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than any attempt at self-justification could possibly have been—even
though we knew we were right.

[Illustration: THE PACIFIC NEAR GOLDEN GATE
From Original Painting by N. Hagerup]




XIII

TO BEAUTIFUL CLEAR LAKE VALLEY


A splendid view of the Golden Gate, through which, between opposing
headlands, the tides of the Pacific pour into the waters of San
Francisco's great inland bay, may be had from the ferry between the
city and Sausalito. The facilities for carrying motor cars were good and
charges reasonable. We were speedily set down on the northern side and,
without entering the little town, took to the road forthwith, closely
following the shores of the bay.

A dozen miles of rough going brought us to San Rafael, where in 1817
the padres from Mission Dolores in San Francisco founded the twentieth,
and last but one, of the California missions. George Wharton James
declares that this mission was really intended as a health resort for
neophytes from San Francisco who had fallen ill of consumption, which
had become a terrible scourge among the Indians around the bay. During
the first three years after the founding of San Rafael, nearly six
hundred neophytes were transferred to the new establishment, and in
1828 its population had reached eleven hundred and forty. Its buildings
were never very substantial and the total value of all property at
secularization was reckoned at only fifteen thousand dollars. Fremont
took possession of the town in 1846 without opposition. After his
departure the mission buildings were unoccupied and speedily fell into
ruin.

In response to our inquiries, a citizen directed us to the Catholic
parsonage. The priest greeted us courteously and told us that not a
trace of the mission now remained. In his garden he pointed out some
old pear trees planted by the padres of San Rafael Mission in early
days—almost the sole existing relics. The church near by is modern and
of no especial interest. The site was an ideal one and the sheltered
valley, with the green wooded hills that encircle it, was a fit place of
rest for the invalid neophytes. San Rafael is now a substantially built,
prosperous-looking town of about six thousand people and a favorite
suburban residence place for San Francisco business men.

A well-improved highway leads through rolling hills from San Rafael to
Petaluma, whence a detour of a dozen miles eastward takes us to historic
Sonoma—the farthest outpost of Spanish civilization in California.
Here the twenty-first and last mission of the chain was founded in
1823, with a view of checking the influence of the Russians, who were
filling the country to the north. It never attained great importance,
though during the short period of its existence its population reached
about seven hundred. In 1834 the presidio or military establishment of
San Francisco was transferred here to counteract Russian and American
encroachments. The governor, Vallejo, took command of the post in person
and, it is recorded, supported the enterprise at his own expense. He
appears to have been a fine type of the old-time Spanish grandee, and
his hacienda or residence still stands, though now deserted, about five
miles northwest of the town. This is of the usual Spanish type, but
on a much grander scale than any other of the early California homes
still standing. Its facade is three hundred feet in length and two
wings extend to the rear, enclosing a spacious patio which overlooks
the valley from its open side. Double balconies supported by heavy
timbers run around the entire outside. The house is solidly built; its
walls, no less than six feet in thickness, are constructed of adobe.
Its hewn beams are bound together with rawhide thongs and the lighter
timbers are fastened with wooden pegs, not a nail being used. Stout iron
grilles and heavy wooden shutters protect the windows and the doors are
provided with wickets so that the house could easily be converted into
a defensive fortress.

Vallejo also had a town house in Sonoma, but this has nearly
disappeared. There are still many old adobes surrounding the spacious
plaza—for the village was laid out on regal scale; many date from
mission days, though none of them has any especial historic importance.

The mission church stands at the northeast angle of the plaza; it was
in use until about twenty-five years ago, when it was wrecked by an
earthquake, and since then neglect and winter rains nearly completed the
work of ruin. The property was acquired by the Landmarks Club, which,
having no funds for restoration, offered it to the state as an historic
monument. It was accepted by a special act of the legislature and a
small fund provided to restore and maintain the buildings. At the time
of our visit work was in progress and was being carried out on original
lines as nearly as possible. The old tiles had been restored to the roof
and the rents in the walls repaired with sun-dried adobes. But there
was no one to show us about or to preserve the relics and traditions of
the mission. In this regard there will always be an advantage in having
the original owner—the Catholic church—in charge, for it means that
"open house" to visitors will be kept at all times. We were gratified
to learn, however, that historic Sonoma will not be allowed to fall into
ruin, as we had been led to expect from descriptions by recent visitors.

In the plaza just opposite the mission is the pole upon which the
American insurgents hoisted the California bear flag in 1846. This
party, under Ezekiel Merritt, started from Captain Fremont's camp near
Sutter's Fort (Sacramento) and halted some distance from the town until
midnight. At daybreak they marched hurriedly down the valley and took
General Vallejo and his scanty garrison prisoners of war.

"A man named Todd," according to an eye-witness, "proceeded to make
a flag for the occasion by painting a red star on a piece of cotton
cloth, when he was reminded that Texas had already adopted this emblem.
The grizzly bear was then substituted and the words, 'Republic of
California,' added in common writing ink. The flag was hoisted amidst
cheers from the entire company and remained afloat for several weeks
until Lieutenant Revere of the Portsmouth came to raise the stars and
stripes over it after the capture of Monterey."

This event is commemorated by a huge granite boulder near the flagstaff
in the plaza of Sonoma. It bears a reproduction of the original flag in
bronze and a tablet of the same metal with the inscription, "Bear flag,
raised June 14, 1846—erected July 4, 1907. S. O. W. C." It serves to
impress on the infrequent visitor that the modest little village has an
historic past that its more pretentious neighbors well might envy.

The homestead which General Vallejo occupied after these events and
until the time of his death still stands but a short distance from the
town, and is approached through a beautiful avenue of ancient palms.

It is quite as he left it, in a garden overgrown with roses and
geraniums and shaded by lemon and orange trees intermingled with
magnolias and palms. This house is now occupied by General Vallejo's
youngest daughter, who still treasures many mementos of her father and
of mission days.

A well-improved road leads from Sonoma to Santa Rosa. The latter is
a thriving town of ten thousand people and to all appearances has
completely recovered from the severe damage inflicted upon it by the
earthquake of 1906. It is the home of a man whose fame is wider than
that of the town, for no doubt thousands have heard of Luther Burbank
who do not know that he lives in Santa Rosa. We passed his experiment
station at Sevastopol, seven miles from his home town. We wished we
might see the wizard and his work, but he is too busy to be troubled
by tourists and can be seen only by special introduction. Santa Rosa
is the county seat of Sonoma County—succeeding the village of Sonoma in
1856—and a new court house, just completed, would do credit to any city
in size and architectural design—another example of the far-sightedness
of California communities. The Baptist Church is pointed out as an
unique curiosity, for it was built of a single redwood tree—and it is
a good-sized church, too.

Out of Santa Rosa we came into the Russian River Valley,—which, with
many other names in this vicinity, reminded us that at one time Russia
had designs upon our Golden West—certainly one of the loveliest and most
fertile of California vales. Here and in Napa Valley just over the range
to the east are the Italian colonies, which produce vast quantities of
wine. The well-improved road follows the center of the narrow green
valley, shut in by blue hill ranges on either hand and covered with
great vineyards. In places these ascend the steep hillsides—recalling
the valley of the Rhine—and they show everywhere the perfect care and
cultivation characteristic of old-world vineyards.

A little beyond Healdsburg, state highway construction barred the main
road west of the river and we were forced to cross a rickety bridge into
a rather forbidding-looking byroad on the eastern side. At the moment
this seemed a small calamity, for we were already late and the road
appeared favorable for anything but speed. But we had not gone far until
the entrancing beauty of the scenery made us rejoice that chance had led
us into this route, which my notes declare "one of the most picturesque
on our entire tour." The sinuous, undulating road closely follows the
course of the stream, which lay quietly in deep emerald-green pools,
or dashed in incredibly swift foaming cascades over its rocky bed. The
fine trees—oaks, sycamores, madronas, pines, redwoods, and many other
varieties—crowd closely up to the narrow road and climb to the very top
of the rugged slopes on either hand. In places there are bold cliffs
overhanging the river, one great rock, a vast expanse of tawny brown,
spangled with moss and lichens, rising to a height of several hundred
feet. Just off this road is Geyserville, in the vicinity of which are
geysers and hot springs similar to those of the Yellowstone Park.

At Cloverdale we came into the main highway, which here begins a steady
climb up the mountains at the head of the valley, the grades ranging
six to ten per cent. The road follows the river canyon and there were
many picturesque glimpses of the dashing stream through the trees on
our left. At Pieta Station—the railroad runs on the western side of
the river—we made a sharp turn to the right, following Pieta grade,
which cuts squarely across the mountain range. The road is exceedingly
tortuous, climbing the giant hills in long loops and, though none of
the grades are heavy, caution was very necessary. Here we ran through
the "forest primeval;" nature was in its pristine beauty, unspoiled by
the hand of man. No human habitation was in sight for miles and wild
life abounded. Rabbits, snakes, and quails scurried across the road and
birds flitted through the trees. Wild flowers bloomed in profusion in
the glades and flowering shrubs such as the wild lilac and dogwood gave
a delightful variation from the prevailing green of the trees. This is
a toll road and at the summit of the grade, eight miles from Pieta, a
gate barred our way and we were required to pay a dollar to proceed. We
found ourselves in no hurry, however, despite the fact that the sun was
just setting, for from this spot we had our first view of Clear Lake
Valley. Beyond a long vista of wooded hills, set like a great gem in
the green plain, the lake shimmered in the subdued light. In the far
distance other mountain ranges faded away into the violet haze of the
gathering twilight.

The descending road is steeper and rougher than the climb to the
summit, though the distance is not so great. At the foot of the grade
is Highland Springs, with a summer resort hotel not yet open, and after
this a straight, level road runs directly northward to Lakeport. It
is a little, isolated town of a thousand people—there is no railroad
in Clear Lake Valley—and its hotel is a typical country-town inn.
There is another hotel which keeps open only during the summer season,
for a small number of discerning people come to Clear Lake for their
summer vacation. At the Garrett, however, we were made as comfortable
as circumstances permitted, the greatest desideratum being private
bathrooms. While rambling about the town after supper I fell into
conversation with a druggist and I unwittingly touched a sore spot—which
we learned was common to every citizen of Lakeport—when I remarked that
it was strange that a town of its size, so favorably situated, should
be without a railroad.

[Illustration: A LAKE COUNTY BYWAY
From Photograph by Pillsbury]

"It's a burning shame," he exclaimed, "and we have the Southern Pacific
to thank for it. We have made every effort to secure a railway here
and in this fertile valley it would surely pay. Besides, the lake,
with its fine fishing and beautiful surroundings, would soon become
one of the most noted resorts in California—if people could only get
here. But for some reason the Southern Pacific has not only refused to
build, but has throttled any effort on part of the people to finance a
road into the valley. I guess the railroad people figure that as it is
they get all the traffic and the people have to bear the heavy expense
of transportation by wagon to the main line. If this is so, it's a
short-sighted policy, for the development of the country would be so
rapid that the branch would be a paying proposition from the start." And
he added much more in the same strain, all of it highly uncomplimentary
to the "Sunset Route."

I was not familiar enough with the situation to dispute any of his
assertions, even had I been so inclined, and let him assume that
I assented to all his animadversions against the Southern Pacific.
The question whether or not Lakeport and Clear Lake Valley would be
benefited by a railroad—the nearest station is Pieta, twenty miles
away—was clearly too one-sided to admit of discussion. Besides,
railroads interest us only in an academic way. Who would want a railroad
to visit Clear Lake Valley if he were free to come by motor car?

From our window in the third story of the hotel we could see the lake
and the mountains beyond and I remarked that sunrise would surely be a
spectacle worth seeing. Though some doubt was expressed as to my ability
to rise early enough, I managed to do it and a scene of surpassing
beauty rewarded the effort—it really was an effort after the strenuous
run of the preceding day. A rosy sky brought out the rugged contour of
the hills and tinged the dense blue shadows with amethyst and gold.
As the sky brightened, the lake glowed with the changeful fires of
an opal, which merged into a sheet of flame when the sun climbed the
mountains and flung his rays directly across the still surface. There
was an indescribable glory of color and light, passing through endless
mutations ere the scene came out distinctly in the daylight.

We were away early in the morning with a long run over many mountain
grades confronting us. As we left the valley we had a better opportunity
of noting its singular beauty than on the preceding evening. It is
a wide green plain of several hundred square miles, surrounded by
mountain ranges. These presented a peculiar contrast in the low morning
sun, standing sharp and clear against the sky on the eastern side and
half hidden in a soft blue haze on the west. In the center of the
plain lay Clear Lake—rightly named, for it is a crystal clear body
of water about thirty miles long and eight miles in extreme width.
It is fed by mountain streams and empties its waters into the Russian
River. For boating and fishing it is unsurpassed, a catch of bass or
cat being assured under almost any conditions. The valley was studded
with hundreds of oaks, the finest and most symmetrical we had seen
in a country famous for magnificent oaks, and one of these, near the
Lakeport road, is declared to be the largest and most perfect oak
tree in California. Whether it is so or not, a few figures will give
some idea of its mammoth proportions. The circumference of its trunk
is twenty-four feet and six inches, its height one hundred and twenty
feet, and the spread of its branches one hundred and fifty-six feet.
And this is only one of hundreds of majestic trees which dotted the
plain. Underneath them—for they stand usually far apart—lay the wide
green meadows and wheatfields, spangled with multi-colored wild flowers.
It would be hard to imagine a more beautiful vista than the one which
stretched away beneath these giant trees to the still waters of the
lake. Here and there the orange flame of poppies prevailed and again a
field of buttercups or daisies, or a blue belt of lupine. The sky above
was clear save for a few silvery clouds which floated lazily over the
mountains, and, altogether, it was a scene of quiet beauty that made
us wonder if there was another spot in all the world like this mountain
vale. What a place it would be for a resort like Del Monte or Coronado!
If in Southern California it would be one of the most noted beauty spots
on earth. A railroad would, of course, do much to make it known to the
world in general, though the thought of a railroad in that scene of
quiet, out-of-the-world loveliness seemed almost like sacrilege. The
climate is mild—orange trees and palms being common—and the rainfall,
averaging about thirty inches, is twice as great as in the southern part
of the state. This accounts for the unusual greenness of the country
and might be an unpleasant feature in winter.

Lakeport marked the northern end of our tour and we resolved to cross
the mountains and return by the Napa Valley. At Kelseyville, a few miles
south of Lakeport, we inquired of a garage man as to the best road out
of the valley and he carefully directed us to take the left-hand fork
two or three miles south of the town.

"It takes you over Bottle Glass Mountain," he said, "but it's the
shortest road to Middletown."

When we came to the fork we saw that the main traveled road continued
to the right and a narrow, forbidding-looking lane started up the big
hill to our left. We took it with some misgiving; the directions had
been explicit, but we did not like its looks. When we had proceeded
a few miles on the increasingly heavy grade we began to realize the
significance of the name, "Bottle Glass Mountain," for the road had been
blasted through masses of obsidian or volcanic glass and was strewn with
numberless razor-sharp fragments which speedily cut our tires to shreds.
There was absolutely no place to turn about and so we laboriously toiled
up the heavy grades—some of them surely as much as twenty-five per
cent—the engine steaming like a tea-kettle until at last we reached the
summit. Here we paused to cool the engine and investigate the sorry work
of the glass which had strewn the road for some miles. The usefulness
of a new set of tires was clearly at its end—no one of them lasted more
than a few hundred miles after this experience. We carried away a bit
of the glass as a memento and found it identical with that of Obsidian
Cliff in the Yellowstone, a material used by the Indians for arrow
heads.

The descent was quite free from glass and led us down some pretty steep
grades into a beautifully wooded canyon. Here we met a mail carrier who
gave us the cheerful information that two or three miles farther over
a good road would have avoided the horrors of Bottle Glass Mountain.
For several miles we followed the course of a clear stream, the road
dropping continuously down grade and winding between splendid trees,
until we came to the little village of Middletown.

Beyond this we began the ascent of Mount St. Helena, famed in
Stevenson's stories of the "Silverado Squatters." Of it he wrote,

"There was something satisfactory in the sight of the great mountain
enclosing us on the north; whether it stood robed in sunshine, quaking
to its topmost pinnacle in the heat and lightness of the day or whether
it set itself to weaving vapors, wisp after wisp, growing, trembling,
fleeting, and fading in the blue."

It overtops everything else in the vicinity; its great bold summit,
rising to a height of forty-five hundred feet, is a cairn of quartz and
cinnabar. Its slopes, now so quiet and sylvan, were alive in an early
day with mining camps and villages. But the mines failed long ago and
the army of miners departed, leaving deserted towns and empty houses
behind them. These fell into decay and their debris has been hidden by
the rank growth of young trees. On St. Helena, Stevenson and his wife
spent some time in a deserted mining camp in the summer of 1880 in hopes
of benefiting his health and while here he planned and partly completed
the story of Silverado. There are many descriptions of the scenery and
his step-daughter declares that the passage describing the morning fog
rolling into the valley as seen from his camp is one of the very finest
in all of Stevenson's writings.

Out of Middletown the road begins a steady ascent over rolling grades
ranging up to fifteen per cent and winding through the splendid forests
which so charmed the Scotch writer. Redwoods, oaks, firs, cedars and
magnificent sugar pines crowd up to the roadside. Star-white dogwood
blossoms stand against the foliage, the pale lavender spikes of the
mountain lilac, the giant thistle with its carmine blooms, the crimson
gleam of the redbud, the brilliant azalea, and, above all, the madrona,
a great tree loaded with clusters of odorous pale pink blossoms. Its red
trunk, gleaming beneath its glistening green foliage and gay flowers,
inspired the oft-quoted fancy of Bret Harte:

"Captain of the western wood,
Thou that apest Robin Hood,
Green above thy scarlet hose
How thy velvet mantle shows.
Never tree like thee arrayed,
Oh, thou gallant of the glade."

[Illustration: ON THE SLOPES OF MT. ST. HELENA
From Photograph by Harold Taylor]

From the highest point of the road—it does not cross the summit of the
mountain—was a glorious prospect of wooded hills and a long vista down
the canyon which we followed to the valley. The descent was a strenuous
one—winding downward in long loops, turning sharply around blind
corners, and running underneath mighty cliffs, with precipices falling
away beneath. It presented a series of magnificent views—a new one at
almost every turn—and finally we came out into the open where we had
full sweep down the vine-clad valley. At its head, just at the end of
the mountain grade, was Calistoga, a quiet village of a thousand people,
where Stevenson stopped while outfitting for his Silverado expedition.
It was entirely surrounded by vineyards, which skirted the road for
the eight miles to St. Helena and spread out over the narrow valley to
the green hills on either hand. At intervals wheatfields studded with
great solitary oaks varied the monotony of the scene and here and there
a vineyard dotted the steep slopes of the hills.

Here, as well as in the valley just west of the St. Helena Range, are
the properties of the Swiss-Italian and Asti Colonies, and the principal
winery, a vast stone structure that reminds one of a Rheinish castle, is
situated on this road. Its capacity is three million gallons annually
and besides its storage vats there is one great cement cistern which
holds a half million gallons. In this capacious cavern a merrymaking
party of a hundred couples is said to have held a dance on one occasion.
But Italian methods have been abandoned in these big wineries—it would
be something of a job to crush grapes for three million gallons of wine
with the bare feet, the implements mostly in use in Italy. Instead,
there is a mammoth crusher in a tower of the structure and the grapes
are dumped upon an endless chain that hoists them to this machine, which
grinds and stems them at a single operation. The pulp is then conducted
through pipes to the fermenting vats below. The founder of the Asti
Colony has a beautiful home in the hills, modeled after a Pompeian villa
and surrounded by elaborate gardens and groves, an altogether artistic
and charming place, it is said. He is now reckoned as a very wealthy
man, though he came here about thirty years ago with little or nothing.

The colony has its own general store, its smithy, its bakery, its dairy,
its cooperage, its schools and post office, and a quaint little wooden


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Online LibraryThomas D. MurphyOn Sunset Highways → online text (page 19 of 25)