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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]


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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]




AT eight in the morning we reached the remnant and ruin
of what had been the important military station of
“Camp Floyd,” some forty-five or fifty miles from Salt Lake
City. At four P.M. we had doubled our distance and were
ninety or a hundred miles from Salt Lake. And now we
entered upon one of that species of deserts whose concentrated
hideousness shames the diffused and diluted horrors of Sahara
—an “alkali” desert. For sixty-eight miles there was but
one break in it. I do not remember that this was really a
break; indeed it seems to me that it was nothing but a watering
depot in the midst of the stretch of sixty-eight miles. If
my memory serves me, there was no well or spring at this
place, but the water was hauled there by mule and ox teams
from the further side of the desert. There was a stage station
there. It was forty-five miles from the beginning of the
desert, and twenty-three from the end of it.

We plowed and dragged and groped along, the whole livelong
night, and at the end of this uncomfortable twelve hours
we finished the forty-five-mile part of the desert and got to
the stage station where the imported water was. The sun
was just rising. It was easy enough to cross a desert in the
night while we were asleep; and it was pleasant to reflect, in
the morning, that we in actual person had encountered an
absolute desert and could always speak knowingly of deserts
in presence of the ignorant thenceforward. And it was pleasant


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also to reflect that this was not an obscure, back country
desert, but a very celebrated one, the metropolis itself, as you
may say. All this was very well and very comfortable and
satisfactory—but now we were to cross a desert in daylight.
This was fine—novel—romantic—dramatically adventurous—
this, indeed, was worth living for, worth traveling for! We
would write home all about it.

This enthusiasm, this stern thirst for adventure, wilted
under the sultry August sun and did not last above one hour.
One poor little hour—and then we were ashamed that we
had “gushed” so. The poetry was all in the anticipation—
there is none in the reality. Imagine a vast, waveless ocean
stricken dead and turned to ashes; imagine this solemn waste
tufted with ash-dusted sage-bushes; imagine the lifeless silence
and solitude that belong to such a place; imagine a coach,
creeping like a bug through the midst of this shoreless level,
and sending up tumbled volumes of dust as if it were a bug
that went by steam; imagine this aching monotony of toiling
and plowing kept up hour after hour, and the shore still as far
away as ever, apparently; imagine team, driver, coach and
passengers so deeply coated with ashes that they are all one
colorless color; imagine ash-drifts roosting above moustaches
and eyebrows like snow accumulations on boughs and bushes.
This is the reality of it.

The sun beats down with dead, blistering, relentless
malignity; the perspiration is welling from every pore in man
and beast, but scarcely a sign of it finds its way to the surface
—it is absorbed before it gets there; there is not the faintest
breath of air stirring; there is not a merciful shred of cloud
in all the brilliant firmament; there is not a living creature
visible in any direction whither one searches the blank level
that stretches its monotonous miles on every hand; there is
not a sound—not a sigh—not a whisper—not a buzz, or a whir
of wings, or distant pipe of bird—not even a sob from the
lost souls that doubtless people that dead air. And so the
occasional sneezing of the resting mules, and the champing of


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the bits, grate harshly on the grim stillness, not dissipating
the spell but accenting it and making one feel more lonesome
and forsaken than before.

The mules, under violent swearing, coaxing and whip-cracking,
would make at stated intervals a “spurt,” and drag
the coach a hundred or may be two hundred yards, stirring
up a billowy cloud of dust that rolled back, enveloping the
vehicle to the wheel-tops or higher, and making it seem afloat
in a fog. Then a rest followed, with the usual sneezing and
bit-champing. Then another “spurt” of a hundred yards and
another rest at the end of it. All day long we kept this up,
without water for the mules and without ever changing the
team. At least we kept it up ten hours, which, I take it, is a
day, and a pretty honest one, in an alkali desert. It was from
four in the morning till two in the afternoon. And it was so
hot! and so close! and our water canteens went dry in the
middle of the day and we got so thirsty! It was so stupid
and tiresome and dull! and the tedious hours did lag and
drag and limp along with such a cruel deliberation! It was
so trying to give one's watch a good long undisturbed spell
and then take it out and find that it had been fooling away
the time and not trying to get ahead any! The alkali dust
cut through our lips, it persecuted our eyes, it ate through the
delicate membranes and made our noses bleed and kept them
bleeding—and truly and seriously the romance all faded far
away and disappeared, and left the desert trip nothing but a
harsh reality—a thirsty, sweltering, longing, hateful reality!

Two miles and a quarter an hour for ten hours—that was
what we accomplished. It was hard to bring the comprehension
away down to such a snail-pace as that, when we had been
used to making eight and ten miles an hour. When we
reached the station on the farther verge of the desert, we were
glad, for the first time, that the dictionary was along, because
we never could have found language to tell how glad we were,
in any sort of dictionary but an unabridged one with pictures
in it. But there could not have been found in a whole library


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of dictionaries language sufficient to tell how tired those mules
were after their twenty-three mile pull. To try to give the
reader an idea of how thirsty they were, would be to “gild
refined gold or paint the lily.”

Somehow, now that it is there, the quotation does not
seem to fit—but no matter, let it stay, anyhow. I think it is
a graceful and attractive thing, and therefore have tried time
and time again to work it in where it would fit, but could not
succeed. These efforts have kept my mind distracted and ill
at ease, and made my narrative seem broken and disjointed,
in places. Under these circumstances it seems to me best to
leave it in, as above, since this will afford at least a temporary
respite from the wear and tear of trying to “lead up” to this
really apt and beautiful quotation.