Thomas D. Murphy.

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plan was to come from Napa, but we learned that the roads north and
west of the city were usually impassable until late in the summer. The
entire city lies below high-water level of the Sacramento and American
Rivers and in its early days suffered from disastrous floods. It is
now protected by an extensive system of dikes, which have successfully
withstood the freshets for half a century.

A handsome city greeted us as we coursed down the wide shady street
leading past the capitol to the Hotel Sacramento. Palms and flowers were
much in evidence in the outskirts and many imposing modern buildings
ornamented the business section. There were, however, many indications
of the city's age, for Sacramento is the oldest settlement of white men
in the interior of California and was a town of ten thousand people in
1849, though probably there were many transient gold-seekers among them.
It was the objective of the early "Argonauts" who crossed the plains
long before the discovery of gold. Here in 1839 Colonel John H. Sutter
established a colony of Swiss settlers which he called New Helvetia, and
the old adobe fort which he built still stands, having being converted
into a museum of pioneer relics. Sutter employed Marshall, who was sent
into the mountains to build a mill at Coloma, and who picked up in the
mill race the original nugget that turned the tide towards California
in the forties. The first railroad in the state ran from Sacramento to
Folsom, and the experimental section of the state highway system was
built between these two towns.

There were many productive gold mines about the town in an early day,
and though these are largely worked out, Sacramento has to-day a greater
and more permanent source of wealth in the rich country surrounding it.
It was made the capital of the state in 1854 and the handsome capitol
building was erected a few years later. This is of pure classic design
in white stone and though small as compared with most other state
capitols, it is surpassed architecturally by none of them. It stands in
a forty-acre park intersected by winding drives and beautified with the
semi-tropical trees and plants which flourish in this almost frostless
climate. Among these is the Memorial Grove, composed of trees collected
from the battlefields of the Civil War. The state insectary, which
breeds and distributes millions of fruit-protecting insects every year,
may also be seen on the capitol grounds.

Our hotel, the Sacramento, a modern concrete structure, proved fairly
satisfactory, but so far as we could judge, the hotels of Sacramento
were hardly up to the California standard for a city of sixty thousand.
The city is visited by comparatively few tourists at present, though
the motor car and the new state highway are likely to change things in
this regard. The fine old town has much of real interest and the run
through the prosperous valley is an experience worth while to any one
who wishes to know the beauties and resources of the Golden State.

[Illustration: A DISTANT VIEW OF MT. TAMALPAIS
From Original Painting by Thad Welch]




XV

A CHAPTER OF ODDS AND ENDS


Before beginning our homeward trek to Los Angeles, we decided to return
to San Francisco and once there it occurred to us that we must visit
old Fort Ross to familiarize ourselves with another colorful chapter
of Golden State history. This tiny hamlet is on the sea coast about one
hundred miles (by wagon road) north of the metropolis and may be reached
by either of two routes, so we determined to go by one and return by
the other. The briefest possible outlines of the story of Fort Ross
may serve to illustrate the motives of our "little journey" into the
northern hills:

The settlement was founded in 1812 by Russian traders. The fact that
it was a military post whose crude fortifications were defended by
forty cannons lends color to the supposition that the Czar may have
entertained dreams of conquest in the weakly defended Spanish territory
on the Pacific Coast. The Spaniards themselves thought so, for in 1818
the Governor at Monterey received orders to organize an expedition to
capture Fort Ross—a mandate which he declared he was unable to carry
out "for lack of men, transport and equipment." The Russians spread
from Fort Ross into the surrounding territory and many names such as
Sebastopol, Bodega, Mt. St. Helena and Russian River persist to-day as
reminders of the Muscovite occupation.

Their traders came from time to time and carried on more or less traffic
with the Spaniards despite their deep distrust of the Czar's intentions.
There were many romantic incidents with this intercourse. The pathetic
story of Rezanov, the noble commander of the Russian fleet, and Donna
Concepcion, daughter of the Spanish governor, will always survive as
one of the famous romances of early California. It was made the subject
of Gertrude Atherton's novel of "Rezanov"—a colorful picture of the
times, a story really savoring more of history than fiction. The Russian
colonies never prospered sufficiently to become a menace even to the
weak dominion of Spain, and when Mexico threw off the yoke of the mother
country, Russia formally pledged herself against the acquisition of
any territory in California. Seventeen years later the settlement had
so declined that the Russians were glad to sell their property to Col.
John A. Sutter, founder of Sacramento, and to retire permanently from
California.

It seemed to us that a memorial of events that might have changed the
course of history on our Pacific Coast was worthy of a pilgrimage, and
our knowledge of the beauty of the hills of Marin and Sonoma was an
additional lure. And so we crossed by the Sausalito Ferry and were soon
away on the fine highway to Santa Rosa—now familiar ground to us. It
was late in May and by all the weather man's rules the rainy season was
past, but the unusual (as usual in California) happened; a sharp little
shower caught us as we left Sausalito and fitfully followed us as we
coursed swiftly over the fine road. It had its compensations, however,
in the wonderful effects of cloud and mist on the Marin hills—a perfect
symphony of blues, grays and purples. At Petaluma we recalled that the
town was the prototype of Rosewater in Mrs. Atherton's "Ancestors"—the
home of her very unconventional heroine who, naturally enough, owned a
poultry ranch, the poultry industry being the outstanding occupation of
the inhabitants.

The rain had ceased by the time we reached Santa Rosa, where we paused
for lunch. Here we branched from the main highway, coursing through a
lovely green valley to Forestville, where we entered the wooded hill
range. We covered several miles of easy mountain road before reaching
Guerneville, winding through groves of redwood and many other varieties
of conifers and deciduous trees. At Guerneville we dropped down into the
Russian River Valley, famous as a summer playground for San Francisco.
We crossed the river over a high, spider-web bridge which afforded a
vantage point for extensive views up and down the wooded valley. The
emerald-green river lay far beneath us in deep, still reaches, for there
is little fall to the valley here. Beyond the river we began the ascent
of a long, winding grade over the second range. The road climbed through
a dense forest and there were many sharp turns and steep pitches,
somewhat the worse for the lately fallen showers, but the magnificent
panoramas that occasionally burst on our vision as we continued the
ascent made the effort well worth while. The valley was diversified with
well-groomed fruit ranches and scattered grain fields; groups of oaks
with velvety glades beneath, straggled over the rounded foothills, all
combining to make a scene of wonderful sylvan charm. As we approached
Cazadero we had an enchanting view of the deep valley and the village
far below. But distance lent enchantment to the view of Cazadero, for
we found it a rather mean-looking little place—a station for the motor
busses that run over this road, its principal sign of life being the
huge repair shops.

Beyond Cazadero there was still more climbing through the "forest
primeval," whose increasing greenness and luxuriance called forth more
than one exclamation of delight. The madrona, horse-chestnut, dogwood
and locust were in full bloom and huge ferns grew riotously everywhere
underneath the trees. The road was wet and dangerous in places, making
our progress slow, but at last we came out on the clifflike headland
above Fort Ross and the ocean, silver-white in the declining sun,
flashed into view. Far beneath, directly on the shore, we could see the
little hamlet, the object of our pilgrimage, nestling among the green
hillocks. A very steep, narrow road, wet from the recent rain, plunged
down the almost precipitous bank and we narrowly escaped disastrous
collision with a tree from a vicious "skid" in the descent, which has
several pitches of twenty-five per cent.

We found only a scene of desolation at our goal; there were two or three
families living in the place, but most of the houses were abandoned. The
huge, windowless hotel covered with creepers, testified mutely to the
one-time importance of the town. Relics of the old fort or blockhouse
were in evidence, but only two fragments of the walls, built of huge
squared logs, were still standing. The quaint little church had just
been restored—a tiny whitewashed structure perhaps twelve by fifteen
feet, with an odd domelike cupola and square tower in front. It had been
rebuilt at public expense and the fort was also to be restored from the
same legislative appropriation.

There was nothing to detain us in the lonely village and after a mad
scramble up the wet slope, slipping backward dangerously at one point,
we paused again on the headland to contemplate the glorious panorama of
rugged coast and shining sea. Rain was still threatening, however, and
it seemed best not to stop, as we had planned, at Sea View Inn, near
by, but to return to Guerneville for the night. The vistas seemed even
more wonderful in the gathering twilight than on our outward trip—the
great hills with their fringe of forest loomed against the rich sunset
sky and purple shadows filled the vast canyons with mysterious gloom.

The hotel at Guerneville was primitive in the extreme, but the
landlord was very considerate and we were too cold and hungry to be
over-critical. Leaving the town on the following morning, we pursued the
northward road along the Russian River, passing Bohemian Grove, famous
for the antics of a San Francisco club, to Monte Rio, a much frequented
summer resort town. The road climbed a forest-fringed grade with endless
vistas of river and valley as well as vast stretches of wooded hills.
Wild flowers bloomed in profusion and the air was redolent with the
invigorating fragrance of the balsam pines. At the summit we paused to
admire the endless panorama of hills, merging from green into deep solid
blue in the far distance. Leaving Monte Rio we followed a tortuous,
undulating road along a clear little river. The trees and undergrowth
crowded up to the edge of the road and overarched it most of the dozen
or so miles—a perfect wall of greenery on either hand.

Beyond Freestone we came again into the open hills, green and rolling
and sloping to the sea a little to our right. Here our admiration
was again excited by the marvel of the wild flowers, which bloomed in
richest profusion; vast dashes of yellow, blue and white spangled the
meadows and hills through which the fine road courses. At Tomales,
an antique-looking little town, we came to the head of Tomales Bay,
a "shoestring" of water some twenty miles long but nowhere more than
two miles wide. The road runs alongside, up and down the low hills,
affording fugitive glimpses of the bay, as inconstant in coloring as
an opal. From Olema we pursued the coast road—or shall I say trail?—to
Bolinas and thence to the Sausalito Ferry.

Despite the rough and difficult going, we had reason to congratulate
ourselves upon our choice of route, for we saw much wild and picturesque
coast and had many clear-cut views—not common in the land of frequent
cloud and fog—of the coastward side of San Francisco. We climbed
the winding ascent to Forts Baker and Barry, where one of the most
comprehensive views of the whole district, the bay, the cities and
the hills, may be had. So clear was the air that the Farralones,
fifteen miles distant, stood out distinctly against the evening sky;
and in the city the long green strip of Golden Gate Park and even the
outlines of the streets and notable buildings were plainly observable.
It was a wonderful scene and we had the day of a thousand to view it.
Good fortune still attended us when we crossed the ferry, for we saw
a perfect sunset directly through the Golden Gate. No language could
exaggerate the splendor of the scene; no picture could do justice to its
ethereal beauty of coloring. Fully as enchanting was the afterglow with
its reflections of the crimson and gold cloud banks in the still waters.
Behind us the windows and lights of Oakland and Berkeley flashed like
a million gems set in the dark background of the hills, and eastward
the lavender-tinted sky bent down to the still blue waters of the bay.
We are quite ready for the spacious comfort of the Fairmont; it has
not been an easy jaunt by any means. But we all agree that it would be
hard to find even in California a more delightful tour than the little
journey to old Fort Ross, granted weather as propitious as that which
favored us.

It was always a difficult matter for us to shake off the lure of Del
Monte whenever we made the run between Los Angeles and San Francisco and
even though considerably out of our way, we nearly always put the old
capital on our itinerary. What were a hundred or so miles additional as
weighed against the delights of the famous inn?—and, besides, there was
one road from San Francisco to Del Monte which we had not yet traversed.
We have a decided fondness for trails directly along the ocean, though
usually they are of the worst, and the little-used road along the coast
running southward from Golden Gate Park to Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz
proved no exception to the rule. In fact, if it was an exception in any
way it was in the degree of badness—but there is no need anticipating
an unpleasant subject. I may say right here, however, that I think that
nearly all of this wonderful run is now over paved roads and deserves
to be far more popular than it is.

Following Ocean Drive southward from the Cliff House in Golden Gate
Park, a few miles down the coast the highway swings landward to Sloat
Avenue, which we pursued to Colma. Here the road turns to the left and
closely follows the ocean through a number of small fisher villages and
beach resorts. There are some long and rather heavy grades in places,
but they are atoned for by inspiring views of rugged coast and shining
sea, particularly at San Pedro Point, just below Salada, where we
enjoyed a far-reaching vista from an elevation of several hundred feet
above the sea. Beyond Montara grade the road drops down into the fertile
plains about Half Moon Bay. Here is the famous artichoke section of
California and we saw hundreds upon hundreds of acres of the succulent
vegetable in the vicinity of the village. There is also a delightful
alternate route to Half Moon Bay which we took on another occasion,
following the main highway to San Mateo, where a well-improved macadam
road swings to the left and plunges into the hill range between the bay
and the ocean. It winds in graceful curves and easy grades among the
giant hills, passing several of the huge fresh-water lakes of the San
Francisco water supply system. This route is the easier one, but hardly
the equal of the coast in scenic grandeur.

Half Moon Bay is a forlorn-looking little town with a decidedly
un-American appearance—which is not so strange since the inhabitants,
who engage in fishing or in cultivating the endless artichoke fields
about the place, are mostly Portuguese and Italians. Thinking that
Half Moon Bay, notwithstanding its unprepossessing looks, was about our
only chance for luncheon before we should reach Santa Cruz, we inquired
of the bank cashier, who responded rather dubiously, it seemed to us,
that the French Hotel was the "best to be had in town." We found it a
second-class country inn whose main business was evidently done in the
bar-room, which occupied the most prominent place in the building. The
lunch hour was past but the proprietor went to considerable trouble to
prepare a hot meal, which, we agreed in Yorkshire parlance, "might have
been worse." Outside there was a little garden with some wonderful roses
and, altogether, the inn was neater and cleaner than appearances had
led us to expect.

Our real troubles began when we left the town, for a rougher, meaner and
more uncomfortable fifty miles we hardly found in all our wanderings
in the Golden State. A new macadam road was being built to Pescadero,
twenty miles south, and was just at the stage calculated to most
distress the motorist. We wallowed through miles of loose, sharp stones,
made long detours through the rough, steep hills, crept over shaky
bridges, plunged down and out of huge gulches and crawled through miles
of rough, stony trails, deep with dust. Pescadero, which marks the end
of the railroad, is as lonely and wretched a little hamlet as one will
find in California; in fact, it took quite a mental effort to assure
ourselves that we really were in California—it reminded us so strongly
of some of the old-world villages we had seen. We took on "gas" at a
dilapidated smithy recently decorated with a huge "garage" sign, though
I doubt if a sizable car could have gotten inside. Beyond Pescadero
the road was still rough, dusty and steep in places, but it was free
from construction work and we made better time. Beyond Swanton the road
steadily improved. When we came into Santa Cruz the sun was still high
and by grace of the long evening we were able to reach Del Monte by
way of Watsonville and Salinas shortly after dark. It is superfluous to
remark on the satisfaction we experienced in reaching such a haven of
rest after an unusually strenuous and uncomfortable run.

We lingered in the pleasant surroundings until afternoon of the
following day, making an easy and eventless run to Stockton for
the night. We had seen enough of forced schedules and long hours to
determine us to make the run to Los Angeles by easier stages. Leaving
Stockton in the late forenoon, we soon reached the little city of
Modesto, which hopes some day to be the official gateway of Yosemite.
Perhaps it was in anticipation of this distinction that two immense
hotels, the Modesto and the Hughson, seemingly out of all proportion
to any possible need, were being built. The former was practically
completed, a seven-story concrete structure with all modern hotel
improvements and conveniences, including ballroom, roof garden, and
swimming pool. The Hughson was even larger and we could not help
wondering if the hotel business in Modesto were not in danger of being
slightly overdone.

At Merced we found another handsome new hotel, the Capitan, which would
be a credit to a city with several times Merced's four or five thousand
people, but perhaps the Yosemite traffic justifies the enterprise of
the builders. We paused here for lunch and I was greatly amused at a
conversation which I overheard in the lobby, illustrating the effect
of the California microbe upon so many visiting Easterners. A gentleman
wearing a light summer suit, a white hat and white shoes, and carrying
a camera and golf bag—the very personification of a man who was enjoying
life to the limit—was just leaving for the train.

"Well," queried a friend who met him, "are you about ready to go back
to Peoria?"

"Go back to Peoria!—go back to Peoria!! I'm never going back to Peoria
if I live a hundred years. Say, do you know that I wouldn't take all the
Eastern States as a gift if I had to live in 'em, after having lived in
California?"

A straight, level road runs from Merced to Fresno on the south, one
of the finest links of the inland route of the new state highway. We
found much of it under construction at the time and in passing around
through the wheatfields we struck some of the deepest dust and roughest
running that we found anywhere. We made up for it when we came back
into the finished portion, which extended for several miles north of
Fresno. It is a perfect road—concrete with a "carpet" of crushed stone
and asphaltum rolled as smooth and hard as polished slate. It runs for
miles through wheatfields, whose magnitude may be judged from the fact
that we saw a dozen ten-mule teams ploughing one tract. Near Fresno we
ran into the endless vineyards which surround the raisin town and which
looked green and prosperous, despite the drouth which had nearly ruined
the wheat. The raisin crop is one of Fresno County's greatest sources
of wealth, netting the growers over five million dollars yearly. The
abundant sunshine makes the grapes too sweet for light wines, though
there were several wineries producing the heavier quality, which was
mostly shipped to Europe, where it was blended with lighter wine and
sent back strictly an "imported product." This practice, of course,
became obsolete with the advent of prohibition, but the Fresno growers,
as is the case everywhere, are now reaping the greatest profits in their
history.

Fresno, with a population of nearly fifty thousand, has quadrupled
in size in the last twenty years. It is thoroughly metropolitan in
appearance and in public and private improvements. The Hotel Fresno is
an immense fireproof structure of marble and concrete that will compare
favorably with the best hotels in many cities ten times as large as
Fresno, and here on our first visit we proposed to stop for the night,
but changed our plan when we found that a road out of the town crosses
the mountain ranges to the sea. We had not forgotten our failure to see
San Antonio and La Purisima on our upward trek—and determined to seize
the opportunity to get back to the coast. Paso Robles seemed the only
satisfactory stopping place for the following night, but if we stayed
in Fresno we could hardly hope to reach the "Pass of the Oaks" the
next day. The road cuts squarely across the desert to Coalinga and we
found ourselves wondering what kind of accommodations we should find
at Coalinga. A garage man said he had been there once—a place of five
hundred people, he guessed, and there was a pretty good boarding-house
down by the depot. Not a very attractive prospect, to be sure, but
Coalinga was the only town between Fresno and the mountains. It was some
sixty miles distant, and by hitting a lively pace we could reach it by
dark—if we had no ill luck.

For ten miles out of Fresno we followed Palm Drive—a splendid boulevard
between rows of stately palms, the largest we had seen in California.
At the end of the drive we turned sharply to the left following an
unimproved road into the desert. This road is as level as a floor—a
perfect boulevard in dry weather—though abandoned ruts indicated pretty
heavy work after the infrequent rains. For the entire distance there
was little variation; about midway we came to a green belt of pastures
and trees along Kings River, and a new railroad was being built through
this section. A native at a little wayside store—the only station on
the way—told us that this desert land, counted worthless a few years
ago, was now worth as much as twenty-five dollars per acre and that
it was all capable of being farmed. It certainly did not look so; a
white, alkali-frosted plain tufted with greasewood and teeming with
jack-rabbits stretched away to distant hills on either side. The road
meandered onward at its own sweet will and when it became too rough or
dusty in spots it was only necessary to take another tack to have an
entirely new boulevard. We did some lively going over the hard, smooth
surface, which made forty miles seem a fairly moderate pace, but we
were at a sore loss when we came to a branch road in the middle of the
plain, with nothing to indicate which led to our destination. We had
just decided to take the wrong one when an auto hove into sight and we
paused to inquire.

"Straight ahead on the road, my brother; you can't miss it now and when
you get to Coalinga go to Smith's garage, and God bless you."

We concluded that we must have run across a peripatetic evangelist, but


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Online LibraryThomas D. MurphyOn Sunset Highways → online text (page 21 of 25)