Travel: Leave Taking

“Leaving home” is one of the sad experiences of this life with which all are more or less familiar. The uncertainty that enshrouds earthly experiences in prospect helps much to make it what it is. When one leaves his fireside, even for a day’s labor, there is an anxiety for his return that is most fully expressed in the joyous home-coming at evening. The joy of his presence is heightened by gratitude for his escape from the possible evils that swarm around every path in life. Much more, then, when hundreds and thousands of leagues of unknown ways lie before the traveler, do feelings of sadness and forebodings hover over him as he crosses the threshold of home with the purpose of putting the whole world between him and that loved spot.

In mid-winter, farewells were said to friends in the central part of the United States, and we entered upon the first stage of our journey en route to the Pacific coast. That winter was an unusually severe one. The last night of travel east of the Missouri river was well calculated to leave a lasting impression of what a Minnesota and Iowa winter can be. A lively blizzard raged, and the cold was intense. It was with difficulty that the train made any progress. At times the wheels would struggle with the accumulated snow, going slower and slower till they surrendered, and then we would wonder what next. But by dint of shoveling and some vigorous ramming with the small snow-plow attached to the engine, the bond would be broken, and we proceeded. Inside the cars it was impossible to keep warm, and between shivering with the cold and shaking with an apprehension of being derailed by the jolting and jerking of the train, we were almost put out of joint with ourselves. This experience did much to alleviate the pain of separation which one naturally feels when leaving the land of his childhood, even for a temporary sojourn in warmer latitudes.

As the storm on that night was in its earlier stages, the drifting snow did not compel a resort to such means as are shown in the illustration opposite this page. But it is not uncommon in the northern States, where the snow falls deep, to see three or four powerful locomotives with a gigantic snow plow in front, pushing their way through drifts, while the snow flies in small avalanches on either side. Such a scene is full of excitement to the beholders, and is fraught with danger to the engine-men who can only crowd on steam and rush blindly forward with all the force those great machines can muster. When at last they can go no farther, they are reversed, backed up a mile or so, and then with full fury are rammed into the yielding snow.

From Kansas City our course was by the Santa Fe route. We were soon hurried over the level plains of Kansas, and out of the region of snow, except for the high lands of New Mexico and Arizona. Our chosen vehicle was one of the “tourist sleepers.” These cars were substantially upholstered, and so constructed that the seats could be converted into berths at night, and a hanging berth above would be let down, thus furnishing sleeping accommodations equal to the seating capacity. The passengers are provided with clean bedding, and the cars and beds are cared for by a porter. In each car are stoves on which water may be heated and some of the simpler forms of culinary work carried on. Thus we passed five days and nights eating, sleeping, reading, visiting, or writing, in an unbroken journey to Los Angeles.

The monotony of the scenery of this trip is so nearly complete that but little need be said on that score. On the plains of Arizona some remarkable rock palisades are to be seen. On nearly all the trans-continental routes there are at least a few points of special interest, but generally they are far between, besides, these are so quickly passed that they leave but a faint impression on the mind. The mountains crossed by these railways are very disappointing to nearly all who see them for the first time after having heard so much of the glories of the Rockies and the Sierras. The explanation of this fact is that in locating these lines the precipitous portions of the mountains are avoided, and the low passes with long gradual approaches are selected because they are so much more feasible for railways. Thus one hardly realizes, as he listens hour after hour to the labored puffing of the engine, that he is climbing those famous mountains which form America’s backbone. When he is told that the train has at last reached the altitude of from seven to ten thousand feet, he sees in his surroundings nothing to indicate that fact, except it be that the clouds are very low, and there are patches of snow lying about.

The other transcontinental routes differ from this and from each other in their features, though speaking generally monotony is the prevailing characteristic of the scenery in all. The Denver & Rio Grande line presents some very grand scenery in Colorado and Utah. The Union and Central Pacific route affords fine views in Echo and Weber canons, at the Devil’s Slide, and the Mountain of the Holy Cross, in Utah. In Nevada the train runs through about forty miles of snow sheds. The only pleasure they afford is that of getting out cliff in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, around the face of which the train runs at a dizzy height above the Merced River, which looks like a thread in the valley below. From this point the road rapidly descends to the Sacramento Valley. In one hour in winter the passenger is transferred from the snowy mountains to the region of richly laden orange groves and flowers.

It is not our business to discuss the relative attractions of rival routes. The managers seek to provide the attraction of kind and considerate treatment at the hands of all employees, and this goes a long way in shortening what would otherwise be a long and tedious journey. But after having traversed nearly all the railways leading to the Pacific waters, it is not out of place to say that for beauty and grandeur of scenery the Canadian Pacific certainly is entitled to the designation of the “Scenic Route.” The sublimity is indescribable.

The grandest feature of engineering which the southern route presents is found in the celebrated Tehachipi Pass through which the Southern Pacific railway enters the San Joaquin Valley from the south. From an altitude of over three thousand feet the road rapidly descends by loops and tunnels, which afford many grand and awe-inspiring views. The San Joaquin Valley lies between the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which form the eastern boundary of California and the Coast Range, which runs nearly parallel, leaving a valley of an average width of about 125 miles and over 300 in length, through the midst of it, flows the river from which the valley takes its name. This valley was a few y ears ago used by white men, as it has been said, “to starve sheep in.” That is, it was so dry and sterile that even sheep could barely exist there. Since that time the mountain streams which come down from perpetual snows have been diverted from their natural courses and turned upon the thirsty land. The result is a wonderful transformation, the desert blossoms as the rose. Vineyards and orchards with evidences of prosperity and comfort are everywhere. During most of the year the heavens give no rain, and in summer the heat reaches a degree so intense that one shudders to write about it, but its trees are planted by the river of waters and they thirst not.

For four months Oakland, California, was our home. Across the bay, three miles distant, San Francisco sits upon the slopes and crowns of the sand hills which form the north ern extremity of the peninsula that separates the bay from the ocean. Oakland and Alameda lie upon the level eastern shores of the bay, and are connected with the western metropolis with frequently running ferry-boats which are met nearly half-way across the bay by the trains that run out upon causeways or piers constructed either of permanent embankments or of piles. Back of these towns, the hills form a sort of amphitheater, covered during winter and spring with beautiful green. Great pains is taken to beautify the homes of Oakland, and nature aids these efforts with a genial climate. The result is gratifying to its citizens, and almost bewildering in its profusion of loveliness to the traveler from the regions of rigorous winters.

Essaying to describe the appearance of California in April or May, one might well call it paradise. The trip from Oakland to San Jose, or indeed through almost any of its valleys, brings constantly to mind the words in which inspiration describes the fertile valley of the Jordan. It is ” even as the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar.” It is the land of roses, and innumerable fruit trees add beauty and fragrance to a scene that is already surpassing in its loveliness.

But California is not paradise, nor need we look for it on the earth in its present condition, for it is not here. The rain ceases in April and as the summer advances, the verdure disappears, the ground becomes parched, except where it is irrigated, the dust in the roads becomes daily deeper, and comes up over the land into the beds and kneading-troughs. In October or November refreshing showers begin to come. Nature washes her face and changes her clothes. Animals rejoice in the abundance of fresh pastures, mankind forgets the drouth of the summer and boasts of the glorious climate, while the East is shivering and freezing in the icy chains of Boreas.