Leaving the lake, we presently entered the loveliest portion of the Park, — a level, sheltered area of some fifty square miles, to which has been given the appropriate name of Hay-den Valley, in commemoration of the distinguished geologist, Doctor Ferdinand V. Hayden, who did so much to explore this region and to impress upon the Government the necessity of preserving its incomparable natural features. Even this tranquil portion of the Park is undermined by just such fiery forces as are elsewhere visible, but which here manifest themselves in different ways. Thus, in the midst of this natural beauty is a horrible object, known as the Mud Geyser. We crawled up a steep bank, and shudderingly gazed over it into the crater. Forty feet below us, the earth yawned open like a cavernous mouth, from which a long black throat, some six feet in diameter, extended to an unknown depth. This throat was filled with boiling mud, which rose and fell in nauseating gulps, as if some monster were strangling from a slimy paste which all its efforts could not possibly dislodge. Occasionally the sickening mixture would sink from view, as if the tortured wretch had swallowed it. Then we could hear, hundreds of feet below, unearthly retching; and, in a moment, it would all come up again, belched out with an explosive force that hurled a boiling spray of mud so high that we rushed down the slope. A single drop of it would have burned like molten lead. Five minutes of this was enough; and even now, when I reflect that every moment, day and night, the same regurgitation of black slime is going on, I feel as I have often felt, when, on a stormy night at sea, I have tried to sit through a course-dinner on an ocean steamer.
Not far from this perpetually active object is one that has been motionless for ages, — a granite boulder enclosed by trees as by the bars of a gigantic cage. It is a proof that glaciers once plowed through this region, and it was,no doubt, brought hither in the glacial period on a flood of ice, which, melting in this heated basin, left its burden, a grim reminder of how worlds are made. Think what a combination of terrific forces must have been at work here, when the volcanoes were in full activity, and when the mass of ice which then encased our northern world strove to enclose this prison-house of fire within its glacial arms ! One of our party remarked that the covering of this seething, boiling area with ice must have been the nearest approach to " hell's freezing over" that our earth has ever seen.
Another striking feature of our National Park is its Petrified Forest, where, scattered over a large area, are solitary columns, which once were trunks of trees, but now are solid shafts of agate. The substance of the wood, however, is still apparent, the bark, the worm-holes, and even the rings of growth being distinctly visible; but every fibre has been petrified by the mysterious substitution of a mineral deposit. No doubt these trees were once submerged in a strong mineral solution, tinted with every color of the rainbow. Still, more marvelous to relate, an excavation on the hillside proves that there are eleven layers of such forests, one above another, divided by as many cushions of lava. Think of the ages represented here, during which all these different forests grew, and were successively turned to stone! This, therefore, is another illustration of the conflict between Life and Death. Each was in turn a victor, and rested on his laurels for un-numbered centuries. Life is triumphant now; but who shall say that Death may not again prove conqueror? If not immediately, Death may well be patient. He will rule all this planet in the end.
No one can travel through the Yellowstone Park without imagining how it looks in winter. The snowfall is enormous, some drifts in the ravines being hundreds of feet deep, and, owing to the increased supply of water, the geysers throw higher streams. No traveling is possible then except on snow-shoes; and it is with difficulty that some of the Park hotels are reached as late as the middle of May. Of course, in such a frigid atmosphere, the steam arising from the geysers is almost instantly congealed; and eye-witnesses affirm that, in a temperature of forty degrees below zero, the clouds of vapor sent up by Old Faithful rose fully two thousand feet, and were seen ten miles away.
It can be well imagined that to do much exploration here, in winter, is not alone immensely difficult, but dangerous. In 1887 an expedition was formed, headed by Lieutenant Frederick Schwatka; but, though he was experienced as an Arctic traveler, in three days he advanced only twenty miles, and finally gave out completely. Most of the exploring party turned back with him; but four kept heroically on, one of whom was the photographer, Mr. F. J. Haynes, of St. Paul. Undismayed by Schwatka's failure, he and his comrades bravely persisted in their under-taking. For thirty days the mercury never rose higher than ten degrees below zero. Once it marked fifty-two degrees below! Yet these men were obliged to camp out every night, and carry on their shoulders provisions, sleeping-bags, and photographic instruments. But, finally, they triumphed over every obstacle, having in midwinter made a tour of two hundred miles through the Park. Nevertheless, they almost lost their lives in the attempt. At one point, ten thousand feet above the sea, a fearful blizzard overtook them. The cold and wind seemed unendurable, even for an hour, but they endured them for three days. A sharp sleet cut their faces like a rain of needles, and made it perilous to look ahead. Almost dead from sheer exhaustion, they were unable to lie down for fear of freezing; chilled to the bone, they could make no fire; and, although fainting, they had not a mouthful for seventy-two hours. What a terrific chapter for any man to add to the mysterious volume we call life!
One might suppose by this time that all the marvels of our National Park had been described; but, on the contrary, so far is it from being true, that I have yet to mention the most stupendous of them all, — the world-renowned canon of the Yellowstone. The introduction to this is sublime. It is a waterfall, the height of which is more than twice as great as that of Niagara. To understand the reason for the presence of such a cataract, we should remember that the entire region for miles was once a geyser basin. The river was then near the surface; and has been cutting down the walls of the canon ever since. The volcanic soil, decomposed by heat, could not resist the constant action of the water. Only a granite bluff at the upper end of the canon has held firm; and over that the baffled stream now leaps to wreak its vengeance on the weaker foe beneath.
Through a colossal gateway of vast height, yet only seventy feet in breadth, falls the entire volume of the Yellowstone River. It seems enraged at being suddenly compressed into that narrow space; for, with a roar of anger and defiance and without an instant's hesitation, it leaps into the yawning gulf in one great flood of dazzling foam. When looked upon from a little distance, a clasp of emerald apparently surmounts it, from which descends a spotless robe of ermine, nearly four hundred feet in length. The lower portion is concealed by clouds of mist, which vainly try to climb the surrounding cliffs, like ghosts of submerged mountains striving to escape from their eternal prison. We ask ourselves instinctively: What gives this river its tremendous impetus, and causes it to fill the air with diamond-tint-ed spray, and send up to the cliffs a ceaseless roar which echoes and reechoes down the canon? How awe-inspiring seems the answer to this question, when we think upon it seriously! The subtle force which draws this torrent down is the same power that holds the planets in their courses, retains the comets in their fearful paths, and guides the movements of the stellar uni-verse. What is this power? We call it gravitation; but why does it invariably act thus with mathematical precision? Who knows? Behind all such phenomena there is a mystery that none can solve. This cataract has a voice. If we could under-stand it, per-haps we should distinguish, after all, but one word, — God.
As for the gorge through which this river flows, imagine if you can a yawning chasm ten miles long and fifteen hundred feet in depth. Peer into it, and see if you can find the river. Yes, there it lies, one thousand five hundred feet below, a winding path of emerald and alabaster dividing the huge canon walls. Seen from the summit, it hardly seems to move; but, in reality, it rages like a captive lion springing at its bars. Scarcely a sound of its fierce fury reaches us; yet, could we stand beside it, a quarter of a mile below, its voice would drown our loudest shouts to one another.
Attracted to this river innumerable little streams are trick-ling down the colored cliffs. They are cascades of boiling water, emerging from the awful reservoir of heat which under-lies this laboratory of the Infinite. One of them is a geyser, the liquid shaft of which is scarcely visible, yet in reality is one hundred and fifty feet in height. From all these hot additions to its waves the temperature of the river, even a mile or two beyond the canon, is twenty degrees higher than at its entrance.
"Are there not other canons in the world as large as this?" it may be asked.
Yes, but none like this. For, see, instead of sullen granite walls, these sides are radiant with color. Age after age, and aeon after aeon, hot water has been spreading over these miles of masonry its variegated sediment, like pigments on an artist's palette. Here, for example, is an expanse of yellow one thousand feet in height. Mingled with this are areas of red, resembling jasper. Beside these is a field of lavender, five hundred feet in length, and soft in hue as the down upon a pigeon's breast.
No shade is wanting here except the blue, and God replaces that. It is supplied by the o'erspreading canopy of heaven.
Yet there is no monotony in these hues. Nature, apparently, has passed along this cation, touching the rocks capriciously; now staining an entire cliff as red as blood, now tingeing a light pinnacle with green, now spreading over the whole face of a mountain a vast Persian rug. Hence both sides of the canon present successive miles of Oriental tapestry. Moreover, every passing cloud works here almost a miracle; for all the lights and shades that follow one another down this gorge vary its tints as if by magic, and make of it one long kaleidoscope of changing colors.
Nor are these cliffs less wonderful in form than color. The substance of their tinted rocks is delicate. The rain has, therefore, plowed their faces with a million furrows. The wind has carved them like a sculptor's chisel. The lightning's bolts have splintered them, until, mile after mile, they rise in a bewildering variety of architectural forms. Old castles frown above the maddened stream, a thousand times more grand than any ruins on the Rhine. Their towers are five hundred feet in height. Turrets and battlements, portcullises and draw-bridges, rise from the deep ravine, sublime and inaccessible; yet they are still a thousand feet below us! What would be the effect could we survey them from the stream itself, within
the gloomy crevice of the canon? Only their size convinces us that they are works of Nature, not of Art. Upon their spires we see a score of eagles' nests. The splendid birds leave these at times, and swoop down toward the stream; not in one mighty plunge, but gracefully, in slow, majestic curves, lower and lower, till we can follow them only through a field-glass, as they alight on trees which look to us like shrubs.
But many of these forms are grander than any castles. In one place is an amphitheatre. Within its curving arms a hundred thousand people could be seated. Its foreground is the emerald river; its drop-curtain the radiant cation wall. Cathedrals, too, are here, with spires twice as high as those which soar above the minster of Cologne. Fantastic gargoyles stretch out from the parapets. A hundred flying but-tresses connect them with the mountain side. From any one of them as many shafts shoot heavenward as statues rise from the Duomo of Milan; and each of these great canon shrines, instead of stained glass windows, has walls, roof, dome, and pinnacles, one mass of variegated color. The awful grandeur of these temples, sculptured by the Deity, is over-powering. We feel that we must worship here. It is a place where the Finite prays, the In-finite hears, and Immensity looks on.
Two visions of this world stand out within my memory which, though entirely different, I can place side by side in equal rank. They are the Himalayas of India, and the Grand Canon of the Yellowstone. On neither of them is there any sign of human life. No voice disturbs their solemn stillness. The only sound upon earth's loftiest mountains is the thunder of the avalanche. The only voice within this canon is the roar of its magnificent cascade. It is well that man must halt upon the borders of this awful chasm. It is no place for man. The Infinite allows him to stand trembling on the brink, look down, and listen spellbound to the anthem of its mighty cataract; but beyond this he may not, cannot go. It is as if Almighty God had kept for His own use one part of His creation, that man might merely gaze upon it, worship, and retire.