July 16, 1861: Panoche Road
[Today] we were up at early dawn, had our breakfast before five, and were soon loaded up. We passed east across the level San Benito Valley, which for eight or ten miles was as level as a floor, then struck up a side valley. We lunched at a ranch, Tres Pinos, fifteen miles, and then struck up the Canyon Joaquin Soto (Arroyo los Muertos of the map). The country became drier and the air hotter. Hills rose on each side, often high and steep, and in places the valley widened, showing that much more water once existed there. High terraces indicated the shores of an ancient lake. These terraces were most beautiful and made a remarkable contrast with the rugged rocky hills behind.
We at last entered a narrow canyon, and before night stopped at a spring where a Mr. Booker has a ranch. Desolate and dry as this region is, over some of the hills grass and oats grow, which although scanty are very nutritious, and a few cattle and sheep may be grazed. In this barren, hot, scorching, inhospitable, comfortless place was the ranch, and the proprietor regaled us with an account of its advantages. “The finest ranch anywheres near!” “Good water!” “The fattest of cattle!”
Around this place rise high hills, entirely of stratified gravel, in some places nearly as hard as rock, which has been washed down from the mountains and has formed a deposit of incredible thickness. It is cut into steep bluffs, in many places six hundred or more feet high, very steep; and the hills, of the same material, rise 1,800 feet high. It must have a thickness of at least two thousand feet, or nearly half a mile! Yet it is quite modern. Surely this region could not always have been so dry. Not the least remarkable fact is that a part of this has been turned up on edge by earthquakes or similar agencies in such a late geological period.