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California-Utah-Nevada-Washington-Oregon-The Grand Canyon

by John Muir




When the north wind blows, bathing in Salt Lake is a glorious baptism, for then it is all wildly awake with waves, blooming like a prairie in snowy crystal foam. Plunging confidently into the midst of the grand uproar you are hugged and welcomed, and swim without effort, rocking and heaving up and down, in delightful rhythm, while the winds sing in chorus and the cool, fragrant brine searches every fiber of your body; and at length you are tossed ashore with a glad Godspeed, braced and salted and clean as a saint.

Mount Shasta rises in solitary grandeur from the edge of a comparatively low and lightly sculptured lava plain near the northern extremity of the Sierra, and maintains a far more impressive and commanding individuality than any other mountain within the limits of California. Go where you may, within a radius of from fifty to a hundred miles or more, there stands before you the colossal cone of Shasta, clad in ice and snow, the one grand unmistakable landmark - the pole star of the landscape.

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.

Toward the end of summer, after a light, open winter, one may reach the summit of Mount Shasta without passing over much snow, by keeping on the crest of a long narrow ridge, mostly bare, that extends from near the camp-ground at the timberline.

The sun valley of San Gabriel is one of the brightest spots to be found in all our bright land, and most of its brightness is wildness - wild south sunshine in a basin rimmed about with mountains and hills. Cultivation is not wholly wanting, for here are the choices of all the Los Angeles orange groves, but its glorious abundance of ripe sun and soil is only beginning to be coined into fruit.

Arctic beauty and desolation, with their blessings and dangers, all may be found here, to test the endurance and skill of adventurous climbers; but far better than climbing the mountain is going around its warm, fertile base, enjoying its bounties like a bee circling around a bank of flowers. The distance is about a hundred miles, and will take some of the time we hear so much about - a week or two - but the benefits will compensate for any number of weeks. Perhaps the profession of doing good may be full, but every body should be kind at least to himself.

After saying so much for human culture in my last, perhaps I may now be allowed a word for wildness - the wildness of this southland, pure and untamable as the sea.

Washington Territory, recently admitted[22] into the Union as a State, lies between latitude 46 degrees and 49 degrees and longitude 117 degrees and 125 degrees, forming the northwest shoulder of the united States.

To the farmer who comes to this thirsty land from beneath rainy skies, Nevada seems one vast desert, all sage and sand, hopelessly irredeemable now and forever. And this, under present conditions, is severely true. For notwithstanding it has gardens, grainfields, and hayfields generously productive, these compared with the arid stretches of valley and plain, as beheld in general views from the mountain tops, are mere specks lying inconspicuously here and there, in out-of-the-way places, often thirty or forty miles apart.

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