Desert Springs

“While all is green and fresh on the summits of the mountains, in the surrounding deserts all is salt, alkali, sterility, and desolation. In the early days, when thousands on thousands of persons were annually crossing the Plains to California and Oregon, hundreds perished because they did not understand the country through which they were passing. In looking for water they always went to the lowest places they could find, as they were in the habit of doing at home in the Eastern and Western States, whereas they should have left the desert valleys and climbed to the tops of the highest of the surrounding hills. 

“On all of the mountain ranges springs of excellent water are found, and in places, small brooks; but the water sinks in the beds of the ravines and is lost long before it reaches the level of the deserts. The Indians always travel along the tops of the mountain ranges in summer. On their trails are put up signs that tell where springs can be found. These are small monuments of rock, capped with a stone, the longest part of which points in the direction of the nearest spring. 

“Toward this spring are turned the long points of all the cap-stones on the monuments, until it is reached. Passing by the spring, the index-stones all point back to it until there is a nearer spring ahead, when the pointers are all turned in that direction. 

“On finding the first monument, after striking the Indian trail, one may thus know which end of it to take to the nearest water. In traveling along a dry canon, where all was parched and dusty, I have sometimes seen upon one of its steep banks a monument, and, climbing up to it, have found the index pointing directly up the hill, where all seemed as dry as in the ravine below. But taking the direction indicated, it would not be long before a bunch of willows would be seen, and among these a spring was sure to be found. Not knowing the meaning of these little stone monuments, the early prospectors made a business of kicking them over wherever they found them, and so destroyed what would have been a useful thing to them had they understood it.”