CHAPTER XX. RUBICON SPRINGS
One of the oldest and most famous resorts of the High Sierras is Rubicon Springs. It is nine miles from Lake Tahoe, at McKinney's, over a mountain road built many years ago, engineered so as to afford marvelously entrancing glimpses of the Lake and of the mountain scenery on either hand. Here are primeval forest, flower-strewn meadows of emerald, crystal streams and placid-faced glacial lakes in which snow-clad mountain summits are mirrored in quiet glory. The Rubicon River is one of the feeders of the American River, and the springs are located not far from its head waters.
The Rubicon Springs were originally discovered and located upon by the Hunsaker brothers, two genuine explorers and adventurers whose names deserve to be preserved in connection with the Tahoe region. They were originally from the Hoosier state, coming to California in 1849, across the plains, by Fort Hall, the sink of the Humboldt, Ragtown, and by Carson Canyon to old Hangtown (now Placerville). They mined for several years. Then came the Comstock excitement. They joined the exodus of miners for the Nevada mountains and were among the earliest to help to construct the Georgetown trail. Thus it was they discovered Rubicon. In 1869 they located upon 160 acres, built a log-house and established a stopping station which they called Hunsaker Springs. In the winter they rested or returned to Georgetown, making occasional trapping trips, hunting bear and deer, and the meat of which they sold. In those days deer used to winter in large numbers almost as far down as Georgetown (some fifteen miles or so), so that hunting them for market was a profitable undertaking in the hands of experts.
They and John McKinney, the founder of McKinney's, were great friends, having worked together in the Georgetown mines. They soon made their places famous. Their mining friends came over from Virginia City, Gold Hill, Carson, etc., by way of Glenbrook, where they were ferried across Lake Tahoe by the old side-wheel steamer, Governor Stanford, to McKinney's. Then by pack trail over to Hunsakers.
For many years they used to cut a great deal of hay from the nearby meadows. A natural timothy grows, sometimes fully four feet high. A year's yield would often total fully thirty tons, for which the highest price was paid at the mines.
There was another spring, beside Hunsakers', about a mile higher up, owned by a friend of the Hunsakers, named Potter. In time he sold this spring to a Mrs. Clark, who finally sold it back to him, when it was bought by Mr. R. Colwell, of Moana Villa. When the Hunsakers grew too old to run their place they sold it to a man named Abbott, who, in due time wished to sell out. But, in the meantime the railroad had surveyed their land, granted by Congress, and found that the springs and part of the hotel building were on their land, so that while Abbott sold all his holdings to Mr. Colwell, he could not sell the main objects of the purchaser's desire. An amicable arrangement, however, was made between all the parties at interest.
Mr. Colwell is now the owner of all the property.
For countless centuries the Indians of both west and east of Tahoe were used to congregate in the Rubicon country. They came to drink the medicinal waters, fish, catch deer and game birds, and also gather acorns and pine nuts. How well I remember my own visit to the Springs in the fall of 1913. Watson and I had had three delightful days on the trail and in Hell Hole, and had come, without a trail, from Little Hell Hole up to Rubicon. The quaking aspens were dropping their leaves, the tang of coming winter was in the air, mornings and evenings, yet the middle of the day was so warm that we drank deeply of the waters of the naturally carbonated springs. No, this statement is scarcely one of fact. It was warm, but had it been cold, we, or, at least, I should have drank heartily of the waters because I liked them. They are really delicious, and thousands have testified to their healthfulness.
We saw the station of the water company, where a man remains through the year to register the river's flow and the snowfall. Then we passed a large lily lake to the left, - a once bold glacial lake now rapidly nearing the filled-up stage ere it becomes a mountain meadow - and were fairly on the Georgetown grade, the sixty mile road that reaches from McKinney's to Georgetown. It is a stern road, that would make the "rocky road to Dublin" look like a "flowery bed of ease," though we followed it only a mile and a half to leave it for the steep trail that reaches Rock Bound Lake. This is one of the larger of the small glacial lakes of the Tahoe Region, and is near enough to Rubicon Springs to be reached easily on foot.
From a knoll close by one gains an excellent panorama of Dick's, Jack's and Ralston's Peaks. Tallac and Pyramid are not in sight. The fishing here is excellent, the water deep and cold and the lake large enough to give one all the exercise he needs in rowing.
On the summit of the Georgetown road one looks down upon the nearby placid bosom of Buck Island Lake. It received this name from Hunsaker. The lake is very irregular in shape, about a third of a mile long, and a quarter of a mile wide in its widest part. Near one end is a small island. Hunsaker found the deer swam over to this island to rest and sleep during the heat of the day, hence the name.
The Little Rubicon river flows into Buck Island Lake and out again, and about two miles below Rubicon Springs the Georgetown road crosses the river at the foot of the lake.