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August 8, 1861: Santa Cruz Mountains

August 8, 2011

Loma Prieta from Mount Umunhum; photo courtesy of Bob Burd

Camp 45

[Today], we left for the New Almaden Mines, striking north through the mountains, where a fine road runs to San Jose and Santa Clara. It is the most picturesque road we have yet traveled. We struck back into the mountains directly behind the town, wound up valleys, through and across canyons, over ridges, and along steep hillsides. Sometimes the way lay along a bare hillside, giving a fine view, but oftener in dark forests, where enormous trees shot up on every side; sometimes singly, their giant trunks like huge columns supporting the thick canopy of foliage above; at others groups of trunks started from a great rooted base, half a dozen or more trees together, their spreading tops forming only one head of immense size. Laurels, or bay trees, with their fragrant foliage, firs, pines, oaks, mingled in that picturesque scene, which continually changed with every turn of our ever winding road.

We at last struck a ridge and followed it some miles, and at 2 P.M. camped on the summit at “Mountain Charlie’s,” about two thousand feet above the sea. Evergreen oaks grew around, a lovely place to camp, and a little pond overgrown with sedge and rushes lay beside the house. After dinner we went on a hill near camp, a few hundred feet above it, for bearings and observations. The view was both extensive and lovely, one of the prettiest I have yet seen. Around us was the sea of mountains, every billow a mountain; deep dark canyons thread them, the form and topography very complicated, the geological structure very broken. Redwood forests darken the canyons on the west toward the sea, chaparral covers the ridges on the east. Some of the peaks about us are very high—Mount Bache1 rises in grandeur nearly four thousand feet, Mount Choual and others over three thousand feet. To the south lie the whole Bay of Monterey and a vast expanse of ocean.

The beautiful curved line of the bay seems like an immense semicircle, thirty-five miles across, but every part of the arc distinct. Monterey is obscured by fog, but the mountains rise above it in the clear air. Fog forms at the head of the bay and rolls up the great Salinas Valley as far as we can see, but we are far above it and looking on the top of it—it seems like a great arm of the sea, or a mighty river, stretching away to the distant horizon. The mountains beyond Monterey also rise above it, in the clear air. Each ridge is distinct—the range of Point Pinos, the Palo Scrito hills, while in the blue dim distance rise the high peaks of the center of the chain, ninety or a hundred miles distant from us. Southeast, over the lower ridges, rises the Gabilan, thirty-five or forty miles distant; nearer, the high ridges of our own chain.

The “chain” is here a series of ridges and we are near the middle. Through a break we can see the lovely Santa Clara Valley in the north, and the towns of Santa Clara and San Jose, eighteen or twenty miles distant, are in full view—the separate houses can be distinguished with our glasses.

Some plants were collected, barometrical observations made, supper eaten, and in the twilight we sang songs beneath the branches of the trees until we turned in and watched the stars twinkling throught the leaves in the clear, blue mountain air.

1Now called Loma Prieta

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