Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Steep Trails, by John Muir

Part 4 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

streams and waterfalls sing about them and to what a multitude of
happy creatures they give homes and food!

The principal mountains of the range are Mounts Pitt, Scott, and
Thielson, Diamond Peak, the Three Sisters, Mounts Jefferson, Hood, St.
Helen's, Adams, Rainier, Aix, and Baker. Of these the seven first
named belong to Oregon, the others to Washington. They rise singly at
irregular distances from one another along the main axis of the range
or near it, with an elevation of from about eight thousand to fourteen
thousand four hundred feet above the level of the sea. From few
points in the valleys may more than three or four of them be seen, and
of the more distant ones of these only the tops appear. Therefore,
speaking generally, each of the lowland landscapes of the State
contains only one grand snowy mountain.

The heights back of Portland command one of the best general views of
the forests and also of the most famous of the great mountains both of
Oregon and Washington. Mount Hood is in full view, with the summits
of Mounts Jefferson, St. Helen's, Adams, and Rainier in the distance.
The city of Portland is at our feet, covering a large area along both
banks of the Willamette, and, with its fine streets, schools,
churches, mills, shipping, parks, and gardens, makes a telling picture
of busy, aspiring civilization in the midst of the green wilderness in
which it is planted. The river is displayed to fine advantage in the
foreground of our main view, sweeping in beautiful curves around rich,
leafy islands, its banks fringed with willows.

A few miles beyond the Willamette flows the renowned Columbia, and the
confluence of these two great rivers is at a point only about ten
miles below the city. Beyond the Columbia extends the immense breadth
of the forest, one dim, black, monotonous field with only the sky,
which one is glad to see is not forested, and the tops of the majestic
old volcanoes to give diversity to the view. That sharp, white,
broad-based pyramid on the south side of the Columbia, a few degrees
to the south of east from where you stand, is the famous Mount Hood.
The distance to it in a straight line is about fifty miles. Its upper
slopes form the only bare ground, bare as to forests, in the landscape
in that direction. It is the pride of Oregonians, and when it is
visible is always pointed out to strangers as the glory of the
country, the mountain of mountains. It is one of the grand series of
extinct volcanoes extending from Lassen's Butte[31] to Mount Baker, a
distance of about six hundred miles, which once flamed like gigantic
watch-fires along the coast. Some of them have been active in recent
times, but no considerable addition to the bulk of Mount Hood has been
made for several centuries, as is shown by the amount of glacial
denudation it has suffered. Its summit has been ground to a point,
which gives it a rather thin, pinched appearance. It has a wide-flowing base, however, and is fairly well proportioned. Though it is
eleven thousand feet high, it is too far off to make much show under
ordinary conditions in so extensive a landscape. Through a great part
of the summer it is invisible on account of smoke poured into the sky
from burning woods, logging camps, mills, etc., and in winter for
weeks at a time, or even months, it is in the clouds. Only in spring
and early summer and in what there may chance to be of bright weather
in winter is it or any of its companions at all clear or telling.
From the Cascades on the Columbia it may be seen at a distance of
twenty miles or thereabouts, or from other points up and down the
river, and with the magnificent foreground it is very impressive. It
gives the supreme touch of grandeur to all the main Columbia views,
rising at every turn, solitary, majestic, awe-inspiring, the ruling
spirit of the landscape. But, like mountains everywhere, it varies
greatly in impressiveness and apparent height at different times and
seasons, not alone from differences as to the dimness or transparency
of the air. Clear, or arrayed in clouds, it changes both in size and
general expression. Now it looms up to an immense height and seems to
draw near in tremendous grandeur and beauty, holding the eyes of every
beholder in devout and awful interest. Next year or next day, or even
in the same day, you return to the same point of view, perhaps to find
that the glory has departed, as if the mountain had died and the poor
dull, shrunken mass of rocks and ice had lost all power to charm.

Never shall I forget my first glorious view of Mount Hood one calm
evening in July, though I had seen it many times before this. I was
then sauntering with a friend across the new Willamette bridge between
Portland and East Portland for the sake of the river views, which are
here very fine in the tranquil summer weather. The scene on the water
was a lively one. Boats of every description were gliding, glinting,
drifting about at work or play, and we leaned over the rail from time
to time, contemplating the gay throng. Several lines of ferry boats
were making regular trips at intervals of a few minutes, and river
steamers were coming and going from the wharves, laden with all sorts
of merchandise, raising long diverging swells that make all the light
pleasure craft bow and nod in hearty salutation as they passed. The
crowd was being constantly increased by new arrivals from both shores,
sailboats, rowboats, racing shells, rafts, were loaded with gayly
dressed people, and here and there some adventurous man or boy might
be seen as a merry sailor on a single plank or spar, apparently as
deep in enjoyment as were any on the water. It seemed as if all the
town were coming to the river, renouncing the cares and toils of the
day, determined to take the evening breeze into their pulses, and be
cool and tranquil ere going to bed.

Absorbed in the happy scene, given up to dreamy, random observation of
what lay immediately before me, I was not conscious of anything
occurring on the outer rim of the landscape. Forest, mountain, and
sky were forgotten, when my companion suddenly directed my attention
to the eastward, shouting, "Oh, look! look!" in so loud and excited a
tone of voice that passers-by, saunterers like ourselves, were
startled and looked over the bridge as if expecting to see some boat
upset. Looking across the forest, over which the mellow light of the
sunset was streaming, I soon discovered the source of my friend's
excitement. There stood Mount Hood in all the glory of the alpenglow,
looming immensely high, beaming with intelligence, and so impressive
that one was overawed as if suddenly brought before some superior
being newly arrived from the sky.

The atmosphere was somewhat hazy, but the mountain seemed neither near
nor far. Its glaciers flashed in the divine light. The rugged,
storm-worn ridges between them and the snowfields of the summit, these
perhaps might have been traced as far as they were in sight, and the
blending zones of color about the base. But so profound was the
general impression, partial analysis did not come into play. The
whole mountain appeared as one glorious manifestation of divine power,
enthusiastic and benevolent, glowing like a countenance with ineffable
repose and beauty, before which we could only gaze in devout and lowly

The far-famed Oregon forests cover all the western section of the
State, the mountains as well as the lowlands, with the exception of a
few gravelly spots and open spaces in the central portions of the
great cultivated valleys. Beginning on the coast, where their outer
ranks are drenched and buffeted by wind-driven scud from the sea, they
press on in close, majestic ranks over the coast mountains, across the
broad central valleys, and over the Cascade Range, broken and halted
only by the few great peaks that rise like islands above the sea of

In descending the eastern slopes of the Cascades the rich, abounding,
triumphant exuberance of the trees is quickly subdued; they become
smaller, grow wide apart, leaving dry spaces without moss covering or
underbrush, and before the foot of the range is reached, fail
altogether, stayed by the drouth of the interior almost as suddenly as
on the western margin they are stayed by the sea. Here and there at
wide intervals on the eastern plains patches of a small pine (Pinus
contorta) are found, and a scattering growth of juniper, used by the
settlers mostly for fence posts and firewood. Along the stream
bottoms there is usually more or less of cottonwood and willow, which,
though yielding inferior timber, is yet highly prized in this bare
region. On the Blue Mountains there is pine, spruce, fir, and larch
in abundance for every use, but beyond this range there is nothing
that may be called a forest in the Columbia River basin, until we
reach the spurs of the Rocky Mountains; and these Rocky Mountain
forests are made up of trees which, compared with the giants of the
Pacific Slope, are mere saplings.


The Forests of Oregon and their Inhabitants

Like the forests of Washington, already described, those of Oregon are
in great part made up of the Douglas spruce[32], or Oregon pine (Abies
Douglasii). A large number of mills are at work upon this species,
especially along the Columbia, but these as yet have made but little
impression upon its dense masses, the mills here being small as
compared with those of the Puget Sound region. The white cedar, or
Port Orford cedar (Cupressus Lawsoniana, or Chamaecyparis Lawsoniana),
is one of the most beautiful of the evergreens, and produces excellent
lumber, considerable quantities of which are shipped to the San
Francisco market. It is found mostly about Coos Bay, along the
Coquille River, and on the northern slopes of the Siskiyou Mountains,
and extends down the coast into California. The silver firs, the
spruces, and the colossal arbor-vitae, or white cedar[33](Thuja
gigantea), described in the chapter on Washington, are also found here
in great beauty and perfection, the largest of these (Picea grandis,
Loud.; Abies grandis, Lindl.) being confined mostly to the coast
region, where it attains a height of three hundred feet, and a
diameter of ten or twelve feet. Five or six species of pines are
found in the State, the most important of which, both as to lumber and
as to the part they play in the general wealth and beauty of the
forests, are the yellow and sugar pines (Pinus ponderosa and P.
Lambertiana). The yellow pine is most abundant on the eastern slopes
of the Cascades, forming there the main bulk of the forest in many
places. It is also common along the borders of the open spaces in
Willamette Valley. In the southern portion of the State the sugar
pine, which is the king of all the pines and the glory of the Sierra
forests, occurs in considerable abundance in the basins of the Umpqua
and Rogue Rivers, and it was in the Umpqua Hills that this noble tree
was first discovered by the enthusiastic botanical explorer David
Douglas, in the year 1826.

This is the Douglas for whom the noble Douglas spruce is named, and
many a fair blooming plant also, which will serve to keep his memory
fresh and sweet as long as beautiful trees and flowers are loved. The
Indians of the lower Columbia River watched him with lively curiosity
as he wandered about in the woods day after day, gazing intently on
the ground or at the great trees, collecting specimens of everything
he saw, but, unlike all the eager fur-gathering strangers they had
hitherto seen, caring nothing about trade. And when at length they
came to know him better, and saw that from year to year the growing
things of the woods and prairies, meadows and plains, were his only
object of pursuit, they called him the "Man of Grass," a title of
which he was proud.

He was a Scotchman and first came to this coast in the spring of 1825
under the auspices of the London Horticultural Society, landing at the
mouth of the Columbia after a long dismal voyage of the Columbia after
a long, dismal voyage of eight months and fourteen days. During this
first season he chose Fort Vancouver, belonging to the Hudson's Bay
Company, as his headquarters, and from there made excursions into the
glorious wilderness in every direction, discovering many new species
among the trees as well as among the rich underbrush and smaller
herbaceous vegetation. It was while making a trip to Mount Hood this
year that he discovered the two largest and most beautiful firs in the
world (Picea amabilis and P. nobilis--now called Abies), and from the
seeds which he then collected and sent home tall trees are now growing
in Scotland.

In one of his trips that summer, in the lower Willamette Valley, he
saw in an Indian's tobacco pouch some of the seeds and scales of a new
species of pine, which he learned were gathered from a large tree that
grew far to the southward. Most of the following season was spent on
the upper waters of the Columbia, and it was not until September that
he returned to Fort Vancouver, about the time of the setting-in of the
winter rains. Nevertheless, bearing in mind the great pine he had
heard of, and the seeds of which he had seen, he made haste to set out
on an excursion to the headwaters of the Willamette in search of it;
and how he fared on this excursion and what dangers and hardships he
endured is best told in his own journal, part of which I quote as

October 26th, 1826. Weather dull. Cold and cloudy. When my
friends in England are made acquainted with my travels I fear
they will think that I have told them nothing but my miseries....
I quitted my camp early in the morning to survey the neighboring
country, leaving my guide to take charge of the horses until my
return in the evening. About an hour's walk from the camp I met
an Indian, who on perceiving me instantly strung his bow, placed
on his left arm a sleeve of raccoon skin and stood on the
defensive. Being quite sure that conduct was prompted by fear and
not by hostile intentions, the poor fellow having probably never
seen such a being as myself before, I laid my gun at my feet on the
ground and waved my hand for him to come to me, which he did slowly
and with great caution. I then made him place his bow and quiver
of arrows beside my gun, and striking a light gave him a smoke out
of my own pipe and a present of a few beads. With my pencil I made
a rough sketch of the cone and pine tree which I wanted to obtain
and drew his attention to it, when he instantly pointed with his
hand to the hills fifteen or twenty miles distant towards the
south; and when I expressed my intention of going thither,
cheerfully set about accompanying me. At midday I reached my long-wished-for pines and lost no time in examining them and endeavoring
to collect specimens and seeds. New and strange things seldom fail
to make strong impressions and are therefore frequently overrated;
so that, lest I should never see my friends in England to inform
them verbally of this most beautiful and immensely grand tree, I
shall here state the dimensions of the largest I could find among
several that had been blown down by the wind. At three feet from
the ground its circumference is fifty-seven feet, nine inches; at
one hundred and thirty-four feet, seventeen feet five inches; the
extreme length two hundred and forty-five feet.... As it was
impossible either to climb the tree or hew it down, I endeavored to
knock off the cones by firing at them with ball, when the report of
my gun brought eight Indians, all of them painted with red earth,
armed with bows, arrows, bone-tipped spears, and flint knives.
They appeared anything but friendly. I explained to them what I
wanted and they seemed satisfied and sat down to smoke; but
presently I saw one of them string his bow and another sharpen his
flint knife with a pair of wooden pincers and suspend it on the
wrist of his right hand. Further testimony of their intentions was
unnecessary. To save myself by flight was impossible, so without
hesitation I stepped back about five paces, cocked my gun, drew one
of the pistols out of my belt, and holding it in my left hand, the
gun in my right, showed myself determined to fight for my life. As
much as possible I endeavored to preserve my coolness, and thus we
stood looking at one another without making any movement or
uttering a word for perhaps ten minutes, when one at last, who
seemed to be the leader, gave a sign that they wished for some
tobacco; this I signified they should have if they fetched a
quantity of cones. They went off immediately in search of them,
and no sooner were they all out of sight than I picked up my three
cones and some twigs of the trees and made the quickest possible
retreat, hurrying back to my camp, which I reached before dusk.
The Indian who last undertook to be my guide to the trees I sent
off before gaining my encampment, lest he should betray me. How
irksome is the darkness of night to one under such circumstances.
I cannot speak a word to my guide, nor have I a book to divert my
thoughts, which are continually occupied with the dread lest the
hostile Indians should trace me hither and make an attack. I now
write lying on the grass with my gun cocked beside me, and penning
these lines by the light of my Columbian candle, namely, an ignited
piece of rosin-wood.

Douglas named this magnificent species Pinus Lambertiana, in honor of
his friend Dr. Lambert, of London. This is the noblest pine thus far
discovered in the forests of the world, surpassing all others not only
in size but in beauty and majesty. Oregon may well be proud that its
discovery was made within her borders, and that, though it is far more
abundant in California, she has the largest known specimens. In the
Sierra the finest sugar pine forests lie at an elevation of about five
thousand feet. In Oregon they occupy much lower ground, some of the
trees being found but little above tide-water.

No lover of trees will ever forget his first meeting with the sugar
pine. In most coniferous trees there is a sameness of form and
expression which at length becomes wearisome to most people who travel
far in the woods. But the sugar pines are as free from conventional
forms as any of the oaks. No two are so much alike as to hide their
individuality from any observer. Every tree is appreciated as a study
in itself and proclaims in no uncertain terms the surpassing grandeur
of the species. The branches, mostly near the summit, are sometimes
nearly forty feet long, feathered richly all around with short, leafy
branchlets, and tasseled with cones a foot and a half long. And when
these superb arms are outspread, radiating in every direction, an
immense crownlike mass is formed which, poised on the noble shaft and
filled with sunshine, is one of the grandest forest objects
conceivable. But though so wild and unconventional when full-grown,
the sugar pine is a remarkably regular tree in youth, a strict
follower of coniferous fashions, slim, erect, tapering, symmetrical,
every branch in place. At the age of fifty or sixty years this shy,
fashionable form begins to give way. Special branches are thrust out
away from the general outlines of the trees and bent down with cones.
Henceforth it becomes more and more original and independent in style,
pushes boldly aloft into the winds and sunshine, growing ever more
stately and beautiful, a joy and inspiration to every beholder.

Unfortunately, the sugar pine makes excellent lumber. It is too good
to live, and is already passing rapidly away before the woodman's axe.
Surely out of all of the abounding forest wealth of Oregon a few
specimens might be spared to the world, not as dead lumber, but as
living trees. A park of moderate extent might be set apart and
protected for public use forever, containing at least a few hundreds
of each of these noble pines, spruces, and firs. Happy will be the
men who, having the power and the love and benevolent forecast to do
this, will do it. They will not be forgotten. The trees and their
lovers will sing their praises, and generations yet unborn will rise
up and call them blessed.

Dotting the prairies and fringing the edges of the great evergreen
forests we find a considerable number of hardwood trees, such as the
oak, maple, ash, alder, laurel, madrone, flowering dogwood, wild
cherry, and wild apple. The white oak (Quercus Garryana) is the most
important of the Oregon oaks as a timber tree, but not nearly so
beautiful as Kellogg's oak (Q. Kelloggii). The former is found mostly
along the Columbia River, particularly about the Dalles, and a
considerable quantity of useful lumber is made from it and sold,
sometimes for eastern white oak, to wagon makers. Kellogg's oak is a
magnificent tree and does much for the picturesque beauty of the
Umpqua and Rogue River Valleys where it abounds. It is also found in
all the Yosemite valleys of the Sierra, and its acorns form an
important part of the food of the Digger Indians. In the Siskiyou
Mountains there is a live oak (Q. chrysolepis), wide-spreading and
very picturesque in form, but not very common. It extends southward
along the western flank of the Sierra and is there more abundant and
much larger than in Oregon, oftentimes five to eight feet in diameter.

The maples are the same as those in Washington, already described, but
I have not seen any maple groves here equal in extent or in the size
of the trees to those on the Snoqualmie River.

The Oregon ash is now rare along the stream banks of western Oregon,
and it grows to a good size and furnishes lumber that is for some
purposes equal to the white ash of the Western States.

Nuttall's flowering dogwood makes a brave display with its wealth of
show involucres in the spring along cool streams. Specimens of the
flowers may be found measuring eight inches in diameter.

The wild cherry (Prunus emarginata, var. mollis) is a small, handsome
tree seldom more than a foot in diameter at the base. It makes
valuable lumber and its black, astringent fruit furnishes a rich
resource as food for the birds. A smaller form is common in the
Sierra, the fruit of which is eagerly eaten by the Indians and hunters
in time of need.

The wild apple (Pyrus rivularis) is a fine, hearty, handsome little
tree that grows well in rich, cool soil along streams and on the edges
of beaver meadows from California through Oregon and Washington to
southeastern Alaska. In Oregon it forms dense, tangled thickets, some
of them almost impenetrable. The largest trunks are nearly a foot in
diameter. When in bloom it makes a fine show with its abundant
clusters of flowers, which are white and fragrant. The fruit is very
small and savagely acid. It is wholesome, however, and is eaten by
birds, bears, Indians, and many other adventurers, great and small.

Passing from beneath the shadows of the woods where the trees grow
close and high, we step into charming wild gardens full of lilies,
orchids, heathworts, roses, etc., with colors so gay and forming such
sumptuous masses of bloom, they make the gardens of civilization,
however lovingly cared for, seem pathetic and silly. Around the great
fire-mountains, above the forests and beneath the snow, there is a
flowery zone of marvelous beauty planted with anemones, erythroniums,
daisies, bryanthus, kalmia, vaccinium, cassiope, saxifrages, etc.,
forming one continuous garden fifty or sixty miles in circumference,
and so deep and luxuriant and closely woven it seems as if Nature,
glad to find an opening, were economizing space and trying to see how
may of her bright-eyed darlings she can get together in one mountain

Along the slopes of the Cascades, where the woods are less dense,
especially about the headwaters of the Willamette, there are miles of
rhododendron, making glorious outbursts of purple bloom, and down on
the prairies in rich, damp hollows the blue-flowered camassia grows in
such profusion that at a little distance its dense masses appear as
beautiful blue lakes imbedded in the green, flowery plains; while all
about the streams and the lakes and the beaver meadows and the margins
of the deep woods there is a magnificent tangle of gaultheria and
huckleberry bushes with their myriads of pink bells, reinforced with
hazel, cornel, rubus of many species, wild plum, cherry, and crab
apple; besides thousands of charming bloomers to be found in all sorts
of places throughout the wilderness whose mere names are refreshing,
such as linnaea, menziesia, pyrola, chimaphila, brodiaea, smilacina,
fritillaria, calochortus, trillium, clintonia, veratrum, cypripedium,
goodyera, spiranthes, habenaria, and the rare and lovely "Hider of the
North," Calypso borealis, to find which is alone a sufficient object
for a journey into the wilderness. And besides these there is a
charming underworld of ferns and mosses flourishing gloriously beneath
all the woods.

Everybody loves wild woods and flowers more or less. Seeds of all
these Oregon evergreens and of many of the flowering shrubs and plants
have been sent to almost every country under the sun, and they are now
growing in carefully tended parks and gardens. And now that the ways
of approach are open one would expect to find these woods and gardens
full of admiring visitors reveling in their beauty like bees in a
clover field. Yet few care to visit them. A portion of the bark of
one of the California trees, the mere dead skin, excited the wondering
attention of thousands when it was set up in the Crystal Palace in
London, as did also a few peeled spars, the shafts of mere saplings
from Oregon or Washington. Could one of these great silver firs or
sugar pines three hundred feet high have been transplanted entire to
that exhibition, how enthusiastic would have been the praises accorded
to it!

Nevertheless, the countless hosts waving at home beneath their own
sky, beside their own noble rivers and mountains, and standing on a
flower-enameled carpet of mosses thousands of square miles in extent,
attract but little attention. Most travelers content themselves with
what they may chance to see from car windows, hotel verandas, or the
deck of a steamer on the lower Columbia--clinging to the battered
highways like drowning sailors to a life raft. When an excursion into
the woods is proposed, all sorts of exaggerated or imaginary dangers
are conjured up, filling the kindly, soothing wilderness with colds,
fevers, Indians, bears, snakes, bugs, impassable rivers, and jungles
of brush, to which is always added quick and sure starvation.

As to starvation, the woods are full of food, and a supply of bread
may easily be carried for habit's sake, and replenished now and then
at outlying farms and camps. The Indians are seldom found in the
woods, being confined mainly to the banks of the rivers, where the
greater part of their food is obtained. Moreover, the most of them
have been either buried since the settlement of the country or
civilized into comparative innocence, industry, or harmless laziness.
There are bears in the woods, but not in such numbers nor of such
unspeakable ferocity as town-dwellers imagine, nor do bears spend
their lives in going about the country like the devil, seeking whom
they may devour. Oregon bears, like most others, have no liking for
man either as meat or as society; and while some may be curious at
times to see what manner of creature he is, most of them have learned
to shun people as deadly enemies. They have been poisoned, trapped,
and shot at until they have become shy, and it is no longer easy to
make their acquaintance. Indeed, since the settlement of the country,
notwithstanding far the greater portion is yet wild, it is difficult
to find any of the larger animals that once were numerous and
comparatively familiar, such as the bear, wolf, panther, lynx, deer,
elk, and antelope.

As early as 1843, while the settlers numbered only a few thousands,
and before any sort of government had been organized, they came
together and held what they called "a wolf meeting," at which a
committee was appointed to devise means for the destruction of wild
animals destructive to tame ones, which committee in due time begged
to report as follows:--

It being admitted by all that bears, wolves, panthers, etc., are
destructive to the useful animals owned by the settlers of this
colony, your committee would submit the following resolutions as
the sense of this meeting, by which the community may be governed
in carrying on a defensive and destructive war on all such

Resolved, 1st.--That we deem it expedient for the community to take
immediate measures for the destruction of all wolves, panthers, and
bears, and such other animals as are known to be destructive to
cattle, horses, sheep and hogs.

2d.--That a bounty of fifty cents be paid for the destruction of a
small wolf, $3.00 for a large wolf, $1.50 for a lynx, $2.00 for a
bear and $5.00 for a panther.

This center of destruction was in the Willamette Valley. But for many
years prior to the beginning of the operations of the "Wolf
Organization" the Hudson's Bay Company had established forts and
trading stations over all the country, wherever fur-gathering Indians
could be found, and vast numbers of these animals were killed. Their
destruction has since gone on at an accelerated rate from year to year
as the settlements have been extended, so that in some cases it is
difficult to obtain specimens enough for the use of naturalists. But
even before any of these settlements were made, and before the coming
of the Hudson's Bay Company, there was very little danger to be met in
passing through this wilderness as far as animals were concerned, and
but little of any kind as compared with the dangers encountered in
crowded houses and streets.

When Lewis and Clark made their famous trip across the continent in
1804-05, when all the Rocky Mountain region was wild, as well as the
Pacific Slope, they did not lose a single man by wild animals, nor,
though frequently attacked, especially by the grizzlies of the Rocky
Mountains, were any of them wounded seriously. Captain Clark was
bitten on the hand by a wolf as he lay asleep; that was one bite among
more than a hundred men while traveling through eight to nine thousand
miles of savage wilderness. They could hardly have been so fortunate
had they stayed at home. They wintered on the edge of the Clatsop
plains, on the south side of the Columbia River near its mouth. In
the woods on that side they found game abundant, especially elk, and
with the aid of the friendly Indians who furnished salmon and
"wapatoo" (the tubers of Sagittaria variabilis), they were in no
danger of starving.

But on the return trip in the spring they reached the base of the
Rocky Mountains when the range was yet too heavily snow-laden to be
crossed with horses. Therefore they had to wait some weeks. This was
at the head of one of the northern branches of the Snake River, and,
their scanty stock of provisions being nearly exhausted, the whole
party was compelled to live mostly on bears and dogs; deer, antelope,
and elk, usually abundant, were now scarce because the region had been
closely hunted over by the Indians before their arrival.

Lewis and Clark had killed a number of bears and saved the skins of
the more interesting specimens, and the variations they found in size,
color of the hair, etc., made great difficulty in classification.
Wishing to get the opinion of the Chopumish Indians, near one of whose
villages they were encamped, concerning the various species, the
explorers unpacked their bundles and spread out for examination all
the skins they had taken. The Indian hunters immediately classed the
white, the deep and the pale grizzly red, the grizzly dark-brown--in
short, all those with the extremities of the hair of a white or frosty
color without regard to the color of the ground or foil--under the
name of hoh-host. The Indians assured them that these were all of the
same species as the white bear, that they associated together, had
longer nails than the others, and never climbed trees. On the other
hand, the black skins, those that were black with white hairs
intermixed or with a white breast, the uniform bay, the brown, and the
light reddish-brown, were classed under the name yack-ah, and were
said to resemble each other in being smaller and having shorter nails,
in climbing trees, and being so little vicious that they could be
pursued with safety.

Lewis and Clark came to the conclusion that all those with white-tipped hair found by them in the basin of the Columbia belonged to the
same species as the grizzlies of the upper Missouri; and that the
black and reddish-brown, etc., of the Rocky Mountains belong to a
second species equally distinct from the grizzly and the black bear of
the Pacific Coast and the East, which never vary in color.

As much as possible should be made by the ordinary traveler of these
descriptions, for he will be likely to see very little of any species
for himself; not that bears no longer exist here, but because, being
shy, they keep out of the way. In order to see them and learn their
habits one must go softly and alone, lingering long in the fringing
woods on the banks of the salmon streams, and in the small openings in
the midst of thickets where berries are most abundant.

As for rattlesnakes, the other grand dread of town dwellers when they
leave beaten roads, there are two, or perhaps three, species of them
in Oregon. But they are nowhere to be found in great numbers. In
western Oregon they are hardly known at all. In all my walks in the
Oregon forest I have never met a single specimen, though a few have
been seen at long intervals.

When the country was first settled by the whites, fifty years ago, the
elk roamed through the woods and over the plains to the east of the
Cascades in immense numbers; now they are rarely seen except by
experienced hunters who know their haunts in the deepest and most
inaccessible solitudes to which they have been driven. So majestic an
animal forms a tempting mark for the sportsman's rifle. Countless
thousands have been killed for mere amusement and they already seem to
be nearing extinction as rapidly as the buffalo. The antelope also is
vanishing from the Columbia plains before the farmers and cattlemen.
Whether the moose still lingers in Oregon or Washington I am unable to

On the highest mountains of the Cascade Range the wild goat roams in
comparative security, few of his enemies caring to go so far in
pursuit and to hunt on ground so high and dangerous. He is a brave,
sturdy shaggy mountaineer of an animal, enjoying the freedom and
security of crumbling ridges and overhanging cliffs above the
glaciers, oftentimes beyond the reach of the most daring hunter. They
seem to be as much at home on the ice and snowfields as on the crags,
making their way in flocks from ridge to ridge on the great volcanic
mountains by crossing the glaciers that lie between them, traveling in
single file guided by an old experienced leader, like a party of
climbers on the Alps. On these ice-journeys they pick their way
through networks of crevasses and over bridges of snow with admirable
skill, and the mountaineer may seldom do better in such places than to
follow their trail, if he can. In the rich alpine gardens and meadows
they find abundance of food, venturing sometimes well down in the
prairie openings on the edge of the timberline, but holding themselves
ever alert and watchful, ready to flee to their highland castles at
the faintest alarm. When their summer pastures are buried beneath the
winter snows, they make haste to the lower ridges, seeking the wind-beaten crags and slopes where the snow cannot lie at any great depth,
feeding at times on the leaves and twigs of bushes when grass is
beyond reach.

The wild sheep is another admirable alpine rover, but comparatively
rare in the Oregon mountains, choosing rather the drier ridges to the
southward on the Cascades and to the eastward among the spurs of the
Rocky Mountain chain.

Deer give beautiful animation to the forests, harmonizing finely in
their color and movements with the gray and brown shafts of the trees
and the swaying of the branches as they stand in groups at rest, or
move gracefully and noiselessly over the mossy ground about the edges
of beaver meadows and flowery glades, daintily culling the leaves and
tips of the mints and aromatic bushes on which they feed. There are
three species, the black-tailed, white-tailed, and mule deer; the last
being restricted in its range to the open woods and plains to the
eastward of the Cascades. They are nowhere very numerous now, killing
for food, for hides, or for mere wanton sport, having well-nigh
exterminated them in the more accessible regions, while elsewhere they
are too often at the mercy of the wolves.

Gliding about in their shady forest homes, keeping well out of sight,
there is a multitude of sleek fur-clad animals living and enjoying
their clean, beautiful lives. How beautiful and interesting they are
is about as difficult for busy mortals to find out as if their homes
were beyond sight in the sky. Hence the stories of every wild hunter
and trapper are eagerly listened to as being possibly true, or partly
so, however thickly clothed in successive folds of exaggeration and
fancy. Unsatisfying as these accounts must be, a tourist's frightened
rush and scramble through the woods yields far less than the hunter's
wildest stories, while in writing we can do but little more than to
give a few names, as they come to mind,--beaver, squirrel, coon, fox,
marten, fisher, otter, ermine, wildcat,--only this instead of full
descriptions of the bright-eyed furry throng, their snug home nests,
their fears and fights and loves, how they get their food, rear their
young, escape their enemies, and keep themselves warm and well and
exquisitely clean through all the pitiless weather.

For many years before the settlement of the country the fur of the
beaver brought a high price, and therefore it was pursued with
weariless ardor. Not even in the quest for gold has a more ruthless,
desperate energy been developed. It was in those early beaver-days
that the striking class of adventurers called "free trappers" made
their appearance. Bold, enterprising men, eager to make money, and
inclined at the same time to relish the license of a savage life,
would set forth with a few traps and a gun and a hunting knife,
content at first to venture only a short distance up the beaver
streams nearest to the settlements, and where the Indians were not
likely to molest them. There they would set their traps, while the
buffalo, antelope, deer, etc., furnished a royal supply of food. In a
few months their pack animals would be laden with thousands of
dollars' worth of fur.

Next season they would venture farther, and again farther, meanwhile
growing rapidly wilder, getting acquainted with the Indian tribes, and
usually marrying among them. Thenceforward no danger could stay them
in their exciting pursuit. Wherever there were beaver they would go,
however far or wild,--the wilder the better, provided their scalps
could be saved. Oftentimes they were compelled to set their traps and
visit them by night and lie hid during the day, when operating in the
neighborhood of hostile Indians. Not then venturing to make a fire or
shoot game, they lived on the raw flesh of the beaver, perhaps
seasoned with wild cresses or berries. Then, returning to the trading
stations, they would spend their hard earnings in a few weeks of
dissipation and "good time," and go again to the bears and beavers,
until at length a bullet or arrow would end all. One after another
would be missed by some friend or trader at the autumn rendezvous,
reported killed by the Indians, and--forgotten. Some men of this
class have, from superior skill or fortune, escaped every danger,
lived to a good old age, and earned fame, and, by their knowledge of
the topography of the vast West then unexplored, have been able to
render important service to the country; but most of them laid their
bones in the wilderness after a few short, keen seasons. So great
were the perils that beset them, the average length of the life of a
"free trapper" has been estimated at less than five years. From the
Columbia waters beaver and beaver men have almost wholly passed away,
and the men once so striking a part of the view have left scarcely the
faintest sign of their existence. On the other hand, a thousand
meadows on the mountains tell the story of the beavers, to remain
fresh and green for many a century, monuments of their happy,
industrious lives.

But there is a little airy, elfin animal in these woods, and in all
the evergreen woods of the Pacific Coast, that is more influential and
interesting than even the beaver. This is the Douglas squirrel
(Sciurus Douglasi). Go where you will throughout all these noble
forests, you everywhere find this little squirrel the master-existence. Though only a few inches long, so intense is his fiery
vigor and restlessness, he stirs every grove with wild life, and makes
himself more important than the great bears that shuffle through the
berry tangles beneath him. Every tree feels the sting of his sharp
feet. Nature has made him master-forester, and committed the greater
part of the coniferous crops to his management. Probably over half of
all the ripe cones of the spruces, firs, and pines are cut off and
handled by this busy harvester. Most of them are stored away for food
through the winter and spring, but a part are pushed into shallow pits
and covered loosely, where some of the seeds are no doubt left to
germinate and grow up. All the tree squirrels are more or less
birdlike in voice and movements, but the Douglas is pre-eminently so,
possessing every squirrelish attribute, fully developed and
concentrated. He is the squirrel of squirrels, flashing from branch
to branch of his favorite evergreens, crisp and glossy and sound as a
sunbeam. He stirs the leaves like a rustling breeze, darting across
openings in arrowy lines, launching in curves, glinting deftly from
side to side in sudden zigzags, and swirling in giddy loops and
spirals around the trunks, now on his haunches, now on his head, yet
ever graceful and performing all his feats of strength and skill
without apparent effort. One never tires of this bright spark of
life, the brave little voice crying in the wilderness. His varied,
piney gossip is as savory to the air as balsam to the palate. Some of
his notes are almost flutelike in softness, while other prick and
tingle like thistles. He is the mockingbird of squirrels, barking
like a dog, screaming like a hawk, whistling like a blackbird or
linnet, while in bluff, audacious noisiness he is a jay. A small
thing, but filling and animating all the woods.

Nor is there any lack of wings, notwithstanding few are to be seen on
short, noisy rambles. The ousel sweetens the shady glens and canyons
where waterfalls abound, and every grove or forest, however silent it
may seem when we chance to pay it a hasty visit, has its singers,--thrushes, linnets, warblers,--while hummingbirds glint and hover about
the fringing masses of bloom around stream and meadow openings. But
few of these will show themselves or sing their songs to those who are
ever in haste and getting lost, going in gangs formidable in color and
accoutrements, laughing, hallooing, breaking limbs off the trees as
they pass, awkwardly struggling through briery thickets, entangled
like blue-bottles in spider webs, and stopping from time to time to
fire off their guns and pistols for the sake of the echoes, thus
frightening all the life about them for miles. It is this class of
hunters and travelers who report that there are "no birds in the woods
or game animals of any kind larger than mosquitoes."

Besides the singing birds mentioned above, the handsome Oregon grouse
may be found in the thick woods, also the dusky grouse and Franklin's
grouse, and in some places the beautiful mountain partridge, or quail.
The white-tailed ptarmigan lives on the lofty snow peaks above the
timber, and the prairie chicken and sage cock on the broad Columbia
plains from the Cascade Range back to the foothills of the Rocky
Mountains. The bald eagle is very common along the Columbia River, or
wherever fish, especially salmon, are plentiful, while swans, herons,
cranes, pelicans, geese, ducks of many species, and water birds in
general abound in the lake region, on the main streams, and along the
coast, stirring the waters and sky into fine, lively pictures, greatly
to the delight of wandering lovers of wildness.


The Rivers of Oregon

Turning from the woods and their inhabitants to the rivers, we find
that while the former are rarely seen by travelers beyond the
immediate borders of the settlements, the great river of Oregon draws
crowds of enthusiastic admirers to sound its praises. Every summer
since the completion of the first overland railroad, tourists have
been coming to it in ever increasing numbers, showing that in general
estimation the Columbia is one of the chief attractions of the Pacific
Coast. And well it deserves the admiration so heartily bestowed upon
it. The beauty and majesty of its waters, and the variety and
grandeur of the scenery through which it flows, lead many to regard it
as the most interesting of all the great rivers of the continent,
notwithstanding the claims of the other members of the family to which
it belongs and which nobody can measure--the Fraser, McKenzie,
Saskatchewan, the Missouri, Yellowstone, Platte, and the Colorado,
with their glacier and geyser fountains, their famous canyons, lakes,
forests, and vast flowery prairies and plains. These great rivers and
the Columbia are intimately related. All draw their upper waters from
the same high fountains on the broad, rugged uplift of the Rocky
Mountains, their branches interlacing like the branches of trees.
They sing their first songs together on the heights; then, collecting
their tributaries, they set out on their grand journey to the
Atlantic, Pacific, or Arctic Ocean.

The Columbia, viewed as one from the sea to the mountains, is like a
rugged, broad-topped, picturesque old oak about six hundred miles long
and nearly a thousand miles wide measured across the spread of its
upper branches, the main limbs gnarled and swollen with lakes and
lakelike expansions, while innumerable smaller lakes shine like fruit
among the smaller branches. The main trunk extends back through the
Coast and Cascade Mountains in a general easterly direction for three
hundred miles, when it divides abruptly into two grand branches which
bend off to the northeastward and southeastward.

The south branch, the longer of the two, called the Snake, or Lewis,
River, extends into the Rocky Mountains as far as the Yellowstone
National Park, where its head tributaries interlace with those of the
Colorado, Missouri, and Yellowstone. The north branch, still called
the Columbia, extends through Washington far into British territory,
its highest tributaries reaching back through long parallel spurs of
the Rockies between and beyond the headwaters of the Fraser,
Athabasca, and Saskatchewan. Each of these main branches, dividing
again and again, spreads a network of channels over the vast
complicated mass of the great range throughout a section nearly a
thousand miles in length, searching every fountain, however small or
great, and gathering a glorious harvest of crystal water to be rolled
through forest and plain in one majestic flood to the sea, reinforced
on the way by tributaries that drain the Blue Mountains and more than
two hundred miles of the Cascade and Coast Ranges. Though less than
half as long as the Mississippi, it is said to carry as much water.
The amount of its discharge at different seasons, however, has never
been exactly measured, but in time of flood its current is
sufficiently massive and powerful to penetrate the sea to a distance
of fifty or sixty miles from shore, its waters being easily recognized
by the difference in color and by the drift of leaves, berries, pine
cones, branches, and trunks of trees that they carry.

That so large a river as the Columbia, making a telling current so far
from shore, should remain undiscovered while one exploring expedition
after another sailed past seems remarkable, even after due allowance
is made for the cloudy weather that prevails hereabouts and the broad
fence of breakers drawn across the bar. During the last few
centuries, when the maps of the world were in great part blank, the
search for new worlds was fashionable business, and when such large
game was no longer to be found, islands lying unclaimed in the great
oceans, inhabited by useful and profitable people to be converted or
enslaved, became attractive objects; also new ways to India, seas,
straits, El Dorados, fountains of youth, and rivers that flowed over
golden sands.

Those early explorers and adventurers were mostly brave, enterprising,
and, after their fashion, pious men. In their clumsy sailing vessels
they dared to go where no chart or lighthouse showed the way, where
the set of the currents, the location of sunken outlying rocks and
shoals, were all unknown, facing fate and weather, undaunted however
dark the signs, heaving the lead and thrashing the men to their duty
and trusting to Providence. When a new shore was found on which they
could land, they said their prayers with superb audacity, fought the
natives if they cared to fight, erected crosses, and took possession
in the names of their sovereigns, establishing claims, such as they
were, to everything in sight and beyond, to be quarreled for and
battled for, and passed from hand to hand in treaties and settlements
made during the intermissions of war.

The branch of the river that bears the name of Columbia all the way to
its head takes its rise in two lakes about ten miles in length that
lie between the Selkirk and main ranges of the Rocky Mountains in
British Columbia, about eighty miles beyond the boundary line. They
are called the Upper and Lower Columbia Lakes. Issuing from these,
the young river holds a nearly straight course for a hundred and
seventy miles in a northwesterly direction to a plain called "Boat
Encampment," receiving many beautiful affluents by the way from the
Selkirk and main ranges, among which are the Beaver-Foot, Blackberry,
Spill-e-Mee-Chene, and Gold Rivers. At Boat Encampment it receives
two large tributaries, the Canoe River from the northwest, a stream
about a hundred and twenty miles long; and the Whirlpool River from
the north, about a hundred and forty miles in length.

The Whirlpool River takes its rise near the summit of the main axis of
the range on the fifty-fourth parallel, and is the northmost of all
the Columbia waters. About thirty miles above its confluence with the
Columbia it flows through a lake called the Punch-Bowl, and thence it
passes between Mounts Hooker and Brown, said to be fifteen thousand
and sixteen thousand feet high, making magnificent scenery; though the
height of the mountains thereabouts has been considerably
overestimated. From Boat Encampment the river, now a large, clear
stream, said to be nearly a third of a mile in width, doubles back on
its original course and flows southward as far as its confluence with
the Spokane in Washington, a distance of nearly three hundred miles in
a direct line, most of the way through a wild, rocky, picturesque mass
of mountains, charmingly forested with pine and spruce--though the
trees seem strangely small, like second growth saplings, to one
familiar with the western forests of Washington, Oregon, and

About forty-five miles below Boat Encampment are the Upper Dalles, or
Dalles de Mort, and thirty miles farther the Lower Dalles, where the
river makes a magnificent uproar and interrupts navigation. About
thirty miles below the Lower Dalles the river expands into Upper Arrow
Lake, a beautiful sheet of water forty miles long and five miles wide,
straight as an arrow and with the beautiful forests of the Selkirk
range rising from its east shore, and those of the Gold range from the
west. At the foot of the lake are the Narrows, a few miles in length,
and after these rapids are passed, the river enters Lower Arrow Lake,
which is like the Upper Arrow, but is even longer and not so straight.

A short distance below the Lower Arrow the Columbia receives the
Kootenay River, the largest affluent thus far on its course and said
to be navigable for small steamers for a hundred and fifty miles. It
is an exceedingly crooked stream, heading beyond the upper Columbia
lakes, and, in its mazy course, flowing to all points of the compass,
it seems lost and baffled in the tangle of mountain spurs and ridges
it drains. Measured around its loops and bends, it is probably more
than five hundred miles in length. It is also rich in lakes, the
largest, Kootenay Lake, being upwards of seventy miles in length with
an average width of five miles. A short distance below the confluence
of the Kootenay, near the boundary line between Washington and British
Columbia, another large stream comes in from the east, Clarke's Fork,
or the Flathead River. Its upper sources are near those of the
Missouri and South Saskatchewan, and in its course it flows through
two large and beautiful lakes, the Flathead and the Pend d'Oreille.
All the lakes we have noticed thus far would make charming places of
summer resort; but Pend d'Oreille, besides being surpassingly
beautiful, has the advantage of being easily accessible, since it is
on the main line of the Northern Pacific Railroad in the Territory of
Idaho. In the purity of its waters it reminds one of Tahoe, while its
many picturesque islands crowned with evergreens, and its winding
shores forming an endless variety of bays and promontories lavishly
crowded with spiry spruce and cedar, recall some of the best of the
island scenery of Alaska.

About thirty-five miles below the mouth of Clark's Fork the Columbia
is joined by the Ne-whoi-al-pit-ku River from the northwest. Here too
are the great Chaudiere, or Kettle, Falls on the main river, with a
total descent of about fifty feet. Fifty miles farther down, the
Spokane River, a clear, dashing stream, comes in from the east. It is
about one hundred and twenty miles long, and takes its rise in the
beautiful Lake Coeur d'Alene, in Idaho, which receives the drainage of
nearly a hundred miles of the western slopes of the Bitter Root
Mountains, through the St. Joseph and Coeur d'Alene Rivers. The lake
is about twenty miles long, set in the midst of charming scenery, and,
like Pend d'Oreille, is easy of access and is already attracting
attention as a summer place for enjoyment, rest, and health.

The famous Spokane Falls are in Washington, about thirty miles below
the lake, where the river is outspread and divided and makes a grand
descent from a level basaltic plateau, giving rise to one of the most
beautiful as well as one of the greatest and most available of water-powers in the State. The city of the same name is built on the
plateau along both sides of the series of cascades and falls, which,
rushing and sounding through the midst, give singular beauty and
animation. The young city is also rushing and booming. It is founded
on a rock, leveled and prepared for it, and its streets require no
grading or paving. As a power to whirl the machinery of a great city
and at the same time to train the people to a love of the sublime and
beautiful as displayed in living water, the Spokane Falls are
unrivaled, at least as far as my observation has reached. Nowhere
else have I seen such lessons given by a river in the streets of a
city, such a glad, exulting, abounding outgush, crisp and clear from
the mountains, dividing, falling, displaying its wealth, calling aloud
in the midst of the busy throng, and making glorious offerings for
every use of utility or adornment.

From the mouth of the Spokane the Columbia, now out of the woods,
flows to the westward with a broad, stately current for a hundred and
twenty miles to receive the Okinagan, a large, generous tributary a
hundred and sixty miles long, coming from the north and drawing some
of its waters from the Cascade Range. More than half its course is
through a chain of lakes, the largest of which at the head of the
river is over sixty miles in length. From its confluence with the
Okinagan the river pursues a southerly course for a hundred and fifty
miles, most of the way through a dreary, treeless, parched plain to
meet the great south fork. The Lewis, or Snake, River is nearly a
thousand miles long and drains nearly the whole of Idaho, a territory
rich in scenery, gold mines, flowery, grassy valleys, and deserts,
while some of the highest tributaries reach into Wyoming, Utah, and
Nevada. Throughout a great part of its course it is countersunk in a
black lava plain and shut in by mural precipices a thousand feet high,
gloomy, forbidding, and unapproachable, although the gloominess of its
canyon is relieved in some manner by its many falls and springs, some
of the springs being large enough to appear as the outlets of
subterranean rivers. They gush out from the faces of the sheer black
walls and descend foaming with brave roar and beauty to swell the
flood below.

From where the river skirts the base of the Blue Mountains its
surroundings are less forbidding. Much of the country is fertile, but
its canyon is everywhere deep and almost inaccessible. Steamers make
their way up as far as Lewiston, a hundred and fifty miles, and
receive cargoes of wheat at different points through chutes that
extend down from the tops of the bluffs. But though the Hudson's Bay
Company navigated the north fork to its sources, they depended
altogether on pack animals for the transportation of supplies and furs
between the Columbia and Fort Hall on the head of the south fork,
which shows how desperately unmanageable a river it must be.

A few miles above the mouth of the Snake the Yakima, which drains a
considerable portion of the Cascade Range, enters from the northwest.
It is about a hundred and fifty miles long, but carries comparatively
little water, a great part of what it sets out with from the base of
the mountains being consumed in irrigated fields and meadows in
passing through the settlements along its course, and by evaporation
on the parched desert plains. The grand flood of the Columbia, now
from half a mile to a mile wide, sweeps on to the westward, holding a
nearly direct course until it reaches the mouth of the Willamette,
where it turns to the northward and flows fifty miles along the main
valley between the Coast and Cascade Ranges ere it again resumes its
westward course to the sea. In all its course from the mouth of the
Yakima to the sea, a distance of three hundred miles, the only
considerable affluent from the northward is the Cowlitz, which heads
in the glaciers of Mount Rainier.

From the south and east it receives the Walla-Walla and Umatilla,
rather short and dreary-looking streams, though the plains they pass
through have proved fertile, and their upper tributaries in the Blue
Mountains, shaded with tall pines, firs, spruces, and the beautiful
Oregon larch (Larix brevifolia), lead into a delightful region. The
John Day River also heads in the Blue Mountains, and flows into the
Columbia sixty miles below the mouth of the Umatilla. Its valley is
in great part fertile, and is noted for the interesting fossils
discovered in it by Professor Condon in sections cut by the river
through the overlying lava beds.

The Deschutes River comes in from the south about twenty miles below
the John Day. It is a large, boisterous stream, draining the eastern
slope of the Cascade Range for nearly two hundred miles, and from the
great number of falls on the main trunk, as well as on its many
mountain tributaries, well deserves its name. It enters the Columbia
with a grand roar of falls and rapids, and at times seems almost to
rival the main stream in the volume of water it carries. Near the
mouth of the Deschutes are the Falls of the Columbia, where the river
passes a rough bar of lava. The descent is not great, but the immense
volume of water makes a grand display. During the flood season the
falls are obliterated and skillful boatmen pass over them is safety;
while the Dalles, some six or eight miles below, may be passed during
low water but are utterly impassable in flood time. At the Dalles the
vast river is jammed together into a long, narrow slot of unknown
depth cut sheer down in the basalt.

This slot, or trough, is about a mile and a half long and about sixty
yards wide at the narrowest place. At ordinary times the river seems
to be set on edge and runs swiftly but without much noisy surging with
a descent of about twenty feet to the mile. But when the snow is
melting on the mountains the river rises here sixty feet, or even more
during extraordinary freshets, and spreads out over a great breadth of
massive rocks through which have been cut several other gorges running
parallel with the one usually occupied. All these inferior gorges now
come into use, and the huge, roaring torrent, still rising and
spreading, at length overwhelms the high jagged rock walls between
them, making a tremendous display of chafing, surging, shattered
currents, counter-currents, and hollow whirls that no words can be
made to describe. A few miles below the Dalles the storm-tossed river
gets itself together again, looks like water, becomes silent, and with
stately, tranquil deliberation goes on its way, out of the gray region
of sage and sand into the Oregon woods. Thirty-five or forty miles
below the Dalles are the Cascades of the Columbia, where the river in
passing through the mountains makes another magnificent display of
foaming, surging rapids, which form the first obstruction to
navigation from the ocean, a hundred and twenty miles distant. This
obstruction is to be overcome by locks, which are now being made.

Between the Dalles and the Cascades the river is like a lake a mile or
two wide, lying in a valley, or canyon, about three thousand feet
deep. The walls of the canyon lean well back in most places, and
leave here and there small strips, or bays, of level ground along the
water's edge. But towards the Cascades, and for some distance below
the, the immediate banks are guarded by walls of columnar basalt,
which are worn in many places into a great variety of bold and
picturesque forms, such as the Castle Rock, the Rooster Rock, the
Pillars of Hercules, Cape Horn, etc., while back of these rise the
sublime mountain walls, forest-crowned and fringed more or less from
top to base with pine, spruce, and shaggy underbrush, especially in
the narrow gorges and ravines, where innumerable small streams come
dancing and drifting down, misty and white, to join the mighty river.
Many of these falls on both sides of the canyon of the Columbia are
far larger and more interesting in every way than would be guessed
from the slight glimpses one gets of them while sailing past on the
river, or from the car windows. The Multnomah Falls are particularly
interesting, and occupy fern-lined gorges of marvelous beauty in the
basalt. They are said to be about eight hundred feet in height and,
at times of high water when the mountain snows are melting, are well
worthy of a place beside the famous falls of Yosemite Valley.

According to an Indian tradition, the river of the Cascades once
flowed through the basalt beneath a natural bridge that was broken
down during a mountain war, when the old volcanoes, Hood and St.
Helen's, on opposite sides of the river, hurled rocks at each other,
thus forming a dam. That the river has been dammed here to some
extent, and within a comparatively short period, seems probable, to
say the least, since great numbers of submerged trees standing erect
may be found along both shores, while, as we have seen, the whole
river for thirty miles above the Cascades looks like a lake or mill-pond. On the other hand, it is held by some that the submerged groves
were carried into their places by immense landslides.

Much of interest in the connection must necessarily be omitted for
want of space. About forty miles below the Cascades the river
receives the Willamette, the last of its great tributaries. It is
navigable for ocean vessels as far as Portland, ten miles above its
mouth, and for river steamers a hundred miles farther. The Falls of
the Willamette are fifteen miles above Portland, where the river,
coming out of dense woods, breaks its way across a bar of black basalt
and falls forty feet in a passion of snowy foam, showing to fine
advantage against its background of evergreens.

Of the fertility and beauty of the Willamette all the world has heard.
It lies between the Cascade and Coast Ranges, and is bounded on the
south by the Calapooya Mountains, a cross-spur that separates it from
the valley of the Umpqua.

It was here the first settlements for agriculture were made and a
provisional government organized, while the settlers, isolated in the
far wilderness, numbered only a few thousand and were laboring under
the opposition of the British Government and the Hudson's Bay Company.
Eager desire in the acquisition of territory on the part of these
pioneer state-builders was more truly boundless than the wilderness
they were in, and their unconscionable patriotism was equaled only by
their belligerence. For here, while negotiations were pending for the
location of the northern boundary, originated the celebrated "Fifty-four forty or fight," about as reasonable a war-cry as the "North Pole
or fight." Yet sad was the day that brought the news of the signing
of the treaty fixing their boundary along the forty-ninth parallel,
thus leaving the little land-hungry settlement only a mere quarter-million of miles!

As the Willamette is one of the most foodful of valleys, so is the
Columbia one of the most foodful of rivers. During the fisher's
harvest time salmon from the sea come in countless millions, urging
their way against falls, rapids, and shallows, up into the very heart
of the Rocky Mountains, supplying everybody by the way with most
bountiful masses of delicious food, weighing from twenty to eighty
pounds each, plump and smooth like loaves of bread ready for the oven.
The supply seems inexhaustible, as well it might. Large quantities
were used by the Indians as fuel, and by the Hudson's Bay people as
manure for their gardens at the forts. Used, wasted, canned and sent
in shiploads to all the world, a grand harvest was reaped every year
while nobody sowed. Of late, however, the salmon crop has begun to
fail, and millions of young fry are now sown like wheat in the river
every year, from hatching establishments belonging to the Government.

All of the Oregon waters that win their way to the sea are a tributary
to the Columbia, save the short streams of the immediate coast, and
the Umpqua and Rogue Rivers in southern Oregon. These both head in
the Cascade Mountains and find their way to the sea through gaps in
the Coast Range, and both drain large and fertile and beautiful
valleys. Rogue River Valley is peculiarly attractive. With a fine
climate, and kindly, productive soil, the scenery is delightful.
About the main, central open portion of the basin, dotted with
picturesque groves of oak, there are many smaller valleys charmingly
environed, the whole surrounded in the distance by the Siskiyou,
Coast, Umpqua, and Cascade Mountains. Besides the cereals nearly
every sort of fruit flourishes here, and large areas are being devoted
to peach, apricot, nectarine, and vine culture. To me it seems above
all others the garden valley of Oregon and the most delightful place
for a home. On the eastern rim of the valley, in the Cascade
Mountains, about sixty miles from Medford in a direct line, is the
remarkable Crater Lake, usually regarded as the one grand wonder of
the region. It lies in a deep, sheer-walled basin about seven
thousand feet above the level of the sea, supposed to be the crater of
an extinct volcano.

Oregon as it is today is a very young country, though most of it seems
old. Contemplating the Columbia sweeping from forest to forest,
across plain and desert, one is led to say of it, as did Byron of the
ocean, --

"Such as Creation's dawn beheld, thou rollest now."

How ancient appear the crumbling basaltic monuments along its banks,
and the gray plains to the east of the Cascades! Nevertheless, the
river as well as its basin in anything like their present condition
are comparatively but of yesterday. Looming no further back in the
geological records than the Tertiary Period, the Oregon of that time
looks altogether strange in the few suggestive glimpses we may get of
it--forests in which palm trees wave their royal crowns, and strange
animals roaming beneath them or about the reedy margins of lakes, the
oreodon, the lophiodon, and several extinct species of the horse, the
camel, and other animals.

Then came the fire period with its darkening showers of ashes and
cinders and its vast floods of molten lava, making quite another
Oregon from the fair and fertile land of the preceding era. And
again, while yet the volcanic fires show signs of action in the smoke
and flame of the higher mountains, the whole region passes under the
dominion of ice, and from the frost and darkness and death of the
Glacial Period, Oregon has but recently emerged to the kindly warmth
and life of today.


The Grand Canyon of the Colorado

Happy nowadays is the tourist, with earth's wonders, new and old,
spread invitingly open before him, and a host of able workers as his
slaves making everything easy, padding plush about him, grading roads
for him, boring tunnels, moving hills out of his way, eager, like the
Devil, to show him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory and
foolishness, spiritualizing travel for him with lightning and steam,
abolishing space and time and almost everything else. Little children
and tender, pulpy people, as well as storm-seasoned explorers, may now
go almost everywhere in smooth comfort, cross oceans and deserts
scarce accessible to fishes and birds, and, dragged by steel horses,
go up high mountains, riding gloriously beneath starry showers of
sparks, ascending like Elijah in a whirlwind and chariot of fire.

First of the wonders of the great West to be brought within reach of
the tourist were the Yosemite and the Big Trees, on the completion of
the first transcontinental railway; next came the Yellowstone and icy
Alaska, by the northern roads; and last the Grand Canyon of the
Colorado, which, naturally the hardest to reach, has now become, by a
branch of the Santa Fe, the most accessible of all.

Of course, with this wonderful extension of steel ways through our
wildness there is loss as well as gain. Nearly all railroads are
bordered by belts of desolation. The finest wilderness perishes as if
stricken with pestilence. Bird and beast people, if not the dryads,
are frightened from the groves. Too often the groves also vanish,
leaving nothing but ashes. Fortunately, nature has a few big places
beyond man's power to spoil--the ocean, the two icy ends of the globe,
and the Grand Canyon.

When I first heard of the Santa Fe trains running to the edge of the
Grand Canyon of Arizona, I was troubled with thoughts of the
disenchantment likely to follow. But last winter, when I saw those
trains crawling along through the pines of the Coconino Forest and
close up to the brink of the chasm at Bright Angel, I was glad to
discover that in the presence of such stupendous scenery they are
nothing. The locomotives and trains are mere beetles and
caterpillars, and the noise they make is as little disturbing as the
hooting of an owl in the lonely woods.

In a dry, hot, monotonous forested plateau, seemingly boundless, you
come suddenly and without warning upon the abrupt edge of a gigantic
sunken landscape of the wildest, most multitudinous features, and
those features, sharp and angular, are made out of flat beds of
limestone and sandstone forming a spiry, jagged, gloriously colored
mountain range countersunk in a level gray plain. It is a hard job to
sketch it even in scrawniest outline; and, try as I may, not in the
least sparing myself, I cannot tell the hundredth part of the wonders
of its features--the side canyons, gorges, alcoves, cloisters, and
amphitheaters of vast sweep and depth, carved in its magnificent
walls; the throng of great architectural rocks it contains resembling
castles, cathedrals, temples, and palaces, towered and spired and
painted, some of them nearly a mile high, yet beneath one's feet. All
this, however, is less difficult than to give any idea of the
impression of wild, primeval beauty and power one receives in merely
gazing from its brink. The view down the gulf of color and over the
rim of its wonderful wall, more than any other view I know, leads us
to think of our earth as a star with stars swimming in light, every
radiant spire pointing the way to the heavens.

But it is impossible to conceive what the canyon is, or what
impression it makes, from descriptions or pictures, however good.
Naturally it is untellable even to those who have seen something
perhaps a little like it on a small scale in this same plateau region.
One's most extravagant expectations are indefinitely surpassed, though
one expects much from what is said of it as "the biggest chasm on
earth"--"so big is it that all other big things--Yosemite, the
Yellowstone, the Pyramids, Chicago--all would be lost if tumbled into
it." Naturally enough, illustrations as to size are sought for among
other canyons like or unlike it, with the common result of worse
confounding confusion. The prudent keep silence. It was once said
that the "Grand Canyon could put a dozen Yosemites in its vest

The justly famous Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is, like the
Colorado, gorgeously colored and abruptly countersunk in a plateau,
and both are mainly the work of water. But the Colorado's canyon is
more than a thousand times larger, and as a score or two of new
buildings of ordinary size would not appreciably change the general
view of a great city, so hundreds of Yellowstones might be eroded in
the sides of the Colorado Canyon without noticeably augmenting its
size or the richness of its sculpture.

But it is not true that the great Yosemite rocks would be thus lost or
hidden. Nothing of their kind in the world, so far as I know, rivals
El Capitan and Tissiack, much less dwarfs or in any way belittles
them. None of the sandstone or limestone precipices of the canyon
that I have seen or heard of approaches in smooth, flawless strength
and grandeur the granite face of El Capitan or the Tenaya side of
Cloud's Rest. These colossal cliffs, types of permanence, are about
three thousand and six thousand feet high; those of the canyon that
are sheer are about half as high, and are types of fleeting change;
while glorious-domed Tissiack, noblest of mountain buildings, far from
being overshadowed or lost in this rosy, spiry canyon company, would
draw every eye, and, in serene majesty, "aboon them a'" she would take
her place--castle, temple, palace, or tower. Nevertheless a noted
writer, comparing the Grand Canyon in a general way with the glacial
Yosemite, says: "And the Yosemite--ah, the lovely Yosemite! Dumped
down into the wilderness of gorges and mountains, it would take a
guide who knew of its existence a long time to find it." This is
striking, and shows up well above the levels of commonplace
description, but it is confusing, and has the fatal fault of not being
true. As well try to describe an eagle by putting a lark in it. "And
the lark--ah, the lovely lark! Dumped down the red, royal gorge of
the eagle, it would be hard to find." Each in its own place is
better, singing at heaven's gate, and sailing the sky with the clouds.

Every feature of Nature's big face is beautiful,--height and hollow,
wrinkle, furrow, and line,--and this is the main master-furrow of its
kind on our continent, incomparably greater and more impressive than
any other yet discovered, or likely to be discovered, now that all the
great rivers have been traced to their heads.

The Colorado River rises in the heart of the continent on the dividing
ranges and ridges between the two oceans, drains thousands of snowy
mountains through narrow or spacious valleys, and thence through
canyons of every color, sheer-walled and deep, all of which seem to be
represented in this one grand canyon of canyons.

It is very hard to give anything like an adequate conception of its
size; much more of its color, its vast wall-sculpture, the wealth of
ornate architectural buildings that fill it, or, most of all, the
tremendous impression it makes. According to Major Powell, it is
about two hundred and seventeen miles long, from five to fifteen miles
wide from rim to rim, and from about five thousand to six thousand
feet deep. So tremendous a chasm would be one of the world's greatest
wonders even if, like ordinary canyons cut in sedimentary rocks, it
were empty and its walls were simple. But instead of being plain, the
walls are so deeply and elaborately carved into all sorts of recesses--alcoves, cirques, amphitheaters, and side canyons--that, were you to
trace the rim closely around on both sides, your journey would be
nearly a thousand miles long. Into all these recesses the level,
continuous beds of rock in ledges and benches, with their various
colors, run like broad ribbons, marvelously beautiful and effective
even at a distance of ten or twelve miles. And the vast space these
glorious walls inclose, instead of being empty, is crowded with
gigantic architectural rock forms gorgeously colored and adorned with
towers and spires like works of art.

Looking down from this level plateau, we are more impressed with a
feeling of being on the top of everything than when looking from the
summit of a mountain. From side to side of the vast gulf, temples,
palaces, towers, and spires come soaring up in thick array half a mile
or nearly a mile above their sunken, hidden bases, some to a level
with our standpoint, but none higher. And in the inspiring morning
light all are so fresh and rosy-looking that they seem new-born; as
if, like the quick-growing crimson snowplants of the California woods,
they had just sprung up, hatched by the warm, brooding, motherly

In trying to describe the great pines and sequoias of the Sierra, I
have often thought that if one of these trees could be set by itself
in some city park, its grandeur might there be impressively realized;
while in its home forests, where all magnitudes are great, the weary,
satiated traveler sees none of them truly. It is so with these
majestic rock structures.

Though mere residual masses of the plateau, they are dowered with the
grandeur and repose of mountains, together with the finely chiseled
carving and modeling of man's temples and palaces, and often, to a
considerable extent, with their symmetry. Some, closely observed,
look like ruins; but even these stand plumb and true, and show
architectural forms loaded with lines strictly regular and decorative,
and all are arrayed in colors that storms and time seem only to
brighten. They are not placed in regular rows in line with the river,
but "a' through ither," as the Scotch say, in lavish, exuberant
crowds, as if nature in wildest extravagance held her bravest
structures as common as gravel-piles. Yonder stands a spiry cathedral
nearly five thousand feet in height, nobly symmetrical, with sheer
buttressed walls and arched doors and windows, as richly finished and
decorated with sculptures as the great rock temples of India or Egypt.
Beside it rises a huge castle with arched gateway, turrets, watch-towers, ramparts, etc., and to right and left palaces, obelisks, and
pyramids fairly fill the gulf, all colossal and all lavishly painted
and carved. Here and there a flat-topped structure may be seen, or
one imperfectly domed; but the prevailing style is ornate Gothic, with
many hints of Egyptian and Indian.

Throughout this vast extent of wild architecture--nature's own capital
city--there seem to be no ordinary dwellings. All look like grand and
important public structures, except perhaps some of the lower
pyramids, broad-based and sharp-pointed, covered with down-flowing
talus like loosely set tents with hollow, sagging sides. The roofs
often have disintegrated rocks heaped and draggled over them, but in
the main the masonry is firm and laid in regular courses, as if done
by square and rule.

Nevertheless they are ever changing; their tops are now a dome, now a
flat table or a spire, as harder or softer strata are reached in their
slow degradation, while the sides, with all their fine moldings, are
being steadily undermined and eaten away. But no essential change in
style or color is thus effected. From century to century they stand
the same. What seems confusion among the rough earthquake-shaken
crags nearest one comes to order as soon as the main plan of the
various structures appears. Every building, however complicated and
laden with ornamental lines, is at one with itself and every one of
its neighbors, for the same characteristic controlling belts of color
and solid strata extend with wonderful constancy for very great
distances, and pass through and give style to thousands of separate
structures, however their smaller characters may vary.

Of all the various kinds of ornamental work displayed--carving,
tracery on cliff faces, moldings, arches, pinnacles--none is more
admirably effective or charms more than the webs of rain-channeled
taluses. Marvelously extensive, without the slightest appearance of
waste or excess, they cover roofs and dome tops and the base of every
cliff, belt each spire and pyramid and massy, towering temple, and in
beautiful continuous lines go sweeping along the great walls in and
out around all the intricate system of side canyons, amphitheaters,
cirques, and scallops into which they are sculptured. From one point
hundreds of miles of the fairy embroidery may be traced. It is all so
fine and orderly that it would seem that not only had the clouds and
streams been kept harmoniously busy in the making of it, but that
every raindrop sent like a bullet to a mark had been the subject of a
separate thought, so sure is the outcome of beauty through the stormy
centuries. Surely nowhere else are there illustrations so striking of
the natural beauty of desolation and death, so many of nature's own
mountain buildings wasting in glory of high desert air--going to dust.
See how steadfast in beauty they all are in their going. Look again
and again how the rough, dusty boulders and sand of disintegration
from the upper ledges wreathe in beauty for ashes--as in the flowers
of a prairie after fires--but here the very dust and ashes are

Gazing across the mighty chasm, we at last discover that it is not its
great depth nor length, nor yet these wonderful buildings, that most
impresses us. It is its immense width, sharply defined by precipitous
walls plunging suddenly down from a flat plain, declaring in terms
instantly apprehended that the vast gulf is a gash in the once
unbroken plateau, made by slow, orderly erosion and removal of huge
beds of rocks. Other valleys of erosion are as great--in all their
dimensions some are greater--but none of these produces an effect on
the imagination at once so quick and profound, coming without study,
given at a glance. Therefore by far the greatest and most influential
feature of this view from Bright Angel or any other of the canyon
views is the opposite wall. Of the one beneath our feet we see only
fragmentary sections in cirques and amphitheaters and on the sides of
the out-jutting promontories between them, while the other, though far
distant, is beheld in all its glory of color and noble proportions--the one supreme beauty and wonder to which the eye is ever turning.
For while charming with its beauty it tells the story of the
stupendous erosion of the canyon--the foundation of the unspeakable
impression made on everybody. It seems a gigantic statement for even
nature to make, all in one mighty stone word, apprehended at once like
a burst of light, celestial color its natural vesture, coming in glory
to mind and heart as to a home prepared for it from the very
beginning. Wildness so godful, cosmic, primeval, bestows a new sense
of earth's beauty and size. Not even from high mountains does the
world seem so wide, so like a star in glory of light on its way
through the heavens.

I have observed scenery-hunters of all sorts getting first views of
yosemites, glaciers, White Mountain ranges, etc. Mixed with the
enthusiasm which such scenery naturally excites, there is often weak
gushing, and many splutter aloud like little waterfalls. Here, for a
few moments at least, there is silence, and all are in dead earnest,
as if awed and hushed by an earthquake--perhaps until the cook cries
"Breakfast!" or the stable-boy "Horses are ready!" Then the poor
unfortunates, slaves of regular habits, turn quickly away, gasping and
muttering as if wondering where they had been and what had enchanted

Roads have been made from Bright Angel Hotel through the Coconino
Forest to the ends of outstanding promontories, commanding extensive
views up and down the canyon. The nearest of them, three or four
miles east and west, are O'Neill's Point and Rowe's Point; the latter,
besides commanding the eternally interesting canyon, gives wide-sweeping views southeast and west over the dark forest roof to the San
Francisco and Mount Trumbull volcanoes--the bluest of mountains over
the blackest of level woods.

Instead of thus riding in dust with the crowd, more will be gained by
going quietly afoot along the rim at different times of day and night,
free to observe the vegetation, the fossils in the rocks, the seams
beneath overhanging ledges once inhabited by Indians, and to watch the
stupendous scenery in the changing lights and shadows, clouds,
showers, and storms. One need not go hunting the so-called "points of
interest." The verge anywhere, everywhere, is a point of interest
beyond one's wildest dreams.

As yet, few of the promontories or throng of mountain buildings in the
canyon are named. Nor among such exuberance of forms are names
thought of by the bewildered, hurried tourist. He would be as likely
to think of names for waves in a storm. The Eastern and Western
Cloisters, Hindu Amphitheater, Cape Royal, Powell's Plateau, Grand
View Point, Point Sublime, Bissell and Moran Points, the Temple of
Set, Vishnu's Temple, Shiva's Temple, Twin Temples, Tower of Babel,
Hance's Column--these fairly good names given by Dutton, Holmes,
Moran, and others are scattered over a large stretch of the canyon

All the canyon rock-beds are lavishly painted, except a few neutral
bars and the granite notch at the bottom occupied by the river, which
makes but little sign. It is a vast wilderness of rocks in a sea of
light, colored and glowing like oak and maple woods in autumn, when
the sun-gold is richest. I have just said that it is impossible to
learn what the canyon is like from descriptions and pictures.
Powell's and Dutton's descriptions present magnificent views not only
of the canyon but of all the grand region round about it; and Holmes's
drawings, accompanying Dutton's report, are wonderfully good. Surely
faithful and loving skill can go no farther in putting the
multitudinous decorated forms on paper. But the COLORS, the living
rejoicing COLORS, chanting morning and evening in chorus to heaven!
Whose brush or pencil, however lovingly inspired, can give us these?
And if paint is of no effect, what hope lies in pen-work? Only this:
some may be incited by it to go and see for themselves.

No other range of mountainous rock-work of anything like the same
extent have I seen that is so strangely, boldly, lavishly colored.
The famous Yellowstone Canyon below the falls comes to mind; but,
wonderful as it is, and well deserved as is its fame, compared with
this it is only a bright rainbow ribbon at the roots of the pines.
Each of the series of level, continuous beds of carboniferous rocks of
the canyon has, as we have seen, its own characteristic color. The
summit limestone beds are pale yellow; next below these are the
beautiful rose-colored cross-bedded sandstones; next there are a
thousand feet of brilliant red sandstones; and below these the red
wall limestones, over two thousand feet thick, rich massy red, the
greatest and most influential of the series, and forming the main
color-fountain. Between these are many neutral-tinted beds. The
prevailing colors are wonderfully deep and clear, changing and
blending with varying intensity from hour to hour, day to day, season
to season; throbbing, wavering, glowing, responding to every passing
cloud or storm, a world of color in itself, now burning in separate
rainbow bars streaked and blotched with shade, now glowing in one
smooth, all-pervading ethereal radiance like the alpenglow, uniting
the rocky world with the heavens.

The dawn, as in all the pure, dry desert country is ineffably
beautiful; and when the first level sunbeams sting the domes and
spires, with what a burst of power the big, wild days begin! The dead
and the living, rocks and hears alike, awake and sing the new-old song
of creation. All the massy headlands and salient angles of the walls,
and the multitudinous temples and palaces, seem to catch the light at
once, and cast thick black shadows athwart hollow and gorge, bringing
out details as well as the main massive features of the architecture;
while all the rocks, as if wild with life, throb and quiver and glow
in the glorious sunburst, rejoicing. Every rock temple then becomes a
temple of music; every spire and pinnacle an angel of light and song,
shouting color hallelujahs.

As the day draws to a close, shadows, wondrous, black, and thick, like
those of the morning, fill up the wall hollows, while the glowing
rocks, their rough angles burned off, seem soft and hot to the heart
as they stand submerged in purple haze, which now fills the canyon
like a sea. Still deeper, richer, more divine grow the great walls
and temples, until in the supreme flaming glory of sunset the whole
canyon is transfigured, as if all the life and light of centuries of
sunshine stored up and condensed in the rocks was now being poured
forth as from one glorious fountain, flooding both earth and sky.

Strange to say, in the full white effulgence of the midday hours the
bright colors grow dim and terrestrial in common gray haze; and the
rocks, after the manner of mountains, seem to crouch and drowse and
shrink to less than half their real stature, and have nothing to say
to one, as if not at home. But it is fine to see how quickly they
come to life and grow radiant and communicative as soon as a band of
white clouds come floating by. As if shouting for joy, they seem to
spring up to meet them in hearty salutation, eager to touch them and
beg their blessings. It is just in the midst of these dull midday
hours that the canyon clouds are born.

A good storm cloud full of lightning and rain on its way to its work
on a sunny desert day is a glorious object. Across the canyon,
opposite the hotel, is a little tributary of the Colorado called
Bright Angel Creek. A fountain-cloud still better deserves the name
"Angel of the Desert Wells"--clad in bright plumage, carrying cool
shade and living water to countless animals and plants ready to
perish, noble in form and gesture, seeming able for anything, pouring
life-giving, wonder-working floods from its alabaster fountains, as if
some sky-lake had broken. To every gulch and gorge on its favorite
ground is given a passionate torrent, roaring, replying to the
rejoicing lightning--stones, tons in weight, hurrying away as if
frightened, showing something of the way Grand Canyon work is done.
Most of the fertile summer clouds of the canyon are of this sort,
massive, swelling cumuli, growing rapidly, displaying delicious tones
of purple and gray in the hollows of their sun-beaten houses,
showering favored areas of the heated landscape, and vanishing in an
hour or two. Some, busy and thoughtful-looking, glide with beautiful
motion along the middle of the canyon in flocks, turning aside here
and there, lingering as if studying the needs of particular spots,
exploring side canyons, peering into hollows like birds seeding nest-places, or hovering aloft on outspread wings. They scan all the red
wilderness, dispensing their blessings of cool shadows and rain where
the need is the greatest, refreshing the rocks, their offspring as
well as the vegetation, continuing their sculpture, deepening gorges
and sharpening peaks. Sometimes, blending all together, they weave a
ceiling from rim to rim, perhaps opening a window here and there for
sunshine to stream through, suddenly lighting some palace or temple
and making it flare in the rain as if on fire.

Sometimes, as one sits gazing from a high, jutting promontory, the sky
all clear, showing not the slightest wisp or penciling, a bright band
of cumuli will appear suddenly, coming up the canyon in single file,
as if tracing a well-known trail, passing in review, each in turn
darting its lances and dropping its shower, making a row of little
vertical rivers in the air above the big brown one. Others seem to
grow from mere points, and fly high above the canyon, yet following
its course for a long time, noiseless, as if hunting, then suddenly
darting lightning at unseen marks, and hurrying on. Or they loiter
here and there as if idle, like laborers out of work, waiting to be

Half a dozen or more showers may oftentimes be seen falling at once,
while far the greater part of the sky is in sunshine, and not a
raindrop comes nigh one. These thundershowers from as many separate
clouds, looking like wisps of long hair, may vary greatly in effects.
The pale, faint streaks are showers that fail to reach the ground,
being evaporated on the way down through the dry, thirsty air, like
streams in deserts. Many, on the other hand, which in the distance
seem insignificant, are really heavy rain, however local; these are
the gray wisps well zigzagged with lightning. The darker ones are
torrent rain, which on broad, steep slopes of favorable conformation
give rise to so-called "cloudbursts"; and wonderful is the commotion
they cause. The gorges and gulches below them, usually dry, break out
in loud uproar, with a sudden downrush of muddy, boulder-laden floods.
Down they all go in one simultaneous gush, roaring like lions rudely
awakened, each of the tawny brood actually kicking up a dust at the
first onset.

During the winter months snow falls over all the high plateau, usually
to a considerable depth, whitening the rim and the roofs of the canyon
buildings. But last winter, when I arrived at Bright Angel in the
middle of January, there was no snow in sight, and the ground was dry,
greatly to my disappointment, for I had made the trip mainly to see
the canyon in its winter garb. Soothingly I was informed that this
was an exceptional season, and that the good snow might arrive at any
time. After waiting a few days, I gladly hailed a broad-browed cloud
coming grandly on from the west in big promising blackness, very
unlike the white sailors of the summer skies. Under the lee of a rim-ledge, with another snow-lover, I watched its movements as it took
possession of the canyon and all the adjacent region in sight.
Trailing its gray fringes over the spiry tops of the great temples and
towers, it gradually settled lower, embracing them all with ineffable
kindness and gentleness of touch, and fondled the little cedars and
pines as they quivered eagerly in the wind like young birds begging
their mothers to feed them. The first flakes and crystals began to
fly about noon, sweeping straight up the middle of the canyon, and
swirling in magnificent eddies along the sides. Gradually the hearty
swarms closed their ranks, and all the canyon was lost in gray bloom
except a short section of the wall and a few trees beside us, which
looked glad with snow in their needles and about their feet as they
leaned out over the gulf. Suddenly the storm opened with magical
effect to the north over the canyon of Bright Angel Creek, inclosing a
sunlit mass of the canyon architecture, spanned by great white
concentric arches of cloud like the bows of a silvery aurora. Above
these and a little back of them was a series of upboiling purple
clouds, and high above all, in the background, a range of noble cumuli
towered aloft like snow-laden mountains, their pure pearl bosses
flooded with sunshine. The whole noble picture, calmly glowing, was
framed in thick gray gloom, which soon closed over it; and the storm
went on, opening and closing until night covered all.

Two days later, when we were on a jutting point about eighteen miles
east of Bright Angel and one thousand feet higher, we enjoyed another
storm of equal glory as to cloud effects, though only a few inches of
snow fell. Before the storm began we had a magnificent view of this
grander upper part of the canyon and also of the Coconino Forest and
the Painted Desert. The march of the clouds with their storm banners
flying over this sublime landscape was unspeakable glorious, and so
also was the breaking up of the storm next morning--the mingling of
silver-capped rock, sunshine, and cloud.

Most tourists make out to be in a hurry even here; therefore their
days or hours would be best spent on the promontories nearest the
hotel. Yet a surprising number go down the Bright Angel Trail to the
brink of the inner gloomy granite gorge overlooking the river. Deep
canyons attract like high mountains; the deeper they are, the more
surely are we drawn into them. On foot, of course, there is no danger
whatever, and, with ordinary precautions, but little on animals. In
comfortable tourist faith, unthinking, unfearing, down go men, women,
and children on whatever is offered, horse, mule, or burro, as if
saying with Jean Paul, "fear nothing but fear"--not without reason,
for these canyon trails down the stairways of the gods are less
dangerous than they seem, less dangerous than home stairs. The guides
are cautious, and so are the experienced, much-enduring beasts. The
scrawniest Rosinantes and wizened-rat mules cling hard to the rocks
endwise or sidewise, like lizards or ants. From terrace to terrace,
climate to climate, down one creeps in sun and shade, through gorge
and gully and grassy ravine, and, after a long scramble on foot, at
last beneath the mighty cliffs one comes to the grand, roaring river.

To the mountaineer the depth of the canyon, from five thousand to six
thousand feet, will not seem so very wonderful, for he has often
explored others that are about as deep. But the most experienced will
be awestruck by the vast extent of huge rock monuments of pointed
masonry built up in regular courses towering above, beneath, and round
about him. By the Bright Angel Trail the last fifteen hundred feet of
the descent to the river has to be made afoot down the gorge of Indian
Garden Creek. Most of the visitors do not like this part, and are
content to stop at the end of the horse trail and look down on the
dull-brown flood from the edge of the Indian Garden Plateau. By the
new Hance Trail, excepting a few daringly steep spots, you can ride
all the way to the river, where there is a good spacious camp-ground
in a mesquite grove. This trail, built by brave Hance, begins on the
highest part of the rim, eight thousand feet above the sea, a thousand
feet higher than the head of Bright Angel Trail, and the descent is a
little over six thousand feet, through a wonderful variety of climate
and life. Often late in the fall, when frosty winds are blowing and
snow is flying at one end of the trail, tender plants are blooming in
balmy summer weather at the other. The trip down and up can be made
afoot easily in a day. In this way one is free to observe the scenery
and vegetation, instead of merely clinging to his animal and watching
its steps. But all who have time should go prepared to camp awhile on
the riverbank, to rest and learn something about the plants and
animals and the mighty flood roaring past. In cool, shady
amphitheaters at the head of the trail there are groves of white
silver fir and Douglas spruce, with ferns and saxifrages that recall
snowy mountains; below these, yellow pine, nut pine, juniper, hop-hornbeam, ash, maple, holly-leaved berberis, cowania, spiraea, dwarf
oak, and other small shrubs and trees. In dry gulches and on taluses
and sun-beaten crags are sparsely scattered yuccas, cactuses, agave,
etc. Where springs gush from the rocks there are willow thickets,
grassy flats, and bright, flowery gardens, and in the hottest recesses
the delicate abronia, mesquite, woody compositae, and arborescent

The most striking and characteristic part of this widely varied
vegetation are the cactaceae--strange, leafless, old-fashioned plants
with beautiful flowers and fruit, in every way able and admirable.
While grimly defending themselves with innumerable barbed spears, they
offer both food and drink to man and beast. Their juicy globes and
disks and fluted cylindrical columns are almost the only desert wells
that never go dry, and they always seem to rejoice the more and grow
plumper and juicier the hotter the sunshine and sand. Some are
spherical, like rolled-up porcupines, crouching in rock-hollows
beneath a mist of gray lances, unmoved by the wildest winds. Others,
standing as erect as bushes and trees or tall branchless pillars
crowned with magnificent flowers, their prickly armor sparkling, look
boldly abroad over the glaring desert, making the strangest forests
ever seen or dreamed of. Cereus giganteus, the grim chief of the
desert tribe, is often thirty or forty feet high in southern Arizona.
Several species of tree yuccas in the same desert, laden in early
spring with superb white lilies, form forests hardly less wonderful,
though here they grow singly or in small lonely groves. The low,
almost stemless Yucca baccata, with beautiful lily flowers and sweet
banana-like fruit, prized by the Indians, is common along the canyon
rim, growing on lean, rocky soil beneath mountain mahogany, nut pines,
and junipers, beside dense flowery mats of Spiraea caespitosa and the
beautiful pinnate-leaved Spiraea millefolia. The nut pine (Pinus
edulis) scattered along the upper slopes and roofs of the canyon
buildings, is the principal tree of the strange dwarf Coconino Forest.
It is a picturesque stub of a pine about twenty-five feet high,
usually with dead, lichened limbs thrust through its rounded head, and
grows on crags and fissured rock tables, braving heat and frost, snow
and drought, and continuing patiently, faithfully fruitful for
centuries. Indians and insects and almost every desert bird and beast
come to it to be fed.

To civilized people from corn and cattle and wheat-field countries the
canyon at first sight seems as uninhabitable as a glacier crevasse,
utterly silent and barren. Nevertheless it is the home of the
multitude of our fellow-mortals, men as well as animals and plants.
Centuries ago it was inhabited by tribes of Indians, who, long before
Columbus saw America, built thousands of stone houses in its crags,
and large ones, some of them several stories high, with hundreds of
rooms, on the mesas of the adjacent regions. Their cliff-dwellings,
almost numberless, are still to be seen in the canyon, scattered along
both sides from top to bottom and throughout its entire length, built
of stone and mortar in seams and fissures like swallows' nests, or on
isolated ridges and peaks. The ruins of larger buildings are found on
open spots by the river, but most of them aloft on the brink of the
wildest, giddiest precipices, sites evidently chosen for safety from
enemies, and seemingly accessible only to the birds of the air. Many
caves were also used as dwelling-places, as were mere seams on cliff-fronts formed by unequal weathering and with or without outer or side
walls; and some of them were covered with colored pictures of animals.
The most interesting of these cliff-dwellings had pathetic little
ribbon-like strips of garden on narrow terraces, where irrigating
water could be carried to them--most romantic of sky-gardens, but
eloquent of hard times.

In recesses along the river and on the first plateau flats above its
gorge were fields and gardens of considerable size, where irrigating
ditches may still be traced. Some of these ancient gardens are still
cultivated by Indians, descendants of cliff-dwellers, who raise corn,
squashes, melons, potatoes, etc., to reinforce the produce of the many
wild food-furnishing plants--nuts, beans, berries, yucca and cactus
fruits, grass and sunflower seeds, etc.--and the flesh of animals--deer, rabbits, lizards, etc. The canyon Indians I have met here seem
to be living much as did their ancestors, though not now driven into
rock-dens. They are able, erect men, with commanding eyes, which
nothing that they wish to see can escape. They are never in a hurry,
have a strikingly measured, deliberate, bearish manner of moving the
limbs and turning the head, are capable of enduring weather, thirst,
hunger, and over-abundance, and are blessed with stomachs which
triumph over everything the wilderness may offer. Evidently their
lives are not bitter.

The largest of the canyon animals one is likely to see is the wild
sheep, or Rocky Mountain bighorn, a most admirable beast, with limbs
that never fail, at home on the most nerve-trying precipices,
acquainted with all the springs and passes and broken-down jumpable
places in the sheer ribbon cliffs, bounding from crag to crag in easy
grace and confidence of strength, his great horns held high above his
shoulders, wild red blood beating and hissing through every fiber of
him like the wind through a quivering mountain pine.

Deer also are occasionally met in the canyon, making their way to the
river when the wells of the plateau are dry. Along the short spring
streams beavers are still busy, as is shown by the cottonwood and
willow timber they have cut and peeled, found in all the river drift-heaps. In the most barren cliffs and gulches there dwell a multitude
of lesser animals, well-dressed, clear-eyed, happy little beasts--wood
rats, kangaroo rats, gophers, wood mice, skunks, rabbits, bobcats, and
many others, gathering food, or dozing in their sun-warmed dens.
Lizards, too, of every kind and color are here enjoying life on the
hot cliffs, and making the brightest of them brighter.

Nor is there any lack of feathered people. The golden eagle may be
seen, and the osprey, hawks, jays, hummingbirds, the mourning dove,
and cheery familiar singers--the black-headed grosbeak, robin,
bluebird, Townsend's thrush, and many warblers, sailing the sky and
enlivening the rocks and bushes through all the canyon wilderness.

Here at Hance's river camp or a few miles above it brave Powell and
his brave men passed their first night in the canyon on the
adventurous voyage of discovery thirty-three[34] years ago. They
faced a thousand dangers, open or hidden, now in their boats gladly
sliding down swift, smooth reaches, now rolled over and over in back-combing surges of rough, roaring cataracts, sucked under in eddies,
swimming like beavers, tossed and beaten like castaway drift--stout-hearted, undaunted, doing their work through it all. After a month of
this they floated smoothly out of the dark, gloomy, roaring abyss into
light and safety two hundred miles below. As the flood rushes past
us, heavy-laden with desert mud, we naturally think of its sources,
its countless silvery branches outspread on thousands of snowy
mountains along the crest of the continent, and the life of the, the
beauty of the, their history and romance. Its topmost springs are far
north and east in Wyoming and Colorado, on the snowy Wind River,
Front, Park, and Sawatch Ranges, dividing the two ocean waters, and
the Elk, Wahsatch, Uinta, and innumerable spurs streaked with streams,
made famous by early explorers and hunters. It is a river of rivers--the Du Chesne, San Rafael, Yampa, Dolores, Gunnison, Cochetopa,
Uncompahgre, Eagle, and Roaring Rivers, the Green and the Grand, and
scores of others with branches innumerable, as mad and glad a band as
ever sang on mountains, descending in glory of foam and spray from
snow-banks and glaciers through their rocky moraine-dammed, beaver-dammed channels. Then, all emerging from dark balsam and pine woods
and coming together, they meander through wide, sunny park valleys,
and at length enter the great plateau and flow in deep canyons, the
beginning of the system culminating in this grand canyon of canyons.

Our warm canyon camp is also a good place to give a thought to the
glaciers which still exist at the heads of the highest tributaries.
Some of them are of considerable size, especially those on the Wind
River and Sawatch ranges in Wyoming and Colorado. They are remnants
of a vast system of glaciers which recently covered the upper part of
the Colorado basin, sculptured its peaks, ridges, and valleys to their
present forms, and extended far out over the plateau region--how far I
cannot now say. It appears, therefore, that, however old the main
trunk of the Colorado may be, all its widespread upper branches and
the landscapes they flow through are new-born, scarce at all changed
as yet in any important feature since they first came to light at the
close of the Glacial Period.

The so-called Grand Colorado Plateau, of which the Grand Canyon is
only one of the well-proportioned features, extends with a breadth of
hundreds of miles from the flanks of the Wahsatch and Park Mountains
to the south of the San Francisco Peaks. Immediately to the north of
the deepest part of the canyon it rises in a series of subordinate
plateaus, diversified with green meadows, marshes, bogs, ponds,
forests, and grovy park valleys, a favorite Indian hunting ground,
inhabited by elk, deer, beaver, etc. But far the greater part of the
plateau is good sound desert, rocky, sandy, or fluffy with loose ashes
and dust, dissected in some places into a labyrinth of stream-channel
chasms like cracks in a dry clay-bed, or the narrow slit crevasses of
glaciers--blackened with lava flows, dotted with volcanoes and
beautiful buttes, and lined with long continuous escarpments--a vast
bed of sediments of an ancient sea-bottom, still nearly as level as
when first laid down after being heaved into the sky a mile or two

Walking quietly about in the alleys and byways of the Grand Canyon
city, we learn something of the way it was made; and all must admire
effects so great from means apparently so simple; rain striking light
hammer blows or heavier in streams, with many rest Sundays; soft air
and light, gentle sappers and miners, toiling forever; the big river
sawing the plateau asunder, carrying away the eroded and ground waste,
and exposing the edges of the strata to the weather; rain torrents
sawing cross-streets and alleys, exposing the strata in the same way
in hundreds of sections, the softer, less resisting beds weathering
and receding faster, thus undermining the harder beds, which fall, not
only in small weathered particles, but in heavy sheer-cleaving masses,
assisted down from time to time by kindly earthquakes, rain torrents
rushing the fallen material to the river, keeping the wall rocks
constantly exposed. Thus the canyon grows wider and deeper. So also
do the side canyons and amphitheaters, while secondary gorges and
cirques gradually isolate masses of the promontories, forming new
buildings, all of which are being weathered and pulled and shaken down
while being built, showing destruction and creation as one. We see
the proudest temples and palaces in stateliest attitudes, wearing
their sheets of detritus as royal robes, shedding off showers of red
and yellow stones like trees in autumn shedding their leaves, going to
dust like beautiful days to night, proclaiming as with the tongues of
angels the natural beauty of death.

Every building is seen to be a remnant of once continuous beds of
sediments,--sand and slime on the floor of an ancient sea, and filled
with the remains of animals,--and every particle of the sandstones and
limestones of these wonderful structures to be derived from other
landscapes, weathered and rolled and ground in the storms and streams
of other ages. And when we examine the escarpments, hills, buttes,
and other monumental masses of the plateau on either side of the
canyon, we discover that an amount of material has been carried off in
the general denudation of the region compared with which even that
carried away in the making of the Grand Canyon is as nothing. Thus
each wonder in sight becomes a window through which other wonders come
to view. In no other part of this continent are the wonders of
geology, the records of the world's auld lang syne, more widely
opened, or displayed in higher piles. The whole canyon is a mine of
fossils, in which five thousand feet of horizontal strata are exposed
in regular succession over more than a thousand square miles of wall-space, and on the adjacent plateau region there is another series of
beds twice as thick, forming a grand geological library--a collection
of stone books covering thousands of miles of shelving, tier on tier,
conveniently arranged for the student. And with what wonderful
scriptures are their pages filled--myriad forms of successive floras
and faunas, lavishly illustrated with colored drawings, carrying us
back into the midst of the life of a past infinitely remote. And as
we go on and on, studying this old, old life in the light of the life
beating warmly about us, we enrich and lengthen our own.


Footnotes [by the editor of the 1918 original of this text]:

[1] This essay was written early in 1875.

[2] The wild sheep of California are now classified as Ovis nelsoni.
Whether those of the Shasta region belonged to the latter species, or
to the bighorn species of Oregon, Idaho, and Washington, is still an
unsettled question.

[3] An excerpt from a letter to a friend, written in 1873.

[4] Muir at this time was making Yosemite Valley his home.

[5] An obsolete genus of plants now replaced in the main by
Chrysothamnus and Ericameria.

[6] An early local name for what is now known as Lassen Peak, or Mt.
Lassen. In 1914 its volcanic activity was resumed with spectacular
eruptions of ashes, steam, and gas.

[7] Pronounced Too'-lay.

[8] Letter dated "Salt Lake City, Utah, May 15, 1877."

[9] Letter dated "Salt Lake City, Utah, May 19, 1877."

[10] Letter dated "Lake Point, Utah, May 20, 1877."

[11] Letter dated "Salt Lake, July, 1877."

[12] Letter dated "September 1, 1877."

[13] Letter written during the first week of September, 1877.

[14] The spruce, or hemlock, then known as Abies Douglasii var.
macrocarpa is now called Pseudotsuga macrocarpa.

[15] Written at Ward, Nevada, in September, 1878.

[16] See footnote 5.

[17] Written at Eureka, Nevada, in October, 1878.

[18] Now called Pinus monophylla, or one-leaf pinyon.

[19] Written at Pioche, Nevada, in October, 1878.

[20] Written at Eureka, Nevada, in November, 1878.

[21] Date and place of writing not given. Published in the San
Francisco Evening Bulletin, January 15, 1879.

[22] November 11, 1889; Muir's description probably was written toward
the end of the same year.

[23] This tree, now known to botanists as Picea sitchensis, was named
Abies Menziesii by Lindley in 1833.

[24] Also known as "canoe cedar," and described in Jepson's Silva of
California under the more recent specific name Thuja plicata.

[25] Now classified as Tsuga mertensiana Sarg.

[26] Now Abies grandis Lindley.

[27] Chamaecyparis lawsoniana Parl. (Port Orford cedar) in Jepson's

[28] 1889.

[29] A careful re-determination of the height of Rainier, made by
Professor A. G. McAdie in 1905, gave an altitude of 14,394 feet. The
Standard Dictionary wrongly describes it is "the highest peak (14,363
feet) within the United States." The United States Baedeker and
railroad literature overstate its altitude by more than a hundred

[30] Doubtless the red silver fir, now classified as Abies amabilis.

[31] Lassen Peak on recent maps.

[32] Pseudotsuga taxifolia Brit.

[33] Thuja plicata Don.

[34] Muir wrote this description in 1902; Major J. W. Powell made his
descent through the canyon, with small boats, in 1869.

Note from the transcriber:

A phrase Muir uses that readers might doubt: "fountain range," by
which he means a mountainous area where rain or snow fall that is the
source of water for a river or stream downslope. So it is not a
typographical error for "mountain range"! Another odd phrase is
"(something) is well worthy (something else)" rather than "well worth"
or "well worthy of." He uses this at least twice in this work. --jg

Book of the day: