California: a pleasure trip from Gotham to the Golden Gate,
April, May, June, 1877.
By Mrs. Frank Leslie.
THE GEYSERS AND FOSSE OF FOSSEVILLE.
IT is proper to begin a day at the Geysers by visiting the baths, of which there is quite a variety. Passing down the canon opposite the house, and keeping along the bed of a stream, one arrives at a little rustic bridge, and crossing it to the bath-houses, takes one's choice between hot sulphurous water, dense steam--also sulphurous--and a cold plunge in the river.
The odors of the sulphur baths were odious, but the waters felt pleasant, and left a delightful sensation upon the skin.
Coming out of the houses we wandered a little farther up the canon and seated ourselves upon the dry, crumbling soil, through which jets of vapor were spouting here and there, some close beside the river, as if its clear, cold waters had been subterraneously boiled and were throwing off steam.
The Geysers are seen to greater advantage at early morning than later in the day, as the vapor condenses more in the chill hour before sunrise than afterward, and we sat for awhile content to watch the Afrit-like shapes of the columns of steam rising and forming, and then dissolving in endless succession, while the level rays of the rising sun touched first the crest of the rocky walls of the canon, then crept slowly down, lighting the cold, gray rock and black-green evergreens to warmth and life, and making prisms and irises of the cloudy stream-wreaths.
But even the sunlight and the morning could not alter the general mournful, uncanny, blasted look of nature in all this region, the soil, apparently of crumbled pumice stone, is ghastly in its pale-gray color, unenlivened by verdure or the tender brown of arable earth; the river moaned and murmured as if those subterranean fires were scorching its life-springs, and clouds of vapor assumed more and more fantastic shapes.
After breakfast we set forth for the regular tour of the Geysers, crossing the stream at the foot of the canon, and winding a little trail into another gorge, wild and steep, and gradually bringing us into the region of purely mineral and chemical life, with little trace of vegetable or animal existence.
The soil, after passing a landmark called the Devil's Arm-Chair, and the
Magnesia Spring, is a mere crust of crystallizations of sulphur and lime, beds
of cinnabar, like wet red paint, green incrustations of copper, and brilliant
yellow patches of brimstone, everything wet with the oosing mineral waters, and
scalding hot to the touch, the air dense with horrible fumes and clouds of hot
steam puffing up into one's face, jets of boiling water spirting under one's
feet, and black, bubbling pools lying ready to entrap the unwary; the loose and
friable soil crumbles beneath the tread, and seems to breathe heat, so that one
feels as if walking over an endless series of registers, with a seventimes
heated furnace underneath.
Few mortal experiences can give so vivid an idea of the infernal regions, and were I a great reformer of the Calvinistic school, I would simply engage Mr. Cook to take all my converts to this valley, upon a gigantic excursion, sure that it would do more to frighten them from evil courses than any amount of preaching.
The Witches Cauldron, black as ink, leaping, bubbling, and hissing, is all but hidden in the dense clouds of vapor, so that one only sees it through the rifts, and may fancy it limitless in extent, and peopled with the spirits of the damned; there is a continual rumbling and roaring in the bowels of the earth, which suggests the pleasing idea of an earthquake possible at any moment. The utter absence of vegetation and of animal life adds a certain horror to the scene, suggesting a world in process of extinction, where man, the latest and highest form of creation, is also to be the last to perish.
This gorge is appropriately called the Devil's Canon, and the heat, and the steam, and the sounds, and the smells, and the vague horror of the whole intensified, until we reached the Devil's Pulpit, a huge crag, closing the valley and commanding its whole sweep, the pools in the bottom round which our path had skirted, and the steep bare sides, patched all yellow and scarlet, and ashy white, with hundreds of jets of steam and smoke bursting out in every direction. Such a picture must have been in John Bunyan's mind when he described Christian's journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and we were fain to fancy the dark evergreen forests of Sulphur Canon, which closed the distant view, as representing the
Delectable Mountains, and the little white hotel nestling in its fertile clearing, as the House Beautiful with its fair inmates.
Perhaps the gray-headed and learned looking man, in a linen duster, whom we found wandering in the Valley, was the Interpreter. At any rate, he joined himself to our party in a friendly manner, and informed us with the voice of authority, that the phenomena of this spot was occasioned by the action of various chemical agencies meeting and conflicting just beneath the surface of the ground. Our guide, however, not a bit like Great-Heart, by the way, pooh-poohed this theory with great scorn, insisting that the region was volcanic, and the commotion we witnessed was but a feeble exponent of much more terrible disturbances deep down below our feet. In fact, the savant would have the trouble a mere cutaneous disorder, of little real importance, while the guide considered it symptomatic of deep organic disease. I myself inclined to the latter theory as being more terrific and exciting, and walked gingerly about on the crisp lava-like surface of the subterraneous volcano, expecting each moment when it should explode and blow our theories and ourselves sky-high, whence we might take a wider view of the matter!
In support of his side of the question, the guide presently led us past the Devil's Pulpit, through a pretty little path suddenly blossoming out of the waste, to the crater of what he declared to be an extinct volcano. It was a great circular depression in the earth, its surface dry and baked with patches of mineral deposit, variegating its dull ashen color, and sounding hollow beneath our feet as we stamped upon it.
Especially, we noticed some lovely needle-like crystals of sulphur, so delicate that they crumbled at a touch, and altogether could well believe that in some unremembered age, this mournful basin was filled with boiling lava, and sent forth its desolating streams to fill the valley beyond. The little track wound on in a gentle curve, passing a great white oak bent nearly to the ground, with a hole in the side where visitors are in the habit of thrusting their cards for the benefit of acquaintances who may chance to come after. Some grass and bushes timidly appear here and there, but the path presently curves away from them, and sweeps into the region of Geysers again.
The Indians' vapor bath is a deep cave in the side of a hill, filled with scalding hot steam, which rises and hangs around the entrance in a dense cloud; the Indians used to resort here yearly for this bath until within a brief period, but now come no more. Near by is a safety valve through which the hot air puffs in regular blasts with a hoarse roaring sound, and such force as to eject pebbles thrown into the opening some three or four feet into the air.
As we passed we saw a picturesque group of hunters on horseback and on foot, slowly climbing the steep foot-hill beyond, with dogs and a pack-mule following, and were told that game is various and abundant in this region, ranging from grizzly bears to woodcock.
The trail wound around the steep sweep of the hills a little farther, and then down to the little stream at the bottom of the canon, and so by the bath-houses to the hotel where we rested an hour, lunched, and were ready at one o'clock to mount the open stage-wagon with its four fine horses driven by a son of Fosse, the celebrated horse-breaker and stage driver of this region, although, indeed, his reputation extends all over California.
The stage was to convey us to Fosseville and Calistoga, where we were to take the cars again for the home trip, travellers generally preferring to go by the Cloverdale and return by the Calistoga road, instead of retracing their steps. We had been assured that this part of the route would prove far more terrific than that we had passed on the previous day, and had braced ourselves to a pitch of unshrinking and unshrieking courage quite beautiful to contemplate, but altogether wasted as the event proved, for the road was, if anything, a little less dangerous, and the scenery even more beautiful than that previously passed.
Both road and scenery presented the same general features, a deep canon with the road cut in the side of one of the ranges enclosing it; the same curving and doubling and serpentine festooning around head-lands, and capes of rock rising hundreds of feet above our heads, and falling hundreds of feet below to the sombre depths of the gorge, and the all-but inaudible river far beneath. To-day, however, the canon was wider and the scene more extended; at almost the highest point we passed a little cabin perched like an eyrie above the world, and commanding a view of the whole Sonoma Valley, a great green trench, with no track through it except this one clinging to the side of the canon, and the bright watercourses sparkling through it.
Beginning to descend, we passed over the Dog's Back, which some one has described as a most awful and perilous pass, but to us it seemed no worse and no different from several similar points of the route; the precipices above and below were steep and the road not the one we should select to train a frisky four-in-hand team upon, but it was wide enough for our safe passage, and the curve not nearly so sharp as some around which we had jauntily swung.
The view from this point was sublime, but although a succession of slightly varying views bring with themselves a sufficient difference of charm to sustain the interest for days and days, the English language contains but twenty-six letters, and no very varied vocabulary of adjectives, so that we spare all farther description of the fringy mountain lilacs beside the road, and the great splendid Madrona trees ablaze in the sunshine, and simply say that descending precipitously from the heights whereon we had dwelt for two days, we came into a green and level region, and by stopped at a little wayside station consisting of half a dozen houses hidden in a grove of pine trees.
This was Pine Flat, of poetic celebrity, but now falling to decay, the population having within two years dwindled from six thousand to fifteen souls, its present census. The abandonment of the quicksilver mines in the vicinity is the cause of this exodus, and the only present industry of Pine Flat is the collection of minerals and crystals which are offered for sale to travellers, just as similar products are at Vesuvius and Pestum.
From Pine Flat we drove through a pleasant uninteresting country of several miles, and finally arrived at Fosseville and drew up before the castle of Fosse himself; it was a charming white house with a huge white-oak before the door, and quantities of flowers both inside and outside of a huge garden. The great Fosse came forward to meet us, or rather to upbraid and reprove us, for it seems we had been expected to dine and perhaps pass the night, and a banquet had been prepared and spoiled by waiting; furthermore, Fosse himself had driven out six-in-hand to meet us, and coming home disappointed had solaced himself with whiskey to an extent not increasing his natural amiability. He is a great, burly fellow, a native of New Hampshire, and so long accustomed to autocracy in this region, as to bitterly resent such disregard of his plans and efforts, as we unwittingly had shown. He accordingly received us very gruffly, and evidently had resolved to make us feel the penalty of his displeasure.
We were shown to the charmingly neat rooms prepared for us by his amiable, pretty, young wife, and spent half an hour in removing so much as was possible of the coating of red dust, in which we were encased like mummies in asphaltum. Descending, we found Fosse himself seated upon the driver's seat of the wagon prepared to take us to Calistoga, but no sooner had we started, than it became apparent that his ill-humor had only increased by expression, and had reached a pitch beyond the power of the softest words to turn away--even the Sultana's eloquence being tried upon him without the slightest effect. What was worse, this mood found expression in his mode of managing the six horses who tore along at a rate threatening to project us all into the road at the slightest notice, and the result of the whole was, that it was considered wisest to bend to the offended power and return to pass the night and eat the funeral baked meats as best we might.
The word was said, the six horses wheeled as if on a pivot, and we tore back again, having been absent from the house about ten minutes, and traversed about three miles. A supper was served which did ample justice to the landlord's grumbling complaints as to the trouble and expense of the wasted dinner, and while it was preparing we walked in the pretty garden, and down a planked path to a little cottage buried in roses and white blossomed vines; it is let to lodgers and is quite the ideal nest in which a pair of newly-wedded doves might pass their honey-moon.
Our lovely young widow decked herself in roses and made her travelling dress fit for a ball-room, but she herself was still the freshest and sweetest rose of all, as both eyes and whispers told her. After supper a roaring wood-fire, and a new upright piano and the widow's sympathetic voice made the little parlor charming, and we passed a happy although short evening, for every one was weary, and at an early hour sought the sweet, fresh bedrooms where rest and sleep awaited them.
Breakfast was as good as the supper had been, and at last with lightened consciences and somewhat lightened purses, we again mounted the big stage, and were driven by the comforted but not quite genial Fosse, to Calistoga, making the six miles in twenty-one minutes!
The four-hours journey by rail from this place is through the Napa Valley, a lovely cultivated country, with miles of vineyards, where the vines look like a bouquet of leaves tied to a sturdy stalk, hardly a foot high. We passed Mr. Woodward's charming country seat, saw the State Lunatic Asylum, and, as we took the steamboat, had a glimpse of the Navy Yard.
Then another delightful sail with old Tamalpais welcoming us back to the
region where he presides, until at length tired, dusty, disordered, but rich in
new experiences and pictured memories, we arrived at the Palace Hotel and
revelled once more in all the appliances of the highest civilization.
End Chapter 23 Next Chapter