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the plain, now assume gigantic proportions. Again and again, as I approached
some forest giant, I asked, " Is that one of the big trees ?" But it was only
a redwood, attaining not more than the contemptible height of two hundred
feet. At length the grove was reached, and all that I had heard of these
monarchs of the forest fell short of the reality. For their size I was prepared,
but their beauty took me by surprise. The lines of the trunk reminded me


of those of the modern lighthouses a broad base, from which rises an

exquisitely tapering shaft, perfectly smooth and straight, to a height of two

hundred or two hundred and fifty feet, when a vast crown of branches is

thrown out, many of which are as big as an ordinary tree. Unlike the

redwood, to which they are allied, they

only grow in detached clumps or groves.

Their habitat is on terraces varying from

five thousand to seven thousand feet

above the level of the sea. Nine of these

groves are known, of which two at

Mariposa and one at Calaveras are the

most frequently visited. The general

average of the Mariposa groves is the

highest, but the largest individual trees

are found at Calaveras, which may be

visited on the return journey from the

Yosemite, following the Coulter ville trail.
The scientific name by which these

trees have been known in England is

Wcllingtonia gigautca. This, however,

seems to have been given in mistake,

under the erroneous idea that they

formed a new species. Really they are

a variety of the redwood or Sequoia,

which grows abundantly and attains an

immense height on the mountain ranges of California. "It is to the happy

accident of the generic agreement of the Big Tree with the redwood," says

the author of the Geological Survey of California,
"that we are not now obliged to call the
largest and most interesting tree of America
after an English military hero : had it been an
English botanist of the highest reputation, the
dose would not have been so unpalatable. . . .
The name now stands as Sequoia gigantea"

The most important of the trees are named
and numbered the Mother of the Forest, the
Three Graces, Maid of Honour, Daniel Webster,
Richard Cobden, Henry Ward Beecher, and so
on. One which has fallen and lies pointing to

the south is called after Andrew Johnson, the late ex-president of the United

States, on account of his "southern proclivities." The tallest tree actually

measured is the Keystone State, in the Calaveras Grove, which is three

hundred and twenty-five feet high. One tree, numbered three hundred and




thirty in the Mariposa Grove, was originally over one hundred feet in circum
ference at the base. Another, though one side has been burned away, still
measures ninety-three feet round the base. A calculation of the age of the
trees, by counting the annual rings, was made by the Geological Survey.
Having selected one which was deemed suitable for the purpose, it was felled
by means of augurs and wedges, a task which occupied five men for twenty-
two days. The stump,
at six feet above the
ground, had a circum
ference of about ninety
feet. A very careful
counting of the rings
gave its probable age
as one thousand three
hundred years. As this
tree was in full vigour,
it may be fairly assumed
that those which show
signs of decay are much

The trees of the
Mariposa Grove have
suffered from the action
of fire, many of them
being charred and black
ened to a considerable
height from the ground.
This has been caused
either by herdsmen
lighting their camp fires
at the foot, or by
Indians and hunters
igniting the brushwood
to drive out the game.
Though this is forbidden
by severe enactments,

the law is constantly violated. Standing on the Sentinel Dome above the
Yosemite, from which a view is gained over a vast expanse of densely-
wooded mountains, I saw the forest on fire in three places. One of the largest
of the Big Trees has a passage burned clean through the trunk, large enough
to admit a man on horseback. I rode through it as through an archway,
without touching on either side, and though my horse was at least fifteen hands
high, there was ample space between my hat and the crown of the arch.



I shall not soon forget a brief and simple religious service held under
the shadow of one of these mighty monarchs of the forest. A few of us
were resting for awhile before commencing the descent to Clark's Ranch.
One of the party commenced the hymn, which all joined in singing :

Nature with open volume stands

To spread her Maker's praise abroad;

And every labour of His hands

Shows something worthy of a God.

As the old
familiar strain
went on to
exalt the
"grace that
rescued man "
above all the
glories of crea
tion, the words
seemed to
gain new force
and meaning.
The iO4th
Psalm was
read with a few
words of ex

position and application. Prayer was offered, and
we left our forest-sanctuary with hearts uplifted in
adoring love to Him who is not only the God of
nature, but our God and Father in Jesus Christ.

A rough carnage road has recently been
opened from Clark's Ranch to the Yosemite, a
distance of twenty-six miles. The
scenery for the whole distance is mag
nificent. It is not unlike the grander
parts of the Jura range, but is even finer,
and forms a fitting approach to what is
perhaps the most wonderful valley in the
world. Nordhoff, in his book on California,
says, " A business man or a statistician
would tell you, in a few words, that the
Yosemite Valley is a floor eight miles
long by two wide, with walls three-
quarters of a mile high. He would give THE KEYSTONE STATE, 325 FEET HIGH.

you, further, the following figures concerning the height of the precipitous



mountains which form the walls, and of the waterfalls which give variety to
the wonderful scene :




Great Chief of the Valley
Large Acorn Cache .

Mountains playing Lean-"!
Fro-' .

Kl Capitan .
Cathedral Rocks .
The Cathedral Spires .

Three Brothers.

Gone in

Union Rocks .

Signal Station ....

Sentinel Rock .
Sentinel Dome.

Shade to Indian Baby\
Basket /

Glacier Rock .
Royal Arches .

The Watching Eye

Washington Column .

North Dome
Goddess of the Valley . South Dome
Pine Mountain . ! Mount Watkins

Cloud's Rest

Cap of Liberty

Mount Star King ...


Night Wind . .
Large Grizzly Bear

First Fall . . .
Second Fall

Third Fall . . .

Sparkling Water .

Bridal Veil

The Beautiful ....
Shade to Indian Babyl
Basket /

Vernal . . .
Nevada . .
South Fork .

Royal Arch Falls
Sentinel Falls .

i ,'oo



1, 800





i ,000
3, coo


" He would acid, for purposes of
comparison, that 5,280 feet make a mile,
and that the great Fall of Niagara is but
163 feet high."*

Nordhoff is right in adding that
these figures give " no idea of the
wonderful, strange, and magnificent
scenery of the valley." Even the visitor

is unable at first to gain any adequate sense of the height of
the cliffs on either side of the ravine. They are so nearly
vertical, that the eye passes upward from base to summit
unconscious of the distance over which it has travelled. It
is only when we look down into the valley from above, and
see the houses immediately below us dwarfed into insignificance,
the men mere pigmies, and the Merced River a tiny rivulet, that we discover the
immense perpendicular distance between ourselves and them. There are many
points at which we may stand on the edge of the cliff, and dropping a stone

* California; a Book for Travellers and Settlers. By Charles NordhofTT.



from our
hand, it
will fall
feet be
fore strik
ing the

The val
ley is un
ique, not
merely in
the height
and verti-
cality of
its walls

of rock. Its narrowness only about two
miles across is a noticeable feature. Its
waterfalls, plunging down a sheer leap of
from one thousand to three thousand feet,
are unequalled in the world. The bed of
the valley too is unlike anything I have seen
elsewhere. It is absolutely flat, except for

small mounds


of debris

lying along the base of
the cliffs. The gradual
ascent leading up from
the bottom of the gorge,
and becoming steeper as
we climb till the foot of
the mountain is reached,
with elsewhere, has no
A level plain, covered
quisitely green
able flowers, rests upon the bases of rocky
walls, which spring upwards at right angles
from the fertile soil below. The contrast
of colour between the narrow strip of
verdure and the light grey of the granite,
which becomes of a dazzling whiteness as

which we meet
existence here,
with grass ex-
and bright with innumer-


the sun shines upon it, adds to the weird
effect of the whole. There is but a
single entrance into the valley, and no
way of exit except by retracing our steps
through the narrow rift. It is a cul-de-sac


inclosed by perpendicular walls of granite.
Its very existence was only discovered
by accident. The Yosemite Indians,
pursued by the settlers after their ma
rauding raids, mysteriously disappeared
from view, and no trace of them could
be found. At length, in the spring of
1851, an expedition was organised to
explore the mountains, and follow the
Indians into their retreat. Under the
guidance of Tenaya, the chief of a hostile
tribe, the troops penetrated the valley,
and brought tidings of the wonders they
had found. So narrow
is the entrance that but
for this circumstance it
might have remained en




unknown to the present day.
Perhaps nothing in the
whole valley is finer than
the entrance to it. On the
left is El Capitan, "an im
mense block of granite, pro
jecting squarely out into the
valley, and presenting an
almost vertical sharp edge,
three thousand three hun
dred feet in elevation. The
sides or walls of the mass
are bare, smooth, and en
tirely destitute of vegetation.
It is almost impossible for
the observer to comprehend
the enormous dimensions of
this rock, which in clear
weather can be distinctly
seen from the San Joaquin
plains, at a distance of fifty
or sixty miles. Nothing,


however, so helps to a realisation of the magnitude of these masses about the
Yosemite, as climbing around and among them. Let the visitor begin to
ascend the pile of debris which lies at the base of El Capitan, and he will
soon find his ideas enlarged on the point in question. And yet these heaps
of debris along the cliffs, and especially under El Capitan, are of insignificant
size compared with the dimensions of the solid wall itself. They are hardly
noticeable in taking a general view of the valley. El Capitan imposes on us
by its stupendous bulk,
which seemed as if hewed
from the mountains on
purpose to stand as a
type of eternal massive-
ness. It is doubtful if
anywhere in the world
there is presented so
squarely cut, so lofty,
and so imposing a face
of rock. On the other
side of the valley, we
have the Bridal Veil
Fall, unquestionably one
of the most beautiful
objects in the Yosemite.
It is formed by the creek
of the same name, which
rises a few miles east
of Empire Camp, runs
through the meadows at
Westfalls, and is finally
precipitated over the
cliffs on the west side
of Cathedral Rock into
the Yosemite in one leap
of six hundred and thirty
feet perpendicular. The
water strikes here on a sloping pile of debris, down which it rushes in a
series of cascades for a perpendicular distance of nearly three hundred feet
more, the total height of the edge of the fall above the meadow at its base
being nine hundred feet. The effect of the cascade, as everywhere seen from
the valley, is as if it were nine hundred feet in vertical height, its base being
concealed by the trees which surround it.

" The quantity of water in the Bridal Veil Fall varies greatly with the
season. In May and June the amount is generally at the maximum, and it




gradually decreases as
the summer advances.
The effect, however, is
finest when the body of
water is not too heavy,
since then the swaying
from side to side, and
the waving under the
varying pressure of the
wind as it strikes the
long column of water, is
more marked. As seen
from a distance at such
times, it seems to flutter

like a white veil, producing an indescribably beautiful effect."*

Proceeding up the valley we pass on the right the Cathedral Rock, a

massive pile of granite two thousand six hundred feet high ; and, just beyond,

the graceful pinnacles called the Spires, five hundred feet above the walls of

rock on which they rest. Nearly opposite are the Three Brothers, rising in

steps one behind the other, the highest being

three thousand eight hundred and thirty feet

above the valley. Just beyond them is the

Great Yosemite Fall, one of the grandest water
falls in the world. Its vertical height is given,

as the result of actual measurement, at two

thousand six hundred feet from the edge of the

cliff to the point where it strikes the valley.

In June 1865, the amount of water passing

over the fall was estimated at half a million

cubic feet an hour, " and at the highest stage

of water, there is probably three times as much

as this."

One of the most imposing objects in the

Yosemite is the Half Dome. Seen from the

eastern side, it is a perfectly rounded dome of

granite, as smooth and regular as that of Mont

Blanc, rising to a height of four thousand seven

hundred and thirty-seven feet above the valley.

But the western half has been split off, and

presents a flat vertical side. Towards the

* The YoseinUc Guide Book. Published by authority of the Legis
lature, pp. 58-60. In common with all writers on the Yosemite, I am
greatly indebted to this admirable production of the Geological Survey
of the United States of America. SOUTH, OR HALF DOME, 4,737 KKET.


Tenaya Canon it is absolutely vertical for two thousand feet from the summit,
and so nearly vertical for the remainder of its height, that its inclination
from the perpendicular only becomes apparent by actual measurement.
" It is entirely unique in the Sierra Nevada, and, so far as we know, in
the world."

Passing onwards between walls of granite seamed with waterfalls, and
surmounted by domes and pinnacles, we reach, near the end of the Tenaya
Canon, a lovely lake. Inclosed by mountains, its surface is smooth, and
unruffled as a mirror hence its name, Mirror Lake. In the morning or
evening, when the slanting rays of the rising or setting sun fall upon the
surrounding peaks without penetrating into the valley, the reflection upon its


glassy surface is marvellously perfect. The scarped walls of rock are repro
duced with a startling vividness. Looking down into the clear depths, we see
every blotch of lichen, every weather-stain, every fracture of the surface, with
even greater distinctness than in the reality. Sometimes a slight breeze
comes up the valley, and the lovely vision fades away for a moment, only to
reappear with fresh beauty.

The Geological Survey discuss the question which suggests itself to the
mind of every visitor to the Yosemite : " How was this extraordinary rift in the
mountains produced ?" Having examined and dismissed the various theories
which explain the formation of other valleys, and shown that it cannot be a
valley of fissure, or of erosion, or of glacial action, they adopt the extraordinary


hypothesis that it must have been caused by subsidence. They say, " We
are led irresistibly to the adoption of a theory of the origin of the Yosemite,
in a way which has hardly yet been recognised as one of those in which
valleys may be formed, probably for the reason that there are so few cases
in which such an event can be absolutely proved to have occurred. We
conceive that, during the process of upheaval of the Sierra, or, possibly, at
some time after that had taken place, there was at the Yosemite a subsidence
of a limited area, marked by nearly parallel lines of 'fault,' or fissures

crossing each other at right
angles. In other and more
simple language, the bottom
of the valley sank down to
an unknown depth, owing
to its support being with
drawn from underneath,
during some of those con
vulsive movements which
must have attended the up
heaval of so extensive and
elevated a chain, no matter
how slow we may imagine
the process to have been.
Subsidence over extensive
areas of portions of the
earth's crust is not at all a
new idea in geology, and
there is nothing in this
peculiar application of it
which need excite surprise.
It is the great amount of
vertical displacement for the
small area implicated, which
makes this a peculiar case ;
but it would not be easy
to give any good reason
why such an exceptional result should not be brought about amid the com
plicated play of forces which the elevation of a grand mountain chain must
set in motion.

" By the adoption of the subsidence theory for the formation of the
Yosemite, we are able to get over one difficulty which appears insurmount
able with any other. This is the very small amount of debris at the base
of the cliffs, and even, at a few points, its entire absence, as previously
noticed in our description of the valley. We see that fragments of rock are



loosened by rain, frost, gravity, and other natural causes along the walls,

and probably not a winter elapses that some great mass of detritus does not

come thundering down from above, adding, as it is easy to see from actual

inspection of those slides which have occurred within the past few years, no

inconsiderable amount to the talus. Several of these great rock avalanches have

taken place since the valley was inhabited. One which fell near Cathedral Rock

is said to have shaken the valley like an earthquake. This abrasion of the edges

of the valley has unquestionably been

going on during a vast period of time ;

what has become of the detrital material ?

Sortie masses of granite now lying in the

valley one in particular, near the base

of the Yosemite Fall are as large as

houses. Such masses as these could

never have been removed from the valley

by currents of water ; in fact, there is

no evidence of any considerable amount

of aqueous erosion, for the canon of the

Merced below the Yosemite is nearly

free from detritus all the way down to

the plain. The falling masses have not

been carried out by a glacier, for there

are below the valley no remains of the

moraines which such" an operation could

not fail to have formed.

"It appears to us that there is no
way of disposing of the vast mass of
detritus which must have fallen from
the walls of the Yosemite since the for- NKVADA FALLS ' 7 FEET -
mation of the valley, except by assuming that it has gone
down to fill the abyss which was opened by the subsidence
which our theory supposes to have taken place. What the
depth of the chasm may have been we have no data for
computing ; but that it must have been very great is proved
by the fact that it has been able to receive the accumula
tions of so long a period of time. The cavity was undoubtedly occupied
by water, forming a lake of unsurpassed beauty and grandeur until quite a
recent epoch. The gradual desiccation of the whole country, the disappearance
of the glaciers, and the filling up of the abyss to nearly a level with the present
outlet, where the valley passes into a canon of the usual form, have converted
the lake into a valley with a river meandering through it. The process of
filling up still continues, and the talus will accumulate perceptibly fast,
although a long time must elapse before the general appearance of the valley



will be much altered by this cause, so stupendous is the vertical height of
its walls, and so slow their crumbling away, at least as compared with the
historic duration of time."

Even this explanation has generally been rejected as inadequate. But
the fact that the most eminent geologists and physicists in America are
driven to adopt it for want of a better alternative, may serve to show how
absolutely unique are the phenomena which here perplex the philosopher and
fascinate the traveller.

But the wonders even of the Yosemite and the Mariposa Grove are
eclipsed by the other great national park, of which mention was made at
the commencement of this chapter that of the Yellowstone region. I was
unfortunately prevented from visiting it, and must therefore avail myself of
the description given in the Leisure Hoiir for June 1872, by the artist attached
to the Alaska Survey party.*

" For years marvellous tales have been rife among the hunters and
mountaineers of the Far West, about a mysterious country in the heart of
the Rocky Mountains, some three hundred miles south from the line of the
British possessions. This region comprises within its limits the sources of
the Columbia, whose waters flow westward toward the Pacific, and those of
the Yellowstone a large stream which, after trending eastward for several
hundred miles, joins the mighty Missouri in its course to the Mexican Gulf.
It was asserted that the course of the Upper Yellowstone was broken by
cataracts surpassing that of Niagara ; that it flowed in one place through a
canon, or gorge, whose vertical sides measured more than a mile in depth ;
that on the shores of the Yellowstone Lake were scattered the remains of
idols, war-clubs, and utensils of an extinct race ; and that the country
abounded in hot-water geysers and mud volcanoes, surpassing all others
hitherto known in height and volume. It was further added, that the Indians
looked upon the mysterious country as the abode of evil spirits, and rarely,
if ever, ventured to invade the solitudes of their haunts. To verify these
loose rumours, a party of gentlemen, citizens of Montana, determined to
attempt an exploration of the Upper Yellowstone River, and solve the

" The nine gentlemen comprising the party were well mounted, and
armed each with a needle-gun, revolver, and hunting-knife ; a small pack train,
loaded with flour, bacon, coffee, and sugar, in charge of two Mexican packers,
following them, and completing their outfit. General Hancock, the general
commanding-in-chief of the district, had acceded to their request for a
company of cavalry by way of escort ; but when they arrived at Fort Ellis,
the starting-point of the exploration, the commander informed them that he

* For fuller details the reader may be referred to Scribner's Magazine for May and June, 1871, or to The Wonders
of the Yellowstone Region, recently published by Blackie and Sons.


could not possibly spare them more than five men, with which small addition
to their strength they bade adieu to this outpost of civilisation, and plunged
at once into the vast unknown which lay before them. Having learned at
the fort that a band of Crow Indians had preceded them the day before up
the valley of the Yellowstone, they organised their party in anticipation of
possible trouble from this quarter, and elected H. D. Washburn, Surveyor-
General of Montana, as their chief commander. It was determined to make
but one march each day, camping about three in the afternoon, to obviate
the necessity of unpacking and cooking dinner. It was also agreed that a
picket guard of two men should be detailed each night to guard the camp
and horses. In the afternoon of the day following, their attention was drawn
to a small band of mounted Indians riding along the foot-hills on the opposite
side of the river, travelling in the same direction as themselves, and evidently

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Online LibrarySamuel ManningAmerican pictures drawn with pen and pencil → online text (page 6 of 12)