JSNH&B home • Spring 2012 • vol. 4 no. 2

From Letters of Travel in California, in the Winter and Spring of 1896

Loraine Pratt Immen

Published originally in the Grand Rapids (Iowa) Herald in 1896.
Reprinted in book form in Grand Rapids, Iowa, 1896

Loraine Pratt Immen, then 56 years old, of Grand Rapids, Iowa, visited California in the winter and spring of 1896. Letters of Travel in California first appeared in a local newspaper, the Grand Rapids (Iowa) Herald, in 1896. In her letters, Loraine Immen reported visits to Echo Mountain (near Pasadena), San Diego, greater Los Angeles, Yosemite, Oakland, Santa Clara, San José, and San Francisco.

In this selection, Loraine Immen describes her 1896 springtime visit to Yosemite Valley.

Yosemite Valley, Cal.

Map showing the location of Yosemite ValleyApril 9th, in company with Rev. and Mrs. James Morrow and daughter Carrie, of Germantown, Penn., we left Santa Barbara for the Valley, arriving at Madera April 10th, engaged a carriage to Raymond and over a carpet of wild flowers, yellow, red, purple and white, with jack rabbits, squirrels, curlews and sand cranes flitting across our roadway, and young owls on the fence posts along the sides of the road, reached Raymond (in time for supper), where we engaged H. Grider, with his fine faithful horses and excellent easy carriage, to carry us to the Valley. That two days' journey I have not the time to describe. Over mountain and valley, in snowstorm and sunshine, we rode through groves of tall pines, resting one night at Mr. Philps' hotel, Summerdale, where we were royally treated to the best the place afforded. At six o'clock p. m. of the second day, as we descended the last mountain, we came in sight of “El Capitan,” that monarch of vertical mountains, with its massive fabric of overhanging granite, towering above us 3,300 feet, and two immense faces three-quarters of a mile across.

quoteAnother turn in the road and then came the ‘Oh! Oh! how beautiful! Just look! It never had its equal!’unquote

The color of this granite is a pearly, cream-colored whiteness. I assure you no language can portray the majesty of this mountain. One writer has said of it: “It is sublimity solidified and materialized, and without counterpart or equal known to man or earth.” Another turn in the road and then came the “Oh! Oh! how beautiful! Just look! It never had its equal!” What was the cause of the ejaculations? We caught a glimpse, for the first time, of Bridal Veil Fall, the most varying picturesque waterfall in the world, a stream of water thirty feet wide shooting over the edge of a precipice 900 feet high. As we ride along we see Cathedral Rocks, one 2,579 feet above the valley, the other 2,678 feet high. Farther on, the Sentinel, 3,100 feet high, comes into view, which resembles the tower of some vast cathedral. We passed the guardian's office and reached the comfortable and hospitable “Sentinel Hotel,” where we gladly alighted, for we were tired physically, and soon located our rooms and, after an excellent dinner, gladly went to bed.

Sunrise at Mirror Lake

The red letter day of our journey, though, was this blessed Sabbath day, when, at 7:30 a. m., we watched the sun rise at Mirror Lake, where Nature embodies the infinite as well as the finite in one vast, unwritten poem. Sunrise at Yosemite Valley painting by BierstadtThere is no spot known to man where one mountain 4,200 feet high, Mt. Watkins, another 6,000 feet high, Cloud's Rest, are perfectly reflected upon one small lakelet, Mirror Lake. When I say perfectly, I mean the different shades of the rocky mountains, the green pine trees on their tops and the snow on Cloud's Rest. I gazed long upon it after the rest of the party left, and dropped upon my knees in prayer, with thanks to our Heavenly Father for His goodness in permitting me to see such grand works of His creation, and a petition to bless all mankind; plucked a, few leaves, sang “America,” and then walked on, on, up, up, following the Merced River to Vernal Falls, where the river makes a leap over the rocks 350 feet; went up The Ladders to nearly the top of the falls, saw the Cap of Liberty, then down, down again to the place where our carriage was waiting to convey us to the foot of Yosemite Falls, where, on some of its seething eddies of spray, we saw the sun paint gorgeous rainbow colors.

As I look up from my paper I see, from my open door, this falling water, thirty feet wide, falling down 2,600 feet, and hear the roaring as the water leaps down, simulating an avalanche of snowy rockets that seem to be chasing and trying to overtake one another. Of it all I can say, it is simply indescribable. Just a word about the valley as a whole. Yo Semite, an Indian word meaning large grizzly bear, is a granite-walled chasm in the heart of the Sierra Nevada mountains, 150 miles from San Francisco, seven miles in length by half a mile to a mile in width, and bounded by frowning cliffs. A beautiful river, 100 feet wide, the Merced, clear as crystal, runs through the center of it and clumps of trees and grass- covered meadows border its banks. Here “Beauty is crystallized in object form and sublimity is materialized into granite.” It was first seen by white men in 1851 and made a national park by act of Congress in 1864, and consists of 8,480 acres of the valley proper, the entire grant being 36,111 acres.

Up to Yosemite Point

“Put roses in their hair, put precious stones on their breasts; see that they are clothed in purple and scarlet, with other delights: that they also learn to read the gilded heraldry of the sky, and upon the earth be taught not only the labors of it, but the loveliness.” We fitly closed our Sabbath in the valley with a song service in the evening and Monday morning, April 13, at 7:30 a. m., a party of five, two ladies of the number attired in the Nineteenth Century progressive suits for women, accompanied by a guide, started up the zigzag trail on mules and horses for Yosemite Point, 3,220 feet above the valley.

quote…in a water-chiseled channel of its own, 1,600 feet above its base, shoots an angry torrent thirty feet wide, which, at a single bound, leaps down 1,600 feet, then through cascades descends 500 feet more, finally to make another plunge of 500 feet. unquote

Because of my trusty mule, “Jessie,” the guide appointed me captain and I led the way up among the shadows of live oaks, turning short corners which caused, while outwardly calm, an increased beating of my heart, for one misstep of my “Jessie” would have hurled me over the rocks and down, down I would have gone to ----! But I forbear. Enough. Up we go 1,100 feet to Columbia Rock, where horses take a rest and their riders take a view of the eastern end of the valley, where the Upper Yosemite Falls, in all its impressive majesty, comes into view. Over the sharp edge of an escarpment of dark gray granite, and in a water-chiseled channel of its own, 1,600 feet above its base, shoots an angry torrent thirty feet wide, which, at a single bound, leaps down 1,600 feet, then through cascades descends 500 feet more, finally to make another plunge of 500 feet. After viewing the leap of the 1,600 feet our upward way was almost at the side of a vertical wall of granite to the top of Yosemite Falls, where bird's-eye views of the distant peaks and domes can be seen — the Three Brothers, Cathedral Rocks, Half, North and South dome, and others, all having names by which they are distinguished. We crossed Yosemite Falls by bridge and then began our descent to the valley. Neither pen nor picture can describe the beauties we saw as we slowly wended our way back. Such glimpses of the falls, of the valley and different peaks! I stopped to bottle up a small portion of the falls, picked leaves of the bay tree, rare and curious flowers and ferns that grow on the sides of the path, and finally we all reached the foot of the trail, where our carriage was waiting to convey us to the hotel. I have ascended many mountains in Europe, and some in America, by carriage and railroad, but this was my first experience of ascent on a mule and the novel occasion will not soon be forgotten….

Rain in the Valley, Snow in the Mountains

When we left the valley it was rainy and yet the Bridal Veil flowed on in all its beauty, entirely unconscious of weather, sunshine or storm. Ascending the mountains, we found a snowstorm in progress, and every tree and bush, as far as the eye could see, was covered with a mantle of snow, valley and mountain alike. It was a gorgeous scene and my regret was that I could not send the view to my friends, but some future discovery must enable one to do that. From Wawona we rode through a stately forest of pines, cedars, silver firs and other trees and then caught our first glimpse of a giant sequoia gigantea in Mariposa Grove. The grove was donated by Congress to California, and Professor Whitney states that there are 365 large sequoias in this grove, the largest 275 feet high and measuring at its base ninety-two feet. We measured with strings the circumference of several, but have not had time to measure the strings. I confess I could not comprehend the height and size; one has to grow to them, as it were, the came as one does to St. Peter's in Rome—one the work of God, the other man's work. It is asserted that Grizzly Giant is 4,680 years old. Evening found us at Summerdale, where, after a night's rest, we continued our journey the next morning, through pine groves of all kinds, manzanita and bay trees, and where we found the beautiful snow plant, sarcodes sanguinea (red in color), contrasting with the white of snow, and the adobe mud under our horses' feet. But we sang our songs and told our jokes, coming down from the last mountain, passing gold mines and the sixty-five mile flume, into actual dust--what a change ! snow, rain, mud, dust, all within twenty-four hours-reaching Raymond at 7:30 Thursday evening. At 5:30 a. m. we had a ride of twenty-two miles to Madera, at which point we took the train for Oakland, and 5 o'clock of the same day found us in the comfortable, beautiful and hospitable home of our former citizens, Mr. and Mrs. E. L. Briggs.