After spending several days at the Mammoth Hot Springs, we started out to explore the greater marvels that awaited us in the interior. The mode of travel through the Park is a succession of coaching-parties over a distance of one hundred and eighty miles. The larger vehicles are drawn by six, the smaller ones by four, strong horses, well fed, well groomed, high spirited, yet safe. This feature of our National Park astonished me. I had formed no idea of its perfection or its magnitude. Here, for example, are vehicles enough to accommodate seven hundred tourists for a continuous journey of five days! Here, too, are five hundred horses, all of which can be harnessed at twenty-four hours' notice ; and, since the Park is so remote, here also are the company's blacksmith and repair shops. Within the stables, also, are the beautifully varnished coaches, varying in cost from one to two thousand dollars, and made in Concord, New Hampshire, twenty-five hundred miles away. On one of these I read the number, " I31." "Why did you add the fraction? "I inquired of the Manager of Transportation. " Because," he re-plied, "some travelers would not take a number thirteen coach. They feared a breakdown or a tumble into the river; so I put on the half to take ill-luck away." I dwell at length upon these practical details, because I have found that people, in general, do not know them. Most Americans have little idea whether the driving distance in the Park is ten miles, or a hundred. Especially are they ignorant of the fact that they may leave the coaches at any point, remain at a hotel as long as they desire, and then resume their journey in other vehicles, without the least additional expense for transportation, precisely as one uses a stop-over ticket on a railroad.
The fact that it is possible to go through the Park in four or five days is not a reason why it is best to do so. Hundreds of tourists make the trip three times as rapidly as they would were they aware that they could remain comfortably for months. When this is better known, people will travel here more leisurely. Even now, parents with little children some-times leave them at the Mammoth Springs Hotel in charge of nurses, and receive messages by telephone every day to inform them how they are. An important consideration, also, for invalids is the fact that two skilled surgeons, attendant on the army, are always easily accessible. Moreover, the climate of the Park in summer is delightful. It is true, the sun beats down at noonday fiercely, the thin air offering scant resistance to its rays, but in the shade one feels no heat at all. Light overcoats are needed when the sun goes down. There is scarcely a night here, through the year, which passes without frost. To me the pure dry air of that great height was more invigorating than any I had ever breathed, save, possibly, that of Norway, and it is, probably, the tonic of the atmosphere that renders even the invalid and aged able to support long journeys in the Park without exhaustion. In all these years no tourist has been made ill here by fatigue.
A few miles after leaving the Hot Springs, we reached the entrance to a picturesque ravine, the tawny color of whose rocks has given it the name of Golden Gate. This is, alike, the entrance to, and exit from, the inner sanctuary of this land of marvels. Accordingly a solitary boulder, detached from its companions on the cliff, seems to be stationed at this portal like a sentinel to watch all tourists who come and go. At all events it echoes to the voices of those who enter almost as eager as seekers after gold; and, a week later, sees them return, browned by the sun, invigorated by the air, and joyful in the acquisition of incomparable memories.
Emerging from this Golden Gate, I looked about me with surprise, as the narrow walls of the ravine gave place to a plateau surrounded everywhere by snow-capped mountains, from which the Indians believed one could obtain a view of Paradise. Across this area, like a railroad traversing a prairie, stretched the driveway for our carriages.
"Do tourists usually seem delighted with the park ?" I asked our driver.
"Invariably,". he replied. "Of course I cannot understand the words of the foreigners, but their excited exclamations show their great enthusiasm. I like the tourists," he continued, " they are so grateful for any little favor ! One of them said to me the other day, Is the water here good to drink ? " Not always,' I replied, 'you must be careful.' At once he pressed my hand, pulled out a flask, and said, I thank you "
While crossing the plateau we enjoyed an admirable view of the loftiest of the mountains which form, around the Park, a rampart of protection. Its sharply pointed summit pierces the transparent air more than eleven thousand feet above the sea, and it is well named Electric Peak, since it appears to be a storage battery for all of the Rocky Mountains. Such are the mineral deposits on its sides, that the best instruments of engineers are thrown into confusion, and rendered useless, while the lightning on this favorite home of electricity is said to be unparalleled.
Presently a turn in the road revealed to us a dark-hued mountain rising almost perpendicularly from a lake. Marvelous to relate, the material of which this mountain is composed is jet-black glass, produced by volcanic fires. The very road on which we drove between this and the lake also consists of glass too hard to break beneath the wheels. The first explorers found this obsidian cliff almost impassable; but when they ascertained of what it was composed, they piled up timber at its base, and set it on fire. When the glass was hot, they dashed upon the heated mass cold water, which broke it into fragments. Then with huge levers, picks, and shovels, they pushed and pried the shining pieces down into the lake, and opened thus a wagon-road a thousand feet in length.
The region of the Yellowstone was to most Indian tribes a place of horror. They trembled at the awful sights they here beheld. But the obsidian cliff was precious to them all. Its substance was as hard as flint, and hence well suited for their arrow-heads. This mountain of volcanic glass was, therefore, the great Indian armory; and as such it was neutral ground. Hither all hostile tribes might come for implements of war and then depart unharmed. While they were here a sacred, inter-tribal oath protected them. An hour later, those very warriors might meet in deadly combat, and turn against each other's breasts the weapons taken from that laboratory of an unknown power.
Can we wonder that, in former times, when all this region was still unexplored, and its majestic streams rolled nameless through a trackless wilderness, the statements of the few brave men who ventured into this enclosure were disbelieved by all who heard. them? One old trapper became so angry when his stories of the place were doubted, that he deliberately revenged himself by in-venting tales of which Munchhausen would have been proud. Thus, he declared, that one day when he was hunting here he saw a bear. He fired at it, but without result. The animal did not even notice him. He fired again, yet the big bear kept on grazing. The hunter in astonishment then ran forward, but suddenly dashed against a solid mountain made of glass. Through that, he said, he had been looking at the animal. Unspeakably amazed, he finally walked around the mountain, and was just taking aim again, when he discovered that the glass had acted like a telescope, and that the bear was twenty-five miles away!
Not far from the volcanic cliff which gave the trapper inspiration for his story, we reached one of the most famous basins of the Park. In briefest terms, these basins are the spots in the arena where the crust is thinnest. They are the trap-doors in a volcanic stage through which the fiery actors in the tragedy of Nature, which is here enacted, come upon the scene. Literally, they are the vents through which the steam and boiling water can escape. In doing so, however, the water, as at the Mammoth Springs, leaves a sediment of pure white lime or silica. Hence, from a distance, these basins look like desolate expanses of white sand. Beside them always flows a river which carries off the boiling water to the outer world.
No illustration can do justice to what is called the Norris Basin, but it is horrible enough to test the strongest nerves. Having full confidence in our guide (the Park photographer) we ventured with him, outside the usual track of tourists, and went where all the money of the Rothschilds would not have tempted us to go alone. The crust beneath our feet was hot, and often quivered as we walked. A single misstep to the right or left would have been followed by appalling con-sequences. Thus, a careless soldier, only a few days before, had broken through, and was then lying in the hospital with both legs badly scalded. Around us were a hundred vats of water, boiling furiously; the air was heavy with the fumes of sulphur; and the whole expanse was seamed with cracks and honeycombed with holes from which a noxious vapor crept out to pollute the air. I thought of Dante's walk through hell, and called to mind the burning lake, which he describes, from which the wretched sufferers vainly sought to free themselves.
Leaving, at last, this roof of the infernal regions, just as we again stood apparently on solid ground, a fierce explosion close beside us caused us to start and run for twenty feet. Our guide laughed heartily. "Come back," he said, "don't be afraid. It is only a baby geyser, five years old." In fact, in 1891, a sudden outburst of volcanic fury made an opening here, through which, at intervals of thirty minutes, day and night, hot water now leaps forth in wild confusion.
"This, then, is a geyser!" I exclaimed.
"Bah !" said the guide, contemptuously, "if you had seen the real geysers in the Upper Basin, you would not look at this."
Meantime, for half an hour we had been hearing, more and more distinctly, a dull, persistent roar, like the escape of steam from a transatlantic liner. At last we reached the cause. It is a mass of steam which rushes from an opening in the ground, summer and winter, year by year, in one unbroken volume. The rock around it is as black as jet; hence it is called the Black Growler. Think of the awful power confined beneath the surface here, when this one angry voice can be distinctly heard four miles away. Choke up that aperture, and what a terrible convulsion would ensue, as the accumulated steam burst its prison walls ! It is a sight which makes one long to lift the cover from this monstrous caldron, learn the cause of its stupendous heat, and trace the complicated and mysterious aqueducts through which the steam and water make their way.
Returning from the Black Growler, we halted at a lunch-station, the manager of which is Larry. All visitors to the Park remember Larry. He has a different welcome for each guest : "Good-day, Professor. Come in, my Lord. The top of the morn-ing to you, Doctor." These phrases flow as lightly from his tongue as water from a geyser. His station is a mere tent ; but he will say, with most amusing seriousness : " Gintlemen, walk one flight up and turn to the right. Ladies, come this way and take the elevator. Now thin, luncheon is ready. Each guest take one seat, and as much food as he can get."
"Where did you come from, Larry ?" I asked.
"From Brooklyn, Sor," was his reply, "but I'll niver go back there, for all my friends have been killed by the, trolley cars."
Larry is very democratic. The other day a guest, on sitting down to lunch, took too much room upon the bench. "Plaze move along, Sor," said Larry.
The stranger glared at him. "I am a Count," he remarked at last.
"Well, Sor," said Larry, "here you only count wun!"
"Hush!" exclaimed a member of the gentleman's suite, "that is Count Schouvaloff."
"I'll forgive him that," said Larry, "if he won't shuffle off this seat." Pointing to my companion, Larry asked me: "What is that gintleman's business?"
"He is a teacher of singing," I answered.
"Faith," said Larry, "I'd like to have him try my voice. There is something very strange about my vocal chords. Whenever I sing, the Black Growler stops. One tourist told me it was a case of professional jealousy, and said the Black Growler was envious of my forte tones. 'I have not forty tones,' I said, 'I've only one tone.' 'Well,' says he, 'make a note of it! ' "
Only once in his life has Larry been put to silence. Two years ago, a gentleman remarked to him: " Well, Larry, good-by; come and visit me next winter in the East. In my house you shall have a nice room, and, if you are ill, shall enjoy a doctor's services free of all expense."
"Thank you," said Larry, "plaze give me your card."
The tourist handed it to him ; and Larry, with astonishment and horror, read beneath the gentleman's name these words : "Superintendent of the Insane Asylum, Utica, New York."
Some hours after leaving Larry's lunch-station, we reached another area of volcanic action. Our nerves were steadier now. The close proximity to Hades was less evident; yet here hot mineral water had spread broadcast innumerable little mounds of silica, which look so much like biscuits grouped in a colossal pan that this is called the Biscuit Basin ; but they are not the kind that " mother used to make." If a tourist asked for bread here, he would receive a stone; since all these so-called biscuits are as hard as flint. We walked upon their crusts with perfect safety; yet, in so doing, our boots grew warm beneath our feet, for the water in this miniature archipelago is heated to the boiling point.