Mile 1075: South Pass

“Ten miles beyond Ford No. 9, hilly miles, ending in a long champaign having some of the characteristics of a rolling prairie . . . led us to the South Pass, the great Wasserscheide between the Atlantic and the Pacific, and the frontier points between the territory of Nebraska and the State of Oregon. . . .

“The last part of the ascent is so gentle that it is difficult to distinguish the exact point where the versant lies : a stony band crossing the road on the ridge of the table-land is pointed out as the place, and the position has been fixed at N. lat. 48 19′, and W. long. 108 40′. The northern limit is the noble chain of Les Montagnes Eocheuses, which goes by the name of the Wind River; the southern is called Table Mountain, an insignificant mass of low hills.

A pass it is not : it has some of the features of Thermopylge or the Gorge of Killiecrankie ; of the European St. Bernard or Simplon; of the Alleghany Passes or of the Mexican Barrancas. It is not, as it sounds, a ghaut between lofty mountains, or, as the traveler may expect, a giant gateway, opening through Cyclopean walls of beetling rocks that rise in forbidding grandeur as he passes onward to the Western continent. And yet the word ‘Pass’ has its significancy. In that New World where Nature has worked upon the largest scale, where every feature of scenery, river and lake, swamp and forest, prairie and mountain, dwarf their congeners in the old hemisphere, this majestic level-topped bluff, the highest steppe of the continent, upon whose iron surface there is space enough for the armies of the globe to march over, is the grandest and the most appropriate of avenues.

A water-shed is always exciting to the traveler. What shall I say of this, where, on the topmost point of American travel, you drink within a hundred yards of the waters of the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans—that divides the ‘doorways of the west wind from the ‘portals of the sunrise? . . .

It is a suggestive spot, this ‘divortia aquarum:’ it compels Memory to revive past scenes before plunging into the mysterious ‘Lands of the Hereafter,’ which lie before and beneath the feet. The Great Ferry, which steam has now bridged, the palisaded banks of the Hudson, the soft and sunny scenery of the Ohio, and the kingly course of the Upper Mississippi, the terrible beauty of Niagara, and the marvels of that chain of inland seas which winds its watery way from Ontario to Superior; the rich pasture-lands of the North, the plantations of the semi-tropical South, and the broad cornfields of the West; finally, the vast meadow-land and the gloomy desert-waste of sage and saleratus, of clay and mauvaise terre, of red butte and tawny rock, all pass before the mind in rapid array ere they are ihrust into oblivion by the excitement of a new departure.”