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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsOur Italy - Chapter 15. Some Wonders By The Way...
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Our Italy - Chapter 15. Some Wonders By The Way... Post by :jamesc96 Category :Nonfictions Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :2345

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Our Italy - Chapter 15. Some Wonders By The Way...


I went to it with reluctance. I shrink from attempting to say anything about it. If you knew that there was one spot on the earth where Nature kept her secret of secrets, the key to the action of her most gigantic and patient forces through the long eras, the marvel of constructive and destructive energy, in features of sublimity made possible to mental endurance by the most exquisite devices of painting and sculpture, the wonder which is without parallel or comparison, would you not hesitate to approach it? Would you not wander and delay with this and that wonder, and this and that beauty and nobility of scenery, putting off the day when the imagination, which is our highest gift, must be extinguished by the reality? The mind has this judicious timidity. Do we not loiter in the avenue of the temple, dallying with the vista of giant plane-trees and statues, and noting the carving and the color, mentally shrinking from the moment when the full glory shall burst upon us? We turn and look when we are near a summit, we pick a flower, we note the shape of the clouds, the passing breeze, before we take the last step that shall reveal to us the vast panorama of mountains and valleys.

I cannot bring myself to any description of the Grand Canon of the Colorado by any other route, mental or physical, than that by which we reached it, by the way of such beauty as Monterey, such a wonder as the Yosemite, and the infinite and picturesque deserts of New Mexico and Arizona. I think the mind needs the training in the desert scenery to enable it to grasp the unique sublimity of the Grand Canon.

The road to the Yosemite, after leaving the branch of the Southern Pacific at Raymond, is an unnecessarily fatiguing one. The journey by stage--sixty-five miles--is accomplished in less than two days--thirty-nine miles the first day, and twenty-six the second. The driving is necessarily slow, because two mountain ridges have to be surmounted, at an elevation each of about 6500 feet. The road is not a "road" at all as the term is understood in Switzerland, Spain, or in any highly civilized region--that is, a graded, smooth, hard, and sufficiently broad track. It is a makeshift highway, generally narrow (often too narrow for two teams to pass), cast up with loose material, or excavated on the slopes with frequent short curves and double curves. Like all mountain roads which skirt precipices, it may seem "pokerish," but it is safe enough if the drivers are skilful and careful (all the drivers on this route are not only excellent, but exceedingly civil as well), and there is no break in wagon or harness. At the season this trip is made the weather is apt to be warm, but this would not matter so much if the road were not intolerably dusty. Over a great part of the way the dust rises in clouds and is stifling. On a well-engineered road, with a good road-bed, the time of passage might not be shortened, but the journey would be made with positive comfort and enjoyment, for though there is a certain monotony in the scenery, there is the wild freshness of nature, now and then an extensive prospect, a sight of the snow-clad Nevadas, and vast stretches of woodland; and a part of the way the forests are magnificent, especially the stupendous growth of the sugar-pine. These noble forests are now protected by their inaccessibility.

From 1855 to 1864, nine years, the Yosemite had 653 visitors; in 1864 there were 147. The number increased steadily till 1869, the year the overland railroad was completed, when it jumped to 1122. Between 4000 and 5000 persons visit it now each year. The number would be enormously increased if it could be reached by rail, and doubtless a road will be built to the valley in the near future, perhaps up the Merced River. I believe that the pilgrims who used to go to the Yosemite on foot or on horseback regret the building of the stage road, the enjoyment of the wonderful valley being somehow cheapened by the comparative ease of reaching it. It is feared that a railway would still further cheapen, if it did not vulgarize it, and that passengers by train would miss the mountain scenery, the splendid forests, the surprises of the way (like the first view of the valley from Inspiration Point), and that the Mariposa big trees would be farther off the route than they are now. The traveller sees them now by driving eight miles from Wawona, the end of the first day's staging. But the romance for the few there is in staging will have to give way to the greater comfort of the many by rail.

(Illustration: THE YOSEMITE DOME.)

The railway will do no more injury to the Yosemite than it has done to Niagara, and, in fact, will be the means of immensely increasing the comfort of the visitor's stay there, besides enabling tens of thousands of people to see it who cannot stand the fatigue of the stage ride over the present road. The Yosemite will remain as it is. The simplicity of its grand features is unassailable so long as the Government protects the forests that surround it and the streams that pour into it. The visitor who goes there by rail will find plenty of adventure for days and weeks in following the mountain trails, ascending to the great points of view, exploring the canons, or climbing so as to command the vast stretch of the snowy Sierras. Or, if he is not inclined to adventure, the valley itself will satisfy his highest imaginative flights of the sublime in rock masses and perpendicular ledges, and his sense of beauty in the graceful water-falls, rainbow colors, and exquisite lines of domes and pinnacles. It is in the grouping of objects of sublimity and beauty that the Yosemite excels. The narrow valley, with its gigantic walls, which vary in every change of the point of view, lends itself to the most astonishing scenic effects, and these the photograph has reproduced, so that the world is familiar with the striking features of the valley, and has a tolerably correct idea of the sublimity of some of these features. What the photograph cannot do is to give an impression of the unique grouping, of the majesty, and at times crushing weight upon the mind of the forms and masses, of the atmospheric splendor and illusion, and of the total value of such an assemblage of wonders. The level surface of the peaceful, park-like valley has much to do with the impression. The effect of El Capitan, seen across a meadow and rising from a beautiful park, is much greater than if it were encountered in a savage mountain gorge. The traveller may have seen elsewhere greater water-falls, and domes and spires of rock as surprising, but he has nowhere else seen such a combination as this. He may be fortified against surprise by the photographs he has seen and the reports of word painters, but he will not escape (say, at Inspiration Point, or Artist Point, or other lookouts), a quickening of the pulse and an elation which is physical as well as mental, in the sight of such unexpected sublimity and beauty. And familiarity will scarcely take off the edge of his delight, so varied are the effects in the passing hours and changing lights. The Rainbow Fall, when water is abundant, is exceedingly impressive as well as beautiful. Seen from the carriage road, pouring out of the sky overhead, it gives a sense of power, and at the proper hour before sunset, when the vast mass of leaping, foaming water is shot through with the colors of the spectrum, it is one of the most exquisite sights the world can offer; the elemental forces are overwhelming, but the loveliness is engaging. One turns from this to the noble mass of El Capitan with a shock of surprise, however often it may have been seen. This is the hour also, in the time of high-water, to see the reflection of the Yosemite Falls. As a spectacle it is infinitely finer than anything at Mirror Lake, and is unique in its way. To behold this beautiful series of falls, flowing down out of the blue sky above, and flowing up out of an equally blue sky in the depths of the earth, is a sight not to be forgotten. And when the observer passes from these displays to the sight of the aerial domes in the upper end of the valley, new wonders opening at every turn of the forest road, his excitement has little chance of subsiding: he may be even a little oppressed. The valley, so verdant and friendly with grass and trees and flowers, is so narrow compared with the height of its perpendicular guardian walls, and this little secluded spot is so imprisoned in the gigantic mountains, that man has a feeling of helplessness in it. This powerlessness in the presence of elemental forces was heightened by the deluge of water. There had been an immense fall of snow the winter before, the Merced was a raging torrent, overflowing its banks, and from every ledge poured a miniature cataract.

(Illustration: COAST OF MONTEREY.)

Noble simplicity is the key-note to the scenery of the Yosemite, and this is enhanced by the park-like appearance of the floor of the valley. The stems of the fine trees are in harmony with the perpendicular lines, and their foliage adds the necessary contrast to the gray rock masses. In order to preserve these forest-trees, the underbrush, which is liable to make a conflagration in a dry season, should be removed generally, and the view of the great features be left unimpeded. The minor canons and the trails are, of course, left as much as possible to the riot of vegetation. The State Commission, which labors under the disadvantages of getting its supplies from a Legislature that does not appreciate the value of the Yosemite to California, has developed the trails judiciously, and established a model trail service. The Yosemite, it need not be said, is a great attraction to tourists from all parts of the world; it is the interest of the State, therefore, to increase their number by improving the facilities for reaching it, and by resolutely preserving all the surrounding region from ravage.

(Illustration: CYPRESS POINT.)

(Illustration: NEAR SEAL ROCK.)

This is as true of the Mariposa big tree region as of the valley. Indeed, more care is needed for the trees than for the great chasm, for man cannot permanently injure the distinctive features of the latter, while the destruction of the sequoias will be an irreparable loss to the State and to the world. The _Sequoia gigantea differs in leaf, and size and shape of cone, from the great _Sequoia semper virens on the coast near Santa Cruz; neither can be spared. The Mariposa trees, scattered along on a mountain ridge 6500 feet above the sea, do not easily obtain their victory, for they are a part of a magnificent forest of other growths, among which the noble sugar-pine is conspicuous for its enormous size and graceful vigor. The sequoias dominate among splendid rivals only by a magnitude that has no comparison elsewhere in the world. I think no one can anticipate the effect that one of these monarchs will have upon him. He has read that a coach and six can drive through one of the trees that is standing; that another is thirty-three feet in diameter, and that its vast stem, 350 feet high, is crowned with a mass of foliage that seems to brush against the sky. He might be prepared for a tower 100 feet in circumference, and even 400 feet high, standing upon a level plain; but this living growth is quite another affair. Each tree is an individual, and has a personal character. No man can stand in the presence of one of these giants without a new sense of the age of the world and the insignificant span of one human life; but he is also overpowered by a sense of some gigantic personality. It does not relieve him to think of this as the Methuselah of trees, or to call it by the name of some great poet or captain. The awe the tree inspires is of itself. As one lies and looks up at the enormous bulk, it seems not so much the bulk, so lightly is it carried, as the spirit of the tree--the elastic vigor, the patience, the endurance of storm and change, the confident might, and the soaring, almost contemptuous pride, that overwhelm the puny spectator. It is just because man can measure himself, his littleness, his brevity of existence, with this growth out of the earth, that he is more personally impressed by it than he might be by the mere variation in the contour of the globe which is called a mountain. The imagination makes a plausible effort to comprehend it, and is foiled. No; clearly it is not mere size that impresses one; it is the dignity, the character in the tree, the authority and power of antiquity. Side by side of these venerable forms are young sequoias, great trees themselves, that have only just begun their millennial career--trees that will, if spared, perpetuate to remote ages this race of giants, and in two to four thousand years from now take the place of their great-grandfathers, who are sinking under the weight of years, and one by one measuring their length on the earth.


The transition from the sublime to the exquisitely lovely in nature can nowhere else be made with more celerity than from the Sierras to the coast at Monterey; California abounds in such contrasts and surprises. After the great stirring of the emotions by the Yosemite and the Mariposa, the Hotel del Monte Park and vicinity offer repose, and make an appeal to the sense of beauty and refinement. Yet even here something unique is again encountered. I do not refer to the extraordinary beauty of the giant live-oaks and the landscape-gardening about the hotel, which have made Monterey famous the world over, but to the sea-beach drive of sixteen miles, which can scarcely be rivalled elsewhere either for marine loveliness or variety of coast scenery. It has points like the ocean drive at Newport, but is altogether on a grander scale, and shows a more poetic union of shore and sea; besides, it offers the curious and fascinating spectacles of the rocks inhabited by the sea-lions, and the Cypress Point. These huge, uncouth creatures can be seen elsewhere, but probably nowhere else on this coast are they massed in greater numbers. The trees of Cypress Point are unique, this species of cypress having been found nowhere else. The long, never-ceasing swell of the Pacific incessantly flows up the many crescent sand beaches, casting up shells of brilliant hues, sea-weed, and kelp, which seems instinct with animal life, and flotsam from the far-off islands. But the rocks that lie off the shore, and the jagged points that project in fanciful forms, break the even great swell, and send the waters, churned into spray and foam, into the air with a thousand hues in the sun. The shock of these sharp collisions mingles with the heavy ocean boom. Cypress Point is one of the most conspicuous of these projections, and its strange trees creep out upon the ragged ledges almost to the water's edge. These cypresses are quite as instinct with individual life and quite as fantastic as any that Dore drew for his "Inferno." They are as gnarled and twisted as olive-trees two centuries old, but their attitudes seem not only to show struggle with the elements, but agony in that struggle. The agony may be that of torture in the tempest, or of some fabled creatures fleeing and pursued, stretching out their long arms in terror, and fixed in that writhing fear. They are creatures of the sea quite as much as of the land, and they give to this lovely coast a strange charm and fascination.

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