From An Overland Journey From New York to San Francisco
By Horace Greeley
New York: C. M. Saxton, Barker & Co., 1860

From Letter 27: California -- The Yosemite

The fall of the Yosemite, so called, is a humbug. It is not the Merced River that makes this fall, but a mere tributary trout brook, which pitches in from the north by a barely once-broken descent of two thousand six hundred feet, while the Merced enters the valley at its eastern extremity, over falls of six hundred and two hundred and fifty feet. But a river thrice as large as the Merced, at this season, would be utterly dwarfed by all the other accessories of this prodigious chasm. Only a Mississippi or a Niagara could be adequate to their exactions. I readily concede that a hundred times the present amount of water may roll down the Yosemite Fall in the months of May and June, when the snows are melting from the central ranges of the Sierra Nevada, which bound this abyss on the east; but this would not add a fraction to the wonder of this vivid exemplification of the divine power and majesty. At present, the little stream that leaps down the Yosemite, and is all but shattered to mist by the amazing descent, looks like a tapeline let down from the cloud-capped height to measure the depth of the abyss. The Yosemite Valley (or Gorge) is the most unique and majestic of nature's marvels, but the Yosemite Fall is of little account. Were it absent, the valley would not be perceptibly less worthy of a fatiguing visit.

We traversed the valley from end to end the next day, but an accumulation of details on such a subject only serve to confuse and blunt the observer's powers of perception and appreciation. Perhaps the visiter who should be content with a long look into the abyss from the most convenient height, without braving the toil of a descent, would be wiser than all of us; and yet that first glance upward from the foot will long haunt me as more impressive than any look downward from the summit could be.

I shall not multiply details, nor waste paper in noting all the foolish names which foolish people have given to different peaks or turrets. Just think of two giant stone towers, or pillars, which rise a thousand feet above the towering cliff which form their base, being styled the Two Sisters! Could anything be more maladroit and lackadaisical? The Dome is a high, round, naked peak, which rises between the Merced and its little tributary from the inmost recesses of the Sierra Nevada already instanced, and which towers to an altitude of over five thousand feet above the waters at its base. Picture to yourself a perpendicular wall of bare granite nearly or quite one mile high! Yet there are some dozen or score of peaks in all, ranging from three thousand to five thousand feet above the valley, and a biscuit tossed from any of them would strike very near its base, and its fragments go bounding and falling still further. I certainly miss here the glaciers of Chamonix, but I know no single wonder of nature on earth which can claim superiority over the Yosemite. Just dream yourself for one hour in a chasm nearly ten miles long, with egress, save for birds and water, but at three points, up the face of precipices from three thousand to four thousand feet high, the chasm scarcely more than a mile wide at any point, and tapering to a mere gorge, or canyon, at either end, with walls of mainly naked and perpendicular white granite, from three thousand to five thousand feet high, so that looking up to the sky from it is like looking out of an unfathomable profound--and you will have some conception of the Yosemite.

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