CHAPTER VIII. AN INLAND EXCURSION
Jensen was a small village with two stores and a post-office. A few scattered houses completed the village proper, but prosperous-looking ranches spread out on the lowland for two or three miles in all directions on the west side of the river. Avenues of poplar trees, fruit trees, and fields of alfalfa gave these ranches a different appearance from any others we had passed.
We found some mail awaiting us at the post-office, and were soon busily engaged in reading the news from home. We conversed awhile with the few people at the hotel, then retired, but first made arrangements for saddle horses for the ride to Vernal.
Next morning we found two spirited animals, saddled and waiting for us. We had some misgivings concerning these horses, but were assured that they were "all right." A group of grinning cowboys and ranch hands craning their necks from a barn, a hundred yards distant, rather inclined us to think that perhaps our informant might be mistaken. Nothing is more amusing to these men of the range than to see a man thrown from his horse, and a horse that is "all right" for one of them might be anything else to persons such as we who never rode anything except gentle horses, and rode those indifferently. We mounted quickly though, trying to appear unconcerned. The horses, much to our relief, behaved quite well, Emery's mount rearing back on his hind legs but not bucking. After that, all went smoothly.
Leaving the irrigated ranches on the bottom lands, we ascended a low, rolling mesa, composed of gravel and clay, unwatered and unfertile, from which we caught occasional glimpses of the mountains and the gorge from which we had emerged, their brilliant colours softened and beautified by that swimming blue haze which belongs to this plateau region. Then we rode down into the beautiful Ashley Valley, watered by Ashley Creek, a good-sized stream even after it was used to irrigate all the country for miles above. The valley was several miles wide. The stream emptied into the river about a mile below Jensen. All parts of the valley were under cultivation. It is famous for its splendid deciduous fruits, apples, pears, peaches; splendid both in appearance and flavour. It excelled not only in fruits, however, but in all products of the field as well. "Vernal honey," which is marketed far and near, has a reputation for fine flavour wherever it is known. A thick growth of the bee-blossom or bee-weed crowded the road sides and hugged the fences. The fragrance of the flower can easily be noticed in the sweetness of the honey. The pity of it was that bushels of fruit lay rotting on the ground, for there were no transportation facilities, the nearest railroad being 90 miles distant. There were stock ranches too, with blooded stock in the fence-enclosed fields. Some of the splendid horses paced along beside us on the other side of the fence. We heard the rippling song of some meadow-larks this day, the only birds of this species we remember having seen on the Western plateaus.
All these ranches were laid out in true Mormon style, that is, squared off in sections, fenced, and planted with shade-trees before being worked. The roads are usually wide and the streets exceptionally so. Except in the business streets, a large garden usually surrounds the home building, each family endeavouring to raise all their own vegetables, fruits, and poultry. They usually succeed.
The shade trees about Vernal were Lombardy poplars. They attained a height that would give ample shade under most conditions, and too much when we were there, for the roads were very muddy, although they had dried in all other sections. Nearing Vernal, we passed Nathan Galloway's home, a cozy place set back some distance from the road. We had hoped to meet Galloway and have an opportunity of talking over his experiences with him, but found he was absent on a hunting trip, in fact was up in the mountains we had come through.
On nearing the town we were greeted by a busy scene. Numerous wagons and horses stood in squares reserved for that purpose, or were tied to hitching posts in front of the many stores. Ranchers and their families were everywhere in evidence; there were numerous prospectors in their high-topped boots just returning from the mountains, and oil men in similar garb, muddy from head to foot. Later we learned that oil had recently been discovered about forty miles distant, this fact accounting for much of the activity.
The town itself was a surprise; we found it to be very much up-to-date considering its isolated position. Two of the streets were paved and oiled and were supplied with drinking fountains. There were two prosperous looking banks, two well-stocked and up-to-date drug stores, several mercantile stores, and many others, all busy. Many of the buildings were of brick; all were substantial.
Near a hotel we observed a group of men surrounding some one who was evidently keeping them interested. On approaching them we found it was Jimmy, giving a graphic description of some of our difficulties. His story was not finished, for he saw us and ran to greet us, as pleased to see us as we were to see him. He had little idea we would be along for two or three days and naturally was much surprised.