« ZurückWeiter »
moods runs the same idea into several creations. Great things resemble each other. The gods are of one blood, and the sea is like the desert. A yet grander sight than the dead sea of the Plains invited us on our right. We had risen so far above the Denver basin that the foot-hills shrank out of sight, and the mountains behind the town uncovered themselves boldly to our view. From our position they appeared nearly on a level with us, a fact of perspective which enabled us to separate them into five or six distinct or anastomosing ranges between the level plains and the highest snow-peak. The arcs described by each range so intersected those of the neighboring ranges, that Judge Hall quite aptly compared our view to a herd of travelling dromedaries. Equally happy was another favorite illustration of the judge's, frequently used in his explanations of Colorado geology, in which he compared the unfolding of the several uplifts at our present point of vision to the opening leaves of the peony. A book on the Rocky Mountains should say something about those mountains, yet I confess that I have deliberated well ere deciding to do so. The description I have given of their first azure blossoming on the sky west of Beaver Creek, is no dreamier than must be a reader's idea of the mountains seen close at hand, after the most vivid description that can be written. In the East there is nothing to illustrate the Rocky Mountains by. With the Rocky Mountains, the Alleghanies and the Taconic have no common terms. Here are none of those delicious, turfy glades, those enameled banks, which beautify the mountains of our Atlantic slope. The landscape is without a single patch of bright green. The mountains rise up in rugged, brawny masses, without the apology of color for a nakedness that is grand in itself. They oppress you with such sublime size, they are the evident stone-mask of such a tremendous force spent in the old centuries, that you do not miss color in them,-do not think of it. Every cross-twist in them is the cast of a muscle strained by the gladiator, Fire. The gentler curves, the valleys that lead out of sight into mountain recesses, – these are suggestions of a gentler world-time, which came after the struggle. They are the kisses of the Water Nymph, and the dalliance of bland but treacherous Oxygen. The Rocky Mountains are full of infinite suggestion. Their presence makes a thoughtful man wish to sit down and learn from them; there is such genius in it, it so overawes one. You are surprised when you examine this feeling, and see how few of the qualities which made you admire other mountains, exist in these. What you see is a colossal mass of brown, and, in its highest lights, of amber, relieved against nothing, mediated by nothing, its wall bounding your entire western horizon. It is so consistently great, it is a congress of such equal giants, that you cannot compare it with any of the ranges you have seen before. When you rise to a higher plane of vision, this single leaf of grandeur becomes a book. You confess you have not seen the Rocky Mountains until now. Mountain billows westward after mountain, their crests climbing as they go; and far on, where you might suppose the Plains began again, break on a spotless strand of everlasting snow. This snow indicates the top of the range. But of what range? Not the top of the Rocky Mountains, but only of a small minor range in that range. That glittering ridge yonder is but one of a hundred lying parallel with it to the westward. We have not even yet seen the Rocky Mountains. I remember how the idea of crossing the Rocky Mountains used to look to me. It was an affair something like the steep grades between Altoona and Pittsburg, where it takes part of a day to go up, see the view, and come down satisfied on the other side. In spite of the atlas (or by favor of some of the earlier ones), I never could conceive of the Rocky Mountains except as a single range occupying a small line along the axis of the Continent. Comparatively little has been done for the geology of this region, so that scientific distinctions in that science have no more familiarized us with the multitudinous ranges than have those of geography. I suppose that to most Eastern men the discovery of what is meant by crossing the Rocky Mountains would be as great a surprise as it was to myself. Day after day, as we were travelling between Denver and Salt Lake, I kept wondering when we should get over the mountains. Four, five, six days, still we were perpetually climbing, descending, or flanking them; and at nightfall of the last day, we rolled down into the Mormon city, through a gorge in one of the grandest ranges in the system. Then, for the first time after a journey of six hundred miles, could we be said to have crossed the Rocky Mountains. The only name for the system is “nation.” “Range” does not express it at all. It is a whole country, populous with mountains. It is as if an ocean of molten granite had been caught by instant petrifaction when its billows were rolling heaven-high.
In some places the parallel ranges thin out, leaving a large tract of level country quite embosomed between snow-ridges, and, so to speak, alcoved into the very heart of the system. These are the “Parks; ” and they form one of the most interesting as well as characteristic features of the Rocky Mountain scenery. Formations of this kind abound everywhere in these mountains; but the four principal ones form a series, running from a point considerably northwest of Denver quite into New Mexico. They are called, in their order, North, Middle, South, and San Luis Parks. They more nearly resemble the green dells of our Atlantic range than any other parts of this; but their imitation is an expansion on the scale of miles to the inch. You might set down one of our smaller States in Middle Park without crowding it.
The Parks are watered directly from the snowpeaks, being indeed only the inner court of those peaks, and catching the droppings from their eaves. The portions of the Parks most thoroughly irrigated, remain beautifully green throughout the year; and over the whole region herbage is abundant. The sheltered situation of the Parks insure them an equable climate; and old hunters who have camped out in them for months together, talk of life there as an earthly paradise. It will prove equally so to the farmer and grazier when Colorado finds time to develop her agriculture. For the present they are difficult of access, and the most beautiful as well as the richest hunting-grounds in the far West. Elk, deer, and antelope abound there; wild animals of the cat kind, headed by the Rocky Mountain lion, are common in the wooded ridges that skirt them; they are not
stinted in respect to bears, wolves, or foxes.
Perhaps, too, the Parks may be said to bound the extreme western range of the buffalo. I saw a buffalo skull, to be sure, on a dry, gravelly plain near the Green River; and tradition still speaks of their having formerly extended all the way into Utah. But the climate is such an antiseptic that the remains seen by me may have been a hundred years old, being white as snow and hardly more than a perfect cast of head and horns in the salts of lime. It is certainly many years since a herd has crossed the mountains, many even since it penetrated them further than the Parks. It is not at all an every-day matter, at this time, to shoot a “mountain buffalo;” so little, indeed, that I could not get absolute certainty as to whether he is identical with the ordinary buffalo of the Plains or a distinct variety. Some of my informants described him as the same in everything but habitat, while others pronounced him much larger and fiercer. The probability is that this animal is only a descendant from strays left behind a herd that crossed the mountains, which gradually were adapted to the new conditions until they present an entirely distinct variety. The mountain buffalo is said not to be migratory. If this be true, the loss of such a strong race instinct is of itself sufficient to form the base of a variety distinction.
I have been betrayed into the artistic error (or excellence, according to your school) of painting more into my picture than I could see from my camp-stool; of adding after experience to the present facts of vision. But to see the Rocky Mountains means so much more than the view of any one mighty ridge or peak, that I might just as well give its idea by glancing across the whole billowy main as by stopping short