|Only a few miles from Paragoy's, and we were on
Inspiration Point, looking down on the mighty Mecca of our
pilgrimage, -- on awful depth and vastness, wedded to
unimagined brightness and loveliness, -- a sight that
appalled, while it attracted; a sublime terror; a beautiful
abyss; the valley of the shadow of God!
It seemed to me as I gazed, that here was Nature's last, most cunning hiding-place for her utmost sublimities, her rarest splendors. Here she had worked her divinest miracles with water and sunlight, -- lake, river, cataract, cascade, spray, mist, and rainbows by the thousand. It was but a little strip of smiling earth to look down on after all; but ah! the stupendousness of its surroundings! There were arched and pillared rocks, so massive, so immense, it seemed they might have formed the foundation-walls of a continent; and domes so vast they seemed like young worlds rounding out of chaos. . . .
It was wonderful to us, if not to others, how comparatively fresh we were after a day of unprecedented fatigue and excitement. There must be some magic of stimulus and sustainment in the air of the Sierras. A good supper and good company further cheered and supported us, and, last of all, before sleep, there was for us absolute physical rejuvenation in the warm baths of the Cosmopolitan Saloon, just opposite our cottage. Here we were astonished to find -- when we had expected to rough it -- absolutely sybaritic arrangements, -- large, bright bathing-rooms; spacious tubs, exquisitely clean; a limitless supply of pure, soft water; towels, fine and coarse, in profusion; delicate toilet-soaps; bottles of bay rum; Florida water and arnica, court-plaster, pins, needles, thread, and buttons, for repairing dilapidations; and late "Atlas" and "Bulletins" for fresh "bustles." The floors are all handsomely carpeted, the walls are hung with delicate paper, and decorated with pictures and mirrors, and cornices are daintily gilded. Here, after all our long excursions, hard rides, and harder climbs, we took baths of balm, of delicious soothing and healing. To find such luxury and comfort in the awful sunken fastness of this valley seems something absolutely marvelous, the work of enchantment; but the magical agencies have been only keen business foresight, energy, pluck, perseverance, and pack-mules. . . .
On my first night in the valley, the strangeness of my surroundings, a sort of sombre delight that took possession of me, would not let me sleep for several hours. Once I rose and looked out, or tried to look out. The sky was clouded; it seemed to me the stars drew back from the abyss. It was filled with night and sound. I could not see the mighty rocks that walled us in, but a sense of their shadow was upon me. There was in the awe I felt no element of real dread or fear, but it was thrilled by fantastic terrors. I thought of Whitney's theory of the formation of the great pit, by subsidence. What if it should take another start in the night, and settle a mile or two with us, leaving the trail by which we descended, dangling in the air, and the cataracts all spouting away, with no outlet! But in the morning the jolly sun peered down upon us, laughing, as much as to say, "There you are, are you?" and the sweet, cool winds dipped down from the pines and the snows, the great fall shouted and danced all the way down his stupendous rocky stairway, the river, and overflowed meadows rippled and flashed with immemorial glee. It seems to me that darkness is darker and light lighter in the Yosemite than anywhere else of earth. . . .
The vague sense of oppression and imprisonment I have alluded to, doubtless often drives nervous tourists from the valley after so brief a visit that it must seem to them ever after like a wild, troubled dream of vast precipices and domes, of dizzy points, of booming cataracts and roaring rapids, of toiling up and plunging down steep trails, on sore-backed mules and bucking broncos. In fact, the valley, in the height of its short season, is a confused scene of hurry, pushing, and scrambling. Horses, mules, mustangs, and donkeys are burdened and goaded, and driven to the last point of endurance, and too often beyond. "All creation groaneth and travelleth" in the Yosemite. There is a vast deal to be seen hereabouts, yet none of the great points are very easy of access. There is no royal road to them; but if tourists who are strong enough, would give themselves a reasonable amount of time, they would see everything better by going on foot and sparing the wretched animals who now stagger under them in mute agony, and, perhaps, execrate the picturesque in their meek souls. Some unhappy people you see doing all the sights, driving through all the excursions, with a sort of gloomy desperation, as though obeying the injunction, "See the Yosemite and die," or under a contract to return to San Francisco on the very next Friday and be hanged.