The Great Salt Lake—Captain Stansbury's Reconnoisance.
After an interval of six months, daring which the party were completely isolated by the impenetra-ble snows of the surrounding mountains, intelli-gence has at length been received from Captain Stansbury of the Topographical Engineer Corps, who is engaged in an examination of the Valley of the Great Salt Lake, and a hydrographic survey of that singular sheet of water. The last previous news of the whereabout of his party was dated in October last. The present dispatches come down to as late as the 16th of March. Capt. Stansbury says:
"The winter season here has been long and very severe, commencing about the middle of November. To day (Feb-ruary 26) the mountains are white with snow, and in many of the cañons (pronounced 'kanyons') it is upwards of fifty feet deep, reaching to the tops of the tallest trees. Al-though only in the lat. of 40° 46f, it has more than equalled in severity the winter of last year in Philadelphia, which was an unusual one, and It is even now quite uncertain when it will terminate."
Again, he says, writing on the 16th of March:
"The mountain passes are fuller of snow than ever.—Yesterday morning we found that five inches of snow had fallen during the night, and last night nearly as much. This is on the Plains; in the mountains the fall is from four to six times greater, the condensation of the atmospheric vapor being there much more rapid and complete. At this mo-memt while the sun is shining brightly on the Plains, it is snowing furiously among the peaks." * * *
"After completing the reconnoisance of Cache Valley, we returned to our camp on Bear River. When Col. Por-ter returned to his post, the provision train was dispatched down the east shore of the Salt Lake, under Lieut How-land, of the Rifles, with orders to report to Lieut. Gunnison, while I, accompanied by Dr. Blake, with a party of four men and sixteen mules, addressed myself to make the tour around the western aide of the Lake. The trip was, by many of the old mountaineers, considered rather hazardous, especially at that late season of the year. Many of them had tried it, but none had ever succeeded in achieving it. The country was represented to be barren in the extreme, and almost, if not entirely, destitute of fresh water. In addition to which, some disturbances and ill-feeling had taken place between the whites and the Snake or Shoshonee Indians, arising out of a gross outrage which had been wantonly inflicted upon the latter by a band of unprincipled emigrants in which several of their men were killed and women violated and murdered. I was determined, however, to proceed; and, having pro-vided ourselves with some India rubber bags for 'packing' water in case of necessity on the 16th of October we com-menced our journey. We were also provided with one soldiers' tent and one wall tent fly for protection from rains; but they were of little use, as in but one or two in-stances could poles be procured for stretching them, so utter-ly destitute of timber was the region through which we passed. The journey occupied us until the 8th of No-vember.
"We found that the whole western shore of the lake consists of immense level plains of soft mud, in accessible within many miles of the water's edge to the feet of mules or horses, being traversed frequently by meandering rills of salt and sulphur water, which apparently sink and seam to imbue and saturate "the whole soil, rendering it miry and treacherous. These plains are but little elevated above the present level of the lake, and have, without doubt, at one time, not very Song since, formed a part of it for it is evi-dent that a rise of but a few inches will at once cover the greater portion of these extensive areas of land with water again. I do not think I hazard much by saying that a rise of one foot in the lake would nearly if not quite double its present area.
"The plains are, for the most part, entirely denuded of ve-getation, excepting occasional patches of Artemesla and 'grease wood,' and they glitter in the sunlight, presenting the appearance of water to perfectly that it is almost impos-sible for one to convince himself that he is not on the imme-diate shore of the Lake itself. This is owing to the crystal-lization of minute portions of salt on the surface of the mud, and the oozy slime occasioned by the compete saturation of the soil by moisture. From this cause also arises a mirage, which is greater here than I ever witnessed else-where; distorting objects in the most grotesque manner and giving rise to optical illusions almost beyond belief. I anticipate serious annoyance from this cause, in making the triangulation."
In an estimated distance of 150 miles on one part of the route, fresh water and grass were found only in one spot, about midway of this stretch, and we were obliged to sub-sist our animals, that is, to keep lite In them, by serving them out a pint of water each, night and morning, taken from the india-rubber bags packed upon their backs. The first part of this desert was about seventy-five miles in ex-tent, and occupied us two days and a half to cross it, travel-ing all day, and the greater part of the night; walking a greater portion of the way to relieve the mules, woich began to sink under the want of sustenance and water.
"In the latter portion of this first desert we crossed a field of solid salt, which lay encrusted upon the level mad plain, so thick that it bore up the mules loaded with their packs so perfectly that they walked upon it as if it had been a sheet of solid ice, slightly covered with snow. The whole plain was as level as a floor. We estimated this field to be at the least ten miles in length, by seven in width, and the thickness of the salt at from one-half to three-quarters of an Inch. A strip of some three miles in width had been pre-viously crossed, but it was not thick, nor hard enough to prevent the animals from sinking through it into the mud at every step. The salt in the solid field was perfectly crys-talized, and where it had not become mixed with the soil was as white and fine as the best specimens of Salina table salt. Some of it was collected and preserved.
"After crossing the field of salt we struck upon a fine lit-tle stream of running water, with plenty of grass, lying at the foot of a range of mountains, which seemed to form the western boundary of the immediate valley of the Lake.—Here we were obliged to halt for three days to give our an-imals an opportunity to recruit. The latter part of the desert was about 70 miles in extent, and was passed in two days, by prolonging our marches far into the night. Had we not found grass and water midway of this barren waste both animals and men must have perished.
“We were, as I have every reason to believe, the first party of white men that ever succeeded in making the en-tire circuit of the Lake by land: I have understood that it was once circumnavigated by canoes, in early times, by some trappers, in search of beaver, but no attempt by land has ever been successful.
"From the knowledge gained by this expedition, I am of opinion that the size of the lake has been much exagger-ated; and from observation, and what I have learned from the Mormons, who have made one or two excursions upon it in a small skiff, I am induced to believe that its depth has been much overrated. That it has no outlet is now demon-strated beyond doubt; and I am convinced, from what I have seen, that it can never be of the slightest use for the purposes of navigation. The water, for miles out from the shore, wherever I have seen it is but a few inches in depth, and if there be any deep water, It must be in the middle The Utah river (or the Jordan, as the Mormons call it) is altogether too insignificant and too crookes to be of any use commercially. The greatest depth of the Utah Lake that we have found is sixteen feet; so that, for the purposes of a connected line of navigation, neither the river nor the lakes can be of the slightest utility. Such, at least, is my present impression. Further examination of Salt Lake, may, perhaps, modify this opinion with regard to the latter. The river connecting these two lakes is forty eight miles in length."
The delays and difficulties encountered by Capt. Stansbury's party in conducting their triangulation of a district of country extending two degrees in latitude and more than, a degree in longitude, may be conceived from the fact that almost every stick of timber used in the construction of fourteen tri-angulation stations, thus far erected, has cost from twenty to thirty miles travel of a six-mule team, and that nearly, if not all, the water will have to be transported along with the different parties for their daily use. The Captain adds:
“Everything here is enormously high. The vicinity of the gold mines has made money plenty and labor scarce and dear. Ordinary mechanics get from $2 50 to $4 per day. Corn $2 and Oats from $1 to $1 50 a bushel Potatoes at first were $4 now $2 a bushel. Flour from 10 to 15 cents per pound. Hay from $12 to $20 per tun, wild and of a very inferior quality. Wood from $12 to $15 a cord, and everything else in proportion."
He expresses some fears that the party may not be able to complete their task the present season, but if the most strenuous exertion, stimulated by the dread of another Winter's imprisonment, amid surrounding mountains, buried in snow and cut off from all communion with civilized society, can se-cure the object, it will certainly be accomplished. Success attend them!
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