CHAPTER III. THROUGH MORMON-LAND AND OVER THE ROCKIES.
A dreary-looking country is the " Great American Desert," in Utah, the northern boundary line of which I traverse next morning. To the left of the road is a low chain of barren hills; to the right, the uninviting plain, over which one's eye wanders in vain for some green object that might raise hopes of a less desolate region beyond; and over all hangs an oppressive silence - the silence of a dead country - a country destitute of both animal and vegetable life. Over the great desert hangs a smoky haze, out of which Pilot Peak, thirty-eight miles away, rears its conical head 2,500 feet above the level plain at its base.
Some riding is obtained at intervals along this unattractive stretch of country, but there are no continuously ridable stretches, and the principal incentive to mount at all is a feeling of disgust at so much compulsory walking. A noticeable feature through the desert is the almost unquenchable thirst that the dry saline air inflicts upon one. Reaching a railway section-house, I find no one at home; but there is a small underground cistern of imported water, in which "wrigglers " innumerable wriggle, but which is otherwise good and cool. There is nothing to drink out of, and the water is three feet from the surface; while leaning down to try and drink, the wooden framework at the top gives way and precipitates me head first into the water. Luckily, the tank is large enough to enable me to turn round and reappear at the surface, head first, and with considerable difficulty I scramble out again, with, of course, not a dry thread on me.
At three in the afternoon I roll into Terrace, a small Mormon town. Here a rather tough-looking citizen, noticing that my garments are damp, suggests that 'cycling must be hard work to make a person perspire like that in this dry climate. At the Matlin section-house I find accommodation for the night with a whole-souled section-house foreman, who is keeping bachelor's hall temporarily, as his wife is away on a visit at Ogden. >From this house, which is situated on the table-land of the Bed Dome Mountains, can be obtained a more comprehensive view of the Great American Desert than when we last beheld it. It has all the appearance of being the dry bed of an ancient salt lake or inland sea. A broad, level plain of white alkali, which is easily mistaken in the dim distance for smooth, still water, stretches away like a dead, motionless sea as far as human vision can penetrate, until lost in the haze; while, here and there, isolated rocks lift their rugged heads above the dreary level, like islets out of the sea. It is said there are many evidences that go to prove this desert to have once been covered by the waters of the great inland sea that still, in places, laves its eastern borders with its briny flood. I am informed there are many miles of smooth, hard, salt-flats, over which a 'cycler could skim like a bird; but I scarcely think enough of bird-like skimming to go searching for it on the American Desert. A few miles east of Matlin the road leads over a spur of the Red Dome Range, from whence I obtain my first view of the Great Salt Lake, and soon I am enjoying a long-anticipated bath in its briny waters. It is disagreeably cold, but otherwise an enjoyable bath. One can scarce sink beneath the surface, so strongly is the water impregnated with salt. For dinner, I reach Kelton, a town that formerly prospered as the point from which vast quantities of freight were shipped to Idaho. Scores of huge freight-wagons are now bunched up in the corrals, having outlived their usefulness since the innovation from mules and "overland ships " to locomotives on the Utah Northern Railway. Empty stores and a general air of vanished prosperity are the main features of Kelton to-day; and the inhabitants seem to reflect in their persons the aspect of the town; most of them being freighters, who, finding their occupation gone, hang listlessly around, as though conscious of being fit for nothing else. >From Kelton I follow the lake shore, and at six in the afternoon arrive at the salt-works, near Monument Station, and apply for accommodation, which is readily given. Here is erected a wind-mill, which pumps the water from the lake into shallow reservoirs, where it evaporates and leaves a layer of coarse salt on the bottom. These people drink water that is disagreeably brackish and unsatisfactory to one unaccustomed to it, but which they say has become more acceptable to them, from habitual use, than purely fresh water. This spot, is the healthiest and most favorable for the prolific production of certain forms of insect life I ever was in, and I spend the liveliest night here I ever spent anywhere. These people professed to give me a bed to myself, but no sooner have I laid my head on the pillow than I recognize the ghastly joke they are playing on me. The bed is already densely populated with guests, who naturally object to being ousted or overcrowded. They seem quite a kittenish and playful lot, rather inclined to accomplish their ends by playing wild pranks than by resorting to more austere measures. Watching till I have closed my eyes in an attempt to doze off, they slip up and playfully tickle me under the chin, or scramble around in my ear, and anon they wildly chase each other up and down my back, and play leap-frog and hide-and-go-seek all over my sensitive form, so that I arise in the morning anything but refreshed from my experience.