CALIFORNIA COAST TRAILS
CHAPTER XVIII

Dust and wild flowers — Half Moon Bay — "Gilt-edged" real-estate — The Montara Mountain coast — First view of San Francisco Bay — Colma: an Italian lodging-house — San Francisco: as in 1906, and now: Bohemia: Stevenson: the Mission Dolores — Ferry to Sausalito — Mill Valley — Mount Tamalpais: a famous view — The Muir Woods: more splendid redwoods — Willow Camp — First rain — Bolinas Lagoon — Lonely country and a lonely ranch — A pleasant meeting — Drake's Bay: the Golden Hind: the first Protestant service on Pacific shores: Drake's monument, and "Drake's Drum."

IN the last day's travel we had crossed from Santa Cruz into San Mateo County. Now ensued twenty miles of dreadful dust, but compensated by a grateful scarcity of automobiles, though we were now nearing San Francisco and were almost in the latitude of the southern end of the bay. The coast road is continuously hilly, and the great bulk of travel follows the level inland road by way of Palo Alto and San Jose. Brown, monotonous hills rolled along on the east, treeless but for occasional clumps of eucalyptus that marked the rare farmhouses. Now and then the road came out upon high whitish cliffs fringed with a broad band of surf, the growl of which was a matter of never-failing interest to Anton.

Fog obscured the ocean at a mile or two from shore. The roadside bushes were drab with five months of drought, but a few asters and late wild roses still kept their cheerful smiles, and their petals were as pure and bright as though newly washed by the rains of spring, — a miracle which I never cease to admire in wild flowers in general, and those of our dry California summers especially.

At the village of San Gregorio I noted one reason for the small amount of travel on the road when I saw the collection of wagons that were drawn up awaiting their drivers, who were circulating industriously from saloon to saloon. Nearing Tunitas Creek, we were greeted by the screech of a locomotive, and I found that we were at the temporary terminus of the Ocean Shore Railroad, which comes down the coast thus far from San Francisco.

Then we passed a straggling settlement named Purisima, the capital, so to speak, of a grant of land enjoying the lengthy title of Cañada Verde y Arroyo de la Purísima; and soon arrived at the town of Half Moon Bay, lying a mile inland from the shore of the bay itself, which I could see curving round to the northwest, where it terminated in the promontory of Pillar Point. It was still fairly early, but I felt really unable to face any more dust for one day. So we sought our respective quarters, and I, for my part, subsided without delay into a bath.

Next day was the equinox, and the morning was dull, threatening (or, a better way of putting it, promising) rain. We were early on the road, which rounded the head of the bay, passing through a number of new-born "cities" whose existence was to be known mainly by pitiful little cement sidewalks, already bulging and broken. Each place in succession adjured me by stentorian sign-boards not to miss the wealth that awaited investors in its "gilt-edged" lots. It was a boon to exchange the songs of these financial syrens for the charms of a sea and sky alike of wistful gray, lighted ever and anon by gleams of gold that bore no hint of real estate.

The road came again to the shore at Montara Point, where there is a small lighthouse. A mile ahead a fine mountain came sharply to the sea, and I could trace a road graded steeply over it. I had not expected another taste of the mountains so near as I now was to San Francisco, and I rejoiced at the sight. We soon began the climb, which brought magnificent views of cliff and sea, often several hundred feet almost sheer below.

The mist lay thickly over the water at a little distance from shore, and I had to leave to the mind's eye the view I had anticipated, of the sails or smoke of many vessels making to the Golden Gate. From the summit of the grade I looked out to the north upon the green valley of San Pedro and the long line of cliff shore that runs to the entrance of the great bay. Below, the fine headland of San Pedro Point stood out to the west, ending in a picturesque little island pinnacled like an iceberg; and farther to the north I could just discern the outline of the high, bold coast of Marin.

A steep descent followed by a few miles of monotonous road brought us to Laguna Salada, where I found an ambitious hotel and another array of empty streets and avenues. Then came a winding road, which at length turned inland and climbed a long ascent. At the top I turned in my saddle to take, as I thought, a backward view of the country I had been travelling. To my surprise I saw nothing that I could recognize, but, instead, a coast-line entirely strange to me. After a puzzled moment it dawned upon me that I was looking down upon the Bay of San Francisco, and we took a few minutes' rest while I digested the fact and congratulated myself on having reached this salient point of the expedition.

Opposite rose the long brown ridge of San Bruno Mountain, with the small town of Colma at its foot. I turned Anton towards it, and after interminable miles of vegetable gardens arrived in the town by evening, to find that there was neither hotel nor livery-stable in the place. San Francisco was still several miles away, and Anton was tired, so I was averse to going any farther. With some difficulty I got Anton accommodated at a private stable, and found a bed for myself at an Italian lodging-house which was also a saloon.

Here I dined on soup, macaroni, and the thinnest of wine with the proprietor (who bore an astonishing likeness to the Emperor Nero), his jolly wife and baby, and eleven other sons of Italy. During the evening the landlord entertained the company with operatic airs on his accordion, a complicated instrument which he played with remarkable skill; while the wife, with the greatest good humor, performed peasant dances for us amid our cheers, and the fat baby tumbled happily about on the pool-table in the delicate olive costume in which she was born.

The population of Colma is almost entirely Italian, and I could better imagine myself in Naples than on the edge of San Francisco; none the less so while I tossed about all night on a straw mattress, tortured by fleas and mosquitoes of truly Neapolitan ferocity.

Next morning, with the one eye which the mosquitoes had left in condition, I piloted Anton among unlimited electric cars and automobiles into San Francisco, and left him at a stable on Mission Street. Matters of tailoring, bootmaking, and other small affairs detained me in the city for a few days, during which time I enlarged the acquaintance with new San Francisco which I had begun on my last visit, soon after the historic disaster of 1906. My recollections of that time were of a Sahara of choking gray dust, through which loomed the ruins, apparently, of some city of antiquity, just discovered and in process of being excavated. As I climbed then along the hummocky streets I had looked down into gaping chasms hideous with débris, among which sat files of gritty goblins, chip, chip, chipping away eternally at mountains of old bricks. The air rang with the sound of their trowels. Huge girders and shafts of smoke-blackened masonry rose spectrally here and there, and from the sides of the pits twisted pipes projected with a ghastly resemblance to severed arteries.

I found now a splendid city of steel and marble, with monster hotels, palatial banks, and sky-scraping office buildings. Here and there a vacant lot still gaped like a missing tooth, and hinted the grim words, Fire, and Earthquake. But wonderful as the resurrection has been, I found, as usual, that the features of the place attracted me in inverse ratio to their newness. It was less of pleasure to feast at the St. Francis than at the Café de la Tour Eiffel, where one walks on sanded floors, sits at old tables "larded with the steam of thirty thousand dinners," and dines off cabbage soup, boiled beef, and wine decidedly ordinaire: where the company is perhaps as much Alsatian as Bohemian, and probably as well worth noticing as that which one would meet at the famous Club. M. Defarge had, moreover, legends of Stevenson to relate, and directed me to Portsmouth Square, near by, where I found the monument to his memory, fortunately spared by the earthquake.

While I stood before it, up came first a natty Japanese and then a dusty Italian laborer, to drink at the fountain. Seeing me reading the inscription. they inquired whom and what it was about. I read them the well-known sentences, "To be honest, to be kind," and so on, and did my best at a brief exposition of the general meaning, thinking how the incident would have pleased the cosmopolitan R. L. S. himself.

I paid my visit also to the Mission of San Francisco de Asis, the "Mission Dolores" of Bret Harte's sketch. It never can have been a very attractive building, but it has its interest as the church of the old town of Yerba Buena, the germ of the present capital of the Western United States. The Mission, which Bret Harte "gave but a few years longer to sit by the highway and ask alms in the name of the blessed saints," has survived his prophecy much longer already than he thought, and has been renovated to a better condition than the "ragged senility" in which he saw it. But the churchyard is to-day much as he described it, and I take the willow tree growing beside the deep brown wall to be the same that he noted. The place is rank with vegetation, yet not untidy; and even with its modern surroundings there is a gentle quietude about it that seemed to me more pleasing and humane than the spick-and-span elegance of shaven lawns and parterres of formal flowers.

I climbed "the rocky fastnesses of Telegraph Hill," prowled among the incongruities of the foreign quarter and the chromatic heathendom of Chinatown, ferried over to Oakland and mingled with the collegians on the campus of the University of Berkeley, and finally wandered for an afternoon in Golden Gate Park, where I saw bands of quail running fearlessly among the shrubbery, — a charming sight from which I argue that, notwithstanding the general belief, San Franciscans cannot after all be wholly bad.

It was two days before the end of September when at early morning I guided Anton down to the ferry. We were objects of much interest to passers-by in cars and on sidewalks; no doubt of envy also to not a few. Motormen took delight in springing a sudden salute of bells at us as they sped by, and newsboys varied their chant of "Chronicle! Call! Zaminer!" with joyous yells of "Whoop! See the cowboy!" Anton took his surroundings more calmly than might have been expected, considering the contrast with his native sage-plains; though he glanced anxiously up each side street for a way of escape. And when after three miles of constant tension he felt the tremor of the boat, he gazed at me with a startled expression that seemed to say, "Look here, this thing must be hollow. How do you know it won't fall to pieces?"

We disembarked at Sausalito, on the southeast point of the Marin Peninsula, ready for the northern and last division of the trip. Sausalito is a pretty little town built on hills that overlook the bay. Here I got my delayed breakfast, and then leisurely took the road along the placid bay shore. Ahead rose the striking shape of Mount Tamalpais, with the village of Mill Valley on its forest-clouded foot. To the west rose low hills, at first brown and thinly timbered, but gradually taking a sprinkling of redwoods amid which were dotted the houses of fortunate suburbanites.

I put up at the village for the night, and next morning climbed the mountain to secure that renowned view with which all California tourists are familiar. Before I reached the top, I was ready to wish I had patronized the railway which runs to the summit by a series of spectacular curves and loopings. The day was hot, the way shadeless, and for half the distance the trail is over loose sliding stones and at an excessive slope. I had a dark suspicion that the directors of the railway might have had these thousands of tons of broken rock dumped here, with the idea of discouraging pedestrians.

After all, when I gained the top I found many of the notable features of the landscape obscured by the mists of late summer; and over the region I most wished to see, namely, the panorama of Drake's Bay and Point Reyes, there hung a curtain of haze as thick as if all the accumulated dust of San Francisco had gathered there. Still, I was able to recognize the twin peaks of Mount Diablo, thirty-five miles to the east, and Mount St. Helena, fifteen miles farther away in the north. Nearer by to the northeast lay the town of San Rafael, the site of the most northerly and last in order of foundation, but one, of the Franciscan Missions, but of which, after the lapse of less than a century, no trace remains.

On leaving Mill Valley I turned westward toward the coast. It was a cloudy day, with a promise of rain, and the road was delightfully rural. Within half an hour I noticed deer-tracks by the roadside, and everywhere the finger of autumn had touched the foliage with the rich and tender beauty of decay.

Two or three miles brought us to the Muir Woods, a splendid tract of woodland that was presented to the nation a few years ago by a prominent Californian, to be held as a perpetual monument to the premier of Western naturalist-writers. The woods are the most beautiful of any preserved enclosure that I have ever seen, and the soft gray day gave them their finest aspect. The special glory of the place is in the redwoods. The great shafts rise in natural majesty from a handsomely varied undergrowth, and here and there stand individual groups, like the side chapels of a cathedral, with high rose-windows opening to the sky, rich with tracery of twig, and branch, and plumy spray. A brown creek threads its way along, mingling its childlike narrative with fluting of bird, chatter of squirrel, and solemn monotone of forest wind.

I rode for an hour or two about this choice spot, letting Anton take me where he would, since all alike was charming: then took the trail directly for the coast. It passed over a high, windy moorland, varied with broken forest of oak, spruce, and redwood. The view seaward, though somewhat obscured by haze, showed the narrow tongue of Point Bonita, and in faint outline the northern part of the San Francisco peninsula, with a few vessels inward or outward bound through the Golden Gate. To the west lay the long silver reach of the Bolinas Lagoon, and at the nearer end the scattering village of Willow Camp. Here I arrived at sundown, and found quarters at a sort of nondescript inn, well known to the sportsmen of the Bay cities, who resort here in winter to make war upon the ducks of the lagoon.

Except for the inn itself the place is new, and consists only of the country cottages of a few San Franciscans. Its situation and surroundings are very attractive. The curving beach opens southward upon a breezy tract of sea dotted with the shipping of the greatest port of the Pacific. Steep hills rise close behind it to two thousand feet of altitude, the edge of a broad belt of finely broken country. The hollows and cañons are dark with timber, mostly picturesque thickets of wind-shorn laurel. Far away on the horizon lie the desolate islands of the Farallones with their lonely lighthouse and year-long clamor of gulls.

I was awakened at night by the sound of heavy rain on the tent in which I slept. It was the first rain I had experienced, except for a slight sprinkle or two, since I left Los Angeles in the middle of May. Now it was the first of October, and I took the change as a hint that I had better complete my expedition quickly.

The next day, which was Sunday, brought a few more showers and a magnificent entertainment of cloud-forms that piled in slumbering thunder on the seaward horizon and dragged in Ossian-like gloom along the heights that back the village. But the day closed in a Sabbath serenity, and the next morning came clear, with a cheerful wind from the north that forecast a continuance of fair weather.

We took our way westward, following the northern margin of the lagoon. Choirs of blackbirds in the reeds sang their loudest in praise of the day, and I was fain to join the chorus. Anton, too, was in his best humor, and strode along with a free gait, though not without an eye to the scraps of green that fringed the road, mixed among thickets of wild rose, asters, and sultry goldenrod. A few pleasure-boats were cruising about, and files of waterfowl manœuvred on the placid water. It was much too pretty a morning for one to be in a hurry, and noon had come before we reached the village of Bolinas, which lies at the western point of the lagoon. Thence the road continued westward at a little distance from the sea, through a quiet, treeless land with an occasional dairy-farm staring from the brown hill-sides.

For hours we kept this lonely road, meeting only one team during the whole afternoon. Towards evening we began to enter a rougher country, with sharply broken hills bearing a scattering growth of spruce. At a solitary farm I stopped to prospect for accommodation, but could find no one about the place. Anton's behavior at such times was always amusing. He would watch me eagerly as I went to the house, and when, as in this case, no door was opened in response to my knock, his anxiety became quite comic, and he would gaze at me with serious concern and an air of conferring with me as to what was to be done now.

As it had been some miles since we passed the last ranch, I did not want to go farther lest it might be as far on to the next. The necessity, as ever, was for fodder, for long before now the pasturage had been exhausted to a point that would mean starvation for an animal in work.

After passing half an hour in dispute with a contentious sow that seemed to be in charge of the premises, a young woman galloped up on horseback, and a moment later a young man followed in a wagon. I explained my needs, and was invited to put up my horse and to sleep in the house if I chose. They were brother and sister, Italian-Swiss, and speaking little English, so that conversation was somewhat obstructed. But I was glad to share their simple, hearty supper, and slept finely on my clean straw bed, in spite of three glum saints and a scowling cardinal who decorated the walls of the little whitewashed room.

When I came to saddle up next morning, I found that while I slumbered my enemy the sow had overhauled my saddle-bags, with the result that I was "out" my single loaf of bread, two pounds of bacon, the half of a note-book (fortunately unused), and a few revolver cartridges. I wished there were some means of exploding these last, in loco.

The country here was very interesting in appearance. A group of small fresh-water lakes lies near the shore, which rises to a picturesque moorland backed by irregular hills. Seaward, the Farallones showed like icebergs on the sky-line, and the long arm of Point Reyes marked the outline of Drake's Bay. Hours passed without a sign of human life: once or twice a deer appeared in some glade among the brush, and frequent coveys of quail whirred away as we put them up. This is a magnificent game country, and the fact has not been overlooked by the sporting clubs, whose notices hailed me on all sides with threats of Severe Penalties and Utmost Rigors.

While Anton was making the most of a halt by a spring with a few square yards of verdure, I was joined by two officers of the Coast Artillery Corps, who were out from the Military Reservation at Point Bonita for the three-day test ride invented by an ex-President of strenuous memory. It was a pleasant meeting, and seemed a fitting place for Americans and Britons to fraternize, looking out over the historic waters of Drake's Bay. It happened that we met on opposite circuits, but we made an appointment to dine together in the evening at Olema, our common objective for the day.

Coming to a ranch-house a few miles farther on, I stopped for lunch. I always enjoy these chance meals at all sorts and conditions of places. The people here again were Italian-Swiss, and if the dishes were a shade overdone with garlic the good-will was all that could be desired. Then, taking a southward road down Bear Cañon, I rode for a mile or two beside a pretty stream under a sort of tunnel formed by prodigious bays whose mossy branches joined overhead. The scent, though it is a pleasant one, was almost overpowering. Ferns banked the roadside solidly by the mile; and the light, filtered through triple screens of verdure, was like the soft, clear greenness of a mermaid's grotto.

From where the cañon issued near the shore, I rode a few miles westward to the edge of Drake's Bay. It was a spot I had greatly wished to visit, and I threw myself down on the cliff to enjoy the occasion and the scene. So here lay the little Golden Hind, three hundred and thirty-two years ago, having come thus far on her memorable circumnavigation; and this is the shore where brave Drake landed, and "called this country Nova Albion, and that for two causes; the one in respect of the white banks and cliffs, which lie towards the sea, and the other because it might have some affinity with our country in name, which sometime was so called."

The scene was not specially striking in itself, and I thought it all the better that it was not, but just the old simplicity of cliff and sea. A rattling breeze blew from the northwest, and under it the long surges came swinging in and broke with dogged persistence at the base of the hundred-foot cliff. A few sea-birds battled and screamed against the wind, and a couple of hawks answered them from landward.

It was then, too, that for the first time on the Pacific shores a Protestant service, after the order of the Church of England, was held by Master Fletcher; when "our General with his company went to prayer, and to reading of the Scriptures, at which exercise the people of the country were attentive, and seemed greatly to be affected with it." And what happened, I wondered, to the monument the Englishmen set up on that occasion, "namely, a plate, nailed upon a fair great post, whereupon was engraved her Majesty's name, the day and year of our arrival there, with the free giving up of the province and people into her Majesty's hands, together with her Highness' picture and arms, in a piece of six pence of current English money, under the plate, whereunder was also written the name of our General." I suppose it may have long remained there, superstitiously revered by the natives as a token of the prodigy that had happened in the days of their fathers. Then, probably, came some band of Spaniards who, spying the hated names of Drake and Elizabeth, tore or burned it down with cries of execration.

I will mention that before I left the place the spectacle might have been seen of a travel-stained individual on horseback, declaiming, bareheaded, the lines of Mr. Newbolt's lyric of "Drake's Drum." When I pointed out to him that the sight would be a humorous one to an observer, his reply was, "I can't help that. I am an Englishman: and it must always be hats off for Englishmen at the name of Drake."