|III.—CHEYENNE TO WASH-A-KIE.|
After thirty minutes' delay, we cross Crow Creek (observe Fort Davy Russell in the distance), and arrive at
Hazard (523 m.), where there is a beautiful little mountain pool. Elevation above the sea, 6325 feet. Eight miles further, and we reach
Otto (532 m.), 6724 feet, having risen among the Black Hills no less than 599 feet in this short distance.
Granite Canyon, or Cañon (536 m.), 7298 feet,—a rise of 574 feet in five miles, or about 121 feet per mile! Fences of timber, or rude stone dykes, are now frequently met with, having been erected as protections from the winter snow-storms. Limestone abounds in the vicinity, and many kilns have been erected.
We keep along a tolerably level road to
Buford (542 m.), where the rail is almost covered in by heavy snow sheds, and the train seems to run through a corridor of solid timber-work.
At 549 miles from Omaha, and 1227 from Sacramento, we reach Sherman, the highest point on any railway in the world, being 8242 feet above the sea-level. It was named after General Sherman, the "tallest" commander in the United States army. To the south-west, observe Long's Peak; to the south, 165 miles distant, Pike's Peak; and to the north-west, about 100 miles, the Elk Mountains; but that these are visible, except
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SHERMAN, ROCKY MOUNTAINS.
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to the eyes of a very free imagination, we may reasonably doubt.
"Some writers," says an English traveller—and he is quite right in quoting them—"strongly advise the traveller to make a halt at Sherman Station. The inducements held out are mountain scenery, invigorating air, fishing, and hunting. A sojourn among the peaks of the Rocky Mountains has the attraction of novelty to recommend it. Life there must be, in every sense of the word, a new sensation. But some sensations are undesirable, notwithstanding their undoubted freshness. That splendid trout swarm in the streams near Sherman, admits of no dispute. Yet the disciple of Izaak Walton should not be tempted to indulge rashly in his harmless and charming sport. It is delightful to hook large fish, but it is less agreeable to be pierced through by arrows. Now the latter contingency is among the probabilities which must be taken into consideration. A few weeks prior to my journey, one of the conductors of the train by which I travelled learned, by practical experience, that fishing amid the Rocky Mountains has palpable and painful drawbacks. Having taken a few days' holiday, he went forth, fishing-rod in hand, to amuse himself. While whipping the stream, in the innocence of his heart, he was startled to find himself made the target for arrows shot by wild Indians. He sought safety in flight, and recovered from his wounds, to the surprise as much as to the gratification of his friends."
It is with no small pleasure the traveller descends from such aerial altitudes, and breaks into a romantically diversified country, where, every minute, some fresh combination of rock, and wood, and water makes up a new and delightful picture.
About 3 miles from Sherman, we cross Dale Creek Bridge, a timber structure, 650 feet long, and 126 feet high, which looks unpleasantly frail at a distance, but is stout enough to support the weight of the heaviest train.
Harney (558 m.), elevation 7857 feet, named after an old general in the United States service. It should here be noted that in the descent from Sherman to Laramie the gradient averages over 47 1/2 feet to the mile; and no steam is used to propel the train, but steadying brakes to arrest and guide it. Strong snow fences are found here in many places.
Red Buttes (564 m.), elevation 7336 feet; so named from the bold masses of red sandstone planted between the rail and the Black Hill Mountains. Their outlines are remarkably bold and various; and the traveller's imagination may idealize them into almost any form be pleases.
Fort Saunders Station (570 m.), 7163 feet, accommodates
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the garrison of Fort Saunders, a military post established in 1866, and held by a couple of infantry companies.
Laramie City (573 m,), elevation 7123 feet. Here the train stops for thirty minutes.
Laramie is a bran-new settlement; but it is "going ahead" with remarkable rapidity, and already boasts of a newspaper-office, a school, places of worship for Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians, an admirable hotel, the Railway Company's workshops, and an hospital.
We are now in the heart of the Laramie Plains, the finest grazing land in this part of the continent, Here thousands of buffaloes fed and waxed fat. It was said that, with the exception of Texas, no place could be found where cattle might be more easily and cheaply fattened.
But onward speeds the iron horse, and on each side the green plains broader, as the mountains fade away into the blue and distant sky. On either side of us lies the rolling prairie, and yet not the prairie that we meet with in Illinois and Iowa. The sage-brush plant begins to show itself. This constitutes the sole vegetation of the dry, barren track that is known by the name of the Great American Desert. The only circumstance brought forward in favour of the dreary sage-brush is that, when used medicinally, it is a specific for ague. It has been remarked, that were the malady as common as the cure is plentiful, hardly a human being would escape an attack of it. On the other hand, every afflicted invalid would be able to secure a remedy. Millions of acres are covered with sagebrush.
On the right of the line lies a small sheet of water, to which the name of Como bake has been given. We don't pretend that in anything but name it resembles the famous gem of Upper Italy, where Lord Lytton's hero, Claude Melnotte, was about to "raise a palace to eternal summer;" yet it is very bright and pleasing, and a relief to the monotony of the surrounding wilderness.
Howell's (581 M.).
Wyoming (587 m.), elevation 7068 feet, on the Little Laramie River. Crossing Little Laramie and Whisky Creek, we arrive at
Cooper's Lake Station (602 m.), elevation 7044 feet. The lake, a beautiful sheet of water, three miles by half a mile, lies to the west of the station.
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DALE CREEK BRIDGE
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Look Out (606 in.), elevation 7169 feet. Elk, deer, and antelope abound on either side; and the rolling prairies present some beautiful landscapes.
Miser (614 m.), elevation 6810 feet. Sage-brush is very plentiful in this vicinity.
Rock Creek (623 m.), elevation 6690 feet. Between this and the next station the country is broken and rugged, and the railroad works are of a very difficult character.
Como (638 m.), elevation 7680 feet. The lake, of which we have already spoken, lies to the right of the road.
Its surface is covered with ducks, and its depths teem with fish.
Crossing Medicine Bow River, we reach
Medicine Bow Station (645 m.), elevation 6550 feet; traverse a smooth and pleasant plain for about five miles; and then, through a rough country, make our way to
Carbon (656 m.), elevation 6750 feet. Two fine beds of coal have been found here, yielding about two hundred tons daily. In the pits three hundred men are employed.
Through a six-mile series of deep cuttings we reach
Simpson (662 m.), elevation 6898 feet.
Percy (669 m.), at an elevation of 7950 feet; so named from a Colonel Percy, who was killed here by a party of Indians while making a survey of the road. The Elk Mountain, which at its base measures twenty miles in circumference, is covered with snow for a great portion of the year, and forms a notable landmark from this point.
Dana (675 m.). Here we enter upon a very unattractive alkali country.
St. Mary's (680 m.). Soon after leaving the station we plunge into a formidable gorge, which throws out projecting rocks on either side, as if they sought to obstruct the passage.
Walcott's (688 m.), is also situated in the ravine, and the scenery in all directions is of a singularly bold and majestic character.
Fort Fred. Steele (696 m.), elevation 6840 feet. The fort, close by the station, was established June 30, 1868, and is now garrisoned by three companies of Uncle Sam's Regulars.
Grenville (704 m.).
Rawlins Springs (709 m.), elevation 6732 feet, where
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we pause thirty minutes for refreshment. The surrounding country presents no features of interest, and the so-called springs are alkali pools of a very disagreeable taste, and scarcely less disagreeable aspect.
Separation Station (723 m.), elevation 6900 feet.
The gradient is now a gentle ascent; and we climb up, as through a channel purposedly made by Nature, to the summit of the ridge of the Rocky Mountains.
At Creston (737 m.), we are not less than 7030 feet above the sea-level.
Two and a half miles beyond this point west, a flag, planted by the wife of Captain Clayton, near the track, marks the summit as 7100 feet in elevation. This point is about 185 miles from Sherman, 737 miles from Omaha, and 1039 miles from Sacramento,
In a scene of such absolute wildness, as others besides ourselves will have remarked, this little flag-staff may be taken as marking the centre of the grandest range of mountains on the continent. The wrecks of Titanic fortresses seem to lie around us, and to remind us of the great struggle which, as the poets tell us, took place of yore between the gods and giants, when Ossa was piled upon Pelion. The mountain breeze plays freshly on our cheeks, but brings with it no evidence of life, no aroma of vegetation. We feel and know that the same sky which bangs so warm and blue over the radiant valley is as blue when seeming to rest upon these mountain-heights. But how changed it is in character! The blueness is that of steel, cold and repellent—a clear, keen blue, which no genial breeze ever seems to soften.
If a spring should arise from this sage-brush-covered knoll, its waters would divide and separate, and eventually, in two different streams, flow into the oceans which wash the opposite side of the continent.
We resume our seats in the cars and pass on, the track seeming to disappear but a short distance in our front. The view from the rear of the car is the same. It seems as if the track were warped up and doubled out of sight. The curvatures of this backbone, it is rightly said, give the track a similar appearance to that witnessed at Sherman. Although Sherman has a loftier elevation, this is the continental dividing-point, or watershed; but the low broad pass brings us 1212 feet below that place. To the north the rugged Seminole Mountains rear their crests; and, more to the westward, and at a greater distance, you may trace the gray lines, broken and capricious, of the
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GREEN RIVER, ROCKY MOUNTAINS.
(A RAILROAD BRIDGE.)
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Sweetwater range. Still further to the west and north, the Wind River Mountains close the perspective with their white-robed summit. Away to the south you may trace the bills forming the southern boundary of the pass, close by the point where the Bridger Pass Station is situated on the old overland road. The Uintah Mountains serve to fill up the picture.