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February 20, 1861: Simi Hills

February 20, 2011

this used to be an ocean

Scallop fossil; by randomtruth, on Flickr

Camp 14

[Today], I started back in the hills alone, got into a wild rocky canyon and followed up it for three or four hours—I don’t know how many miles. The stream made its way through the red sandstone rock, which often rose in high precipices—a lovely walk. At last I climbed a high ridge, some two thousand feet above camp. Here a stratum of rock comes out filled with large shells in fine preservation. It rises in a ridge, ending in a precipice to the north. In places these fossil shells had been weathered out in immense numbers. The ridge was strewn with them, as thick as any seabeach I have ever seen, and in as good preservation—oyster shells by the cartload, clam shells, in fact many species. They have not lost their character as shells yet, that is, they have not turned to stone. The shell of lime was as when fresh, and the scar where the muscle was attached was as plain as if it had stood the weather but a few years. Some were worn by the waves. Oyster shells had grown together in that old ocean as now, and the pebbles of the beach were bored into by shells as I see them here on the coast now.

a scallop fossil the size of your hand

Scallop fossil; by randomtruth, on Flickr

I cannot describe my feelings as I stood on that ridge, that shore of an ancient ocean. How lonely and desolate! Who shall tell how many centuries, how many decades of centuries, have elapsed since these rocks resounded to the roar of breakers, and these animals sported in their foam? I picked up a bone, cemented in the rock with the shells. A feeling of awe came over me. Around me rose rugged mountains; no human being was within miles of me to break the silence. And then I felt overwhelmed with the magnitude of the work ahead of me. I was at work alone in the field work of this great state, a territory larger than all New England and New York, complicated in its geology.

But the real soon roused me from reveries—I must get back. I was alone, far from camp—grizzlies might come out as the moon came up, for the weather was warm. I made my way back into the canyon, and at dark arrived at camp, tired enough. Peter brought back from Los Angeles a pile of letters, and after supper how I devoured them!

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