Thomas D. Murphy.

On Sunset Highways online

. (page 23 of 25)
Online LibraryThomas D. MurphyOn Sunset Highways → online text (page 23 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Angeles over one of the finest boulevards leading into the city.

We agreed that while the trip over the "Inland Route" from Fresno was
interesting and well worth doing once, we would not care to repeat it
under such conditions except upon actual necessity. When we are ready to
go again we hope to find that the new highway has replaced the terrible
old trails which served for roads the greater part of the five hundred
miles of the run.

In the foregoing paragraphs I have endeavored to give some idea of our
earliest run over the Inland Route in the good old days when California
roads were in their virgin state. My revised edition would hardly
deserve the name if I were to omit reference to the present condition of
this now very popular route between Los Angeles and San Francisco, since
nearly all of it has been improved and much of it entirely re-routed.
To-day (1921) practically a solid paved boulevard extends between the
two cities and the run of about five hundred miles may be made in two
days with greater ease than in twice the time under old conditions.

For more than three-fourths of the distance the road runs in level,
straight stretches, permitting all the speed that any car may be
capable of—if the driver is willing to risk his neck and take chances
of falling into the clutches of the frequent "speed cop" along the way.
In the main it is not a "scenic route"—though one is never out of sight
of the mountains. The country is mostly flat and uninteresting—for
California—but if it grows too monotonous, Sherman and Grant National
Parks and Yosemite are only a few miles off this highway. There are
excellent hotels at Bakersfield, Fresno, Merced, Modesto, and Stockton,
and very good ones in several smaller places. A modern hotel, the
Durant, has also been built recently at Lebec, just beyond the summit
near the northern extremity of the ridge. Lake Castaic, near by, is a
good-sized body of water, affording opportunity for boating and fishing
and there is much wooded country in the vicinity—attractions which will
doubtless make the Durant a popular stopping-place for motorists.

The road is redeemed from monotony, however, by the section known as the
"Ridge Route" between Saugus and Bakersfield—thirty miles of the most
spectacular highway in California. This superlative feat of engineering
supersedes the old-time Tejon Pass trail, long the "bete noir" of the
Inland Route. It cost the state of California nearly a million dollars
to fling this splendid road along the crest of the great hill range that
must needs be crossed, to pave it with solid concrete, and to adequately
guard its many abrupt turns. It rises from an elevation of about 1000
feet above Saugus to 5300 feet at the highest point, near the northern
terminus of the grade, but so admirably have the engineers done their
work that nowhere is the rise more than six per cent.

No description or picture can give any idea of the stupendous grandeur
of the panorama that unrolls before one as he traverses this marvelous
road. Vast stretches of gigantic hills interspersed with titanic
canyons—mostly barren, with reds and browns predominating—outrun the
limits of one's vision. Nearer Saugus greenery prevails in summer
and at the northern end there is some fine forest. In winter snow not
infrequently falls throughout the entire length of the ridge and affords
the variation of a dazzling winter spectacle to anyone hardy enough to
make the run, which is rather dangerous under such conditions.

Any extended tour of California must surely include the Ridge Route.
If one is minus a car of his own he still can make the trip quickly
and comfortably in one of the motor stages which ply daily between Los
Angeles and Bakersfield. At the San Francisco end of the Inland Route
there is some pretty hill scenery between Stockton and Oakland, which
has been referred to elsewhere in this book. If one were making the trip
between San Francisco and Los Angles only one way, there would need
be no hesitancy in selecting the Coast road, on the score of greater
scenic beauty and historic interest. If he should be seeking the easier
run and quicker time he would choose the Inland Route. If, as in the
case of the average tourist, he is out to see as much of California as
possible and expects to make the round trip between north and south, he
will naturally go by one route and return by the other.



No extended motor tour of California could lay claim to thoroughness if
Yosemite Valley and Lake Tahoe were omitted from its itinerary, and I
therefore avail myself of the opportunity to add chapters giving briefly
the experience of our runs to these popular national playgrounds.

Yosemite was closed to automobiles prior to 1915 and it was only through
the strenuous exertions of the Automobile Club of Southern California
that the authorities finally consented to remove the ban. The decree was
issued apparently with fear and hesitation and the motorist was hedged
about with restrictions and hampered with endless red tape regulations.

The dire results so freely predicted did not materialize in any great
degree. There were few serious accidents and the motors, as a rule,
met little difficulty in negotiating the roads to and within the park.
As a consequence the rules have been relaxed with each succeeding year
and many of the most annoying regulations abandoned or reduced to mere
formalities. We made our trip in September of the Panama-Pacific year,
and during the previous months of the season nearly two thousand cars
had preceded us into the park. We did not have to demonstrate that
"either set of brakes would lock the wheels to a skid;" in fact, I am
very dubious on this point. We did not have to get up at an unearthly
hour to enter or leave the park and the time schedule imposed on us was
so reasonable that none but the speed maniac would care to exceed it,
even had no severe penalty been attached.

There are several routes by which one may enter and leave the park
pending the happy days longed for by the Auto Club when a broad,
smooth road—"no grades exceeding five per cent"—shall convey the joyful
motorist to this Earthly Paradise of the Sierras. You can go from Fresno
via Coarse Gold, from Merced via Coulterville, from Stockton via Chinese
Camp, or from Madera via Raymond. You can now even reach the park from
the east by the new Tioga road, branching off the Sierra Highway at Mono
Lake, should you be seeking the wildest and most difficult route of all.

We decided, after an extended canvas of the pros and cons of the
matter, to make our initial venture via the Madera route, returning by
the way of Big Oak Flat and Stockton. We passed the night at Fresno
and left Madera late in the afternoon of the following day with the
intention of stopping for the night at Raymond, some twenty-five miles
distant. However, we found the prospect for comfortable quarters in
that forlorn-looking little hamlet so unpromising that we decided, in
accordance with a genial garage man's advice, to go on to Miami Lodge.

"It's only thirty miles," he said; "and a mighty comfortable place; you
ought to reach there before it gets dark. Shall I telephone them to hold
dinner for you?"

All of which sounded good to us as we contemplated prospective
accommodations in Raymond, and with a speedy acquiescence we were away
for Miami Lodge. Ten miles per hour, said the garage man, would be
a good average "for a greenhorn" over the road we were to traverse—a
ridiculously low estimate, we thought, but we had not proceeded far
before we agreed with his conservatism. A narrow and exceedingly
tortuous trail plunged into the hills, threading its way among giant
pines or creeping precariously along steep hillsides and around abrupt
corners deep with dust and at times laboriously steep. Now and then
it emerged into pleasant little glades and on entering one of these
we saw a young mountain lion trotting leisurely toward the thicket. Of
course our small rifle was under a pile of baggage, unloaded, and the
cartridges in a grip, but we consoled ourselves with remarks about the
extreme improbability of hitting him even if we had the gun.

It was sunset by the time we had covered little more than half the
distance and while we regarded the approaching darkness with some
apprehension, for the road showed no signs of improvement, we forgot
it all in our admiration for the enchanting scene. Many were the
magnificent vistas opening through the pines skirting our road along the
mountainside. Purple hills topped with dark forests stretched away to
a crimson sky; shadowy canyons sloped far beneath us, their mysterious
deeps shrouded in a soft blue haze. It was a constantly changing yet
always entrancing picture until the color faded from the skies and the
canyons were blotted out by the gathering blackness. Then the road
demanded our undivided attention, for we covered the last ten miles
in pitch darkness and our neglected headlights proved in very poor

The Lodge is a comfortable rustic inn set in the pines on a hillside
which slopes down to a clear creek dammed at one point into a small
lake. The little valley forms a natural amphitheater surrounded by the
forest-clad hills and is altogether a pleasant and restful spot well
away from noise and disturbance of any kind. The creek is stocked with
rainbow trout and big game is fairly common—attractions which bring many
sportsmen to the Lodge. It is easy of access by auto stages which run
daily during the season.

Beyond Miami Lodge we found the road even more trying than it was
southward. Heavy grades and sharp turns continued, and deep dust and
rough stretches caused much discomfort. We met many motor trucks and
several heavy wagons drawn by six or eight horses, which made ticklish
work in passing on the narrow grades and which stirred up clouds of
yellow dust. As the sun mounted, the day became intolerably hot, making
it necessary to elevate our cape top, which combined with the dust to
interfere with our view of the scenery.

We reached Wawona, at the park entrance, in time for the noonday
luncheon at the pleasant old inn which has been the haven of sightseers
for nearly half a century. It is delightfully situated in a little vale
amidst a group of towering pines and all about it green meadows stretch
away to the forest-clad hills that surround it on every hand. Through
the valley runs the South Merced, famous for its mountain trout, a
delicacy which guests at the inn sometimes enjoy. About the main hotel
building are scattered several isolated cottages for the accommodation
of guests who may be particular about privacy and plenty of light and
air. There are numerous beautiful drives in the vicinity aside from the
Mariposa Grove trip. One of these follows the river for some distance
and another makes a circuit of the valley.

We had no time for these, as we were intent upon reaching Yosemite
for the night and the regulation is that you check in at the final
station by six o'clock. About a mile from Wawona we found the cabin of
the ranger who issued tickets for the south entrance to the park. The
formalities detained us but a few moments, since, with the great influx
of motor tourists during the exposition year, much of the original
red tape was dispensed with. A copy of the rules and regulations was
given us and the time of our entrance was stamped upon the ticket to
be delivered to the superintendent at Yosemite village. The action of
our small rifle was sealed and, with a friendly caution that it would
be unwise to exceed the limit, we were ordered to proceed. Knowing
something of the trip from previous experience we felt no uneasiness
about exceeding the two hours and twenty-seven minutes, minimum time
allowed for covering the twenty-eight and nine-tenths miles between
the station and Yosemite garage. No one but a confirmed speed maniac
would care to exceed this very reasonable limit and anyone wise enough
to admire the scenery along the road as it deserves to be admired might
well consume twice the minimum time.

For some miles after entering the park we climbed the long, steady grade
following the South Merced Canyon, always at a considerable distance
above the stream, which we could see at intervals through the pines,
flashing over its rock-strewn bed. There was scarcely a downward dip in
the road for the first half-dozen miles, and we could not but recall the
distressing efforts of the horses as they toiled painfully upward on our
former trip while we sat disconsolately enveloped in smothering clouds
of dust. What a contrast we found in the steady, cheerful hum of our
engine as it drove our car onward at not less than the permitted speed
of fifteen miles, leaving the dust behind us and affording unhindered
views of the endless panoramas of canyons and hills. Not often, even in
California, will one come across finer individual cedars, sugar pines
and yellow pines than he will see here—splendid, arrow-straight shafts
several feet in circumference, often rising to a height of two or even
three hundred feet. It is pleasant to think that they are immune from
the lumberman's ax and guarded carefully against devastating fires. We
paused at times in the shade of these forest Titans and contemplated
the wide range of hills and valleys beyond the canyon—particularly at
Lookout Point, some seven or eight miles from Wawona. Here we beheld a
seemingly endless panorama of forest-clad hills stretching away until
lost in the infinite distance of the lucent afternoon. Once before we
had beheld the same scene—at sunset, the hills shrouded in an amethyst
haze, the valleys dim with purple shadows, and the sky resplendent
with crimson and gold. Nothing could have shown more impressively the
wonderful variations of the same landscape at different hours of the
day or proved more completely that one must come many times to see the
beauty of Yosemite.

Continuing a few miles farther we came to the top of the grade leading
down into the valley. We recalled it as a stiff, strenuous road, winding
around sharp curves and often along the edge of sheer precipices which
gave us many thrills from our high perch beside the driver of our
four-in-hand. We had traversed mountain roads so much worse in the
meanwhile that Wawona grade really seemed quite tame from a motor car
and even the ladies took only languid interest in its twists and turns.
We paused for the third time at Inspiration Point and we can not help
envying those who are so fortunate as to come into Yosemite by this road
and thus get their first glimpse of the valley from Inspiration Point.
Perhaps the view from Glacier Point is as glorious but one is not likely
to come upon it so suddenly and is somehow expecting stupendous things,
but Inspiration Point bursts on the wayfarer from the Wawona all unaware
and he sees unfold before him almost in an instant all the marvelous
sights that have made Yosemite a world's wonder.

It is the third time we have viewed this wonderful scene and we
have been fortunate in coming each time at a different period of
the day—morning and evening and early afternoon. Each has shown us a
different phase of the beauty of Yosemite, for the variation of light
and consequent changes of coloring have everything to do with the view
from Inspiration Point.

We proceeded slowly and cautiously down the steep switchbacks leading
to the floor of the Valley, a long, low-gear grind, for regulations
forbid disengaging gears on roads in the park. The descent did not
seem nearly so precarious as when we first made it in the regulation
coach-and-four—the road appeared to have been widened at the turns;
maybe this was only in our imagination, due to greater familiarity
with mountain roads. We were enough at our ease to enjoy the splendid
vistas of the valley and mountains which were presented from a hundred
viewpoints as we slowly descended, something that we hardly did the
first time. Nor did the time seem so long, though I really doubt if we
went down so quickly as our dashing driver piloted his coach-and-four
over this three-mile grade on our first trip. We soon found ourselves on
the floor of the valley with Bridal Veil Falls waving like a gossamer
thread above us—it was in September and the waterfalls were all at
lowest ebb. The four miles along the floor to Yosemite was a joy ride
indeed and we felt no desire to infringe the low speed limit imposed on
motor cars. What though we had seen this wondrous array of stupendous
cliffs, domes, pinnacles and towers many times before, familiarity does
not detract from their overpowering majesty and changeful beauty.

From Original Painting by Chris. Jorgenson]

Our excuse for a third visit to Yosemite was chiefly that we wanted to
go by motor car; we had seen most of the sights and made most of the
trail trips and drives, so there was little to do but lounge about in
the hotel and vicinity for the rest of the afternoon. I visited the
garage, which was merely a huge tent with open sides where the cars
were parked in care of an attendant. There was apparently a very good
machine shop which seemed to have plenty of work, for break-downs are
not uncommon. The manager asked us if we would favor him by carrying a
new axle to a motorist who was laid up at Crane Flat, near the entrance
to the park on the road by which we expected to leave the next morning.

The regulations require that motor cars leave by the Big Oak Flat
road between 6:00 A. M. and 4:00 P. M., and the first-named hour found
us ready for departure, as we had been warned that a strenuous day's
work lay before us. It is only one hundred and twenty-three miles to
Stockton; hence we concluded that the strenuousness must be due to
something besides long distance—a surmise which we did not have to
wait long to verify. About two miles from the hotel, following the main
valley road, we came to a sign, "Big Oak Flat Route," and turned sharply
to the right, crossing the Merced River. Immediately we began a sharp
ascent over a dusty trail through thickly standing pines.

Coming out of the trees we find ourselves on a narrow road cut in the
side of the almost perpendicular cliff. It is fair at first, screened
from the precipitous drop alongside by a row of massive boulders which
have the psychological effect of making us feel much more at ease,
though I doubt if they would be of much use in stopping a runaway car.
Nevertheless, they are a decided factor in enabling us to enjoy the
wonderful views of mountain and valley that present themselves to our
eager eyes as we slowly climb the steep ascent. We are sure that we see
many vistas quite equal to the view from the much-vaunted Inspiration
Point, but they are not so famous because far less accessible.

The road grows rougher and dustier as we climb slowly upward; the
boulder balustrade disappears and we find ourselves on a narrow shelf,
with infrequent passing places, running along the edge of a cliff that
falls almost sheer beneath us. We pause occasionally to contemplate the
marvelous scene beneath. The whole floor of the valley is now visible;
its giant trees seem mere shrubs and the Merced dwindles to a silver
thread; across the narrow chasm we now look down on the Cathedral
Spires, the Three Sisters, and Sentinel Rock; we see Bridal Veil Fall
swaying like a gossamer against the mighty cliff, and beyond we have an
endless vista of forest-clad mountains. Three thousand feet above the
valley we enter a forest of mighty pines; the road winds among them in
sharp turns and the grades are very steep and deep with dust. We are not
very familiar with our car, which we leased from a Los Angeles dealer,
and as we near the summit the motor loses power and can not be cajoled
into propelling the car over the last steep, dusty pitch. After an hour
of fruitless effort we appealed to the foreman of a road gang which,
fortunately for us, was at work close by, and he helped the balky engine
out with a stout team of horses.

From Original Painting by H. H. Bagg]

"What's the damage?" we gratefully asked of our rescuer.

"Just a bottle of whiskey, stranger, if you happen to have one along."

We expressed regret at our inability to meet the very modest request and
our friend had to be content with coin of the realm instead. Later on
an auto expert told us that the carburetor on this particular car will
not work satisfactorily at an elevation of seven thousand feet.

Crane Flat is nothing more than the ranger station on the road and
the official took up our "time card"—we came by a safe margin of
two or three hours—and removed the seals from our "game-getter." We
delivered the axle entrusted to our care, but found that the owner
of the broken-down car had accepted the situation philosophically and
gone fishing—his third day of this pleasant pastime, while waiting for

Two or three miles from Crane Flat we came to the Tuolumne Grove of Big
Trees, where there are numerous giant redwoods, though not so many or so
huge as those of Mariposa. A short detour from the main route took us to
the Dead Giant, the most remarkable tree of this grove. It is tunneled
like the Wawona tree in Mariposa and we had the sensation a second
time of driving through a redwood. The remains of the Dead Giant are
one hundred feet high and one hundred and five feet in circumference;
scientists estimate that the tree must have been at least forty feet in
diameter and perhaps four hundred feet high—larger and higher than any
redwood now living. It was destroyed perhaps three hundred years ago
by fire or lightning. The General Lawton of this grove is one of the
most beautiful redwoods in existence and there is also a Fallen Giant
still growing greenly although lying prone, its roots not being entirely

It was lunch time when we reached Sequoia, though we were only
twenty-nine miles from Yosemite—a pretty insignificant showing for a
half-day's run, from a mileage point of view, but it had been strenuous
enough to make us tired and ravenously hungry. And hunger proved a very
good sauce for the meal which we got at Crocker's Hotel, which is about
all there is of Sequoia. And I am not complaining of Crocker's Hotel,
either. I think they did very well when one considers that all their
supplies must be hauled eighty miles by wagon road—naturally, canned
stuff and condensed milk prevailed.

Beyond Crocker's the characteristics of the country were about the same.
A rough, dusty trail, winding through pine-clad hills with occasional
heavy grades, carried us along for a good many miles. We occasionally
passed a remote little station with a general store and "garage" bearing
evidence of its origin in an old-time blacksmith shop. Colfax Gate,
Smith's, Garrett, and Big Oak Flat—which showed little reason for the
distinction of giving its name to the road—were all the same type, with
nothing to invite even a casual glance from the tourist unless he needed
gasoline or oil.

At Priest's there is a country hotel, a haunt of hunters and ranchmen;
but we recall Priest's chiefly because it gives its name to one of the
most beautiful bits of road engineering in California. It follows the
very crest of a giant hill range overlooking a beautiful valley some two
or three thousand feet below. Alongside there is nothing to break the
full sweep of one's vision—not a tree or even a shrub intervenes between
the roadbed and the precipitous slope beneath. Although the road is wide
enough for easy passing at any point, the very baldness of its outer
edge is enough to give a decided thrill to nervously inclined people
and our driver received more advice and caution from the rear seat than
had been offered him on far more dangerous roads with occasional rocks
or trees alongside.

At Jacksonville the road comes down almost to the level of the Tuolumne
River and we found ourselves on the border of the old gold-mining
region made famous by the tales of Bret Harte. There are still several
placer mines in operation along the river—the road passes a very large
one at the foot of Chinese Camp grade, and the river is sullied for
miles by the muddy washings from the mill. Chinese Camp grade is one
of the worst encountered on our entire trip; it is steep and terribly
rough, and dust a foot deep hides the ruts and chuck holes, so we were
compelled to "go it blind." It was a four-mile plunge and scramble
around sharp curves,—half smothered and blinded by dense dust clouds

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 23 25

Online LibraryThomas D. MurphyOn Sunset Highways → online text (page 23 of 25)