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April 11, 1861: Arroyo Grande

April 11, 2011

Arroyo Grande Hill 03

Steep hill, Arroyo Grande; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

Camp 25

We were at Nipomo Ranch…[Today], we came on. After leaving Santa Barbara County the roads were again horrible—no road in fact, but a mere trail, like a cow path, hardly marked by the track of wheels, and often very obscure. We crossed gulches down almost straight on one side, then “ker-chug” in the bottom, then up as steep on the other.

Our wagon is like the Overland stages, square covered body, hung on straps or “thorough-braces,” as they are called. It is too light for our purpose, although it stood the road, but that weak wheel groaned and complained at times, notwithstanding its rawhide supports.

We wound among hills, and at last at the Arroyo Grande, had a bad hill to descend. We had come a longer road because the “hill was easier” this way. Well, we got to the “easy” hill. It was about five or six hundred feet high, the sides at an angle of about thirty degrees, down which the road ran in “crooks”—now one side up, now the other. No work had been expended on it, so it was always very sidling, and very steep at the same time. We chained both hind wheels, and for a time all went well. We had descended about one-third of the way, sliding, slipping, dragging, when, quick as a flash, over went the whole concern. Pete and Mike escaped from under the pile by a miracle of agility that would astonish a circus performer. Such a pile! The wagon caught when completely upside down, the wheels high in the air. The mules were tangled in the harness, one on his back, his mate standing over and astride him. One of the wild leaders got loose, and was lassoed by Guirado a mile distant.

tomcat aerial

Trifolium wildenovii; by randomtruth, on Flickr

We got up the mule, then attended to the wagon. I never before unloaded a load from the bottom—carpetbags, instruments, tools, provisions, tent-ropes, botanical papers, etc. Two or three large boxes had been filled with rocks and fossils, each specimen carefully wrapped in paper and packed, now in one promiscuous pile. Frying pans, pails, basins, soap, etc., completed the picture. Michael had, at last camp, providently boiled a huge dish of applesauce for our supper that night. It, too, played its part in the confusion, and sundry very suggestive looking spots as a consequence adorned our carpetbags and furniture generally. (Themes for more papers on “The Distribution of Species” than even the famous antiquarian stone of Mr. Pickwick.)

We unloaded, turned the wagon up again, found the top a total wreck with no insurance, but no other serious damage, loaded up a half, and camped at the foot of the hill on a pretty, grassy bottom by the finest stream of water we had seen for some time. After dark we sat by our cheerful fire and talked over the adventures of the day and laughed at our mishaps, troublesome though they were. I had the curiosity to go back to the hill the next day, when we packed down on our backs a part of the baggage, the wagon top, etc., and measured the angle. In one place for some distance the road descended at an angle of twenty-nine degrees! Yet this is the “better” road to San Luis Obispo.

Specimens collected: Trifolium willdenovii; Astragalus didymocarpus; Monolopia major; Lasthenia gracilis.

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