Great NebraskaNaturalists and Scientists
Sketches and Notes Taken From My Notebook of 1878
From Omaha to Ogden.
Noon on the 2nd day of August 1878 found me seated in one of the elegant cushioned
seats of a western bound coach of the Union Pacific Railroad. I had to determined
to spend a few months among the rock recesses of the “Backbone” of the continent,
and had succeeded in “getting all aboard” in ample time to allow me to collect my
scattered thoughts before the train pulled out from the depot. It must be remembered
that I was a novice in travelling, and to get my baggage, luncheon and ticket matters
arranged, was no small matter. All these seemed to occupy a great deal of valuable
time, and caused not a little uneasiness on my part lest I be left: and I must confess,
that I began to wish I had remained at home as the thoughts of bygone years with their
horrors came up to my mind while waiting for the start. Suddenly, however, my revere
was broken by the shrill whistle of the locomotive as it sounded “all aboard,” and
we were of for the “Wide West.” As we steamed out of the depot I could not help but
recall Horace Greeley’s advice “young man, go west,” and to think I was now following
it; but perhaps with quite a different object in view than that for which he directed
them to go west.
There are times when one can think of the departed good, but they are not when he
is just starting on his first tour across the continent and is brim full of imaginations
and expectations. As this trip was contemplated soley for seeing and studying nature
in its various phases and beauties, I had but little time to devote to meditations
upon poor old Horace and what he had to say to the rising generations.
Immediately after leaving Omaha, the railroad passes through a stretch of county made
up of gently slopping hills and beautiful valleys which, with their dress of emeraled
grasses and gaily tinted flowers, remind one of Fairyland. As the train glides smoothly
along, the ever changing scenery is like balm to the invalid and robust alike as they
drink it in. The occasional beautiful groves with their sheltered cottages that ever
and anon seem to come and go, remind one of the existence of happy fellow mortals who have come to this “Fairy Eden” to live. The hills too, were
dotted with herds of sleek, fat cattle that quitely lay basking in the sunshine, or browsed upon the sweet and nutritious grasses that
everywhere cover the earth like a carpet of green velvet. All nature seemed to be
in its holiday garb, and every living thing appeared to be rejoicing on this fine
summer day. I wonder how it will be on the Laramie plains? Is all so happy there where
death overtook so many a one of the goldseekers in years gone by?
All along we saw myriads of gaudy insects in their merry games of lieu as they chased
one another from flower to flower, or skimmed over the sward. The numerous little
feathered creatures too, which like so many animated music-boxes helped at gladdening
us, and in enlivening the scene with strains of the richest, purest, sweetest music,
were not less attractive. Still this was journeying along in what is, or used to be
call, the American Desert!
I cannot tell why it is, but to me there is no country so beautiful as one composed
of hills and valleys; and wherever these are present; my notion of the beautiful is
realized. Even should they be entirely destitute of vegetation, as long as the hills
and valleys with that ever attractive feature which I cannot describe is present,
I will continue to look upon them with pleasure. It is true that; at times, one may
become tired of even the mot beautiful and attractive scenery; but ere long he will
again yearn to have another glimpse of it.
When we came to the Elkhorn River with is broad, fertile valley, the aspect changed,
and for the remaining hours of the afternoon we were gliding over the famous Platte
Valley, which is almost as level as a floor. To say that this valley is not attractive
to the sight-seeing tourist would be an untruth. It is but another plan by which the
beautiful can be illustrated. It is true
that is does not contain so many nooks in which are hidden choice bits of scenery;
nor is the diversity so great as is to be found among hills; yet there is a certain
peculiar attraction in this wide expanse of undulating grasses that one can’t well
resist – neither does he desire to do so. In looking out of the car windows as he
almost flies along, the tourist is reminded of a flying passage upon some great expanse
of water; and yet a certain calm and contented feeling steals over him as he looks
across the vast sea of waving grasses, with its islands of tress and ripening corn,
that does not while sailing upon the bosom of the Mighty Deep; – there is more of the appearance of terra firma in it. Everything is so tranquil that it becomes contagious, and a feeling of contentment
slowly steals over him. In straining one’s eyes a little, he can see the bluffs on
either side in the dim, blue distance, and thus has a picturesque back-ground to the
panorama before him.
During our journey over this green sea of vegetation we were frequently witnesses
of what the tourist imagines to be large crystal lakes, with their rocky shores and
wooded islands. These, however, are not marked upon the maps, and often puzzle such
tourists as are not versed in the optical illusions of prairie countries in our crystalline
atmosphere. They, like the weary wanderers of the Sahara, are made victims of “mock
grandeur” by the refraction of several strata
of variously heated atmosphere. They have not yet learned that there are frauds in nature as well as in art; and that these seemingly beautiful bodies of water are
the productions of idle Fancy with which to while away her time and deceive unwary
man. Thus, in traversing this level and seemingly unattractive region, one is not
only witness of its own particular beauties, but also those of California and Switzerland.
The country thus far is pictured here and there by farms and villages which bespeak
the existance of happy and prosperous fellow travelers to the “Bar of Justice who have come here to live, and have cast their lot upon the sea of prairies. These
mortals appear to be doing well, and thus prove to the world the great riches of Nebraska’s
idle soil, of which hundreds of thousands acres can still be obtained for a mere bauble.
Just at nightfall a thunder-storm came up from the west, and during its progress the
sight was magnificent and awe-inspiring in the extreme. Every now and then the angry
clouds discharged their firey contents which lit up the surrounding country for miles
as it darted to the earth. Then all seemed chaos, and the train seemed to be flying
in space until
the another flash restored it to terra firma. This battle of the elements continued for several hours in all its fury: yet occasionally
obtained many glimpses of the surrounding prairies during the short intervals of light.
The thought has occurred to me that electriciy was designed as the true source of
light — especially in great darkness. It is so bright and so very soft and pleasant
to the eye. And why should it not be? The Ruler of the day and night manufactures
it for His own use. The din of nature’s artillery was terrible, while the shriek of
the locomotive, as we drew near to the various stations brought to mind Tim O’Shanter’s
wild night among the demons of the earth and air.
At about 2 o’clock in the morning the clouds cleared away and permitted the gentle
moon to shine upon one of the most enchanting scenes that I was ever permitted to
look upon. Just at this moment we came close up to the waters of the trecherous Platte, at this place exceedingly picturesque — at least by moon-light. For a distance
of six or eight miles the river is quite wide and literally crowded with beautiful green islands. These vary from a few feet
to several hundred yards in circumference, and appeared like so many emeralds set
in the midst of a broad, still lake of liquid silver; while the moon seemed to be some great fairy conveyance that silently skimmed along its smooth surface, it was reflected
so perfect. Such superb grandeur as this is not often seen by a person during his
limited stay in this world; and if Paradise
is half so beautiful it certainly is to be sought after! What earthly use can these
little sports of meadow be, stuck out in the waters as they are, if not to please
man? Was this the first time they made such a pleasing impression upon the minds of
a few insignificant human beings that were on their way toward the mighty Pacific,
or had the often gladdened others as they did us? Setting aside such questions as
these, we know for a certain that there was an object in making such a beautiful picture
of this precise locality. It gave us something pleasant to think of while crossing
the monotonous plains, as well as to sooth our exceitment from the past storm.
After leaving the Platte we first struck what might be called the eastern boundary
of the plains. It was here where we first saw the wonderful plant known as the Leaf
Cactus or Prickley-pear, a plant so varied and abundant throughout the West; also,
in certain localities where the species are large, it forms almost impassable barriers
to man. The Sage or artemesia is first seen here, though it is only upon the boundless plains and rocky fastnesses
of the far-west that it attains the greatest perfection. Here too, the first Antelope,
cayotes and other denizens of the plains were seen.
It always was a mystery to me to know how so many animals could exist on
the almost desert plains; but now it is no longer a mystery. Almost the entire area
between the Platte River this side of Sidney, and the mts. at Cheyenne is coverred with Prairie dog towns in which millions of these peculiar little rodents live and
flourish and sustain the large army of parasites that always hang about the premises
of these sociable marmots.
I can see no reason why such inoffensive little creatures, as are the prairie-dogs,
should have their domestic tranquility broken by such obnoxious intruders as snakes,
weasels, skunks, badgers, wolves and owls: yet it is a fact that wherever these pretty
little creatures assemble, many other species — as the above — hang about. Neither
are their intentions always peacable. Everyone of these animals are carnivorous and
the flesh of marmots is delicious to such gastronomes as they are. I cannot be persuaded
that the “Sage owls nurse the younger dogs, while the young and less wise owls take care of the older
dogs that creep about and play along the galleries of the under-ground passages which
lead from one house to another; neither do I believe that, “Where it is could the
friendly rattlesnakes gently coil themselves about the tender young dogs to keep them
warm.” These owls and rattlesnakes, of which we hear to much, must surely at time
feel the need of nourishment, and when it can be had so near, they certainly do not
in search of it, but they occasionally gently “take in” a young dog. No, these different
animals do not live together in the “the greatest harmony.” The owls and snakes are
guests self appointed and would gladly and thankfully be dismissed by their hosts,
if such a thing were possible. They are parasites, and as such hang about to the final
destruction of their unwilling hosts.
The only animal, however, that is at home on the plains wherever night overtakes him
in the jack-rabbit. This peculiar amalgamation of gray hair, long ears and short tail,
can be seen at almost all points along the Union Pacific between Sidney and Ogden,
and from thence as far north and south as sage-brush grows. As the train glides by
he will start out from his napping-place in some cluster of bushes or grass near by,
and hop away in the most complacent manner imaginable. This movement is performed
by a succession of graceful bounds varying from a few feet to fifteen or twenty yards
in length, and with such seeming grace and ease that a looker on imagines he could
do the same with a little practice. He forgets that Mr. Jack is going in the same
direction as the grain and that when he imagines him to going at but a gentle speed
it is but that much faster than 30 miles an hour. Confidentially, he is the only thing
that cannot be out done by “double-geared lightning.
Between the place where we last saw the
muddy waters of the Platte and Sidney, the earth on both sides of the railroad was
rendered less monotonous by the various species of flowers that grew up among the
stray cactuses and short grasses. One of the most beautiful of these is a species
of bush morning-glory. It grows upon a bushy plant, which reminds one of a tumble-weed
with clusters of beautiful large deep red flowers upon it. It is altogether unlike
all our others morning-glories with its pinnated leaves and absence of climing habits. One never suspects that there are one fourth the part of the queer departures from the ordinary types among animals or plants that
there are, until he sees them; and then very often it is hard to believe his own eyes.
In passing along over the plains, the scenery varies but little; and, as a rule, is
made up of an almost level surface composed of a sort of clayey soil mixed with sand
and gravel, and covered by a short growth of grasses, cactuses and sage brush, with
here and there a stray primrose, poppy or dandelion. These flowers are some of the
most popular varieties, yet in the absence of the more beautiful ones they have a
tendency to render less monotonous this vast region of scorched grasses and herbs,
besides cheering the weary traveller as he plods along day after day over this gray
monotony of nature. I often think
that the most deserving receive the least amount of homage. So it is with these little
gems of the distant prairies. Why is it? Is it because they along will condescend
to open their joyful countenances to the commonplace objects of the plains? Yes,
that is just why these little beauties are so much sneered at. They are too common-place in their ways of life and in
choosing their associates, nevertheless they were made and are watched over by the
same wise Ruler. Because the proud, stiff beauties of flower-gardens, cannot put up
with such an ordinary mode of existence as life on the plains these less assuming
little flowers have taken their stand where they can do the most good. Like true missionaries
they brave the rigors of a desert country to spread truth and happiness. They know that even a little dandelion, when growing
by the wayside can do much toward brightening the the weared mind of the almost succumbing traveller and infuse new life into his wearied
At Pine Bluffs this almost endless monotony is partially broken by the cliffs of limestone that rise above the
surrounding country. These are dotted by a few sickly looking dwarfed pines; but otherwise
there is little else to occupy one’s mind, unless he revert to times past when emigrants
a fight at this place with the dusky savages that roamed over this unbroken waste
and subsisted upon what spoils they obtained by waylaying solitary pioneers.
There are times when one becomes so completely enwrapped in what he sees that he is
totally unconscious of all else. This was true with reference to myself when we first
came in sight of the grand old Rockies, and I do verily believe that the train might
have been ditched without my knowing it, so completely was I absorbed in the dream-like
vision before me. So different did they appear from anything I had ever seen before,
or from what I had imagined they would that I was at a loss to find the proper language
to express my feelings — so overcome was I by the grand spectacle before me that all
I could do was to sit still and stare in amazement. I was wondersticken.
To give a description of the Rockies as they appeared to me in the distance would
be impossible; nor do I consider myself capable of doing them even passable justice by trying. No one can describe a scene in nature so acurately as
to convey a correct idea of it to another, and for me, one altogether ignorant in
the art of descriptive
writing, to undertake to sketch in words this magnificent panorama of beauty would
I have been much interested in all the various works of Nature since childhood, and
have gazed with admiration upon various sights that I considered without parallels;
yet, when those grand old monuments of bygone ages loomed into sight, all these vanished
into the background of dim recollection, and appeared as trifles when compared with
those huge rock masses whose summits were lost among the clouds and crowned with perpetual
snow. To call them mere piles of rock and earth, with here and there a tree to give
variation might satisfy some; but to me they were more, and as such must at least
receive a passing notice.
For three long hours they were a strong magnet from which I could scarcely withdraw
my gaze for more than a moment at a time, and then only to notice some picturesque
ledge of rocks with its decorations of ferns, mosses, and lychens; or, perhaps to
view some gently sloping hillside with its garb of velvety grasses interlaced with
flowers of the most brilliant hues and fascinating forms; or it may be, to notice
the ghastly skeleton of some wreck of life that lay whitening in the sun and relating
volumes of doleful tales of hardwhip and woe.
At Cheyenne we lost sight of the magnificent view, and were given a short time for
reflecting upon what we had just seen. How very much it seemed like awakening from
a pleasant dream of a journey through sunny fields and among beautiful scenery to
find one’s self surrounded by desert sands and the burning rays of an unshrouded sun! Again we were among the same dreary looking hills
that line the rout from Sidney westward, and again reminded of records of hardship and toil to those
who came in search of the hidden treasures contained in the recesses of those great
monuments which but a few moments appeared to us as if in a vission.
Presently two strong looking locomotives came out of a “stable” near by and backed
up to our train to which they were coupled and stood in readiness for the signal to
start. Now for a climb! We are winding about among the eastern foot-hills of the range
of mountains known as Black Hills. How the great iron horses pant and blow! Are they
going to “play out” ere we reach the summit?
It is absolutely marvelous how many varieties of flowers grow among the eastern foothills
of these mountains, and of what great beauty some of them are. Many of them, according
to my notion, far out vie anything I ever
saw under cultivation; and in their rich tints and delicate forms would put to shame
the choicest roses and lilies of our flower gardens in the East. There are verbenas,
geraniums, roses, bluebells, pinks, violets, convolvuli, phloxes, asters, frost lilies,
hairbells and an almost endeless variet of others that I did not take the time to classify or did not know, all growing
in the greatest profusion and unrestrained. The primroses, however, comprise the largest
and richest tinted group and contain many beautiful forms. I must have noticed at
least two or three dozen species of this beautiful group of flowers while going from
the river near Cheyenne to the summit. Some of them were quite large and others small,
and the different species varied in color. — some being of a bright lemon yellow,
and others of a pure waxen shite, while still others were of a delicate pink or rose
tint. For mere curiosity I stood out upon the platform to count the varieties of flowers
to be seen with the limits of a single mile, and to my surprise I noted upward of
a hundred species, besides a few such as are common about home.
We struck the mountains proper at about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, and in ascending
toward Sherman had many excellent views of the plains to the north, east and south.
As far as the eye could reach in these directions was stretched out one vast plain
without a tree upon its entire surface to cheer one with its refreshing look, or to
pursuade one that it might be a pleasant thing to roam across these trackless wastes until almost overcome with
fatigue and heat, then to lie down under the leafy boughs and partake of one of those
peaceful and refreshing sleeps from which we seldom wish to wake. Yet this vast expanse
of country has been crossed by thousands of pioneers who came West years ago — long
before the Union Pacific Railroad was dreamed of — and endangered their lives and
that of their teams for a few ounces of Gold.
In turning my attention again to the mountains which we were now fairly among, I was
kept in one continual surprise; for who would have imagined that so much and such
beautiful and picturesque scenery could be crowded into so small a scope of country?
Every small valley and every knoll was a picture, which, were it transferred on canvas,
in itself would give the artist a world-wide fame. There were numerous small valleys
through the centres of which little rivulets of crystal water wended their tortuous
ways, and looked like silver wires interlaced in beds of moss of the softest green.
At short intervals
they trickled over the edges of huge granite boulders that lay in their course and
glistened in the noon-day sun like diamonds, and then hurried along their mossy courses
to refresh the tall, drooping, fairy-like ferns that line their margins upon either
side, and also to pay their tributes of liquid crystal to the large brook at the foot
of the mountain toward which they were hurrying and dancing and singing as they went.
These beautiful little valleys are mostly enclosed between almost perpendicular walls
of granite, that has been worn into fantastic shapes
that remind one of castles that might have been built during the “Dark ages” by chivalrous knights,
and are now all overgrown with lychens, mosses and ivy. These knolls are formed of
rock masses of various kinds and colors, and are so arranged that with the few pines
and firs that grow out from among them, there are rendered scenes, which for beauty
and picturesqueness cannot be surpassed even by famous Switzerland
On approaching closer to the summit the entire scenery changes, and the beautiful,
green valleys are replaced by deep cragged cañon and towering pinnacles which inspire
one with a peculiar wild and enchanged feeling of awe and admiration as he glides
along among them at the rate of fifteen or twenty miles an hour.
He seems to be journeying through a new and higher world where life goes on with its
various functions of its own accord. There is no difficulty experienced in breathing;
and the pressure which is so often felt upon the lungs in the lowlands of the Mississippi
Valley is removed, — in fact everything is more etherial and elevated. But, as someone
has remarked, “It requires a great deal of air to do a little breathing with.”
As we drew near the summit the wind came through the open windows cold and piercing,
reminding me of an April day when the breath of retreating winter winter is still felt as it sweeps over the starting vegetation, and causes the early Pulsatilla to shiver in its dress of snowy petals and downy leaves. Here the vegetation is dwarfed
and huddles into clumps as if to seek protection from Jack Frost. There was a dreary
far-away look in the air like we often see in late fall after nature has been dismantled
and winter is approaching. Everything looked bleak and dreary.
At Sherman, the most elevated point along the line of the Union Pacific Railroad,
the view is truely grant. It matters not in which direction one glances, for his vision
is uninterrupted for miles. Looking to the east, he beholds a vast portion of that
country lying between the Rockies and the Missouri known as the Plains. But little
does he think as he thus stands and
gazes afar off upon this sea of dreariness, of the manly hardships which had to be
endured, of the long and tedious journey to be made by team or foot, the fights with
roaming savages, that had to be passed through but a few short years ago by the westward
bound tourist of emigrant ere he could take his stand at the same place, — no, none
of these thoughts come to his mind as he scans the beautiful panorama about him, for
but a very few hours before he was at home with his friends. How much different it
is to travel now that it was then, and how much easier to ride in a palace than to
walk and shove a hand cart over five hundred miles of plains. To the west and southwest
are situated several ranges of snow capped mountains that in the distance can hardly
be discerned from the fleecy mantles of clouds that hover about their summits as snowy
veils. These ancient, hoary-headed monarchs are at least fourty or fifty miles distant,
though they do not appear more than half that distance.
There is no relying on appearances for distances in the crystalline atmosphere of
mountaintops; for often when an object seems to be but a couple of miles away, it
is in reality all of fifteen or twenty.
Oh! how I would liked to have gone over and shaken hands with those ancient patriarchs!
I am sure there would have been much for me to have learned from them. What grand
and interesting stories of the decades of years gone by they might have related; and
them could have presented! But as Fate, the rule of Man’s destinies, would have it I was
obliged to continue my journey towards the setting sun, and leave this pleasure for
another time. Thus are we mortals continually being robbed of pleasures about to be
realized. Fate steps in and rules for the time, and we are obliged to bow down and
obey. Yet, have we a right to complain for is not the law of Fate a Divine institution?
Before going any further west allow me to turn aside and explore these beautiful little
nooks of hidden beauty that abound among the rocky ledges and ravines on the eastern
slopes of this picturesque range of mountains which I have just tried to describe
to you. Perhaps I might find something of interest to tell you. I will go to yonder
hillock and lie down in the shade of that huge, red granite boulder awhile, and look
off across the country. Hark! what charming sounds are those that come floating across
the flower covered earth and tingle in my ears like the notes of small silvery bells
and harps? Are they the love songs of
the numerous little creatures that inhabit this section of country, or are they the
productions of happy spirits that have come here to dwell?
During infancy my chief delight was to listen to delightful tales of beautiful little
fairies and elves, and oh! how often did I wish that at some day I might see some
of these tiny beings. I was told that they lived in a far off country called Fairyland;
but as much as I then desired to see this country with its myriads of pretty little
inhabitants, I feared that the time would never come for I was told that only very
good children were permitted to visit it and talk with the fairies. When small we
believe all these stories and eagerly drink them in as they fall from the lips of
older persons; but as we grow older we either forget
all about the m merry little nymphs of the air or discredit everything we ever heard concerning them.
Now, if there are fairies, — and there are, I will certainly see some of them as I
lie here and meditate, for surely this country agrees with the descriptions of Fairyland.
And perhaps, I will also be able to learn some useful leasons from them.
Whether reflections upon childhood, with all its pleasures, muddles one’s mind I cannot
say, but after lying awhile my meditations were interrupted by a sort of buzzing noise
peared nearer and nearer, when lo! not more than an arm’s length from my mossy couch
I beheld a gaily dressed elf approaching a cluster of beautiful hair-bells. He was
masked in such a manner as to resemble a pretty clear winged moth, but he was a fairy
without any mistake. As his fairyship touched the delicate blue bells, & they swung to and fro there pealed forth and were wafted away with the gentle breeze
silvery notes of glee. Now the entire district around began to thrill with the music
of fairies. It had been the signal for operations to begin, — they were the rallying
tune to bring each company to its post and duties and to keep them in good spirits
while at work. Yes, I saw myriads of fairies — bright silvery and golden dressed fairies
— not such as I used to read about in books, or to hear of from the lips of older
persons as they sat beside my little cot waiting for me to enter Dreamland, but merry
little feathered creatures and chirping insects whose lives are all sunshine and happiness.
These were the fairies I saw; and they are the true and only fairies in nature.
Different forms of these little beings have received various names, and all of them
have had a portion of their life history written; and all who would read about them
should refer to works on Natural History — especially that portion relating to insects
Those which we call Bees and Butterflies are the marriage priests to gems of the vegetable world, which by the touch of their
magic wand are transformed into vessels full of golden seeds that in turn are capable
of producing new plants. Some of these numphs — now no longer imaginary beings of
the air — are always engaged in making music for the others to work by. They are
the musician fairies, and we call them Crickets and Katidids. Those which we call Spiders are almost always occupied in decorating Nature’s propperty with silken festoons, and therby aiding in giving variety to the landscape. After night-fall this work of beautifying
goes on much more rapidly than by day, and it appears that these little creature’s
sole mission is to put nature in order and to beautify it for the coming of each new
day. Nor are they along occupied in this delightful task, but others — perhaps spirit
fairies — are engaged in opening out the beautiful gems of the vegetable world, and
in gathering the atoms of moisture from the air and depositing them in strings of
crystal beads along every blade of grass and upon every object in nature that will
not shake them off.
I learned that there are fairies for “grown up” people as well as for children; and
that their homes are everywhere. I also learned that nothing is created without a
purpose, and that everything has its mission to perform.
After leaving Sherman the train began running down hill and we were approaching the
Laramie Pplains: but little did I then think what a truely desolate region we were about to traverse
for again were the small and picturesque dells of the eastern slopes repeated — only
in a less grand scale.
“Nature’s laws meet all demands,” is a saying not altogether without foundation. Who
would, were he to make a world, always think of bordering every desert with stretches
of the most beautiful landscape decorated by flowers of the sweetest perfume and prettiest
colors? Who would have all nature to gather at the margins of wastes in such joyfull
frolics. Yet is is an undeniable fact that these
margins of desertplacesare the receptacles of the grandest and most-attractive of Nature’s works.
As we advanced the scenery grew more romantic and wild. We were winding about among
fantastic boulders and ledges of granite rockes that reminded me of a journey in ancient
Italy among the ruined castles of long forgotten crusaders, princes and lords. Are
not these the wrecks of once magnificent castles and monasteries where their owners
baricaded themselves against their wronged and infuriated subjects; or are they the
downfallen abodes of giants who peopled these sections of yore?
Dale Creek is one of the many attractions that cannot be appreciated unless seen.
Imagine a small silvery thread winding along the centre of a narrow valley hemmed
in by two walls of granite that are decked with clusters of sweet briar and and straggling evergreens, and variegated by patches delicate mosses and branching ferns,
and you have a faint idea of this renowned stream. As we came down the mountain’s
side the train slackened its speed to four miles per hour, and as I looked ahead and
saw the yawning abyss over which the
the yawning locomotive seemed to be tenderly feeling its way, my heart almost stood still. In looking down
from the car window to the small stream over 130 feet below, one can’t help but feel
a little “shaky about the knees.
All along the rout between here and Laramie the tourist iskept in a continual surprise by the numerous
groups of queer shaped rocks that adorn the country to either side of the railroad,
and that remind one of the relics of ancient cities. Ancient they are too; for, consider
if you choose, the time it must have required for water to sculpture out these huge,
uneven masses. Then add to this the time they have been standing “high and dry.” Surely
their age would startle us.
One of these ancient cities — the City of No Man’s Land — is situated on a plain at
the foot of a series of long sloping, reddish hills about midway between Sherman and
Laramie. As we were gliding along I was looking out of the window at some beautiful
ledges of rock, when suddenly we ran out upon an extensive plain at the further end
of which loomed up the turrets of what appeared to be several castles. Does it look
like a city? you may ask. Yes; and an antique and grotesque one at that. No Man’s
Land, because it looks so quiet that it might readily be taken for the work and home
of spirits — not men. Some of the structures of this “city” resemble castles, churches
and towers. Most of them however, have seen their best days and are now on the rapid
road to decay. Their walls are falling down and being covered with sands from the
surrounding country, and the turrets are crumbling with ange and from the wear of the elements. Their proprietors, whethers spirits, witches or
giants, have long since left them to the owls of night and other animals that love
to revel among ancient ruins by moon-light. Oh! how miserably wretched must be their
lives, and yet how fascinating! when we think think of bygone days with their deeds
of horror and of kindness, and also of the deeds of greatness that are always connected
with ancient ruins. We also think of mystery at the sight of these silent indexes
that point back along the vistas of time.
After leaving Laramie the Union Pacific strikes off boldly across the Laramie Plains,
just as if it were nothing to pass over several hundred
s miles of desert. How different most different must the “Old Pioneers” have felt when launching their slow barks upon this vast sea of barreness,
than does the western bound traveller of today!
Does Death have favorite haunts anywhere upon this globe of ours? If so, this country
must be one of them; for nowhere else that I have been does the entire country with
all its scenery present such a desolate and lifeless an appearance as here. The very
rocks seem to bespeak his work, and the valleys to tell of his sole sway; while the
winds seem ever to whisper his presence as they sigh through the shutters of the car
windows and the little stars tremble as they silently cross this enchanted district
— they look down upon you as if in fear lest they should again be compelled to witness
the victory of Grim Death. You see hardly
a living creature, or scarcely a twig of any kind, save the ever-present Sagebrush and geese-wood, which, in themselves, are the type of death in the vegetable kingdom. There are
no clouds to hide the burning sun or to fringe the silvery moon with their snowy edges;
no streams of flowing crystal to cool the parched tongue or refresh the drooping plants;
no merry birds and gay insects to please the eye, or flowers to awaken in the soul
thoughts of pleasure — nothing but dull, bare earth and rocks
to greet the eye.