Agnes C. (Agnes Christina) Laut.

Through our unknown Southwest, the wonderland of the United States - little known and unappreciated - the home of the cliff dweller and the Hopi, the forest ranger and the Navajo - the lure of the painted desert online

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Online LibraryAgnes C. (Agnes Christina) LautThrough our unknown Southwest, the wonderland of the United States - little known and unappreciated - the home of the cliff dweller and the Hopi, the forest ranger and the Navajo - the lure of the painted desert → online text (page 4 of 19)
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ing pixy parachutes, airy armaments for the conquest
of arid hills to new forest growth, though the process
may take the trifling aeon of a thousand years or so.
At one season, when you come to the Forests, the air
is full of the yellow pollen of the conifers, gold dust
whose alchemy, could we but know it, would unlock
the secrets of life. At another season the season
when I happened to be in the Colorado Forests the


very atmosphere is alive with these forest airships,
conifer seeds sailing broadside to the wind. You
know why they sail broadside, don't you? If they
dropped plumb like a stone, the ground would be
seeded below the heavily shaded branches inches deep
in self-choking, sunless seeds; but when the broadside
of the sail to the pixy's airship tacks to the veering
wind, the seed is carried out and away and far beyond
the area of the shaded branches ; to be caught up by
other counter currents of wind and hurled, perhaps,
down the mountain side, destined to forest the naked
side of a cliff a thousand years hence. It is a fact,
too, worth remembering and crediting to the wiles
and ways of Dame Nature that destruction by fire
tends but to free these conifer seeds from the cones;
so that they fall on the bare burn and grow slowly to
maturity under the protecting nursery of the tremu-
lous poplars and pulsing cottonwoods.

The train has not gone very far in the National
Forests before you see the sleek little Douglas squirrel
scurrying from branch to branch. From the tremor
of his tiny body and the angry chitter of his parted
teeth, you know he is swearing at you to the utmost
limit of his squirrel (?) language; but that is not
surprising. This little rodent of the evergreens is
the connoisseur of all conifers. He, and he alone,
knows the best cones for reproductive seed. No
wonder he is so full of fire when you consider he
diets on the fruit of a thousand years of sunlight and
dew; so when the ranger seeks seed to reforest the


burned or scant slopes, he rifles the cache of this little
furred forester, who suspects your noisy trainload
of robbery robbery sc scur r there !

Then, the train bumps and jars to a stop with a
groaning of brakes on the steep down grade, for a
drink at the red water tank; and you drop off the
high car steps with a glance forward to see that the
baggage man is dropping off your kit. The brakes
reverse. With a scrunch, the train is off again,
racing down hill, a blur of steamy vapor like a cloud
against the lower hills. Before the rear car has dis-
appeared round the curve, you have been accosted
by a young man in Norfolk suit of sage green wearing
a medal stamped with a pine tree the ranger,
absurdly young when you consider each ranger
patrols and polices 100,000 acres compared to the
1,700 which French and German wardens patrol and
daily deals with criminal problems ten times more
difficult than those confronting the Northwest
Mounted Police, without the military authority which
backs that body of men.

You have mounted your pony men and women
alike ride astride in the Western States. It heads of
its own accord up the bridle trail to the ranger's
house, in this case 9,000 feet above sea level, 1,000
feet above ordinary cloud line. The hammer of a
woodpecker, the scur of a rasping blue jay, the
twitter of some red bills, the soft thug of the unshod
broncho over the trail of forest mold, no other sound
unless the soul of the sea from the wind harping in
the trees. Better than the jangle of city cars in that


stuffy hotel room of the germ-infested town, isn't
it? '

If there is snow on the peaks above, you feel it in
the cool sting of the air. You hear it in the trebling
laughter, in the trills and rills of the brook babbling
down, sound softened by the moss as all sounds are
hushed and low keyed in this woodland world. And
all the time, you have the most absurd sense of being
set free from something. By-and-by when eye and
ear are attuned, you will see the light reflected from
the pine needles glistening like metal, and hear the
click of the same needles like fairy castanets of joy.
Meantime, take a long, deep, full breath of these
condensed sunbeams spiced with the incense of the
primeval woods; for you are entering a temple, the
temple where our forefathers made offerings to the
gods of old, the temple which our modern churches
imitate in Gothic spire and arch and architrave and
nave. Drink deep in open, full lungs; for you are
drinking of an elixir of life which no apothecary can
mix. Most of us are a bit ill mentally and physically
from breathing the dusty street sweepings of filth and
germs which permeate the hived towns. They will
not stay with you here ! Other dust is in this air, the
gold dust of sunlight and resin and ozone. They
will make you over, will these forest gods, if you
will let them, if you will lave in their sunlight, and
breathe their healing, and laugh with the chitter and
laughter of the squirrels and streams.

And what if your spirit does not go out to meet the
spirit of the woods halfway? Then, the woods will


close round you with a chill loneliness unutterable.
You are an alien and an exile. They will have none
of you and will reveal to you none of their joyous,
dauntless life secrets.



"^ TOU have not ridden far towards the ranger's
jf house in the Forest before you become aware
JL that clothing for town is not clothing for the
wilds. No matter how hot it may be at mid-day, in
this high, rare air a chill comes soon as the sun begins
to sink. To be comfortable, light flannels must be
worn next the skin, with an extra heavy coat avail-
able never farther away from yourself than the
pack straps. Night may overtake you on a hard
trail. Long as you have an extra heavy coat and a
box of matches, night does not matter. You are safer
benighted in the wilds than in New York or Chicago.
If you have camp fire and blanket, night in the wilds
knows nothing of the satyr-faced spirit of evil, sand-
bagger and yeggman, that stalks the town.

To anyone used to travel in the wilderness, it seems
almost like little boys playing Robinson Crusoe to
give explicit directions as to dress. Yet only a few
years ago, the world was shocked and horrified by the
death of a town man exploring the wilds; and that
death was directly traceable to a simple matter of
boots. His feet played out. He had gone into a
country of rocky portages with only one pair of moc-
casins. I have never gone into the wilds for longer



than four months at a time. Yet I have never gone
with less than four sets of footgear. Primarily, you
need a pair of good outing boots ; and outing boots are
good only when they combine two qualities comfort
and thick enough soles to protect your feet from sharp
rock edges if you climb, broad enough soles, too, to
protect the edge of your feet from hard knocks from
passing trees and jars in the stirrup. For the rest,
you need about two extras in case you chip chunks out
of these in climbing; and if you camp near glaciers or
snow fields, a pair of moccasins for night wear will
add to comfort. You may get them if you like to
spend the money $8 leggings and $8 horsehide
shoes and cowboy hat and belted corduroy suit and
all the other paraphernalia by which the seasoned
Westerner recognizes the tenderfoot. You may get
them if you want to. It will not hurt you; but a $3
cowboy slicker for rainy days and a pair of boots
guaranteed to let the water out as fast as it comes in,
these and the ordinary outing garments of any other
part of the world are the prime essentials.

This matter of proper preparation recalls a little
English woman who determined to train her boys and
girls to be resourceful and independent by taking
them camping each summer in the forests of the
Pacific Coast. They were on a tramp one day twelve
miles from camp when a heavy fog blew in, and they
lost themselves. That is not surprising when you
consider the big tree country. Two notches and one
blaze mark the bounds of the National Forests; one
notch and one blaze, the trail ; but they had gone off


the trail trout fishing. " If they had been good path-
finders, they could have found the way out by fol-
lowing the stream down, " remarked a critic of this
little group to me; and a very apt criticism it was
from the safe vantage point of a study chair. How
about it, if when you came to follow the stream down,
it chanced to cut through a gorge you couldn't follow,
with such a sheer fall of rock at the sides and such a
crisscross of big trees, house-high,, that you were
driven back from the stream a mile or two? You
would keep your directions by sunlight? Maybe;
but that big tree region is almost impervious to sun-
light; and when the fog blows in or the clouds blow
down thick as wool, you will need a pocket compass
to keep the faintest sense of direction. Compass
signs of forest-lore fail here. There are few flowers
under the dense roofing to give you sense of east or
west; and you look in vain for the moss sign on the
north bark of the tree. All four sides are heavily
mossed ; and where the little Englishwoman lost her-
self, they were in ferns to their necks.

" Weren't the kiddies afraid? " I asked.

"Not a bit! Bob got the trout ready; and Son
made a big fire. We curled ourselves up round it for
the night; and I wish you could have seen the chil-
dren's delight when the clouds began to roll up below
in the morning. It was like a sea. The youngsters
had never seen clouds take fire from the sun coming
up below. I want to tell you, too, that we put out
every spark of that fire before we left in the morn-


All of which conveys its own moral for the camper
in the National Forests.

It ought not to be necessary to say that you cannot
go to the National Forests expecting to billet yourself
at the ranger's house. Many of the rangers are
married and have a houseful of their own. Those
not married, have no facilities whatever for taking
care of you. In my visit to the Vasquez Forest, I
happened to have a letter of introduction to the
ranger and his mother, who took me in with that
bountiful hospitality characteristic of the frontier; but
directly across the road from the ranger's cabin was
a little log slab-sided hotel where any comer could
have stayed in perfect comfort for $7 a week; and
at the station, where the train stopped, was another
very excellent little hotel where you could have stayed
and enjoyed meals that for nutritious cooking might
put a New York dinner to shame all to the tune
of $10 a week. Also, at this very station, is the
Supervisor's office of the Forestry Department. By
inquiry here, the newcomer can ascertain all facts as
to tenting oufit and camping place. Only one point
must be kept in mind do not go into the National
Forests expecting the railroads, or the rangers, or
Providence, to look after you. Do not go unless
you are prepared to look after yourself.

And now that you are in the National Forests,
what are you going to do? You can ride; or you can
hunt; or you can fish; or you can bathe in the hot
springs that dot so many of these intermountain
regions, where God has landscaped the playground


for a nation; or you can go in for records mountain
climbing; or you can go sightseeing in the most mar-
velously beautiful mountain scenery in the whole
world; or you can prowl round the prehistoric cave
and cliff dwellings of a race who flourished in mighty
power, now solitary and silent cities, contemporane-
ous with that Egyptian desert runner whose skeleton
lies in the British Museum marked 20,000 B. C. It
isn't every day you can wander through the deserted
chambers of a king's palace with 500 rooms. Tour-
ist agencies organize excursion parties for lesser and
younger palaces in Europe. I haven't heard of any
to visit the silent cities of the cliff and cave dwellers
on the Jemez Plateau of New Mexico, or the Gila
River, Arizona, or even the easily accessible dead
cities of forgotten peoples in the National Forest of
Southern Colorado. What race movement in the
first place sent these races perching their wonderful
tier-on-tier houses literally on the tip-top of the
world ?

The prehistoric remains of the Southwest are now,
of course, under the jurisdiction of the Forestry De-
partment; and you can't go digging and delving and
carrying relics from the midden heaps and baked
earthen floors without the permission of the Secretary
of Agriculture; but if you go in the spirit of an in-
vestigator, you will get that permission.

The question isn't what is there to do. It is
which of the countless things there are to do are you
going to choose to do 3 When Mr. Roosevelt goes


to the National Forests, he strikes for the Holy Cross
Mountain and bags a grizzly. When ordinary folk
hie to this Forest, they take along a bathing suit and
indulge in a daily plunge in the hot pools at Glenwood
Springs. If the light is good and the season yet
early, you can still see the snow in the crevices of the
peak, giving the Forest its name of the Holy Cross.
People say there is no historic association to our
West. Once a foolish phrase is uttered, it is surpris-
ing how sensible people will go on repeating it.
Take this matter of the " Holy Cross " name. If
you go investigating how these " Holy Cross " peaks
got their names from old Spanish padres riding their
burros into the wilderness, it will take you a hard
year's reading just to master the Spanish legends
alone. Then, if you dive into the realm of the cliff
dwellers, you will be drowned in historic antiquity
before you know. In the Glenwood Springs region,
you will not find the remnants of prehistoric people ;
but you'll find the hot springs.

Just two warnings: one as to hunting; the other, as
to mountain climbing. There is still big game in
Colorado Forests bear, mountain sheep, elk, deer;
and the ranger is supposed to be a game warden; but
a man patrolling 100,000 acres can't be all over at
one time. As to mountain climbing, you can get your
fill of it in Grand Canon, above Ouray, at Pike's
Peak a dozen places, and only the mountain
climber and his troglodyte cliff-climbing prototype
know the drunken, frenzied joy of climbing on the
roof of the earth and risking life and limb to stand


with the kingdoms of the world at your feet. But
unless you are a trained climber, take a guide with
you, or the advice of some local man who knows the
tricks and the moods and the wiles and the ways of
the upper mountain world. Looking from the valley
up to the peak, a patch of snow may seem no bigger
to you than a good-sized table-cloth. Look out! If
it is steep beneath that " table-cloth " and the forest
shows a slope clean-swept of trees as by a mighty
broom, be careful how you cross and recross following
the zigzag trail that corkscrews up below the far
patch of white! I was crossing the Continental
Divide one summer in the West when a woman on
the train pointed to a patch of white about ten miles
up the mountain slope and asked if " that " were
" rock or snow." I told her it was a very large snow
field, indeed; that we saw only the forefoot of it hang-
ing over the edge; that the upper part was supposed
to be some twenty miles across. She gave me a look
meant for Mrs. Ananias. A month later, when I
came back that way, the train suddenly slowed up.
The slide had come down and lay in white heaps
across the track three or four miles down into the
valley and up the other side. The tracks were safe
enough; for the snow shed threw the slide over the
track on down the slope; but it had caught a cluster
of lumbermen's shacks and buried eight people in a
sudden and eternal sleep. ' We saw it coming," said
one of the survivors, " and we thought we had plenty
of time. It must have been ten miles away. One
of the men went in to get his wife. Before he could


come out, it was on us. Man and wife and child were
carried down in the house just as it stood without
crushing a timber. It must have been the concussion
of the air they weren't even bruised when we dug
them out; but the kid couldn't even have wakened up
where it lay in the bed; and the man hadn't reached
the inside room; but they were dead, all three."

And near Ouray another summer, a chance acquaint-
ance pointed to a peak. " That one caught my son
last June," he said. " He was the company's doc-
tor. He had been born and raised in these moun-
tains; but it caught him. We knew the June heat
had loosened those upper fields; and his wife didn't
want him to go; but there was a man sick back up
the mountain; and he set out. They saw it coming;
but it wasn't any use. It came quick " with a
snap of his fingers " as that; and he was gone."

It's a saying among all good mountaineers that it's
" only the fool who monkeys with a mountain," es-
pecially the mountain with a white patch above a
clean-swept slope.

And there is another thing for the holiday player in
the National Forests to do ; and it is the thing that I
like best to do. You have been told so often that
you have come to believe it that our mountains in
America lack the human interests ; lack the picturesque
character and race types dotting the Alps, for instance.
Don't you believe it! Go West! There isn't a
mountain or a forest from New Mexico to Idaho that
has not its mountaineering votary, its quaint hermit,
or its sky-top guide, its refugee from civilization, or


simply its lover of God's Great Outdoors and Peace
and Big Silence, living near to the God of the Great
Open as log cabin on a hilltop capped by the stars can
bring him. Wild creatures of woodland ways don't
come to your beck and call. You have to hunt out
their secret haunts. The same with these Western
mountaineers. Hunt them out; but do it with rever-
ence ! I was driving in the Gunnison country with a
local magnate two years ago. We saw against the
far skyline a cleft like the arched entrance to a cave;
only this arch led through the rock to the sky beyond.

" I wish," said my guide, " you had time to spend
two or three weeks here. We'd take you to the high
country above these battlements and palisades. See
that hole in the mountain?"

" Rough Upper Alpine meadows? " I asked.

" Oh, dear no ! Open park country with lakes and
the best of fishing. It used to be an almost impossi-
ble trail to get up there; but there has been a hermit
fellow there for the last ten years, living in his cabin
and hunting; and year after year, never paid by any-
body, he has been building that trail up. When men
ask him why he does it, he says it's to lead people up;
for the glory of God and that sort of thing. Of
course, the people in the valley think him crazy."

Of course, they do. What would we, who love the
valley and its dust and its maniacal jabber of jealousies
and dollars do, building trails to lead people up to
see the Glory of God? We call those hill-crest dwell-
ers the troglodytes. Is it not we, who are the earth
dwellers, the dust eaters, the insects of the city ant


heaps, the true troglodytes and subsoilers of the sordid
iniquities ? Perhaps, by this, you think there are some
things to do if you go out to the National Forests.

You have been told so often that the National For-
ests lock up timber from use that it comes as a
surprise as you ride up the woodland trail to hear the
song of the crosscut saw and the buzzing hum of a
mill perhaps a dozen mills running full blast
here in this National Forest. Heaps of sawdust emit
the odors of imprisoned flowers. Piles of logs lie on
all sides stamped at the end U. S. timber sold on the
stump to any lumberman and scaled as inspected by
the ranger and paid by the buyer. To be sure, the
lumberman cannot have the lumber for nothing; and
it was for nothing that the Forests were seized and
cut under the old regime.

How was the spoliation effected? Two or three
ways. The law of the public domain used to permit
burn and windfall to be taken out free. Your lum-
berman, then, homesteaded 160 acres on a slope of
forest affording good timber skids and chutes. So
far, no wrong! Was not public domain open to
homesteading? Good; but your homesteading lum-
berman now watched his chance for a high wind away
from his claim. Then, purely accidentally, you under-
stand, the fire sprang up and swept the entire slope
of green forest away from his claim. Your home-
steading lumberman then set up a sawmill. A fire
fanned up a green slope by a high wind did less harm
than fire in a slow wind in dry weather. The slope


would be left a sweep of desolate burn and windfall,
dead trees and spars. Your lumberman then went in
and took his windfall and his burn free. Thousands,
hundreds of thousands, millions of acres of the public
domain, were rifled free from the public in this way.
If challenged, I could give the names of men who be-
came millionaires by lumbering in this manner.

That was the principle of Congress when it with-
drew from public domain these vast wooded areas and
created the National Forests to include grazing and
woodland not properly administered under public do-
main. The making of windfall to take it free was
stopped. The ranger's job is to prevent fires. Also
he permits the cutting of only ripe, full-grown trees,
or dead tops, or growth stunted by crowding ; and all
timber sold off the forests must be marked for cut-
ting and stamped by the ranger.

But the old spirit assumes protean forms. The
latest way of working the old trick is through the
homestead law. You have been told that homestead-
ers cannot go in on the National Forests. Yet there,
as you ride along the trail, is a cleared space of 160
acres where a Swedish woman and her boys are mak-
ing hay; and inquiry elicits the fact that millions of
acres are yearly homesteaded in the National Forests.
Just as fast as they can be surveyed, all farming lands
in the National Forests are opened to the home-
steader. Where, then, is the trick? Your farmer
man comes in for a homestead and he picks out 160
acres where the growth of big trees is so dense they
will yield from $10,000 to $40,000 in timber per


quarter section. Good! Hasn't the homesteader a
right to this profit? He certainly has, if he gets the
profit; but supposing he doesn't clear more than a
few hundred feet round his cabin, and hasn't a cent of
money to pay the heavy expense of clearing the rest,
and sells out at the end of his homesteading for a few
hundred dollars? Supposing such farmer men are
brought in by excursion loads by a certain big lumber
company, and all sell out at a few hundred dollars,
claims worth millions, to that certain big lumber com-
pany is this true homesteading of free land; or a
grabbing of timber for a lumber trust?

The same spirit explains the furious outcry that
miners are driven off the National Forest land.
Wherever there is genuine metal, prospectors can go
in and stake their claims and take lumber for their
preliminary operations; but they cannot stake thou-
sands of fictitious claims, then yearly turn over a
quarter of a million dollars' worth of timber free to
a big smelting trust a merry game worked in one
of the Western States for several years till the rang-
ers put a stop to it.

To build roads through an empire the size of Ger-
many would require larger revenues than the Forests
yet afford; so the experiment is being tried of permit-
ting lumbermen to take the timber free from the
space occupied by a road for the building of the road.
When you consider that you can drive a span of horses
through the width of a big conifer, or build a cottage
of six rooms from a single tree, the reward for road
building is not so paltry as it sounds.


Presently, your pony turns up a by-path. You are
at the ranger's cabin, picturesque to a degree, built
of hewn logs or timbers, with slab sides scraped down
to the cinnamon brown, nailed on the hewn wood.
Many an Eastern country house built in elaborate and
shoddy imitation of town mansion, or prairie home
resembling nothing in the world so much as an ugly

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Online LibraryAgnes C. (Agnes Christina) LautThrough our unknown Southwest, the wonderland of the United States - little known and unappreciated - the home of the cliff dweller and the Hopi, the forest ranger and the Navajo - the lure of the painted desert → online text (page 4 of 19)