The slope up which the trail now ascends with gradual rise is covered with variegated chaparral, making a beautiful mountain carpet and cushion for the eye. To the foot and body it is entangling and annoying, placing an effectual barrier before any but the most strenuous, athletic and determined of men.
Now the white firs, with their white bark, and the red-barked yellow pines begin to appear. They accompany us all the rest of the way to the peak and lake.
Soon we cross Burton Creek, a mere creek except during the snow-melting or rain-falling time. It empties into Carnelian Bay. Burton was one of the old-timers who owned the Island ranch near the Lake shore, and who came to the Tahoe region at the time of the Squaw Valley mining excitement. When the “bottom fell out” of that he did a variety of things to earn a living, one of which was to cut bunch grass from Lake Valley and bring it on mules over the pass that bears his name, boat it across to Lakeside at the south end of the Lake, on the Placerville and Virginia City stage-road, and there sell it to the stage station. Hay thus gathered was worth in those days from $80 to $100 per ton.
About two and a half miles from the Tavern we come to a wood road, which is followed for half a mile. Years ago all these slopes were denuded of their valuable timber, which was “chuted” down to the Lake and then towed across to the sawmills at Glenbrook. The remnants are now being gathered up and used as fuel for the hotel and the steamboats.
Here and there are charming little nurseries of tiny and growing yellow pines and white fir. How sweet, fresh and beautiful they look,—the Christmas trees of the fairies. And how glad they make the heart of the real lover of his country, to whom “conservation” is not a fad, but an imperative necessity for the future—an obligation felt towards the generations yet to come.
Of entirely different associations, and arousing a less agreeable chain of memories, are the ruined log-cabins of the wood-cutter’s and logger’s days. Several of these are passed.
As we re-enter the trail, Watson’s Peak, 8500 feet high, with its basaltic crown, looms before us. At our feet is a big bed of wild sunflowers, their flaring yellow and gold richly coloring the more somber slopes. Here I once saw a band of upwards of 2000 sheep, herded by a Basque, one of that strange European people who seem especially adapted by centuries of such life to be natural shepherds. Few of them speak much American, but they all know enough, when you ask them how many sheep they have, to answer, “About sixteen hundred.” The limit allowed on any government reserve in any one band is, I think, 1750, and though a passing ranger may be sure there are more, he is nonplussed when, on his making question, the owner or the shepherd shrugs his shoulders and says, “If you don’t believe me, they’re there. Go and count ’em!”
Before the officials treated some of the Basque shepherds with what seemed to be too great severity there were numerous forest fires on the reserve. These men were generally both self-willed and ignorant, and we passed by at this spot a clump of finely growing firs, which had been destroyed by a fire started by a shepherd the year before.