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"The Great Yo-Semite Valley,” Hutchings’ California Magazine, Oct. 1859, by James M. Hutchings

The Route to the Valley.

Life, so varied, hath more loveliness
In one brief day, than has a creeping century
Of sameness.

Baley’s Festus.

For the first three or four miles, our road lay up a rough, mountainous point, thro’ dense chaparal bushes that were growing on both sides of us, to a high, bold ridge; and from whence we obtained a splendid and comprehensive view of the foot-hills and broad valley of the San Joaquin. At this point we entered a vast forest of pines, cedars, firs, and oaks, and rode leisurely among their deep and refreshing shadows, occasionally passing saw-mills, or ox-teams that were hauling logs or lumber, until we reached “Bower Cave,” at about half past one, P. M., twelve miles distant from Coulterville.

This is a singular grotto-like formation, about one hundred feet in depth, and length, and ninety feet in width, and which is entered by a passage not more than three feet six inches wide, at the northern end of an opening some seventy feet long by thirteen feet wide, nearly covered with running vines and maple trees, that grow out from within the cave; and when these are drawn aside, you look into a deep abyss, at the bottom of which is a small sheet of water, made shadowy and mysterious by overhanging rocks and trees. On entering, you walk down a flight of fifty-two steps, to a newly constructed wooden platform, and from whence you can either pick your way to the water below, or ascend another flight of steps to a smaller cave above. But although there is a singular charm about this spot that amply repays a visit, we must not linger too long, but pay our dollar, (fifty cents too much), and renew our journey.


As the day was hot, and the ride a novelty to most of us, we took a long siesta here, not fairly starting before a quarter to five o’clock, P. M. From this point to “Black’s Ranch,” our five miles’ ride was delightfully cool and pleasant, and for the most part, by gradual ascent up a long gulch, shaded in places with a dense growth of timber, and occasionally across a rocky point to avoid a long detour or difficult passage. This part of our journey occupied us two hours. After a short delay, the ladies and a portion of our party started on, while Mr. Ewer and the writer having found one of the discoverers of the mammoth trees of Mariposa county, remained behind to glean some interesting facts concerning them, which will appear —in due season before this series of articles is finished. While thus engaged, we had not noticed the fast gathering night shadows; and, when we made the discovery, we gave the spurs to our horses and hurried off.

On account of the steep hill-side upon which our trail now lay, and the pious habits of one of our horses, as the night had become so dark that we could scarcely see our hands before us, this ride was attended with some danger, and required that in consideration of the value, on such a trip, of a sound neck, if only for the convenience of the thing, we remembered and practiced too, the Falstaffian motto concerning discretion, and took it leisurely; arriving at Deer Flat, six miles above Black’s, at a quarter past nine o’clock, P. M.

As our absence had created no little anxiety to at least one of the ladies of our party, on account of a husband being among the missing, our safe arrival in camp was welcomed with rejoicing acclamations. A good hearty meal was then discussed, and preparations made for passing the night, as comfortably as possible, in our star-roofed chamber, but on account of the novelty of our situation, to several, in camping out for the first time, it was long past midnight

“Ere slumber’s spell had bound us.”

Deer Flat is a beautiful green valley of about fifteen or twenty acres, surrounded by an amphitheatre of pines and oaks, and being well watered, makes a very excellent camping-ground. By the name given to this place, we thought that some game might probably reward an early morning’s hunt, and accordingly, about day-break, we sallied out, prepared for dropping a good fat buck, but as no living thing larger than a dove could be started up the amount of fresh meat thus obtained was not very troublesome to carry.

A few minutes after seven o’clock on the morning of the 17th, we again started, and although not in the possession of the brightest of feelings, either mental or physical, we had no sooner become fairly upon our way than the wild and beautiful scenes on every hand made us forget the broken slumber of the night, and the unsatisfactory breakfast of the morning, as we journeyed on towards Hazel Green, which point we reached in two hours,— six miles distant from Deer Flat.

From this point the distant landscapes began to gather in interest and beauty, as we threaded our way through the magnificent forest of pine on the top of the ridge. Here, the green valley deep down on the Merced; there, the snow-clothed Sierra Nevadas, with their rugged peaks towering up; and in the sheltered hollows of the base, Nature’s snow-built reservoirs, were glittering in the sun. These were glorious sights, amply sufficient in themselves to repay the fatigue and trouble of the journey without the remaining climax, to be reached when we entered the wondrous valley.

At ten minutes to eleven o’clock, A. M. we reached Crane Flat, six miles from Hazel Green; where, as there was plenty of grass and water, we took lunch and a rest of about two hours.

[From a Photograph by C. L. Weed.]

From this point parties visit the small grove of mammoth trees, to be seen on this route, but as our party was too anxious to look upon the great valley of waterfalls, we did not go down to see them; at our request, however, Rev. J. C. Holbrook has kindly favored us with the following extract from his note-book, which may happily supply the omission:—

“From Crane Flat we made a little detour to the right of about a mile and a half, to see some “Big Trees.” We found them to consist of a little cluster on the side of a deep cañon, of the same species of cedar as those which form the celebrated grove in Calaveras county. They are monsters, and of almost incredible size. Two of them grow from the same root, and are united near the base, and hence we call them the “Siamese Twins.” They are virtually one tree, being nourished by the same roots. We paced the distance around them at the bottom, close to the bark, and found it to be thirty-eight paces, or one hundred and fourteen feet, which would give as the diameter of both, thirty-eight feet!

The bark on one side has been cut into, and it measures twenty inches in thickness. At a few rods distance, interspersed among other trees, are four or five others of these monarchs of the forest, of which two or three are twenty-six paces each in circumference, or seventy-eight feet, with a diameter of twenty-six feet. They are perfectly straight, and tower up heavenward from 150 to 200 feet.

These trees are well worth visiting by any one who has not seen the groves in Calaveras and Mariposa counties. Such dimensions seem almost too marvelous for belief to persons at a distance: I sent the above statement to a daily paper in a western city, and in publishing it, the editor said: “We call particular attention to the statement relative to California forest trees. It would be accounted apocryphal had it a less reliable source.” The trail is very plain from Crane Flat to these trees, although the descent and ascent to and from them is rather laborious, especially on a day as intensely hot as was that on which I visited them.”

It is difficult to say whether the exciting pleasures of anticipation had quickened our pulses to the more vigorous use of our spurs, or that the horses had already smelled, in imagination at least, the luxuriant patches of grass in the great valley, or that the road was better than it had been before, certain it is, from whatever cause, we traveled faster and easier than at any previous time, and came in sight of the haze-draped summits of the mountain-walls that girdle the Yo-Semite Valley, in a couple of hours after leaving Crane Flat—distance nine miles.

Now, it may so happen that the reader entertains the idea that if he could just look upon a wonderful or an impressive scene, he could fully and accurately describe it. If so, we gratefully tender to him the use of our chair; for, we candidly confess, that we can not. The truth is, the first view of this convulsion-rent valley, with its perpendicular mountain cliffs, deep gorges, and awful chasms, spread out before us like a mysterious scroll, took away the power of thinking, much less of clothing thoughts with suitable language.

And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sack-cloth of hair, and the moon became as blood, and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs; when she is shaken of a mighty wind.

And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.

And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and mighty men, and every bondman, and every freeman, bid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and bide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?

These words from Holy Writ will the better convey the impression, not of the thought, so much, but of the profound feeling inspired by that scene.

“This verily is the stand-point of silence,” at length escaped in whispering huskiness from the lips of one of our number, Mr. Ewer. Let us name this spot “The Stand-point of Silence.” And so let it be written in the note-book of every tourist, as it will be in his inmost soul when he looks at the appalling grandeur of the Yo-Semite valley from this spot.

We would here suggest, that if any visitor wishes to see this valley in all its awe-inspiring glory, let him go down the outside of the ridge for a quarter of a mile and then descend the eastern side of it for three or four hundred feet, as from this point a high wall of rock, at your right hand, stands on the opposite side of the river, that adds much to the depth, and consequently to the hight of the mountains.

When the inexpressible “first impression” had been overcome and human tongues had regained the power of speech, such exclamations as the following were uttered—”Oh! now let me die, for I am happy.” “Did mortal eyes ever behold such a scene in any other land?” “The half had not been told us.” “My heart is full to overflowing with emotion at the sight of so much appalling grandeur in the glorious works of God!” “I am satisfied.” “This sight is worth ten years of labor,” &c., &c.

[From a Photograph by C. L. Weed.]

A young man, named Wadilove, who had fallen sick with fever at Coulterville, and who, consequently, had to remain behind his party, became a member of ours; and on the morning of the second day out, experiencing a relapse, he requested us to leave him behind; but, as we expressed our determination to do nothing of the kind, at great inconvenience to himself, he continued to ride slowly along. When at Hazel Green, he quietly murmured, “I would not have started on this trip, and suffer as much as I have done this day, for ten thousand dollars.” But when he arrived at this point, and looked upon the glorious wonders presented to his view, he exclaimed, “I am a hundred times repaid now for all I have this day suffered, and I would gladly undergo a thousand times as much, could I endure it, and be able to look upon another such a scene.”

Admonished by our excellent guide, (whom everybody called “Sam,”) we were soon in our saddles, and again on our way, never dreaming that we had spent more than a few brief minutes here, although our time-pieces told us that we had delayed forty-five, but which ought to have been prolonged to at least one day.

About a mile further on, we reached that point where the descent of the mountain commences; and where our guide required us to dismount, while he arranged the saddle blankets and cruppers, and straightened the saddle girths. Some were for walking down this precipitous trail to the valley, but as the guide informed such that it was nearly seven miles to the foot of the mountain, the desire, for the time being, was overcome; yet, in some of the steepest portions of the trail one or two of the party dismounted, neither of whom, we are proud to say, was a lady.

About two miles from the “Stand-Point of Silence,” while descending the mountain, we arrived at a rapid and beautiful cascade, across which was a bridge, and here we quenched our thirst with its delicious water. Here we will mention that there is an ample supply of excellent cool water, at convenient distances, the entire length of the route, whether by Coulterville or Mariposa.

Soon, another cascade was reached and crossed, and its rushing heedlessness of course among rocks, now leaping over this, and past that; here giving a seething, there a roaring sound; now bubbling, and gurgling here; and smoking and frothing there, kept some of us looking and lingering until another admonition of our guide broke the charm and hurried us away.

The picturesque wildness of the scene on every hand; the exciting wonders of so romantic a journey; the difficulties surmounted; the dangers braved, and overcome; put us in posession of one unanimous feeling of unalloyed delight; so that when we reached the foot of the mountain, and rode side by side among the shadows of the spreading oaks and lofty pines in the smooth valley, we congratulated each other upon looking the very picture of happiness personified.

But as the sun had set, and a ride of six miles was yet before us ere we reached the upper hotel (Hite’s) to which we were going, we quickened our speed, and reached the ferry. Here a new difficulty presented itself, inasmuch as the ferry-man had left it for the night, and lived nearly half a mile above. This however, was overcome, by bringing a fowling-piece into excellent play, (nearly the only one called for on the entire route,) on account of the scarcity of game, and after a delay of nearly one hour we were ferried across, at the rate of thirty-seven and a half cents per head, for men as well as animals, and at half-past nine o’clock, P. M., we arrived at the end of our day’s journey. We feel confident that we express the sentiment of each when we say that this day will be remembered among the most delightful of our lives.

Time of
h. m.
  Rest’g, &
h. m.

From Coulterville to Bower Cave,4 25 12
    Rested at the Cave,3 40
From the Cave to Black’s Inn,2 005
    Rested at Black’s 20
From Black’s to Deer Flat,1 45 6
    Camped for the night at Deer
        Flat, from 9 p. m. till 5 min.
        of 7 a. m.,
9 55
From Deer Flat to Hazel Green,2 006
    Rested at Hazel Green, 10
From Hazel Green to Crane Flat,1 306
    Rested and lunched at C. Flat, 2 15
From Crane Flat to “Stand-point
        of Silence,”
2 109
Stopped at “Stand-point of
From Stand-Point of Silence to 2d
        Cascade Bridge,
From 2d Cascade to foot of Trail,
        into Valley,
From foot of Trail to upper Hotel,6
From Stand-Point of Silence to
        Upper Hotel,
5 15
Total time of Travel,13 517 5
Total time of resting and camping,17 5
Total time from Coulterville to
        Hotel in Valley,
36 10
Total distance, 57

In our next number we shall continue this series of articles on the Yo-Semite Valley, and present some of the most skilfully drawn and finely executed engravings of all its most remarkable scenes that have ever appeared in this work, from photographs and sketches taken from nature.

Near View of the YO-SEMITE FALLS, 2,500 FEET IN HEIGHT. From a Photograph by C. L. Weed.
Near View of the YO-SEMITE FALLS,
[From a Photograph by C. L. Weed.]

GENERAL VIEW OF THE YO-SEMITE VALLEY, from Open-eta-noo-ah,—Inspiration Point,—on the Mariposa Trail.
From Open-eta-noo-ah,—Inspiration Point,—on the Mariposa Trail.

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Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management