THE INCOMPARABLE VALLEY
BUT THERE IS MUCH MORE THAN THE VALLEY IN THE YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
IN their tour of the national parks, the Jeffersons had found no repetitions. Each park had impressed them with its own personality. Each had proved so different from every other that, except for their common possession of mountains, forests, streams, and valleys, no one of them suggested any other. The Yosemite National Park was no exception; in fact, it emphasized the rule.
"One of the Government booklets stated that the Yosemite Valley was incomparable, but I didn't quite believe it," mused Aunt Jane. "Now I know it must be true. Surely there can be nothing in all the world like this, or comparable with it. These sensational granite cliffs would be enough, this exquisite valley would be enough, these amazing waterfalls would be enough. To have them all together in one spot seems almost too much. Somehow I feel suppressed and humble."
But there was nothing suppressed or humble about Jack. The Yosemite Valley did not affect him that way. In fact he had uttered an unrestrained whoop upon approaching the Gates of the Valley; he had shouted at his first sight of El Capitan, and had led the chorus of exclamations over Bridal Veil Fall. As their automobile stage had farther penetrated the valley, his shouts had become louder and more frequent.
"If you will only stop your noise just for a minute now and then," said Margaret, "some of the rest of us would have a chance. Why, I haven't heard myself yell yet. It isn't fair."
But Jack did not even hear her. He had just caught sight of Half Dome.
"Gee!" he shouted, "look at the old monk. Gee! See the size of him. Say, Mother, do you see the old monk? Say Uncle Billy, is that just a rock? Oh, what a whopper! Say, Uncle Tom, can you climb up there? Say, Margaret."
Jack did not wait for answers to his questions. He was too excited. And the others were far too absorbed themselves to understand or to answer.
But when, an hour later, they stood at the foot of the Yosemite Falls and gazed up a clear half mile of falling water, Jack really was startled into two or three minutes of silence. When he did break forth again he beat his own best record.
"You've found your master at last, Jack," said Uncle Billy during the interval, "but it took the highest waterfalls in the world to talk you down."
"How high are they?" asked Mrs. Jefferson at last.
"The lower fall," said Uncle Tom, "which looks so tiny by comparison with the upper fall, is twice as high as Niagara Falls. The upper fall, which is by far the loftiest in the world, is nine times as high as Niagara. From the crest of the upper fall to the pool at the foot of the lower fall just lacks half a mile."
"It seems to fall so slowly," said Aunt Jane. "How leisurely the water floats down. All the waterfalls I've ever seen fairly rushed down. As a matter of fact, the lower fall moves faster than the upper fall. Why is that? The same natural laws govern both."
"That," said Uncle Tom after a few minutes' thoughtful study, "looks true, but isn't. The water seems to fall more slowly in the bigger fall because we do not realize how high the big fall is. The movement appears slow because the water has so very far to travel. As a matter of fact, the water near the bottom of the larger fall may be dropping faster than that of the lower fall. It is farther from us, too, which helps the illusion."
The Jeffersons, whether living in hotel or public camp, always had been most comfortably cared for, but they were hardly prepared for the luxurious living they found possible in the Yosemite. The big hotel supplied every reasonable need. One of the several large public camps was equipped with small log houses instead of tents, each lighted with electricity, and heated with a small wood-stove. Two of the camps had swimming-baths. And miles away in the wilderness were chalet camps equipped with grills and shower baths for the comfort of travellers by trail.
But the children wanted to camp out"really, truly camp out, Mother, and do our own cooking."
"Why not?" asked Uncle Billy.
So the supervisor assigned them a camp ground in the upper part of the valley alongside the rippling Merced River, and a camping outfit complete, even to cooking utensils, crockery, and linen, was rented in the village and speedily set up.
"It's just like a fairy-story," said Margaret. "The fairy godmother waves her wand, and here we are with everything we want. Uncle Billy makes a splendid fairy godmother."
And what fun they had! Mrs. Jefferson was cook, Aunt Jane housemaid, Jack fireman and woodchopper, Margaret waitress, and all hands dish-washers. For two or three mornings Mrs. Jefferson went to market and ordered provisions to be delivered by wagon at the tent-door. Then a neighbor pointed out a telephone fastened to a near-by tree, and, much to the children's mystification, there was no more going to market.
In the morning, Margaret would say she wanted steak for lunch, and in a little while a boy would walk in with the steak.
"It's like the Arabian Nights," Margaret would say. "You are the fairy, Mother, not Uncle Billy."
Jack teased to know how Mrs. Jefferson brought about this magic. How did the shops in the village know what she wanted?
"I just wave my hands to old Half Dome up there, and whisper what I want," said Mrs. Jefferson, "and, presto, it is here."
"How lovely!" cried Margaret, clapping her hands.
"Mother's just fooling us," said Jack, "and I'm going to find out how she does it."
"Please don't, Jack," pleaded Margaret. "I don't want to know. I'd rather think it is old Half Dome sends us the things we want."
Mrs. Jefferson managed to keep up the mystery for nearly a week. It was sometimes difficult to evade Jack's vigilance long enough to disappear into the little clump of trees and telephone her orders. But she did it, and Margaret continued to live in fairy-land. Jack, however, was not to be foiled; when he failed to solve the mystery in camp, he walked all the way to the village and asked the butcher. Then he diligently searched the woods till he found the hidden telephone.
But Margaret cried for a few minutes when he announced his triumph at the dinner-table; she refused to forgive him for a whole hour.
"Jack is the meanest thing in California," said Margaret.
"Never mind, Margaret," said Mother. "I am very well satisfied with you both. It is too bad that fairy-land was destroyed, but well, I feel surer now than ever that Jack will get along in the world."
For a while the party idled in the dreamy, exquisite valley. They fished a little in the Merced but caught no trout. They explored the valley afoot, in automobiles, and on horseback. They spent a never-to-be-forgotten morning at the base of majestic El Capitan. They photographed the Three Brothers and Cathedral Spires. They studied Yosemite Falls from every point of view, spending one day in a climb to the top, where they ate luncheon while peering over its crest into the wonderful valley so far below. They picnicked on the Happy Isles, and lost their hearts to Vernal Fall. They gloried in the color changes as the sun shifted the shadows with the passing hours. They marvelled at the tricks that sunset played with Half Dome.
Occasionally they had afternoon swims in one of the pools. One evening Uncle Billy took Mrs. Jefferson and Aunt Jane to a dance at the hotel while Uncle Tom stayed in camp with the children. They found the pleasantest of neighbors among the campers, many of whom brought their cars with them and camped all summer, returning year after year. At the hotel and on the trails occasionally they met friends from the East. They made up parties for more distant trail rides, spending a night or two in the far-away chalet camps.
Jack had never cared as much for fishing as most boys, but one of these excursions made him an ardent angler. The excursion was to Lake Merced, fifteen miles up the river by trail. They had not intended making the trip. It grew out of an excursion to Glacier Point, which rises thirty-three hundred feet almost perpendicularly from the valley floor. They took the long trail past beautiful Vernal Fall and majestic Nevada Fall. They lunched at the top of Nevada Fall while their horses cropped stray clumps of grass near by.
As they approached Glacier Point a view disclosed itself so different from any they had yet seen that they were overcome with surprise. The Yosemite Valley itself was hidden, but, from this great height they looked up the entire length of two noble canyons, at the near-by junction of which Half Dome lifted its majestic, hooded head. Both valleys were disclosed to the distant range of sun-topped mountains, called the High Sierra, in which originated these clear, trout-haunted rivers.
"I scarcely believe," said Uncle Tom, "that the world contains a view of nobler beauty than this."
Commanding this view at the highest point stood an excellent hotel where they registered for the night, and then climbed over the rocks to Glacier Point to look down from behind the iron railing into the Yosemite Valley. It was a day of sensations and emotions. Nothing but Margaret's timely screams and Uncle Tom's quick restraining hand prevented Jack from climbing out on the rock which overhangs the Yosemite Valley.
"People do go out there," said Jack, protesting. "There's lots of photographs down in the village showing people standing there. I saw one with two girls sitting on the edge dangling their feet over the valley."
"Nevertheless, you are not going on the Overhanging Rock, or anywhere near it," said Uncle Tom sternly. "You understand, do you?"
Jack was a little awed. Uncle Tom never before had spoken just that way.
"Yes" he said meekly.
"One step toward it," said Uncle Tom, "and you go into the hotel and stay there for the rest of the day. You understand me."
Jack remembered the ice-cave at Mount Rainier. He needed no more warnings.
They dined on the porch of the hotel overlooking the High Sierra and watched the sunset. Just before the sun sank behind them, the effect was magical. The shadows rapidly deepened in the valleys, shutting out even the Vernal and Nevada Falls, until only the highest peaks, the gigantic head of Half Dome, and the snow-capped monsters on the horizon glowed in brilliant rose tints. Then, almost like the dropping of a curtain, the whole spectacle darkened.
They sat in silence for a while, and then slowly arose and turned away.
"Oh, looklook!" cried Margaret. "Something's happened! Oh! oh!"
They turned back quickly and looked again. Something indeed had happened. For again the whole scene glowed. A rich, mellow, golden light, shot through with indefinable rose tints, pervaded, rather than lighted, the magical setting. It was like nothing any of them had seen before. It was mystical, unreal, almost ghostly. The strange light increased rapidly. All held their breath. Even Jack was still and silent.
"Wonderful!" exclaimed Aunt Jane fervently. "But what is it?"
"The afterglow," explained a voice behind her.
"And look at Half Dome," whispered Mrs. Jefferson. "Jack is right about him. He is a monk. From here, in this light, those rock shoulders are like arms outstretched. His head is bowed. He is pronouncing the day's benediction upon the sleeping valley."
The spirit of adventure possessed the party the next morning, and, unequipped as they were for more than one night's outing, nevertheless they determined to push on up the canyon to Merced Lake. They passed through a region of glacier-polished granite lying in long, sharp slopes from the mountain ridges down into the noble canyon through which frothed the Merced. The trail led far enough up the mountainsides to clear the dangerously smooth granite.
In mid-afternoon they reached a lake lying among mountain tops. Hidden in a pine forest at its head was a large and comfortable camp where well-furnished tents were assigned them.
"I'm going fishing," said Uncle Billy as soon as they were well settled.
"And I," said Uncle Tom.
"And I," said Jack.
"And I," said Margaret.
"And I," said Aunt Jane.
"And I, too," said Mrs. Jefferson, "though I've not been fishing since, as a little girl, I caught minnows in the brook in Father's south woods."
They hired rods and flies and rowed out upon the lake in boats. Here Margaret caught her first trout. In fact, they all caught a few trout.
"They're not very big," said Jack; "not much bigger than Adirondack trout."
"You want to ketch a big one, eh?" laughed the boatman. "Well, I know a hole in the river. Get your dinner very early and come on out. I'll give you a chance."
Dinner in a big tent was hot, varied, plentiful, and well served. The boatman awaited them outside. He led Jack and his two uncles to a long bend in the river, shallow on one side, swift and deep on the other. He tied the boat to overhanging willows and let it drift with the current. They settled themselves comfortably in it and cast in turn, allowing their flies to float down over the swift depths.
Uncle Tom caught the first fish, a fine rainbow trout twelve inches long. It fought gamely in the fast water. Then Uncle Billy took one somewhat larger. Jack lost two in succession, one of which ran rapidly down-stream, bending his rod and pulling free.
"That was some fish," said the boatman. "It's your own fault you lost him. You'd ought to have give him line. Next time you get a fish like that, don't pull; let him have all the line he wants. Let him tire himself out. He'll ketch himself if you'll only let him."
Jack almost cried with vexation, but presently forgot it in Uncle Tom's hard fight with a trout which measured sixteen inches when, at last, it lay in the bottom of the boat.
"Oh I see how," Jack said after they all had sufficiently admired the beautiful prize. "I watched how you did that, Uncle Tom. One time you let him have so much line I thought you'd never get him back again."
Several smaller fish were landed; then the trout ceased to rise. Jack had had several rises, but had hooked none.
"Just my luck!" he complained. "The only time I hook a big fish I lose him."
"It's all over," said Uncle Billy. "They've stopped rising. Anyway, it's time we stopped. The sun's down, and it is getting late. We've had good sport while it lasted."
Jack continued casting after his uncles had taken apart their rods and were impatiently urging him to come.
"Just once more, and then I'll come sure, said Jack. "I promise."
Then it happened.
His long line had drifted far down over the deepest current, and the fly straightened out and curved across the stream. There was a break in the water and a slight tug at the line. Jack's impetuous impulse was to jerk, but he remembered just in time. He lifted the tip sharply. The line tightened and the rod bent.
"Give him line," shouted Uncle Tom.
But the fish took line without permission, pulling it swiftly from the reel. The moment the slack came. Jack raised his rod and began to draw the line in with his left hand as he had seen Uncle Tom do. The fish followed, stopped, turned, and made again downstream. Then Jack, who was breathing hard with excitement, suddenly calmed. He was not going to lose his head. He determined to land that trout. He stood erect in the boat, and braced his feet firmly.
"I don't want anybody to say a word to me," he said. "I'm going to land this fish myself or lose him."
It was a good many minutes before Jack landed his trout. Time and again the fish came to the boat side only to dart away. Once it took so long a run down stream that Jack thought it was gone.
Finally, however, the tired trout gave it up, and Jack drew it gently alongside the boat for the last time. Uncle Billy lifted it in.
"Gee, it's a shad!" Jack shouted as he saw its broad, beautiful proportions. His triumph and pent-up excitement found sudden vent. He dropped on his knees with a shout, gathered up the flopping fish, and hugged it.
"Look out! You'll lose him yet," said the boat man sharply. "Trout are full o' tricks."
"That's the finest trout I've ever seen," said Uncle Tom. "How beautiful a big rainbow is, anyway! How deep and full-bodied!"
"Three pounds and a half, I should say," said the boatman admiringly.
The trout measured twenty-one inches.
That is how Jack became an angler.
They returned the next day by way of Cloud's Rest, the highest point abutting the valley, into which they looked down from an elevation of more than a mile. Here they were nearly a thousand feet higher than Half Dome, and were able to see the top of the hooded monster.
The famous Yosemite Valley is only seven miles long, and an average of one mile wide. Several of its lofty, perpendicular walls, if toppled over, would nearly reach the other side.
"What makes it so awfully different from all the other places we've seen?" asked Margaret. "It isn't a bit like other valleys."
"Its geological history is very interesting," said Uncle Tom. "I talked the other night at the hotel with Doctor Blank of the United States Geological Survey, who is up here testing a new scientific theory. Once all this was solid granite. There was no deep valley, only a gentle depression, probably, down which rushed a stream of water from back in the High Sierra. There were thousands of other streams in these mountains very much like it, and they all cut their own valleys. But right here the granite must have been fractured in such a way as to give the water a greater chance with it than elsewhere, for this valley was eroded much deeper and faster than any other. It may have had a steeper grade, which would have given the river greater cutting power.
"What do you mean by faster?" asked Aunt Jane. "Water surely cannot wear down granite very fast."
"You are right," said Uncle Tom. "When a geologist speaks of a river eroding a granite valley fast, he does not mean what we mean when we say fast."
"He means thousands of years, I suppose," said Mrs. Jefferson.
"No, he means millions of years," said Uncle Tom. "We cannot appreciate what millions of years mean. No one ever shall be able to realize it. Doctor Blank says that modern science tends to think of geological ages as much longer than formerly was supposed. It may have taken several hundred million years for the river to wear down this valley."
"What made the waterfalls?" asked Margaret.
"These lesser streams, of course, originally ran into the Merced at more or less the same level. But, as the main valley was cut deeper and deeper, these streams were left hanging higher and higher up in the air, till at last the Yosemite Falls over there had to drop half a mile to reach the bottom."
"Yes," said Jack, "but Doctor McKinley told us at Mount Rainier that a valley cut out by a river had sides like the letter V, and this valley has a wide, flat floor. So your nice theory doesn't prove."
"Yes, it does," said Uncle Tom, "for my story isn't finished yet. After the river had worn the valley as deep as it is now, or even deeper (and then it may have been shaped like the letter V), an immense glacier crept slowly through it, and, for maybe hundreds of thousands of years, scooped out its corners and shaped it the way it is now. It was this glacier that polished those granite slopes that we saw the other day up near Merced Lake."
"But it didn't scoop out old El Capitan," said Jack.
"No, El Capitan proved more than a match for it," said Uncle Tom. "But it did slice off one side of Half Dome. Half Dome was a whole dome originally, you know. The glacier must have undercut its base, so that one side split off and fell upon the ice, and was carried far down the valley."
"Gee!" said Jack, "that was some big job."
"But, Uncle Tom," said Margaret, "I should have thought that the glacier would have scooped out all that nice black soil on the floor of the valley."
"That soil came there long after glacial times, Margaret," replied Uncle Tom. "After the ice receded, there followed thousands of years more of water erosion. At first the Merced River may have filled the valley from side to side, gradually becoming smaller in volume as the glaciers and snow-fields in which it originated in the High Sierra became smaller. It was the Merced River which deposited the rich soil which you now find on the valley's floor."
But the Yosemite Valley, with its seven or eight square miles of area, is a very small part indeed of the eleven hundred square miles contained within the borders of the Yosemite National Park. In this magnificent area of forests and mountains there are hundreds of beautiful lakes and thousands of streams which very few tourists ever visit. The Jeffersons could not afford the time to explore the greater park, but they determined to make one trip above the valley's rim, "to sample it," as Jack phrased it.
"I want to see the Tuolumne water-wheels," said Uncle Tom. "I have heard it predicted that fifty years from now the Canyon of the Tuolumne will be acknowledged to possess the most celebrated water-spectacle in the world. Now that camps and an automobile road exist above the valley's rim, it is possible for every one to visit the Tuolumne. It is a hard trip, but not too hard, they tell me, for all of us to see the canyon and the water-wheels."
So they broke camp early one morning and travelled on horseback up the long, rocky Tenaya Canyon. At Tenaya Lake they rested and spent the night in a public camp. The next day they fished the Toulumne River, and spent that night in another camp at Tuolumne Meadows. The third day they visited the canyon.
Of all the noble sights in the Yosemite National Park, Margaret and Jack afterward declared that their close-by view of the water-wheels was the most exciting. The canyon tilts sharply till it drops to the level of the Hetch Hetchy Valley, and down these slopes the Tuolumne River finds no resting-place. For several miles it is a continuous succession of cascades, waterfalls, and swift rushes over long granite slopes at sharp angles. Some day a greater poem will be written about Tuolumne water than that by which Robert Southey made the falls at Ladore celebrated throughout the world; for the Tuolumne water is many times as stirring a spectacle as the water that "comes down at Ladore"; in fact, it is itself one of nature's most wonderful poems.
Again and again in these sharp slopes between waterfalls the water strikes cross ledges of rock and rises high in the air, describing long, sweeping arcs before it again joins the rushing river below. Some of these half circles of white frothing water rise fifty feet before they begin to curve downward. To sit on the sloping granite banks alongside of a giant water-wheel, with falls above and falls below, and this great frothing wheel turning swiftly in front, is to enjoy a sensation, which will not dim in remembrance.
It was a day of few words for the Jeffersons. Not even the children were moved to break the silence.
"Isn't it queer," said Jack, "how you don't want to shout here? I just feel like looking awhile and then going back into the woods and get over it."
"It is a fitting climax for this wonderful Yosemite," said Aunt Jane.
Last Updated: 30-Oct-2009