CALIFORNIA COAST TRAILS
CHAPTER XVII

A change of scenery — The Salinas River — Castroville — Moss Landing — Trees; and whitewash — A jocund cavalier — Watsonville, metropolis of apples — Aptos: why Aptos? — The city of Santa Cruz — Another inland divergence — Ox-teams — The Santa Cruz redwoods, "dedicated" to triviality — Ben Lomond: a catechism — The California Redwood Park: redwoods compared with the Big Trees — A forest trail — Again at the coast — Pigeon Point — Pescadero: a bibulous banker.

To strike the direct road to the north on leaving Monterey, I took a short cut through the grounds of the Hotel del Monte, where my dress and equipment, now showing the wear and stains of four months' travel, seemed to arouse the amazement, and perhaps the indignation, of the "idle rich." Then, after passing the embryo city of Seaside, where Avenues and Broadways had been laid off in readiness for a handsome population, we took the "sand-hills" road near the coast. Instead of the cliffs and cañons of the Coast Range, a low expanse of brush-land now lay to the east. On my left was the wide bay of Monterey, blue as the word can mean, backed by faint purple mountains where it curved round to the north.

The day was hot and the road tedious, and so heavy that I dismounted and led Anton, to save him my weight. The sea was soon barred from sight by dunes of sand, but hour after hour its soft thunder accompanied us as we toiled along a road deep in sand and through a dry and almost uninhabited country. At noon we stopped for an hour by a pool of brackish water, with a fringe of long grass which was a bonanza to Anton, for he had long been a stranger to that kind of forage.

About mid-afternoon I guessed by the increasing roar that we were approaching the mouth of the Salinas River, and in due time we crossed the bridge over the wide green stream a mile or so above the bar, on which a great surf was breaking. Just ahead lay the little town of Castroville, planted handily in the neck of the Salinas Valley. From this vantage-point I had a fine view all up the long, straight valley which lies between the range of the Santa Lucia, bordering the coast, and the inner Coast Range which divides the valley of the Salinas from the San Joaquin, the great central valley of California. Here I was again in a land of farms. The country had a rich appearance; cars of beets stood on the railway tracks, destined to a sugar factory a few miles distant, and the threshers were busy with the late barley.

The inland heat was rather trying, and I determined to make for Moss Landing, on the coast, a few miles away. Following the directions of an old man whose confident manner imposed on me, I left Castroville on the right, and turned into a road that seemed to lead directly there. After following it for a couple of miles, Anton pretty tired and eyeing every barn and gateway with anxiety, the road came to an end, and a wide slough, quite impassable, barred the way. With hearty blessings on that old gentleman we returned to Castroville, and took the main road, arriving at the village of Moss Landing long after dark. It took my utmost arguments to persuade the hotel-keeper to get me supper of bread, beef, and tepid coffee. The place had just been thrown into excitement by the arrival of a harvester crew of eighteen or twenty men, who kept up a sort of stage procession as they circulated through the saloon. Fraternal squads passed in hurriedly, to emerge in two or three minutes with impressive wiping of lips. A few moments sufficed to change the composition of the groups, and they lurched in again with a fresh access of thirst.

Morning showed that Moss Landing possesses wharves and other facilities of commerce, and I found that a good deal of grain and other farm produce is shipped from this little place. For the rest, I gather that in winter it is a main resort of duck hunters. The landlord told me that he often shot ducks from his back door, which there was no reason to doubt, since a family of them were peacefully quacking fifteen feet away from the table at which I was eating breakfast.

It was a fine morning, sunny but cool. The road led among placid lagoons, where platoons of sea-fowl were manœuvring, and old boats lay moored at oozy landing-stages. Groves of eucalyptus gave off their finest scents after the dewy night; and the mountains to the north were now near enough to show the timber on their crest, — that sight always so refreshing and delightful. Trees in park or garden are good, for trees are always good: trees on open plain are better: but trees on a mountain sky-line seem to me to make the acme of charm in natural scenery.

The people of this region are strong on that excellent thing, whitewash. The farmhouses gleamed like patches of snow against the brown hills, and the roadside cottages were whitened to ultra-whiteness, and made the prettiest of pictures with their gardens of blazing nasturtiums and geraniums, — always a charming combination in connection with whitewash, suggesting contentment, pinafores, bread and milk, and such wholesome, childlike things.

At a rise of the ground I came in sight of a brother horseman who was riding toward me. He was singing, and loudly, too, but ceased when he saw me. Now, why must he do that? How delightful it would be if only this confounded mock-modesty could be got rid of! — if he and I, for instance, could have met unabashed, each trolling out our "Hey nonny, nonny," or whatever it might be, with no silly thought of looking silly, but, instead, just some courteous gesture of appreciation or word of applause. But no; we must only pass our dull "Good-morning, sir," and "How do you do, sir?" and go on our ways. I heard him break out again, though, as soon as he knew my back was turned.

Some hours of easy riding (in the course of which I crossed into the next county, Santa Cruz) brought me to the valley of the Pájaro, here a slow-winding, reedy stream. By noon we were at Watsonville, the California metropolis of apples. Certain peculiarities of soil and climate in this valley combine to favor this particular crop, but much is due also to an element of European thoroughness. The careful, old-fashioned methods of a colony of Dalmatians who settled here many years ago have brought the industry to such success that, in California, to hear of apples is to think of Watsonville. I was told that the bulk, and the best, of the orchards lay along the foothills to the north; but I rode through mile on mile of prosperous groves, where harvest was just beginning; and wagons in long procession passed me loaded with fragrant boxes bound for the railway.

After passing a small village formerly known as "Whiskey Hill," but now decorously named "Freedom," the road began to enter the hills, and soon redwoods and spruces appeared. Pretty mountain orchards clung to the hillsides, the thrifty vines and fruit trees running up to meet the timber and mountain brush. Bracken grew along the roadside, mingled with wild oats and yellow autumn flowers; and my spirits rose automatically, as they always do, at the prospect of mountains and forests. The long, steep road was not too long for me, though Anton's pace was jaded, and dark had fallen before we reached our quarters for the night at Aptos.

Usually it is not difficult to trace the origin of the names of Western towns, for their histories are seldom long. But I asked in vain for the derivation of this Greek-sounding word. Who, or what, was Aptos? I applied to my landlord, but he could only answer my question with another, — "Aptos, Aptos; well, Aptos is a good name, ain't it?" A quartette of Aptosians arrived after supper, to dangle for an hour about the porch and cultivate the social side by one of those friendly contests of mingled grossness and profanity which pass so often for wit in the rural life of the West. From this hideous atmosphere I escaped to wander for an hour among the redwoods, and listen to the mutter of the sea as it broke against the cliffs half a mile away.

An easy ride next morning through quiet rural roads, and a village or two where loafers on sugar-barrels were dallying with watermelons, brought us to the city of Santa Cruz, lying at the north bend of Monterey Bay. It has a population of some twelve thousand, and seemed to me a staid, ordinary kind of place, though it is much in request as a rendezvous for conventions, and is certainly endowed with an unusually fine bathing-beach. Here once stood another of the Franciscan Missions, but no trace of it remains.

The mountain belt that rises to the north of Santa Cruz carries a particularly fine forest of redwoods. I could not think of missing these noble giants, so once more I abandoned the coast for a few days and struck directly into the mountains. The road followed the course of the beautiful San Lorenzo River, and I was soon again in the companionship of the trees, — a mingling of sequoia, spruce, alder, bay, box-elder, and maple. The cañon is a deep one, and the narrow road is cut into its western side, giving fine views up and down the wooded gorge.

Automobiles were unusually numerous and irresponsible, charging down on us round the sharpest curves with no formalities of horn-blowing. After Anton had passed through various stages of indignation and alarm, he could see nothing for it but to turn and bolt from every car we met, and I had some exciting moments while we pirouetted about on the edge of the five-hundred-foot chasm.

As I was eating my lunch by a spring beside the road, a sound of shouting began to come up out of the cañon. It was in a peculiar sing-song drawl, and came nearer and nearer until, when it arrived close to where I sat, I stood up to see what phenomenon was about to appear. There was a creaking and cracking of underbrush, and then the heads of a yoke of oxen rose above the level of the road, and so remained while two pairs of solemn eyes took stock of me and my companion. Gradually six yoke emerged, followed by a man with a goad, who was the author of the melancholy music, and then by a wagon and trailer on which was a single huge log of redwood. They went quartering about from side to side of the road, and when four similar processions had followed them, and they had all come to anchor, the hubbub ceased, half the oxen lay down, and the drivers gathered at the spring for the noon meal. They were swarthy, bullet-headed fellows, and proved all to be Portuguese, speaking no English, so that our conversation was limited. However, it was full of good-will, expressed in a friendly interchange of wine and tobacco.

Just beyond, a side road led off to a grove of exceptionally fine sequoias. I found the spot given up to picnic arrangements, and the trees themselves bespattered with business cards and unsightly scrawlings. One or two of the largest bore inscriptions, — "Dedicated to the Los Angeles Produce Exchange by the San Francisco Dairy and Fruit Exchange"; and "Dedicated to Reading Commandery No. 42 Knights Templars of Pennsylvania." I pondered these inexplicable labels for some time, and could only conclude that they were examples of the same pitiful ambition that Hamlet observed in a certain kind of players.

The great trees themselves, if one could get them free of these trivialities, are wonderful and stately enough, the tall, tapering shafts rising in superb grace and power, flecked with purple and gold along their fluted channellings. A forest of their kind surrounds them, mingled with a few other species, and the clear, bright river ripples or steals along as seductively as river can do. But I can never enjoy these spots "dedicated" to beer and sandwiches, or even to Masons and butter-men, and I was soon glad to turn away.

A long mountain ridge rose on my left, named Ben Lomond, and this hot day I sighed for a little of the authentic Ben Lomond atmosphere of rain or mist. The locality abounds in handsome country-houses, all with Scottish names, such as "Bonnie Doon," "Strathspey," "Bracken Brae," and "Rowardennen." I put up for the night at the pretty little village of Ben Lomond, where the arrival of a traveller of my order is so rare an event that the children playing in the oak-shaded street sent a deputation to interview me, and ask a few explicit questions, — "Who are you?" "What do you do? " "Where have you come from?" and "Where are you going?" I explained with equal straightforwardness that I was Alexander Selkirk, an Anthropophagus by profession, residing regularly in Kamchatka, but at present on my way to visit the Cham of Tartary; and was pleased to see that the frankness of my replies afforded general satisfaction.

Our road next day continued for a few miles along the cañon of the San Lorenzo as far as a small town called Boulder Creek, chiefly remarkable for supporting an equipment of twenty-one saloons. From here I turned more westerly, following the course of the pretty stream from which the town is named, in order to visit the California Redwood Park, a tract of specially fine timber which has been rescued by the State from destruction and set aside as a public pleasure-ground. Again automobiles were trying (for we were getting within range of the San Francisco pleasure travel), and Anton and I often condoled over our wrongs. At the first opportunity I turned into a side road, rough enough to discourage the hardiest chauffeur, and soon found a trail which led through magnificent forest to the Park.

The summer crop of tourists had departed, and I found that the warden, whose duty it is to assign camping-places to visitors, had gone huckleberrying, like a wise official. This suited me well, and I made haste to pitch camp under a stately redwood, despite the warnings of a quarrelsome colony of squirrels. Here I spent a delightful Sunday, wandering beside brown creeks under superb sequoias and scarcely inferior spruces, and enjoying a veritable feast of huckleberries. It was my first introduction to the plant, and I found a double zest in the fruit when I saw what a sprightly and beautiful shrub supplied it.

I found the impressiveness of these splendid redwoods to be quite unlike that of their relatives, the Giant Trees of the Sierra Nevada. Many of the trees in this belt of forest reach a diameter of over fifteen feet and a height of three hundred, the age of such patriarchs being known to exceed ten centuries. But they seemed to me to lack that individual majesty of bearing which the others express, and to gain their distinction rather from the cumulative effect of their statuesque beauty than from the solemnity of ponderous size and of primogeniture among living things.

I now turned again coastwards over a trail that traversed another noble tract of timber, known as the Big Basin. The shade was almost unbroken, and the trail carpeted deeply with fallen leaves of madroño and tan-bark oak. For hours the silence was unbroken but for Anton's muffled footfalls, and a curious distant sound, which greatly interested him, and which I guessed to be the moan of the syren at Pigeon Point, seven miles away. Now and then an acorn dropped sharply, or at a push of wind a few leaves came whispering down. The great stems of the redwoods were powdered with the gray rime of age, and the foliage showed the rich tinge of russet peculiar to this evergreen, the dead leaves of which long remain attached to the tree.

IMAGE: A Forest Road in Santa Cruz County

A FOREST ROAD IN SANTA CRUZ COUNTY
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

My admiration was constantly divided between the exquisite symmetry of the redwoods, the rugged magnificence of the spruces, and the rich red gleam of the madroño stems. The forest flowers were long past, but there was no lack for them; for here was a touch of scarlet or crimson from frost-stained poison-oak, there a yellowing leaf-spray of tan-bark oak. All was gold, green, purple, and the sensitive warm or wan tones of autumn.

So we lounged along, a mile an hour. Anton was always curious about my note-book. Usually I did my scribbling in the saddle, but when I was leading him and stopped to write, he would watch me with his head a little cocked and a puzzled air that plainly asked, "What on earth are you always up to with that bit of stick?" After some miles we crossed the west fork of Waddell Creek at a lovely place of dim pools, mossed rocks, and waving ferns. Reaching the next crest, on a sudden we were among arid brush and digger-pines, with a blaze of sunlight reflected from a white, shaly soil. After the hours of greenness and "dim religious light" the change was startling.

At the next rise I looked out upon the familiar sight of a deep seaward cañon up which the fog was creeping. Its waves were just rosied by the evening sun, and timbered shoulders of mountain stood up, darkly purple, through the fleecy sea. Down this cañon we pursued our way in thoughtful mood attuned to the gathering shadows, and came by dusk to a lonely ranch where I made application for our lodging. The good people made us welcome, and I enjoyed the unwonted luxury of a table piled with magazines beside the social hearth of a cultivated family.

A few miles of travel next day down the cañon of Whitehouse Creek brought me to the coast at Franklin Point. A thin mist overhung sea and shore, and through it I could dimly see in the south Point Año Nuevo, with a lighthouse on the adjacent little island. The coast here, though not high, is picturesque with scattered rocks and a sea vexed into continual turmoil.

Five miles to the north is the hamlet of Pigeon Point. A handsome lighthouse stands on the cliff. I like to pay my respects to these beneficent sentinels, so I called there, and was courteously shown over the building by one of the officers, who explained to me the latest triumphs of invention in lighthouse equipment.

From Pigeon Point the road passed for mile on mile through a gray land, inordinately dusty, and palliated only by occasional boons in the shape of thickets of goldenrod or a sprinkling of lavender asters. A dull sea with an uneasy voice kept us close company, and about once an hour we met a team or passed a lichened farmhouse. After crossing a lagoon which lies at the mouth of the Arroyo de los Frijoles, — thus does the Spanish aggrandize even humble Bean Creek, — the road lay along the cliff beside Pebble Beach, locally famous for agates and moonstones. A hotel stood on the bluff, with no other house in sight and no appearance of having so much as a solitary guest to entertain. Its windy desolation was so discouraging that I could not bring myself to try their entertainment, though it was time to think of stopping. Before long I found a road leading inland, and turning into it came to a broad green cañon with a winding creek. A couple of miles away I saw the little town of Pescadero, standing prettily backed by wooded ridges, its white houses shining in the evening sun. In due course we marched into town, where I was just in time for supper at the comfortable inn.

The experience of Moss Landing was repeated. A party of bibulous sportsmen arrived during the evening and pervaded the place with noise and profanity. When I learned that the noisiest, thirstiest, and most obscene of the group was a banker of San Francisco, I congratulated myself that no funds of mine were in his keeping, and hoped that warning visions might be vouchsafed to his clients in their dreams.