Skip to main content

A Western Journey

ISSUE:  Summer 1939

Storm-herds of thundering Sioux cloud past in viewless vacancy. Long, long ago, within the anodes of the timeless West a man felt, saw, heard, thought—or did he vision them—these things—O time.

Left Portland at 8:15 sharp on Monday, June 20, with Miller and Conway in the white Ford. Went southeast by east through the farmlands of the upper Willamette, around the base of Mount Hood, which was glowing in brilliant sun. Then climbed and crossed Cascades, and came down with the suddenness of a knife into the dry lands of the eastern slope. Then over a high plateau and through bare hills and canyons and farmlands here and there, and into Bend at 12:45—200 miles in four and one-half hours.

Then up to the Pilot Butte along the town—the great plain stretching infinite away—and unapproachable the great line of the Cascades with their mournful sentinels: Hood, Adams, Jefferson, The Three Sisters, and all the rest. Out of Bend at three and through the vast and level pinelands for over one hundred miles. Then down to the vast plainlike valley of the Klamath, the land of Canaan all again—the far-off ranges infinite—Oregon and the Promised Land. Then past the Indian Reservation—the great trees open approaching the Park—then the great climb upwards, up and up again, and at length the incredible crater of the lake. The hotel and a certain cheerlessness in spite of cordiality—the cottages, the college boys and girls who serve and wait—and the great crater fading coldly in incredible cold light. At length departure in the white Ford again—and the forest rangers down below. Then by darkness down the great dark expanse of Klamath Lake, and finally the decision to stay here for the night. Writing this at 1:30 in the morning—and so to bed!

First day: 404 miles.

Tuesday, June 21, 1938. Yosemite.

Dies Irae: Wakened at 5:30—dragged weary bones erect, and we were off again. So out of Klamath, and remarkable the desert: sage brush, and bare, naked hills, great-molded, craterous, cuprous, globated—a diverse heath with reaches of great pine, and volcanic glaciation, fiendish, desert, blasted. The ruins of old settlers’ homesteads, the ghost towns and bleak little facades of long forgotten post offices are lovely in the blazing rising sun. Then the pinelands, canyons, rivers and rises, the naked craterous hills and the volcanic lava masses and then Mount Shasta omnipresent—Mount Shasta all the time—always Mount Shasta—and at last the town named Weed.

Breakfast at 7:45 at Weed (named with a dear felicity) and then away from towering Shasta at 8:15—and up and climbing and at length into the passes of the lovely timbered Siskiyous. Now down into the canyon of the Sacramento and all through the morning, down and down and down the canyon, and the railroad snaking, snaking always with a thousand little punctual gashes, and the freight trains and the engines with the cabs in front, all down below along the lovely Sacramento snaking, snaking, snaking. At last into the town of Redding and the timber fading, hills fading, cuprous lava masses fading—and almost at once the mighty valley of the Sacramento—as hard as a continent.

All through the morning we drive through the great floor of that plainlike valley. The vast fields are thick with straw-grass lighter than Swedes’ hair, and infinitely far and unapproachable are the towns clinging to the mountain on both sides; and the great herds of fat, brown steers graze in straw-light fields. It is a dry land, with a strange, hot, heady fragrance and fertility. At last there is no mountain at all, but only the great sun-bright, heat-glazed, straw-light plain and the straight marvel of the road on which the car snakes on like magic and no sense of speed at sixty miles an hour.

At 11:30 a brief halt to look at the hotel—and great palms now, and Spanish tiles and arches and a patio in the hotel and swimming pool. So, on again and on again across the great, hot, straw-bright plain, and great fields mown now and scattered with infinite bundles of baled hay, and oceaned drops of greenery and house and barns where water is. As Sacramento nears, there is a somewhat greener land, more unguent, and better houses now, and great fat herds of steers immensurable, and everything seems lighter and with more sun. At length through the heat haze we see the slopes of Sacramento. We drive over an enormous viaduct, then past the far-flung filling stations, hot-dog stores, 3 Little Pigs, and Bar-B-Q’s of a California town. Then the town immediate and houses now and mighty palms and trees and people walking and the State House with its gold-leaf dome.

We eat spaghetti at the first Greek’s we find and drive out again immediately, pressing on past street after street of leafy trees and palms and pleasant houses. Then we are out from town, but traffic comes flanking past us now, loaded trucks and whizzing cars, no more the lovely fifty-mile stretches and sixty miles an hour. But on we go, down across the whole backbone of the state, with cows and towns and barns and people flitting by. We are in the San Joaquin Valley now, bursting with God’s plenty: orchards, peaches, apricots, vineyards, orange groves, and glowing little towns sown thick with fruitpacking houses, glittering in the hot and shining air, town after town, each in the middle of God’s plenty.

At length the turn at Merced toward Yosemite and the hills again, the craterous, volcanic, blasted hills. But signs now tell us we can’t get in the park across the washed-out road unless we take a guide; and now it is too late, already five of six and the last pilot car leaves at six and we still fifty miles away. Telephone calls now to rangers, superintendents, and so forth, a filling station and hot cabins, and the end of a day of blistering heat, and the wind stirring in the squares around the cabins. Then on again at last. Almost immediately the broken ground, the straw-bright moldings, the rises to the crater hills and soon among them—climbing, climbing, and down, down, down into pleasant timbered mountain folds with little hill towns here and there. Climbing, climbing, climbing, now in terrific mountain folds, close, packed, precipitous, lapped together and down and over, then down again along breath-taking curves and steepnesses and sheer cliffs into a canyon cut a mile below by great knife blades. Then at the bottom the closed gate, the little store, calls upon the phone again, and darkness and at last success: upon our own responsibility we may enter the park. And so, slowly up and up along the washed-out road, finding it not so dangerous as we feared, and at length past the bad end and up now cleanly and the sound of mighty waters in the gorge and the sheer blacknesses of towering masses and stars. Presently the entrance and the ranger’s house—and up and up—and boles of trees terrific, and cloven rock above the road and over us, and dizzy masses night-black as a cloud, and a sense of the imminent terrific. At length the valley of the Yosemite: roads forking darkly, but now a smell of smoke and of gigantic tentings and enormous trees and gigantic cliff walls night-black all around, and above the sky-bowl of starred night. Then camps, the Lodge, and hundreds of young faces and voices—the offices, buildings, stores, and the hundreds of tents and cabins. The dance floor crowded with its weary hundreds—1,200 little shopgirls and stenogs and schoolteachers and boys, all, God bless their little lives, necking, dancing, kissing, feeling, and inhaling in the great darkness of the great redwood trees. The sound of the dark gigantic fall of water—so to bed! And 535 miles today!

Wednesday, June 22.

Woke at 7:00 to the sound of water falling, girls’ voices, and the bustle of the waking camp. Breakfast at the cafeteria, then on our way again—out by the South Wawona entrance, down through wooded scenery to the foothills: the brilliant leafage of scrub pine, then the bay-bright gold of wooded big barks, then the bay-gold plain and bay-gold heat. But the valley road is jammed with traffic as we turn and drive back up to the mountains again. Then General Grant, and the great trees and pretty little girls beside the road. Then the 30 mile drive along the ridge to the Sequoias—and General Sherman. Then straight through to the other entrance, then down terrifically the terrific winding road: the tortured view of the eleven ranges, then the lowlands and Visalia. Then, by dark, straight down the valley to Bakers-field. Then east and desertwards across the Tehachapi Range—the brilliant brightness of enormous cement plants—and now at 1:30 in Mohave at the desert edge. And so to bed—and about 365 miles today.

Thursday, June 23.

Up at 7 o’clock in the hotel at Mohave, and already the room is hot and stuffy. The wind that had promised a desert storm the night before is still and the sun already hot and mucoid on the incredibly dirty and besplattered window-panes. A moment’s glimpse of hot, torrid roof and a dirty ventilator in the restaurant below, and a slow freight ebbing past and weariness. So out of town at 8:10 and headed straight into the desert—and so across the Mohave at high speed for four hours, to Barstow. The desert becomes yet more desert—blazing heat—102 inside a filling station—and so the desert mountains, craterous and volcanic, and so more fiendish the fiend desert of the lavoid earth like an immense plain of tar.

Very occasionally there is a tiny blistered little breeze, and once or twice the presence of water and the magic greenery of desert trees. Yet everything grows hotter and more fiendish as the white Ford drives through fried hills—cuprous, ferrous, and divided as slag heaps. At last, another filling station and the furnace air fumed by a hot, dry, strangely invigorating breeze, and the filling-station man who couldn’t write: “My hands shake so with the heat.” Needles at last and a good luncheon, and so out again in blazing heat—106 within the strolling of the station awning, 116 or 120 out of it. So out of Needles—and through heat-blasted air into the desert world of Arizona. The mountain slopes are now more devilish—and down in and up and up among them, now and then passing a blistered little town, a few blazing houses, and the fronts of stores. Up and up now, the fried dirt slopes prodigious, and into Oatman and the gold-mine shafts and Mexicans half-naked before a pit. Then up and up and climbing up and up through Goldroad, and at last the rim and down and down through blasted slopes, volcanic “pipes” and ancient sea erosions, mesa table-heads, columnar swathes, stratifications, and the fiendish wood. Below us lies the vast, pale, lemon-mystic plain, and far away, immeasurably far, the almost moveless plume of engine smoke and the double-header freight advancing—advanceless moveless—moving through timeless time.

On we drive across the immense plain, to meet the train, and so almost meeting, moveless-moving, never meeting. Then up and up and around and through a pass and down to Kingman and on and on and up and down through fried blasted slopes and the enormous lemon-magic of the desert plains. Finally we halt for gas at a filling station with a water fountain: “Please be careful with the water, we have to haul it 60 miles.” We are 5,280 feet above sea level now—and 4,800 feet we’ve climbed since Needles. So on and on and up. The country is greener now and steers in fields are wrenching grass—green grass among the sage-brush clumps. The National Forest is beginning now—and now it is a different world entirely, no longer fiend-tormented but friendly, forested, familiar.

Around and down we go and along the great road leading eastward till we turn off to the left for the Grand Canyon. There is not much climbing now, but up and down again, the great plateau of 7,000 feet on top, and on we go and in toward (levelly) the distant twin rims, blue-vague, of the terrific canyon. The great sun is sinking now below us 7,000 feet—we racing on to catch him at the canyon ere he sinks entirely, but too late, too late. At 8:35 (and almost dark now) the edges of the canyon, Bright Angel Lodge, and the Grand Canyon—Big Gorgooby—there immensely, darkly, almost weirdly there—a fathomless darkness peered at from the very edge of hell with abysmal glimpses—almost unseen—just fathomlessly there.

So to our cabin and to dinner in the Lodge. Then to walk along the rear of Big Gorgooby and at the stars immeasurable above the Big Gorgooby just a look—a big look. So good night—and 560 miles today.

Friday, June 24, 1938.

At daybreak, a deer outside the window is cropping grass. Then Miller in at 8:30 but let me sleep—so finally bathed, dressed, and had a good breakfast. Then with Miller, Conway, and the ranger to observation point, the ranger driving while we looked through observation glasses at Old Gorgooby and unvital time. So down to Yavapai Tower and all the people there—the eastern cowboy, and the slut and angel with broad hat and wet red mouth, blonde curls, and riding breeches rilled with buttock.

So away and on to Cameron—an Indian Lodgee and an old dog moving in the shadow of a wall. Then into the Painted Desert and blazing heat and baked road and all through the afternoon by the vermilion cliffs. Four small Indian girls in rags and petticoats beside the road awaiting pennies (dimes they got), two upon a burro. Then away, away again—good road, bad road, good and bad again by the demented and fiend-tortured redness of vermilion cliffs: red, mauve, and violet, passing into red again. Now the gorge of Big Gorgooby—the Navajo Bridge and the Gorgooby, brown-red-yellow, a mere 1,000 feet or so below.

On and on now through desert land—now gray, greening sagely into sage—and staring Indians moving about here and there and Indian houses. Then the road rising, rising into hills, and forest now, and all the lovely aspens and the vast and rising rim of range and meadow land. Then the big woods and at last the Lodge, and the scarlet moment, the tremendous twilight of the Big Gorgooby—more concise and more colored, more tremendous here. Then darkness and the lights of the South River.

Later the incredible theatrical performance with the waitresses and bellhops performing—a waitress dressed as Hiawatha chanting the Union Pacific song. Then home with Miller to the cabin, and Conway still wakeful, reading lists and mileages excitably from his records—the moon in 30 hours is possible! And so to bed—and 210 miles today.

Saturday, June 25, 1938.

Rose at 7:30, in the North Rim Lodge, Grand Canyon. Sound of waitresses and maids singing farewell songs, “Till We Meet Again,” et cetera, to passengers departing on busses. They were tendering the usual U. P. sentiment, and Conway declared there were tears in the eyes of the passengers and of some of the girls. Into Lodge for view from terrace of the Big Gorgooby in finest light—and glamorous!—and glamorous! Then into breakfast, served by the waitress with the strange and charming smile. She was from Texas and admitted that sentiment, songs, and kicking her legs in the night-time theatrical entertainment, all at 8,000 feet for dear old U. P., got her wind and at first “made her awfully tired.”

At 11 o’clock on our way out—and down through the forest, and the long sweeping upland meadows with deer and cattle grazing, and the aspen leaves in the bright air. Down and down and then the bottom lands spread below us ever again, the fierce red earth, the tortured buttes and the vermilion cliffs. So on and on across the desert and into Utah, and the Mormon town of Kanab and Perry Lodge—a white house, pleasant, and almost like New England, and a gigantic lovely cool-bright poplar at the corner.

So presently the turn-off to the left for Zion’s Canyon and ahead the mountains rising range on range, no longer fierce red and vermilion now, but of sandy, whitest limestone, striped with strange stripes of salmon pink—scrub-dotted, paler. Now we are on the canyon road and climbing, and now pink rock again, strange shapes and scarrings in the rock, and even vertices upon huge swathes of stone, and plunging down now in stiff canyon folds the sheer solid soaplike block of salmon red again—deeper, yet not so fierce and strange as the Grand Canyon earth—and towering soap-stone blocks of red incredible. Now through a tunnel, out and down and down, and through the great one spaced with even iridium in the rock that gives on magic casements opening on sheer blocks of soapstone red. Then out again in the fierce light and down round dizzy windings of the road into the canyon’s depth. There the Virgin River (how sweet to see sweet water sweetly flowing here between these dizzy soapstone blocks of red) and red the bendings of the river by the soapstone walls of block, fierce red. Now into the valley floor and trees (a little like Yosemite, this valley, yet not so lush, nor so enchanted, nor cooled by the dark blanket of towering pines). But now an oasis and—O miracle!—a swimming pool, and young, wet, half-naked forms—a pool surrounded by the cottonwoods and towered over by sheer soapstone blocks of red, capped by pinnacles of blazing white. O pool in cottonwoods surrounded by fierce blocks of red and temples and kings’ thrones and the sheer smoothness of the blinding vertices of soapstone red, never did pool look cooler nor water better, wetter, more inviting!

So by the road down to the canyon’s end and all around the beetling blocks of soapstone red and river flowing. Then up and up again and finally to the main road north to Salt Lake City. Soon, almost immediately, we find a greener land, and grass in semi-desert fields, and stock and cattle grazing, and now timbered hills in contour not unlike the fields of home. Now farms and green incredible of fields and trees and Canaan pleasantness, the Sevier River flowing and a fruitful valley. Now occasional small Mormon towns, mean and plain and stinted looking. Hills rise to the left—a vista of salmon pink, vermilion cliffs again—the barricades of Bryce. We are halted here by road repair until the convoy from the Canyon passes out—and meanwhile talk to the man with the red flag who says, “We have no deserts here in Utah.” Is Zion then a flowering prairie, and are Salt Lake and the Alkali Flats the grassy precincts of the King’s Paradise?

At last we start and up through sage land into timber on the high plateau. Another ranger’s entrance house, another sticker—seven now—and so into the park and to the Canyon’s rim. There we stand in setting sun, looking out and down upon the least dizzy and least massive of the lot, but perhaps the most astounding: a million wind-blown pinnacles of salmon pink and fiery white all fused together like stick candy—all suggestive of a child’s fantasy of heaven. So to the Lodge with sour-pussed oldsters on the veranda, and to the cafeteria which was much be-Indian-souvenired, betrinketed, somehow depressing and expensive. Then to the Lodge and peeked in at the inevitable ranger and the attentive dutiful sourpusses listening to the inevitable lecture—Flora and Fauna of Bryce Canyon—and so to my cabin to write this.

And after this to Lodge where dinner was going on, and into camp shop where, with some difficulty, I bought beer in cans, and had two, feeling more and more desolate in this State of Utah. Struck up talk with a quaint old gal named Florence who imitates bird calls, and with a dark, rather attractive woman, Canadian, probably French, who had life in her and was thoroughly willing to share it. So talking with them in the lobby until dinner broke up at 10:30 and the young people came out, looking rather lost and vaguely eager, I thought, as if they wanted something that wasn’t there and didn’t know how to find it. I had some depressing reflections on Americans in search of gaiety, and National Park Lodges, and Utah, and frustration. So home, where found C busy with his calculations: “If we do so and so tomorrow, we’ll have only so and so much to do on Monday.” So to bed—and 265 miles today.

Sunday, June 26, 1938.

Arose at Bryce Canyon, at 7:30—dressed, walked with Miller to rim, and looked at Canyon. The sky was somewhat overcast and no sunlight in the Canyon, but it was no less amazing—it looked fragile compared to the other great canyons we had seen, like filigree work of fantastic immenseness, great shouldering bulwarks of eroded sand going down to it, making it look very brittle and soft. The sand erodes at the rate of one inch a year—with something the effect of sugar candy at a carnival, powdery, whitish, melting away.

Here we found an old man, roughly dressed, and with one tooth, and his daughter, a surprisingly smart-looking young female in pajama slacks and smoked goggles, talking geology. The words came trippingly off her tongue: “erosion,” “wind erosion,” “125 million years,” and so on. Then quickly back through woods toward the Lodge, and after last night’s rain, the smell of sage and pine needles was amazingly pungent, sweet, and fragrant. So, breakfast in Lodge and talked with waitress who was from Purdue—studying “home economics” and dress designing, and hoping to be a “buyer” for Chicago store. Observed the tourists—two grim-featured females, school teachers, at the next table, who glowered darkly at everyone and everything with stiff inflexible faces. The tourists rise to depart, and presently comes the sound of the waitresses, maids, and bellhops gathered by the bus, singing “Till We Meet Again” and “Goodbye, Ladies.” One of the sour-looking schoolteachers is dabbing furtively at eyes, and the bus departing, and emotional farewells. The young folks turn back to their work, boasting exultingly: “We got tears out of four of ‘em this morning. Oh, I love to see ‘em cry, it means business.” Thus the art of pleasing guests and squeezing tears from them—and for me the memory of the sour-faced teacher dabbing at her eyes and stabbing pity in the heart and something that cannot be sad.

And so farewell and down from the Canyon through the woods, and finally into the main road for Salt Lake 250 miles away. So all through the morning up through a great enlarging valley, at first mixed with some desert land—bald, scrub-dotted ridges on each side ascending into lovely timber, then to granite tops. Then semi-desert, semi-green—clumped now with sage and clay, but breaking marvelously into greenery where water is let in—and the River Sevier refreshing it. Then the cool dense green of trees that cluster densely round a little house, and fields ripe with thick green, and fat Mormon steers and cows and horses grazing. And moving bog with ranging marshes and fields strewn with cut mounds of green. And water, the muddy visionness of ditches filled with water so incredibly wet—the miracle of water, always, in the West.

The blazing whiteness of the sunlight now, the light but blueness of the skies, the piled casualness of snowy clouds. And then the dirty little Mormon villages, blazing and blistered in that hot dry heat, and the forlorn little houses—sometimes just little cramped and warped wooden boxes, all unpainted, hidden under the mournful screenings of the dense and sudden trees—sometimes the older Mormon houses of red brick—sometimes still more ancient uses of chinked log—sometimes strangely an old Mormon house of stone. But all are, in that hot immensity of heat, so curiously warped and small and dirty and forlorn. There’s just a touch of strangeness maybe in the set of eaves, the placing of the tag porch, the look of the ship gables—but all is graceless, all denuded, with the curious sterility and coldness and frustration the religion has.

Meanwhile the earth is burgeoning into green and fat fertility—the dense cool green of poplars in the hot bright light and the staunch cool shade of cottonwoods—and the valley winding into Canaan and the Promised Land. The fields are lush now with their green, their planted trees, the great reap of their mowings—strangely Canaan now—hemmed by the desert peaks, the ridges on both sides, denuded and half barren, curiously thrilling in their nakedness. O Canaan magical, the vale irriguous below—the marvelous freshness and fecundity of the great Sevier Valley now.

Now we pass the towns of Joseph, Levan, Nephi—the names Biblical in Canaan—or Spanish Fork and American Fork—the names like those of the pioneers. Ever the towns rise from the desert now: the brightness of new brick, the stamped hard patterns of new bungalows—an air of prosperousness, but still a graceless lack of architectural taste. But now there is a kind of cooler magic in the scenery (impassionate, granite, clearly barren in the ridges of the limestone peaks, the austere blackness of the timber). And the great valley floor is burgeoning with Canaan in between.

Then the cool flat silver of the lake at Provo and the immense smelter plants. In hot bright air the hot bright sunlight of the business street, the brick bungalows, the marvelousness of poplars and of cottonwoods, the dazzling brightness, richness, fragrance of the rambler roses and the full fat land of Canaan all away. Brigham’s great vale irriguous of Canaan is marching, marching northward, between hackled peaks is sweeping, sweeping northward through the backbone of the Promised Land, is sweeping onward, onward toward the Temple and the lake. Now, by a rise approaching the barriers of the hubbed peak, up, up, around the naked shoulder of a great mountain and down, down into the sub-plain of Salt Lake—half-desert still, half burgeoning to richness and irriguous ripe of the sudden green, and walled immensely on three sides by the hackled grandeur of the Mormon hills. But to the West, between the massive peaks, is desert openness and the salve flatness of the Great Salt Lake.

Finally, Salt Lake itself—skyscrapers, hotels, office buildings, an appearance of a city greater than its growth—and in four directions the level streets merging out and ending cleanly under massed dense green at the rises of the barren magic hills. So into town, past a fantastic dance hall, “the world’s biggest”—stores, streets, blocks 600 feet in length, and Sunday hotness, brightness, emptiness—the old feeling of Mormon coldness, desolation—the devoted, the fanatic, and the warped and dead.

First comes the harsh ugly Temple, the Temple sacrosanct, by us unvisited, unvisitable, so ugly, green, grotesque, and blah. Then the great domed roof of the Tabernacle like a political convention hall—the statues of the true saints Brothers Smith, with pious recordings of their fanaticism. A visit to the Lion House, the Beehive House, the Museum, the first cabin—and then enough, enough, of all this folly, this cruelty, and this superstition.

We are back in the white car now and out of town—almost immediate the clear and naked hill beside, and to the left the vast meadows sloping to pale flatness, and the saline, citric flatness, paleness of the lake. It is the Land of Plenty now indeed—now marvelously the orchards bursting with their fruit, and greenness, lushness, watery fertility, the blue of which was never seen before, flanked in the distance by the pale and misty flatness of the lake. Beyond the nesting range of the hackled peaks—aye, with the cruelty of Mormon in it, but with a finality of its own that grips and holds you now. On we drive through ever greater orchards groaning with their fruit, and many plants, and lush fertility. Through the thinning towns of Ogden and of Brigham, whose strange tabernacled Mormon Temple has 8 gables on each side. Then finally the greatest beauty of the day—the swift winding up the canyon among bald and greening knobs, a sense of grandeur, sweetness, and familiarity, and suddenly, cupped in the rim of bald hills, a valley plain, flat as a floor and green as heaven and fertile and more ripe than the Promised Land. And then below the vast, lovely, and most enchanted valley of them all—the great valley named Logan, which makes all that has gone before fade to nothing. It is the very corn and fruit of Canaan, a vast sweet plain of unimaginable richness, loaded with fruit, bursting with cherry orchards, green with its thick and lush fertility and dotted everywhere with the beauty of incredible trees.

So out and on, light darkening now, and at length across the line to Idaho, and into Preston, blazing with Idaho’s electric light. Now on and on in the darkness with a sense of strangeness; it had rained here and to the north the sky was rent with gigantic flashes of Western lightning. And on and on, between high-back ridges that had closed on us, towards Pocatello. There we arrived just before eleven, perhaps somewhat too fatigued by the crowded beauty, splendor, and magnificence of this day to write it down.

And so to bed! And today 467 miles! (And in our first seven days about 2,760 of our journey.)

Monday, June 27, 1938.

Up at 8:10. All through the morning through the great fertile valley of the Snake. The potato storage sheds, sod-roofed on top—the barns with the green loft door and the piles of dark hay—the stockades, the cattle and the horses, the feel and smell of clay and hay and stockades. The few buildings seem curiously forgotten in the Past. The towns—the little blistered houses—the big grain elevators—and water, water everywhere—beside the road in fields, in irrigation ditches, underneath the bridges—wetness of water flowing full to the floor of bridges—magical full water, brown-mud-yellow, wanders everywhere.

At Sugar City the turn-off for Jackson Hole. Then up and up through the pleasant foldings of the hills—and pouring waters and then the steep turnings and the winds. The vision of the timber line and now and then the Pass—and down below the miracle of Jackson Hole—and so, down to it—and into Jackson. The Square of Old West is now beduded—the Western hands by the filling station and giggling kids upon two broncs. Luncheon in a “coffee shop” and so out and up the edges of the valley by the Tetons and Leigh Lake and Jenny Lake and Jackson Lake.

Up through the sweetness of the Teton Forest, by a winding single road, and then the immediate beginning of Yellowstone. The ride up through hemlock, pine, and spruce trees and then the Thumb of Yellowstone, the Paint Pots, and the boiling waters, sinister, grotesque, like a shimmering unbedded river moving through hot oatmeal. Then the vast bouquet of Old Faithful, and the crater lid, volcanic, the earth rising from a hundred holes, the hot boiling, overslipping of the pot, and then the vast hot plume of steam and water. The people watching—middle-class America watching—kids, old men, women, young men, women—and again the hot plume, the tons of water falling and the hot plume dipping once again.

So to supper at the Lodge and later to the Yellowstone Inn to the bar. There is more merriment here, the people are more pugnacious, less casual, and singing: “We don’t give a damn for the whole state of Utah.” So midnight and a billion stars and to our cabin. Lay awake and talking all together—so to bed.

Tuesday, June 28.

Up at 8:40 and on our way along the crater basin—the hot fierce bubblings of the tormented bowels of the earth—the Sapphire Pool—and people, people, people. (“Don’t lean over that, I’ll have a parboiled boy,” said a man.) Then to Geyser swimming pool and Middle Basin by the longer road, through enchanted country and green meadows. Pine, hemlock, spruce, aspen forests—Virginia Cascades cascading—and lovely streams and water, water in the West. Bears are prowling on the road and all cars stopping while their drivers step out to play with the bears. So to see the mighty falls of Yellowstone and water falling, boiling, and the rushing current of the Canyon’s loveliest stream, so clear and bright and fierce compared to the Colorado. Then on toward Mammoth Hot Springs—and the great climb and enchanted mountain country now and great peaks to the west.

Now the climb, the patched dirty snow beneath the trees and then the rising eminence of Mount Washburn—and the timber line, the snow, the dizzy steepness to the left. The desert, the buffaloes, like dots grazing to the right, the elk, the enchanted valleys far below. Now hackled crag peaks to north and west, and down and down—and finally below the Mammoth Springs. Here are naked cabins huddled into rows, and the blistered erosions of the Springs, the Lodge, the old buildings of the Army Post, and a sense of bleakness everywhere. So down and out and farewell Yellowstone.

The town of Gardiner, small and somewhat bleak with a string of Pullman cars that came up in the morning and two Pullman porters coming down the street. Now away along the Valley of the Yellowstone, and at first the bleak denuded hills, the rushing river, the clear fast fish. Then the naked hills enlarging into rolling cliffs and forested (the timber deeper here than Utah—the maternal granite now, no longer limestone—and the valley greening with the widening and clean-watered River of Yellowstone). An enchanted valley now with upslope to the east and right and timbered Rockies going into snow and granite and the cliffs, nude spaciousness. The valley is not so green as Mormon land mayhaps—but thick with grasses yellowed somewhat from the teeth of steers. The nude ranges towards the timbered cliffs, and to the west the miracle of evening light and the celebrated river called the Yellowstone and trees most green and marvelous. It is a scene at once familiar and unknown, with elements like those before in Mormon land but here by some miracle transformed into this Itselfness. There are barns now painted red upon the upland rise of ranges to the east and fading light—and so to Livingston, like places known and come to before.

Supper at the U. P. station and the waitress with the tired face, and yet with charm, reticence, and intelligence. Outside, the walls of rain (the moaning of full rivers lapping at the rear) and the bald hills all about. So out and to the westward, the ripe greenery left behind now and the bald ridges closing in. The rise across the Bozeman Pass, and then the steep descent, the U. P. descending steeply with us, and ascending too, the double-header and then the lights of Bozeman—the broad main street ablaze with power of brightness and abundant light. The hotel, the cafe for hamburgers and milk, and so, bed.

Wednesday, June 29. Glacier Park.

Up at seven—and off through the valley with Bridger waters on right, marshes on left. Presently, the great Range with great sweeps, the waters fading to the right behind, the giant peaks to the right—and forestry and the ranges, Helena and the enormous gold dredge sweeping up the hill. Then through the pass and over and the valleys and the Gates of the Mountains; and so, on and climbing and now the vast Range—the waters to the left—the Continental. Now past the desert moldings of the earth to the right, the immense and lovely young green of the Range and great herds grazing, the straight backs of the steers in the bright light. The great American Plain is opening with infinite lift and rise and fullness to the fore—to, towards the Rockies. Then the Blackfoot Reservation, then Browning—all embraced desertly and Indian—and so, on and on, directly towards the shining, bright austerity of the mountains now. Through the big barks and into the canyons—and presently the Glacier Park Hotel. A sandwich there and up St. Mary’s Lake to Babb—then, back again and from St. Mary’s crossing along the gorge to the Going-to-the-Sun Highway and the stupendous hackled peaks now—the sheer basaltic wall of glaciation, the steep slopings down below, the dense vertices of glacial valley slopes and forest—and climbing, climbing to the Logan Pass. So down again terrifically, and the glacial wall beside, the enormous hackled granite peaks before, the green steep glaciation of the forest, the pouring cascades, and the streams below. And down and down the marvelous road into the forest, and down and down to McDonald Lake and the hotel. All very tired and very sleepy—and so to bed!

Thursday, June 30. Day of the lakes.

Slept late and soundly, woke at eight, dressed, and to hotel for breakfast. Women are feeding deer and laughing before the hotel. The lake is most blue in morning light, most marvelous in morning shadow, and over everything soars the Alpine sheerness of the granite peaks. So away and down along a pleasant stream and around the loveliness of Flathead Lake, with the granite masses of the Continental Divide rising on the other side and cedar hills on the right. So we leave the lake at Poison, and so down into the Missoula Valley—the valley widening, the district of Flathead Indians, opened as late as 1910 for white settlement—the river somewhere away to the right, told by a line of trees, but out of sight. So by the bison camp at Flathead Reservation, and now we pick up the stream again (now known as Clark’s Fork of the Columbia River), this time a glorious viscous emerald green, and for 200 miles we follow along this stream, which constantly enlarges and grows deeper. The scenery is often almost Appalachian (save for the darkness of the trees); this is a land of mighty screenings scrupulously intimate, and narrow now, very sparsely settled, but breaking out now and then into wealths and sweeps of green fertility. The green glacial stream is constantly being fed by others, drawing all the water from the hills into itself, being widened and thickened but muddied by the confluence of the Bitter Root River—a strange sight now—the left side of the river glacial green, the right side muddy brown.

So to Thompson’s Falls, a blistered little town. (The Montana towns have more of a false-front, hicklike, Old-West appearance than any others I have seen.) Three little girls are dancing in front of the place where we eat—and the railroad above and along our road, the U. P. station and the blistered houses. And so, away along the river again, and we pick up a train and follow it down and at last come upon the Pend Oreille Lake—in Idaho in the Panhandle—a rather big lake and a lovely one, swollen with rains and increased by flood. Along the lake and at last to Kootenai and big farms, well painted buildings, warm alfalfa and green fields, and so we pick up the river now known as the Pend Oreille. We speculate on the route of Lewis and of Clark, whose ghosts have haunted us and this country since Three Forks. And so along the river until we cross it finally at Newport on the Washington state line, and away for the last 40 or 50 miles into Spokane. The country already has a Pacific weathered look—the dark trees, pines predominant, and some lakes, and all greener there, I thought. (The whole journey today has been green and thick with forest, fall of water.) So into Spokane at 6:45 Pacific Time and to the Davenport Hotel and presently I go down alone and eat, and then upstairs and straighten accounts with Conway (the whole trip costing me less than $50) and so to bed.

Friday, July 1.

Away from Spokane at 9:50 and west through country becoming more barren all the time and sweepings of wheat fields and desert and sage-brush country. So to the Grand Coulee, and the great basaltic walls of the dam down, down, down. The tremendous size and glacial greenness of the Columbia River sweeping round the bend and the basal regularity of the terrific dam, and the crew with red helmets working. So to the observation point and fidgeted and listened to a talk on the dimensions and purpose of the dam. Then down and across the bridge to Mason City where the workers live—a town as much like the rude West as one can find now—and back and up again and by crews working, gathered in red helmets, and to the top of the plateau. Now we follow out the route of the Dry Coulee—the cavernous basaltic walls and the ancient and enormous bed—then to the great basin of the dry falls and then down, down, down to the Coulee’s end and into the dry sage-brush desert, and across this desert that the dam will reclaim.

A pause for lunch and we drive on again and towards the last blue ledge of hills and up and up the canyon for a constantly rising plateau. The air is cool now and the wind blows so the car rocks and moves like a toy. Then down and down and down into the Yakima Gorge and the dry hills again and up and around and along the narrow gorge above the snaking river and at last into Yakima. Here we turn and follow back along the valley of the Naches and this too is burgeoning with fruit. Then into the canyon gorge again and the boiling river flowing past and trees now, and climbing, climbing, and the forest darkness now of the Cascades—pine, hemlock, spruce, some fir—and up the American River again into blue-black Cascades and forest night-dark now. Mist is gathering and clouds are overhead. Then all mists deepen and thicken and there are blowing ice sheets of spume through the Chinook Pass. So through the Pass and down into the valley and up again. Around and up now, climbing hard, and all lost vaguely in the mist. Round again and the great white bowl masses of Rainier descend and mist blows in in floods of spume. Then up and up to timber land and to the Sunrise Lodge. Here light is playing marvelously, and blue cerulean struggling to break through. The glaciers are level to the eye and visible, but the great mountain masses and the peak are obscured. So over the snow, still 4 to 6 feet deep, to our cabins—then to dinner at the Lodge. The cold menace and terror of the mountain, the gigantic fume flaws of bright mist surging by below us, above us, and around the mighty mass. We all are very tired, and so, presently to bed.

Saturday, July 2.

Lay late, until 8:20. C came in to build the fire, and in both of us were quiet greetings, a feeling that our trip was almost done, and in me a sense of the tremendous kindness and decency and humanity of the man. He said: “Tom, look at the mountain.” I got up and looked; it was immense and terrific and near and clouds still clung to the Great Cloudmaker at the side like a great filament of ectoplasm. C told me to sleep as long as I wanted, and went out, but presently I got up and dressed and shaved, and walked over the packed and dirty snow to the Lodge for breakfast. So, out to look at the mountain—and the sun out now, the mist ocean still below us—but the great mass of Rainier was clearly defined now, and it faced up squarely with all its perilous overwhelming majesty, and with its tremendous shoulders, the long terrific sweeps of its hackling ridges. We stood trying to get its scale, but this was impossible because there was nothing but mountain—a universe of mountain, a continent of mountain—and nothing else but mountain itself to compare mountain to. And so, away by 11:30 and down the mountain into the sea of cold fog and mist again—now the enormous forest darkness of the Douglas firs, the towering barks of the terrific trees, the dense fervid darkness of the undergrowth. Then blasted woods, denuded hills, and acres of stumps. Then the lowlands—a cordial margin land at first of farms and woods and natural growth and windswept barns and houses, curiously ragged, casual, and unkept looking after the irrigated lands. Then out and down into the valley to Tacoma; then along the broad four-wayed Pacific Highway, to Olympia, whose sidewalks are crowded with throngs of people—farmers, seamen, lumberjacks in town to celebrate the Fourth. So to Crane’s Restaurant for lunch, and ate a shrimp cocktail of the tiny Puget shrimps, and then a delicious pan roast of the small but succulent Puget Sound oysters, the whole cooked in with crab meat in a delicious pungent sauce, and spread on toast.

It is time for our farewells now; we exchange addresses, give fool instructions—all with the businesslike coolness of men with some sadness in their hearts avoiding farewells. C, still avoiding it, is going to drive me up to see the Capitol and we see it, and still avoiding it, ride back to see the old State Capitol, and we see it. And so, at last, farewell. They are gone, and a curiously hollow feeling is in me as I stand there on the streets of Olympia and watch the white Ford flash away.

So alone I take the bus to Seattle, the magnificent four-way highway filled with the flashing traffic of the holiday, the country undulant in long sweeps between the dark and rugged lanes of Douglas fir. The temporary congestion at Tacoma—then on our way again and presently the outskirts of Seattle, scattered houses, open country, the arms of Puget Sound—blue-black, misty, and uniting under the gray skies. Then the great train yards, flying fields, viaducts—the settlements upon the hills, then the downtown section, the crowded streets, the bus station, a taxi, and the hotel. A midnight meal at Rippes and the trip over now—to bed!

Additional Reading:


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Recommended Reading