CALIFORNIA COAST TRAILS
CHAPTER III

San Juan Hot Springs — San Mateo — A princely ranch: the Santa Margarita — Vicissitudes of Western towns: Fallbrook — Palomar Mountain — The village of Pala — The wronged Indians of Agua Caliente — The Mission of San Antonio at Pala — American hospitality at the old Monserate ranch-house — Echoes of the past: Don Tomás Alvarado — Wild-cats — The San Luis Rey Valley — Wayside interludes — The Guajome: its deterioration — The Mission of San Luis Rey, as "restored" — Oceanside — Companionship and moods of the sea — Night at La Costa.

A DOZEN miles or so inland from San Juan Capistrano are the San Juan Hot Springs. The short journey thither was fully justified by the beauty of the mountain cañon in which the springs are situated. We gazed at one another expectantly after taking our baths in the hot sulphur water, but were bound to admit that the soft and velvety complexions that are promised as a result had not been achieved.

Turning again westward we followed the valley of the San Juan down to the coast. Then for a few miles the road lay along the beach, in company with the railroad. Now and then a train passed us, and jaded passengers lolling in corner seats turned eyes of envy (or so we thought) upon us as we rode leisurely along on our uncommercial travels. By sundown we arrived at San Mateo, which we found to consist of two ranch-houses and a water-tank, to say nothing of the name. Here we camped on the border-line of the counties of Orange and San Diego, and performed the feat of cooking our supper in one county and eating it in the other.

A long extent of thinly settled country continues to the southward, broken by cañons whose names offered interesting matter for speculation in advance and confirmation in experience: — El Horno (the oven), Piedra de Lumbre (firestone), and Las Pulgas (the fleas).

Again we left the coast and struck inland. After crossing Aliso Creek the road led up a long winding cañon, and then descended steeply to a wide green valley in which ranged great bands of cattle. It was the Home Ranch of the Santa Margarita, one of the largest of those princely estates in which the lands of California were held under the former rule. The house is a charming adobe roofed with tiles, built in the Spanish mode around a flowery patio. Cascades of roses, bougainvilleas, and trailing geraniums pour over every fence: hammocks, benches, and an olla of cool water invite one into the shade of the veranda, where antlers of deer are set above the heavy doors and barred Spanish windows: hill and valley, as far as the eye can range, are stippled with grazing cattle; and the air of the whole place is that of large, simple interests, moving quietly on year by year from a serene past to a tranquil future.

We camped beside the creek, and passed a strenuous evening in battle with the mosquitoes. A full moon shone down upon us and lighted the enemy to the attack. I turned in early, and, protected by an oilskin drawn loosely over my head, lay and listened with deep pleasure to their excited voices outside.

From here we took the road to the east through the rural town of Fallbrook. This is one of the many California towns that owe their birth to great expectations which have never been realized. Fallbrook once boasted a railroad, but the time-tables know its name no more. A large hotel, its gay paint subdued to a pessimistic gray, bears the inconsequent name of "The Naples." The only signs of life revealed by a careful survey of the main street at midday were two urchins eating ice-cream and an elderly man with a faded valise who stood gazing up and down the street, evidently looking for means of escape.

A long and dusty road bordered with groves of sleepy olives led straight toward the mountains. In due course ensued grateful intervals of oaks, and then, better still, glimpses of forested peaks, of which the highest was Palomar Mountain (more often called by its alias after "a party by the name of Smith"), It was good to see that dark, dim blue of timber, and to know that the great friendly pines were thriving away up there, while they looked down on us who loved them, in the hot and dusty valley.

The miles strung out unconscionably, but at last we saw, far up the valley, a low white tower which we knew to be the campanile of the Mission of San Antonio of Pala. In the gathering dusk we rode into the village, and bivouacked in the adobe-walled courtyard in the rear of the general store.

IMAGE: The Mission of San Antonio at Pala

THE MISSION OF SAN ANTONIO AT PALA
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

We dined in dust and darkness, and later, when the moon came up, wandered for an hour about the village. Lights shone here and there in the windows of the cottages; the humble white-railed graves in the little Indian cemetery glimmered under the shadow of the old tower whose bells had counted out the lives of all that sleeping company; a mandolin tinkled; the mountains rose near and solemn all around; a bar of warm light shone from the half-open door of the padre's room in the cloister; from a new building across the street came the click of billiard balls. So even Pala suffers change.

Its great change came when a few years ago the Indians of Agua Caliente, on Warner's Ranch, twenty miles to the east, were forcibly and (to go back to principles weightier than the law) shamefully driven from the place that they and their fore-fathers had inhabited from time immemorial, and on which there chanced to be some valuable mineral springs that invited exploitation. The Indians of Pala had dwindled to few in number, in compliance with the fiat that is ruling the American aborigines out of existence; so in a businesslike manner it was decided to lump the Agua Calientes with them, to mingle or refrain as they chose. Of course they protested, and their friends among the whites appealed; but some one in authority on the other side of the continent had said it was to be, and it was done. Amid their lamentations they were carted over the mountains with their pitiful belongings, and here they now live, in a row of flimsy little houses, with numbers on the doors, quite respectable, comparatively prosperous, and deeply wronged. It is one more item on a long account. Their Indian hearts still yearn for the old places: even the grasses for basket-making are not so good, the women said to me, as those of Agua Caliente. "Are not Abana and Pharpar" —?

The little church is inviting in its whitewashed simplicity. It is a plain rectangle of adobe, with tiled floor, unceiled roof, a few plain benches, and an altar ornamented with paper flowers and other humble offerings whose irrelevance (to a Protestant eye) may well be redeemed by their pathos. The genial young priest has charge of four small Indian settlements beside this of Pala, namely, Potrero, Rincon, Pachanga, and Pauma. They all lie in the neighboring mountain region, and with his little buggy and his sagacious roan he drives about his wide parish, baptizing, marrying, and burying his Indians, — as interesting and romantic a field of labor, I should think, as any in America.

IMAGE: The Interior of the Curch at  the Mission of San Antonio

THE INTERIOR OF THE CURCH AT THE MISSION OF SAN ANTONIO
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

Leaving Pala about mid-afternoon we turned coastward, following the course of the San Luis Rey River. Night overtook us before we had found grazing and water for our animals, and the prospect was not cheering. We were thinking of turning back under necessity to the least undesirable spot we had noted when we came in sight of a ranch-house, toward which we made. In response to our hail a lantern appeared, and the prompt reply to our inquiry whether we might put up there for the night was, "You bet you can!" Certainly any one might bet on it at the sound of that hearty voice. "Why don't you fellers throw down your blankets on the hay? I reckon that's softer'n the ground," was the next suggestion, and we wanted nothing better. Our horses plunged their noses into the hay, and we fell to preparing our own supper. But, not satisfied with these benefits, our friendly host or his kind wife would appear every five minutes with "Can you fellers use some milk for your coffee?" or "Maybe you fellers like tomatoes? Well, here's a dish of them, and there's half an acre more over yonder"; or some other hospitable inquiry. It seemed as if they had been just waiting for some opportunity to shower benefits on wayfarers, and we were ordained to be the fortunate ones.

We slept magnificently on our ten-foot-thick mattress, and, the next day being Sunday, stayed all day with these warm-hearted people. We found that the place was the old Monserate Ranch-House, and as our host had lived here, boy and man, for thirty-eight years, many were the tales he had to tell of the days when Don Tomás Alvarado maintained here the traditions of the grandees of Spanish California! ruling over a household of no mean dimensions, and himself ruled, so it is said, by the priest whom he kept as a necessary adjunct to his state. Thirteen thousand sheep, three thousand head of cattle, and three hundred horses could the don call his own in the days of his prime: yet he died a pauper, the victim of his own lavish dispensation of pesos.

About the old house lingers a faint essence of its past, a glamour of things strange and gone beyond our ken. A date-palm waves in languid grace over the patio, casting its fronded shade over the defaced walls and crazy balconies: a few rows of orange and olive trees drop their starved fruit among the weeds, and a Maréchal Niel blooms secretly in a corner of the deserted veranda.

The conversation turning upon game, it appeared that this locality is a sort of headquarters of the wild-cat tribe. Two hundred and fifty-five of these animals were killed by our host and his neighbors during two months of one prolific year, and last winter he himself had accounted for nineteen in one month. When I asked gray-eyed Edith, who came with armfuls of puppies for our admiration, whether the wild-cats did not kill their chickens, the answer came with eloquent brevity, "Lots." Seventeen skins line the walls of their little kitchen, and a heap more lie in the unused room which once was the private chapel of Don Tomás.

Among the wild-cat skins on the kitchen wall I noticed a framed motto. The words were "Love one another," and my last impression of the family was a delightful commentary upon it. The toil-worn hand of the wife rested on the shoulder of her stalwart husband, who talked tender nonsense to the nine-months' morsel of baby that he held; while the other three children played an uproarious cowboy game of roping one another with a superannuated riata. There was no need to say, God bless them: clearly He does.

The valley of the San Luis River opened before us in wide stretches of pasture and grain land. Behind lay the long blue ridge of Palomar. The cool sea breeze began to blow up the valley, and the last gray shred of fog sank away into the intense cobalt of the sky. Doves flew from sycamore to turkey-weed and from turkey-weed back to sycamore. Buzzards sailed in the clear air, circling with unmoving wings, and balancing with easy perfection of flight. A handsome young Indian passed us at a gallop; an automobile or two whizzed by; a Mexican family jogged along in a buckboard; so the old and the new I California toss their dust at one another.

All the morning we plodded quietly along, ruminating lazily to the pad, pad, of the hoofs. After passing a minute hamlet called Bonsall Bridge, we rested for half an hour beside the road, under a sycamore in the fresh young leaves of which the horses discovered an interesting flavor. These road-side interludes are very pleasant. You tie your horse in the shade, take off the bridle, loosen the cinch, pull out your bread and cheese, and munch it to the rustle of leaves and the interrogative comments of hidden birds. The brook purls along, and your thoughts purl along with it. A draught of water, and then the careful packing of the pipe-bowl, and the first grateful puffs. You slip the bridle on, tighten up the girth, swing into the saddle, and ride on with one more little vignette added to the many such, of which one is turned up now and then by some chance occurrence; whereupon there comes back to you the whole scene, with your companion, if you had one, or your faithful horse, now perhaps obeying another hand, or none.

In the afternoon we diverged a mile or two to visit the Guajome Ranch-House, where, it is said, Helen Hunt Jackson gathered much of the "local color" for her famous California romance of "Ramona." We found the place a particularly sad instance of the unworthy fate which has been allowed to fall upon nearly all these relics of a picturesque past. The ruin of the Guajome seems more like the hideous decay of a murdered body than the peaceful dissolution which sheds over most ancient buildings that peculiar charm which we all recognize. Cans, bottles, and other refuse covered the floors and the broken chairs and tables of the rooms we entered; the fish pond was slimy and defiled; the fountain dry and shattered. But for a few flowers that bloomed in the dusty courtyard I could discover nothing of attraction. It was a relief to turn our backs upon the place. As we rode back across the ranch we passed a great band of sheep, and the barren ground, ugly as an ash-heap, in the rear of the devastating army served to complete the depressing impression.

A few miles farther on we came in sight of the Mission of San Luis Rey, half hidden behind a line of blue-gums. The Mission, which m its state of partial ruin was singularly attractive, has lately been restored, with the usual disastrous results from the point of view of beauty. A barrack-like addition has been built, and fascinates the visitor by its appalling ugliness. Our intention had been to stay a day or two about the place, but we now laid our plans for an early departure on the morrow. We put up our horses in the stable of a civil Mexican, and ourselves camped near by, passing a night enlivened with dogs, fleas, and mosquitoes, but with a conspicuous absence of sleep.

By four o'clock we were taking the road by the light of a waning moon toward Oceanside, where we arrived with the sun. Here, for a novelty, we breakfasted at a hotel. Sundry small affairs of business delayed us till afternoon, when we mounted and pursued our way to the south. The road ran once more by the coast, and after passing the village of Carlsbad lay along the beach. We looked forward with pleasure to a few days of travel again within sight of the sea and within sound of its wise, admonitory voice.

Already I found that this almost daily companionship had given me a longing to remain with it; to ride on, far, far southward, through Mexico, Darien, and the long continent of South America, with the monody of the surges ever with me, day and night. What a ride that would be! And then, perhaps, up the other coast of the Western world: — though, on reflection, I think not; for, somehow, my long life in the West has weaned me from my old preference for the Atlantic side. After all, the West is finest: the new, unformed West, where the tide of human life, that spread out from old, secret Asia, comes at last full circle, and is already beginning to break in tumult against this farthest Wall of the World.

To-day the sky was overcast, and the gray sea plain ran to an indeterminate horizon, with that curious appearance of fulness which I have often observed to accompany similar conditions of sky. The long ranks of the surf crept patiently up to the ineffectual siege, forever unconquering but forever unconquerable. It is so that I best love the ocean, — not glittering, garish, with shallow laughter and flippant retort, but gray, reticent, resolute, proud, solitary.

We entered now a silent region where wide expanses of grain land alternated with stretches of brush, and houses appeared at league-long intervals. Here we crossed a wide lagoon, the Agua Hedionda (signifying ill-smelling water, though the reason for the name was not apparent), which lies at the mouth of the Cañon de los Monos (or Monkey Cañon, another cryptic designation). As we approached La Costa, where our road ran in company with the railroad, it began to rain smartly. By good fortune a deserted house stood near by, and this we appropriated to our uses, eating our meal on the veranda, and finding the tea no less cheering for the fact that the well was inhabited by a trio of prosperous-looking water-snakes. The rain ceased by nightfall, and we slept under the cypresses of the garden hedge. A conspicuous event of the night was the passage of the San Diego Express at a distance of thirty feet from my head.