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May 24, 1861: Carmel Mission

May 24, 2011

Mission Carmel; by 1600 Squirrels, on Flickr

Camp 34

[Today] we rode a few miles to Judge Haight’s. He is a wealthy San Francisco gentleman and has a fine ranch here, where he spends a part of the year with the whole or a part of his family. We presented our letters, but did not find him at home.

We visited the old Mission of Carmelo, in the Carmelo Valley, near his ranch. It is now a complete ruin, entirely desolate, not a house is now inhabited. The principal buildings were built around a square, enclosing a court. We rode over a broken adobe wall into this court. Hundreds (literally) of squirrels scampered around to their holes in the old walls. We rode through an archway into and through several rooms, then rode into the church. The main entrance was quite fine, the stone doorway finely cut. The doors, of cedar, lay nearby on the ground.

The church is of stone, about 150 feet long on the inside, has two towers, and was built with more architectural taste than any we have seen before. About half of the roof had fallen in, the rest was good. The paintings and inscriptions on the walls were mostly obliterated. Cattle had free access to all parts; the broken font, finely carved in stone, lay in a corner; broken columns were strewn around where the altar was; and a very large owl flew frightened from its nest over the high altar. I dismounted, tied my mule to a broken pillar, climbed over the rubbish to the altar, and passed into the sacristy. There were the remains of an old shrine and niches for images. A dead pig lay beneath the finely carved font for holy water. I went into the next room, which had very thick walls—four and a half feet thick—and a single small window, barred with stout iron bars. Heavy stone steps led from here, through a passage in the thick wall, to the pulpit. As I started to ascend, a very large owl flew out of a nook. Thousands of birds, apparently, lived in nooks of the old deserted walls of the ruins, and the number of ground squirrels burrowing in the old mounds made by the crumbling adobe walls and the deserted adobe houses was incredible—we must have seen thousands in the aggregate. This seems a big story, but hundreds were in sight at once. The old garden was now a barley field, but there were many fine pear trees left, now full of young fruit. Roses bloomed luxuriantly in the deserted places, and geraniums flourished as rank weeds. So have passed away former wealth and power even in this new country.

California Sea Pink

Armeria maritima; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

Our road to the Mission was a mere trail through the thick chaparral, crossing some deep ravines. We came on the tracks of numerous grizzlies—or, rather, numerous tracks. There are three grizzlies living in the brush near here, particularly bold and savage. One has nearly killed several people. They came here to eat a whale stranded on the beach. As we had two good Sharp’s rifles, besides other guns, we concluded to watch for them that night. An Indian, an old bear hunter, entered into the project, but on examination of the ground, it was found that there was no good place—no trees to get into and watch from—for no one is so mad as to engage in a bear fight unless he has all the odds on his side. So we had to give it up.

Specimens collected: Potentilla anserina subsp. pacifica; Plantago maritima var. californica; Delphinium hutchinsoniae; Armeria maritima subsp. californica; Juncus breweri; Horkelia cuneata subsp. cuneata.

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