CALIFORNIA COAST TRAILS
CHAPTER IV

Boom towns — Del Mar: the Torrey pine — The old Alvarado ranch-house: an incident of "the eternal feminine" — The decay of the historic Spanish-California houses — Las Peñasquitas Valley and ranch-house — The Linda Vista Mesa: prospects of a kangaroo ranch — Mission Valley — The Mission of San Diego — Old Town-San Diego, our southern terminus: bay and water-front — The highlands of Mexico in sight.

OUR route next day lay through a succession of depressing little boom towns, whose vacant stores and depopulated hotels bore witness to some of the more melancholy attributes of human character. As we surveyed the boarded-up windows of a "Dry Goods and Notions" establishment, my companion put the case neatly by remarking that evidently the fate of the dry goods had been to dry up, and the last and best of the notions had been the notion to go away. Encinitas is the only one of several such settlements hereabouts that has survived the unhappy omens of its birth. New capital, wisely invested in roads instead of hotels, bids fair to put this pretty little town on a safe footing.

At San Elijo Cañon, where the Escondido Creek widens at its mouth to a considerable lagoon, the road crossed by a strip of beach on which breaks an unusually fine surf, with line upon line of long white rollers following each other in close succession. I should like to hear a winter storm beat on this exposed shore of shingle, as I have heard them on the shingle beaches of England, the wild air ringing with the shriek of the multitudinous pebbles as they are driven to and fro by the claws of the raging sea. Above thunder of water and roar of buffeting wind the cry of the tortured earth rises in shrill appassionato, a magnificent concert of the elements.

Crossing yet another lagoon at the mouth of the San Dieguito River, we entered the village of Del Mar. A picturesque modern hotel forms the nucleus for a score or two of cottages scattered near a charming beach, and the locality is notable to tree-lovers as being the home of the Torrey pine (Pinus torreyana), a tree whose circumscribed habitat makes it a botanical curiosity. On the exposed cliff-edges the wind-blown patriarchs of the little tribe crouch in eloquent attitudes, and it was interesting to note the similarity of form of this sea-neighboring pine to that of the alpine "white-bark " species which I had seen the previous summer fighting for life on the other frontier at two miles of altitude in the Sierra Nevada.

We camped a mile beyond the town at a small farm whose kind people gave us the freedom of their pump (no slight boon, I assure the non-Californian reader), and next day struck inland, skirting the Soledad River. The name of this stream in no wise belies the solitary character of the country, where the scanty rainfall might well discourage the most optimistic of farmers. I knew the region twenty years ago, and the population now seemed to me more scanty than I remembered it at that time. Evening found us at Sorrento, a lonely settlement consisting of a store, a railway station, and two or three houses. Here we turned eastward and rode a mile or two up Las Peñasquitas Cañon to the ranch-house of the one-time Alvarado Ranch, now incorporated in Las Peñasquitas Ranch, which formerly included only the upper part of the valley.

A careworn woman and two wild-looking boys were working in the dusk near the house, and of the former we asked permission to camp by the only available water, which was within the farm enclosure. The request was neither granted nor denied, but implicitly discouraged. I make no claims to special penetration of character, but as I looked at her, and she looked with no friendliness at us, I felt sure I could trace the current of her nature and read her present state of mind only too plainly. She was a young woman, and rather pretty. As a girl I think she had been very pretty. Her dress was rough and dirty, though natural enough to her masculine employment of digging. As we talked I noticed that she tried instinctively to hide her torn sleeves and disordered bodice, and I thought I could see beneath the inhospitable frown far less of inhospitality than of shame at her rough dress and her unfeminine labor. Poor woman! It was a trifling incident, a mere by-play, in the tragedy of the eternal feminine: the tragedy of a losing struggle for grace and loveliness, not only of dress and feature, but also, with them and unconsciously felt to be symbolized by them, of mind and character, — that old, unphilosophical, but very human relation of ideas.

I saw it still more clearly when next morning we asked to be allowed to view the rooms of the old house. Disorder, struggle, and carelessness were written large over all; yet with a curious sense, which I felt without being able to explain, that they were hated and rebelled at. Poverty was written there, too, unless I am vastly mistaken; yet when we tendered payment for the privilege of camping it was steadily refused. My sister, — though you will hardly see these words, — the Spanish has a good adage for such cases, Dios se lo pagaré. I do not fear that you will be the poorer for refusing that coin.

As we rode away from the decaying house, with its frayed old date-palms and independent morning-glories, we remarked again upon the discreditable feature of Western American life which is illustrated by the condition of these interesting and once beautiful monuments of our history. Perhaps it would be too much to expect that those who have succeeded to the ownership of the estates of the Spanish Californians should expend a fraction of their revenues upon the preservation of the old houses: that is not our way. But it seems as if the State might well have taken sufficient interest in its own history to rescue one or two of these fine old houses from destruction. Even now, a very small sum of public money would purchase and restore an example or two, and a mere trifle would keep them in repair. But we in America are obsessed with our particular conception of Progress; and self-sufficiency is always a blunder.

Las Peñasquitas is a long, narrow valley threaded by a small stream which in summer takes refuge underground from the thirsty sun. Scattered sycamores and elders grew here and there along its channel, their shade already, early in the day, preëmpted by groups of cattle. The cañon trends northeast, and when a slight rise of the ground opened a wider horizon I recognized the distant outline of Cuyamaca Mountain ("Queermack," in the common speech), under whose nearer flank I had lived twenty years before, while beyond it lay the home of my companion, amid the glistening sands and statuesque palms of the Colorado Desert.

At the ranch-house we found a squad of carpenters at work obliterating the traces of a recent fire. The solid walls of adobe were intact, which was fortunate, since the art of building such is now almost gone out of mind among the native population. We lunched under a shady pepper, and early in the afternoon resumed our way, which led by a steep road up from the cañon to the south. From the summit we looked out over a landscape quite different from any we had yet seen. For miles to south, east, and west stretched a level mesa, covered with a growth of greasewood brush whose dull olive was unbroken but for the road, which ran to the vanishing-point straight as a line could be drawn.

This was the Linda Vista Mesa, one of the most hopeless of those arid tracts of land which under the glamour of the "boom" found ready purchasers at high figures, but have since found none at any figure at all The soil is red and clayey, not that good red that tells of the blood and juices of the earth, but a pale brick color, malevolent even in appearance. Its superficial resemblance to the famous red soil on which some of the noted orange groves of California are thriving invited boomers to advertise it as having "no frost, no alkali, no hard-pan": to which they should have added "no rain (to speak of) and no crop." The ground is packed with cobblestones fuller than ever was pudding of raisins; while, so far from there being no hard-pan, the unlucky purchasers often found it necessary to blast the holes for their ill-omened trees in order to shatter the rock that lies like sheet-iron just below the surface.

In discussing the possible uses and prospects of this region, Eytel and I agreed that upon the whole a kangaroo ranch seemed to offer the best chances of success to an adventurous speculator. Without any special knowledge of the kangaroo, we had a strong idea that this was about the sort of thing that appeals to that singular creature.

Willingly we turned our backs upon the mesa, and entered on a long cañon that bears the name of the great family of Murphy. Last year I had camped by lovely lakes under the shadow of Murphy's Dome in the northern Sierras: now we searched, and searched in vain, for a trickle of water in Murphy's Cañon at the uttermost southwest verge of the country (for we were now within twenty miles of the Mexican frontier). We dismounted, and mile after mile led our weary horses down the interminable grade.

IMAGE: The Remains of the First of the California Missions: San Diego de Alcala

THE REMAINS OF THE FIRST OF THE CALIFORNIA MISSIONS: SAN DIEGO DE ALCALÁ
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

About sundown we debouched into the valley of the San Diego River, generally called Mission Valley, after the Mission of San Diego, the remains of which stand hereabout. Turning up the valley for half a mile, we prospected among the willows and cottonwoods of the river-bed for water, and found a few small pools, standing but not stagnant. Here we unsaddled under a goodly cottonwood near which was a space of fair pasturage.

It was five weeks, to a day, since we had left El Monte, and now we were practically at San Diego, the southern limit of our joint expedition. The event warranted an uncommon supper, and thereafter we lay at ease while we smoked and indulged the retrospective vein. The sky was all but cloudless, the stars shone cheerfully down, and the mild and friendly air for which San Diego is renowned invited us to pleasant slumber or equally pleasant reverie. A vagrant mosquito now and then sounded his unrelenting horn, but was easily discouraged or quashed. Even while we praised the charms of lying awake, we fell asleep, and when I awoke, the moon. her last quarter half spent, looked down on me from a stage of her journey that told me it was near morning. Before it was daylight the sky was overcast, for the sea-fog had come in on the wings of the morn, — an arrangement that is always agreeable to me, since it allows of breakfast being cooked without enduring a superfluous blast of sun. I confess I find the manufacture of flapjacks over a smoky fire, with a fervent sun castigating me from above, an exercise that puts too much strain upon the early morning temper.

The next day was Sunday, so we did not break camp. The peace of the day was somewhat disturbed by a promiscuous bombardment from the sportsmen of San Diego, who arrived early, and in unreasonable numbers, to bag the Mission doves and rabbits. We pastured the horses well out in the open where they would be in plain view, and ourselves sat in partial security under the lee of a scrap of adobe wall, gazing off at the mellow fragment of Western antiquity, with its romantic setting of waving palms and black and silver olives, and trying without too great exertion to call up to mind the long-past days when the scene that now lay so solitary before us was busy with cowled monks, Indian neophytes, and Spanish men-at-arms.

Early on Monday morning we set off westward down the valley, and came by the middle of the morning to the northern suburb of San Diego, which is called Old Town, in distinction from the modern city. It lies at the head of the superb bay of San Diego, while the newer city occupies the middle sweep. Its great interest is the old mansion of the Estudillo family, a good example of the early Californian residence, which has lately been restored and is used as a tourist attraction. A small restaurant takes up one of the rooms, where genuine Spanish dishes are served by velvet-eyed señoritas. We called for tamales, believing that we might here do so with more confidence than one can usually feel when indulging in that ingenious article.

A ride of an hour brought us to the present city of San Diego, where our appearance, long of hair, stained with travel, and somewhat out of repair, occasioned no little comment among idlers on flower-covered porches and shady balconies. We had some little difficulty, in these days of the all-usurping automobile, in finding a livery-stable, and I was amused at Chino's evident anxiety on the matter. He clearly understood that the change in his surroundings portended hay, grain, and convenient lodging arrangements, with the society of interesting strangers of his kind, and he was naturally eager to arrive at the haven. When at last we came to the expected wide doorway he steered promptly and with determination for it, and he and Billy lost not a moment in attacking the hay, nibbling surreptitiously at the fragrant bales as they passed to their stalls.

We next sought modest quarters for ourselves, where the spectacles and benevolent aspect of the good landlady could not quite disguise her qualms at our dusty and tramp-like appearance. Here we cast anchor, spending our days among barbers and clothiers and our nights in tossing on beds of unaccustomed softness. I had known the city twenty years before, when it was drawing its first bewildered breaths after the cataclysm of its boom, and I had always cherished a pleasant feeling for the place. Why has Smithville hosts of friends, while Jonesville, its twin in all points of outward seeming, is contemned by all men as a blot upon the geography of its State? The peculiar subjectiveness of towns is a curious study in what one may call physical psychology.

The purpose of these pages does not require a description of the city, nor do my own preferences lead me much into the regions of statistics and real estate. Suffice it to say that San Diego is a prosperous, energetic place, which is rapidly adding to its present population of some forty thousand contented people. I own I was best pleased to walk along the water-front by the rows of little amphibian huts that I remembered from former days. Flowers bloomed in cans and boxes all about these humble dwellings, and boats slapped idly on the water by the crazy landing-stages. Odors unnamed because unnamable greeted me with claims on my friendly remembrance, and the new generation of waterfront children seemed no less arch and engaging than those of yore.

Three steamers lay at the wharves, and two large lumber schooners swung in the tideway. A knot of torpedo boats were anchored on the Coronado side of the bay. Point Loma, famous among Theosophists, stood up well and boldly, a worthy headland for the abutment of a sovereign state: and in the south, beyond the forlorn wastes of National City, rose wistful and pale the blue highlands of Mexico.