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We had only to mark on our large baggage the address in Salt Lake City where it should be left to await us, and take our minor traps, such as guns, artists' material, blankets, and small stores, into camp or ranch with us till we resumed our route. By stopping at Virginia Dale, we shouM give the remaining two of our party a chance to catch up with us, and have a better opportunity for sidewise explorations than might again be afforded us in the heart of the Rocky Mountain system.
The Virginia Dale Station is 752 miles from Atchison, and about 1300 from San Francisco. It is situated in a continuation of that lofty furrow of the range known as the Cheyenne Pass. A log-ranch and stables constitute the entire station. Beyond the buildings southerly, a mountain stream winds into a dense forest. Across the Overland trail, north of the house, rises a congeries of round gray mountains fifteen hundred feet in average height from the trail level, packed together in such close order that they resembled a school of porpoises coming up to breathe. Just below the house to the eastward, a little rivulet sang its way round coquettish curves to the large trout-stream in the far jungle, through a meadow golden green in patches where the water eddied back and the sun fell directly. We were told that trout swarmed within five miles of us; but there was not force enough at the station to spare us guides or escort, and we had moreover but little desire to catch fish when our finest crops of literary and artistic hay ought to be making. We were indebted for an unusually comfortable reception at Virginia Dale (not to speak here of other places) to the kind thoughtfulness of Mr. Otis, the Overland Road superintendent. We called on him at Denver with letters from his brother, the well known artist, author, and physician, our friend Doctor Fessenden N. Otis of New York; found him absent on the line, left the notes for him, and never afterwards were fortunate enough to meet him personally. Just as we resumed our route from Denver, a very pleasant letter of information and guidance w»s put into our hands; and we were not only instructed how to find the best things, but enabled to enjoy them comfortably by still another letter from Mr. Otis, addressed to all the employees of the road, enjoining them to grant us every facility for stopping to sketch or geologize which did not involve exorbitant delay of the mail, and to treat us, in every respect of fare and accommodations, as his personal friends. This courtesy on his part was so liberal and hearty, and showed such warm appreciation of our objects, that we were more surprised than we need to have been after knowing another member of his family.
At Virginia Dale we drew this kindly document for the first time, and presented it at the stationkeeper, who instantly surrendered us the best bed he had in the house, with the exception of his own, and assured us we might have had that if his wife were not then sick on it with a violent intermittent fever. I could not imagine where a person could contract such a disease in this^ region, and found that it belonged to those rare cases which get settled in some one of the Western States too deeply to be cured at once by the Rocky Mountains. Poor little wife! What a terrible distance from everything to have chills and fever! I caught a single glimpse of the patient as her husband passed into the sick-room, and saw, through all the expression of suffering which her face wore, a delicate, refined prettiness most unexpected in this savage wilderness. Love, however, seemed to make that tract bloom in the teeth of ague. I never saw a man kinder to his wife than the station-keeper. He was obliged, in her default, to manage every detail of housekeeping; and conjugal fidelity raised him to the level of the occasion. I do not believe the skillfullest artist could scour a pan to begin with that unaccustomed male who learned it yesterday for his wife's sake. His success in the initial batch of tea-biscuit I regard explicable on the ground of inspiration. Confiding and clinging to the last, like all our sex, he took in the dough to be inspected by the invalid, who entertained an indulgent spirit toVard it, and relieved him from apprehensions. He was not afraid of it any more, but put it in theoven, and stayed by it with no one else near him, till it came out a triumphant straw-color, and tasted less like equal quantities of lard and potash than any Rocky Mountain tea-cake which I ever approached with a consciousness of iny imminent peril. But to see the station-keeper in his great dish-washing act was to witness the favorite spectacle of the gods,— a good man struggling under difficulties. A trifle redder in the face, but feeling morally developed, he came out of Destiny and the Dish-kettle without a nick in any of his crockery, left no grease-streaks when he wiped the plates, and lived fully up to Msprivileges in the fidelity with which he washed out tine dish-cloth.
Beside this excellent man and his wife, there lived in the house a pair of stable-helpers and such drivers as stopped there transiently during off-hours. With these lodgers we were to share one of the three apartments into which the house was divided.
After dinner, (which in admiration of the stationman's great qualities, we cooked for ourselves), we set out to explore the porpoise-back mountains which rolled away to the northward of the road. We had under-estimated their height at starting, and found that the climb to their highest cone took us a full hour. Our way led along the upper course of the brook, which waters the meadow before the ranch, to a series of deep rifts or canons channeled in the side o£ the mountains by freshets at the season of snowmelting, but now dry as ashes, and paved with enormous boulders. Up the steep incline of one of these canon bottoms, and \inder the shade of occasional maples or aspens which still throve along th£ slopes on memories of last spring's moisture, we clambered to the bald gray top of the mountain. We were rewarded by a fine bird's-eye view of the country traversed since sunrise, and immediately below us stretched delicious green bottom lands watered by a third mountain brook. Everywhere our horizon is bounded by snow-peaks. We stand at the summit of mountain piled on mountain, but yonder are colossal ridges which look down measurelessly far to laugh at us. Still further on rise peaks as much higher than tthey as they than we, or we than Denver. As •for matters right under foot, we find, in the first place, that these round mountains are a formation of flesh-colored granite, largely feldspathic, and existing, wherever it outcrops to the weather, in a state •as friable and incoherent as the softest pudding-stone. This was the locality in which, as I have heretofore mentioned, I kicked several large boulders entirely
to pieces in a few minutes, leaving a mere gravel-bed of crystals. Wherever a granite mass outcropped above the thin sand and gramma, -I observed that its form followed the same haystack or mushroom contour presented by the mountains themselves. Several of the outcrops were very narrow in proportion to their heights, standing in round-topped pillars five or six feet high, with nearly the proportions of a Bologna sausage. The merest tap shook them down. From the similarity of their forms, I inferred that the mountains, as well as the minor outcrops, were masses of rotten granite which had been weathered into a spheroidal surface, though I had never before" imagined the rock occurring in such quantity so com'pletely decomposed. Several Rocky Mountain hares, a distant herd of antelope, a young elk, and a villainous looking gray wolf, who slunk on seeing us into the indistinctness of the similarly hued sage-brush, were the quadrupeds who came into our field; we saw several mourning-doves and plovers; and, coming down into the valley again, made unavailing search along the brook for a wonderful " fish with hands," which the stable-boys had seen there, and which, Xrom their poetical description, we hoped might be a new species of siren, or some other equally interesting amphibian.
The next day, our friends came along in the stage, and we rejoined them. Our road for the next fifteen miles traversed an undulating tract like that between the stony plateau and Virginia Dale, tolerably green and well watered from the snow-peaks. As we proceeded, the undulations became lower, and presently merged into the magnificent level of the Laramie Plains. This is one of the world's largest and loftiest