July 18, 1861: Griswold Canyon
Early dawn found us astir, and after a scanty breakfast we were early on the way. We crossed the ridge and then descended into the valley of Little Panoche Creek. Beyond the ridge we found many pretty oak trees scattered over the gentle hills into which the chain is divided, and scattered pines were seen on the mountains at some distance, but on sinking a few hundred feet into the valley an entirely different landscape was entered. A plain extends for many miles up into the mountains, the bed of an old lake, its bottom level as a sheet of water. Lines of terraces around the margin tell unequivocally and plainly of old shores and different levels of water. This is on the map between the two branches of the Panoche River, now dry beds of sand. We crossed this plain, some ten miles or more—naked, dry, desolate. No tree cheered the landscape, no living thing, save insects, told of life. Toward the southeastern end of the valley we came to a clump of cottonwoods along the dry river bed, whose lively green looked refreshing; then we turned up a very wild, rocky, narrow canyon, the Vallecito, about six or seven miles, to a place where we found water and a house—Griswold’s. The heat of the sun in this canyon was fearful.
At Griswold’s the stream emerges to the surface, poor, salt, alkaline water, and here he has his ranch. We camped under some cottonwoods, bought a bag of barley for our mules, and resolved to stay the rest of the day. The place was dirty enough—dry, dusty sand, which hot gusts of wind at times blew into our eyes and mouths—there was neither cleanliness nor comfort in taking our meals and the water was very nauseous. Griswold, a hard looking customer, expatiated on the qualities of his “ranch”—squatter claim of course, for who would buy such a place? His cattle were “the fattest in the state” (and, strange enough, they were in good order); “such good water,” etc. “To be sure,” he said, “it does physic people when they drink much of it, but a little whiskey kills the alkali.” Sitting by his “spring,” a dirty mudhole, and pointing exultingly to some frogs, he exclaimed triumphantly, “Look at them toads—they can’t live in poor water!” It was interesting to me to know that a frog could live in such a solution. The thermometer stood at 92° F. in the coolest place I could find, in the shade and wind. He said it was the coolest day for over a month, too cool for him after the last two months’ heat!
The thermometer, placed in the sun, soon rose to 150° F. on this “cool” day, and that with the wind. You can well imagine what the hot days must have been. That night it sank to 46° F., a daily range of over one hundred degrees!—a range as great as from zero of winter to the hottest in the shade of our summer. With this daily change in temperature, no wonder that the plants of this state are so peculiar!
We found some very interesting geological facts there, so we waited over.