The night was very cold, the mercury standing at 40° when we broke camp, at eight o’clock the next morning. We remained some time at the lower cañon of the Yellowstone, which, as a single isolated piece of scenery, is very beautiful. It is less than a mile in length, and perhaps does not exceed 1,000 feet in depth. Its walls are vertical, and, seen from the summit of the precipice, the river seems forced through a narrow gorge, and is surging and boiling at a fearful rate—the water breaking into millions of prismatic drops against every projecting rock.
After traveling six miles over the mountains above the cañon, we again descended into a broad and open valley, skirted by a level upland for several miles. Here an object met our attention which deserves more than a casual notice. It was two parallel vertical walls of rock, projecting from the side of a mountain to the height of 125 feet, traversing the mountain from base to summit, a distance of 1,500 feet. These walls were not to exceed thirty feet in width, and their tops for the whole length were crowned with a growth of pines. The sides were as even as if they had been worked by line and plumb—The whole space between, and on either side of them, having been completely eroded and washed away. We had seen many of the capricious works wrought by erosion upon the friable rocks of Montana, but never before upon so majestic a scale. Here an entire mountainside, by wind and water, had been removed, leaving as the evidences of their protracted toil these vertical projections, which, but for their immensity, might as readily be mistaken for works of art as of nature. Their smooth sides, uniform width and height, and great length, considered in connection with the causes which had wrought their insulation, excited our wonder and admiration. They were all the more curious because of their dissimilarity to any other striking objects in natural scenery that we had ever seen or heard of. In future years, when the wonders of the Yellowstone are incorporated into the family of fashionable resorts, there will be few of its attractions surpassing in interest this marvelous freak of the elements. For some reason, best understood by himself, one of our companions gave to these rocks the name of the “Devil’s Slide.” The suggestion was unfortunate, as, with more reason perhaps, but with no better taste, we frequently had occasion to appropriate other portions of the person of his Satanic Majesty, or of his dominion, in signification of the varied marvels we met with. Some little excuse may be found for this in the fact that the old mountaineers and trappers who preceded us had been peculiarly lavish in the use of the infernal vocabulary. Every river and glen and mountain had suggested to their imaginations some fancied resemblance to portions of a region which their pious grandmothers had warned them to avoid. It is common for them, when speaking of this region, to designate portions of its physical features, as “Fire Hole Prairie,” the “Devil’s Glen,”—” Hell Roaring River,” &c. —and these names, from a remarkable fitness of things, are not likely to be speedily superseded by others less impressive. We camped at the close of this day’s travel near the southwestern corner of Montana, at the mouth of Gardiner’s River.
Crossing this stream the next morning, we passed over several rocky ridges into a valley which, for a long distance, was crowded with the spires of protruding rocks, which gave it such a dismal aspect that we named it “The Valley of Desolation.” The trail was so rough and mountainous that we were able to travel but six miles before the usual hour for camping. Much of the distance was through fallen timber, almost impassable by the pack train. A mile before camping we discovered on the trail the fresh tracks of unshod ponies, indicating that a party of Indians had recently passed over it. Lieutenant Doane, with one of our company, had left us in the morning, and did not come into camp this evening. One of our horses broke his lariat during the night and galloped through the camp, rousing the sleepers, who grasped their guns, supposing the Indians were really upon them.