Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

conversant with the most elaborate cuisines of Denver and Salt Lake City, declared that even in those luxurious capitals this u outfit" was not to be surpassed.

After tea, while the fresh horses were getting attached, I wandered a few steps away from the back of the station to the springs which gave it its name. There were two of them, side by side — one, a white sulphur, of strength and flavor almost exactly resembling the Clifton water in Ontario County, State of New York; the other, more of the Kentucky Blue Lick type, but much more intense. The first I found very agreeable. I felt sorry that the rest of the party abhorred all such springs alike, for this was deliciously cold and limpid, beside being free from the saline and alkaline properties which were to make most of the springs henceforth, until we reached California, nauseous or wholly undrinkable. Though an epicure in the matter of mineral water, being very fond even of Blue Lick, I was obliged to confess that I could not drink the second spring. It was fairly saturated with sulphide of hydrogen, and had numerous other distinguishable flavors as badly intense, none of which I recognized save the chalybeate.

Shortly after we left Sulphur Springs, the moon rose, now near her full. As long as I could keep my eyes open, I sat on the box. The country was a congeries of bare round hills, receding and rising on either hand to mountain ranges, transverse to that which we had penetrated at Bridger's Pass. It was difficult to imagine that we were still in the very thick of the mountain system, and at an elevation at least as high as Laramie Plains. The stupendous scale upon which this system is constructed, constantly prevents the traveller from realizing where he is. Not till he has climbed over many ridges, and penetrated many passes, does he understand that his descent over the one or his emerging from the other is only equivalent to the entrance upon another lofty plateau, — a plain raised upon the very summit of the mountains themselves,—or into a basin formed by the inosculation of several separate mountain-crests. The ridges which bound the plateau or the basin recede so as to lose their prominence in the landscape; and until one reaches the spot where they curve together again, or encounters some new range which forms a boundary to the comparative level he has been travelling, he might easily suppose he had reached a lowland tract, and got out of the mountains altogether. There is no more appropriate name for the Rocky Mountain system than to call it a chain, and to no other mountain system is the term equally applicable. The traveller crossing one of its basins or plateaus is inside a link; a break in one of these links is a pass or canon. As he goes through this break, he enters another link, belonging to another parallel and lower or higher series. Not until he descends to Salt Lake City through that tremendous system of connecting canons which breaks through the Wahsatch, can he say that he has crossed the Rocky Mountains. In some places along the system one line of links, in some others all but one, disappear entirely; but anywhere on the United States line between New Mexico and the Great South Pass, the interoceanic traveller must cross a parallel series of them amounting to a score or more. One of these links is sometimes found to be constructed of a single line of upheaval, curving from its very origin; but the link oftenest seems to have been constructed by two separate sets

of uplifts, operating at as many periods of disturbance: one, which we may call the primary, elevating the axial ranges of the Continent, whose principal trend is north and south; and the other, which we may call the secondary, operating subsequently between the parallel lines of the first uplift, with a general trend at right angles to it. The first upheaval produced a mountain region about six hundred miles wide at its widest part, with lofty valleys between its highest ranges. The second barred these valleys at intervals, turning them into the present plateaus or basins, and completing the link formation which we now see.

Though not entirely limited in its occurrence to the Rocky Mountains, this formation is strikingly characteristic of that system, and is nowhere else so constant a trait both of scenery and geology. Upon its existence depend the most important results to the future settlement of the interior. Wherever these transverse bars occur, it will instantly appear that the ease of irrigating the levels between the axial ranges is vastly enhanced. Many of them rise to a height as great as that of the longitudinal ranges; some of them are higher than those in their immediate neighborhood. They condense the moisture of the upper atmosphere currents, turn it into snow, and thus become reservoirs of irrigation — storehouses of fertility for the included levels below.

Any good map constructed after the latest surveys, but the maps of the War Department especially, will exhibit the link formation with peculiar clearness in many different portions of the range, but in none more strikingly than in the tract lying between 38° and 41° lat. N. and 105° and 107° Ion. W. Within these boundaries lie three great links, whose interior basins possess a fertility of soil, a grandeur and beauty of scenery, and a loveliness of climate which fascinated explorers long before the discovery of the precious metals allured them to the interior of the Continent, and which now cause them to be better known than almost any part df the Rocky Mountain system, save that in the immediate vicinity of mines. These go by the titles of the North, Middle, and South Parks. Their isolation from each other is almost complete; the transverse ridge dividing the Middle from the South Park being quite impenetrable, while a water-shed of gentler ascent and more broken lines separate the former from the North Park. The resemblance which these formations bear to the links of a chain strike one instantly on looking at the map.

Not less striking is the amount of water shed into each of the inclosed basins from the snow-ridges which form its rim. The amount furnished by direct rain-falls is inconsiderable, — during some years almost literally nothing, — and may be left out of the calculation. North Park will be observed to possess a system of irrigation so complete and so bountiful that art could scarcely improve it. Innumerable tributaries, shed from its walls in every direction, unite to make the North Fork of Platte, which was separated from us as we crossed Laramie Plains only by the single range of black hills on our left, and which, after flowing around the base of that grand mesa on which the Laramie Plains lie, makes another grand detour, and reaches the Great Plain at Fort Laramie, a degree further north than where we left them. Another system of tributaries combines to the southerly, and sheds itself through a break in the southwest corner of the link, under the name of the Blue River — contributing one important affluent to that mysterious stream which, after traversing one of the least known and most savage regions of the world, finally empties itself into the Gulf of California under the title of the Colorado River. A short inspection of the hydrography of this region will show us that the true division between the North and Middle Parks occurs in the line of the watershed between the tributaries of the North Platte and those of the Blue. The latter river, it will also appear, receives the entire drainage of the Middle Park —an amount of water almost wholly derived from the snow-meltings of the tremendous ranges inclosing the park, yet equal to that of any tract of corresponding area under the moist sky of our Atlantic slope. The South Park gives birth to the South Platte and the Arkansas — both unfailing streams, though they receive no affluents of any size within a hundred miles of their source. The Cache la Poudre (through whose pass, it will be recollected, we ascended to the Laramie Plateau) is the first tributary of noticeable volume belonging to the South Platte; yet the latter stream is an abundant and rapid river long before it receives this increment, indeed in the immediate neighborhood of Denver.

Still further to the north than the Parks lie two examples of the link formation in Laramie Plains and the plateau of the Great South Pass. I have indicated, as it occurred in the order of our itinerary, the longitudinal and transverse ranges which environ the former. North of the Wind River Mountains, the transverse range which forms its lower boundary, lies an irregular plateau to which the South Pass furnishes its main western exit, of much vaster ex

« ZurückWeiter »