CALIFORNIA COAST TRAILS
CHAPTER XI

Pine cañon — The Burton Mesa — Camp on the San Antonio — The Sierra Santa Lucia in view — Casmalia and the Todos Santos — A fine seascape-Point Sal: friendly entertainers — A Spanish Petruchio — Fog and rough trail — Guadalupe — Humors of fence advertising — The Valley and town of Santa Maria — Southern California left behind — "Hunting a location" — The Nipomo Valley: the Dana family — Arroyo Grande Valley — San Luis Obispo Bay — An Indian burying-place — A Portuguese legend — The Avilas of Avila: more Spanish-Californian hospitality: Shakespeare and the drama of California.

FROM the mouth of the Santa Ynez River, which is a few miles northwest of Lompoc, the coast for fifteen miles or so is low, sandy, waterless, and, for the greater part of the distance, roadless. When I added to these unsavory items the probability of that dismal wind still blowing on the coast, I searched the map for some better way; and decided to take a road that ran north by way of Pine Cañon, parallel with the coast but a few miles inland.

We crossed the river by a wide ford. Chino was excited this morning, walking fast and nervously, evidently for some reason in a hurry to get away from La Purísima. I had tethered him at night in a rather ghostly-looking angle of the Mission wall, for shelter from the wind; and his present behavior made me wonder whether my good horse might not have a streak of superstition in his make-up.

I found Pine Cañon as attractive as its name. The road was enclosed by steep hills wooded with oaks and small pines, and water and pasturage were plentiful. The pine is ever my best-loved tree, and these were the first of the family that I had come among directly since I started. I was tempted to make a camp, but it was only midday when we came to the head of the cañon, and found ourselves at the edge of a wide, flat expanse known as the Burton Mesa, which stretches west and north unbroken for miles. Across this we took our tedious way through leagues of oats uninterrupted by house or fence, and but little enlivened by a few haggard, wind-blown oaks. Only once I saw a wagon passing "hull down" on the distant horizon of oats, as if it had been a ship at sea. To the north rose a low range of whitish shaly hills, and I thought I descried a derrick or two at its foot. It was a depressing landscape. No birds seemed to inhabit it, and the only sound over all the wide space was the long whisper of the oats. The sparse flowers looked lonely and frightened; even the poppies seemed to have lost their broad yellow smile. I was glad when an abrupt descent took us down to the San Antonio Creek. A large ranch-house stood on a knoll beside it, but all up and down the long valley no human being was in sight. We crossed the creek, and among a clump of Lear-like, moss-draped oaks on a sidehill I made camp.

The cottonwoods that grew along the creek bottom made quarters for a large colony of crows. I like these loud, cheerful blackguards that carry off their iniquities with such bravado. The sound when they came swinging home at bedtime was like a crowd cheering the orator of the day; and when they began to shout and scuffle over the desirable perches, Chino looked round at me from his grazing in amazement at such behavior. A rattling chorus came already from the frogs in the creek, and before supper was over the owls opened in unusual variety of song; nor, unhappily, was the impish note of the mosquito absent from the concert.

I turned in early, and smoked my after-dinner pipe in bed, chatting with Chino and watching the stars winking through the leafy canopy. The rumble of surf came to me from four miles away with a peculiar deep tone that was due, perhaps, to its being conveyed partly through the earth. Then I felt some small animal, probably mole or gopher, shoving at me from below. With moonrise there arose also an indescribable hubbub of coyotes. Och-o-o-o-one! Och-o-o-o-o-o-one! they went, like mourners at a wake. To these dulcet sounds I fell asleep, and knew no more until Chino called me at first daylight, whinnying to be let loose to graze.

Our way next morning was up a long cañon with a frightfully bad road. There was compensation in the beauty of the oaks, which shaded the way with an almost solid firmament of foliage. At the head of the cañon I looked out upon a long desired sight, — the distant highlands of the Sierra Santa Lucia, lying low and blue in the north. For years I had been waiting my chance to get at that little-travelled range, and it had formed, in fact, a main inducement in planning the summer's trip. Now that at last it was coming within striking distance, I gazed at it with special interest, trying to forecast from the dim and tumbled outlines some features of contour, timber, or stream.

A long grade took us down to the valley of the Todos Santos, through which comes the railroad on its way to the coast a few miles to the southward. At the foot I found the village of Casmalia. Half of its score or so of houses were closed, and hotel and store were vacant and dismantled. I was glad that I had stayed the last night on the San Antonio instead of pushing on to this cheerless place. I sat for a few moments on the porch of the hotel while I condoled with an old Casmalian. "Why, yes," he mourned, "the barley and beans looks good, but the Tody Santy ain't what she useter bin. Them oil strikes in the Santy Maree jest plumb cleaned this hull country out o' ranch-hands. You 'd 'a thought 't was whiskey they'd struck, 'stead of oil." This pregnant remark gained point when, on passing the saloon a few minutes later, I noted the speaker's figure in expressive posture at the bar.

IMAGE: The Coast Near Point Sal

THE COAST NEAR POINT SAL
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

A belt of broken country here extends to the ocean, ending in a fine headland at Point Sal. It looked so interesting that I turned westward to see what the coast might be like. Following an almost disused road for a few miles through rolling cattle-range I came upon a striking landscape. A strong wind blew from the west, and before it the fog rolled in, gray, chill, and gloomy. Southward stretched a shore of sandy barrens on which huge breakers thundered, with a power that betokened that a considerable storm had blown at sea. Beyond a mile all outline was lost in the smother of flying sand and spray. Now and again a pale gleam of sun flooded the scene with strange dull tones of color; the heavy water showed yellow through the pallid wash of foam, and the wastes of sand took on a sickly tinge of ochre. To the northwest the point showed dark and misty between the upper and nether firmaments of the fog. At five miles' distance I could see the flash of the waves as they burst and rushed wildly up the face of the cliffs. All combined to interpret the intrinsic sadness, the ageless passion, of the sea.

It was hard to turn away from this superb sight, but evening was coming on, and the nightly problems of water and forage waited to be solved. A mile farther on I met two horsemen, one evidently American, the other Mexican, who reined up and seemed to await an explanation. When I inquired the prospects for making camp the reply was discouraging. I was told that the road had been abandoned; I could not cross the mountains by it, and must turn back. I answered that with a saddle-horse I thought I could get through, and anyway I meant to try. To this the American replied that the road was fenced across and the gates nailed up. He was foreman vaquero on this range, and no one but his own family lived farther on. I saw that for some reason I was regarded with suspicion, and it seemed best to make plain the innocent nature of my intentions. The explanation brought a welcome change of attitude. The hospitable American instinct came into play, and I was told that I might go on to the ranch-house, where I was welcome to stay the night.

An hour's travel took us to the house. I saw no one about the place, and my knock was not at once answered. The first thing that came in view as the door was opened was a rifle, evidently held by the person who opened it. This proved to be the foreman's wife, and to her I related my meeting with her husband. I suppose my appearance backed up my story, for the rifle was laid aside and I was invited to put up my horse and make myself at home until supper-time. By then the husband had returned, and the meal was enjoyable with racy table-talk as well as with good fare. They were Oklahomans, not long in California, and full of entertaining comments and comparisons. I was struck by the feeling for natural beauty which came out in the conversation of this foreman of cowboys. He spoke in vivid words of the grandeur and mystery of the sea, and had a ready eye for anything fine in light and shade, or in cañon and mountain contour.

From the daughter of a former owner of the Point Sal Ranch, whom I met a day or two later at Santa Maria, I gained some interesting particulars regarding the place. I had noticed near the ranch-house an odd-shaped little building, looking like a lost summer-house. I found that it had been the deck cabin of a ship that was wrecked on the point. The captain and his little daughter, and some of the crew, were buried on the hill above the house, — no bad resting-place for storm-beaten seaman, but bleak and pitiful for that little daughter!

The remains of a cable landing on the cliff above the quiet water inside the point were a reminder of the ante-railway days when Point Sal Landing was a place of more importance than now. From here a road went east by way of the Cuyama Valley and through the San Rafael Mountains to Fort Tejon (a name of epic sound to Californians of half a century ago), and over it an incredible amount of traffic came and went to and from this little shipping-place. That was the Age of Mules in the West, and on these primitive mountain roads teaming rose to the level of a science.

In later days the working of gypsum mines in the mountains near by furnished employment for many men, and there had been some excitement over the discovery of gold in the sands of the beach, and rumors of a rich mine hidden in some cave known to the Indians and only to be reached by boats at low tide and at risk of life. From time to time treasure-seekers were trapped on the shore by the water, so the good old gentleman, my informant's father, kept a stake, with rope attached, on the cliff-edge, by which more than one rash gold-hunter had climbed back to safety.

I learned further that in the vicissitudes of things Californian the ranch had once changed owners for the consideration of a yoke of oxen and a bottle of wine; and there was a full-flavored story of some old Spanish Petruchio of the region who had tied his scolding wife to a tree, cut off her hair, and braided it into a pair of bridle-reins. This doughty don seems to have had a passion for the bizarre. He is said to have possessed a string of dried ears collected from enemies he had slain; which quaint souvenir his daughter was wont to wear as a necklace at balls and fandangos. With such legends, or histories, are many of these lonely holes and corners of California illuminated.

I slept well in the old barn, which I shared with Chino and some families of swallows that had built in the gable. Next morning my host put me on the obliterated road that climbed the mountain, and I bade the kindly people good-bye. The scene again was fascinating. The wind had fallen somewhat, but still came from the sea, and freighted with gloomy masses of fog. Again and again the cold white mist enclosed us, or streamed more darkly overhead, to break away with bewildering suddenness and reveal the long, dark headland hooded with cloud, its foot whitened every moment by the tearing claws of the sea. It was like a page of Ossian, and the short mountain grass trembling in the wind, with the purple thistles ranked beside the path, were suited to the scene.

Now and then came the hoarse barking of seals on the rocks a thousand feet below, — that

"Deep seal-roar that beats off shore above the loudest gale."

It was altogether the finest, because the wildest, piece of weather, scenery, and sentiment all mingled that I had met on the whole expedition. I even shouted aloud — never mind what — in my excitement, giving Chino such a start thereby that he came near pitching me over the cliff.

So far we had been climbing steeply, but keeping near the shore. Now the track struck directly northward, and I regretfully bade adieu to that wild and lonely coast. The path was difficult to keep, and often I lost it on the wide and down-like hillsides. At last we reached the summit, in a dense smother of fog that made it impossible to travel at all for half an hour. Then I found that we were shut in by a barbed-wire fence, and it was another half-hour before I could get the wires down so that Chino could step over.

Finally rounding the shoulder of the mountain I came in sight of the coast to the northward. It ran again for a long distance in trackless dunes; and I determined to strike once more inland until I could return to the bolder coast that must begin at the southern end of the Santa Lucias. I found a rough road that wound down the Corralillos Cañon, and with one or two détours made necessary by the washing-out of the track, we came in due course to cultivation and the eternal barley and beans. As we emerged into the wide Santa Maria Valley, beets joined in to make a trio.

By evening we reached the little town of Guadalupe. From its Spanish name I expected to find it old and interesting: on the contrary, it was merely old and dirty. Half the place is Chinese, with the regulation red-and-green joss-house, the regulation smells, barbarous yellow flags dangling from bamboos, and store names looking like groups of excited tadpoles. The other half is mixed Portuguese and Italian-Swiss, and it was hard to say which half was the more unprepossessing.

I found a stable, though not a hostler, for Chino, and learned from a skirmishing boy that the saloon across the street was the only hotel in the place. The proprietor, a pig-like Swiss, wasted no civilities on a customer who had no choice, and seemed to resent a request for water and a towel. For half the night sleep was wrecked by the din of bibulous patrons. I was up betimes, and hastened away from Guadalupe as the first drowsy Chinese was lighting his pipe in the doorway of his frowsy laundry.

I now took an easterly course up the valley. An unbroken green of beets spread mile on mile, and substantial farm buildings gave evidence of prosperity. Far to the north the foothills of the Santa Lucia took a hue of fawn where the sunlight flowed over swelling contours of dry grassland, purple where companies of oaks marked out the cañons and clouded the higher ridges. The nearer landscape was uninteresting, and I was fain to beguile the way with the unconscious humor of the fence advertisements. Modest efforts like "Goldstein's Prices will Surprise You" or "Bowen and Scraypen for Shirts and a Square Deal" were varied with bursts of Wegg-like song, such as

"Bilkem's Shoes are Straight and our Prices are Right;
Call in and see Us, Partner, 2 doors past the P.O. we'll treat
      you white."

The board fence has never been given its due by writers on the Genesis of American Poetry.

Gradually houses became more frequent and more urban in look. Some of them, large, new, and brilliant with paint and bougainvilleas, I judged to be the residences of the local magnates in oil and beets. In due course we arrived in the thriving town of Santa Maria, finding it dressed in patriotic bunting in readiness for Independence Day, close at hand. I put up for a day, and found the place very attractive, the model of a progressive Western town; neat, bright, and well-ordered: a whole continent apart in character from its neighbor, the mangy and ill-favored Guadalupe.

Leaving here at noon of the next day I took a northward road, crossing the Santa Maria River, or, more exactly, its bed. It showed a quarter-mile of Sahara-like sand, without vestige of water, though four months before the river had been running amuck, bank full and yellow as ancient Nilus. Here I entered the county of San Luis Obispo. It opened hopefully, with a rougher look, and I felt by many tokens that I was no longer in southern California. The cross-range of the Tehachapi is the physical bar which gives effect to the conventional division of the State. It is the region south of the Tehachapi that constitutes southern California, and that was now finally behind me.

A mile or two beyond the river I saw two wagons approaching me, loaded with household stuff that showed some family on the wing. In the first were a couple of rosy young women, who stopped me to ask whether I had seen any people camping in Santa Maria as I passed through. It appeared that they were expecting to overtake there some advance guard of their party. In the other wagon were a man, a woman, a sleeping baby, and, as my ears told me, several more children who were stowed away in the covered rear end. The man accosted me with "Say, stranger, where're ye from?" — "Los Angeles." — "Los Angeles, hey? Well, then, you can maybe tell us how things is down that section." I made the best answer I could to this rather extensive question, and learned in turn that they had come down from southern Idaho, "hunting a location."

There is a picturesqueness in such incidents, a Bunyan-like simplicity. As it might be: "And in my journey I saw a company that came to meet me in the way. And when they were come to where I was, one that seemed the goodman beckoned me as if I should stop. So I stayed, and we fell a-talking. 'You are well met,' said he; and then he would have me tell him how all matters did in the country of the south; 'for you must know,' said he, 'that we are travellers, as I see you are: and seeing we are met on contrary ways, it may be we shall save our steps, and our beasts' as well, if each shall show the other what manner of country it is that he is bound away from. Do you begin.'" — And so on. Thus the sons of Adam, John Thompson even as Mahalaleel, still are going about the earth on the old elementary quest, seeking a place of habitation. I heartily wished them Godspeed, and the caravan vanished in a cloud of dust.

In the Nipomo Valley, through which I was now passing, there are living a number of members of the Dana family. At the death of the late head of this branch of the house (who was a cousin of Richard Henry Dana, the writer, who has been several times referred to and quoted in these pages), the Nipomo Ranch, of over thirty-seven thousand acres of land, was divided among his numerous children. Using the privilege of a traveller, I called upon Mr. John Dana, the eldest son, and was received with all possible kindness; American frankness and Spanish courtesy together, for his mother was a Carrillo, of the best blood of Spanish California. It was like an echo from the old days to hear from his daughter how, half a century ago, her father would ride in one day the ninety miles to Santa Barbara to pay a call to his betrothed in the evening. And it was a surprise to learn that the lady, Doña Carolina, was a niece of that Captain Thompson whom the author of "Two Years Before the Mast" drew in such effective colors.

I was entertained that night at the ranch of another one of the family, a mile farther up the valley. It needed an ample table to accommodate the three generations of Danas with whom I sat at supper; and I wondered, as I listened to the cheerful bi-lingual talk, and noted the fine physical results of the union of the Saxon and Spanish strains, whether the race does not suffer more than we think by the barriers which prejudice often raises against interracial marriages.

My road next morning was through the rich grainland of the Nipomo. Straight ahead rose a striking peak named El Picacho, and on the east ran a range of odd, sugar-loaf hills, from which many a bright rill came romping down. Reaching the top of a long rise I could see the flash of breakers five miles to the west.

An hour or two took us into the Arroyo Grande Valley, a region famous especially for the growing of seeds. On leaving the prosperous little town we took the road once more toward the coast, which we struck near El Pizmo, a newly exploited beach resort. The place had no attractions for me, but Chino scented a stable, and gazed anxiously toward the town as we passed it by in the offing. Here ended the long sweep of low, sandy shore. From this point northward the Coast Range pushes its spurs sharply into the waters of the Pacific, and the scenery consequently becomes bolder and continuously attractive.

The coast here trends west and then south, to form the bay of San Luis Obispo. To this point come pipe-lines from the oil-fields in the interior, and from Port Harford, on the west side of the bay, cargoes of oil are shipped to many ports on this side of the globe. At Oilport I saw a deserted refining-plant, complete to every accessory, and representing a huge outlay. Its owners had been defeated in some bout of wits with the colossi of the industry, and there it remains, silent and inactive, an example to rash capitalists.

The road now swinging inland to avoid a hill, I found myself in a pretty, wooded cañon. A short distance along it I came unexpectedly to a hotel, whose reason for being is some medicinal springs near by. The place was so pleasing in its bird-haunted seclusion that I took Chino's hint, and put up for a day or two while I explored the locality.

On the cliff a mile away a recent subsidence of the land had laid bare an ancient Indian burying-place. The ground was strewn with crumbling yellowed bones, and though the best of its archaeological treasures had already been gathered up by collectors, it was easy to unearth rude implements of stone that had been buried under many feet of accumulated soil. No doubt future ages will similarly delve among our own remains as those of a sort of savages.

Near by was the dwelling of a Portuguese fisherman, who came over to chat, and hospitably invited me to visit his cabin. I found him full of friendly talk and simplicity. Seeing me notice a framed print of the Saviour that hung above his bed, with the title, "0 Bom Jesus do Milagre" (the Good Jesus of the Miracle) he seemed to fear that, as a probable Protestant, I might disparage it. For the defence, he related the story of a poor Portuguese boy who, having once buried some money for safety, was unable to find it when he came back to dig it up. In his distress he fell to prayer, and vowed to give half of the sum to the Church if he were enabled to find it. As he resumed his digging, a Man came by who asked what he had lost, and offered to help in the search. The lost money was quickly found, and the Stranger went on His way. The boy, true to his word, was proceeding to fulfil his vow, when, on the wall of the church whither he had gone to complete the arrangements, he saw a picture of the Saviour, the same, in attitude and expression, as the one I was looking at. "That is the Man who helped me to find my money!" he cried joyfully. "We belief that," said my fisherman eagerly;" we belief that. Peoples laugh at us; well; we belief that."

I assured him that I saw nothing to laugh at in his story; as God forbid I should. At this he was greatly pleased, and shook me earnestly by the hand, saying that I was "good man, good man for sure": and when, by help of my Spanish, I was able to decipher some phrases of Portuguese in a letter from home, he clapped me on the back delightedly, and declared that I was "good scholar, all right; good man, good scholar, good friend."

A mile farther along the coast, at the mouth of the San Luis Creek, is the little village of Avila, where lived a Spaniard of the same name who was related to some of my friends in the south. The Avilas formerly owned the whole neighboring grant of the San Miguelito, but the inevitable has taken its course; the property has passed to the Gringos, and even the fine old family mansion was burned to the ground a few years ago. I found Don Juan living with his sister and his niece in a little wooden building on the site of the old house. He was deep in "King Henry VI," for Shakespeare and Cervantes are his twin suns of literature. When I presented my letter, I must needs stay to dinner; he would take no denial; and then, as sounds of agitation came from the chicken-yard — "There! you see? Doña Josefa has killed a fowl for you, and Maria will be vexed if you do not taste her colachi."

Many were the tales he had to tell of life and manners in the bygone days: of fiestas and bailes in the old house, with pensive tribute to the rare wines and champagnes that used to flow thereat; of the horses, then of no more account than rabbits; so that if a friend, or even a casual traveller, needed one, it was but to send the vaqueros to run a band into the corral, and then, — "Choose the one you like: it is yours"; and of how the Spaniards, when selling cattle, would receive the stated price as each beast was passed over, — one steer, one gold piece; another steer, another gold piece; and so on. That was to save trouble; perhaps also to save mistakes; for it is matter of common report how grossly they were cheated by some of the traders, who, knowing that a Spaniard would not condescend to examine an account, were unduly prone to little blunders, casting up units as tens, and so forth.

When I rose to go, I found that a bed had been made ready for me, and I must stay the night or I should deny them the now rare luxury of entertaining a friend. I could not refuse this kindness, and Shakespeare and the drama of California, with Don Juan's cigars, occupied us until long past midnight.