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May 30, 1861: Arroyo Seco

May 30, 2011

Arroyo Seco 09

Mountains above Arroyo Seco; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

Camp 36

[Today] we took a young man for guide and pushed on, over hills, through canyons, winding, climbing, toiling; our road, cattle trails; our landmarks, mountains. I saw many pretty flowers, some new to me. We struck a fine stream of water that flows toward the Salinas plain at Soledad, fourteen miles distant, but it sinks long before that in the arroyo seco, or dry canyon. It was a swift clear stream, and good water on that trip was one of our luxuries. It has been long since I have tasted good water. Here we found a little ranch, Hitchcock’s. The owner was talkative, asked for papers, showed us some fine quicksilver ore, but was too shy to tell us where he found it. He only said it was back in the mountains—“A hell of a place to get to”—which I can easily imagine, if it is six miles farther in than we were, as he said it was.

Here we struck up the canyon into the heart of the mountains a few miles, now over a table for a mile, now down a steep bank and crossing the stream, up on the other side, steep as a house roof. But our mules were trusty; Old Sleepy, with his pack, proved himself equal to the occasion, and my old white mule won fresh laurels. Up this canyon the strata are bent, twisted, contorted, and broken. I never before saw finer examples of bent strata. They were less grand than the noted ones on Lake Lucerne, but more beautiful.

We saw some deer and got a shot—one was wounded, but we did not get him. All had rifles but me; my botanical box and hammer were enough for me. Soon more deer were seen. Peter and the guide started after them. We missed the trail, and in attempting to cross the stream and climb the bank came near having an accident. The bank had a slope of forty-five degrees; the path wound up it at twenty-nine degrees—I measured it. Averill’s mule trod on loose stones and went down. A mule never slips, but here the path slipped. Averill got

Arroyo Seco 05

Arroyo Seco lake; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

off and saved himself, but the mule went down slowly and got away. An hour and a half were spent in finding and getting her. At last all were ready again, and we took our way up the canyon as far as mules could get—and that is saying a good deal—and struck a very narrow, wild canyon leading to a little lake (laguna). It was a lovely spot, but a poor place to camp, so we turned back a mile, and camped on the banks of the main stream.

I wish I could describe the spot. A deep rocky canyon, with rugged, almost perpendicular sides, but green, grassy bottom, opens into the main canyon, where there is a swift stream of water of crystal clearness, grass and oats abundant for our mules, fine trees scattered around for effect and all around rise high, rugged, rocky mountains. We are now beyond all traces of human homes, but in the abodes of grizzlies and deer. A fire is built, supper (as well as dinner) got, and then we go out to hunt. In ten minutes Averill is back with a deer, and an hour later the others come in with another. I know not how many deer we saw on that trip. I took a swim in the cool stream—it was refreshing enough after riding on dusty trails and through hot canyons.

Penstemon 03

Penstemon heterophyllus, Arroyo Seco; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

I wish you could look on such a camp at night. Scattered around are pack-saddles, saddles, bread—and oh, such bread as we had after sixty miles’ travel on a mule’s back in a bag! It needed sifting to get pieces large enough for mouthfuls. The mules are picketed near and around us. They will give the alarm if grizzlies become too familiar. Scattered on the grass around, we lie rolled in our blankets. A rifle peeps out from beneath the blankets here and there—loaded too, for, although grizzlies never molest persons asleep, it is best to have the weapons handy. The bright camp fire throws a ruddy glare on the green foliage, which shows black shadows and grim recesses back, and stately trunks and gnarled limbs shine out brighter here and there. But brighter than all, and more beautiful to me, are the stars in the deep, clear, blue sky. One is just trembling over the brow of that rugged mountain, it seems almost to touch it—others are slowly moving behind the trees, or the hills, in their majestic march to the west. The only sound to break the silence of this solitude is the murmur of the streams by us. And thus we sleep—such glorious sleep—sound and refreshing; no bad air, no close smell of feathers, no musty, ill-aired beds from which one rises in the morning with gummy eyes and heavy brain and mouth tasting as if half filled with Glauber’s salts and clay.

Specimens collected: Monardella villosa subsp. villosa; Lotus grandiflorus; Trichostema lanatum; Helenium puberulum; Carex barbarae; Galium andrewsii subsp. intermedium; Juncus patens; Acer macrophyllum; Quercus chrysolepis; Penstemon heterophyllus var. heterophyllus.

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