Like an Indian, at every pause, I gazed out into the void. How sweeping and grand the long sloping lines of ridges from the rim down! Away in the east ragged spurs of peaks showed hazily, like uncertain mountains on the desert. South ranged the upheaved and wild Mazatzals. Everywhere beneath me, for leagues and leagues extended the timbered hills of green, the gray outcroppings of rocks, the red bluffs, the golden patches of grassy valleys, lost in the canyons. All these swept away in a vast billowy ocean of wilderness to become dim in the purple of distance. And the sun was setting in a blaze of gold. From the rim I took a last lingering look and did not marvel that I loved this wonderland of Arizona.
[Illustration: BURROS PACKED FOR THE TRAIL]
[Illustration: THE DEADLY CHOLLA, MOST POISONOUS AND PAIN INFLICTING OF THE CACTUS]
Of the five hundred and fifty-seven thousand square miles of desert-land in the southwest Death Valley is the lowest below sea level, the most arid and desolate. It derives its felicitous name from the earliest days of the gold strike in California, when a caravan of Mormons, numbering about seventy, struck out from Salt Lake, to cross the Mojave Desert and make a short cut to the gold fields. All but two of these prospectors perished in the deep, iron-walled, ghastly sink-holes, which from that time became known as Death Valley.
The survivors of this fatal expedition brought news to the world that the sombre valley of death was a treasure mine of minerals; and since then hundreds of prospectors and wanderers have lost their lives there. To seek gold and to live in the lonely waste places of the earth have been and ever will be driving passions of men.
My companion on this trip was a Norwegian named Nielsen. On most of my trips to lonely and wild places I have been fortunate as to comrades or guides. The circumstances of my meeting Nielsen were so singular that I think they will serve as an interesting introduction. Some years ago I received a letter, brief, clear and well-written, in which the writer stated that he had been a wanderer over the world, a sailor before the mast, and was now a prospector for gold. He had taken four trips alone down into the desert of Sonora, and in many other places of the southwest, and knew the prospecting game. Somewhere he had run across my story Desert Gold in which I told about a lost gold mine. And the point of his letter was that if I could give him some idea as to where the lost gold mine was located he would go find it and give me half. His name was Sievert Nielsen. I wrote him that to my regret the lost gold mine existed only in my imagination, but if he would come to Avalon to see me perhaps we might both profit by such a meeting. To my surprise he came. He was a man of about thirty-five, of magnificent physique, weighing about