III THROUGH THE GREAT GEYSER BASIN:
The Barlow Expedition of 1871 (continued)
GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF THE GREAT GEYSER BASIN
Entering the basin from the north and following the bank of the stream, whose direction is about northeast, a series of rapids near together is encountered where the river makes a sharp bend to the southwest, at which point is found a small steam-jet upon the right. A warm stream comes in from the left, falling over a bank 10 feet in height. A short distance beyond a second rapid is found, and then another about 100 yards farther on, where the gate of the geyser basin is entered. Here, on either side of the river, are two lively geysers, called the "Sentinels." The one on the left is in constant agitation, its waters revolving horizontally with great violence, and occasionally spouting upward to a height of 20 feet. Enormous masses of steam are ejected. The crater of this geyser is 3 feet by 10. The opposite "Sentinel" is not so constantly active, and is smaller. The rapids here are 200 yards in length, with a fall of 30 feet, following the bank of the river, whose general course is from the southeast, though with many windings. Two hundred and fifty yards from the gate we reach three geysers acting in concert. When in full action the display from them is very fine. The waters spread out in the shape of a fan, in consequence of which they have been named the "Fan" geysers. A plateau opposite the latter contains fifteen hot springs, of various characteristics. Some are of a deep-blue color, from sulphate of copper held in solution, and have fanciful caverns, distinctly visible below the surface of the water. The openings at the surface are often beautifully edged with delicately wrought figures of scolloped rock. One variety deposits a red or brown leathery substance, partially adhering to the sides and bottom of the cavern, and waving to and fro in the water like plank. The size of these springs varies from 5 to 40 feet in diameter. One hundred yards farther up the east side of the stream is found a double geyser. A stream from one of its orifices plays to the height of 80 or 90 feet, emitting large volumes of steam. From the formation of its crater it was named the "Well" geyser. Above is a fine swamp of cold water, opposite which, and just above the plateau previously mentioned, is found some of the most interesting and beautiful geysers of the whole basin. First we came upon two small geysers near a large spring of blue water, while a few yards beyond is seen the walls and arches of the "Grotto." This is an exceedingly intricate formation, 8 feet in height and 90 in circumference. It is hollowed into fantastic arches, with pillars and walls of almost indescribable variety. This geyser plays to the height of 60 feet several times during twenty-four hours. The water as it issues from its numerous apertures has a very striking and picturesque effect. Near the "Grotto" is a large crater, elevated 4 feet above the surface of the hill, having a rough-shaped opening, measuring 2 by 10-1/2 feet. Two hundred yards farther up are two very fine, large geysers, between which and the "Grotto" are two boiling springs. Proceeding a hundred and fifty yards farther, and passing two hot springs, a remarkable group of geysers is discovered. One of these has a large crater, 5 feet in diameter, shaped something like the base of a horn, one side broken down, the highest point being 15 feet above the mound on which it stands. This proved to be a tremendous geyser, and has been called the "Giant." It throws a column of water the size of the opening to the measured altitude of 130 feet, and continues the display for an hour and a half. The amount of water discharged was immense about equal in quantity to that in the river the volume of which during the eruption was doubled. But one eruption of this geyser was observed; its periodic times were not, therefore, determined. Another large crater close by has several orifices, and, with ten small jets surrounding it, formed, probably, one connected system. The hill built up by this group covers an acre of ground, and is 30 feet in height. Five hundred yards to the right, and partially concealed by an intervening growth of pines, stands a cone of white rock 40 feet high, which sends forth puffs of steam from a small orifice at its apex. It has probably been a splendid geyser, but now nearly extinct.
The deposits constantly forming at the mouth of the craters must eventually close the opening, necessitating the discharge of the water at some other point, and the geyser then becomes either a warm spring or a steam fountain.
From the cone a valley radiates westward, in which a number of interesting springs are found, one having a beautiful curbing of rock, built up in silicate scollops of a perfect pattern. Another has a basin 15 feet deep, its sides covered with obsidian pebbles, while a third has its cavity extending beneath the surface of the ground in the form of a cavern. In the timber between the latter springs and the river are found numerous evidences of extinct geysers. The rock is of the same formation, and broken here and there into sharp ravines and fissures, from whence steam and heated gases are constantly issuing. Two hundred yards above the "Giant," and near the river bank, is found a fine hot spring of deep water, 15 by 25 feet in diameter. Between the latter and the river are six small jets, with bubbling water beneath. Immediately opposite, on the east bank, is a broad plateau containing five large and small springs, and two boiling springs, one of the latter 40 feet in length. This throws a fountain from one end to the height of 60 feet, at irregular intervals for the space of ten minutes. Just above the latter, on the edge of the river's bank, are three minute springs, furnishing pretty rills a few inches wide, some 5 or 6 feet below. A hundred and fifty yards west of this are seven hot springs, from 10 to 20 feet across. In the river at this point is a small island, 100 feet in length, with a few pine trees at either end. Between the foot of the mountain and the river the east plateau widens out to 600 yards. Near the large bend in the river, on this plateau, sheltered by a small grove of pine, our camp was located. To the east is situated a very large blue spring, deep and clear, and in the vicinity are found numerous small holes, some bubbling, many discharging steam, and others quiescent. At the base of the mountain, farther south, is situated the "Comet" geyser, which gave us the grand display soon after reaching the basin. The crater of this geyser is very beautiful, though but slightly elevated above the general sloping of the plateau; it might easily be overlooked, should it not happen to play during the visit of an examining party. There are three openings, all of which are apparently connected with the reservoir below. One, a very small aperture, emits puffs of steam similar to the exhaust-pipe of a steam-engine. The large one, in the center, 6 feet across, boils violently during an explosion, but does not throw water to a great height.
The third opening is the geyser proper, from which a towering column ascends to the astonishing height of 200 feet. It is 12 by 18 inches in diameter, somewhat narrowed as it descends, and is of great depth, smooth and straight. These cavities are all lined with delicate deposit of rock, beautifully enameled with silica, in appearance as delicate as frost-work, but hard and strong, requiring the assistance of a hammer to detach fragments obtained as specimens. This deposit usually assumes a spherical form, the outer surface being incrusted with minute beads. Just south of this geyser are three large hot springs nearly in the same line. Near the river's bank, on this part of the plateau, are found eight hot or boiling springs, differing in temperature and appearance. One of these occupies the extreme point of a projecting promontory, and is in a state of constant ebullition. It deposits a saffron-colored crater 6 feet in diameter, of rare intricacy and beauty. A small one close by, 6 inches across, bears a strong resemblance to a shell. Opposite the latter is a small pearly-gray spring, 4 feet in diameter. Above the promontory the river flows to the northwest for 300 yards, above which point it again changes its course. The second point is marked by an old water-worn cone, fast crumbling away. Between camp and the large blue spring to the eastward is a curious mud-spring, the surface of which is 4 feet below the ground. It is 4 by 6 feet in diameter. The mud is a fine variety of blue clay, boiling-hot. A curious system of steam jets issues from the marshy ground just beyond. Directly opposite this and across is a violent little boiler, constantly shooting up water to the height of from 3 to 6 feet. Between the two angles of the river, deep, wide channels are being worn in the surface of the rock by streams of hot water flowing from the "Comet" geyser above. The second angle is also a promontory, and contains two geysers near its extreme point; also two large boiling springs, having saffron-colored curbs, rising several inches above the surrounding rocks.
Covering an acre and a half between the "Comet" and the river is a system of fifteen geysers and eight hot springs, varying from 6 inches to 6 feet in diameter; one of which is usually in action, there being scarcely a moment when all are quiet. Two or three of them are very beautiful fountains, with perfect basins of pure white rock, almost as fine as alabaster, while graceful jets of water shoot from their centers, 20 to 50 feet in height. A yellow stream from one flows through a golden-colored channel, from its orifice to the river. Exactly opposite the second promontory a small cone, 5 feet high and 6 feet in diameter, emits a steady flow of steam. Across the river, and 10 feet from its edge, an active geyser is seen, its crater 3 feet by 6 at the surface, and lined with a saffron-colored deposit. One hundred and fifty yards west of this spring, situated upon the crest of a hill, 40 feet above the river, is located the largest and most imposing crater in the basin. Its resemblance to a ruined castle or tower is wonderfully striking. In ascending this hill to the castle-crater the surface of the rock is found to be much broken, crumbling away and worn into channels by the water flowing from the geyser during its periods of action. The base of the castle-crater, on the east side, is 20 feet above the slope of the hill, and, on the west, it is even with it. It is 325 feet in circumference, and composed of partially disintegrated strata of calcareous rock.
The turret on the tower is 125 feet in circumference, and rises 20 feet above the base. Broken and crumbling masses of rock at the top give a good idea of the battlement turret. The whole structure is graceful in its proportions and details, resembling an old castle somewhat dilapidated. Even the appearance of port-holes is given by small apertures at several points in the turret and base. This geyser has frequent periods of eruption, throwing off a large quantity of steam. The discharge of water is not great, being but a small stream rising to the height of about 60 feet.
At the base is another crater, 8 feet across, having a probable connection with the main vent, and serving to decrease its force. Another small jet is found about 10 feet distant. Fifty yards east of the castle-crater is a beautiful deep spring of very hot water, of great depth, having a raised and scolloped rim a few inches in height, and 20 feet in diameter. This cavity contains perfectly transparent water, though of a blue color, and appears to be a hundred feet in depth. A sounding-line was found to descend 45 feet. Several small steam vents are found near this spring. To the eastward, and lying between the castle and the extreme end of the valley, the ground is swampy and incloses a lake nearly 75 yards in length. The plateau on the eastern side of the river rapidly converges to a point between the river and the timbered hill-side. Here a small stream comes in, fed from a large spring in the mountain-side a half mile to the east. Crossing the stream, another large geyser system is found, and consists of a hill 50 feet high, deposited from the waters of four geysers, situated close together upon its conical apex. These craters are elevated a few feet above the general surface of the crest, and are in a constant state of ebulition, sending forth clouds of steam, and, occasionally, jets of boiling water. One hundred yards to the south is a small bill, containing but one crater at its summit, very irregular and intricate, and leading to an immense cavern beneath the hill. The waters below are quiet. This spring has probably undergone a change from a geyser to a simple hot spring. In time the dome above will crumble and fall in, revealing one of those deep-blue hot springs so numerous in the geyser basins.
Between the two large hills are three small active hot springs, or geysers, from 1 to 3 feet in diameter. Fifty yards beyond bubble and sputter five or six others of about the same magnitude. In this part of the basin new springs are apparently forming; the crust is thin and brittle, rendering investigation somewhat difficult. Here is a large spring of very irregular shape, about 50 feet in diameter, with a thin crust extending several feet over its edge. Passing east and leaving the river 200 yards to the right, several small bubbling springs are found, while upon the crest of the next hillock, 150 yards distant from the group of four geysers called the Chimneys, is another dead geyser, having a high dome and crater, which covers a quiet spring below. Continuing east, over a thin treacherous crust, a fine boiling spring is found on the left, and on the crest of another elevation; fifty yards farther is an active boiler, 6 by 10 feet across, with a curbing 1 foot high and 3 feet thick built around it. On the same hill, and forming with this geyser the angle of a triangle, are two other deep springs, with craters, one 5 by 12 feet, the other 20 by 30 feet. One of these three is the Giantess, described by Lieutenant Doane as the most astonishing geyser in the basin. It did not play during either of the three days my party was in the valley, although it may have done so in the night. I am almost certain it played the last night of my stay, as I was awakened by the eruption of the "Comet," and heard, during its action, heavy concussions accompanied by vast bodies of steam rising from some point in its direction. Although the rock about this spring shows none of the bead-like deposit that is usually found at the geyser craters, yet from deep and wide channels reaching off to the river it may be inferred that heavy streams must at times flow down its surface. Eighty yards east of this group is a deep spring, 6 by 8 feet at the opening, filling a rocky cone 20 feet high and 400 feet in circumference. This has been a violent geyser, but seems to be so no longer. The cavity beneath is very wide, extending in all directions. The covering is of rock, a thin surface, in the form of a dome. There are a great many other springs in this part of the valley, a description of which would be nearly a repetition of what I have said regarding others. No two, however, are exactly alike. One large spring has a natural bridge across it in the center, the rock on either side having broken through.
The banks of the river here are steep and high, and have been elevated by the deposits from several springs still flowing, the water from which trickles down the sides in pretty rills of variegated colors. Upon the opposite, or western, side of the river, some three hundred yards from its bank, stands one of the most interesting craters of the entire basin. This magnificent geyser is the last of the system on leaving the valley to the south, and is situated upon a high eminence overlooking nearly its whole extent. The hill has been built up nearly a hundred feet above the river. The crater is a wonder of beautiful formation, rising by successive steps, or terraces, from its base, 480 feet in circumference, to a central apex 18 feet higher, where a huge fissure in the rock, 2 feet by 7, allows the escape of steam and hot water in a jet of grand and beautiful proportions. The formation of the surface of the upper part of the hill is a net-work of beads deposited upon curved surfaces of intricate design and beautiful coloring. The lace-maker might here find designs for his most exquisite fabrics in the delicate tracing formed round the edges of numerous pools of hot water, renewed every fifty minutes by the action of the fountain. These little pools are but a few inches in depth, are of various sizes, and lined with delicate gray on saffron-tinted porcelain. Around their edges are wrought shell-shaped scollops, which project over the water, having usually a contrasting color with the lining of the cells beneath. This deposit, so delicate and frail in appearance, is really as hard and strong as marble, and can be walked upon without injury. The opening of the crater is also very beautiful, formed of spherical masses of beads cemented together, and having the color of ashes of roses. These beautiful incrustations, from 12 inches to 4 feet in diameter, half way surround the crater, presenting a very beautiful aspect. The continuation of the aperture may be traced for 20 yards along the crest of the ridge, eastward, although now almost entirely closed up. Between its periods of action the crater remains empty for some time, but emits quantities of steam, with a rumbling and hissing sound. Just before the display occurs the water rises in the crater, a few convulsive gushes of water are thrown out, when, with an exhibition of mighty power, a column of water the size of the orifice majestically rises to the height of 138 feet. I obtained this measurement during one of its periods of action, though perhaps not its highest. The display lasts for five or six minutes, when the column becomes gradually shorter until it sinks entirely away, leaving a flood of hot water flowing down the hill-side to the river. Near by are two extinct geysers, their cones dilapidated and decaying under the influences of the climate, being no longer renewed by the hot-water deposits; one is entirely dead, while the other still emits some traces of steam from a small aperture at its apex. These cones are 250 feet in circumference and 10 feet high. Looking down the valley to the west, from the crater "Old Faithful," the view is superbly beautiful, and covers nearly the whole area of the geyser basin, with its thousand steam-jets and graceful fountains scattered so lavishly along both sides of the river, and surrounded with high inclosing hills clothed with rich foliage. No other locality, I think, can be found which combines so many attractions, both of climate and scenery. To the southward is another small valley, through which flows a stream one-half as large as the Firehole River, and which it joins two miles below. In this valley are also found numerous hot springs. These are not so remarkable as those already described. Among the most noticeable is a group of eight beautiful springs inclosed in a single rim of scolloped work 140 feet in length. The interior of this basin is lined with a rose-colored deposit. They are found upon the crest of an eminence, the sides of which have become incrusted with rocky deposits in all directions, and extending off into the adjacent forest, whose dead and withered trees bear evidence of the deadly effect of the hot water which has flowed among them.
Lieutenant Doane, from Fort Ellis, overtook my party while in this valley, bringing orders for the return of the general escort, except the six men previously detailed to accompany me, and six others, with Lieutenant Doane in command, who were to remain with Dr. Hayden's party. As we had seen no signs of Indians, this escort was considered quite sufficient. I had remained a day longer in this basin than I had at first intended, hoping to again witness a display of the Comet geyser and to obtain a photograph of this wonder, and also its exact height. I was disappointed, however, as the periods of action, after the first, occurred in the night-time. "Old Faithful" and the "Giant" were both measured and photographed while in action. By comparing these with the "Comet" the height of the latter can be approximately estimated, and was, undoubtedly, 200 feet.
On the morning of the 8th I resumed the journey up the valley of the Firehole River, intending to reach the Yellowstone Lake and join Dr. Hayden, who had started the day before. The route above the geyser basin soon became very rough; the banks of the river converged to a canyon whose sides were nearly precipitous, and covered with a dense growth of pine springing from among masses or rock. As we were leaving the valley "Old Faithful" gave us a splendid display by way of a parting salute. We followed the eastern bank of the river, as it seemed less densely wooded, for three miles along the edge of a steep, rocky, and entangled canyon. We now came upon two lovely cascades flowing through a wild cut in the mountain. From a projecting rock Mr. Hine obtained a view of this beautiful gorge and cataract. The country gradually becomes elevated as we advance, and thickly timbered with pine and spruce, intersected with mountain streams of pure cold water. About mid-day we passed a pretty little lake, 500 yards long and 150 yards wide, surrounded with high overhanging hills, their wooded slopes extending down to the water's edge. We found game and Indian trails during a part of the way, but as they usually bore too much to the westward we had to select our route across the country by the compass alone. At one time we ascended the back-bone of a sharp ridge, covered with small obsidian pebbles. From the crest of this ridge a magnificent view of the surrounding country was obtained. The summit was 9,500 feet above the sea, and 800 feet above the valley below. Into the valley beyond we now descended, and soon reached the shore of a lake, probably the Madison [Shoshone Lake], some six miles in length by four in width. We followed the stony and narrow beach about two miles, as far as it afforded a practicable footing for the animals. The rocky mountain-side now coming quite down into the lake itself, necessitated our leaving the shore and ascending the mountain to the eastward. After severe climbing, the height was finally gained, and proved to be of about the same elevation as the ridge crossed just before entering the lake valley. After a tedious and weary march, or rather scramble, through thick forests, over rocky ridges and swampy ravines, our course usually to the eastward, we finally reached a more open valley, leading toward the lake. Upon following this for five miles we were gladdened by a glimpse of the lake through an opening between the hills. Night-fall now approaching, the sight of the lake was very grateful. Pushing on with renewed energy we soon heard two shots, somewhat to the left of our route. We changed our course to that direction, and, crossing a spur of hills, came out at Dr. Hayden's camp, near a group of warm springs on the Yellowstone Lake. We had traveled twenty-five miles in the mountains, probably ten miles farther than the direct distance. Here we found some letters, brought by Lieutenant Doane from Fort Ellis.
August 9 I sent one of the packers and a member of my escort back to Bottler's Ranch this morning, with three pack-mules for the remainder of our provisions left there on our way up. These men are to return by the eastern shore and meet me in the Upper Valley of the Yellowstone, south of the lake. We are camped at the lake's southwest angle, near a large system of warm springs, and find an abundance of trout in the lake, which, like those previously taken in its waters, contain large white worms, rendering them unfit for eating. The hot springs here cover an area of forty or fifty acres, and extend 400 yards along the lake shore. They are similar in appearance to those heretofore described, though, in point of magnitude and number, generally inferior to those found in the Firehole basin. Their waters contain salts of iron and silica. One large spring, with an opening 5 feet by 7, is seen beneath the surface of the lake, near the shore, affording an opportunity for warm baths, which some of the party enjoyed. A small boiling spring near the shore is remarkable in having a bar across its opening, dividing the aperture into four equal parts. This arrangement served as a convenient clothes-boiler; the soiled articles being carried under the bar on one side, would come out washed at the other. One hundred yards back from the lake is an exceedingly interesting and intricate system of mud-springs, similar to those found in the Firehole basin. There are twelve or more craters, formed from the deposit of mud, varying in color from that of cream to light pink, the consistency of which is about that of soft putty. On exposure to the air the clay soon becomes as hard as chalk. It seems to be nearly pure alumina, containing small crystals of silver. Besides the active springs, there are found numerous hot-mud pools. There is great variety in the color and temperature of the warm springs forming the same group. This is general in all systems. The iron springs often deposit a reddish-brown substance, in flat sheets, floating on the water, and are generally less warm than the clear blue ones. The lake shore opposite the springs is composed of calcareous rock, brittle and easily acted upon by the waves, which have worn out deep caverns into which the rock is constantly crumbling. Few of the springs in this valley are now boiling, and no geysers are seen, though, from the appearance of several cones, I am led to believe that a number existed here at some previous time. The morning was rainy and clouds prevented astronomical observations at noon. Soon after the weather became clear, and I decided to move camp across the next peninsula and reach before night the rim of the lake beyond. Following the beach three and a half miles and fording two small inlets, the water of which reached the sides of the animals, we left the lake and struck across to the southeast through the forest, finding the timber quite open. We encountered two parallel ridges, between which was a system of small lily-ponds very difficult to cross. They are probably connected with a long, narrow lake still further toward the end of the peninsula. Near these ponds I found Dr. Hayden's trail, who left the previous camp early in the day. The country now became much rougher and obstructed with fallen timber. The slope leading to the lake on the opposite side of the peninsula was found to be very abrupt and the descent somewhat difficult. It was accomplished in safety, and we found ourselves in a charming valley at the head of a sharp arm of the lake, several miles in length, and bounded by high, rocky bluffs on either side, the one beyond rising in a yellow volcanic ridge, fifteen hundred feet above the valley, the upper portion to the north being a sheer precipice.
August 10 The weather last night was intensely cold, the mercury falling to 26°. The sun coming up bright and warm soon rendered the temperature agreeable. Dr. Hayden and I decided to separate here for a few days, he to take the line of the lake shore, while I purposed moving farther to the west, then following a course fifteen or twenty miles south of the lake, to meet him in the valley of the Upper Yellowstone.
To obtain a view of the country I was about to investigate, I determined to ascend the Yellow Mountain, towering immediately above our heads. Leaving Captain Heap to move the train in a southwesterly direction up the valley, and with directions to camp on the shore of a small lake supposed to lie about ten miles away in that direction, I, in company with Mr. Wood, set out to ascend the Yellow Ridge. The attempt was made from the north, and proved laborious, owing to the broken nature of the surface of the mountain, and the thick timber growing upon its lower slopes. It required two hours of tedious climbing to reach the summit, which was found to be 1,500 feet above the lake. A fine view, of many miles in extent, to the north and west, was obtained. This mountain forms a portion of one of several promontories jutting out into the lake. The great basin of the Yellowstone Lake lay spread out before me. Several other lakes, three or four miles in diameter, were observed to the west and southwest. There were four of these in sight from this mountain.
I now formed the opinion, which subsequent investigation strengthened, that all these small lakes are tributary to the Snake River, which drains the territory lying southwest of the Yellowstone Lake nearly up to its verge. To the southwest is a very conspicuous mountain, a sharp, bold peak, rising far above all others in its vicinity, its sides whitened with numerous fields of snow, while immediately at its base lies one of the pretty lakes just mentioned. The Yellowstone Lake, with its many indentations and its several islands, was spread out at my feet. The lofty volcanic range of mountains bordering its eastern shore rose almost from its waters, while the valley of the river stretched far away to the north, disappearing behind the "Elephant's Back," forty miles distant. Immediately beneath the mountain was the long narrow arm of the lake, at whose extreme point we had camped the night before, while just beyond lay the broad peninsula which we had so recently crossed; its two ridges and the inclosed lake and ponds were plainly visible. The descent to the southwest was difficult, over masses and fragments of volcanic rock, sharp and in some places treacherous to the tread, greatly demoralizing the horses, which were of course led and sometimes driven down the worst places. Before reaching the trail of the party we encountered, in the valley below, dense masses of fallen timber. It was near this valley, last year, that Mr. Everts became bewildered on losing his horse, and wandered for thirty-eight days in the great basin before being picked up, subsisting upon roots and insects. The trail, after it was found, was not very plain, being so greatly scattered in some places that it was almost impossible to trace it. It led over a low divide, separating a small stream upon which we had camped, and which flows into the Yellowstone Lake, from the valley, descending towards the south, and whose waters flow into the Snake River. This valley eventually joins another coming in from the northwest, through which flows a warm creek supplied from a large group of springs along its borders. This stream is 20 feet across, 18 inches in depth, and empties into the small lake at the base of the high snow-covered mountain seen in the morning. The lake is about five miles in length and three in breadth; and from its shape is called "Heart Lake." Here I found the remainder of my party except Mr. Hine the photographer, and one enlisted man. These two had gone back upon the trail of the previous day to find the tripod of the camera, which was missed on arriving in camp.
August 11 Mr. Hine did not come in during the night. I fear that he was unable to follow the trail and has therefore returned to the lake. I directed one of the best men of the party to go back there and show him the way to this camp. Taking Mr. Prout with me, I climbed the mountain near whose base we were encamped. Just at the foot of this mountain, near the lake shore, are four or five boiling springs, one of which is a geyser of considerable importance, throwing jets of water, at frequent intervals, to the height of 15 feet. The mountain is well timbered about half way to its top, the remaining portion of its slopes being bare, broken masses of rock, in many places rising in vertical walls of several hundred feet. We succeeded in taking our horses 1,600 feet above the lake; then leaving them at the base of a nearly precipitous ascent, several hundred feet in height, climbed to the summit without their assistance. Soon after leaving the horses I was obliged to abandon my carbine, the steepness of the acclivity requiring the aid of both hands. The rock of which this part of the mountain is composed was constantly disintegrating and sliding away in avalanches to the valley below. Immense fields of snow filled the gorges of the mountain, from which flowed icy-cold streams in torrents through the lower ravines. In reaching the summit, which was 3,000 feet above our camp, a wide stretch of country was visible in every direction. This mountain occupies about the center of the great basin. On the opposite side of the crest is a line of peaks, forming with this one nearly a circle round an immense conical valley, having the appearance of an extinct volcano.
The most striking object seen from this point of observation was the Teton range of mountains to the southwest, about sixty miles distant. This range rises high above the broad extent of intermediate country, which is drained by the numerous tributaries of the Snake and the Madison, and extends southward in an almost unbroken wall of steep and rocky cliffs, terminating in three sharp spires, so tall and slender that one is reminded of the mast of a ship. To the north the Yellowstone Lake, the mountain ascended yesterday, and the valley at its foot, were all distinctly visible. The outlets of the numerous small lakes in this portion of the great basin seemed to flow to the southward into the Snake River. The geology of this region is volcanic.
I gathered several specimens of rocks from this peak to take back with me. The western slope of this mountain is wooded with a scraggy growth of dwarf pines, bent nearly to the ground by the force of the west winds, and extending up the slope to near the crest, terminate in a line exactly parallel therewith. I passed westward along the connecting ridge to the nearest adjacent peak, where additional observations were taken. A fierce storm was now gathering among the peaks of the Tetons, which would probably soon cross the valley in this direction. I therefore determined to return to camp, descending obliquely across the face of the mountain, over immense tracts of snow lying in some instances 1,500 feet below the summit. These snow fields do not probably entirely disappear during the summer, and are replenished again early in September. This mountain I have named Mount Sheridan.
Aner, the man I sent in quest of Mr. Hine and private Lemans, returned without finding any traces of them. I was now a good deal alarmed for their safety, and determined to dispatch the whole available party early in the morning in search of them. The night came on wet and gloomy, an unpleasant prospect for men lost in the forest.
August 12 After a stormy night, the morning proved wet, cold, and dreary, with torrents of rain still falling. The day was spent in an organized search for the two lost members of our party. Captain Heap, with two men, went back upon the trail to the old camp, with directions to follow their tracks, if possible, until they came up with the men. With two others I took a northwesterly course across the country, hoping to find their trail, on the supposition that they had gone to one of the lakes in that direction. I followed the valley of the warm creek flowing into the lake near our camp. This stream has a rapid descent for two miles, and is fed by hundreds of hot and boiling springs of the same general character as those previously described.
I saw some traces of sulphur, and also indications of geysers, though none were playing. Through the day we had cold and sleety rains with occasional squalls of snow or hail. Continuing round the mountain to the lake lying at the foot of its westerly slope, I examined the beach carefully for signs of the lost people, but found none. This lake is about four miles in length, north and south, and two in breadth; is pear-shaped, with an outlet at its southern extremity. After continuing the search until near night, without finding any traces whatever of the lost men, it became evident that they could not have wandered so far away from the previous camp, and that the other party would probably find them. This supposition proved correct, as upon returning to the camp I was greatly relieved to find the whole party assembled again; the lost men having been recovered by Captain Heap's party at the other camp, to which they had just returned, after wandering two days in the woods. They had suffered very little, having killed a deer the second morning, which supplied their immediate necessities.
The following four days were occupied in making a circuit from this point around to the valley of the Upper Yellowstone. During this journey the route lay entirely among the various tributaries of Snake River. The ridges were invariably timbered, except the highest peaks, which were bare and rocky. The valleys, in many places, spread out into fine meadows, but were often contracted to narrow canyons, with steep and rocky walls, rendering their exploration difficult and often impossible. The first day but eight miles were made and our camp located at the confluence of two fine branches of Snake River, their united currents flowing to the southwest. This was a trout stream, the fish being very excellent, though shy and difficult to catch.
A broad swampy flat, covered with willows, extends across the angle formed by the two streams, with very little good grazing. The next day we followed down the stream to the southwest for about three miles, to its junction with another branch joining it from the east. We then followed up the valley of the latter, which led in the direction of a prominent mountain, from whose summit I obtained an extensive view of the country far to the eastward. To the north of this mountain lay a sharp ravine, from which ran the branch of Snake River which we had left that morning, and flowing nearly due west at this point. Farther up, to the eastward, the valley of the stream widened out into a beautiful meadow, which point I proposed reaching that afternoon. While I was making these observations, however, the train passed directly across the ridge into the valley below, where it went into camp for the night. This was a mistake, by which I lost the trail and nearly cost me the unpleasant experience of spending a night alone on the mountain, for, upon descending from the summit, and after searching for the trail in the direction I supposed the train had taken, and finding no traces of it, I was beginning to realize that either the train or I had become lost. Just then I observed a light smoke curling upward from the deep ravine three miles below. This served to guide me to the camp.
While upon the summit of the mountain, which I named Mount Hancock, I enjoyed an unparalleled view of a vast extent of country, bounded by the Gallatin Mountains and "Elephant's Back" on the north, the Yellowstone range on the east, the Wind River range on the south, and the Tetons on the west. Thus the whole of the great basin was in view from the same point. The summit of the mountain, which is 10,400 feet above the sea, is composed of large masses of lava, as sharp as though just broken, and showing no signs of disintegration.
From our camp, at the bottom of the ravine, we proceeded up the narrow valley of the creek upon the following morning, finding the trail exceedingly rough, winding over projecting mountain spurs and frequently disappearing in the forests. We were often obliged to follow the rugged bed of the stream at places where the nearly vertical walls of the canyon were inaccessible. The bed-rock of this stream is fine gray sandstone, and resembles the Ohio building-stone. The stream is one of the principal branches of Snake River, has a rapid current, and is subject to severe freshets. At this season it was about 200 feet broad, and generally about 12 inches deep. The banks are from 1,000 to 1,500 feet in height and densely wooded, principally with spruce and pine. Traces of bituminous coal were found along this stream. Six miles of rough traveling brought us to a much higher elevation, where the ravine widened out into a fine valley, the same that I had seen from the top of the mountain the previous day.
From the ridge upon the left I obtained a view of the Yellowstone Lake. This ridge seemed to be the divide between the waters of the Yellowstone and those of the Snake. A small pond which I observed upon the ridge, when full to overflowing, would probably furnish water to both rivers. This ridge is about 1,500 feet above the lake and twelve miles distant to its nearest point. A column of smoke was observed several miles to the northeast arising from burning forests, showing the whereabouts of Dr. Hayden's party.
The animals of my train, particularly the horses, were now becoming a good deal worn, showing signs of breaking down, while the mules were severely afflicted with saddle-galls. The condition of the animals made short daily marches necessary, though the grass was generally good and water abundant. Continuing eastward we crossed some very fine valleys on the 16th, and began the descent of the mountain range separating the waters of the Snake from those of the Upper Yellowstone. This range, upon its lower slopes, is thickly timbered, though by following the crests of radiating ridges less timber was encountered than in the ravine. Glimpses of the Tetons were observed to the southwest from time to time, though until the crest of the ridge was reached but little of the surrounding country could be examined, owing to the intervening timber. On reaching the summit, however, some 1,100 feet above the last camp, the view in all directions was grander and more impressive than any I had before seen. I was completely surrounded with wild mountains, whose sides were precipitous rocks 1,500 to 2,000 feet in height. The valleys were canyons. The summits of the mountains spread out into rolling prairies in many places, bearing grass and flowers. Small lakes were seen at frequent intervals, their waters supplied from the immense fields of snow, which undoubtedly remain during the entire summer. Signs of game abounded, among which were found tracks of the grizzly and the black bear, mountain sheep, elk, and deer.
Descending the valley to the east we found a small cold stream flowing northeast, which joins the Upper Yellowstone a few miles below. Here we went into camp, and with Mr. Prout I ascended the opposite mountain on foot. This proved to be a spur from a vast plateau reaching back to the south, between two branches of the Upper Yellowstone. From this plateau the Teton range to the southwest was distinctly visible, also a high basaltic wall on the south and east. To the northwest a distant view of the Yellowstone Lake was obtained, through a gap in the mountains. To the northeast stood a remarkable tower, crowning the crest of a very high mountain and bearing a striking resemblance to a castle. The valley to the north is a broad open plain, nearly level with the Yellowstone River, winding among masses of dense willows. A small sheet of water, which is called Lake Bridjer on the old maps, was seen in this valley. Returning to the camp across the plateau we encountered a large grizzly bear and cub. Not being armed or mounted we made a safe detour of the monster, and returned to camp.
On the 17th we moved down the valley, over a swampy and difficult country. The stream rapidly descends over a rocky bed, and finally plunges through a canyon, by which it enters the valley of the main river below. Passing to the left of this canyon, and descending a steep but thickly wooded terrace, we entered the valley of the Upper Yellowstone. This valley is nearly level, surrounded by conglomerate rock, so worn by the elements as to give them the appearance of basaltic formation. From this point to the Yellowstone Lake the distance is about eighteen miles, the valley being two and a half to three miles in breadth. The river here is, however, half as large as the Yellowstone below the lake, and is formed by the junction of five streams, which unite their waters near this point.
This part of the valley I named Five Forks. Between these streams are radiating mountain spurs rising 2,000 feet above the valley, adorned with upright columns and projecting terraces of great architectural beauty. Crossing the valley are several broad trails, which, it is said, were formerly used by the Indians in passing from the head-waters of Clark's Fork, on the Stinking River, to the valley of Snake River. It was my intention to have explored at least the principal branch of the Upper Yellowstone as far as practicable, but the condition of the animals was now such that I feared they could do little more than make the return march to Fort Ellis. Our provisions were just exhausted, and the arrival at this point of fresh supplies, sent for from the west side of the lake on the 9th instant, relieved my anxiety in that respect. These stores would, however, be no more than sufficient to last us to Fort Ellis, traveling as slowly as the poor condition of the animals rendered necessary.
From observations on the march through these mountains, and from information derived from the packers who accompanied me, I am led to believe that a practicable road possibly a railway can be constructed from the Yellowstone Lake south to Snake River in the direction of the Tetons. The connection, however, of the Upper Yellowstone with that of the Wind River would be attended with great difficulties. An attempt to follow the Yellowstone to its source, then to cross the lofty range of mountains separating it from the Wind River, would, I think, with pack-animals in good condition, be attended with success; and although no pass through this range in this vicinity has yet been discovered, it is possible that a narrow one may exist. A glance at the map will show a natural route for a railroad, connecting the Pacific lines, by way of the Yellowstone, were it not for the difficulties to be met at this one point.
The 18th and 19th were passed in marching from the valley of Five Forks down the Upper Yellowstone to its mouth at the lake. This valley becomes wider as we descend, and continues nearly level, the river winding from side to side among dense willows and swamps, and rendering it necessary in traveling to keep along the base of the mountain. The hills and the mountain-slopes above are all thickly clothed with timber. The small streams flowing into the river were invariably obstructed with numerous beaver-dams, which form a continuous chain of ponds through the smaller valleys. About half way down the valley I descended the ridge to the east, crowned by the castle-topped summit above mentioned. The walls of this rock were about 400 feet in height, vertical, and in some places inclining outward. I spent an hour trying to find a fissure through which I could ascend to its top, but without success. The elevation of the mountain at the base of the tower is 2,000 feet above the valley. The height of the loftiest pinnacle of the tower is probably 10,500 feet above the sea. The rock is composed, for a distance of 20 feet above its base, of conglomerate, the same as the material of the ridge below, while farther above are strata of fine hard sandstone, the extreme top being of lava. In the east side were two large caverns with arches supported by a pier of fine proportions. A rain-storm now coming on, I descended the mountain (this mountain was named Mount Humphreys) and encountered a small lake on the way. The storm increased, rendering the passage through thick undergrowth anything but pleasant. I finally reached camp on the lake-shore just beyond the mouth of the river, thoroughly drenched.
August 20 We experienced last night the singular sensation of an earthquake. There were two shocks, the first one being quite severe, accompanied by a rumbling and rushing sound. The morning broke clear and bright. I was anxious to overtake the other party, which had already moved northward. I learned from Barouch, who brought up my supplies, that the doctor's party were now probably near the outlet of the lake, twenty miles beyond. As this distance would be a long day's march in the present state of the animals, I concluded to divide it into two marches, and started at 1 o'clock with the intention of moving about eight miles on that day. Leaving the train in Captain Heap's charge, to be conducted along the shore of the lake, I ascended the mountain-slope rising to the east. Upon this slope I found numerous evidences of warm sulphur-springs, though none which were particularly noteworthy. In overtaking the train six miles from camp, I learned that the party were laboring under great excitement regarding Indians, the feeling being that a considerable party were in our vicinity, but were concealed in the forests awaiting a favorable opportunity to attack us. Although I had little apprehension on that score, having seen no evidence of Indians whatever, I deemed it prudent to continue the march along the lake-shore, and make a junction with the other party as soon as possible. This march was made hurriedly. The country was not, however, remarkable, being thickly timbered and rising rapidly from the lake to the mountain range beyond. Several streams, of no great magnitude, rising in the mountain range, were crossed during this day's march. We found the doctor's camp within four miles of the outlet of the lake, situated near a small rocky promontory called "Steamboat Point." This name is derived from a large and violent steam-vent, throwing out a vast volume of steam in heavy and regular concussions.
August 21 Remained in this camp during the day, allowing the animals to rest after their hard march of the day before. A small party returned upon the trail to recover a mule which had strayed from the train yesterday. In this search they were successful, and returned with the mule toward night. Besides the large steam-vent, which is the distinguishing feature of this locality, there are many smaller ones and several sulphur springs. The rock is of volcanic origin, immense masses of which are distributed in wild confusion along the shore. Frequent earthquake-shocks were felt by the party while at this camp. At such times the large steam-vent became more active, sending forth increased masses of steam with the roar of a cataract.
On the 22d I left Dr. Hayden's party continuing their geological investigations at Steamboat Point, and moved down the east bank of the Yellowstone as far as the falls. The course lay along the lake beach for about two miles, upon which I gathered several interesting specimens of mineral. Leaving the beach, we crossed a small prairie to the northwest, and entered a dense wood. Here the fallen timber delayed our march about ten hours. Beyond this we crossed Pelican Creek, a small stream coming in from the northeast. Beyond this stream I found the country more open, with occasional groves and parks of meadow land. On reaching the bank of the Yellowstone a fine broad trail was found, upon which, through shady avenues of pines, our train traveled without difficulty. About 1 p.m. we arrived opposite the mud-spring and volcano, seen on our route up the river. The volcano was still sending forth its vast columns of steam far above the surrounding hills. Here on this side were several small rills of icy cold water, pouring from the side of the mountain in rapid streams as from a hydrant. On reaching the falls we went into camp on a small grassy plateau, fifty yards from the brink of the upper fall, and immediately above the rapids. Just below the fall I descended to the bottom of the canyon, 200 feet in depth. In this little canyon, just between the upper and lower falls, were caught some very fine specimens of trout. During the night the concussion caused by the falling water reminded me of the earthquake felt on the lakes a few nights previous.
August 23 I determined to remain over here to-day for the purpose of exploring the grand canyon below the lower falls. I expected this to be an undertaking of great difficulty, and attended with some danger; but entering a sharp and narrow gorge or fissure in the side of the canyon, immediately below the great fall, I found the descent much easier than was anticipated. It proved to be very steep; but the rock being solid, with projecting angles, there was little danger to a careful climber. A slope of loose and finely broken rock, a hundred feet in height, moist from the falling spray, terminated the descent. Sliding to the bottom of this slope, I stood on the foot of the great fall, 350 feet below its crest, the walls of the canyon rising 700 feet. My first impression on beholding this fall from below was one of disappointment; it did not appear as high as I expected. The fall, however, was grand, and presented a symmetrical and unbroken sheet of foam, set in dark masses of rock, while rainbows were formed in the spray from almost every point of view. The steep rocks near the falls, constantly wet with rising mist, were covered with vegetation of an intensely green color. The river below runs with the velocity of a torrent, rushing down declivities, spinning round sharp angles, and dashing itself into spray at every turn. The walls of the canyon are composed of soft disintegrating rock, the prominent color being yellow, intermixed with various shades of gray and red. The rocks are constantly crumbling down, leaving steep ridges and sharp pinnacles hundreds of feet in height, standing out from the walls. I found it impossible to follow the bed of the stream, the steep and slippery side affording no footing whatever, and crumbling at the slightest touch. A view of the canyon from any point is very impressive, particularly so from the foot of the great fall. After ascending from the canyon I followed its eastern crest several miles down, finding that the depth increased rapidly, owing to the rising ground on approaching the cut through the "Elephant's Back," and also to the descent of the river, down numerous cascades along its channel. The views at all times were grand and magnificent.
August 24 We have suffered a few days past from the buffalo gnat, a small fly, which attacks men and horses, causing severe swelling and itching. We encountered them in the greatest numbers near the outlet of the lake, and brought some of them with us to this camp. They are the first insects that have given us serious annoyance.
From our camp at the falls we struck across to the northeast toward the valley of the East Fork, making only nine miles the first day, owing partly to a late start, caused by the straying of several animals just before packing. Our course was along the valley of "Sour Creek," so named from its perceptibly acid taste. The country was at first generally open, though soon after passing a ridge and valley covered with steam jets the hills became more heavily timbered. On reaching a fine valley with cold streams coming in from the southeast, I went into camp for the night, and early on the morning of the 25th resumed the march toward the East Fork, continuing in a northeasterly direction. Very little was known of the intervening country, though it was generally understood that a high mountain range would have to be crossed; that there were deep and rugged ravines, with masses of heavy timber to be passed through. The animals were nearly worn out, and I almost regretted this detour from a straight line to Fort Ellis. We followed up for two miles a branch of the creek on which we had encamped, through groves of spruce, with open parks at intervals. The whole region is filled with signs of warm-spring formation and brimstone basins, with occasional swamps of volcanic mud. On leaving the open valley the wood abounded with game-tracks, several elk and deer being seen just in advance of our train. We now entered a forest of fallen timber, and ascended a high ridge about 800 feet in elevation, thence across a swift stream flowing over a bed of yellow lava.
Beyond the next ridge was found another pretty stream, having a white chalky bottom. Both flow into the grand canyon of the Yellowstone. Steaming sulphur-jets were discovered on the banks of White Creek. We now began the ascent of the mountain-chain, following up the valley of a small cold stream coming in from the east. The banks on either side of this valley are 800 feet in height. This ravine led far up the ridge, where, after climbing a short steep ascent, we found ourselves on the crest of the divide between the Yellowstone and the East Fork, 10,000 feet above the sea and 2,000 feet above the valleys of these rivers. The descent of the valley of the East Fork was over a rolling country, a good deal cut up by ravines and water-courses. The distance from the crest of the ridge to the valley was about six miles, and the difference of elevation 2,300 feet. The last two miles were very steep and rocky, and severely worried the animals. The horse of one of the escort gave out before ascending the crest of the divide, and had to be abandoned. We entered the valley at the junction of two branches of the East Fork, one coming in from the east, the other from the southeast. The valley at the forks of this stream is four miles wide, and is a rolling prairie, with groves of trees and thickets of willows along the river banks. The larger branch forks about three miles up, and still a few miles above breaks into numerous small streams, finding their source in the high mountain range to the east. Many peaks of this range are distinctly seen from this part of the valley. They are very conspicuous, rising probably more than 12,000 feet above the sea. I expected to have met Dr. Hayden's party in this valley, but saw his train depart down the river just as I descended the mountain. Numerous bands of antelope were seen skipping over the prairie while we remained in the valley.
August 26 I had intended sending the train down the valley and across the Yellowstone River to-day, while I would overtake it, after ascending one of the mountain-spurs in this vicinity for observations upon the surrounding country. But as the morning broke dark and rainy, the latter part of my plan was abandoned, and I accompanied the train on its march down the valley. We kept along the foot of the hills, on the southern side of the river, avoiding swamps and stony places nearer the stream. The valley is from two to five miles wide, the soil generally poor, except immediately along the river's banks, where many of its terraces are fertile, and would probably answer well for general farming purposes. The mountains on either side continue down to the Yellowstone Valley, though broken by ravines, through which issue small mountain streams. The largest of these joins the East Fork near its mouth, coming in from the northeast, and is called "Slough Creek." We crossed the Yellowstone upon the bridge noted on my route up the river, and halted near the old camp at Meadow Brook. Here the tents were pitched and we remained over the following day, allowing the animals to obtain food and rest. Two packers crossed the river and returned the next day, bringing with them the carcasses of an elk and deer. We were now provided with fresh meat for the remainder of the journey.
August 28 We set out upon the return to Fort Ellis by the same trail over which we passed more than a month ago. Ascending the mountain's side, familiar objects met the view at every step. We soon reached the little canyon at the crest of a mountain 1,400 feet above our camp of Meadow Brook. Making a cut-off here, we passed over a hill literally covered with agates, many beautiful specimens of which I gathered as I passed along. Thence across Black-Tail Deer Creek, down the canyon of Gardner's River, and, arriving at the "Soda Mountain," camped at the foot of its eastern slope, in a small ravine containing a spring of cold water. A luxurious bath-tub has been hollowed from the slope of the rock, having both hot and cold water conducted to it, in which I took a delicious bath. My impressions of this mountain of springs, formed a month ago, were not quite realized now; still, it is very beautiful, and should be classed among the first natural curiosities of the region. As we passed down the valley the following day, to the little canyon of the Yellowstone, the trail seemed very easy. The hill-sides are barren, the grass dried up, and the contrast from the luxuriant vegetation of the lake basin was very marked.
From John W. Barlow, "Report of a Reconnaisance of the Basin of the Upper Yellowstone in 1871." S. Exec. Doc. 66, 42d Cong., 2d sess. (1872).