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LECTURING TOUR IN AMERICA-CALIFORNIA TO QUEBEC
As my only lecture engagement on my way home was at the Michigan Agricultural College on July 29, I proposed to spend a fortnight among the alpine flowers of the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains; and as on my way to San Francisco I had passed over the Sierra in the night, I left Stockton at 7 a, m, in order to proceed by a local midday train from Sacramento to the summit level, where there is a small, rough hotel, chiefly used by the men engaged in the repair of the railway.
I had three hours to wait at Sacramento, the State capital, a pleasant town, with abundance of trees and gardens in the suburbs. I bought here a very handy two-foot rule, which folded up into a length of four inches, being thus most convenient for the pocket. It was also very usefully divided in a variety of ways. The outer side of one face was divided into eighths of an inch, and the inner side into tenths. The other face was divided into sixteenths and twelths of an inch, while the outer edge was divided into tenths and hundredths of a foot. It was well made, would go into my waistcoat pocket, and has been very useful to me ever since. I have never seen one like it in any English tool-shop, and though it was rather dear (three shillings), it has served as a pleasant and useful memento of my American tour.
Leaving Sacramento at noon, we reached the foothills in about two hours, and soon began to see the effects of hydraulic mining in a fine valley reduced to a waste of sand, gravel, and rock heaps, the fertile surface soil broken up and buried under
masses of barren and unsightly refuse, which may in time become covered with trees, but will probably never be profitably cultivable. Having passed this, at one spot I saw a group of tall golden yellow lilies, which blazed out grandly as the train passed them. When we had reached a height of fortyfive hundred feet snow-sheds began, short ones at first, and at considerable intervals, but afterwards longer and closer together, and for the last fourteen miles below the summit they were almost continuous. They are formed of massive roughly-hewn or sawed logs completely enclosing the line, but with so many crevices as to let in a good deal of light; but the snow soon stops these up, and in the winter they are as dark as a bricked tunnel.
Before entering them we had fine views, looking backward, down deep valleys and lateral ravines, among the slopes and ridges of which the line wound its way at a nearly uniform incline in order to avoid tunnelling. Everywhere within sight the country had been denuded of its original growth of large timber, but there were abundance of young trees of the sugarpine, white pine, Douglas and silver firs, and a few cedars, which, if allowed to grow, will again clothe these mountains with grandeur and beauty for a future generation. The visible rocks were either granite or talcose slaty beds and decomposing gneiss. There were also considerable tracts of white volcanic clay or ash, in which the gold-miners work, and the layers of large round pebbles here and there showed where ancient river channels had been cut across by the existing streams.
We reached the summit (seven thousand feet above the sea) at 6.13 in a large snow-shed opening into the railroad warehouses and workshops, and into the hotel. After dinner I strolled out to a small marshy lake in a hollow, and found a fine subalpine vegetation with abundance of flowers, promising me a great treat in its examination. The country immediately around consists of bare granite hills and knolls, with little lakes in the hollows. Just beyond the hotel there is a short tunnel which brings the railway out to the western slope of the Sierra, whence it winds round the southern shore
of Donner Lake on a continuous descent to Truckee and the great Nevada silver-mines. The granite rocks in the pass are everywhere ground smooth by ice into great bosses and slopes, in the fissures of which nestle many curious little alpine plants.
I stayed here four days, taking walks in different directions, ascending some of the nearest mountains, exploring little hidden valleys, and everywhere finding flowers quite new to me, and of very great interest. The pentstemons were of great beauty, especially one which grew in fissures of the granite rocks, with clusters of sky-blue flowers and yellow buds, forming a most striking combination.
The curious and beautiful Pedicularis greenlandica was com in bogs, with tall spikes of purple-red flowers, having long, strangely curved beaks, giving the appearance
of some fantastic orchid. The genus Gilia was abundant in various curious modifications, one species (G. pungens) being like a minute furze-bush. On some of the hillsides there were sheets of the pretty butterfly-tulip (Calochortus Nuttallii), and in moister places the blue Camassia esculenta, the very dwarf Bryanthus Breweri like a miniature rhododendron, the pretty starlike dodecatheons, the brilliant castillejas, and a host of others. Eriogonums, allied to our polygonums, were abundant and varied, and there were many curious composites and elegant little ferns in the rockcrevices. One of the higher mountains was of volcanic rock, and having once seen their characteristic forms, it was evident that most of them were of this formation, being the sources of the great extent of Pliocene lava-streams and ashbeds which cover so much of the country in California, Nevada, and Idaho. The older rock here is a kind of gneiss, full of fragments of other rocks, both crystalline and volcanic, producing a result similar to the rocks I found in the granitic region of the Upper Rio Negro, and which I have figured in my “Amazon and Rio Negro" (p. 423, cheap ed. p. 293). The smooth, rounded forms of the rocks here are plainly due to glaciation, and have quite a different character to the globular or dome-form at the Yosemite and in Brazil, due to
sub-aërial decomposition and exfoliation. Here they show the remains of what were rugged or jagged peaks worn down smooth into rounded hummocks of very varied forms. Striation is sometimes faintly visible, but under the intense climatic changes of this region, weathering has in most cases quite obliterated it.
Having read Miss Bird's account of Lake Tahoe as being superbly beautiful, I determined to see it, and if the country looked promising to stay a few days. I accordingly left by the train on Monday morning, stayed the night at a very poor hotel at Truckee, and took the stage at seven the next morning for the lake, a distance of fourteen miles. The road was up a very picturesque, winding valley, very precipitous and rocky on the east side, more sloping on the west. The bottom of the valley seemed to be granite or gneiss, but the craggy heights on the east side were all of lava, sometimes scoriaceous, sometimes almost columnar basalt, and occasionally laminated. Sometimes there were precipices, peaks, and detached pillars of scoriaceous lava, two hundred to five hundred feet high, of strange forms and highly picturesque. This valley had a rapid stream, which was the outlet of the lake. It had once probably been full of lava and ashes, when the lake would have been much deeper and larger. This was indicated by stratified deposits in places at different levels, and by layers of rock full of rounded pebbles. The lake itself, though a fine piece of water, did not come up to my expectations. The mountains around were bare and monotonous, rather higher and snow-flecked on the west, but the highest peaks visible not more than ten thousand feet. On the west side there was most wood, but the mountains were not more than two thousand to four thousand feet above the lake, and therefore not high in proportion to its size, which is thirty-five miles long and fifteen miles wide. It is really less striking than Loch Lomond or Windermere, where the mountains are more picturesque and more precipitous; while it can bear no comparison with the sub-alpine Swiss and Italian lakes.
I strolled about the shores of the lake, and into some of
the woods near, but all was very dusty and arid, and I found only a few flowers already familiar to me. The hotel looked clean and comfortable, and I had a very good dinner there, and in the afternoon sat in the verandah admiring the view over the lake, it being too hot and dry to go out. I was glad I had seen it, and especially the valley up to it, but I preferred to get on to the Rockies as soon as possible. I therefore went back to Truckee by the return of the stage in the afternoon, and went on to Reno by the evening train. While waiting at the station, two ladies addressed me, and said they had met me last autumn at the meeting of the American Association at Boston. They were both botanists, and had been camping out in the Californian mountains; so we compared notes, and had some interesting botanical conversation. Their names were Miss J. W. Williams and Miss Sarah W. Horton, of Oakland, California,
The line from Truckee to Verdi (twenty-four miles) passes through a very interesting series of gorges in the volcanic district. The rocks and precipices exhibit all the varied characteristics of basalt, lava, and volcanic ash, with frequent intercalated layers of gravel, and glacial drifts. The lateral gorges give frequent peeps into the interior, with strange castellated cliffs and pinnacles. Sometimes the main gorge narrows, leaving barely room for the railway, with the river foaming against the black, rugged, precipice. The whole country from Gold Run, in California, to Verdi, in Nevada (eighty miles), is a region of extinct (Pliocene?) volcanoes, but at and near the summit these rocks have been denuded down to the gneiss and granite, which there exhibits the grinding power of ice as in the mountains of Europe. In this region we have the results of fire, water, and ice action well illustrating their respective shares in modelling the earth's surface. The long and deep valley of the Truckee has probably been entirely excavated through volcanic rocks since a quite recent geological period.
Leaving Reno the next morning, we passed through similar volcanic country, for about fifty miles, in the Truckee valley ; then across an arid plateau to the valley of the