Some Wonderful Sights in California by Ella M. Sexton

California is a wonderland where snowy mountains, mighty and ancient forests, glaciers and geysers, lakes and waterfalls, foaming rivers and the cliffs and rolling surf down her long sea-coast give new and beautiful pictures at every place.

Through the whole state stretches the granite backbone of the Sierra Nevadas with its highest crest or ridge at the head-waters of the Kings and Kern rivers near Fresno. Here Mount Whitney and a dozen other great peaks of the High Sierras or California Alps lift their heads over thirteen thousand feet in the air. Here are to be seen most magnificent panoramas of lofty peaks, deep cañons, towering domes, and snow-clad summits. The finest forests, too, in the world grow on the slopes of the Sierras, the immense pines and giant sequoias of the General Grant and other National Parks in this section being the largest and oldest of all. Kings River cañon is a rugged gorge half a mile deep with the river rushing through it in thundering rapids and cascades.

  'EL CAPITAN' (3300 feet in height)
(3300 feet in height)


The well-known Yosemite Valley is the gorge of the Merced River and, though only eight miles long and half a mile wide, holds the grandest of all our mountain scenery. The mighty rock El Capitan, over three thousand feet in height, stands at the entrance to the valley, and across from it is Bridal Veil Fall, a snowy cascade so thin you can see the face of the mountain through the falling waters. There are many waterfalls, but the Yosemite is chief of them all. Here the river takes a plunge of sixteen hundred feet, the water falling like snowy rockets bursting into spray from that great height.

Then, for six hundred feet more, the torrent leaps and foams through a trench it has cut out of the solid rock to the cliff, from which it takes a second plunge. This Lower Yosemite fall is four hundred feet high, the rushing waters turning into clouds of spray, which the wind tosses from side to side. At Nevada Fall the Merced River leaps six hundred feet at a bound, strikes a mass of rocks halfway down, and breaks into white foam upon which rainbows play when the sun shines through the misty veil.

Besides the grand Sentinel Rock, Eagle Peak, Clouds' Rest, and other high mountains in the Yosemite Valley, many domes or round-topped peaks like the heads of buried giants loom up, the most famous being South Dome, Washington Column, Liberty Cap, and Mount Broderick.

But no one can picture this wonderful valley with pen or brush or camera and give its real charm. You must see it yourself to know and understand the beauty of great mountains and falling waters, of Mirror Lake with its fine reflections of the surrounding scenery, and of the rushing torrent of the Merced River in its swift coursing through this mighty cañon of the Yosemite. Thousands of tourists and sightseers visit the valley from May to October. Then snow begins to fall and winter sets in, as it does everywhere in the high Sierras. Very deep snow-drifts cover the ground, lakes and rivers freeze, and the great falls are fringed with icicles, while a large ice cone forms at the foot of the falling water. Many beautiful pictures may be found in the valley in winter when Jack Frost is ruler of all the snow-clad, ice-bound cañon.

Scattered throughout the Sierras are other valleys almost as fine as the Yosemite. These are not often reached by the army of summer sight-seers, but true mountaineers find them. One valley which has fine scenery is the Grand cañon of the Tuolumne, the gorge being twenty-five miles long, with walls so high and steep that once entered one must go through to the end. The Tuolumne River rushes, with terrible force and speed, in cascades and rapids down the granite stairway which is the floor of this cañon. The walls of the gorge rise so high that the traveller only sees a tiny strip of blue sky far above him, and the great pine trees on top of these cliff walls seem only the length of one's finger.

It is supposed that all these valleys have been formed by glaciers, which during the ice age, thousands of years ago, filled the cañons and swept over the mountains. These masses of ice, moving very slowly, ground and tore up the rocks under and around them till deep gorges and steep, high cliffs were left in their tracks. Most of the glaciers melted long ago, but on Mount Lyell, on Shasta, and a few of the Sierra summits may still be found those ever-living ice-rivers, the one on Mount Lyell being the source of the Tuolumne River.

California is rich in lakes, especially in the mountains where the melting snows gather in every hollow and form lakelets in chains or groups, or in one large body of water like Tahoe, Donner, or Tenaya lakes.

One of the most beautiful lakes in the world is Lake Tahoe. It is six thousand feet above sea-level, and the mountains around it rise four thousand feet higher. On these peaks snow-drifts lie the year round above the "snow-line," as a height over eight or nine thousand feet is called. Nevada, treeless and barren, is on the eastern side of Lake Tahoe, while the western or California side is green and thickly wooded with beautiful pines. But the first thing one would notice, perhaps, is the wonderful clearness of the lake water. As one stands on the wharf the steamer Tahoe seems to be hanging in the clear green depths with her keel and twin propellers in plain sight. The fish dart under her and all about as in some large aquarium. There a big lake-trout shoots by like a silver streak of light, or here is a school of hundreds of little fingerlings. Every stick or stone shows on the bottom as one starts out on the steamer, and as one sails along where the water is sixty or seventy feet deep. In the middle the lake's depth is fifteen hundred feet and the water is a dark indigo-blue. At the edge and along shallow places the color is bright green, as at Emerald Bay, a beautiful inlet three miles long. Lake Tahoe is twenty miles in length and about five wide, and its icy cold waters are of crystal clearness and very pure.


Fallen Leaf Lake is a smaller Tahoe, and Donner Lake, not far from Truckee, and now the camping-place of many a summer visitor, is the place where years ago the Donner overland party spent a terrible winter in the Sierra snows.

Clear Lake and the Blue Lakes in Lake County are delightful places to visit, and in this county, too, are the geysers. Some wonderful curiosities are seen here. You will find springs that spout up a stream of hot water every few minutes, mineral springs from which you can have a drink of soda water, and an acid spring that flows lemonade. Alum, iron, or sulphur waters, either hot or cold, bubble up out of the ground at every turn. At one spring you may boil an egg. Other springs are used for steam baths and also hot mud-baths. In Geyser cañon is the strange place every sight-seer hurries to at once. Such rumblings and thunderings, such hot vapors and gases come from the cracks in the ground, that the Indians thought this was the workshop where the bad spirit which white people call the devil used to live and work. The deeper one goes into this cañon, the hotter and noisier it gets. All round are signs telling where it is dangerous to step, while the ground is hot, and boiling water runs by in little streams. Steam rises from many pools, and the sulphur smell almost chokes one. Another curious spring, called the devil's inkstand, seems full of ink. Mount St. Helena, near here, is a dead or extinct volcano, and probably there are fires in the earth under this region which keep up these steam and sulphur springs.


Many of the Sierra summits are capped with volcanic rock, and Lassen's Peak and Mount Shasta are extinct volcanoes. There are hot springs and cracks from which steam and sulphur rise on both of these mountains, and as earthquakes often shake the earth in different parts of the state we know that underground fires are still at work. A great piece of land on Mount San Jacinto in Southern California lately sank down about a hundred feet, and cracks both deep and wide show that some force from below gave a thorough shaking-up to that part of the state.

Mono, Owen's, and several other large lakes are the "sinks" into which rivers flow and lose themselves in the sandy or marshy shores. These lakes have soda or salt in their waters, and great stretches of dry alkali lands around them. The famous Death Valley is a dry lake of this kind where the sun beats down on the white alkali plain till it is almost certain death to try to cross it without a guide. The Salton Sea is a dry lake where almost pure salt is dug out, and great quantities of borax and of soda are found in other beds, of dried-up streams and lakes.

But to tell of all the curious things nature has to show us in California,—of the forests of petrified trees, of the caverns cut out of the ocean cliffs by restless waves, or of those in the mountains or the Modoc lava-beds,—well, you will see most of them, let us hope, in your vacations. A large book might be given to the wonderful sights of this great state, and it may be your fortune to visit and so always remember a few we have named.