Thursday, February 12, 2004

Historical Tidbit

The Cedars, by blocking public access to trails in the upper North Fork, is trespassing on the public's rights; for these trails are old--the upper North Fork is a beautiful place--and many people once hiked and camped where "No Trespassing" signs abound today. I have always kept my eyes open for first-hand accounts of the upper North Fork, published long ago. Here is an excerpt of such an account, from the 1877 Dutch Flat "Forum" newspaper. The author, a Placer County resident, is on a hike to Lake Tahoe from Iowa Hill. He goes to French Meadows, on the upper Middle Fork, in search of a cattleman friend, Mr. Russell; but Russell and his herd are away at "the Cove"--wherever that is!--so the author and his friend struck north for what we now call Old Soda Springs:

Fortunately an Indian and family, on the tramp, came along, from whom we got the directions to Soda Springs, whither we desired to go next, as we could not only by doing so reach the direct road, but also be sure to meet some of our cattle friends, by visiting whom we should see and learn so much more of the country. So we took the trail to

Soda Springs,

About which I have a good deal to say. After crossing the summit from the Middle Fork of the American, the descent to the North Fork is down, down, down, over a rough trail, as if it would never end. The "facilis descensus" of Horace came strongly to my mind, only as the descent is not the result of vice it is not so rapid in itself nor fatal in the end, as that spoken of by the Roman poet. Still it is very tedious, and fearful; but the end well repays the labor, for in physical grandeur I doubt whether it has its equal in the State, and as a summer resort for those seeking restoration to health, or those seeking relaxation from business, it is simply perfection in every respect. The property, I believe, belongs to Mr. Mark Hopkins, the railroad magnate, who has a neat, unassuming cottage for himself and family, who reside there most of the summer. Many improvements are contemplated worthy of the natural beauty of the spot. Already a large granite fountain is in course of construction, and in addition to the wagon road to Summit Station on the railroad, another is spoken of to the Lake, about ten miles, so that communication with Virginia City, as well as San Francisco, may be had daily by the guests. The house, outside, has no pretensions to style or even appearance, but inside it is roomy and well appointed. It is in the surroundings that the attractions of Soda Springs lie. Apart from the pure atmosphere, every taste in natural scenery can be gratified without much physical labor. Immediately by the hotel flows the North Fork, for the vast amphitheatre is nothing more than the head-waters of that stream, and then stretching out for miles to the south and west are woodland glades of fine, shady trees and flowers, and shrubs, and grass in profusion, so cool and refreshing that one's system immediately feels the influence and seems to rejoice; while again, to the east or Summit of the Sierras, for three miles, there is every phase and every variety of mountain scenery, each as complete in its character as the human mind can conceive or desire to behold. Ectaclysm on the left, catastroplasm to the right, life, vitality and wealth of vegetation, with flowers and purling crystal streamlets at your feet. It was, in fact, on this spot, sacred almost in its grandeur, that we last saw Selina and Ferdinand, and where we hope to leave them, and the class they represent, forever. The most prominent landmark is Tinker's Knob, a miserable name for such a peak, 9,600 feet higher than the sea, and rising thousands of feet, with no particular difficulty of ascent either on foot or horseback, right from the hotel door, for it is all the way smoothened as it were, on the surface, by the cataclysms of countless ages.

The story of their visit to Soda Springs goes on and on, and even concludes with a song, satirizing the fashionable guests at the hotel. The area around the hotel site (Mark Hopkins' cabin is still there) is now owned by the Chickering family.

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