Wonders of the Yellowstone – Part 1.

We started early the next morning and soon struck the trail which had been traveled the preceding day by Lieutenant Doane. It led over a more practicable route than the one we left. The marks made in the soil by the travais (lodge-poles) on the side of the trail showed that it had been recently traveled by a number of lodges of Indians,—and a little colt, which we overtook soon after making the discovery, convinced us that we were in their immediate vicinity. Our party was separated, and if we had been attacked, our pack-train, horses, and stores would have been an easy conquest. Fortunately we were unmolested, and, when again united, made a fresh resolusion to travel as much in company as possible. All precautionary measures, however, unless enforced by the sternest discipline, are soon forgotten—and danger, until actually impending, is seldom borne in mind. A day had scarcely passed when we were as reckless as ever.

From the summit of a commanding range, which separated the waters of Antelope and Tower Creeks, we descended through a picturesque gorge, leading our horses to a small stream flowing into the Yellowstone. Four miles of travel, a great part of it down the precipitous slopes of the mountain, brought us to the banks of Tower Creek, and within the volcanic region, where the wonders were supposed to commence. On the right of the trail our attention was first attracted by a small hot sulphur spring, a little below the boiling point in temperature. Leaving the spring we ascended a high ridge, from which the most noticeable feature, in. a landscape of great extent and beauty, was Column Rock, stretching for two miles along the eastern bank of the Yellowstone. At the distance from which we saw it, we could compare it in appearance to nothing but a section of the Giant’s Causeway. It was composed of successive pillars of basalt overlying and under- lying a thick stratum of cement and gravel resembling pudding-stone. In both rows, the pillars, standing in close proximity, were each about thirty feet high and from three to five feet in diameter. This interesting object, more from the novelty of its formation and its beautiful surroundings of mountain and river scenery than anything grand or impressive in its appearance, excited our attention, until the gathering shades of evening reminded us of the necessity of selecting a suitable camp. We descended the declivity to the banks of Tower Creek, and camped on a rocky terrace one mile distant from, and four hundred feet above the Yellowstone.

Tower Creek is a mountain torrent flowing through a gorge about forty yards wide. Just below our camp it falls perpendicularly over an even ledge 112 feet, forming one of the most beautiful cataracts in the world. For some distance above the fall the stream is broken into a great number of channels, each of which has worked a tortuous course through a compact body of shale to the verge of the precipice, where they re-unite and form the fall. The countless shapes into which the shale has been wrought by the action of the angry waters, add a feature of great interest to the scene. Spires of solid shale, capped with slate, beautifully rounded and polished, faultless in symmetry, raise their tapering forms to the height of from 80 to 150 feet, all over the plateau above the cataract. Some resemble towers, others the spires of churches, and others still shoot up as lithe and slender as the minarets of a mosque. Some of the loftiest of these formations, standing like sentinels upon the very brink of the fall, are accessible to an expert and adventurous climber. The position attained on one of their narrow summits, amid the uproar of waters and at a height of 250 feet above the boiling chasm, as the writer can affirm, requires a steady head and strong nerves yet the view which rewards the temerity of the exploit is full of compensations. Below the fall the stream descends in numerous rapids, with frightful velocity, through a gloomy gorge, to its union with the Yellowstone. Its bed is filled with enormous boulders, against which the rushing waters break with great fury.

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