May 30, 1864: East of Pacheco Pass
[Today] we came on to San Luis de Gonzaga Ranch, at the eastern entrance of the pass. Our road lay over the mountains. They are perfectly dry and barren, no grass—here and there a poor gaunt cow is seen, but what she gets to eat is very mysterious.
As we cross the summit the Sierra Nevada should be in view, with its sharp outline and cool snows; but not so—we look out on the dry plain, which becomes more indistinct and finally fades away into the hazy air, shutting out like a veil all that lies beyond. The wind blows heavily over the pass, and we descend to the San Luis Ranch. The wind is so high that we can build no fire, so we cook in the dirty kitchen. Dust fills the air—often we cannot see fifty yards in any direction—it covers everything. We cook our dinner, but before it can be eaten we cannot tell its color because of the dirt that settles on it. Our food is gritty between our teeth, and as we drink out our cups of tea we find a deposit of fine sand in the bottom. Dirt, dirt, dirt—eyes full, face dirty, whole person feeling dirty and gritty.
All around the house it looks desolate. Where there were green pastures when we camped here two years ago, now all is dry, dusty, bare ground. Three hundred cattle have died by the miserable water hole back of the house, where we get water to drink, and their stench pollutes the air.
This ranch contains eleven square leagues, or over seventy-six square miles. In its better days it had ten thousand head of cattle, besides the horses needed to manage them. Later it became a sheep ranch, and two years ago, when we camped here, it fed sixteen thousand sheep besides some few thousand cattle. Now, owing to the drought, there is no feed for cattle, and not over one thousand sheep, if that, can be kept through the summer. The last of the cattle, about one thousand head, were lately sold for $1,500, or only $1.50 each! Such is the effect of the drought on one ranch.
We spent a miserable night [here], the wind and dust almost preventing sleep, and paid fourteen dollars in gold for the hay that our seven animals ate.