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April 16, 1863: Grapevine Canyon

April 16, 2013

Kern River is a wide swift stream, here about twenty or twenty-five rods wide, with a treacherous sandy bottom. I dared not risk our animals in it without seeing what it was, so I hired the man to cross it first with his horse. We crossed safely, but it was up to the horses’ sides most of the way. [Today] we came on thirty miles to the mouth of this canyon. From Kern River we saw the mountains on all sides of us—the Sierra on the east, the Coast Range on the west, the two joining on the south—the high peaks, some of them capped with snow, rising like a vast amphitheater. The morning was cloudy and clouds hung over the highest peaks. In about six miles we crossed the last slough of Kern River, then struck south for the mountains, across a complete desert. In places there were patches of alkali grass or saline desert shrubs, in others it was entirely bare, the ground crusted with salt and alkali, like snow—the only living thing larger than insects for many miles was a rattlesnake that we stopped and killed.

The storm came up black behind us; it stretched like a wall across the valley from mountain to mountain; the clouds grew lower on the peaks. We hurried up our tired and jaded animals, who seemed almost worn out. The storm struck us; but instead of rain it was wind—fierce—and the air was filled with dust and alkali. It was fearful, like a sandstorm on the desert. Sometimes we could not see a hundred yards in any direction—all was shut out in clouds of dust. In the midst of this storm my tired horse fell flat with me and got away; luckily he was too tired to run, and I easily caught him again.

At last the rain set in and wet us thoroughly. It was night when we struck the mouth of the Cañada de las Uvas, and found a house. They would not keep us at first, no accommodations, but at last we prevailed and stopped. We got some supper, shivered in the cold, then went to bed. Our host, a young man, with Indian servants, generously gave us his room. There were but two rooms in the house. He, a Spaniard, and two squaws occupied the other room—with a pack of cards and a bottle of whiskey to heighten the pleasure of a social evening.

The last few miles the plain had risen rapidly, until the mouth of the canyon where we were had an elevation of over a thousand feet. The country had improved on this slope, with some grass, while on striking the mountains all was green. All changed, and what a relief! We had ridden on this plain about three hundred miles!

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