At length a sudden turn revealed to us our first halt-ing-place within the Park, — the Mammoth Springs Hotel. The structure in itself looked mammoth as we approached it, for its portico exceeds four hundred feet in length. Our first impressions were agreeable. Porters rushed forth and helped us to alight, and on the broad piazza the manager received us cordially. Every-thing had the air of an established summer resort. This, I confess, surprised me greatly, as I had expected primitive accommodations, and supposed that, though the days of camping-out had largely passed away, the resting-places in the Park were still so crude that one would be glad to leave them. But I lingered here with pleasure long after all the wonders of the Park had been beheld. The furniture, though simple, is sufficient; to satisfy our national nervousness, the halls are so well - stocked with rocking-chairs that European visitors look about them with alarm, and try to find some seats that promise a more stable equilibrium ; the sleeping-rooms are scrupulously clean soft blankets, snow-white sheets, and comfortable beds assure a good night's rest ; and the staff of colored waiters in the dining-room, steam-heat, a bell-boy service, and electric lights made us forget our distance from . great cities and the haunts of men. Moreover, what is true of this is true, as well, of the other hotels within the Park ; and when I add that well-cooked food is served in all of them, it will be seen that tourists need not fear a lengthy sojourn in these hostelries.
Standing on the veranda of the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, I saw between me and the range of mountains opposite a broad plateau, on which were grouped a dozen neat and tasteful structures. With the exception of the photographer's house in the foreground, these constitute Fort Yellowstone. "A fort !" the visitor exclaims, "impossible! These buildings are of wood, not stone. Where are its turrets, battlements, and guns? " Nevertheless, this is a station for two companies of United States Cavalry; most of the houses being residences for the officers, while in the rear are barracks for the soldiers.
No one who has visited the National Park ever doubts the necessity of having soldiers there. Thus, one of the most important duties of the United States troops, stationed within its area, is to save its splendid forests from destruction. To do this calls for constant vigilance. A fire started in the resinous pines, which cover many of the mountain sides, leaps for-ward with such fury that it would overtake a horseman fleeing for his life. To guard against so serious a calamity, soldiers patrol the Park continually to see that all the camp-fires have been extinguished. Thanks to their watchful care, only one notable conflagration has occurred here in the last eight years, and that the soldiers fought with energy for twenty days, till the last vestige of it was subdued.
The tourist comprehends the great importance of this work when he beholds the rivers of the Park threading, like avenues of silver, the sombre frame-work of the trees, and recollects that just such forests as adjoin these streams cover no less than eighty-four per cent. of its entire area. In a treeless country like Wyoming these forests are of priceless value, because of their utility in holding back, in spring, the melting snow. Some of the largest rivers of our continent are fed from the well-timbered area of the Yellowstone ; and if the trees were destroyed, the enormous snowfall in the Park, unsheltered from the sun, would melt so rapidly that the swollen torrents would quickly wash away roads, bridges, and productive farms, even, far out in the adjacent country, and, subsequently, cause a serious drought for many months.
Another very important labor of the United States soldiers here is to preserve the game within the Park. It is the purpose of our Government to make this area a place of refuge for those animals which man's insatiate greed has now almost destroyed. The remoteness of this lofty region, together with its mountain fastnesses, deep forests, and sequestered glens, makes it an almost perfect game-preserve. There are at present thirty thousand elk within the Park; its deer and antelopes are steadily increasing; and bears, foxes, and small game roam unmolested here. Buffaloes, however, are still few in number. They have become too valuable. A buffalo head, which formerly could be bought for a mere trifle, commands, to-day, a price of five hundred dollars. Hence, daring poachers sometimes run the risk of entering the Park in winter and destroying them.
It is sad to reflect how the buffaloes of this continent have been almost exterminated. As late as thirty years ago, trains often had to halt upon the prairies; and even steamboats were, occasionally, obliged to wait an hour or two in the Missouri River until enormous herds of buffalo had crossed their path. Now only about two hundred of these animals are in existence, — the sole survivors of the millions that once thundered over the western plains, and disputed with the Indians the owner-ship of this great continent.
Until very recently, travelers on our prairies frequently be-held the melancholy sight of laborers gathering up the buffalo bones which lay upon the plains, like wreckage floating on the sea. Hundreds of carloads of these skeletons were shipped to factories in the east. Now, to protect the few remaining buffaloes, as well as other animals, our troops patrol the Park even in winter. The principal stations are connected by tele-phone, and information given thus is promptly acted on. No traveler is allowed to carry fire-arms ; and any one who attempts to destroy animal life is liable to a fine of one thousand dollars, or imprisonment for two years, or both.
Still another task, devolving upon the Military Governor of the Park, is the building and repairing of its roads. No doubt the Superintendent is doing all he can with the amount of money that the Government allows him ; but there is room for great improvement in these thoroughfares, if Congress will but make a suitable appropriation for the purpose. At present, a part of the coaching-route is of necessity traveled over twice. This should be obviated by constructing one more road, by which the tourist could be brought to several interesting features of the Park that are now rarely seen.
Every one knows how roads in Europe climb the steepest grades in easy curves, and are usually as smooth as a marble table, free from obstacles, and carefully walled-in by parapets of stone. Why should not we possess such roads, especially in cur National Park? Dust is at present a great drawback to the traveler's pleasure here; but this could be prevented if the roads were thoroughly macadamized. Surely, the honor of our Government demands that this unique museum of marvels should be the pride and glory of the nation, with highways equal to any in the world.
Only a few hundred feet distant from the Mammoth Springs Hotel stands a strange, naturally molded shaft of stone, fifty-two feet in height. From certain points its summit calls to mind the head-dress of the Revolution, and hence its name is Liberty Cap. It is a fitting monument to mark the entrance into Wonderland, for it is the cone of an old geyser long since dead. Within it is a tube of unknown depth. Through that, ages since, was hurled at intervals a stream of boiling water, precisely as it comes from active geysers in the Park to-day. But now the hand of Time has stilled its passionate pulsations, and laid upon its stony lips the seal of silence. At only a little distance from this eloquent reminder of the past I peered into a cavern hundreds of feet deep. It was once the reservoir of a geyser. An atmosphere of sulphur haunts it still. No doubt this whole plateau is but the cover of extinguished fires, for other similar caves pierce the locality on which the hotel stands. A feeling of solemnity stole over me as I surveyed these dead or dying agents of volcanic power. In the great battle of the elements, which has been going on here for unnumbered centuries, they doubtless took an active part. But Time has given them a mortal wound; and now they are waiting patiently until their younger comrades, farther up the Park, shall, one by one, like them grow cold and motionless.
Not more than fifty feet from Liberty Cap rise the famous Hot Spring Terraces. They constitute a veritable mountain, covering at least two hundred acres, the whole of which has been, for centuries, growing slowly through the agency of hot water issuing from the boiling springs. This, as it cools, leaves a mineral deposit, spread out in delicate, thin layers by the soft ripples of the heated flood. Strange, is it not? Everywhere else the flow of water wears away the substance that it touches; but here, by its peculiar sediment, it builds as surely as the coral insect. Moreover, the coloring of these terraces is, if possible, even more marvelous than their creation; for, as the mineral water pulsates over them, it forms a great variety of brilliant hues. Hot water, therefore, is to this material what blood is to the body. With it the features glow with warmth and color; without it they are cold and ghostlike. Accordingly, where water ripples over these gigantic steps, towering one above another toward the sky, they look like beautiful cascades of color; and when the liquid has deserted them, they stand out like a staircase of Carrara marble. Hence, through the changing centuries, they pass in slow succession, from light to shade, from brilliancy to pallor, and from life to death. This mineral water is not only a mysterious architect; it is, also, an artist that no man can equal. Its magic touch has intermingled the finest shades of orange, yellow, purple, red, and brown; some-times in solid masses, at other places diversified by slender threads, like skeins of multicolored silk. Yet in producing all these wonderful effects, there is no violence, no uproar. The boiling water passes over the mounds it has produced with the low murmur of a sweet cascade. Its tiny wavelets touch the stone work like a sculptor's fingers, molding the yielding mass into exquisitely graceful forms.
The top of each of these colored steps is a pool of boiling water. Each of these tiny lakes is radiant with lovely hues, and is bordered by a colored coping, resembling a curb of jasper or of porphyry. Yet the thinnest knife-blade can be placed here on the dividing line between vitality and death. The contrast is as sudden and complete as that between the desert and the valley of the Nile. Where Egypt's river ends its overflow the desert sands begin ; and on these terraces it is the same. Where the life-giving water fails, the golden colors become ashen. This terraced mountain, therefore, seemed to me like a colossal checker-board, upon whose colored squares, the two great forces, Life and Death, were play-ing their eternal game. There is a pathos in this evanescent beauty. What lies about us in one place so gray and ghostly was once as bright and beautiful as that which we perceive a hundred feet away. But nothing here retains supremacy. The glory of this century will be the gravestone of the next. Around our feet are sepulchres of vanished splendor. It seems as if the architect were constantly dissatisfied. No sooner has he finished one magnificent structure than he impatiently begins another, leaving the first to crumble and decay. Each new production seems to him the finest; but never reaching his ideal, he speedily abandons it to perish from neglect.
It cannot be said of these terraces that " distance lends enchantment to the view." The nearer you come to them the more beautiful they appear. They even bear the inspection of a magnifying glass, for they are covered with a bead-like ornamentation worthy of the goldsmith's art. In one place, for example, rise pulpits finer than those of Pisa or Siena. Their edges seem to be of purest jasper. They are upheld by taper-ing shafts resembling richly decorated organ-pipes. From parapets of porphyry hang gold stalactites, side by side with icicles of silver. Moreover, all this marvelous fretwork is distinctly visible, for the light film of water pulsates over it so delicately that it can no more hide the filigree beneath than a thin veil conceals a face. It is a melancholy fact that were it not for United States troops, these beautiful objects would be mutilated by relic- hunters. Hence, another duty of our soldiers is to watch the formations constantly, lest tourists should break off specimens, and ruin them forever, and lest still more ignoble vandals, whose fingers itch for notoriety, should write upon these glorious works of nature their worthless names, and those of the towns unfortunate enough to have produced them. All possible measures are taken to prevent this vandalism. Thus, every tourist entering the Park must register his name. Most travelers do so, as a matter of course, at the hotels, but even the arrivals of those who come here to camp must be duly recorded at the Superintendent's office. If a soldier sees a name, or even initials, written on the stone, he telephones the fact to the Military Governor. At once the lists are scanned for such a name. If found, the Superintendent wires an order to have the man arrested, and so careful is the search for all defacers, that the offending party is, usually, found before he leaves the Park. Then the Superintendent, like the Mikado, makes the punishment fit the crime. A scrubbing brush and laundry soap are given to the desecrator, and he is made to go back, per-haps forty miles or more, and with his own hands wash away the proofs of his disgraceful vanity. Not long ago a young man was arrested at six o'clock in the morn-ing, made to leave his bed, and march without his breakfast several miles, to prove that he could be as skillful with a brush as with a pencil.