The ground is gradually getting more broken; huge rocks intrude themselves upon the landscape. At the town of Rocklin we are supposed to enter the foot-hill country proper. Much of the road in these lower foot-hills is excellent, being of a hard, stony character, and proof against the winter rains. Everybody who writes anything about the Golden State is expected to say something complimentary - or otherwise, as his experience may seem to dictate - about the "glorious climate of California;" or else render an account of himself for the slight, should he ever return, which he is very liable to do. For, no matter what he may say about it, the "glorious climate" generally manages to make one, ever after, somewhat dissatisfied with the extremes of heat and cold met with in less genial regions. This fact of having to pay my measure of tribute to the climate forces itself on my notice prominently here at Rocklin, because, in- directly, the "climate" was instrumental in bringing about a slight accident, which, in turn, brought about the - to me - serious calamity of sending me to bed without any supper. Rocklin is celebrated - and by certain bad people, ridiculed - all over this part of the foot-hills for the superabundance of its juvenile population. If one makes any inquisitive remarks about this fact, the Rocklinite addressed will either blush or grin, according to his temperament, and say, "It's the glorious climate." A bicycle is a decided novelty up here, and, of course, the multitudinous youth turn out in droves to see it. The bewildering swarms of these small mountaineers distract my attention and cause me to take a header that temporarily disables the machine. The result is, that, in order to reach the village where I wish to stay over night, I have to "foot it" over four miles of the best road I have found since leaving San Pablo, and lose my supper into the bargain, by procrastinating at the village smithy, so as to have my machine in trim, ready for an early start next morning. If the "glorious climate of California” is responsible for the exceedingly hopeful prospects of Rocklin's future census reports, and the said lively outlook, materialized, is responsible for my mishap, then plainly the said "G. C. of C." is the responsible element in the case. I hope this compliment to the climate will strike the Californians as about the correct thing; but, if it should happen to work the other way, I beg of them at once to pour out the vials of their wrath on the heads of the 'Frisco Bicycle Club, in order that their fury may be spent ere I again set foot on their auriferous soil.
"What'll you do when you hit the snow?" is now a frequent question asked by the people hereabouts, who seem to be more conversant with affairs pertaining to the mountains than they are of what is going on in the valleys below. This remark, of course, has reference to the deep snow that, toward the summits of the mountains, covers the ground to the depth of ten feet on the level, and from that to almost any depth where it has drifted and accumulated. I have not started out on this greatest of all bicycle tours without looking into these difficulties, and I remind them that the long snow-sheds of the Central Pacific Railway make it possible for one to cross over, no matter how deep the snow may lie on the ground outside. Some speak cheerfully of the prospects for getting over, but many shake their heads ominously and say, "You'll never be able to make it through."
Rougher and more hilly become the roads as we gradually penetrate farther and farther into the foot-hills. We are now in far-famed Placer County, and the evidences of the hardy gold diggers' work in pioneer days are all about us. In every gulch and ravine are to be seen broken and decaying sluice-boxes. Bare, whitish-looking patches of washed-out gravel show where a "claim" has been worked over and abandoned. In every direction are old water-ditches, heaps of gravel, and abandoned shafts - all telling, in language more eloquent than word or pen, of the palmy days of '49, and succeeding years; when, in these deep gulches, and on these yellow hills, thousands of bronzed, red-shirted miners dug and delved, and "rocked the cradle" for the precious yellow dust and nuggets. But all is now changed, and where were hundreds before, now only a few "old timers " roam the foot-hills, prospecting, and working over the old claims; but "dust," "nuggets," and "pockets " still form the burden of conversation in the village barroom or the cross-roads saloon. Now and then a "strike" is made by some lucky - or perhaps it turns out, unlucky - prospector. This for a few days kindles anew the slumbering spark of "gold fever" that lingers in the veins of the people here, ever ready to kindle into a flame at every bit of exciting news, in the way of a lucky "find" near home, or new gold-fields in some distant land. These occasions never fail to have their legitimate effect upon the business of the bar where the "old-timers" congregate to learn the news; and, between drinks, yarns of the good old days of '49 and '50, of "streaks of luck," of "big nuggets," and "wild times," are spun over and over again. Although the palmy days of the "diggin's" are no more, yet the finder of a "pocket" these days seems not a whit wiser than in the days when "pockets" more frequently rewarded the patient prospector than they do now; and at Newcastle - a station near the old-time mining camps of Ophir and Gold Hill - I hear of a man who lately struck a "pocket," out of which he dug forty thousand dollars; and forthwith proceeded to imitate his reckless predecessors by going down to 'Frisco and entering upon a career of protracted sprees and debauchery that cut short his earthly career in less than six months, and wafted his riotous spirit to where there are no more forty thousand dollar pockets, and no more 'Friscos in which to squander it. In this instance the "find" was clearly an unlucky one. Not quite so bad was the case of two others who, but a few days before my arrival, took out twelve hundred dollars; they simply, in the language of the gold fields "turned themselves loose," "made things hum," and "whooped 'em up" around the bar-room of their village for exactly three days; when, "dead broke," they took to the gulches again, to search for more. "Yer oughter hev happened through here with that instrumint of yourn about that time, young fellow; yer might hev kept as full as a tick till they war busted," remarked a slouchy-looking old fellow whose purple-tinted nose plainly indicated that he had devoted a good part of his existence to the business of getting himself "full as a tick" every time he ran across the chance.
Quite a different picture is presented by an industrious old Mexican, whom I happen to see away down in the bottom of a deep ravine, along which swiftly hurries a tiny stream. He is diligently shoveling dirt into a rude sluice-box which he has constructed in the bed of the stream at a point where the water rushes swiftly down a declivity. Setting my bicycle up against a rock, I clamber down the steep bank to investigate. In tones that savor of anything but satisfaction with the result of his labor, he informs me that he has to work "most infernal hard" to pan out two dollars' worth of "dust" a day. "I have had to work over all that pile of gravel you see yonder to clean up seventeen dollars' worth of dust," further volunteered the old "greaser," as I picked up a spare shovel and helped him remove a couple of bowlders that he was trying to roll out of his war. I condole with him at the low grade of the gravel he is working, hope he may "strike it rich" one of these days, and take my departure.
Up here I find it preferable to keep the railway track, alongside of which there are occasionally ridable side-paths; while on the wagon roads little or no riding can be done on account of the hills, and the sticky nature of the red, clayey soil. From the railway track near Newcastle is obtained a magnificent view of the lower country, traversed during the last three days, with the Sacramento River winding its way through its broad valley to the sea. Deep cuts and high embankments follow each other in succession, as the road-bed is now broken through a hill, now carried across a deep gulch, and anon winds around the next hill and over another ravine. Before reaching Auburn I pass through "Bloomer Cut," where perpendicular walls of bowlders loom up on both sides of the track looking as if the slightest touch or jar would unloose them and send them bounding and crashing on the top of the passing train as it glides along, or drop down on the stray cycler who might venture through. On the way past Auburn, and on up to Clipper Gap, the dry, yellow dirt under the overhanging rocks, and in the crevices, is so suggestive of " dust," that I take a small prospecting glass, which I have in my tool-bag, and do a little prospecting; without, however, finding sufficient "color" to induce me to abandon my journey and go to digging.
Before reaching Clipper Gap it begins to rain; while I am taking dinner at that place it quits raining and begins to come down by buckets full, so that I have to lie over for the remainder of the day. The hills around Clipper Gap are gay and white with chaparral blossom, which gives the whole landscape a pleasant, gala-day appearance. It rains all the evening, and at night turns to heavy, damp snow, which clings to the trees and bushes. In the morning the landscape, which a few hours before was white with chaparral bloom, is now even more white with the bloom of the snow. My hostelry at Clipper Gap is a kind of half ranch, half roadside inn, down in a small valley near the railway; and mine host, a jovial Irish blade of the good old "Donnybrook Fair" variety, who came here in 1851, during the great rush to the gold fields, and, failing to make his fortune in the "diggings," wisely decided to send for his family and settle down quietly on a piece of land, in preference to returning to the "ould sod." He turns out to be a "bit av a sphort meself," and, after showing me a number of minor pets and favorites, such as game chickens, Brahma geese, and a litter of young bull pups, he proudly leads the way to the barn to show me "Barney," his greatest pet of all, whom he at present keeps securely tied up for safe-keeping. More than one evil-minded person has a hankering after Barney's gore since his last battle for the championship of Placer County, he explains, in which he inflicted severe punishment on his adversary and resolutely refused to give in; although his opponent on this important occasion was an imported dog, brought into the county by Barney's enemies, who hoped to fill their pockets by betting against the local champion. But Barney, who is a medium-sized, ferocious-looking bull terrier, "scooped" the crowd backing the imported dog, to the extent of their "pile," by "walking all round" his adversary; and thereby stirring up the enmity of said crowd against himself, who - so says Barney's master - have never yet been able to scare up a dog able to "down" Barney. As we stand in the barn-door Barney eyes me suspiciously, and then looks at his master; but luckily for me his master fails to give the word. Noticing that the dog is scarred and seamed all over, I inquire the reason, and am told that he has been fighting wild boars in the chaparral, of which gentle pastime he is extremely fond. "Yes, and he'll tackle a cougar too, of which there are plenty of them around here, if that cowardly animal would only keep out of the trees," admiringly continues mine host, as he orders Barney into his empty salt-barrel again.
Today is Sunday, and it rains and snows with little interruption, so that I am compelled to stay over till Monday morning. While it is raining at Clipper Gap, it is snowing higher up in the mountains, and a railway employee 'volunteers the cheering information that, during the winter, the snow has drifted and accumulated in the sheds, so that a train can barely squeeze through, leaving no room for a person to stand to one side. I have my own ideas of whether this state of affairs is probable or not, however, and determine to pay no heed to any of these rumors, but to push ahead. So I pull out on Monday morning and take to the railway-track again, which is the only passable road since the tremendous downpour of the last two days.
The first thing I come across is a tunnel burrowing through a hill. This tunnel was originally built the proper size, but, after being walled up, there were indications of a general cave-in; so the company had to go to work and build another thick rock-wall inside the other, which leaves barely room for the trains to pass through without touching the sides. It is anything but an inviting path around the hill; but it is far the safer of the two. Once my foot slips, and I unceremoniously sit down and slide around in the soft yellow clay, in my frantic endeavors to keep from slipping down the hill. This hardly enhances my personal appearance; but it doesn't matter much, as I am where no one can see, and a clay- besmeared individual is worth a dozen dead ones. Soon I am on the track again, briskly trudging up the steep grade toward the snow-line, which I can plainly see, at no great distance ahead, through the windings around the mountains.
Rounding Cape Horn, Central Pacific Railroad, California
All through here the only riding to be done is along occasional short stretches of difficult path beside the track, where it happens to be a hard surface; and on the plank platforms of the stations, where I generally take a turn or two to satisfy the consuming curiosity of the miners, who can't imagine how anybody can ride a thing that won't stand alone; at the same time arguing among themselves as to whether I ride along on one of the rails, or bump along over the protruding ties.
This morning I follow the railway track around the famous "Cape Horn," a place that never fails to photograph itself permanently upon the memory of all who once see it. For scenery that is magnificently grand and picturesque, the view from where the railroad track curves around Cape Horn is probably without a peer on the American continent.
When the Central Pacific Railway company started to grade their road-bed around here, men were first swung over this precipice from above with ropes, until they made standing room for themselves; and then a narrow ledge was cut on the almost perpendicular side of the rocky mountain, around which the railway now winds.
Standing on this ledge, the rocks tower skyward on one side of the track so close as almost to touch the passing train; and on the other is a sheer precipice of two thousand five hundred feet, where one can stand on the edge and see, far below, the north fork of the American River, which looks like a thread of silver laid along the narrow valley, and sends up a far-away, scarcely perceptible roar, as it rushes and rumbles along over its rocky bed. The railroad track is carefully looked after at this point, and I was able, by turning round and taking the down grade, to experience the novelty of a short ride, the memory of which will be ever welcome should one live to be as old as "the oldest inhabitant." The scenery for the next few miles is glorious; the grand and imposing mountains are partially covered with stately pines down to their bases, around which winds the turbulent American River, receiving on its boisterous march down the mountains tribute from hundreds of smaller streams and rivulets, which come splashing and dashing out of the dark cañons and crevasses of the mighty hills.
Filling in Secret Town Trestle
The weather is capricious, and by the time I reach Dutch Flat, ten miles east of Cape Horn, the floodgates of heaven are thrown open again, and less than an hour succeeds in impressing Dutch Flat upon my memory as a place where there is literally "water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to -;" no, I cannot finish the quotation. What is the use of lying? There is plenty to drink at Dutch Flat; plenty of everything.
But there is no joke about the water; it is pouring in torrents from above; the streets are shallow streams; and from scores of ditches and gullies comes the merry music of swiftly rushing waters, while, to crown all, scores of monster streams are rushing with a hissing sound from the mouths of huge pipes or nozzles, and playing against the surrounding hills; for Dutch Flat and neighboring camps are the great centre of hydraulic mining operations in California at the present day. Streams of water, higher lip the mountains, are taken from their channels and conducted hither through miles of wooden flumes and iron piping; and from the mouths of huge nozzles are thrown with tremendous force against the hills, literally mowing them down. The rain stops as abruptly as it began. The sun shines out clear and warm, and I push ahead once more.
Gradually I have been getting up into the snow, and ever and anon a muffled roar comes booming and echoing over the mountains like the sound of distant artillery. It is the sullen noise of monster snow-slides among the deep, dark cañons of the mountains, though a wicked person at Gold Run winked at another man and tried to make me believe it was the grizzlies "going about the mountains like roaring lions, seeking whom they might devour." The giant voices of nature, the imposing scenery, the gloomy pine forests which have now taken the place of the gay chaparral, combine to impress one who, all alone, looks and listens with a realizing sense of his own littleness. What a change has come over the whole face of nature in a few days' travel. But four days ago I was in the semi-tropical Sacramento Valley; now gaunt winter reigns supreme, and the only vegetation is the hardy pine.
In the Central Pacific Snow-sheds
This afternoon I pass a small camp of Digger Indians, to whom my bicycle is as much a mystery as was the first locomotive; yet they scarcely turn their uncovered heads to look; and my cheery greeting of "How," scarce elicits a grunt and a stare in reply. Long years of chronic hunger and wretchedness have well-nigh eradicated what little energy these Diggers ever possessed. The discovery of gold among their native mountains has been their bane; the only antidote the rude grave beneath the pine and the happy hunting-grounds beyond.
The next morning finds me briskly trundling through the great, gloomy snow-sheds that extend with but few breaks for the next forty miles. When I emerge from them on the other end I shall be over the summit and well down the eastern slope of the mountains. These huge sheds have been built at great expense to protect the track from the vast quantities of snow that fall every winter on these mountains. They wind around the mountain-sides, their roofs built so slanting that the mighty avalanche of rock and snow that comes thundering down from above glides harmlessly over, and down the chasm on the other side, while the train glides along unharmed beneath them. The section-houses, the water-tanks, stations, and everything along here are all under the gloomy but friendly shelter of the great protecting sheds. Fortunately I find the difficulties of getting through much less than I had been led by rumors to anticipate; and although no riding can be done in the sheds, I make very good progress, and trudge merrily along, thankful of a chance to get over the mountains without having to wait a month or six weeks for the snow outside to disappear. At intervals short breaks occur in the sheds, where the track runs over deep gulch or ravine, and at one of these openings the sinuous structure can be traced for quite a long distance, winding its tortuous way around the rugged mountain sides, and through the gloomy pine forest, all but buried under the snow. It requires no great effort of the mind to imagine it to be some wonderful relic of a past civilization, when a venturesome race of men thus dared to invade these vast wintry solitudes and burrow their way through the deep snow, like moles burrowing through the loose earth. Not a living thing is in sight, and the only sounds the occasional roar of a distant snow-slide, and the mournful sighing of the breeze as it plays a weird, melancholy dirge through the gently swaying branches of the tall, sombre pines, whose stately trunks are half buried in the omnipresent snow. To-night I stay at the Summit Hotel, seven thousand and seventeen feet above the level of the sea. The "Summit" is nothing if not snowy, and I am told that thirty feet on the level is no unusual thing up here. Indeed, it looks as if snow-balling on the " Glorious Fourth" were no great luxury at the Summit House; yet notwithstanding the decidedly wintry aspect of the Sierras, the low temperature of the Rockies farther east is unknown; and although there is snow to the right, snow to the left, snow all around, and ice under foot, I travel all through the gloomy sheds in my shirt-sleeves, with but a gossamer rubber coat thrown over my shoulders to keep off the snow- water which is constantly melting and dripping through the roof, making it almost like going through a shower of rain. Often, when it is warm and balmy outside, it is cold and frosty under the sheds, and the dripping water, falling among the rocks and timbers, freezes into all manner of fantastic shapes. Whole menageries of ice animals, birds and all imaginable objects, are here reproduced in clear crystal ice, while in many places the ground is covered with an irregular coating of the same, that often has to be chipped away from the rails.
East of the summit is a succession of short tunnels, the space between being covered with snow-shed; and when I came through, the openings and crevices through which the smoke from the engines is wont to make its escape, and through which a few rays of light penetrate the gloomy interior, are blocked up with snow, so that it is both dark and smoky; and groping one's way with a bicycle over the rough surface is anything but pleasant going. But there is nothing so bad, it seems, but that it can get a great deal worse; and before getting far, I hear an approaching train and forthwith proceed to occupy as small an amount of space as possible against the side, while three laboriously puffing engines, tugging a long, heavy freight train up the steep grade, go past. These three puffing, smoke-emitting monsters fill every nook and corner of the tunnel with dense smoke, which creates a darkness by the side of which the natural darkness of the tunnel is daylight in comparison. Here is a darkness that can be felt; I have to grope my way forward, inch by inch; afraid to set my foot down until I have felt the place, for fear of blundering into a culvert; at the same time never knowing whether there is room, just where I am, to get out of the way of a train. A cyclometer wouldn't have to exert itself much through here to keep tally of the revolutions; for, besides advancing with extreme caution, I pause every few steps to listen; as in the oppressive darkness and equally oppressive silence the senses are so keenly on the alert that the gentle rattle of the bicycle over the uneven surface seems to make a noise that would prevent me hearing an approaching train. This finally comes to an end; and at the opening in the sheds I climb up into a pine-tree to obtain a view of Donner Lake, called the "Gem of the Sierras." It is a lovely little lake, and amid the pines, and on its shores occurred one of the most pathetically tragic events of the old emigrant days. Briefly related: A small party of emigrants became snowed in while camped at the lake, and when, toward spring, a rescuing party reached the spot, the last survivor of the partly, crazed with the fearful suffering he had under- gone, was sitting on a log, savagely gnawing away at a human arm, the last remnant of his companions in misery, off whose emaciated carcasses he had for some time been living!
My road now follows the course of the Truckee River down the eastern slope of the Sierras, and across the boundary line into Nevada. The Truckee is a rapid, rollicking stream from one end to the other, and affords dam-sites and mill-sites without limit. There is little ridable road down the Truckee cañon; but before reaching "Verdi, a station a few miles over the Nevada line, I find good road, and ride up and dismount at the door of the little hotel as coolly as if I had rode without a dismount all the way from 'Frisco. Here at Verdi is a camp of Washoe Indians, who at once showed their superiority to the Diggers by clustering around and examining; the bicycle with great curiosity. Verdi is less than forty miles from the summit of the Sierras, and from the porch of the hotel I can see the snow-storm still fiercely raging up in the place where I stood a few hours ago; yet one can feel that he is already in a dryer and altogether different climate. The great masses of clouds, travelling inward from the coast with their burdens of moisture, like messengers of peace with presents to a far country, being unable to surmount the great mountain barrier that towers skyward across their path, unload their precious cargoes on the mountains; and the parched plains of Nevada open their thirsty mouths in vain. At Verdi I bid good-by to the Golden State and follow the course of the sparkling Truckee toward the Forty-mile Desert.
Page 2 of 50