CHAPTER XV. TRAIL TRIPS IN THE TAHOE REGION
Leaving Tahoe Tavern we cross the Truckee River and ride down on the north side. The flowing Truckee is placid and smooth, save where eager trout jump and splash. The meadows are richly green and the mountain slope on the further side is radiant with virgin tree-life in joyous exuberance. Jays are harshly calling, chipmunks are excitedly running, the pure blue of the sky over-arches all, the wine of the morning is in the air, and we are glad we are alive. A spring of pure cold water on the right, about a mile out, tempts us to a delicious morning draught.
A little further down is "Pap." Church's "Devil's Playground," "Devil's Post," and devil's this, that and the other, out of which he gained considerable satisfaction while driving stage-coach between Truckee and Tahoe in the days before the railroad.
It is well carefully to observe these singular lava puddingstone masses, for, according to the theory of John Le Conte, the eminent physicist, recounted in another chapter, these were the restraining masses that made the Lake at one time eighty or a hundred feet higher than it is to-day.
Four miles from the Tavern we pass Engineer Von Schmidt's old dam, for the history of which see the chapter on "The Truckee River."
Near Deer Park Station is another spring on the right. In the old stage days "Pap." Church always stopped here and gave his passengers the opportunity to drink of the water, while he made discourse as to its remarkable coldness. Five years ago a land slide completely buried it, and the road had to be cut through again. Ever since the spring has been partially clogged and does not flow freely, but it is cold enough to make one's teeth ache.
In the winter of 1881-2 a land-and-snow-slide occurred a little beyond Deer Park Station. Watson was carrying the mail on snow-shoes at the time and saw it. There had been a five foot fall of snow in early March, and a week or two later came a second fall of seven feet. Something started the mass, and down it came, rushing completely across the river and damming it up, high on the other side, and the course of the slide can clearly be seen to-day. It is now, however, almost covered with recent growth of chaparral, and thus contributed to one of the most beautiful effects of light and shade I ever saw. The mountain slope on one side was completely covered with a growth of perfect trees. Through these came pencillings of light from the rising sun, casting alternate rulings of light and shadow in parallel lines on the glossy surface of the chaparral beyond. The effect was enhanced by the fleecy and sunshiny clouds floating in the cobalt blue above.
Near the mouth of Bear Creek the river makes a slight curve and also a drop at the same time, and the road, making a slight rise, presents the view of a beautiful stretch of roaring and foaming cascades. Here the canyon walls are of bare, rocky ridges, of white and red barrenness, with occasional patches of timber, but very different from the tree-clad slopes that we have enjoyed hitherto all the way down from the Tavern.
Beyond is a little grove of quaking aspens. Their leaves, quivering in the morning breeze, attract the eye. Crossing the railway, the road makes a climb up a hill that at one time may have formed a natural dam across the river. Here is a scarred tree on the left where Handsome Jack ran his stage off the bank in 1875, breaking his leg and seriously injuring his passengers.
Crossing the next bridge to the left at the mouth of Squaw Creek, six miles from the Tavern, on a small flat by the side of the river is the site of the town of Claraville, one of the reminders of the Squaw Valley mining excitement.
Just below this bridge is an old log chute, and a dam in the river. This dam backed up the water and made a "cushion" into which the logs came dashing and splashing, down from the mountain heights above. They were then floated down the river to the sawmill at Truckee.
At Knoxville we forded the river at a point where a giant split bowlder made a tunnel and the water dashed through with roaring speed. Retracing our steps for a mile or so we came to the Wigwam Inn, a wayside resort and store just at the entrance to Squaw Valley. To the right flows Squaw Creek, alongside of which is the bed of the logging railway belonging to the Truckee Lumber Co. It was abandoned two or three years ago, when all the available logs of the region had been cut. Most of the timber-land between Squaw Creek and Truckee, on both sides of the river, was purchased years ago, from its locators, by the Truckee Lumber Company. But Scott Bros., purchased a hundred and sixty acres from the locators and established a dairy in Squaw Valley, supplying the logging-camps with milk and butter for many years past.
For forty years or more this region has been the scene of active logging, the work having begun under the direction of Messrs. Bricknell and Kinger, of Forest Hill. The present president of the Truckee Lumber Co. is Mr. Hazlett, who married the daughter of Kinger. This company, after the railway removed from Glenbrook and was established between Tahoe and Truckee, lumbered along the west side of Tahoe as far as Ward Creek.
Entering the valley we find it free from willows, open and clear. The upper end is surrounded, amphitheater fashion, by majestic mountains, rising to a height of upwards of 9000 feet. Clothed with sage-brush at the lower end and rich grass further up, even to the very base of the mountains, it is, in some respects, the prettiest valley in the whole of this part of the Sierra Nevadas.
The upper meadows are full of milk cows, quietly grazing or lying down and chewing their cuds, while just beyond the great dairy buildings is the unpretentious cottage of the Forest Ranger. Remnants of old log chutes remind one of the logging activities that used to be carried on here.