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



Who doth not feel, until his failing sight
Faints into dimness with its own delight,
His changing cheek, his sinking heart confess
The might, the majesty of loveliness?
Byron’s Bride of Abydos, Canto I.
How massively doth awful Nature pile
The living rock.
Thomas Doubleday’s Literary Souvenir.
All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
Whose body Nature is, and God the soul.
Pope’s Essay on Man.

Once within the encompassing walls of the glorious Valley, and the broad shadows of its mighty cliffs are thrown over us like some mystic mantle, fatigued as we may be, every jutting mountain, every pointed crag, every leaping water-fall, has a weird yet captivating charm, that makes us feel as though we were entering some fictitious dreamland. Even the rainbow hues, which are playfully toying with the mists and sprays and beautiful rocket-like forms of the Pohono, or Bridal Veil Fall; or the manifold pearly lights and shades that are intermixing and commingling on that marvelous promontory of vertical granite, known as El Capitan, distributed broadcast as they are, only enhance the delusion. There comes a feeling over us akin to sympathy in the thought-painted picture of Mr. Greeley, when entering the Valley on the eventful first moonlighted night of his visit:—

That first full, deliberate gaze up the opposite height! can I ever forget it? The valley is here scarcely half a mile wide, while its northern wall, of mainly naked, perpendicular granite, is at least four thousand feet high—probably more [since demonstrated by actual measurement to be three thousand three hundred]. But the modicum of moonlight that fell into this awful gorge gave to that precipice a vagueness of outline, an indefinite vastness, a ghostly and weird spirituality. Had the mountain spoken to me in audible voice, or begun to lean over with the purpose of burying me beneath its crushing mass, I should hardly have been surprised. Its whiteness, thrown into bold relief by the patches of trees or shrubs which fringed or flecked it whenever a few handfuls of its moss, slowly decomposed to earth, could contrive to hold on, continually suggested the presence of snow, which suggestion, with difficulty refuted, was at once renewed. And, looking up the valley, we saw just such mountain precipices, barely separated by intervening water-courses of inconsiderable depth, and only receding sufficiently to make room for a very narrow meadow, inclosing the river, to the furthest limit of vision.


Our road up the Valley to the hotels, for the most part, lies among giant pines, or firs, and cedars, from one hundred and seventy-five to two hundred and twenty feet in height, and beneath the refreshing shade of outspreading oaks. Not a sound breaks the impressive stillness that reigns, save the occasional chirping and singing of birds, or the low, distant sighing of the water-falls, or the breeze in the tops of the trees. Crystal streams occasionally gurgle and ripple across our path, whose sides are fringed with willows and wild flowers that are almost ever blossoming, and grass that is ever green. On either side of us stand almost perpendicular cliffs, to the height of nearly thirty-five hundred feet; on whose rugged faces, or in their uneven tops and sides, here and there a stunted pine struggles to live; and every crag seems crowned with some shrub or tree. The bright sheen of the river occasionally glistens among the dense foliage of the long vistas that continually open up before us. At every step, some new picture of great beauty presents itself, and some new shapes and shadows from trees and mountains, form new combinations of light and shade, in this great kaleidoscope of nature; and as we ride along, in addition to the Bridal Veil Fall and El Capitan, we pass the Ribbon Fall, Cathedral Spires, the Three Brothers, and the Sentinel; while in the distance glimpses are obtained of the Yo Semite Fall, Indian Cañon, North Dome, Royal Arches, Washington Tower, Cloud’s Rest, and the Half, or South Dome; all of which expressively suggest the treat there is in store for us, when we can examine them in detail, and enjoy a nearer and more satisfying view of their matchless wonders.

The Nevada Fall—Yo-wi-ye.
Photo by Geo. Fiske.Photo-Typo by Britton & Rey, S. F.
The Nevada Fall—Yo-wi-ye.

Now, notwithstanding the many objects of interest we have passed, one thought has probably obtruded itself, and it is this, “Shall we ever come up to this or that mountain?” and the length of time consumed in the attempt would seem to give back the nonchalant and unfeeling answer, “Never!” There is, however, no greater proof of the unrealized altitudes of these mountain walls than this—the time it takes to come up with or to pass them. But amidst all these we can possibly hear one ejaculation that seems to contain more real satisfaction in it than any amount of sight-seeing just now. It is this: “Thank goodness, here is the hotel!” Commending ourselves to its most generous hospitalities, we wish our traveling companions a temporary good-by, and prepare for the repast that awaits us.

Our creature comforts having supposably been well cared for at one or other of the hotels, it is natural to infer that the journey, having been more or less fatiguing, has prepared us for a sweet and refreshing sleep; yet experience may prove that the excitement attending our glorious surroundings has cast over us a stronger spell even than that of Morpheus, and charmed us into wakefulness, that we may listen to the splashing, dashing, washing, roaring, surging, hissing, seething sound of the great Yo Semite Falls, just opposite; or has beguiled us into passing quietly out of our resting-place, to look up between the lofty pines and outspreading oaks to the granite cliffs, that tower up with such majesty of form and boldness of outline against the vast ethereal vault of heaven; or to watch, in the moonlight, the ever-changing shapes and shadows of the water, as it leaps the cloud-draped summit of the mountain, and falls in gusty torrents on the unyielding granite, to be dashed to an infinity of atoms. Then, when prudential reasons have wooed us back again to our couch, we may even there have visions of some tutelary spirit of immense proportions, who, in the exercise of his benignant functions, has vouchsafed to us his protecting genius, and admonished the water-fall to modulate the depth and height of its tones somewhat, so that we can sleep and be refreshed, and thus become the better prepared to quaff the delicious draught from this perennial fountain, that only awaits our waking to satisfy all our longings.

There is a possibility, however, that for some time before we are prepared to sing,

“Hail! smiling morn, that tips the hills with gold,”

The sun (hours in advance of a good honest look upon us, per haps, deep down as we are in this awful gorge) may have been up, and painting the rosiest of tints upon the surrounding domes and crags; burnishing up their ridges; gilding trees with blight effects; etching lights and shadows in the time-worked furrows of the mountain’s face, as though he took especial pride in bringing out, strongly, the wrinkles which the president of the hour-glass and scythe has been busily engaged upon for so many thousands of years.


And while we are looking admiringly upon them, please permit me to hazard a suggestion that is born of the experience and teachings of a quarter of a century at Yo Semite. It is this: If it is among the possibilities (and there may exist such a possibility when the subject is well weighed), no matter how tempting the surrounding influences may be—and there is almost sure to be some restless, impetuous, and irrepressible spirit in nearly every party—if you would make your visit healthful, restful, and thoroughly enjoyable, and an ever-present pleasing after-thought, do not attempt any very fatiguing excursion the first day after arrival. Devote it to day dreaming and to rest; not absolutely, perhaps, inasmuch as a modicum of exercise is really better, in a majority of cases, than total inaction; but let it be an easy jaunt among some of the attractive scenes not very far from the hotel.

Before satisfying our expectant curiosity, or gratifying a love for the sublime and beautiful through a closer communion with the marvelous grandeur which surrounds us, permit me to explain what this great Valley is, how it was possibly formed, and the various natural phenomena connected with it; as these may form interesting themes for reflection and conjecture, while we are wandering about among its wonderful scenes.


It is a deep, almost vertical-walled chasm, in the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains—here about seventy miles in breadth-about one hundred and fifty miles due east of San Francisco, and thirty from the main crest of the chain. Its sides are built of a beautiful pearl-gray granite of many shades and colors, and are in an infinite variety of forms. These are from three thousand three hundred to six thousand feet in perpendicular height above their base. Over these vertical walls vault numerous water-falls, that make a clear leap of from three hundred and fifty to two thousand feet; besides numerous bounding cascades.

The altitude of the floor of the Valley is nearly four thousand feet above the level of the sea, and the measurements given of the surrounding cliffs and water-falls are mostly from this basis. Its total area within the encompassing walls, according to the report of the Commissioner of the General Land Office, Washington, D. C., comprises eight thousand four hundred and eighty acres, three thousand one hundred and nine of which are meadow land. The entire grant to the State, however, embraces thirty-six thousand one hundred and eleven acres, and includes one mile beyond the edge of the precipices throughout their entire circumference. The Valley proper is about seven miles in length, by from three-quarters to one and a half miles in width; yet the distance between the face of the cliff at the Yo Semite Fall and the Sentinel, according to the measurements of Prof. J. D. Whitney, is two and a half miles. The Merced River, a beautifully transparent stream, full of delicious trout, runs through it, with an average width of

Scene on the [Merced] River.
one hundred feet, and whose banks are ornamented with azaleas and syringas, and overarched with balm of gileads, alders, black oaks, pines, cedars, and silver firs. This has numerous tributaries, which, after leaping the cliffs, join it in its general course down the Valley.

The general trend of the Valley is northeasterly and south westwardly, a fortunate circumstance indeed, inasmuch as the delightfully bracing northwesterly trade-winds, which sweep the Pacific Ocean in this latitude during summer, course pleasantly through it, and keep it exceedingly temperate on the hottest of days; so that there is no sultry oppressiveness of atmosphere felt here, as sometimes in the East. Besides this, the sun is afforded the opportunity of looking into the Valley from before six o’clock in the morning until nearly five in the afternoon, during summer, instead of only an hour or two at most, had its bearings been transversely to this. In the short days of winter, however, as the hotels and other buildings are for the most part approximately nearest to the southern wall of the Valley, when Apollo goes farthest on his southern rambles, he looks down upon them over the mountain about half past one in the afternoon, and vanishes at half past three; thus deigning to show his cheerful face only about two hours out of the twenty-four; so that the hotel side of the Valley, so to speak, is mapped in mountain shadow, while the opposite or northern side is flooded with brightness.


Prof. J. D. Whitney, for many years State Geologist, thus expresses his views:*— [* The Yosemite Guide Book, page 81.]

Most of the great cañons and valleys of the Sierra Nevada have resulted from aqueous denudation, and in no part of the world has this kind of work been done on a larger scale. The long-continued action of tremendous torrents of water, rushing with impetuous velocity down the slopes of the mountains, has excavated those immense gorges by which the chain of the Sierra Nevada is furrowed, on its western slope, to the depth of thousands of feet....

The eroded cañons of the Sierra,† [† Ibid., pages 82,83,85.] however, whose formation is due to the action of water, never have vertical walls, nor do their sides present the peculiar angular forms which are seen in the Yosemite, as, for instance, in El Capitan, where two perpendicular surfaces of smooth granite, more than three thousand feet high, meet each other at a right angle. It is sufficient to look for a moment at the vertical faces of El Capitan and the Bridal Veil Rock, turned down the Valley, or away from the direction in which the eroding forces must have acted, to be able to say that aqueous erosion could not have been the agent employed to do any such work. The squarely cut re-entering angles, like those below El Capitan, and between Cathedral Rock and the Sentinel, or in the Illilouette Cañon, were never produced by ordinary erosion. Much less could any such cause be called into account for the peculiar formation of the Half Dome, the vertical portion of which is all above the ordinary level of the Valley, rising two thousand feet, in sublime isolation, above any point which could have been reached by denuding agencies, even supposing the current of water to have filled the whole Valley....

In short, we are led irresistibly to the adoption of a theory of the origin of the Yosemite in a way which has hardly yet been recognized as one of those in which valleys may be formed, probably for the reason that there are so few cases in which such an event can be absolutely proved to have occurred. We conceive that, during the process of upheaval of the Sierra, or, possibly, at some time after that had taken place, there was at the Yosemite a subsidence of a limited area, marked by lines of “fault” or fissures crossing each other somewhat nearly at right angles. In other and more simple language, the bottom of the Valley sunk down to an unknown depth, owing to its support being withdrawn from beneath.* [* The italics are my own to emphasize the substance of Professor Whitney’s views.]

The late Prof. Benjamin Silliman, of Yale College, thought that it was caused through some great volcanic convulsion by which the mountains were reft asunder, and a fissure formed.

Now although I entertain the deepest respect for both those gentlemen, and their views, I am unable to concur in their opinions, for the following reasons: The natural cleavage of the granite walls is not, for the most part, vertical, but at an acute angle of from seventy to eighty-five degrees, as at Glacier Point and the Royal Arches; and that of the Yo Semite Fall is not by any means vertical, to say nothing of the intermediate shoulders between such points as Eagle Tower and the Three Brothers. And although the northern and western sides of El Capitan are more than vertical, as they overhang over one hundred feet, the abutting angle of that marvelous mountain is at an angle of say eighty degrees; while its eastern spur consists of glacier-rounded ridges that project far into the Valley. With this uniform angle of cleavage how could the bottom of the Valley sink down, any more than the key-stone of an arch? unless by the displacement of its supporting base; and, to concede this possibility, is to admit the theory of Professor Silliman of the violent rending of the mountains asunder by volcanic co-action, which, in my judgment, is unsupported by convincing data.

To admit this contingency, moreover, is to pre-suppose the entire uplifting and rending of a large proportion of the solid granite forming the great chain of the High Sierra; and then of its having left only this particular fissure to mark the co-action that then took place—a possible but not probable result. It is even more than improbable, from the fact that the solidified granite crossing every one of its side cañons, even near to the Valley, is everywhere completely and visibly intact, so that there is not the slightest semblance of any disjunction whatsoever. To my convictions, therefore, the evidences that the Yo Semite Valley was ever formed by either subsidence, or volcanic rending, are not only unsatisfactory, but are entirely absent.

Nor is it altogether clear why Professor Whitney, after giving his emphatic opinion that “the long-continued action of tremendous torrents of water, rushing with impetuous velocity down the slopes of the mountains, has excavated those immense gorges by which the chain of the Sierra Nevada is furrowed, on its western slope, to the depth of thousands of feet,” should make the Yo Semite Valley an exception; especially when the premises are so abundantly clear that it was created by precisely similar agencies as those of other cañons—that of erosion. To illustrate this, let me call attention to some interstices in the face of a jutting spur of the southern wall of the Valley, about midway between the Sentinel and Cathedral Spires (see engraving), known as


One of these is several hundred feet in depth, and yet not over three and a half feet across it. But for its rounding edges one could stand upon its top, look into its mysterious depths, and then step across it to the other side. There can exist no doubt that this has been formed from a soft stratum of granite, just the width of the fissure; and as that there is not the smallest stream of water running through it (except when it rains), as the elements have disintegrated the demulcent rock, every storm of wind, or rain, or snow, had kept constantly removing the friable particles and left only the hard walls standing.

The Fissure.
Photo by S. C. Walker.Per drawing by Mrs. Brodt.

Making this a basis of conclusions, is it not reasonable to suppose that there once existed similar strata where the Valley now is, and that as the disintegrating agencies completed their work upon it, the denuding torrents of the Sierra swept over or through it, and carried off the disintegrated material to build the plains and valleys below? Stand upon any of the bridges which now span the Merced River, during high water, and the floating silica with which it is laden will be conclusive evidence that the same forces, on a comparatively limited scale, are still actively going on.


Nor has water, in its liquefied form at least, been the only potential agency for cutting down and hewing out chasms like this among the High Sierra, inasmuch as its polished valley floors, burnished mountain-sides and tops, and vast moraines, many thousands of feet in altitude above the Valley, prove, beyond per adventure or question, that glaciers of immense thickness once covered all this vast area; filling every gorge, roofing every dome, and overspreading every mountain ridge with ice; the trend of whose striations is unmistakably towards the channel of the Merced River, mainly through its tributaries. As the Yo Semite Valley is but four thousand feet above sea level, and these glacial writings are distinctly traceable not only on the walls of the Valley and the cliffs above it, but nearly to the summits of the highest mountains east of it (here over thirteen thousand feet in altitude) there can be but little doubt that a vast field of ice had pre-existence at Yo Semite that was over a mile and a half in absolute thickness and depth! Who, then, can even conceive, much less estimate, the cyclopean force, and erosive power, of such a glacier? It would seem that plowing into soft rock, teming away of projections, loosening seamy blocks, detaching jutting precipices, grinding off ridges, scooping out hollows for future lakes, and forcing everything movable before it, would be a mere frolicsome pastime to so irresistible and mighty a giant. And, when that pastime has been indulged in for countless ages, its results may be imagined, but cannot be comprehended.

This, then, in my judgment, has been no insignificant factor in broadening and deepening the chasm first cut here, as elsewhere, by water; and indicating, if not proving, that the Yo Semite Valley was formed by erosion, and not by volcanic action.


In a personal conference with Prof Wm. H. Brewer, formerly first assistant of the State Geological Survey of California, now of Yale College, New Haven, Connecticut, the question was asked him, “In about what age of the world was the glacial period supposed to have existed?” and the answer was, “This has not been positively agreed upon by scientists, as some think it was about twenty or thirty thousand years ago, others from fifty to eighty thousand, and some contend that nearly one hundred and fifty thousand years have elapsed since that time, and it may have been even more.” As something will be said about this, and about the moraines of the High Sierra when we take our mountain jaunts beyond the Yo Semite, further present mention will be unnecessary.


The thermometer seldom reads higher than eighty-six degrees in summer, or lower than sixteen degrees in winter, although it has been ninety-five degrees (and even then the heat was not oppressive, owing to the rarefaction of the atmosphere), and nearly to zero—never below it. The usual ice-harvesting season is from December 15th to 25th, when the days are clear, and the temperature at night ranges from sixteen to twenty-five degrees; at which time ice forms from six to eleven inches in thickness, and is then taken from the sheltered eddies of the river. A good quality of ice is seldom attainable after the rains and snows of winter have fairly set in.

The first fall rain generally occurs about the time of the autumnal equinox, in September; but does not continue more than a day or two; when it usually clears up and continues fine for several weeks. It is after this rain that the first frost generally pays its timely visit, and commences to paint the deciduous trees and shrubs in the brightest of autumnal colors. Early in November the first snow generally begins to fall, when it will probably not deposit more than a few inches in the Valley, but prove more liberal in the mountains, where it sometimes will leave fifteen or twenty inches. It was in one of these storms that Lady Avonmore, better known as the Hon. Theresa Yelverton, was caught, alone, and being lost and benighted, came near losing her life. A few days thereafter the delightfully balmy Indian summer weather sets in, and continues to near the end of December; when old Winter, he with the hoary locks and unfeeling heart, swoops down in good earnest; and, turning his frosty key, keeps the inhabitants of Yo Semite—generally about forty in number—close prisoners until the benignant smiles of the gentle angel, Spring, unlocks the snowy doors, and again sets them free.

The pluvial downpour of an average winter in Yo Semite is usually from twenty to thirty-three inches, and of snow from nine to seventeen feet. It must not, however, be supposed that this falls all at once, or that it ever aggregates so great a depth, as it keeps melting and settling more or less all the time; so that I have never known it to exceed an average depth over the Valley of more than five and a half feet. Snow possesses the wonderful quality of keeping the temperature of anything upon which it falls, about the same as it finds it; so that if the ground which it covers is warm, it is kept in that condition, and the snow melts rapidly from beneath; but, should the earth be frozen, it retains that temperature, and liquefies mostly from above.


To enable visitors to see every point of interest to the greatest advantage, the State, through its Board of Yo Semite Commissioners, has constructed a most excellent carriage road throughout the entire circumference of the Valley; and which, including that to Mirror Lake and the Cascade Falls, opens up a drive of over twenty-one miles, that has not its equal in scenic grandeur and beauty anywhere else on earth.

In addition to this, broad, safe, and well-built trails for horseback riding have been made up the cañon of the Merced River to the Vernal and Nevada Falls; over old moraines, to the summit of Cloud’s Rest, and to the foot of Half Dome; up the mountain-sides to Union Point, Glacier Point, and Sentinel Dome, to Columbia Rock, the foot and top of the upper Yo Semite Fall, and Eagle Peak, so that impressive views may be enjoyed of these by an actual visit to and among them. Earlier enterprises of this kind were inaugurated by private individuals, and tolls collected for passing over them; but they were all subsequently purchased by the State and made free. To each and all of which it is proposed to make excursions in due season; so that when the traveler has journeyed so far to witness these glorious scenes, nothing of importance may be omitted, that could in any measure tend to insure their being visited understandingly, and as intelligently as possible.

As there are frequently moments of leisure that visitors desire to utilize, besides having wants that need to be supplied, perhaps it may be as well here, as elsewhere, to enumerate the various interests represented in the little settlement of Yo Semite. Of course the first to be mentioned are the


Four when the new one now building is completed. These are kept by Mr. J. K. Barnard, Mr. J. J. Cook, and Mr. and Mrs. G. F. Leidig, each of which is generally called after the name of its proprietor; as, “Barnard’s,” “Cook’s,” and “Leidig’s.” The latter is the first reached, Cook’s the next, and Barnard’s is the farthest up the Valley, near to the iron bridge. The latter can accommodate about one hundred guests; Mr. Cook, about seventy-five; Mr. Leidig, forty; and the new hotel is sufficiently commodious to take care of one hundred and fifty. All of these are comfortable, and the prices charged are reasonable, especially considering their distance from market, and the shortness of the business season.

The Big Tree Room, Barnard’s [Hotel].
Photo by Geo. Fiske.


When you are within this room, and your eye falls upon any one of the creations of his genius, you can see at a glance that Mr. Sinning has the rare gift of uniting the taste of the artist with the skill of the workman. His choice specimens of various woods, found in this vicinity, most admirably joined, and beautifully polished, are so arranged that one colored wood is made complimentary to that of the other adjoining it. They are simply perfect, both in arrangement and mechanical execution. Then, it gives him such real pleasure to show you, and explain all about his work, that his eyes, seen through a single pair of glasses, actually double in brightness when you admire it. Nor need you be afraid of offending him if you do not purchase, as he readily sells all that he can make, notwithstanding he is at his bench on every working day, both winter and summer, making and finishing the most beautiful of ladies’ cabinets, glove-boxes, etc., etc.


Of these, there are two, Mr. Thomas Hill’s, and that of Mr. Charles D. Robinson; the former is near Cook’s Hotel, and the latter adjoins the Guardian’s office. The moment that either studio is entered, the works of each pleasantly impresses visitors with their unquestioned excellence and faithfulness to nature. And while every true artist is in thought and feeling more or less a poet, and these ethereal essences are noticeably present in, and breathe through every line and color of his touch, there is frequently as wide a difference in their treatment of the subject, as there is between the poetry of Shakespeare and that of Tennyson. And it is well that it is so, for in art, as in food, it is the rich variety that makes pleasing provision for all. The thought-coloring of Mr. Hill may differ widely from that of Mr. Robinson, and it does; but in that very difference lies the secret of the measurable success of both. The beautiful creations of either will worthily occupy any picture gallery, or drawing-room on earth, should visitors desire to live these scenes over again when within their own far-off homes, by leaving with Mr. Hill, or Mr. Robinson, their orders for pictures.


Of course photographs have become one of the popular luxuries of the age, and there is scarcely an intelligent visitor that enters the Valley, who does not wish to carry home, for himself or friends, some souvenir of his visit; and to renew pleasant memories of its marvelous scenes. To supply this want there are two galleries established; one, conducted by Mr. Geo. Fiske—to whom I am largely indebted for so many of the beautiful illustrations that appear in this book—who, as a man, a gentleman, and an artist, is in every way worthy of the most liberal patronage that can be extended to him; and the other is kept by Mr. G. Fagersteen, who, while being devoted to his art, is among the best residents of Yo Semite, and who, like Mr. Fiske, takes groups of visitors which embody the views around, as a background to the picture. There are also two other places where photographic views of the surrounding scenery are sold, Mr. J. J. Cook’s, and at the Big Tree Room, Barnard’s; the former having Taber’s, and the latter Fiske’s.


For general merchandise is kept by Mr. Angelo Cavagnaro, an Italian; and who, you will find, has on hand almost any article that may be desired, from a box of paper collars to a side of bacon; and probably many others that neither you nor any one else may want.


Mrs. Glynn is an industrious woman, who, finding it impossible to breathe the air of a lower altitude, has prolonged her useful life by making choice of Yo Semite as a home; and, being a good cook, ekes out a frugal living by selling bread, pies, and such things, to transient customers; and by keeping two or three boarders.


These are kept by Messrs. Wm. F. Coffman and Geo. Kenney, two wide-awake, square men, who wait upon guests at the hotel every evening to learn their wishes concerning the rides around the Valley in carriages, or up the mountains on horses, for the next day. When they present themselves, it will be well for visitors to have considered their plans for the morrow, and give to them their order accordingly; as, by so doing, all delays, and many annoyances, are avoided in the morning. The charges for saddle horses and carriages are determined by the Board of Commissioners. Should any irregularity of any kind occur it should be promptly reported to the Guardian. Additional to the gentlemen above mentioned, Mr. Galen Clark (one of the oldest pioneers of this section, and who for sixteen years was the Valley’s Guardian) has also the privilege of conveying passengers in his carriage to every point of interest around Yo Semite. He will be found intelligent, obliging, and efficient in everything he undertakes.


Of course when any one wishes to witness the scenic grandeur visible from the mountain-tops which surround the Valley, he is at liberty to elect whether these trips shall be taken on horseback or afoot. If on foot, he avoids all care and expense for either himself or his horse; but finds it very fatiguing. If on horseback, a guide is needed, not only to explain the different objects of interest to be found, but to look out for the safety and comfort of those in his care; and to insure these, saddles have to be carefully watched, and adjusted, on all mountain trails. These form important parts of a guide’s duty. The day’s expense for a guide (which includes his horse, board, and wages) is $3.00, divided between the different members of the party. For instance, to a party of six—and none should be larger than this if a guide is expected to do his full duty by it—the pro rata for each person would be fifty cents for his day’s service.

To mention even the names of the many whose kindly attentions and really valuable services as guides, have been more or less before the Yo Semite visiting public for the last twenty-five years, would make many a visitor’s heart warm with grateful emotion; and to recall to memory the faces, and with them the obliging acts and excellent qualities of those who were thus personally useful to them, in the “long, long ago.” Many of these could be given, but the restraining fear that a treacherous memory might cause some to be omitted, that were equally worthy of a place, is suggestive of possible yet unintentional injustice, that is sufficiently strong to tempt me to forego the record altogether.

Still, there is one of the present guides whose peculiar characteristics, singular ways, and husky voice, make him “the observed of all observers,” whose name is Nathan B. Phillips, but who is better known to all the world as “Pike.” Being among the oldest and longest in the service of any now acting in the capacity of guide, permit me to introduce him:—

If, when you present this letter of introduction, he should not recognize the fact that you are addressing him by his own name, you have only to add the proud cognomen of “Pike,” to convince him that, for the moment at least, he was a little absent-minded! Now when Pike is himself (as once in a while he gets “socially” inclined) no better guide ever took care of a party; as he is polite, studiously attentive without seeming so, patient, thoughtful, careful; and there is not a peak or gorge, valley or cañon, in the whole range of the High Sierra, within view, that is not “as familiar to him as household words.” Besides, he can trail a bear, track a deer, bag a grouse, and work off agonizing music from a violin with the best. I do not say that there are not others equally good, as either hunter, guide, or violinist, for that would not be true; and would, moreover, be begging the question. I never saw him angry but once, and that was when a miserable wretch, sometimes inappropriately called a man, was abusing a horse. Then, in language, he “made the fur fly;” and I said, Amen! Once he was asked by a lady how the huskiness of his voice was brought about. “Ah,” he good-naturedly responded, “telling so many ‘whoppers’ to tourists, I expect!” Pike is a Yo Semite character, and one worth meeting.

Mr. Nathan B. Phillips.


When meal-times come we should feel it a great omission had the former been overlooked; and when traveling on our own horse tells us he has lost his shoe, or in our own conveyance we find that a spring has broken, a bolt is gone, or a nut lost, how gladly we welcome the blacksmith and his shop. Both of these are found in Yo Semite.


This is near the camp-ground set apart by the Board of Commissioners for the accommodation of those who leave the scorching plains below for the respite and comfort of recuperation in such a charming spot as Yo Semite, and come in their own conveyances; generally bringing their own tents and supplies with them, and camp out. As Mr. A. Harris grows and keeps an abundant supply of fodder, besides stabling for animals, his place is deservedly popular with camping parties. Milk, eggs, and other farm products are obtainable here; and, should the bread burn at the camp-fire, and the yeast become sour, Mrs. Harris has always the remedy on hand to help strangers out of their difficulty, and that most cheerfully. Then, next to the Leidig’s, the Harris’ have the largest family in the Valley; both being a source of pleasurable pride to the parents. Speaking of children, it must not be forgotten that there is here


It is situated on the margin of a small meadow just above Barnard’s; with the North Dome, Royal Arches, Washington Tower, and Half Dome, lifting their exalted proportions heavenward, just in front of the school-house door. Then there is


This neat little edifice, devoted to the worship of God amid the marvelous creations of His hand, was built by the California State Sunday School Association, in the summer of 1879; partly by subscriptions from the children, but mainly from the voluntary contributions of prominent members of the Association. Mr. Charles Geddes, a leading architect of San Francisco, made and presented the plans; and Mr. E. Thomson, also of San Francisco, erected the building, at a cost of between three and four thousand dollars. It will seat an audience of about two hundred and fifty. Mr. H. D. Bacon, of Oakland, gave the bell; and when its first notes rung out upon the moon-silvered air, on the evening of dedication, it was the first sound of “the church-going bell” ever heard in Yo Semite. Let us hope that it will assist to

“Ring out the false, ring in the true,
Ring in the valiant man and free,
        The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
        Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be."*

[* Tennyson’s Ring Out, Wild Bells.]

Miss Mary Porter, of Philadelphia, donated the organ, in memorium of Miss Florence Hutchings, the first white child born in Yo Semite, who passed through the Beautiful Gate, September 20, 1881 (as recorded on pages 145, 146), to whom she had become devotedly attached while visiting the Valley the preceding year.

The Yo Semite Chapel is for the free use of Christians of every denomination.

The Yo Semite Chapel.
Photo by Geo. Fiske.Engraved by J. M. Hay, S. F.


Is a State officer, appointed by the Board of Commissioners, for the purpose of watching over the best interest of the Valley, and superintending the local details connected with its management, under the Board. To him, therefore, all irregularities of every kind should be promptly reported, to insure their abatement. From him, moreover, can be obtained information, not only concerning the rules and regulations adopted by the Board of Commissioners, for the management of the Valley in the interests of the public; but the best places to camp, the points most noteworthy to see, and the best time and manner of seeing them; with answers to every reasonable question intelligent persons may ask concerning this wonderful spot. In short he will, to the best of his ability, be the living embodiment of a cyclopedia of Yo Semite; and that politely, cheerily, and pleasantly. The present Guardian of the Valley is Mr. Walter E. Dennison, to whom all communications concerning it should be addressed. His office is on the south bank of the Merced River, near the upper iron bridge.


Both of these invaluable institutions, of especial interest to the traveling public, as well as residents, have been established at Yo Semite. The former opens and closes with the business season, but the latter maintains connections with the outside world all the year—in summer, daily, and in winter, by a semiweekly mail. Notwithstanding the unquestioned efficiency of Wells, Fargo & Co.’s Express for the conveyance of valuable packages, Yo Semite should be made a “Money-order Office” of the postal service, as the wants of tourist visitors, as well as residents, would be much subserved thereby.

Before the establishment of a postal route to, and post-office at Yo Semite, all letters and papers were carried thither by private hands; but the late U. S. Senator Howe, of Wisconsin, afterwards Postmaster-General of the United States, secured this great boon for the Valley. Through him the writer became its first postmaster, at the enormously extravagant salary of $12.00 per annum, besides perquisites of uncalled-for old papers and quack advertisements! But as there was then no winter service, and he sometimes paid his Indian mail carrier ten dollars for a single winter trip, besides board and old clothes for trudging through and over snow, in the dead of winter, without snow-shoes, to bring in the precious missives; strange as it may seem, it was not deemed a sufficient sinecure to incite and tempt the envious longings of needy politicians for its possession!


For many years the Valley was in telegraphic communication with the outside world, via Sonora and Groveland; but as it was not sufficiently patronized after 1874 to pay for repairing the line and running the office, in a few years thereafter it went unrepaired, and was consequently unused. In 1882, however, a new one was constructed, by the Western Union Company, which is still maintained, via Berenda, Grant’s Sulphur Springs, and Wawona to Yo Semite; so that now telegrams can be sent thence to every nook and corner of civilization.


There are four different species of pine growing here: Two “Yellow Pines,” Pinus ponderosa, and P. Jeffreyi, with three needles to each leaf; “Sugar Pine,” P. Lambertiana, having five needles to a leaf; and the “Tamarack Pine,” P. contorta, with only two to a leaf. “Red, or Incense Cedar,” Libocedrus decurrens: Three “Silver Firs,” Abies concolor, A. grandis, and A. nobilis.

There is but one more of this genus found in the State, and that one only in a single locality (the Santa Lucia Mountains, Monterey County), but, owing to its beauty, and rarity, I am tempted to introduce engravings of it here. All the cones of the silver fir grow upwards,—not downwards, like the pines.

The Silver Fir, Abies Bracteata, Santa Lucia Mountains.
THE SILVER FIR, Abies Bracteata, Santa Lucia Mountains.

Of the coniferae, the next in importance, perhaps, is the “Red” or “Douglas” Spruce, Psudo tsuga Douglasii. Then, in resemblance of foliage, its single leaves sharp as a needle, and fruit like a nutmeg, whence comes the name “California Nutmeg,” Torreya Californica. Then follows the “Black Oak,” Quercus Kelloggii, upon the acorns of which the Indians mainly depend for their staple bread-stuff;* [* See Chapter on Indian manners and customs.] and a few of the “Quaking Aspen,” Populus tremuloides which came down from the mountains in the flood of 1867. The “Balm of Gilead” Poplar, Populus balsamifera: “Alder,” Alnus vifidis: “Rock,” or “Oregon, Maple,” Acer macrophyllum: “California Laurel,” Umbellulafia Californica: “Dog wood,” Cornus Nuttallii, with its large white blossoms. Then follows the most beautiful of all the “Live Oaks,” the golden cupped Quercus chrysolepis.

Cone of the Silver Fir, Abies Bracteata, Santa Lucia Mountains.
Drawn from nature by A. Kellogg, M. D.
CONE OF THE SILVER FIR, Abies Bracteata, Santa Lucia Mountains.


The most attractive of all, on account of the bright green of its leaves, its dwarf, bell-shaped, and waxy bunches of pinkish white blossoms, and the red olive-green of its smooth stems, the bark of which peels off annually, is the “Manzanita,” Arctostaphylos pungens. Next comes the “California Lilac,” Ceanothus integerrimus, whose large feathery plumes of white flowers, redolent with perfume, that become so inviting to both the eye and nostril; with its bright sap-green bark: The “Azalea,” Azalea Occidentalis, the fragrant masses of whose pinkish-white or yellowish-white blossoms can be “scented from afar:” The “Spice Plant,” Calycanthus Occidentalis, that grows in such rich abundance on the way to Cascade Falls, and whose large deep-green and pointed ovate leaves shine in striking contrast to its wine-colored flowers. Nor must we overlook the “Chokecherry,” Prunus demissa, with its gracefully depending blossoms, and fruit so valuable an edible to the natives; or the “Wild Coffee,” Rhamnus Californica, whose root-wood makes such beautiful veneers. These, with some few others, are the principal representatives of the interesting shrubbery of the Valley.


These are so numerous and so varied that but a few only can here be mentioned. Perhaps the first claiming attention, not only for its graceful tulip-like cup, and richly colored butterfly wing-formed petals, but from its being the flower after which this county was named, “Mariposa,” or “Butterfly Tulip,” Calochortus venustus: The “Penstemon,” Penstemon loetus, with its bright purplish-blue flowers: “Pussy’s Paws,” Spraguea umbellata, whose attractive, radiating bunches clothe even sandy places with beauty; Hosackia crassifolia, with its singular clover-like blossoms and vetch-like leaves, the young shoots of which form such tender and delicious greens for the Indians; the “Evening Primrose,” Oenothera biennis, that brightens the meadows at eventide with its golden eyes of glory, but which closes when the sun looks too steadfastly into them at midday; or its dark-purplish rose-colored twin sister, the Godetia, that forsakes the moist meadow land to grow on sandy slopes. But there is such a fascinating charm in these delicate creations that one may be easily tempted to linger too long in their delightful company.


Mr. J. G. Lemmon, of Oakland, and his talented wife, who have made this interesting family a loving and special study, have kindly sent me the following carefully prepared list of those found here:—

Common Polypody, Polypodium vulgare; California Polypody, P. Californicum; California Lip Fern, Cheilanthes Californica; Graceful Lip Fern, C. gracillima; Many-leaved Lip Fern, C. myriophylla; (Prof.) Brewer’s Cliff-brake, Pelloea Breweri; Heather-leaved Cliff-brake, Pelloea andromedoefolia; Wright’s Cliff-brake, Pelloea Wrightiana; Short-winged Cliff-brake, Pelloea brachyptera; Bird-foot Cliff-brake, Pelloea ornithopus; Dwarf Cliff-brake, Pelloea densa; Bridges’ Cliff-brake, Pelloea Bridgesii; Rock-brake, Cryptogramme acrostichoides; Common bracken, Pteris aquilina, var. lanuginosa; Venus’ hair, Adiantum Capillus-veneris; California Maiden hair, Adiantum emarginatum; Foot-stalked Maiden hair, Adiantum pedatum; Greek Chain fern, Woodwardia radicans; Lady fern, Asplenium Filixfoemina; Alpine Beech fern, Phegopteris alpestris; Rough Shield fern, Aspidium rigidum, var. argutum; Armed Shield fern, Aspidium munitum; Naked Shield fern, Aspidium munitum, var. nudatum; Over-lapped Shield fern, Aspidium munitum, var. imbricans; Sharp-leaved Shield fern, Aspidium aculeatum; Sierra Shield fern, Aspidium aculeatum, var. scopulorum; Delicate Cup fern, Cystopteris fragilis; Hairy Woodsia, Woodsia scopulina; Oregon Woodsia, Woodsia Oregana.


Simple Grape fern, Botrychium simplex; Southern three-parted Grape fern, Botrychiumternatum, var. australe; Virginia Grape fern, Botrychium Virginianum; Common Adder tongue, Ophioglossum vulgatum.

To those who are interested in this attractive family, the above complete synopsis, which embraces every species and variety yet found within and around the Valley, will be especially acceptable


“Are there trout in that pellucid and beautiful stream flowing past us?” inquired a somewhat fancifully dressed young gentleman with a distingue air, equipped with the latest patented fishing-rod, and a large book well filled with flies of the most approved color and pattern.

“Yes, Sir, speckled mountain trout. There are but two kinds of fish found in this river, or in any of its tributaries, speckled trout and sucker; the former swim near the surface, ready to catch the first fly that comes along, and the latter float near the bottom of the stream, upon the lookout for worms, or offal of any kind that may be drifting down. Trout, as you find, are a delicious table fish; but no one, except Indians, will think of eating sucker.”

“Is there any good place near here for a little sport of that kind? as I think I should like to try my hand at that sort of thing, you know.”

“Oh! yes, almost anywhere; they are just where you can see and find them; but, if they should see you first you had better move on to the next pool or riffle, as you would be wasting your time there.”

“Oh! I thank you very much, as trout-fishing is such delightful sport, you know.”

Apparently full of ruminating anticipation, our hero of the rod and line sauntered leisurely along, occasionally testing the flexibility of his pole by whipping it after some imaginary trout, until he disappeared behind a clump of young cottonwoods, to be seen no more until dinner-time. But “when the evening shades prevail”-ed, the would-be disciple of Isaac Walton could be seen advancing slowly, and somewhat disconsolately, towards the hotel, with one small, deluded trout dangling at the end of a twig. Simultaneously, as if with mischievous “malice aforethought,” an Indian walked briskly up with about as large a string of trout as he could conveniently carry. Now this was the additional feather that broke the camel’s back, and our crest-fallen friend looked bewildered and dumbfounded. Placing his solitary eyeglass firmly in front of his left eye, he fixed the discomfited gaze of that one eye (glass) alternately upon the Indian, and then upon the successful “catch” that was hanging at the Indian’s side; and as soon as he could discover that he could find a voice, he falteringly inquired, “What do you use for bait?”

'What do you use for bait?' Nature-versus-Art.

An artist friend being present, made the accompanying graphic sketch of this soul-harrowing scene.

The general absence here of what is termed “good luck” among anglers, has fabricated the trite aphorism among visitors that, “It takes an Indian to catch trout at Yo Semite.” And this is in a great measure true; yet, it must not be supposed that his uniform success in the art is altogether attributable to his superior skill. By no means. It is to be accredited more to his knowledge of the haunts and habits of trout, which that wonderful mother, Necessity, has persistently taught him from childhood; and by which he learns where to find them at the different seasons of the year, and in the varying stages of water. This is an advantage that is unshared by the stranger. Then, the old proverb, that “practice makes perfect,” has not a little to do with an Indian’s invariable success, especially as his bread and dinner depend upon it. Admitting, however, that skill and practice go hand in hand with an Indian, to bring fish to his string, I have seen white adepts in the art that could largely discount an Indian’s best efforts.

The most matter-of-fact manner of catching trout among unskilled and unpracticed anglers, is, to cover up the hook completely with a good-sized worm, and then cause it to float gently down to where he can see some suckers apparently resting on the bottom of the stream; and, when he sees the tempting morsel fairly in the mouth of his intended victim, to suddenly jerk in the line. Thus captured the sucker is laid carefully away until night-fall, when he is cut up into pieces about a quarter of an inch in thickness and half an inch square; and which, when placed snugly on the hook, become an inviting bait to trout, which it readily seizes, and is himself seized in turn, to supply breakfast for the angler and his guests. Good fishing places, free from roots and sticks, and well stocked with trout, should be sought quietly out in the day-time.

In early days the Indians fished only with the spear (in which some were adepts), and with the worm; but in these latter days they avail themselves of the lessons taught them by the whites, of using sucker as bait, and fishing at night; by which they are enabled to bring such large strings of trout to the hotels, for which they invariably receive twenty-five cents per pound.

As it is reasonably presumable that every one before starting out upon any of the many interesting trips within and around the Valley, will be desirous of ascertaining not only their particular direction and location, but the distances thereto, the following tables, and accompanying map, are herewith submitted.


Before setting out upon any of our excursions around or beyond the Valley, it seems desirable to state that, according to Lieutenant Wheeler’s U. S. Survey, from which much of this data concerning altitudes here is taken, its elevation above sea level as computed from the floor of the upper iron bridge, near Barnard’s, is three thousand nine hundred and thirty-four feet; and that all the measurements of the cliffs and water-falls about the Valley are calculated from this basis, except where otherwise stated.

The Sentinel—Loya,—El Capitan and Valley.
Photo by Geo. Fiske.Photo-Typo by Britton & Rey, S. F.
The Sentinel—Loya,—El Capitan and Valley.
From Glacier Point Trail (See pages 467-68.)

For the purpose of enabling visitors to make their respective jaunts understandingly, I have thought it desirable to present the various points of interest somewhat in detail, and in the order they are generally preferred to be seen; but which order can, of course, be changed according to circumstances, or to individual taste and preference. With the reader’s permission, therefore, we will suppose that we are now prepared to set out upon our glorious pilgrimage among the marvelous scenes which surround us, and are standing upon the floor of the upper iron bridge, three thousand nine hundred and thirty-four feet above sea level, and looking into the transparent waters of


This musical and suggestive name was given to it by the old Spanish padres, by whom it was called Rio de la Merced, the River of Mercy. And, by the way, we are much indebted to the poetical taste of those old missionaries for a number of apposite names that embellish the California map; such, for instance, as the Rio de Sacramento, the River of the Sacrament; Rio de las Plumas, the River of Feathers; Ciudad Los Angeles, the City of the Angels, and many others. The view, easterly, reveals the “Half Dome,” framed by a vista of overarching pines, cedars, oaks, and balm of gileads, that stand on the margin of the river; westerly the lofty, sky-piercing crest of “Eagle Peak” is seen through a similar portal, about both of which more will be said hereafter.


From the Guardian’s Office, near the Upper Iron Bridge, to Different Points of
Interest in and Around Yo Semite Valley, California.

POINTS OF INTEREST. Between Con- secutive Points. From Guard- ian’s Office. To Guardian’s Office Altitude in feet above Yosem- ite Valley Altitude in feet above Sea Level
        To Mirror Lake (by carriage Road).
    From Guardian’s Office to—
.... .... 2.91 .... 3,934
Indian Cañon Bridge 0.65 0.65 2.26 .... ....
Harris’ Residence 0.56 1.21 1.70 .... ....
Forks of Tis-sa-ack Avenue Road 0.95 2.16 0.75 .... ....
Mirror Lake 0.75 2.91 .... 174 4,108

If the return is made via Tis-sa-ack Avenue, the
    distances from Mirror Lake are—





Upper Forks of Tis-sa-ack Avenue Road 0.61 0.61 3.09 .... ....
Ten-ie-ya Creek Bridge 0.17 0.78 2.92 .... ....
Tis-sa-ack Bridge 0.89 1.67 2.03 .... ....
Guardian’s Office 2.03 3.70 .... .... 3,934

        Tis-sa-ack Avenue Drive.
    From Guardian’s Office to—





Tis-sa-ack Bridge 2.03 2.03 3.15 ... ...
Ten-ie-ya Bridge 0.89 2.92 2.26 .... ....
Harris’ Residence 1.05 3.97 1.21 .... ....
Guardian’s Office 1.21 5.18 .... .... 3,934

To Bridal Veil Fall, Artist Point, and New
        Inspiration Point (by carriage road)—
    From Guardian’s Office to—





Cathedral Spires Bridge 2.50 2.50 4.69 .... ....
El Capitan (lower iron) Bridge 1.13 3.63 3.56 .... 3,925
Bridal Veil Fall 0.41 4.04 3.15 .... ....
Forks of Pohono Avenue Road 0.28 4.32 2.87 .... ....
Artist Point 1.48 5.80 1.39   800 4,651
Cabin 0.43 6.23 0.96 1,000 4,851
New Inspiration Point 0.96 7.19 .... 1,500 5,371

        To the Cascade Falls (by carriage road).
    From Guardian’s Office to—





Forks of Big Oak Flat Road 3.66 3.66 4.01 .... 3,944
Black Springs 0.69 4.35 3.32 .... ....
River View 0.19 4.54 3.13 .... ....
Pohono Bridge 1.29 4.83 2.84 .... ....
Cascade Falls 2.84 7.67 .... .... 3,225

        The Pohono Avenue Drive.
    From Guardian’s Office to—





Yo Semite Creek Bridge 0.49 0.49 9.96 .... ....
Rocky Point 0.96 1.45 9.00 .... ....
Indian Camp 0.37 1.82 8.63 .... ....
Ribbon Fall 2.17 3.99 6.46 .... ....
Forks of Big Oak Flat Road 0.07 4.06 6.39 .... 3,949
Black Springs 0.69 4.75 5.70 .... ....
River View 0.25 5.00 5.45 .... ....
Pohono Bridge 0.29 5.29 5.16 .... ....
Fern Spring 0.19 5.48 4.97 .... ....
Moss Spring 0.06 5.54 4.91 .... ....
Forks of Big Tree Station Road 0.59 6.13 4.32 .... ....
Bridal Veil Fall 0.28 6.41 4.04 .... ....


POINTS OF INTEREST. Between Con- secutive Points. From Guard- ian’s Office. To Guardian’s Office Altitude in feet above Yosem- ite Valley Altitude in feet above Sea Level
El Capitan Bridge 0.41 6.82 3.36 .... 3,925
Cathedral Spires Bridge 1.13 7.95 2.50 .... ....
Leidig’s Hotel 1.43 9.38 1.07 .... 3,934
Cook’s Hotel 0.30 9.68 0.77 .... 3,934
Cosmopolitan Billard Hall 0.73 10.41 0.04 .... 3,934
Barnard’s Hotel 0.04 10.45 .... .... 3,934

The Round Drive on the Floor of the Valley.

From Guardian’s Office, via Merced, Ten-ie-ya,
    Yosemite, and Pohono Bridges, and back
15.06 .... .... .... ....
Including Mirror Lake and Cascade Falls 21.32 .... .... .... ....

To Foot of Lower Yo Semite Falls.





From Guardian’s Office to—
    Yo Semite Creek Bridge 0.49 0.49 0.41 .... ....
    Foot of Fall 0.41 0.90 .... .... ....

To Top of Yo Semite Fall and Eagle Peak, by
.... .... 6.59 .... ....
From Guardian’s Office to—
    Columbia Rock 1.98 1.98 4.61 1,154 5,088
    Foot of Upper Yo Semite Fall 0.69 2.67 3.92 1,114 5,048
    Forks of Trail for Top of Yo Semite Fall 1.21 3.88 2.74 .... ....
    Top of Yo Semite Fall 0.45 4.33 2.26 2,550 6,484
    Eagle Meadow 1.36 5.69 0.90 .... ....
    Eagle Peak 0.90 6.59 .... 3,818 7,752

To Snow’s Hotel, by Trail.

(Between the Vernal and Nevada Falls.)





From Guardian’s Office to—
    Opposite Merced Bridge 2.02 2.02 2.61 .... ....
    Too-lool-a-we-ack (South Branch) Bridge 0.60 2.62 2.01 .... ....
    Register Rock 0.62 3.24 1.29 .... ....
    Snow’s Hotel 1.39 4.63 .... 1,366 5,300
If the return is made via Glacier Point, the
    distance from Snow’s will be:
.... .... 12.35 .... ....
    Bridge, above the Nevada Fall 0.82 0.82 11.53 .... ....
    Glacier Point 7.08 7.90 4.45 3,257 7,191
    Guardian’s Office 4.45 12.35 .... .... 3,934

To Glacier Point and Sentinel Dome, by Trail

.... .... 5.57 .... ....
From Guardian’s Office to—
    Cook’s Hotel 0.77 0.77 4.80 .... 3,934
    Foot of Glacier Point Trail 0.27 1.04 4.53 .... ....
    Union Point 2.09 3.13 2.44 2,356 6,290
    Glacier Point 1.32 4.45 1.12 3,257 7,191
    Sentinel Dome 1.12 5.57 .... .... ....
If the return is made via Snow’s Hotel, the
    distances from Glacier Point are:
.... .... 12.53 .... ....
    Bridge, above the Nevada Fall 7.08 7.08 5.45 .... ....
    Snow’s Hotel 0.82 7.90 4.63 1,366 5,300
    Guardian’s Office 4.63 12.53 .... .... 3,934


POINTS OF INTEREST. Between Con- secutive Points. From Guard- ian’s Office. To Guardian’s Office Altitude in feet above Yosem- ite Valley Altitude in feet above Sea Level
To Summit of South Dome, by trail.

.... .... 10.00 .... ....
From Guardian’s Office to—
    Snow’s Hotel 4.63 4.63 5.37 1,366 5,300
    Forks of Glacier Point Trail 0.82 5.45 4.55 .... ....
    Forks of Cloud’s Rest Trail 2.58 8.03 1.97 .... ....
    Anderson’s Cabin 0.60 8.63 1.37 3,514 7,448
    Foot of Lower Dome 1.00 9.63 0.37 3,964 7,898
    Top of Lower Dome 0.19 9.82 0.18 4,530 8,404
    Top of South Dome 0.18 10.00 .... 4,953 8,887

To Summit of Cloud’s Rest, by Trail.





From Guardian’s Office to—
    Snow’s Hotel 4.63 4.63 7.18 1,366 5,300
    Forks of South Dome Trail 3.40 8.03 3.78 .... ....
    Hopkin’s Meadow 1.26 9.29 2.52 4,339 8,273
    Summit of Cloud’s Rest 2.52 11.81 .... 5,921 9,885

To Soda Springs and Summit of Mt. Dana by





From Guardian’s Office to—
    Snow’s Hotel 4.63 4.63 35.71 1,366 5,300
    Forks of Cloud’s Rest Trail 4.44 9.07 31.27 .... ....
    Top of Sunrise Ridge 3.23 12.30 28.04 5,648 9,582
    Cathedral Meadow Ridge 5.20 17.50 22.84 .... ....
    Forks of Lake Ten-ie-ya Trail, Tuolumne Meadows 4.14 21.64 18.70 4,724 8,658
    Soda Springs 0.90 22.54 17.80 4,737 8,671
    Junction of Mt. Dana and Mt. Lyell Creeks 0.70 23.24 17.10 .... ....
    Camping ground for Mt. Dana 8.90 32.14 8.20 5,849 9,783
    Saddle, between Mt. Gibbs and Mt. Dana 5.20 37.34 3.00 7,759 11,963
    Summit of Mt. Dana 3.00 40.34 .... 9.376 13,310

To Summit of Mt. Lyell, by trail.





From Guardian’s Office to—
    Soda Springs 22.54 22.54 15.66 4,624 8,558
    Forks of Mt. Dana Trail 0.60 23.14 15.06 .... ....
    Head of Tuolumne Meadows 9.41 32.55 5.65 5,098 9,032
    Summit of Mt. Lyell 5,65 38.20 .... 9,340 13,274

To Soda Springs, via the Eagle Peak and Lake
Ten-ie-ya Trail, by trail.





From Guardian’s Office to—
    Forks of Eagle Peak Trail 4.64 4.64 19.86 3,219 7,153
    Forks of Mono Trail 1.36 6.00 18.50 .... ....
    Lake Ten-ie-ya 10.00 16.00 8.50 4,120 8,054
    Soda Springs 8.50 24,50 .... .... 8,671

To the Summit of the Obelisk, or Mt. Clark, by





From Guardian’s Office to—
    Glacier Point 4.45 4.45 11.37 3,257 7,191
    Too-lool-a-we-ack Creek 2.12 6.57 9.25 .... ....
    Camping Ground 7.00 13.57 2.25 6,179 10,113
    Summit of Obelisk 2.25 15.82 .... 7,444 11,378


When about midway of the avenue, which here crosses the meadow, directly in front of us, looking northerly, “Yo Semite Point” stands boldly out, the apex of which is three thousand two hundred and twenty feet above us, and the view from which, looking down into the Valley, is very impressive. This, when associated with the Giant’s Thumb, is called by the Indians, “Hum-moo,” or the Lost Arrow, and connected with which is the following characteristic


[Editor’s note: this “legend” “is almost certainly fictitious” according to NPS Ethnologist Craig D. Bates. —dea.]

Tee-hee-neh was among the fairest and most beautiful of the daughters of Ah-wah-ne. Her tall yet symmetrically rounded form was as erect as the silver firs, and as supple as the tamarack pines. The delicately tapering fingers of her small hand were, if possible, prettier than those of other Indian maidens; and the arched instep of her slender foot was as flexile as the azalea when shake by the wind. The tresses of her raven hair, unlike that of her companions, was as silky as the milkweed’s floss, and depended from her well-poised head to her ankles. Her movements were as graceful and agile as the bound of a fawn. When she stepped forth from her wigwam in the early morning, accompanied by other damsels of her tribe, to seek the mirrored river and make her unpretentious toilet, there can be but little wonder that the admiring gaze of captivated young chiefs, and the envious looks of less favored lassies, should follow her every footstep.

Then, knowing this, who could wonder at, or blame, the noble Kos-soo-kah,—the tallest, strongest, swiftest-footed, bravest and most handsome in form and face, of all the young Ah-wah-ne chiefs,—for allowing the silken meshes of devoted love to intertwine around his heart, and bring him a willing captive to her feet? Or marvel that the early spring flowers which she plucked for him were always the most redolent with perfume? Or that the wild strawberries which she picked, and the wild plums that she gathered, were ever the sweetest, because transfused by love? Then, who could censure him for not resisting the silvery sweetness of her musical voice, when she raised it in song by the evening camp-fire; or, for not withstanding the fascinations of her merry laugh, as its liquid cadences rung out at night-fall upon the air, when every note was in delicious and accordant sympathy with the pulsations of his own glad heart?

And that which filled both their souls with an intense and beatified joy was the consciousness that the tender passion was unreservedly reciprocated by each. Nothing, therefore, remained, but to select becoming presents for the parents of the bride, in accordance with Indian custom,* [* See chapter on Indian manners, customs, etc.] provide a sumptuous repast, and celebrate their auspicious nuptials with appropriate ceremonies. To do this, Tee-hee-neh and her companions would prepare the acorn bread, collect ripe wild fruits and edible herbs in liberal abundance, and garnish them with fragrant flowers; while Kos-soo-kah, pressing the best hunters of his tribe into his service, should scale the adjacent cliffs for grouse, and deer, that right royal might be the feast.

Before taking their fond and long-lingering adieus, it was agreed that Kos-soo-kah, at sunset, should go to the edge of the mountain north of Cholock,† [† The Yo Semite Fall.] and report the measure of his success to Tee-hee-neh (who was to climb to its foot to receive it), by fastening the requisite number of grouse feathers to an arrow thereby to indicate the quantity taken; and from his strong bow shoot it far out that she might see it, and watch for its falling, and thus be the first to report the good tidings of his success to her people.

After a most fortunate hunt, while his young braves were resting, preparatory to the exacting task of carrying down their game, Kos-soo-kah repaired to the point agreed upon, prepared the arrow for its tender mission, and was about to send it forth, when the edge of the cliff began to crumble away, carrying the noble Kos-soo-kah with it.

Long did the loving Tee-hee-neh wait, and longingly watch for the signal; nor would she leave her watchful post for many weary hours after darkness had settled down upon the mountain, although restless premonitions and forebodings were bringing a deeper darkness to her heart, that were intensified by the sounds of falling rock she had heard. But thinking, at last, that his ambitious wishes might have tempted him to wander farther than he had intended, and finding that his signal-arrow could not be seen in the darkness, at that very moment he might be feeling his uncertain way among the blocks of rock that strewed the Indian Cañon, down which he was to come; that possibility gave wings to her thoughts, and speed to her tripping feet, as she hurriedly picked her difficult way from ledge to ledge; passing this precipice, lowering herself rapidly over that, where a misstep must necessarily have proven fatal, until at last she reached the foot of the cliff.

Finding upon her advent there that her beloved Kos-soo-kah had not yet arrived, her anxious yearnings for his safe return, made more poignant by a kind of uncontrollable prescience, led her to the spot where he must first emerge. Hoping against hope, she could hear as well as feel the beatings of her own sad heart, as she listened through the lagging hours for the sound of his welcome footfall, or manly voice. And as she impatiently waited, pacing the hot sand backwards and forwards, she sang in the low, sweet, yet impassioned cadences peculiar to her race, that which, when translated, should be substantially rendered as follows:—

“Come to the heart that loves thee;
        To the eyes that beam in brightness but to gladden thine;
Come, where fond thoughts in holiest incense rise;
        And cherished memory rears her altar-shrine.
Dearest—come home!”

But, alas! finding that when the dark gray dawn of earliest morning brought not her beloved one, like a deer she sprang from rock to rock up the steep ascent, not pausing even for breath, nor delaying a moment for rest; she hastened towards the spot whence the expected signal was to be given. Tracks—his blessed tracks—could be distinctly seen, and followed to the mountain’s edge; but, alas, not one was visible to indicate his return therefrom. When she called, only the echo of her own sad voice returned an answer. Where could he be? The marks of a new fracture of the mountain disclosed the fact that a portion had recently broken off; and memory, at once, recalled the sounds that she had heard, when on the ledge below. It could not be that her heart-cherished Kos-soo-kah could have been standing there at the time of its fall! Oh! No. The Great Spirit would not be so unmindful of her burning love for him as to permit that. With agonized dread she summoned sufficient courage to peer over the edge of the cliff, and the lifeless and ghastly form of her darling was seen lying in the hollow, near that which has since been designated the Giant’s Thumb.

Spontaneously acting with a clearness and strength that despair will sometimes give, she kindled a bright fire upon the very edge of the mountain, that thereby she might telegraph her wants and wishes to those below, in accordance with a custom that every Indian learns to practice from childhood;* [* See pages 25,26.] and slow as the hours ebbed away, the entreated relief came at last, for the hoped-for recovery of her soul’s jewel, even though now sleeping in the cold embrace of death. Young sapling tamaracks were lashed endwise together, with thongs cut from the skin of the deer that were to form part of the wedding feast; and, when these were ready, Tee-hee-neh, springing forward, would permit no hands but her own to be the first to touch the beloved one. She would descend to recover him, or perish in the attempt. Finding that no amount of persuasion could change her resolve they reluctantly, yet carefully, lowered her to the prostrate form of Kos-soo-kah; and, as though strength of purpose had converted her nerves into steel, defiant of all danger, she first kissed his pale lips, then unwound the deer-skin cords from around her body, fastened them lovingly, yet firmly, to his, and gave the signal for uplifting him to the top. This accomplished, gently, yet efficiently, a reverent anxiety could be seen engraved upon the faces of those performing that kindly act, for the safe deliverance of the heroic Tee-hee-neh; but, the same undismayed fearlessness, and apparent nerve, that had enabled her to descend, did not forsake her now, and before the self-imposed task she had so unfalteringly set herself had been accomplished. Firmly fastening her foot, to prevent slipping, without other support or protection, she nervously clutched the pole with one hand, and as a signal of her wishes waved the other; and in a few moments was again at the side of her adored, though lifeless, Kos-soo-kah. Silently, tearlessly, she looked for a moment into those eyes that love had once lighted, and at the colorless lips from which she had so delectably sipped the nectar of her earthly bliss; then, noiselessly, quiveringly, sinking to her knees, she fell upon his bosom; and, when lifted by gentle hands a few moments thereafter, it was discovered that her spirit had joined that of her Kos-soo-kah, in the hunting grounds of the hereafter. She had died of a broken heart.

As the arrow that had so unexpectedly, yet so ruthlessly, brought on this double calamity, could never be found, it is believed that it was spirited away by the reunited Tee-hee-neh and Kos-soo-kah, to be sacredly kept as a memento of their undying love. The heavenward-pointed thumb, still standing there, in the hollow near which Kos-soo-kah’s body was found, is ever reverently known among all the sons and daughters of Ah-wah-nee, as Hum-moo, or “The Lost Arrow.”

On the right of Hum-Moo, or Yo Semite Point, is Indian Cañon.

Indian Cañon.

It was up this cañon that the Indian prisoners escaped in 1851, as related in Chapter V, pages 68, 69; from which circumstance originated the name; and it was down this that the avenging Monos crept, when they substantially exterminated the Yo Semite tribe in 1853, as recorded in Chapter VI, pages 76, 77, and 78. This cañon, therefore, is invested with historical interest. For the purpose of enabling visitors to obtain views of the sublime scenery of the Sierras from the high ridge westerly from the crest of Yo Semite Point, and look upon the top of the Yo Semite Fall, before making its leap into the Valley, the writer had a horse-trail constructed up it, in 1870. The small stream leaping in at the side is called the Little Winkle.

Bearing to the right from this standpoint can be seen the North Dome, beneath which are the Royal Arches and Washington Tower; and, following in succession, are the Half Dome, Grizzly Peak, Mount Starr King, Glacier Point, Union Point, the Sentinel, Cathedral Peaks, Eagle Peak, Eagle Tower, and the Yo Semite Fall, all forming a glorious panorama of Valley celebrities. But, advancing toward the latter, on our right we pass the orchard, the Hutchings’ cabin (described in Chapter XI, pages 138, 139, 140 and 141), and are soon at the Yo Semite Creek Bridge, and can there see the large volume of water that forms


Looking at the full stream that is hurrying on, in the early spring at least, we can scarcely realize that all this water has just made the leap of nearly two thousand six hundred feet; or that the apparently small fall we had seen from the opposite side of the Valley, could develop into so imposing a spectacle. Noticing this on a recent occasion, when in company with a civil engineer, the inquiry was made, “About how much water do you suppose there is now rolling over the edge of that mountain yonder, judging from the size and speed of this stream?” “I will tell you this evening,” was the prompt rejoinder. At the promised time I received the following:—

When at the little red bridge which spans the stream, which I understood you to be supplied entirely by the Yo Semite Fall, this afternoon, I made a rough measurement of the quantity of water flowing, and found it to be as follows: Width 40 feet, mean depth 5 feet, mean velocity about 4 feet per second. Quantity 40x5x4=800 cubic feet per second, or about 6,000 gallons per second.

I understood you to say that you had found the width of the stream at the top of the Yo Semite Fall to be 34 feet. If the velocity there be 15 feet per second, this quantity would require a mean depth of 1 foot 7 inches.

Very respectfully yours,
                        Hiram F. Mills, Civil Engineer.

Before advancing far beyond the Yo Semite Creek Bridge, let me call attention to an apparently small pine tree that stands alone, at the top of the shrub-covered slope that extends to the foot of the upper Yo Semite Fall wall, and seemingly beneath it. Now that tree, small as it appears, by careful measurement is a little over one hundred and twenty-five feet in height, by eight feet seven inches in circumference. By noticing the comparatively insignificant proportions of that tree, we may be assisted in comprehending the otherwise unrealized altitudes of these immense cliffs. The large pine growing on the ledge below that, had a circumference, at the base, of twelve feet nine inches. Hum-moo, or the Giant’s Thumb, stands prominently up and out when seen from this standpoint; and whose height is said to be two hundred and three feet above the hollow where Kos-soo-kah’s body was reputed to be found, according to the legend of the Lost Arrow.


The nearer we approach the Yo Semite Fall, the more fully do we realize its astonishing attractions. Those who content themselves by viewing this magnificent scene only at a distance, must have about the same apprehension of its impressive attraction as they would of a very beautiful woman, or handsome man, when seen about half a mile off. The same comparison will appositely apply to seeing the Vernal and Nevada Falls only from Glacier Point. It is nearness that places us in appreciative communion with Nature and her manifold and unspeakable glories. I have accompanied hundreds, aye, thousands, to the foot of the Lower Yo Semite Fall, and this, without an exception, has been the spontaneous confession of every one. So that every step that we take after crossing the Yo Semite Creek Bridge puts us into closer relationship with the impressive majesty of this wonderful fall. “How it grows upon us,” is a most frequent ejaculation that is born of apprehensive and appreciative feeling. How we watch the bold leap that it is making over the cliff, more than two thousand five hundred feet above our heads, and follow the vaulting masses of its rocket-shaped and foaming waters with the eye, down to the seething caldron into which it bounds, at the base of the upper fall; its eddying mists fringed by the sun with iridescent colors, that are constantly changing and reforming. At the right of the fall, just below its crest, a dark mass of shadow reveals the portrait of the “Gnome of the Yo Semite,” with his badge of rank hanging across the shoulder.

Valley Ford of the Yo Semite.
Photo by C. L. Weed.

The oaks, dogwoods, alders, pines, and cedars now begin to form an arcade of great beauty over the sparkling, rippling, foaming, singing, bowlder-strewn foreground of the stream; while in the background the lower Yo Semite is leaping down in one broad sheet of white sheen, the main body of which seems composed of immense icicles flinged with snow, f alling from behind a dark middle distance of pines and firs. If the snow fields are rapidly melting beneath the fiery strength of a hot summer’s sun, a large body of water will be seen rushing and bounding over and among blocks of granite; then, spreading out afterwards, to form numerous streams that can readily be forded, if the ford is prudently selected, and thus afford a strikingly picturesque scene.

It must not be supposed that the cloud-like spray that descends is the main fall itself, broken into infinitesimal particles and thus becomes nothing but a broad sheet of cloud. By no means; for, although this stream shoots over the margin of the mountain, nearly five hundred feet above, it falls almost in a solid body; not in a continuous stream exactly, but having a close resemblance to an avalanche of snowy rockets that appear to be perpetually trying to overtake each other in their descent, and commingling one with the other, compose a torrent of indescribable power and beauty.

As we advance, a change of temperature becomes very perceptible, so that the warmth experienced in the open Valley upon the way, is gradually changed to chilliness. Soon we feel that a breeze, about equal in strength to eight knots an hour, is meeting us directly in the face, and bringing with it a heavy shower of finely comminuted spray, that falls with sufficient force to saturate our clothing in a few moments. From this a beautiful phenomenon is observable, inasmuch as, after striking our hats, the diamond-like mist shoots off at an angle of about thirty-five or forty degrees, and as the sun shines upon it, a number of miniature rainbows are formed all around us. In early days, when conveniences were few, this cold draught of air was pressed into service as a meat-safe, and answered very well, in the absence of all others. The philosophy which explains the cause of this cold current is, that the water-fall leaping into the air naturally displaces it by driving it downward, and thus creates a vacuum; and the air from above rushing in to fill that vacuum, causes this constant wind. It will be noticed that even the trees which stand in the current are prevented from forming branches on their windward side. It will also be noticed that the trunks of these trees are denuded of branches for from fifty to eighty feet up them; the cause of which, probably, arises from the heavy deposits of snow which form here during some winters (I have crossed bridges of snow here that were over seventy feet in thickness), and as its melting is mainly from beneath, when the snow settles down it breaks off all the branches, and carries them down with it.

Drawing still nearer, large masses of sharp, angular rocks, are scattered here and there, forming the uneven sides of an immense and apparently ever-boiling caldron; around, and in the interstices of which numerous dwarf ferns, weeds, grasses, and flowers are ever growing; where not actually washed by the falling stream. Hastily rushing through the spray, and taking shelter behind a buttress of the mountain, we can see two of the divisions which make this water-fall apparently forming into one.

It is beyond the power of language to describe the awe-inspiring majesty of the darkly frowning and overhanging mountain walls of solid granite that here hem us in on every side, as though they would threaten us with instantaneous annihilation, did we for a moment attempt to deny their power. If man ever feels his utter insignificance, it is when looking upon such a scene of appalling grandeur as the one here presented.

The point whence the photograph was taken from which the accompanying engraving was made, being directly near the foot of the lower fall, might lead to the supposition that the lower section, embracing, as it does, about three-fourths of the whole, was the highest of the two, when the relative heights of the three are, as given by

Prof. J. D. Whitney, State Geologist:
Upper Fall 1,500
Middle (including cascades) 626
Lower 400
      Total 2,526
Lieutenant Wheeler, U. S. Survey.
Upper Fall 1,436
Middle (including cascades) 626
Lower 488
      Total 2,550

But Professor Whitney makes this observation:—

The vertical height of the lip of the fall above the Valley is, in round numbers, 2,600 feet, our various measurements giving from 2,537 to 2,641, the discrepancies being due to the fact that a near approach to, or a precise definition of, the place where the perpendicular portion of the fall commences is not possible. The lip or edge of the fall is a great rounded mass of granite, polished to the last degree, on which it was found to be a hazardous matter to move. A difference of a hundred feet, in a fall of this height, would be entirely imperceptible to most eyes.

The stream which forms this fall flows mainly from the melting snows near Mt. Hoffmann, some eighteen miles distant. When the trip is taken to Eagle Peak, as the trail passes sufficiently close to the foot of the upper Yo Semite Fall to afford the opportunity of a closer examination, we can then see more of its varied and interesting features.

Near view of Yo Semite Fall.
Photo by C. L. Weed.


This is one of the most delightful and most satisfying of pilgrimages that could possibly be made within the walls of the Valley; but, to see the lake at its best, when the reflected shadows are strongest, and the beautiful mirror upon its glassy bosom is in the greatest perfection, it should be seen before the sun rises upon it. This will enable the visitor to witness the interesting phenomena of “sunrise on the lake,” and afford the opportunity of its repetition several times on the same morning! Between ten and twelve a. m., the sea breeze generally sweeps across it, and breaks the mirror into as many pieces as there are ripples upon it. Therefore make the visit early, say about seven o’clock; but this, of course, differs according to the season of the year; yet the proper time for leaving the hotel can always be ascertained from the landlord, or from the carriage proprietors. On account of the early time desirable for setting out on this trip, it is better to postpone it until the second day after arrival, as a premature departure from our couch on the succeeding morning of our advent, will generally bring on premature fatigue, and a consequent decrease in the amount of our enjoyment.

Leaving the hotel early, then, we cross Meadow Avenue to the oak-studded low ridge on the northern side, and threading our way through the grove, have glimpses of our unspeakably sublime surroundings from between the trees. On our left we pass the revered spot where dear ones are sleeping; and soon find ourselves at the old Indian camp ground, near Indian Cañon; the bright sunlight and somber shadows winking and twinkling from between the trees, upon the gurgling streams that intersect the road. While on our right lie luxuriant green fields, first fenced and cultivated by Mr. J. C. Lamon; and the old cabin where he once spent his winters, as narrated on page 137. These are now occupied, and well cared for, by Mr. A. Harris and family.


But a few yards beyond these we cross the streams that form the Royal Arch Cascades, a diamond-lighted, wavy, musical rivulet, that drops gently down some two thousand feet over the Royal Arch wall. This is so called from the immense arches that are hewed out of its side, which have a span of over a quarter of a mile, and a height of about one thousand seven hundred feet; and which, with the Washington Tower, form the base of the great North Dome, represented in the engraving.

The Indian name of this arch-formed and dome-crowned mountain is To-coy-ae, derived from the prominence and depth (some fifty feet) of one of its projecting conchoidal fractures, having a resemblance to a poke-bonnet-like shade to the Indian baby-basket, for protecting the occupant’s eyes from the sun, and which is called “to-coy-ae.” Owing to the curve of these wing-like arches, stretching as they do from a kind of lion-like head, near the top of Washington Tower—as the abutting angle of this mountain is called—a gentleman resident of Philadelphia suggested that “The Winged Lion” (one of the sculptures found by Layard in the ruined cities of the Euphrates Valley) would be a more expressive and suitable name for it than “Royal Arches.”

There is a large cave among the talus lying here, that was once used as a store-room by Mr. Lamon, whenever his winters were spent outside the Valley. Near this there is also another talus-formed cave, that is a natural fortification, and which was used as such, by the Indians, when pursued by the avenging soldiers in 1851-52. A short turn out from the road, when re turning from Mirror Lake, will afford the opportunity of seeing it.

North Dome, Royal Arches, and Washington Tower. (North Dome, 3,700 feet above Valley.)
Photo by C. Roach.
(North Dome, 3,700 feet above Valley.)

When on the road towards Mirror Lake it may not be amiss to revert to the legend recorded on page 59, as it was here the exploit occurred that gave the name of “Yo Semite” to the tribe, and afterwards to the Valley itself. Riding over rocky hillocks, and among debris that has at some time fallen from the adjacent mountains, with a park-like array of trees on either hand, we first arrive at Little Lake; and, just beyond it, the bright bosom of the enchantingly beautiful Mirror Lake comes into full view.

At first its size is slightly disappointing, but that is soon lost sight of and forgotten in admiration of its transcendent loveliness. There is not a spot on earth, yet seen by man, that so charmingly blends majesty with beauty. And as soon as the beatified first impression somewhat subsides, and we can analyze its marvelous surroundings more in detail, the stronger becomes the conviction of its unequaled charms.

In full front of us, bearing a little to the left, perhaps, stands Mount Watkins, a second El Capitan (yet loftier), that exceeds four thousand feet in height above the bosom of the lake; then comes the deep gorge through which the waters of Lake Ten-ie-ya, (some twelve miles easterly), leap from crag to pool, then gurgle among huge blocks of granite, until they reach Mirror Lake, there to become the medium of so much satisfying splendor; on the right of this stands glorious Cloud’s Rest, nearly six thousand feet above the lake; and directly southeast of us towers up nearly five thousand feet the over-shadowing and lofty wall of grand “Tis-sa-ack” (Half Dome), so called in affectionate veneration for the Indian’s guardian angel of the Valley, bearing that name, as will become more apparent when the accompanying legend is read.

Almost one-half of this immense mass, either from some convulsion of nature, or

“Time’s effacing fingers,”

has fallen over, by which, most probably, the dam for the lake was first formed. Yet proudly, aye, defiantly erect, it still holds its noble head, and it is not only the highest of all those standing more immediately around, but is one of the greatest attractions of the Valley. Moreover, in this are centered many agreeable associations to the Indian mind, as this was once the traditionary home of the

Ke-ko-too-yem (Sleeping Water), or Mirror Lake.
angel-like and beautiful Tis-sa-ack, after whom her devoted Indian worshipers named this gloriously majestic mountain. While we sit in the shade of these fine old trees, and look upon all the objects around us, mirrored in the unruffled waters of the lake, let us relate the following interesting legend of Tu-tock-ah-nu-lah, after whom the vast perpendicular and massive projecting rock at the lower end of the valley was named, and with which is closely interwoven the history of Tis-sa-ack.

This legend was related in an Eastern journal, by a gentle man once visiting here, who signs himself “Iota,” and who received it from the lips of an old Indian; the relation of which, although several points of interest are omitted, will, nevertheless, prove very entertaining:—


[Editor’s note: this “legend” “was almost certainly fabricated” according to NPS Ethnologist Craig D. Bates. It was first published in Hutchings “The Great Yo-Semite Valley” (1859) —dea.]

“It was in the unremembered past that the children of the sun first dwelt in Yo Semite. Then all was happiness; for Tu-tock-ah-nu-lah sat on high in his rocky home, and cared for the people whom he loved. Leaping over the upper plains, he herded the wild deer, that the people might choose the fattest for the feast. He roused the bear from his cavern in the mountain, that the brave might hunt. From his lofty rock he prayed to the Great Spirit, and brought the soft rain upon the corn in the valley. The smoke of his pipe curled into the air, and the golden sun breathed warmly through its blue haze, and ripened the crops, that the women might gather them in. When he laughed, the face of the winding river was rippled with smiles; when he sighed, the wind swept sadly through the sighing pines; if he spoke, the sound was like the deep voice of the cataract; and when he smote the far striding bear, his whoop of triumph rang from crag to gorge—echoed from mountain to mountain. His form was straight like the arrow, and elastic like the bow. His foot was swifter than the red deer, and his eye was strong and bright like the rising sun.

“But one morning, as he roamed, a bright vision came before him, and then the soft colors of the West were in his lustrous eye. A maiden sat upon the southern granite dome that lifts its gray head among the highest peaks. She was not like the dark maidens of the tribe below, for the yellow hair rolled over her dazzling form, as golden waters over silver rocks; her brow beamed with the pale beauty of the moonlight, and her blue eyes were as the far-off hills before the sun goes down. Her little feet shone like the snow-tufts on the wintry pines, and its arch was like the spring of a bow. Two cloud-like wings wavered upon her dimpled shoulders, and her voice was as the sweet, sad tone of the night-bird of the woods.

“’Tu-tock-ah-nu-lah,’ she softly whispered; then, gliding up the rocky dome, she vanished over its rounded tops. Keen was the eye, quick was the ear, swift was the foot of the noble youth as he sped up the rugged path in pursuit; but the soft down from her snowy wings was wafted into his eyes, and he saw her no more.

“Every morning now did the enamored Tu-tock-ah-nu-lah leap the stony barriers, and wander over the mountains, to meet the lovely Tis-sa-ack. Every day he laid sweet acorns and wild flowers upon her dome. His ear caught her footstep, though it was light as the falling leaf; his eye gazed upon her beautiful form, and into her gentle eyes; but never did he speak before her, and never again did her sweet-toned voice fall upon his ear. Thus did he love the fair maid, and so strong was his thought of her that he forgot the crops of Yo Semite, and they, without rain, wanting his tender care, quickly drooped their heads, and shrunk. The wind whistled mournfully through the wild corn, the wild bees stored no more honey in the hollow tree, for the flowers had lost their freshness, and the green leaves became brown. Tu-tock-ah-nu-lah saw none of this, for his eyes were dazzled by the shining wings of the maiden. But Tis-sa-ack looked with sorrowing eyes over the neglected Valley, when early in the morning she stood upon the gray dome of the mountain; so, kneeling on the smooth, hard rock, the maiden besought the Great Spirit to bring again the bright flowers and delicate grasses, green trees, and nodding acorns.

Then, with an awful sound, the dome of granite opened beneath her feet, and the mountain was riven asunder, while the melting snow from the Sierras gushed through the wonderful gorge. Quickly they formed a lake between the perpendicular walls of the cleft mountain, and sent a sweet murmuring river through the Valley. All then was changed. The birds dashed their little bodies into the pretty pools among the grasses, and, fluttering out again, sang for delight; the moisture crept silently through the parched soil; the flowers sent up a fragrant incense of thanks; the corn gracefully raised its drooping head; and the sap, with velvet footfall, ran up into the trees, giving life and energy to all. But the maid, for whom the Valley had suffered, and through whom it had again been clothed with beauty, had disappeared as strangely as she came. Yet, that all might hold her memory in their hearts, she left the quiet lake, the winding river, and yonder half dome, which still bears her name Tis-sa-ack. It is 5,000 feet above the placid lake that mirrors its imposing presence, and every evening it catches the last rosy rays that are reflected from the snowy peaks above. As she flew away, small downy feathers were wafted from her wings, and where they fell—on the margin of the lake, and over the meadows beyond—you now see thousands of little white violets, which, if lovingly plucked and kissed, will bring happy thoughts and pleasant dreams to their possessor, wheresoever they are carried.

“When Tu-tock-ah-nu-lah knew that she was gone, he left his rocky castle, and wandered away in search of his lost love. But that the Yo Semites might never forget him, with the hunting-knife in his bold hand, he carved the bold outlines of his noble head upon the rock that bears his name; and there they still remain 2,000 feet above, guarding the entrance to the Valley which had received his tender care. After many years of far-off journeyings, without finding his beloved Tis-sa-ack, he returned to his disconsolate home, and near where Po-ho-no spreads her vapory veil, his majestic bust stands prominently out above the encircling walls of his once happy habitation.”

Whole days could be enjoyably spent here, reading, musing, fishing, and rowing on the lake; and a drive to it with a pleasant party on a moonlight night, becomes a delightful entertainment. On one occasion the Hon. Mrs. Yelverton, with the gifted California writer, Mrs. Lawrence (better known by the nom de plume of “Red Ridinghood,” and who has done so much by her rich and varied description to bespeak rapt attention to the Valley), and nine others, spent a gloriously memorable evening here. Mrs. Yelverton very kindly favored us with Tennyson’s appropriate and inspiriting “Bugle Song:"—

The splendor falls on castle walls,
        And snowy summits old in story;
The long light shakes across the lakes,
        And the wild cataract leaps in glory.
Blow, bugle, blow; set the wild echoes flying;
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

Pausing a little longer between the higher notes than the music provides for, nine distinct echoes could be heard repeating its delicious strains. In the early morning, when every sound is hushed, and before the breeze disturbs its quiet, the echoes will be found excellent; but in the evening, when the haze lingers on the mountain-tops, and possibly prevents the sound from passing far upward, the effect is strongest and best.

Speaking of echoes, as story-tellers would say, this reminds me of Mr. J. H. Lawrence’s graphic description of an echo, when making his first trip to Yo Semite in 1855,* [* See page 93.] and Indians were supposed to be uninvitingly near:—

“Bang!” went the rifle, and a thousand echoes responded. “Great Scott!” exclaimed Hugh. “Just listen to it. Will it ever quit? Jee-whillikins! Who ever heard a gun crack like that? It seemed to stop for a while, but it’s going yet—broke out in a new place.”

“Well, now, I’m happy and content,” responded Jim; “for if there are any Indians within ten miles of us, they are going to get up and dust. No little squad of Mutes, Diggers, or Monos, are going to stop within hearing of a whole army. They’ll think there’s about five hundred of us—won’t they, Hugh?”

“Yes a thousand, easy enough. Did you ever hear the like of those echoes? They rattled away along the crest of the mountain, jumping in and out of the ravines, butting against the tops of the tall sugar pines, till they got tangled up and lost in a big canon somewhere away yonder, where they seemed to die out, muttering and grumbling; till directly they gathered themselves together again, and came rolling out big as pounds of wool.”

If we have been so injudicious as to leave the hotel or camp ground before breakfast, or neglected a precautionary provision for our mid day repast, an admonishing voice from the organs of digestion will probably hasten our premature departure; otherwise we might be induced to tarry longer to examine the supposed existence of refractory rays of light, which are said to transvert the ordinary image of trees mirrored, and to place them upright in the mirror as in nature; or examine, in detail, the many objects that are represented on the mountain walls, such as the clothesline, fish, heads of men and forms of women, elephants, etc., discovered by persons with keen eyesight, and strong imaginations.

When leaving Mirror Lake, immediately after our emergence from the rocky talus over which we have been riding, should we look southward, and up the cañon to the left of Glacier Point, we would see the Too-lool-a-we-ack, or Glacier Cañon Fall, leaping down over the cliff. Before leaving this part of the Valley let me call your attention to


That bubbles up, on the margin of Ten-ie-ya Creek. I once visited this spring in company with the eminent English chemist, Dr. F. R. Lees, of Leeds, and he pronounced it the finest and most valuable chalybeate spring he had ever seen. A carriage can go within a few yards of it.

Just below the chalybeate spring we take the Tis-sa-ack Avenue Road, a delightfully picturesque stretch, crossing the dark shady waters of Ten-ie-ya Creek on a strong bridge; and on the right hand, a few steps below it, can be seen the largest tree in the Valley, being twenty-eight feet in circumference at the ground. It is a red or Douglas spruce, Abies Douglasii. A couple of hundred yards from this, on our right, is the famous Lamon Orchard and cabin, where Mr. Lamon spent his two winters en tirely alone, as related on pages 135 and 138. On the south eastern edge of the Lamon Orchard, lying between Ten-ie-ya Creek and the main Merced River,


This seems to have been deposited here by the combined action of two glaciers; one moving down Ten-ie-ya Creek, and the other by the main river, joined in the Valley by another from Glacier Cañon. Glimpses of the sparkling stream, fringed with dogwoods, alders, oaks, and balm of gileads, with here and there a noble pine; scattered masses of granite, huge bowlders, and rocky spurs, over which our road passes; these, with Glacier Cañon and Glacier Point, unite to make the Tis-sa-ack Avenue drive one of the most enjoyable of them all. Presently we find ourselves on Tis-sa-ack Bridge, which here spans the Merced River; and, looking northerly, obtain one of the finest of all views of the North Dome, which, from this standpoint, is shaped like a huge Prussian military hat; and the leaping cascades above the bridge, overarched by alders, are both beautiful and wildly picturesque.

Spinning down the Valley from the bridge, seemingly directly underneath the Glacier Point Wall, we cross several large and deliciously cold springs that apparently boil out from beneath it; and which are to be pressed into service for supplying the new hotel with a most liberal abundance of excellent water (and yet leave plenty for others), and soon thereafter arrive at


To becomingly provide for the growing wants of the traveling public in accordance with the progressive spirit of the age, a new and commodious hotel was resolved upon at Yo Semite, and the sum of $40,000 was appropriated by the Legislature of 1885, for its construction. The Board of Commissioners immediately advertised for suitable plans, and from among those submitted, selected the one they deemed most appropriate. In addition to its architectural picturesqueness it has seventy-four good-sized bedrooms, dining and sitting rooms, billiard hall, and bar room, hot and cold baths, office, and other convenient apartments, in addition to capacious verandas on two stories. It is to be first-class in all its arrangements and appointments. [Editor’s note: This was later named the “Stoneman House” and it burned down a few years later, in 1894.]


About a quarter of a mile below the new hotel, a so-called “cyclone” swooped down from a point apparently west of the Glacier Wall on March 13, 1881, and cut a swath of forest desolation over three hundred yards in breadth; snapping off pine trees exceeding five feet in diameter, as though they were mere pipe stems; uprooting others, twisting and breaking off the tops and branches of sturdy oaks, as though enviously angry at the umbrageous quiet they were enjoying; and strewed the whole plateau with tree wrecks. One hundred cords of fire-wood, besides an abundance of good logs adapted to saw-mill purposes, were scattered around.

Now I cannot accept the “cyclone” theory, as its first efforts were expended near an almost vertical bluff, where there was no room for such a force to concentrate, and all the havoc made was in a direction at right angles with the bluff. My theory, therefore, is this (and I freely concede the privilege of accepting or declining it): On the 7th of March, a fall of snow came, that measured fourteen inches; on the 8th, fifteen inches; on the 9th, fourteen and a half inches; on the 10th, twelve inches; on the 11th, sixteen inches; on the 12th, thirteen inches; all of this lay on the shelving side of the mountain, back of the wind swath. On the 13th of March, after making an additional deposit of the feathery element of some ten inches, a steady and heavy rain set in; which, running down the shelving wall, severed the clinging connection between it and the snow; when, having no support, its natural weight, infiltrated by the falling rain, caused the entire mass to suddenly give way, and as suddenly to displace the air, thus causing the devastation stated.

The lofty and bold surroundings on every hand may well charm us with their majesty and beauty, as we drive along; while the Yo Semite Fall in front of us all the way down, provides an everchanging and acceptable variety to this scenic feast. About a quarter of a mile before reaching Barnard’s, as part of our course is upon the bank of the Merced River, we can see the trout disporting themselves in its transparent waters; and just beyond that, on our left, is the little school-house—and then, the hotels.


After a substantial lunch—called by many English visitors “tiffin"—made palatable by that best of all sauces, a good appetite, as our carriage is possibly waiting, let us make an excursion down the Valley and gaze upon some of its matchless wonders. On this pilgrimage it is usual to recross the upper iron bridge, again review many of the scenes witnessed on our way to Mirror Lake, pass the Yo Semite Fall, and, directly in front of us, stands Eagle Peak, three thousand eight hundred and eighteen feet above the valley. As we, at a future time, are to climb to its exalted summit, we will, if you please, only glance at its sky-piercing pinnacle, and pass down Pine Avenue to


This is just under the lower shoulder of the “Three Brothers,” and is formed by large blocks of rocky talus that once peeled from its side. By the excellence of the road made over this difficult spot can now be seen how these huge masses had to yield to blasting powder, human will and muscle, pulley blocks, and mule power, for such results to be accomplished. From one part of the road here a magnificent view is obtained of the entire eastern end of the Valley. Soon after crossing Rocky Point—a reference to the tables will show the distances traveled—we arrive at and examine the Indian Camp and its inmates; but, as the manners and customs of these really interesting people will be given in a separate chapter, further present description will be unnecessary.

When about a mile below the Indian Camp, by looking back in a north easterly direction, we have an excellent view of


By reference to page 67, it will be seen that this was so called from three brothers, sons of the old Indian Chief Ten-ie-ya, who were acting as Indian scouts during the Indian campaign of 1851, and were captured here. The Indian name is Pom-pom-pa-sa, which signifies “the three mountains playing leap-frog,” and which becomes suggestive of the Indians’ indulgence in that

The Three Brothers (highest 3,818 feet above valley).
Photo by C. L. Weed.
THE THREE BROTHERS (Highest 3,818 feet above Valley).
boyish pastime. But soon after passing these we find ourselves in the awe-inspiring and over shadowing presence of


[* “Tu-tock-ah-nu-lah” was to the Indians of antiquity a semi-diety and chief in whose person was centered the double responsibility of head purveyor of creature comforts for the Ah-wah-nee-chees upon earth, and the superintendence of their enjoyments in the hunting grounds of their Indian heaven. “El Capitan” is Spanish for The Captain, a name given to this bold jutting mountain by the Mission Indians, and which was probably derived from their Spanish instructors, the priests.]

But what finite mind can ever comprehend the marvelous massiveness of this monarch of mountains—a mighty fabric of granite towering up three thousand three hundred feet in the zenith? or who conceive the amplitude, or magnitude, of three thousand three hundred feet of vertical rock cleavage? Those who have seen the Palace Hotel in San Francisco will remember how that structure overtops all contiguous buildings; yet, that immense caravansary is but one hundred and ten feet from the sidewalk to the cornice; therefore, it would require just thirty Palace Hotels, on top of each other, to reach the edge of El Capitan, above the meadow in front of it. Then, supposing this mountain could be laid along Montgomery Street, San Francisco, it would extend from Post Street, at the corner of Market, to Broadway, over ten blocks, including the cross streets. Trinity Church steeple, New York, is two hundred and eighty-four feet high; therefore it would require eleven and a half of these to attain such an altitude. The statue on the dome of the Capitol at Washington, D. C., being three hundred and seven feet above the base of that structure, would take ten and three-quarters of that imposing building, to enable the lips of the Goddess of Liberty, on the top of it, to kiss the brow of Tu-tock-ah-nu-lah. St. Paul’s Cathedral, at London, including the dome, is three hundred and sixty-five feet above the church-yard, so that over nine of those would be required to attain an equal elevation. St. Peter’s, at Rome, four hundred and five feet high, would need to be over eight times its height, before the shoulder of its cross could touch that of El Capitan. And, allowing the possibility of its falling over, into, and across the Valley, its grand old head would lie on the bosom of the opposite cliff! while forming a dam that would convert the whole upper end of the Valley into a lake exceeding half a mile in depth. Who, then, can fully comprehend the stupendous magnitude of incomparable El Capitan?

It has two immense faces exceeding half a mile in breadth; one to the south (which is said to overhang more than one hundred feet, a short distance east of the abutting angle), upon which Tu-tock-ah-nu-lah, according to the legend,* [* Page 388.] “carved the outlines of his noble head,” and whose portrait attracts the attention of every curious passer-by; and the other face is on the west (which also overhangs) upon the top of which is the only place where a human foot can safely approach the edge, and from that standpoint look into an abyss exceeding three thousand five hundred feet in depth. Well might the Rev. Thomas Starr King, while reverentially gazing at this marvelous cliff, with deep emotion exclaim, “A more majestic object than this rock I never expect to see upon this planet!”

Then it should be remembered that the views obtained of it are generally from the road about half a mile away; but to feel the unutterable majesty of its sublime presence, the debris should be climbed, and one’s back placed against its overhanging wall. The small proportionate amount of debris lying at its base, is cause for thoughtful musing as to the why and wherefore; and probably keeps our thoughts ruminatingly busy while reluctantly turning our faces away from it.

Emerging into the green meadow just beyond, the “Cathedral Group” of mountains strikingly confronts us; and possibly invites a comparison between those before and that we have just lingeringly left behind. The excellence of the road, and the scenes still awaiting us, both stimulate and invite to an increase in the speed of our horses; and in a few minutes we find ourselves on a straight and elevated roadway, beneath which numerous culverts provide for the unobstructed exit of the glinting waters of numerous branches of a pebbly and bowlder-strewn stream, that has just made an unbroken leap of over two thousand feet, and which is known as


The Indians call this Lung-oo-too-koo-yah, or the graceful and slender one; while a lady, whose name shall be nameless, once christened it “Virgin’s Tears;” but, when a matter-of-fact person made inquiry for any legitimate reason why a virgin should weep, or, weeping, cause such floods of tears to flow, he was thought to possess as limited an amount of idealism as Bob Cratchet, who, according to Dickens, “tried to warm himself at the candle; in which effort, not being a man of strong imagination, he failed;” and when the same individual hazarded the casual remark that “his acquaintance was exceedingly limited with those of the masculine gender who would be likely to fall hopelessly in love with any virgin that wept like that,” his organ of ideality was considered to be equivalent to the size of a mathematical point, which, paradoxically considered, has neither breadth nor length, height nor depth, except that which is imaginary!

Looking up towards the rim of the mountain, a white stream can be seen shooting out, at an altitude of three thousand three hundred and fifty feet above the road; which, in addition to its great height, being over a mile distant, appears to the eye to be descending very leisurely and with gentle grace, the two thousand one hundred feet of its vertical fall into the basin beneath it; but, when standing near, and almost underneath it, the rapidity of its descent is remarkable. The exceeding beauty of its lace-like and gauzy drapery is simply enchanting in the early spring. Nearly perpendicular, tower-like walls, of two thousand three hundred and fifty feet, frame a recess some three hundred feet deep from the general face of the mountain; and which, beyond question, has been cut out by the stream that forms this lofty water-fall; assisted, of course, by other disintegrating elements. The gneiss which here composes the northern wall of the Valley, being very friable, its constant crumblings have created a deposit of talus at their base over thirteen hundred feet in height, thus tending to confirm the probability that Yo Semite was formed by erosive rather than by volcanic agencies.

Near the western terminus of the straight stretch of carriage road across the Ribbon Fall streams, can even now be distinctly seen


That at one time extended entirely across the Valley, and formed an immense dam, by which the whole of the upper end of the Valley was converted into a lake—possibly the most remarkable one that ever existed upon earth. The height of this moraine-built dam, when the glaciers carried it there, in the fifty thousands or hundreds of thousand years ago, more or less, can only be conjectured; but now its crest is only about fifty feet above the present level of the meadow. During some great flood this lake must have overflowed, where the Merced River now runs; and, tearing away a portion of the moraine, cut the present channel of the river; as the rapids down which it so impetuously rushes are strewn with glacier-rounded bowlders. Standing upon the lower iron bridge—the floor of which, according to the Wheeler U. S. Survey, is only nine feet lower than that of the upper iron bridge, near Barnard’s—these can readily be noted, and both of the river-cut ends of the moraine be seen.

As additional inductive data, suggestive of the upper end of the Valley having once been a lake, may be mentioned that, when the new piece of road was built near the blacksmith’s shop, and the deep hollow there had to be filled up, the material was taken from the adjacent bank; where, underneath large blocks of granite, that had peeled off from the mountain’s side, was an immense deposit of lake sand, not less than eighteen feet in thickness or depth above the road.

After the cutting away of a portion of the moraine, as above mentioned, the whole of the waters of the lake must have drained off, and left the surface of the Valley substantially as it now is; of course minus the wonderful plant life that now adorns it.

Half Dome and Clouds’ Rest, from Glacier Point. Men standing on a precipice of 3,257 feet
Photo by S. C. Walker.Photo-typo by Britton & Rey, S. F.
Half Dome and Clouds’ Rest, from Glacier Point.
Men standing on a precipice of 3,257 feet.
(See page 469.).

When the low back of the moraine is crossed, on our right hand we pass the junction of the Milton and Big Oak Flat road with that of the grand drive around the Valley. And but a short distance beyond this, on the rocky banks of the river, there is a fine view of a series of bounding cascades, that extend, apparently, up to the bluffs at the farther end, their diamond tipped waves curling around moss-covered bowlders; and all overarched by lofty trees. Beyond this a glimpse is obtained of the ever-graceful Bridal Veil Fall. But on we drive, and near a bright green meadow, margined by alders, and liberally adorned with wild flowers that delight in moisture, we come to


These take their name from the color of the rich alluvial through which the delightfully refreshing waters of two full-flowing springs hurry down a deep-cut gully that crosses the road. This, in appearance, is only one spring, while in reality it is formed of two, that boil out from beneath a large flat rock about a hundred yards distant, on sides opposite to each other; one spring being chalybeate, and the other pure water. Here man (including the ladies) and beast find refreshing drink, and generally pause to take it. Turning to the left, just below this, at a bend in the road, we find the magnificent


Standing on the western margin of this beautiful stream, looking eastward, with the rushing, gurgling current in the immediate foreground, there opens up before us one of the most charmingly impressive scenes that human eyes can look upon. On the extreme left is the Ribbon Fall, with its broken yet massive wall; next adjoining comes glorious old El Capitan; in the far-away distance are Cloud’s Rest and the Half Dome; then, The Sentinel, and Sentinel Dome; the Three Graces, flanked by the darkly scowling mountain over which leaps the bright-faced Bridal Veil Fall; the whole forming a captivating combination of majesty and loveliness. Turning away from this delighting spectacle the Pohono Bridge is soon passed, and we enter upon the


This is a portion of the Coulterville Turnpike, and is constructed on the margin of the cliff-walled and bowlder-strewn cañon of the Merced River, where it makes its hurried exit from the Valley. The many attractive forms of its bounding waters, as they dash, and eddy, and surge, and swirl among and over huge blocks of rock, with lofty and frowning bluffs on either side, whose faces are fringed with trees and shrubs, and beautified by numerous rivulets, that come leaping down from ridge to ledge, or trickling through the furrows, and among the wrinkles of their weather-aged yet open countenances. And at almost every stretch and turning of this live oak arched road, are wild flowers and shrubs in endless forms, combined with such variety of coloring as to make constant and inspiriting additions to our pleasurable ride. But the climax of all these charming scenes comes when we can catch the first sight of


These are seen bounding over and adown the mighty crags, driving out eddies of sun-lighted spray, that wave and toss their vapory veils upon the rocks and trees with such graceful abandon that the eye never wearies in watching their aerial frolics. And it is not a little singular that these cascades, which are formed from two streams, although having their sources in directly opposite directions, join forces at the verge of the cliff, and make the leap together. From the road to the top of Cascade Falls the altitude is seven hundred feet.

In order to enjoy this visit thoroughly the larger portion of the day should be devoted to it, fortified by a good lunch, and fishing tackle; and, best of all, genial and appreciative companions. At the farther end of the flat, not very far from Vulcan’s Workshop, there is a shady grove of California nutmegs, and other trees, that make this a pleasant picnic ground.

Returning we watch the silver-crested curls of the foaming river; note its dark green pools, and curving eddies, and listen to the deep paean of its triumphal song, as it rushes on so fearlessly, I had almost said recklessly, down a cataract of two miles, wherein is a descent, vertically, of five hundred and fifty feet. As the ascent by the road from Cascade Falls to the floor of the Valley is somewhat of a tax upon the breath and strength of the horses, progress up it is naturally slower than when going down, and gives time and opportunity for noticing many points that were then overlooked. This is really no small advantage. We soon, however, find ourselves on


A casual glance at this substantial structure will present an example of the strength, solidity, and permanence with which the Board of Commissioners are making the necessary improvements about the Valley. Looking down upon the swiftly surging current below the bridge, or the placid stretch of dark green water above it, or at its matchless surroundings, one can scarcely refrain from exclaiming, “What a glorious picture gallery. Verily!”


The densely massed shadows of this tree-arched avenue, which we enter when leaving the bridge, become as refreshing as the blossoming dogwoods, which stand on either side, are exhilarating; and the many-voiced, plant-garnished Moss Springs, and Fern Springs, gushing out at our side, temptingly invite us to drink of their transparent and ice-tempered waters. Still tasting them retrospectively, we emerge from an umbrageous forest of evergreens upon the blight, grassy Bridal Veil Meadow, whence an apparently new combination of scenic effects is everywhere visible. Here, too, looking southwestwardly, we can see the “Inspiration Point” of early days, when the trail from Clark’s neared the very edge of the precipice, and the first sight of glorious Yo Semite was obtained. Hence, also, can be seen “Mount Beatitude,” and the sublime “Standpoint of Silence,” a spot first brought to the notice of visitors by Mr. C. D. Robinson, the artist. After crossing another terminal, and passing an additional lateral moraine, we come into full view of

Distant view of the 'Pohono,' or Bridal Veil Fall.
Photo by C. L. Weed.


It is impossible to portray the feeling of awe, wonder, and admiration—almost amounting to adoration—that thrills our very souls as we look upon this enchanting scene. The gracefully undulating and wavy sheets of spray, that fall in gauze-like and ethereal folds; now expanding, now contracting; now glittering in the sunlight, like a veil of diamonds; now changing into one vast

The Po-ho-no, or Bridal Veil Fall (900 feet high).
Instantaneous Photo by Geo. Fiske.Heliotype Co., Boston.
THE PO-HO-NO, OR BRIDAL VEIL FALL (900 feet high).
and many-colored cloud, that throws its misty drapery over the falling torrent, as if in very modesty, to veil its unspeakable beauty from our too eagerly admiring sight.

In order to see this to the best advantage, the eye should take in only the foot of the fall at first, then a short section upward, then higher, until, by degrees, the top is reached. In this way the majesty of the water-fall is more fully realized and appreciated.

The stream itself—about forty feet in width—resembles an avalanche of watery rockets, that shoots out over the precipice above you, at the height of nearly nine hundred feet, and then leaps down, in one unbroken chain, to the immense bowlder-formed caldron beneath, where it surges and boils in its angry fury; throwing up large volumes of spray, over which the sun builds two or more magnificent rainbows with which to arch the abyss.


“Pohono,” from whom the stream and water-fall received their musical Indian name, is, according to their traditions and legends, an evil spirit, whose breath becomes a blighting and fatal wind; and who, in consequence, is, in their apprehension, as much to be dreaded and shunned as the simooms of an African desert by an Arab. On this account, should necessity require them to pass by it, they do so with a reluctance that fills them with actual distress; and they will, if unseen by the whites, hurry past it at the top of their speed. To point at this water-fall contemptuously when traveling in the Valley, to their minds is certain death. No inducement could be offered sufficiently large to tempt them to sleep near it. In imagination they can hear the voices of those who have passed into the spirit world, through Pohono’s destroying breath, warning them ever to shun him as the worst of all enemies.


Nor is this so much to be wondered at when for a moment we pause to think that their untutored minds have never been taught, reasoningly, to look from effect to cause. They, therefore, see all natural phenomena through the delusive eyes of superstition only. In this connection an illustrative and explanatory fact should here be given: I have passed this fall at almost all hours of the night, and at nearly every season of the year, and for many years; and there has not been a dozen occasions in all that time that I have not experienced a peculiar and strong wind blowing, within a given radius of about half a mile. When without that radius scarcely a breath of wind was noticeable; returning into it, the same wind was bending and swaying the shrubs and trees as before. This has been many times repeated on the same evening, and always with the same results. And it is more than probable, that, from this simple, natural phenomenon, the Indian’s imagination has created “Pohono,” and invested him with a personality whose every attribute is clothed with angry enmity to the Indian race.


On the top of the Pohono Fall, moreover, there is a short and densely textured moss, not more than half an inch in height or thickness, which is as soft to the tread as a Turkey carpet; and which, when dry, will enable any one to go in perfect safety to the very brink of the precipice; but, if wet, it becomes as slippery, and as difficult to stand upon, as ice that is slanting, so that no one need expect to preserve his equilibrium on that wet moss. This, to the Indian apprehension, has been placed there by Pohono for the purpose of tempting and entrapping the thoughtless and unwary; and, as tradition has it, with more or less success.


Some Indian women that were out gathering seeds, were led by curiosity to go to the edge of the fall to look over, when it is asserted that the shadowy and ghost-like form of Pohono was seen to throw one of the Indian women down; and the force of the current striking her swept her helplessly into the abyss below. Seeing this the other women hastened to the Indian camp as rapidly as possible and related the fearful story with terrible effect. In the hopeful expectation of affording relief to the unfortunate one, as courage rose in proportion to the numbers volunteering, every brave in camp was induced to sally out to search for the hapless one, determined to rescue her from the weird-like clutches of Pohono, at any risk. But, although diligent search was made for her everywhere, the missing victim was never seen afterwards; and it was, and is still, believed that Pohono spirited her away bodily to some unknown pandemonium; and is, moreover, constantly seeking after others for a like purpose. Several Indians of both sexes having lost their lives here, they believe that this stream is bewitched by Pohono; and, consequently, to be both dreaded and shunned at all times.


The creek which forms this graceful and beautiful fall derives its principal source from some large springs which flow into a crescent-shaped and rock-bound lake about thirteen miles distant; and although this stream is never entirely dry, it becomes very low sometimes near the end of summer. In winter the icicles that feather both sides of the fall are very attractive, and the masses of ice that form here, in which there are grotto-like eaves roofed with icicles, are resplendently dazzling.

The bright rainbows which are built by the setting sun on the tops of the eddying mists that roll out from the seething caldron at the base of the Pohono Fall, at all seasons of the year, are the most beautifully brilliant between four o’clock and half past five in the afternoon; therefore, the many tempting sights elsewhere should be made somewhat subordinate to this, if it is deemed desirable that this should be seen to the best advantage. At other times it is simply an enchantingly charming and graceful water-fall; but, when lighted up by brilliant rainbows, a halo of glory seems to enshrine it, that makes it a delightful memory forever. Please, therefore, to remember that although the Bridal Veil Fall “can be seen” at other times (in accordance with the established custom of society belles!) it “receives” only at the time mentioned.

Ten-ie-ya Cañon, and surrounding mountains. From Glacier Point.
Photo by Geo. Fiske.Photo-Typo by Britton & Rey, S. F.
Ten-ie-ya Cañon, and Surrounding Mountains.
From Glacier Point.
(See page 469.)


The vertical and, at some points, overhanging mountains on either side of the Pohono, possess almost as much interest as the fall itself, and add much to the grandeur and magnificence of the whole scene. A tower-shaped and leaning rock, about three thousand feet in height, standing at the southwest side of the fall, sometimes called the “Leaning Tower,” nearly opposite “Tu-tock-ah-nu-lah,” has on its top a number of projecting rocks that very much resemble cannon. In order to assist in perpetuating the beautiful legend before given concerning that Indian semi-deity, we once took the liberty of christening this “Tu-tock-ah-nu-lah’s Citadel.”


South of Tu-tock-ah-nu-lah’s Citadel, or the Leaning Tower, stands a lofty point of exceeding prominence, having the form and resemblance of a finely proportioned human head. This, the Indian traditions assert, is Tu-tock-ah-nu-lah waiting in hopeful faith and patience for the return of the long lost and deeply mourned Tis-sa-ack, who is still expected to return and bless the heart and wigwam of its semi-deity and greatest chief, Tu-tock-ah-nu-lah, with her enrapturing presence.

The immense deposits of talus lying here, nearly a quarter of a mile wide, are deeply cut into and across by three main streams, through which the whole of the water from the Bridal Veil Fall impetuously rushes, and forming other sources of attraction, can be pleasantly witnessed and enjoyed from the three substantial bridges that span those streams. After rounding the point easterly of the Bridal Veil Fall, although both the Ribbon Fall and El Capitan are immediately in front of us, we must not allow their attractive presence to divert our attention altogether from a portion of another moraine, that is lying directly on our right; or, to omit noticing the rapids that are bounding in such frolicsome glee over and among the glacial-rounded bowlders that were washed from the terminal moraine before mentioned, as these continue to the El Capitan iron bridge, and over these rapids trees have constructed an avenue of great loveliness.


Passing down the Valley on its northern side, and up on its southern, may, inadvertently, lead us to overlook the view from the lower iron, or El Capitan bridge. This would be an undesirable oversight, inasmuch as, in addition to the river ends of the terminal moraine, which it is thought once converted the upper end of the Valley into a lake, and which are so plainly visible here, a magnificent view is presented when looking eastwardly not only of the Merced River in the foreground, but of Cloud’s Rest, ten miles away, in the far-off distance. This name of “Cloud’s Rest” is derived from the interesting fact that clouds are frequently resting upon this mountain when there is not another cloud visible anywhere else upon the whole vaulted firmament. Looking west, another view of the rapids, and of the tree-vista inclosing them, can be obtained. After crossing the bridge and returning to the southern side, up which we are supposed to be traveling, we come to the


Two very noticeable and remarkable formations; towering up as they do on our right, alone, and unsupported by any contiguous mountain for over seven hundred feet above their base, like two immense cathedral spires, suggested the appropriate name. The Indians call them Poo-see-nah Chuck-ka, on account of their resemblance to the acorn store baskets of that people. According to the Wheeler U. S. Survey the most southerly one is two thousand six hundred and seventy-eight feet above the road; and that northerly two thousand five hundred and seventy-nine feet.

On one occasion (October 6, 1877), the writer, with Mr. S. C. Walker, the photographer, accompanied by two Indians as packers, carried photographic apparatus, and worked our way up the rock-strewn gorge lying at the base of these spires, to the sag or

Merced River view from El Capitan Bridge.
Photo by Geo. Fiske.Heliotype Eng. Co., Boston.
hollow between the two highest of the “Three Graces,” for its view. And it was a view, par excellence. The deep-cut, darkly frowning, and almost vertically-walled gorge up which we climbed was full of large and lofty sugar pines, firs, cedars, and spruces that were growing among huge blocks of granite that had at some time peeled off the sides of the gorge, and, being scattered everywhere, made the climb anything but easy. But, when once there, I believe it no exaggeration, or dreamy hyperbole, not only to assert but to affirm, that from what scenes I have personally witnessed in many lands, and from other individuals have heard, as well as from the illustrations and descriptions that have been published, I am convinced that this is probably


I am aware that this saying much. I am also aware that to those who do not know me it will be received with many grains of qualifying allowance; but, I nevertheless present it as the conviction of my unprejudiced judgment to be an actual, positive, and undeniable fact, and one to be verified the moment the Board of Commissioners shall have made the ascent possible by a good trail. To describe such a scene, therefore, would be simply impossible, so I will merely outline the principal points seen from thence. And, first to be mentioned, are the Cathedral Spires themselves, which are not only to be seen with their rocky needles standing boldly out from and above the mountain of which they form a part, but their entire masonry is visible from apex to base, a height of seventeen hundred feet; and which is apparently as true as though built by a plummet board, adjusted to an angle of say eighty-five degrees, or only five degrees from the perpendicular. While, on the other side is a perfect wall, standing at almost as steep an angle as the spires, and yet reaching to the foreground of the picture.

Deep down the narrow, tree-darkened hollow that is bounded by these walls, and over the tops of the trees, two thousand nine hundred feet below lies the Valley, the sheen of its serpentine river sparkling glintingly among the trees, with its meadows and pools, and gardens, and buildings there before one. All the northern rim of the Valley, with the Yo Semite Fall, North Dome, Royal Arches, Washington Tower, Mirror Lake, Mt. Watkins, and the whole distance up Ten-ie-ya Cañon, and the trail to Glacier Point, lie directly visible on our left; while over the shoulder whence spring the “Spires,” Cloud’s Rest, The Sentinel, Sentinel Dome, Profile, or Fissure, Mountain, can be seen; and in the far-off distance stands Ten-ie-ya, Monastery, Cathedral, Echo, Temple, Unicorn, and other peaks, stretching to the very crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. To those who can imagine what a picture could be when filled in by vertical precipices, and jutting or overhanging cliffs; the distance draped with ethereal haze; and the whole heightened by the magical effects of light and shade, it would seem almost impossible that such a scene could be overdrawn; or the statement questioned that this is one of the most sublimely impressive views on earth.

Returning in imagination to the Valley again, and still advancing up its southern side, we can see other wild and weird-like peaks and rents in the mountain’s face, and among the niches of every cliff, so that it is not this or that particular rock, or chasm only, that attracts so much, but the infinite and ever changing variety of all. Among these, however, one point stands out somewhat prominently, known as


The first appellation comes from the many faces that can be distinctly traced upon its northeastern edge at almost any hour of the day, but the afternoon’s light streaming in between the points defines them strongest. It is in this crag, moreover, that the fissure (described on page 344) cuts so deep a crevice. The crown of this bluff is nearly three hundred feet higher than any of its illustrious compeers in this immediate vicinity, and its vertical depth greater than all, if we except El Capitan. The view from it, therefore, is very fine. A little northerly of this is a light-colored spot, whence, in 1857, a chip fell, the debris from which was said to cover over thirty acres. But as we keep advancing there is one strikingly prominent mountain before us, and one that seems to have been in front of us for miles. It is “The Sentinel,” and near to it the Sentinel Cascades, and as they are in such close proximity we will, if you please, take a brief glance at both


Although the former has been the most conspicuous for some time, let us look first at the two leaping cascades, as they shoot down from the ragged-edged crest, three thousand four hundred feet above us. When these are fullest, their picturesque effect is simply marvelous; and when their volume is less, the foaming whiteness is merely changed to diamond brightness, and they are always beautiful.

The Sentinel (3,069 feet above the Valley.).
Drawn by Thos. Moran.
THE SENTINEL (3,069 feet above the Valley).

The “Sentinel” is the great central landmark of the Valley; and, whether draped in belts of cloud, or gilded by a golden sunset, its isolated prominence is ever imposingly magnificent. Looking at it from the objective point whence Mr. Moran’s sketch was taken, or Mr. Fiske’s photograph, its front resembles an obelisk, or the tower of some vast cathedral, of which it forms a part. Its face is almost vertical for nearly two thousand feet. It is said that the Indians once used this not only as a watch-tower, but as a signal station, on all important occasions. They call it Loya.

Now although the climb to its summit is both difficult and dangerous, one lady—and one only (Mrs. Geo. B. Bayley, of Oakland, California)—has undertaken the task, and with her husband, has stood upon its highest point; and there placed a white flag, that remained until it had been waved into shreds.

Soon we cross the streams that have formed the Sentinel Cascades; stop at, or pass, Leidig’s Hotel, Fiske’s photographic gallery, Yo Semite chapel, Galen Clark’s residence, Cook’s bath house, Coffman & Kenney’s livery stable, Cook’s Hotel, and Mr. Thomas Hill’s studio—with the Yo Semite Falls and Eagle Peak nearly all the time in sight. Between Cook’s and Barnard’s hotels there is a stretch of tree-arched road, bordered on the right by a frowning bluff, upon the side and shoulder of which are unmistakable evidences of the attrition caused by the passage down of the old-time glaciers, that once filled this Valley with ice. Beyond this we arrive at the store, Mrs. Glynn’s, the butcher’s and blacksmith’s shops, Mrs. Fagersteen’s photographic rooms, Sinning’s cabinet shop, the Guardian’s office, Mr. C. D. Robinson’s studio, and then Barnard’s, a mile beyond which is the new hotel.

The Sentinel casting reflections.
Photo by Geo. Fiske.Heliotype Engraving Co., Boston.

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