Two miles further on saw for the first time, snow on the mountains, glittering in the sun like settings of silver. Near the summit of the South Pass appears in sight Fremont’s Peak. The wind river mountains, in which we first saw snow, are about 50 miles distant. About 7 2 6 miles beyond the very summit of the South Pass of the Rocky mountains, is Pacific station, in Utah Territory, near the Nebraska line., where we got an excellent dinner. Near this Station are the Pacific Springs, which issue in a branch, taking up its march for the Pacific Ocean. The summit of the Rocky mountains, or the highest point of the South Pass, is 902 miles from St. Joseph.
"Two miles beyond South Pass City we saw for the first time that mysterious marvel which all Western untraveled boys have heard of and fully believe in, but are sure to be astounded at when they see it with their own eyes, nevertheless—banks of snow in dead summer time. We were now far up toward the sky, and knew all the time that we must presently encounter lofty summits clad in the “eternal snow” which was so common place a matter of mention in books, and yet when I did see it glittering in the sun on stately domes in the distance and knew the month was August and that my coat was hanging up because it was too warm to wear it, I was full as much amazed as if I never had heard of snow in August before. Truly, “seeing is believing”—and many a man lives a long life through, thinking he believes certain universally received and well established things, and yet never suspects that if he were confronted by those things once, he would discover that he did not really believe them before, but only thought he believed them.
In a little while quite a number of peaks swung into view with long claws of glittering snow clasping them; and with here and there, in the shade, down the mountain side, a little solitary patch of snow looking no larger than a lady’s pocket-handkerchief but being in reality as large as a “public square.”
And now, at last, we were fairly in the renowned SOUTH PASS, and whirling gayly along high above the common world. We were perched upon the extreme summit of the great range of the Rocky Mountains, toward which we had been climbing, patiently climbing, ceaselessly climbing, for days and nights together—and about us was gathered a convention of Nature’s kings that stood ten, twelve, and even thirteen thousand feet high—grand old fellows who would have to stoop to see Mount Washington, in the twilight. We were in such an airy elevation above the creeping populations of the earth, that now and then when the obstructing crags stood out of the way it seemed that we could look around and abroad and contemplate the whole great globe, with its dissolving views of mountains, seas and continents stretching away through the mystery of the summer haze.
As a general thing the Pass was more suggestive of a valley than a suspension bridge in the clouds—but it strongly suggested the latter at one spot. At that place the upper third of one or two majestic purple domes projected above our level on either hand and gave us a sense of a hidden great deep of mountains and plains and valleys down about their bases which we fancied we might see if we could step to the edge and look over. These Sultans of the fastnesses were turbaned with tumbled volumes of cloud, which shredded away from time to time and drifted off fringed and torn, trailing their continents of shadow after them; and catching presently on an intercepting peak, wrapped it about and brooded there—then shredded away again and left the purple peak, as they had left the purple domes, downy and white with new-laid snow. In passing, these monstrous rags of cloud hung low and swept along right over the spectator’s head, swinging their tatters so nearly in his face that his impulse was to shrink when they came closet. In the one place I speak of, one could look below him upon a world of diminishing crags and canyons leading down, down, and away to a vague plain with a thread in it which was a road, and bunches of feathers in it which were trees,—a pretty picture sleeping in the sunlight—but with a darkness stealing over it and glooming its features deeper and deeper under the frown of a coming storm; and then, while no film or shadow marred the noon brightness of his high perch, he could watch the tempest break forth down there and see the lightnings leap from crag to crag and the sheeted rain drive along the canyon-sides, and hear the thunders peal and crash and roar. We had this spectacle; a familiar one to many, but to us a novelty."
But we have not yet reached our destination, which is two miles below the South Pass. Pacific Springs is our station; it lies a little down the hill, and we can sight it from the road. The springs are a pond of pure, hard and very cold water surrounded by a strip of shaking bog, which must be boarded over before it will bear a man. The hut would be a right melancholy abode, were it not for the wooded ground on one hand and the glorious snow peaks on the other side of the "Pass." We reached Pacific Springs at 3 PM and dined without delay; the material being bouilli and potatoes - unusual luxuries. About an hour afterward the west wind, here almost invariable, brought up a shower of rain, and swept a vast veil over the forms of the Wind River Mountains. Toward sunset it cleared away, and the departing luminary poured a flood of gold upon the majestic pile - I have seldom seen a view more beautiful.
From the south, the barren rolling table land that forms the Pass trends northward, till it sinks apparently below a ridge of offsets from the main body, black with timber, - cedar, cypress, fir, and balsam pine. The hand of Nature has marked, as though by line and level, the place where vegetation shall go and no farther. Below the waist the mountains are robed in evergreens; above it, to the shoulders, they would be entirely bare, but for the atmosphere, which has thrown a thin veil of light blue over their tawny gray, while their majestic heads are covered with ice and snow, or are hidden from sight by thunder cloud or the morning mist. From the south on clear days the cold and glittering radiance may be seen at a distance of a hundred miles. The monarch of these mountains is "Fremont's Peak"; its height is laid down at 13,570 feet above sea level; and second to it is a hoary cone called by the station people Snowy Peak.
That evening the Wind River Mountains appeared in marvelous majesty. The huge purple hangings of rain cloud in the northern sky set off their huge proportions, and gave prominence, as in a stereoscope, to their gigantic forms, and their upper heights, hoar with the frosts of ages. The mellow radiance of the setting sun diffused a charming softness over their more rugged features, defining the folds and ravines with a distinctness which deceived every idea of distance. And as the light sank behind the far western horizon, it traveled slowly up the mountain side, till, reaching the summit, it mingled its splendors with the snow - flashing and flickering for a few brief moments, then wasting them in the dark depths of the upper air. Nor was the scene less lovely in the morning hour, as the first effulgence of day fell upon the masses of dew cloud, - at this time mist always settles upon their brows, - lit up the peaks, which gleamed like silver, and poured its streams of light and warmth over the broad skirts reposing upon the plain. (p 164)
This unknown region was explored in August 1842, by Colonel, then Brevet Captain, JC Fremont, of the United States Topographical Engineers; and his eloquent descriptions of the magnificent scenery that rewarded his energy and enterprise prove how easily men write well when they have a great subject to write upon. The concourse of small green tarns, rushing waters, and lofty cascades, with the gigantic disorder of enormous masses, the savage sublimity of the naked rock, broken, jagged cones, slender minarets, needles, and columns, and serrated walls, 2,000 to 3,000 feet high, all naked and destitute of vegetable earth; the vertical precipices, chasms, and fissures, insecure icy passages, long moraines, and sloping glaciers - which had nearly proved fatal to some of the party; - the stern recesses, shutting out from the world dells and ravines of exquisite beauty, smoothly carpeted with soft grass, kept green and fresh by the moisture of the atmosphere, and sown with gay groups of brilliant flowers, of which yellow was the predominant color: all this glory and grandeur seems to be placed like a picture before our eyes. The reader enjoys, like the explorer, the fragrant odor of the pines, and the pleasure of breathing, in the bright, clear morning, that "mountain air which makes a constant theme of the hunter's praise," and which causes man to feel as if he had been inhaling some exhilarating gas. We sympathize with his joy in having hit upon "such a beautiful entrance to the mountains," in his sorrow, caused by accidents to barometer and thermometer, and in the honest pride with which, fixing a ramrod in the crevice of "an unstable and precarious slab, which it seemed a breath would hurl into the abyss below," he unfurled the Stars and the Stripes, to wave in the breeze where flag never waved before - over the topmost crest of the Rocky Mountains. And every driver upon road now can tell how, in the profound silence and terrible stillness and solitude that affect the mind as the great features of scene, while sitting on a rock at the very summit, where the was absolute, unbroken by any sound, and the stillness and solitude were completest, a solitary "humble bee," winging the black blue air his flight from the eastern valley, alit upon knee of one of the men, and helas! "found a grave in the leaves of the large book, among the flowers collected on the way." (p 165)
The Wind River Range has other qualities than mere formal beauty to recommend it. At Horseshoe Creek I was shown a quill full of large gold grains from a new digging. Probably all the primitive masses of the Rocky Mountains will be found to contain the precious metal. The wooded heights are said to be a very paradise of sport, full of elk, and every kind of deer; pumas; bears, brown as well as grizzly; the wolverine; in parts the mountain buffalo - briefly, all the noble game of the Continent. The Indian tribes, Shoshonees and Blackfeet, are not deadly to whites. Washiki, the chief of the former, had, during the time of our visit, retired to hilly ground, about forty miles north of the Foot of Ridge Station. This chief - a fine, manly fellow, equal in point of physical strength to the higher race - had been a firm friend, from the beginning, to emigrant and settler; but he was complaining, according to the road officials, that the small amount of inducement prevented his affording good conduct any longer, that he must rob, like the rest of the tribe. Game, indeed, is not unfrequently found near the Pacific Springs; they are visited, later in the year, by swans, geese, and flights of ducks. At this season they seem principally to attract coyotes, - five mules have lately been worried by the little villains, - huge cranes, chicken hawks, a large species of trochilus, and clouds of musquetoes, which neither the altitude, the cold, nor the eternal wind storm that howls through the Pass, can drive from their favorite breeding bed. Near nightfall a flock of wild geese passed over us, audibly threatening an early winter. We were obliged, before resting, to insist upon a smudge, without which fumigation, sleep would have been impossible. (p 165)
The shanty was perhaps a trifle more uncomfortable than average; our only seat was a kind of trestled plank, which a certain obsolete military punishment, called riding on rail. The station master was a <cite>bon enfant;</cite> but his help, a Mormon lad, still in his teens, had been trained to go in a "sorter" jibbing and somewhat uncomfortable "argufying," "highfalutin'" way. He had the furor for fire arms that characterizes the ingenuous youth of Great Salt Lake City, and his old rattletrap of a revolver, which always reposed by his side at night, was as to his friends as to himself. His vernacular was peculiar; like Mr Boatswain Chucks (Mr D--s), he could begin a sentence with polished and elaborate diction, but it always ended like the wicked, badly. He described himself, for instance, as having lately been "slightly inebriated"; but the euphuistic periphrasis concluded with an asseveration that he would be "Gord domned," if he did it again.
The night was, like the day, loud and windy, the log hut somewhat crannied and creviced, and the door had a porcelain handle, and a shocking bad fit - a characteristic combination. We had some trouble to keep ourselves warm. At sunrise the thermometer showed 35d Fahrenheit . (p 166)