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The Wonders of the Yosemite Valley, and of California by Samuel Kneeland (1872)


No one should leave California without visiting the mineral springs of Calistoga, and the Geysers. Calistoga is about sixty-four miles from San Francisco, by steamer twenty-four miles to Vallejo, thence by Napa Valley Railroad about forty more, via Napa, to the mineral springs, the most celebrated on the Pacific coast. The chief medicinal constituents are iron, magnesia, and sulphur, the temperature varying from boiling hot to icy cold. The vapor baths envelop the body like a hot robe, hence the name. The situation is one of the most charming in this delightful valley, and is appreciated by crowds of summer visitors, the greater part of whom pass onward to the “Geysers,” twenty-two miles farther. The mildness of the climate renders it especially suitable for the culture of fruit, and some of the finest vineyards in this vicinity are in Napa Valley. It is essentially an agricultural community, and though there is a very extensive distillery for the manufacture of brandy, from the pure juice of the grape, in Calistoga, it is said that there is neither a policeman, doctor, or lawyer a permanent resident of the place. The fishing is fine, and in the surrounding woods may be found a great variety of game, from the plumed quail to the huge grizzly. This favorite resort for health and pleasure is within three and a half hours of San Francisco, and may be reached twice daily.

About five miles from these springs, on at small elevation, is a petrified forest. All along the Central Pacific Railroad in the Sierra Nevada section, the traveller sees at the stations specimens, some very large and beautiful, of agatized, or silicified, or petrified wood; but here we find a forest, not buried in the ground, but exposed to view on the surface, though they are also met with at various depths in the soil. Within a radius of a mile are more than thirty of these fossil trees, the largest being twenty feet long and six feet in circumference; this trunk is prostrate, the roots being still below the surface, and is broken squarely across, and into several pieces, evidently silicified before it fell, the soil once surrounding it having been removed, probably by denudation from geological causes, and at a remote epoch; the hill upon which they are found is almost solid rock, conclusively showing the action of powerful denuding agencies. The wood is so hard that it will scratch glass, and in it are occasionally seen beautiful opaline spots. I do not know that the kind of tree has been accurately determined, though it is probably of some hard wood found now in this region. I have heard of other localities, near the line of railroad, both in California and Nevada, where similar petrified trees have been noticed.

The “Geysers” are in Sonoma County, twenty-two miles from Calistoga, by stage through Napa Valley, and about nine hours travel from San Francisco. They merit a visit not only for their medicinal properties, equal to those of Saratoga or Baden-Baden, but for their curious phenomena among the wildest and most picturesque scenery of the Coast Range. Along their course runs the Plutou or Sulphur Creek, stocked with fine trout, though in immediate proximity to troubled and diabolical looking waters. The waters found in the Geyser Cañon are alkaline, sulphurous, or acid, forming efficacious remedies for various cutaneous, rheumatic, and chronic diseases; some are icy cold, others boiling hot.

From Lieut. Davidson’s account, the reader may form a good idea of the qualities of these waters. About seventy-five feet below the hotel, is the first spring of iron, sulphur and soda, with a temperature of seventy-three degrees Fahr.; going up the Geyser gulch you come to the tepid alum and iron spring, with a temperature of ninety-seven degrees, forming, in the course of twelve hours, a heavy iridescent incrustation of iron; within twenty feet of this is a spring of a temperature of eighty-eight degrees, containing ammonia, Epsom salts, magnesia, sulphur, and iron, yielding crystals of Epsom salt two inches long; higher up is a boiling spring of alum and sulphur, with a heat of 156 degrees, and near it, also, a hot black sulphur spring. The following, paragraphs are taken from Lieut. Davidson’s account of these Geysers.

“As we wander over rock, heated ground, and thick deposits of sulphur, salts, ammonia, tartaric acid, magnesia, etc., we try our thermometer in the Geyser stream, a combination of every kind of medicated water, and find it rises up to 102 degrees. The ‘Witches’ Cauldron’ is over seven feet in diameter, of unknown depth. The contents are thrown up about two or three feet high, in a state of great ebullition, semi-liquid, blacker than ink, and contrasting with the volumes of vapor arising from it; temperature, 195 degrees. Opposite is a boiling alum spring, very strongly impregnated; temperature, 176 degrees. Within twelve feet is an intermittent scalding spring, from which issue streams and jets of boiling water. We have seen them ejected over fifteen feet. But the glory of all is the ‘Steamboat Geyser,’ resounding like a high-pressure seven-boiler boat blowing off steam, so heated as to be invisible until it is six feet from the mouth. Just above this the gulch divides; up the left or western one are many hot springs, but the ‘Scalding Steam Iron Bath’ is the most important; temperature, 183 degrees. One hundred and fifty feet above all apparent action we found a smooth, tenacious, plastic, beautiful clay; temperature 167 degrees. From this point you stand and overlook the ceaseless action, the roar, steam, groans, and bubbling of a hundred boiling medicated springs, while the steam ascends one hundred feet above them all. Following the usually-travelled path, we pass over the ‘Mountain of Fire,’ with its hundred orifices, thence through the ‘Alkali Lake’; then we pass cauldrons of black, sulphurous, boiling water, some moving and spluttering with violent ebullition. One white sulphur spring we found quite clear, and up to the boiling point.

“On every foot of ground we had trodden the crystalline products of this unceasing chemical action abounded. Alum, magnesia, tartaric acid, Epsom salts, ammonia, nitre, iron, and sulphur abounded. At thousands of orifices you find hot, scalding steam escaping, and forming beautiful deposits of arrowy sulphur crystals. Our next visit carried us up the Pluton, on the north bank, past the ‘Ovens,’ hot with escaping steam, to the ‘Eye-Water Boiling Spring,’ celebrated for its remedial effects upon inflamed and weak eyes. Quite close to it is a very concentrated alum spring; temperature, 73 degrees. Higher up is a sweetish ‘Iron and Soda Spring,’ fifteen feet by eight; and twelve feet above is the ‘Cold Soda and Iron Springs,’ incrusted with iron, with a deposit of soda; strong, tonic, and inviting; temperature, 56 degrees. It is twelve feet by five, and affords a large supply. The Pluton, in the shade, was sixty-one degrees, with many fine pools for bathing, and above for trout-fishing.

“The ‘Indian Springs’ are nearly a mile down the cañon. The boiling water comes out clear as ice. This is the old medicated spring, where many a poor aborigine has been carried over the mountains to have the disease driven out of him by these powerful waters. On its outer wall runs a cold stream of pure water; temperature, 66 degrees; and another water impregnated with iron and alum; temperature, 68 degrees. It is beautifully and romantically situated.

“We have not mentioned a tithe of those you pass at every step in your explorations—nor one day nor one week will reveal them all to the inquirer. Do not suppose that desolation, fire, and brimstone reign supreme—one of the wonders of the place is that grass, shrubs, and huge trees should grow on its very edge, and even overhang, in many places, the seething cauldrons below. The most varied wood abounds around you—oaks, pines, sycamore, willow, alder, laurel, and madrone.”

Bayard Taylor, describing his visit to the Geysers, says: “The scenery is finer than that of the lower Alps, and the place is a mine of future wealth, and of thorough rejuvenation.” Of the Witches’ Cauldron he writes: “A horrible mouth yawns in the black rock, belching forth tremendous volumes of sulphurous vapor. Approaching as near as we dare, and looking in, we see the black waters boiling in mad, pitiless fury, foaming around the sides of their prison. Its temperature, as approximately ascertained by Lieut. Davidson, is about five hundred degrees. An egg, dipped in and taken out, is boiled; and were a man to fall in, he would be reduced to broth in two minutes. From a hundred vent-holes, about fifty feet above our heads, the steam rushes in terrible jets. I have never beheld any scene so entirely infernal in its appearance. These tremendous steam-escapes are the most striking feature of the place. The wild, lonely grandeur of the valley, the contrast of its Eden slopes of turf and forest, with those ravines of Tartarus, charmed me completely, and I would willingly have passed weeks in exploring its recesses.

“A pure alum spring, reminding me of the rock-alum spring in Virginia, is a great resort for dyspeptics. In fact, the properties of all the famous watering-places seem to be here combined, and invite the sick to come and be healed.”

Among the features of this region are the hills of crude sulphur for chemical manufactures, as gunpowder, sulphuric acid, etc., of which it is said half a million tons are annually consumed. The climate is unsurpassed for its salubrity. The Geysers may also be reached by steamer to Petaluma, thence by stages in ten or eleven hours; this route leads through Russian River Valley, and though longer and more fatiguing than the other, is very pleasant; it is well to go by Vallejo and return by Petaluma.

The religious spirit of the old Spanish Jesuits is perpetuated in the names of saints and of holy things given to many prominent places; such are San Francisco, San Josť, San Mateo, San Pablo, San Diego, San Joaquin, San Bernardino, San Antonio, San Quentin, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Sacramento, Los Angelos, etc. As these priests had a keen sense of the beautiful in nature, they selected for their missions the most delightful sites, which now afford to the traveller some of the most charming spots in California. Prominent among these is San Josť, well called “the Beautiful.” The valley is very fertile, and the climate healthful; and the pueblo of San Josť, with the mission of Santa Clara, a few miles beyond, grew to be a very thriving place. It has increased rapidly since the Americans took possession, and is now celebrated for its wealth and refinement, for its excellent schools and fine public buildings. Horse-cars run in the principal street—the Alameda—which is flanked on each side by a fine row of willows, planted by the priests more than seventy years ago, now completely overshadowing the road to Santa Clara; three railroads now converge to this place, which is the centre of a large manufacturing interest; the population is estimated at over ten thousand. Santa Cruz, accessible by stage from Santa Clara, opposite Monterey, is a popular resort for excursionists, and is noted for its delightful climate.

California boasts, among other big things, that she has the largest orchard in the world. An English gentleman thus describes it. He says: A few days ago it was my good fortune and pleasure to visit an orchard located about two miles south ot Yuba City, in Sutter County. The proprietor is the owner of 426 acres, mostly bottom land, lying along the west bank of the Feather River. The soil is a rich, sandy loam, and composed of the yearly deposits of the river many years ago. No better or richer land is to be found in the State. Before reaching the orchard proper we rode through a field of 150 acres of castor beans, growing in the most luxuriant manner—which field is to give place to a new orchard next year, the fruit-trees for the same at present growing in the nursery by the side of the field of castor beans, and containing 25,000 one-year-old budded peach-trees, 13,000 plum-trees, 6,000 Eastern walnuts, 25,000 California walnuts, 2,000 apple-trees, 500 Italian chestnut-trees, etc. Passing along through this forest of young trees, we arrived at the present peach orchard, consisting of 600 trees, two years old, and some of them bearing, this season, 150 pounds of peaches. These trees heave made a remarkable growth, owing to the rich ground upon which they are planted, and in another year will make a tremendous yield of fruit. We next rode into the cherry orchard, contain 3,000 of the most thrifty young trees ever seen on any ground, The different varieties, fifteen in number, gave this orchard a variety of aspect, and broke up the usual monotony of the steeple-like formed cherry orchard. These cherry-trees were all imported from Rochester, N. Y., about three years ago. Off to the south of this wonderful wilderness are 2,000 plum-trees, of twelve varieties, and 500 apple-trees, mostly winter varieties. Passing the peach orchard we reached the apricots, 2,000 in number, which are also two years old, and have borne a full crop the present season. This is really a California wonder.


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