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J. Smeaton (Joseph Smeaton) Chase.

California desert trails online

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between the river and the mines. Rusty rails and
machinery were strewn about, adding their quota of
raggedness to piles of broken rock and old railway
ties. The colors of the walls were extraordinary,
splashed about in a way that suggested the upset-
ting of cauldrons of molten rock, pink, lavender,
scarlet, green, and blue. The cool gray of smoke-
trees made an excellent foil for these lively effects.

On the river-bank at the mouth of the canon were
the remains of the old town of Picacho, its popula-
tion reduced to two or three families. This region
for many miles up the river is a land of yesterday : of
mines worked out, towns and settlements dead or
dying. Yet it may revive, for mineral country can
never be safely said to be dead. Any day the grizzled
old man with pick and shovel, frying-pan and gold-
pan, may strike a blow that will bring it to life liter-
ally as if by magic. Looking at that extent of moun-
tains, all known or guessed to be mineralized, but
in great part unprospected, one feels that bonanzas
by scores might be hidden there.

The store, where I had counted on replenishing
my saddle-bags, was closed, this not being one of
the bi-weekly mail days. But at the adjoining house



320 CALIFORNIA DESERT TRAILS

I found a kindly Mexican family, and experienced
again the courtesy of these often underrated people.
While I drank my milk and talked with the dueno
in the veranda where the family life went on, the
phonograph was turned on for my pleasure. It was
odd to hear the strains of "Pagliacci" by these
lonely reaches of the Colorado. "Tipperary" did
not sound so improbable.

I now turned northward along the river. The one
difficulty I expected in making my way along the
stream was the overflowed areas likely to be left by
the yearly flooding which results from the melting
of the snows on the headwaters. But fortunately this
summer the rise had been less than normal and there
should be little trouble, though I must expect de-
tours and retracing of steps.

A hardly discernible track ran alternately along
the river margin and the gravelly mesa that
stretched from the bank to the belt of rugged hills.
This gave variety to the march, sometimes through
thickets of willow, again in open blaze of sun, while
at intervals a ravine came down from the moun-
tains, filled with ironwoods, palo verdes, smoke-
trees, and the tedious but useful mesquit. At a little
cove where firm ground allowed of Kaweah getting a
drink I stopped for lunch and a congratulatory pipe,
feeling not a little satisfaction in at last travelling
along this famous stream, which had for years at-
tracted my imagination.

The Colorado is not in its lower course a particu-
larly striking river. That kind of feature it has in
full measure farther up, where with roar of rapids or



YUMA TO BLYTHE 321

nobler quietude of motion it sweeps through the
vast chasms of the Grand Canon. Here it was a wide
red flood, majestic in its expression of power, but
with monotony for its prevailing note. This monot-
ony, however, as I soon found, comes to be itself a
feature of impressiveness. The union of silence with
motion has also its peculiar charm, and the Colorado
might well be named the Silent River. Its lack of
sound might pass without notice if it were not
brought to the attention by sudden swirls or whirl-
pools that now and again break the stillness with a
rush of rapid water, followed again by the deathlike
hush. These periodical suctions are a characteristic
of this stream, and are caused by the continual
shifting of the material of the bed. A phenomenal
quantity of silt is carried by the Colorado, and its
deposition results in constant changes of the bot-
tom, a newly formed shoal at one place being bal-
anced by a displacement at another. On the shores,
also, every flood rebuilds and tears down the banks,
which even at this time of low water I often noted
to be rapidly caving at some point where I might be
standing. This again causes changes of current in
the channel, with the result of fresh alterations of
the bed.

The river has had various names in the course of
its history. We first hear of it in 1538 under the
name Rio de las Balsas, river of the rafts, from the
Franciscans, Fray Juan de la Asunci6n and Fray
Pedro Nadal, who saw the Yumas cross the stream
on rafts. Two years later one of Coronado's officers,
Hernando de Alargon, the first to discover its mouth



322 CALIFORNIA DESERT TRAILS

and explore some distance above, named it the Rio
de Buena Guia, or river of good guidance. In the
same year Melchior Diaz called it the Rio del Tizon,
river of the firebrand, because he found the savages
carrying torches for warmth. Juan de Onate in 1605
christened it the Rio Grande de Esperanza, river of
hope, but in 1700 it received from Padre Eusebio
Kino the ominous name of the Rio de los Martires,
prophetic of the massacre, eighty years later, at the
infant Missions near Yuma. But the name by which
we know it, the Rio Colorado, the red river, is em-
phatically its own, stamped upon it by Nature. Red
it is, both water and shores, approaching actual
vermilion, and the hue is accentuated by the com-
plementary green of the bordering vegetation.^ I
should like to view it again in late fall, when cotton-
wood and willow had changed to that tint of au-
tumn gold which gives such depth and brilliance to
the blue of the sky.

. I whiled away an hour with the shades of the old
padres and conquistadores, not forgetting the mod-
em conqueror. Major John Wesley Powell, whose
/exploration in 1869 has lately been commemorated
iin a monument built on a point above the wonderful
'.canon. All the afternoon we moved slowly along,
■flanked ever by barren red mountains, these in Cali-
•fornia, those in Arizona. Reach after reach of the

^ In an old map, printed in Paris in the sixteenth century, and
showing California as an island, the Gulf is set down as Mar Bermejo,
the Vermilion Sea, the name probably deriving from one of the "re-
ports and narrations" from which the map was avowedly drawn,
traceable to some early explorer, perhaps Alargon, or Ulloa (one year
earlier) who may have observed the discoloration of the Gulf water
by that of the river, near its mouth.



YUMA TO BLYTHE 323

river yielded little variety. Now and then a platoon
of ducks flew up or down stream, or a heron or crane
rose and flapped slowly off to a new fishing-ground,
and often a covey of quail, caught unaware, scram-
bled with anxious chatter into the nearest thicket.

A smoke-stack, like a steamer's funnel, on the
nearer bank, with nothing else of man's handiwork
in sight, marked Hoag's Landing, where a ferry is
supposed to ply, carrying an occasional passenger. I
saw neither boat nor boatman, and wonder to this
hour how long one might wait there for passage.

A mile or two farther on we came to a discouraged
looking house and, after some search, a settler of
similar mien who leaned on the rickety bars of a
pasture that was occupied by a pair of burros. His
niggardly words and lack-lustre eye were not en-
gaging, and when I learned that there was another
settler six miles above, I forebore to suggest our re-
maining for the night, and we pursued our way. Be-
fore we reached the other place sunset had come. It
is surely by design of Providence that the refreshing
color-flood comes over the earth just at the hour
when otherwise man's spirit would tend to grovel. I
reined up and gazed my fill over the solitary scene,
now suddenly humanized by the magic of the eve-
ning light. The Colorado was no longer common-
place.

Just above where a rocky island, known as Light-
house Rock, stood midway in the stream, I found
the ranch and a hearty welcome from the rancher.
He had lived in this isolated spot for many years,
usually quite alone, only at long intervals visited by



324 CALIFORNIA DESERT TRAILS

some wandering prospector. To my Inquiry how often
he got his mail, he replied "Oh, every few weeks,"
in a tone implying that this was not half bad.

My host had a small but substantial house, with
plenty of good land and many of the makings of a
comfortable home. On the river bank he had rigged
up, single-handed, an engine and pump, which were
all but ready to lift the water upon his fields. But
the loneliness and the disheartening fight were too
much for him, and he declared that he must quit un-
less he could find a partner. There are few people
nowadays, I fear, who would be attracted by this
frontier life, where one's own resources must provide
almost every item that enters into success and com-
fort. If lumber is needed, you row up stream, fell
and hew your timbers, and raft them down to your
landing. If cement, or nails, your supply is forty
miles away. If flour, or candles, or coffee, they are
only to be had at the trouble of a day's journey. So-
ciety one must dispense with: and if you need a doc-
tor — but one had better not get sick. Even the
luxury of a diet of wild burro (which is the only
fresh meat available) might not be thought to offset
the other deprivations.

Kaweah met here an old acquaintance in the form
of barley hay, which he munched with reminiscent
air. After supper my host and I sat smoking and
chatting for hours while he unburdened himself of
hopes and fears, relieved with yams of cougar and
bighorn, treacherous river and waterless trail, while
coyotes yelped and yelled in cheerful rivalry, Cali-
fornia versus Arizona.



YUMA TO BLYTHE 325

A long day's march was laid out for next day. I
bade good-bye early to the friendly hermit, and we
took our way again northward. At each approach
to the river, bands of waterfowl flew quacking and
clattering across the shining water. The track was
dim, and was cut away in places by the summer
flood, causing us many detours. The thickets be-
came more jungle-like and difficult, and often the
axe came into play. There were vistas in these wil-
low woodlands where one might have thought him-
self in a wintry forest, every twig and leaf being
coated with white wool from the seed vessels. Where
the sun lighted these glades the resemblance to
snow was exact, but the steamy heat and the mos-
quitoes forbade such delusion as to the time of
year.

There was more of interest when the trail took to
the mesa. Then the mountains were in view, and,
forbidding as they were in their look of eternal
drought and their uniformity of hue, their shapes
were always stimulating. The mere geographical
feeling, so to speak, that is excited by mountains is a
luxury to any one fond of geography ; and these des-
ert ranges, with their look of geologic austerity, have
a quality that amounts to fascination — the fasci-
nation of repulsion or something near that, a morbid
and dangerous thing in general, but which some-
how I find invigorating in a chain of blighted, be-
witched mountains. One group of hills that I passed
is named the Barren Mountains, as if in contrast
with the other ranges hereabout, but it is hard to
imagine what the difference can be.



326 CALIFORNIA DESERT TRAILS

On the Arizona side of the river about opposite to
where I now was, a few settlers have taken up land.
The locality is known as the Cibola Valley, taking
the name from those Seven Cities that excited the
old Spaniards so needlessly.

I recognized a relic of the mining era in the form
of some cement vats on the bench above the river.
No shaft or tunnel could be seen, so probably the
pay-dirt was brought from a distance, this being the
nearest water available for washing. In the bottom
of one of the vats was a good-sized rattlesnake. I
descended and did battle, Kaweah looking down
like an old Roman watching a combat in the arena.
He shares my dislike for these creatures, and gets as
excited as I at the familiar rattle. As an instance of
protective coloring, this specimen had taken on a
dark red color that closely matched the ground.^

After a dozen miles or so we came to a clearing
where Mexicans had cultivated their little patches
of maize, milpitas, as they call them. The white set-
tler who had lately ousted them was living in the
stick-in-the-mud house. As it was noon I inquired of
the wife whether I might purchase a meal and take
it with them, which after some demur was granted.
The man did not leave his reclining posture, on a
dirty quilt in the shade of a ramada, during the hour
and a half I stayed, except for a hurried visit to the
table to gulp down his beans and coffee. With apolo-
gies to the kindly woman, I could not help wishing
that the "damned greasers," as he termed the late

* I once, in grass country, killed a rattlesnake that was quite green
in hue. Both the green and the red were regulation "diamond-backs."



YUMA TO BLYTHE 327

occupiers, might have been my hosts. Anglo-Saxon
superiority has sometimes to be taken for granted.

A wide wash, the Arroyo Seco, comes in here.
There was no sign of recent rain having fallen here-
about, but the wash, dry as it now was, showed signs
that a flood had swept down from the Chocolates
within two or three weeks at most. I had seen the
storm that I raced to Yuma, ten days before, break-
ing over this locality, and now congratulated myself
that it had not overtaken me in the open, for fresh
drift was lodged four or five feet high all over the
wide channel. To be caught in one of these arroyos
(which are tempting camping-places on account of
firewood and shelter from wind), when a thunder-
storm bursts on the mountains, would be much like
being under a reservoir when the dam breaks.

Evening found us still far from Palo Verde, but a
few hours' cool travelling was not a bad prospect.
Before the young moon had set we had come into a
well-marked road that comes up from Glamis, forty
miles to the southwest, and along this we marched
comfortably enjoying the grateful dusk. At length
came fences, and then a light. We stumbled into a
few sloughs that variegated the road, ran into a
barbed-wire fence or two, and pulled up at an adobe
store-building where a trio of teamsters were camp-
ing on the porch. Opposite was a corral and hay-
stack, pleasing sights for Kaweah. The proprietor
was routed out and we wound up a long day in very
tolerable quarters.

Morning revealed Palo Verde as a hamlet — I
choose the smallest term, but it is too much — con-



328 CALIFORNIA DESERT TRAILS

sisting of a store and half a dozen scattered build-
ings, mostly old or of the modem kind that does not
need years to make them disreputable. The popula-
tion might number a score when all should have re-
turned from "inside." A backwater of the Colorado
gives the place some attraction, and it appeared to
be well stocked with fish and waterfowl. Not only
the youth but the infants of Palo Verde find their
pleasure in this lagoon. A proud father pointed out
to me his boy, aged three, who he assured me was an
expert swimmer, while his next younger, a baby-
girl, was in training and showing promise.

As for farming, the district seemed not to have
made a beginning. A few untidy fields could be seen,
but not one instance of thrifty cultivation came to
my notice. This settlement lies at the southern end
of the Palo Verde Valley, the upper part of which, as
the next day's travel proved, tells a very different
tale. No doubt the tide of prosperity, which means
the flow of water in the irrigation canals, is on its
way and will break on Palo Verde itself in due time.

Through a pale, unpleasant land we took our way
again northward. There was not now much comfort
to be had from the mountains, for they were farther
away and almost lost in summer haze ; and the river
had dropped out of sight. The vegetation was of the
dismal kind usual on these silt levels, hummocks of
atriplex varied with an occasional mesquit. The
ground was cracked and gaping with heat, and the
so-called ranches added the last touch of depression
with their gunny-sacking and baling-wire make-
shifts. Here and there an attempt at cultivation had



YUMA TO BLYTHE 329

been made, but abandoned. The bitter dust rose
listlessly from the road and hung about like an an-
noying companion. A team crept along half hidden
in its own gray cloud. As we passed I noticed that
the load was burlap, for baling the cotton-crop of
the northern end of the valley.

A new, vacant store-building with one house ad-
joining proved to be a "town" named Rannells.
The law of supply and demand cannot be the simple
thing many of us suppose, for here was a man who
thought, apparently, that a store automatically
produces customers. But the mind of the land-
boomer is one of the last puzzles that philosophy
will solve. Meanwhile one shakes the head and
passes by.

Gradually the look of things improved. The
patches of cotton seemed less hopelessly starved,
and here and there a decent house appeared. At a
little homestead I noticed half a dozen thrifty
young date-palms bearing a good crop. As I stood
admiring, an old woman smoking a clay pipe came
out of the shack and invited me to inspect her treas-
ures at close range. Did I ever see such dates as
them? No, she'd bet half a dollar I never did. Them
was reel Deglets and raised by hand. Laws, I
would n't believe the water they took, them six!
and did I notice them offshoots, five of 'em? That
would make near double the number when she set
'em out; and in three or four years they 'd double
again, and keep a-doin' it till, laws! in like no time
she and her old man would have a date place folks
'd come from Los Angeles in their autos to look at.



330 CALIFORNIA DESERT TRAILS

And so on, puffing and chatting away, friendly,
garrulous, admirably hopeful.

At the next settlement, called Neighbors, really
good farms began, with cheerful horses and men,
big haystacks, and a general air of something going
on. The well-fenced fields showed excellent crops of
alfalfa, cotton, and milo-maize. The difference be-
tween this locality and the one I had just left turns
wholly on the question of water, the very blood of
life to desert soil. Teams became more numerous,
then occasional buggies with women and children.
Passing a prosperous looking ranch I caught the
sound of a harmonium. Some one was playing
"Home, Sweet Home."

We were soon entering the town of Blythe,
which I found to consist of a dozen good stores, a
neat little bank, hotel, moving-picture theatre, and
so forth, and a few score of modest dwellings. But
again I rebelled at the slovenliness that makes our
new Western cities so deplorable. One picks out the
redeeming features eagerly enough, every tasteful
building, every bit of lawn, every decent job of
fencing: but these only give contrast to the general
vileness. One would think effort had been made,
real ingenuity called in, to achieve this hideous re-
sult.

Blythe has no livery-stable, but I found make-
shift quarters for Kaweah at a corral surrounded by
dirty tents and mud-and-pole hovels, and put up
for a day or two while I attended to matters of busi-
ness. The opening of a new pool-room was to be cel-
ebrated that night and the next, with a dance given



YUMA TO BLYTHE 331

on the first night by the Mexicans, who are a strong
element in the town, and on the second by the
Americans. As I stood at dusk talking with the sad-
dler and watching the Mexicans trooping to the
haile In chattering family groups, all the femininity
in snowiest array, I noticed a few American youths
and girls passing in with them, and remarked that it
was good to see the two elements so friendly. "Huh ! "
said my companion, "those store-clerks would go
anywhere there's a show for a dance." "But," I
said, "don't the Mexicans invite them?" "Sure."
"And then of course the Mexicans are invited when
you get up a dance." "What! invite the greasers!
Well, I just reckon we don't."

A map published in 191 5 by some California con-
cern for the benefit of autoists shows the towns of
Ehrenberg and La Paz, on the Arizona side of the
river almost opposite Blythe. They were noted
places in their time and should be worth a visit even
in decline. I took the road eastward, at first among
farms, then through the jungle of the bottom-land.
A few autumnal lavender asters had already ap-
peared, a hundred-fold delightful after the long ab-
sence of such charmers of the way. Wild hemp {Ses-
hania macrocarpa) was plentiful in places and still in
blossom, but its spindling growth and formal leaves
had made it tedious from first acquaintance.

It would have been a pleasant woodland lane
through the willows but for mosquitoes, which here
were at their worst. Kaweah stopped once or twice
and looked round at me with a questioning eye, but
I was no better off than he except for my smaller



332 CALIFORNIA DESERT TRAILS

area. I tried tobacco, but this they seemed to find an
interesting novelty. When I put Kaweah to a gallop
I only got more bites in less time and barked my
shins against the close-growing trees. The mosqui-
toes here were of the large mottled kind that leave
a mark like an old-fashioned legal wafer.

A cable ferry plies at this point, which in the early
days of the West was a main crossing place for Cal-
ifornia travel. In answer to my hail a grizzled old
fellow came out of a cabin on the farther side, and
in the leisurely manner of ferrymen the world over,
brought his boat across. This was a new experience
for Kaweah, and I expected him to balk when I rode
him on board; but the Egyptians were behind, and
the river, he knew, was our Red Sea of safety. When
I asked the ferryman how he endured the mosqui-
toes, "Why," he replied, "there's no more blood in
me, you see. They got the last out of me about nine-
teen ten, so they've quit coming around."

I found a road following the stream, and turned
northward over a clay mesa bearing the usual assort-
ment of plants but with a few saguaros added to give
the characteristic of Arizona. A mile or two along I
found a house of the familiar stick-in-the-mud type,
where a young rancher had taken up an abandoned
piece of bottom-land. He was no exception to the
rule of friendliness, and indeed urged me to stop
with him more or less indefinitely. The house had
been built by Mojave Indians, whose tribal territory
begins hereabout, and it still bore marks of their re-
gime such as ollas and metates, and on the walls
crude drawings of trains, city buildings, and so



YUMA TO BLYTHE 333

forth. Probably some much-travelled Mojave buck
had been illustrating to his household circle the
wondrous things he had seen on a visit to Needles,
perchance even to Phoenix, the State capital.

A few other houses of the same kind were passed,
but all were deserted. In the rear of one, which ap-
peared to have been a store, there were the remains
of an arrastra, the primitive contrivance for grind-
ing ore by crushing it with rocks in a circular pit by
means of a capstan operated by horse, burro, or
ox power. One is constantly meeting these remind-
ers of "the days of old, the days of gold," in all sorts
of unlikely comers about the desert, and comes to
have the feeling of being in a region of the dead.

The young rancher had warned me that La Paz
was not now much of a place, but had told me
how to find it. Five miles farther on I glimpsed his
landmark, a cone-shaped cement monument visible
from the road on the right. On making my way to it
I understood the point of his remark that I must be
careful or I might miss the place. The monument, he
told me, stood at the head of the principal street. I
gazed all around. I was in a waste of mesquit scrub
and arrowweed : perhaps the houses were hidden by
the brush. I searched for houses, then for any token
showing where houses had stood. There was nothing,
not so much as a scrap of foundation, or adobe wall,
or of lumber, or even debris. Apart from the monu-
ment and a few mud bricks close thereby not a sign
remained of the city of La Paz, which forty or fifty
years ago was a place of five thousand or more peo-
ple, the county seat, and hopeful of becoming the



334 CALIFORNIA DESERT TRAILS

capital city of the Territory. Some one has recently
written about these defunct mining towns, which he
calls the ghost cities of the West. La Paz is not even
a ghost, merely a legend.

The top of the monument had been knocked off
and a hole broken in the side. I was told later that
it marked the grave of the wife of an Italian citizen,
saloon-keeper, merchant, and man of wealth of old
La Paz. He had lavished diamonds on his lady In
her lifetime, and rumor said that the jewels had


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