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March 18, 1861: Santa Barbara

March 18, 2011

Ridgeline from near Montecito Peak summit

Ridgeline from near Montecito Peak summit (at upper left is the higher ridge Brewer climbs after the peak); by Bob Burd

Camp 19

[Today], I started to climb and measure the ridge lying north of us. Averill was somewhat under the weather, so I took Peter and Guirado with me. We rode to the hot springs, about five miles, left our mules in charge of Guirado, while Peter and I made the ascent. To the first peak1, about 1,500 or 2,000 feet above the hot spring, was very steep, rocky, and hot. The sultry sun poured down floods of heat on the hot, dry rocks. The sun falling on the thermometer for scarcely a single minute ran it up to 120° F., and as it was graduated no higher I could not measure the temperature; it must have been 140°, or more, in the direct rays of the sun.

Bush Poppy 04

Dendromecon rigida; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

Reaching the first peak, we struck back over a transverse ridge, down and up, through dense chaparral, in which we toiled for seven hours. This is vastly more fatiguing than merely climbing steep slopes; it tries every muscle in the body. We reached the summit of the ridge at an altitude of 3,800 feet above the sea—over 3,700 above camp. Our lunch was useless, for in our intense thirst we could eat nothing except a little juicy meat. Our only canteen of water gave out long before we reached the top, although we had husbanded it by taking merely sips at a time.

I never before suffered with thirst as I did [today]. What must it be on the deserts! I have heard tales of suffering here, on the deserts of California, Utah, Arizona, etc., as touching as those of Africa or Arabia. Peter found relief by chewing a quarter of a dollar for several hours, the means they use on the plains, but I could find no relief that way.

About sundown we reached the hot spring. A small pool of bad water was there. How I wanted cool water; hot sulphur water (118°) for a thirsty man is hardly the thing, yet we found it good. We ate our lunch, sat by the spring for half an hour, drinking small quantities often, then bathed in the hot waters and were more refreshed than one could have believed. But night closed in on us then. Guirado had brought the mules up into the canyon. The moon was bright as we struck down the wild dangerous trail. The wild dark canyon, rugged rocks, the dark shadows under the bushes and behind the rocks, the wild scene on every side, conspired with the hour to produce a most picturesque effect. Refreshed, we were lighthearted. Peter rode ahead, I followed on my sturdy mule with the barometer, Guirado bringing up the rear. Occasionally a snatch of song would awaken the echoes above the clattering of the hoofs of the mules over the rocks.

rattlesnake canyon

Rattlesnake Canyon above Santa Barbara; by randomtruth, on Flickr

As we approached the most dangerous place, where the path went down a steep slope, over and among large bowlders, as high as the horses on each side, and piled in the path, we were stiller. Suddenly a crash—Peter’s mule caught his foot between two rocks and fell, Peter pitching headlong over his head on the rocks. How he escaped unhurt, I cannot imagine, yet he was but slightly bruised. The poor mule fared not so well. His forefoot was held between two rocks as in a vise. He had fallen over below, and was hanging much of his weight on that foot. We could budge neither the rocks nor his foot. We thought his leg broken, and saw no way of releasing him. He was a valuable mule, worth $150 or more. We tugged, toiled, pried with levers, dug, all to no purpose. He made a tremendous effort, but only made matters worse, twisting his leg nearly around. After lying so for some time, while we worked frantically, he made another effort, tore off his shoe, and got out—strange to say, uninjured. A horse would have been ruined. We washed his foot and leg in the brook, led him a mile or so, and soon he scarcely limped. Peter then mounted him and rode him home to camp.

It is in such places that the superior sagacity of mules over horses is seen. Much as is said and written about the sagacity of horses—poets sing of it and romance writers harp on it—it is far inferior to the much abused mule. This fellow, as he lay so helpless, instead of struggling frantically, would get all ready and then coolly exert his greatest strength to get his foot loose, but not when we were working with it. Although he groaned pitifully and gnawed the ground and rocks in his intense pain, he did not bite us, but would put his head against us and look up most wistfully.

And while on the subject, a word more about our mules. I have an old white mule, I think the oldest in the lot, but can’t tell her age. She is only thirteen hands high, but is very stout. It would take two whole letters to give the instances of her sagacity. How sure-footed she is on a mountain trail—she never treads on a loose stone or on a smooth one, never treads in a hole where her feet may get caught, never puts her foot in a mud-hole until she tries if it is miry or not. I carry a barometer on her; she is just the mule for my use, gentle, surefooted, true, sagacious, but awful homely. Some of our mules are fine ones; it is considered a valuable lot.

We got back at nine o’clock in the evening, and found that the steamer had arrived, and with it Professor Whitney.

Specimens collected: Dendromecon rigida; Ceanothus crassifolius; Eriodictyon traskiae; Ceanothus oliganthus var. oliganthus; Arctostaphylos glandulosa subsp. mollis; Carex globosa.

1Probably Montecito Peak

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