CHAPTER XV. TRAIL TRIPS IN THE TAHOE REGION
The road grows severer than ever, and we cannot help again picturing those old heroes driving their wagons up, while the women and children toiled painfully on foot up the steep and rocky slopes. Could anything ever daunt them after this? any obstacle, however insurmountable, discourage them? any labor, however severe, compel them to turn back?
Though there is a deep pathos in all these memories, the heroism of it makes our blood tingle with pride that such men and women belonged to us, that we are privileged to live in the land their labors, loves and lives have sanctified.
We turn to the right; a tiny waterfall, which in the season must be quite a sight, trickles down near by; we are now advancing directly upon the serrated ridge of fantastic spires that have long accompanied us. We now find those white-seeming pinnacles are of delicate pinks, creams, blues, slates and grays. In one place, however, it seems for all the world as if there were a miniature Gothic chapel built of dark, brownish-black lava. Another small patch of the same color and material, lower down, presents a gable end, with windows, reminding us of the popular picture of Melrose Abbey in the moonlight.
Now we are lined on either side by removed bowlders, but the road! ah the road! who could ever have traveled over it? Trees twenty feet high have now grown up in the roadway. To the left Squaw Peak (8960 feet) towers above us, while we make the last great pull through the rocky portion ere we come to the easier rise to the shoulders of Granite Chief. Here the road was graded out from the side of a granite mountain, blasted out and built up, but it is now sadly washed out. Further up, a broad porphyritic dyke crosses our path, then more trees, and we come to the gentle slope of a kind of granitic sand which composes the open space leading to the pass between Granite Chief on the right, and a peculiar battlemented rock, locally known as Fort Sumpter, on the left. This was named by the Squaw Valley stampeders who came over the trail in the early days of the Civil War, when all patriots and others were excited to the core at the news that Fort Sumpter had been fired upon. On one of the highest points stands a juniper on which a big blaze was cut by the early road-makers, so that there need be no doubt as to which way the road turned. Other nearby trees, in their wild ruggedness and sturdy growth, remind us of a woman whose skirts are blown about by a fierce wind. Their appearance speaks of storms braved, battles of wind and snow and ice and cold fought and won, for they have neither branch nor leaf on the exposed side, and on the other are pitiably scant.
As we cross the sandy divide, over which a wagon could drive anywhere, we find white sage in abundance. Expansive vistas loom before us, ahead and to the right, while Squaw Peak now presents the appearance of a vast sky-line crater. We seem to be standing on the inside of it, but on the side where the wall has disappeared. Across, the peak has a circular, palisaded appearance, and the lower peaks to the right seem as if they were the continuation of the wall, making a vast crater several miles in diameter. The plateau upon which we stand seems as if it might have been a level spot almost near the center of the bowl. Fort Sumpter is a part of this great crater-like wall and Granite Chief is the end of the ridge.
As a rule there is a giant bank of snow on the saddle over which the trail goes between Ft. Sumpter and Granite Chief, but this year (1913) it has totally disappeared. It has been the driest season known for many years.
Looking back towards the Lake a glorious and expansive view is presented. Watson Peak, Mt. Rose, Marlette Peak, Glenbrook and the pass behind it, are all in sight and the Lake glistening in pearly brilliancy below.
At the end of the Squaw Peak ridge, on the right, is a mass of andesite, looking like rude cordwood, and just above is a mass of breccia very similar to that found in the Truckee Valley a few miles below Tahoe Tavern.
Below us, at the head of Squaw Creek is a small blue pond, scarcely large and important enough to be called a lake, yet a distinctive feature and one that would be highly prized in a less-favored landscape.
On the very summit of the ridge we get fine views of Mounts Ralston, Richardson, Pyramid Peak and the whole Rock Bound Range, while close at hand to the north is Needle Peak (8920 feet), and to the south, Mt. Mildred (8400 feet). To our left is Fort Sumpter, to the right the Granite Chief, and between the two a stiff breeze is blowing.
Have you ever stood on a mountain ridge or divide when a fierce gale was blowing, so that you were unable to walk without staggering, and where it was hard to get your breath, much less speak, and where it seemed as if Nature herself had set herself the purpose of cleansing you through and through with her sweetening pneumatic processes? If not, you have missed one of the blessed influences of life.
Rough? harsh? severe? Of course, but what of that, compared with the blessings that result. It is things like that that teach one to love Nature. Read John Muir's account - in his Mountains of California - and see how he reveled in wind-storms, and even climbed into a tree and clung to its top "like a bobolink on a reed" in order to enjoy a storm to the full.