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for here is the identical spot where Father Serra first landed and
began his work of converting and civilizing the natives. Here was
really the first mission, though afterwards it was removed to the site
which we had already visited. Here General Fremont hoisted the stars
and stripes in 1846—less than a century after Serra's coming. Here is
the old church with its mission bells brought from Spain in 1802; the
earliest palm trees in the state; the old graveyard, with its pathetic
wooden headboards; the first brick house in California (another may
also be seen in Monterey); the foundation of the huge Catholic church,
projected many years ago but never completed; and the old jail "built by
the original California grafter," as the prospectus of the enterprising
proprietor of "Ramona's Wedding Place" declares.

The Old Town adjoins the city just where the Los Angeles road leaves
the bay for the north. Perhaps this is not strictly correct, for the
limits of San Diego extend northward nearly to Del Mar, taking in a
vast scope of thinly populated country which no doubt the enthusiastic
San Diegans expect to be converted into solid city blocks before long.
There are many ancient adobe houses in the Old Town, the most notable
of which is the Estudillo Mansion, popularly known as Ramona's Wedding
Place. It was doubtless the house that Mrs. Jackson had in mind when
she brought her Indian hero and his bride to old San Diego after their
flight from Temecula, where they had expected to be married. This is,
of course, purely fictional, but the house is an excellent type of the
ancient Spanish residence of the better class. It was burned in 1872,
but the solid adobe walls still stood and a few years ago the house
was restored. It is now a museum and curio store, and the proprietor
is an enthusiastic antiquarian and an authority on mission history. The
house covers nearly a city block; it is built in the shape of a hollow
square, open on one side, and around the interior runs a wide veranda
surrounding a court. This is beautiful with flowers and shrubbery and
to one side is a cactus garden containing nearly every known species
of this strange plant. The collection of paintings, antique furniture,
and other relics relating to early days in California is worth seeing
and one can learn something of the history and romance of the missions
from the hourly lecture delivered by the proprietor. He will also
take pleasure in telling you about the Old Town and his experience
with the Indians, from whom he purchases a large part of his baskets,
silver trinkets, and other articles in his shop. One can easily put
in an hour here, and if time does not press, the garden is a pleasant
lounging-place for a longer period.

A motor tour of San Diego must surely include the drive over the
splendid new boulevard that follows the sinuous length of Point Loma
to the old lighthouse standing on the bold headland which rises at the
northern entrance of the harbor. It is a dilapidated stone structure,
only twenty or thirty feet high, but from the little tower we saw one
of the most glorious views of all those we witnessed during our thirty
thousand miles of motoring in California. The scene from Grosmont is a
magnificent one, but it lacks the variety and color of the Point Loma
panorama. Here ocean, bay, green hills with lemon and olive groves,
and distant snow-clad mountains combine to form a scene of beauty and
grandeur that it is not easy to match elsewhere. Almost at our feet
swell the inrolling waves of the violet-blue Pacific, which stretches
away like a symbol of infinity to the pale sapphire sky that meets it
to-day with a sharply defined line. The harbor is a strange patchwork
of color; gleaming blues—from sapphire to indigo—and emerald-greens
nearer the shores, flecked here and there with spots of purple, and the
whole diversified with craft of every description. Across the strait
is a wide, barren sand flat and a little farther the red towers of
Coronado in its groves of palm trees. Beyond the harbor the city spreads
out, wonderfully distinct in the clear sunlight that pours down upon
it. Still farther lie the green hills and beyond these the mountains,
growing dimmer and dimmer with each successive range. Here and there in
the distance, perhaps a hundred miles away, a white peak gleams through
the soft blue haze. Nearer at hand you see the rugged contour of Point
Loma itself; the tall slender shaft that marks the graves of the victims
of the explosion on the Cruiser Bennington a few years ago; the oriental
towers of the Theosophical Institute, and down along the water line the
guns and defenses of Fort Rosecrans. It is a scene that we contemplate
long and rapturously and which on a later trip to San Diego we go to
view again.

As we returned to the city some evil genius directed our attention
to a sign-board pointing to a little byroad down the cliff but a
short distance from the lighthouse and bearing the legend, "To Fort
Rosecrans." We wished to see Fort Rosecrans and decided to avail
ourselves of the handy short cut so opportunely discovered, and soon
found ourselves descending the roughest, steepest grade we found in
California. A mere shelf scarce six inches wider than our car ran along
the edge of the cliff, which seemingly dropped sheer to the ocean far
beneath. The grade must have been at least twenty-five per cent and
the road zigzagged downward around the corners that brought our front
wheels to the verge of the precipice at the turns. Both brakes and
the engine were brought into service and as a matter of precaution the
ladies dismounted from the car. We should have been only too glad to
retreat, but could do nothing but keep on, creeping downward, hoping
fervently that we might not meet a vehicle on the way. At last the road
came out on the beach and we drove into the main street of the village
near the fort, where people stared at us in a fashion indicating that
few automobiles came by the route we had followed.

There was little to see at Fort Rosecrans and our nerves were too badly
shaken to leave room for curiosity, anyway. We went on into the main
highway, resolving to be more cautious about short cuts in the future.
When we came again to Point Loma some months later, the sign that led
us down the cliff had been replaced with a mandate of "Closed to autos,"
and we wondered if we were responsible for the change!

On this latter trip we paused before the Roman gateway of the
Theosophical Institute and asked permission to enter, which was readily
given for a small consideration. Autos are not admitted to the grounds
and we left our car by the roadside, making the ascent on foot. As we
came near the mysterious, glass-domed building, we met a studious young
man in a light tan uniform and broad-brimmed felt hat, apparently deeply
absorbed in a book as he paced to and fro. To our inquiries for a guide
he responded courteously, "I will serve you with pleasure myself," and
conducted us about the magnificent grounds. In the meanwhile he took
occasion to enlighten us on the aims and tenets of his cult.

"Many people," he said, "think that there is something occult or
mysterious about the Institute, but the fact is that it is a school open
to everyone under twenty-one who will comply with our regulations. We
prefer to take young children and train them from the very beginning,
which our experienced teachers and nurses can do better than their
mothers," but noticing the looks of indignant protest which came to the
faces of the ladies of our party, he quickly qualified his statement
with—"perhaps."

"The tuition," he went on, "is a thousand dollars per year, which
includes everything—and the pupils never leave these grounds until they
have completed our course. Thorough education is our first object;
doctrine is secondary—we do not even ask them to accept our tenets
unless they wish to do so. There is nothing secret or occult about
our institution; we do not keep the public from our buildings because
of anything mysterious there, but because sightseers would interfere
with the work. We have more than three hundred children in the schools
at present and in some cases their parents live in the houses on our
grounds. No, it is not a 'community' in any sense of the word, and the
statement often made that people who join with us must give us their
property and surrender themselves to our control, is absolutely false.
There is no time to tell you of our peculiar teachings, but you will
receive booklets at the gate-house that will enlighten you on them.
Reincarnation, as you would style it, is one of our fundamentals and
Katherine Tingley, who founded the Institute, is from our point of
view the spiritual successor of the famous Russian teacher, Madame
Blavatsky." I was surprised to learn later that the foundress of the
cult, despite her obviously Russian name, was an English woman by birth.
She was a famous world traveler and on one of her journeys married a
Russian nobleman. One must admit, I am bound to say, that her published
works show an astounding amount of research and curious knowledge,
whatever we may think of her doctrines.

Regardless of our attitude on Mrs. Tingley's teachings and beliefs, one
can not question her soundness and success in a business and aesthetic
way. Everything about the establishment speaks of prosperity and it
would be hard to imagine more beautiful and pleasing surroundings.
The buildings are mainly of oriental design, solidly built and fitting
well into the general plan of the grounds. Among them is a beautiful
Greek theatre where plays open to the public are sometimes given. The
grounds evince the skill of the landscape-gardener and scrupulous care
on part of those who have them in charge. Flowers bloom in profusion
and a double row of palms runs along the seaward edge of the hill.
Through these gleams the calm deep blue of the ocean, which seldom
changes, for there are but few stormy or gloomy days on Point Loma.
The outlook to the landward is much the same as we beheld from the old
lighthouse—a panorama of green hills and mountain ranges, stretching
away to the snow-capped peaks of San Bernardino, nearly one hundred and
fifty miles distant. It is a glorious spot, well calculated to lend
glamour to the—to our notion—fantastical doctrines of the cult which
makes its headquarters here. Indeed, my friend—whose religious ideas
are in a somewhat fluid state—was deeply impressed and after reading the
pamphlets which we received on leaving, intimated that the doctrines of
Theosophy looked mighty good to him—though I believe this is as far as
he ever got in the faith.




VII

THE IMPERIAL VALLEY AND THE SAN DIEGO BACK COUNTRY


The infinite variety of California will be more and more impressed upon
the tourist as his travels take him farther from the beaten track. It
is, truly, a land of contrasts; and only one who goes from the green
valley of the Sacramento to the arid sands of the Imperial Desert will
know how sharply marked the contrasts may be. The former will remind
him not a little of the green and prosperous farm lands of the Middle
West and the agricultural methods pursued are not widely dissimilar, but
where else in the world can a parallel be found for the strange valley
that lies beyond the rugged mountain ranges eastward from San Diego?

Twenty-five years ago this weird, sun-blistered desert seemed the
most unlikely spot on earth to become a place of incredibly productive
farms and thriving towns. The arid bed of a long-vanished inland sea,
lying from a few inches to three hundred feet below sea level, with a
temperature varying up to one hundred and thirty degrees in summer and
less than an inch of annual rainfall, surely gave little promise of ever
becoming an agricultural bonanza. It was even more typically a desert,
says one authority, than any part of the Sahara of which we have record.
To the ordinary layman passing through on the Southern Pacific, nothing
would have seemed farther from the range of possibility than that this
counterpart of Death Valley should ever become a green and fertile land.

There were, however, a few thoughtful pioneers who knew of the
possibilities of the desert when water could be brought to it and who
were aware that within a comparatively short distance the great Colorado
River coursed through its channel at an altitude higher than the floor
of the Valley. Here was water, practically unlimited, which needed
only direction into an irrigating system to change the desert's sandy
wastes into fertile fields. Dr. Wozencroft of San Bernardino was the
first to take practical steps towards this great work, about fifty years
ago. He endeavored to obtain from Congress a grant of land upon which
he might carry out his project, but the idea was not taken seriously
by the lawmakers, who dismissed it with a few jocular flings at the
promoter's expense. The experts declared the plan not impractical,
but the politicians could not be induced to take favorable action upon
it. The immediate outcome was that the enthusiastic promoter lost his
fortune in his fruitless efforts and died a disappointed man, but he had
directed public attention to the possibility of reclaiming the Valley
and various attempts were made by others to carry out his plans.

No considerable headway was made until the organization of the
California Development Company in 1896 for the purpose of reclaiming
what was then first styled the Imperial Valley. This was a water
corporation whose purpose was to construct an irrigating system to
serve some five hundred thousand acres of desert land then open to
occupation by settlers under the national homestead acts. The profits
of the company were to come from the sale of water service, since it
did not own or control the land. The contour of the country made it
necessary to bring the main supply canal through Mexican territory for
a distance of forty or fifty miles, and the canal now serves some two
hundred thousand acres in Mexico. An old river bed which resulted from
an overflow many years ago carried the water a considerable part of
the distance and greatly minimized the labor necessary to complete the
canal. Still, it was a stupendous task, requiring several years' time
and a large expenditure of money. The seepage and overflow from the
irrigating system was to be conveyed to the lowest part of the Valley,
the Salton Basin, now occupied by the Salton Sea, a shallow lake two or
three hundred square miles in extent.

This lake originated in a sensational manner, which engaged the
attention of the country for many months. During the summer of 1904 the
development company undertook to increase the supply of water from the
Colorado by cutting a new outlet which was to be controlled by flood
gates. Before the work was completed an unprecedented rise washed away
the controlling works and threatened to turn the whole volume of the
river into the Valley. A tremendous channel was soon torn in the sands
by the raging flood—which was known as New River—and the waters coursed
through the Valley to Salton Basin, which filled rapidly. Efforts made
by the company to check the torrent were without avail; its means and
facilities were too limited to cope with the serious situation.

In the meanwhile the existence of the Valley, with its farms and towns,
was threatened; if unchecked, the flood would eventually restore the
inland sea that filled the basin in prehistoric times. The settlers
were greatly alarmed and appealed to the Government for assistance.
Congress was not in session and President Roosevelt, with characteristic
resourcefulness, called upon the Southern Pacific Railroad Company to
undertake the task of curbing the river, assuring the officials of the
road that he would recommend an appropriation by Congress to reimburse
them for money expended in the work. The railroad company consented and
after several months of almost superhuman effort and an expenditure of
two million dollars, the flood was curbed and the vast empty chasm of
New River left to tell the story of its wild fury.

But Congress refused to make the appropriation and the Southern Pacific
"held the sack" for the enormous sum spent in protecting the Valley.
The people likewise declined to issue bonds to reimburse the railroad
company, which considered itself the victim of bad faith on part of
both the Government and the citizens of the Valley. We heard an echo of
the controversy when we visited El Centro—another break was imminent on
account of high water in the Colorado and the railroad was called upon
for assistance. The officials notified the owners of the threatened
lands that when a sufficient sum of money to guarantee the cost of the
work was deposited in a Los Angeles bank, they would hurry a force to
the scene of the trouble—and the cash was forthcoming without delay.

The story of the flood forms the framework of Harold Bell Wright's
recent novel, "The Winning of Barbara Worth," and while the narrative
does not by any means adhere to historic fact, it has served to bring
the Imperial Valley to the attention of many a reader who had scarcely
heard of it before.

Prosperity has usually prevailed in the Valley; money has been made
so easily and surely that the disadvantage of the climate was readily
overlooked by the inhabitants, many of whom actually profess to enjoy
it. But a climate that is hot in winter and superheated in summer,
rainless, and with almost incessant high winds that stir up clouds
of dust and occasional sand storms, has its drawbacks, we must admit.
Rainfall, however, is neither needed nor wanted. The farmer turns the
water on at the proper time and there need be no excessive moisture or
protracted drought.

Under such conditions the productiveness of the land is almost
incredible. Six or eight heavy crops of alfalfa are harvested from a
single field during the year. Barley, oats, and other small grains
flourish and at present are cut mostly for forage. Cotton, under
normal conditions, is the most valuable crop, about one hundred and
forty thousand acres being planted in 1920, with an estimated value of
$25,000,000. The quality rivals the sea-island product and the yield is
large, averaging more than a bale to the acre. Vegetables and berries
flourish in endless variety and truck-gardening for the Los Angeles and
San Diego markets is profitable because the season for everything is
ahead of the rest of California. Citrus fruits of finest quality thrive
wonderfully, but as yet little has been done in orchard-planting. Figs
are readily grown and it is said that the date palm will flourish and
produce an excellent quality of fruit in the Imperial though it has not
been a success elsewhere in California. Cattle-raising and dairying are
leading industries—the butter product alone is worth several million
dollars yearly. Taking the country over, however, the Imperial Valley
is probably more famous for its cantaloupes than for any other single
product. Each year it produces several thousand cars of this succulent
melon and they are on the market from Boston to San Francisco before
the Rocky Fords are in blossom.

Until quite recently the Valley could be reached only by the main line
and branches of the Southern Pacific Railroad and by one or two inferior
wagon trails which meandered through the great hills and over the sands.
The desirability of a motor highway led the business men of San Diego
to raise by subscription sufficient funds to complete the road through
the mountains from Mountain Spring on the San Diego County line to the
floor of the Valley, where it continues for a dozen miles through sands
not quite heavy enough to stop progress if one keeps on the beaten
trail. Beyond Coyote Wells an attempt had been made to improve the
road by freely oiling the sand. The older portion was broken and rough,
though for some distance out of Dixieland there is as fine a boulevard
as one could wish. In San Diego County the stage road is part of the
magnificent new highway system, of which I shall have more to say later.

Another highway to the Valley comes down from San Bernardino through
Beaumont, Banning, Palm Springs and Indio, continuing along the northern
side of the Salton Sea to Brawley. Pavement of this road is now so
well advanced that it will very likely be completed by the time this
book comes from the press. In any event, it will be so nearly finished
that this run, once the terror of motorists, can be made easily and
comfortably, and, revealing as it does so many interesting phases of
California, it is sure to be immensely popular. The new route misses by
a few miles the towns of Coachella and Mecca, but these may be reached
by a detour over the old road if any one's interest is strong enough to
lead him from the comforts of the new pavement. Palm Springs, however,
will surely claim a pause for lunch at the well-ordered Desert Inn and
a visit to Palm Canyon, a few miles away. Here we may see the palm in
its native state and some authorities assert that these palms are the
progenitors of this particular species in California. The larger ones
are several centuries old, and there is an Indian tradition that they
provided seed for the palms planted by the Mission fathers.

[Illustration: PALM CANYON
From Original Painting by H. H. Bagg]

The canyon itself would be worth visiting, even without the added
interest of the palms. It is a rugged ravine several hundred feet deep,
with a clear stream rippling among boulders or losing itself beneath
the tangled undergrowth. It is about sixteen miles in length, and the
palms extend the entire distance, ranging from scattered sentinels to
jungle-like thickets. Some of them are perhaps one hundred feet high.
The trunks of the larger ones are blackened by fire, due to the practice
of the Indians in building fires around them to cause the fall of the
seeds, which they consider a great delicacy. Strange to say, the palms
seemed none the worse for this severe treatment. They did not endure
so well the onslaught of a moving-picture outfit which, to make a
sensational scene, blew up some of the rocks and palms with dynamite.
There was an insistent demand for punishing these vandals, which we
hope attained its end. One can drive to the edge of the canyon and from
an elevated point get a very good general view, but most visitors will
wish to make the descent and proceed a greater or less distance up the
gorge on foot.

From Palm Springs to El Centro is an easy day's run, allowing time for
a visit to the date plantations of the Coachella Valley, where Arabian
date palms have been imported and successfully cultivated, producing
fruit superior and more valuable than the imported article. For some
miles this road runs in sight of the Salton Sea, a remarkable body of
water about twenty-five miles long by ten in width, lying more than two
hundred feet below the sea level.

The standard motor route from San Diego to El Centro—the capital of the
Valley—runs by the way of the Potrero grade through the tiny villages
of Jamul and Dulzura. One does not have to own a car—or even to hire
one—to motor in state over this wonderful highway, for a half dozen
automobile stages make the trip each way daily, the fare averaging about
five dollars for the one hundred and twenty miles.

An alternate road as far as Campo, about forty miles from San Diego,
goes by the way of Lakeside and Descanso and takes one through some of
the most picturesque hills and vales of the "Back Country." It is nearly
twenty miles longer than the stage road, but it has no serious grades
and has been designated as the route of the new state highway. We found
it well improved as far as Lakeside, but beyond it became a winding
trail, meandering through canyons heavily wooded with oak and sycamore.

On the recommendation of a fellow-motorist just returned from the
Imperial we chose this route on our outward trip. We left San Diego
about ten o'clock, advertising our destination to the public generally
by the five-gallon canvas water-bag that dangled from our car. Most
cars for the desert carry this useful adjunct and there are conceivable
predicaments where it might be very serviceable. Beyond Lakeside
we entered the hills and saw much delightfully picturesque scenery,
though the country seemed likely never to be of great value to mankind
except for scenic beauty. There were one or two villages and occasional
ranch-houses in the cultivated spots in the valleys, but the rugged
hills rising on every hand gave little promise of future productiveness.



Online LibraryThomas D. MurphyOn Sunset Highways → online text (page 9 of 25)