CHAPTER III. MOUNTAINS AND PLATEAUS.
Green River has its source in Fremont's Peak, high up in the Wind River Mountains among glacial lakes and mountain cascades. This is the real source of the Colorado River, and it stands in strange contrast with the mouth of that stream where it pours into the Gulf of California. The general course of the river is from north to south and from great altitudes to the level of the sea. Thus it runs "from land of snow to land of sun." The Wind River Mountains constitute one of the most imposing ranges of the United States. Fremont's Peak, the culminating point, is 13,790 feet above the level of the sea. It stands in a wilderness of crags. Here at Fremont's Peak three great rivers have their sources: Wind River flows eastward into the Mississippi; Green River flows southward into the Colo-orado; and Gros Ventre River flows northwestward into the Columbia. From this dominating height many ranges can be seen on every hand. About the sources of the Platte and the Big Horn, that flow ultimately into the Gulf of Mexico, great ranges stand with their culminating peaks among the clouds; and the mountains that extend into Yellowstone Park, the land of geyser wonders, are seen. The Yellowstone Park is at the southern extremity of a great system of mountain ranges, the northern Rocky Mountains, sometimes called the Geyser Ranges. This geological province extends into British America, but its most wonderful scenery is in the upper Yellowstone basin, where geysers bombard the heavens with vapor distilled in subterranean depths. The springs which pour out their boiling waters are loaded with quartz, and the waters of the springs, flowing away over the rocks, slowly discharge their fluid magma, which crystallizes in beautiful forms and builds jeweled basins that hold pellucid waters.
To the north and west of Fremont's Peak are mountain ranges that give birth to rivers flowing into the great Columbia. Conspicuous among these from this point of view is the great Teton Range, with its towering facade of storm-carved rocks; then the Gros Ventre Mountains, the Snake River Range, the Wyoming Range, and, still beyond the latter, the Bear River Range, are seen. Far in the distant south, scarcely to be distinguished from the blue clouds on the horizon, stand the Uinta Mountains. On every hand are deep mountain gorges where snows accumulate to form glaciers. Below the glaciers throughout the entire Wind River Range great numbers of morainal lakes are found. These lakes are gems - deep sapphire waters fringed with emerald zones. From these lakes creeks and rivers flow, by cataracts and rapids, to form the Green. The mountain slopes below are covered with dense forests of pines and firs. The lakes are often fringed with beautiful aspens, and when the autumn winds come their golden leaves are carried over the landscape in clouds of resplendent sheen. The creeks descend from the mountains in wild rocky gorges, until they flow out into the valley. On the west side of the valley stand the Gros Ventre and the Wyoming mountains, low ranges of peaks, but picturesque in form and forest stretch. Leaving the mountain, the river meanders through the Green River Plains, a cold elevated district much like that of northern Norway, except that the humidity of Norway is replaced by the aridity of Wyoming. South of the plains the Big Sandy joins the Green from the east. South of the Big Sandy a long zone of sand-dunes stretches eastward. The western winds blowing up the valley drift these sands from hill to hill, so that the hills themselves are slowly journeying eastward on the wings of arid gales, and sand tempests may be encountered more terrible than storms of snow or hail. Here the northern boundary of the Plateau Province is found, for mesas and high table-lands are found on either side of the river.
On the east side of the Green, mesas and plateaus have irregular escarpments with points extending into the valleys, and between these points canyons come down that head in the highlands. Everywhere the escarpments are fringed with outlying buttes. Many portions of the region are characterized by bad lands. These are hills carved out of sandstone, shales, and easily disintegrated rocks, which present many fantastic forms and are highly colored in a great variety of tint and tone, and everywhere they are naked of vegetation. Now and then low mountains crown the plateaus. Altogether it is a region of desolation. Through the midst of the country, from east to west, flows an intermittent stream known as Bitter Creek. In seasons of rain it carries floods; in seasons of drought it disappears in the sands, and its waters are alkaline and often poisonous. Stretches of bad-land desert are interrupted by other stretches of sage plain, and on the high lands gnarled and picturesque forests of juniper and pinon are found. On the west side of the river the mesas rise by grassy slopes to the westward into high plateaus that are forest-clad, first with juniper and pinon, and still higher with pines and firs. Some of the streams run in canyons and others have elevated valleys along their courses. On the south border of this mesa and plateau country are the Bridger Bad Lands, lying at the foot of the Uinta Mountains. These bad lands are of gray, green, and brown shales that are carved in picturesque forms - domes, towers, pinnacles, and minarets, and bold cliffs with deep alcoves; and all are naked rock, the sediments of an ancient lake. These lake beds are filled with fossils, - the preserved bones of fishes, reptiles, and mammals, of strange and often gigantic forms, no longer found living on the globe. It is a desert to the agriculturist, a mine to the paleontologist, and a paradise to the artist.