Thomas D. Murphy.

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to tell your eastern friends, when—presto, he is away like a flash.
Your reel fairly buzzes while three hundred yards of line is paid out
and you have it all to do over again. But patience and perseverance at
last win—if your tackle does not break—and the fish, too exhausted to
struggle longer, is gaffed and brought aboard by the skipper, who takes
great delight in every catch, since a goodly showing at the pier is an
excellent advertisement for himself and his boat.

By noon we had three fine yellowtails and a number of rock bass to our
credit and were quite ready for the contents of our lunch-baskets. We
landed on the isthmus—the narrow neck of land a few hundred feet in
width about the center of the island—and found a pleasant spot for our
luncheon. In the afternoon we had three more successful battles with
the gamey yellowtails—and, of course, the usual number "got away."
Homeward bound, we had a panorama of fifteen miles of the rugged island
coast—bold, barren cliffs overhanging deep blue waters and brown and
green hills stretching along dark little canyons running up from the
sea. In rare cases we saw a cottage or two in these canyons and in
places the hillsides were dotted with wild flowers, which bloom in great
variety on the island. At sunset we came into the clear waters of Avalon
Harbor and our skipper soon proudly displayed our catch on the pier.

After dinner we saw a curious spectacle down at the beach—thousands of
flying fish attracted and dazzled by the electric lights were darting
wildly over the waters and in some instances falling high and dry on the
sands. On the pier were dozens of men and boys with fish spears attached
to ropes and they were surprisingly successful in taking the fish with
these implements. They threw the barbed spear at the fish as they darted
about and drew it back with the rope, often bringing the quarry with it.
The fish average about a foot in length and, we were told, are excellent
eating. They presented a beautiful sight as thousands of them darted
over the dark waters of the bay, their filmy, winglike fins gleaming in
the electric lights.

Besides fishing, the sportsman can enjoy a hunt if he chooses, for
wild goats are found in the interior, though one unacquainted with the
topography of the island will need a guide and a horse. The country
is exceedingly rugged and wild, there are few trails, and cases
are recorded of people becoming hopelessly lost. We had no time for
exploring the wilds of the interior and perhaps little inclination. On
the morning before our homeward voyage we went out to the golf links
lying on the hillsides above the town, not so much for the game—on my
part, at least, for I had become quite rusty in this royal sport and
Avalon links would be the last place in the world for a novice—as for
the delightful view of the town and ocean which the site affords. Below
us lay the village, bending around the crescent-shaped bay which gleamed
through the gap in the hills, so deeply, intensely blue that I could
think of nothing so like it as lapis lazuli—a solid, still blue that
hardly seemed like water. After a few strokes, which sent the balls into
inaccessible ravines and cactus thickets, I gave it up and contented
myself with watching my friend struggle with the hazards—and such
hazards! Only one who has actually tried the Avalon links can understand
what it means to play a round or two of the nine holes; but, after all,
the glorious weather, the entrancing view, and the lovely, smooth-shaven
greens will atone for a good many lost balls and no devotee of golf who
visits the island should omit a game on the Avalon links.

Many changes have been wrought in the state of things in Catalina
since the foregoing paragraphs were first written. Formerly the island
belonged to the Bannings—an old Los Angeles family—who declined to
sell any part or parcel of the soil until 1918, when they disposed of
their entire interests to a Chicago capitalist. The new owner began a
campaign of development and freely sold homesites in the island to all
comers. A fine new hotel, the St. Catherine, was built to replace the
old Metropolitan, which burned down, and many other notable improvements
have been made. Great efforts have been made to attract tourists to the
island and to sell sites to any who might wish a resort home in Avalon.
A new million-dollar steamer, the "Avalon," makes a quicker and more
comfortable trip than formerly and we may predict that the popularity
of Catalina will wax rather than wane.



Our rambles described in the preceding chapter were confined mainly to
the coast side of the city, but there is quite as much to attract and
delight the motorist over toward the mountains. Nor are the mountains
themselves closed to his explorations, for there are a number of trips
which he may essay in these giant hills, ranging from an easy upward jog
to really nerve-racking and thrilling ascents. Remember I am dealing
with the motor car, which will account for no reference to famous
mountain trips by trolley or mule-back trail, familiar to nearly every
tourist in California. Of our mountain jaunts in the immediate vicinity
of Los Angeles we may refer to two as being the most memorable and as
representing the two extremes referred to.

Lookout Mountain, one of the high hills of the Santa Monica Range
near Hollywood, has a smooth, beautifully engineered road winding in
graceful loops to the summit. It passes many wooded canyons and affords
frequent glimpses of charming scenery as one ascends. Nowhere is the
grade heavy—a high-gear proposition for a well-powered car—and there
are no narrow, shelf-like places to disturb one's nerves. The ascent
begins through lovely Laurel Canyon out of flower-bedecked Hollywood,
and along the wayside are many attractive spots for picnic dinners. At
one of these, fitted with tables and chairs, and sheltered by a huge
sycamore, we paused for luncheon, with thanks to the enterprising real
estate dealer who maintained the place for public use.

From Lookout Point one has a far-reaching view over the wide plain
surrounding the city and can get a good idea of the relative location
of the suburban towns. The day we chose for the ascent was not the most
favorable, the atmosphere being anything but clear. The orange groves
of Pasadena and San Gabriel were half hidden in a soft blue haze and
the seaside view was cut off by a low-hanging fog. To the north the
Sierras gleamed dim and ghostly through the smoky air, and the green
foothills lent a touch of subdued color to the foreground. At our feet
lay the wide plain between the city and the sea, studded with hundreds
of unsightly oil derricks, the one eye-sore of an otherwise enchanting
landscape. Descending, we followed a separate road down the mountain
the greater part of the distance, thus avoiding the necessity of passing
other cars on the steeper grades near the summit.

Near the close of our second tour we were seized with the desire to
add the ascent of Mount Wilson to our experiences. We had by this time
climbed dozens of mountain roads and passes and had begun to consider
ourselves experienced motor mountaineers. We had often noted from
Foothill Boulevard the brown line of road running in sharp angles up the
side of the mountain and little anticipated that this ascent would be
more nerve-racking than Arrowhead or St. Helena. We deferred the trip
for a long time in hopes of a perfectly clear day, but perfectly clear
days are rare in California during the summer time. Dust, fog, and other
conditions combine to shroud the distance in a soft haze often pleasing
to the artistic sense but fatal to far-away views. The Mount Wilson road
had been opened to motor cars only a short time previous to our ascent.
It had been in existence some time as a rough wagon trail, constructed
to convey the materials and instruments for the Carnegie Observatory
to the summit. A private company rebuilt the trail and opened a resort
hotel on the summit. The entrance is through a tollgate just north of
Pasadena and the distance from that point to the hotel is about nine and
one-half miles. As the mountain is about six thousand feet in height,
the grade averages ten per cent, though in places it is much steeper.
The roadway is not wide enough for vehicles to pass, but there are
several turn-outs to each mile and when cars meet between these, the
one going up must back to the nearest passing-place.

Entering through the tollgate, we ran down a sharp declivity to a high
bridge across the canyon, where the ascent begins; and from that point
to the summit there is scarcely a downward dip. A narrow shelf, with
barely a foot or two between your wheels and the precipice—pitching
upward at a twenty per cent angle—greets you at the very outstart. The
road runs along the edge of the bald, bare cliffs which fling their
jagged points hundreds of feet above and fall sheer—not infrequently—a
thousand or more beneath. Every few rods it makes a sharp turn, so sharp
that sometimes we had to back at these corners to keep the outer wheels
from the edge—a difficulty greatly increased by our long wheel base.
Our motor, which usually runs quite cool, began to boil and kept it up
steadily until we stopped at the summit. A water supply is found every
two or three miles, without which few cars could make the ascent. It
will be low-gear work generally, even for powerful motors—not so much on
account of the grade as the frequent "hairpin" turns. And we were more
impressed that no one should undertake the climb without first being
assured that his car is in first-class condition throughout—particularly
the tires, since a change would be a pretty difficult job on many of
the grades.

As we continued our ascent we became dimly aware of the increasing
grandeur of the view far below us. I say dimly aware, for the driver
could cast only furtive glances from the road, and the nervous people
in the rear seat refused even to look downward from our dizzy perch.
So we stopped momentarily at a few of the wider turns, but we found—as
on Lookout—the blue haze circumscribed the distant view. Just beneath
us, a half mile or more downward, stretched a tangle of wooded canyons
and beyond these the low green foothills. Pasadena and the surrounding
orange-grove country lay below us like a map, the bronze-green trees
glistening in the subdued sunlight. Los Angeles seemed a silver-gray
blur, and the seacoast and Catalina, which can be seen on the rare clear
days, were entirely obliterated. Not all of the road was such as I have
described. About midway for a mile or two it wound through forest trees
and shrubbery, the slopes glowing with the purple bloom of the mountain

There was little at the summit to interest us after we completed our
strenuous climb. Visitors were not admitted to the Carnegie Solar
Observatory, as to the Lick institution on Mount Hamilton; and the
hotel, having recently burned, had been replaced temporarily with a
wood-and-canvas structure. Plans were completed for a new concrete
building and we were told that practically all the material would be
brought up the trail on burros. The view from the summit was largely
obscured by the hazy condition of the atmosphere, but near at hand to
the north and east a wild and impressive panorama of mountain peaks and
wooded canyons greeted our vision. The night view of the plain between
the mountains and sea, we were told, is the most wonderful sight from
Mount Wilson. Fifty cities and towns can be seen, each as a glow of
light varying in size and intensity, from the vast glare of Los Angeles
to the mere dot of the country village.

We did not care to remain for the night and as we ate our luncheon on
the veranda of the makeshift hotel, we were anxiously thinking of the
descent. We had been fortunate in meeting no one during our climb;
would we be equally lucky in going down? Only one other car had come
up during the day, a big six-cylinder, steaming like a locomotive; the
driver removed the radiator cap and a boiling geyser shot twenty feet
into the air. A telephone message told us the road was clear at the time
of starting and we were happy that it remained so during the hour and a
quarter consumed in the nine-mile downward crawl. It proved as strenuous
as the climb and the occupants of the rear seat were on the verge of
hysterics most of the time. Brakes were of little use—the first few
hundred yards would have burned them up—and we depended on "compression"
to hold back the car, the low gear engaged and power cut off. All went
well enough until we came to sharp turns where we must reverse and back
up to get around the corner. It was a trying experience—not necessarily
dangerous (as the road company's folder declares) if one exercises
extreme caution, keeps the car in perfect control, and has no bad luck
such as a broken part or bursting tire. Down we crept, anxiously noting
the mileposts, which seemed an interminable distance apart, or furtively
glancing at the ten-inch strip between our outer wheels and "a thousand
feet in depth below," until at last the welcome tollgate hove in sight
with the smooth stretches of the Altadena Boulevard beyond.

"I hope you enjoyed your trip," cheerily said the woman who opened the

"No, indeed," came from the rear seat. "It was simply horrid—I don't
ever want to come near Mount Wilson again as long as I live!" and relief
from the three-hours' tension came in a burst of tears.

But she felt better about it after a little as we glided along the fine
road leading through Altadena into the orange groves and strawberry
beds around Glendale, and purchased a supply of the freshly gathered
fruit. But even to this day I have never been able to arouse a spark of
enthusiasm when I speak of a second jaunt up Mount Wilson, for which I
confess a secret hankering.

The road has been vastly improved since the time of our trip, which was
only two months after it was opened to the public. The turns have been
widened, more passing points provided, and no one need be deterred from
essaying the climb by the harrowing experiences of our pioneer venture.

While not a mountain trip in the sense of the ascent of Mount Wilson,
the road through Topango Canyon will furnish plenty of thrills for
the nervously inclined—at least such was the case at the time we
undertook the sixty-eight mile round by the way of Santa Monica and
Calabasas, returning by the San Fernando Boulevard. At Santa Monica we
glided down to the beach and for some miles followed the Malibu Road,
which closely skirts the ocean beneath the cliff-like hills. It was a
magnificent run, even though the road was dusty, rough, and narrow in
places, with occasional sandy stretches. It was a glorious day and the
placid, deep-blue Pacific shimmered like an inland lake. The monotone
of color was relieved by great patches of gleaming purple a little way
out from the shore, due to beds of floating kelp, and by long white
breakers which, despite the unwonted quiet of the sea, came rolling in
on the long sandy beaches or dashed into silvery spray on the frequent
rocks. We passed a queer little Chinese fisher village—which has since
disappeared—nestling under the sandy cliffs; most of the inhabitants
were cleaning and drying fish on the beach, the product, we were told,
being shipped to their native land. We were also astonished to meet
people in fantastic costumes—girls with theatrical make-up, in powder
and paint; men in strange, wild-west toggery; and groups of Indians,
resplendent in feathers and war-paint. All of which puzzled us a good
deal until we recalled that here is the favorite field of operation
of one of the numerous moving-picture companies which make Los Angeles
their headquarters.

They have since constructed several sham villages along this beach
road and in the near-by hills. One of these make-believe hamlets we
can testify bears a very passable likeness to many we passed through in
rural England.

We followed the road to the entrance of Malibu Rancho, a bare tract
stretching many miles along the sea and controlled by a company which
vigorously disputes the right of way through the property. There is a
private club house on the ranch and no doubt the members do not care to
be jostled by the curious motorists who wander this way in great numbers
on Sundays. Threatening placards forbade trespassing on the ranch, but
a far stronger deterrent to the motorist was a quarter-of-a-mile stretch
of bottomless sand just at the entrance. Two or three cars just ahead of
us attempted to cross, but gave it up after a deal of noisy floundering.
Malibu Rancho had little attraction for us, in any event, and our only
temptation to enter its forbidden confines was doubtless due to the
provoking placards, but it was not strong enough to entice us into the
treacherous sand. So we turned about, retracing our way three or four
miles to the Topango Canyon road.

I might add here in passing that the county has since secured the right
to build a public highway through Malibu Rancho after a long legal
warfare following condemnation proceedings. It is to constitute a link
in the proposed ocean highway between Los Angeles and Ventura.

It was Sunday and hundreds of cars thronged the beach, raising clouds
of dust, and we frequently had close work in passing those we met. We
agreed that Sunday was a poor day for Malibu Beach road, as contrasted
with the quiet of a former week-day run. The Canyon road branches
abruptly to the right, ascending a sharp hill, and then dropping to
the bed of a clear little creek, which it follows for a considerable
distance. Some twenty times we forded the stream winding in and out
among a tangle of shrubbery and trees. There were many grassy little
glades—ideal spots for picnic dinners—some of which were occupied by
motor parties.

Leaving the creek, the road ascends the Santa Monica Mountains, crossing
three ranges in steep, winding grades. Much of the way it is a narrow,
shelf-like trail with occasional turn-outs for passing. At the steepest,
narrowest part of the road over the western range, we met a car; the
panicky passengers were walking down the hill, while the driver was
yelling like a madman for us to get out of his way. We cautiously backed
down the grade to the nearest turn-out and let him crawl past, with his
passengers following on foot—a sample of sights we saw more than once on
California mountain roads. Such people, it would seem, would do well to
stick to the boulevards. Crossing the wooded valley between the ranges,
we came to the eastern grade, which proved the steeper of the two. How
our panicky friends ever got over it puzzled us. In the valley we saw
a few lonely little ranches and the ubiquitous summer-resort camp.

The ascent of the second grade was not so steep as the descent, which
was terrific, portions of it being not less than twenty-five per cent.
The sharpest pitch is just at the summit, and we were told that dozens
of cars stalled here—many for lack of gasoline. Here we met another
car, passengers on foot and the driver trying to coax his engine up
the hill. After several futile attempts he got it going, scraping our
car with his fender as he passed—we had turned out as far as possible
and were waiting for him. One of the ladies declared that they had been
touring California mountains for two months and this was the first grade
to give trouble. Later we came over this grade from the east, finding
it an exceedingly heavy, low-gear grind, but our motor was on its best
behavior and carried us across without a hitch.

But if the climb is a strenuous and, to some people, a nerve-racking
one, the view from the summit is well worth the trouble. To the east
stretches the beautiful San Fernando Valley, lying between the Santa
Monica and San Gabriel Ranges. It is a vast, level plain, rapidly
being brought under cultivation; the head of the valley just beneath is
studded with ranch houses and here and there in the great grainfields
stand magnificent oaks, the monarchs of California trees. Summer
clouds have gathered while we were crossing the hills and there is a
wonderful play of light and color over the valley before us. Yonder is
a bright belt of sunshine on the waving grain and just beyond a light
shower is falling from the feathery, blue-gray clouds. Still farther,
dimly defined, rise the rugged peaks of the Sierras, gleaming with an
occasional fleck of snow. On our long glide down the winding grade the
wild flowers tempt us to pause—dainty Mariposa lilies, blue larkspur,
and others which we can not name, gleam by the roadside or lend to the
thickets and grainfields a dash of color.

The new road, since completed, roughly follows the course of the old,
but its wide, smooth curves and easy grades bear no resemblance to the
sharp angles and desperate pitches of the ancient trail, now nearly
vanished. The driver as well as the passengers may enjoy the wide views
over the fertile San Fernando Valley and the endless mountain vistas
that greet one at every turn. There is some really impressive scenery
as the road drops down the canyon toward the ocean. The beach road has
also been greatly improved and now gives little hint of the narrow dusty
trail we followed along the sea when bound on our first Topango venture.

The little wayside village of Calabasas marked our turning-point
southward into the valley. Here a rude country inn sheltered by a mighty
oak offers refreshment to the dusty wayfarer, and several cars were
standing in front of it. California, indeed, is becoming like England
in the number and excellence of the country inns—thanks largely to
the roving motor car, which brings patronage to these out-of-the-way
places. Southward, we pursued our way through the vast improvement
schemes of the San Fernando Land Co. The coming of the great Owens
River Aqueduct—which ends near San Fernando, about ten miles from
Calabasas, carrying unlimited water—is changing the great plain of
San Fernando Valley from a waste of cactus and yucca into a veritable
garden. Already much land has been cleared and planted in orchards
or grain, and broad, level, macadam boulevards have been built by the
enterprising improvement companies. And there are roads—bordered with
pines and palms and endless rows of red and pink roses, in full bloom at
this time—destined some day to become as glorious as the famous drives
about Redlands and Riverside. Bungalows and more pretentious residences
are springing up on all hands, many of them being already occupied. The
clean, well-built towns of Lankershim and Van Nuys, situated in this
lovely region and connected by the boulevard, make strong claims for
their future greatness, and whoever studies the possibilities of this
fertile vale will be slow to deny them. Even as I write I feel a sense
of inadequacy in my descriptions, knowing that almost daily changes are
wrought. But no change will ever lessen the beauty of the green valley,
guarded on either side by serried ranks of mighty hills and dotted with
villages and farmhouses surrounded by groves of peach, apricot, and
olive trees. On this trip we returned to the city by Cahuenga Pass, a
road which winds in easy grades through the range of hills between the
valleys and Hollywood.

Another hill trip just off the San Fernando Valley is worth while,
though the road at the time we traversed it was rough, stony, and very
heavy in places. We left the San Fernando Boulevard at Roscoe Station
on the Southern Pacific Railroad, about four miles beyond the village
of Burbank, and passing around the hills through groves of lemon,
peach, and apricots, came to the lonely little village of Sunland
nestling beneath its giant oaks. Beyond this the narrow road clings
to the edges of the barren and stony hills, with occasional cultivated
spots on either hand, while here and there wild flowers lend color to
an otherwise dreary monotone. The sweet-scented yucca, the pink cactus
blooms, and many other varieties of delicate blossoms crowded up to
the roadside at the time of our trip through the pleasant wilderness—a
wilderness, despite the proximity of a great city.

A few miles brought us to the projected town of La Crescenta, which
then had little to indicate its existence except numerous signs marking
imaginary streets. Its main boulevard was a stony trail inches deep in
sand and bordered by cactus and bayonet plants—but it may be different
now, things change so rapidly in California. Beyond this we ran into

Online LibraryThomas D. MurphyOn Sunset Highways → online text (page 4 of 25)