Thomas D. Murphy.

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when we went to Smith's garage—only it wasn't Smith's—after dinner to
get an article from the car, we found our pious friend manager of the

As we came near the range of brown hills beneath which the town lies,
we saw a row of oil-derricks running for miles along the side of the
valley, for here is the greatest oil-producing section of California.
The oil fields have made Coalinga, which we were surprised and
pleased to find a live-looking town of several thousand people, with
an excellent modern hotel quite the equal of the best country town

Coalinga is full of California "boost;" our friend at the garage
endeavored to enlist our sympathy in a movement to put the town on the
state highway map—though I failed to see how we could be of much use to
the enterprise.

"O, a word from tourists always helps, my brother. You can write a
letter to the commissioners and tell them that we need the road and
I reckon you'll know that we need it if you cross the hills to King
City, as you propose. You'll find it something fierce, I can promise
you; crooked, rough, stony, steep—lucky if you get through without a
breakdown. There are one hundred and fifty fords in the sixty miles—no,
I don't mean Ford automobiles, but creeks and rivers. It's shoot down
a steep bank and jump out, and the sharp stones won't help your tires
any, either. There are some grades, too, I want to tell you, but your
rig looks as if they wouldn't worry her much. But when you get across,
write a line to the Highway Commission and tell them something about
it. So long! God bless you all."

When we waved our pious monitor adios and resumed our journey, it was
still early morning. Of course we took the one hundred and fifty fords
as a pleasant bit of exaggeration—we couldn't use a stronger term in
view of our friend's evident piety; but we found, in slang parlance,
that his statement was literally "no joke." We kept count of the times
we crossed streams of running water and there were just one hundred and
eighteen, and enough had dried up to make full measure for Mr. Smith's
estimate, with a few to spare. And fearfully rough going it was—sharp
plunges down steep banks, splashing through shallow streams, over
stones and sand, and wild scrambles up the opposite side, an experience
repeated every few minutes. At times the trail followed the bed of a
stream or meandered closely along the shores, never getting very far
away for the first dozen miles. Then we entered a hill range, barren
at first, but gradually becoming wooded and overlooking long valleys
studded with groups of oak and sycamore, with green vistas underneath.
There was some strenuous work over the main mountain range, where the
road was a narrow shelf cut in solid rock, with a precipice above and
below. It had many heavy grades and sharp, dangerous turns; we all
breathed a sigh of relief when we found ourselves in the valley on the
western side of the range. Here were more streams to be forded—one of
them a sizable river, which we crossed several times.

At last we came out into the King City highway and paused a moment
to look ourselves over. The car was plastered with sand and mire from
stem to stern; tires had suffered sadly from the rocky bottoms of the
streams, and a front spring was broken. We agreed that crossing from
Coalinga to King City was an experience one would hardly care to repeat
except under stringent necessity.

The run to King City, after we had left the hills, was easy, enabling us
to make up somewhat for the time consumed in crossing the range. A flock
of more than two thousand sheep, driven along the highway, impeded our
progress for half an hour and served to remind us of one of the great
industries of the Salinas Valley.

A little foraging about King City provided a passable luncheon, which
we ate under one of the mighty oaks at the foot of Jolon grade. In
repassing this road, we were more than ever impressed with the beauty
of the trees; thousands of ancient oaks dotted the landscape on
either hand, some standing in solitary majesty and others clustered
in picturesque groups. Dutton's Hotel at Jolon is nearly a century
old, portions of it dating from mission days, and the proprietor is an
enthusiast on historic California, having collected a goodly number of
old-time relics in a little museum just across the road from the inn.
Most of these came from San Antonio and the inn-keeper is anxiously
looking forward to the day when he can return these treasures to the
restored mission—though this, alas, does not appear to be in the near

It was to visit this ruin, which we missed on our northward trip, that
we crossed the desert and mountains from Fresno to King City. It is one
of the remotest and loneliest of the chain, the nearest railway station
being King City, forty miles away. It stands six miles west of Jolon
and we followed a rutty trail, deep with fine, yellow dust which rolled
in strangling clouds from our wheels. But a lovely country on either
hand glimmered through the dust haze, and in the pleasantest spot at
the head of the wide valley stood the brown old ruin of San Antonio
Mission. Behind it towered the high blue peaks of the Santa Lucias,
the only barrier remaining between the valley and the sea, while the
windowless, burnt-brick fachada fronted upon a wide meadowland, dotted
with glorious oaks and gnarled old willows, stretching away to the dim
outlines of the distant hills.

It was one of the most delightful sites we had yet seen, and the ruin
had a certain melancholy picturesqueness peculiar to it alone. Like so
many of its contemporaries, it suffered severely from earthquakes; about
twenty-five years ago the roof fell and the shattered walls would soon
have followed had not an enthusiastic lover of the old order of things—a
gentleman of Spanish descent residing near Jolon—undertaken at his own
time and expense to clear away the debris and protect the ruin against
farther onslaught of the weather. A shingle roof was built covering the
entire church and the original tiles were piled inside. The fachada,
built of burnt brick, with three entrances and three belfries, is one
of the most charming bits of mission architecture still remaining and
is happily almost intact. Portions of the long cloisters are still
standing—enough to furnish the motif for a complete restoration, and
with adequate funds it would not be a difficult matter to restore San
Antonio Mission Church to its former state.

From Photograph by Dassonville]

Inside, the church was quite denuded; birds and squirrels had found a
convenient home and flitted or scampered about as we entered. A huge
gray owl flapped heavily out of an empty window and everything combined
to impress upon us the loneliness and isolation of this once rich
and prosperous mission. In one corner we descried the huge cast-iron
community pot which might hold a hundred or two gallons and which once
contained food for the unmarried folk among the Indians—the married had
to do their own cooking. Inside the dismantled chancel were the graves
of the first four missionaries of San Antonio, still the objects of
reverent remembrance by the only Indian family of the vicinity.

Out of the church we came into the ancient patio, marked by crumbling
arches and shapeless piles of adobe. Here a few scraggly rose
bushes—descendants of those which once ornamented the garden of the
padres—bloomed in neglected corners, and two old olives still defied
time and weather. It was a quiet spot; its silence and loneliness were
almost oppressive; but we soon heard sounds from beyond the wall and
found two Mexicans digging a grave, for burials are still made in the
old cemetery. A little way to the rear San Antonio Creek—now a trickling
thread of water—winds through a fringe of ancient willows, and cattle
were pasturing quietly in the shade. One can not escape the spell of
the ruin and its surroundings. It is no wonder that an appreciative
historian of the California missions declares that San Antonio appeals
to him as do none of its rivals, that—"There is a pathetic dignity about
the ruin, an unexpressed claim for sympathy in the perfect solitude
of the place that is almost overpowering. It stands out in the fields
alone, deserted, forgotten." True, he wrote before the coming of the
motor, which is doing something to rescue San Antonio Mission from
complete oblivion; but the Mexican grave-digger said that even motor
visitors were not frequent. Evidently many of the wayfarers on El Camino
Real do not consider the twelve-mile detour worth while; but we would
count ourselves well repaid had it consumed an entire day instead of
an hour or two. If San Gabriel and Dolores may be compared as tourist
shrines to Melrose and Dryburgh, surely San Antonio may vie in sentiment
and charm with some of the out-of-the-way and lesser-known abbeys of
Britain such as Glenluce or Calder. In this quiet and isolated spot
there is hardly field for it as a church institution and restoration
will have to be done by individuals or by the state. It would be a pity
to allow this delightful example of early mission architecture to fall
into the hopeless ruin of Soledad or La Purisima.

San Antonio has the added charm of being one of the oldest of the
California missions. It was the third of the series, its foundation
closely following that of Monterey. Serra himself, assisted by Pieras
and Sitjar, conducted the ceremonies of consecration which took place
July 14, 1771. One lone Indian was present on the occasion, but others
were brought in before the day closed and the relations of priest and
natives were harmonious from the start. San Antonio throughout its
career was remarkably free from strife and trouble; the natives were
industrious and peaceful and gladly joined in the work of building, and
tilling the soil. The first church was completed two years after the
foundation, and as late as 1787 was regarded as the best in California.
The present church was begun in 1810 and dedicated a few years later.
It is of adobe excepting the fachada of burnt brick, whose perfect
condition makes us regret that the whole mission could not have been
built of the same enduring material. The greatest Indian population was
thirteen hundred and nine in 1805, which had declined to two hundred and
seventy in 1834, the year of secularization. In 1843 the mission was
restored to the church and nominally occupied until about forty years
ago. At that time the buildings were in a fair state and the present
ruin was wrought chiefly by earthquake.

Pausing a moment for one more survey of the lovely valley and with
a lingering look at the romantic old ruin over which the shadows of
evening were beginning to lower, we were away for Paso Robles, which we
reached before nightfall.

We retraced our way over El Camino Real the following morning as far
as Santa Margarita, from whence we diverged to the coast road. For on
our outward journey we had missed another of the missions—La Purisima,
situated a few miles from Lompoc. The road which we followed out of
Santa Margarita was unmercifully rough, and a fierce wind from the sea
blinded us with clouds of dust and sand. We were glad when we reached
the shelter of the giant hills, just beyond which lay the object of
our pilgrimage. The ascent seemed almost interminable; the yellow road
swept along the hillsides, rising steadily in long loops which we could
see winding downward as we looked back from the summit. The grade was
not heavy, but continuous; the descent was shorter and steeper and we
dropped quickly into the pleasant valley of the Santa Ynez, where stands
the isolated village of Lompoc.

A few miles out of the town we beheld the object of our search—the
lonely ruin of La Purisima Concepcion, standing at some distance from
the highroad, surrounded by a wide wheatfield. A narrow lane, deep
with dust and sand, almost impassable in places, led to the melancholy
old pile, which we found even more dilapidated than San Antonio. It is
little more than a heap of adobe, and the rent and sundered walls show
plainly the agency of the earthquake—the deadly foe of the California
missions. The winter rains have wrought havoc with the unroofed
walls; only one or two window openings remain and the outlines of a
single doorway may still be seen. The most striking feature is the
row of twenty square filleted pillars gleaming with white plaster, the
corners striped with still brilliant red. These formed a long arcade
from which there must have been a glorious view of wooded valley and
rugged hills when the good old padres conned their prayers in its shady
seclusion. There is hardly enough to give an adequate idea of the plan
of the structure when at its best—little is left of the church except
its foundation, but it seems to have been quite unique in design.
The old tiles that once formed the roof are piled near by—but there
is little hope that they will ever be used in the restoration of La
Purisima Concepcion. About thirty years ago Helen Hunt Jackson visited
the mission and found the dormitory building standing and used as a
sheep-fold. The church then showed traces of its ancient decorations and
the pulpit and altar rail were still in place, though in sad disrepair.
The condition of the ruin to-day shows how rapid has been its decay
since that time and it is safe to say that unless something is done to
protect it, all traces will have vanished in another quarter century.

From Photograph by Dassonville]

The mission which we visited was not the original La Purisima; of
this only a few earthen heaps remain. The date of its foundation was
December 8, 1787, and the ceremonies were conducted by Padre Lasuen,
who has so many missions to his credit. The success of the new venture
was phenomenal—in less than twenty years the population numbered
over fifteen hundred and the mission was rich in live stock and other
property. This prosperity received a sad check from the great earthquake
of 1812, which totally destroyed the buildings, leaving the people
homeless at the beginning of an unusually wet and cold winter. Then
it was that the original site was abandoned and the erection begun of
the buildings which I have described. The Indians were intelligent and
industrious and worked hard to rebuild the mission and their homes,
which had also been destroyed. An extensive irrigation scheme was
devised and carried out, but a series of misfortunes prevented the
return of former prosperity. Plague decimated the cattle and sheep,
and fire destroyed the neophytes' quarters in 1818. In 1823 the revolt
at Santa Barbara spread to Purisima, and several Indians and Spanish
soldiers were killed before quiet was restored. Under such depressing
influence the population steadily declined and numbered but four hundred
at secularization in 1835. After the looting was completed the property
was turned back to the church in 1843, but a year later an epidemic
of smallpox practically wiped out the scanty remnants of the Indian
population. From that time the mission was abandoned and uncared for,
gradually falling into ruin, and its melancholy condition to-day is the
result of seventy years of decay and neglect.

Leaving Lompoc, we followed the Santa Ynez River for several miles.
The road winds among the splendid oaks which overarch it much of the
way and finally joins the main highway at the top of Gaviota Pass. It
seldom took us out of sight of the river, though in places it rose to a
considerable distance above the stream which dashed in shallow rapids
over its stony bed. The last few miles were a steady climb, but there
was much sylvan beauty along the way—wooded slopes dropped far beneath
on one hand and rose high above us on the other. Through occasional
openings in the trees we caught long vistas of hills and valleys, now
touched with soft blue shadows heralding the approach of evening. From
the summit of Gaviota the long winding descent brought us to the broad
sweep of the sunset sea, which we followed in the teeth of a high wind
to Santa Barbara, where the Arlington afforded a welcome pause to a
strenuous day.

Just across the bridge a few miles out of Ventura we noted a sign, "To
Nordhoff," and determined to return to Los Angeles by this route. It
proved a fortunate choice, the rare beauty of the first twenty miles
atoning for some rough running later. For the entire distance we closely
followed the Ventura River, a clear, dashing mountain stream bordered
by hundreds of splendid oaks whose branches frequently met over our
heads. We crossed the stream many times, fording it in a few places, and
passed many lovely sylvan glades—ideal spots for picnic or camp. Along
the road were water tanks to supply the sprinklers, which kept down
the dust during the rainless season, giving added freshness to the cool
retreats along this pleasant road. Nordhoff is a lonely little town of
two or three hundred people, set down in the giant hills surrounding it
on every hand. Four or five miles up the mountainside is Matilija Hot
Springs, with a well-appointed resort hotel, a favorite with motorists,
who frequently come from Los Angeles to spend the week-end.

Out of Nordhoff we climbed a stiff mountain grade on the road to Santa
Paula, which we found another isolated little town at the edge of the
hills. From here we pursued a fairly level but rough and sandy road to
Saugus, a few miles beyond which we came into the new boulevard leading
through Newhall Tunnel to San Fernando. An hour's run took us into the
city, just two weeks after our departure, and our odometer indicated
that we had covered two thousand miles during that time.

A year later, on our return from the north, we pursued the "Inland
Route" by way of Bakersfield and the Tejon Pass. This route has been
finally adopted by the State Highway Commission, but at the time of our
trip little had been done to improve the road north of Saugus, thirty
miles from Los Angeles. It certainly was in need of improvement, as
the notes set down in my "log book" testify. Concerning our run between
Fresno and Bakersfield I find the following comment:

"A day on rotten roads—hardly a decent mile between the two towns. We
followed the line of the Southern Pacific for the entire day over a
neglected, sandy trail, with occasional broken-up oiled stretches. Towns
on the way were little, lonely, sandy places, unattractive and poorly
improved. No state highway completed, though some work was in progress
in Kern and Fresno Counties, making several detours necessary—not a mile
free from unmerciful jolting."

And here I might remark that had we taken the longer route from Goshen
to Delano by the way of Visalia and Portersville, we might have avoided
forty miles of the roughest road. The highway is to make this detour;
but there was no immediate prospect of building it at the time of our
trip, as Tulare County felt too poor to buy the bonds.

For several miles out of Fresno we ran through vineyards and orchards,
passing two or three large wineries not far from the road. A narrow belt
of grainfields and meadows succeeded, but the country gradually became
poorer until we found ourselves in a sandy desert whose only vegetation
was a short red grass with barbed needles which stick to one's clothing
in an annoying manner.

Maps of California usually show Lake Tulare as a considerable body of
water, twenty to thirty miles in diameter, lying a few miles west of the
town. They told us at Tulare that the lake had practically disappeared,
a good part of its bed now being occupied by wheatfields. Dry weather
and the diversion of water for irrigation have been the chief factors
in wiping out the lake, which was never much more than a shallow morass.

Beyond Tulare we again came into a sandy, desert-looking country and
were astonished to see billboards in one of the little towns offering
"bargains in land at one hundred and thirty-five dollars per acre"—to
all appearances the country was as barren and unpromising as the Sahara,
but no doubt the price included irrigation rights. Along this road
we noticed occasional groves of stunted eucalyptus trees, neglected
and dying in many instances. It occurred to us that these groves were
planted by the concerns which sold stock to Eastern "investors" on
representation that the eucalyptus combined all the merits to be found
in all the trees of the forest. The fact is that it is not fit for much
and the "fly-by-night" concerns disappeared as soon as they had pocketed
the cash, leaving their victims to bemoan "another California swindle."

While the country was mostly flat and uninteresting, the scene
was varied by the dim ranks of the Sierras far to our left all day
long—always dominated by one lone, snow-capped summit rising in solemn
majesty above the blue shadows that shrouded the lower ranges. It was
Mount Whitney, the highest peak within the limits of the United States,
with an altitude of fifteen thousand feet above sea level. A road leads
well up the slopes of the mountain and from its termination one may
ascend in three hours by an easy trail to the summit, which affords one
of the grandest views on the American continent.

In this same vicinity, about twenty-five miles east of Visalia, are
Sequoia and General Grant National Parks, each of which has a grove of
redwoods, and the former is said to be the most extensive in the state.
It has one tree, the General Sherman, which contests with the Grizzly
Giant of Mariposa for the honor of being the largest living tree in the
world, being eighty feet in circumference one hundred feet from its
base. In all there are over three thousand trees in this grove which
measure forty-five feet or more in circumference. Both of these parks
are easily reached by motor from Visalia.

We reached Bakersfield weary enough to wish for the comforts of Del
Monte, but found the New Southern far from the realization of our
desires. It was "new" in name only—apparently an old building with
furnishings and service far below the California standard for towns like
Bakersfield, a live-looking place of nineteen thousand people. It is the
center of an oil-producing section and has considerable wholesale trade.

From Photograph by Pillsbury]

A few miles out of town, on the Tejon route, we found ourselves again
in the desert and ploughed through several miles of heavy sand before
reaching the hill range to the south. There were no houses or people for
many miles, the only sign of civilization being an oil-pumping station
near the foothills. We beheld a wide stretch of sandy country, dashed
with red and purple grasses and occasional wild flowers. To the south
and east lay the mottled hill ranges, half hidden by dun and purple
hazes and cloud-swept in places. Before us rose a single snow-capped
peak and as we ascended the rough, winding grades of Tejon Pass, we were
met by a chilly wind which increased in frigidity and intensity until
we found need for all the discarded wraps in the car. Some distance from
the foot of the grade we came to Neenach Post Office, which proved only
a small country store, and beyond this were long stretches of sandy
desert dotted with cacti and scrub cedars and swarming with lizards
and horned toads. The cactus blooms lent a pleasing bit of color to the
brown monotone of the landscape—myriads of delicate yellow, pink, red,
and white flowers guarded by millions of needle-like spines.

The desert road continued for fifty miles—deep sand and rough, broken
trails alternating with occasional stretches of easy going over smooth
sand packed as hard as cement. As we came to Palmdale, a lonely little
town marking the terminus of the railroad, we noted frequent cultivated
fields which showed the fertility of this barren desert when irrigated.
From Palmdale we proceeded to Saugus through Mint Canyon, since the San
Francisquito and Bosquet routes—both shorter—were closed by washouts.
We found the state highway completed to Saugus; the village showed
many improvements and had a decidedly smarter appearance than two years
previously—a result that will no doubt follow in all the little towns
when the highway reaches them. Near Saugus we passed over the great
Owens River Aqueduct, a near view giving us a better conception of the
giant dimensions of the iron and cement tubes carrying the water supply
to Los Angeles. From Saugus it is an easy jaunt of thirty miles to Los

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Online LibraryThomas D. MurphyOn Sunset Highways → online text (page 22 of 25)