[Today] the rain stopped and we rode from Greenhorn to Tailholt (a good sample of Californian names) over a very rough road, up and down, sometimes by wagon road and sometimes by trail.
On the west slope of the Sierra there is more timber—scattered oaks and pines—and some of the slopes are covered with chaparral. There is some more grass over the hills, and all tells of a moister climate. From some of the ridges we had wide and magnificent views of the foothills and the great valley on the west, but the coast ranges were shut out by the hazy air. Tailholt is on White River, among the hills, but we struck a very comfortable place to stop.All these streams flow out into the valley through wild, impassable canyons, but in the mountains the valleys often spread out into little basins, some of which are of exceeding beauty; but being made of granite sand, none are very fertile. We passed two such, the Posé Flat and Little Posé Flat, both little basins, green on the bottom, with a clear stream of water, and fine old oak trees.
[Today] we left Keysville and came on over Greenhorn Mountain by the hardest wagon road I have ever seen that was much traveled. In places the road is so very steep that I cannot see how loads are got over it at all. We saw some government teams, where they had to double their six-mule teams to get an empty wagon up the hills. Most of the freight is packed over on mules. The morning was cloudy, and it began to rain. The rain was mingled with snow, which almost froze us. It thawed as fast as it fell, wetting us thoroughly. We stopped at a place called Greenhorn—a place of two or three miners’ cabins and a store—having made the fourteen miles in four hours. We stopped [here] over the rest of the] day.
[We] returned by the same route and reached Keysville [tonight].
We spent a most uncomfortable night…The wind blew and filled the air with sand—sleeping on the ground, it seemed as if we would be stifled at times. I arose at half-past three, my teeth gritty with sand, face black, eyes full. The sand lay half an inch thick in places on my coat, which I had used on my saddle for a pillow. We saddled and came on twelve miles to a poor spring, keeping a brisk lookout for Indians. At the spring we got some breakfast, then pushed on…
[Today] we came on to the Indian Wells, through the pass, twenty-eight miles. The valley narrows above Roberts’, but the slope is gradual, although we rise so high. It grows more and more barren, the granite mountains grow less and less timber as we work east. The summit is reached, 5,302 feet above the sea, where a strong breeze draws through, and, although so high, the air is as dry as in a severe drought at home—no wonder that a desert stretches so far on the east. This desert basin is very high, from three thousand to four thousand feet. As we look out on the plain, mountains rise from it in every direction, but they are but detached chains—one can travel all the way to the Colorado River on the plain, which is everywhere a terrible desert. One of the mountain chains, fifty miles distant, is the Slate Range, now creating much excitement because of silver mines discovered there.
This desert is but a continuation of the one described in my last letter. It has less yucca, but like that, is covered with scattered bushes, such as can stand a dryness you cannot appreciate East. Doctor Horn, of Camp Independence, in Owens Valley, a perfectly reliable man, was stationed in that valley last August. He has kept a rain gauge, and from that time to this, the rainy season, there has fallen in the aggregate less than a quarter of an inch of rain! None can fall now until next winter, and possibly not then, and yet these shrubs can live in such a climate, if they get a good wetting every two or three years. A view, comprising a field as large, or nearly as large, as the state of Connecticut, has not a single tree in sight. Such are the Californian deserts.
We descended gradually and curved around the hills for about fourteen miles from the summit to the Indian Wells, where we stopped. A more god-forsaken, cheerless place I have seldom seen—a spring of water—nothing else. Here was a cabin, where we got our suppers. There was not a particle of feed. A little grass (bunch grass) that can grow in a dry climate, occurs four miles distant—it is cut with a sickle, tied up in little bundles, and sold at ten cents per pound—and cracked corn at fifteen cents per pound. This we got for our horses. You can well imagine that the inhabitants of such a place are not the most refined, but they hold a claim four miles distant—“ranch,” they call it—where there is water and some feed, and keep horses that get used up on the desert.
On arriving at this miserable hole the first greeting was inquiries about Indians. Two men had reported seeing a band in the pass where we had come through. Several horses and mules had been discovered shot near there that day, and one man was missing. We had seen no Indians, although we had been well on the lookout.
I resolved to go through Walker’s Pass and return, as the great work of this year is to examine the geological characteristics of the Sierra Nevada, and it was thought best to cross the chain at as many points as is possible. We thought the Indians were quiet, and it was considered safe. [Today] we started and rode up the pass twenty-five miles, following up the Kern River, which for this distance flows in a valley often a mile wide. The bottom is barren granite sand, however, and produces but little feed. A few houses along the way were deserted since the Indian troubles, but at twenty-five miles a man by the name of Roberts holds his place in spite of the Indians, and here we stopped. He has a field fenced with some feed, and we got supper and breakfast, sleeping out in the field near the house.
[Today] our provisions were gone, and our supper [last night] and breakfast [this] morning were even more meager than usual. We came on to Keysville that day. We had some grand scenery—on the east, high granite mountains, with enormous precipices of naked rock, while on the opposite sides were mountains nearly as high. On crossing the last high ridge, before sinking into the valley of Kern River, from the summit, a wide view burst upon us, all of rugged, barren, granite mountains, with but few scattered trees—a scene of wild desolation. At the forks of the Kern River is another little basin, like Tehachapi and Walker’s basins—all lying in the middle of the chain, all surrounded by high, granite mountains. Near these forks is Keysville—you can scarcely see the name on the map. It is the largest place within ninety miles—much more on the west, south, and east—yet it contains but eight houses all told. But it was the largest place we had seen in a month’s travels. We got hay and barley for our hungry and jaded animals, and “square meals” for ourselves, so we stopped over a day. A store, with no floor but the ground, a saloon and “hotel” with ground floor and not a chair about the establishment, are the accommodations which we consider princely after our much harder fare. We have a bunk of boards to sleep on (using our own blankets). Our bedroom has no floor but that made by nature. Such were our accommodations—the best we had seen for some time, and the best we were destined to see for some time to come. The spot is picturesque—the granite mountains are steep and high, and the Kern River runs through a wild, picturesque canyon. The place derives its importance from a few gold mines near, and from being on the road to the Slate Range, Coso, Owens River, and other mining districts. It was a peculiarly lively time there. Indian troubles in the spring had expelled the miners from some regions. The Indians were now nearly quelled and the miners were returning; but revolvers, rifles, and carbines formed a conspicuous part of every equipage, and I saw no other party so small as ours trusting itself alone.