III THROUGH THE GREAT GEYSER BASIN:
The Barlow Expedition of 1871 (continued)
On reaching the mouth of Gardner's River, or Warm-Stream Creek, as it is also called, coming in from the southwest and joining the Yellowstone fifteen miles above the middle canyon, we left the trail and followed this valley without crossing the stream.
A few miles above the mouth of this river, a boiling hot torrent of water [Mammoth Hot Springs], some six feet wide, and a foot in depth, pours out of the hill-side, perfectly clear, though steaming hot. It is probably the outlet of a vast subterranean reservoir of hot water, which supplies the numerous boiling springs upon the mountain-sides above. Near this hot brook are several warm mineral springs, beside which a few invalids had formed a camp, for the purpose of testing their healing properties.
A system of hot springs of great beauty, flowing from the top and sides of a large hill of calcareous deposit, and called Soda Mountain, is found five miles up the left bank of Gardner's River. Here, at the foot of this curious white mountain, we encamped, and remained until the 24th [of July, 1871], examining the wonderful spring formation of this region, and the country around it. The central point of interest is the Soda Mountain, occupying an area of a hundred acres, and rising like the successive steps of a cascade, to the height of over 200 feet above the plateau at its base. The upper surface is a plain, composed of many hot springs, constantly sending up volumes of vapor slightly impregnated with sulphurous fumes. The sides of the hill down which the waters of these hot springs flow have become terraced into steps of various heights and widths, some twelve inches in dimension, while others are as many feet. In each terrace there is generally a pool of water, standing in a scolloped basin of gypsum, deposited at the edges by the water as it becomes cooler. These basins are often tinged with pink, gray, and yellow colors, giving to the whole a very beautiful effect.
The rock in all directions has evidently been deposited in the same manner as the Soda Mountain is now being built up. When the formation ceases from a change in the course of the water, the rock becomes friable and disintegrates. After a time vegetation springs up and covers the surface. Many of the basins have the size and shape of bathtubs, and were used by members of the party for bathing purposes. The temperature varies in the different pools from fifty degrees all the way up to one hundred and eighty, so there is no difficulty in finding a bath of suitable temperature. A few of these springs are strongly mineral, though most of them are sufficiently pure for cooking and drinking purposes. Near the base of this hill a remarkable column of rock is seen standing 60 feet in height, and nearly vertical; this is probably a defunct geyser. In many places small upheavals have occurred, the rock has been rent open, allowing an escape of steam and gas jets, whose formations in the hot regions beneath can be heard through these openings. The action of these subterraneous waters has, of course, worn out caverns in the rocks beneath, leaving the crust sometimes thin and frail; caution should therefore be exercised in exploring these places. Numerous caves and holes were found in the adjacent hills. I penetrated to the depth of 50 feet in one of the former, and found myself in a vaulted dome 30 feet across and 40 feet high. On the far side was a deep well, dark and gloomy, into which I threw masses of rock, but did not venture to explore it personally. The views from this camp are extremely picturesque, combining every variety of mountain scenery, having rocky gorges, in which are usually found mountain streams breaking into cascades and falls at frequent intervals. The opposite bank of Gardner's River is very steep, nearly precipitous, and surmounted by a wall of basaltic columns.
During our stay at this camp I made a circuit of the high red-topped mountain to the west of the springs, near which Mr. Everts, who was lost in the Yellowstone Basin the previous summer, was picked up by the men who went in search of him. The mountain stands in a fork of a branch of Gardner's River, having a canyon on two sides, through which these streams flow in beautiful cascades, with one or two considerable falls. I made this trip in company with Dr. Hayden and one or two others. Though our climbing over rocks and through thickets, and crossing mountain-torrents, proved very fatiguing, we felt well repaid for our labor in observing the grand scenery upon our route. Many fine specimens of geological formation were observed, one of the most beautiful being fan-shaped basaltic formations in great abundance. Skirting the canyon to the south of the mountain for two miles, we crossed, but found the ascent so steep that we were compelled to cling to projecting rocks in many places to prevent sliding back to the bottom. On reaching the plateau beyond, our breath and strength were nearly exhausted. We now ascended to the top of the mountain, leaving our horses about half way up, and continuing the journey on foot. Here a magnificent view of the Yellowstone Valley was obtained, with its mountain ranges stretching away in the distance, southward, to the limit of vision. Also of the country lying west toward the Gallatin River. In that direction is a valley almost level, slightly rising toward the mountains on either side, with a beautiful, clear stream winding through the center, whose current was so gentle that its direction could not, as yet, be determined. Grass and flowers covered the hill-side, interspersed with occasional groves of balsam, cedar, and spruce. High cones of volcanic origin rise here and there in all directions, some of them probably fifty miles distant. The lofty peaks directly west, beyond the valley just mentioned, were probably near the sources of the West Gallatin. This region appears almost inaccessible. Continuing the circuit of the mountain, we returned to camp by way of its north side. Here we encountered another canyon as wild and precipitous as the other, and affording still more beautiful scenery. A clear cut, hundreds of feet in depth, through the mountain's base, allowed the passage of a small stream, which about midway rolled down a slightly inclined and rocky slope, then spread out into a pretty cascade of a hundred feet in height. More desperate climbing followed, and we reached an elevated plateau whose side to the east had, at some time, dropped off, leaving a sheer precipice of seven or eight hundred feet in height upon which we were now standing. Passing further northward we encountered, previous to reaching camp, several spouting hot-springs, throwing up boiling water to the height of several inches.
On reaching camp I learned that one of the cistern barometers had broken while hanging upon a tree, without apparent cause. Toward evening I enjoyed a bath among the natural basins of Soda Mountain. The temperature was delightful, and could be regulated at pleasure by simply stepping from one basin to another. They were even quite luxurious, being lined with a spongy gypsum, soft and pleasant to the touch. I walked over a part of the hill by the faint light of the new moon, which gave to its deep-blue pools of steaming water a wild and ghostly appearance. The photographer has taken numerous views of these springs and the country in their vicinity, which will serve to convey a much more difinite idea of their beautiful formation than can be given by any written discription. A special survey was made of the locality, and careful observations taken of its latitude and longitude.
While at this camp one of the men killed a large brown bear and three cubs. The latter were brought in and served our mess with delicious steak for several meals.
July 24 Resumed the march, following up the southern branch of Gardner's River. The trail for the first four miles proved very rough, the sides of the valley coming down close to the stream, and very steep. At the end of this gorge a fine water-fall was discovered about 75 feet in height, beyond which the valley became less rocky. I ascended the ridge on the left, hoping to reach the summit of the divide overlooking the Yellowstone Valley several miles to the eastward. After reaching several summits I still discovered higher ones beyond, but finally ascended the last one, and was rewarded by a grand view of an immense extent of mountain scenery. In all directions were seen sharp basaltic peaks, beautifully set off with large fields of snow lying in their upper gorges; quiet, secluded valleys, well timbered hill sides, pretty lakes and mountain streams. Over the whole the sun was shining with great brilliancy, but never oppressively in these elevated regions.
I fell in with Dr. Hayden, whom I found examining this ridge, and together we continued in a southeasterly direction parallel with the valley below, through which our trains were moving. We had proposed ascending this valley as far as practicable, then to strike across the country and meet the Yellowstone opposite the mouth of the East Fork [Lamar River]. While we were pursuing our investigations, one of the doctor's assistants came up and reported that his train, with the general escort, had gone into camp some two miles south of the point where he found us, but that my train had not come up. I went to the doctor's camp and learned that none of my party had arrived except Captain Heap and Mr. Hine, who had followed the trail of the doctor's party. A messenger sent by Captain Tyler came back, finding no traces where my party had left the trail. I then decided to go myself in search of them. After considerable examination it was discovered that they had obeyed their instructions, deviated from the direction taken by the doctor's party and followed the course of Black-tail Deer Creek to the eastward, and had struck across toward the valley of the Yellowstone. It would appear to be an easy matter to find where a train as large as mine had departed from the main trail, but in this case no tracks were left in the prairie grass to indicate the point, and it was only after an hour's search that the spot was discovered. Following the trail was in many places difficult, the country being intersected at various intervals by ravines and water-courses, with here and there a meadow, over which the animals had apparently become so scattered that all traces of their footsteps were lost. The country, until we near the river, consists of rolling prairie, dotted with groves of spruce and pine, and well watered with numerous cool streams finding their way northward into Black-tail Deer Creek. The ridges are unusually stony, limestone rock cropping out at their summits. Continuing eastward and passing into a small canyon, rendered gloomy by approaching night-fall, and following over a divide for a few miles, we emerged upon a height overlooking the valley of the Yellowstone. A plain though rough trail led down the mountain-side. The descent was steep and long, through groves of poplars and other small trees, along a nearly vertical hill-side, apparently over frightful chasms, rendered weird and gloomy by approaching darkness. We began to despair, almost, of ever finding the camp, and felt there might be a possibility that we were following a fresh Indian trail. We were soon set at rest, however, as a short time after dark we reached the foot of the mountain and found camp located in a pretty meadow, with a clear stream running through it. The river was about a mile and a half distant. I had ridden thirty miles though the train had marched but seventeen.
The next day was spent in a trip across the Yellowstone, by way of a pack-train bridge recently constructed for the accommodation of parties visiting some new mines about forty miles to the east of this point, on the head-waters of Clark's Fork. The banks of the river here are one hundred feet apart, while a pier resting upon a ledge of rock jutting out from the west side divides the bridge into two spans, the main one being about sixty feet, and composed of heavy pine timbers of that length. A path on either side has been graded down to the bridge, that on the opposite side having been cut from the face of the cliff, the rock of which is composed of soft, shelly, and partially disintegrated slate. The bridge is located just above the mouth of East Fork, a considerable stream, and in seasons of high water is not far below the magnitude of the main river. It finds its sources many miles to the east and southeast, among some of the loftiest peaks of the Rocky Mountain range, and drains, with its numerous tributaries, a vast extent of country. From its extreme source to its mouth, it is probably fifty miles in length. An elevated, rolling country, several miles in extent, lies in the angle of the two rivers. It is intersected by numerous streams fed from the melting snow in the mountains above. In this area were three or four small lakes or ponds literally covered with ducks. Near its center stands a mountain of remarkable appearance, nearly square, with precipitous sides, known as the "Square Butte." I crossed the river, and, passing south along its bank, obtained a view of the canyon of the Yellowstone, which here is very beautiful. Its walls are composed of volcanic conglomerate capped with basaltic columns. Many of the pinnacles remain, towering hundreds of feet in height, having about the proportions of an ordinary sewing-needle. In many places below are observed steam-jets rising from near the river's edge, while, indications of sulphur deposit are very numerous. Farther up, I was able to descend to the river's bed opposite the mouth of Tower Creek, coming in from the west. This stream is named from numerous tower-like pinnacles reaching up many feet above its bank. Here were some fine specimens of brimstone deposit from hot sulphur jets along the banks of the river. On the other side were numerous warm springs, which I did not visit.
The trout in this part of the river are exceedingly fine and added much to the variety of our mess. Back from the river to the east the country rises rapidly and soon becomes extremely rugged. High barren peaks are seen rising one above the other, far off to the east and south. I ascended the range to the height of 3,000 feet above the river, and judged that many of the peaks beyond were a thousand or 1,500 feet higher. On these mountains I picked up numerous specimens of petrifactions and some fine pieces of agates and rock crystal. On returning to camp I learned that the other party had passed during the day and had proceeded on as far as Tower Creek, some four miles above.
I broke camp on the morning of the 26th at half-past 7; sent the train over the trail taken the day before by Dr. Hayden, and then, in company with Captain Heap, I made an examination of the river's bank and the falls of Tower Creek. The views from the bank of the river on this side were even more interesting than those obtained yesterday. The fall is exceedingly picturesque, and, when seen from below, the stream appears to drop from among a number of tower-like rocks, some of them extending upward more than a hundred feet above the crest of the falls. The fall itself is a sheer descent of 156 feet into a shallow basin. The water then rushes away through a rocky and rapidly descending channel, forming numerous cascades in its course to the river below.
A thick growth of pine and hemlock covers the sides of this gorge. Regaining the trail, which led through moderately open timber, Captain Heap and I pushed on as rapidly as possible, but soon losing all signs of the advance party, Captain Heap returned to pick up the trail; I went forward and soon regained it. I then continued over a beautifully undulating country covered with rich verdure and decked with wild flowers of every hue, many of them unknown in the Eastern States. Yet the elevation here is so great (7,000 feet) that frosts occur every night during the year. The vegetation does not seem to suffer from these summer frosts, the effect upon grass and flowers being apparently but that of dew. The path led to still higher elevations and eventually crossed a mountain range called the "Elephant's Back" [now the Washburn Range], forming a part of the rim of the Yellowstone Lake basin. It is this ridge which, cut through by the Yellowstone below the great falls, forms that stupendous canyon, 2,000 feet in depth. A road could easily be constructed through some one of the numerous passes in this range, avoiding the severe climbing necessary by this route. Much timber would have to be removed, however, from these passes before even pack animals could get through. On this expedition the most annoying and sometimes insurmountable obstacles met with were masses of fallen timber. The trail led within a mile of the highest peak of this range, called Mount Washburn. I wished to obtain a view from this eminence, and with some difficulty succeeded in leading my horse to its extreme top. The summit is composed of broken masses of volcanic rock, literally smoothed or leveled off by the force of the wind, which sweeps with terrible violence over these elevated regions. I had observed large areas of snow several hundred feet below the summit of this ridge, but, upon the peak, I doubt if, even in winter, the wind will permit snow to remain.
From this point mountain peaks were observed in all directions, while the Yellowstone Lake, though twenty miles distant, seemed to lie at my feet. The valley of the river can be seen following the general direction of the mountain-chain to the east, a stern volcanic range of sharp peaks, many of them having the form of the Egyptian pyramids, though, of course, a much greater magnitude. One large mountain of this range had been a landmark for two days, bearing a strange resemblance to a human profile turned toward the zenith. I named it "Giant's Face."
The summit of Mount Washburn is 9,000 feet above the sea, while many of those to the east of the Yellowstone are apparently 2,000 feet higher. I intended making a sketch of the horizon line of country, as seen from this mountain, but so fierce a gale was blowing at the time that I found it utterly impossible to use my drawing materials.
I descended by the opposite side into a precipitous gorge or canyon a thousand feet deep, having to drag my horse down some of the worst places. There was no vegetation, no soil, nothing but volcanic rock, in some places solid, but much of it loose and broken, affording no footing whatever, and compelling the horse to slide for several yards at a time. On one occasion I discovered that I was following the trail of a bear to his den. Soon after emerging from this canyon I became engulfed in an immense pine forest which seemed interminable. In this forest were many open glades covered with grass and flowers. In one of these, quietly reposing, I discovered three fine elk, which, upon my approach, disappeared into the thick underbrush before I could bring my carbine to bear upon them. I had descended the mountain far to the east of the trail, and now taking the direction of the sun I succeeded in traversing the forest and regaining the trail which I had no difficulty in following. A ride of some five miles soon brought me to camp. While in the forest I came upon a valley of chalk-white rock, evidently an old system of warm springs; several small ones were still in operation, giving a perceptible warmth to a small stream flowing through the valley and filling the atmosphere with an intense odor of sulphur.
We had now reached the vicinity of the great falls of the Yellowstone, which should be classed among the most interesting and beautiful of the earth. Lieutenant Doane minutely and graphically describes them in his report, and compares them most favorably with all others on this continent. I viewed them both by moonlight after arriving at camp, and on the following morning. I should describe the upper fall as the embodiment of beauty, the lower one that of grandeur. At the crest of each the river narrows to less than a hundred feet, while its depth correspondingly increases. Above the upper fall the river rapidly descends over a series of cascades, gaining great velocity, whence, upon reaching the brink of the precipice, the whole volume is thrown outward and divided almost at once into drops which aggregate into conical shapes, their apexes projecting forward, not unlike an array of comets. These soon lose their individuality and gradually blend together, forming a dense white mass, which descends in a fall of 115 feet, spreading out at the bottom with the grace and beauty of a lady's ball-room costume. A point of rocks jutting out just in front of and slightly below the crest of the fall, affords a convenient spot for observation, whence the whole beauty of the scene can be taken in at a glance. Here the canyon of the Yellowstone finds its beginning in a beautifully wooded gorge between two and three hundred feet in depth, through which the river flows swiftly, though smoothly, over its rocky bottom, to the crest of the lower fall half a mile below; the river then emerges from between its rocky banks and makes its prodigious leap of 350 feet into the depth of the great canyon. It is no small undertaking to descend the steep and slippery side of the canyon, even to the crest of the fall, while the yellow, volcanic and nearly vertical walls of the gorge beneath bid defiance to the most expert climber. The depths below are filed with hot springs; the rock is soft and crumbling, affording no secure footing, while the river rushes away in a perfect torrent over innumerable cascades and ripples, causing eddies and whirlpools which would dash to atoms any unlucky adventurer who should be so unfortunate as to find himself ingulfed in its waters.
About 400 yards below the lower fall a fine view is obtained from a high projecting promontory. Coming in from the west between the upper and lower falls a small stream flows over several ledges of rocks, giving rise to a number of beautiful cascades, from which the creek derives its name. These are extremely beautiful, though insignificant in comparison with the greater wonders so near at hand. One of these little falls drops into a cavern nearly concealed by overhanging cliffs, thence descending from a low ridge of rocks into a pool of great depth. A portion of the water passes through a crevice, or small tunnel, and darts out through the main fall of the cascade below, giving it a most singular appearance.
After regaining the trail I hurried on up the river to overtake the train on its way to the Mud Volcano, some ten miles above. I soon came to the wreck of a pack-mule, which had made a false step in getting over a fallen tree, and had rolled, end over end, down the hill. His pack, consisting of the photographer's apparatus, escaped without serious injury. The scenery along the river above the falls is quite tame, compared with the wildness and grandness of the regions I had just left. The river, a broad, smooth stream, flows over a sandy bed, with gently sloping banks, generally well wooded. No noisy cataracts break the Sabbath-stillness of this region. No volcanic agencies seem to have been at work here. One would expect to find farm-houses and hamlets in so quiet and peaceful a valley.
Many small streams, coming in from the distant mountains, and a rolling prairie of several miles extent, were crossed during this day's march. I discovered a hillock composed of pebbles of obsidian, somewhat resembling coal-cinders. Toward the western verge of this prairie a hill of white rock was discovered which, upon investigation, proved to be another of the "soda mountains," as they are called by the hunters. Approaching nearer, I found jets of smoke and steam issuing from the face of the hill, while its other side was hollowed out into a sort of amphitheater, whose sides were steaming with sulphur fumes, the ground hot and parched with internal fires. Acre after acre of this hot volcanic surface lay before me, having numerous cracks and small apertures at intervals of a few feet, from whence were expelled, sometimes in steady, continuous streams, sometimes in puffs like those from an engine, jets of vapor more or less impregnated with mineral substances. I ascended the hill, leaving my horse below, fearful that he might break through the thin rock-crust, which in many places gave way beneath the tread, revealing caverns of pure, crystalized sulphur, from which hot fumes were sure to issue. These crystals were very fine, but too frail to transport without the greatest care. A large boiling spring emitting strong fumes of sulphur and sulphureted hydrogen, not at all agreeable, was also found here. The water from this spring, over-running its basin, trickled down the hill-side, leaving a highly-colored trace in the chalky rock. Upon the opposite side was found a number of larger springs. One, from its size and the power it displayed in throwing water to the height of several feet above the surface, was worthy of notice. Near this was a spring having regular pulsations, like a steam-engine; giving off large quantities of steam, which would issue forth with the roar of a hurricane. This was, in reality, a steam volcano; deep vibrations in the subterraneous caverns extending far away beneath the hill could be distinctly heard. In searching through the thick mass of timber west of this region for other curiosities, Captain Heap and I became almost locked up in a labyrinth of fallen timber, so dense and so inextricably interlaced, that it was with the greatest difficulty we finally found our way out again. The country, from this point to the Mud Volcano, was mostly rolling prairie, intersected with several streams flowing into the river, some of them having wide estuaries and adjacent swampy flats covered with thick marsh-grass in abundance. Ducks are usually found in these sluggish streams, as well as in the little lakes so numerous throughout this whole region. We camped on the bank of the river, in the immediate vicinity of the mud geysers. These being the first specimens of the true geyser yet seen, we examined them with much curiosity.
July 28 Remained at this camp throughout the day examining the springs, and crossing the river on a raft for the purpose of ascertaining if the same phenomena existed on the opposite side, several steam-jets being visible among the hills beyond.
The central point of interest here is the Mud Volcano, which has broken out from the side of a well timbered hill. It has a crater 25 feet across at the top, gradually sloping inward to the bottom, where it becomes about half this diameter. Its depth is about 30 feet; the deposit is gray mud, nearly a pure alumina, and has been thrown up by the action of the volcano at no very distant period. The rim of the crater on the down-hill side is some 10 feet in height, and trees 50 feet high and 100 feet distant are loaded with mud thrown from this volcano. The surface of the bottom is in a constant state of ebullition, puffing and throwing up masses of boiling mud, and sending forth dense columns of steam several hundred feet above the surrounding forests. This column of steam can be seen for many miles in all directions. Some 400 yards from this crater are three large hot springs of muddy water, one of which proved to be a geyser having periods of active eruption about every six hours. The phenomena attending these eruptions are as follows: Soon after the violent period passes, the water in the pool gradually subsides through the orifice in the center, the surface falling several feet. The water almost entirely disappears from sight, when it gradually rises again until the former level is reached, during which occasional ebulitions of greater or lesser magnitude occur; great agitation now ensues; pulsations at regular intervals of a few seconds take place, at each of which the water in the crater is elevated higher and higher until finally, after ten minutes, a column is forced up to the height of 30 or 40 feet. During this period waves dash against the sides of the surrounding basin; vast clouds of steam escape; a noise like the rumbling of an earthquake takes place; suddenly, after about fifteen minutes of this commotion, the waves recede, quiet is restored, and the waters sink gradually to their lowest limits. They soon rise again and repeat the same operation. The water from this geyser does not flow away, as the spring occupies the center of a basin 60 yards in diameter and 12 feet in depth; a channel from this basin, however, serves to conduct off any excess of surface-water that may flow in from the hill-side above.
The supply of water is diminished by a constant loss of vapor, and, if not re-supplied, the spring in time dies out. Evidence of extinct springs are quite numerous in this vicinity. Close by are a great many very small boiling-mud pits, a plastic material resembling mortar in color and consistency, worked smooth by constant mixings which it has received for an indefinite period. To the north of the geyser are numerous sulphur jets, small rills from which were depositing a sulphurous slime along their channels. The warmth and mineral properties of this material give rise to a rank vegetation.
At the head of a small ravine still further to the northward is a cavern extending fifteen feet into the side of a hill, and about six feet across at the opening. It is lined with variegated colors deposited from the vapor constantly issuing from its extreme depths, while the channel of the small stream leading down the ravine is also colored by a similar deposit from the escaping waters. The amount of steam forced out from this cavern was immense, causing great agitation of the water within, and giving rise to a roaring and splashing sound as of heavy waves breaking upon a rocky shore.
There are many ponds, varying in size from an ordinary sitting-room to a half acre in extent, all warm or hot, some of them boiling and giving off dense masses of steam, usually in regular pulsations. I enjoyed a steam bath at the mouth of the cavern-spring. The water was much too hot for bathing, and the stones upon which I stood would have burnt my feet but for the precaution of keeping on my shoes.
A slight pungent odor, not strong enough to be offensive, pervades this entire region. I found little of interest to repay me for the labor of crossing the river. The raft was swept rapidly down the current, and soon got beyond the depth of our poles, and only by dint of severe paddling were we able to cross and return. Captain Heap and myself were the only persons who ventured upon the raft, and upon our return no one followed our example. Four or five small mud-craters were discovered giving off steam and occasionally sending up small quantities of thick mud, some of which was sufficiently pure and fine to serve for the manufacture of porcelain or china ware.
July 29 Sounds resembling a human voice calling for help were heard at intervals through the night; it is supposed they proceeded from the throat of a species of panther, called the American lion. I saw the skin and claws of one of these animals at Bottler's Ranch, which had belonged to a formidable specimen of this genus. I judged that an encounter with one would not be altogether safe. In size it must have been somewhat under that of the lions usually seen in menageries, though from the appearance of its head and claws it must have nearly equaled them in strength and fierceness.
After witnessing the morning eruption of the mud-geyser, which occurred at 6-o'clock and lasted nine minutes, attended with the usual phenomena, we continued our march to the Yellowstone Lake, about eight miles distant. The trail proved generally easy, skirting the river, which now becomes much broader, with gently sloping banks and broad grassy meadows. It seemed almost incredible that so tame and quiet a scene could be found in the midst of a region usually so wild and terrible. Just before reaching the lake we crossed a broad prairie extending several miles to the northward, and a continuation of the one met with on our march from the falls to the mud-springs. We crossed this prairie after emerging from a fine grove near the river, and found ourselves near the beach of the Yellowstone Lake. A beautiful picture is this clear blue sheet of water nestling among the snow-peaks of the highest mountain-range on our continent. The rim of this lake-basin is composed of a mountain range varying from nine to eleven thousand feet in height above the sea, and inclosing an area of about one thousand four hundred square miles. Beyond this rim the water-slopes descend in all directions, and furnish the sources of the principal rivers of the continent. Four of the most important tributaries of the Missouri, viz, the Big Horn, the Yellowstone, the Madison, and the Gallatin, carry the melting snows from these mountains northward, and then through the Mississippi Valley to the Gulf of Mexico, more than three thousand five hundred miles. The Snake River, having its sources actually interlaced with those of the Yellowstone and Madison, traverses in its westward course nearly a thousand miles before it mingles its waters with those of the Columbia on its way to the Pacific Ocean.
Again, the Green River, rising but a few miles from the sources of the others, seeks the deserts of Colorado, and after innumerable windings in those deep canyons, at length, after a course of one thousand five hundred miles, reaches the Pacific through the waters of the Gulf of California.
The dividing point in this central region of the continent is Union Peak, situated south of the Yellowstone Lake, its extreme height being nearly 14,000 feet above the sea.
We located our camp at the edge of the bluff, some 20 feet above the beach below. A cold stream furnished us with water, and numerous fallen trees afforded us plenty of wood, while the fine meadows of the adjacent prairie supplied excellent grazing for the animals. The lake is very irregular in outline, and about twenty miles across. Several high promontories project from the southern and western shores far out into the lake, greatly diminishing its apparent extent, and forming several large bays and inlets. With the exception of the northeastern angle, heavy masses of timber cover the lake shores quite down to the water's edge, rendering its circuit attended with great difficulty. On the eastern southern sides the mountain ranges are continuous, while to the southwest and west breaks appear, through which issue many of the sources of the Snake River. In the latter direction, some ten miles from the lake, stands a very conspicuous peak, its outlines sharp and conical, and at this distance appearing almost covered with snow. This proved to be, upon subsequent investigation, 10,500 feet in height.
The water of the lake is cool and tolerably pure at this point, but, being somewhat impregnated with vegetable matter, we preferred the mountain stream for drinking and cooking. The fish found in the lake above the falls are very numerous, all of the same variety, namely, a fine large species of trout; but, as many of them have long white worms in their flesh, we discontinued catching them. The fish did not seem to suffer from the effect of the worms, whose existence was probably due to the influence of warm or chemical springs found in many parts of the lake.
July 30 The party remained in camp at the lake. I attempted to cross with a small force to the opposite side of the river for the purpose of examining the eastern shore of the lake, and had a small raft constructed of pine logs sufficiently buoyant to sustain four men and as many horse-equipments. The horses were expected to swim. The river here at the outlet of the lake was deep, 400 yards wide, and the current swift. After several ineffectual attempts to get the animals across, the exploration was made on foot, the raft answering its purpose very well. We went as far south as Pelican Creek, about one mile from the mouth of the river. A long sand-bar here reaches out into the lake, the resort of numerous water-fowls. A large portion of the side of the mountain to the east is composed of white rock, evidently another vast warm-spring formation. One of our horses was taken sick to-day, with indications of poisoning. The attack, however, did not prove to be fatal.
The nights are beautiful in this valley. This evening's full moon, as it rose above the mountains beyond the lake, was reflected across to my camp in a broad belt of golden light as brilliant as the moon itself.
The thermometer descends from six to ten degrees below the freezing point, and yet the morning's sun melts the frost-work on the most delicate flowers without causing their bloom to fade or their leaves to wither.
July 31 I started to-day at 8 a.m. for the valley of the Madison, to examine the basin of the great geysers. From the representations of one of my packers I had determined to retrace my steps on the trail, back toward the Mud Springs about five miles, and then crossing the open prairie ten miles to the west, and after examining a system of boiling springs on its western verge, to strike directly over the dividing ridge, and through the unknown forest lying beyond. By this route I would have open country more than half the way, while by taking a more direct course the route would be through dense forests the entire distance. Dr. Hayden, with two or three of his party, proposed to accompany me, but, just before starting, changed his mind, and, piloted by two hunters whom we had met the previous day, and who were journeying towards the head-waters of the Madison upon a trapping expedition, started an hour before I was ready, by what they supposed to be a shorter route, entering the woods at once. On leaving the trail along the river's bank, I crossed a low ridge and entered upon a broad, smooth valley, leading nearly due west. This valley was occasionally intersected by ravines, in which were usually found cold mountain-streams of pure water. It was covered with grass and wild flowers in great profusion. Twenty-seven varieties of the latter have been already counted. Ten miles west of the river we came upon a very hot stream, formed from the overflow of a large system of springs in some respects more interesting than any we had yet encountered. One, with a curious crater, was constantly throwing up boiling water to the height of several feet. The crater is of calcareous rock, 6 feet in diameter, and bears a strong resemblance to a human ear. A beautiful branch joins this stream from the northwest, cool, and highly impregnated with alum. The water from these springs is remarkably clear and colorless, except that from a single one which had the bright color of gamboge. On both sides of the hot stream the ground is a soft, hot marsh, very dangerous to examine, and it is only in the immediate vicinity of the largest springs, where a rocky deposit has been formed, that one is entirely safe. A steam-jet flowing beneath the surface of the water into the stream, at one point presented a very interesting appearance and gave off a very novel sound, something like that made by the spindle of a spinning-machine.
Beyond these springs our course lay through a small but wild and pretty canyon, having five gates fifty feet in height, at intervals of about one hundred feet. Continuing two miles further up this winding ravine we reached a forest, where we encountered some difficulty from undergrowth and masses of fallen timber. For the first three miles, however, the wood was comparatively open and our progress easy. Then we came upon an immense area covered with sulphur-vents, each hillside containing thousands of these little crystal chambers, which, upon being broken into, sent forth quantities of sulphurous steam. In passing through the orifice from below, this vapor had been sublimated into beautiful crystals of pure sulphur, varying in dimensions from the size of a needle to the thickness of the finger, while some were even larger. The country presented the appearance of a vast lime-kiln in active combustion. The crust of soft white rock was exceedingly thin, requiring great caution in picking a route for the animals. We were soon on the crest of the divide between the waters of the Yellowstone and the Madison, and it became necessary to push on in order to reach water and grass before night-fall. The thick underbrush and fallen timber now became almost impassable, while the rough surface of the mountain, cut into sharp gorges, with rugged, precipitous sides, rendered anything like a straight course out of the question. The pack-animals suffered terribly; their packs were constantly disarranged and frequently torn open from severe contact with trees, and it often became necessary to cut our way through some of the worst places. Toiling on in this manner for five miles, but still making some progress toward the Madison Valley, we were overtaken by Dr. Hayden. In company we descended the mountain and eventually reached a branch of the Madison, where we camped for the night. This stream, we afterward ascertained, joins the Firehole River the main eastern fork of the Madison some eight miles further down. It is here fifteen feet wide and four feet in depth. The divide crossed to-day was not high only about a thousand feet above the valley on either side. The distance was twenty-five miles.
August 1 We discovered a brimstone valley about two miles up the stream, in which were a great many hot springs flowing into and raising the temperature of the creek. There are many of these brimstone basins, their general characteristics being about the same. I took the temperatures of many of the springs in this one, which were recorded as follows: Small white sulphur spring, temperature 128°; another, 5 feet across, with black deposit, 172°; a small bubbling spring, 170°; the hottest found in this basin, 199°. One beautiful spring, with light yellow deposit, 182°. These were the principal springs found in this basin. In addition to the springs, and covering the side of the valley, were numerous steam-jets issuing from little apertures, which were always found to contain beautiful specimens of crystalized sulphur.
I moved camp in the afternoon at half past 4 o'clock, following the course of the stream in a southwesterly direction, passing numerous hot springs from 140° to 190° of temperature, impregnated with various mineral salts, principally iron, alum, and sulphur.
A mile from camp we passed two very large springs, 20 and 40 feet across respectively. Another mile brought us to a warm creek, which I followed up, thinking there might be geysers towards its source, but found only another of the numerous brimstone basins. We soon struck a good trail, which led down the stream, crossing and recrossing as the necessity of the country demanded, and finally passed through a deep canyon with steep rocky walls on either side. After traveling about eight miles we came to the junction of the valley with that of another stream coming in from the south, which subsequent investigation proved to be the Firehole, or, more properly, the river of the geysers. Near the junction of the two valleys was a sharp conical butte, evidently of spring formation, as were also the extreme heights of the ridges between which we had been traveling.
Just beyond this butte the nearly level valley of the Firehole River appears some two miles across and three miles in length. At the southern extremity of this plain a high terraced hill was seen throwing up vast clouds of steam with occasional jets of water, while in many other directions, among the trees and on the sides of the valley, numerous steam columns were visible. The plain was covered with a whitish spongy soil, checked into squares in drying, showing evidences of having been recently overflowed. As it appeared boggy we passed around it to the eastward and ascended the large white hill composed of calcareous deposit, our horses occasionally breaking through its thin covering.
In returning to the point from which we entered this valley we rode directly across the plain, and found that it was marshy only in appearance. Half a mile back from the valley I found the train just unpacking in a beautiful park of firs with a broad meadow just in front. No artificial arrangement of trees could have been more perfect. I learned that one of the escort (Private Canter) had not come in with the rest and was probably lost. As I had given instructions to the whole party that, in case any one lost his way, he should return to the previous camp and there wait to be sent for, I did not feel very anxious regarding him. I gave the sergeant directions to return at daylight to the previous camp where the man would undoubtedly be found.
August 2 Canter did not come in during the night; Sergeant Blade and Private McConnel went in search of him at daylight, and found him at the old camp.
The group of hot springs or geysers forming the terraced hills of the south is very interesting, consisting of a large number of springs, ranging in size from a mere point to a hundred feet in diameter. Some are geysers having regular periods of activity, throwing up columns of water to the height, in some cases, of 30 or 40 feet. Many of the small ones seemed constantly active, but eject water only a few feet above the surface. One small geyser has periods of action every fifteen minutes, throwing a column of water 30 feet high. Another, with an irregular but beautifully formed crater, gave off occasional bursts of steam and water, shooting the latter to the height of 20 feet. The whole system, however, furnish at this date but a small quantity of water, forming a stream only 2 feet wide and 3 inches deep. A beautiful feature near this hill is a mud-spring, 150 feet across, containing about a thousand little jets of steam, each shooting up minute particles of fine, soft clay, worked ready for the molder. This clay was pure white, and capable of producing the finest porcelain. The clay of several other springs near by was beautifully tinted in pink and orange colors. The water from the geysers is nearly pure, though holding in solution silicates of lime and magnesia, which are slowly deposited at the craters in beautiful bead-like drops of infinite shape and variety. The craters are all low, showing their recent origin, being elevated but from 2 to 6 feet above their orifices, though the hill, which has been formed by the united efforts of all, rises 100 feet above the plain below. There are about a hundred thermal springs in this system, the largest being at the extreme height of the elevation. It is of a bright-blue color, 30 feet in depth, with rocky caverns beneath, the temperature being nearly up to the boiling-point. This is a geyser, having periods of action every twelve hours. Previous to an eruption the surface of the spring gradually rises about six inches, and expands over an adjacent pool, the whole covering about half an acre. Steam-bubbles issue from the caverns beneath, the temperature rises, larger jets of steam escape, accompanied with the bubbling up of the water. After an hour's preparation of this character a sudden rush of an immense and powerful mass of steam occurs, which carries with it a column of water to the height of 30 to 60 feet, spouting out in all directions, and descending in a shower upon the surrounding rock to the distance of 30 or 40 feet from the crater. The eruption lasts three-quarters of an hour, and a large quantity of water is discharged.
Between the present camp and the Firehole Valley is a group of beautiful springs, which in a country where these curiosities are not so common would receive much attention. One 4 by 5 feet in diameter, and 50 feet deep, is surrounded with a hard rocky rim. The water was a clear blue, whose temperature was 190°. Close by was a large spring, 10 by 20 feet across, having a soft slimy deposit impregnated with salts of iron, its temperature 126°, another, having a similar deposit, but formed in large sheets resembling raw hides in a vat. Across the plain to the west were found several mud-springs in a ravine near a small pond. Here tracks of deer, elk, and buffalo in great abundance were seen. Farther to the north was found another system of hot springs, shooting up plastic mud of a light gray color, having the consistency of thick cream. One of these springs was 100 feet across and contained ten craters, which threw up mud 8 feet high. The Firehole River at this point is a broad shallow stream from 100 to 200 feet in width, and about 2 feet deep. The bottom is hard lava, through which boiling springs bubble up in many places. The banks are often swampy, though in many places covered with calcareous rock deposited from warm springs. The creek upon which I encamped makes a bend to the north and enters the river a mile below. I descended the river six miles to ascertain at what point another branch, supposed to come in from the west, joins it. I found no streams entering this river from either side in that distance. The valley gradually contracts, and, after four miles, becomes a canyon difficult of passage. I was now satisfied that I had entered the Firehole Valley below or to the north of the great geysers, and decided to move to the south in search of them. Leaving directions for camp to move across the plain about two and a half miles and locate near the geyser-hill before mentioned, I ascended the river a distance of a mile further, and came upon another group of interesting springs, in some respects more beautiful than any yet discovered. A hill, sloping 50 feet up from the river's bank, down which five streams of boiling water in porcelain channels of variegated colors, varying from bright saffron to a deep vermilion, rippled over cascades worn in the terrace formation of the rock. Upon the crest of this hill, from which the rock sloped in all directions, was found a spring or small lake just even with the crest, 200 yards in diameter and nearly an exact circle. The middle waters were deep ultramarine blue, while its concentric rings varied through nearly all the colors of the rainbow, being green, yellow, orange, and red. The edges for some distance down the slope were a bright vermilion. Masses of vapor were constantly rising from the surface of this lake. Between this large spring and the river a huge chasm in the rock was found 100 feet long and 30 feet broad, revealing another spring of most astonishing beauty. The rock had evidently fallen in and disappeared in a cavity of great depth, as the sides of the chasm, some 15 feet high, were rough and ragged, showing quite a recent fracture. The depth of this spring was immense toward the center. The waters were as clear as crystal, and the color of turquoise. The caverns seemed lined with silver, and these extended in several directions beneath the hill. From the surface of the water a vast cloud of steam was constantly rising, producing an effect upon the mind of something terrible and unreal, and at the same time very fascinating. Another large spring, of a clear green color, and several smaller ones, were found in this group.
August 3 About ten miles west of our camp, beyond the river, and across several open patches of meadow containing numerous hot springs, where the water in many places spreads over low sunken ground, causing deep and dangerous warm marshes, stands a singular pair of buttes, almost identical in size and general appearance. A narrow ridge rising half way to their tops connects these mountains together. They are called the "Twin Buttes." In company with Dr. Hayden I ascended to the top of the first one, from which a fine view of the surrounding valley was obtained. These mountains are volcanic in their origin. An orifice at the base of a huge rock near the crest of the one I ascended still ejects a current of hot vapor, with a loud, hissing sound. The top of this butte was found to be 600 feet above the plain. I was disappointed in not obtaining a more extended view to the west, the trees in that direction growing quite to the top of the butte, allowing but a glimpse of the mountain range beyond. The west branch of the Madison is undoubtedly just over that range, a high, precipitous, and densely wooded ridge 1,509 feet in height, and very difficult of passage. To the east the view was less obstructed, and I was able to take in at a glance nearly the whole of the lower geyser basin, with its hundreds of boiling springs scattered through the valley, over an area of four miles in length by about two and a half in width. A steep precipice was observed to the south, its face looking exactly north, from whose crest a tiny stream descended in a narrow and graceful fall. I determined to visit this fall, and after a great deal of rough climbing over rocks, through deep and thickly wooded ravines, reached its foot. Here were some of the largest pines I had seen, towering upward a hundred feet, as though ambitious to reach the crest far above. The fall proved upon measurement to be a clean descent of 250 feet, and dropped into a shallow and pretty basin at the foot by the cliff. I named this fall the "Fairy." On climbing to the crest I picked up some beautiful specimens of jasper and agate, and plucked some lovely flowers of an unknown variety on the brink above. I had a severe climb up a nearly vertical rock, and on reaching the top was completely exhausted. I found a more easy point by which to descend. A very pretty cascade was discovered a few yards above the brink of the fall.
August 4 It rained last night, which is very unusual. The shower, however, was only a slight one, accompanied with a good deal of wind. A dense fog lay on the ground early this morning, but was soon dispelled by the rising sun. I sent the train up the river, with directions to proceed six or eight miles and go into camp, thus giving me an opportunity to explore the adjacent country for other thermal phenomena. A ravine to the southeast of the geyser-hill valley contains several large springs, which I had not yet examined. I took them in my route.
A lake of hot water, 100 by 200 feet in extent, was discovered; also a fine geyser, throwing water to the height of 50 feet. Beyond was a vast hot marsh, which I was obliged to skirt for a long distance, it being too soft to bear the weight of a horse. Here was discovered a very beautiful spring, having a scolloped curbing of rock 12 feet across, and surrounded by numerous pockets, in which were deposited a quantity of little pebbles as smooth as polished marble. I procured quite a number of these; also some other specimens of deposit, enameled with silica. In the center of this plat, about two miles in area, stands a crater 15 feet high, upon a basin of about the same height. This is an interesting crater, throwing a small stream to the height of about 6 feet. It is rapidly going to decay, the supply of deposit not equaling the amount expoliated by the action of the elements. It is soft and crumbling, and steam issues from its sides in many places. Around this plain the trees have been killed by the action of hot water, often overflowing the basin. Their trunks, for several feet from the ground, are denuded of bark, and are crusted with a white deposit of silicious rock. Continuing on to the southwest, through thickly timbered and broken country, Captain Heap and I reached the river at the site of the beautiful group of springs seen two days before. From this point onward, the mountains, from 800 to 1,200 feet in height, close in near the river, narrowing the valley to about a quarter of a mile, many beautiful and curious springs and small geysers were found at frequent intervals all along the banks of the river. Any one of these would be a study in itself, was there none other to demand attention. A pair of twin geysers was particularly noticeable, one throwing out sudden gusts of steam, the other responding regularly with a spout of water, 20 feet in height, at an oblique angle. Following the trail of the party in advance, occasionally losing it in the marshes and fallen timber, we hurried on, crossing and re-crossing the river in several places. The stream here has a fine rushing current, from 6 inches to 3 feet in depth, 50 yards wide, and flowing over a smooth, rocky bottom. The valley is well wooded with spruce, pine, and cedar, and is intersected by several cold streams as well as numerous warm ones.
Three miles beyond the twin geysers was found a system of hot springs and geysers, extending across the river and covering an area of several hundred acres. One of the most interesting of this group is a minute geyser emitting jets of water at intervals of every three minutes, in two or three convulsive puffs, to the height of 30 feet. The peculiarities of this crater are very marked, it having an entanglement of roots just at its opening. These have become incrusted and partially petrified with silicious deposit, causing them to resemble frosted silver. At the west side of this river at this point are ten large springs, three or more geysers, and numerous smaller springs, some of which are probably geysers. One of the large springs was exceedingly beautiful, being 15 by 18 feet across and gradually decreasing in diameter toward the bottom. The transparency of the water, though of a deep-blue color, rendered every outline of its sides as clear as if it contained but air. At the center the depth must have been 40 feet or more. Around and near this spring were dozens of little springs sputtering and hissing upon their own individual account. One hundred yards south of this transparent pool is a remarkably fantastic crater, consisting of a huge fissure in the rock, around which has been formed by deposits a most curiously wrought network of white mineral, resembling delicate tracing of frostwork. The river flows to the east, across which can be seen numerous steam-jets, while on this side are more than twenty between the large spring and the river. Many of the springs have double or twin craters. The rock in many places is thin and friable, and, upon being broken through, dark, smoking holes filled with boiling water or mud are revealed. It is not unusual to find springs within a few feet of each other, standing at a great difference of level; where both are boiling this is very remarkable. A triple geyser constantly in action deposits a substance resembling sponge, both in color and texture. Continuing up the stream we passed many single springs with lovely blue depths, also many steam-jets. In one large spring a pine tree had fallen, its whole top being submerged; the branches, cones, and needles were all completely incrusted with a rich coating of mineral, like frosted silver. It was fast becoming petrified, the wood already having partially changed into stone, being yet soft, having about the consistency of lard.
The valley now becomes wider, and soon another basin, containing an immense system of geysers, was entered. From their number and magnitude it seems probable that we had reached the Firehole Basin, described by Lieutenant Doane. Subsequent investigation proved this to be the case. This basin is two miles in length by about one-half mile in width, the river traversing it in a winding course, whose general direction is from southeast to northwest. The stream is very rapid, having a smooth bed of lava; is about 30 yards in width and from 6 inches to 3 feet in depth. The hills on either side are rocky and heavily wooded, rising from seven to twelve hundred feet above the valley, and nearly enclosing it. The scene, as we entered from below, was grand and imposing. Along both banks, and extending back into the forest, were numerous steam-jets rising in soft masses of cloudy vapor to the altitude of several hundred feet, while dotted over the whole extent of the basin were seen numerous columns of water in the form of fountains playing at various heights.
I found the camp located on the east side of the river, near a small pine grove, with good grass in the bottom. Soon after arriving a shout was heard near the hill-side, a hundred yards distant, and upon rushing out in that direction a huge mass of steam was seen issuing from a crater at the base of the hill, accompanied by a column of water rising to a height far exceeding that of any geyser I had yet seen. This grand fountain continued to play for several minutes, when dying down, I approached to obtain a closer view of the aperture whence had issued such a powerful stream. A sudden gush of steam drove me away, following which the water was again impelled upward and upward, far above the steam, till it seemed to have lost the controlling force of gravity, and that it would never cease to rise. The roar was like the sound of a tornado, but there was no apparent effort; a steady stream, very graceful, and perfectly vertical, except as a slight breeze may have waved it to and fro. Strong and smooth it continued to ascend like the stream from a powerful steam fire-engine. We were all lost in astonishment at the sudden and marvelous spectacle. The proportions of the fountain were perfect. The enthusiasm of the party was manifested in shouts of delight. Under the excitement of the moment it was estimated to be from three to five hundred feet in height. Comparing it with the Fairy Falls, seen the day before, which measured 250 feet, I have no hesitancy in stating that this geyser played to the height of over 200 feet. It commenced at 5 p.m., and continued twenty minutes. Three days were devoted to the examination of the springs in this basin, viz, the 5th, 6th, and 7th of August, during which period a special survey of the valley was made, and the height of some of the important geysers measured.
The longer I remained the more firmly I became convinced that a thorough solution of the wonders of this valley can only be obtained by long and patient investigation during the whole season, by a corps of observers stationed at several points in the basin, whose duty it shall be to accurately record every phenomenon attending each spring. During my stay I was only able to study the most general features of a very few. There may be many geysers, some perhaps more powerful than those I saw, whose period of action failed to occur while my party were in the basin. Indeed, the "Giantess," described by Lieutenant Doane as being the most wonderful geyser in the basin, was not seen to play by any of my party; while the fine geyser near my camp, named by me the "Comet," was entirely unnoticed by the party visiting the valley last summer. I made careful preparations to measure the height of the latter should it play again, but though I remained three days, principally for that purpose, the following displays occurred in the night, the intervals of rest being about twenty-eight or thirty hours.