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February 13, 1861: San Fernando Valley

February 13, 2011

Monday night hiking, Woodland Hills.

Woodland Hills and the San Fernando Valley; by Eleventh Earl of Mar, on Flickr

Camp 131

We stopped [at Cahuenga Pass] until [this] morning, then entered the San Fernando Valley. We went along the north side of the Sierra Santa Monica, at its base, and camped here, some twenty-five miles from Los Angeles….

Our course before leaving Los Angeles the last time had been from San Pedro on the coast to the Temescal Range about eighty miles east. Either a plain or a valley runs this whole distance, with high, steep, rugged, barren mountains on one or both sides, nowhere covered with timber or of any value for agricultural purposes. These mountains so far as yet examined are mostly of porous granite, or other porous rock which absorbs most of the water that falls on them. The streams that run off in places follow narrow canyons or gorges down their sides, and as soon as they strike the plain or valley spread out wide and generally sink. These “washes” or dry beds are often two or three miles wide, covered with bowlders and sand, supporting only a vegetation of stunted shrubs, from five to ten feet high.

Red Maids

Calandrinia ciliata; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

It is surprising how large a stream will soon sink. The Santa Ana River, 150 or 200 yards wide and nearly up to the bellies of the mules, sinks in a few miles after leaving the mountains, leaving only dry drifting sand in its bed. In this way a man may travel a great distance and see no water, yet cross the beds of streams every little while, beds sometimes a mile wide, over which the streams in high water shift their courses, sometimes following one channel, sometimes another. Already, only the middle of February, we have to follow up the canyons into the base of the mountains to find water for camp. We are now about a mile or a mile and a half up a stream; here is water but below only sand.

This is one of the proposed routes for a Pacific railroad, yet from San Pedro to Temescal, eighty miles, to even fence the road, would take all the available timber from a strip ten miles wide, five miles each side of the road, unless a brush fence was made. Of course there are places where there is some timber, but I have asked each of our men if they thought a strip ten miles wide would do it, and they think not, and the thing grows worse as we go farther, for here we can get timber from the north but it costs enormously to get it inland. Fence posts of redwood, split four by six inches and about seven feet long, cost there fifty cents each; what must they cost a hundred miles farther on!

Pacific Pea

Lathyrus vestitus; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

The Temescal region is so barren as to be practically useless, and will ever support only a very sparse population, and this whole country will only be used for stock raising on large ranches. In a few places, of limited extent compared with the whole, will be lovely fertile spots where there is water, but the agricultural capabilities of the region are small.
Even here the San Fernando Valley looks fertile, yet you could take a patch in the middle of a hundred or a hundred and fifty thousand acres, where it does not touch the hills, where there would be no water for over half of the year. Hence the land is owned in large ranches, and those only in the more favored places. On these ranches, as there are no fences, the cattle are half wild, and require many horses to keep them and tend them. A ranch with a thousand head of cattle will have a hundred horses.
Specimens collected: Lepidium nitidum; Calandrinia ciliata; Thysanocarpus laciniatus; Descurainia pinnata subsp. menziesii; Lathyrus vestitus var. vestitus.

1Precise location is unclear, but this appears to have been in the vicinity of Woodland Hills.

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