed more than silence; it seemed to quiver without sound, just as the warm air shimmered without stir, all along the outlines of the rocky walls. On my left hand rose the granite watch-tower Loya (Sentinel Rock) on my right the colossal buttress Tu-tock-ah-nu-la (El Capitan). The Cathedral Spires, the Three Brothers, all were in full sight. Wherever I stood, the mountain walls seemed to shut close around me in a circle. I said to myself, again and again: “Only between 3,000 and 4,000 feet high!” But the figures had lost their meaning. All sense of estimated distance was swallowed up, obliterated, by the feeling of what seemed to be immeasurable height.—H. H.’s Bits of Travel.

One might stay here for months and see new beauties every day.—Mrs. A. W. Gillette, Grass Lake, Mich.

No one can study this valley and its surroundings without being broader-minded thereafter.—James A. Garfield, President of the United States.

I linger’d till a shaft of fire
Shot o’er the mountains—spire by spire,
Burned in the swift and broadening flame
That onward swelled, till it became
A wide and mellow amber flood,
That poured o’er mountain, stream, and wood,
And lit the blue, deep dome above
With Deity’s warm smile of love;
How fair that place—how radiant all
The scene beneath that mountain wall!

Then suddenly awoke to me
The pine wood’s varied melody;—
The murmurous music of the river,
The aspen’s low, light, dreamy quiver,
The jay-bird’s quick, discordant cry,
The robin’s tender minstrelsy
I heard—and full, and deep, and strong—
(Would I could ever keep that song!)
The pean of the water-fall
Came to me ’neath that mountain wall.

And flowers were there—the old dear flowers—
The first I loved in childhood’s hours;
There glowed the wildling rose, that grew
Beside my home when life was new;—
0 golden heart—0 lips so red,
Naught from thy precious smile had fled
Through the long years;—thy odorous breath
Yet told of love that knows no death!
0 life, thy stern, thy gentle call
Came to me, ’neath that mountain wall!

—Mrs. C. A. Chamberlain, Sacramento.

Real estate is very high hereabouts! —Derrick Dodd, S. F Evening Post.

This spoils one for any other scenery upon earth.—His Grace, The Duke of Sutherland, England.

Nature has here lifted her curtain to reveal the vast and the infinite. It elicited no adjectives, no exclamations. With a bewildering sense of divine power and human littleness, I could only gaze in silence till the view strained my brain and pained my eyes, compelling me to turn away and rest from its oppressive magnitude.—Albert D. Richardson’s Beyond the Mississippi.

Speech may be silver, but in this marvelous vale, where grandeur and majesty have met, “Silence is golden."—E. Edmonston, Santa Barbara, Cal.

Suddenly, as I rode along, I heard a shout. I knew the valley had revealed itself to those who were at the front of the line. I turned my head away. I couldn’t look until I had tied my horse. Then I walked down to the ledge and crawled out upon the over hanging rocks. I believe some men walk out there—it’s a dull sort of soul who can do that. In all my life, let it lead me where it may, I think I shall see nothing else so grand, so awful, so sublime, so beautiful—beautiful with a beauty not of this earth—as that vision of the Valley. How long I sat there I shall never know. I brought the picture away with me; I have only to shut my eyes, and I see it as I saw it in that hour of hours. I think I shall see nothing else so sublime and beautiful, till, happily, I stand within the gates of the Heavenly City.—Sidney Andrews’ Letter to the Boston Advertiser.

I may as well try to measure a rainbow with a two-foot rule as to take this in.—Wm. Darrack, New York City.

My soul bowed down in wondering, humble awe,
When first thy peaks and water-falls I saw;
And every hour but shows how vain ‘twould be
For my frail mind to hope to picture thee.
Thy spell shall live when those who view thee now,
Have passed with ages ’neath thy mighty brow,
And like thy mists, in gorgeous gleamings curled,
Our names have melted from this changing world.
—Mrs. Jean Bruce Washburn, San Francisco.

From the hotel there are excursions enough to occupy one for weeks among the beautiful scenes of the valley. One of the most enjoyable features of these excursions is simply riding up and down it, getting the new aspects which open freshly every half mile, and are different every hour of the day. The wonderful thing about the cañon, and which will hereafter draw many an invalid here from distant lands, is its divine atmosphere. To me, just recovering from a tedious fever, it seemed the very elixir of life—cool, clear, stimulating, and filled with light and glory from the sun of the south, which here never seems in summer to have a cloud. The nights are cool, but midday would be too warm were it not for the delicious sea-breeze which every day at eleven blows in from the Golden Gate, 150 miles away. The gorge is fortunately east and west, just opposite San Francisco, and about midway between the two flanks of the Sierras—here some seventy miles in width. Were it a north and south valley, even at its altitude (4,000 feet above sea level), it would be almost intolerable. Now, nothing can surpass its mild, invigorating climate, and harmonious atmosphere. The charm of the wonderful valley is its cheerfulness and joy. Even the awe-inspiring grandeur and majesty of its features does not overwhelm the sense of its exquisite beauty, its wonderful delicacy, and color, and life, and joy.

As I recall those rides in the fresh morning, or the dreamy noon, that scene of unequaled grandeur and beauty is forever stamped on my memory, to remain when all other scenes of earth have passed from remembrance—the pearly gray and purple precipices, awful in mass, far above one, with deep shadows on their rugged surfaces, dark lines of gigantic archways or fantastic images drawn clearly upon them, the bright white water dashing over the distant gray tops seen against the dark blue of the unfathomable sky, the heavy shadows over the valley from the Mighty peaks, the winding stream and peaceful green sward with gay wild flowers below, the snowy summits of the Sierras far away, the atmosphere of glory illuminating all, and the eternal voice of many waters wherever you walk or rest! This is the Yo Semite in memory.—Charles L. Brace’s The New West.

Dropped at our very feet, and clothed in such fair proportions Of majesty and beauty as made it more a spiritual joy than an earthly loveliness. The valley rested, silent and set apart, as if human eyes for the first time beheld it, wrapped in a veil of soft, Purple mist, that made it seem, in spite of its nearness, like a vision that would fade while we gazed. In front, El Capitan, erect and fearless, as became the warden of the magic world beyond, lifting its bare white front 3,300 feet in one superb perpendicular line from base to summit; opposite, the soft-falling, swaying foam of the falls bounding nearly 1,000 feet through the air before it struck the broken rocks below; beyond, the rounding curves of the Three Graces, the sweeping line of the South Dome, and far away the veiled summit of Cloud’s Rest, piled with soft, gray shadows. A broken line of shining water came like a silver thread, showing here and there in the depths of the lovely valley, and broadened into a small mirrored lake almost at our feet below. It was beyond conception and utterance. The sense of solitude, of peace, and of an inspiration which sprang from both was so profound as to be oppressive. Even the most frivolous spirits among us were struck with sudden calm, as if they stood at the portals of some divine mystery, and it was with a feeling almost of relief that we turned away at last, and went down the slope of the dizzy mountain to enter in at the gates below.—Mary E. Blake’s On the Wing.

The only spot that I have ever found that came up to the brag.—Ralph Waldo Emerson.

After such strikingly graphic, word-clothed impressions and confessions as those above presented, a more detailed descriptive picture of this marvelous locality, and its matchless surroundings, would seem to be suggestive of an attempt to compass the impossible. Even a residence within its sublime environments of nearly a quarter of a century, in winter as well as in summer, while making me lovingly familiar with its many aesthetic charms, and amazing natural phenomena, only convinces that approximate justice in delineation is simply unattainable. One may tell of its vertical or tree-studded walls, and their relative heights; of the hoary-headed and dome-crowned summits around it; of its lofty and picturesque waterfalls, feathered, it may be, with vapory rockets; of its deep and bowlder-strewn tributary cañons; of its defiant and cloud-draped crags and peaks; of its beautiful and tree-margined river; of its flower-carpeted and shrub-framed meadows; or press into valuable service the figures and comparisons of experienced scientists, and determine the diameter, and angle, and altitude of every cliff, or rock, and forest tree; but these are only facts. And one may explain the interesting incidents of its discovery; the geological theories of its formation; its many explicit lessons in botanical science; the habits, customs, life and legends of its Indians; and present the many characteristic phases of tourist experiences; but these, with hundreds of other kindred themes, are, after all, nothing but hard and unfeeling facts; whereas Yo Semite, to the poet, is the grandest of lyrics; to the artist, Nature’s ever-captivating picture gallery; to the preacher, the most suggestively eloquent of sermons; and to the worshiper, the sublimest of temples—where God is always within. Who, then, can enter into the holy of holies of all of these? He who might attempt it should not be unmindful of the divine command to Moses: “Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.”

Then who may fully apprehend the law by which the many voiced choral symphonies of the wind-swept trees, or leaping water-falls, or bounding cataracts, or “babbling brooks,” may be set to music? Or conceive how the blessed sunlight, as it plays hide and seek among the shadows, or maps surrounding forms upon our path, or gilds the mossy trunks of stately trees, can be painted? And supposing it more than possible that the height, and depth, and breadth of the many time-cut furrows upon and in the grand old face of one of these mountain walls were accurately determined, could the exact shade of purple. or gray, or golden, or roseate haze, that is ever sleeping among its wrinkles, or burnishing up its ridges, be faithfully portrayed? No, Mr. Gradgrind, you are, at best, compelled to “stick to facts,” and leave individual apprehension, good taste, and imagination to supply the rest. To present such facts concerning Yo Semite, and other sublime fastnesses of the High Sierra, as it is hoped will be welcome to the reader, will be the devoted purpose of each subsequent chapter of this book.

Next: Chapter 2IndexPrevious: Illustrations

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