Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

tains, 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 Eocky 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. lu 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 tune 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 where the undulations break on that ice-bound coast yonder, in clouds against the blue of heaven.

The divide we were travelling was unlike those of the Plains, not only in being of much greater height and surface, but in its possession at intervals of deep ravines, finely timbered with pine, and bearing an underbrush of scrub-oak. The divide was outside of the lowest Rocky Mountain foot-hills, yet at the East it would have been called a mountainous country in itself. The pine was getting rapidly cleared away from the divide by teams and choppers for the fuelmarket of Denver We were every now and then, during the forenoon, passing great ox-loads of it on their way there. The oak was not that black-jack usually recognized as the scrub variety in our Atlantic sand barrens, but a tree with a comparatively delicate round-lobed leaf. • An innumerable array of unknown peas and beans showed pretty scentless flowers' along the road, in every shade of purple, blue, and pink. In some situations the ground was all aflame with the intense scarlet flowers of " the paint-brush."

About one o'clock, we descended into a valley of the divide, about twenty miles from Denver, in which, for the first time on our journey, we encountered those sculpturesque freaks of geology which form so large a field of interesting study throughout the Rocky Mountains, and were continually presenting themselves along our subsequent route to Salt Lake.

The steep sand-bluffs, down which our course ran from the high plateau of the divide to the valley, were curiously channeled into isolated groups and masses, whose form gave every possible scope to one's fancy. The simplest of these formations were mere sinuous galleries. Where the work of excavation had gone further, the sand rose in smooth cones or solitary pillars; and in yet more complicated cases, the piles took a statuesque shape, which, with a trifling effort of imagination, became idols, gypsies about their camp-fire, witches, or mummies in their coffins. At first sight these formations were a good deal of a puzzle to me; but as we advanced, and saw them not only in the various stages, but undergoing the processes of production, their explanation became possible on at least one hypothesis, to which I will refer further on.

A little beyond these statues, and in such plain sight of them that their moonlight view must have been like having a guard of honor composed of ghosts, we found "The Pretty Woman's Ranch " and its occupants, the Richardsons. The nomenclature of new settlers is unconventionally direct. They do not hesitate to say when thej7 think a woman is pretty; and I am afraid they would assert the opposite, if true, with equal frankness. There is no doubt what their names mean; and when they call a name, it sticks. All the Richardsons may die; but future travellers will have no difficulty in knowing that a pretty woman was once the ornament of this solitude, or in finding the exact place on which to drop a tear for the evanescence of all things lovely. It is perhaps no betrayal of Coloradian confidence to acknowledge that Mrs. Richardson is the Pretty Woman referred to in the title. We stopped at the ranch which she has characterized, to give our horses their noon feed, take our own lunch, and, let it be confessed, to see the Pretty Woman, though of course solely as a geographical personage. The name is not inappropriate.

« ZurückWeiter »