CALIFORNIA COAST TRAILS
CHAPTER XXI

Forest and foxgloves — Usal — A warm climb — Kenny's: a free-and-easy reception — The autumn woods — Entering Humboldt County — Dry climatic belts — The King's Peak Range — The Mattole Valley — Yews — The village of Petrolia: reminders of earthquake — Cape Mendocino, a salient point: its lighthouse — A sunset — Capetown — The Bear River Range — Cedars — Gentle teamsters — The Sitka spruce — Ferndale — Eel River: an official "hold-up" — Humboldt Bay — Eureka, the capital of northern California: its prospects and history.

THE next morning brought another lovely day of autumn weather. The road now led up the mountain among the timber, of which, although the best had long ago been cut, the second growth was fine enough to be delightful to any tree-lover. It was made up of redwood, spruce, and some lowland fir, with smaller growth of madroño and tan-bark oak, and an underbrush of barberry, huckleberry, and rhododendron, the last, to my regret, long past blooming. Reaching the crest, I looked directly over to the mountains of Humboldt, ridging up in magnificent blue of timber. A lake-like cup of sea lay in middle distance, and in the forested foreground rose huge and rugged stems of redwood.

A long descent led to the abandoned settlement of Rockport. I saw nothing there alive but a few pigs rooting under the old pear and apple trees, and numbers of frisky little trout practising somersaults in the ripples of the creek. It was a pleasant surprise to find foxgloves growing hereabout, — actual rosy, purple-blotched foxgloves, such as I last saw in the lanes of Surrey and Devon. They were growing, too, in proper company, among a tangle of bronze bracken, green and crimson brambles, hazels, and purple-headed thistles. Such a meeting would warm the heart of any traveller, and it called for all my determination to pass the place without camping.

After ten miles more of very hilly road, varied between cliff and forest, I came down by a long grade to a minute hamlet in a deep ravine, with the Norse-sounding name of Usal. Precipitous hills rose all around, except where Usal Creek twists its way out to the sea. It was mid-afternoon, and we were both tired with the heat and climbing, so I was minded to put up, instead of tackling the long, steep climb that showed ahead. Meeting a man with dog and gun, I inquired the number of miles to the next stopping-place, not over ten, I knew. "Fourteen," he answered. I judged by the odd miles that he was the innkeeper, and resolved to go on rather than take his bluff.

We entered now a wonderful tract of forest, the finest I had seen, and evidently virgin, for there was no mark of either cutting or fire. The heat, however, was so great, with so much humidity, that I had little spirit for observation; and once or twice, as I dragged Anton up the steep grade, I really thought sunstroke was imminent. Anton also felt the exhaustion, and reeked with perspiration beyond anything I had seen in the midsummer heat of the valleys farther south. It was an immense relief when evening shades came with delicious temperature, and I rode on leisurely through the grateful gloom, catching glimpses through forest windows of a gorgeous sunset that dulled and died imperceptibly into the clear indigo of nightfall.

It was quite dark before the barking of dogs heralded our approach to an old ranch-house, where I was received with rough hospitality by the successor of the original Kenny whose name the place bears. When I entered the house, a freckled tomboy of five, who was in process of being undressed before the fire and had reached the stage that immediately precedes the nightgown, came charging and butting at me with her tousled head, declaring that she was going to cut off my ears. Such a free-and-easy reception could not fail to put a gentleman at his ease, and did not need her father's admiring apology, "You must n't mind the little omadhaun, surr. She 's a great gurrl, is Soosan, whativerr way you take herr."

The way next morning continued through the same fine forest, varied with occasional but more distant vistas of ocean. Again the day was hot, and we soon fell into a saunter which allowed us to give some attention to side interests, mine mainly botanical, Anton's more of the appetite. Autumn was abroad, with her palette charged with all manner of sober and gorgeous hues. The poison-oak was especially noticeable, glowing in every fine gradation from palest lemon, through chrome yellow, ashy rose, and crimson, on into dark magnificence of dragon's blood. Madroños spread here and there a spray of brilliant scarlet, and their smooth red-brown stems broke startlingly athwart the purple columns of the redwoods. Huckleberries were plentiful and seductive, and I was only sorry that they were not as congenial to my companion's palate as to my own. Even the foliage of this charming plant is so vigorous and dainty that one would think it might be brewed into some healthful sort of beer. Now and then a group of maples shone from some hollow in pale glory of gold. Acorns pattered and cones came softly thumping down at every push of wind. The forest sounds were always interesting to Anton, who glanced from side to side with evident enjoyment, and seemed to be comparing this country with his native Arizona, to the disadvantage of the latter.

In a clearing I noticed a deserted house that was formerly a wayside inn. The proprietor had some time ago shot one of his guests in a quarrel, and had gone into retirement for a time, owing, probably, to the unfortunate falling-off of business that would follow the incident.

During the afternoon we crossed from Mendocino into Humboldt County, the dividing line being the fortieth parallel of latitude. Although the forty-second parallel was recognized as the northern boundary of Mexico's territory at the transfer of 1846, the practical disappearance of Spanish names from the map some distance to the south of where I now was, is a mark of the actual limit of Spanish and Mexican settlement.

The country here, for a short distance showed the marks of a drier climate, and the brush included many plants not found elsewhere so far north. A mountain over which the road passed at this point is called Chamise Mountain, from the common name given to the dry brush growths of the southern part of the State. The moisture-loving redwoods ceased abruptly as we crossed a ridge, while the tracks of deer were unusually plentiful.

By sundown we came to a lonely ranch-house in an amphitheatre of spruce-covered hills. I was surprised to find that this secluded place was until lately a post-office, with the name of Frank. Here I found lodging for self and partner with pleasant people, and in the morning continued on my way by a road paralleling the coast at two or three miles' distance. Shelter Cove, a lumber-shipping point on a pretty bay, lay on a side road to the west. Here again the land lies in a belt of drier climate, and I found a scattering growth of the knob-cone pine, a tree whose liking is all for arid regions. These individuals were unusually full of cones; even little pinelings of two or three feet height had taken thought for the propagation of their race.

Anton was not in good form to-day. I had to keep up a constant hauling when leading him up or down the steep hills, and a chronic drumming of heels when riding. It was my habit, when the hauling became too arduous, to notify him in so many words that I should mount and ride if he did not do better. If there was no improvement, "All right, Anton: just as you say," I added; then got into the saddle without further argument. Anton quite understood this programme. Often the warning took effect, but in the other case he would look at me with soft reproach, heave a profound sigh, and break into a trot which might last for five minutes.

To-day it was continual climbing, either up or down, and we toiled on hour after hour in rather low spirits. The road had turned inland, crossing the King's Peak Range, which here borders the coast. Early in the afternoon we came out on the summit into an open moorland country dotted with fine white oaks, under one of which I subsided, my last ounce of energy exhausted. A half-hour's rest in the shade prepared us for the long descent into the valley of the Mattole. The road seemed interminable, looping and doubling about as if determined to spin out the miles to the limit of our endurance. My map showed a place named Wilder about halfway down, but I could see no settlement whatever. It proved later that a decrepit shack I had passed, standing in a neglected orchard, was the sum total of the village I had been looking for. A mile or two farther on, I met a man with a wagon toiling up the grade, the only human being I had seen since leaving my last night's stopping-place.

I fear I was not much alive to the beauty of the sunset-lighted forest through which we passed, though I recalled afterwards that the scenery had been particularly fine. About dusk we came out of the timber into the valley of the Mattole, a wide, handsome stream, which we forded; and half a mile beyond found a comfortable-looking, old-fashioned ranch-house, with children playing hide-and-seek among the bushes of the garden. Fortunately we could be accommodated. The family was friendly, supper was hilarious with skylarking children, and my spirits soon regained their normal level of content. I slept finely in my little white room, and was only awakened by the morning uproar of the pack of dogs which my host kept to protect his property from the coyotes, wild-cats, and bears that infest the region.

The road now followed the valley of the Mattole, parallel with the coast but at six or eight miles' distance, and shut off from it by the hills of the Cooskie Range. On the other hand rose the higher line of the Rainbow Ridge. This valley was one of the prettiest I had seen. I passed a number of comfortable ranch-houses and many prosperous orchards, principally of apples. From what I saw, I believe this locality is destined to be famous for that. particular crop.

The river is a very delightful one, clear and winding, enlivened with ducks and trout, and the sandy margin was everywhere marked with the tracks of deer. It was deplorable to be unable, for lack of fodder, to take advantage of such superlative attractions for camping, but in default we made the best of the pleasures of the way. We sauntered along munching our apples, drank at every stream and spring, and did not fail to remark on the goodness of the draught.

It was interesting to find a few yews among the varied timber on the south bank of the river. I had not before met the tree in this country, and it was a pleasant surprise to recognize the scarlet-cupped berries shining beneath the graceful sprays of foliage. It has an open and airy manner of growth which makes it quite different from the sombre, close-growing tree of English churchyards.

To-day we had no sight of the sea. The coast here trends considerably westward to Point Gorda, whence it runs north a few miles to Cape Mendocino and thence somewhat more easterly to the Oregon line. The road kept a mean northwesterly course, and by evening I was again approaching the coast, and stopped for the night at the village of Petrolia, lying in the open lower valley of the Mattole.

Petrolia, as its name seemed to signify, once had great expectations in oil, but these have not been realized. This failure, and a double disaster, of fire in 1904, and of earthquake two years later (both, curiously, on the same day of the year), might well discourage the modest settlement. The first hotel had been destroyed by the fire, which nearly obliterated the little place, and the dwelling-house which is now used as an inn was literally broken in half by the earthquake. A landslide had occurred near the summit of a high hill to the east of the village, when the great trees by hundreds were snapped off like matches before the eyes of the terrified Petrolians, roused, or rather, thrown, early from their beds on that fateful morning.

The road now led directly to the coast, passing through an interesting country, alternating between cañons dark with timber and hillsides yellow with parched grass. The firs were here especially fine, and I felt that my old partiality for the family was again justified. An hour's ride brought me to the shore, where I saw, a few miles up the coast, the long profile of Cape Mendocino standing out at sharp angle, with a conical sugar-loaf rock at its point, marking what is the most westerly land of the United States with the exception of Cape Flattery, just on the Canadian border.

Anton was in better fettle to-day, enjoying, like myself, the cool sea wind after several days of heat, and appreciating the level stretches of road, succeeding a long course of hills. He cantered gaily along by the mile, making no account of the two hundred pounds and over of his load. With all respect to Chino, of faithful memory, I must say that if I had had Anton from the start, I should have saved much time, and might have afforded many days for side expeditions which now I had to forego.

At a little cabin by the roadside and close to the beach, I met with two of the county officers who were stealing away from official cares to spend a few days with the deer, trout, and quail. While we ate our lunch together, one of them, an old Humboldt and Trinity man, tapped the reminiscent vein to lively effect. The days of his youth, forty years ago, were wild ones in these regions, and he himself had more than once been "feathered" (as he put it) by the redskins, as his souvenir scars attested.

By the time I took the road, my old friend the Pacific fog, which during the morning I had seen lying in wait offshore, had crept in and was pouring in chilly wreaths over the crests of the northern hills. A couple of miles took us to Cape Mendocino, a headland of some geographical renown. It was discovered in 1542 by Cabrillo, who named it in honor of "the illustrious señor" Antonio de Mendoza, then Viceroy of Mexico, and its far westerly projection rendered it always a salient point in early navigations along this coast. I did not fail to pay homage to the memory of the brave seaman who, only fifty years after the discovery of the Western continent, was exploring far up this unknown coast for what more might be added to the glory of Spain, beyond the marvels of Mexico and Peru. But that that glory was even then almost at the beginning of its decline, there would hardly have occurred that strange discrepancy between the civilization of the eastern and western sides of the continent which was only ended by the gold discoveries of 1848.

A cluster of white buildings set high up on the slope of the cape marked the lighthouse. I climbed up to it and found the building to be a small, low one; but its situation four hundred feet above the tide enables it to send its beam far out over the dark night waters. Four miles farther out at sea a lightship is stationed to mark a reef.

It was drawing towards evening when I turned my horse into the road and took my way down to the valley of the Bear River. The fog lay close along the coast, but inland the country was glowing with a sunset of unusual beauty. The Bear River Range rose opposite, veiled in amethystine haze, and below me the middle distance was a mystery of fairy-like hues, only defined here and there by purple masses of fir forest. Behind, for contrast, the ocean showed cold and sullen under gray wreaths of fog, but its voice came from the distance with a wistful tone that blended with the evening reverie of color. An hour's ride took us to the valley, and splashing through the stream in the dusk we came into the village of Capetown, where a neat inn and a comfortable stable respectively awaited us.

The road from here led next day over the Bear River Range. The fog had stayed in, and alleviated the long hard climb up the southward facing slope. Now and then a wash of pale sunlight broke through, revealing the massed trees on the ridges to the south and east. On nearing the summit we entered the timber, mainly of spruce, but mixed here and there with scattering red cedars (Thuja plicata). This was another tree that was new to me, and is the timber of which the long canoes once used by the Indians of this coast were made. I tied Anton, and spent a good deal of time in tramping about among a prodigious tangle of damp brush and ferns, making myself acquainted with the features of the species. It is a tree similar in foliage but quite different in fruit from the incense cedar of the Sierra.

While I was eating lunch beside a brook that crossed the road, two heavy wagons came crawling up and stopped for the midday hour while the teams and teamsters fed and rested. The men had been driving over this road regularly for some time, and had made friends with all the small wild life of the immediate locality. Evidently they were expected. Birds came swooping toward them as soon as they saw that they had arrived, and were fed with bits of bread which they took boldly from their hands. Three chipmunks dined in a litter of hay set out for them close by; and lizards were regaled with flies which had been caught for the purpose during the morning. The men were rough enough in speech and manner, but evidently their quality of heart was recognized by the democracy of the wild.

Now came a descent as long as the rise, but beautified with fine timber. Here appeared yet another coniferous tree, the Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis), a handsome but somewhat mournful tree with long trailing branchlets that hang like the funeral fringes of undertakers. It is most interesting to the travelling tree-lover to meet thus one after another the particular species of his locality.

A rough and peculiarly broken tract, known as "the Wild-Cat Country," occurs here, and with it a doleful quantity of burned timber. Farms were few and secluded, and I guessed from the appearance of the few people I passed on the road that a large proportion of the farmers are Scandinavians. Coming at length down a long grade, I saw below me the wide valley of the Eel River, and the river itself (at this season at its lowest, but not a contemptible stream) with the town of Ferndale lying prettily on the southern edge of the valley. Looking round to the west I could make out a thin white line of surf, four miles away. Ferndale is a fair-sized town for this thinly populated country, with several stores, a bank, and the unwonted choice of two hotels. The next day being Sunday, I passed here a peaceful gray day, enjoying by contrast walking among the old-fashioned cottage gardens, full of cosmos, autumn roses, and a hawthorn or two with red haws twinkling among the bronze foliage.

Next morning I took the road for Eureka, an authentic city, and what may be called the capital of the northern part of the State, as San Francisco is of the central and Los Angeles of the southern portions. The morning was overcast, with a thin mist filling the valley and giving a spectral air to the scattered spruces that sprinkled the landscape. At Singley I met the northern division of the Northwestern Pacific Railway, the southern part of which I had left two hundred miles to the south. Here also I crossed the Eel River, paying toll for the use of a bridge which, as I found when I came to the place where it should have been, did not exist. It was an interesting question whether I had paid my "two bits" for the view of the ruins of the old bridge, or as a forced contribution toward the cost of the fine new one which I saw at a little distance upstream, nearly ready for use.

Our road now crossed a flat-topped hill known as Table Bluff. The country here is dairy-land of the richest, and I passed many wagons that were taking their morning tribute of milk to the creamery at Ferndale. A mile or two brought us within sight of Humboldt Bay, marked by the long spit of sand that separates it from the ocean, and almost renders it landlocked. I was soon skirting the eastern shore of the bay, and passed through two or three small waterside places where vessels were loading with lumber. By early afternoon we were once more, and for the last time, among trolley-poles and street-cars, and in due course we entered Eureka and put up for a couple of days.

The city of Eureka looks older than it is. It was in 1850 that the first settlement, of some two dozen people, was made, only sixty years ago (though even that is a respectable age for the West). But something, probably the dampness of its climate, keeps the paint of its houses subdued to a comfortable dinginess. It is a pushing, thriving city of some twelve thousand people, and, even in advance of the completion of its railway connection with the central and southern parts of the State and with the world in general, the place has shared fully in the great Western trek. With its fine bay, fourteen miles long, and its other commercial attractions, no doubt its citizens have grounds for the exuberance of their forecasts. Apart from practical considerations, it was interesting to recall that Bret Harte here took his first steps toward fame by means of the local newspaper; and to see the remains of Old Fort Humboldt, where General (then Lieutenant) Grant was stationed for a time some years before the great war provided his great opportunity.

It seems probable that but for the narrowness of the entrance to the bay, and the surf which obscures the passage, a Spanish settlement would have been made at this point. The harbor appears to have been overlooked entirely until the year 1806, when Captain Winship, employed on this coast by the Russian-American Fur Company, was informed by one of his Aleuts of the existence of a fine bay beyond the line of surf, and piloted his ship, the Ocean, safely into the quiet waters.