Witches Rocks, Weber Canyon, Utah, 1873
"I should think the Mormons ought to be contented, for they possess the only good piece of farming country between California and 'the States,'" I blunderingly continued.
"I never heard anyone say they are not contented, but their enemies," replies this fair and valiant champion of Mormonism in a voice that shows she quite misunderstands my meaning. "What I intended to say was, that the Mormon people are to be highly congratulated on their good sense in settling here," I hasten to explain; for were I to leave at this house, where my treatment has been so gratifying, a shadow of prejudice against the Mormons, I should feel like kicking myself all over the Territory. The women of the Mormon religion are instructed by the wiseacres of the church to win over strangers by kind treatment and by the charm of their conversation and graces; and this young lady has learned the lesson well; she has graduated with high honors. Coming from the barren deserts of Nevada and Western Utah - from the land where the irreverent and irrepressible "Old Timer" fills the air with a sulphurous odor from his profanity and where nature is seen in its sternest aspect, and then suddenly finding one's self literally surrounded by flowers and conversing with Beauty about Religion, is enough to charm the heart of a marble statue. Ogden is reached for supper, where I quite expect to find a 'cycler or two (Ogden being a city of eight thousand inhabitants); but the nearest approach to a bicycler in Ogden is a gentleman who used to belong to a Chicago club, but who has failed to bring his "wagon" West with him. Twelve miles of alternate riding and walking eastwardly from Ogden bring me to the entrance of Weber Canon, through which the Weber River, the Union Pacific Railroad, and an uncertain wagon-trail make their way through the Wahsatch Mountains on to the elevated table-lands of Wyoming Territory. Objects of interest follow each other in quick succession along this part of the journey, and I have ample time to examine them, for Weber River is flooding the canon, and in many places has washed away the narrow space along which wagons are wont to make their way, so that I have to trundle slowly along the railway track. Now the road turns to the left, and in a few minutes the rugged and picturesque walls of the canon are towering in imposing heights toward the clouds. The Weber River comes rushing - a resistless torrent - from under the dusky shadows of the mountains through which it runs for over fifty miles, and onward to the pkin below, where it assumes a more moderate pace, as if conscious that it has at last escaped from the hurrying turmoil of its boisterous march down the mountain.
Advancing into the yawning jaws of the range, a continuously resounding roar is heard in advance, which gradually becomes louder as I proceed eastward; in a short time the source of the noise is discovered, and a weird scene greets my enraptured vision. At a place where the fall is tremendous, the waters are opposed in their mad march by a rough-and-tumble collection of huge, jagged rocks, that have at some time detached themselves from the walls above, and come crashing down into the bed of the stream. The rushing waters, coming with haste from above, appear to pounce with insane fury on the rocks that dare thus to obstruct their path; and then for the next few moments all is a hissing, seething, roaring caldron of strife, the mad waters seeming to pounce with ever- increasing fury from one imperturbable antagonist to another, now leaping clear over the head of one, only to dash itself into a cloud of spray against another, or pour like a cataract against its base in a persistent, endless struggle to undermine it; while over all tower the dark, shadowy rocks, grim witnesses of the battle. This spot is known by the appropriate name of "The Devil's Gate." Wherever the walls of the canon recede from the river's brink, and leave a space of cultivable land, there the industrious Mormons have built log or adobe cabins, and converted the circumscribed domain into farms, gardens, and orchards. In one of these isolated settlements I seek shelter from a passing shower at the house of a "three-ply Mormon " (a Mormon with three wives), and am introduced to his three separate and distinct better-halves; or, rather, one should say, " better-quarters," for how can anything have three halves. A noticeable feature at all these farms is the universal plurality of women around the house, and sometimes in the field. A familiar scene in any farming community is a woman out in the field, visiting her husband, or, perchance, assisting him in his labors. The same thing is observable at the Mormon settlements along the Weber River - only, instead of one woman, there are generally two or three, and perhaps yet another standing in the door of the house. Passing through two tunnels that burrow through rocky spurs stretching across the canon, as though to obstruct farther progress, across the river, to the right, is the "Devil's Slide" - two perpendicular walls of rock, looking strangely like man's handiwork, stretching in parallel lines almost from base to summit of a sloping, grass-covered mountain. The walls are but a dozen feet apart. It is a curious phenomenon, but only one among many that are scattered at intervals all through here. A short distance farther, and I pass the famous "Thousand-mile Tree" - a rugged pine, that stands between the railroad and the river, and which has won renown by springing up just one thousand miles from Omaha. This tree is having a tough struggle for its life these days; one side of its honored trunk is smitten as with the leprosy. The fate of the Thousand-mile Tree is plainly sealed. It is unfortunate in being the most conspicuous target on the line for the fe-ro-ci-ous youth who comes West with a revolver in his pocket and shoots at things from the car-window. Judging from the amount of cold lead contained in that side of its venerable trunk next the railway few of these thoughtless marksmen go past without honoring it with a shot. Emerging from "the Narrows" of Weber Canon, the route follows across a less contracted space to Echo City, a place of two hundred and twenty-five inhabitants, mostly Mormons, where I remain over-night. The hotel where I put up at Echo is all that can be desired, so far as "provender" is concerned; but the handsome and picturesque proprietor seems afflicted with sundry eccentric habits, his leading eccentricity being a haughty contempt for fractional currency. Not having had the opportunity to test him, it is difficult to say whether this peculiarity works both ways, or only when the change is due his transient guests. However, we willingly give him the benefit of the doubt.
Heavily freighted rain-clouds are hovering over the mountains next morning and adding to the gloominess of the gorge, which, just east of Echo City, contracts again and proceeds eastward under the name of Echo Gorge. Turning around a bold rocky projection to the left, the far-famed "Pulpit Rock" towers above, on which Brigham Young is reported to have stood and preached to the Mormon host while halting over Sunday at this point, during their pilgrimage to their new home in the Salt Lake Valley below. Had the redoubtable prophet turned "dizzy " while haranguing his followers from the elevated pinnacle of his novel pulpit, he would at least have died a more romantic death than he is accredited with - from eating too much green corn.
Fourteen miles farther brings me to "Castle Rocks," a name given to the high sandstone bluffs that compose the left-hand side of the canon at this point, and which have been worn by the elements into all manner of fantastic shapes, many of them calling to mind the towers and turrets of some old-world castle so vividly, that one needs but the pomp and circumstance of old knight-errant days to complete the illusion. But, as one gazes with admiration on these towering buttresses of nature, it is easy to realize that the most massive and imposing feudal castle, or ramparts built with human hands, would look like children's toys beside them. The weather is cool and bracing, and when, in the middle of the afternoon, I reach Evanston, Wyo. Terr., too late to get dinner at the hotel, I proceed to devour the contents of a bakery, filling the proprietor with boundless astonishment by consuming about two-thirds of his stock. When I get through eating, he bluntly refuses to charge anything, considering himself well repaid by having witnessed the most extraordinary gastronomic feat on record - the swallowing of two-thirds of a bakery. Following the trail down Yellow Creek, I arrive at Hilliard after dark. The Hilliardites are "somewhat seldom," but they are made of the right material. The boarding-house landlady sets about preparing me supper, late though it be; and the "boys" extend me a hearty invitation to turn in with them for the night. Here at Hilliard is a long V-shaped flume, thirty miles long, in which telegraph poles, ties, and cord wood are floated down to the railroad from the pineries of the Uintah Mountains, now plainly visible to the south. The "boys" above referred to are men engaged in handling ties thus floated down; and sitting around the red-hot stove, they make the evening jolly with songs and yarns of tie-drives, and of wild rides down the long "V" flume. A happy, light-hearted set of fellows are these "tie-men," and not an evening but their rude shanty resounds with merriment galore. Fun is in the air to-night, and "Beaver" (so dubbed on account of an unfortunate tendency to fall into every hole of water he goes anywhere near) is the unlucky wight upon whom the rude witticisms concentrate; for he has fallen into the water again to- day, and is busily engaged in drying his clothes by the stove. They accuse him of keeping up an uncomfortably hot fire, detrimental to everybody's comfort but his own, and threaten him with dire penalties if he doesn't let the room cool off; also broadly hinting their disapproval of his over-fondness for "Adam's ale," and threaten to make him "set 'em up" every time he tumbles in hereafter. In revenge for these remarks, "Beaver" piles more wood into the stove, and, with many a westernism - not permitted in print - threatens to keep up a fire that will drive them all out of the shanty if they persist in their persecutions. Crossing next day the low, broad pass over the Uintah Mountains, some stretches of ridable surface are passed over, and at this point I see the first band of antelope on the tour; but as they fail to come within the regulation two hundred yards they are graciously permitted to live.
Stevens' Route in Wyoming
At Piedmont Station I decide to go around by way of Port Bridger and strike the direct trail again at Carter Station, twenty four miles farther east.
A tough bit of Country. The next day at noon finds me "tucked in my little bed" at Carter, decidedly the worse for wear, having experienced the toughest twenty-four hours of the entire journey. I have to ford no less than nine streams of ice-cold water; get benighted on a rain-soaked adobe plain, where I have to sleep out all night in an abandoned freight- wagon; and, after carrying the bicycle across seven miles of deep, sticky clay, I finally arrive at Carter, looking like the last sad remnant of a dire calamity - having had nothing to eat for twenty-four hours. From Carter my route leads through the Bad-Lands, amid buttes of mingled clay and rock, which the elements have worn into all conceivable shapes, and conspicuous among them can be seen, to the south, "Church Buttes," so called from having been chiselled by the dexterous hand of nature into a group of domes and pinnacles, that, from a distance, strikingly resembles some magnificent cathedral. High-water marks are observable on these buttes, showing that Noah's flood, or some other aqueous calamity once happened around here; and one can easily imagine droves of miserable, half-clad Indians, perched on top, looking with doleful, melancholy expression on the surrounding wilderness of waters. Arriving at Granger, for dinner, I find at the hotel a crest-fallen state of affairs somewhat similar to the glumness of Tacoma. Tacoma had plenty of customers, but no whiskey; Granger on the contrary has plenty of whiskey, but no customers. The effect on that marvelous, intangible something, the saloon proprietor's intellect, is the same at both places. Here is plainly a new field of research for some ambitious student of psychology. Whiskey without customers. Customers without whiskey. Truly all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
Next day I pass the world-renowned castellated rocks of Green River, and stop for the night at Rock Springs, where the Union Pacific Railway Company has extensive coal mines. On calling for my bill at the hotel here, next morning, the proprietor - a corpulent Teuton, whose thoughts, words, and actions, run entirely to beer - replies, "Twenty-five cents a quart." Thinking my hearing apparatus is at fault, I inquire again. "Twenty-five cents a quart and vurnish yer own gan." The bill is abnormally large, but, as I hand over the amount, a "loaded schooner" is shoved under my nose, as though a glass of beer were a tranquillizing antidote for all the ills of life. Splendid level alkali flats abound east of Rock Springs, and I bowl across them at a lively pace until they terminate, and my route follows up Bitter Creek, where the surface is just the reverse; being seamed and furrowed as if it had just emerged from a devastating flood. It is said that the teamster who successfully navigated the route up Bitter Creek, considered himself entitled to be called "a tough cuss from Bitter Creek, on wheels, with a perfect education." A justifiable regard for individual rights would seem to favor my own assumption of this distinguished title after traversing the route with a bicycle. Ten o'clock next morning finds me leaning on my wheel, surveying the scenery from the "Continental Divide" - the backbone of the continent. Pacing the north, all waters at my right hand flow to the east, and all on my left flow to the west - the one eventually finding their way to the Atlantic, the other to the Pacific. This spot is a broad low pass through the Rockies, more plain than mountain, but from which a most commanding view of numerous mountain chains are obtained. To the north and northwest are the Seminole, Wind River, and Sweet-water ranges - bold, rugged mountain- chains, filling the landscape of the distant north with a mass of great, jagged, rocky piles, grand beyond conception; their many snowy peaks peopling the blue ethery space above with ghostly, spectral forms well calculated to inspire with feelings of awe and admiration a lone cycler, who, standing in silence and solitude profound on the great Continental Divide, looks and meditates on what he sees. Other hoary monarchs are visible to the east, which, however, we shall get acquainted with later on. Down grade is the rule now, and were there a good road, what an enjoyable coast it would be, down from the Continental Divide! but half of it has to be walked. About eighteen miles from the divide I am greatly amused, and not a little astonished, at the strange actions of a coyote that comes trotting in a leisurely, confidential way toward me; and when he reaches a spot commanding a good view of my road he stops and watches my movements with an air of the greatest inquisitiveness and assurance. He stands and gazes as I trundle along, not over fifty yards away, and he looks so much like a well-fed collie, that I actually feel like patting my knee for him to come and make friends. Shoot at him . Certainly not. One never abuses a confidence like that. He can come and rub his sleek coat up against the bicycle if he likes, and - blood-thirsty rascal though he no doubt is - I will never fire at him. He has as much right to gaze in astonishment at a bicycle as anybody else who never saw one before.
Staying over night and the next day at Rawlins, I make the sixteen miles to Port Fred Steele next morning before breakfast, there being a very good road between the two places. This fort stands on the west bank of North Platte River, and a few miles west of the river I ride through the first prairie dog town encountered in crossing the continent from the west, though I shall see plenty of these interesting little fellows during the next three hundred miles. These animals sit near their holes and excitedly bark at whatever goes past. Never before have they had an opportunity to bark at a bicycle, and they seem to be making the most of their opportunity. I see at this village none of the small speckled owls, which, with the rattlesnake, make themselves so much at home in the prairie-dogs' comfortable quarters, but I see them farther east. These three strangely assorted companions may have warm affections toward each other; but one is inclined to think the great bond of sympathy that binds them together is the tender regard entertained by the owl and the rattlesnake for the nice, tender young prairie-pups that appear at intervals to increase the joys and cares of the elder animals.
I am now getting on to the famous Laramie Plains, and Elk Mountain looms up not over ten miles to the south - a solid, towery mass of black rocks and dark pine forests, that stands out bold and distinct from surrounding mountain chains as though some animate thing conscious of its own strength and superiority. A snow-storm is raging on its upper slopes, obscuring that portion of the mountain; but the dark forest-clad slopes near the base are in plain view, and also the rugged peak which elevates its white crowned head above the storm, and reposes peacefully in the bright sunlight in striking contrast to the warring elements lower down. I have heard old hunters assert that this famous "landmark of the Rockies" is hollow, and that they have heard wolves howling inside the mountain; but some of these old western hunters see and hear strange things!
As I penetrate the Laramie Plains the persistent sage-brush, that has constantly hovered around my path for the last thousand miles, grows beautifully less, and the short, nutritious buffalo-grass is creeping everywhere. In Carbon, where I arrive after dark, I mention among other things in reply to the usual volley of questions, the fact of having to foot it so great a proportion of the way through the mountain country; and shortly afterward, from among a group of men, I hear a voice, thick and husky with "valley tan," remark: " Faith, Oi cud roide a bicycle meself across the counthry av yeez ud lit me walluk it afut!" and straightway a luminous bunch of shamrocks dangled for a brief moment in the air, and then vanished. After passing Medicine Bow Valley and Como Lake I find some good ridable road, the surface being hard gravel and the plains high and dry. Reaching the brow of one of those rocky ridges that hereabouts divide the plains into so many shallow basins, I find myself suddenly within a few paces of a small herd of antelope peacefully grazing on the other side of the narrow ridge, all unconscious of the presence of one of creation's alleged proud lords. My ever-handy revolver rings out clear and sharp on the mountain air, and the startled antelope go bounding across the plain in a succession of quick, jerky jumps peculiar to that nimble animal; but ere they have travelled a hundred yards one of them lags behind and finally staggers and lays down on the grass. As I approach him he makes a gallant struggle to rise and make off after his companions, but the effort is too much for him, and coming up to him, I quickly put him out of pain by a shot behind the ear. This makes a proud addition to my hitherto rather small list of game, which now comprises jack-rabbits, a badger, a fierce gosling, an antelope, and a thin, attenuated coyote, that I bowled over in Utah.
From this ridge an extensive view of the broad, billowy plains and surrounding mountains is obtained. Elk Mountain still seems close at hand, its towering form marking the western limits of the Medicine Bow Range whose dark pine-clad slopes form the western border of the plains. Back of them to the west is the Snowy Range, towering in ghostly grandeur as far above the timber-clad summits of the Medicine Bow Range as these latter are above the grassy plains at their base. To the south more snowy mountains stand out against the sky like white tracery on a blue ground, with Long's Peak and Fremont's Peak towering head and shoulders above them all. The Rattlesnake Range, with Laramie Peak rearing its ten thousand feet of rugged grandeur to the clouds, are visible to the north. On the east is the Black Hills Range, the last chain of the Rockies, and now the only barrier intervening between me and the broad prairies that roll away eastward to the Missouri River and "the States."
A genuine Laramie Plains rain-storm is hovering overhead as I pull out of Rock Creek, after dinner, and in a little while the performance begins. There is nothing of the gentle pattering shower about a rain and wind storm on these elevated plains; it comes on with a blow and a bluster that threatens to take one off his feet. The rain is dashed about in the air by the wild, blustering wind, and comes from all directions at the same time. While you are frantically hanging on to your hat, the wind playfully unbuttons your rubber coat and lifts it up over your head and flaps the wet, muddy corners about in your face and eyes; and, ere you can disentangle your features from the cold uncomfortable embrace of the wet mackintosh, the rain - which "falls" upward as well as down, and sidewise, and every other way-has wet you through up as high as the armpits; and then the gentle zephyrs complete your discomfiture by purloining your hat and making off across the sodden plain with it, at a pace that defies pursuit. The storm winds up in a pelting shower of hailstones - round chunks of ice that cause me to wince whenever one makes a square hit, and they strike the steel spokes of the bicycle and make them produce harmonious sounds. Trundling through Cooper Lake Basin, after dark, I get occasional glimpses of mysterious shadowy objects flitting hither and thither through the dusky pall around me. The basin is full of antelope, and my presence here in the darkness fills them with consternation; their keen scent and instinctive knowledge of a strange presence warn them of my proximity; and as they cannot see me in the darkness they are flitting about in wild alarm.
Stopping for the night at Lookout, I make an early start, in order to reach Laramie City for dinner. These Laramie Plains "can smile and look pretty" when they choose, and, as I bowl along over a fairly good road this sunny Sunday morning, they certainly choose. The Laramie River on my left, the Medicine Bow and Snowy ranges - black and white respectively - towering aloft to the right, and the intervening plains dotted with herds of antelope, complete a picture that can be seen nowhere save on the Laramie Plains. Reaching a swell of the plains, that almost rises to the dignity of a hill, I can see the nickel-plated wheels of the Laramie wheelmen glistening in the sunlight on the opposite side of the river several miles from where I stand. They have come out a few miles to meet me, but have taken the wrong side of the river, thinking I had crossed below Rock Creek. The members of the Laramie Bicycle Club are the first wheelmen I have seen since leaving California; and, as I am personally acquainted at Laramie, it is needless to dwell on my reception at their hands. The rambles of the Laramie Club are well known to the cycling world from the many interesting letters from the graphic pen of their captain, Mr. Owen, who, with two other members, once took a tour on their wheels to the Yellowstone National Park. They have some very good natural roads around Laramie, but in their rambles over the mountains these "rough riders of the Rockies" necessarily take risks that are unknown to their fraternal brethren farther east.
Tuesday morning I pull out to scale the last range that separates me from "the plains" - popularly known as such - and, upon arriving at the summit, I pause to take a farewell view of the great and wonderful inter- mountain country, across whose mountains, plains, and deserts I have been travelling in so novel a manner for the last month. The view from where I stand is magnificent - ay, sublime beyond human power to describe - and well calculated to make an indelible impression on the mind of one gazing upon it, perhaps for the last time. The Laramie Plains extend northward and westward, like a billowy green sea. Emerging from a black canon behind Jelm Mountain, the Laramie River winds its serpentine course in a northeast direction until lost to view behind the abutting mountains of the range, on which I now stand, receiving tribute in its course from the Little Laramie and numbers of smaller streams that emerge from the mountainous bulwarks forming the western border of the marvellous picture now before me. The unusual rains have filled the numberless depressions of the plains with ponds and lakelets that in their green setting glisten and glimmer in the bright morning sunshine like gems. A train is coming from the west, winding around among them as if searching out the most beautiful, and finally halts at Laramie City, which nestles in their midst - the fairest gem of them all - the "Gem of the Rockies." Sheep Mountain, the embodiment of all that is massive and indestructible, juts boldly and defiantly forward as though its mission were to stand guard over all that lies to the west. The Medicine Bow Eange is now seen to greater advantage, and a bald mountain-top here and there protrudes above the dark forests, timidly, as if ashamed of its nakedness. Our old friend, Elk Mountain, is still in view, a stately and magnificent pile, serving as a land-mark for a hundred miles around. Beyond all this, to the west and south - a good hundred miles away - are the snowy ranges; their hoary peaks of glistening purity penetrating the vast blue dome above, like monarchs in royal vestments robed. Still others are seen, white and shadowy, stretching away down into Colorado, peak beyond peak, ridge beyond ridge, until lost in the impenetrable distance.
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