A Tale: Part 5: A Lady’s Visit To The Geysers Of The Yellowstone Park — HWS 1880

Tower Creek, Thomas Moran, 1871

HWS abandons her wagon and mounts “a sober old creature named Foxey” to cross the roadless wilderness to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Begin with Part 1


 The day we left the Mammoth Hot Springs, we had an accumulation of all the miseries of camping-out life. Fierce heat succeeded by torrents of wind and rain, and, to add to everything else, perfect swarms of mosquitoes. But we were repaid by the sight of Tower Creek, which rises in the high divide between the valleys of the Missouri and Yellowstone, and flows for ten miles through a cavern so deep and gloomy that it is called the Devil’s Gorge.

About two hundred yards before entering the Yellowstone River, it dashes over an abrupt descent of 156 feet, forming a very beautiful waterfall. All around are columns of volcanic breccia, some resembling towers, some the spires of churches, and some are almost as slender and graceful as the minarets of a mosque. But, alas, one sad fatality spoiled the scene for me.

It was impossible to take the wagon any further, and there was no alternative but to mount one of those wild beasts named by Adam a horse. The guides picked me out a sober old creature named Foxey, used to carry a pack, and likely therefore to be equal to my weight, and unlikely to be frisky or foolish. On the morning of the 9th of August, we started a long train of twenty-six horses, two dogs, and three colts, for the Yellowstone Falls and Canyon.

As I was quite determined never to go out of a walk, on account of the tendency to slip off, I took the tail end of the pack train, and plodded on very contentedly for a while. But, alas, my comfort was of short duration, for, when we stopped to lunch, Foxey lost sight of the pack, to which he felt he rightfully belonged, and getting either bewildered or angry, he began to behave in the most unaccountable manner. He backed and forwarded and sidled and turned round and round and neighed, and completely mastered me, till our of the guides came up and fastened a rope to his bridle and led him the rest of the way.

It is beyond my power to depict the grandeur and beauty of the mystic river, and its falls and canyon. There are two falls, half a mile apart; the upper is 140 feet high, and the lower 397. The water is compressed into a mass about 100 feet wide, and from four to six feet deep, and falls over the precipices in one apparently solid mass of glorious emerald, into its marvelous canyon below. This canyon is one of the Park’s greatest wonders.

It is a stupendous chasm about twenty-five miles long and from 1,000 to 3,000 feet high. It can only be seen from the top, as its sides are inaccessible except in one place six miles below the falls. The river has cut its way through a material largely composed of soft clays, sand, tufa, volcanic ash and breccia, with occasional layers of basalt, and has wrought out for itself a wonderful channel.

Towers and turrets and dykes and castle walls of all shapes and sizes are crowded together throughout its whole length in wild confusion. Here and there a single tower stands out in solitary grandeur, isolated from all its fellows, with perhaps a lonely fish hawk’s nest on its top, and little birds stretching out their open mouths towards the mother, who was circling in the grand and awful chasm over the river. But wonderful as these walls are for their height, and the grotesque and beautiful forms into which they are eroded, they are vastly more so for their color.

From their lofty tops to the very edge of the water, they are dyed with an endless variety of the most vivid and delicate coloring. They are a mass of yellows and red and coal black and snow-white and cream and buff and brown and gray and olive, mingled together in richest confusion, while at the bottom runs the river, a glorious roaring torrent of purest emerald green, embroidered with silvery foam, between slopes decorated with velvet grass. The effect is indescribable.


— 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 Image.

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