Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 58.djvu/513

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NOT much more than fifty years ago the Great Basin region, lying between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevadas, was almost unknown. Previous to 1840, a few daring men had penetrated west of the Rocky Mountains. The route to Oregon had been traversed, and one party had crossed the southern portion of the Great Basin, but the main portion was unexplored.

The maps made of the country lying west, of the Rocky Mountains previous to the explorations of Fremont are most interesting, as showing the strange conceptions which men had formed of the geographic features of the region. The great Sierra Nevada range of California is entirely absent, and a number of rivers are marked as rising in the Rocky Mountains and flowing west into the Pacific.

One of these maps was used by Fremont, who first made known the real character of the region, and the journal of his wanderings in this desert waste is most interesting reading. Enabled as we are now to cross the deserts in a few hours in comfortable cars, with good maps at hand, and plenty to eat and drink, it is hard to place ourselves in the position of the early explorers of a vast and unknown region, where each day the problem of food and water has to be solved anew.

We owe much to Fremont for his daring explorations in the arid regions of the West. It was during his first expedition that he discovered Pyramid Lake, the subject of this sketch, but in trying to extricate himself and his party from the deserts, they nearly perished upon the snowy summits of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

In the year 1843 Fremont conducted an exploring expedition to Oregon. As winter approached he turned southward from The Dalles, expecting to return to Salt Lake by way of Nevada. But upon getting into the deserts and fearing that he would not be able to cross them, he turned westward and, in the very heart of winter, attempted to cross the Sierras into California. This plan was based upon a misconception of the geography; for his map showed him no Sierra Nevada, but instead a great river called the Buenaventura, which was supposed to rise in the Rocky Mountains and flow westward into San Francisco Bay. Day after day as his party became more wearied, and food for the animals became scarcer, he watched for this river, thinking that every stream which they came to must be the one sought, but found invariably that