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November 5, 1861: Yountville

November 5, 2011

Yountville 02

Bistro Jeanty, downtown Yountville; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

Camp 64

Hoffmann and I climbed a ridge west of camp, about five or six miles distant. A steep sharp ridge rises from the valley, very steep, its top a very sharp point, 2,400 feet high, with no rocks in sight and but few trees1. Its steep sides and sharp top show a smooth surface of dark green chaparral —beautiful to the lover of scenery, but forbidding to our experienced eyes. We have seen too much of that treacherous surface, which looks so inviting in the distance but is so difficult and laborious to penetrate.

A ride of about four miles up and across the valley, then back through the fields, and then we strike up a ridge. A few hundred feet are gained, when suddenly a board fence bars further progress. But we are ready for the difficulty, as it is one we often meet. I have some nails in my saddlebags, my geological hammer is the right tool—I soon knock off the top boards, jump our mules over, replace the boards with fresh nails, and ride on. We soon get into a cattle trail that carries us up until it gets too steep to ride farther. We tie and make the rest on foot, find the chaparral not tall, and less difficult than was anticipated.

The view from the top is finer than any we have had since crossing the bay, more extensive and more grand. San Pablo Bay gleams in the distance; the lovely Napa Valley lies beneath us, with its pretty farms, its majestic trees, its vineyards and orchards and farmhouses. Its villages, of which three or four were in sight, the most picturesque of which is St. Helena, are nestled among the trees at the head of the valley. Bold rocky ridges stand across the valley, a bold broken country around us. To the northwest lies the distant valley of the Russian River, one of the finest in the state, many thinking it even finer than the Napa and the Santa Clara valleys. But the feature is Mount St. Helena, rising to the north of us, over four thousand feet—steep, bold, and rocky—an object of sublimity as well as beauty.

shrubby lupine

Lupinus formosus; by randomtruth, on Flickr

We stayed for nearly two hours on the peak. We were tired and hungry. I thought we had no lunch. Hoffmann had told Mike, however, to put up something. We searched my saddlebags, and lo! six quails, finely broiled (cold), with bread, salt, etc! How we feasted! and the scene looked even more beautiful after it. As the peak was without a name we called it Mount Henry, as it was something like Mount Bache across the bay, and we thought it well to honor the distinguished man of science.

Our return was without especial interest. Found a goose roasted for dinner, the last of the season for us—last but not least. It went the way of its predecessors.

Professor Whitney came to camp [this evening]. It had been our intention to visit the new quicksilver region of Napa County and the Geysers, but we had already exceeded the time set for withdrawing from the field. The rain had kept off unusually long, and it was feared that when it would once begin there would be no stop. The Professor was more than half inclined to turn back as it began to look like rain, but I was anxious to get up into that country, even if it were only for a week, and I carried my point.

Specimens collected: Lupinus formosus var. formosus

1Mt. St. John, 2,375′.

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