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

HOMEWARD BOUND.

The traveller, having visited the above places in the vicinity of San Francisco, will now think of turning his face eastward, if he return overland, and of examining more closely some of the interesting, points which he hurried by in his eagerness to behold the wonders of the Yosemite. The first place which will claim his attention is Oakland, so called from its beautiful groves of oaks, opposite San Francisco, and fronting the Golden Gate. The shallowness of the water in the bay has compelled the railroad company to build a wharf about two miles long into the bay, so that you seem to be going out to sea in a railroad car; from the end of this wharf is established the ferry to San Francisco, being the terminus of the Western Pacific Railroad. Sometimes called the “Park City,” it bears somewhat the same relation to San Francisco that Brooklyn does to New York; it is, par excellence, the educational centre of California; besides its numerous public and private schools for both sexes, being the site of the State University. The drives along its macadamized streets, with the fine view of the bay and the distant Pacific, and the beautiful gardens on every side, cannot be surpassed, if equalled, in any city of the country.

One of the most interesting cities which the Yosemite tourist is sure to visit is Stockton, about ninety miles from San Francisco by railroad. It was named in honor of Commodore Stockton, who took an active part in the conquest of California, and was laid out by Capt. Webber in 1849-50; it is also at the head of navigation on the San Joaquin River, distant by water 127 miles from San Francisco, and accessible by large steamers and sailing vessels; the river is navigable for small steamers more than 100 miles farther up. It is estimated to contain about 12,000 inhabitants, and is a very busy and thriving place. The public and private buildings and stores, many of which are built of brick, give it a decidedly Eastern look. Near the Yosemite hotel, the principal one, is the enclosure which contains the State Asylum for the Insane. The country around Stockton is exceedingly fertile, and its agricultural resources are inexhaustible; its mining facilities are also important.

An artesian well, 1,000 feet deep, supplies the city daily with 360,000 gallons of water; though the water rises eleven feet above the surface, it is raised by steam to a high reservoir, whence the city is supplied. It is in the centre of the vast grain-producing district of the San Joaquin Valley; and in harvest time the roads are lined with the mule-drawn wagons heavily laden with the golden produce, which has been estimated at $3,000,000 annually. The soil around the city is a black vegetable mould, called “adobe,” soft and slippery in the rainy season, hard and deeply cracked in the summer; about five miles beyond this begin the sandy plains leading to the foot hills, described in a previous chapter. Stockton is well called the “Windmill City,” as, by sinking a well-tube ten to twenty feet, water is readily obtained. Hence almost every one cultivates the rich soil as a garden, watering, it by his wind-pump, which takes the place of the hand-pump in almost every yard. The gardens are very beautiful; and, such is the mildness of the climate, figs, and other sub-tropical plants, flourish and ripen in the open air. This is the centre of the stage lines for the Yosemite Valley, and both the starting and return point for most travellers bound for that region. In the summer season, when the water is low, the sloughs which penetrate the city in various directions have a green, stagnant, and most unwholesome look; they receive much of the drainage of the houses, and cannot fail, sooner or later, to form a suitable receptacle for the origin and spread of epidemic disease, when drought, heat, and accumulation of filth shall unfortunately occur together.

Leaving San Francisco at 8 a. m., you reach, on your return-trip to the east, at about 5 p. m., the pretty and flourishing town of Colfax, 192 miles, named from Vice-President Colfax. Here it is well for those interested in mines to stop a day or two to pay a visit to Grass Valley and Nevada, among the most important of the gold-producing regions of California. Grass Valley was one of the earliest stopping places of the old “forty-niners,” not only because there they found excellent pasturage for their animals, but on account of the profitable “washings” from the streams; the subsequent discovery of rich veins of gold-bearing quartz led to the building up of a town, numbering now about five thousand inhabitants. The fine orchards and gardens around the miners’ houses render this one of the prettiest of the mining localities, and show that the thirst for gold does not necessarily interfere with the love of the ornamental and the beautiful. Its buildings, newspapers, schools, and churches, distinguish it as a centre of enterprise, intelligence, and wealth; there is probably no place in the State where mining improvements and machinery are better appreciated, and more successfully employed, than here. It is thirteen miles north of Colfax, and easily accessible by a line of stages. Though about 2,600 feet above the sea, it is so far below the snow-line, that its temperature permits the ripening of semi-tropical fruits, and its climate is very healthy.

Nevada, four miles distant, the county seat, can also boast of very fine buildings, and a considerable population engaged in milling and agriculture; it is rather irregularly laid out on both sides of Deer Creek, which runs through a part of the town. After the washings in the old river had ceased to be profitable, hydraulic mining was introduced with great success; but now the principal mining operations are upon the quartz in the fine stamp mills. It has been estimated that over fifty million dollars’ worth of gold has been taken from this locality in twenty years. Newspapers, banks, churches, and schools indicate the prosperity of the place. A foundry, flouring-mills, and distilleries, show that manufactories and agriculture maybe profitably pursued in busy mining regions; the soil of the valley and surrounding hills is well adapted to the fruits and vegetables, which are the pride and boast of California, and the delight of the hungry traveller.

Passing eastward 65 miles from Colfax, you come to Truckee, a large, busy, and muddy town, of over 4,000 inhabitants, chiefly engaged in the lumber business; it is situated in a heavily-timbered region. The traveller would make no stop here, were it not the starting-point for Lakes Tahoe and Donner, which are indeed the gems of the Sierras. The Truckee River, which runs along the road for miles, brawling in its rocky bed, has one source in each of the above lakes, and empties its waters into Pyramid Lake to the north. Lake Tahoe is 12 miles distant, and the road along the river bank is delightful. The dividing line between California and Nevada runs through the lake, and its waters wash the shore of five counties; the depth along this line is about 1,700 feet. No words can do justice to the beauties of this lake, before which those of Como and Maggiore are not to be mentioned; the crystal purity of the water, the mountain slopes, the verdant meadows, the splendid trees, to say nothing of the pleasures of sailing, fishing, and shooting in its invigorating air, excuse the raptures into which every appreciative traveller involuntarily falls.

Donner Lake, much smaller and deeper, and equally beautiful, and always memorable from the terrible event which has given it its name, is only two and a half miles north-west of Truckee. Both these lakes are noted for their silver trout, which attain the weight of 20 pounds, and test the skill of the angler to the utmost.

This brings us to the confines of California, to go beyond which is foreign to the purpose of these pages; the most noteworthy points on the return east are the famous Comstock and other silver lodes, at Virginia City, Nevada, whose wealth is almost incalculable, and the Shoshone Falls, in Idaho, over 200 feet high, and said to exceed Niagara in the grandeur and wildness of the surrounding scenery, though with much less volume of water.

Then you may leave the Pacific road at Cheyenne, and go south to Denver, and from that point spend a few weeks most profitably in exploring the magnificent scenery of the parks of Colorado.

Some travellers, having a love of the ocean, and plenty of time at their disposal, may prefer, as I did, to return once by sea from San Francisco, via Panama and Aspinwall; for what may be enjoyed on this trip, the reader is referred to the next chapter.


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