The Wonderlands of the Rockies
Mary Roberts Rinehart Tells a Picturesque Story of a Western Trail.
"NOT long before,” says Mary Roberts Rinehart, “I had been to the front in Belgium and France. I confess that no excursion to the trenches gave me a greater thrill, than the one that accompanied our start across the Rockies.” The story of the trip we quote in the author’s own popular style, as it appeared in The Wide World Magazine.
There are many people to whom new places are only new pictures. But, after much wandering, I have learned that travel is a matter, not only of seeing, but of doing.
It is much more than that. It is a matter of new human Contacts. What are regions but the setting for life? The desert, without its Arbs, is only the place that God forgot.
This story is all about a three-hundredmile trip across the Rocky Mountains on horseback. It is about fishing, and cool nights around a camp fire and long days on the trail. It is about a party of all sorts, from everywhere—of men and women, old and young, experienced folk and novices, who yielded to a desire to belong to the fellowship of the trail.
If you are willing to learn how little you count in the eternal scheme of things, if you are prepared, for the first day or two. to be able to locate every muscle in your body and a few extra ones that have apparently crept in and are crowding—go ride in the Rocky Mountains and save your soul.
It will not matter that you have never ridden before. The horses are safe and quiet. The Western saddle is desiened to keep a cowpuncher in his seat when his “roDe” is round an infuriated steer. Fall off? For the first day or two. dear traveller, you will have to be extracted! After that you will learn that swing of the right leg which clears the saddle, the slicker, a camera, night clothing, loap, towel, toothbrush, blanket, sweater, fishingrod, extra boots, and sunburn lotion, and enables you to alight in a vertical position without jarring your spine up into your skull.
Now and then the United states Government does a very wicked thing. To offset these lapses there are occasional Governmental idealisms. The American "national parks” are a case in point.
I object to the word “park," especially in connection with the particular national reserve in North-Western Montana, known as Glacier Park, that I am going to describe. A park is a civilized spot, connected in everyone’s mind with neat paths and clipped lawns. I am just old enough to remember when it meant, “Keep off the grass” signs also, and my childhood memories of the only park I knew are inseparably connected with a onearmed policeman with a cane and an exaggerated sense of duty.
There are no “Keep off the grass” signs in Glacier Park, no gravelled paths and clipped lawns. It is the wildest part of America. If the Government had not preserved it it would have preserved itself. No homesteader would ever have invaded its rugged magnificence and dared its winter snows. But you and I would not have seen it.
True, so far most niggardly provision has been made. The Government offices are a two-roomed wooden cabin. The national warehouse is a barn. To keep it up, to build trails and roads, to give fire protection for its fourteen hundred square miles of forest, with
many millions of dollars' worth of timber, there are provided thirteen rangers! For seventy-five miles in the north of the park there is no ranger at all.
But no niggardliness on the part of the Government can cloud the ideal which is the raison d’etre for Glacier Park. Here is the last stronghold of the Rocky Mountain sheep, the Rocky Mountain goat. Here are antelope and deer, black and grizzly bears, mountain lions, and trout. Here are tracks that follow the old game trails along the mountain side; here are meadows of June roses, forget-menots, larkspur, Indian paint-brush, fire-weed
the first plant to grow after forest fires — sr.ow-fields. Here are ice and blazing sun, a thousand sorts of flowers, growing besieg vile roads and trails of a beauty to make you gasp.
The rendezvous for our party was at Glacier Park Station, on the Great Northern Railway. Getting to that point, remote as it seemed, had been surprisingly easy. Almost disappointingly easy. Was this, then, going to the borderland of civilization—to the last stronghold of the old West# Over the flat country, with inquiring prairie dogs sitting up to inspect us, our train’'moved steadily toward the purple dron-curtain of the mountains. West, always West.
Now and then we stopped, and passengers got on. They brought with them something new and rather electric. It was enthusiasm. The rest of us. Eastern and greatly bored, roused ourselves and looked out of the windows. West, still West, we went. We saw an occasional cowboy sihouetted against the sky, thin range cattle, impassive Indians watching the train go by, a saw-mill, and not a tree in sight over a vast horizon. Then at last, at twilight, we arrived at Glacier Park Station. Howard Eaton, our leader, was on the platform, with old Chief Three Bears, of the Blackfeet, a t wonderful old warrior of ninety-three.
It was rather a picturesque party. Those who had gone un from the Eaton ranch in Wyoming—a trifle of seven hundred miles only—wore their riding clothes to save luggage. Some of us had travelled three thousand miles to that rendezvous. Khaki was the rule, the women mostly in breeches and long coats, with high-laced boots reaching to the kneé and soft felt hats, the men in riding clothes, with sombreros and brilliant bandanas knotted about their throats. One or two had rather overdone the part, and were the objects of good-natured chaff later from the guides and cowboys.
Our route was three hundred miles long. It was over six passes—and if you believe, as I did. that a pass is a valley between two mountains. I am here to set you right. A pass is a blood-curdling place up which one’s horse climbs like a goat, and down the other side of which it slides as you lead it, trampling ever and anon on a tender part of your foot. A pass is the highest place between two peaks. A pass is not an opening, but a barrier, which you climb with chills and descend with prayer. A pass is a thing which you try to forget at the time, and which you boast about when you get back home.
Off. then, to cross the Rocky Mountains— forty-two of us, and two wagons which had started early to go by road to the first camp. Cowboys in “chaps” and jingling spurs, timorous women who eyed the blue and purple mountains askance, the inevitable photographer—for whom we lined up a semicircle, each one trying to look as if starting off on such a trip was one of the easiest things we did. And over all the bright sun, and a breeze
from the mountains, and a sense of such exhilaration as only altitude and the West can bring.
Then came the signal to fall in, and we were really off. For a mile or so we rode two abreast, past a village of Indians tepees, past meadows scarlet with the Indian paint-brush Then we turned to the left, and were off the road.
The cowboys and guides were watching us. As we strung out along the trail they rode backwards and forwards, inspecting saddles, examining stirrups, seeing that all were comfortable and safe. For even that first day we were to cross Mount Henry, and there must be no danger of saddles slipping.
Quite without warning we plunged into a rocky defile, with a small river falling in cascades. The shadow of the mountain enveloped us. The horses forded the stream and moved sedately on.
Did you ever ford a mountain stream on horseback? Do it. Ride out of the hot sun into a brawling valley. Watch your horse as he feels his way across, the stream eddying about his legs. Give him his head and let him drink lightly, skimming the very surface of the water with his delicate nostrils. Lean down and fill your own cup. How cold it is, and how clear! Uncontaminated, it flows down from the snow-covered mountains overhead. It is living.
Presently the trail began to rise to the tree-covered “bench.” It twisted as it rose. Those above called cheerfully to the ones below. We had settled to the sedate walk of our hbnes, the pace which was to take us over our long itinerary. Hardly ever was it possible, dunng the days that followed, to go faster than a walk. The narrow, twisting trails forbade it. Now and then a few adventurous spirts, sighting a meadow, would hold back until the others had got well ahead, and then push their horses to the easy Western lope. But such joyous occasions were rare.
Up and up. The trail was safe, the grade easy. At theedge of the “bench” we turned and looked back. The great hotel lay below in the sunlight. Leading to it were the gleaming rails of the Northern Pacific Railway. We turned our horses and went on toward the snow-covered peaks ahead.
The horses moved quietly, one behind the other. As the trail rose there were occasional stops to rest them. Women who had hardly dared to look out of a third storey window found themselves on a bit of rocky shelf, with the tops of the tallest trees far below. The earth, as we had known it, was falling back. And high overhead Howard Eaton, at the head of the procession, was sitting on his big horse, silhouetted against the sky. The first day was to be an easy one—twelve miles and gamp. “Twelve miles?" said the experienced riders. “Hardly a Sunday morning canter!”
But a mountain mile is a real mile. Possibly they measure from peak to peak. I do not know. I do know that we were almost six hours making that twelve miles, and that fot four of it we led our horses, down a mountain path of shale. Knees that had been fairly serviceable up to that point took to knocking together. Riding-boots ceased to be a matter of pride, and emerged skinned and broken. The horses slid and stumbledAnd luncheon receded.
Down and down we went. Great granite 'clips of red and blue and yellow loomed across the valley, but no luncheon. We were conscious of a great glow of moving blood through long-stagnant vessels, deep breaths of clear mountain air, *. camera dropped on the trail, a stone in a horse’s foot—but no luncheon.
Two o’clock, and we were down. The nervous wpman who had never been on a horse before was ‘cinching" her own saddle ami looking back and up.
Continued or page 90.
The Wonderlands of the Rockies
Contintied from page 75.
The saddle tightened, she sat down and emptied her riding-boots of a few pieces of rock. Her silk stockings were in tatters.
“I feel as though my knees will never meet again,” she said, reflectively. “Rut I’m so swollen with pride and joy that I could shriek.”
ThaGs what it is. partly. A sense of achievement, of conquering the unconquerable. Of pitting human wits against giants and winning. Every mile is an achievement. And. after all. it is miraculously easy. The trails are good; the horses are steady and sure-footed. It is a triumph of endurance, rather than of courage.
If you have got this far you are one of us. and you will go on. The lure of the high places is in your blood The call of the mountains is a real call. The veneerNafter all. is so thin. Throw off the impediments of civilieation and go out to the West. Ride slowly so as not to startle the wild things. Throw our your chest and breathe, look across green valleys to wild peaks where mountain sheep stand impassive on the edge of space. Let the summer-rains fall on your upturned face and wash away the memory of all that is false and petty and cruel. Then the mountains will get you.
Above the timber line we rode along bare granite slopes. Erosion had been busy here. The miehtly winds that sweep the crests of the Rockies hád. bared the mountain breasts Reside the trails were piled high cairns of stones, so that during the winter snows the rangers may find their way about. This is Nor'h-Western Montana, and the Canadian border is only a few miles away. Over these peaks sweep* the full force of the great blizzards of the north-west. *
The rangers kee^ going all the winter. There is much to be done. In the summer it is forest fires and outlaws. In the winter there are no forest fires, but there are poachers after mountrm sheep and goats, opium smugglers, and “bad men” from over the border.
All summer these intrepid men go about on their sturdy horses, armed with revolvers. In the fall—snow begins early in September, sometimes even ip August -they take to snowshoes. With a carbine strung to his shoulders, matches in a waterproof case, snowshoes. and a package of food in his pocket, the Glacier Park ranger covers unnumbered miles, patrolling the wildest and most storm-ridden country in America. He travels alone. The imprint of a strange snowshoe on the trail rouses his suspicion. Single-handed he follows the marks A blizzard comes along. He makes a wickie-up of branches, lights a small fire, and plays solitaire until the weather clears, for. like himself, the prey he is stalking cannot advance. Then one day the snow ceases. The sun comes out. Over the frozen crust his snowshoes slide down great slopes with express speed. Generally he takes his man in, but sometimes the outlaw gets the drop on the ranger first, and gets away.
The winter before last one of these rangers froze to death. He was caught in a blizzard, and he knew what was coming. When at last the sat down beside the trail to wait for death, he placed his snowshoes, point upward, in front of him. The snow came down and covered him, and they found him the next day
by the points of his snowshoes sticking up beside him.
In the summer the snow melts on the meadows and in the groves, but the peaks are still covered, and here and there the trail leads through a snow-field. The horses venture out on in gingerly. The hot sun that blisters one’s face seems to make no impression on these glacier-like patches, snow on top and iee beneath. Flowers grow at their very borders, and striped squirrels and whistling marmots, much like Eastern wood-chucks, run about, quite fearless, or sit up and watch the passing of the line of horses and riders, so close that they can almost be touched.
We passed through grj^it spaces and cool, shadowy depths in which lay blue lakes. Above us were mountain sides threaded with white, where from some hidden lake or glacier, far above, the overflow falls a thousand feet or more. Over all was the great silence of the Rockies. "Nerves that had been strained for years slowly relaxed. There was not much talking. The horses moved along slowly Someone, shading his eyes with his hand, proclaimed that there was a mountain sheep or goat on a crag overhead The word passed back along the line. Then some wretched electrical engineer or college youth or sceptical lawyer produced a pair of field-glasses, and announced it to be a patch of snow.
Here and there we saw "tourist goats" rocks so shaded and situated as to defy the strongest glass. The guides pointed them out. and listened with silent enjoyment to th ■ resulting acclamation. We adopted a safe rule after that discovery. Nothing was a goat that did not move. Long hours we spent while our horses wandered on with loose reins, our heads lifted to that line, just above the timber, which is Goat-land.
The tir-t night out of doors I did'not sleep.
I had not counted on the frosty nights, and I was cold. The next day I secured some woollen pyjamas from a more provident member of the party. Clad in these, and covered with all the extra items of my wardrobe. I was more comfortable. It takes woollen clothing and bed socks to keep out the chill of those mountain nights.
One rises early on these expeditions. No matter how late the story-tellers have held the crowd the night before around the camp fire, somewhere about five o’clock our leader came calling among the silent tepees.
“Time to get up!" he called. “Five o’clock and a fine morning. I’p with you!”
And everybody got up. There were basins about, and *each one clutched his cake of soap and his towel, and filled his basin from whatever lake or stream was at h ind. There is plenty of water in Glacier Park, and the camps are generally beside a lake. The water is cold. It ought to be. being glacier water, cold and blug. The air is none too warm A few brave spirits seek isolation and a plunge bath, but the majority are cowards.
Now and then a luxurious soul worries the cook for hot water. They tell of a fastidious lady who carried a small tin pail of water to the cook-tent, and addressed the cook nervously as he beat the morning flapjacks with a savage hand.
“Do you think,” she inquired, nervously. “if—jf I put this water on your stove it will heat ?”
He turned and eyed her.
“You see, it’s like this, lady,” he said. “My father was a poor man, and couldn’t give me
no education. Blest if I know. What do you. think ?”
Before one is fairly dressed, with extra gar ments thrust into the canvas war-sack, or duffle-bag. which is each person’s allowance for luggage, the tents are being taken down and folded. The cook comes to the end o' the big tent.
“Come and get it!" he jells, through hollowed hands.
“Come and get it!” is repeated down the
line of tepees.
That is the food-call of the camp. Believe me. it his the butler’s “Dinner is served, madam.” beaten anyhow.
There is no second call. You go or you don’t go. The long tables under the open end of the cook-tent are laden — bacon, ham. fried eggs, flapjacks, round tins of butter, enamel cups of hot coffee, condensed milk, and sometimes fried fish. For the cook can catch trout where the most elaborate outfitted Eastern angler fails.
The horses come in with a thudding o' hoofs, and are rounded up by the men into th rone corral. All night thejhtve been grazing quietly in mountain valleys, watched by night herders. There is not much grass for th rn Rv the end of the three-hundred mile trip the\ are a little thin, although otherwise in good condition. It is the hone of the superintend ent of the Park and others interested that the Government will soon realize the necessity for planting some of the fertile valleys and meadows with grass. There are certain grasses that will naturalize themselves there, and beyond the first planting they would need nothing further. And. since much of the beauty of this region wall always be inaccessih’e by motor, it can never be properly onen ed UP until horse« can get sufficient grazing
Some'imes at night our horses ranged far, for food eight miles, and even moro Again and again I have watched mv own horse nos ing carefully along a green bank, and finding nothing at all. not a blade of grass it could eat.
With the second day came a new sense of phvsic.nl well-being, and this in spite of a sunburn that h-ul swollen mv face like a toothache. Alre-dv telephones and invita fions to dinner and face powder belonged to the forgotten past. I carried my saddle ovi r and placed it beside my horse, and a kindh and patronizing momb-r of the staff put it on and “cinched" it for me. I never learner! how to put the thing on. but I did learn, after a day or two. to take it off, as well as the bridle and the red hackamore. and then to stand clear while my buckskin pony lay down and rolled in the grass to ease his wean back. All the horses rolled, stiff-legged. I' the saddle did not come off in time they rolled anyhow, much to the detriment of cameras and field-glasses and various other imped, menta trapped thereon.
Day after day we progressed. There were bright days and days when we rode through a steady mist of rain. Always it was worth while. What matters a little rain when there is a yellow “slicker" to put on and no one to care how one looks?' Once, riding down a mountain side, with water pouring over the rim of my old felt hat and pattering merrily on my “slicker.” I looked to one side to see a great grizzly, bear raise himself from behind a tree trunk and. standing upright, watch impassively as my horse and I proceeded. I watched him as far as I could see him. We were mutually interested.
The p; had gone on ahead. For a long time afterwards I heard the cracking of small twigs in the heavy woods beside the trSiil. But I never saw Mr. Bear again.