Home A - Z FAQ Art Prints Online Library Discussion Forum Muir Weather Maps About Search
Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management

Next: Hetch-Hetchy to Till-HillContentsPrevious: Rafaelito

Yosemite Trails (1911) by J. Smeaton Chase


PART II
THE HIGH SIERRA


“Let the noon find thee by other lakes, and the
night overtake thee everywhere at home.”

Thoreau.


CHAPTER XII
THE HIGH SIERRA: THE YOSEMITE VALLEY TO THE HETCH-HETCHY

On a hot, still morning of middle summer I left the Yosemite Valley for a month’s expedition into the High Sierra. The region I expected to travel would be entirely new to me, so it was advisable to take a guide; and as there would be no opportunity for re-furnishing with provisions until I reached Mono Lake, on the eastern side of the mountains, it was necessary to take enough pack-animals to carry supplies for two or three weeks.

The problems of guide and pack-train solved themselves very satisfactorily, and in this manner: I was returning one day to camp, after compassing, at the cost of a broken rod, the overthrow of an experienced trout who had long defied me in a reach of the river a mile or so below the village. Near the place where we settled our account I came upon a man of a cheerful and self-helping aspect, who was camped in a little meadow that ran to the river-bank. In conversation this proved to be one Bodie, who had been recommended to me as a good man and a capable guide; and before we parted a “deal” had been arranged whereby he and five animals were placed at my disposal for the month of July.

Mr. Field, whom I already knew as a pleasant comrade and a thorough photographer, whose excellent pictures illustrate these pages, was also to accompany the expedition, completing a triangular (or perhaps it would be fairer to say an octagonal) party.

It was the 3d of July when Field and I left the valley. The village had broken out in a rash of flags and bunting. Fireworks and a dance were billed to wind up the exercises of the Fourth, and I confess I felt no regret in turning my back upon these festive incongruities.

We drove out on the Big Oak Flat road, bound for Crocker’s Station, where Bodie awaited us with the animals. This is the road which, from the southern side of the valley, one sees traced like a white ribbon on the northern caņon wall. I found it on the whole disappointing in the views it offers; but the Bridal Veil Fall was often in sight, and interesting glimpses were opened up of the wide scoop down which the Bridal Veil Creek flows to its famous plunge; while the remarkable fractures of the southern wall of the Merced Caņon would compel the attention of the least geological of men. From this road also El Capitan shows more magnificently than from any other point of view, fronting the west with a vast, door-like cliff that is truly imposing in its unbroken verticality. But many of the most wonderful features of the valley are not within the view from this side, while from the spot that has been ambitiously named New Inspiration Point, El Capitan itself is completely hidden and

EL CAPITAN FROM THE BIG OAK FLAT ROAD
[click to enlarge]
EL CAPITAN FROM THE BIG OAK FLAT ROAD
only a small segment of the Half-Dome is in sight.

Making up, however, for all deficiencies, an unusual haze that day filled the valley with an atmosphere like a vapor of opals, and steeped the landscape in a dreamy beauty, ineffably airy and spiritual. It was like one of those enchanted valleys of our childhood, populated by friendly fairies, gigantic genii, and companionable birds and beasts, where gallant lovers in peach-colored velvet were constantly occupied in rescuing princesses in silver and sky-blue.

The summer, moreover, was at its climax of flowers. Every forest opening glinted with cyclamens, columbines, and wall-flowers, these last of a peculiar sultry yellow like compressed sunshine. As we rose, the timber changed from yellow pine to spruce, from spruce to sugar pine, then to fir, and lastly to tamarack. At Tamarack Flat we stopped for an hour to rest the team, fagged with a climb of twenty-five hundred feet, and then, after making another rise to Gin Flat (a natural culmination), began the long descent.

The road passes through the Tuolumne grove of Sequoias. While we were paying our homage to some of the most notable trees, we encountered a tall backwoodsman who sat whittling and whistling beside the road. Your true backwoodsman savors of the forest as a fisherman smells of the sea, and I was struck by the woodcraftiness, so to speak, of this man’s appearance. He looked like a kind of faun, and his occupation of whittling seemed almost necessary and symbolic. Long, lean, and shaggy, there was a fine air of wild instinct about him; he seemed a part of the landscape; and it was a shock to find him to be after all a prosaic and commercially minded creature, when, in reply to a remark upon the stateliness of the great trees that rose around us, he cast a calculating eye over the “General Lawton,” and replied, “Don’t know nothin’ about that; maybe they’s fine, maybe they ain’t. That thar stick will cut up two hunnerd thousand foot of lumber, board measure. To my thinkin’ it ’s all dad-blasted foolishness that a feller cain’t cut a stick o’ timber like that. What ’s trees, anyway? Ain’t they lumber?” He spat viciously to right and left, throwing up little volcanoes of dust, and reiterated, “A dad-blasted foolishness, that’s what it is: two hunnerd thousand foot, board measure.” For some reason, the fact of this iniquitous waste of lumber being estimated by board measure seemed to aggravate the matter intolerably, and he continued dad-blasting and spitting angrily until, when we parted, quite a range of small craters surrounded him.

Running down a good road between walls of superb forest, we drew up by late afternoon at the little settlement of Crocker’s, or, as it is given on the map, Sequoia. Without having ever seen, except from railway cars, a New England village, I thought I recognized the model of those quaint and sleepy hamlets which American poets and writers have cast into a type. A single street, or streetlet, of a hundred yards all told, dawdled past the doors of half a dozen whitewashed cottages, and then suddenly wavered off into the forest. A “hotel,” a miniature store, and an amusing post office formed the business centre, and a few small dwellings and a barn comprised the suburbs.

In this Arcadian spot Bodie awaited us, and thence convoyed us to his camp half a mile away. Here we found our animals assembled—a horse, two mules, a big jack and a small jenny—hard by a lost-looking house, the residence of an acquaintance of our guide’s. The goodman was away, but his womenfolk did the honors, and a couple of choleric dogs, together with a rifle that leaned against the house, represented him efficiently by proxy.

When the hour of supper approached, Bodie, to give us a taste of his quality, notified us that we were to be regaled with hot bread, and produced a brand-new Dutch-oven which he was contributing on his own account to the equipment of the party. When the bread was ready and we drew around the gunny-sack board, he sprang further surprises upon us: first a bag of sugared “cookies,” then a jar of pickles, and lastly one of jam. I have no doubt he had provided these exotics with the kindly idea of mitigating for us the abruptness of the descent to camp rations; but I could see that he felt that his own dignity was compromised by such trifling, and I observed that he made a point of always referring to them slightingly as “them little dinkies.”

This genteel repast over, Bodie repaired to the house and the society of the ladies, who, overlooking our presence, condescended to take the air on the door-step. It was easy to gather from the soprano laughter accompanying a bass monologue that our guide was something of a wag. We, for our part, lay at ease, smoking lazily and maturing our plans.

A serene rose-cloudy sunset, with a placid white moon drifting in a sky of Turneresque blue, promised a truly glorious Fourth. All around stood thickly “the green steeples of the piney wood,” closing us in with a horizon of restful undulations. At length the stars piercing the darkening indigo of the sky reminded us that we were to be up at four, and turning into our blankets we were lulled asleep by the murmuring stream of badinage that still flowed on, encouraged by tributary rills of applause.

There was no sign of movement about the house when at six o’clock next morning our cavalcade filed out upon the road, though a rear-guard skirmish between the mules and the dogs plainly advertised our departure. As we passed through the village a withering sun was already bleaching the sagging bunting, but no sound of toy-cannon or fire-cracker broke the drowse of Sleepy Hollow. The character of Crocker’s population does not belie the unemotional aspect of the place.

I watched with curiosity, not unmixed with anxiety, for the first disclosures of the qualities of our animals. The horse and the mules were the property of Bodie, and he had guaranteed their dispositions; but he had hired the two burros for the trip, and I knew from severe experiences the surprises that are latent in these incomprehensible creatures.

Almost before we were out of the village it became plain that the big jack combined the worst idiosyncrasies of his species with the solitary virtue of enormous strength and great tonnage. A big-boned, knuckly beast with a lowering eye, I never knew him to abate for an instant the attitude of sullen hostility which he adopted at the outset. Not that any of us ever attempted to get into relations with him; that eye forbade it. Bodie’s feelings toward him fluctuated swiftly: at one moment he would extol his size and endurance, averring, truly enough, that he was the equal of any blamed mule in the mountains; half a minute later he could be heard assailing him with violent reproaches and threatening to break every bone in his “dog-gone” carcass. To threats and praises alike Jack opposed the same detestable demeanor, and I seldom deprecated the sudden strappados which fell upon him, and which Bodie justified by explaining that “the surly son of a ‘Pache riled him all up.”

For strength of will I never met the equal of this animal; it was colossal, and pure adamant. From the first to the last day of the trip he steadfastly refused to keep the trail with the others. Defiantly he would turn off from the plainest path, his great parietals bulging with obstinacy; and when a loud hail warned him that he was observed, he would rush off and ram himself savagely into the worst thicket or rock-pile he could find. By practice he had developed an abominable sagacity, and could judge to a nicety the space between trees or below branches that would ensure the maximum of damage to his load. Into these places he would charge, and stand shoving and straining with sullen fury, hoping to dislodge his pack; and the only way to force him out was by hammering him steadfastly on the muzzle. Even under that application he would stand out, until, the cumulative effect becoming unbearable, he would bolt back to the trail, trembling with rage, and a hateful spectacle of concentrated vice.

The jenny was entirely otherwise; a confiding little creature, as willing and placable as the jack was ugly and difficult; in Bodie’s phrase, “a kind little divvle.” Her we loved, and many were the residual beans and supernumerary flapjacks that fell to her lot. One fault she had, but it was so natural, and by contrast so venial, that we easily forgave it her. It was a trick she had of hiding. During breakfast she would stroll about the camp, receiving our remainders and enjoying the conversation; but when the time came that the detested “chores” engaged all our attention she would edge off and melt imperceptibly into the brush; and when she was wanted for packing it seemed as if even her tracks had evaporated. At hide-and-seek she was a genius; nothing was too small to hide her; and when we returned from a fruitless search over half a mile of rough country she was generally discovered drowsing or browsing close to camp, and would meet us with a gaze so mild and serious as to quite disarm our resentment.

Bodie’s own mount was a handsome chestnut, clever, gentle, and self-reliant. In places where the mules and burros went timidly, Pet maintained his own bold gait, striding freely over glacial pavements where even the tap of their own hoofs kept the other animals shaking with nervousness. Considering that the natural habitat of the species is a region of plains and open distances, I admired the more the fine freedom of his stride on the worst and steepest of trails.

In his intercourse with his companions Pet never forgot the dignity of his rank. Nor did he refuse its responsibilities. Nothing pleased him so much as the opportunity, which came frequently enough, of rounding-up the pack-animals. Bodie usually rode in the rear, where he could best oversee the train, which sometimes was strung out over a hundred yards of trail; and it often occurred that the first warning of foolishness on the part of the pack-mules or burros would come from Pet, quite independently of his rider. With his tail switching and a contemptuous toss and snort he would check his pace and jump aside to head the wanderers back into the path. The rebels, seeing him coming, usually stampeded in all directions, and Pet would then take them in hand one by one, outflanking, countermarching, and concentrating with admirable strategy.

The two mules, one white, or rather of that unpleasant color known as flea-bitten, and the other black, were used indifferently for packing or riding. The black was a passionless sort of beast, a mere numeral, vacant even of the elementary trait of obstinacy. The other, whom we named Clementine, was noticeable for a ludicrous physiognomy that gave the impression of a continual simper. She nursed an elderly passion for Pet, and could not bear him to be out of her sight, though he, for his part, detested her and met her languishing blandishments with unequivocal kicks. Knowing that nothing would tempt her to abandon his company, she was often allowed to fall behind the rest of the pack-train while she dallied with the trailside herbage. At such times, when she became suddenly aware that Pet was out of her view, she would charge wildly up the line, caroming off everything that came in her way, until she arrived close behind him, whereupon his ears would flatten and he would gather for a kick.

Bodie’s feelings at such moments were those of an artist watching helplessly the wreck of his handiwork. Not the securest of diamond-hitches could withstand the shock of the collisions which her packs had to endure with trees, rocks, and the other animals. By the time she reached the coveted place her pack was usually under her belly, and the whole train must halt while she was unloaded and repacked. Her eternal simper was at such times hard to bear, and you may be sure that her comfort was not much considered when it came to the pull on the latigo-strap.

Our road lay through open forest country, charmingly diversified and flowery. The most beautiful of all the Mariposa tulips grew abundantly in sunny places, rosy red in color and fantastically painted with blots of maroon and purple. Golden mimulus, purple godetias and pentstemons, and lavender lupines grew among the brush, itself fragrant and flowery, that broke with rounded bosses the severity of the straight-stemmed pines and cedars. The white mountain-lilac was still in blossom, burgeoning in cloudy masses, and providing the last ingredient in a landscape of perfectly proportioned color. Chammbatia also bore us company, like a friendly little mountaineer setting us cheerfully on our way.

A long, gentle descent brought us to the South Fork of the Tuolumne, which we found easily fordable. Until now I had not made the acquaintance of this river; but it had always attracted me, perhaps simply by the oddity of its name, like a musical mouthful of chance syllables (Too-ol'lum-ne); and although the stream I saw was not distinguished by any special beauty among the sisterhood of Sierra rivers, all lovely alike, still it was an event to meet it, and, as it were, check it off.

Jack and Clementine had already wasted so much of our time in stoppages and re-packings that I decided to make an almost nominal day’s march of it, and to camp at Ackerson Meadows instead of pushing on to the Hog Ranch, which would have been no more than ten miles. The decision was welcomed by Bodie, and I found early in our acquaintance that he had all a good stockman’s regard for the comfort of his beasts. When I announced also that during the expedition we should not break camp on Sundays I observed that the fact, though it occasioned him some surprise, gave him no distress. I, on my side, was not only willing, but anxious, to fall in with his suggestion of early starts, easy marches, and timely camps on other days, so far as possible; and when I proved myself quite his match in the matter of early rising I believe he came to regard me as almost a paragon from this point of view. We were nearly always up by four o’clock. I fancied that Field was not fully in sympathy with such virtue, but he never complained, and always turned out ungrudgingly.

It was not much after noon when we rode up to a little scorched-up house in a wide meadow, and were hospitably greeted by a hirsute Irishman who was “holding down” the ranch for the present owner, the successor of the original Ackerson. Choosing a spot for our camp on the edge of a swampy expanse which afforded good pasturage for the animals, we turned them loose, and, it being Saturday, made rather elaborate preparations for a day and a half of unearned ease. The remains of the “little dinkies “gave a festal touch to the evening meal.

While we lingered over the coffee, two young fellows appeared, carrying guns and heavily encrusted with cartridges. An immature squirrel depended from the belt of one of the sportsmen. In the course of conversation they remarked impressively that they had bear-meat to spare, and offered to share it with us if we would visit their camp, promising also to entertain us with music. Later in the evening, when Bodie had gone to swap items of news at the cabin, Field and I were walking over to pay our call and receive the expected boons when the skirling of a phonograph warned us away, and we hastily retraced our steps and turned into our blankets early by way of compensation. I confess I find it difficult to forgive Mr. Edison for this diabolical invention, and I even welcomed as a mitigation the vociferous yelping of a coyote halfway down the meadow. The conjunction of sounds formed what I should suppose must be an absolute novelty in tone combinations.

Sunday passed in a kind of Nirvana of heat and laziness. Returning from a walk through flowery glades where beds of pale lilac lupine and foot-high fern were spread upon a brown floor of pine-needles, I found the rail-fence which enclosed the meadow decorated with an extensive “wash.” Jenny thoughtfully munched the sleeve of a blue jumper, while Bodie, lightly clad, slumbered in the shade.

About sunset a solitary mallard visited us, flying three times silently around the vicinity of our camp. As it vanished with strong, steady wing-beats into the dusky glory of the west, I fancied that it might be the spirit of some departed Indian warrior, come to revisit his old hunting-grounds; one of

“. . . the wandering spirits
From the kingdom of Ponemah,
From the land of the Hereafter.”

Half-past three next morning found us astir, and six o’clock saw us on the road, headed for the Hetch-Hetchy. At Stone’s Meadows we rode through a very sea of some pretty, composite flower with yellow rays and a black centre, that grew in countless multitudes. In the hot, still morning these black-eyed Susans, as they stood silently drinking in the sunshine, seemed the very type of California’s floral intemperance.

The finest city lot is dreary and undesirable in comparison with these emerald-and-topaz heavens. But this lovely spot is now uninhabited, and the old cabin, long disused and sunk into decay, kneels like a broken-backed camel on the flowery sward. These abandoned dwellings, which surprise the traveller in the loneliest portions of the Sierra, are the relics of the days of the sheep-men. By many a mountain meadow and clearing you will find the little ten-by-twelve hutches, doorless and windowless, with a tumble of stones at one end where used to be the chimney. Here, in the days when mutton was king, the gay songs of la belle France were sung by black-bearded Gascons to the gusty surge of accordions or the thin-blooded skirling of violins. On the frontiers of the Forest Reserves you may meet the little dark men now, wandering from pasture to pasture with their placid charges, attended by two half-wild dogs and a weird little pack-burro. Whenever I encounter one of these sauntering pastors I seem to see a Jacob, and wonder in what Pyrenean village lives the Rachel for whom he is serving.

We crossed the Middle Fork of the Tuolumne by a bridge of rough planks, and a few more miles brought us to the Hog Ranch. The hogs have given place to cattle, and these, with a few horses, now roam over the green expanse and wax fat beyond the wont of their kind on superb pasturage. The ranch is like an English park,—a lovely valley, wide and grassy, broken with clumps of oak and cedar; but the house is a filthy old shanty which, nondescript and ugly at its best, and now long fallen into disrepair, is an offence to the eye and reeks with skunk-like odors.

Thus far we had followed what is nominally a road, being practicable for robust vehicles; but at this point a rougher country begins, and we entered upon our long trail. It made an inviting beginning, winding through shaded avenues deep in pine-needles and flowery with many brilliant blossoms. The most noticeable flower of this locality in midsummer is the godetia, which grows in low, close companies, painting the ground in places with islands of solid purple. Mixed among them are handsome lily-like brodias of a deep, pure blue, and the coral-red stars of the erythreea, with many another. But the character of the landscape soon changed, and for some distance the trail led through open, rocky country, clad with a sparse growth of the unattractive and shadeless Sabiniana pine, which here appears at a greater elevation than is usual with it, by virtue of some particular and local conditions.

From an altitude of fifty-five hundred feet the trail made a long descent towards the north. Suddenly there opened far below us a valley like another Yosemite, its cliffs, meadows, and winding river gleaming through the pearly summer haze. The white torrent of a waterfall could be plainly seen even at that distance, creeping down a great cliff on the northern side. I knew it at once as the Hetch-Hetchy.

Down endless zigzags, “hotter ’n blazes,” as Bodie truly said, among fine oaks and spruces, by creeks ferny, aldery, willowy, and through meadows blue, meadows yellow, meadows red, and meadows mixed of every color, we marched until we debouched at last upon the floor of the valley. Here met us a representative of the law in the form of a serious and taciturn young trooper, huge of limb and yellow of seven days’ beard, a sort of youthful Oom Paul. He bore a large German pipe with a bowl like a small nail-keg, and remained canopied in clouds of plug-cut while he conducted his mild catechism: Names? A, B, and C. Good. Come out from the valley? Sure. Where was we heading? Could n’t say exactly; generally, north and east, off there. What was we out for? Just taking in the country. Hunting? No. No? No. Guns in them packs? No, again. Going by way

THE HETCH-HETCHY
[click to enlarge]
THE HETCH-HETCHY
of Soda Springs? Might. When? Couldn’t say. Know the country? Ask him, Bodie. Oh, that Bodie? Go ahead. And waving his pipe benevolently at us, Oom Paul turned away and sank into an extemporized hammock, while we filed out upon the level in search of a camping-place.

Any spot in this valley would be well-nigh ideal for the purpose, but it was still early in the day and we could afford to be critical. So we prospected for warm miles, with a special regard to the question of mosquitoes, which we had been warned might be troublesome here.

There are two waterfalls in the Hetch-Hetchy. One of them is a short-lived burst of energy that begins and ends with the melting of the snows that lie above the northern wall of the valley. This fall is seen by but few people, for the last of its water escapes before full summer arrives. I looked eagerly for this cataract, Too'eoola'la, which Bodie reported as far exceeding the other in power and beauty, declaring that when in full career it filled the whole lower end of the valley with its whirling spume. But we were too late; not a sign remained of what, perhaps two weeks earlier, would have been so splendid a sight. A spell of hot weather had upset the pail.

The other fall, the Hetch-Hetchy, is not so transitory. It draws its waters from a creek twenty miles or more in length, and from a number of lakes and lakelets lying up on the high country to the north. It does not leap out, as do the various falls of the Yosemite Valley, from the lip of a sheer cliff, to drift and dream in vapor; but pours down a twisted and precipitous gorge, crashing from ledge to ledge, writhing and bursting in a terrific catastrophe. Seen from across the valley it is as if a broad vein of virgin silver, running from top to bottom of the two-thousand-foot precipice, had been laid bare by some great convulsion: such a treasure of solid metal as flushed the imagination of the Conquistadores. The Hetch-Hetchy Fall is thus of a quite different type from the other great waterfalls of the region, but in beauty it is fully their equal, and in features of wildness even their superior.

Midway up the valley stands the remarkable cliff called the Kolana Dome. This magnificent rock of two thousand feet somewhat resembles in outline the mountain known as Liberty Cap in the Yosemite, and stands fronting the river with a face almost perpendicular, and rolling back the roar of the Hetch-Hetchy Fall. Passing around the foot of this cliff, and skirting a pretty pool which renders a perfect reflection of rock and waterfall, pine and sky, we stopped at a clump of small cedars near a deserted cabin that stood on the bank of the river, and there made camp.

The Tuolumne as it flows through the Hetch-Hetchy takes on a character very unusual in California rivers. It becomes a placid, slow-moving stream, wide and deep, gliding under outreaching branches of oak and pine. Not a ripple breaks the shining current, except where trout are leisurely dining. It would be a superb place in which to dream away a summer. The green and golden air laps one in unbroken content: it is like that land of the Lotos-Eaters “in which it seemed always afternoon.” And with a boat or canoe, what afternoons one might have on that street of charmed water! Still more, what evenings, watching through the leafy screen the sunset flushing up the pearly walls; or drifting under spandrelled arcades of oak and sumptuous foliations of pine and cedar, the cathedral gloom lighted by windows that open on gold and amethyst skies. And then the mornings, steeped in the incredible freshness of the California dawn; brushing through knee-high meadows where yellow enotheras stand in companies like pale odalisques; or through thickets of ceanothus sweet as hedges of hawthorn, where robins are bustling and the powdery blossoms fall like snow; or fighting duels with chivalrous trout in the ripple where the gleaming current is drawn swiftly over into broken water.

The heat of the day had so evaporated our energies that no one would volunteer to build a fire. The spot where, by Bodie’s choice, we had camped, revealed signs of recent occupation by another party, which was objectionable when we had the whole valley to choose from; and as we ate our cold supper and slapped at the mosquitoes by prosaic candlelight, we decided to remove next day to the other side.

With this move in view we had engaged to be up by four o’clock or earlier; but when in the early grey I rose on my elbow and looked over to Bodie’s sleeping-place, I was not sorry to see the deep quiescence of his form, and willingly returned to light slumbers. Half-a-dozen times at intervals I looked again; still no sign. Then Field got up, shouldered the camera, and went off to keep an appointment down the valley with a view which must be caught before the ripple came on the water. Next I arose, and last of all Bodie, with unnecessary explanations.

After breakfast, leaving him to pack, I retraced our yesterday’s trail for some distance, in order to review with a fresher mind the features of the lower end of the valley. A hot sun was already drawing up the dew that lay on bush and sward. The haze of yesterday was gone, and every scratch and scoring on the majestic walls showed as clearly as if it were cut on steel under one’s hand. The young leafage of the oaks shone with a dull, clean burnish, like the skin of an athlete. The sumptuous tassels of the yellow pines, which here grow in remarkable perfection of symmetry, shone with diamond-points that fell in showers where squirrels leaped from spray to spray. Birds were foraging cheerfully, in the certainty of breakfast; and high up in a brilliant sky an eagle swung, a mere point of black, like a planet circling in space. In a corner of the meadow a company of evening-primroses were gleaming palely in the protecting shade of the oaks. To me there is something very poetic and sensitive about these flowers, with their slender, moon-like graces: as ‘t were, I know not how. Next I chanced upon a bush of ripe raspberries, and while I loitered with these I was entertained by a party of lively young king-snakes that were either quarrelling or playing in the brush, chasing one another about with a rapidity of movement and a play of color that were quite bewildering.

I am always meeting people who report of this or that place that it is “thick” with deer, or bear, or such things; but I have never yet found the term justified when I came to the spot. Thus we had been told that the Hetch-Hetchy was thick with rattle-snakes. As a matter of fact none of us saw one there; and the whole time we were out we met only two, one of which was killed by Field at Lake Eleanor, and the other by me in the Till-till. In the Yosemite itself I have never seen a rattlesnake, though I killed two some distance up the Tenaya Caņon.

In general features the Hetch-Hetchy is a remarkable duplication of the Yosemite. The mountain-walls are of the same character, though they are not, on the whole, so high and cliff-like. There are the same clean-drawn, dome-like outlines, the same quiet beauty of winding river, the same level meadow-floor, dotted with stately trees and sprinkled thickly with flowers. There are the same pine-ranked precipices, and cloudy waterfalls, and huge cubed shatters of talus; and though there are no such geological marvels as the Half-Dome or the Sentinel, no such dominating mass as El Capitan, it is still a phenomenon that Nature, with her magnificent carelessness, should have chosen to use two designs so nearly alike.

The upper part of the valley is a park-like stretch of level grass-land, with fine oaks as the predominating member in a partnership of oak, pine, and cedar. The characteristic tree of the Hetch-Hetchy is the oak, which attains there a notable perfection, leaving the conifers the second place,— a condition which is just reversed in the Yosemite, with its half-thousand feet more of elevation. The southern wall rises at this upper end to a great height, culminating in a precipitous ridge, with an altitude of seventy-eight hundred feet, which is named after “a party of the name of Smith.” At this point the valley may be said to begin; above, it “caņons” to the long gorge that is known as the Grand Caņon of the Tuolumne. In this deep ravine the river rushes in continuous cascades for twenty miles: here, as it enters the valley, it widens to a thoughtful stream that glides as peacefully as the idyll of a summer day.

The main trail crosses the river at the head of the valley by a plank bridge near where Rancheria and Till-till creeks join almost as they enter the main stream. Thence heading east and north it passes over Rancheria Mountain into the wilderness of laced and braided caņons in which a week later we were wandering. Near the bridge another trail branches westerly, and following the northern side of the valley enables one to make a complete circuit. This trail is a particularly interesting one, skirting the river, which flows in a broad stream a hundred feet wide under overarching oaks and cedars.

About opposite Kolana Dome, the mountain-wall presses sheer and close to the river, and the trail is carried on a rocky ledge a few feet above high-water mark. Then it passes through levels where by midsummer the brakes stand shoulder-high, and only the humped loads of your pack-train appear above the ferny lake. Crossing Falls Creek where it runs, a lovely white torrent, carrying all the water of the great Hetch-Hetchy Fall, it next enters wide oak-glades where every tree is a specimen of oak perfection, reaching out wide, full-leaved branches to join hands with its fellows. You ride through pillared arcades where the very air is green, as in a conservatory, and flowers thrive to giant size in the delectable mingling of shade and sunshine. Here lusty spikes of lupine drop their pollen on your horse’s shoulder, and there you push through columbines that swing drops of wine and amber above the level sea of bracken.

I had found, on returning in expectation of dinner, that my companions had struck camp in my absence, and gone round by the bridge, leaving me to follow at my leisure. It was late afternoon when the sound of an urgent tattoo, performed stringendo on a frying-pan, fell sweetly on my ears, and a few moments brought me to the new camp, and diurnal but never monotonous beans. Bodie had chosen a spot close to the foot of our to-morrow’s trail, which climbs out of the valley at the northwest corner. A picturesque log-house, doorless and ownerless, stands here under giant oaks, where a natural flower-garden of wild-roses leads down to the grassy meadow. After supper I strolled about my garden while the primroses opened their gentle, moon-like faces, and the hummingbird moths came whirring about, thick as cockchafers under a chestnut tree: and I think that no proud possessor of famous rosery ever enjoyed a more delicate entertainment of scents than did I in this Hetch-Hetchy solitude.

The breeze that had blown during the afternoon died away; the aspens ceased their excited little dances; the sun blazed down a final salvo of heat for warning of to-morrow; and after lying an hour gazing up through the starry foliage at the darkening sky, we took shelter under early blankets from the mosquitoes which rose in hosts from the wet grass of the meadow.



Next: Hetch-Hetchy to Till-HillContentsPrevious: Rafaelito

Home A - Z FAQ Art Prints Online Library Discussion Forum Muir Weather Maps About Search
Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management

http://www.yosemite.ca.us/library/yosemite_trails/yosemite_valley_to_hetch-hetchy.html