Submitted by scott on Fri, 11/12/2021 - 11:42

Sunday, Aug 11.—Passed points declared by the driver to be the highest we had crossed. Saturday and Sunday nights were very cold, though the days were very warm.  (Orion)

On the seventeenth day we passed the highest mountain peaks we had yet seen, and although the day was very warm the night that followed upon its heels was wintry cold and blankets were next to useless.
On the eighteenth day we encountered the eastward-bound telegraph- constructors at Reese River station and sent a message to his Excellency Gov. Nye at Carson City (distant one hundred and fifty-six miles).

130.1–24 the highest mountain peaks we had yet seen . . . the “Sink” of the Carson] Mark Twain’s geographical description is not entirely accurate. His remark about the mountain peaks is clearly derived from Orion’s record, which reads “Passed points declared by the driver to be the highest we had crossed.” In fact, when the travelers crossed the Ruby Mountains through the Overland Pass they were several hundred feet lower than they had been at both South Pass and Big Mountain, and the highest mountains in view were more than a thousand feet lower than those of the Wind River and Uinta mountains visible from South.  Chapter 20: note for 130.1–24," in Roughing It : an electronic text. 2016

To Reese's River. 13th October.

Simpson's Park lies 195 miles from Carson City, where we might consider the journey at an end; yet the cold of night did not allow us to set out before 10 A.M. Our route lay across the park, which was dotted with wheat-grass and broom-like reeds rising from a ground saupoudré like salt. Presently we began to ascend Simpson's Pass, a long kanyon whose sloping sides and benches were dotted with the green bunch-grass. At the divide we found the “Sage Springs," whose position is too elevated for the infiltration of salt: they are consequently sweet and wholesome. Descending by a rugged road, we sighted every where on the heights the fires of the natives. They were not symbols of war, but signals—for which smokes are eminently adapted-made by tribes telegraphing to one another their being en route for their winter quarters. Below us, “Reese's River" Valley might have served for a sketch in the African desert: a plain of saleratus, here yellow with sand or hay, there black with fire, there brown where the skin of earth showed through her garb of rags, and beyond it were chocolate-colored hills, from whose heads curled blue smokes of volcanic appearance.

Bisecting the barren plain ran a bright little stream, whose banks, however, had been stripped of their “salt grass :" pure and clear it flows over a bed of gravel, sheds in a northerly direction, and sinks at a distance of about twenty miles. From afar we all mistook the course, deceived, as travelers often are, by the horizontality of the lines. Leaving on the right the road which forks to the lower ford, we followed that on the left hand leading to the station. There can not be much traveling upon these lines: the tracks last for years, unaffected by snow: the carcasses of animals, however, no longer mummified as in the Eastern prairies, are readily reduced to skeletons.

The station-house in the Reese-River Valley had lately been evacuated by its proprietors and burnt down by the Indians: a new building of adobe was already assuming a comfortable shape. The food around it being poor and thin, our cattle were driven to the mountains. At night, probably by contrast with the torrid sun, the frost appeared colder than ever: we provided against it, however, by burrowing into the haystack, and, despite the jackal-like cry of the coyote and the near tramping of the old white mare, we slept like tops.

To Smith's Creek14th October.

Before 8 A.M. we were under way, bound for Smith's Creek. Our path stretched over the remainder of Reese's River Valley, an expanse of white sage and large rabbit-bush which affords fuel even when green. After a long and peculiarly rough divide, we sighted the place of our destination. It lay beyond a broad plain or valley, like a huge white “splotch" in the centre, set in dirty brown vegetation, backed by bare and rugged hills, which are snow-topped only on the north; presently we reached the "splotch," which changed its aspect from that of a muddy pool to a yellow floor of earth so hard that the wheels scarcely made a dent, except where a later inundation had caused the mud to cake, flake, and curl—smooth as ice without being slippery. Beyond that point, guided by streams meandering through willow thickets, we entered a kanyon — all are now wearying of the name - and presently sighted the station deep in a hollow. It had a good stone corral and the usual haystack, which fires on the hilltops seemed to menace. Among the station-folks we found two New Yorkers, a Belfast man, and a tawny Mexican named Anton, who had passed his life riding the San Bernardino road. The house was unusually neat, and displayed even signs of decoration in the adornment of the bunks with osier-work taken from the neighboring creek. We are now in the lands of the Pa Yuta, and rarely fail to meet a party on the road: they at once propose “shwop," and readily exchange pine nuts for “white grub," i. e., biscuits. I observed, however, that none of the natives were allowed to enter the station-house, whereas in other places, especially among the Mormons, the savages squeezed themselves into the room, took the best seats near the fire, and never showed a symptom of moving.

To Cold Springs. 15th October.

After a warmer night than usual—thanks to fire and lodging --we awoke, and found a genial south wind blowing. Our road lay through the kanyon, whose floor was flush with the plain; the bed of the mountain stream was the initiative of vile traveling, which, without our suspecting it, was to last till the end of the journey. The strain upon the vehicle came near to smashing it, and the prudent Kennedy, with the view of sparing his best animals, gave us his worst-two aged brutes, one of which, in consequence of her squealing habits, had won for herself the title of “ole Hellion.” The divortia aquarum was a fine water-shed to the westward, and the road was in V shape, whereas before it had oscillated between U and WW. As we progressed, however, the valleys became more and more desert, the sage more stunted, and the hills more brown and barren. After a midday halt, rendered compulsory by the old white mare, we resumed our way along the valley southward, over a mixture of pitch-hole and boulder, which forbids me to forget that day's journey. At last, after much sticking and kicking on the part of the cattle, and the mental refreshment of abundant bad language, self-adhibited by the men, we made Cold-Springs Station, which, by means of a cut across the hills, could be brought within eight miles of Smith's Creek.

The station was a wretched place, half built and wholly unroofed; the four boys, an exceedingly rough set, ate standing, and neither paper nor pencil was known among them. Our animals, however, found good water in a rivulet from the neighboring hills, and the promise of a plentiful feed on the morrow, while the humans, observing that a “beef” had been freshly killed, supped upon an excellent steak. The warm wind was a pleasant contrast to the usual frost, but, as it came from the south, all the weather-wise predicted that rain would result. We slept, however, without such accident, under the haystack, and heard the loud' howling of the wolves, which are said to be larger on these hills than elsewhere.

To Sand Springs. 16th October.

In the morning the wind had shifted from the south to a more pluvial quarter, the southeast-in these regions the westerly wind promises the fairest—and stormy cirri mottled the sky. We had à long stage of thirty-five miles before us, and required an early start, yet the lazy b'hoys and the weary cattle saw 10 A.M. before we were en route. Simpson's road lay to our south; we could, however, sight, about two miles distant from the station, the easternmost formation, which he calls Gibraltar Gate. For the first three miles our way was exceedingly rough; it gradually improved into a plain cut with nullabs, and overgrown with a chapparal, which concealed a few “burrowing hares." The animals are rare; during the snow they are said to tread in one another's trails after Indian fashion, yet the huntsman easily follows them. After eight miles we passed a spring, and two miles beyond it came to the Middle Gate, where we halted from noon till 5:15 P.M. Water was found in the bed of a river which fills like a mill-dam after rain, and a plentiful supply of bunch-grass, whose dark seeds it was difficult to husk out of the oat-like capsules. We spent our halt in practicing what Sorrentines call la caccia degl uccelluzzi, and in vain attempts to walk round the uncommonly wary hawks, crows, and wolves.

Hitching to as the sun neared the western horizon, we passed through the Gate, narrowly escaping a "spill” down a dwarf precipice. A plain bounded on our left by cretaceous bluffs, white as snow, led to the West Gate, two symmetrical projections like those farther eastward. After that began a long divide broken by frequent chuck-holes, which, however, had no cunette at the bottom. Ān ascent of five miles led to a second broad basin, whose white and sounding ground, now stony, then sandy, scattered over with carcass and skeleton, was bounded in front by low dark ranges of hill. Then crossing a long rocky divide, so winding that the mules' heads pointed within a few miles to N., S., E., and W., we descended by narrow passes into a plain. The eye could not distinguish it from a lake, so misty and vague were its outlines: other senses corrected vision, when we sank up to the hub in the loose sand. As we progressed painfully, broken clay and dwarf vegetation assumed in the dim shades fantastic and mysterious forms. I thought myself once more among the ruins of that Arab village concerning which Lebid sang,

“Ay me! ay me! all lone and drear the dwelling-place, the home - On Mina, o'er Rijam and Ghool, wild beasts unheeded roam."

Tired out and cramped with cold, we were torpid with what the Bedouin calls El Rakl—la Ragle du Désert, when part of the brain sleeps while the rest is wide awake. At last, about 2:30 A.M., thoroughly “knocked up”—a phrase which I should advise the Englishman to eschew in the society of the fair Columbian—we sighted a roofless shed, found a haystack, and, reckless of supper or of stamping horses, fell asleep upon the sand.

(The City of the Saints)


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