Sierra Nevada, or Snowy Range of California

by Fremont's Travels

"The dividing ridge of the Sierra Nevada is in sight from this encampment. Accompanied by Mr. Preuss, I ascended to-day the highest peak to the right, from which we had a beautiful view of a mountain lake at our feet, about 15 miles in length, and so entirely surrounded by mountains that we could not discover an outlet. We had taken with us a glass, but though we enjoyed an extended view, the valley was half hidden in mist, as when we had seen it before. Snow could be distinguished on the higher parts of the coast mountains; eastward, as far as the eye could extend, it ranged over a terrible mass of broken snowy mountains, fading off blue in the distance. The rock composing the summit consists of a very coarse, dark, volcanic conglomerate: the lower parts appeared to be of a very slatey structure. The highest trees were a few scattered cedars and aspens. From the immediate foot of the peak we were two hours in reaching the summit, and one hour and a quarter in descending. The day had been very bright, still, and clear, and spring seems to be advancing rapidly. While the sun is in the sky the snow melts rapidly, and gushing springs cover the face of the mountain in all the exposed places, but their surface freezes instantly with the disappearance of the sun.

"The Indians of the Sierra make frequent descents upon the settlements west of the Coast Range, which they keep constantly swept of horses; among them are many who are called Christian Indians, being refugees from Spanish missions. Several of these incursions occurred while we were at Helvetia. Occasionally parties of soldiers follow them across the Coast Range, but never enter the Sierra."

Sierra Nevada, Upper California.

The party had not long before passed through a beautiful country. The narrative says:—"During the earlier part of the day our ride had been over a very level prairie, or rather a succession of long stretches of prairie, separated by lines and groves of oak timber, growing along dry gullies, which are tilled with water in seasons of rain; and perhaps, also, by the melting snows. Over much of this extent the vegetation was spare; the surface showing plainly the action of water, which, in the season of flood, the Joaquin spreads over the valley. About one o'clock, we came again among innumerable flowers; and, a few miles further, fields of beautiful blue-flowering lupine, which seems to love the neighbourhood of water, indicated that we were approaching a stream. We here found this beautiful shrub in thickets, some of them being twelve feet in height. Occasionally, three or four plants were clustered together, forming a grand bouquet, about ninety feet in circumference, and ten feet high; the whole summit covered with spikes of flowers, the perfume of which is very sweet and grateful. A lover of natural beauty can imagine with what pleasure we rode among these flowering groves, which filled the air with a light and delicate fragrance. We continued our road for about half a mile, interspersed through an open grove of live oaks, which, in form, were the most symmetrical and beautiful we had yet seen in this country. The ends of their branches rested on the ground, forming somewhat more than a half sphere of very full and regular figure, with leaves apparently smaller than usual. The Californian poppy, of a rich orange colour, was numerous to-day. Elk and several bands of antelope made their appearance. Our road now was one continued enjoyment; and it was pleasant riding among this assemblage of green pastures, with varied flowers and scattered groves, and, out of the warm, green spring, to look at the rocky and snowy peaks where lately we had suffered so much."

Again, in the Sierra Nevada:—"Our journey to-day was in the midst of an advanced spring, whose green and floral beauty offered a delightful contrast to the sandy valley we had just left. All the day snow was in sight on the butt of the mountain, which frowned down upon us on the right; but we beheld it now with feelings of pleasant security, as we rode along between green trees and on flowers, with humming-birds and other feathered friends of the traveller enlivening the serene spring air. As we reached the summit of this beautiful pass, and obtained a view into the eastern country, we saw at once that here was the place to take leave of all such pleasant scenes as those around us. The distant mountains were now bald rocks again; and, below, the land had any colour but green. Taking into consideration the nature of the Sierra Nevada, we found this pass an excellent one for horses; and, with a little labour, or, perhaps, with a more perfect examination of the localities, it might be made sufficiently practicable for waggons."

Fremont's Travels.