June 14, 1862: Orestimba Canyon
[Today] we were up and off early, raised camp, passed out of the canyon, and again struck up the trackless plain. You cannot imagine how tedious it is to ride on this plain. The soil and herbage is dry and brown, few green things cheer the eye, no trees (save in the distance) vary that great expanse. Tens of thousands of cattle are feeding, but they are but specks save when they cluster in great herds near the water—often for miles we see nothing living but ourselves, except birds or insects, reptiles, and ground squirrels. We can only ride at a walk, and in the clear air long distances seem so short that we appear to make no progress. We ride on many a weary league, while a mountain ahead that seemed scarcely a dozen miles distant, at most, becomes no nearer. We camp, and then travel another day toward it, but approach it not. The Sierra is ever in sight, the brilliant summits seem ever in the same position. Peaks a hundred and fifty or more miles distant change their looks but little by our changing place forty or fifty miles.
It is hot, too, on this plain, and every day the mirage flits before us—seeming cool waters ahead that are never reached. Although this has become so familiar a thing that we look at it as a matter of course, yet I never cease to wonder at it. Daily observation has made me familiar with it. Science has explained its mystery, but its beauty, its poetry, remains ever the same to me.
We passed up about fifteen miles, then turned up the Orestimba Canyon and camped about three miles from its mouth. Here we were on a cattle ranch, away from the infernal sheep. We struck a good place to camp. It was a lovely Saturday night. We had wood, and built a bright camp fire, the first we had had since striking the San Joaquin plain—except that one back in the mountains.