To the Golden Gates
Reading Comprehension Activity

Author: Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson traveled across the United States in 1879. He had journeyed from his native Great Britain to New York, then took a train trip to San Francisco. He wrote about this long trip in his travelogue “Across the Plains.” In this passage, Stevenson’s train leaves the desert and approaches San Francisco. Students will use context clue and analytical skills to answer questions on Stevenson’s use of language.

Topic(s): Essay / Editorial, History. Skill(s): Context Clues, Figurative Language. Genre(s): Informational, Biography / Autobiography, Journal / Diary

Click for the passage & questions on one printable PDF.


In 1879, Scottish author and poet Robert Louis Stevenson took a train from New York City to San Francisco. He wrote about this trip in his travel memoir Across the Plains. This passage is about his arrival in San Francisco after a long and difficult trip across the Great Plains and the desert of the West.


Of all the next day I will tell you nothing, for the best of all reasons, that I remember no more than that we continued through desolate and desert scenes, fiery hot and deadly weary.  But some time after I had fallen asleep that night, I was awakened by one of my companions.  It was in vain that I resisted.  A fire of enthusiasm and whisky burned in his eyes; and he declared we were in a new country, and I must come forth upon the platform and see with my own eyes.  The train was then, in its patient way, standing halted in a by-track.  It was a clear, moonlit night; but the valley was too narrow to admit the moonshine direct, and only a diffused glimmer whitened the tall rocks and relieved the blackness of the pines.  A hoarse clamour filled the air; it was the continuous plunge of a cascade somewhere near at hand among the mountains.  The air struck chill, but tasted good and vigorous in the nostrils-a fine, dry, old mountain atmosphere.  I was dead sleepy, but I returned to roost with a grateful mountain feeling at my heart.

When I awoke next morning, I was puzzled for a while to know if it were day or night, for the illumination was unusual.  I sat up at last, and found we were grading slowly downward through a long snowshed; and suddenly we shot into an open; and before we were swallowed into the next length of wooden tunnel, I had one glimpse of a huge pine-forested ravine upon my left, a foaming river, and a sky already coloured with the fires of dawn.  I am usually very calm over the displays of nature; but you will scarce believe how my heart leaped at this.  It was like meeting one’s wife.  I had come home again-home from unsightly deserts to the green and habitable corners of the earth.  Every spire of pine along the hill-top, every trouty pool along that mountain river, was more dear to me than a blood relation.  Few people have praised God more happily than I did.  And thenceforward, down by Blue Cañon, Alta, Dutch Flat, and all the old mining camps, through a sea of mountain forests, dropping thousands of feet toward the far sea-level as we went, not I only, but all the passengers on board, threw off their sense of dirt and heat and weariness, and bawled like schoolboys, and thronged with shining eyes upon the platform and became new creatures within and without.  The sun no longer oppressed us with heat, it only shone laughingly along the mountain-side, until we were fain to laugh ourselves for glee.  At every turn we could see farther into the land and our own happy futures.  At every town the cocks were tossing their clear notes into the golden air, and crowing for the new day and the new country.  For this was indeed our destination; this was “the good country” we had been going to so long.

Comprehension Questions

Get the passage & questions on one printable PDF.

Interactive Banner 2

Enter description text here.