June 25, 1864: JO Pass
[Today] we came on about eight miles farther, and so rough was the way that we found this distance a good day’s work. Our route lay along the divide between the head branches of the Kings and Kaweah rivers, over steep ridges, some of them nearly ten thousand feet high, and then along ridges covered with forests of subalpine pines and firs. There are two species of pine and one of fir. All grow to a rather large size, say four to five feet in diameter, but are not high. All are beautiful, the fir especially so, but there is difference enough in the color of the foliage and habit of the trees to give picturesque effect to these forests, which are not dense. All have a very dark green foliage, in harmony with the rugged landscape they clothe. The ground under the tree is generally nearly bare. There is but little grass or undergrowth of either herbs or bushes.
The rocks are granite, very light colored, the soil light-gray granite sand. Here and there are granite knobs or domes, their sides covered with loose angular bowlders, among which grow bushes, or here and there a tree. Sometimes there are great slopes of granite, almost destitute of soil, with only an occasional bush or tree that gets a rooting in some crevice. Behind all this rise the sharp peaks of the crest, bare and desolate, streaked with snow; and, since the storms, often great banks of clouds curl around their summits.
The whole aspect of this region is peculiar; the impression is one of grandeur, but at the same time of desolation—the dark pines, the light granite, the sharp cones behind, the absence of all sounds except the sighing of the wind through the pines or the rippling of streams. There is an occasional bird heard, but for most of the time silence reigns. At night the wind dies down, the clouds disappear, if any have occurred during the day, and everything is still. During the night there is no sound. The sky is very clear and almost black; the stars scarcely twinkle, but shine with a calm, steady, silvery light from this black dome above.