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Re: The Yosemite

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avatar The Yosemite
April 03, 2009 10:58AM
John Muir:

The Approach to the Valley

When I set out on the long excursion that finally led to California I
wandered afoot and alone, from Indiana to the Gulf of Mexico, with a
plant-press on my back, holding a generally southward course, like the
birds when they are going from summer to winter. From the west coast
of Florida I crossed the gulf to Cuba, enjoyed the rich tropical flora
there for a few months, intending to go thence to the north end of South
America, make my way through the woods to the headwaters of the Amazon,
and float down that grand river to the ocean. But I was unable to find a
ship bound for South America--fortunately perhaps, for I had incredibly
little money for so long a trip and had not yet fully recovered from
a fever caught in the Florida swamps. Therefore I decided to visit
California for a year or two to see its wonderful flora and the famous
Yosemite Valley. All the world was before me and every day was a
holiday, so it did not seem important to which one of the world's
wildernesses I first should wander.

Arriving by the Panama steamer, I stopped one day in San Francisco and
then inquired for the nearest way out of town. "But where do you want to
go?" asked the man to whom I had applied for this important information.
"To any place that is wild," I said. This reply startled him. He seemed
to fear I might be crazy and therefore the sooner I was out of town the
better, so he directed me to the Oakland ferry.

So on the first of April, 1868, I set out afoot for Yosemite. It was the
bloom-time of the year over the lowlands and coast ranges the landscapes
of the Santa Clara Valley were fairly drenched with sunshine, all the
air was quivering with the songs of the meadow-larks, and the hills were
so covered with flowers that they seemed to be painted. Slow indeed was
my progress through these glorious gardens, the first of the California
flora I had seen. Cattle and cultivation were making few scars as yet,
and I wandered enchanted in long wavering curves, knowing by my pocket
map that Yosemite Valley lay to the east and that I should surely find

avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 03, 2009 11:04AM
The KING of narratives! smiling smiley

avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 03, 2009 11:18AM
The Sierra From The West

Looking eastward from the summit of the Pacheco Pass one shining
morning, a landscape was displayed that after all my wanderings still
appears as the most beautiful I have ever beheld. At my feet lay the
Great Central Valley of California, level and flowery, like a lake of
pure sunshine, forty or fifty miles wide, five hundred miles long, one
rich furred garden of yellow Compositœ. And from the eastern boundary
of this vast golden flower-bed rose the mighty Sierra, miles in height,
and so gloriously colored and so radiant, it seemed not clothed with
light, but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city.
Along the top and extending a good way down, was a rich pearl-gray belt
of snow; below it a belt of blue and dark purple, marking the extension
of the forests; and stretching along the base of the range a broad belt
of rose-purple; all these colors, from the blue sky to the yellow
valley smoothly blending as they do in a rainbow, making a wall of light
ineffably fine. Then it seemed to me that the Sierra should be called,
not the Nevada or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light. And after ten
years of wandering and wondering in the heart of it, rejoicing in its
glorious floods of light, the white beams of the morning streaming
through the passes, the noonday radiance on the crystal rocks, the
flush of the alpenglow, and the irised spray of countless waterfalls,
it still seems above all others the Range of Light.

In general views no mark of man is visible upon it, nor any thing to
suggest the wonderful depth and grandeur of its sculpture. None of its
magnificent forest-crowned ridges seems to rise much above the general
level to publish its wealth. No great valley or river is seen, or group
of well-marked features of any kind standing out as distinct pictures.
Even the summit peaks, marshaled in glorious array so high in the sky,
seem comparatively regular in form. Nevertheless the whole range five
hundred miles long is furrowed with cañons 2000 to 5000 feet deep, in
which once flowed majestic glaciers, and in which now flow and sing the
bright rejoicing rivers.

Characteristics Of The Cañons

Though of such stupendous depth, these cañons are not gloom gorges,
savage and inaccessible. With rough passages here and there they are
flowery pathways conducting to the snowy, icy fountains; mountain
streets full of life and light, graded and sculptured by the ancient
glaciers, and presenting throughout all their course a rich variety of
novel and attractive scenery--the most attractive that has yet been
discovered in the mountain ranges of the world. In many places,
especially in the middle region of the western flank, the main cañons
widen into spacious valleys or parks diversified like landscape gardens
with meadows and groves and thickets of blooming bushes, while the lofty
walls, infinitely varied in form are fringed with ferns, flowering
plants, shrubs of many species and tall evergreens and oaks that find
footholds on small benches and tables, all enlivened and made glorious
with rejoicing stream that come chanting in chorus over the cliffs and
through side cañons in falls of every conceivable form, to join the
river that flow in tranquil, shining beauty down the middle of each
one of them.

The Incomparable Yosemite

The most famous and accessible of these cañon valleys, and also the one
that presents their most striking and sublime features on the grandest
scale, is the Yosemite, situated in the basin of the Merced River at an
elevation of 4000 feet above the level of the sea. It is about seven
miles long, half a mile to a mile wide, and nearly a mile deep in the
solid granite flank of the range. The walls are made up of rocks,
mountains in size, partly separated from each other by side cañons, and
they are so sheer in front, and so compactly and harmoniously arranged
on a level floor, that the Valley, comprehensively seen, looks like an
immense hall or temple lighted from above.

But no temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite. Every rock in
its walls seems to glow with life. Some lean back in majestic repose;
others, absolutely sheer or nearly so for thousands of feet, advance
beyond their companions in thoughtful attitudes, giving welcome to
storms and calms alike, seemingly aware, yet heedless, of everything
going on about them. Awful in stern, immovable majesty, how softly these
rocks are adorned, and how fine and reassuring the company they keep:
their feet among beautiful groves and meadows, their brows in the sky,
a thousand flowers leaning confidingly against their feet, bathed in
floods of water, floods of light, while the snow and waterfalls, the
winds and avalanches and clouds shine and sing and wreathe about them
as the years go by, and myriads of small winged creatures birds, bees,
butterflies--give glad animation and help to make all the air into
music. Down through the middle of the Valley flows the crystal Merced,
River of Mercy, peacefully quiet, reflecting lilies and trees and the
onlooking rocks; things frail and fleeting and types of endurance
meeting here and blending in countless forms, as if into this one
mountain mansion Nature had gathered her choicest treasures, to draw
her lovers into close and confiding communion with her.

avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 03, 2009 12:01PM
So now we have evidence that John Muir needlessly killed innocent flowers with his plant press.

I personally like Mark Twain's descriptions in "Roughing It" a little better, but both are great.
avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 03, 2009 12:20PM
The Approach To The Valley

Sauntering up the foothills to Yosemite by any of the old trails or
roads in use before the railway was built from the town of Merced up the
river to the boundary of Yosemite Park, richer and wilder become the
forests and streams. At an elevation of 6000 feet above the level of the
sea the silver firs are 200 feet high, with branches whorled around the
colossal shafts in regular order, and every branch beautifully pinnate
like a fern frond. The Douglas spruce, the yellow and sugar pines and
brown-barked Libocedrus here reach their finest developments of beauty
and grandeur. The majestic Sequoia is here, too, the king of conifers,
the noblest of all the noble race. These colossal trees are as wonderful
in fineness of beauty and proportion as in stature--an assemblage of
conifers surpassing all that have ever yet been discovered in the
forests of the world. Here indeed is the tree-lover's paradise; the
woods, dry and wholesome, letting in the light in shimmering masses of
half sunshine, half shade; the night air as well as the day air
indescribably spicy and exhilarating; plushy fir-boughs for campers'
beds and cascades to sing us to sleep. On the highest ridges, over which
these old Yosemite ways passed, the silver fir (Abies magnifica) forms
the bulk of the woods, pressing forward in glorious array to the very
brink of the Valley walls on both sides, and beyond the Valley to a
height of from 8000 to 9000 feet above the level of the sea. Thus it
appears that Yosemite, presenting such stupendous faces of bare granite,
is nevertheless imbedded in magnificent forests, and the main species of
pine, fir, spruce and libocedrus are also found in the Valley itself,
but there are no "big trees" (Sequoia gigantea) in the Valley or about
the rim of it. The nearest are about ten and twenty miles beyond the
lower end of the valley on small tributaries of the Merced and Tuolumne

avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 03, 2009 01:20PM
I mentioned this before in other posts but I'll say it again.

If you like "The Yosemite" you should definitely check out his other
book "My first Summer in the Sierra".

These 2 are by far my favorites of his works.
avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 03, 2009 01:43PM
bill-e-g wrote:

> These 2 are by far my favorites of his works.

Mine too.

avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 03, 2009 02:03PM
The First View: The Bridal Veil

From the margin of these glorious forests the first general view of the
Valley used to be gained--a revelation in landscape affairs that
enriches one's life forever. Entering the Valley, gazing overwhelmed
with the multitude of grand objects about us, perhaps the first to fix
our attention will be the Bridal Veil, a beautiful waterfall on our
right. Its brow, where it first leaps free from the cliff, is about 900
feet above us; and as it sways and sings in the wind, clad in gauzy,
sun-sifted spray, half falling, half floating, it seems infinitely
gentle and fine; but the hymns it sings tell the solemn fateful power
hidden beneath its soft clothing.

The Bridal Veil shoots free from the upper edge of the cliff by the
velocity the stream has acquired in descending a long slope above the
head of the fall. Looking from the top of the rock-avalanche talus
on the west side, about one hundred feet above the foot of the fall,
the under surface of the water arch is seen to be finely grooved and
striated; and the sky is seen through the arch between rock and water,
making a novel and beautiful effect.

Under ordinary weather conditions the fall strikes on flat-topped slabs,
forming a kind of ledge about two-thirds of the way down from the top,
and as the fall sways back and forth with great variety of motions
among these flat-topped pillars, kissing and plashing notes as well as
thunder-like detonations are produced, like those of the Yosemite Fall,
though on a smaller scale.

The rainbows of the Veil, or rather the spray- and foam-bows, are
superb, because the waters are dashed among angular blocks of granite
at the foot, producing abundance of spray of the best quality for iris
effects, and also for a luxuriant growth of grass and maiden-hair on
the side of the talus, which lower down is planted with oak, laurel
and willows.

avatar General Features Of The Valley
April 03, 2009 02:08PM
General Features Of The Valley

On the other side of the Valley, almost immediately opposite the Bridal
Veil, there is another fine fall, considerably wider than the Veil when
the snow is melting fast and more than 1000 feet in height, measured
from the brow of the cliff where it first springs out into the air to
the head of the rocky talus on which it strikes and is broken up into
ragged cascades. It is called the Ribbon Fall or Virgin's Tears. During
the spring floods it is a magnificent object, but the suffocating blasts
of spray that fill the recess in the wall which it occupies prevent a
near approach. In autumn, however when its feeble current falls in a
shower, it may then pass for tear with the sentimental onlooker fresh
from a visit to the Bridal Veil.

Just beyond this glorious flood the El Capitan Rock, regarded by many as
the most sublime feature of the Valley, is seen through the pine groves,
standing forward beyond the general line of the wall in most imposing
grandeur, a type of permanence. It is 3300 feet high, a plain, severely
simple, glacier-sculptured face of granite, the end of one of the most
compact and enduring of the mountain ridges, unrivaled in height and
breadth and flawless strength.

Across the Valley from here, next to the Bridal Veil, are the
picturesque Cathedral Rocks, nearly 2700 feet high, making a noble
display of fine yet massive sculpture. They are closely related to El
Capitan, having been eroded from the same mountain ridge by the great
Yosemite Glacier when the Valley was in process of formation.

Next to the Cathedral Rocks on the south side towers the Sentinel Rock
to a height of more than 3000 feet, a telling monument of the glacial

Almost immediately opposite the Sentinel are the Three Brothers, an
immense mountain mass with three gables fronting the Valley, one above
another, the topmost gable nearly 4000 feet high. They were named for
three brothers, sons of old Tenaya, the Yosemite chief, captured here
during the Indian War, at the time of the discovery of the Valley in

Sauntering up the Valley through meadow and grove, in the company of
these majestic rocks, which seem to follow us as we advance, gazing,
admiring, looking for new wonders ahead where all about us is so
wonderful, the thunder of the Yosemite Fall is heard, and when we
arrive in front of the Sentinel Rock it is revealed in all its glory
from base to summit, half a mile in height, and seeming to spring out
into the Valley sunshine direct from the sky. But even this fall,
perhaps the most wonderful of its kind in the world, cannot at first
hold our attention, for now the wide upper portion of the Valley is
displayed to view, with the finely modeled North Dome, the Royal Arches
and Washington Column on our left; Glacier Point, with its massive,
magnificent sculpture on the right; and in the middle, directly in
front, looms Tissiack or Half Dome, the most beautiful and most sublime
of all the wonderful Yosemite rocks, rising in serene majesty from
flowery groves and meadows to a height of 4750 feet.

(Yes, I'm slowly posting the entire book. Why? Because I can!)

avatar The Upper Cañons
April 03, 2009 02:11PM
The Upper Cañons

Here the Valley divides into three branches, the Tenaya, Nevada, and
Illilouette Cañons, extending back into the fountains of the High
Sierra, with scenery every way worthy the relation they bear to

In the south branch, a mile or two from the main Valley, is the
Illilouette Fall, 600 feet high, one of the most beautiful of all the
Yosemite choir, but to most people inaccessible as yet on account of its
rough, steep, boulder-choked cañon. Its principal fountains of ice and
snow lie in the beautiful and interesting mountains of the Merced group,
while its broad open basin between its fountain mountains and cañon is
noted for the beauty of its lakes and forests and magnificent moraines.

Returning to the Valley, and going up the north branch of Tenaya Cañon,
we pass between the North Dome and Half Dome, and in less than an hour
come to Mirror Lake, the Dome Cascade and Tenaya Fall. Beyond the Fall,
on the north side of the cañon is the sublime Ed Capitan-like rock
called Mount Watkins; on the south the vast granite wave of Clouds' Rest,
a mile in height; and between them the fine Tenaya Cascade with silvery
plumes outspread on smooth glacier-polished folds of granite, making a
vertical descent in all of about 700 feet.

Just beyond the Dome Cascades, on the shoulder of Mount Watkins, there
is an old trail once used by Indians on their was across the range to
Mono, but in the cañon above this point there is no trail of any sort.
Between Mount Watkins and Clouds' Rest the cañon is accessible only to
mountaineers, and it is so dangerous that I hesitate to advise even good
climbers, anxious to test their nerve and skill, to attempt to pass
through it. Beyond the Cascades no great difficulty will be encountered.
A succession of charming lily gardens and meadows occurs in filled-up
lake basins among the rock-waves in the bottom of the cañon, and
everywhere the surface of the granite has a smooth-wiped appearance, and
in many places reflects the sunbeams like glass, a phenomenon due to
glacial action, the cañon having been the channel of one of the main
tributaries of the ancient Yosemite Glacier.

About ten miles above the Valley we come to the beautiful Tenaya Lake,
and here the cañon terminates. A mile or two above the lake stands the
grand Sierra Cathedral, a building of one stone, sewn from the living
rock, with sides, roof, gable, spire and ornamental pinnacles, fashioned
and finished symmetrically like a work of art, and set on a well-graded
plateau about 9000 feet high, as if Nature in making so fine a building
had also been careful that it should be finely seen. From every
direction its peculiar form and graceful, majestic beauty of expression
never fail to charm. Its height from its base to the ridge of the roof
is about 2500 feet, and among the pinnacles that adorn the front grand
views may be gained of the upper basins of the Merced and Tuolumne

Passing the Cathedral we descend into the delightful, spacious Tuolumne
Valley, from which excursions may be made to Mounts Dana, Lyell, Ritter,
Conness, and Mono Lake, and to the many curious peaks that rise above
the meadows on the south, and to the Big Tuolumne Cañon, with its
glorious abundance of rock and falling, gliding, tossing water. For all
these the beautiful meadows near the Soda Springs form a delightful

avatar Natural Features Near The Valley
April 03, 2009 02:19PM
Natural Features Near The Valley

Returning now to Yosemite and ascending the middle or Nevada branch of
the Valley, occupied by the main Merced River, we come within a few
miles to the Vernal and Nevada Falls, 400 and 600 feet high, pouring
their white, rejoicing waters in the midst of the most novel and sublime
rock scenery to be found in all the World. Tracing the river beyond the
head of the Nevada Fall we are lead into the Little Yosemite, a valley
like the great Yosemite in form, sculpture and vegetation. It is about
three miles long, with walls 1500 to 2000 feet high, cascades coming
over them, and the ever flowing through the meadows and groves of the
level bottom in tranquil, richly-embowered reaches.

Beyond this Little Yosemite in the main cañon, there are three other
little yosemites, the highest situated a few miles below the base of
Mount Lyell, at an elevation of about 7800 feet above the sea. To
describe these, with all their wealth of Yosemite furniture, and the
wilderness of lofty peaks above them, the home of the avalanche and
treasury of the fountain snow, would take us far beyond the bounds of a
single book. Nor can we here consider the formation of these mountain
landscapes--how the crystal rock were brought to light by glaciers made
up of crystal snow, making beauty whose influence is so mysterious on
every one who sees it.

Of the small glacier lakes so characteristic of these upper regions,
there are no fewer than sixty-seven in the basin of the main middle
branch, besides countless smaller pools. In the basin of the Illilouette
there are sixteen, in the Tenaya basin and its branches thirteen, in the
Yosemite Creek basin fourteen, and in the Pohono or Bridal Veil one,
making a grand total of one hundred and eleven lakes whose waters come
to sing at Yosemite. So glorious is the background of the great Valley,
so harmonious its relations to its widespreading fountains.

The same harmony prevails in all the other features of the adjacent
landscapes. Climbing out of the Valley by the subordinate cañons, we
find the ground rising from the brink of the walls: on the south side to
the fountains of the Bridal Veil Creek, the basin of which is noted for
the beauty of its meadows and its superb forests of silver fir; on the
north side through the basin of the Yosemite Creek to the dividing ridge
along the Tuolumne Cañon and the fountains of the Hoffman Range.

avatar Down The Yosemite Creek - The Yosemite Fall
April 03, 2009 02:21PM
Down The Yosemite Creek

In general views the Yosemite Creek basin seems to be paved with
domes and smooth, whaleback masses of granite in every stage of
development--some showing only their crowns; others rising high and free
above the girdling forests, singly or in groups. Others are developed
only on one side, forming bold outstanding bosses usually well fringed
with shrubs and trees, and presenting the polished surfaces given them
by the glacier that brought them into relief. On the upper portion of
the basin broad moraine beds have been deposited and on these fine,
thrifty forests are growing. Lakes and meadows and small spongy bogs
may be found hiding here and there in the woods or back in the fountain
recesses of Mount Hoffman, while a thousand gardens are planted along
the banks of the streams.

All the wide, fan-shaped upper portion of the basin is covered with a
network of small rills that go cheerily on their way to their grand fall
in the Valley, now flowing on smooth pavements in sheets thin as glass,
now diving under willows and laving their red roots, oozing through
green, plushy bogs, plashing over small falls and dancing down slanting
cascades, calming again, gliding through patches of smooth glacier
meadows with sod of alpine agrostis mixed with blue and white violets
and daisies, breaking, tossing among rough boulders and fallen trees,
resting in calm pools, flowing together until, all united, they go to
their fate with stately, tranquil gestures like a full-grown river. At
the crossing of the Mono Trail, about two miles above the head of the
Yosemite Fall, the stream is nearly forty feet wide, and when the snow
is melting rapidly in the spring it is about four feet deep, with a
current of two and a half miles an hour. This is about the volume of
water that forms the Fall in May and June when there had been much snow
the preceding winter; but it varies greatly from month to month. The
snow rapidly vanishes from the open portion of the basin, which faces
southward, and only a few of the tributaries reach back to perennial
snow and ice fountains in the shadowy amphitheaters on the precipitous
northern slopes of Mount Hoffman. The total descent made by the stream
from its highest sources to its confluence with the Merced in the Valley
is about 6000 feet, while the distance is only about ten miles, an
average fall of 600 feet per mile. The last mile of its course lies
between the sides of sunken domes and swelling folds of the granite that
are clustered and pressed together like a mass of bossy cumulus clouds.
Through this shining way Yosemite Creek goes to its fate, swaying and
swirling with easy, graceful gestures and singing the last of its
mountain songs before it reaches the dizzy edge of Yosemite to fall 2600
feet into another world, where climate, vegetation, inhabitants, all are
different. Emerging from this last cañon the stream glides, in flat
lace-like folds, down a smooth incline into a small pool where it seems
to rest and compose itself before taking the grand plunge. Then calmly,
as if leaving a lake, it slips over the polished lip of the pool down
another incline and out over the brow of the precipice in a magnificent
curve thick-sown with rainbow spray.

The Yosemite Fall

Long ago before I had traced this fine stream to its head back of Mount
Hoffman, I was eager to reach the extreme verge to see how it behaved in
flying so far through the air; but after enjoying this view and getting
safely away I have never advised any one to follow my steps. The last
incline down which the stream journeys so gracefully is so steep and
smooth one must slip cautiously forward on hands and feet alongside the
rushing water, which so near one's head is very exciting. But to gain a
perfect view one must go yet farther, over a curving brow to a slight
shelf on the extreme brink. This shelf, formed by the flaking off of a
fold of granite, is about three inches wide, just wide enough for a safe
rest for one's heels. To me it seemed nerve-trying to slip to this
narrow foothold and poise on the edge of such precipice so close to the
confusing whirl of the waters; and after casting longing glances over
the shining brow of the fall and listening to its sublime psalm, I
concluded not to attempt to go nearer, but, nevertheless, against
reasonable judgment, I did. Noticing some tufts of artemisia in a cleft
of rock, I filled my mouth with the leaves, hoping their bitter taste
might help to keep caution keen and prevent giddiness. In spite of
myself I reached the little ledge, got my heels well set, and worked
sidewise twenty or thirty feet to a point close to the out-plunging
current. Here the view is perfectly free down into the heart of the
bright irised throng of comet-like streamers into which the whole
ponderous volume of the fall separates, two or three hundred feet below
the brow. So glorious a display of pure wildness, acting at close range
while cut off from all the world beside, is terribly impressive. A less
nerve-trying view may be obtained from a fissured portion of the edge of
the cliff about forty yards to the eastward of the fall. Seen from this
point towards noon, in the spring, the rainbow on its brow seems to be
broken up and mingled with the rushing comets until all the fall is
stained with iris colors, leaving no white water visible. This is the
best of the safe views from above, the huge steadfast rocks, the flying
waters, and the rainbow light forming one of the most glorious pictures

The Yosemite Fall is separated into an upper and a lower fall with a
series of falls and cascades between them, but when viewed in front from
the bottom of the Valley they all appear as one.

So grandly does this magnificent fall display itself from the floor of
the Valley, few visitors take the trouble to climb the walls to gain
nearer views, unable to realize how vastly more impressive it is near by
than at a distance of one or two miles.

avatar A Wonderful Ascent
April 03, 2009 03:45PM
A Wonderful Ascent

The views developed in a walk up the zigzags of the trail leading to
the foot of the Upper Fall are about as varied and impressive as those
displayed along the favorite Glacier Point Trail. One rises as if on
wings. The groves, meadows, fern-flats and reaches of the river gain
new interest, as if never seen before; all the views changing in a most
striking manner as we go higher from point to point. The foreground
also changes every few rods in the most surprising manner, although the
earthquake talus and the level bench on the face of the wall over which
the trail passes seem monotonous and commonplace as seen from the bottom
of the Valley. Up we climb with glad exhilaration, through shaggy
fringes of laurel, ceanothus, glossy-leaved manzanita and live-oak, from
shadow to shadow across bars and patches of sunshine, the leafy openings
making charming frames for the Valley pictures beheld through gem, and
for the glimpses of the high peaks that appear in the distance. The
higher we go the farther we seem to be from the summit of the vast
granite wall. Here we pass a projecting buttress hose grooved and
rounded surface tells a plain story of the time when the Valley, now
filled with sunshine, was filled with ice, when the grand old Yosemite
Glacier, flowing river-like from its distant fountains, swept through
it, crushing, grinding, wearing its way ever deeper, developing and
fashioning these sublime rocks. Again we cross a white, battered gully,
the pathway of rock avalanches or snow avalanches. Farther on we come
to a gentle stream slipping down the face of the Cliff in lace-like
strips, and dropping from ledge to ledge--too small to be called a
fall--trickling, dripping, oozing, a pathless wanderer from one of
the upland meadow lying a little way back of the Valley rim, seeking
a way century after century to the depths of the Valley without any
appreciable channel. Every morning after a cool night, evaporation being
checked, it gathers strength and sings like a bird, but as the day
advances and the sun strikes its thin currents outspread on the heated
precipices, most of its waters vanish ere the bottom of the Valley is
reached. Many a fine, hanging-garden aloft on breezy inaccessible heights
owes to it its freshness and fullness of beauty; ferneries in shady
nooks, filled with Adiantum, Woodwardia, Woodsia, Aspidium, Pellaea,
and Cheilanthes, rosetted and tufted and ranged in lines, daintily
overlapping, thatching the stupendous cliffs with softest beauty, some
of the delicate fronds seeming to float on the warm moist air, without
any connection with rock or stream. Nor is there any lack of colored
plants wherever they can find a place to cling to; lilies and mints,
the showy cardinal mimulus, and glowing cushions of the golden bahia,
enlivened with butterflies and bees and all the other small, happy
humming creatures that belong to them.

After the highest point on the lower division of the trail is gained it
leads up into the deep recess occupied by the great fall, the noblest
display of falling water to be found in the Valley, or perhaps in the
world. When it first comes in sight it seems almost within reach of
one's hand, so great in the spring is its volume and velocity, yet it is
still nearly a third of a mile away and appears to recede as we advance.
The sculpture of the walls about it is on a scale of grandeur, according
nobly with the fall plain and massive, though elaborately finished, like
all the other cliffs about the Valley.

In the afternoon an immense shadow is cast athwart the plateau in front
of the fall, and over the chaparral bushes that clothe the slopes and
benches of the walls to the eastward, creeping upward until the fall is
wholly overcast, the contrast between the shaded and illumined sections
being very striking in these near views.

Under this shadow, during the cool centuries immediately following the
breaking-up of the Glacial Period, dwelt a small residual glacier, one
of the few that lingered on this sun-beaten side of the Valley after the
main trunk glacier had vanished. It sent down a long winding current
through the narrow cañon on the west side of the fall, and must have
formed a striking feature of the ancient scenery of the Valley; the
lofty fall of ice and fall of water side by side, yet separate and

The coolness of the afternoon shadow and the abundant dewy spray make a
fine climate for the plateau ferns and grasses, and for the beautiful
azalea bushes that grow here in profusion and bloom in September, long
after the warmer thickets down on the floor of the Valley have withered
and gone to seed. Even close to the fall, and behind it at the base of
the cliff, a few venturesome plants may be found undisturbed by the
rock-shaking torrent.

The basin at the foot of the fall into which the current directly pours,
when it is not swayed by the wind, is about ten feet deep and fifteen to
twenty feet in diameter. That it is not much deeper is surprising, when
the great height and force of the fall is considered. But the rock where
the water strikes probably suffers less erosion than it would were the
descent less than half as great, since the current is outspread, and
much of its force is spent ere it reaches the bottom--being received on
the air as upon an elastic cushion, and borne outward and dissipated
over a surface more than fifty yards wide.

This surface, easily examined when the water is low, is intensely clean
and fresh looking. It is the raw, quick flesh of the mountain wholly
untouched by the weather. In summer droughts when the snowfall of the
preceding winter has been light, the fall is reduced to a mere shower of
separate drops without any obscuring spray. Then we may safely go back
of it and view the crystal shower from beneath, each drop wavering and
pulsing as it makes its way through the air, and flashing off jets of
colored light of ravishing beauty. But all this is invisible from the
bottom of the Valley, like a thousand other interesting things. One must
labor for beauty as for bread, here as elsewhere.

avatar The Grandeur Of The Yosemite Fall
April 03, 2009 04:47PM
The Grandeur Of The Yosemite Fall

During the time of the spring floods the best near view of the fall is
obtained from Fern Ledge on the east side above the blinding spray at a
height of about 400 feet above the base of the fall. A climb of about
1400 feet from the Valley has to be made, and there is no trail, but
to any one fond of climbing this will make the ascent all the more
delightful. A narrow part of the ledge extends to the side of the fall
and back of it, enabling us to approach it as closely as we wish. When
the afternoon sunshine is streaming through the throng of comets, ever
wasting, ever renewed, fineness, firmness and variety of their forms are
beautifully revealed. At the top of the fall they seem to burst forth in
irregular spurts from some grand, throbbing mountain heart. Now and then
one mighty throb sends forth a mass of solid water into the free air
far beyond the others which rushes alone to the bottom of the fall with
long streaming tail, like combed silk, while the others, descending in
clusters, gradually mingle and lose their identity. But they all rush
past us with amazing velocity and display of power though apparently
drowsy and deliberate in their movements when observed from a distance
of a mile or two. The heads of these comet-like masses are composed of
nearly solid water, and are dense white in color like pressed snow, from
the friction they suffer in rushing through the air, the portion worn
off forming the tail between the white lustrous threads and films of
which faint, grayish pencilings appear, while the outer, finer sprays of
water-dust, whirling in sunny eddies, are pearly gray throughout. At the
bottom of the fall there is but little distinction of form visible. It
is mostly a hissing, clashing, seething, upwhirling mass of scud and
spray, through which the light sifts in gray and purple tones while
at times when the sun strikes at the required angle, the whole wild
and apparently lawless, stormy, striving mass is changed to brilliant
rainbow hues, manifesting finest harmony. The middle portion of the
fall is the most openly beautiful; lower, the various forms into which
the waters are wrought are more closely and voluminously veiled, while
higher, towards the head, the current is comparatively simple and
undivided. But even at the bottom, in the boiling clouds of spray,
there is no confusion, while the rainbow light makes all divine, adding
glorious beauty and peace to glorious power. This noble fall has far the
richest, as well as the most powerful, voice of all the falls of the
Valley, its tones varying from the sharp hiss and rustle of the wind
in the glossy leaves of the live-oak and the soft, sifting, hushing
tones of the pines, to the loudest rush and roar of storm winds and
thunder among the crags of the summit peaks. The low bass, booming,
reverberating tones, heard under favorable circumstances five or six
miles away are formed by the dashing and exploding of heavy masses
mixed with air upon two projecting ledges on the face of the cliff, the
one on which we are standing and another about 200 feet above it. The
torrent of massive comets is continuous at time of high water, while
the explosive, booming notes are wildly intermittent, because, unless
influenced by the wind, most of the heavier masses shoot out from the
face of the precipice, and pass the ledges upon which at other times
they are exploded. Occasionally the whole fall is swayed away from the
front of the cliff, then suddenly dashed flat against it, or vibrated
from side to side like a pendulum, giving rise to endless variety of
forms and sounds.

avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 03, 2009 04:51PM
You owe Mr. Muir $0.25 royalties
avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 03, 2009 04:52PM
Vince wrote:

> You owe Mr. Muir $0.25 royalties

Sorry, copyright has expired.

avatar The Nevada Fall / The Vernal Fall / The Illilouette Fall
April 03, 2009 04:57PM
The Nevada Fall

The Nevada Fall is 600 feet high and is usually ranked next to the
Yosemite in general interest among the five main falls of the Valley.
Coming through the Little Yosemite in tranquil reaches, the river is
first broken into rapids on a moraine boulder-bar that crosses the lower
end of the Valley. Thence it pursues its way to the head of the fall in
a rough, solid rock channel, dashing on side angles, heaving in heavy
surging masses against elbow knobs, and swirling and swashing in
pot-holes without a moment's rest. Thus, already chafed and dashed to
foam, overfolded and twisted, it plunges over the brink of the precipice
as if glad to escape into the open air. But before it reaches the bottom
it is pulverized yet finer by impinging upon a sloping portion of the
cliff about half-way down, thus making it the whitest of all the falls
of the Valley, and altogether one of the most wonderful in the world.

On the north side, close to its head, a slab of granite projects over the
brink, forming a fine point for a view, over its throng of streamers and
wild plunging, into its intensely white bosom, and through the broad
drifts of spray, to the river far below, gathering its spent waters and
rushing on again down the cañon in glad exultation into Emerald Pool,
where at length it grows calm and gets rest for what still lies before
it. All the features of the view correspond with the waters in grandeur
and wildness. The glacier sculptured walls of the cañon on either hand,
with the sublime mass of the Glacier Point Ridge in front, form a huge
triangular pit-like basin, which, filled with the roaring of the falling
river seems as if it might be the hopper of one of the mills of the gods
in which the mountains were being ground.

The Vernal Fall

The Vernal, about a mile below the Nevada, is 400 feet high, a staid,
orderly, graceful, easy-going fall, proper and exact in every movement
and gesture, with scarce a hint of the passionate enthusiasm of the
Yosemite or of the impetuous Nevada, whose chafed and twisted waters
hurrying over the cliff seem glad to escape into the open air, while its
deep, booming, thunder-tones reverberate over the listening landscape.
Nevertheless it is a favorite with most visitors, doubtless because it
is more accessible than any other, more closely approached and better
seen and heard. A good stairway ascends the cliff beside it and the
level plateau at the head enables one to saunter safely along the edge
of the river as it comes from Emerald Pool and to watch its waters,
calmly bending over the brow of the precipice, in a sheet eighty feet
wide, changing in color from green to purplish gray and white until
dashed on a boulder talus. Thence issuing from beneath its fine broad
spray-clouds we see the tremendously adventurous river still unspent,
beating its way down the wildest and deepest of all its cañons in
gray roaring rapids, dear to the ouzel, and below the confluence of
the Illilouette, sweeping around the shoulder of the Half Dome on its
approach to the head of the tranquil levels of the Valley.

The Illilouette Fall

The Illilouette in general appearance most resembles the Nevada. The
volume of water is less than half as great, but it is about the same
height (600 feet) and its waters receive the same kind of preliminary
tossing in a rocky, irregular channel. Therefore it is a very white and
fine-grained fall. When it is in full springtime bloom it is partly
divided by rocks that roughen the lip of the precipice, but this
division amounts only to a kind of fluting and grooving of the column,
which has a beautiful effect. It is not nearly so grand a fall as the
upper Yosemite, or so symmetrical as the Vernal, or so airily graceful
and simple as the Bridal Veil, nor does it ever display so tremendous
an outgush of snowy magnificence as the Nevada; but in the exquisite
fineness and richness of texture of its flowing folds it surpasses
them all.

One of the finest effects of sunlight on falling water I ever saw in
Yosemite or elsewhere I found on the brow of this beautiful fall. It
was in the Indian summer, when the leaf colors were ripe and the great
cliffs and domes were transfigured in the hazy golden air. I had
scrambled up its rugged talus-dammed cañon, oftentimes stopping to take
breath and look back to admire the wonderful views to be had there of
the great Half Dome, and to enjoy the extreme purity of the water, which
in the motionless pools on this stream is almost perfectly invisible;
the colored foliage of the maples, dogwoods, Rubus tangles, etc., and
the late goldenrods and asters. The voice of the fall was now low, and
the grand spring and summer floods had waned to sifting, drifting gauze
and thin-broidered folds of linked and arrowy lace-work. When I reached
the foot of the fall sunbeams were glinting across its head, leaving all
the rest of it in shadow; and on its illumined brow a group of yellow
spangles of singular form and beauty were playing, flashing up and
dancing in large flame-shaped masses, wavering at times, then steadying,
rising and falling in accord with the shifting forms of the water. But
the color of the dancing spangles changed not at all. Nothing in clouds
or flowers, on bird-wings or the lips of shells, could rival it in
fineness. It was the most divinely beautiful mass of rejoicing yellow
light I ever beheld--one of Nature's precious gifts that perchance may
come to us but once in a lifetime.

avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 03, 2009 05:01PM
I put this before too:


Very nice site with all the public domain books.
avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 03, 2009 05:30PM
These are such GREAT reads! I am so glad to peruse this stuff; its inspiring. The first is my absolute favorite; I used to carry a copy of it to read that last paragraph while in the setting.

avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 03, 2009 05:49PM
Print it and read it to me in Cedar Grove Apr 24-26 Bee
avatar The Minor Falls / The Beauty Of The Rainbows
April 03, 2009 06:05PM
The Minor Falls

There are many other comparatively small falls and cascades in the
Valley. The most notable are the Yosemite Gorge Fall and Cascades,
Tenaya Fall and Cascades, Royal Arch Falls, the two Sentinel Cascades
and the falls of Cascade and Tamarack Creeks, a mile or two below the
lower end of the Valley. These last are often visited. The others are
seldom noticed or mentioned; although in almost any other country they
would be visited and described as wonders.

The six intermediate falls in the gorge between the head of the Lower
and the base of the Upper Yosemite Falls, separated by a few deep pools
and strips of rapids, and three slender, tributary cascades on the west
side form a series more strikingly varied and combined than any other
in the Valley, yet very few of all the Valley visitors ever see them or
hear of them. No available standpoint commands a view of them all. The
best general view is obtained from the mouth of the gorge near the head
of the Lower Fall. The two lowest of the series, together with one of
the three tributary cascades, are visible from this standpoint, but in
reaching it the last twenty or thirty feet of the descent is rather
dangerous in time of high water, the shelving rocks being then slippery
on account of spray, but if one should chance to slip when the water is
low, only a bump or two and a harmless plash would be the penalty. No
part of the gorge, however, is safe to any but cautious climbers.

Though the dark gorge hall of these rejoicing waters is never flushed by
the purple light of morning or evening, it is warmed and cheered by the
white light of noonday, which, falling into so much foam and and spray
of varying degrees of fineness, makes marvelous displays of rainbow
colors. So filled, indeed, is it with this precious light, at favorable
times it seems to take the place of common air. Laurel bushes shed
fragrance into it from above and live-oaks, those fearless mountaineers,
hold fast to angular seams and lean out over it with their fringing
sprays and bright mirror leaves.

One bird, the ouzel, loves this gorge and flies through it merrily, or
cheerily, rather, stopping to sing on foam-washed bosses where other
birds could find no rest for their feet. I have even seen a gray
squirrel down in the heart of it beside the wild rejoicing water.

One of my favorite night walks was along the rim of this wild gorge in
times of high water when the moon was full, to see the lunar bows in the

For about a mile above Mirror Lake the Tenaya Cañon is level, and
richly planted with fir, Douglas spruce and libocedrus, forming a
remarkably fine grove, at the head of which is the Tenaya Fall. Though
seldom seen or described, this is, I think, the most picturesque of all
the small falls. A considerable distance above it, Tenaya Creek comes
hurrying down, white and foamy, over a flat pavement inclined at an
angle of about eighteen degrees. In time of high water this sheet of
rapids is nearly seventy feet wide, and is varied in a very striking way
by three parallel furrows that extend in the direction of its flow.
These furrows, worn by the action of the stream upon cleavage joints,
vary in width, are slightly sinuous, and have large boulders firmly
wedged in them here and there in narrow places, giving rise, of course,
to a complicated series of wild dashes, doublings, and upleaping arches
in the swift torrent. Just before it reaches the head of the fall the
current is divided, the left division making a vertical drop of about
eighty feet in a romantic, leafy, flowery, mossy nook, while the other
forms a rugged cascade.

The Royal Arch Fall in time of high water is a magnificent object,
forming a broad ornamental sheet in front of the arches. The two
Sentinel Cascades, 3000 feet high, are also grand spectacles when the
snow is melting fast in the spring, but by the middle of summer they
have diminished to mere streaks scarce noticeable amid their sublime

The Beauty Of The Rainbows

The Bridal Veil and Vernal Falls are famous for their rainbows; and
special visits to them are often made when the sun shines into the spray
at the most favorable angle. But amid the spray and foam and fine-ground
mist ever rising from the various falls and cataracts there is an
affluence and variety of iris bows scarcely known to visitors who stay
only a day or two. Both day and night, winter and summer, this divine
light may be seen wherever water is falling dancing, singing; telling
the heart-peace of Nature amid the wildest displays of her power. In the
bright spring mornings the black-walled recess at the foot of the Lower
Yosemite Fall is lavishly fine with irised spray; and not simply does
this span the dashing foam, but the foam itself, the whole mass of it,
beheld at a certain distance, seems to be colored, and drips and wavers
from color to color, mingling with the foliage of the adjacent trees,
without suggesting any relationship to the ordinary rainbow. This is
perhaps the largest and most reservoir-like fountain of iris colors to
be found in the Valley.

Lunar rainbows or spray-bows also abound in the glorious affluence of
dashing, rejoicing, hurrahing, enthusiastic spring floods, their colors
as distinct as those of the sun and regularly and obviously banded,
though less vivid. Fine specimens may be found any night at the foot of
the Upper Yosemite Fall, glowing gloriously amid the gloomy shadows and
thundering waters, whenever there is plenty of moonlight and spray. Even
the secondary bow is at times distinctly visible.

The best point from which to observe them is on Fern Ledge. For some
time after moonrise, at time of high water, the arc has a span of about
five hundred feet, and is set upright; one end planted in the boiling
spray at the bottom, the other in the edge of the fall, creeping lower,
of course, and becoming less upright as the moon rises higher. This
grand arc of color, glowing in mild, shapely beauty in so weird and huge
a chamber of night shadows, and amid the rush and roar and tumultuous
dashing of this thunder-voiced fall, is one of the most impressive and
most cheering of all the blessed mountain evangels.

Smaller bows may be seen in the gorge on the plateau between the Upper
and Lower Falls. Once toward midnight, after spending a few hours with
the wild beauty of the Upper Fall, I sauntered along the edge of the
gorge, looking in here and there, wherever the footing felt safe, to see
what I could learn of the night aspects of the smaller falls that dwell
there. And down in an exceedingly black, pit-like portion of the gorge,
at the foot of the highest of the intermediate falls, into which the
moonbeams were pouring through a narrow opening, I saw a well-defined
spray-bow, beautifully distinct in colors, spanning the pit from side
to side, while pure white foam-waves beneath the beautiful bow were
constantly springing up out of the dark into the moonlight like dancing

avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 03, 2009 08:31PM
An Unexpected Adventure

A wild scene, but not a safe one, is made by the moon as it appears
through the edge of the Yosemite Fall when one is behind it. Once, after
enjoying the night-song of the waters and watching the formation of the
colored bow as the moon came round the domes and sent her beams into the
wild uproar, I ventured out on the narrow bench that extends back of the
fall from Fern Ledge and began to admire the dim-veiled grandeur of the
view. I could see the fine gauzy threads of the fall's filmy border by
having the light in front; and wishing to look at the moon through the
meshes of some of the denser portions of the fall, I ventured to creep
farther behind it while it was gently wind-swayed, without taking
sufficient thought about the consequences of its swaying back to its
natural position after the wind-pressure should be removed. The effect
was enchanting: fine, savage music sounding above, beneath, around me;
while the moon, apparently in the very midst of the rushing waters,
seemed to be struggling to keep her place, on account of the
ever-varying form and density of the water masses through which she was
seen, now darkly veiled or eclipsed by a rush of thick-headed comets,
now flashing out through openings between their tails. I was in
fairyland between the dark wall and the wild throng of illumined waters,
but suffered sudden disenchantment; for, like the witch-scene in Alloway
Kirk, "in an instant all was dark." Down came a dash of spent comets,
thin and harmless-looking in the distance, but they felt desperately
solid and stony when they struck my shoulders, like a mixture of choking
spray and gravel and big hailstones. Instinctively dropping on my knees,
I gripped an angle of the rock, curled up like a young fern frond with
my face pressed against my breast, and in this attitude submitted as
best I could to my thundering bath. The heavier masses seemed to strike
like cobblestones, and there was a confused noise of many waters about
my ears--hissing, gurgling, clashing sounds that were not heard as
music. The situation was quickly realized. How fast one's thoughts burn
in such times of stress! I was weighing chances of escape. Would the
column be swayed a few inches away from the wall, or would it come yet
closer? The fall was in flood and not so lightly would its ponderous
mass be swayed. My fate seemed to depend on a breath of the "idle wind."
It was moved gently forward, the pounding ceased, and I was once more
visited by glimpses of the moon. But fearing I might be caught at a
disadvantage in making too hasty a retreat, I moved only a few feet
along the bench to where a block of ice lay. I wedged myself between the
ice and the wall and lay face downwards, until the steadiness of the
light gave encouragement to rise and get away. Somewhat nerve-shaken,
drenched, and benumbed, I made out to build a fire, warmed myself, ran
home, reached my cabin before daylight, got an hour or two of sleep,
and awoke sound and comfortable, better, not worse for my hard midnight

Climate And Weather

Owing to the westerly trend of the Valley and its vast depth there
is a great difference between the climates of the north and south
sides--greater than between many countries far apart; for the south wall
is in shadow during the winter months, while the north is bathed in
sunshine every clear day. Thus there is mild spring weather on one side
of the Valley while winter rules the other. Far up the north-side cliffs
many a nook may be found closely embraced by sun-beaten rock-bosses in
which flowers bloom every month of the year. Even butterflies may be
seen in these high winter gardens except when snow-storms are falling
and a few days after they have ceased. Near the head of the lower
Yosemite Fall in January I found the ant lions lying in wait in their
warm sand-cups, rock ferns being unrolled, club mosses covered with
fresh-growing plants, the flowers of the laurel nearly open, and the
honeysuckle rosetted with bright young leaves; every plant seemed to be
thinking about summer. Even on the shadow-side of the Valley the frost
is never very sharp. The lowest temperature I ever observed during four
winters was 7° Fahrenheit. The first twenty-four days of January
had an average temperature at 9 A.M. of 32°, minimum 22°;
at 3 P.M. the average was 40° 30′, the minimum 32°. Along
the top of the walls, 7000 and 8000 feet high, the temperature was, of
course, much lower. But the difference in temperature between the north
and south sides is due not so much to the winter sunshine as to the heat
of the preceding summer, stored up in the rocks, which rapidly melts the
snow in contact with them. For though summer sun-heat is stored in the
rocks of the south side also, the amount is much less because the rays
fall obliquely on the south wall even in summer and almost vertically
on the north.

The upper branches of the Yosemite streams are buried every winter
beneath a heavy mantle of snow, and set free in the spring in
magnificent floods. Then, all the fountains, full and overflowing, every
living thing breaks forth into singing, and the glad exulting streams
shining and falling in the warm sunny weather, shake everything into
music making all the mountain-world a song.

The great annual spring thaw usually begins in May in the forest region,
and in June and July on the high Sierra, varying somewhat both in time
and fullness with the weather and the depth of the snow. Toward the end
of summer the streams are at their lowest ebb, few even of the strongest
singing much above a whisper they slip and ripple through gravel and
boulder-beds from pool to pool in the hollows of their channels, and
drop in pattering showers like rain, and slip down precipices and fall
in sheets of embroidery, fold over fold. But, however low their singing,
it is always ineffably fine in tone, in harmony with the restful time of
the year.

The first snow of the season that comes to the help of the streams
usually falls in September or October, sometimes even is the latter part
of August, in the midst of yellow Indian summer when the goldenrods and
gentians of the glacier meadows are is their prime. This Indian-summer
snow, however, soon melts, the chilled flowers spread their petals to
the sun, and the gardens as well as the streams are refreshed as if only
a warm shower had fallen. The snow-storms that load the mountains to
form the main fountain supply for the year seldom set in before the
middle or end of November.

Winter Beauty Of The Valley

When the first heavy storms stopped work on the high mountains, I made
haste down to my Yosemite den, not to "hole up" and sleep the white
months away; I was out every day, and often all night, sleeping but
little, studying the so-called wonders and common things ever on show,
wading, climbing, sauntering among the blessed storms and calms,
rejoicing in almost everything alike that I could see or hear: the
glorious brightness of frosty mornings; the sunbeams pouring over the
white domes and crags into the groves end waterfalls, kindling marvelous
iris fires in the hoarfrost and spray; the great forests and mountains
in their deep noon sleep; the good-night alpenglow; the stars; the
solemn gazing moon, drawing the huge domes and headlands one by one
glowing white out of the shadows hushed and breathless like an audience
in awful enthusiasm, while the meadows at their feet sparkle with
frost-stars like the sky; the sublime darkness of storm-nights, when all
the lights are out; the clouds in whose depths the frail snow-flowers
grow; the behavior and many voices of the different kinds of storms,
trees, birds, waterfalls, and snow-avalanches in the ever-changing

Every clear, frosty morning loud sounds are heard booming and
reverberating from side to side of the Valley at intervals of a few
minutes, beginning soon after sunrise and continuing an hour or two like
a thunder-storm. In my first winter in the Valley I could not make out
the source of this noise. I thought of falling boulders, rock-blasting,
etc. Not till I saw what looked like hoarfrost dropping from the side of
the Fall was the problem explained. The strange thunder is made by the
fall of sections of ice formed of spray that is frozen on the face of
the cliff along the sides of the Upper Yosemite Fan--a sort of crystal
plaster, a foot or two thick, racked off by the sunbeams, awakening all
the Valley like cock-crowing, announcing the finest weather, shouting
aloud Nature's infinite industry and love of hard work in creating

Exploring An Ice Cone

This frozen spray gives rise to one of the most interesting winter
features of the Valley--a cone of ice at the foot of the fall, four or
five hundred feet high. From the Fern Ledge standpoint its crater-like
throat is seen, down which the fall plunges with deep, gasping
explosions of compressed air, and, after being well churned in the wormy
interior, the water bursts forth through arched openings at its base,
apparently scourged and weary and glad to escape, while belching spray,
spouted up out of the throat past the descending current, is wafted
away in irised drifts to the adjacent rocks and groves. It is built
during the night and early hours of the morning; only in spells of
exceptionally cold and cloudy weather is the work continued through the
day. The greater part of the spray material falls in crystalline showers
direct to its place, something like a small local snow-storm; but a
considerable portion is first frozen on the face of the cliff along the
sides of the fall and stays there until expanded and cracked off in
irregular masses, some of them tons in weight, to be built into the
walls of the cone; while in windy, frosty weather, when the fall is
swayed from side to side, the cone is well drenched and the loose ice
masses and spray-dust are all firmly welded and frozen together. Thus
the finest of the downy wafts and curls of spray-dust, which in mild
nights fall about as silently as dew, are held back until sunrise to
make a store of heavy ice to reinforce the waterfall's thunder-tones.

While the cone is in process of formation, growing higher and wider in
the frosty weather, it looks like a beautiful smooth, pure-white hill;
but when it is wasting and breaking up in the spring its surface is
strewn with leaves, pine branches, stones, sand, etc., that have been
brought over the fall, making it look like a heap of avalanche detritus.

Anxious to learn what I could about the structure of this curious hill
I often approached it in calm weather and tried to climb it, carrying
an ax to cut steps. Once I nearly succeeded in gaining the summit. At
the base I was met by a current of spray and wind that made seeing and
breathing difficult. I pushed on backward however, and soon gained the
slope of the hill, where by creeping close to the surface most of the
choking blast passed over me and I managed to crawl up with but little
difficulty. Thus I made my way nearly to the summit, halting at times
to peer up through the wild whirls of spray at the veiled grandeur of
the fall, or to listen to the thunder beneath me; the whole hill was
sounding as if it were a huge, bellowing drum. I hoped that by waiting
until the fall was blown aslant I should be able to climb to the lip of
the crater and get a view of the interior; but a suffocating blast, half
air, half water, followed by the fall of an enormous mass of frozen
spray from a spot high up on the wall, quickly discouraged me. The whole
cone was jarred by the blow and some fragments of the mass sped past me
dangerously near; so I beat a hasty retreat, chilled and drenched, and
lay down on a sunny rock to dry.

Once during a wind-storm when I saw that the fall was frequently blown
westward, leaving the cone dry, I ran up to Fern Ledge hoping to gain a
clear view of the interior. I set out at noon. All the way up the storm
notes were so loud about me that the voice of the fall was almost
drowned by them. Notwithstanding the rocks and bushes everywhere were
drenched by the wind-driven spray, I approached the brink of the
precipice overlooking the mouth of the ice cone, but I was almost
suffocated by the drenching, gusty spray, and was compelled to seek
shelter. I searched for some hiding-place in the wall from whence I
might run out at some opportune moment when the fall with its whirling
spray and torn shreds of comet tails and trailing, tattered skirts was
borne westward, as I had seen it carried several times before, leaving
the cliffs on the east side and the ice hill bare in the sunlight. I had
not long to wait, for, as if ordered so for my special accommodation,
the mighty downrush of comets with their whirling drapery swung westward
and remained aslant for nearly half an hour. The cone was admirably
lighted and deserted by the water, which fell most of the time on the
rocky western slopes mostly outside of the cone. The mouth into which
the fall pours was, as near as I could guess, about one hundred feet in
diameter north and south and about two hundred feet east and west, which
is about the shape and size of the fall at its best in its normal
condition at this season.

The crater-like opening was not a true oval, but more like a huge coarse
mouth. I could see down the throat about one hundred feet or perhaps

The fall precipice overhangs from a height of 400 feet above the base;
therefore the water strikes some distance from the base off the cliff,
allowing space for the accumulation of a considerable mass of ice
between the fall and the wall.

avatar Chapter 2: Winter Storms and Spring Floods
April 03, 2009 08:40PM
Chapter 2
Winter Storms and Spring Floods

The Bridal Veil and the Upper Yosemite Falls, on account of their height
and exposure, are greatly influenced by winds. The common summer winds
that come up the river cañon from the plains are seldom very strong;
but the north winds do some very wild work, worrying the falls and the
forests, and hanging snow-banners on the comet-peaks. One wild winter
morning I was awakened by storm-wind that was playing with the falls as
if they were mere wisps of mist and making the great pines bow and sing
with glorious enthusiasm. The Valley had been visited a short time
before by a series of fine snow-storms, and the floor and the cliffs and
all the region round about were lavishly adorned with its best winter
jewelry, the air was full of fine snow-dust, and pine branches, tassels
and empty cones were flying in an almost continuous flock.

Soon after sunrise, when I was seeking a place safe from flying
branches, I saw the Lower Yosemite Fall thrashed and pulverized from top
to bottom into one glorious mass of rainbow dust; while a thousand feet
above it the main Upper Fall was suspended on the face of the cliff in
the form of an inverted bow, all silvery white and fringed with short
wavering strips. Then, suddenly assailed by a tremendous blast, the
whole mass of the fall was blown into thread and ribbons, and driven
back over the brow of the cliff whence it came, as if denied admission
to the Valley. This kind of storm-work was continued about ten or
fifteen minutes; then another change in the play of the huge exulting
swirls and billows and upheaving domes of the gale allowed the baffled
fall to gather and arrange its tattered waters, and sink down again in
its place. As the day advanced, the gale gave no sign of dying,
excepting brief lulls, the Valley was filled with its weariless roar,
and the cloudless sky grew garish-white from myriads of minute,
sparkling snow-spicules. In the afternoon, while I watched the Upper
Fall from the shelter of a big pine tree, it was suddenly arrested in
its descent at a point about half-way down, and was neither blown upward
nor driven aside, but simply held stationary in mid-air, as if
gravitation below that point in the path of its descent had ceased to
act. The ponderous flood, weighing hundreds of tons, was sustained,
hovering, hesitating, like a bunch of thistledown, while I counted one
hundred and ninety. All this time the ordinary amount of water was
coming over the cliff and accumulating in the air, swedging and widening
and forming an irregular cone about seven hundred feet high, tapering to
the top of the wall, the whole standing still, jesting on the invisible
arm of the North Wind. At length, as if commanded to go on again, scores
of arrowy comets shot forth from the bottom of the suspended mass as if
escaping from separate outlets.

The brow of El Capitan was decked with long snow-streamers like hair,
Clouds' Rest was fairly enveloped in drifting gossamer elms, and the Half
Dome loomed up in the garish light like a majestic, living creature clad
in the same gauzy, wind-woven drapery, while upward currents meeting at
times overhead made it smoke like a volcano.

An Extraordinary Storm And Flood

Glorious as are these rocks and waters arrayed in storm robes, or
chanting rejoicing in every-day dress, they are still more glorious when
rare weather conditions meet to make them sing with floods. Only once
during all the years I have lived in the Valley have I seen it in full
flood bloom. In 1871 the early winter weather was delightful; the days
all sunshine, the nights all starry and calm, calling forth fine crops
of frost-crystals on the pines and withered ferns and grasses for the
morning sunbeams to sift through. In the afternoon of December 16, when
I was sauntering on the meadows, I noticed a massive crimson cloud
growing in solitary grandeur above the Cathedral Rocks, its form
scarcely less striking than its color. It had a picturesque, bulging
base like an old sequoia, a smooth, tapering stem, and a bossy,
down-curling crown like a mushroom; all its parts were colored alike,
making one mass of translucent crimson. Wondering what the meaning of
that strange, lonely red cloud might be, I was up betimes next morning
looking at the weather, but all seemed tranquil as yet. Towards noon
gray clouds with a lose, curly grain like bird's-eye maple began to
grow, and late at night rain fell, which soon changed to snow. Next
morning the snow on the meadows was about ten inches deep, and it was
still falling in a fine, cordial storm. During the night of the 18th
heavy rain fell on the snow, but as the temperature was 34 degrees, the
snow-line was only a few hundred feet above the bottom of the Valley, and
one had only to climb a little higher than the tops of the pines to get
out of the rain-storm into the snow-storm. The streams, instead of being
increased in volume by the storm, were diminished, because the snow
sponged up part of their waters and choked the smaller tributaries. But
about midnight the temperature suddenly rose to 42°, carrying
the snow-line far beyond the Valley walls, and next morning Yosemite
was rejoicing in a glorious flood. The comparatively warm rain falling
on the snow was at first absorbed and held back, and so also was that
portion of the snow that the rain melted, and all that was melted by the
warm wind, until the whole mass of snow was saturated and became sludgy,
and at length slipped and rushed simultaneously from a thousand slopes
in wildest extravagance, heaping and swelling flood over flood, and
plunging into the Valley in stupendous avalanches.

Awakened by the roar, I looked out and at once recognized the
extraordinary character of the storm. The rain was still pouring in
torrent abundance and the wind at gale speed was doing all it could with
the flood-making rain.

The section of the north wall visible from my cabin was fairly streaked
with new falls--wild roaring singers that seemed strangely out of place.
Eager to get into the midst of the show, I snatched a piece of bread for
breakfast and ran out. The mountain waters, suddenly liberated, seemed
to be holding a grand jubilee. The two Sentinel Cascades rivaled the
great falls at ordinary stages, and across the Valley by the Three
Brothers I caught glimpses of more falls than I could readily count;
while the whole Valley throbbed and trembled, and was filled with an
awful, massive, solemn, sea-like roar. After gazing a while enchanted
with the network of new falls that were adorning and transfiguring every
rock in sight, I tried to reach the upper meadows, where the Valley is
widest, that I might be able to see the walls on both sides, and thus
gain general views. But the river was over its banks and the meadows
were flooded, forming an almost continuous lake dotted with blue sludgy
islands, while innumerable streams roared like lions across my path and
were sweeping forward rocks and logs with tremendous energy over ground
where tiny gilias had been growing but a short time before. Climbing
into the talus slopes, where these savage torrents were broken among
earthquake boulders, I managed to cross them, and force my way up the
Valley to Hutchings' Bridge, where I crossed the river and waded to the
middle of the upper meadow. Here most of the new falls were in sight,
probably the most glorious assemblage of waterfalls ever displayed from
any one standpoint. On that portion of the south wall between Hutchings'
and the Sentinel there were ten falls plunging and booming from a height
of nearly three thousand feet, the smallest of which might have been
heard miles away. In the neighborhood of Glacier Point there were six;
between the Three Brothers and Yosemite Fall, nine; between Yosemite and
Royal Arch Falls, ten; from Washington Column to Mount Watkins, ten; on
the slopes of Half Dome and Clouds' Rest, facing Mirror Lake and Tenaya
Cañon, eight; on the shoulder of Half Dome, facing the Valley, three;
fifty-six new falls occupying the upper end of the Valley, besides a
countless host of silvery threads gleaming everywhere. In all the Valley
there must have been upwards of a hundred. As if celebrating some
great event, falls and cascades in Yosemite costume were coming down
everywhere from fountain basins, far and near; and, though newcomers,
they behaved and sang as if they had lived here always.

All summer-visitors will remember the comet forms of the Yosemite Fall
and the laces of the Bridal Veil and Nevada. In the falls of this
winter jubilee the lace forms predominated, but there was no lack of
thunder-toned comets. The lower portion of one of the Sentinel Cascades
was composed of two main white torrents with the space between them
filled in with chained and beaded gauze of intricate pattern, through
the singing threads of which the purplish-gray rock could be dimly seen.
The series above Glacier Point was still more complicated in structure,
displaying every form that one could imagine water might be dashed and
combed and woven into. Those on the north wall between Washington Column
and the Royal Arch Fall were so nearly related they formed an almost
continuous sheet, and these again were but slightly separated from those
about Indian Cañon. The group about the Three Brothers and El Capitan,
owing to the topography and cleavage of the cliffs back of them, was
more broken and irregular. The Tissiack Cascades were comparatively
small, yet sufficient to give that noblest of mountain rocks a glorious
voice. In the midst of all this extravagant rejoicing the great Yosemite
Fall was scarce heard until about three o'clock in the afternoon. Then I
was startled by a sudden thundering crash as if a rock avalanche had
come to the help of the roaring waters. This was the flood-wave of
Yosemite Creek, which had just arrived delayed by the distance it had to
travel, and by the choking snows of its widespread fountains. Now, with
volume tenfold increased beyond its springtime fullness, it took its
place as leader of the glorious choir.

And the winds, too, were singing in wild accord, playing on every tree
and rock, surging against the huge brows and domes and outstanding
battlements, deflected hither and thither and broken into a thousand
cascading, roaring currents in the cañons, and low bass, drumming
swirls in the hollows. And these again, reacting on the clouds, eroded
immense cavernous spaces in their gray depths and swept forward the
resulting detritus in ragged trains like the moraines of glaciers. These
cloud movements in turn published the work of the winds, giving them
a visible body, and enabling us to trace them. As if endowed with
independent motion, a detached cloud would rise hastily to the very top
of the wall as if on some important errand, examining the faces of the
cliffs, and then perhaps as suddenly descend to sweep imposingly along
the meadows, trailing its draggled fringes through the pines, fondling
the waving spires with infinite gentleness, or, gliding behind a grove
or a single tree, bringing it into striking relief, as it bowed and
waved in solemn rhythm. Sometimes, as the busy clouds drooped and
condensed or dissolved to misty gauze, half of the Valley would be
suddenly veiled, leaving here and there some lofty headland cut off from
all visible connection with the walls, looming alone, dim, spectral, as
if belonging to the sky--visitors, like the new falls, come to take part
in the glorious festival. Thus for two days and nights in measureless
extravagance the storm went on, and mostly without spectators, at least
of a terrestrial kind. I saw nobody out--bird, bear, squirrel, or man.
Tourists had vanished months before, and the hotel people and laborers
were out of sight, careful about getting cold, and satisfied with views
from windows. The bears, I suppose, were in their cañon-boulder dens,
the squirrels in their knot-hole nests, the grouse in close fir groves,
and the small singers in the Indian Cañon chaparral, trying to keep
warm and dry. Strange to say, I did not see even the water-ouzels,
though they must have greatly enjoyed the storm.

This was the most sublime waterfall flood I ever saw--clouds, winds,
rocks, waters, throbbing together as one. And then to contemplate what
was going on simultaneously with all this in other mountain temples; the
Big Tuolumne Cañon--how the white waters and the winds were singing
there! And in Hetch Hetchy Valley and the great King's River yosemite,
and in all the other Sierra cañons and valleys from Shasta to the
southernmost fountains of the Kern, thousands of rejoicing flood
waterfalls chanting together in jubilee dress.

avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 03, 2009 08:52PM
"In the afternoon, while I watched the Upper
Fall from the shelter of a big pine tree, it was suddenly arrested in
its descent at a point about half-way down, and was neither blown upward
nor driven aside, but simply held stationary in mid-air,"

To see such a thing! The force of nature plying against herself in some crazy tug-o-war stalemate....
avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 03, 2009 09:13PM
Bee wrote:

> To see such a thing! The force of nature plying against herself
> in some crazy tug-o-war stalemate....

And leave it to Muir to notice it!

avatar Chapter 3: Snow-Storms
April 03, 2009 09:14PM
Chapter 3

As has been already stated, the first of the great snow-storms that
replenish the Yosemite fountains seldom sets in before the end of
November. Then, warned by the sky, wide-awake mountaineers, together
with the deer and most of the birds, make haste to the lowlands or
foothills; and burrowing marmots, mountain beavers, wood-rats, and other
small mountain people, go into winter quarters, some of them not again
to see the light of day until the general awakening and resurrection of
the spring in June or July. The fertile clouds, drooping and condensing
in brooding silence, seem to be thoughtfully examining the forests and
streams with reference to the work that lies before them. At length, all
their plans perfected, tufted flakes and single starry crystals come in
sight, solemnly swirling and glinting to their blessed appointed places;
and soon the busy throng fills the sky and makes darkness like night.
The first heavy fall is usually from about two to four feet in depth
then with intervals of days or weeks of bright weather storm succeeds
storm, heaping snow on snow, until thirty to fifty feet has fallen. But
on account of its settling and compacting, and waste from melting and
evaporation, the average depth actually found at any time seldom exceeds
ten feet in the forest regions, or fifteen feet along the slopes of the
summit peaks. After snow-storms come avalanches, varying greatly in
form, size, behavior and in the songs they sing; some on the smooth
slopes of the mountains are short and broad; others long and river-like
in the side cañons of yosemites and in the main cañons, flowing in
regular channels and booming like waterfalls, while countless smaller
ones fall everywhere from laden trees and rocks and lofty cañon walls.
Most delightful it is to stand in the middle of Yosemite on still clear
mornings after snow-storms and watch the throng of avalanches as they
come down, rejoicing, to their places, whispering, thrilling like birds,
or booming and roaring like thunder. The noble yellow pines stand hushed
and motionless as if under a spell until the morning sunshine begins to
sift through their laden spires; then the dense masses on the ends of
the leafy branches begin to shift and fall, those from the upper
branches striking the lower ones in succession, enveloping each tree in
a hollow conical avalanche of fairy fineness; while the relieved
branches spring up and wave with startling effect in the general
stillness, as if each tree was moving of its own volition. Hundreds of
broad cloud-shaped masses may also be seen, leaping over the brows of
the cliffs from great heights, descending at first with regular
avalanche speed until, worn into dust by friction, they float in front
of the precipices like irised clouds. Those which descend from the brow
of El Capitan are particularly fine; but most of the great Yosemite
avalanches flow in regular channels like cascades and waterfalls. When
the snow first gives way on the upper slopes of their basins, a dull
rushing, rumbling sound is heard which rapidly increases and seems to
draw nearer with appalling intensity of tone. Presently the white flood
comes bounding into sight over bosses and sheer places, leaping from
bench to bench, spreading and narrowing and throwing off clouds of
whirling dust like the spray of foaming cataracts. Compared with
waterfalls and cascades, avalanches are short-lived, few of them lasting
more than a minute or two, and the sharp, clashing sounds so common in
falling water are mostly wanting; but in their low massy thundertones
and purple-tinged whiteness, and in their dress, gait, gestures and
general behavior, they are much alike.


Besides these common after-storm avalanches that are to be found not
only in the Yosemite but in all the deep, sheer-walled cañon of the
Range there are two other important kinds, which may be called annual
and century avalanches, which still further enrich the scenery. The only
place about the Valley where one may be sure to see the annual kind is
on the north slope of Clouds' Rest. They are composed of heavy, compacted
snow, which has been subjected to frequent alternations of freezing and
thawing. They are developed on cañon and mountain-sides at an elevation
of from nine to ten thousand feet, where the slopes are inclined at an
angle too low to shed off the dry winter snow, and which accumulates
until the spring thaws sap their foundations and make them slippery;
then away in grand style go the ponderous icy masses without any fine
snow-dust. Those of Clouds' Rest descend like thunderbolts for more than
a mile.

The great century avalanches and the kind that mow wide swaths through
the upper forests occur on mountain-sides about ten or twelve thousand
feet high, where under ordinary weather conditions the snow accumulated
from winter to winter lies at rest for many years, allowing trees, fifty
to a hundred feet high, to grow undisturbed on the slopes beneath them.
On their way down through the woods they seldom fail to make a perfectly
clean sweep, stripping off the soil as well as the trees, clearing paths
two or three hundred yards wide from the timber line to the glacier
meadows or lakes, and piling their uprooted trees, head downward, in
rows along the sides of the gaps like lateral moraines. Scars and broken
branches of the trees standing on the sides of the gaps record the depth
of the overwhelming flood; and when we come to count the annual
wood-rings on the uprooted trees we learn that some of these immense
avalanches occur only once in a century or even at still wider

A Ride On An Avalanche

Few Yosemite visitors ever see snow avalanches and fewer still know the
exhilaration of riding on them. In all my mountaineering I have enjoyed
only one avalanche ride, and the start was so sudden and the end came
so soon I had but little time to think of the danger that attends this
sort of travel, though at such times one thinks fast. One fine Yosemite
morning after a heavy snowfall, being eager to see as many avalanches
as possible and wide views of the forest and summit peaks in their new
white robes before the sunshine had time to change them, I set out early
to climb by a side cañon to the top of a commanding ridge a little over
three thousand feet above the Valley. On account of the looseness of
the snow that blocked the cañon I knew the climb would require a long
time, some three or four hours as I estimated; but it proved far more
difficult than I had anticipated. Most of the way I sank waist deep,
almost out of sight in some places. After spending the whole day to
within half an hour or so of sundown, I was still several hundred feet
below the summit. Then my hopes were reduced to getting up in time to
see the sunset. But I was not to get summit views of any sort that day,
for deep trampling near the cañon head, where the snow was strained,
started an avalanche, and I was swished down to the foot of the cañon
as if by enchantment. The wallowing ascent had taken nearly all day, the
descent only about a minute. When the avalanche started I threw myself
on my back and spread my arms to try to keep from sinking. Fortunately,
though the grade of the cañon is very steep, it is not interrupted by
precipices large enough to cause outbounding or free plunging. On no
part of the rush was I buried. I was only moderately imbedded on the
surface or at times a little below it, and covered with a veil of
back-streaming dust particles; and as the whole mass beneath and about
me joined in the flight there was no friction, though I was tossed here
and there and lurched from side to side. When the avalanche swedged and
came to rest I found myself on top of the crumpled pile without bruise
or scar. This was a fine experience. Hawthorne says somewhere that steam
has spiritualized travel; though unspiritual smells, smoke, etc., still
attend steam travel. This flight in what might be called a milky way of
snow-stars was the most spiritual and exhilarating of all the modes of
motion I have ever experienced. Elijah's flight in a chariot of fire
could hardly have been more gloriously exciting.

The Streams In Other Seasons

In the spring, after all the avalanches are down and the snow is melting
fast, then all the Yosemite streams, from their fountains to their
falls, sing their grandest songs. Countless rills make haste to the
rivers, running and singing soon after sunrise, louder and louder with
increasing volume until sundown; then they gradually fail through the
frosty hours of the night. In this way the volume of the upper branches
of the river is nearly doubled during the day, rising and falling as
regularly as the tides of the sea. Then the Merced overflows its banks,
flooding the meadows, sometimes almost from wall to wall in some places,
beginning to rise towards sundown just when the streams on the fountains
are beginning to diminish, the difference in time of the daily rise and
fall being caused by the distance the upper flood streams have to travel
before reaching the Valley. In the warmest weather they seem fairly to
shout for joy and clash their upleaping waters together like clapping
of hands; racing down the cañons with white manes flying in glorious
exuberance of strength, compelling huge, sleeping boulders to wake up
and join in their dance and song, to swell their exulting chorus.

In early summer, after the flood season, the Yosemite streams are in
their prime, running crystal clear, deep and full but not overflowing
their banks--about as deep through the night as the day, the difference
in volume so marked in spring being now too slight to be noticed. Nearly
all the weather is cloudless and everything is at its brightest--lake,
river, garden and forest with all their life. Most of the plants are in
full flower. The blessed ouzels have built their mossy huts and are now
singing their best songs with the streams.

In tranquil, mellow autumn, when the year's work is about done and
the fruits are ripe, birds and seeds out of their nests, and all the
landscape is glowing like a benevolent countenance, then the streams
are at their lowest ebb, with scarce a memory left of their wild spring
floods. The small tributaries that do not reach back to the lasting
snow fountains of the summit peaks shrink to whispering, tinkling
currents. After the snow is gone from the basins, excepting occasional
thundershowers, they are now fed only by small springs whose waters
are mostly evaporated in passing over miles of warm pavements, and in
feeling their way slowly from pool to pool through the midst of boulders
and sand. Even the main rivers are so low they may easily be forded, and
their grand falls and cascades, now gentle and approachable, have waned
to sheets of embroidery.

avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 03, 2009 11:35PM
eeeek: And leave it to Muir to notice it!

I have had all night to quietly read thru these journals. Such an understatement to say: the man was reamarkable, indeed. BTW, you are cutting and pasting from some sort of e-book?

avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 04, 2009 12:05AM
Bee wrote:

> eeeek: And leave it to Muir to notice it!
> I have had all night to quietly read thru these journals. Such
> an understatement to say: the man was reamarkable, indeed. BTW,
> you are cutting and pasting from some sort of e-book?


avatar Chapter 4
April 04, 2009 12:05AM
Chapter 4
Snow Banners

But it is on the mountain tops, when they are laden with loose, dry snow
and swept by a gale from the north, that the most magnificent storm
scenery is displayed. The peaks along the axis of the Range are then
decorated with resplendent banners, some of them more than a mile long,
shining, streaming, waving with solemn exuberant enthusiasm as if
celebrating some surpassingly glorious event.

The snow of which these banners are made falls on the high Sierra in
most extravagant abundance, sometimes to a depth of fifteen or twenty
feet, coming from the fertile clouds not in large angled flakes such as
one oftentimes sees in Yosemite, seldom even in complete crystals, for
many of the starry blossoms fall before they are ripe, while most of
those that attain perfect development as six-petaled flowers are more
or less broken by glinting and chafing against one another on the
way down to their work. This dry frosty snow is prepared for the grand
banner-waving celebrations by the action of the wind. Instead of at
once finding rest like that which falls into the tranquil depths of
the forest, it is shoved and rolled and beaten against boulders and
out-jutting rocks, swirled in pits and hollows like sand in river
pot-holes, and ground into sparkling dust. And when storm winds find
this snow-dust in a loose condition on the slopes above the timber-line
they toss it back into the sky and sweep it onward from peak to peak
in the form of smooth regular banners, or in cloudy drifts, according
to the velocity and direction of the wind, and the conformation of the
slopes over which it is driven. While thus flying through the air a
small portion escapes from the mountains to the sky as vapor; but far
the greater part is at length locked fast in bossy overcurling cornices
along the ridges, or in stratified sheets in the glacier cirques, some
of it to replenish the small residual glaciers and remain silent and
rigid for centuries before it is finally melted and sent singing down
home to the sea.

But, though snow-dust and storm-winds abound on the mountains, regular
shapely banners are, for causes we shall presently see, seldom produced.
During the five winters that I spent in Yosemite I made many excursions
to high points above the walls in all kinds of weather to see what was
going on outside; from all my lofty outlooks I saw only one banner-storm
that seemed in every way perfect. This was in the winter of 1873, when
the snow-laden peaks were swept by a powerful norther. I was awakened
early in the morning by a wild storm-wind and of course I had to make
haste to the middle of the Valley to enjoy it. Rugged torrents and
avalanches from the main wind-flood overhead were roaring down the side
cañons and over the cliffs, arousing the rocks and the trees and the
streams alike into glorious hurrahing enthusiasm, shaking the whole
Valley into one huge song. Yet inconceivable as it must seem even to
those who love all Nature's wildness, the storm was telling its story
on the mountains in still grander characters.

A Wonderful Winter Scene

I had long been anxious to study some points in the structure of the
ice-hill at the foot of the Upper Yosemite Fall, but, as I have already
explained, blinding spray had hitherto prevented me from getting
sufficiently near it. This morning the entire body of the Fall was
oftentimes torn into gauzy strips and blown horizontally along the face
of the cliff, leaving the ice-hill dry; and while making my way to the
top of Fern Ledge to seize so favorable an opportunity to look down its
throat, the peaks of the Merced group came in sight over the shoulder of
the South Dome, each waving a white glowing banner against the dark blue
sky, as regular in form and firm and fine in texture as if it were made
of silk. So rare and splendid a picture, of course, smothered everything
else and I at once began to scramble and wallow up the snow-choked
Indian Cañon to a ridge about 8000 feet high, commanding a general
view of the main summits along the axis of the Range, feeling assured I
should find them bannered still more gloriously; nor was I in the least
disappointed. I reached the top of the ridge in four or five hours, and
through an opening in the woods the most imposing wind-storm effect I
ever beheld came full in sight; unnumbered mountains rising sharply
into the cloudless sky, their bases solid white their sides plashed with
snow, like ocean rocks with foam, and on every summit a magnificent
silvery banner, from two thousand to six thousand feet in length,
slender at the point of attachment, and widening gradually until about
a thousand or fifteen hundred feet in breadth, and as shapely and as
substantial looking in texture as the banners of the finest silk, all
streaming and waving free and clear in the sun-glow with nothing to blur
the sublime picture they made.

Fancy yourself standing beside me on this Yosemite Ridge. There is a
strange garish glitter in the air and the gale drives wildly overhead,
but you feel nothing of its violence, for you are looking out through a
sheltered opening in the woods, as through a window. In the immediate
foreground there is a forest of silver fir their foliage warm
yellow-green, and the snow beneath them strewn with their plumes,
plucked off by the storm; and beyond broad, ridgy, cañon-furrowed,
dome-dotted middle ground, darkened here and there with belts of pines,
you behold the lofty snow laden mountains in glorious array, waving
their banners with jubilant enthusiasm as if shouting aloud for joy.
They are twenty miles away, but you would not wish them nearer, for
every feature is distinct and the whole wonderful show is seen in its
right proportions, like a painting on the sky.

And now after this general view, mark how sharply the ribs and
buttresses and summits of the mountains are defined, excepting the
portions veiled by the banners; how gracefully and nobly the banners
are waving in accord with the throbbing of the wind flood; how trimly
each is attached to the very summit of its peak like a streamer at a
mast-head; how bright and glowing white they are, and how finely their
fading fringes are penciled on the sky! See how solid white and opaque
they are at the point of attachment and how filmy and translucent toward
the end, so that the parts of the peaks past which they are streaming
look dim as if seen through a veil of ground glass. And see how some of
the longest of the banners on the highest peaks are streaming perfectly
free from peak to peak across intervening notches or passes, while
others overlap and partly hide one another.

As to their formation, we find that the main causes of the wondrous
beauty and perfection of those we are looking at are the favorable
direction and force of the wind, the abundance of snow-dust, and the
form of the north sides of the peaks. In general, the north sides are
concave in both their horizontal and vertical sections, having been
sculptured into this shape by the residual glaciers that lingered in
the protecting northern shadows, while the sun-beaten south sides,
having never been subjected to this kind of glaciation, are convex or
irregular. It is essential, therefore, not only that the wind should
move with great velocity and steadiness to supply a sufficiently copious
and continuous stream of snow-dust, but that it should come from the
north. No perfect banner is ever hung on the Sierra peaks by the south
wind. Had the gale today blown from the south, leaving the other
conditions unchanged, only swirling, interfering, cloudy drifts would
have been produced; for the snow, instead of being spouted straight up
and over the tops of the peaks in condensed currents to be drawn out as
streamers, would have been driven over the convex southern slopes from
peak to peak like white pearly fog.

It appears, therefore, that shadows in great part determine not only the
forms of lofty ice mountains, but also those of the snow banners that
the wild winds hang upon them.

Earthquake Storms

The avalanche taluses, leaning against the walls at intervals of a mile
or two, are among the most striking and interesting of the secondary
features of the Valley. They are from about three to five hundred feet
high, made up of huge, angular, well-preserved, unshifting boulders, and
instead of being slowly weathered from the cliffs like ordinary taluses,
they were all formed suddenly and simultaneously by a great earthquake
that occurred at least three centuries ago. And though thus hurled into
existence in a few seconds or minutes, they are the least changeable of
all the Sierra soil-beds. Excepting those which were launched directly
into the channels of swift rivers, scarcely one of their wedged and
interlacing boulders has moved since the day of their creation; and
though mostly made up of huge blocks of granite, many of them from ten
to fifty feet cube, weighing thousands of tons with only a few small
chips, trees and shrubs make out to live and thrive on them and even
delicate herbaceous plants--draperia, collomia, zauschneria, etc.,
soothing and coloring their wild rugged slopes with gardens and groves.

I was long in doubt on some points concerning the origin of those
taluses. Plainly enough they were derived from the cliffs above them,
because they are of the size of scars on the wall, the rough angular
surface of which contrasts with the rounded, glaciated, unfractured
parts. It was plain, too, that instead of being made up of material
slowly and gradually weathered from the cliffs like ordinary taluses,
almost every one of them had been formed suddenly in a single avalanche,
and had not been increased in size during the last three or four
centuries, for trees three or four hundred years old are growing on
them, some standing at the top close to the wall without a bruise or
broken branch, showing that scarcely a single boulder had ever fallen
among them. Furthermore, all these taluses throughout the Range seemed
by the trees and lichens growing on them to be of the same age. All
the phenomena thus pointed straight to a grand ancient earthquake. But
for years I left the question open, and went on from cañon to cañon,
observing again and again; measuring the heights of taluses throughout
the Range on both flanks, and the variations in the angles of their
surface slopes; studying the way their boulders had been assorted and
related and brought to rest, and their correspondence in size with the
cleavage joints of the cliffs from whence they were derived, cautious
about making up my mind. But at last all doubt as to their formation

At half-past two o'clock of a moonlit morning in March, I was awakened
by a tremendous earthquake, and though I had never before enjoyed a
storm of this sort, the strange thrilling motion could not be mistaken,
and I ran out of my cabin, both glad and frightened, shouting, "A noble
earthquake! A noble earthquake!" feeling sure I was going to learn
something. The shocks were so violent and varied, and succeeded one
another so closely, that I had to balance myself carefully in walking as
if on the deck of a ship among waves, and it seemed impossible that the
high cliffs of the Valley could escape being shattered. In particular,
I feared that the sheer-fronted Sentinel Rock, towering above my cabin,
would be shaken down, and I took shelter back of a large yellow pine,
hoping that it might protect me from at least the smaller outbounding
boulders. For a minute or two the shocks became more and more
violent--flashing horizontal thrusts mixed with a few twists and
battering, explosive, upheaving jolts,--as if Nature were wrecking her
Yosemite temple, and getting ready to build a still better one.

I was now convinced before a single boulder had fallen that earthquakes
were the talus-makers and positive proof soon came. It was a calm
moonlight night, and no sound was heard for the first minute or so, save
low, muffled, underground, bubbling rumblings, and the whispering and
rustling of the agitated trees, as if Nature were holding her breath.
Then, suddenly, out of the strange silence and strange motion there came
a tremendous roar. The Eagle Rock on the south wall, about a half a mile
up the Valley, gave way and I saw it falling in thousands of the great
boulders I had so long been studying, pouring to the Valley floor
in a free curve luminous from friction, making a terribly sublime
spectacle--an arc of glowing, passionate fire, fifteen hundred feet
span, as true in form and as serene in beauty as a rainbow in the midst
of the stupendous, roaring rock-storm. The sound was so tremendously
deep and broad and earnest, the whole earth like a living creature
seemed to have at last found a voice and to be calling to her sister
planets. In trying to tell something of the size of this awful sound it
seems to me that if all the thunder of all the storms I had ever heard
were condensed into one roar it would not equal this rock-roar at the
birth of a mountain talus. Think, then, of the roar that arose to heaven
at the simultaneous birth of all the thousands of ancient cañon-taluses
throughout the length and breadth of the Range!

The first severe shocks were soon over, and eager to examine the
new-born talus I ran up the Valley in the moonlight and climbed upon it
before the huge blocks, after their fiery flight, had come to complete
rest. They were slowly settling into their places, chafing, grating
against one another, groaning, and whispering; but no motion was visible
except in a stream of small fragments pattering down the face of the
cliff. A cloud of dust particles, lighted by the moon, floated out
across the whole breadth of the Valley, forming a ceiling that lasted
until after sunrise, and the air was filled with the odor of crushed
Douglas spruces from a grove that had been mowed down and mashed like

After the ground began to calm I ran across the meadow to the river to
see in what direction it was flowing and was glad to find that down
the Valley was still down. Its waters were muddy from portions of its
banks having given way, but it was flowing around its curves and over
its ripples and shallows with ordinary tones and gestures. The mud would
soon be cleared away and the raw slips on the banks would be the only
visible record of the shaking it suffered.

The Upper Yosemite Fall, glowing white in the moonlight, seemed to know
nothing of the earthquake, manifesting no change in form or voice, as
far as I could see or hear.

After a second startling shock, about half-past three o'clock, the
ground continued to tremble gently, and smooth, hollow rumbling sounds,
not always distinguishable from the rounded, bumping, explosive tones of
the falls, came from deep in the mountains in a northern direction.

The few Indians fled from their huts to the middle of the Valley,
fearing that angry spirits were trying to kill them; and, as I afterward
learned, most of the Yosemite tribe, who were spending the winter at
their village on Bull Creek forty miles away, were so terrified that
they ran into the river and washed themselves,--getting themselves clean
enough to say their prayers, I suppose, or to die. I asked Dick, one of
the Indians with whom I was acquainted, "What made the ground shake and
jump so much?" He only shook his head and said, "No good. No good," and
looked appealingly to me to give him hope that his life was to be

In the morning I found the few white settlers assembled in front of
the old Hutchings Hotel comparing notes and meditating flight to the
lowlands, seemingly as sorely frightened as the Indians. Shortly after
sunrise a low, blunt, muffled rumbling, like distant thunder, was
followed by another series of shocks, which, though not nearly so severe
as the first, made the cliffs and domes tremble like jelly, and the big
pines and oaks thrill and swish and wave their branches with startling
effect. Then the talkers were suddenly hushed, and the solemnity on
their faces was sublime. One in particular of these winter neighbors, a
somewhat speculative thinker with whom I had often conversed, was a firm
believer in the cataclysmic origin of the Valley; and I now jokingly
remarked that his wild tumble-down-and-engulfment hypothesis might soon
be proved, since these underground rumblings and shakings might be the
forerunners of another Yosemite-making cataclysm, which would perhaps
double the depth of the Valley by swallowing the floor, leaving the ends
of the roads and trails dangling three or four thousand feet in the air.
Just then came the third series of shocks, and it was fine to see how
awfully silent and solemn he became. His belief in the existence of a
mysterious abyss, into which the suspended floor of the Valley and all
the domes and battlements of the walls might at any moment go roaring
down, mightily troubled him. To diminish his fears and laugh him into
something like reasonable faith, I said, "Come, cheer up; smile a little
and clap your hands, now that kind Mother Earth is trotting us on her
knee to amuse us and make us good." But the well-meant joke seemed
irreverent and utterly failed, as if only prayerful terror could rightly
belong to the wild beauty-making business. Even after all the heavier
shocks were over I could do nothing to reassure him, on the contrary,
he handed me the keys of his little store to keep, saying that with a
companion of like mind he was going to the lowlands to stay until the
fate of poor, trembling Yosemite was settled. In vain I rallied them on
their fears, calling attention to the strength of the granite walls of
our Valley home, the very best and solidest masonry in the world, and
less likely to collapse and sink than the sedimentary lowlands to which
they were looking for safety; and saying that in any case they sometime
would have to die, and so grand a burial was not to be slighted. But
they were too seriously panic-stricken to get comfort from anything I
could say.

During the third severe shock the trees were so violently shaken that
the birds flew out with frightened cries. In particular, I noticed two
robins flying in terror from a leafless oak, the branches of which
swished and quivered as if struck by a heavy battering-ram. Exceedingly
interesting were the flashing and quivering of the elastic needles of
the pines in the sunlight and the waving up and down of the branches
while the trunks stood rigid. There was no swaying, waving or swirling
as in wind-storms, but quick, quivering jerks, and at times the heavy
tasseled branches moved as if they had all been pressed down against the
trunk and suddenly let go, to spring up and vibrate until they came to
rest again. Only the owls seemed to be undisturbed. Before the rumbling
echoes had died away a hollow-voiced owl began to hoot in philosophical
tranquillity from near the edge of the new talus as if nothing
extraordinary had occurred, although, perhaps, he was curious to know
what all the noise was about. His "hoot-too-hoot-too-whoo" might have
meant, "what's a' the steer, kimmer?"

It was long before the Valley found perfect rest. The rocks trembled
more or less every day for over two months, and I kept a bucket of water
on my table to learn what I could of the movements. The blunt thunder
in the depths of the mountains was usually followed by sudden jarring,
horizontal thrusts from the northward, often succeeded by twisting,
upjolting movements. More than a month after the first great shock, when
I was standing on a fallen tree up the Valley near Lamon's winter cabin,
I heard a distinct bubbling thunder from the direction of Tenaya Cañon
Carlo, a large intelligent St. Bernard dog standing beside me seemed
greatly astonished, and looked intently in that direction with mouth
open and uttered a low Wouf! as if saying, "What's that?" He
must have known that it was not thunder, though like it. The air was
perfectly still, not the faintest breath of wind perceptible, and a
fine, mellow, sunny hush pervaded everything, in the midst of which came
that subterranean thunder. Then, while we gazed and listened, came the
corresponding shocks, distinct as if some mighty hand had shaken the
ground. After the sharp horizontal jars died away, they were followed
by a gentle rocking and undulating of the ground so distinct that Carlo
looked at the log on which he was standing to see who was shaking it. It
was the season of flooded meadows and the pools about me, calm as sheets
of glass, were suddenly thrown into low ruffling waves.

Judging by its effects, this Yosemite, or Inyo earthquake, as it is
sometimes called, was gentle as compared with the one that gave rise
to the grand talus system of the Range and did so much for the cañon
scenery. Nature, usually so deliberate in her operations, then created,
as we have seen, a new set of features, simply by giving the mountains
a shake--changing not only the high peaks and cliffs, but the streams.
As soon as these rock avalanches fell the streams began to sing new
songs; for in many places thousands of boulders were hurled into their
channels, roughening and half-damming them, compelling the waters to
surge and roar in rapids where before they glided smoothly. Some of
the streams were completely dammed; driftwood, leaves, etc., gradually
filling the interstices between the boulders, thus giving rise to lakes
and level reaches; and these again, after being gradually filled in,
were changed to meadows, through which the streams are now silently
meandering; while at the same time some of the taluses took the places
of old meadows and groves. Thus rough places were made smooth, and
smooth places rough. But, on the whole, by what at first sight seemed
pure confounded confusion and ruin, the landscapes were enriched; for
gradually every talus was covered with groves and gardens, and made a
finely proportioned and ornamental base for the cliffs. In this work of
beauty, every boulder is prepared and measured and put in its place more
thoughtfully than are the stones of temples. If for a moment you are
inclined to regard these taluses as mere draggled, chaotic dumps, climb
to the top of one of them, and run down without any haggling, puttering
hesitation, boldly jumping from boulder to boulder with even speed. You
will then find your feet playing a tune, and quickly discover the music
and poetry of these magnificent rock piles--a fine lesson; and all
Nature's wildness tells the same story--the shocks and outbursts of
earthquakes, volcanoes, geysers, roaring, thundering waves and floods,
the silent uprush of sap in plants, storms of every sort--each and all
are the orderly beauty-making love-beats of Nature's heart.

avatar Chapter 5: The Trees of the Valley
April 04, 2009 12:07AM
Chapter 5
The Trees of the Valley

The most influential of the Valley trees is the yellow pine (Pinus
ponderosa). It attains its noblest dimensions on beds of water-washed,
coarsely-stratified moraine material, between the talus slopes and
meadows, dry on the surface, well-watered below and where not too
closely assembled in groves the branches reach nearly to the ground,
forming grand spires 200 to 220 feet in height. The largest that I have
measured is standing alone almost opposite the Sentinel Rock, or a
little to the westward of it. It is a little over eight feet in diameter
and about 220 feet high. Climbing these grand trees, especially when
they are waving and singing in worship in wind-storms, is a glorious
experience. Ascending from the lowest branch to the topmost is like
stepping up stairs through a blaze of white light, every needle
thrilling and shining as if with religious ecstasy.

Unfortunately there are but few sugar pines in the Valley, though in
the King's yosemite they are in glorious abundance. The incense cedar
(Libocedrus decurrens) with cinnamon-colored bark and yellow-green
foliage is one of the most interesting of the Yosemite trees. Some of
them are 150 feet high, from six to ten feet in diameter, and they are
never out of sight as you saunter among the yellow pines. Their bright
brown shafts and towers of flat, frondlike branches make a striking
feature of the landscapes throughout all the seasons. In midwinter, when
most of the other trees are asleep, this cedar puts forth its flowers
in millions,--the pistillate pale green and inconspicuous, but the
staminate bright yellow, tingeing all the branches and making the trees
as they stand in the snow look like gigantic goldenrods. The branches,
outspread in flat plumes and, beautifully fronded, sweep gracefully
downward and outward, except those near the top, which aspire; the
lowest, especially in youth and middle age, droop to the ground,
overlapping one another, shedding off rain and snow like shingles, and
making fine tents for birds and campers. This tree frequently lives more
than a thousand years and is well worthy its place beside the great
pines and the Douglas spruce.

The two largest specimens I know of the Douglas spruce, about eight feet
in diameter, are growing at the foot of the Liberty Cap near the Nevada
Fall, and on the terminal moraine of the small residual glacier that
lingered in the shady Illilouette Cañon.

After the conifers, the most important of the Yosemite trees are the
oaks, two species; the California live-oak (Quercus agrifolia), with
black trunks, reaching a thickness of from four to nearly seven feet,
wide spreading branches and bright deeply-scalloped leaves. It occupies
the greater part of the broad sandy flats of the upper end of the
Valley, and is the species that yields the acorns so highly prized by
the Indians and woodpeckers.

The other species is the mountain live-oak, or goldcup oak (Quercus
chrysolepis), a sturdy mountaineer of a tree, growing mostly on the
earthquake taluses and benches of the sunny north wall of the Valley.
In tough, unwedgeable, knotty strength, it is the oak of oaks, a
magnificent tree.

The largest and most picturesque specimen in the Valley is near the foot
of the Tenaya Fall, a romantic spot seldom seen on account of the rough
trouble of getting to it. It is planted on three huge boulders and yet
manages to draw sufficient moisture and food from this craggy soil to
maintain itself in good health. It is twenty feet in circumference,
measured above a large branch between three and four feet in diameter
that has been broken off. The main knotty trunk seems to be made up of
craggy granite boulders like those on which it stands, being about the
same color as the mossy, lichened boulders and about as rough. Two
moss-lined caves near the ground open back into the trunk, one on the
north side, the other on the west, forming picturesque, romantic seats.
The largest of the main branches is eighteen feet and nine inches in
circumference, and some of the long pendulous branchlets droop over the
stream at the foot of the fall where it is gray with spray. The leaves
are glossy yellow-green, ever in motion from the wind from the fall. It
is a fine place to dream in, with falls, cascades, cool rocks lined with
hypnum three inches thick; shaded with maple, dogwood, alder, willow;
grand clumps of lady-ferns where no hand may touch them; light filtering
through translucent leaves; oaks fifty feet high; lilies eight feet high
in a filled lake basin near by, and the finest libocedrus groves and
tallest ferns and goldenrods.

In the main river cañon below the Vernal Fall and on the shady south
side of the Valley there are a few groves of the silver fir (Abies
concolor), and superb forests of the magnificent species round the rim
of the Valley.

On the tops of the domes is found the sturdy, storm-enduring red cedar
(Juniperus occidentalis). It never makes anything like a forest here,
but stands out separate and independent in the wind, clinging by slight
joints to the rock, with scarce a handful of soil in sight of it,
seeming to depend chiefly on snow and air for nourishment, and yet it
has maintained tough health on this diet for two thousand years or more.
The largest hereabouts are from five to six feet in diameter and fifty
feet in height.

The principal river-side trees are poplar, alder, willow, broad-leaved
maple, and Nuttall's flowering dogwood. The poplar (Populus
trichocarpa), often called balm-of-Gilead from the gum on its buds, is
a tall tree, towering above its companions and gracefully embowering
the banks of the river. Its abundant foliage turns bright yellow in the
fall, and the Indian-summer sunshine sifts through it in delightful
tones over the slow-gliding waters when they are at their lowest ebb.

Some of the involucres of the flowering dogwood measure six to eight
inches in diameter, and the whole tree when in flower looks as if
covered with snow. In the spring when the streams are in flood it is the
whitest of trees. In Indian summer the leaves become bright crimson,
making a still grander show than the flowers.

The broad-leaved maple and mountain maple are found mostly in the cool
cañons at the head of the Valley, spreading their branches in beautiful
arches over the foaming streams.

Scattered here and there are a few other trees, mostly small--the
mountain mahogany, cherry, chestnut-oak, and laurel. The California
nutmeg (Torreya californica), a handsome evergreen belonging to the
yew family, forms small groves near the cascades a mile or two below
the foot of the Valley.

avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 04, 2009 12:17AM
"I never tried to abandon creeds or code of civilization; they went away of their own accord ... without leaving any consciousness of loss." John Muir
avatar Chapter 6: The Forest Trees in General
April 04, 2009 12:30AM
Chapter 6
The Forest Trees in General

For the use of the ever-increasing number of Yosemite visitors who make
extensive excursions into the mountains beyond the Valley, a sketch of
the forest trees in general will probably be found useful. The different
species are arranged in zones and sections, which brings the forest as
a whole within the comprehension of every observer. These species are
always found as controlled by the climates of different elevations,
by soil and by the comparative strength of each species in taking and
holding possession of the ground; and so appreciable are these relations
the traveler need never be at a loss in determining within a few
hundred feet his elevation above sea level by the trees alone; for,
notwithstanding some of the species range upward for several thousand
feet and all pass one another more or less, yet even those species
possessing the greatest vertical range are available in measuring
the elevation; inasmuch as they take on new forms corresponding with
variations in altitude. Entering the lower fringe of the forest composed
of Douglas oaks and Sabine pines, the trees grow so far apart that not
one-twentieth of the surface of the ground is in shade at noon. After
advancing fifteen or twenty miles towards Yosemite and making an ascent
of from two to three thousand feet you reach the lower margin of the
main pine belt, composed of great sugar pine, yellow pine, incense cedar
and sequoia. Next you come to the magnificent silver-fir belt and lastly
to the upper pine belt, which sweep up to the feet of the summit peaks
in a dwarfed fringe, to a height of from ten to twelve thousand feet.
That this general order of distribution depends on climate as affected
by height above the sea, is seen at once, but there are other harmonies
that become manifest only after observation and study. One of the most
interesting of these is the arrangement of the forest in long curving
bands, braided together into lace-like patterns in some places and
out-spread in charming variety. The key to these striking arrangements
is the system of ancient glaciers; where they flowed the trees followed,
tracing their courses along the sides of cañons, over ridges, and high
plateaus. The cedar of Lebanon, said Sir Joseph Hooker, occurs upon one
of the moraines of an ancient glacier. All the forests of the Sierra are
growing upon moraines, but moraines vanish like the glaciers that make
them. Every storm that falls upon them wastes them, carrying away their
decaying, disintegrating material into new formations, until they are no
longer recognizable without tracing their transitional forms down the
Range from those still in process of formation in some places through
those that are more and more ancient and more obscured by vegetation and
all kinds of post-glacial weathering. It appears, therefore, that the
Sierra forests indicate the extent and positions of ancient moraines as
well as they do belts of climate.

One will have no difficulty in knowing the Nut Pine (Pinus Sabiniana),
for it is the first conifer met in ascending the Range from the west,
springing up here and there among Douglas oaks and thickets of ceanothus
and manzanita; its extreme upper limit being about 4000 feet above the
sea, its lower about from 500 to 800 feet. It is remarkable for its
loose, airy, wide-branching habit and thin gray foliage. Full-grown
specimens are from forty to fifty feet in height and from two to three
feet in diameter. The trunk usually divides into three or four main
branches about fifteen or twenty feet from the ground that, after
bearing away from one another, shoot straight up and form separate
summits. Their slender, grayish needles are from eight to twelve inches
long, and inclined to droop, contrasting with the rigid, dark-colored
trunk and branches. No other tree of my acquaintance so substantial in
its body has foliage so thin and pervious to the light. The cones are
from five to eight inches long and about as large in thickness; rich
chocolate-brown in color and protected by strong, down-curving nooks
which terminate the scales. Nevertheless the little Douglas Squirrel can
open them. Indians climb the trees like bears and beat off the cones or
recklessly cut off the more fruitful branches with hatchets, while the
squaws gather and roast them until the scales open sufficiently to
allow the hard-shell seeds to be beaten out. The curious little Pinus
attenuata is found at an elevation of from 1500 to 3000 feet, growing in
close groves and belts. It is exceedingly slender and graceful, although
trees that chance to stand alone send out very long, curved branches,
making a striking contrast to the ordinary grove form. The foliage is of
the same peculiar gray-green color as that of the nut pine, and is worn
about as loosely, so that the body of the tree is scarcely obscured
by it. At the age of seven or eight years it begins to bear cones in
whorls on the main axis, and as they never fall off, the trunk is soon
picturesquely dotted with them. Branches also soon become fruitful. The
average size of the tree is about thirty or forty feet in height and
twelve to fourteen inches in diameter. The cones are about four inches
long and covered with a sort of varnish and gum, rendering them
impervious to moisture.

No observer can fail to notice the admirable adaptation of this curious
pine to the fire-swept regions where alone it is found. After a running
fire has scorched and killed it the cones open and the ground beneath it
is then sown broadcast with all the seeds ripened during its whole life.
Then up spring a crowd of bright, hopeful seedlings, giving beauty for
ashes in lavish abundance.

The Sugar Pine, King Of Pine Trees

Of all the world's eighty or ninety species of pine trees, the Sugar
Pine (Pinus Lambertiana) is king, surpassing all others, not merely in
size but in lordly beauty and majesty. In the Yosemite region it grows
at an elevation of from 3000 to 7000 feet above the sea and attains
most perfect development at a height of about 5000 feet. The largest
specimens are commonly about 220 feet high and from six to eight feet
in diameter four feet from the ground, though some grand old patriarch
may be met here and there that has enjoyed six or eight centuries of
storms and attained a thickness of ten or even twelve feet, still sweet
and fresh in every fiber. The trunk is a remarkably smooth, round,
delicately-tapered shaft, straight and regular as if turned in a lathe,
mostly without limbs, purplish brown in color and usually enlivened with
tufts of a yellow lichen. Toward the head of this magnificent column
long branches sweep gracefully outward and downward, sometimes forming
a palm-like crown, but far more impressive than any palm crown I ever
beheld. The needles are about three inches long in fascicles of five,
and arranged in rather close tassels at the ends of slender branchlets
that clothe the long outsweeping limbs. How well they sing in the wind,
and how strikingly harmonious an effect is made by the long cylindrical
cones, depending loosely from the ends of the long branches! The cones
are about fifteen to eighteen inches long, and three in diameter;
green, shaded with dark purple on their sunward sides. They are ripe in
September and October of the second year from the flower. Then the flat,
thin scales open and the seeds take wing, but the empty cones become
still more beautiful and effective as decorations, for their diameter is
nearly doubled by the spreading of the scales, and their color changes
to yellowish brown while they remain, swinging on the tree all the
following winter and summer, and continue effectively beautiful even on
the ground many years after they fall. The wood is deliciously fragrant,
fine in grain and texture and creamy yellow, as if formed of condensed
sunbeams. The sugar from which the common name is derived is, I think,
the best of sweets. It exudes from the heart-wood where wounds have been
made by forest fires or the ax, and forms irregular, crisp, candy-like
kernels of considerable size, something like clusters of resin beads.
When fresh it is white, but because most of the wounds on which it is
found have been made by fire the sap is stained and the hardened sugar
becomes brown. Indians are fond of it, but on account of its laxative
properties only small quantities may be eaten. No tree lover will ever
forget his first meeting with the sugar pine. In most pine trees there
is the sameness of expression which to most people is apt to become
monotonous, for the typical spiral form of conifers, however beautiful,
affords little scope for appreciable individual character. The sugar
pine is as free from conventionalities as the most picturesque oaks. No
two are alike, and though they toss out their immense arms in what might
seem extravagant gestures they never lose their expression of serene
majesty. They are the priests of pines and seem ever to be addressing
the surrounding forest. The yellow pine is found growing with them on
warm hillsides, and the silver fir on cool northern slopes but, noble
as these are, the sugar pine is easily king, and spreads his arms above
them in blessing while they rock and wave in sign of recognition. The
main branches are sometimes forty feet long, yet persistently simple,
seldom dividing at all, excepting near the end; but anything like a
bare cable appearance is prevented by the small, tasseled branchlets
that extend all around them; and when these superb limbs sweep out
symmetrically on all sides, a crown sixty or seventy feet wide is
formed, which, gracefully poised on the summit of the noble shaft, is
a glorious object. Commonly, however, there is a preponderance of
limbs toward the east, away from the direction of the prevailing winds.

Although so unconventional when full-grown, the sugar pine is a
remarkably proper tree in youth--a strict follower of coniferous
fashions--slim, erect, with leafy branches kept exactly in place, each
tapering in outline and terminating in a spiry point. The successive
forms between the cautious neatness of youth and the bold freedom of
maturity offer a delightful study. At the age of fifty or sixty years,
the shy, fashionable form begins to be broken up. Specialized branches
push out and bend with the great cones, giving individual character,
that becomes more marked from year to year. Its most constant companion
is the yellow pine. The Douglas spruce, libocedrus, sequoia, and the
silver fir are also more or less associated with it; but on many
deep-soiled mountain-sides, at an elevation of about 5000 feet above the
sea, it forms the bulk of the forest, filling every swell and hollow and
down-plunging ravine. The majestic crowns, approaching each other in
bold curves, make a glorious canopy through which the tempered sunbeams
pour, silvering the needles, and gilding the massive boles and the
flowery, park-like ground into a scene of enchantment. On the most sunny
slopes the white-flowered, fragrant chamaebatia is spread like a carpet,
brightened during early summer with the crimson sarcodes, the wild rose,
and innumerable violets and gilias. Not even in the shadiest nooks will
you find any rank, untidy weeds or unwholesome darkness. In the north
sides of ridges the boles are more slender, and the ground is mostly
occupied by an underbrush of hazel, ceanothus, and flowering dogwood,
but not so densely as to prevent the traveler from sauntering where he
will; while the crowning branches are never impenetrable to the rays of
the sun, and never so interblended as to lose their individuality.

The Yellow Or Silver Pine

The Silver Pine (Pinus ponderosa), or Yellow Pine, as it is commonly
called, ranks second among the pines of the Sierra as a lumber tree, and
almost rivals the sugar pine in stature and nobleness of port. Because
of its superior powers of enduring variations of climate and soil, it
has a more extensive range than any other conifer growing on the Sierra.
On the western slope it is first met at an elevation of about 2000 feet,
and extends nearly to the upper limit of the timber-line. Thence,
crossing the range by the lowest passes, it descends to the eastern
base, and pushes out for a considerable distance into the hot, volcanic
plains, growing bravely upon well-watered moraines, gravelly lake
basins, climbing old volcanoes and dropping ripe cones among ashes and

The average size of full-grown trees on the western slope where it is
associated with the sugar pine, is a little less than 200 feet in height
and from five to six feet in diameter, though specimens considerably
larger may easily be found. Where there is plenty of free sunshine and
other conditions are favorable, it presents a striking contrast in form
to the sugar pine, being a symmetrical spire, formed of a straight round
trunk, clad with innumerable branches that are divided over and over
again. Unlike the Yosemite form about one-half of the trunk is commonly
branchless, but where it grows at all close three-fourths or more is
naked, presenting then a more slender and elegant shaft than any other
tree in the woods. The bark is mostly arranged in massive plates, some
of them measuring four or five feet in length by eighteen inches in
width, with a thickness of three or four inches, forming a quite
marked and distinguishing feature. The needles are of a fine, warm,
yellow-green color, six to eight inches long, firm and elastic, and
crowded in handsome, radiant tassels on the upturning ends of the
branches. The cones are about three or four inches long, and two and
a half wide, growing in close, sessile clusters among the leaves.

The species attains its noblest form in filled-up lake basins,
especially in those of the older yosemites, and as we have seen, so
prominent a part does it form of their groves that it may well be called
the Yosemite Pine.

The Jeffrey variety attains its finest development in the northern
portion of the Range, in the wide basins of the McCloud and Pitt Rivers,
where it forms magnificent forests scarcely invaded by any other tree.
It differs from the ordinary form in size, being only about half as tall,
in its redder and more closely-furrowed bark grayish-green foliage, less
divided branches, and much larger cones; but intermediate forms come in
which make a clear separation impossible, although some botanists regard
it as a distinct species. It is this variety of ponderosa that climbs
storm-swept ridges alone, and wanders out among the volcanoes of the
Great Basin. Whether exposed to extremes of heat or cold, it is dwarfed
like many other trees, and becomes all knots and angles, wholly unlike
the majestic forms we have been sketching. Old specimens, bearing cones
about as big as pineapples, may sometimes be found clinging to rifted
rocks at an elevation of 7000 or 8000 feet, whose highest branches
scarce reach above one's shoulders.

I have often feasted on the beauty of these noble trees when they were
towering in all their winter grandeur, laden with snow--one mass of
bloom; in summer, too, when the brown, staminate clusters hang thick
among the shimmering needles, and the big purple burrs are ripening in
the mellow light; but it is during cloudless wind-storms that these
colossal pines are most impressively beautiful. Then they bow like
willows, their leaves streaming forward all in one direction, and, when
the sun shines upon them at the required angle, entire groves glow as if
every leaf were burnished silver. The fall of tropic light on the crown
of a palm is a truly glorious spectacle, the fervid sun-flood breaking
upon the glossy leaves in long lance-rays, like mountain water among
boulders at the foot of an enthusiastic cataract. But to me there is
something more impressive in the fall of light upon these noble, silver
pine pillars: it is beaten to the finest dust and shed off in myriads
of minute sparkles that seem to radiate from the very heart of the tree
as if like rain, falling upon fertile soil, it had been absorbed to
reappear in flowers of light. This species also gives forth the finest
wind music. After listening to it in all kinds of winds, night and
day, season after season, I think I could approximate to my position
on the mountain by this pine music alone. If you would catch the tone
of separate needles climb a tree in breezy weather. Every needle is
carefully tempered and gives forth no uncertain sound each standing out
with no interference excepting during head gales; then you may detect
the click of one needle upon another, readily distinguishable from the
free wind-like hum.

When a sugar pine and one of this species equal in size are observed
together, the latter is seen to be more simple in manners, more lively
and graceful, and its beauty is of a kind more easily appreciated; on
the other hand it is less dignified and original in demeanor. The yellow
pine seems ever eager to shoot aloft, higher and higher. Even while it
is drowsing in autumn sun-gold you may still detect a skyward
aspiration, but the sugar pine seems too unconsciously noble and too
complete in every way to leave room for even a heavenward care.

The Douglas Spruce

The Douglas Spruce (Pseudotsuga Douglasii) is one of the largest and
longest-lived of the giants that flourish throughout the main pine belt,
often attaining a height of nearly 200 feet, and a diameter of six or
seven feet. Where the growth is not too close, the stout, spreading
branches, covering more than half of the trunk, are hung with
innumerable slender, drooping sprays, handsomely feathered with the
short leaves which radiate at right angles all around them. This
vigorous tree is ever beautiful, welcoming the mountain winds and the
snow as well as the mellow summer light; and it maintains its youthful
freshness undiminished from century to century through a thousand
storms. It makes its finest appearance during the months of June and
July, when the brown buds at the ends of the sprays swell and open,
revealing the young leaves, which at first are bright yellow, making the
tree appear as if covered with gay blossoms; while the pendulous bracted
cones, three or four inches long, with their shell-like scales, are a
constant adornment.

The young trees usually are assembled in family groups, each sapling
exquisitely symmetrical. The primary branches are whorled regularly
around the axis, generally in fives, while each is draped with long,
feathery sprays that descend in lines as free and as finely drawn as
those of falling water.

In Oregon and Washington it forms immense forests, growing tall and
mast-like to a height of 300 feet, and is greatly prized as a lumber
tree. Here it is scattered among other trees, or forms small groves,
seldom ascending higher than 5500 feet, and never making what would be
called a forest. It is not particular in its choice of soil: wet or dry,
smooth or rocky, it makes out to live well on them all. Two of the
largest specimens, as we have seen, are in Yosemite; one of these, more
than eight feet in diameter, is growing on a moraine; the other, nearly
as large, on angular blocks of granite. No other tree in the Sierra
seems so much at home on earthquake taluses and many of these huge
boulder-slopes are almost exclusively occupied by it.

The Incense Cedar

Incense Cedar (Libocedrus decurrens), already noticed among the Yosemite
trees, is quite generally distributed throughout the pine belt without
exclusively occupying any considerable area, or even making extensive
groves. On the warmer mountain slopes it ascends to about 5000 feet, and
reaches the climate most congenial to it at a height of about 4000 feet,
growing vigorously at this elevation in all kinds of soil and, in
particular, it is capable of enduring more moisture about its roots
than any of its companions excepting only the sequoia.

Casting your eye over the general forest from some ridge-top you
can identify it by the color alone of its spiry summits, a warm
yellow-green. In its youth up to the age of seventy or eighty years,
none of its companions forms so strictly tapered a cone from top to
bottom. As it becomes older it oftentimes grows strikingly irregular
and picturesque. Large branches push out at right angles to the trunk,
forming stubborn elbows and shoot up parallel with the axis. Very
old trees are usually dead at the top. The flat fragrant plumes are
exceedingly beautiful: no waving fern-frond is finer in form and
texture. In its prime the whole tree is thatched with them, but if you
would see the libocedrus in all its glory you must go to the woods in
midwinter when it is laden with myriads of yellow flowers about the
size of wheat grains, forming a noble illustration of Nature's immortal
virility and vigor. The mature cones, about three-fourths of an inch
long, born on the ends of the plumy branchlets, serve to enrich still
more the surpassing beauty of this winter-blooming tree-goldenrod.

The Silver Firs

We come now to the most regularly planted and most clearly defined
of the main forest belts, composed almost exclusively of two Silver
Firs--Abies concolor and Abies magnifica--extending with but little
interruption 450 miles at an elevation of from 5000 to 9000 feet above
the sea. In its youth A. concolor is a charmingly symmetrical tree
with its flat plumy branches arranged in regular whorls around the
whitish-gray axis which terminates in a stout, hopeful shoot, pointing
straight to the zenith, like an admonishing finger. The leaves are
arranged in two horizontal rows along branchlets that commonly are less
than eight years old, forming handsome plumes, pinnated like the fronds
of ferns. The cones are grayish-green when ripe, cylindrical, from three
to four inches long, and one and a half to two inches wide, and stand
upright on the upper horizontal branches. Full-grown trees in favorable
situations are usually about 200 feet high and five or six feet in
diameter. As old age creeps on, the rough bark becomes rougher and
grayer, the branches lose their exact regularity of form, many that are
snow-bent are broken off and the axis often becomes double or otherwise
irregular from accidents to the terminal bud or shoot. Nevertheless,
throughout all the vicissitudes of its three or four centuries of life,
come what may, the noble grandeur of this species, however obscured, is
never lost.

The magnificent Silver Fir, or California Red Fir (Abies magnifica)
is the most symmetrical of all the Sierra giants, far surpassing its
companion species in this respect and easily distinguished from it by
the purplish-red bark, which is also more closely furrowed than that
of the white, and by its larger cones, its more regularly whorled and
fronded branches, and its shorter leaves, which grow all around the
branches and point upward instead of being arranged in two horizontal
rows. The branches are mostly whorled in fives, and stand out from the
straight, red-purple bole in level, or in old trees in drooping collars,
every branch regularly pinnated like fern-fronds, making broad plumes,
singularly rich and sumptuous-looking. The flowers are in their prime
about the middle of June; the male red, growing on the underside of the
branches in crowded profusion, giving a very rich color to all the
trees; the female greenish-yellow, tinged with pink, standing erect on
the upper side of the topmost branches, while the tufts of young leaves,
about as brightly colored as those of the Douglas spruce, make another
grand show. The cones mature in a single season from the flowers. When
mature they are about six to eight inches long, three or four in
diameter, covered with a fine gray down and streaked and beaded with
transparent balsam, very rich and precious-looking, and stand erect like
casks on the topmost branches. The inside of the cone is, if possible,
still more beautiful. The scales and bracts are tinged with red and the
seed-wings are purple with bright iridescence. Both of the silver firs
live between two and three centuries when the conditions about them
are at all favorable. Some venerable patriarch may be seen heavily
storm-marked, towering in severe majesty above the rising generation,
with a protecting grove of hopeful saplings pressing close around his
feet, each dressed with such loving care that not a leaf seems wanting.
Other groups are made up of trees near the prime of life, nicely
arranged as if Nature had culled them with discrimination from all
the rest of the woods. It is from this tree, called Red Fir by the
lumbermen, that mountaineers cut boughs to sleep on when they are so
fortunate as to be within its limit. Two or three rows of the sumptuous
plushy-fronded branches, overlapping along the middle, and a crescent of
smaller plumes mixed to one's taste with ferns and flowers for a pillow,
form the very best bed imaginable. The essence of the pressed leaves
seems to fill every pore of one's body. Falling water makes a soothing
hush, while the spaces between the grand spires afford noble openings
through which to gaze dreamily into the starry sky. The fir woods are
fine sauntering-grounds at almost any time of the year, but finest in
autumn when the noble trees are hushed in the hazy light and drip with
balsam; and the flying, whirling seeds, escaping from the ripe cones,
mottle the air like flocks of butterflies. Even in the richest part of
these unrivaled forests where so many noble trees challenge admiration
we linger fondly among the colossal firs and extol their beauty again
and again, as if no other tree in the world could henceforth claim our
love. It is in these woods the great granite domes arise that are so
striking and characteristic a feature of the Sierra. Here, too, we find
the best of the garden-meadows full of lilies. A dry spot a little
way back from the margin of a silver fir lily-garden makes a glorious
camp-ground, especially where the slope is toward the east with a view
of the distant peaks along the summit of the Range. The tall lilies are
brought forward most impressively like visitors by the light of your
camp-fire and the nearest of the trees with their whorled branches tower
above you like larger lilies and the sky seen through the garden-opening
seems one vast meadow of white lily stars.

The Two-Leaved Pine

The Two-Leaved Pine (Pinus contorta, var. Murrayana), above the Silver
Fir zone, forms the bulk of the alpine forests up to a height of from
8000 to 9500 feet above the sea, growing in beautiful order on moraines
scarcely changed as yet by post-glacial weathering. Compared with the
giants of the lower regions this is a small tree, seldom exceeding a
height of eighty or ninety feet. The largest I ever measured was ninety
feet high and a little over six feet in diameter. The average height of
mature trees throughout the entire belt is probably not far from fifty
or sixty feet with a diameter of two feet. It is a well-proportioned,
rather handsome tree with grayish-brown bark and crooked, much-divided
branches which cover the greater part of the trunk, but not so densely
as to prevent it being seen. The lower limbs, like those of most other
conifers that grow in snowy regions, curve downward, gradually take a
horizontal position about half-way up the trunk, then aspire more and
more toward the summit. The short, rigid needles in fascicles of two are
arranged in comparatively long cylindrical tassels at the ends of the
tough up-curving branches. The cones are about two inches long, growing
in clusters among the needles without any striking effect except while
very young, when the flowers are of a vivid crimson color and the whole
tree appears to be dotted with brilliant flowers. The staminate flowers
are still more showy on account of their great abundance, often giving a
reddish-yellow tinge to the whole mass of foliage and filling the air
with pollen. No other pine on the Range is so regularly planted as this
one, covering moraines that extend along the sides of the high rocky
valleys for miles without interruption. The thin bark is streaked and
sprinkled with resin as though it had been showered upon the forest like

Therefore this tree more than any other is subject to destruction by
fire. During strong winds extensive forests are destroyed, the flames
leaping from tree to tree in continuous belts that go surging and racing
onward above the bending wood like prairie-grass fires. During the
calm season of Indian summer the fire creeps quietly along the ground,
feeding on the needles and cones; arriving at the foot of a tree, the
resiny bark is ignited and the heated air ascends in a swift current,
increasing in velocity and dragging the flames upward. Then the leaves
catch forming an immense column of fire, beautifully spired on the edges
and tinted a rose-purple hue. It rushes aloft thirty or forty feet above
the top of the tree, forming a grand spectacle, especially at night. It
lasts, however, only a few seconds, vanishing with magical rapidity, to
be succeeded by others along the fire-line at irregular intervals, tree
after tree, upflashing and darting, leaving the trunks and branches
scarcely scarred. The heat, however, is sufficient to kill the tree and
in a few years the bark shrivels and falls off. Forests miles in extent
are thus killed and left standing, with the branches on, but peeled
and rigid, appearing gray in the distance like misty clouds. Later the
branches drop off, leaving a forest of bleached spars. At length the
roots decay and the forlorn gray trunks are blown down during some
storm and piled one upon another, encumbering the ground until, dry and
seasoned, they are consumed by another fire and leave the ground ready
for a fresh crop.

In sheltered lake-hollows, on beds of alluvium, this pine varies so far
from the common form that frequently it could be taken for a distinct
species, growing in damp sods like grasses from forty to eighty feet
high, bending all together to the breeze and whirling in eddying gusts
more lively than any other tree in the woods. I frequently found
specimens fifty feet high less than five inches in diameter. Being so
slender and at the same time clad with leafy boughs, it is often bent
and weighed down to the ground when laden with soft snow; thus forming
fine ornamental arches, many of them to last until the melting of the
snow in the spring.

The Mountain Pine

The Mountain Pine (Pinus monticola) is the noblest tree of the alpine
zone--hardy and long-lived towering grandly above its companions and
becoming stronger and more imposing just where other species begin to
crouch and disappear. At its best it is usually about ninety feet high
and five or six feet in diameter, though you may find specimens here and
there considerably larger than this. It is as massive and suggestive of
enduring strength as an oak. About two-thirds of the trunk is commonly
free of limbs, but close, fringy tufts of spray occur nearly all the way
down to the ground. On trees that occupy exposed situations near its
upper limit the bark is deep reddish-brown and rather deeply furrowed,
the main furrows running nearly parallel to each other and connected on
the old trees by conspicuous cross-furrows. The cones are from four to
eight inches long, smooth, slender, cylindrical and somewhat curved.
They grow in clusters of from three to six or seven and become pendulous
as they increase in weight. This species is nearly related to the sugar
pine and, though not half so tall, it suggests its noble relative in the
way that it extends its long branches in general habit. It is first met
on the upper margin of the silver fir zone, singly, in what appears as
chance situations without making much impression on the general forest.
Continuing up through the forests of the two-leaved pine it begins to
show its distinguishing characteristic in the most marked way at an
elevation of about 10,000 feet extending its tough, rather slender arms
in the frosty air, welcoming the storms and feeding on them and reaching
sometimes to the grand old age of 1000 years.

The Western Juniper

The Juniper or Red Cedar (Juniperus occidentalis) is preëminently a
rock tree, occupying the baldest domes and pavements in the upper silver
fir and alpine zones, at a height of from 7000 to 9500 feet. In such
situations, rooted in narrow cracks or fissures, where there is scarcely
a handful of soil, it is frequently over eight feet in diameter and not
much more in height. The tops of old trees are almost always dead, and
large stubborn-looking limbs push out horizontally, most of them broken
and dead at the end, but densely covered, and imbedded here and there
with tufts or mounds of gray-green scalelike foliage. Some trees are
mere storm-beaten stumps about as broad as long, decorated with a few
leafy sprays, reminding one of the crumbling towers of old castles
scantily draped with ivy. Its homes on bare, barren dome and ridge-top
seem to have been chosen for safety against fire, for, on isolated
mounds of sand and gravel free from grass and bushes on which fire could
feed, it is often found growing tall and unscathed to a height of forty
to sixty feet, with scarce a trace of the rocky angularity and broken
limbs so characteristic a feature throughout the greater part of its
range. It never makes anything like a forest; seldom even a grove.
Usually it stands out separate and independent, clinging by slight
joints to the rocks, living chiefly on snow and thin air and maintaining
sound health on this diet for 2000 years or more. Every feature or every
gesture it makes expresses steadfast, dogged endurance. The bark is of
a bright cinnamon color and is handsomely braided and reticulated on
thrifty trees, flaking off in thin, shining ribbons that are sometimes
used by the Indians for tent matting. Its fine color and picturesqueness
are appreciated by artists, but to me the juniper seems a singularly
strange and taciturn tree. I have spent many a day and night in its
company and always have found it silent and rigid. It seems to be a
survivor of some ancient race, wholly unacquainted with its neighbors.
Its broad stumpiness, of course, makes wind-waving or even shaking out
of the question, but it is not this rocky rigidity that constitutes its
silence. In calm, sun-days the sugar pine preaches like an enthusiastic
apostle without moving a leaf. On level rocks the juniper dies standing
and wastes insensibly out of existence like granite, the wind exerting
about as little control over it, alive or dead, as is does over a
glacier boulder.

I have spent a good deal of time trying to determine the age of these
wonderful trees, but as all of the very old ones are honey-combed with
dry rot I never was able to get a complete count of the largest. Some
are undoubtedly more than 2000 years old, for though on deep moraine
soil they grow about as fast as some of the pines, on bare pavements and
smoothly glaciated, overswept ridges in the dome region they grow very
slowly. One on the Starr King Ridge only two feet eleven inches in
diameter was 1140 years old forty years ago. Another on the same ridge,
only one foot seven and a half inches in diameter, had reached the age
of 834 years. The first fifteen inches from the bark of a medium-size
tree six feet in diameter, on the north Tenaya pavement, had 859 layers
of wood. Beyond this the count was stopped by dry rot and scars. The
largest examined was thirty-three feet in girth, or nearly ten feet in
diameter and, although I have failed to get anything like a complete
count, I learned enough from this and many other specimens to convince
me that most of the trees eight or ten feet thick, standing on
pavements, are more than twenty centuries old rather than less. Barring
accidents, for all I can see they would live forever; even then
overthrown by avalanches, they refuse to lie at rest, lean stubbornly
on their big branches as if anxious to rise, and while a single root
holds to the rock, put forth fresh leaves with a grim, never-say-die

The Mountain Hemlock

As the juniper is the most stubborn and unshakeable of trees in the
Yosemite region, the Mountain Hemlock (Tsuga Mertensiana) is the most
graceful and pliant and sensitive. Until it reaches a height of fifty or
sixty feet it is sumptuously clothed down to the ground with drooping
branches, which are divided again and again into delicate waving
sprays, grouped and arranged in ways that are indescribably beautiful,
and profusely adorned with small brown cones. The flowers also are
peculiarly beautiful and effective; the female dark rich purple, the
male blue, of so fine and pure a tone. What the best azure of the
mountain sky seems to be condensed in them. Though apparently the most
delicate and feminine of all the mountain trees, it grows best where
the snow lies deepest, at a height of from 9000 to 9500 feet, in
hollows on the northern slopes of mountains and ridges. But under all
circumstances, sheltered from heavy winds or in bleak exposure to them,
well fed or starved, even at its highest limit, 10,500 feet above the
sea, on exposed ridge-tops where it has to crouch and huddle close in
low thickets, it still contrives to put forth its sprays and branches in
forms of invincible beauty, while on moist, well-drained moraines it
displays a perfectly tropical luxuriance of foliage, flowers and fruit.
The snow of the first winter storm is frequently soft, and lodges in due
dense leafy branches, weighing them down against the trunk, and the
slender, drooping axis, bending lower and lower as the load increases,
at length reaches the ground, forming an ornamental arch. Then, as storm
succeeds storm and snow is heaped on snow, the whole tree is at last
buried, not again to see the light of day or move leaf or limb until set
free by the spring thaws in June or July. Not only the young saplings
are thus carefully covered and put to sleep in the whitest of white beds
for five or six months of the year, but trees thirty feet high or more.
From April to May, when the snow by repeated thawing and freezing is
firmly compacted, you may ride over the prostrate groves without seeing
a single branch or leaf of them. No other of our alpine conifers so
finely veils its strength; poised in thin, white sunshine, clad with
branches from head to foot, it towers in unassuming majesty, drooping
as if unaffected with the aspiring tendencies of its race, loving the
ground, conscious of heaven and joyously receptive of its blessings,
reaching out its branches like sensitive tentacles, feeling the light
and reveling in it. The largest specimen I ever found was nineteen
feet seven inches in circumference. It was growing on the edge of Lake
Hollow, north of Mount Hoffman, at an elevation of 9250 feet above the
level of the sea, and was probably about a hundred feet in height. Fine
groves of mature trees, ninety to a hundred feet in height, are growing
near the base of Mount Conness. It is widely distributed from near the
south extremity of the high Sierra northward along the Cascade Mountains
of Oregon and Washington and the coast ranges of British Columbia to
Alaska, where it was first discovered in 1827. Its northernmost limit,
so far as I have observed, is in the icy fiords of Prince William Sound
in latitude 61°, where it forms pure forests at the level of the
sea, growing tall and majestic on the banks of glaciers. There, as in
the Yosemite region, it is ineffably beautiful, the very loveliest of
all the American conifers.

The White-Bark Pine

The Dwarf Pine, or White-Bark Pine (Pinus albicaulis), forms the extreme
edge of the timberline throughout nearly the whole extent of the Range
on both flanks. It is first met growing with the two-leaved pine on the
upper margin of the alpine belt, as an erect tree from fifteen to thirty
feet high and from one to two feet in diameter hence it goes straggling
up the flanks of the summit peaks, upon moraines or crumbling ledges,
wherever it can get a foothold, to an elevation of from 10,000 to 12,000
feet, where it dwarfs to a mass of crumpled branches, covered with
slender shoots, each tipped with a short, close-packed, leaf tassel. The
bark is smooth and purplish, in some places almost white. The flowers
are bright scarlet and rose-purple, giving a very flowery appearance
little looked for in such a tree. The cones are about three inches long,
an inch and a half in diameter, grow in rigid clusters, and are dark
chocolate in color while young, and bear beautiful pearly-white seeds
about the size of peas, most of which are eaten by chipmunks and the
Clarke's crows. Pines are commonly regarded as sky-loving trees that
must necessarily aspire or die. This species forms a marked exception,
crouching and creeping in compliance with the most rigorous demands of
climate; yet enduring bravely to a more advanced age than many of its
lofty relatives in the sun-lands far below it. Seen from a distance it
would never be taken for a tree of any kind. For example, on Cathedral
Peak there is a scattered growth of this pine, creeping like mosses over
the roof, nowhere giving hint of an ascending axis. While, approached
quite near, it still appears matty and heathy, and one experiences no
difficulty in walking over the top of it, yet it is seldom absolutely
prostrate, usually attaining a height of three or four feet with a main
trunk, and with branches outspread above it, as if in ascending they
had been checked by a ceiling against which they had been compelled to
spread horizontally. The winter snow is a sort of ceiling, lasting half
the year; while the pressed surface is made yet smoother by violent
winds armed with cutting sand-grains that bear down any shoot which
offers to rise much above the general level, and that carve the dead
trunks and branches in beautiful patterns.

During stormy nights I have often camped snugly beneath the interlacing
arches of this little pine. The needles, which have accumulated for
centuries, make fine beds, a fact well known to other mountaineers, such
as deer and wild sheep, who paw out oval hollows and lie beneath the
larger trees in safe and comfortable concealment. This lowly dwarf
reaches a far greater age than would be guessed. A specimen that I
examined, growing at an elevation of 10,700 feet, yet looked as though
it might be plucked up by the roots, for it was only three and a half
inches in diameter and its topmost tassel reached hardly three feet
above the ground. Cutting it half through and counting the annual rings
with the aid of a lens, I found its age to be no less than 255 years.
Another specimen about the same height, with a trunk six inches in
diameter, I found to be 426 years old, forty years ago; and one of its
supple branchlets hardly an eighth of an inch in diameter inside the
bark, was seventy-five years old, and so filled with oily balsam and
seasoned by storms that I tied it in knots like a whip-cord.

The Nut Pine

In going across the Range from the Tuolumne River Soda Springs to Mono
Lake one makes the acquaintance of the curious little Nut Pine (Pinus
monophylla). It dots the eastern flank of the Sierra to which it is
mostly restricted in grayish bush-like patches, from the margin of the
sage-plains to an elevation of from 7000 to 8000 feet. A more contented,
fruitful and unaspiring conifer could not be conceived. All the species
we have been sketching make departures more or less distant from the
typical spire form, but none goes so far as this. Without any apparent
cause it keeps near the ground, throwing out crooked, divergent branches
like an orchard apple-tree, and seldom pushes a single shoot higher than
fifteen or twenty feet above the ground.

The average thickness of the trunk is, perhaps, about ten or twelve
inches. The leaves are mostly undivided, like round awls, instead of
being separated, like those of other pines, into twos and threes and
fives. The cones are green while growing, and are usually found over all
the tree, forming quite a marked feature as seen against the bluish-gray
foliage. They are quite small, only about two inches in length, and seem
to have but little space for seeds; but when we come to open them, we
find that about half the entire bulk of the cone is made up of sweet,
nutritious nuts, nearly as large as hazel-nuts. This is undoubtedly the
most important food-tree on the Sierra, and furnishes the Mona, Carson,
and Walker River Indians with more and better nuts than all the other
species taken together. It is the Indian's own tree, and many a white
man have they killed for cutting it down. Being so low, the cones are
readily beaten off with poles, and the nuts procured by roasting them
until the scales open. In bountiful seasons a single Indian may gather
thirty or forty bushels.

avatar Chapter 7: The Big Trees
April 04, 2009 12:31AM
Chapter 7
The Big Trees

Between the heavy pine and silver fir zones towers the Big Tree (Sequoia
gigantea), the king of all the conifers in the world, "the noblest of
the noble race." The groves nearest Yosemite Valley are about twenty
miles to the westward and southward and are called the Tuolumne, Merced
and Mariposa groves. It extends, a widely interrupted belt, from a very
small grove on the middle fork of the American River to the head of Deer
Creek, a distance of about 260 miles, its northern limit being near the
thirty-ninth parallel, the southern a little below the thirty-sixth. The
elevation of the belt above the sea varies from about 5000 to 8000 feet.
From the American River to Kings River the species occurs only in small
isolated groups so sparsely distributed along the belt that three of
the gaps in it are from forty to sixty miles wide. But from Kings River
south-ward the sequoia is not restricted to mere groves but extends
across the wide rugged basins of the Kaweah and Tule Rivers in noble
forests, a distance of nearly seventy miles, the continuity of this part
of the belt being broken only by the main cañons. The Fresno, the
largest of the northern groves, has an area of three or four square
miles, a short distance to the southward of the famous Mariposa grove.
Along the south rim of the cañon of the south fork of Kings River there
is a majestic sequoia forest about six miles long by two wide. This is
the northernmost group that may fairly be called a forest. Descending
the divide between the Kings and Kaweah Rivers you come to the grand
forests that form the main continuous portion of the belt. Southward
the giants become more and more irrepressibly exuberant, heaving their
massive crowns into the sky from every ridge and slope, waving onward in
graceful compliance with the complicated topography of the region. The
finest of the Kaweah section of the belt is on the broad ridge between
Marble Creek and the middle fork, and is called the Giant Forest. It
extends from the granite headlands, overlooking the hot San Joaquin
plains, to within a few miles of the cool glacial fountains of the
summit peaks. The extreme upper limit of the belt is reached between the
middle and south forks of the Kaweah at a height of 8400 feet, but the
finest block of big tree forests in the entire belt is on the north fork
of Tule River, and is included in the Sequoia National Park.

In the northern groves there are comparatively few young trees or
saplings. But here for every old storm-beaten giant there are many in
their prime and for each of these a crowd of hopeful young trees and
saplings, growing vigorously on moraines, rocky edges, along water
courses and meadows. But though the area occupied by the big tree
increases so greatly from north to south, here is no marked increase
in the size of the trees. The height of 275 feet or thereabouts and a
diameter of about twenty feet, four feet from the ground is, perhaps,
about the average size of what may be called full-grown trees, where
they are favorably located. The specimens twenty-five feet in diameter
are not very rare and a few are nearly three hundred feet high. In
the Calaveras grove there are four trees over 300 feet in height, the
tallest of which as measured by the Geological Survey is 325 feet. The
very largest that I have yet met in the course of my explorations is
a majestic old fire-scarred monument in the Kings River forest. It is
thirty-five feet and eight inches in diameter inside the bark, four
feet above the ground. It is burned half through, and I spent a day
in clearing away the charred surface with a sharp ax and counting the
annual wood-rings with the aid of a pocket lens. I succeeded in laying
bare a section all the way from the outside to the heart and counted a
little over four thousand rings, showing that this tree was in its prime
about twenty-seven feet in diameter at the beginning of the Christian
era. No other tree in the world, as far as I know, has looked down on so
many centuries as the sequoia or opens so many impressive and suggestive
views into history. Under the most favorable conditions these giants
probably live 5000 years or more though few of even the larger trees are
half as old. The age of one that was felled in Calaveras grove, for the
sake of having its stump for a dancing-floor, was about 1300 years, and
its diameter measured across the stump twenty-four feet inside the bark.
Another that was felled in the Kings River forest was about the same
size but nearly a thousand years older (2200 years), though not a very
old-looking tree.

So harmonious and finely balanced are even the mightiest of these
monarchs in all their proportions that there is never anything overgrown
or monstrous about them. Seeing them for the first time you are more
impressed with their beauty than their size, their grandeur being in
great part invisible; but sooner or later it becomes manifest to the
loving eye, stealing slowly on the senses like the grandeur of Niagara
or of the Yosemite Domes. When you approach them and walk around them
you begin to wonder at their colossal size and try to measure them. They
bulge considerably at the base, but not more than is required for beauty
and safety and the only reason that this bulging seems in some cases
excessive is that only a comparatively small section is seen in near
views. One that I measured in the Kings River forest was twenty-five
feet in diameter at the ground and ten feet in diameter 220 feet above
the ground showing the fineness of the taper of the trunk as a whole. No
description can give anything like an adequate idea of their singular
majesty, much less of their beauty. Except the sugar pine, most of their
neighbors with pointed tops seem ever trying to go higher, while the big
tree, soaring above them all, seems satisfied. Its grand domed head
seems to be poised about as lightly as a cloud, giving no impression
of seeking to rise higher. Only when it is young does it show like
other conifers a heavenward yearning, sharply aspiring with a long
quick-growing top. Indeed, the whole tree for the first century or
two, or until it is a hundred or one hundred and fifty feet high, is
arrowhead in form, and, compared with the solemn rigidity of age, seems
as sensitive to the wind as a squirrel's tail. As it grows older, the
lower branches are gradually dropped and the upper ones thinned out
until comparatively few are left. These, however, are developed to a
great size, divide again and again and terminate in bossy, rounded
masses of leafy branch-lets, while the head becomes dome-shaped, and is
the first to feel the touch of the rosy beams of the morning, the last
to bid the sun good night. Perfect specimens, unhurt by running fires or
lightning, are singularly regular and symmetrical in general form though
not in the least conventionalized, for they show extraordinary variety
in the unity and harmony of their general outline. The immensely strong,
stately shafts are free of limbs for one hundred end fifty feet or so
The large limbs reach out with equal boldness a every direction, showing
no weather side, and no other tree has foliage so densely massed, so
finely molded in outline and so perfectly subordinate to an ideal type.
A particularly knotty, angular, ungovernable-looking branch, from five
to seven or eight feet in diameter and perhaps a thousand years old,
may occasionally be seen pushing out from the trunk as if determined to
break across the bounds of the regular curve, but like all the others
it dissolves in bosses of branchlets and sprays as soon as the general
outline is approached. Except in picturesque old age, after being struck
by lightning or broken by thousands of snow-storms, the regularity of
forms is one of their most distinguishing characteristics. Another is
the simple beauty of the trunk and its great thickness as compared with
its height and the width of the branches, which makes them look more
like finely modeled and sculptured architectural columns than the stems
of trees, while the great limbs look like rafters, supporting the
magnificent dome-head. But though so consummately beautiful, the big
tree always seems unfamiliar, with peculiar physiognomy, awfully solemn
and earnest; yet with all its strangeness it impresses us as being more
at home than any of its neighbors, holding the best right to the ground
as the oldest strongest inhabitant. One soon becomes acquainted with new
species of pine and fir and spruce as with friendly people, shaking
their outstretched branches like shaking hands and fondling their little
ones, while the venerable aboriginal sequoia, ancient of other days,
keeps you at a distance, looking as strange in aspect and behavior among
its neighbor trees as would the mastodon among the homely bears and
deers. Only the Sierra juniper is at all like it, standing rigid and
unconquerable on glacier pavements for thousands of years, grim and
silent, with an air of antiquity about as pronounced as that of the

The bark of the largest trees is from one to two feet thick, rich
cinnamon brown, purplish on young trees, forming magnificent masses
of color with the underbrush. Toward the end of winter the trees are
in bloom, while the snow is still eight or ten feet deep. The female
flowers are about three-eighths of an inch long, pale green, and grow
in countless thousands on the ends of sprays. The male are still more
abundant, pale yellow, a fourth of an inch long and when the pollen is
ripe they color the whole tree and dust the air and the ground. The
cones are bright grass-green in color, about two and a half inches long,
one and a half wide, made up of thirty or forty strong, closely-packed,
rhomboidal scales, with four to eight seeds at the base of each. The
seeds are wonderfully small end light, being only from an eighth to a
fourth of an inch long and wide, including a filmy surrounding wing,
which causes them to glint and waver in falling and enables the wind to
carry them considerable distances. Unless harvested by the squirrels,
the cones discharge their seed and remain on the tree for many years. In
fruitful seasons the trees are fairly laden. On two small branches one
and a half and two inches in diameter I counted 480 cones. No other
California conifer produces nearly so many seeds, except, perhaps, the
other sequoia, the Redwood of the Coast Mountains. Millions are ripened
annually by a single tree, and in a fruitful year the product of one of
the northern groves would be enough to plant all the mountain ranges in
the world.

As soon as any accident happens to the crown, such as being smashed off
by lightning, the branches beneath the wound, no matter how situated,
seem to be excited, like a colony of bees that have lost their queen,
and become anxious to repair the damage. Limbs that have grown outward
for centuries at right angles to the trunk begin to turn upward to
assist in making a new crown, each speedily assuming the special form of
true summits. Even in the case of mere stumps, burned half through, some
mere ornamental tuft will try to go aloft and do its best as a leader
in forming a new head. Groups of two or three are often found standing
close together, the seeds from which they sprang having probably grown
on ground cleared for their reception by the fall of a large tree of a
former generation. They are called "loving couples," "three graces,"
etc. When these trees are young they are seen to stand twenty or thirty
feet apart, by the time they are full-grown their trunks will touch and
crowd against each other and in some cases even appear as one.

It is generally believed that the sequoia was once far more widely
distributed over the Sierra; but after long and careful study I have
come to the conclusion that it never was, at least since the close of
the glacial period, because a diligent search along the margins of the
groves, and in the gaps between fails to reveal a single trace of its
previous existence beyond its present bounds. Notwithstanding, I feel
confident that if every sequoia in the Range were to die today, numerous
monuments of their existence would remain, of so imperishable a nature
as to be available for the student more than ten thousand years hence.

In the first place, no species of coniferous tree in the Range keeps
its members so well together as the sequoia; a mile is, perhaps, the
greatest distance of any straggler from the main body, and all of those
stragglers that have come under my observation are young, instead of old
monumental trees, relics of a more extended growth.

Again, the great trunks of the sequoia last for centuries after they
fall. I have a specimen block of sequoia wood, cut from a fallen tree,
which is hardly distinguishable from a similar section cut from a living
tree, although the one cut from the fallen trunk has certainly lain on
the damp forest floor more than 380 years, probably thrice as long. The
time-measure in the case is simply this: When the ponderous trunk to
which the old vestige belonged fell, it sunk itself into the ground,
thus making a long, straight ditch, and in the middle of this ditch a
silver fir four feet in diameter and 380 years old was growing, as I
determined by cutting it half through and counting the rings, thus
demonstrating that the remnant of the trunk that made the ditch has lain
on the ground more than 380 years. For it is evident that, to find
the whole time, we must add to the 380 years the time that the vanished
portion of the trunk lay in the ditch before being burned out of the
way, plus the time that passed before the seed from which the monumental
fir sprang fell into the prepared soil and took root. Now, because
sequoia trunks are never wholly consumed in one forest fire, and those
fires recur only at considerable intervals, and because sequoia ditches
after being cleared are often left unplanted for centuries, it becomes
evident that the trunk-remnant in question may probably have lain a
thousand years or more. And this instance is by no means a late one.

Again, admitting that upon those areas supposed to have been once
covered with sequoia forests, every tree may have fallen, and every
trunk may have been burned or buried, leaving not a remnant, many of the
ditches made by the fall of the ponderous trunks, and the bowls made by
their upturning roots, would remain patent for thousands of years after
the last vestige of the trunks that made them had vanished. Much of this
ditch-writing would no doubt be quickly effaced by the flood-action of
overflowing streams and rain-washing; but no inconsiderable portion
would remain enduringly engraved on ridge-tops beyond such destructive
action; for, where all the conditions are favorable, it is almost
imperishable. Now these historic ditches and root-bowls occur in all the
present sequoia groves and forests, but, as far as I have observed, not
the faintest vestige of one presents itself outside of them.

We therefore conclude that the area covered by sequoia has not been
diminished during the last eight or ten thousand years, and probably not
at all in post-glacial time. Nevertheless, the questions may be asked:
Is the species verging toward extinction? What are its relations to
climate, soil, and associated trees?

All the phenomena bearing on these questions also throw light, as we
shall endeavor to show, upon the peculiar distribution of the species,
and sustain the conclusion already arrived at as to the question of
former extension. In the northern groups, as we have seen, there are
few young trees or saplings growing up around the old ones to perpetuate
the race, and inasmuch as those aged sequoias, so nearly childless,
are the only ones commonly known the species, to most observers, seems
doomed to speedy extinction, as being nothing more than an expiring
remnant, vanquished in the so-called struggle for life by pines and firs
that have driven it into its last strongholds in moist glens where the
climate is supposed to be exceptionally favorable. But the story told by
the majestic continuous forests of the south creates a very different
impression. No tree in the forest is more enduringly established in
concordance with both climate and soil. It grows heartily everywhere--on
moraines, rocky ledges, along watercourses, and in the deep, moist
alluvium of meadows with, as we have seen, a multitude of seedlings and
saplings crowding up around the aged, abundantly able to maintain the
forest in prime vigor. So that if all the trees of any section of the
main sequoia forest were ranged together according to age, a very
promising curve would be presented, all the way up from last year's
seedlings to giants, and with the young and middle-aged portion of the
curve many times longer than the old portion. Even as far north as the
Fresno, I counted 536 saplings and seedlings, growing promisingly upon
a landslip not exceeding two acres in area. This soil-bed was about
seven years old, and had been seeded almost simultaneously by pines,
firs, libocedrus, and sequoia, presenting a simple and instructive
illustration of the struggle for life among the rival species; and it
was interesting to note that the conditions thus far affecting them have
enabled the young sequoias to gain a marked advantage. Toward the south
where the sequoia becomes most exuberant and numerous, the rival trees
become less so; and where they mix with sequoias they grow up beneath
them like slender grasses among stalks of Indian corn. Upon a bed of
sandy floodsoil I counted ninety-four sequoias, from one to twelve feet
high, on a patch of ground once occupied by four large sugar pines which
lay crumbling beneath them--an instance of conditions which have enabled
sequoias to crowd out the pines. I also noted eighty-six vigorous
saplings upon a piece of fresh ground prepared for their reception by
fire. Thus fire, the great destroyer of the sequoia, also furnishes the
bare ground required for its growth from the seed. Fresh ground is,
however, furnished in sufficient quantities for the renewal of the
forests without the aid of fire--by the fall of old trees. The soil is
thus upturned and mellowed, and many trees are planted for every one
that falls.

It is constantly asserted in a vague way that the Sierra was vastly
wetter than now, and that the increasing drought will of itself
extinguish the sequoia, leaving its ground to other trees supposed
capable of flourishing in a drier climate. But that the sequoia can and
does grow on as dry ground as any of its present rivals is manifest in
a thousand places. "Why, then," it will be asked, "are sequoias always
found only in well-watered places?" Simply because a growth of sequoias
creates those streams. The thirsty mountaineer knows well that in every
sequoia grove he will find running water, but it is a mistake to suppose
that the water is the cause of the grove being there; on the contrary,
the grove is the cause of the water being there. Drain off the water
and the trees will remain, but cut off the trees, and the streams will
vanish. Never was cause more completely mistaken for effect than in the
case of these related phenomena of sequoia woods and perennial streams.

When attention is called to the method of sequoia stream-making, it will
be apprehended at once. The roots of this immense tree fill the ground,
forming a thick sponge that absorbs and holds back the rain and melting
snow, only allowing it to ooze and flow gently. Indeed, every fallen
leaf and rootlet, as well as long clasping root, and prostrate trunk,
may be regarded as a dam hoarding the bounty of storm-clouds, and
dispensing it as blessings all through the summer, instead of allowing
it to go headlong in short-lived floods.

Since, then, it is a fact that thousands of sequoias are growing
thriftily on what is termed dry ground, and even clinging like mountain
pines to rifts in granite precipices, and since it has also been shown
that the extra moisture found in connection with the denser growths is
an effect of their presence, instead of a cause of their presence, then
the notions as to the former extension of the species and its near
approach to extinction, based upon its supposed dependence on greater
moisture, are seen to be erroneous.

The decrease in rain and snowfall since the close of the glacial period
in the Sierra is much less than is commonly guessed. The highest
post-glacial water-marks are well preserved in all the upper river
channels, and they are not greatly higher than the spring flood-marks
of the present; showing conclusively that no extraordinary decrease
has taken place in the volume of the upper tributaries of post-glacial
Sierra streams since they came into existence. But, in the meantime,
eliminating all this complicated question of climatic change, the plain
fact remains that the present rain and snowfall is abundantly sufficient
for the luxuriant growth of sequoia forests. Indeed, all my observations
tend to show that in a prolonged drought the sugar pines and firs would
perish before the sequoia, not alone because of the greater longevity of
individual trees, but because the species can endure more drought, and
make the most of whatever moisture falls.

Again, if the restriction and irregular distribution of the species be
interpreted as a result of the desiccation of the Range, then instead of
increasing as it does in individuals toward the south where the rainfall
is less, it should diminish. If, then, the peculiar distribution of
sequoia has not been governed by superior conditions of soil as to
fertility or moisture, by what has it been governed?

In the course of my studies I observed that the northern groves, the
only ones I was at first acquainted with, were located on just those
portions of the general forest soil-belt that were first laid bare
toward the close of the glacial period when the ice-sheet began to break
up into individual glaciers. And while searching the wide basin of the
San Joaquin, and trying to account for the absence of sequoia where
every condition seemed favorable for its growth, it occurred to me that
this remarkable gap in the sequoia belt fifty miles wide is located
exactly in the basin of the vast, ancient mer de glace of the San
Joaquin and Kings River basins which poured its frozen floods to the
plain through this gap as its channel. I then perceived that the next
great gap in the belt to the northward, forty miles wide, extending
between the Calaveras and Tuolumne groves, occurs in the basin of the
great ancient mer de glace of the Tuolumne and Stanislaus basins; and
that the smaller gap between the Merced and Mariposa groves occurs in
the basin of the smaller glacier of the Merced. The wider the ancient
glacier, the wider the corresponding gap in the sequoia belt.

Finally, pursuing my investigations across the basins of the Kaweah
and Tule, I discovered that the sequoia belt attained its greatest
development just where, owing to the topographical peculiarities of the
region, the ground had been best protected from the main ice-rivers that
continued to pour past from the summit fountains long after the smaller
local glaciers had been melted.

Taking now a general view of the belt, beginning at the south we see
that the majestic ancient glaciers were shed off right and left down the
valleys of Kern and Kings Rivers by the lofty protective spurs outspread
embracingly above the warm sequoia-filled basins of the Kaweah and Tule.
Then, next northward, occurs the wide sequoia-less channel, or basin of
the ancient San Joaquin and sings River mer de glace; then the warm,
protected spots of Fresno and Mariposa groves; then the sequoia-less
channel of the ancient Merced glacier; next the warm, sheltered ground
of the Merced and Tuolumne groves; then the sequoia-less channel of the
grand ancient mer de glace of the Tuolumne and Stanislaus; then the
warm old ground of the Calaveras and Stanislaus groves. It appears,
therefore, that just where, at a certain period in the history of the
Sierra, the glaciers were not, there the sequoia is, and just where the
glaciers were, there the sequoia is not.

But although all the observed phenomena bearing on the post-glacial
history of this colossal tree point to the conclusion that it never was
more widely distributed on the Sierra since the close of the glacial
epoch; that its present forests are scarcely past prime, if, indeed,
they have reached prime; that the post-glacial day of the species
is probably not half done; yet, when from a wider outlook the vast
antiquity of the genus is considered, and its ancient richness in
species and individuals,--comparing our Sierra Giant and Sequoia
sempervirens of the Coast Range, the only other living species of
sequoia, with the twelve fossil species already discovered and described
by Heer and Lesquereux, some of which flourished over vast areas in the
Arctic regions and in Europe and our own territories, during tertiary
and cretaceous times--then, indeed, it becomes plain that our two
surviving species, restricted to narrow belts within the limits of
California, are mere remnants of the genus, both as to species and
individuals, and that they may be verging to extinction. But the verge
of a period beginning in cretaceous times may have a breadth of tens of
thousands of years, not to mention the possible existence of conditions
calculated to multiply and re-extend both species and individuals.

There is no absolute limit to the existence of any tree. Death is due to
accidents, not, as that of animals, to the wearing out of organs. Only
the leaves die of old age. Their fall is foretold in their structure;
but the leaves are renewed every year, and so also are the essential
organs wood, roots, bark, buds. Most of the Sierra trees die of disease,
insects, fungi, etc., but nothing hurts the big tree. I never saw one
that was sick or showed the slightest sign of decay. Barring accidents,
it seems to be immortal. It is a curious fact that all the very old
sequoias had lost their heads by lightning strokes. "All things come to
him who waits." But of all living things, sequoia is perhaps the only
one able to wait long enough to make sure of being struck by lightning.

So far as I am able to see at present only fire and the ax threaten the
existence of these noblest of God's trees. In Nature's keeping they
are safe, but through the agency of man destruction is making rapid
progress, while in the work of protection only a good beginning has been
made. The Fresno grove, the Tuolumne, Merced and Mariposa groves are
under the protection of the Federal Government in the Yosemite National
Park. So are the General Grant and Sequoia National Parks; the latter,
established twenty-one years ago, has an area of 240 square miles and is
efficiently guarded by a troop of cavalry under the direction of the
Secretary of the Interior; so also are the small General Grant National
Park, estatblished at the same time with an area of four square miles,
and the Mariposa grove, about the same size and the small Merced and
Tuolumne group. Perhaps more than half of all the big trees have been
thoughtlessly sold and are now in the hands of speculators and mill men.
It appears, therefore, that far the largest and important section of
protected big trees is in the great Sequoia National Park, now easily
accessible by rail to Lemon Cove and thence by a good stage road into
the giant forest of the Kaweah and thence by rail to other parts of the
park; but large as it is it should be made much larger. Its natural
eastern boundary is the High Sierra and the northern and southern
boundaries are the Kings and Kern Rivers. Thus could be included
the sublime scenery on the headwaters of these rivers and perhaps
nine-tenths of all the big trees in existence. All private claims
within these bounds should be gradually extinguished by purchase by the
Government. The big tree, leaving all its higher uses out of the count,
is a tree of life to the dwellers of the plain dependent on irrigation,
a never-failing spring, sending living waters to the lowland. For every
grove cut down a stream is dried up. Therefore all California is crying,
"Save the trees of the fountains." Nor, judging by the signs of the
times, is it likely that the cry will cease until the salvation of all
that is left of Sequoia gigantea is made sure.

avatar Chapter 8: The Flowers
April 04, 2009 12:33AM
Chapter 8
The Flowers

Yosemite was all one glorious flower garden before plows and scythes and
trampling, biting horses came to make its wide open spaces look like
farmers' pasture fields. Nevertheless, countless flowers still bloom
every year in glorious profusion on the grand talus slopes, wall benches
and tablets, and in all the fine, cool side-cañons up to the rim of the
Valley, and beyond, higher and higher, to the summits of the peaks. Even
on the open floor and in easily-reached side-nooks many common flowering
plants have survived and still make a brave show in the spring and early
summer. Among these we may mention tall œnotheras, Pentstemon lutea,
and P. Douglasii with fine blue and red flowers; Spraguea, scarlet
zauschneria, with its curious radiant rosettes characteristic of the
sandy flats; mimulus, eunanus, blue and white violets, geranium,
columbine, erythraea, larkspur, collomia, draperia, gilias, heleniums,
bahia, goldenrods, daisies, honeysuckle; heuchera, bolandra, saxifrages,
gentians; in cool cañon nooks and on Clouds' Rest and the base of Starr
King Dome you may find Primula suffrutescens, the only wild primrose
discovered in California, and the only known shrubby species in the
genus. And there are several fine orchids, habenaria, and cypripedium,
the latter very rare, once common in the Valley near the foot of Glacier
Point, and in a bog on the rim of the Valley near a place called
Gentry's Station, now abandoned. It is a very beautiful species, the
large oval lip white, delicately veined with purple; the other petals
and the sepals purple, strap-shaped, and elegantly curled and twisted.

Of the lily family, fritillaria, smilacina, chlorogalum and several
fine species of brodiæa, Ithuriel's spear, and others less prized are
common, and the favorite calochortus, or Mariposa lily, a unique genus
of many species, something like the tulips of Europe but far finer. Most
of them grow on the warm foothills below the Valley, but two charming
species, C. cœruleus and C. nudus, dwell in springy places on the
Wawona road a few miles beyond the brink of the walls.

The snow plant (Sarcodes sanguinea) is more admired by tourists than any
other in California. It is red, fleshy and watery and looks like a
gigantic asparagus shoot. Soon after the snow is off the round it rises
through the dead needles and humus in the pine and fir woods like a
bright glowing pillar of fire. In a week or so it grows to a height of
eight or twelve inches with a diameter of an inch and a half or two
inches; then its long fringed bracts curl aside, allowing the twenty- or
thirty-five-lobed, bell-shaped flowers to open and look straight out
from the axis. It is said to grow up through the snow; on the contrary,
it always waits until the ground is warm, though with other early
flowers it is occasionally buried or half-buried for a day or two
by spring storms. The entire plant--flowers, bracts, stem, scales,
and roots--is fiery red. Its color could appeal to one's blood.
Nevertheless, it is a singularly cold and unsympathetic plant. Everybody
admires it as a wonderful curiosity, but nobody loves it as lilies,
violets, roses, daisies are loved. Without fragrance, it stands beneath
the pines and firs lonely and silent, as if unacquainted with any other
plant in the world; never moving in the wildest storms; rigid as if
lifeless, though covered with beautiful rosy flowers.

Far the most delightful and fragrant of the Valley flowers is the
Washington lily, white, moderate in size, with from three- to
ten-flowered racemes. I found one specimen in the lower end of the
Valley at the foot of the Wawona grade that was eight feet high, the
raceme two feet long, with fifty-two flowers, fifteen of them open;
the others had faded or were still in the bud. This famous lily is
distributed over the sunny portions of the sugar-pine woods, never in
large meadow-garden companies like the large and the small tiger lilies
(pardalinum and parvum), but widely scattered, standing up to the waist
in dense ceanothus and manzanita chaparral, waving its lovely flowers
above the blooming wilderness of brush, and giving their fragrance to
the breeze. It is now becoming scarce in the most accessible parts of
its range on account of the high price paid for its bulbs by gardeners
through whom it has been distributed far and wide over the flower-loving
world. For, on account of its pure color and delicate, delightful
fragrance, all lily lovers at once adopted it as a favorite.

The principal shrubs are manzanita and ceanothus, several species of
each, azalea, Rubus nutkanus, brier rose, choke-cherry philadelphus,
calycanthus, garrya, rhamnus, etc.

The manzanita never fails to attract particular attention. The
species common in the Valley is usually about six or seven feet high,
round-headed with innumerable branches, red or chocolate-color bark,
pale green leaves set on edge, and a rich profusion of small, pink,
narrow-throated, urn-shaped flowers, like those of arbutus. The knotty,
crooked, angular branches are about as rigid as bones, and the red bark
is so thin and smooth on both trunk and branches, they look as if they
had been peeled and polished and painted. In the spring large areas
on the mountain up to a height of eight or nine thousand feet are
brightened with the rosy flowers, and in autumn with their red fruit.
The pleasantly acid berries, about the size of peas, look like little
apples, and a hungry mountaineer is glad to eat them, though half their
bulk is made up of hard seeds. Indians, bears, coyotes, foxes, birds and
other mountain people live on them for weeks and months. The different
species of ceanothus usually associated with manzanita are flowery
fragrant and altogether delightful shrubs, growing in glorious
abundance, not only in the Valley, but high up in the forest on sunny or
half-shaded ground. In the sugar-pine woods the most beautiful species
is C. integerrimus, often called Californian lilac, or deer brush. It
is five or six feet high with slender branches, glossy foliage, and
abundance of blue flowers in close, showy panicles. Two species, C.
prostrates and C. procumbens, spread smooth, blue-flowered mats and
rugs beneath the pines, and offer fine beds to tired mountaineers. The
commonest species, C. cordulatus, is most common in the silver-fir
woods. It is white-flowered and thorny, and makes dense thickets of
tangled chaparral, difficult to wade through or to walk over. But it is
pressed flat every winter by ten or fifteen feet of snow. The western
azalea makes glorious beds of bloom along the river bank and meadows.
In the Valley it is from two to five feet high, has fine green leaves,
mostly hidden beneath its rich profusion of large, fragrant white and
yellow flowers, which are in their prime in June, July and August,
according to the elevation, ranging from 3000 to 6000 feet. Near the
azalea-bordered streams the small wild rose, resembling R. blanda,
makes large thickets deliciously fragrant, especially on a dewy morning
and after showers. Not far from these azalea and rose gardens, Rubus
nutkanus covers the ground with broad, soft, velvety leaves, and
pure-white flowers as large as those of its neighbor and relative, the
rose, and much finer in texture, followed at the end of summer by soft
red berries good for everybody. This is the commonest and the most
beautiful of the whole blessed, flowery, fruity Rubus genus.

There are a great many interesting ferns in the Valley and about
it. Naturally enough the greater number are rock ferns--pellæa,
cheilanthes, polypodium, adiantum, woodsia, cryptogramma, etc., with
small tufted fronds, lining cool glens and fringing the seams of the
cliffs. The most important of the larger species are woodwardia,
aspidium, asplenium, and, above all, the common pteris. Woodwardia
radicans is a superb, broad-shouldered fern five to eight feet high,
growing in vase-shaped clumps where tile ground is nearly level and on
some of the benches of the north wall of the Valley where it is watered
by a broad trickling stream. It thatches the sloping rocks, frond
overlapping frond like roof shingles. The broad-fronded, hardy Pteris
aquilina, the commonest of ferns, covers large areas on the floor of
the Valley. No other fern does so much for the color glory of autumn,
with its browns and reds and yellows, even after lying dead beneath
the snow all winter. It spreads a rich brown mantle over the desolate
ground in the spring before the grass has sprouted, and at the first
touch of sun-heat its young fronds come rearing up full of faith and
hope through the midst of the last year's ruins.

Of the five species of pellæa, P. Breweri is the hardiest as to
enduring high altitudes and stormy weather and at the same time it is
the most fragile of the genus. It grows in dense tufts in the clefts of
storm-beaten rocks, high up on the mountain-side on the very edge of the
fern line. It is a handsome little fern about four or five inches high,
has pale-green pinnate fronds, and shining bronze-colored stalks about
as brittle as glass. Its companions on the lower part of its range are
Cryptogramma acrostichoides and Phegopteris alpestris, the latter with
soft, delicate fronds, not in the least like those of Rock fern, though
it grows on the rocks where the snow lies longest. Pellaea Bridgesii,
with blue-green, narrow, simply-pinnate fronds, is about the same size
as Breweri and ranks next to it as a mountaineer, growing in fissures,
wet or dry, and around the edges of boulders that are resting on glacier
pavements with no fissures whatever. About a thousand feet lower we
find the smaller, more abundant P. densa on ledges and boulder-strewn,
fissured pavements, watered until late in summer from oozing currents,
derived from lingering snowbanks. It is, or rather was, extremely
abundant between the foot of the Nevada and the head of the Vernal Fall,
but visitors with great industry have dug out almost every root, so that
now one has to scramble in out-of-the-way places to find it. The three
species of Cheilanthes in the Valley--C. californica, C. gracillima, and
myriophylla, with beautiful two-to-four-pinnate fronds, an inch to five
inches long, adorn the stupendous walls however dry and sheer. The
exceedingly delicate californica is so rare that I have found it only
once. The others are abundant and are sometimes accompanied by the
little gold fern, Gymnogramme triangularis, and rarely by the curious
little Botrychium simplex, some of them less than an inch high. The
finest of all the rock ferns is Adiantum pedatum, lover of waterfalls
and the finest spray-dust. The homes it loves best are over-leaning,
cave-like hollows, beside the larger falls, where it can wet its fingers
with their dewy spray. Many of these moss-lined chambers contain
thousands of these delightful ferns, clinging to mossy walls by the
slightest hold, reaching out their delicate finger-fronds on dark,
shining stalks, sensitive and tremulous, throbbing in unison with every
movement and tone of the falling water, moving each division of the
frond separately at times, as if fingering the music.

May and June are the main bloom-months of the year. Both the flowers
and falls are then at their best. By the first of August the midsummer
glories of the Valley are past their prime. The young birds are then out
of their nests. Most of the plants have gone to seed; berries are ripe;
autumn tints begin to kindle and burn over meadow and grove, and a soft
mellow haze in the morning sunbeams heralds the approach of Indian
summer. The shallow river is now at rest, its flood-work done. It is now
but little more than a series of pools united by trickling, whispering
currents that steal softly over brown pebbles and sand with scarce an
audible murmur. Each pool has a character of its own and, though they
are nearly currentless, the night air and tree shadows keep them cool.
Their shores curve in and out in bay and promontory, giving the
appearance of miniature lakes, their banks in most places embossed with
brier and azalea, sedge and grass and fern; and above these in their
glory of autumn colors a mingled growth of alder, willow, dogwood and
balm-of-Gilead; mellow sunshine overhead, cool shadows beneath; light
filtered and strained in passing through the ripe leaves like that which
passes through colored windows. The surface of the water is stirred,
perhaps, by whirling water-beetles, or some startled trout, seeking
shelter beneath fallen logs or roots. The falls, too, are quiet; no wind
stirs, and the whole Valley floor is a mosaic of greens and purples,
yellows and reds. Even the rocks seem strangely soft and mellow, as if
they, too, had ripened.

avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 04, 2009 12:49AM
"They are quite small, only about two inches in length, and seem
to have but little space for seeds; but when we come to open them, we
find that about half the entire bulk of the cone is made up of sweet,
nutritious nuts,"

Just read up on this pine; it is now more commonly known as the "Singleleaf Pinyon" -- It is the most common tree in Nevada!

I need to search it out (in Yosemite!) and extract the fruit of the cones for a taste.


Post Edited (04-04-09 00:53)

The body betrays and the weather conspires, hopefully, not on the same day.
avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 04, 2009 06:33AM
Bee wrote:

> "They are quite small, only about two inches in length, and
> seem
> to have but little space for seeds; but when we come to open
> them, we
> find that about half the entire bulk of the cone is made up of
> sweet,
> nutritious nuts,"
> Just read up on this pine; it is now more commonly known as the
> "Singleleaf Pinyon" -- It is the most common tree in Nevada!
> I need to search it out (in Yosemite!) and extract the fruit of
> the cones for a taste.
> B

> Post Edited (04-04-09 00:53)

You are just encouraging him.

Single leaf pine? Can't see how it would work unless it is a very big leaf.

The cure for a fallacious argument is a better argument, not the suppression of ideas.
-- Carl Sagan
avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 04, 2009 09:31AM
FF: Bee, You are just encouraging him.

ABSOLUTELY, YES!! I LOVE having this at my fingertips to print piecemeal to take on hikes. My technical skills are SOOO limited that I may never have discovered the e-version on my own.

FF: Single leaf pine? Can't see how it would work unless it is a very big leaf.

conifers are classified partly by the number of needles per cluster where they are attached to the tree (I had them all memorized at one time) Looking at the pine from a distance, you would not notice whether there were 5 or one needle per bundle.

avatar Chapter 9: The Birds
April 04, 2009 09:40AM
Chapter 9
The Birds

The songs of the Yosemite winds and waterfalls are delightfully enriched
with bird song, especially in the nesting time of spring and early
summer. The most familiar and best known of all is the common robin, who
may be seen every day, hopping about briskly on the meadows and uttering
his cheery, enlivening call. The black-headed grosbeak, too, is here,
with the Bullock oriole, and western tanager, brown song-sparrow, hermit
thrush, the purple finch,--a fine singer, with head and throat of a
rosy-red hue,--several species of warblers and vireos, kinglets,
flycatchers, etc.

But the most wonderful singer of all the birds is the water-ouzel that
dives into foaming rapids and feeds at the bottom, holding on in a
wonderful way, living a charmed life.

Several species of humming-birds are always to be seen, darting and
buzzing among the showy flowers. The little red-bellied nuthatches, the
chickadees, and little brown creepers, threading the furrows of the bark
of the pines, searching for food in the crevices. The large Steller's
jay makes merry in the pine-tops; flocks of beautiful green swallows
skim over the streams, and the noisy Clarke's crow may oftentimes be
seen on the highest points around the Valley; and in the deep woods
beyond the walls you may frequently hear and see the dusky grouse and
the pileated woodpecker, or woodcock almost as large as a pigeon. The
junco or snow-bird builds its nest on the floor of the Valley among the
ferns; several species of sparrow are common and the beautiful lazuli
bunting, a common bird in the underbrush, flitting about among the
azalea and ceanothus bushes and enlivening the groves with his brilliant
color; and on gravelly bars the spotted sandpiper is sometimes seen.
Many woodpeckers dwell in the Valley; the familiar flicker, the Harris
woodpecker and the species which so busily stores up acorns in the thick
bark of the yellow pines.

The short, cold days of winter are also sweetened with the music and
hopeful chatter of a considerable number of birds. No cheerier choir
ever sang in snow. First and best of all is the water-ouzel, a dainty,
dusky little bird about the size of a robin, that sings in sweet fluty
song all winter and all summer, in storms and calms, sunshine and
shadow, haunting the rapids and waterfalls with marvelous constancy,
building his nest in the cleft of a rock bathed in spray. He is not
web-footed, yet he dives fearlessly into foaming rapids, seeming to take
the greater delight the more boisterous the stream, always as cheerful
and calm as any linnet in a grove. All his gestures as he flits about
amid the loud uproar of the falls bespeak the utmost simplicity and
confidence--bird and stream one and inseparable. What a pair! yet they
are well related. A finer bloom than the foam bell in an eddying pool
is this little bird. We may miss the meaning of the loud-resounding
torrent, but the flute-like voice of the bird--only love is in it.

A few robins, belated on their way down from the upper Meadows, linger
in the Valley and make out to spend the winter in comparative comfort,
feeding on the mistletoe berries that grow on the oaks. In the depths
of the great forests, on the high meadows, in the severest altitudes,
they seem as much at home as in the fields and orchards about the busy
habitations of man, ascending the Sierra as the snow melts, following
the green footsteps of Spring, until in July or August the highest
glacier meadows are reached on the summit of the Range. Then, after the
short summer is over, and their work in cheering and sweetening these
lofty wilds is done, they gradually make their way down again in accord
with the weather, keeping below the snow-storms, lingering here and
there to feed on huckleberries and frost-nipped wild cherries growing
on the upper slopes. Thence down to the vineyards and orchards of the
lowlands to spend the winter; entering the gardens of the great towns
as well as parks and fields, where the blessed wanderers are too often
slaughtered for food--surely a bad use to put so fine a musician to;
better make stove wood of pianos to feed the kitchen fire.

The kingfisher winters in the Valley, and the flicker and, of course,
the carpenter woodpecker, that lays up large stores of acorns in the
bark of trees; wrens also, with a few brown and gray linnets, and flocks
of the arctic bluebird, making lively pictures among the snow-laden
mistletoe bushes. Flocks of pigeons are often seen, and about six
species of ducks, as the river is never wholly frozen over. Among these
are the mallard and the beautiful woodduck, now less common on account
of being so often shot at. Flocks of wandering geese used to visit the
Valley in March and April, and perhaps do so still, driven down by
hunger or stress of weather while on their way across the Range. When
pursued by the hunters I have frequently seen them try to fly over the
walls of Lee Valley until tired out and compelled to re-alight. Yosemite
magnitudes seem to be as deceptive to geese as to men, for after
circling to a considerable height and forming regular harrow-shaped
ranks they would suddenly find themselves in danger of being dashed
against the face of the cliff, much nearer the bottom than the top. Then
turning in confusion with loud screams they would try again and again
until exhausted and compelled to descend. I have occasionally observed
large flocks on their travels crossing the summits of the Range at a
height of 12,000 to 13,000 feet above the level of the sea, and even in
so rare an atmosphere as this they seemed to be sustaining themselves
without extra effort. Strong, however, as they are of wind and wing,
they cannot fly over Yosemite walls, starting from the bottom.

A pair of golden eagles have lived in the Valley ever since I first
visited it, hunting all winter along the northern cliffs and down the
river cañon. Their nest is on a ledge of the cliff over which pours
the Nevada Fall. Perched on the top of a dead spar, they were always
interested observers of the geese when they were being shot at. I once
noticed one of the geese compelled to leave the flock on account of
being sorely wounded, although it still seemed to fly pretty well.
Immediately the eagles pursued it and no doubt struck it down, although
I did not see the result of the hunt. Anyhow, it flew past me up the
Valley, closely pursued.

One wild, stormy winter morning after five feet of snow had fallen on
the floor of the Valley and the flying flakes driven by a strong wind
still thickened the air, making darkness like the approach of night, I
sallied forth to see what I might learn and enjoy. It was impossible
to go very far without the aid of snow-shoes, but I found no great
difficulty in making my way to a part of the river where one of my
ouzels lived. I found him at home busy about his breakfast, apparently
unaware of anything uncomfortable in the weather. Presently he flew out
to a stone against which the icy current was beating, and turning his
back to the wind, sang as delightfully as a lark in springtime.

After spending an hour or two with my favorite, I made my way across the
Valley, boring and wallowing through the loose snow, to learn as much
as possible about the way the other birds were spending their time. In
winter one can always find them because they are then restricted to the
north side of the Valley, especially the Indian Cañon groves, which
from their peculiar exposure are the warmest.

I found most of the robins cowering on the lee side of the larger
branches of the trees, where the snow could not fall on them, while two
or three of the more venturesome were making desperate efforts to get at
the mistletoe berries by clinging to the underside of the snow-crowned
masses, back downward, something like woodpeckers. Every now and then
some of the loose snow was dislodged and sifted down on the hungry
birds, sending them screaming back to their companions in the grove,
shivering and muttering like cold, hungry children.

Some of the sparrows were busy scratching and pecking at the feet of
the larger trees where the snow had been shed off, gleaning seeds
and benumbed insects, joined now and then by a robin weary of his
unsuccessful efforts to get at the snow-covered mistletoe berries. The
brave woodpeckers were clinging to the snowless sides of the larger
boles and overarching branches of the camp trees, making short flights
from side to side of the grove, pecking now and then at the acorns they
had stored in the bark, and chattering aimlessly as if unable to keep
still, evidently putting in the time in a very dull way. The hardy
nuthatches were threading the open furrows of the barks in their usual
industrious manner and uttering their quaint notes, giving no evidence
of distress. The Steller's jays were, of course, making more noise and
stir than all the other birds combined; ever coming and going with
loud bluster, screaming as if each had a lump of melting sludge in his
throat, and taking good care to improve every opportunity afforded by
the darkness and confusion of the storm to steal from the acorn stores
of the woodpeckers. One of the golden eagles made an impressive picture
as he stood bolt upright on the top of a tall pine-stump, braving the
storm, with his back to the wind and a tuft of snow piled on his broad
shoulders, a monument of passive endurance. Thus every storm-bound bird
seemed more or less uncomfortable, if not in distress. The storm was
reflected in every gesture, and not one cheerful note, not to say song,
came from a single bill. Their cowering, joyless endurance offered
striking contrasts to the spontaneous, irrepressible gladness of the
ouzel, who could no more help giving out sweet song than a rose sweet
fragrance. He must sing, though the heavens fall.

avatar Chapter 10: The South Dome
April 04, 2009 10:21AM
Chapter 10
The South Dome

With the exception of a few spires and pinnacles, the South Dome is
the only rock about the Valley that is strictly inaccessible without
artificial means, and its inaccessibility is expressed in severe terms.
Nevertheless many a mountaineer, gazing admiringly, tried hard to
invent a way to the top of its noble crown--all in vain, until in the
year 1875, George Anderson, an indomitable Scotchman, undertook the
adventure. The side facing Tenaya Cañon is an absolutely vertical
precipice from the summit to a depth of about 1600 feet, and on the
opposite side it is nearly vertical for about as great a depth. The
southwest side presents a very steep and finely drawn curve from the top
down a thousand feet or more, while on the northeast, where it is united
with the Clouds' Rest Ridge, one may easily reach a point called the
Saddle, about seven hundred feet below the summit. From the Saddle the
Dome rises in a graceful curve a few degrees too steep for unaided
climbing, besides being defended by overleaning ends of the concentric
dome layers of the granite.

A year or two before Anderson gained the summit, John Conway, the master
trail-builder of the Valley, and his little sons, who climbed smooth
rocks like lizards, made a bold effort to reach the top by climbing
barefooted up the grand curve with a rope which they fastened at
irregular intervals by means of eye-bolts driven into joints of the
rock. But finding that the upper part would require laborious drilling,
they abandoned the attempt, glad to escape from the dangerous position
they had reached, some 300 feet above the Saddle. Anderson began with
Conway's old rope, which had been left in place, and resolutely drilled
his way to the top, inserting eye-bolts five to six feet apart, and
making his rope fast to each in succession, resting his feet on the
last bolt while he drilled a hole for the next above. Occasionally some
irregularity in the curve, or slight foothold, would enable him to climb
a few feet without a rope, which he would pass and begin drilling again,
and thus the whole work was accomplished in a few days. From this
slender beginning he proposed to construct a substantial stairway which
he hoped to complete in time for the next year's travel, but while busy
getting out timber for his stairway and dreaming of the wealth he hoped
to gain from tolls, he was taken sick and died all alone in his little

On the 10th of November, after returning from a visit to Mount Shasta, a
month or two after Anderson had gained the summit, I made haste to the
Dome, not only for the pleasure of climbing, but to see what I might
learn. The first winter storm-clouds had blossomed and the mountains and
all the high points about the Valley were mantled in fresh snow. I was,
therefore, a little apprehensive of danger from the slipperiness of the
rope and the rock. Anderson himself tried to prevent me from making
the attempt, refusing to believe that any one could climb his rope in
the now-muffled condition in which it then was. Moreover, the sky was
overcast and solemn snow-clouds began to curl around the summit, and
my late experiences on icy Shasta came to mind. But reflecting that I
had matches in my pocket, and that a little firewood might be found, I
concluded that in case of a storm the night could be spent on the Dome
without suffering anything worth minding, no matter what the clouds
might bring forth. I therefore pushed on and gained the top.

It was one of those brooding, changeful days that come between Indian
summer and winter, when the leaf colors have grown dim and the clouds
come and go among the cliffs like living creatures looking for work: now
hovering aloft, now caressing rugged rock-brows with great gentleness,
or, wandering afar over the tops of the forests, touching the spires of
fir and pine with their soft silken fringes as if trying to tell the
glad news of the coming of snow.

The first view was perfectly glorious. A massive cloud of pure pearl
luster, apparently as fixed and calm as the meadows and groves in the
shadow beneath it, was arched across the Valley from wall to wall, one
end resting on the grand abutment of El Capitan, the other on Cathedral
Rock. A little later, as I stood on the tremendous verge overlooking
Mirror Lake, a flock of smaller clouds, white as snow, came from the
north, trailing their downy skirts over the dark forests, and entered
the Valley with solemn god-like gestures through Indian Cañon and over
the North Dome and Royal Arches, moving swiftly, yet with majestic
deliberation. On they came, nearer and nearer, gathering and massing
beneath my feet and filling the Tenaya Cañon. Then the sun shone free,
lighting the pearly gray surface of the cloud-like sea and making it
glow. Gazing, admiring, I was startled to see for the first time the
rare optical phenomenon of the "Specter of the Brocken." My shadow,
clearly outlined, about half a mile long, lay upon this glorious white
surface with startling effect. I walked back and forth, waved my arms
and struck all sorts of attitudes, to see every slightest movement
enormously exaggerated. Considering that I have looked down so many
times from mountain tops on seas of all sorts of clouds, it seems
strange that I should have seen the "Brocken Specter" only this once.
A grander surface and a grander stand-point, however, could hardly
have been found in all the Sierra.

After this grand show the cloud-sea rose higher, wreathing the Dome, and
for a short time submerging it, making darkness like night, and I began
to think of looking for a camp ground in a cluster of dwarf pines. But
soon the sun shone free again, the clouds, sinking lower and lower,
gradually vanished, leaving the Valley with its Indian-summer colors
apparently refreshed, while to the eastward the summit-peaks, clad in
new snow, towered along the horizon in glorious array.

Though apparently it is perfectly bald, there are four clumps of pines
growing on the summit, representing three species, Pinus albicaulis,
P. contorta and P. ponderosa, var. Jeffreyi--all three, of course,
repressed and storm-beaten. The alpine spiræa grows here also and
blossoms profusely with potentilla, erigeron, eriogonum, pentstemon,
solidago, and an interesting species of onion, and four or five species
of grasses and sedges. None of these differs in any respect from those
of other summits of the same height, excepting the curious little
narrow-leaved, waxen-bulbed onion, which I had not seen elsewhere.

Notwithstanding the enthusiastic eagerness of tourists to reach the
crown of the Dome the views of the Valley from this lofty standpoint are
less striking than from many other points comparatively low, chiefly on
account of the foreshortening effect produced by looking down from so
great a height. The North Dome is dwarfed almost beyond recognition,
the grand sculpture of the Royal Arches is scarcely noticeable, and the
whole range of walls on both sides seem comparatively low, especially
when the Valley is flooded with noon sunshine; while the Dome itself,
the most sublime feature of all the Yosemite views, is out of sight
beneath one's feet. The view of Little Yosemite Valley is very fine,
though inferior to one obtained from the base of the Starr King Cone,
but the summit landscapes towards Mounts Ritter, Lyell, Dana, Conness,
and the Merced Group, are very effective and complete.

No one has attempted to carry out Anderson's plan of making the Dome
accessible. For my part I should prefer leaving it in pure wildness,
though, after all, no great damage could be done by tramping over it.
The surface would be strewn with tin cans and bottles, but the winter
gales would blow the rubbish away. Avalanches might strip off any sort
of stairway or ladder that might be built. Blue jays and Clark's crows
have trodden the Dome for many a day, and so have beetles and chipmunks,
and Tissiack would hardly be more "conquered" or spoiled should man be
added to her list of visitors. His louder scream and heavier scrambling
would not stir a line of her countenance.

When the sublime ice-floods of the glacial period poured down the flank
of the Range over what is now Yosemite Valley, they were compelled to
break through a dam of domes extending across from Mount Starr King to
North Dome; and as the period began to draw near a close the shallowing
ice-currents were divided and the South Dome was, perhaps, the first to
emerge, burnished and shining like a mirror above the surface of the icy
sea; and though it has sustained the wear and tear of the elements tens
of thousands of years, it yet remains a telling monument of the action
of the great glaciers that brought it to light. Its entire surface is
still covered with glacial hieroglyphics whose interpretation is the
reward of all who devoutly study them.

avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 04, 2009 10:58AM
"Specter of the Brocken" description lacks the associated glory. I wonder if his eye injury or malaria influenced his vision in later life.

The cure for a fallacious argument is a better argument, not the suppression of ideas.
-- Carl Sagan
avatar Chapter 11: The Ancient Yosemite Glaciers
April 04, 2009 11:14AM
Chapter 11
The Ancient Yosemite Glaciers:
How the Valley Was Formed

All California has been glaciated, the low plains and valleys as well
as the mountains. Traces of an ice-sheet, thousands of feet in thickness,
beneath whose heavy folds the present landscapes have been molded, may
be found everywhere, though glaciers now exist only among the peaks of
the High Sierra. No other mountain chain on this or any other of the
continents that I have seen is so rich as the Sierra in bold, striking,
well-preserved glacial monuments. Indeed, every feature is more or
less tellingly glacial. Not a peak, ridge, dome, cañon, yosemite,
lake-basin, stream or forest will you see that does not in some way
explain the past existence and modes of action of flowing, grinding,
sculpturing, soil-making, scenery-making ice. For, notwithstanding the
post-glacial agents--the air, rain, snow, frost, river, avalanche,
etc.--have been at work upon the greater portion of the Range for tens
of thousands of stormy years, each engraving its own characters more
and more deeply over those of the ice, the latter are so enduring and
so heavily emphasized, they still rise in sublime relief, clear and
legible, through every after-inscription. The landscapes of North
Greenland, Antarctica, and some of those of our own Alaska, are still
being fashioned beneath a slow-crawling mantle of ice, from a quarter
of a mile to probably more than a mile in thickness, presenting noble
illustrations of the ancient condition of California, when its sublime
scenery lay hidden in process of formation. On the Himalaya, the
mountains of Norway and Switzerland, the Caucasus, and on most of those
of Alaska, their ice-mantle has been melted down into separate glaciers
that flow river-like through the valleys, illustrating a similar past
condition in the Sierra, when every cañon and valley was the channel
of an ice-stream, all of which may be easily traced back to their
fountains, where some sixty-five or seventy of their topmost residual
branches still linger beneath protecting mountain shadows.

The change from one to another of those glacial conditions was slow as
we count time. When the great cycle of snow years, called the Glacial
Period, was nearly complete in California, the ice-mantle, wasting from
season to season faster than it was renewed, began to withdraw from the
lowlands and gradually became shallower everywhere. Then the highest
of the Sierra domes and dividing ridges, containing distinct glaciers
between them, began to appear above the icy sea. These first river-like
glaciers remained united in one continuous sheet toward the summit of
the Range for many centuries. But as the snow-fall diminished, and the
climate became milder, this upper part of the ice-sheet was also in
turn separated into smaller distinct glaciers, and these again into
still smaller ones, while at the same time all were growing shorter and
shallower, though fluctuations of the climate now and then occurred
that brought their receding ends to a standstill, or even enabled them
to advance for a few tens or hundreds of years.

Meanwhile, hardy, home-seeking plants and animals, after long waiting,
flocked to their appointed places, pushing bravely on higher and higher,
along every sun-warmed slope, closely following the retreating ice,
which, like shreds of summer clouds, at length vanished from the
new-born mountains, leaving them in all their main, telling features
nearly as we find them now.

Tracing the ways of glaciers, learning how Nature sculptures
mountain-waves in making scenery-beauty that so mysteriously influences
every human being, is glorious work.

The most striking and attractive of the glacial phenomena in the upper
Yosemite region are the polished glacier pavements, because they are so
beautiful, and their beauty is of so rare a kind, so unlike any portion
of the loose, deeply weathered lowlands where people make homes and earn
their bread. They are simply flat or gently undulating areas of hard
resisting granite, which present the unchanged surface upon which with
enormous pressure the ancient glaciers flowed. They are found in most
perfect condition in the subalpine region, at an elevation of from eight
thousand to nine thousand feet. Some are miles in extent, only slightly
interrupted by spots that have given way to the weather, while the best
preserved portions reflect the sunbeams like calm water or glass, and
shine as if polished afresh every day, notwithstanding they have been
exposed to corroding rains, dew, frost, and snow measureless thousands
of years.

The attention of wandering hunters and prospectors, who see so many
mountain wonders, is seldom commanded by other glacial phenomena,
moraines however regular and artificial-looking, cañons however deep
or strangely modeled, rocks however high; but when they come to these
shining pavements they stop and stare in wondering admiration, kneel
again and again to examine the brightest spots, and try hard to account
for their mysterious shining smoothness. They may have seen the winter
avalanches of snow descending in awful majesty through the woods,
scouring the rocks and sweeping away like weeds the trees that stood
in their way, but conclude that this cannot be the work of avalanches,
because the scratches and fine polished strife show that the agent,
whatever it was, moved along the sides of high rocks and ridges and up
over the tops of them as well as down their slopes. Neither can they see
how water may possibly have been the agent, for they find the same
strange polish upon ridges and domes thousands of feet above the reach
of any conceivable flood. Of all the agents of whose work they know
anything, only the wind seems capable of moving across the face of the
country in the directions indicated by the scratches and grooves. The
Indian name of Lake Tenaya is "Pyweak"--the lake of shining rocks. One
of the Yosemite tribe, Indian Tom, came to me and asked if I could tell
him what had made the Tenaya rocks so smooth. Even dogs and horses, when
first led up the mountains, study geology to this extent that they gaze
wonderingly at the strange brightness of the ground and smell it, and
place their feet cautiously upon it as if afraid of falling or sinking.

In the production of this admirable hard finish, the glaciers in many
places flowed with a pressure of more than a thousand tons to the square
yard, planing down granite, slate, and quartz alike, and bringing out
the veins and crystals of the rocks with beautiful distinctness. Over
large areas below the sources of the Tuolumne and Merced the granite is
porphyritic; feldspar crystals in inch or two in length in many places
form the greater part of the rock, and these, when planed off level with
the general surface, give rise to a beautiful mosaic on which the happy
sunbeams plash and glow in passionate enthusiasm. Here lie the brightest
of all the Sierra landscapes. The Range both to the north and south of
this region was, perhaps, glaciated about as heavily, but because the
rocks are less resisting, their polished surfaces have mostly given way
to the weather, leaving only small imperfect patches. The lower remnants
of the old glacial surface occur at an elevation of from 3000 to 5000
feet above the sea level, and twenty to thirty miles below the axis of
the Range. The short, steeply inclined cañons of the eastern flank also
contain enduring, brilliantly striated and polished rocks, but these are
less magnificent than those of the broad western flank.

One of the best general views of the brightest and best of the Yosemite
park landscapes that every Yosemite tourist should see, is to be had
from the top of Fairview Dome, a lofty conoidal rock near Cathedral Peak
that long ago I named the Tuolumne Glacier Monument, one of the most
striking and best preserved of the domes. Its burnished crown is about
1500 feet above the Tuolumne Meadows and 10,000 above the sea. At first
sight it seems inaccessible, though a good climber will find it may
be scaled on the south side. About half-way up you will find it so
steep that there is danger of slipping, but feldspar crystals, two or
three inches long, of which the rock is full, having offered greater
resistance to atmospheric erosion than the mass of the rock in which
they are imbedded, have been brought into slight relief in some places,
roughening the surface here and there, and affording helping footholds.

The summit is burnished and scored like the sides and base, the
scratches and strife indicating that the mighty Tuolumne Glacier swept
over it as if it were only a mere boulder in the bottom of its channel.
The pressure it withstood must have been enormous. Had it been less
solidly built it would have been carried away, ground into moraine
fragments, like the adjacent rock in which it lay imbedded; for, great
as it is, it is only a hard residual knot like the Yosemite domes,
brought into relief by the removal of less resisting rock about it;
an illustration of the survival of the strongest and most favorably

Hardly less wonderful is the resistance it has offered to the trying
mountain weather since first its crown rose above the icy sea. The whole
quantity of post-glacial wear and tear it has suffered has not degraded
it a hundredth of an inch, as may readily be shown by the polished
portions of the surface. A few erratic boulders, nicely poised on its
crown, tell an interesting story. They came from the summit-peaks twelve
miles away, drifting like chips on the frozen sea, and were stranded
here when the top of the monument merged from the ice, while their
companions, whose positions chanced to be above the slopes of the sides
where they could not find rest, were carried farther on by falling back
on the shallowing ice current.

The general view from the summit consists of a sublime assemblage of
ice-born rocks and mountains, long wavering ridges, meadows, lakes, and
forest-covered moraines, hundreds of square miles of them. The lofty
summit-peaks rise grandly along the sky to the east, the gray pillared
slopes of the Hoffman Range toward the west, and a billowy sea of
shining rocks like the Monument, some of them almost as high and which
from their peculiar sculpture seem to be rolling westward in the middle
ground, something like breaking waves. Immediately beneath you are the
Big Tuolumne Meadows, smooth lawns with large breadths of woods on
either side, and watered by the young Tuolumne River, rushing cool and
clear from its many snow- and ice-fountains. Nearly all the upper part
of the basin of the Tuolumne Glacier is in sight, one of the greatest
and most influential of all the Sierra ice-rivers. Lavishly flooded by
many a noble affluent from the ice-laden flanks of Mounts Dana, Lyell,
McClure, Gibbs, Conness, it poured its majestic outflowing current full
against the end of the Hoffman Range, which divided and deflected it to
right and left, just as a river of water is divided against an island
in the middle of its channel. Two distinct glaciers were thus formed,
one of which flowed through the great Tuolumne Cañon and Hetch Hetchy
Valley, while the other swept upward in a deep current two miles wide
across the divide, five hundred feet high between the basins of the
Tuolumne and Merced, into the Tenaya Basin, and thence down through the
Tenaya Cañon and Yosemite.

The map-like distinctness and freshness of this glacial landscape cannot
fail to excite the attention of every beholder, no matter how little of
its scientific significance may be recognized. These bald,
westward-leaning rocks, with their rounded backs and shoulders toward
the glacier fountains of the summit-mountains, and their split, angular
fronts looking in the opposite direction, explain the tremendous
grinding force with which the ice-flood passed over them, and also the
direction of its flow. And the mountain peaks around the sides of the
upper general Tuolumne Basin, with their sharp unglaciated summits and
polished rounded sides, indicate the height to which the glaciers rose;
while the numerous moraines, curving and swaying in beautiful lines,
mark the boundaries of the main trunk and its tributaries as they
existed toward the close of the glacial winter. None of the commerical
highways of the land or sea, marked with buoys and lamps, fences, and
guide-boards, is so unmistakably indicated as are these broad, shining
trails of the vanished Tuolumne Glacier and its far-reaching

I should like now to offer some nearer views of a few characteristic
specimens of these wonderful old ice-streams, though it is not easy to
make a selection from so vast a system intimately inter-blended. The
main branches of the Merced Glacier are, perhaps, best suited to our
purpose, because their basins, full of telling inscriptions, are the
ones most attractive and accessible to the Yosemite visitors who like to
look beyond the valley walls. They number five, and may well be called
Yosemite glaciers, since they were the agents Nature used in developing
and fashioning the grand Valley. The names I have given them are,
beginning with the northern-most, Yosemite Creek, Hoffman, Tenaya, South
Lyell, and Illilouette Glaciers. These all converged in admirable poise
around from northeast to southeast, welded themselves together into the
main Yosemite Glacier, which, grinding gradually deeper, swept down
through the Valley, receiving small tributaries on its way from the
Indian, Sentinel, and Pohono Cañons; and at length flowed out of the
Valley, and on down the Range in a general westerly direction. At the
time that the tributaries mentioned above were well defined as to their
boundaries, the upper portion of the valley walls, and the highest rocks
about them, such as the Domes, the uppermost of the Three Brothers and
the Sentinel, rose above the surface of the ice. But during the Valley's
earlier history, all its rocks, however lofty, were buried beneath a
continuous sheet, which swept on above and about them like the wind, the
upper portion of the current flowing steadily, while the lower portion
went mazing and swedging down in the crooked and dome-blocked cañons
toward the head of the Valley.

Every glacier of the Sierra fluctuated in width and depth and length,
and consequently in degree of individuality, down to the latest
glacial days. It must, therefore, be borne in mind that the following
description of the Yosemite glaciers applies only to their separate
condition, and to that phase of their separate condition that they
presented toward the close of the glacial period after most of their
work was finished, and all the more telling features of the Valley and
the adjacent region were brought into relief.

The comparatively level, many-fountained Yosemite Creek Glacier was
about fourteen miles in length by four or five in width, and from five
hundred to a thousand feet deep. Its principal tributaries, drawing
their sources from the northern spurs of the Hoffman Range, at first
pursued a westerly course; then, uniting with each other, and a series
of short affluents from the western rim of the basin, the trunk thus
formed swept around to the southward in a magnificent curve, and poured
its ice over the north wall of Yosemite in cascades about two miles
wide. This broad and comparatively shallow glacier formed a sort of
crawling, wrinkled ice-cloud, that gradually became more regular in
shape and river-like as it grew older. Encircling peaks began to
overshadow its highest fountains, rock islets rose here and there amid
its ebbing currents, and its picturesque banks, adorned with domes and
round-backed ridges, extended in massive grandeur down to the brink of
the Yosemite walls.

In the meantime the chief Hoffman tributaries, slowly receding to the
shelter of the shadows covering their fountains, continued to live and
work independently, spreading soil, deepening lake-basins and giving
finishing touches to the sculpture in general. At length these also
vanished, and the whole basin is now full of light. Forests flourish
luxuriantly upon its ample moraines, lakes and meadows shine and bloom
amid its polished domes, and a thousand gardens adorn the banks of its

It is to the great width and even slope of the Yosemite Creek Glacier
that we owe the unrivaled height and sheerness of the Yosemite Falls.
For had the positions of the ice-fountains and the structure of the
rocks been such as to cause down-thrusting concentration of the Glacier
as it approached the Valley, then, instead of a high vertical fall we
should have had a long slanting cascade, which after all would perhaps
have been as beautiful and interesting, if we only had a mind to see
it so.

The short, comparatively swift-flowing Hoffman Glacier, whose fountains
extend along the south slopes of the Hoffman Range, offered a striking
contrast to the one just described. The erosive energy of the latter was
diffused over a wide field of sunken, boulder-like domes and ridges. The
Hoffman Glacier, on the contrary moved right ahead on a comparatively
even surface, making descent of nearly five thousand feet in five miles,
steadily contracting and deepening its current, and finally united with
the Tenaya Glacier as one of its most influential tributaries in the
development and sculpture of the great Half Dome, North Dome and the
rocks adjacent to them about the head of the Valley.

The story of its death is not unlike that of its companion already
described, though the declivity of its channel, and its uniform exposure
to sun-heat prevented any considerable portion of its current from
becoming torpid, lingering only well up on the Mountain slopes to finish
their sculpture and encircle them with a zone of moraine soil for
forests and gardens. Nowhere in all this wonderful region will you find
more beautiful trees and shrubs and flowers covering the traces of ice.

The rugged Tenaya Glacier wildly crevassed here and there above the
ridges it had to cross, instead of drawing its sources direct from the
summit of the Range, formed, as we have seen, one of the outlets of the
great Tuolumne Glacier, issuing from this noble fountain like a river
from a lake, two miles wide, about fourteen miles long, and from 1500
to 2000 feet deep.

In leaving the Tuolumne region it crossed over the divide, as mentioned
above, between the Tuolumne and Tenaya basins, making an ascent of five
hundred feet. Hence, after contracting its wide current and receiving
a strong affluent from the fountains about Cathedral Peak, it poured
its massive flood over the northeastern rim of its basin in splendid
cascades. Then, crushing heavily against the Clouds' Rest Ridge, it bore
down upon the Yosemite domes with concentrated energy.

Toward the end of the ice period, while its Hoffman companion continued
to grind rock-meal for coming plants, the main trunk became torpid,
and vanished, exposing wide areas of rolling rock-waves and glistening
pavements, on whose channelless surface water ran wild and free. And
because the trunk vanished almost simultaneously throughout its whole
extent, no terminal moraines are found in its cañon channel; nor, since
its walls are, in most places, too steeply inclined to admit of the
deposition of moraine matter, do we find much of the two main laterals.
The lowest of its residual glaciers lingered beneath the shadow of the
Yosemite Half Dome; others along the base of Coliseum Peak above Lake
Tenaya and along the precipitous wall extending from the lake to the
Big Tuolumne Meadows. The latter, on account of the uniformity and
continuity of their protecting shadows, formed moraines of considerable
length and regularity that are liable to be mistaken for portions of
the left lateral of the Tuolumne tributary glacier.

Spend all the time you can spare or steal on the tracks of this grand
old glacier, charmed and enchanted by its magnificent cañon, lakes and
cascades and resplendent glacier pavements.

The Nevada Glacier was longer and more symmetrical than the last, and
the only one of the Merced system whose sources extended directly back
to the main summits on the axis of the Range. Its numerous fountains
were ranged side by side in three series, at an elevation of from 10,000
to 12,000 feet above the sea. The first, on the right side of the basin,
extended from the Matterhorn to Cathedral Peak; that on the left through
the Merced group, and these two parallel series were united by a third
that extended around the head of the basin in a direction at right
angles to the others.

The three ranges of high peaks and ridges that supplied the snow for
these fountains, together with the Clouds' Rest Ridge, nearly inclose a
rectangular basin, that was filled with a massive sea of ice, leaving
an outlet toward the west through which flowed the main trunk glacier,
three-fourths of a mile to a mile and a half wide, fifteen miles long,
and from 1000 to 1500 feet deep, and entered Yosemite between the Half
Dome and Mount Starr King.

Could we have visited Yosemite Valley at this period of its history, we
should have found its ice cascades vastly more glorious than their tiny
water representatives of the present day. One of the grandest of these
was formed by that portion of the Nevada Glacier that poured over the
shoulder of the Half Dome.

This glacier, as a whole, resembled an oak, with a gnarled swelling base
and wide-spreading branches. Picturesque rocks of every conceivable form
adorned its banks, among which glided the numerous tributaries, mottled
with black and red and gray boulders, from the fountain peaks, while
ever and anon, as the deliberate centuries passed away, dome after dome
raised its burnished crown above the ice-flood to enrich the slowly
opening landscapes.

The principal moraines occur in short irregular sections along the sides
of the cañons, their fragmentary condition being due to interruptions
caused by portions of the sides of the cañon walls being too steep for
moraine matter to lie on, and to down-sweeping torrents and avalanches.
The left lateral of the trunk may be traced about five miles from the
mouth of the first main tributary to the Illilouette Cañon. The
corresponding section of the right lateral, extending from Cathedral
tributary to the Half Dome, is more complete because of the more
favorable character of the north side of the cañon. A short
side-glacier came in against it from the slopes of Clouds' Rest; but
being fully exposed to the sun, it was melted long before the main
trunk, allowing the latter to deposit this portion of its moraine
undisturbed. Some conception of the size and appearance of this fine
moraine may be gained by following the Clouds' Rest trail from Yosemite,
which crosses it obliquely and conducts past several sections made by
streams. Slate boulders may be seen that must have come from the Lyell
group, twelve miles distant. But the bulk of the moraine is composed
of porphyritic granite derived from Feldspar and Cathedral Valleys.

On the sides of the moraines we find a series of terraces, indicating
fluctuations in the level of the glacier, caused by variations of
snow-fall, temperature, etc., showing that the climate of the glacial
period was diversified by cycles of milder or stormier seasons similar
to those of post-glacial time.

After the depth of the main trunk diminished to about five hundred feet,
the greater portion became torpid, as is shown by the moraines, and
lay dying in its crooked channel like a wounded snake, maintaining for
a time a feeble squirming motion in places of exceptional depth, or
where the bottom of the cañon was more steeply inclined. The numerous
fountain-wombs, however, continued fruitful long after the trunk had
vanished, giving rise to an imposing array of short residual glaciers,
extending around the rim of the general basin a distance of nearly
twenty-four miles. Most of these have but recently succumbed to the new
climate, dying in turn as determined by elevation, size, and exposure,
leaving only a few feeble survivors beneath the coolest shadows, which
are now slowly completing the sculpture of one of the noblest of the
Yosemite basins.

The comparatively shallow glacier that at this time filled the
Illilouette Basin, though once far from shallow, more resembled a lake
than a river of ice, being nearly half as wide as it was long. Its
greatest length was about ten miles, and its depth perhaps nowhere much
exceeded 1000 feet. Its chief fountains, ranged along the west side of
the Merced group, at an elevation of about 10,000 feet, gave birth to
fine tributaries that flowed in a westerly direction, and united in the
center of the basin. The broad trunk at first poured northwestward, then
curved to the northward, deflected by the lofty wall forming its western
bank, and finally united with the grand Yosemite trunk, opposite Glacier

All the phenomena relating to glacial action in this basin are
remarkably simple and orderly, on account of the sheltered positions
occupied by its ice-fountains, with reference to the disturbing effects
of larger glaciers from the axis of the main Range earlier in the
period. From the eastern base of the Starr King cone you may obtain
a fine view of the principal moraines sweeping grandly out into the
middle of the basin from the shoulders of the peaks, between which the
ice-fountains lay. The right lateral of the tributary, which took its
rise between Red and Merced Mountains, measures two hundred and fifty
feet in height at its upper extremity, and displays three well-defined
terraces, similar to those of the south Lyell Glacier. The comparative
smoothness of the upper-most terrace shows that it is considerably more
ancient than the others, many of the boulders of which it is composed
having crumbled. A few miles to the westward, this moraine has an
average slope of twenty-seven degrees, and an elevation above the bottom
of the channel of six hundred and sixty feet. Near the middle of the
main basin, just where the regularly formed medial and lateral moraines
flatten out and disappear, there is a remarkably smooth field of gravel,
planted with arctostaphylos, that looks at the distance of a mile like
a delightful meadow. Stream sections show the gravel deposit to be
composed of the same material as the moraines, but finer, and more
water-worn from the action of converging torrents issuing from the
tributary glaciers after the trunk was melted. The southern boundary of
the basin is a strikingly perfect wall, gray on the top, and white down
the sides and at the base with snow, in which many a crystal brook takes
rise. The northern boundary is made up of smooth undulating masses of
gray granite, that lift here and there into beautiful domes of which
the Starr King cluster is the finest, while on the east tower of the
majestic fountain-peaks with wide cañons and neve amphitheaters between
them, whose variegated rocks show out gloriously against the sky.

The ice-plows of this charming basin, ranged side by side in orderly
gangs, furrowed the rocks with admirable uniformity, producing
irrigating channels for a brood of wild streams, and abundance of rich
soil adapted to every requirement of garden and grove. No other section
of the Yosemite uplands is in so perfect a state of glacial cultivation.
Its domes and peaks, and swelling rock-waves, however majestic in
themselves, and yet submissively subordinate to the garden center. The
other basins we have been describing are combinations of sculptured
rocks, embellished with gardens and groves; the Illilouette is one grand
garden and forest, embellished with rocks, each of the five beautiful
in its own way, and all as harmoniously related as are the five petals
of a flower. After uniting in the Yosemite Valley, and expending the
down-thrusting energy derived from their combined weight and the
declivity of their channels, the grand trunk flowed on through and out
of the Valley. In effecting its exit a considerable ascent was made,
traces of which may still be seen on the abraded rocks at the lower end
of the Valley, while the direction pursued after leaving the Valley is
surely indicated by the immense lateral moraines extending from the
ends of the walls at an elevation of from 1500 to 1800 feet. The right
lateral moraine was disturbed by a large tributary glacier that occupied
the basin of Cascade Creek, causing considerable complication in its
structure. The left is simple in form for several miles of its length,
or to the point where a tributary came in from the southeast. But both
are greatly obscured by the forests and underbrush growing upon them,
and by the denuding action of rains and melting snows, etc. It is,
therefore, the less to be wondered at that these moraines, made up of
material derived from the distant fountain-mountains, and from the
Valley itself, were not sooner recognized.

The ancient glacier systems of the Tuolumne, San Joaquin, Kern, and
Kings River Basins were developed on a still grander scale and are so
replete with interest that the most sketchy outline descriptions of
each, with the works they have accomplished would fill many a volume.
Therefore I can do but little more than invite everybody who is free
to go and see for himself.

The action of flowing ice, whether in the form of river-like glaciers or
broad mantles, especially the part it played in sculpturing the earth,
is as yet but little understood. Water rivers work openly where people
dwell, and so does the rain, and the sea, thundering on all the shores
of the world; and the universal ocean of air, though invisible, speaks
aloud in a thousand voices, and explains its modes of working and its
power. But glaciers, back in their white solitudes, work apart from men,
exerting their tremendous energies in silence and darkness. Outspread,
spirit-like, they brood above the predestined landscapes, work on
unwearied through immeasurable ages, until, in the fullness of time, the
mountains and valleys are brought forth, channels furrowed for rivers,
basins made for lakes and meadows, and arms of the sea, soils spread for
forests and fields; then they shrink and vanish like summer clouds.

avatar Chapter 12: How Best to Spend One's Yosemite Time
April 04, 2009 11:21AM
Chapter 12
How Best to Spend One's Yosemite Time
One-Day Excursions
No. 1.

If I were so time-poor as to have only one day to spend in Yosemite I
should start at daybreak, say at three o'clock in midsummer, with a
pocketful of any sort of dry breakfast stuff, for Glacier Point,
Sentinel Dome, the head of Illilouette Fall, Nevada Fall, the top of
Liberty Cap, Vernal Fall and the wild boulder-choked River Cañon. The
trail leaves the Valley at the base of the Sentinel Rock, and as
you slowly saunter from point to point along its many accommodating
zigzags nearly all the Valley rocks and falls are seen in striking,
ever-changing combinations. At an elevation of about five hundred feet a
particularly fine, wide-sweeping view down the Valley is obtained, past
the sheer face of the Sentinel and between the Cathedral Rocks and
El Capitan. At a height of about 1500 feet the great Half Dome comes
full in sight, overshadowing every other feature of the Valley to the
eastward. From Glacier Point you look down 3000 feet over the edge of
its sheer face to the meadows and groves and innumerable yellow pine
spires, with the meandering river sparkling and spangling through the
midst of them. Across the Valley a great telling view is presented of
the Royal Arches, North Dome, Indian Cañon, Three Brothers and El
Capitan, with the dome-paved basin of Yosemite Creek and Mount Hoffman
in the background. To the eastward, the Half Dome close beside you
looking higher and more wonderful than ever; southeastward the Starr
King, girdled with silver firs, and the spacious garden-like basin of
the Illilouette and its deeply sculptured fountain-peaks, called "The
Merced Group"; and beyond all, marshaled along the eastern horizon, the
icy summits on the axis of the Range and broad swaths of forests growing
on ancient moraines, while the Nevada, Vernal and Yosemite Falls are
not only full in sight but are distinctly heard as if one were standing
beside them in their spray.

The views from the summit of Sentinel Dome are still more extensive
and telling. Eastward the crowds of peaks at the head of the Merced,
Tuolumne and San Joaquin Rivers are presented in bewildering array;
westward, the vast forests, yellow foothills and the broad San Joaquin
plains and the Coast Ranges, hazy and dim in the distance.

From Glacier Point go down the trail into the lower end of the
Illilouette basin, cross Illilouette Creek and follow it to the Fall
where from an outjutting rock at its head you will get a fine view of
its rejoicing waters and wild cañon and the Half Dome. Thence returning
to the trail, follow it to the head of the Nevada Fall. Linger here an
hour or two, for not only have you glorious views of the wonderful fall,
but of its wild, leaping, exulting rapids and, greater than all, the
stupendous scenery into the heart of which the white passionate river
goes wildly thundering, surpassing everything of its kind in the world.
After an unmeasured hour or so of this glory, all your body aglow, nerve
currents flashing through you never before felt, go to the top of the
Liberty Cap, only a glad saunter now that your legs as well as head
and heart are awake and rejoicing with everything. The Liberty Cap, a
companion of the Half Dome, is sheer and inaccessible on three of its
sides but on the east a gentle, ice-burnished, juniper-dotted slope
extends to the summit where other wonderful views are displayed where
all are wonderful: the south side and shoulders of Half Dome and Clouds'
Rest, the beautiful Little Yosemite Valley and its many domes, the Starr
King cluster of domes, Sentinel Dome, Glacier Point, and, perhaps the
most tremendously impressive of all, the views of the hopper-shaped
cañon of the river from the head of the Nevada Fall to the head of
the Valley.

Returning to the trail you descend between the Nevada Fall and the
Liberty Cap with fine side views of both the fall and the rock, pass
on through clouds of spray and along the rapids to the head of the
Vernal Fall, about a mile below the Nevada. Linger here if night is
still distant, for views of this favorite fall and the stupendous rock
scenery about it. Then descend a stairway by its side, follow a dim
trail through its spray, and a plain one along the border of the
boulder-dashed rapids and so back to the wide, tranquil Valley.

One-Day Excursions
No. 2.

Another grand one-day excursion is to the Upper Yosemite Fall, the
top of the highest of the Three Brothers, called Eagle Peak on the
Geological Survey maps; the brow of El Capitan; the head of the Ribbon
Fall; across the beautiful Ribbon Creek Basin; and back to the Valley
by the Big Oak Flat wagon-road.

The trail leaves the Valley on the east side of the largest of the
earthquake taluses immediately opposite the Sentinel Rock and as it
passes within a few rods of the foot of the great fall, magnificent
views are obtained as you approach it and pass through its spray, though
when the snow is melting fast you will be well drenched. From the foot
of the Fall the trail zigzags up a narrow cañon between the fall and a
plain mural cliff that is burnished here and there by glacial action.

You should stop a while on a flat iron-fenced rock a little below the
head of the fall beside the enthusiastic throng of starry comet-like
waters to learn something of their strength, their marvelous variety of
forms, and above all, their glorious music, gathered and composed from
the snow-storms, hail-, rain- and wind-storms that have fallen on their
glacier-sculptured, domey, ridgy basin. Refreshed and exhilarated,
you follow your trail-way through silver fir and pine woods to Eagle
Peak, where the most comprehensive of all the views to be had on the
north-wall heights are displayed. After an hour or two of gazing,
dreaming, studying the tremendous topography, etc., trace the rim of
the Valley to the grand El Capitan ridge and go down to its brow, where
you will gain everlasting impressions of Nature's steadfastness and
power combined with ineffable fineness of beauty.

Dragging yourself away, go to the head of the Ribbon Fall, thence across
the beautiful Ribbon Creek Basin to the Big Oak Flat stage-road, and
down its fine grades to the Valley, enjoying glorious Yosemite scenery
all the way to the foot of El Capitan and your camp.

Two-Day Excursions
No. 1.

For a two-day trip I would go straight to Mount Hoffman, spend the night
on the summit, next morning go down by May Lake to Tenaya Lake and
return to the Valley by Cloud's Rest and the Nevada and Vernal Falls. As
on the foregoing excursion, you leave the Valley by the Yosemite Falls
trail and follow it to the Tioga wagon-road, a short distance east of
Porcupine Flat. From that point push straight up to the summit. Mount
Hoffman is a mass of gray granite that rises almost in the center of the
Yosemite Park, about eight or ten miles in a straight line from the
Valley. Its southern slopes are low and easily climbed, and adorned here
and there with castle-like crumbling piles and long jagged crests that
look like artificial masonry; but on the north side it is abruptly
precipitous and banked with lasting snow. Most of the broad summit
is comparatively level and thick sown with crystals, quartz, mica,
hornblende, feldspar, granite, zircon, tourmaline, etc., weathered out
and strewn closely and loosely as if they had been sown broadcast. Their
radiance is fairly dazzling in sunlight, almost hiding the multitude of
small flowers that grow among them. At first sight only these radiant
crystals are likely to be noticed, but looking closely you discover a
multitude of very small gilias, phloxes, mimulus, etc., many of them
with more petals than leaves. On the borders of little streams larger
plants flourish--lupines, daisies, asters, goldenrods, hairbell,
mountain columbine, potentilla, astragalus and a few gentians; with
charming heathworts--bryanthus, cassiope, kalmia, vaccinium in
boulder-fringing rings or bank covers. You saunter among the crystals
and flowers as if you were walking among stars. From the summit nearly
all the Yosemite Park is displayed like a map: forests, lakes, meadows,
and snowy peaks. Northward lies Yosemite's wide basin with its domes and
small lakes, shining like larger crystals; eastward the rocky, meadowy
Tuolumne region, bounded by its snowy peaks in glorious array; southward
Yosemite and westward the vast forest. On no other Yosemite Park
mountain are you more likely to linger. You will find it a magnificent
sky camp. Clumps of dwarf pine and mountain hemlock will furnish resin
roots and branches for fuel and light, and the rills, sparkling water.
Thousands of the little plant people will gaze at your camp-fire with
the crystals and stars, companions and guardians as you lie at rest in
the heart of the vast serene night.

The most telling of all the wide Hoffman views is the basin of the
Tuolumne with its meadows, forests and hundreds of smooth rock-waves
that appear to be coming rolling on towards you like high heaving waves
ready to break, and beyond these the great mountains. But best of all
are the dawn and the sunrise. No mountain top could be better placed for
this most glorious of mountain views--to watch and see the deepening
colors of the dawn and the sunbeams streaming through the snowy High
Sierra passes, awakening the lakes and crystals, the chilled plant
people and winged people, and making everything shine and sing in
pure glory.

With your heart aglow, spangling Lake Tenaya and Lake May will beckon
you away for walks on their ice-burnished shores. Leave Tenaya at the
west end, cross to the south side of the outlet, and gradually work
your way up in an almost straight south direction to the summit of the
divide between Tenaya Creek and the main upper Merced River or Nevada
Creek and follow the divide to Clouds Rest. After a glorious view from
the crest of this lofty granite wave you will find a trail on its
western end that will lead you down past Nevada and Vernal Falls to the
Valley in good time, provided you left your Hoffman sky camp early.

Two-Day Excursions
No. 2.

Another grand two-day excursion is the same as the first of the one-day
trips, as far as the head of Illilouette Fall. From there trace the
beautiful stream up through the heart of its magnificent forests and
gardens to the cañons between the Red and Merced Peaks, and pass the
night where I camped forty-one years ago. Early next morning visit
the small glacier on the north side of Merced Peak, the first of the
sixty-five that I discovered in the Sierra.

Glacial phenomena in the Illilouette Basin are on the grandest scale,
and in the course of my explorations I found that the cañon and
moraines between the Merced and Red Mountains were the most interesting
of them all. The path of the vanished glacier shone in many places as
if washed with silver, and pushing up the cañon on this bright road
I passed lake after lake in solid basins of granite and many a meadow
along the cañon stream that links them together. The main lateral
moraines that bound the view below the cañon are from a hundred to
nearly two hundred feet high and wonderfully regular, like artificial
embankments covered with a magnificent growth of silver fir and pine.
But this garden and forest luxuriance is speedily left behind, and
patches of bryanthus, cassiope and arctic willows begin to appear. The
small lakes which a few miles down the Valley are so richly bordered
with flowery meadows have at an elevation of 10,000 feet only small
brown mats of carex, leaving bare rocks around more than half their
shores. Yet, strange to say, amid all this arctic repression the
mountain pine on ledges and buttresses of Red Mountain seems to find the
climate best suited to it. Some specimens that I measured were over a
hundred feet high and twenty-four feet in circumference, showing hardly
a trace of severe storms, looking as fresh and vigorous as the giants of
the lower zones. Evening came on just as I got fairly into the main
cañon. It is about a mile wide and a little less than two miles long.
The crumbling spurs of Red Mountain bound it on the north, the somber
cliffs of Merced Mountain on the south and a deeply-serrated, splintered
ridge curving around from mountain to mountain shuts it in on the east.
My camp was on the brink of one of the lakes in a thicket of mountain
hemlock, partly sheltered from the wind. Early next morning I set out to
trace the ancient glacier to its head. Passing around the north shore of
my camp lake I followed the main stream from one lakelet to another. The
dwarf pines and hemlocks disappeared and the stream was bordered with
icicles. The main lateral moraines that extend from the mouth of the
cañon are continued in straggling masses along the walls. Tracing the
streams back to the highest of its little lakes, I noticed a deposit of
fine gray mud, something like the mud corn from a grindstone. This
suggested its glacial origin, for the stream that was carrying it issued
from a raw-looking moraine that seemed to be in process of formation.
It is from sixty to over a hundred feet high in front, with a slope of
about thirty-eight degrees. Climbing to the top of it, I discovered a
very small but well-characterized glacier swooping down from the shadowy
cliffs of the mountain to its terminal moraine. The ice appeared on all
the lower portion of the glacier; farther up it was covered with snow.
The uppermost crevasse or "bergeschrund" was from twelve to fourteen
feet wide. The melting snow and ice formed a network of rills that ran
gracefully down the surface of the glacier, merrily singing in their
shining channels. After this discovery I made excursions over all the
High Sierra and discovered that what at first sight looked like
snowfields were in great part glaciers which were completing the
sculpture of the summit peaks.

Rising early,--which will be easy, as your bed will be rather cold and
you will not be able to sleep much anyhow,--after visiting the glacier,
climb the Red Mountain and enjoy the magnificent views from the summit.
I counted forty lakes from one standpoint an this mountain, and the
views to the westward over the Illilouette Basin, the most superbly
forested of all the basins whose waters rain into Yosemite, and those of
the Yosemite rocks, especially the Half Dome and the upper part of the
north wall, are very fine. But, of course, far the most imposing view is
the vast array of snowy peaks along the axis of the Range. Then from the
top of this peak, light and free and exhilarated with mountain air and
mountain beauty, you should run lightly down the northern slope of the
mountain, descend the cañon between Red and Gray Mountains, thence
northward along the bases of Gray Mountain and Mount Clark and go down
into the head of Little Yosemite, and thence down past the Nevada and
Vernal Falls to the Valley, a truly glorious two-day trip!

A Three-Day Excursion

The best three-day excursion, as far as I can see, is the same as the
first of the two-day trips until you reach Lake Tenaya. There instead of
returning to the Valley, follow the Tioga road around the northwest side
of the lake, over to the Tuolumne Meadows and up to the west base of
Mount Dana. Leave the road there and make straight for the highest point
on the timber line between Mounts Dana and Gibbs and camp there.

On the morning of the third day go to the top of Mount Dana in time for
the glory of the dawn and the sunrise over the gray Mono Desert and the
sublime forest of High Sierra peaks. When you leave the mountain go far
enough down the north side for a view of the Dana Glacier, then make
your way back to the Tioga road, follow it along the Tuolumne Meadows
to the crossing of Budd Creek where you will find the Sunrise trail
branching off up the mountain-side through the forest in a southwesterly
direction past the west side of Cathedral Peak, which will lead you down
to the Valley by the Vernal and Nevada Falls. If you are a good walker
you can leave the trail where it begins to descend a steep slope in the
silver fir woods, and bear off to the right and make straight for the
top of Clouds' Rest. The walking is good and almost level and from the
west end of Clouds' Rest take the Clouds' Rest Trail which will lead
direct to the Valley by the Nevada and Vernal Falls. To any one not
desperately time-poor this trip should have four days instead of three;
camping the second night at the Soda Springs; thence to Mount Dana and
return to the Soda Springs, camping the third night there; thence by
the Sunrise trail to Cathedral Peak, visiting the beautiful Cathedral
lake which lies about a mile to the west of Cathedral Peak, eating your
luncheon, and thence to Clouds' Rest and the Valley as above. This is one
of the most interesting of all the comparatively short trips that can be
made in the whole Yosemite region. Not only do you see all the grandest
of the Yosemite rocks and waterfalls and the High Sierra with their
glaciers, glacier lakes and glacier meadows, etc., but sections of the
magnificent silver fir, two-leaved pine, and dwarf pine zones; with the
principal alpine flowers and shrubs, especially sods of dwarf vaccinium
covered with flowers and fruit though less than an inch high, broad mats
of dwarf willow scarce an inch high with catkins that rise straight from
the ground, and glorious beds of blue gentians,--grandeur enough and
beauty enough for a lifetime.

The Upper Tuolumne Excursion

We come now to the grandest of all the Yosemite excursions, one that
requires at least two or three weeks. The best time to make it is from
about the middle of July. The visitor entering the Yosemite in July has
the advantage of seeing the falls not, perhaps, in their very flood
prime but next thing to it; while the glacier-meadows will be in their
glory and the snow on the mountains will be firm enough to make climbing
safe. Long ago I made these Sierra trips, carrying only a sackful of
bread with a little tea and sugar and was thus independent and free, but
now that trails or carriage roads lead out of the Valley in almost every
direction it is easy to take a pack animal, so that the luxury of a
blanket and a supply of food can easily be had.

The best way to leave the Valley will be by the Yosemite Fall trail,
camping the first night on the Tioga road opposite the east end of the
Hoffman Range. Next morning climb Mount Hoffman; thence push on past
Tenaya Lake into the Tuolumne Meadows and establish a central camp
near the Soda Springs, from which glorious excursions can be made at
your leisure. For here in this upper Tuolumne Valley is the widest,
smoothest, most serenely spacious, and in every way the most delightful
summer pleasure-park in all the High Sierra. And since it is connected
with Yosemite by two good trails, and a fairly good carriage road
that passes between Yosemite and Mount Hoffman, it is also the most
accessible. It is in the heart of the High Sierra east of Yosemite, 8500
to 9000 feet above the level of the sea. The gray, picturesque Cathedral
Range bounds it on the south; a similar range or spur, the highest peak
of which is Mount Conness, on the north; the noble Mounts Dana, Gibbs,
Mammoth, Lyell, McClure and others on the axis of the Range on the east;
a heaving, billowing crowd of glacier-polished rocks and Mount Hoffman
on the west. Down through the open sunny meadow-levels of the Valley
flows the Tuolumne River, fresh and cool from its many glacial
fountains, the highest of which are the glaciers that lie on the north
sides of Mount Lyell and Mount McClure.

Along the river a series of beautiful glacier-meadows extend with but
little interruption, from the lower end of the Valley to its head, a
distance of about twelve miles, forming charming sauntering-grounds from
which the glorious mountains may be enjoyed as they look down in divine
serenity over the dark forests that clothe their bases. Narrow strips of
pine woods cross the meadow-carpet from side to side, and it is somewhat
roughened here and there by moraine boulders and dead trees brought down
from the heights by snow avalanches; but for miles and miles it is so
smooth and level that a hundred horsemen may ride abreast over it.

The main lower portion of the meadows is about four miles long and from
a quarter to half a mile wide, but the width of the Valley is, on an
average, about eight miles. Tracing the river, we find that it forks a
mile above the Soda Springs, the main fork turning southward to Mount
Lyell, the other eastward to Mount Dana and Mount Gibbs. Along both
forks strips of meadow extend almost to their heads. The most beautiful
portions of the meadows are spread over lake basins, which have been
filled up by deposits from the river. A few of these river-lakes still
exist, but they are now shallow and are rapidly approaching extinction.
The sod in most places is exceedingly fine and silky and free from weeds
and bushes; while charming flowers abound, especially gentians, dwarf
daisies, potentillas, and the pink bells of dwarf vaccinium. On the
banks of the river and its tributaries cassiope and bryanthus may be
found, where the sod curls over stream banks and around boulders. The
principal grass of these meadows is a delicate calamagrostis with very
slender filiform leaves, and when it is in flower the ground seems to
be covered with a faint purple mist, the stems of the panicles being so
fine that they are almost invisible, and offer no appreciable resistance
in walking through them. Along the edges of the meadows beneath the
pines and throughout the greater part of the Valley tall ribbon-leaved
grasses grow in abundance, chiefly bromus, triticum and agrostis.

In October the nights are frosty, and then the meadows at sunrise, when
every leaf is laden with crystals, are a fine sight. The days are still
warm and calm, and bees and butterflies continue to waver and hum about
the late-blooming flowers until the coming of the snow, usually in
November. Storm then follows storm in quick succession, burying the
meadows to a depth of from ten to twenty feet, while magnificent
avalanches descend through the forests from the laden heights,
depositing huge piles of snow mixed with uprooted trees and boulders. In
the open sunshine the snow usually lasts until the end of June but the
new season's vegetation is not generally in bloom until late in July.
Perhaps the best all round excursion-time after winters of average
snowfall is from the middle of July to the middle or end of August. The
snow is then melted from the woods and southern slopes of the mountains
and the meadows and gardens are in their glory, while the weather is
mostly all-reviving, exhilarating sunshine. The few clouds that rise now
and then and the showers they yield are only enough to keep everything
fresh and fragrant.

The groves about the Soda Springs are favorite camping-grounds on
account of the cold, pleasant-tasting water charged with carbonic acid,
and because of the views of the mountains across the meadow--the Glacier
Monument, Cathedral Peak, Cathedral Spires, Unicorn Peak and a series of
ornamental nameless companions, rising in striking forms and nearness
above a dense forest growing on the left lateral moraine of the ancient
Tuolumne glacier, which, broad, deep, and far-reaching, exerted vast
influence on the scenery of this portion of the Sierra. But there are
fine camping-grounds all along the meadows, and one may move from grove
to grove every day all summer, enjoying new homes and new beauty to
satisfy every roving desire for change.

There are five main capital excursions to be made from here--to the
summits of Mounts Dana, Lyell and Conness, and through the Bloody Cañon
Pass to Mono Lake and the volcanoes, and down the Tuolumne Cañon, at
least as far as the foot of the wonderful series of river cataracts.
All of these excursions are sure to be made memorable with joyful
health-giving experiences; but perhaps none of them will be remembered
with keener delight than the days spent in sauntering on the broad
velvet lawns by the river, sharing the sky with the mountains and trees,
gaining something of their strength and peace.

The excursion to the top of Mount Dana is a very easy one; for though
the mountain is 13,000 feet high, the ascent from the west side is so
gentle and smooth that one may ride a mule to the very summit. Across
many a busy stream, from meadow to meadow, lies your flowery way;
mountains all about you, few of them hidden by irregular foregrounds.
Gradually ascending, other mountains come in sight, peak rising above
peak with their snow and ice in endless variety of grouping and
sculpture. Now your attention is turned to the moraines, sweeping in
beautiful curves from the hollows and cañons, now to the granite waves
and pavements rising here and there above the heathy sod, polished a
thousand years ago and still shining. Towards the base of the mountain
you note the dwarfing of the trees, until at a height of about 11,000
feet you find patches of the tough, white-barked pine, pressed so flat
by the ten or twenty feet of snow piled upon them every winter for
centuries that you may walk over them as if walking on a shaggy rug.
And, if curious about such things, you may discover specimens of this
hardy tree-mountaineer not more than four feet high and about as many
inches in diameter at the ground, that are from two hundred to four
hundred years old, still holding bravely to life, making the most of
their slender summers, shaking their tasseled needles in the breeze
right cheerily, drinking the thin sunshine and maturing their fine
purple cones as if they meant to live forever. The general view from the
summit is one of the most extensive and sublime to be found in all the
Range. To the eastward you gaze far out over the desert plains and
mountains of the "Great Basin," range beyond range extending with soft
outlines, blue and purple in the distance. More than six thousand feet
below you lies Lake Mono, ten miles in diameter from north to south, and
fourteen from west to east, lying bare in the treeless desert like a
disk of burnished metal, though at times it is swept by mountain storm
winds and streaked with foam. To the southward there is a well defined
range of pale-gray extinct volcanoes, and though the highest of them
rises nearly two thousand feet above the lake, you can look down from
here into their circular, cup-like craters, from which a comparatively
short time ago ashes and cinders were showered over the surrounding sage
plains and glacier-laden mountains.

To the westward the landscape is made up of exceedingly strong, gray,
glaciated domes and ridge waves, most of them comparatively low, but
the largest high enough to be called mountains; separated by cañons
and darkened with lines and fields of forest, Cathedral Peak and Mount
Hoffman in the distance; small lakes and innumerable meadows in the
foreground. Northward and southward the great snowy mountains, marshaled
along the axis of the Range, are seen in all their glory, crowded
together in some places like trees in groves, making landscapes of wild,
extravagant, bewildering magnificence, yet calm and silent as the sky.

Some eight glaciers are in sight. One of these is the Dana Glacier on
the north side of the mountain, lying at the foot of a precipice about
a thousand feet high, with a lovely pale-green lake a little below it.
This is one of the many, small, shrunken remnants of the vast glacial
system of the Sierra that once filled the hollows and valleys of
the mountains and covered all the lower ridges below the immediate
summit-fountains, flowing to right and left away from the axis of the
Range, lavishly fed by the snows of the glacial period.

In the excursion to Mount Lyell the immediate base of the mountain is
easily reached on meadow walks along the river. Turning to the southward
above the forks of the river, you enter the narrow Lyell branch of the
Valley, narrow enough and deep enough to be called a cañon. It is about
eight miles long and from 2000 to 3000 feet deep. The flat meadow bottom
is from about three hundred to two hundred yards wide, with gently curved
margins about fifty yards wide from which rise the simple massive walls
of gray granite at an angle of about thirty-three degrees, mostly
timbered with a light growth of pine and streaked in many places with
avalanche channels. Towards the upper end of the cañon the Sierra crown
comes in sight, forming a finely balanced picture framed by the massive
cañon walls. In the foreground, when the grass is in flower, you have
the purple meadow willow-thickets on the river banks; in the middle
distance huge swelling bosses of granite that form the base of the
general mass of the mountain, with fringing lines of dark woods marking
the lower curves, smoothly snow-clad except in the autumn.

If you wish to spend two days on the Lyell trip you will find a good
camp-ground on the east side of the river, about a mile above a fine
cascade that comes down over the cañon wall in telling style and makes
good camp music. From here to the top of the mountains is usually an
easy day's work. At one place near the summit careful climbing is
necessary, but it is not so dangerous or difficult as to deter any one
of ordinary skill, while the views are glorious. To the northward are
Mammoth Mountain, Mounts Gibbs, Dana, Warren, Conness and others,
unnumbered and unnamed; to the southeast the indescribably wild and
jagged range of Mount Ritter and the Minarets; southwestward stretches
the dividing ridge between the north fork of the San Joaquin and the
Merced, uniting with the Obelisk or Merced group of peaks that form the
main fountains of the Illilouette branch of the Merced; and to the
north-westward extends the Cathedral spur. These spurs like distinct
ranges meet at your feet; therefore you look at them mostly in the
direction of their extension, and their peaks seem to be massed and
crowded against one another, while immense amphitheaters, cañons
and subordinate ridges with their wealth of lakes, glaciers, and
snow-fields, maze and cluster between them. In making the ascent in
June or October the glacier is easily crossed, for then its snow mantle
is smooth or mostly melted off. But in midsummer the climbing is
exceedingly tedious because the snow is then weathered into curious
and beautiful blades, sharp and slender, and set on edge in a leaning
position. They lean towards the head of the glacier and extend across
from side to side in regular order in a direction at right angles to the
direction of greatest declivity, the distance between the crests being
about two or three feet, and the depth of the troughs between them about
three feet. A more interesting problem than a walk over a glacier thus
sculptured and adorned is seldom presented to the mountaineer.

The Lyell Glacier is about a mile wide and less than a mile long,
but presents, nevertheless, all the essential characters of large,
river-like glaciers--moraines, earth-bands, blue veins, crevasses,
etc., while the streams that issue from it are, of course, turbid with
rock-mud, showing its grinding action on its bed. And it is all the
more interesting since it is the highest and most enduring remnant of
the great Tuolumne Glacier, whose traces are still distinct fifty miles
away, and whose influence on the landscape was so profound. The McClure
Glacier, once a tributary of the Lyell, is smaller. Thirty-eight years
ago I set a series of stakes in it to determine its rate of motion.
Towards the end of summer in the middle of the glacier it was only a
little over an inch in twenty-four hours.

The trip to Mono from the Soda Springs can be made in a day, but many
days may profitably be spent near the shores of the lake, out on its
islands and about the volcanoes.

In making the trip down the Big Tuolumne Cañon, animals may be led as
far as a small, grassy, forested lake-basin that lies below the crossing
of the Virginia Creek trail. And from this point any one accustomed to
walking on earthquake boulders, carpeted with cañon chaparral, can
easily go down as far as the big cascades and return to camp in one day.
Many, however, are not able to do his, and it is better to go leisurely,
prepared to camp anywhere, and enjoy the marvelous grandeur of the

The cañon begins near the lower end of the meadows and extends to the
Hetch Hetchy Valley, a distance of about eighteen miles, though it will
seem much longer to any one who scrambles through it. It is from twelve
hundred to about five thousand feet deep, and is comparatively narrow,
but there are several roomy, park-like openings in it, and throughout
its whole extent Yosemite natures are displayed on a grand scale--domes,
El Capitan rocks, gables, Sentinels, Royal Arches, Glacier Points,
Cathedral Spires, etc. There is even a Half Dome among its wealth of
rock forms, though far less sublime than the Yosemite Half Dome. Its
falls and cascades are innumerable. The sheer falls, except when the
snow is melting in early spring, are quite small in volume as compared
with those of Yosemite and Hetch Hetchy; though in any other country
many of them would be regarded as wonders. But it is the cascades or
sloping falls on the main river that are the crowning glory of the
cañon, and these in volume, extent and variety surpass those of any
other cañon in the Sierra. The most showy and interesting of them are
mostly in the upper part of the cañon, above the point of entrance of
Cathedral Creek and Hoffman Creek. For miles the river is one wild,
exulting, on-rushing mass of snowy purple bloom, spreading over glacial
waves of granite without any definite channel, gliding in magnificent
silver plumes, dashing and foaming through huge boulder-dams, leaping
high into the air in wheel-like whirls, displaying glorious enthusiasm,
tossing from side to side, doubling, glinting, singing in exuberance of
mountain energy.

Every one who is anything of a mountaineer should go on through the
entire length of the cañon, coming out by Hetch Hetchy. There is not
a dull step all the way. With wide variations, it is a Yosemite Valley
from end to end.

Besides these main, far-reaching, much-seeing excursions from the main
central camp, there are numberless, lovely little saunters and scrambles
and a dozen or so not so very little. Among the best of these are to
Lambert and Fair View Domes; to the topmost spires of Cathedral Peak,
and to those of the North Church, around the base of which you pass
on your way to Mount Conness; to one of the very loveliest of the
glacier-meadows imbedded in the pine woods about three miles north of
the Soda Springs, where forty-two years ago I spent six weeks. It trends
east and west, and you can find it easily by going past the base of
Lambert's Dome to Dog Lake and thence up northward through the woods
about a mile or so; to the shining rock-waves full of ice-burnished,
feldspar crystals at the foot of the meadows; to Lake Tenaya; and, last
but not least, a rather long and very hearty scramble down by the end of
the meadow along the Tioga road toward Lake Tenaya to the crossing of
Cathedral Creek, where you turn off and trace the creek down to its
confluence with the Tuolumne. This is a genuine scramble much of the way
but one of the most wonderfully telling in its glacial rock-forms and

If you stop and fish at every tempting lake and stream you come to, a
whole month, or even two months, will not be too long for this grand
High Sierra excursion. My own Sierra trip was ten years long.

Other Trips From The Valley

Short carriage trips are usually made in the early morning to Mirror
Lake to see its wonderful reflections of the Half Dome and Mount
Watkins; and in the afternoon many ride down the Valley to see the
Bridal Veil rainbows or up the river cañon to see those of the Vernal
Fall; where, standing in the spray, not minding getting drenched,
you may see what are called round rainbows, when the two ends of the
ordinary bow are lengthened and meet at your feet, forming a complete
circle which is broken and united again and again as determined by the
varying wafts of spray. A few ambitious scramblers climb to the top of
the Sentinel Rock, others walk or ride down the Valley and up to the
once-famous Inspiration Point for a last grand view; while a good many
appreciative tourists, who slave only day or two, do no climbing or
riding but spend their time sauntering on the meadows by the river,
watching the falls, and the relay of light and shade among the rocks
from morning to night, perhaps gaining more than those who make haste up
the trails in large noisy parties. Those who have unlimited time find
something worth while all the year round on every accessible part of the
vast deeply sculptured walls. At least so I have found it after making
the Valley my home for years.

Here are a few specimens selected from my own short trips which walkers
may find useful.

One, up the river cañon, across the bridge between the Vernal and
Nevada Falls, through chaparral beds and boulders to the shoulder of
Half Dome, along the top of the shoulder to the dome itself, down by a
crumbling slot gully and close along the base of the tremendous split
front (the most awfully impressive, sheer, precipice view I ever found
in all my cañon wanderings), thence up the east shoulder and along the
ridge to Clouds' Rest--a glorious sunset--then a grand starry run back
home to my cabin; down through the junipers, down through the firs, now
in black shadows, now in white light, past roaring Nevada and Vernal,
flowering ghost-like beneath their huge frowning cliffs; down the dark,
gloomy cañon, through the pines of the Valley, dreamily murmuring in
their calm, breezy sleep--a fine wild little excursion for good legs
and good eyes--so much sun-, moon- and star-shine in it, and sublime,
up-and-down rhythmical, glacial topography.

Another, to the head of Yosemite Fall by Indian Cañon; thence up the
Yosemite Creek, tracing it all the way to its highest sources back of
Mount Hoffman, then a wide sweep around the head of its dome-paved
basin, passing its many little lakes and bogs, gardens and groves,
trilling, warbling rills, and back by the Fall Cañon. This was one of
my Sabbath walk, run-and-slide excursions long ago before any trail had
been made on the north side of the Valley.

Another fine trip was up, bright and early, by Avalanche Cañon to
Glacier Point, along the rugged south wall, tracing all its far outs and
ins to the head of the Bridal Veil Fall, thence back home, bright and
late, by a brushy, bouldery slope between Cathedral rocks and Cathedral
spires and along the level Valley floor. This was one of my long,
bright-day and bright-night walks thirty or forty years ago when, like
river and ocean currents, time flowed undivided, uncounted--a fine free,
sauntery, scrambly, botanical, beauty-filled ramble. The walk up the
Valley was made glorious by the marvelous brightness of the morning
star. So great was her light, she made every tree cast a well-defined
shadow on the smooth sandy ground.

Everybody who visits Yosemite wants to see the famous Big Trees. Before
the railroad was constructed, all three of the stage-roads that entered
the Valley passed through a grove of these trees by the way; namely, the
Tuolumne, Merced and Mariposa groves. The Tuolumne grove was passed on
the Big Oak Flat road, the Merced grove by the Coulterville road and the
Mariposa grove by the Raymond and Wawona road. Now, to see any one of
these groves, a special trip has to be made. Most visitors go to the
Mariposa grove, the largest of the three. On this Sequoia trip you see
not only the giant Big Trees but magnificent forests of silver fir,
sugar pine, yellow pine, libocedrus and Douglas spruce. The trip need
not require more than two days, spending a night in a good hotel at
Wawona, a beautiful place on the south fork of the Merced River, and
returning to the Valley or to El Portal, the terminus of the railroad.
This extra trip by stage costs fifteen dollars. All the High Sierra
excursions that I have sketched cost from a dollar a week to anything
you like. None of mine when I was exploring the Sierra cost over a
dollar a week, most of them less.

avatar Chapter 13: Early History Of The Valley
April 04, 2009 11:47AM
Chapter 13
Early History Of The Valley

In the wild gold years of 1849 and '50, the Indian tribes along thus
western Sierra foothills became alarmed at the sudden invasion of their
acorn orchard and game fields by miners, and soon began to make war upon
them, in their usual murdering, plundering style. This continued until
the United States Indian Commissioners succeeded in gathering them into
reservations, some peacefully, others by burning their villages and
stores of food. The Yosemite or Grizzly Bear tribe, fancying themselves
secure in their deep mountain stronghold, were the most troublesome and
defiant of all, and it was while the Mariposa battalion, under command
of Major Savage, was trying to capture this warlike tribe and conduct
them to the Fresno reservation that their deep mountain home, the
Yosemite Valley, was discovered. From a camp on the south fork of the
Merced, Major Savage sent Indian runners to the bands who were supposed
to be hiding in the mountains, instructing them to tell the Indians that
if they would come in and make treaty with the Commissioners they would
be furnished with food and clothing and be protected, but if they did
not come in he would make war upon them and kill them all. None of the
Yosemite Indians responded to this general message, but when a special
messenger was sent to the chief he appeared the next day. He came
entirely alone and stood in dignified silence before one of the guards
until invited to enter the camp. He was recognized by one of the
friendly Indians as Tenaya, the old chief of the Grizzlies, and, after
he had been supplied with food, Major Savage, with the aid of Indian
interpreters, informed him of the wishes of the Commissioners. But the
old chief was very suspicious of Savage and feared that he was taking
this method of getting the tribe into his power for the purpose of
revenging his personal wrong. Savage told him if he would go to the
Commissioners and make peace with them as the other tribes had done
there would be no more war. Tenaya inquired what was the object of
taking all the Indians to the San Joaquin plain. "My people," said he,
"do not want anything from the Great Father you tell me about. The Great
Spirit is our father and he has always supplied us with all we need. We
do not want anything from white men. Our women are able to do our work.
Go, then. Let us remain in the mountains where we were born, where the
ashes of our fathers have been given to the wind. I have said enough."

To this the Major answered abruptly in Indian style: "If you and your
people have all you desire, why do you steal our horses and mules? Why
do you rob the miners' camps? Why do you murder the white men and
plunder and burn their houses?"

Tenaya was silent for some time. He evidently understood what the Major
had said, for he replied, "My young men have sometimes taken horses
and mules from the whites. This was wrong. It is not wrong to take the
property of enemies who have wronged my people. My young men believed
that the gold diggers were our enemies. We now know they are not and
we shall be glad to live in peace with them. We will stay here and be
friends. My people do not want to go to the plains. Some of the tribes
who have gone there are very bad. We cannot live with them. Here we
can defend ourselves."

To the Major Savage firmly said, "Your people must go to the
Commissioners. If they do not your young men will again steal horses and
kill and plunder the whites. It was your people who robbed my stores,
burned my houses and murdered my men. It they do not make a treaty, your
whole tribe will be destroyed. Not one of them will be left alive."

To this the old chief replied, "It is useless to talk to you about who
destroyed your property and killed your people. I am old and you can
kill me if you will, but it is useless to lie to you who know more than
all the Indians. Therefore I will not lie to you but if you will let me
return to my people I will bring them in." He was allowed to go. The
next day he came back and said his people were on the way to our camp to
go with the men sent by the Great Father, who was so good and rich.

Another day passed but no Indians from the deep Valley appeared. The old
chief said that the snow was so deep and his village was so far down
that it took a long time to climb out of it. After waiting still another
day the expedition started for the Valley. When Tenaya was questioned
as to the route and distance he said that the snow was so deep that the
horses could not go through it. Old Tenaya was taken along as guide.
When the party had gone about half-way to the Valley they met the
Yosemites on their way to the camp on the south fork. There were only
seventy-two of them and when the old chief was asked what had become of
the rest of his band, he replied, "This is all of my people that are
willing to go with me to the plains. All the rest have gone with their
wives end children over the mountains to the Mono and Tuolumne tribes."
Savage told Tenaya that he was not telling the truth, for Indians could
not cross the mountains in the deep snow, and that he knew they must
still be at his village or hiding somewhere near it. The tribe had been
estimated to number over two hundred. Major Savage then said to him,
"You may return to camp with your people and I will take one of your
young men with me to your village to see your people who will not come.
They will come if I find them." "You will not find any of my people
there," said Tenaya; "I do not know where they are. My tribe is small.
Many of the people of my tribe have come from other tribes and if they
go to the plains and are seen they will be killed by the friends of
those with whom they have quarreled. I was told that I was growing old
and it was well that I should go, but that young and strong men can find
plenty in the mountains: therefore, why should they go to the hot plains
to be penned up like horses and cattle? My heart has been sore since
that talk but I am now willing to go, for it is best for my people."

Pushing ahead, taking turns in breaking a way through the snow, they
arrived in sight of the great Valley early in the afternoon and, guided
by one of Tenaya's Indians, descended by the same route as that followed
by the Mariposa trail, and the weary party went into camp on the river
bank opposite El Capitan. After supper, seated around a big fire,
the wonderful Valley became the topic of conversation and Dr. Bunell
suggested giving it a name. Many were proposed, but after a vote had
been taken the name Yosemite, proposed by Dr. Bunell, was adopted almost
unanimously to perpetuate the name of the tribe who so long had made
their home there. The Indian name of the Valley, however, is Ahwahnee.
The Indians had names for all the different rocks and streams of the
Valley, but very few of them are now in use by the whites, Pohono, the
Bridal Veil, being the principal one. The expedition remained only one
day and two nights in the Valley, hurrying out on the approach of a
storm and reached the south-fork headquarters on the evening of the
third day after starting out. Thus, in three days the round trip had
been made to the Valley, most of it had been explored in a general way
and some of its principal features had been named. But the Indians had
fled up the Tenaya Cañon trail and none of them were seen, except an
old woman unable to follow the fugitives.

A second expedition was made in the same year under command of Major
Boling. When the Valley was entered no Indians were seen, but the many
wigwams with smoldering fires showed that they had been hurriedly
abandoned that very day. Later, five young Indians who had been left to
watch the movements of the expedition were captured at the foot of the
Three Brothers after a lively chase. Three of the five were sons of the
old chief and the rock was named for them. All of these captives made
good their escape within a few days, except the youngest son of Tenaya,
who was shot by his guard while trying to escape. That same day the old
chief was captured on the cliff on the east side of Indian Cañon by
some of Boling's scouts. As Tenaya walked toward the camp his eye fell
upon the dead body of his favorite son. Captain Boling through an
interpreter, expressed his regret at the occurrence, but not a word
did Tenaya utter in reply. Later, he made an attempt to escape but was
caught as he was about to swim across the river. Tenaya expected to be
shot for this attempt and when brought into the presence of Captain
Boling he said in great emotion, "Kill me, Sir Captain, yes, kill me as
you killed my son, as you would kill my people if they were to come to
you. You would kill all my tribe if you had the power. Yes, Sir America,
you can now tell your warriors to kill the old chief. You have made my
life dark with sorrow. You killed the child of my heart. Why not kill
the father? But wait a little and when I am dead I will call my people
to come and they shall hear me in their sleep and come to avenge the
death of their chief and his son. Yes, Sir America, my spirit will make
trouble for you and your people, as you have made trouble to me and my
people. With the wizards I will follow the white people and make them
fear me. You may kill me, Sir Captain, but you shall not live in peace.
I will follow in your footsteps. I will not leave my home, but be with
the spirits among the rocks, the waterfalls, in the rivers and in the
winds; wherever you go I will be with you. You will not see me but you
will fear the spirit of the old chief and grow cold. The Great Spirit
has spoken. I am done."

This expedition finally captured the remnants of the tribes at the head
of Lake Tenaya and took them to the Fresno reservation, together with
their chief, Tenaya. But after a short stay they were allowed to return
to the Valley under restrictions. Tenaya promised faithfully to conform
to everything required, joyfully left the hot and dry reservation, and
with his family returned to his Yosemite home.

The following year a party of miners was attacked by the Indians in
the Valley and two of them were killed. This led to another Yosemite
expedition. A detachment of regular soldiers from Fort Miller under
Lieutenant Moore, U.S.A., was at once dispatched to capture or punish
the murderers. Lieutenant Moore entered the Valley in the night and
surprised and captured a party of five Indians, but an alarm was given
and Tenaya and his people fled from their huts and escaped to the Monos
on the east side of the Range. On examination of the five prisoners in
the morning it was discovered that each of them had some article of
clothing that belonged to the murdered men. The bodies of the two miners
were found and buried on the edge of the Bridal Veil meadow. When the
captives were accused of the murder of the two white men they admitted
that they had killed them to prevent white men from coming to their
Valley, declaring that it was their home and that white men had no right
to come there without their consent. Lieutenant Moore told them through
his interpreter that they had sold their lands to the Government, that
it belonged to the white men now and that they had agreed to live on
the reservation provided for them. To this they replied that Tenaya
had never consented to the sale of their Valley and had never received
pay for it. The other chief, they said, had no right to sell their
territory. The lieutenant being fully satisfied that he had captured the
real murderers, promptly pronounced judgment and had them placed in line
and shot. Lieutenant Moore pursued the fugitives to Mono but was not
successful in finding any of them. After being hospitably entertained
and protected by the Mono and Paute tribes, they stole a number of
stolen horses from their entertainers and made their way by a long,
obscure route by the head of the north fork of the San Joaquin, reached
their Yosemite home once more, but early one morning, after a feast of
horse-flesh, a band of Monos surprised them in their huts, killing
Tenaya and nearly all his tribe. Only a small remnant escaped down the
river cañon. The Tenaya Cañon and Lake were named for the famous old

Very few visits were made to the Valley before the summer or 1855, when
Mr. J. M. Hutchings, having heard of its wonderful scenery, collected a
party and made the first regular tourist's visit to the Yosemite and in
his California magazine described it in articles illustrated by a good
artist, who was taken into the Valley by him for that purpose. This
first party was followed by another from Mariposa the same year,
consisting of sixteen or eighteen persons. The next year the regular
pleasure travel began and a trail on the Mariposa side of the Valley was
opened by Mann Brothers. This trail was afterwards purchased by the
citizens of the county and made free to the public. The first house
built in the Yosemite Valley was erected in the autumn of 1856 and was
kept as a hotel the next year by G. A. Hite and later by J. H. Neal and
S. M. Cunningham. It was situated directly opposite the Yosemite Fall.
A little over half a mile farther up the Valley a canvas house was put
up in 1858 by G. A. Hite. Next year a frame house was built and kept as
a hotel by Mr. Peck, afterward by Mr. Longhurst and since 1864 by Mr.
Hutchings. All these hotels have vanished except the frame house built
in 1859, which has been changed beyond recognition. A large hotel built
on the brink of the river in front of the old one is now the only hotel
in the Valley. A large hotel built by the State and located farther up
the Valley was burned. To provide for the overflow of visitors there are
three camps with board floors, wood frame, and covered with canvas, well
furnished, some of them with electric light. A large first-class hotel
is very much needed.

Travel of late years has been rapidly increasing, especially after the
establishment, by Act of Congress in 1890, of the Yosemite National Park
and the recession in 1905 of the original reservation to the Federal
Government by the State. The greatest increase, of course, was caused
by the construction of the Yosemite Valley railroad from Merced to the
border of the Park, eight miles below the Valley.

It is eighty miles long, and the entire distance, except the first
twenty-four miles from the town of Merced, is built through the
precipitous Merced River Cañon. The roadbed was virtually blasted out
of the solid rock for the entire distance in the cañon. Work was begun
in September, 1905, and the first train entered El Portal, the terminus,
April 15, 1907. Many miles of the road cost as much as $100,000 per
mile. Its business has increased from 4000 tourists in the first year
it was operated to 15,000 in 1910.

avatar Chapter 14: Lamon
April 04, 2009 02:06PM
Chapter 14

The good old pioneer, Lamon, was the first of all the early Yosemite
settlers who cordially and unreservedly adopted the Valley as his home.

He was born in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, May 10, 1817, emigrated
to Illinois with his father, John Lamon, at the age of nineteen;
afterwards went to Texas and settled on the Brazos, where he raised
melons and hunted alligators for a living. "Right interestin' business,"
he said; "especially the alligator part of it." From the Brazos he went
to the Comanche Indian country between Gonzales and Austin, twenty miles
from his nearest neighbor. During the first summer, the only bread he
had was the breast meat of wild turkeys. When the formidable Comanche
Indians were on the war-path he left his cabin after dark and slept in
the woods. From Texas he crossed the plains to California and worked In
the Calaveras and Mariposa gold-fields.

He first heard Yosemite spoken of as a very beautiful mountain valley
and after making two excursions in the summers of 1857 and 1858 to see
the wonderful place, he made up his mind to quit roving and make a
permanent home in it. In April, 1859, he moved into it, located a garden
opposite the Half Dome, set out a lot of apple, pear and peach trees,
planted potatoes, etc., that he had packed in on a "contrary old mule,"
and worked for his board in building a hotel which was afterwards
purchased by Mr. Hutchings. His neighbors thought he was very foolish in
attempting to raise crops in so high and cold a valley, and warned him
that he could raise nothing and sell nothing, and would surely starve.

For the first year or two lack of provisions compelled him to move out
on the approach of winter, but in 1862 after he had succeeded in raising
some fruit and vegetables he began to winter in the Valley.

The first winter he had no companions, not even a dog or cat, and one
evening was greatly surprised to see two men coming up the Valley. They
were very glad to see him, for they had come from Mariposa in search of
him, a report having been spread that he had been killed by Indians. He
assured his visitors that he felt safer in his Yosemite home, lying
snug and squirrel-like in his 10 x 12 cabin, than in Mariposa. When the
avalanches began to slip, he wondered where all the wild roaring and
booming came from, the flying snow preventing them from being seen. But,
upon the whole, he wondered most at the brightness, gentleness, and
sunniness of the weather, and hopefully employed the calm days in
tearing ground for an orchard and vegetable garden.

In the second winter he built a winter cabin under the Royal Arches,
where he enjoyed more sunshine. But no matter how he praised the weather
he could not induce any one to winter with him until 1864.

He liked to describe the great flood of 1867, the year before I reached
California, when all the walls were striped with thundering waterfalls.

He was a fine, erect, whole-souled man, between six and seven feet high,
with a broad, open face, bland and guileless as his pet oxen. No
stranger to hunger and weariness, he knew well how to appreciate
suffering of a like kind in others, and many there be, myself among the
number, who can testify to his simple, unostentatious kindness that
found expression in a thousand small deeds.

After gaining sufficient means to enjoy a long afternoon of life in
comparative affluence and ease, he died in the autumn of 1876. He sleeps
in a beautiful spot near Galen Clark and a monument hewn from a block of
Yosemite granite marks his grave.

avatar Chapter 15: Galen Clark
April 04, 2009 02:06PM
Chapter 15
Galen Clark

Galen Clark was the best mountaineer I ever met, and one of the kindest
and most amiable of all my mountain friends. I first met him at his
Wawona ranch forty-three years ago on my first visit to Yosemite. I had
entered the Valley with one companion by way of Coulterville, and
returned by what was then known as the Mariposa trail. Both trails were
buried in deep snow where the elevation was from 5000 to 7000 feet
above sea level in the sugar pine and silver fir regions. We had no
great difficulty, however, in finding our way by the trends of the
main features of the topography. Botanizing by the way, we made slow,
plodding progress, and were again about out of provisions when we
reached Clark's hospitable cabin at Wawona. He kindly furnished us with
flour and a little sugar and tea, and my companion, who complained of
the be-numbing poverty of a strictly vegetarian diet, gladly accepted
Mr. Clark's offer of a piece of a bear that had just been killed. After
a short talk about bears and the forests and the way to the Big Trees,
we pushed on up through the Wawona firs and sugar pines, and camped in
the now-famous Mariposa grove.

Later, after making my home in the Yosemite Valley, I became well
acquainted with Mr. Clark, while he was guardian. He was elected again
and again to this important office by different Boards of Commissioners
on account of his efficiency and his real love of the Valley.

Although nearly all my mountaineering has been done without companions,
I had the pleasure of having Galen Clark with me on three excursions.
About thirty-five years ago I invited him to accompany me on a trip
through the Big Tuolumne Cañon from Hetch Hetchy Valley. The cañon up
to that time had not been explored, and knowing that the difference in
the elevation of the river at the head of the cañon and in Hetch Hetchy
was about 5000 feet, we expected to find some magnificent cataracts
or falls; nor were we disappointed. When we were leaving Yosemite an
ambitious young man begged leave to join us. I strongly advised him not
to attempt such a long, hard trip, for it would undoubtedly prove very
trying to an inexperienced climber. He assured us, however, that he
was equal to anything, would gladly meet every difficulty as it came,
and cause us no hindrance or trouble of any sort. So at last, after
repeating our advice that he give up the trip, we consented to his
joining us. We entered the cañon by way of Hetch Hetchy Valley, each
carrying his own provisions, and making his own tea, porridge, bed, etc.

In the morning of the second day out from Hetch Hetchy we came to what
is now known as "Muir Gorge," and Mr. Clark without hesitation prepared
to force a way through it, wading and jumping from one submerged boulder
to another through the torrent, bracing and steadying himself with a
long pole. Though the river was then rather low, the savage, roaring,
surging song it was ringing was rather nerve-trying, especially to our
inexperienced companion. With careful assistance, however, I managed to
get him through, but this hard trial, naturally enough, proved too much
and he informed us, pale and trembling, that he could go no farther. I
gathered some wood at the upper throat of the gorge, made a fire for him
and advised him to feel at home and make himself comfortable, hoped he
would enjoy the grand scenery and the songs of the water-ouzels which
haunted the gorge, and assured him that we would return some time in the
night, though it might be late, as we wished to go on through the entire
cañon if possible. We pushed our way through the dense chaparral and
over the earthquake taluses with such speed that we reached the foot of
the upper cataract while we had still an hour or so of daylight for the
return trip. It was long after dark when we reached our adventurous, but
nerve-shaken companion who, of course, was anxious and lonely, not being
accustomed to solitude, however kindly and flowery and full of sweet
bird-song and stream-song. Being tired we simply lay down in restful
comfort on the river bank beside a good fire, instead of trying to
go down the gorge in the dark or climb over its high shoulder to our
blankets and provisions, which we had left in the morning in a tree at
the foot of the gorge. I remember Mr. Clark remarking that if he had
his choice that night between provisions and blankets he would choose
his blankets.

The next morning in about an hour we had crossed over the ridge through
which the gorge is cut, reached our provisions, made tea, and had a good
breakfast. As soon as we had returned to Yosemite I obtained fresh
provisions, pushed off alone up to the head of Yosemite Creek basin,
entered the cañon by a side cañon, and completed the exploration up to
the Tuolumne Meadows.

It was on this first trip from Hetch Hetchy to the upper cataracts that
I had convincing proofs of Mr. Clark's daring and skill as mountaineer,
particularly in fording torrents, and in forcing his way through thick
chaparral. I found it somewhat difficult to keep up with him in dense,
tangled brush, though in jumping on boulder taluses and slippery
cobble-beds I had no difficulty in leaving him behind.

After I had discovered the glaciers on Mount Lyell and Mount McClure,
Mr. Clark kindly made a second excursion with me to assist in
establishing a line of stakes across the McClure glacier to measure its
rate of flow. On this trip we also climbed Mount Lyell together, when
the snow which covered the glacier was melted into upleaning, icy blades
which were extremely difficult to cross, not being strong enough to
support our weight, nor wide enough apart to enable us to stride across
each blade as it was met. Here again I, being lighter, had no difficulty
in keeping ahead of him. While resting after wearisome staggering and
falling he stared at the marvelous ranks of leaning blades, and said, "I
think I have traveled all sorts of trails and cañons, through all kinds
of brush and snow, but this gets me."

Mr. Clark at my urgent request joined my small party on a trip to the
Kings River yosemite by way of the high mountains, most of the way
without a trail. He joined us at the Mariposa Big Tree grove and
intended to go all the way, but finding that, on account of the
difficulties encountered, the time required was much greater than he
expected, he turned back near the head of the north fork of the Kings

In cooking his mess of oatmeal porridge and making tea, his pot was
always the first to boil, and I used to wonder why, with all his skill
in scrambling through brush in the easiest way, and preparing his meals,
he was so utterly careless about his beds. He would lie down anywhere on
any ground, rough or smooth, without taking pains even to remove cobbles
or sharp-angled rocks protruding through the grass or gravel, saying
that his own bones were as hard as any stones and could do him no harm.

His kindness to all Yosemite visitors and mountaineers was marvelously
constant and uniform. He was not a good business man, and in building an
extensive hotel and barns at Wawona, before the travel to Yosemite had
been greatly developed, he borrowed money, mortgaged his property and
lost it all.

Though not the first to see the Mariposa Big Tree grove, he was the
first to explore it, after he had heard from a prospector, who had
passed through the grove and who gave him the indefinite information,
that there were some wonderful big trees up there on the top of the
Wawona hill and that he believed they must be of the same kind that had
become so famous and well-known in the Calaveras grove farther north.
On this information, Galen Clark told me, he went up and thoroughly
explored the grove, counting the trees and measuring the largest, and
becoming familiar with it. He stated also that he had explored the
forest to the southward and had discovered the much larger Fresno grove
of about two square miles, six or seven miles distant from the Mariposa
grove. Unfortunately most of the Fresno grove has been cut and flumed
down to the railroad near Madera.

Mr. Clark was truly and literally a gentle-man. I never heard him utter
a hasty, angry, fault-finding word. His voice was uniformly pitched at a
rather low tone, perfectly even, although lances of his eyes and slight
intonations of his voice often indicated that something funny or mildly
sarcastic was coming, but upon the whole he was serious and industrious,
and, however deep and fun-provoking a story might be, he never indulged
in boisterous laughter.

He was very fond of scenery and once told me after I became acquainted
with him that he liked "nothing in the world better than climbing to the
top of a high ridge or mountain and looking off." He preferred the
mountain ridges and domes in the Yosemite regions on account of the
wealth and beauty of the forests. Often times he would take his rifle, a
few pounds of bacon, a few pound of flour, and a single blanket and go
off hunting, for no other reason than to explore and get acquainted with
the most beautiful points of view within a journey of a week or two from
his Wawona home. On these trips he was always alone and could indulge
in tranquil enjoyment of Nature to his heart's content. He said that
on those trips, when he was a sufficient distance from home in a
neighborhood where he wished to linger, he always shot a deer, sometimes
a grouse, and occasionally a bear. After diminishing the weight of a
deer or bear by eating part of it, he carried as much as possible of the
best of the meat to Wawona, and from his hospitable well-supplied cabin
no weary wanderer ever went away hungry or unrested.

The value of the mountain air in prolonging life is well examplified in
Mr. Clark's case. While working in the mines he contracted a severe cold
that settled on his lungs and finally caused severe inflammation and
bleeding, and none of his friends thought he would ever recover. The
physicians told him he had but a short time to live. It was then that
he repaired to the beautiful sugar pine woods at Wawona and took up a
claim, including the fine meadows there, and building his cabin, began
his life of wandering and exploring in the glorious mountains about him,
usually going bare-headed. In a remarkably short time his lungs were

He was one of the most sincere tree-lovers I ever knew. About twenty
years before his death he made choice of a plot in the Yosemite cemetery
on the north side of the Valley, not far from the Yosemite Fall, and
selecting a dozen or so of seedling sequoias in the Mariposa grove he
brought them to the Valley and planted them around the spot he had
chosen for his last rest. The ground there is gravelly and dry; by
careful watering he finally nursed most of the seedlings into good,
thrifty trees, and doubtless they will long shade the grave of their
blessed lover and friend.

avatar Chapter 16: Hetch Hetchy Valley
April 04, 2009 02:13PM
Chapter 16
Hetch Hetchy Valley

Yosemite is so wonderful that we are apt to regard it as an exceptional
creation, the only valley of its kind in the world; but Nature is not
so poor as to have only one of anything. Several other yosemites have
been discovered in the Sierra that occupy the same relative positions
on the Range and were formed by the same forces in the same kind of
granite. One of these, the Hetch Hetchy Valley, is in the Yosemite
National Park about twenty miles from Yosemite and is easily accessible
to all sorts of travelers by a road and trail that leaves the Big Oak
Flat road at Bronson Meadows a few miles below Crane Flat, and to
mountaineers by way of Yosemite Creek basin and the head of the middle
fork of the Tuolumne.

It is said to have been discovered by Joseph Screech, a hunter, in 1850,
a year before the discovery of the great Yosemite. After my first visit
to it in the autumn of 1871, I have always called it the "Tuolumne
Yosemite," for it is a wonderfully exact counterpart of the Merced
Yosemite, not only in its sublime rocks and waterfalls but in the
gardens, groves and meadows of its flowery park-like floor. The floor of
Yosemite is about 4000 feet above the sea; the Hetch Hetchy floor about
3700 feet. And as the Merced River flows through Yosemite, so does the
Tuolumne through Hetch Hetchy. The walls of both are of gray granite,
rise abruptly from the floor, are sculptured in the same style and in
both every rock is a glacier monument.

Standing boldly out from the south wall is a strikingly picturesque rock
called by the Indians, Kolana, the outermost of a group 2300 feet high,
corresponding with the Cathedral Rocks of Yosemite both in relative
position and form. On the opposite side of the Valley, facing Kolana,
there is a counterpart of the El Capitan that rises sheer and plain to
a height of 1800 feet, and over its massive brow flows a stream which
makes the most graceful fall I have ever seen. From the edge of the
cliff to the top of an earthquake talus it is perfectly free in the air
for a thousand feet before it is broken into cascades among talus
boulders. It is in all its glory in June, when the snow is melting fast,
but fades and vanishes toward the end of summer. The only fall I know
with which it may fairly be compared is the Yosemite Bridal Veil; but it
excels even that favorite fall both in height and airy-fairy beauty and
behavior. Lowlanders are apt to suppose that mountain streams in their
wild career over cliffs lose control of themselves and tumble in a noisy
chaos of mist and spray. On the contrary, on no part of their travels
are they more harmonious and self-controlled. Imagine yourself in Hetch
Hetchy on a sunny day in June, standing waist-deep in grass and flowers
(as I have often stood), while the great pines sway dreamily with
scarcely perceptible motion. Looking northward across the Valley you
see a plain, gray granite cliff rising abruptly out of the gardens and
groves to a height of 1800 feet, and in front of it Tueeulala's silvery
scarf burning with irised sun-fire. In the first white outburst at the
head there is abundance of visible energy, but it is speedily hushed and
concealed in divine repose, and its tranquil progress to the base of the
cliff is like that of a downy feather in a still room. Now observe the
fineness and marvelous distinctness of the various sun-illumined fabrics
into which the water is woven; they sift and float from form to form
down the face of that grand gray rock in so leisurely and unconfused a
manner that you can examine their texture, and patterns and tones of
color as you would a piece of embroidery held in the hand. Toward the
top of the fall you see groups of booming, comet-like masses, their
solid, white heads separate, their tails like combed silk interlacing
among delicate gray and purple shadows, ever forming and dissolving,
worn out by friction in their rush through the air. Most of these vanish
a few hundred feet below the summit, changing to varied forms of
cloud-like drapery. Near the bottom the width of the fall has increased
from about twenty-five feet to a hundred feet. Here it is composed of
yet finer tissues, and is still without a trace of disorder--air, water
and sunlight woven into stuff that spirits might wear.

So fine a fall might well seem sufficient to glorify any valley; but
here, as in Yosemite, Nature seems in nowise moderate, for a short
distance to the eastward of Tueeulala booms and thunders the great Hetch
Hetchy Fall, Wapama, so near that you have both of them in full view
from the same standpoint. It is the counterpart of the Yosemite Fall,
but has a much greater volume of water, is about 1700 feet in height,
and appears to be nearly vertical, though considerably inclined, and is
dashed into huge outbounding bosses of foam on projecting shelves and
knobs. No two falls could be more unlike--Tueeulala out in the open
sunshine descending like thistledown; Wapama in a jagged, shadowy gorge
roaring and plundering, pounding its way like an earthquake avalanche.

Besides this glorious pair there is a broad, massive fall on the main
river a short distance above the head of the Valley. Its position is
something like that of the Vernal in Yosemite, and its roar as it
plunges into a surging trout-pool may be heard a long way, though it
is only about twenty feet high. On Rancheria Creek, a large stream,
corresponding in position with the Yosemite Tenaya Creek, there is a
chain of cascades joined here and there with swift flashing plumes like
the one between the Vernal and Nevada Falls, making magnificent shows
as they go their glacier-sculptured way, sliding, leaping, hurrahing,
covered with crisp clashing spray made glorious with sifting sunshine.
And besides all these a few small streams come over the walls at wide
intervals, leaping from ledge to ledge with birdlike song and watering
many a hidden cliff-garden and fernery, but they are too unshowy to be
noticed in so grand a place.

The correspondence between the Hetch Hetchy walls in their trends,
sculpture, physical structure, and general arrangement of the main
rock-masses and those of the Yosemite Valley has excited the wondering
admiration of every observer. We have seen that the El Capitan and
Cathedral rocks occupy the same relative positions In both valleys; so
also do their Yosemite points and North Domes. Again, that part of the
Yosemite north wall immediately to the east of the Yosemite Fall has two
horizontal benches, about 500 and 1500 feet above the floor, timbered
with golden-cup oak. Two benches similarly situated and timbered occur
on the same relative portion of the Hetch Hetchy north wall, to the east
of Wapama Fall, and on no other. The Yosemite is bounded at the head by
the great Half Dome. Hetch Hetchy is bounded in the same way though its
head rock is incomparably less wonderful and sublime in form.

The floor of the Valley is about three and a half miles long, and from a
fourth to half a mile wide. The lower portion is mostly a level meadow
about a mile long, with the trees restricted to the sides and the river
banks, and partially separated from the main, upper, forested portion by
a low bar of glacier-polished granite across which the river breaks in

The principal trees are the yellow and sugar pines, digger pine, incense
cedar, Douglas spruce, silver fir, the California and golden-cup oaks,
balsam cottonwood, Nuttall's flowering dogwood, alder, maple, laurel,
tumion, etc. The most abundant and influential are the great yellow or
silver pines like those of Yosemite, the tallest over two hundred feet
in height, and the oaks assembled in magnificent groves with massive
rugged trunks four to six feet in diameter, and broad, shady,
wide-spreading heads. The shrubs forming conspicuous flowery clumps and
tangles are manzanita, azalea, spiræa, brier-rose, several species of
ceanothus, calycanthus, philadelphus, wild cherry, etc.; with abundance
of showy and fragrant herbaceous plants growing about them or out in the
open in beds by themselves--lilies, Mariposa tulips, brodiaeas, orchids,
iris, spraguea, draperia, collomia, collinsia, castilleja, nemophila,
larkspur, columbine, goldenrods, sunflowers, mints of many species,
honeysuckle, etc. Many fine ferns dwell here also, especially the
beautiful and interesting rock-ferns--pellaea, and cheilanthes of
several species--fringing and rosetting dry rock-piles and ledges;
woodwardia and asplenium on damp spots with fronds six or seven feet
high; the delicate maiden-hair in mossy nooks by the falls, and the
sturdy, broad-shouldered pteris covering nearly all the dry ground
beneath the oaks and pines.

It appears, therefore, that Hetch Hetchy Valley, far from being a plain,
common, rock-bound meadow, as many who have not seen it seem to suppose,
is a grand landscape garden, one of Nature's rarest and most precious
mountain temples. As in Yosemite, the sublime rocks of its walls seem
to glow with life, whether leaning back in repose or standing erect in
thoughtful attitudes, giving welcome to storms and calms alike, their
brows in the sky, their feet set in the groves and gay flowery meadows,
while birds, bees, and butterflies help the river and waterfalls to
stir all the air into music--things frail and fleeting and types of
permanence meeting here and blending, just as they do in Yosemite, to
draw her lovers into close and confiding communion with her.

Sad to say, this most precious and sublime feature of the Yosemite
National Park, one of the greatest of all our natural resources for the
uplifting joy and peace and health of the people, is in danger of being
dammed and made into a reservoir to help supply San Francisco with water
and light, thus flooding it from wall to wall and burying its gardens
and groves one or two hundred feet deep. This grossly destructive
commercial scheme has long been planned and urged (though water as pure
and abundant can be got from outside of the people's park, in a dozen
different places), because of the comparative cheapness of the dam and
of the territory which it is sought to divert from the great uses to
which it was dedicated in the Act of 1890 establishing the Yosemite
National Park.

The making of gardens and parks goes on with civilization all over the
world, and they increase both in size and number as their value is
recognized. Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in
and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body
and soul alike. This natural beauty-hunger is made manifest in the
little window-sill gardens of the poor, though perhaps only a geranium
slip in a broken cup, as well as in the carefully tended rose and lily
gardens of the rich, the thousands of spacious city parks and botanical
gardens, and in our magnificent National parks--the Yellowstone,
Yosemite, Sequoia, etc.--Nature's sublime wonderlands, the admiration
and joy of the world. Nevertheless, like anything else worth while, from
the very beginning, however well guarded, they have always been subject
to attack by despoiling gainseekers and mischief-makers of every degree
from Satan to Senators, eagerly trying to make everything immediately
and selfishly commercial, with schemes disguised in smug-smiling
philanthropy, industriously, shampiously crying, "Conservation,
conservation, panutilization," that man and beast may be fed and the
dear Nation made great. Thus long ago a few enterprising merchants
utilized the Jerusalem temple as a place of business instead of a place
of prayer, changing money, buying and selling cattle and sheep and
doves; and earlier still, the first forest reservation, including only
one tree, was likewise despoiled. Ever since the establishment of the
Yosemite National Park, strife has been going on around its borders and
I suppose this will go on as part of the universal battle between right
and wrong, however much its boundaries may be shorn, or its wild beauty

The first application to the Government by the San Francisco Supervisors
for the commercial use of Lake Eleanor and the Hetch Hetchy Valley was
made in 1903, and on December 22nd of that year it was denied by the
Secretary of the Interior, Mr. Hitchcock, who truthfully said:

Presumably the Yosemite National Park was created such by law because
within its boundaries, inclusive alike of its beautiful small lakes,
like Eleanor, and its majestic wonders, like Hetch Hetchy and Yosemite
Valley. It is the aggregation of such natural scenic features that makes
the Yosemite Park a wonderland which the Congress of the United States
sought by law to reserve for all coming time as nearly as practicable
in the condition fashioned by the hand of the Creator--a worthy object
of national pride and a source of healthful pleasure and rest for the
thousands of people who may annually sojourn there during the heated

In 1907 when Mr. Garfield became Secretary of the Interior the
application was renewed and granted; but under his successor, Mr.
Fisher, the matter has been referred to a Commission, which as this
volume goes to press still has it under consideration.

The most delightful and wonderful camp grounds in the Park are its three
great valleys--Yosemite, Hetch Hetchy, and Upper Tuolumne; and they are
also the most important places with reference to their positions
relative to the other great features--the Merced and Tuolumne Cañons,
and the High Sierra peaks and glaciers, etc., at the head of the rivers.
The main part of the Tuolumne Valley is a spacious flowery lawn four or
five miles long, surrounded by magnificent snowy mountains, slightly
separated from other beautiful meadows, which together make a series
about twelve miles in length, the highest reaching to the feet of Mount
Dana, Mount Gibbs, Mount Lyell and Mount McClure. It is about 8500 feet
above the sea, and forms the grand central High Sierra camp ground from
which excursions are made to the noble mountains, domes, glaciers, etc.;
across the Range to the Mono Lake and volcanoes and down the Tuolumne
Cañon to Hetch Hetchy. Should Hetch Hetchy be submerged for a
reservoir, as proposed, not only would it be utterly destroyed, but the
sublime cañon way to the heart of the High Sierra would be hopelessly
blocked and the great camping ground, as the watershed of a city
drinking system, virtually would be closed to the public. So far as I
have learned, few of all the thousands who have seen the park and seek
rest and peace in it are in favor of this outrageous scheme.

One of my later visits to the Valley was made in the autumn of 1907 with
the late William Keith, the artist. The leaf-colors were then ripe, and
the great godlike rocks in repose seemed to glow with life. The artist,
under their spell, wandered day after day along the river and through
the groves and gardens, studying the wonderful scenery; and, after
making about forty sketches, declared with enthusiasm that although its
walls were less sublime in height, in picturesque beauty and charm Hetch
Hetchy surpassed even Yosemite.

That any one would try to destroy such a place seems incredible; but sad
experience shows that there are people good enough and bad enough for
anything. The proponents of the dam scheme bring forward a lot of bad
arguments to prove that the only righteous thing to do with the people's
parks is to destroy them bit by bit as they are able. Their arguments
are curiously like those of the devil, devised for the destruction of
the first garden--so much of the very best Eden fruit going to waste; so
much of the best Tuolumne water and Tuolumne scenery going to waste. Few
of their statements are even partly true, and all are misleading.

Thus, Hetch Hetchy, they say, is a "low-lying meadow." On the contrary,
it is a high-lying natural landscape garden, as the photographic
illustrations show.

"It is a common minor feature, like thousands of others." On the
contrary it is a very uncommon feature; after Yosemite, the rarest and
in many ways the most important in the National Park.

"Damming and submerging it 175 feet deep would enhance its beauty by
forming a crystal-clear lake." Landscape gardens, places of recreation
and worship, are never made beautiful by destroying and burying them.
The beautiful sham lake, forsooth, should be only an eyesore, a dismal
blot on the landscape, like many others to be seen in the Sierra. For,
instead of keeping it at the same level all the year, allowing Nature
centuries of time to make new shores, it would, of course, be full only
a month or two in the spring, when the snow is melting fast; then it
would be gradually drained, exposing the slimy sides of the basin and
shallower parts of the bottom, with the gathered drift and waste, death
and decay of the upper basins, caught here instead of being swept on to
decent natural burial along the banks of the river or in the sea. Thus
the Hetch Hetchy dam-lake would be only a rough imitation of a natural
lake for a few of the spring months, an open sepulcher for the others.

"Hetch Hetchy water is the purest of all to be found in the Sierra,
unpolluted, and forever unpollutable." On the contrary, excepting that
of the Merced below Yosemite, it is less pure than that of most of the
other Sierra streams, because of the sewerage of camp grounds draining
into it, especially of the Big Tuolumne Meadows camp ground, occupied by
hundreds of tourists and mountaineers, with their animals, for months
every summer, soon to be followed by thousands from all the world.

These temple destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to
have a perfect contempt for Nature, and, instead of lifting their eyes
to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar.

Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well dam for water-tanks the people's cathedrals
and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the
heart of man.

avatar Appendix A: Legislation About the Yosemite
April 04, 2009 02:14PM
Appendix A
Legislation About the Yosemite

In the year 1864, Congress passed the following act:--

ACT OF JUNE 30, 1864 (13 STAT., 325).

An Act Authorizing a grant to the State of California of the "Yo-Semite
Valley," and of the land embracing the "Mariposa Big Tree Grove."

"Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United
States of America, in Congress assembled, That there shall be, and is
hereby, granted to the State of California, the 'Cleft' or 'Gorge' in
the Granite Peak of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, situated in the county
of Mariposa, in the State aforesaid, and the headwaters of the Merced
River, and known as the Yosemite Valley, with its branches and spurs, in
estimated length fifteen miles, and in average width one mile back from
the main edge of the precipice, on each side of the Valley, with the
stipulation, nevertheless, that the said State shall accept this grant
upon the express conditions that the premises shall be held for public
use, resort, and recreation; shall be inalienable for all time; but
leases not exceeding ten years may be granted for portions of said
premises. All incomes derived from leases of privileges to be expended
in the preservation and improvement of the property, or the roads
leading thereto; the boundaries to be established at the cost of said
State by the United States Surveyor-General of California, whose
official plat, when affirmed by the Commissioner of the General Land
Office, shall constitute the evidence of the locus, extent, and limits
of the said Cleft or Gorge; the premises to be managed by the Governor
of the State, with eight other Commissioners, to be appointed by the
Executive of California, and who shall receive no compensation for their

"Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That there shall likewise be, and
there is hereby, granted to the said State of California, the tracts
embracing what is known as the 'Mariposa Big Tree Grove,' not to exceed
the area of four sections, and to be taken in legal subdivisions of
one-quarter section each, with the like stipulations as expressed in
the first section of this Act as to the State's acceptance, with like
conditions as in the first section of this Act as to inalienability,
yet with the same lease privileges; the income to be expended in the
preservation, improvement, and protection of the property, the premises
to be managed by Commissioners, as stipulated in the first section of
this Act, and to be taken in legal subdivisions as aforesaid; and the
official plat of the United States Surveyor-General, when affirmed by
the Commissioner of the General Land Office, to be the evidence of the
locus of the said Mariposa Big Tree Grove."

This important act was approved by the President, June 30, 1864,
and shortly after the Governor of California, F. F. Low, issued a
proclamation taking possession of the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa
grove of Big Trees, in the name and on behalf of the State, appointing
commissioners to manage them, and warning all persons against
trespassing or settling there without authority, and especially
forbidding the cutting of timber and other injurious acts.

The first Board of Commissioners were F. Law Olmsted, J. D. Whitney,
William Ashburner, I. W. Raymond, E. S. Holden, Alexander Deering,
George W. Coulter, and Galen Clark.

ACT OF OCTOBER 1, 1890 (26 STAT., 650).

[Footnote: Sections 1 and 2 of this act pertain to the Yosemite National
Park, while section 3 sets apart General Grant National Park, and also a
portion of Sequoia National Park.]

An Act To set apart certain tracts of land in the State of California as
forest reservations.

"Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United
States of America in Congress assembled, That the tracts of land in the
State of California known as described as follows: Commencing at the
northwest corner of township two north, range nineteen east Mount Diablo
meridian, thence eastwardly on the line between townships two and three
north, ranges twenty-four and twenty-five east; thence southwardly on
the line between ranges twenty-four and twenty-five east to the Mount
Diablo base line; thence eastwardly on said base line to the corner
to township one south, ranges twenty-five and twenty-six east; thence
southwardly on the line between ranges twenty-five and twenty-six east
to the southeast corner of township two south, range twenty-five east;
thence eastwardly on the line between townships two and three south,
range twenty-six east to the corner to townships two and three south,
ranges twenty-six and twenty-seven east; thence southwardly on the line
between ranges twenty-six and twenty-seven east to the first standard
parallel south; thence westwardly on the first standard parallel south
to the southwest corner of township four south, range nineteen east;
thence northwardly on the line between ranges eighteen and nineteen east
to the northwest corner of township two south, range nineteen east;
thence westwardly on the line between townships one and two south to
the southwest corner of township one south, range nineteen east; thence
northwardly on the line between ranges eighteen and nineteen east to
the northwest corner of township two north, range nineteen east, the
place of beginning, are hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement,
occupancy, or sale under the laws of the United States, and set apart as
reserved forest lands; and all persons who shall locate or settle upon,
or occupy the same or any part thereof, except as hereinafter provided,
shall be considered trespassers and removed therefrom: Provided,
however, That nothing in this act shall be construed as in anywise
affecting the grant of lands made to the State of California by virtue
of the act entitled, 'An act authorizing a grant to the State of
California of the Yosemite Valley, and of the land embracing the
Mariposa Big-Tree Grove,' appeared June thirtieth, eighteen hundred and
sixty-four; or as affecting any bona-fide entry of land made within the
limits above described under any law of the United States prior to the
approval of this act.

"Sec. 2. That said reservation shall be under the exclusive control
of the Secretary of the Interior, whose duty it shall be, as soon as
practicable, to make and publish such rules and regulations as he may
deem necessary or proper for the care and management of the same. Such
regulations shall provide for the preservation from injury of all
timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders within said
reservation, and their retention in their natural condition. The
Secretary may, in his discretion, grant leases for building purposes for
terms not exceeding ten years of small parcels of ground not exceeding
five acres; at such places in said reservation as shall require the
erection of buildings for the accommodation of visitors; all of the
proceeds of said leases and other revenues that may be derived from
any source connected with said reservation to be expended under his
direction in the management of the same and the construction of roads
and paths therein. He shall provide against the wanton destruction of
the fish, and game found within said reservation, and against their
capture or destruction, for the purposes of merchandise or profit. He
shall also cause all persons trespassing upon the same after the passage
of this act to be removed therefrom, and, generally, shall be authorized
to take all such measures as shall be necessary or proper to fully carry
out the objects and purposes of this act.

"Sec. 3. There shall also be and is hereby reserved and withdrawn from
settlement, occupancy, or sale under the laws of the United States, and
shall be set apart as reserved forest lands, as herein before provided,
and subject to all the limitations and provisions herein contained, the
following additional lands, to wit: Township seventeen south, range
thirty east of the Mount Diablo meridian, excepting sections thirty-one,
thirty-two, thirty-three, and thirty-four of said township, included
in a previous bill. And there is also reserved and withdrawn from
settlement, occupancy, or sale under the laws of the United States, and
set apart as forest lands, subject to like limitations, conditions,
and provisions, all of townships fifteen and sixteen south, of ranges
twenty-nine and thirty east of the Mount Diablo meridian. And there is
also hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale
under the laws of the United states, and set apart as reserved forest
lands under like limitations, restrictions, and provisions, sections
five and six in township fourteen south, range twenty-eight east of
Mount Diablo meridian, and also sections thirty-one and thirty-two of
township thirteen south, range twenty-eight east of the same meridian.
Nothing in this act shall authorize rules or contracts touching the
protection and improvement of said reservations, beyond the sums that
may be received by the Secretary of the Interior under the foregoing
provisions, or authorize any charge against the Treasury of the United

MARCH 3, 1905.

"Sec. 1. The State of California does hereby recede and regrant unto the
United States of America the 'cleft' or 'gorge' in the granite peak of
the Sierra Nevada Mountains, situated in the county of Mariposa, State
of California, and the headwaters of the Merced River, and known as the
Yosemite Valley, with its branches and spurs, granted unto the State
of California in trust for public use, resort, and recreation by the
act of Congress entitled, 'An act authorizing a grant to the State
of California of the Yosemite Valley and of the land embracing the
Mariposa Big Tree Grove,' approved June thirtieth, eighteen hundred and
sixty-four; and the State of California does hereby relinquish unto the
United States of America and resign the trusts created and granted by
the said act of Congress.

"Sec. 2. The State of California does hereby recede and regrant unto
the United States of America the tracts embracing what is known as the
'Mariposa Big Tree Grove,' planted unto the State of California in trust
for public use, resort, and recreation by the act of Congress referred
to in section one of this act, and the State of California does hereby
relinquish unto the United States of America and resign the trusts
created and granted by the said act of Congress.

"Sec. 3. This act shall take effect from and after acceptance by the
United States of America of the recessions and regrants herein made
thereby forever releasing the State of California from further cost of
maintaining the said premises, the same to be held for all time by the
United States of America for public use, resort, and recreation and
imposing on the United States of America the cost of maintaining the
same as a national park: Provided, however, That the recession and
regrant hereby made shall not affect vested rights and interests of
third persons."

avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 04, 2009 02:28PM
This is almost as painful to read:

"Imagine yourself in Hetch Hetchy on a sunny day in June, standing waist-deep in grass and flowers(as I have often stood), while the great pines sway dreamily with scarcely perceptible motion."

As this:

"Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well dam for water-tanks the people's cathedrals
and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the
heart of man."

avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 04, 2009 02:54PM
avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 04, 2009 03:01PM
I have never been to the Hetch Hetchy. Are the falls gone, too?

avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 04, 2009 03:20PM
Bee wrote:

> I have never been to the Hetch Hetchy. Are the falls gone, too?

avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 04, 2009 03:25PM
One can only imagine...

avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 04, 2009 03:28PM
avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 04, 2009 03:39PM
Its quite beautiful. I never pursued the Hetch Hetchy because I imagined something much worse, for all the writings about what it once was.

avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 04, 2009 03:51PM
Bee wrote:

> Its quite beautiful. I never pursued the Hetch Hetchy because I
> imagined something much worse, for all the writings about what
> it once was.

You should go see it at least once. Besides, there are some nice hikes to do there.

avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 04, 2009 04:00PM
eeek: You should go see it at least once. Besides, there are some nice hikes to do there.

Sounds corny, but it was a relief to see the waterfalls. I had it so wrong; I was thinking something like..like... Hoover dam. I used to skip past the Hetch Hetchy in the guide books. Thankx for sharing pix.

avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 04, 2009 04:05PM
I am I have less nostalgia after viewing some of the photos of the construction process. For me it helps to dispell any fantasy about how it could be without a dam:

from: http://www.sierranevadaphotos.com

Valley stripped of trees:

gravel harvested for use in dam, taken from canyon walls:

The cure for a fallacious argument is a better argument, not the suppression of ideas.
-- Carl Sagan
avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 05, 2009 09:11PM
Here's a little different perspective on Wapama Falls:

You should visit Hetch Hetchy around Memorial Day.
At that time of year the falls are really flowing and the reservoir will be
nearly full.

The trail to Jack Main Canyon is out of Hetch Hetchy along with alot
of other great hikes. smiling smiley
avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 05, 2009 09:44PM
bill-e-g: You should visit Hetch Hetchy around Memorial Day.
At that time of year the falls are really flowing and the reservoir will be
nearly full.

Nice shot of the falls! I have now added to my notes to visit Hetch Hetchy around end of May. I cannot express how much my attitude towards visiting this spot has changed after looking at the recent pix, commentary and more reading over the weekend,

avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 06, 2009 10:00AM
Bee, theres a few more of the area here... just poke around if you wish:


Anytime from end of may to mid-june and the reservoir will be
nearly full if not completely...
avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 09, 2009 01:27PM
The mountains are calling and I must go.
--John Muir

avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 18, 2009 03:39PM

John Muir's Cabin on Muir Glacier, Alaska from Overland Monthly January 1900
avatar Re: The Yosemite
April 18, 2009 05:49PM
Wow -- that gives a whole new meaning to the term "rustic". I am not familiar with Muir's travels in Alaska.

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