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till we struck the Platte again, we seemed to be in a new zone, both botanically and zoölogically. If we had altered our latitude by a hundred miles, we could hardly have entered a fauna and flora more widely differing from those of the Plains proper than we attained by the present slight change in our topographical conditions. We found on the long sand-hills which we now had to climb, a greater variety of plants than we had discovered over all the comparative level between O'Fallon's Bluff and Beaver Creek. Among others were by far the handsomest asclepias I ever saw, with profuse pink blossoms; a beautiful rosecolored cactus of the branching kind, several of the globular varieties, and the common yellow variety in great profusion; a blue daisy, seen here for the first time, in all but its color nearly resembling the white millefoil daisy of the East; several sunflowers, and varieties of flowering bean and pea; a blue flower, apparently of the larkspur family; another poor relation of the marigolds, like that noticed at Diamond Springs; star-grass here and there; and a very singular blossom, quite unknown to me, which consisted of a fusiform central sack of fibrous tissue containing pulp, and attached to this three membranous wings, like those of a maple-seed, but much larger and softer, as well as differently colored, a pale flesh tint characterizing the fresh specimens. These plants all grow out of a soil which might have rivaled the mountains of Gilboa for ignorance of either rain or dew, and with a desolate, hot exposure, where utter sterility might have been pardoned. Though they flourished, and I was informed that cattle could subsist themselves across this waste, I saw nothing in the shape of herbage which even a charity broadened by appreciation of the gramma, could have called edible food. For the first time lizards appeared plentifully. A
little brown-and-yellow variety, occasionally tending toward red, and in shape, as well as agility of motion, resembling the so-called chameleon of the Southern States, was the chief enlivener of all our toilsome climbs, darting across the road at our approach with great velocity, and whisking under the shadow of some fat cactus which hid everything but its beady eyes and betraying tail. The naturally expectable horned toad still failed to make its appearance. The air was merry with red-winged grasshoppers; great liver-colored crickets basked on all the little sandhummocks; one old familiar friend of Eastern roadsides, the “tumble-bug,” was here and there seen rolling its balls into a happy rotundity, under much more trying circumstances of ground than its relation in the States; a very handsome lady-bird beetle, in size considerably surpassing our own, and a small painted beetle of the pumpkin-bug appearance, finished the more obvious catalogue of insect life on this tract. Less apparent to the eye, but abundantly sensible to feeling, were the minute buffalo-gnats, which at intervals during the past three days had much annoyed us along the Platte, but now became a nuisance justifying imprecation. As if we had not enough to suffer from parching heat and thirst, mules tired to death, deep sand, and a surly driver, these pestilent little creatures swarmed around our heads and into our hair, stinging us on neck and scalp like so many winged cambric needles dipped in aqua-fortis, and utterly scouting the obstacle of a green barege veil which I had brought from Atchison
for defense against them. Wherever there was the minutest crevice in the barrier, they swarmed through without the mosquito's warning hum; and the first sign that these microscopic Philistines were upon us, was an itching which no slaps or scratches could appease. Ravens, crows, here and there a variety of blackbird, and a small ground-sparrow were the region's only contributions to ornithology, so far as I observed. The only mammalia anywhere to be seen were a herd of antelope, faultlessly constant to desolation, which crossed the road at lightning speed about a hundred yards ahead of us, on their way to drink at the Platte, an hour before we reached Fremont's Orchard. Prairie-dogs and jack-rabbits either did not exist in the neighborhood, or had the wisdom and good taste to keep their settlements away from the cut-off, and themselves out of the torrid sunlight. The last three or four miles of our way led us through a series of arroyos, or deep channels, to which I have before referred in describing the Plains formation, running towards the Platte, and evidently at some remote geological day the drains of rapid water-masses, though they have not been moist within the memory of man. Everything in their direction, their shape, and the successive terraces of their banks, suggests a series of water-courses only recently dried up; and not until one has traversed them entirely to the fine old cotton-woods at Fremont's Orchard does he give up the notion that he must be near some temporarily exhausted affluent of the Platte. They are, all of them, larger than the channels laid down on the maps as creeks, and, to all appearance, might as well discharge some water from the plateau at longer or shorter intervals; yet their thirstiness is a matter of ages, not of years. At Eagle's Nest, a station eleven miles from the Orchard, I observed, for the first time since leaving Cottonwood, a stony outcrop from the universal sand. It was a friable sandstone, abounding in iron, and possessing a curious conchoidal cleavage, which, with a little delicacy of manipulation, enabled me to separate a large piece of it in concentric basins or belts. Its solidification was very recent, probably belonging to a post-tertiary period. From Eagle's Nest to Latham, a distance of twelve miles, we rode almost immediately along the banks of the Platte, which here began to compress itself within narrower boundaries, and rejoice in higher, much better timbered, and more picturesque banks. Just west of Latham, the main trail to California crosses and leaves the South Platte, the river itself making an abrupt bend of nearly 45° from the southerly direction. The road to Denver, a distance of sixty miles, follows up the Platte, Denver being at the junction of that stream with the spasmodic and semi-mythical Cherry Creek. Reaching Latham about dark, I abandoned the stage which had brought me thus far westward, and awaited another, which was to start for Denver on the arrival of the eastward passengers. It was ten o'clock before this happy prerequisite was fulfilled. The interval of waiting I was only too glad to consume, after a tolerable supper at the station-house, in a straight-out slumber among the grain-bags of the company's stables, having first feed the driver of the Denver stage to wake me when he got ready for the start. I was surprised to find the Platte becoming quite a nice stream soon after we left Latham. Its banks hid their sandy monotony under a fine cotton-wood fringe, which, without any extensive gap, continued all the way to Denver. The river was very narrow, in some places not half its width at Diamond Springs, and began to assume the clear, forcible look of a true mountain stream. Regarding this bright young brook, which should shortly become a melancholy sewer, I felt like some prophetic soul who sees the future outcast in the innocent child. It was sad to reflect what the Platte would come to. w The night was a deliciously temperate one, the moon at its full, and I the only passenger who shared the driver's seat; so I enjoyed unbounded facilities for feasting on the new landscape. There were many signs in it of cultivation. Ranches had dropped into the lap of nature; and though their surrounding meadows were far from what we should call green in the States, attempts at irrigation had been made here and there, and the grateful ground responded to the extent at least of a small vegetable garden. The land was a smooth rolling prairie, without high hills, and in some places generous enough to support a noble clump of trees at the distance of half a mile from the river. Nothing of any importance occurred during the night. The mountains, which had been growing plainer all day, were almost dimmed back into their morning romance of spirituality. Long's Peak, one of the loftiest in the range, rose ghastly on our immediate right; and from the point of high light on its snowy head, the Sierra retreated into increasing mistiness toward the south, becoming a mere film of moonlit cobweb behind the invisible town of Denver.