CHAPTER XV. TRAIL TRIPS IN THE TAHOE REGION
One of the most observable features of Squaw Valley is its level character. This is discussed in the chapter on glacial action.
On the right the vein of quartz which out-crops at Knoxville is visible in several places and the various dump-piles show how many claimants worked on their locations in the hope of finding profitable ore.
Half way up the valley is an Iron Spring, the oxydization from which has gathered together a large amount of red which the Indians still prize highly and use for face paint.
How these suggestions excite the imagination - old logging chutes, mining-claims and Indians. Once this valley rang with the clang of chains on driven oxen, the sharp stroke of the ax as it bit into the heart of the tree, the crash of the giant trees as they fell, the rude snarl of the saw as it cut them up into logs, the shout of the driver as he drove his horses alongside the chute and hurried the logs down to the river, the quick blast of the imprisoned powder, the falling of shattered rocks, the emptying of the ore or waste-bucket upon the dump - all these sounds once echoed to and from these hillsides and mountain slopes.
Now everything is as quiet and placid as a New England pastoral scene, and only the towering mountains, snow-clad even as late as this in the fall, suggest that we are in the far-away wilds of the great West.
But Squaw Valley had another epoch, which it was hoped would materially and forever destroy its quiet and pastoral character. In the earlier days of the California gold excitement the main road from Truckee and Dormer Lake went into Nevada County and thus on to Sacramento. In 1862 the supervisors of Placer County, urged on by the merchants, sent up a gang of men from Placerville to build a road from Squaw Valley, into the Little American Valley, down the Forest Hill Divide, thus hoping to bring the emigrant travel to Forest Hill, Michigan Bluff, and other parts of Placer County.
It was also argued that emigrants would be glad to take this new road as all the pasture along the other road was "eaten off." Over this historic road we are now about to ride.
As we look up it is a forbidding prospect. Only brave men and sanguine would ever have dared to contemplate such a plan. The mountain cliffs, separated and split, arise before us as impassable barriers. Yet one branch of the old trail used to pass through the divide to the right, over to Hopkins Springs, while the one that was converted into the wagon road took the left-hand canyon to the main divide.
We now begin to ascend this road at the head of Squaw Valley, and in five minutes, or less, are able to decide why it was never a success. The grade is frightful, and for an hour or more we go slowly up it, stopping every few yards to give our horses breath. All the way along we can trace the blazes on the trees made over sixty years ago. It is hard enough for horses to go up this grade, but to pull heavily-ladened wagons - it seems impossible that even those giant-hearted men, used to seeing so many impossible things accomplished, could ever have believed that such a road could be feasible. What wonderful, marvelous, undaunted characters they must have been, men with wills of inflexible steel, to overcome such obstacles and dare such hardships. Yet there were compensations. Squaw Creek's clear, pellucid, snow-fed stream runs purling, babbling or roaring and foaming by to the right. These pioneers with their women and children had crossed the sandy, alkali and waterless deserts. For days and weeks they had not had water enough to keep their faces clean, to wash the sand from their eyes. Now, though they had come to a land of apparently unscalable mountains and impassable rock-barriers, they had grass for the stock, and water, - delicious, fresh, pure, refreshing water for themselves. I can imagine that when they reached here they felt it was a new paradise, and that God was especially smiling upon them, and to such men, with such feelings, what could daunt, what prevent, what long stay their onward march.
As we ascend, the mountains on our right assume the form of artificial parapets of almost white rock, outlined against the bluest of blue skies. There is one gray peak ahead, tinged with green. The trail is all washed away and our horses stumble and slide, slip and almost fall over the barren and rough rocks, and the scattered bowlders, a devastating cloud-burst could not wash away.
Here is a spring on the left, hidden in a grove of alders and willows, and now new and more fantastic spires arise on the right. Higher up we see where those sturdy road-builders rolled giant rocks out of their way to make an impassable road look as if it could be traversed.
Reaching the point at the foot of Squaw Peak at last we look back over Squaw Valley. In the late summer tints it is beautiful, but what must it be in the full flush of its summer glory and perfection? Then it must be a delight to the eye and a refreshment to the soul. How interesting, too, it is to rehabilitate it as a great glacial lake. One can see its pellucid waters of clear amethystine blue and imagine the scenes that transpired when the ancestors of the present Indians fished, in rude dugouts, or on logs, or extemporized rafts, upon its surface. Now it is covered with brown, yellowish grass, with tree-clad slopes rising from the marge.
Turning to the right we find ourselves in a country of massive bowlders. They seem to have been broken off from the summits above and arrested here for future ages and movements to change or pass on.