The couple first went to the Hot Springs Hotel in Calistoga, but unable to afford the 10 dollars a week fee, they spent an unconventional honeymoon in an abandoned three-story bunkhouse at a derelict mining camp called “Silverado” on the shoulder of Mount Saint Helena in the Mayacamas Mountains. There they squatted for two months during summer, putting up makeshift cloth windows and hauling water in by hand from a nearby stream while dodging rattlesnakes and the occasional fog banks so detrimental to Stevenson’s health.
The Silverado Squatters provides some views of California during the late 19th century. Stevenson uses the first telephone of his life. He meets a number of wine growers in Napa Valley, an enterprise he deems “experimental”, with growers sometimes even mislabeling the bottles as originating from Spain in order to sell their product to skeptical Americans. He visits the oldest wine grower in the valley, Jacob Schram, who had been experimenting for 18 years at his Schramsberg Winery, and had recently expanded the wine cellar in his backyard. Stevenson also visits a petrified forest owned by an old Swedish ex-sailor who had stumbled upon it while clearing farmland—the precise nature of the petrified forest remained for everyone a source of curiosity. Stevenson also details his encounters with a local Jewish merchant, whom he compares to a character in a Charles Dickens novel (probably Fagin from Oliver Twist), and portrays as happy-go-lucky but always scheming to earn a dollar. Like Dickens in American Notes (1842), Stevenson found the American habit of spitting on the floor hard to get used to.
His experiences at Silverado were recorded in a journal he called “Silverado Sketches”, parts of which he incorporated into Silverado Squatters in 1883 while living in Bournemouth, England, with other tales appearing in “Essays of Travel” and “Across the Plains”. Many of his notes on the scenery around him later provided much of the descriptive detail for Treasure Island (1883).