Double Cone Quarterly
Winter Solstice 2001 -- Volume IV, Number 4

Placenames of the Wilderness:

Mount Mars


Boon Hughey

Mount Mars

Mount Mars, in the Silver Peak Wilderness.


A nchoring the northwesterly end of a beautiful coastal ridge between Salmon Creek and the San Carpóforo in the very southwestern corner of Monterey county can be found a geographic feature with what is arguably the most celestial name of any in the Santa Lucia - Mount Mars. With its golden seaward slopes and brushy 2,674' summit immediately southeast of the mouth of Salmon Creek, the origin of Mount Mars' name is anything but certain. One of the earliest available maps of the area, dated 1884, shows the feature as Mount Mars, while also showing nearby Salmon Creek under its early California name, "Rio Hondo" (Map, 1884). Then, five years later in 1889, the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Map shows the creek as "Salmon Cr." and Mount Mars as "Salmon Cr. Top" (Map, 1889). The name for Salmon Creek apparently stuck while the name on the mountain did not, as all subsequent maps show it under its current name, Mount Mars.

But why Mars? Could the name have been placed by some seafaring celestial navigator, familiar with the heavens and the names therein and inclined to apply them to terrestrial features when the opportunity arose? Not far to the south of Mount Mars, on what is now the Hearst Ranch, a 2,636' summit named Pine Top Mountain towers over the San Carpóforo; but in 1889 the USCGS map had this prominent feature named simply "Polar Star" (Map, 1889).

According to the geographical dictionary Monterey County Placenames, the summit in question was "probably named for William Mars," who the entry goes on to say was granted title by the Federal Government to 160 acres of land in section 32 on the southern slope of the mountain on October 15, 1889 (Clark, 1991). However, according to the records of the BLM General Land Office database, it was actually William Mears who took title by cash sale to that 160 acres comprised of the SEQ of the NEQ, the NEQ of the SEQ, and the SH of the SEQ of section 32, T24S R6E MDBM on October 15, 1889 (BLM). Could Mount Mars have been erroniously named for William Mears, who established his homestead near the foot of its southerly slope?

Map showing Mears and Morais properties
The Mears and Morais holdings on the
southerly flank of Mount Mars.

Such an exercise of toponymic license would require that equal consideration for the source of the mountain's name be given to Mears' neighbor immediately to the north, Manuel F. Morais, who purchased his 160 acres consisting of the NWQ of the SEQ, the SWQ of the NEQ, and the NH of the NEQ of section 32, T24S R6E MDBM from the Federal Government on August 27, 1892 (BLM). After all, the Morais place was much closer to the actual summit of the mountain than the Mears place. Furthermore, in those early days when literacy was the exception rather than the rule, many placenames were passed along and learned phonetically by word of mouth until eventually being transcibed and placed on a map, which leaves both Morais and Mears in the running as the namesake for Mount Mars. One might argue against either, pointing out that the early map bearing the Mars name predates both Mears and Morais taking title to their land by five and eight years respectively, but back then it was common for folks to live on their land for extended periods of time prior to perfecting title.

Perhaps, just perhaps, neighbors (and presumably friends) Mears and Morais, both living on the flank of the same nameless mountain, grew tired of arguing about whose name should be immortalized by a key feature of the land that they both called home, and decided to compromise. Perhaps they met one afternoon beneath the boughs of an age-old oak on a sun-drenched ridge overlooking the wide windswept pacific and, using a stick to write in the dust at their feet, determined the 4 letters of the alphabet that their names shared in common, penciled them onto the map over the summit behind their ranches, shook hands, and went back to tending their cattle.

View South from summit of Mount Mars

The view south toward Ragged Point, Piedras Blancas and Point Buchon from the summit
of Mount Mars. The dark summit in the upper left was once known as "Polar Star."



BLM: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records Automation Website:

Clark, Donald Thomas. Monterey County Place Names. Carmel Valley, CA. Kestrel Press, 1991.

Norman, Jeff. Historical Background: 77000 Highway 1, Big Sur - DRAFT, 2001.

Norman, Jeff. Personal Communication, 6 December 2000.

MAP,1884: Fractional Township No. 24 South, Range 6 East, Mount Diablo Meridian, November 17, 1884. Compiled from surveys conducted by A.T. Herman in 1878 and G.A. Schwartz in 1883.

MAP, 1889: United States Coast and Geodetic Survey - Sketch showing the progress of the survey in Section No. X (Middle Sheet) from Pt Sal to Tomales Bay, June 30, 1889

Text and Photographs copyright ©2001 by Boon Hughey

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