After reaching the end of the railroad line, HWS travels with a pack train through scorching days and freezing nights across Idaho to the edge of Yellowstone National Park.
We were met on the little railroad platform at Camas by our guides, three fine looking mountaineers, who informed us that they had a train of twenty-six horses and mules ready for our trip. We had also engaged a Chinese cook at Ogden, named Tin Lee, a very obliging fellow, and excellent in his profession.
So far things looked promising, but it was perfectly hot, and the wind blew almost a hurricane all the time, and the sand was whirled in through every crack in such quantities as absolutely to necessitate closed doors and windows, and all day long it was simply unmitigated discomfort. They told us it had only rained twice there in four years, and we could almost believe it, though we could not but suspect that this was one of the stories told to “tenderfeet,” as all new comers in the West are called.
We wore through the day, somehow, however, and at night were repaid for all our troubles. The storekeeper allowed us to spread our bedding in his hay-yard the air cooled off rapidly with the going down of the sun, and with the sweet, soft hay beneath us, and the glorious clear sky above us, we felt we had beds that a monarch might envy. No physical sensation in the world appears to me to be more delightful than that of sleeping in the open air on a clear, cool night, with plenty of blankets and buffalo robes around and underneath one.
To have all the wide universe to breathe into, and the infinite sky to gaze upon, seems to lift one out of this ordinary everyday world into a region of glorious possibilities and undreamed of triumphs. Next morning the guides brought the riding horses up to the store, and we all went out and tried them, in order to find out those, which would best suit our individual likings.
This was fun to the young people, but I am free to confess it was misery to me, for I had not been on the back of a horse for years, and had long ago decided that, being in my fiftieth year, and rather stout, my time for horseback riding was over. I tried several, but found them all so slippery that I experienced a great tendency to fall off their backs the moment they undertook to go out of a walk, especially as we had to use Spanish saddles, with only a high peak in front. The prospect began to look very dreary to me, as the guides said we should have five or six hundred miles to travel in this way.
I began to ask myself if even the “Mystic Wonderland” would pay for such a journey. But of course, the party could not be stopped by any whim of mine, so I made up my mind to say nothing, and just “grin and bear it.” However, at last we found a light two-seated wagon in the town, which we bought with the hope of selling it again on our return, and two of our pack-mules were found to pull it, so that this difficulty was surmounted for the time, though our guides seemed to think it very doubtful whether a wagon would be able to travel over the rough trails into the Park.
We made an imposing appearance as we started off with our long train of three guides, ten packhorses, nine horseback riders, the wagon with its occupants, two dogs, and three little colts, who were accompanying their mothers on the trip. The next morning, however, we were greeted with the intelligence that our horses and mules had strayed away during the night and were lost! The search for them occupied several hours, and after we had resumed our journey, the wagon made our route much more perplexing on account of the difficulty of fording the streams.
The sun seemed to scorch like a fire, and the wind, which might have been a comfort had it been moderate, seemed to take away our breath by its fierceness. We wondered if there was any comfort possible in a country that is both hot and windy at once. No one can have an idea of these winds who has not felt them. They seem to blow you back in your life somehow, and you have to use all your energies to catch up again. Our night experiences were peculiar. We had to go to bed and get up in the midst of a vast airy space, with no shelter for anything. Of course no one thought of undressing much, but the little we did need to do for comfort’s sake was an affair of highest art, as may readily be imagined.
Though the days were so sultry, the nights were bitterly cold, and it was quite a common thing for us to find ice half an inch or an inch thick in our basins or buckets when we woke in the morning; and this in August! This extreme change of temperature is caused by the excessively dry air, which does not retain heat like a moist atmosphere; in consequence of which it cools off the moment the sun’s rays leave it. The lower layers of atmosphere, rarefied with the day’s heat, all rise, and the cold winds from the mountains rush in to fill their place. For two days, we had not seen a single human being, and not even a dog, or horse or cow. On the third day, however, to our delight, we met a man and his wife, traveling with all their household goods from Montana to Ogden, and they gave us some information about the route.
We camped that night in a beautiful green meadow, and though we tried to toast our poor cold feet at our fire before going to bed, we arose in the morning shivering with cold,
Mr. S having dreamed that he was asleep in an icehouse, and all the rest of us having had equally delightful sensations. Our slumbers were also disturbed by a stampede of our horses, which were frightened by a flock of wild swans, and came tearing and racing almost over our very beds, but were fortunately turned off in another direction by two of our young men jumping out at them, and they were finally quieted by our guides.
— From H. W. S., “A Lady’s Visit To The Geysers Of The Yellowstone Park.” Friends Intelligencer May 19, 1883. Pages 218-221, and May 27, Pages 234-237.
— Library of Congress Photo.
— In Part 3, HWS describes the wonders of geyserland and the joys of evenings around the campfire.