The Curtis Club in the Yellowstone Park
American Wonder Spots
The Curtis Club
By J. RUSSELL SMITH, Ph. D.
Professor in The University of Pennsylvania
The Organization of Ocean Commerce
The Ocean Carrier
The Story of Iron and Steel
Practical Geography by Grades—Place Geography
WILLIAM BEVERLEY HARISON
Copyright 1909, By J. Russell Smith and William Beverley Harison
To the School Girls and School Boys, the future rulers of this Great Empire, this bit of the great Land of Promise is affectionately dedicated by the Union Pacific Railroad Company
"BOYS, it is all settled at last, and June 22nd will find us off for the Yellowstone National Park." With many questions the six boys crowded around the chair of Dr. Curtis, their popular gymnasium teacher, with whom they so delighted to tramp on Saturdays.
"Yes, Sam," continued Dr. Curtis, "I know you think you want to go to Europe, but that is because you know so little about the Yellowstone Park."
"Park! Why, we want a sure enough 'trip'. Parks are as tame as cats," said Sam Robinson.
"But you don't understand, Sam," said Dr. Curtis. "It is named Yellowstone National Park but it happens to be over 3,000 times as large as Central Park, New York. It is more than three times as big as the whole State of Rhode Island and actually bigger than the States of Delaware and Rhode Island together."
"Is there a fence around it?"
"Nothing but Nature's fence of high mountains."
"Are there cities and towns in this park? "
"No, indeed, no one lives there. The Yellowstone Park is really a great wild mountain reserve where no one is allowed to make his home. We may go there and see the same things the original discoverers of the country saw, and at the same time we can stay in very comfortable hotels."
"But my father says every fellow needs a trip to Europe," said Sam Robinson.
"Your father is quite right but you should go later on, for one needs to know a lot of history before he gets much satisfaction out of Europe. The Yellowstone is different, and every member of this third year class could catch the spirit of the great free West and the out-of-doors, the rumbling stage coach and the wild life that boys like so.
"And, besides, the Yellowstone, with its boiling springs, its geysers, its mud volcanoes, its waterfalls and its mountains two miles high, and its wild animals, contains more of the wonders of Nature than any other place of its size in the whole round world. Every one of you fellows ought to see some of the wonderful things in our own country before you go to Europe, and the Yellowstone makes a finer trip anyhow.
"Here are ten of the two hundred views shown me last evening by an old friend of mine who is now the photographer for the Union Pacific Railroad."
"Look at the deer and bears." "Now, say. Dr. Curtis, can you really see a live, walking bear and take a picture of him or is it only a make believe? "
"Why don't they hurt people?" said Sam Robinson, who was always asking "why".
"They do not hurt people because the people do not hurt them. No one hunts in the Park. The bear really isn't such a bad fellow unless he is starving and there is no danger of his ever getting very hungry when he can take his wife and cubs down back of the hotel and get barrels of good scraps from the hotel table and kitchen."
"That's great!" said Sam. "I'm going to buy a new camera with my birthday money."
"That's good. It takes more skill you know to photograph wild animals than to shoot them. The Park is just full of undisturbed wild animals and you can fish to your heart's content. No one stops you from that."
"What kind of a place is it to fish?" "What kind of fish do they have?" asked two boys at once.
"Trout," said Dr. Curtis, "lots of them. There are miles of clear mountain lakes, hundreds of mountain brooks and little creeks, several small rivers, and, as few fisherman go there, it's a first-class place to catch fish. I see myself now beside a nice clear pool, under some evergreens, at the foot of a tumbling waterfall; with a good string of fish at my side and more biting, and, boys, I tell you, they make a mighty fine lunch, cooked over the red hot coals of an open fire at noon time far up some mountain gorge. That would be fun enough even if our trout stream did not happen to be in one of the most beautiful and interesting places in the whole world. But now I must go."
And the seven boys who were planning to take another summer trip with Dr. Curtis went home well satisfied.
For the next two months the boys were busy reading about fishing, photographing wild animals, life in the woods, natural
history and the wonderful geysers of the Yellowstone Park and they talked about it so much that there were twelve boys instead of seven when it came to buy supplies for the expedition. Each A mountain and a road made entirely of natural glass
The work of an old
The Obsidian Cliff—Yellowstone National Park one of them spent much thought in selecting his fishing tackle and Dr. Curtis insisted that there should be a liberal supply of stout shoes, sweaters and woolen clothes. In the high mountains of the Yellowstone the climate is always bracing, the nights cold and once in a while there will be frost even in summer. There is nothing hot or muggy about the weather there, and fortunately there are no mosquitoes.
That everything might be in readiness, all the baggage to be used in the Park was sent a week in advance in care of the Union Pacific Railroad agent at Yellowstone Station, Idaho, the entrance to the Park.
School closed on June 10th, and on the 25th, Dr. Curtis and ten of the boys boarded a Union Pacific Express train at Omaha, bound for Yellowstone. As the train pulled away from the Missouri River they felt that they were really entering the Great West, although, as a matter of fact, they were a little east of the geographic center of the United States. They were soon on the Great Plains and were much interested in a forty-mile stretch of perfectly straight track over which their train passed.
The endless plains were flat as a floor and brought to mind many a story of buffaloes, Indians and cowboys. In the same car was a Mr. Jeffries, an old ranchman from Wyoming, who had as a young man gone back and forth across these plains between Omaha and Kansas City and Denver driving wagons and stages, shooting buffaloes and fighting Indians. He spent two hours telling the boys about the early days. While he was telling his experiences the train passed through the town of Grand Island, which was only settled in 1857 and it was then the farthest frontier. Just across the river was old Fort Kearney, where buffaloes were so thick in 1860 that the commander of the fort had to issue an order to make the soldiers stop shooting them on the parade ground.
The most exciting of all Mr. Jeffries' stories was the close call he had when he was helping build the railroad. The construction camps were sometimes fifty or sixty miles beyond the last station that trains could reach. There were no settlements on the plains, the Indians were often hostile, and one day in 1868 they attacked the workmen near the present station of Elm Creek and killed five men just three hours after Mr. Jeffries had unloaded his wagonload of supplies for them and started back toward the Union Pacific freight cars for more. The boys were so anxious to see just where this happened that the conductor spent nearly a quarter of an hour watching so that he could show them the exact spot.
All the afternoon the train went on up the Valley of the Platte which reached across the unending plains where wheat fields follow corn fields and cattle ranches follow wheat fields on the range where once the buffaloes roamed in countless thousands.
At sunset they reached Cheyenne, where the boys had to wait a few minutes in the station for the two Aldrich boys who lived near Kansas City and had there taken a Union Pacific train for Denver and then on to Cheyenne, arriving ten minutes after the
Yellowstone Canyon, from Artists Point—Yellowstone National Park
The river has cut its way back to the falls through rocks of many many colors Omaha party. As they went to the hotel it seemed that they were all talking at once telling the Aldrich boys about the trip. The Aldrich boys could scarcely get in a word about Denver and the many things they had seen.
The next morning Dr. Curtis and the twelve boys again boarded the train from which they would alight the following morning at Yellowstone. There is not space enough to tell about the mountains, the canyons, the climbing of the railroad, the interesting divide at the top of the continent, or the surprisingly clear air of the western high country. The next morning at Yellowstone, all were eager to plunge at once into the great unknown. While the Aldrich boys, who were going on to California arranged with the Union Pacific station agent for the care of their surplus baggage, the other boys got from a neighboring restaurant enough sandwiches for lunch, and all were off.
It was agreed that they should meet that evening at the Fountain Hotel.
Four of the boys managed to squeeze into a stage coach that was about to start into the Park with some Englishmen in it. The others, with Dr. Curtis, got a special stage coach to take them as far as the falls of the Fire Hole River. They were going to fish and tramp the rest of the way up the river and the stage coach was coming back to Yellowstone to get a party of ladies from Boston.
The special stage soon reached the Madison River and the boys enjoyed the delightful scenery that unfolded as they followed the river up the narrow rock-walled canyon it had cut for itself to get a way out of the mountains that towered on both sides, with pine trees clinging in every possible crevice. It was a day to be remembered. Dr. Curtis and his eight boys lunched by a clear, cold mountain spring beside the splendid Government Road and about four o'clock as they were tramping up the road beyond the falls of the Fire Hole River they were startled by a sudden shout, and Sam Robinson and the rest of his party jumped out from behind a big rock by the roadside, Old Faithful Inn—Yellowstone National Park—Chimney and Fireplace in the biggest log house in the world and probably the most comfortable proudly swinging enough rainbow trout to make a supper for everybody. They had dropped off of the four-horse stage five hours before and had had a fine time fishing, but they didn't have all of the fish that were in the party. When they got to the hotel about sunset they felt quite fine having the waiter bring them for supper the fish of their own catching.
The next morning they were in as big a hurry as they had been at the station the previous morning, for this was the day they were to see the Geysers. They started out before breakfast to examine this lower Geyser basin—wonder of wonders! Across an open plain they saw in the distance water and steam showering upward like five hundred fire engines, all trying to put out the sun, but in a minute it was gone.
"Gee! What is that?" asked several boys at once. "Fountain Geyser," answered Dr. Curtis.
"How soon will it spout again?"
"You can't tell exactly. It may be two hours and it may be four. Let's go and look at it now that it is quiet."
When they got there it had an open crater like a volcano, thirty feet across, very deep, nearly full of clear blue water and lined with beautiful limestone that had been left there by the geyser water. The same kind of limestone covered acres of ground around. Near-by were the Mammoth Paint Pots, really a mud volcano, a hole big enough to drop a house into, and boiling, boiling, boiling, all the time with steam that keeps popping through the paint like mud in the bottom.
That was a wonderful day for the boys. They saw the Prismatic Lake, a spring in a raised basin as large as a city block and in which the water appears to be blue and green and yellow and orange and flows over the edges of the basin on all sides at once. They were so busy looking at the other curiosities that they forgot to see the Fountain Geyser when it started, but they hurried back to it before its fifteen minutes' eruption was half over. The water flew out of it in jets as high as the second or third-story windows of a house but occasionally it went as high as a church steeple.
Late in the afternoon the party was resting in the shade of some big evergreens on the edge of the geyser basin when one of the Park guards, an old soldier named Jake Parsons, came along and told them some interesting stories about his Indian campaigns under General Miles. They were enjoying this very much when suddenly, "Bears," yelled Jake, and all the boys jumped up at once. Then the worthy Jake roared with laughter as he assured the boys that the bears were over back of the hotel and were as tame as English sparrows. Away the boys went over to the hotel. It was near sunset and there were already two bears in sight and the darker it got the more they came out of the woods until altogether there were eleven of them. That half hour had thrills in it, I can assure you, and the next evening the boys thought to take their cameras.
The next stop was at Old Faithful Inn, in the Upper Geyser Basin not far from Old Faithful Geyser. This hotel is the largest log house in the world and probably the oddest. The boys were
Herd of Buffalo—Yellowstone National Park
One of the few remaining herds of these monarchs of the plains joined here by Sam Robinson's father and mother and two sisters who thought that they would share some of Sam's fun.
This place was almost a mile and a half above sea level and so cool in the early morning that when the boys looked out it seemed that the whole valley was on fire, for every spring and stream and geyser was sending up a column of steam. Dr. Curtis called to his party just before sunrise to get up and see Old Faithful, the greatest geyser of them all, throw its stream of water into the air as high as a fourteen-story skyscraper while the morning sunrise on the enormous clouds of steam made reds and greens and all the colors of the rainbow, and the rainbow itself.
"How did you know when to call us, Dr. Curtis?"
"Old Faithful works on schedule time, every sixty-three minutes, night and day, summer and winter. It's very handy for travellers."
"But what makes geysers go off anyway?" asked the always curious Sam Robinson.
"Oh, wait until the Giantess goes off and we will see how it is done." They were fortunate enough to see this irregularly working geyser before they left this basin.
It had a crater 30 feet wide filled with sapphire colored water. Suddenly the water began to flow out and there was an explosion down in the ground that shook everything for a mile around and then water and steam flew out a hundred feet in the air.
"What made the explosion?" asked Sam.
"Way down deep in the rocks where they are very hot the water in the crevices turns to steam just as it does in a boiler when the boiler bursts. The steam then blows out all the water anywhere near it. After this the water runs in again as in any other spring."
"But what makes the rocks hot, Dr. Curtis?"
"This used to be a volcanic region and it hasn't cooled off yet."
There isn't space to tell the fortieth part of the things that the boys did and saw in their three weeks in the Park. We can only refer to a few.
Old Faithful Geyser—Yellowstone National Park
A tame volcano but none the less beautiful When they reached Yellowstone Lake, they hired a boat and went over to the head of the Lake to fish at the mouth of the Upper Yellowstone River. Here the camera boys got good photographs of some deer and the cow elk and her calf. From this point Dr. Curtis and five of the boys started on a two days' journey to climb to the top of some mountain peaks near-by, three miles high. This was pretty stiff work and they had to sleep out that night on the mountain wrapped up in blankets, but there is a fascination in conquering a high mountain as well as an inspiring view from the summit.
Following the Government roads around the Park, our party saw it all. In the Hayden Valley they saw a herd of one hundred and twenty-three elk and heard an interesting story of how the red men got ahead of the white men in
Lake Hotel—One of the chain of hotels for the convenience of travelers in Yellowstone National Park the Nez Perces Indian Raid. They saw the mud geysers and the sulphur mountain and the mountain made of glass, but best of all was the waterfall and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, with its cliffs of many gorgeous colors. This was the choicest of all stopping places and when, on the 19th of July they again reached the Union Pacific Station at Yellowstone they all agreed that it had been the best thing they ever did. Many and many a time during the next two years that they were in school together they talked over the many incidents that they all remembered so keenly.