A Tale: A Lady’s Visit To The Geysers Of The Yellowstone Park (Part 4) — HWS 1880.

HWS describes the wonder of a glass mountain, the “grapples” of traveling in a wagon over crude roads and managing rambunctious young travelers.

Begin with Part 1


Our route lay for two days through the Parks of the Rocky Mountains. These are so wonderfully beautiful that I feel as if I wanted to make everybody see them.

Obsidian Cliff

Imagine an English nobleman’s country seat set right down in the midst of these mountains, with great stretches of greenest grass, groups of beautiful trees, beds of brightest flowers, a winding, dashing mountain river, tiny lakes, slopes of turf, fantastic rocks scattered in the most romantic confusion, and around it all a girdle of grandest mountains, often flecked with snow, and changing continually from sunshine to storm, one hour covered with clouds, and the next standing out in clear cut beauty” and sublimity against the deep blue sky.

I confess that it stands out in my memory as the emblem of all that this world can give of peace and beauty and perfect rest; and to remember that these rugged mountains are full of such quiet nooks gives one a blessed sense of the sweetness of God’s almighty power, which has delighted itself in such lovely bits of creation.

We traveled over a road made of obsidian, which is a sort of volcanic glass, of a reddish black color, and glistened beautifully in the sun. We picked up some specimens, and found it was very much like the lumps that are thrown out of the melting pot in a glass factory when a pot breaks. It is very evident that the whole mountain was at one time a molten mass. It is one of the boasts of the Yellowstone Park that it possesses the only glass mountain and glass road in the world.

The road was made by building great fires on the glass mountain, upon which, after a thorough heating, cold water was dashed, thus cracking off large masses of glass, which were afterwards broken into small fragments with small picks and sledges. But I confess that I walked along that wonderful road, and looked up at that cliff in a very commonplace frame of mind. For the fact was I had been so unmercifully jolted over the stumps of trees and small rocks of which our “excellent carriage road” was composed that every bit of sentiment except fatigue had been shaken out of me, and I could not help thinking as much of the jolts that had been and the jolts that were to be as of the obsidian mountain.

At one of the hot springs along the bed of which we passed, some of our young people barely escaped a serious accident. They had dismounted, and gone down to get a drink at the river, when they saw a hot spring bubbling up in the edge of it, and crowded round it to see the curious phenomenon of a hot spring in a cold river. A crust of geyserite had been formed on the bank, and they rashly ventured upon it, when, to their dismay, it crashed through, and let them all down into the water! Fortunately, it was neither very deep nor very hot, as it was tempered by the cool water of the river, and no harm came of it but a temporary wetting.

When we reached the celebrated Mammoth Hot Springs, we felt that we were fully repaid for all our journey. The first impression on beholding it is that of a snow mountain, beautifully terraced into exquisitely shaped and colored basins, and with frozen cascades projecting on each side. At the top of this snowy hill, there is a large lake of boiling springs, which is exquisite in coloring, and full of most beautiful formations. It shades off from a deep crimson rim to a snowy white, and then to a deep emerald centre, and seems to be filled with bunches of the finest spun glass, and with thousands of sinter ferns and mushrooms, and stalactites and flowers of all shapes and colors.

From this lake the water falls gently and quietly down the hill, dropping as it goes into a series of terraced basins, from a few inches to six or eight feet in diameter, and from one inch to several feet in depth. The margins of these basins were exquisitely fluted and scalloped, with a finish resembling the finest beadwork. Some were a delicate pink, some a lovely lemon, then an ultramarine blue, dark red emerald green, bright yellow, or a rich salmon; each basin perfectly distinct in form and color. The whole formed a scene that baffles description. When we reached the summit it was just sunset and the evening glow was over it all. The quiet water of the hot lake was rendered lovelier still by the sunset clouds that were reflected in its depths, and far off in the horizon lofty snowy mountain ranges bounded the view, with green valleys and dark canyons making rifts in their rugged sides—it was a dream of beauty! But there is no escaping the stern realities of life, and a camping-out tour has its drawbacks to the unmitigated enjoyment of the female head of the company, who feels the responsibility of having things moderately respectable.

As it may interest any other old lady who thinks of making such a trip, with a party of young people, to know what lies before her, I will describe my various grapples each day, beginning with the morning. We slept mostly, as I have said, right flat out in the middle of the plain, with generally not even a shrub to creep behind, and as we all kept near together for protection, it became a matter requiring no small skill to manage our times for getting up and going to bed satisfactorily, so as to create privacy where there was no material for it. Then came breakfast.

Tin Lee made delicious “flappee jacks,” as he called them, and all the young folks were “devoted” to them. And to keep account of whose turn it was to have one, and of the amount of honey, jam, or molasses that could be allowed to each, was a wonderful grapple. Next came the packing up for our start. First, the bedding of each one had to be rolled up into as complete a bundle as possible, and securely strapped, for the horses’ backs; and to collect all the multitudinous wrappings, and superintend the rolling them up, required more vigilance and energy than any one could think who has not tried it.

Then the young people had to be marshaled, and their shawls and overcoats and waterproofs tied on to the backs of their saddles, and all the contingencies of weather—hot and cold, wet and dry— to be provided for; for after our pack train, with our baggage, once started in the morning, we never saw it again till we went into camp at night. Then the lunch for our whole party had to be provided and packed; and afterwards followed the grapples of the day’s journey, the finding the trail, and the grappling with the rocks and roots and stumps and swamps over which it generally pursued its course; the fording of streams, the climbing of mountains, the crossing of gullies, the going down the steepest of hill sides, all in a continuous succession, one after another.

And to make matters worse for those of us who occupied the wagon, the trails often led along the sides of hills, and being simply ” natural roads,” t. e., not graded in the least, they, of course, slanted sideways, and kept us continually jumping from one side of the wagon to the other to make it balance, and keep it from toppling over. Then, as noon drew near, and cries for lunch began to come from our hungry equestrians, there was the necessity of finding out a pleasant lunching place, where shade and water could be secured.

After this would come the grapples of the afternoon journey and as evening drew on there would be the search for a good camping place, combining grass for our horses, wood for our fires, and water to drink for both man and beast. And lastly came the grapple for our night arrangements. A soft spot would have to be found for our sleeping, sheltered from the wind if possible, and then I would dig the small holes I spoke of, which so largely added to our comfort. All this had to be done, regardless of the holes and humps of all sorts and sizes, evidently the homes of wild creatures of various kinds, on the top of which our beds had to be spread. It was often a matter of speculation with me, when we lay down at ten o’clock, as to how we should grapple with any of these wild creatures, if they should take a notion to try and get out of their holes during the night. But I am thankful to say that, discouraged no doubt by our superincumbent weight, none of them ever did so.

Finally, all the merry singing party had to be coaxed, or scolded, or inveigled into bed, which was no small grapple, as any mother will know. Besides all this, there was our ” wash” to be attended to, for, be as economical as we would, still handkerchiefs and towels would get soiled, and even camping out did not render us entirely indifferent to cleanliness. I, as the oldest member of the party, had to keep up a continual grapple with wet feet, cuts, bruises, sunburn, etc., until sometimes I felt as if life was all one long grapple. Reading or meditating is pretty much out of the question in a trip like this, and for this reason it is an invaluable remedy for over-tasked brains and nerves. I felt as if we were all a party of cabbage-heads struggling for existence under most unfavorable circumstances.


— 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.

— Coppermine Gallery Photo.

3 thoughts on “A Tale: A Lady’s Visit To The Geysers Of The Yellowstone Park (Part 4) — HWS 1880.

  1. Pingback: A Tale: A Lady’s Visit To The Geysers Of The Yellowstone Park (Part 3) — HWS 1880. « M. Mark Miller

  2. Traveling through the Park was certainly quite different back then. It sounds like HWS was able to joke about the unpleasant parts, while fully appreciating the new and interesting things she saw.

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