Photograph by Enos Mills




"MOTHER, where is the top of the continent?" asked Margaret.

The family was gathered around the library fire after dinner. There was still a half hour left before bedtime. The wind was howling through the bare trees on the lawn, and the snow was beating a tattoo upon the window-pane. But the Jefferson library seemed all the warmer because of the cold storm without. Uncle Tom had put a fresh chestnut log on the andirons, and it crackled merrily as the sparks flew in all directions.

The greatest rock in America—El Capitan—rising 3,600 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor
Photograph by J. T. Boyson

"Look out," said Aunt Jane, "those sparks may scorch the rug. Jack, you'd better set up the screen."

"Mother, where is the top of the continent?" asked Margaret.

"Not that way, you bad boy!" cried Aunt Jane. "You've set it upside down."

"What difference does it make?" asked careless Jack, thrusting his hands in his pockets. "It'll stop the sparks upside down, won't it?"

Aunt Jane readjusted the screen and retreated, rubbing her pretty cheeks now glowing with heat. Even Jack admitted that Aunt Jane was pretty.

"Mother, where is the top of the continent?" asked Margaret.

"B-r-r-r!" grumbled Uncle Tom. "Do you hear that icy blast? I tell you it's unchristian to send a fellow home such a night as this. Let me sleep on the lounge."

"Why, of course you may," said Mother, looking indulgently at her handsome young brother-in-law. "We'll make you up some kind of a bed."

"He may sleep with me," said Jack condescendingly. "Only he's got to stay on his own side of the bed. If he doesn't, I'll kick."

"Mother, where is the top of the continent?" asked Margaret.

"You'll kick anyway, you young mule," said Uncle Tom, "but I'd rather be kicked than walk a mile home against that storm."

"Mother, where is the top of the continent?" asked Margaret.

"Dear me, child," said Mrs. Jefferson, "if you did not get an answer you would go on asking that question in your sleep and put it to me again before breakfast. I'm sure I don't know where the top of the continent is, or what it is either. Who did you hear speak of it?"

"Oh, Uncle Billy told Daddy at dinner that it was where he photographed that bear," said Margaret. "He said the top of the continent was the most wonderful place in the world; I think it must be most as 'stonishing a place as Fairyland. He said he saw a waterfall most a hundred miles high, and that there were things he called glaciers that dug ditches in the rocks more than a mile deep. He said there were lots of bears and deer there, and I think he said lions. Oh, yes, and there was a lake that had icebergs in it in summer, and you slept out under the trees, and there were millions and millions of mountains that had snow on them in August. He said you could run out for a few minutes in the morning and catch all the trout you could eat for breakfast, and that you rode on mules, and that there were trees a whole block thick and ever and ever so high, and that there were 'normous big white goats with whiskers that climbed up rocks just like flies climb the wall, and there were boats on the lakes and_______"

"Not so fast, child!" interrupted Mother, but Margaret was running too rapidly to stop all at once.

"It was all just too lovely except the bears. I wouldn't want to sleep under the trees with bears around. I'd want to_______"

"I would," cried Jack. "I'd shoot the bears. I'd just like to see a bear come for me when I was asleep under a tree. I'd jump up quick and send a bullet crashing right through his head. I would_______"

"Like fun, you would!" put in Uncle Tom unfeelingly. "You'd run."

"And how would you know he was coming if you were asleep?" asked literal Margaret.

"Oh, I would know, all right," said Jack. "The Indians always do. I'd have a_______"

"One at a time, children," commanded Mother. "Now be still for a few moments and let me talk. I know now what Uncle Billy meant by the top of the continent, but I think, dearie, that you have exaggerated what he told Daddy. He was speaking of the week he spent last summer in the Glacier National Park. By the top of the continent he must have meant the very high mountains in the West. Uncle Billy came home so pleased with his week on the mountain-tops that he wants to go again next summer. He wants to spend three or four months in the West and see all the national parks."

"Will he take me?" screamed Margaret, scrambling to her feet and rushing to her Mother. "Oh, will he, will he take me?"

"Will he take me?" cried Jack, jumping up. "Oh, goody! Oh, great! Are there Indians there?"

"Hush! Hush!" cried Mother, retreating before the assault. "No, of course he won't take you. Children cannot go to such rough places. I wouldn't let him take you."

"Besides, he's going to take me," said Uncle Tom. "We're going to start the last week in May and go straight to the Yosemite so as to see the falls at their best."

"Oh, take me, too, Uncle Tom, dear Uncle Tom!" cried both the children at once. It was Uncle Tom's turn to retreat, for their charge was vigorous.

"Sorry, but I can't do it," said Uncle Tom emphatically. "We're going to places where children cannot go."

"But children do go to national parks," wailed Margaret. "Dorothy went with her mother to Messy Fur last summer, and she isn't as old as I am."

"To—where?" demanded Aunt Jane. "Is that extraordinary messy place a national park?"

"Of course Messy Fur is a national park," Margaret stated with dignity, "for Dorothy told me so. It's awfully nice and spooky. You climb down under 'normous cliffs, and there's houses, old, old houses that people haven't lived in for millions of years. But the Indians say that ghosts live in them, and they will not go near them, and_______"

"Oh, I know now," Mother interrupted. "It isn't anything messy at all, Margaret. Mrs. Jones went to the Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado where those wonderful prehistoric cities were found."

"But, Mother, how can it be a park if it is like what Margaret says?" protested Jack. "A park has benches and swans and things and you get ice-cream at the Casino. But Margaret says there are Indians out there. That can't be a park."

"A national park, children," explained Uncle Tom, "is not like any city park. It is thousands of times bigger. There are a few hundred acres in our Fairmount Park, for instance, but more than a thousand square miles in Glacier National Park."

"Gee!" exclaimed Jack. "It must be a whopper then, for every square mile has six hundred and forty acres in it."

"Oh!" said Margaret, appalled. They stopped a minute to multiply a thousand square miles by six hundred and forty.

"Then," continued Uncle Tom, "there are other differences. A national park is left just exactly as nature made it. They don't cut trees or make lawns or put swans on the lakes. It is an enormous wild place that the Government leaves just as God designed it, because God made it so magnificent that it would be quite spoiled if men tried to improve it."

"Oh, take us, take us to the top of the continent, dear Uncle Billy!"

"All wild and mountainy and jungly and full of animals?" asked Jack excitedly.

"Just like that," said Uncle Tom.

"Oh, I must go!" Jack exclaimed fervently.

"Well, here comes Uncle Billy with Dad," said Mother. "Ask him to tell you more about the top of the continent."

The children rushed for Uncle Billy with arms out-stretched, crying: "Oh, take us, take us to the top of the continent, dear Uncle Billy!"

Margaret began to weep silently, while Jack kicked the piano-chair

Uncle Billy and Uncle Tom were twin brothers, but they did not resemble each other in any respect. Uncle Billy was fair-haired and smooth-shaven, round-faced and jolly. Uncle Tom was slender and dark-haired, and wore a tiny young mustache, of which his older brother, Mr. Jefferson, made endless sport. He was quiet and studious. When the children wanted a romp they sought Uncle Billy. When they wanted information they asked Uncle Tom. Aunt Jane, by the way, was Mrs. Margaret Jefferson's younger sister, who was home for the holidays from her sophomore year at Vassar.

"What mischief have you been doing here, Tom?" asked Uncle Billy when at length he had untangled himself and the situation. "You ought not to have filled these children's heads with this notion of going with us on our trip next summer."

"I didn't," said Uncle Tom; "on the contrary, I told them emphatically that they could not go."

Margaret began to weep silently, while Jack kicked the piano-chair as if he wanted to hurt it.

"It's no trip for children," Mother declared. "Climbing mountains and riding mules close to precipices and sleeping out in forests—I cannot see how the subject ever even came up. The national parks may be very well for hardy young men in their senior vacations, but they are no places for children—or for women, either."

"Oh, aren't they though?" cried Uncle Billy. "That's just where you are good and mistaken, Sister mine. They are exactly the places for women and children—and old folks and everybody else. There are good hotels and good comfortable camps, good automobile roads and splendid safe trails. Thousands of people visit them every summer—more women and children than men by a good many. There are usually good doctors to be found, but people are so well in the mountains that they seldom need doctors. It is healthier even than home. No, as a matter of fact, the national parks are the finest places in the world to take children."

The General Sherman Tree, Sequoia National Park. The biggest and the oldest living thing

"But I wouldn't trust the children to you harum scarum young men," said Mother decidedly, "so let there be an end to this talk. Besides, I couldn't live a summer without them."

"And I wouldn't go without Mother," said Margaret plaintively, snuggling close to her Mother's side.

"Not even with me?" asked Uncle Billy teasingly.

Margaret slowly but decidedly shook her head. Then her face brightened and she began to jump up and down excitedly.

"But Mother shall go with us if it's so nice and comfy up there!" she cried. "Of course Mother shall go with us! She'll go! Oh, won't we go, Mother? We'll go to the top of the continent!"

Uncle Billy stole a quick glance at pretty Aunt Jane, who flushed ever so slightly and looked down.

"Why can't we all go?" he asked. "The whole blooming family?"

Then there was pandemonium.

And that is how the Jefferson family came to make a tour of the national parks the following summer.

Father was doubtful about it at first, but he wrote to the Department of the Interior, at Washington, and found out all about the national parks; he decided finally that the trip would be beneficial to all.

"Besides the health and the fun," he said to Mother, "I think the children will learn something about the making of the earth. I was talking the other day to Professor Grimwood. He believes the trip will teach them unconsciously a good deal of fundamental fact about botany and geology, besides developing their love of the beautiful. And it cannot help making them patriotic to see the most magnificent parts of the greatest country in the world."

Much to the children's grief, Father could not spare the time from business to go along.

"But I can get a couple of weeks or so in late August, perhaps," he said, "and I'll run out and get you and maybe see the Grand Canyon before we come home."

Little else was talked about during the spring, and many were the books that Mother read about the wonderful national parks. It was determined that they should begin with the Rocky Mountain National Park, in Colorado, as that was the nearest to their Philadelphia home.

<<< Previous <<< Contents>>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 30-Oct-2009