IX. Mormon Lilies
Lilies are rare in Utah; so also are their companions the ferns and orchids, chiefly on account of the fiery saltness of the soil and climate. You may walk the deserts of the Great Basin in the bloom time of the year, all the way across from the snowy Sierra to the snowy Wahsatch, and your eyes will be filled with many a gay malva, and poppy, and abronia, and cactus, but you may not see a single true lily, and only a very few liliaceous plants of any kind. Not even in the cool, fresh glens of the mountains will you find these favorite flowers, though some of these desert ranges almost rival the Sierra in height. Nevertheless, in the building and planting of this grand Territory the lilies were not forgotten. Far back in the dim geologic ages, when the sediments of the old seas were being gathered and outspread in smooth sheets like leaves of a book, and when these sediments became dry land, and were baked and crumbled into the sky as mountain ranges; when the lava-floods of the Fire Period were being lavishly poured forth from innumerable rifts and craters; when the ice of the Glacial Period was laid like a mantle over every mountain and valley - throughout all these immensely protracted periods, in the throng of these majestic operations, Nature kept her flower children in mind. She considered the lilies, and, while planting the plains with sage and the hills with cedar, she has covered at least one mountain with golden erythroniums and fritillarias as its crowning glory, as if willing to show what she could do in the lily line even here.
Looking southward from the south end of Salt Lake, the two northmost peaks of the Oquirrh Range are seen swelling calmly into the cool sky without any marked character, excepting only their snow crowns, and a few weedy-looking patches of spruce and fir, the simplicity of their slopes preventing their real loftiness from being appreciated. Gray, sagey plains circle around their bases, and up to a height of a thousand feet or more their sides are tinged with purple, which I afterwards found is produced by a close growth of dwarf oak just coming into leaf. Higher you may detect faint tintings of green on a gray ground, from young grasses and sedges; then come the dark pine woods filling glacial hollows, and over all the smooth crown of snow.
While standing at their feet, the other day, shortly after my memorable excursion among the salt waves of the lake, I said: "Now I shall have another baptism. I will bathe in the high sky, among cool wind-waves from the snow." From the more southerly of the two peaks a long ridge comes down, bent like a bow, one end in the hot plains, the other in the snow of the summit. After carefully scanning the jagged towers and battlements with which it is roughened, I determined to make it my way, though it presented but a feeble advertisement of its floral wealth. This apparent barrenness, however, made no great objection just then, for I was scarce hoping for flowers, old or new, or even for fine scenery. I wanted in particular to learn what the Oquirrh rocks were made of, what trees composed the curious patches of forest; and, perhaps more than all, I was animated by a mountaineer's eagerness to get my feet into the snow once more, and my head into the clear sky, after lying dormant all winter at the level of the sea.
But in every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks. I had not gone more than a mile from Lake Point ere I found the way profusely decked with flowers, mostly compositae and purple leguminosae, a hundred corollas or more to the square yard, with a corresponding abundance of winged blossoms above them, moths and butterflies, the leguminosae of the insect kingdom. This floweriness is maintained with delightful variety all the way up through rocks and bushes to the snow - violets, lilies, gilias, oenotheras, wallflowers, ivesias, saxifrages, smilax, and miles of blooming bushes, chiefly azalea, honeysuckle, brier rose, buckthorn, and eriogonum, all meeting and blending in divine accord.
Two liliaceous plants in particular, Erythronium grandiflorum and Fritillaria pudica, are marvelously beautiful and abundant. Never before, in all my walks, have I met so glorious a throng of these fine showy liliaceous plants. The whole mountainside was aglow with them, from a height of fifty-five hundred feet to the very edge of the snow. Although remarkably fragile, both in form and in substance, they are endowed with plenty of deep-seated vitality, enabling them to grow in all kinds of places - down in leafy glens, in the lee of wind-beaten ledges, and beneath the brushy tangles of azalea, and oak, and prickly roses - everywhere forming the crowning glory of the flowers. If the neighboring mountains are as rich in lilies, then this may well be called the Lily Range.
After climbing about a thousand feet above the plain I came to a picturesque mass of rock, cropping up through the underbrush on one of the steepest slopes of the mountain. After examining some tufts of grass and saxifrage that were growing in its fissured surface, I was going to pass it by on the upper side, where the bushes were more open, but a company composed of the two lilies I have mentioned were blooming on the lower side, and though they were as yet out of sight, I suddenly changed my mind and went down to meet them, as if attracted by the ringing of their bells. They were growing in a small, nestlike opening between the rock and the bushes, and both the erythronium and the fritillaria were in full flower. These were the first of the species I had seen, and I need not try to tell the joy they made. They are both lowly plants, - lowly as violets, - the tallest seldom exceeding six inches in height, so that the most searching winds that sweep the mountains scarce reach low enough to shake their bells.