The approach to them was unsafe, the incrustation surrounding them bending in many places beneath our weight,—and from the fractures thus created would ooze a sulphury slime of the consistency of mucilage. It was with great difficulty that we obtained specimens from the natural apertures with which the crust is filled,—a feat which was accomplished by one only of our party, who extended himself at full length upon that portion of the incrustation which yielded the least, but which was not sufficiently strong to bear his weight while in an upright positions, and at imminent risk of sinking into the infernal mixture, rolled over and over to the edge of the opening, andwith the crust slowly bending and sinking beneath him, hurriedly secured the coveted prize.
There was something so revolting in the general appearance of the springs and their surroundings—the foulness of the vapors, the infernal contents, the treacherous incrustation, the noisy ebullition, the general appearance of desolation, and the seclusion and wildness of the locations—that though awe-struck, we were not unreluctant to continue our journey without making them a second visit. They were probably never before seen by white man. The, name of “Hell Broth Springs,” which we gave them, fully expressed our appreciation of their character.
Our journey the next day still continued through a country until then untraveled. Owing to the high lateral mountain spurs, the numerous ravines, and the interminable patches of fallen timber, we made very slow progress; but when the hour for camping arrived we were greatly surprised to find ourselves descending the mountain along the banks of a beautiful stream in the immediate vicinity of the Great Falls of the Yellowstone. This stream, which we called Cascade Creek, is very rapid. Just before its union with the river it passes through a gloomy gorge, of abrupt descent, which on either side is filled with continuous masses of obsidian that have been worn by the water into many fantastic shapes and cavernous recesses. This we named “The Devil’s Den.” Near the foot of the gorge the creek breaks from fearful rapids into a cascade of great beauty. The first fall of five feet is immediately succeeded by another of fifteen, into a pool as clear as amber, nestled beneath overarching rocks. Here it lingers as if half reluctant to continue its course, and then gracefully emerges from the grotto, and, veiling the rocks down an abrupt descent of eighty-four feet, passes rapidly on to the Yellowstone. It received the name of “Crystal.”
The Great Falls are at the head of one of the most remarkable cañons in the world— a gorge through volcanic rocks fifty miles long, and varying from one thousand to nearly five thousand feet in depth. In its descent through this wonderful chasm the river falls almost three thousand feet. At one point, where the passage has been worn through a mountain range, our hunters assured us it was more than a vertical mile in depth, and the river, broken into rapids and cascades, appeared no wider than a ribbon. The brain reels as we gaze into this profound and solemn solitude. We shrink from the dizzy verge appalled, glad to feel the solid earth under our feet, and venture no more, except with forms extended, and faces barely protruding over the edge of the precipice. The stillness is horrible. Down, down, down, we see the river attenuated to a thread, tossing its miniature waves, and dashing, with puny strength, the massive walls which imprison it. All access to its margin is denied, and the dark gray rocks hold it in dismal shadow.