Story type: Essay
Railroads have made the Rocky Mountain country familiar and contiguous, I may say, to the whole world; but the somber canon, the bald and blackened cliff, the velvety park and the snowy, silent peak that forever rests against the soft, blue sky, are ever new. The foamy green of the torrent has whirled past the giant walls of nature’s mighty fortress myriads of years, perhaps, and the stars have looked down into the great heart of earth for centuries, where the silver thread of streams, thousands of feet below, has been patiently carving out the dark canon where the eagle and the solemn echo have their home.
I said this to a gentleman from Leadville a short time ago as we toiled up Kenoska Hill, between Platte canon and the South Park, on the South Park and Pacific Railway. He said that might be true in some cases and even more so, perhaps, depending entirely on whether it would or not.
I do not believe at this moment that he thoroughly understood me. He was only a millionaire and his soul, very likely, had never throbbed and thrilled with the mysterious music nature yields to her poet child.
He could talk on and on of porphyry walls and contact veins, gray copper and ruby silver, and sulphurets and pyrites of iron, but when my eye kindled with the majestic beauty of these eternal battlements and my voice trembled a little with awe and wonder; while my heart throbbed and thrilled in the midst of nature’s eloquent, golden silence, this man sat there like an Etruscan ham and refused to throb or thrill. He was about as unsatisfactory a throbber and thriller as I have met for years.
At an elevation of over 10,000 feet above high water mark, Fahrenheit, the South Park, a hundred miles long, surrounded by precipitous mountains or green and sloping foot-hills, burst upon us, In the clear, still air, a hundred miles away, at Pueblo, I could hear a promissory note and cut-throat mortgage drawing three per cent a month. So calm and unruffled was the rarified air that I fancied I could hear the thirteenth assessment on a share of stock at Leadville toiling away at the bottom of a two hundred and fifty foot shaft.
Colorado air is so pure that men in New York have, in several instances, heard the dull rumble of an assessment working as far away as the San Juan country.
At Como, in the park, I met Col. Wellington Wade, the Duke of Dirty Woman’s Ranch, and barber extraordinary to old Stand-up-and-Yowl, chief of the Piebiters.
Colonel Wade is a reformed temperance lecturer. I went to his shop to get shaved, but he was absent. I could smell hair oil through the keyhole, but the Colonel was not in his slab-inlaid emporium. He had been preparing another lecture on temperance, and was at that moment studying the habits of his adversary at a neighboring gin palace. I sat down on the steps and devoured the beautiful landscape till he came. Then I sat down in the chair, and he hovered over me while he talked about an essay he had written on the flowing bowl. His arguments were not so strong as his breath seemed to be. I asked him if he wouldn’t breathe the other way awhile and let me sober up. I learned afterward that although his nose was red, his essay was not.
He would shave me for a few moments, and then he would hone the razor on his breath and begin over again. I think he must have been pickling his lungs in alcohol. I never met a more pronounced gin cocktail symphony and bologna sausage study in my life.
I think Sir Walter Scott must have referred to Colonel Wade when he said, “Breathes there a man with soul so dead?” Colonel Wade’s soul might not have been dead, but it certainly did not enjoy perfect health.
I went over the mountains to Breckenridge the next day, climbed two miles perpendicularly into the sky, rode on a special train one day, a push car the next and a narrow-gauge engine the next. Saw all the beauty of the country, in charge of Superintendent Smith, went over to Buena Vista and had a congestion of the spine and a good time generally. You can leave Denver on a morning train and see enough wild, grand, picturesque loveliness before supper, to store away in your heart and hang upon the walls of memory, to last all through your busy, humdrum life, and it is a good investment, too.