Friday, July 6, 2012

A Trip To Bodie Bluff and the Dead Sea of the West (Part 2)


By J. Ross Browne.

Watching a badger fight
AT the town of Bodie I witnessed one of those impressive Sunday exhibitions which seem to be the popular mode of recreation in this coun­try - a badger fight. Some Indians from Mono Lake came in during the forenoon with a re­markably large badger, which they offered for sale to the miners. The price demanded was ten dollars. As that amount of ready cash did not seem to be within the resources of the multi­tude, the diggers, upon consultation, agreed to take three, which was finally made up by some enterprising members of the community. The usual mode of digging a hole in the ground, as a fortification for the badger, was deemed un­necessary, owing to the formidable proportions and ferocious temper of the animal on hand: and it was decided that there should be a pitched battle in the open valley. All who had dogs were invited to bring them forward and enter the ring gratis. In about ten minutes there were about half a dozen dogs brought to the scratch, and the battle opened cautiously on both sides. The badger was fresh and vigor­ous. Long experience in the noble art of self-defense had taught him skill in the use of his natural weapons. He lay close down to the ground, flattening himself as the rattlesnake flattens his head prior to the fatal dart. With a keen and wary eye he watched the dogs. First a large, ill-favored, yellow cur was let loose upon him. The badger never moved till the mouth of his enemy was within an inch of his tail, when, with a motion as quick as light­ning, he had him by the under-lip, and a fierce struggle ensued. The dog howled, the badger held on, the dust flew up front the dry earth, over and over the combatants rolled; the spec­tators crowded in, laughing, shouting, clapping their hands, and urging on the yelling cur, whose grand object seemed to be to get away. A favorable turn enabled him to break loose. Panting, whining, and with bleeding mouth, he sneaked off amidst the jeers of the crowd. 

"Here's a dog that’ll settle his hash!" said the owner of a hull-terrier; "let him in!"

"No, no!" cried a chorus of voices. "Hold back! Don't kill him yet! Try the other dogs first!"

A vicious-looking black dog, part wolf, was next let loose. The badger had meantime crept close up to a bank of earth, against which he fortified his rear. The wolfish cur surveyed the prospect warily, smelled the badger at the dis­tance of a few feet, peered into his eyes, and quietly walked away. The crowd drove him back. "Fight, you chimed coyote!" shouted his master, catching him by the back of the neck and dragging him close up to the badger. "Now fight!" Wolf looked as if he'd rather not; but there was no help for it. With hair erect and a wolfish bark he flew savagely at the enemy; jumping first to one side and then the other; back and at him again; snapping, bark­ing, snarling, and howling; but to no purpose. The badger seemed to be all head; there was not a vulnerable point about him that did not show a head and a sharp row of teeth the mo­ment it was assailed. During some of the dog's gyrations Mr. Badger got him by the hind leg, and then there was a very pretty scene of howl­ing and running. Wolf flew all over the ground; badger held on; dust, shouts, shrieks, yells, oaths, and clapping of had were the natural consequences of this achievement. Badger-stock ran up fifty per cent; dog-stock was rapidly declining.

"Tell you what, gents," cried the Committee on the Badger, "we'll fight him agin all six of yer dogs for ten dollars!"

"No, no!" shouted everybody; "give him a fair show; his mouth's full of dust; 'tain't fair -six to one."

"Then come on with yer bull-terrier!" cried the Committee, exultingly; "here's the boy for him!"

Mono Lake
Bull was let loose - a white, clean-made little fellow, with massive jaws, thin flanks, and a sharp, hard tail, that stood out from his body like a spike. There was neither growl nor bark about him; it was all serious work, in which he evidently delighted; and he went at it with a will - straight, quick, fierce, like a well-trained bruiser who meant blood. He had been accus­tomed, as was evident from the many scars on his head and face, to enemies of his own spe­cies. He could get hold of a fellow-dog, how­ever large, and throttle him. Getting hold of a badger was quite another thing. Both ani­mals were nearly of the same size. The dog perhaps had the advantage in muscular strength; but the badger was the quicker with his head and teeth. The moment Bull's mouth was with­in reach the badger had him by the under jaw, fast and firm as a vice. Now commenced the grand tussle, teeth against teeth, neck against neck. Thick dust covered the combatants; to and fro, over and over, they rolled, in their scarce visible struggle; the crowd pressing close in; not a word spoken; for this was a genuine fight at last - earnest and thrilling - a fight to the death. Sunday as it was, I could not but push in closer and look on. I was getting profound­ly interested in the fate of the badger. In fact, I don't know but I might have made a bet had anybody bantered me at the moment. I would have bet on either side, no matter which, as many a man does who gets excited and has no definite opinion on the subject at issue.

"Stand back! give him a chance!" shouted some of the men in front.

"Take him to water! he's choking with dust!" cried others; and I must say a pang of regret shot through me at what I supposed to be the fate of my badger friend.

But it was not the badger that suffered most. The dog was dragged out, his mouth full of hair and dust, gasping for breath. I looked again when the dust cleared away. Bleeding and torn, but dauntless as ever, with the same fixed and wary eye, the badger awaited the next as­sault.

"Too bad! Too bad!" remonstrated several voices. "That's murder in the first degree!" Sympathy seemed to lean toward the side of the poor animal which was making so gallant a struggle for life. "Kill him! Kill him with a club!"

"No ye don't, gents!" shouted the exultant Committee, who had paid their three dollars for a Sunday forenoon's sport. "We'll fight him against all the dogs first; if he don't whip 'em then you can kill him."

Incredible as it may seem, the six dogs, large and small, were next let loose, and for over an hour they fought that poor badger without doing him any material damage. While some attack­ed him in front, others picked him up behind, gave him a shake, and then dropped him. He seemed to possess more lives than a cat. He bit back a dozen bites for every one he received: and at every respite faced his enemies with that peculiar fixed and indomitable eye which had at first attracted my attention. It was al­most human in its expression, and seemed to say, "Shame! Shame! Cruel as you are you cannot make me quail: I die game to the last!"

Some such thought must have entered the heads of the by-standers, two or three of whom now rushed in with clubs and attempted to bat­ter his brains out. Even then he fought fiercely, biting at the clubs, and in his dying throes glaring with undaunted eyes at his assailants. I am free to confess that I turned away with a strong emotion of pity. The fight had lasted two hours. When I next looked back and saw the crowd move away, dragging after them the dead body of the badger, I could not but feel that there was something about the whole busi­ness very much like murder.

My friend the Judge was obliged to return to Aurora from this point. I was committed to the charge of a very pleasant and intelligent young man, one of the owners of the Bodie Bunker, who kindly volunteered to procure horses and accompany me on my proposed ex­pedition to Mono Lake. The horses were rang­ing in the hills, and there was some difficulty in finding them. In due time we were mounted and on our way.

Family lost in a cloud burst near Bodie
The road crosses a hill hack of Bodie, and thence down through a canon into Cottonwood Valley. For a distance of some five or six miles the country is rolling and barren. Rocks and sage-brush, with desolate mountains in the dis­tance, are the principal features. During the trip my companion entertained me with many interesting reminiscences of his experience in the country, his adventures as a police-officer during the Vigilance Committee excitement at Aurora, his mining speculations, and many oth­er matters which to me possessed all the charms of romance. From him also I obtained the par­ticulars of a very singular and tragic occur­rence which had taken place about two months previously on the road to the Big Meadows, not far from where we were traveling. I had heard of this on my first arrival at Aurora, and had seen some account of it in the newspapers. Subsequently I crossed the canon in which the dis­aster occurred, and made a sketch of it.

Sometime in the month of July two men, with their wives and three children, belonging to one of the parties, started from Aurora in a small wagon for the Big Meadows. The distance is twenty-eight miles. When about half­way, as they were passing through a rocky canon, unsuspicious of danger, they observed some signs of rain, but thought it would be nothing more than a casual show­er. Suddenly the sky darkened, and they heard a loud roaring noise behind them. Mr. Glenn, one of the men, and his com­rade, who were sit­ting on the front seat, finding the horses be­come unmanageable from fright, jumped out to see what was the matter. The lead horses had swung round, and were mak­ing frantic efforts to break loose from their traces. Scarcely had the two men touched the ground when they saw sweeping down toward them a solid flood of water about six or eight feet high, presenting a front like a prodigious wave of the sea as it breaks upon the beach in a storm.  They attempted to force the horses up on one side, so as to haul the wag­on out of the chan­nel. Before anything could be done the tor­rent burst upon them, carrying all before it. The wagon was cap­sized and dashed to pieces among the rocks. The screams of the women and chil­dren rose high above the wild roar of the flood; and for a moment they were seen strug­gling amidst the sheltered wreck of the wagon, but were soon dashed out and whirled against the rocks. One of the men, by superhuman ef­forts, succeeded in getting a foothold a short dis­tance below, and, grasping an overhanging hush, caught his wife as slue was swept along on the raging current. He had dragged her nearly out of the water when she was struck by a heavy piece of drift-wood and torn from his grasp. The next moment she was whirled away beyond reach, and her body, maimed by the jagged rocks, was buried in the current a shapeless mass. Mean­time the other man was disabled by his struggles amidst the wreck, and barely escaped with his life. The shrieks of the poor children were heart­rending. "Oh, father! father! save me! Oh, mother, save me!" were all that could he heard; but soon their tender limbs were crushed amidst the boiling surges of drift and flood, and they were swept beyond all human aid. In less than a minute nothing was left to mark the tragedy. Women, children, wagon, horses, and all, had disappeared. Such was the force of the torrent that rocks and trees wore carried away like feath­ers. I saw myself prodigious boulders of solid stone, six or seven feet in diameter, which had been rolled for miles through the canon.

When the news of this sad event reached Au­rora the most intense excitement and sympathy prevailed. Parties went out immediately to af­ford what assistance they could. The unfortu­nate men who had suffered so strange and sud­den a bereavement were provided with such aid as their suffering condition required. Search was made for the bodies of the women and chil­dren. Their mutilated remains were found scat­tered among the rocks from one to three miles below the scene of the disaster, and were taken in and buried amidst the sympathizing tears of relatives, friends, and strangers.

An interesting circumstance connected with this sad event was mentioned to me by Mrs. Sanchez, a highly intelligent lady of Aurora, who happened that day to be out riding on horse­back, accompanied by her husband and a party of friends. They had reached the summit of Mount Braley, when the attention of the party was directed by Mrs. San­chez to the peculiar ap­pearance of a cloud which appeared to hang over the earth like a huge black funnel in the direction of the Big Meadows. It had a dark-greenish tinge around the edges as if charged with sulphur or electricity. Other clouds were in the sky, but the weather was warm and pleasant. The attention of the whole party was fixed upon the black cloud. Suddenly it changed its form, and disappeared al­most like magic. Apparently the attraction of the earth had scattered it or absorbed its contents. This was doubtless the same cloud which had burst and swept all before it in the Rocky Canon. The time and direction corresponded precisely with the tragic event above recorded.

The only other instance known to me of the burst­ing of a water cloud with such disastrous conse­quences occurred about four years ago in the San Francisquite canon between Los Angeles and Fort Tejon. I have fre­quently passed through this canon, and can read­ily conceive how disas­trous a sudden flood would be anywhere between the points of entrance and exit. It is some ten or twelve miles through, all closely bounded on each side by precipitous hills and mountains. Within this distance the road crosses a small stream that courses through it eighty-seven times. In this canon a family belonging to Los Angeles, who were on their way home from the valley of the San Joaquin, were overtaken by a heavy rain-cloud, which burst close behind them. The man jumped out of his wagon and strove to urge his animals up a steep bank; but the flood came upon them so suddenly that the wagon was swept away, dragging with it the animals. The women and children were all drowned.

I have been told of similar instances of wa­ter-spouts, or, more properly, the bursting of rain-clouds, in the canons of the Colorado, and in other parts of Arizona. Owing, perhaps, to the fact that few people travel through the mountainous parts of that country in wagons, they have not often been attended by any loss of life, though Governor Goodwin, of Arizona, recently gave me an account of an entire min­ing camp that was swept away. Two lives were lost and much property damaged.

Proceeding some fourteen miles on our jour­ney we turned the point of a hill overlooking the lake. It seemed to be just at our feet. We had to travel twelve miles farther before we reached Lawrence's Ranch.

Down in the canon on the right of the road we passed some placer diggings, which attracted considerable attention two years ago. White labor could not make it pay, and the usual herd of Chinese jackals had crowded in and taken possession of the abandoned huts and sluices. They seemed to be doing well, if one might judge by their noisy jargon and barbarous gesticulations.

A few miles beyond we passed the town of Mono, consisting at present of three or four shanties, one of which only was inhabited.

A ride of twenty-five miles over the rough mountain trails gave me such an appetite as I had not experienced for many months. The atmosphere is wonderfully-clear and bracing in these elevated ranges. An ecstatic glow of health pervades the system; the sight becomes keen; the blood flows freely through the veins; the digestion is perfect; and the world-worn traveler feels something of that elasticity and freshness with which he set forth in early life to put a girdle round about the earth. I was well disposed to enjoy the hospitality of Mr. Law­rence, the owner of the ranch at which we pro­posed stopping for the night. It was a pleas­ant, home-looking place, with hay-stacks, wag­ons, and lowing cattle about the farm-yard; and the honest watch-dog bayed a deep-mouthed welcome as we rode op to the house. The worthy settler came out on the grassy slope in front end greeted us with the hearty cordiality of a frontiersman.

"Get down, gentlemen; get down and come in. We haven't much in this wild country, but what we have is at your service."

It was a pleasant surprise, when I was intro­duced to him, to find that we were old fellow-travelers.

"Bless my soul:" he exclaimed, grasping my hand with the grip of a vice; “is it possible you have arrived here at last? I have been ex­pecting you for over two years. I knew you'd visit Mono Lake some time or other. Why, my dear fellow, we are old friends! I have traveled with you all over the world - in print."

And here let me say, in all humility, that some of the happiest moments of my life have been derived from just such meetings as this in the wild regions bordering on the Pacific. To find myself known where it was least to he ex­pected; to receive a cordial greeting as a friend where I could only hope for the ordinary civil­ity due to a stranger; to feel that a few trifles of travel cast adrift upon the world in the pages of a magazine, without a thought of their fate beyond the current month, had inspired, far away from the haunts of civilization, a friendly personal interest in the writer - these, I say, af­fected me with no ordinary emotions of pleasure; for they proved in some degree that my wanderings in lonely countries lied not altogeth­er isolated me from the great brotherhood of man.

Shore around Mono Lake
The house was a snug frame shanty, contain­ing three or four rooms, roughly but comforta­bly furnished, and decorated with some curious specimens of colored engravings, which evinced at least a leaning toward the Fine Arts. Beds were plenty - deep, full feather beds, in which the sleeper was luxuriously buried for the night. I found that feathers wore a staple product here. In truth, I had a dream, after my burial in the deepest of these beds, that nature had gifted me with wings, and that I was flying about among the pine-trees pursued by some adroit sports­men, who amused themselves peppering me with snipe-shot. But this might have been owing to the supper prepared by the skillful hands of the good housewife. It is but simple justice to that lady to say that such a supper would have done honor to the best hotel in New York. For where else but in the mount­ain regions of the Pacific is there such delicate­ly-flavored mutton, such rich yellow cream, such pure fresh milk and sparkling butter? The biscuits, too, were delicious; and there were preserves of wild mountain berries, and jams and tarts and pies that must have taxed the in­genuity of the inventor. As for vegetables, there was any variety; and the potatoes were as rich and mealy as the best Irish murphies. I never tasted anything in the potato-line su­perior to them. Upon warmly expressing this sentiment to our kind host he was naturally elated, and offered to take me at once to his potato-patch. "You shall see for yourself," said he; "I rather calculate you never saw such a patch."

I was pretty stiff, however, after my long ride, and suggested that the morning sunshine would be the best light perhaps in which to view this remarkable potato-patch.

It was a pleasant scene that evening at Law­rence's liana. A gentleman and his wife from Aurora were stopping at the house for the en­joyment of the lake air; and their conversation contributed greatly to our enjoyment. We sat on the front porch, overlooking the whole mag­nificent panorama outspread before us. The glowing atmosphere hung over the lake like a vast prismatic canopy. Myriads of aquatic fowl sported on the glassy surface of the water, which reflected the varied outlines and many-colored slopes of the surrounding mountains. Trees, rocks, islands, and all visible objects were du­plicated with wonderful clearness and accuracy. The white mountains of Montgomery fifty miles distant stood out against the horizon in their minutest details, every rock and furrow as if seen through a telescope. A soft, delicious air, fragrant with the odors of wild flowers and new-made hay, made it a luxury to breathe. High to the right, tipped by the glowing rays of the sun, towered the snow- capped peaks of the Sierra Nevadas. To the west and south, grand and solitary monarchs among the mountain kings stood Castle Peak and Mount Dana, as if in sublime scorn of the puny civilization which encircles their feet. These mighty potentates of the wilderness, according to the geological sur­vey of Professor Whitney, reach the altitude re­spectively, of 13,000 and 13,500 feet above the level of the sea. Still higher mountains have been found to the southward, during a recent expedition of the survey, of which very interest­ing reports by Professor Brewer, Mr. Charles a Hoffman, Mr. Icing, Mr. Gardiner, and others, are now in progress of publication. A new and most interesting region between Kern River and Owen's Valley was ex­plored by these gentle­men during the past sum­mer, of which a brief no­tice has recently appear­ed in Silliman's Scientific Journal.

The shores of Lake Mono, in the vicinity of the water, have a whit­ish color, arising from the prevalence of calca­reous deposits. It well deserves the name sug­gested by an early visitor - the "Dead Sea of the West." Not even that wondrous sea, whose bit­ter waters wash the ruin­ed sites of Sodom and Go­morrah, presents a scene of greater desolation. Fourteen years had pass­ed - how short a time it seemed! - since my trus­ty guide, Yusef Badra, pointed out to me from the St. Saba road the shores of the Dead Sea. I could almost imagine myself there again. Yet for grandeur of scenery, and for interesting geological phenomena, this lake of the Western Sier­ras is far superior to the Oriental Sea. Here the traveler, whether art­ist, geologist, botanist, or poet might spend many months, and find ample occupation for every hour of his time.

Lake Mono was visit­ed in 18l2 by Lieutenant Moore, whose adventures in that wild region, during the Indian war, gave him a high repu­tation on the Pacific coast. I am not aware whether any official report of his visit to Mono has been published. It would doubtless be most interesting; for few men have seen it under such novel and interesting circumstances.

The lake is eighteen miles in length by about ten or twelve in width. On the western side are distinct water-marks, showing that in former years it attained an elevation of 800 to 1000 feet above its present level.

This would indicate a superficial area of such vast magnitude that it must have resembled a great inland sea. On the eastern side is a gap or depression in the hills, through which it must have flowed, covering an immense area of the great Walker River basin. It is not improba­ble that it was once a continuous sea to Walk­er's Lake. But I will not hazard any conject­ures on this point; for when one goes beyond the bare facts, as he sees them, in such a coun­try as this, the imagination is bewildered. A vague idea possesses the mind that all the great interior basins, including that of Salt Lake might have formed a grand intermediate ocean, stretching from the far north to the Gulf of California, between the great parallel ranges of the Cascades and Sierra Nevadas to the west and the Rocky Mountains to the east.

On the Sierra side of the lake there are points of woodland which extend some distance into the water. Back from the shore deep canons, rocky and precipitous, with ridges of pine on each side, cut their way into the heart of the mountains; and huge boulders, hurled down from the dizzy heights, stand like castles on the beach. From innumerable ravines fresh­water springs and streams pour their tribute into the lake. There is no visible outlet; yet the bitterness of the water is retained, and there is seldom a perceptible rise. Even in the great flood of '62, when every ravine poured down a roaring torrent, the rise did not exceed a few inches; and during the continuance of the flood, after the reception of the first volume of water, the level of the hike remained un­changed. It would seem that there must be a subterranean outlet; yet there is no evidence that the surplus water again reaches the surface. The probability is it becomes absorbed in the dry sands of the desert.

On the eastern shore low plains or alluvial bottoms, incrusted with alkali, show in distinct curvicular rims, composed of calcareous de­posits, the gradual retrocession of the lake to its present level. The beach is strewn with beautiful specimens of boracic or alkaline incrustations. Weeds, twigs, stones, and even dead birds and animals, are covered by this peculiar coating, and present the appearance of coral formations. Some specimens that I picked up are photo­graphic in the minuteness and delicacy of their details. When broken open the fibers of leaves, the feathers of birds, the grain of wood are found impressed in the calcareous molding with exquisite perfection. Almost every conceivable variety of form may be found among these in­crustations. White columns and elaborate facades, like those of the ruined temples of Greece, stand on the desert shore to the north, Arch­ways and domes and embattlements are repre­sented with astonishing fidelity. It is com­monly supposed that these are formations of white coral; but there can be no doubt that they are produced by the chemical action of the water, which at frequent intervals is forced up through the fissures of the earth by subterra­nean heat. These springs are numerous, and probably form around them a base of calcareous matter, which by constant accretions rises above the surrounding level.

A curious and rather disgusting deposit of worms, about two feet high by three or four in thickness, extends like a vast rim around the shores of the lake. I saw no end to it during a walk of several miles along the beach. These worms are the larvae of flies, originally depos­ited in a floating tissue on the surface of the water. So far as I could discover most of them were dead. They lay in a solid oily mess, ex­haling a peculiar though not unpleasant odor in the sun. Swarms of small black flies covered them to the depth of several inches. Such was the multitude of these flies that my progress was frequently arrested by them as they flew up. Whether they were engaged in an attempt to identify their own progeny, or, cannibal-like, were devouring the children of their enemies, it was impossible to determine. The former seemed to be rather a hopeless undertaking amidst such a mixed crowd. The air for a circle of several yards was blackened with these flies, and their buzz sounded like the brewing of a distant storm. My eyes, nose, mouth, and ears were filled. I could not beat them off. Wherever they lit there they remained, sluggish and slimy. I fain had to rush out of reach and seek a breath­ing-place some distance from the festive scene.

It would appear that the worms, as soon as they attain the power of locomotion, creep up from the water, or are deposited on the beach by the waves during some of those violent gales which prevail in this region. The Mono Indians derive from them a fruitful source of subsistence. By drying them in the sun and mixing them with acorns, berries, grass-seeds, and other arti­cles of food gathered up in the mountains, they make a conglomerate called cuchaba, which they use as a kind of bread. I am told it is very nutritious and not at all unpalatable. The worms are also eaten in their natural condition. It is considered a delicacy to fry them in their own grease. When properly prepared by a skill­ful cook they resemble pork "cracklings." I was not hungry enough to require one of these dishes during my sojourn, but would recommend any friend who may visit the lake to eat a pound or two and let me know the result at his earliest convenience. In fact, I don't yearn for fat worms as an article of diet, though almost any kind of food is acceptable when my appetite is good. There must be hundreds, perhaps thousands of tons of these oleaginous insects cast up on the beach every year. There is no danger of starvation on the shores of Mono. The inhabitants may be snowed in, flooded out, or cut off by aboriginal hordes, but they can al­ways rely upon the beach for fat meat.

No other insect or animal that I could hear of exists in the waters of the lake. The concurrent testimony of the settlers is that nothing containing the vital principle is indigenous to the water. It is possible however, that scien­tific research may develop various forms of ani­malcule. Fish are not found in any of the streams that fall into it, even high up in the Sierra Nevadas. Yet in adjacent streams that form the sources of supply to Owen's and Walk­er's rivers there is a great abundance of fish.

No analysis, I believe, has yet been made of the water of this lake. It is strong and bitter to the taste, and probably contains borax and soda. To the touch it feels soft and soapy; and indeed has much the effect of liquid shaving soap. Upon being rubbed on the skin or any foreign substance, it makes an excellent lather. For washing purposes it is admirable. I washed my head in it, and was astonished at the result. To quote the language of a patent advertisement - it removes the dandruff from the hair, purifies the skin, causes a healthy glow, takes the grease out of cloth, and is especially successful as a general expurgator. The only difficulty I found about it is that it shrinks up the flesh when steeped in it for any great length of time, like a strong decoction of lye, and is hard to get rid of without a subsequent ap­plication of fresh water. I think it would extract all the flesh, blood, and muscular tissue out of the human body, and form the usual calcareous de­posit over the bones in a very short time. Its buoyant properties are even more remarkable than those of the Dead Sea. To sink in it re­quires the strongest ef­forts of a strong swim­mer. But one might al­most as well sink as float in a case of wreck; for in either event his chance of life would be slender.

There are two islands situated a few miles from the northern shore, one of which is about two miles in length by one and a half in width; the other is smaller. De­tached rocks extend around these for sonic distance into the water.

The larger island has a singular volcano in the interior, from which is­sues hot water and steam. Within a few yards of the boiling spring, the water of which is bitter, a spring of pure fresh water gushes out of the rocks. This is justly re­garded as the greatest natural wonder of the lake. Fresh water burst­ing up from the very depths of a volcanic pile, surrounded by a sea of soda and borax, is surely one of the most striking anomalies of which we have any record.

The smaller island is evidently an extinct crater. Lava formations abound upon it. No springs, either hot or cold are found upon this island.

Immense swarms of gulls visit these islands during the spring of the year and deposit their eggs on every available spot. Myriads upon myriads of them hover over the rocks from morning till night, deafening the ear with their wild screams, and the water is literally covered by them for a circle of many miles. It is a common practice for the settlers to go over in their boats, and in the course of a few hours gather as ninny eggs as they can carry home.

In some parts of the main island the open spaces between the rocks are so thickly covered with eggs that the pedestrian is at a loss to find a vacant spot for his foot. The Indians, until re­cently, derived a considerable portion of their subsistence from this source; but the white man, having a better right, of which gunpowder is the proof, has ordered the aboriginal egg-hunters to keep away. I have heard that a Yankee speculator now, monopolizes the trade. The eggs are strong in flavor, but good for hotels and restaurants, like those of the Farm-Manes. A few go a long way in giving flavor to an omelette. The miners seem to relish them.

Town of Mono, California
During the winter months the waters of the lake are literally covered with swans, geese, brunt, ducks, and smaller aquatic fowl. It is incredible the numbers of these birds that appear after the first rains. Sportsmen find it a laborious job to carry home their game. A regular gunning expedition in this region results in nothing short of wholesale slaughter. Twen­ty or thirty teal duck at a single shot is nothing unusual.

Frequent and violent storms visit the lake in autumn and winter; and during the summer the sudden gusts of wind from the mountains render navigation in a small boat somewhat perilous. A visit to the islands is attended by considerable risk and uncertainty. Only a few small skiffs have yet been built, and these are generally in a dilapidated condition. The tour­ist must calculate upon spending a night on the bare rocks, and go well prepared with blankets and provisions otherwise he may suffer more than he bargains for. I would suggest June, July, and August as the best months in which to make the trip.

At the southern extremity of the lake are three remarkable volcanic peaks, of a conical form, the sides of which are covered with loose pumice-stone and obsidian. Regular craters are found in these peaks, showing signs of vol­canic eruptions at no very remote date. The highest is 1500 feet above the level of the lake. It is extremely difficult to ascend, owing to the loose stratum by which it is covered; but there is a consolation in the facility with which the descent is made. At the base the ground is covered with various specimens of lava, of the most fanciful shapes and beautiful colors. I saw some that would be an ornament to any cabinet of curiosities in the Atlantic States. Unfortunately I had no convenient way of pack­ing them on my horse.

There are some twenty settlers living on the shores of Lake Mono, most of whom are engaged in stock-raising and hay-cutting. The best ranches and farms are owned by Mr. Lundy, Mr. Van Read, and Mr. Lawrence. Most of the lands available for cultivation have been taken up. These are timbered, or adjacent to timber, and are well watered by springs. A saw-mill has recently been erected, and now that there is a chance of getting lumber it is probable a number of new houses will be built during the next summer.

The country is not strictly agricultural. The amount of arable land is small; but the mountains abound in mineral veins, and gold mining and prospecting for gold occupy considerable at­tention. Within a year or two when the facili­ties for crossing the Sierra Nevadas are increased, visitors from the Yosemite Falls will doubtless pay their respects to Mono Lake by the way of the Bloody Canon. A rough trail now crosses from that point by which the falls of Yosemite may be reached in something less than two days I have known the trip to be made in thirty hours on a good mule.

In this isolated region, abounding in grand primeval forests, magnificent scenery, natural curiosities of the most remarkable kind; deer, sage-hens, quail, rabbits, and water-fowl; a fine bracing climate, and entire exemption from the petty annoyances of crowded communities, how peacefully and contentedly life might be passed! And yet the settlers have their troubles, their quarrels about land-marks and cattle, and the usual bickerings of frontier communities. I suppose man is born to trouble everywhere as the sparks fly upward.

My friend Lawrence was very anxious that I should spend a month with him, and make a detailed exploration of the country. He offered to get up his horses and travel with me entirely round the lake; through Bloody Canon, across to Yosemite, anywhere for variety and ad­venture. Pleasant as the prospect was, I was compelled to decline it. My time was limited. I had the Walker River County to visit, and the season was getting advanced.

Next day, after a hard ride of thirty miles over the mountains, I reached Aurora. Hur-ried and unsatisfactory as my trip had been, I had seen a good deal in so short a time; and if' the reader has derived any pleasure from the recital, I certainly have no cause to regret my visit to Bodie Bluff and the "Dead Sea of the West."


Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.  September 1865.