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April 29, 1861: Atascadero

April 29, 2011

Atascadero City Hall 01

Atascadero City Hall; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

Camp 27

[Today], we left San Luis and took our way on—we had been there two weeks. We crossed the San Luis Pass1 of the Santa Lucia Mountains, a pass about 1,500 or 1,800 feet high, and entered the Santa Margarita Valley. North of the Santa Lucia chain, which trends off to the northwest and ends at Monterey, lies the valley of Salinas, a valley running northwest, widening toward its mouth, and at least a hundred and fifty miles long. This valley branches above. One branch, the west, is the Santa Margarita, into which we descended from the San Luis Pass. We followed down this valley to near its junction with the Salinas River and camped at the Atascadero Ranch, about twenty-two miles from San Luis Obispo and six from the Mission of Santa Margarita.

Estrada Site

Vicinity of Estrada Adobe, Atascadero; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

On passing the Santa Lucia the entire aspect of the country changed. It was as if we had passed into another land and another clime. The Salinas Valley thus far is much less verdant than we anticipated. There are more trees but less grass. Imagine a plain ten to twenty miles wide, cut up by valleys into innumerable hills from two to four hundred feet high, their summits of nearly the same level, their sides rounded into gentle slopes. The soil is already dry and parched, the grass already as dry as hay, except along streams, the hills brown as a stubble field. But scattered over these hills and in these valleys are trees every few rods—great oaks, often of immense size, ten, twelve, eighteen, and more feet in circumference, but not high; their wide-spreading branches making heads often over a hundred feet in diameter—of the deepest green foliage—while from every branch hangs a trailing lichen, often several feet long and delicate as lace. In passing over this country, every hill and valley presents a new view of these trees—here a park, there a vista with the blue mountains ahead. I could never tire of watching some of these beautiful places of natural scenery. A few pines were seen for several miles, with a very open, airy habit, entirely unlike any pine I have ever seen before, even lighter and airier than the Italian pines common in southern France by the Mediterranean. They cast but little shade.

sun rose - helianthemum scoparium

Helianthemum scoparium; by randomtruth, on Flickr

The Mission of Santa Margarita was in ruins. It is the seat of a fine ranch which was sold a few days ago for $45,000. The owner, Don Joaquin de Estrada, lives now at Atascadero Ranch, where we camped. This last ranch is all he now has left of all his estates. Five years ago he had sixteen leagues of land (each league over 4,400 acres, or over 70,000 acres of land), 12,000 head of cattle, 4,000 horses, etc. Dissipation is scattering it at the rate of thousands of dollars for a single spree. Thus the ranches are fast passing out of the hands of the native population.

Western Blue Flax

Linum lewisii; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

Specimens collected: Clarkia unguiculata; Calystegia malacophylla subsp. pedicellata; Sambucus mexicana; Lupinus microcarpus var. microcarpus; Astragalus douglasii var. douglasii; Helianthemum scoparium; Mimulus fremontii var. fremontii; Eriophyllum multicaule; Mucronea californica; Linum lewisii; Mentzelia pectinata; Calochortus splendens; Clarkia affinis; Achillea millefolium; Rhamnus crocea subsp. ilicifolia; Chaenactis glabriuscula var. lanosa; Packera breweri; Erysimum capitatum; Micropus californicus var. californicus; Asclepias vestita.

1Cuesta Pass.

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