“Thursday, 26th. Traveled all day over dry barren plains, producing nothing but sage, or rather, as it ought to be called, wormwood, and which I believe will grow without water or soil. Two men were sent ahead to search for water, but returned a little while before dark, unsuccessful.
Our course intersected an Indian trail, which we followed directly north towards the mountains, knowing that in these dry countries the Indian trails always lead to the nearest water. Having traveled till about 10 o’clock p.m. made a halt, and waited until morning. Distance about 30 miles.”
This was one of those days when they traveled all day in the hot sun, hoping to find fresh water, and saw nothing but sand, salt, and sagebrush. Another day like that might have killed them all.
Sagebrush will certainly grow with very little water. Although its scent is similar to sage, it is not related to true sage (Salvia). It is a species of the genus Artemisia, which also includes wormwood and tarragon, so Bidwell got his plant identification right. It covers large swaths of the Western plains, and is the state flower of Nevada.