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March 27, 1861: Santa Ynez Mountains

March 27, 2011


Santa Ynez Mountains from near Old Man Mountain; photo by Bob Burd

Santa Ynez River (“Nahalawaya”)

We were up early in the morning, and pushed for the “mines.” We were getting used to a “hard road to travel,” but this beat our yesterday’s experience. We passed up a canyon, in which we surmounted obstacles I would have thought entirely impassable. It was perfectly astonishing how the mules would go. We would get off, tie up the reins, lead them up to a rock; they would eye it well, and coolly, with a spring or two, mount rocks nearly perpendicular, six to ten feet high, if they could only get a foothold. I wondered how we were to get back, but on returning they would slide down coolly and safely.


Jameson Reservoir on the Santa Ynez River, upstream from 'Nahalawaya'

We followed this canyon a few miles, then crossed another ridge near or quite four thousand feet high, possibly more. From this summit we had a grand view of the desolate, forbidding wilderness of mountains that surrounded us. We then sank into another canyon, 1,500 or 2,000 feet, followed it up, and at last arrived at the mines near noon—thirteen or fourteen hours in the saddle to overcome a distance of about twenty-four or twenty-five miles from camp, half of that time on not over six miles of trail.

We found the mines positively nothing. A few seams of coal from one-eighth to three-quarters of an inch thick, and those short, standing in perpendicular strata of rock, were the “indications.” A sort of “pocket” had furnished about a peck of coal or less, on which the company had been formed, a shaft commenced, four hundred dollars expended, and great prospective wealth built up—to such a feverish state is the whole community worked up here about mines. I did not tell the stockholders how very slim the indications were, on my return, but slicked it over by merely telling them that they would not find the coal in profitable quantities, that the difficulty of access, position of the strata, and necessary thinness of the beds would prevent the mines being profitable.

We found tools, drill, picks, shovels, hammers, crowbar, tent, provisions, etc., which had been left by the men when the work was deserted some months ago. We saw bear and wolf tracks along the stream—one bear must have been truly huge—and deer tracks without number. We once came on a flock of ten beautiful deer. Averill tried to get a shot with his pistol but could not succeed. We returned to the cabin again…as we found no grass for our hungry mules beyond that point; and lucky we were, for it rained nearly all…night—decidedly damp to be out.


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