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March 26, 1861: Santa Ynez Mountains

March 26, 2011

rattlesnake canyon

Rattlesnake Canyon above Santa Barbara; by randomtruth, on Flickr

Camp 19

A coal mine is reputed to exist a short distance from here in the mountains; a company has been formed, some hundreds of dollars expended, and many look ahead to speedy wealth. It was desirable that we visit it. “Rich indications,” “Not more than fifteen miles distant,” “Possibly farther by the trail,” “Good trail over the mountains for a horse,” “Railroad practicable,” etc., were a few of the statements of anxious stockholders. We decided to visit it. Rains and bad weather prevented for some time—the good weather we had the week that Professor Whitney was with us left the day that he did—but it looked better, so [today], Averill and I started. We had an experienced mountaineer guide, the original discoverer and, as consequence, owner of several “shares.” He rode a good horse for such a tramp; I rode my trusty mule; Averill took “Old Sleepy,” quite a noted mule in our flock, one supposed to be peculiarly adapted to such a trip. We were up at dawn and off with the sun—saddlebags on the saddle, our blanket, three days’ provisions, coffeepot, etc., strapped behind, knives, pistols, and hammers swung to our belts—all equipped in good style.

We rode directly east about six miles, past some fine ranches and across two or three small streams that issued from the mountains, with some timber—almost a forest in places in the wetter soil—then struck up a canyon into the heart of the ridge. Such a trail as we found that day! The worst I had traveled before was a turnpike compared with that. Now following along a narrow ledge, now in the brook over bowlders, now dismounting and jumping our mules over logs, or urging them to mount rocks I would have believed inaccessible—yet this was “pretty good yet,” our guide told us. Arrived near the head of the canyon, high, steep slopes hemmed us in. I saw no means of getting farther, but the “trail” ran up that slope. I saw the rocks rising near or quite a thousand feet above us, at an angle of forty-five to sixty degrees in many places, and up this the trail wound. I dismounted, but our guide said, “Oh no, ride up, man, it’s not bad!” Averill drew the girth tighter on Old Sleepy and started. I preferred leading my mule. Up a few hundred feet, going up over a steep rock, down went Old Sleepy. For a moment I expected to see him and Averill roll into the canyon two or three hundred feet beneath, but he caught against a bush. We helped him, but after that Averill took it afoot. The trail ran up by zigzags, at an actual angle of thirty degrees average, and in places over forty degrees! We measured one slope of several hundred feet where the trail was at an angle of thirty-seven degrees, the slope itself much steeper. You will appreciate this better when you remember that the roof of a house with “quarter pitch,” the usual slant, has an angle of but about twenty-four degrees.

Coal mine map

My best guess at Brewer's route into the Santa Ynez Mountains, March 26-28 (click on image for full-size map)

We crossed the summit at an elevation of 3,500 to 3,700 feet, but clouds had enveloped us for the last thousand feet—damp, drizzly, and thick, decidedly unpleasant—and shut out the fine view we had when we returned. The north slope of the ridge was less steep. It was covered with a very dense chaparral, about twelve feet high, so dense that no animal could get through it in many places, but a good trail had been cut through. We descended about two thousand feet into a deep canyon, then struck into another, finally crossed the Santa Inez River and struck up another canyon in this wild labyrinth of mountains. We found deer and wolf tracks in abundance, and a few grizzly tracks. We rested an hour and lunched on a little grassy spot, then pushed on. Near night we came up to a deserted cabin, an old Indian “ranch” called Nahalawaya (Nah-hah-lah-way-yah). As it looked like rain and no other shelter could be expected, we concluded to stop until the next morning. We soon had a fire in its old fireplace, a good lunch, and a sound sleep that night under its hospitable shelter; our animals found some poor grass.

Specimens collected: Galium andrewsii subsp. intermedium; Carex senta; Eriophyllum multicaule.

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