CHAPTER XV. TRAIL TRIPS IN THE TAHOE REGION
Fire notices, however, now are everywhere, and a few severe punishments have largely put a stop to all carelessness on the part of shepherds, let alone their culpable neglect. There are still campers and automobilists and others, of the so-called superior and educated race, who need as severe lessons as some of these ignorant Basque shepherds. They knock down the forest-service placards, throw down matches, cigar and cigarette stumps, and often go off and leave a campfire burning. The time is rapidly coming when severer and swifter penalties will be meted out to this class of culprits, for not only are their actions against the law, but they jeopardize all property in and near to the forests, as well as the lives, sometimes, of many innocent men, women and children, besides destroying the value of the mountain slopes as watersheds.
As our trail winds and ascends, the rotting stumps of trees cut years ago meet the eye on every hand, until at length, when at about 7000 feet altitude we see no more. The indications are clear that, though the timber is abundant above this elevation, for some reason or other cutting ceased. Careful observation reveals a possible reason for this. From this point on up the soil is both thin and poor, and though the trees seem to have flourished they are, in reality, gnarled, twisted, stunted and unfit for a good quality of lumber. Many of them are already showing signs of decay, possibly a proof that they grew rapidly and are rotting with equal or greater speed.
At this elevation, 7000 to 8000 feet, the red fir begins to appear. It is an attractive and ever-pleasing tree, its dark red bark soon making it a familar friend.
How remarkably a woodsman can read what would be an unintelligible jumble of facts to a city man. Here on one trip we found a tree. Its top was smitten off and removed a distance of forty to fifty feet. Parts of the tree were scattered for a distance of two hundred yards. What caused it? The unobservant man would have passed it by, and the observant, though untrained and inexperienced, would have wondered without an answer. And yet a few minutes' observation, with the interpretation of Bob Watson, made it as clear as the adding of two to two. The lightning had struck the tree, and shot the top off as if lifted and carried away bodily, at the same time scattering the pieces in every direction. Then, it had seemed to jump from this tree to another, out of the side of which it had torn a large piece, as if, like a wild beast in angry fury, it had bitten out a giant mouthful of something it hated. It had then jumped - where? There was no sign. It simply disappeared.
Near by we found quite a nursery of graceful, dainty and attractive young firs; "Noah's ark trees," I always feel like calling them, for they remind one constantly of the trees found in the Noah's arks of childhood days, made by the Swiss during the long winter nights in their mountain chalets, where the trees are of a similar character to those of the Sierras.
Near to the point at which we turn to the left for Watson's Peak, and to the right for Watson's Lake, is a delicious, cool, clear spring, which I instinctively called, "the Spring of the Angels." When Bob asked the why of the name, the answer quickly came: "It is up so high and is so pure and good." The elevation is about 8000 feet. We take to the left.
Here also is found the mountain pine, its fine, smooth, black bark contrasting markedly with that of the firs and pines further down. It is generally found not lower than this elevation around Lake Tahoe.
Near by are some scattered hemlocks. This tree is found even higher than the mountain pine, and is seldom found lower than 8000 feet. In these higher elevations one sees what a struggle some of the trees have for mere existence. Again and again a mountain pine will be found, a tree perhaps fifty feet high, bowed over almost to the ground. This was done by snow. Given the slightest list from the perpendicular when the heavy, wet snow falls upon it, it is bound slowly to be forced over. If it is a tough, strong tree it may sustain the weight until melting time comes, when it is released. But it never becomes upright again. On the other hand if a cold snap comes after the snow has bent it over, it is no uncommon thing for it to snap right in two, eight, ten or more feet from the ground.
Now we stand on the summit. This peak and its attendant lake were named after my incomparable guide, Robert Watson, and it is well that the name of so admirable a man should be preserved in the region through which he has intelligently and kindly guided so many interested visitors. The elevation is 8500 feet.
What a wonderful panorama is spread out before us. Close by, just across the valley in which nestles Watson's Lake, 7900 feet elevation, is Mt. Pluto, 8500 feet, the sides of which are covered with a dense virgin forest, thus presenting a magnificent and glorious sight. There is no trail through this forest though sheep are taken there to graze in the quiet meadows secluded on the heights.
Further to the east and north is Mt. Rose, 10,800 feet, on which is perched the Meteorological Observatory of the University of Nevada. Beyond is the Washoe Range.