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TRAVEL-PICTURES, Issue 15632, 24 October 1914
[By B. E. B atjghan.] IV. , A CALIFORNIAN STAGE RIPE. Would it interest the readers of this paper to hear about a journey through what was once a gold district in California? It interested me immensely to take it, because both the scenery and humanity were at once so like and so unlike that of similar districts in New Zealand. The trip was taken, in what Americans call an auto (or automobile) and wo a motor cai\ It occupied the best part of one day, began at an altitude of something like 6,000 ft, up in the Sierra Nevada, a great mountain chain stretching along the eastern boundary of California; and ended in one of tire great central valleys, practically at sea-level—so that there was plenty of variety not only in scenery but also in the temperature. Not that we started anywhere near snow, however. Sis thousand feet altitude does not mean snow In California, whatever it may do with us. It means forest—forest of a special kind. Some of the largest trees in the world grew near our startingpoint—the immense Sequoia gigantea. through whose boles a road can pass and a large, old-fashioned stage be driven without any injury to the living tree —and every spur and gully of the surrounding country was just a sea of splendid mountain pines and lira and cedars, evergreens all, but not in the least like any of our bush trees. The pines, however, have all a cousinly resemblance to our well-known friend Finns insignia, and the timber of one of them, the sugar pine, is much valued in the lumber trade.
Consequently, as wo sped along, and I was thinking how like in general effect, though not in detail, all tins steep, many-, folded forest ’and was to our bush backblocke, something else, as we turned a corner, appeared among the hills, and took me right back home—a saw-mill, namely, with its fragrant pile® of red sawdust, and, alas, all th© old familiar devastation spread all round. Denuded of its greenery, the land looked more than ever like a * bit of the North Island, all up and down, and “ every which way ” ; but presently, after the trees had closed in on us again, we came to a clearing beside a river, which reminded me quite clearly that I was in California. For the clearing was full of tents, and not at all lumbermen’s tents either, but family tents, city folks’ tents, holiday tents, such as you find dotted all over th© mountains in summer, just because the Californian summer is what it is> Never was there a more ideal climate for camping. From June to September there is practically no rain at all, and no wind. Shade, wood, and the clearest and purest of water are all plentiful in th© mountains. Th© valleys grow hot, which is exactly what the fruit needs, but the mountains keep cool, which is exactly what the humans need ; therefore everyone who can get away, and who enjoys life in the open, does get away, and goes a camping. Lot of the mountain hotels will house you in a tent instead of a room, if you prefer; and, greatest luxury-of all, you can even drag your cot outside your tent and sleep 'out under clear skies full of stars, without any bother as to dew, or threatening clouds, or forecasts about the weather. Americans are mostly as gregarious as can be, which explains why, with all the forest round from which to choose, these particular tents were huddled close together by the river. Other settlement for quit© a long way there was none, only forest. But in places, besides the admirable printed warnings as to how not to cause forest fires and how to deal with them or.co they have started, with which the Forest Department placards the high road trees here and there, they bore also other legends—th© names and often the pictures of men. It was a far cry from the forest of Arden and the sweet name of Rosalind. Silas J. Somebody, you learned from a cedar, wanted to be Sheriff. The next pine assured you Hhat so did Jonah P. Somebody els©. People willing to become Governor, or Inspector of Schools, or anything els© official, said so on trees all down the road-, and very often invited you also to see just bow they looked' —or how the photographer had made them look. It was indeed a very far cry from Rosalind. Tho reason for these silent solicitations was that the time for electing all such officials was drawing near, and the candidates were losing no chance of showing their zeal in touring the country so as to get in touch with their constituents. A week or two before I had got a lift my.self along a mountain road from ft prospective sheriff, who told mo that he had already travelled miles in his sulky so as to sm ever}'body in the district, and would have to travel 300 more. Women, by the way, have votes; and I thought his chances were but small, when, after a few minor remarks, h© said, with the utmost simplicity : “I’m 52. How old are you?’’
“ I guess you’d bettor guess,” stuttered I; and had immediately to revise my view of his chances, for he promptly relieved me of the load of 15 years. But what a business, to go round interviewing ©very man and woman within hundred© of miles—and what a loss of it, if you don’t get in after all.
Lunch timo brought us to a pleasant hotel standing all by itself among the trees; and the lunch was good, though un remarkable-scrip. cold ham or hot steak, salad, and “pie)’—th© American pie, baked in a shallow tin, plate, and with a layer of pastry below as well as above. I did not think myself in New Zealand at the close of this meal, because I had to pay one dollar for it—4© 2d; also because waitress was supposed to get tho tenth part of th© value of my bill, a “dime” in this ease, equivalent to about sixpence. I didn’t grudge her the dime, but I did think it should have come out of her employer’s pocket. More forest, after lunch, but with the trees growing smaller, and little way shanties her© and there, housing stores and receiving mail. Some of the larger ones recalled New Zealand stores in similar districts. Notices as to meetings and dances adorned their posts, and men lolled beside them—long-legged, dried-up looking men; relics many of them of more prosperous days, for this was once all gold country. I could see no sign of digging anywhere, but something about the men reminded me irresistibly of our old West Coast miners, lonely and independent; and the country scenes, baking by now under tho hot, clear sun, and many of the names were redolent of Bret Harte. “ Grub Gulch,” for example, with its big, shambling hotel, all shut up, its general air of “has been,” and its surroundings of hummocky earth baked brown, bushes still vividly green, and sky most vividly blue. The heat seemed to go straight into one’s bones whenever we halted; but it was dryheat, which is much easier to bear than moist; therefore, though the thermometer stood, I believe,, at 113 in the shade, we still remained all cheerful—until, at the foot of a long, long hill, we found the road completely occupied as to breadth by two mule teams, conveying timber and just beginning the ascent. We were by now among the foothills. There was no shade, there was dust, and the hill was so steep that the teams had to rest every hundred yards or so. , . . My travel companions were all Californians, and it was god to note yet another resemblance between th© born Californian and the born New Zealander—neither of them grumbles. This was the more fortunate on this occasion, as, after the teams had finally toiled up th© hill, it was discovered that our transmitter had broken. I do not remember much about the next part of the journey ; it had all to be taken on the third speed. Fortunately we met nobody. By the time it was over we were right down in the valley, and here we got' a fresh machine, and went on through wide, treeless, flat stretches of wheat stubble. Here and there at intervals of miles would appear a few trees, surrounding a homestead—here called a ranch—built, as far as I could judge, very much lik© our larger homes. But it was not easy to judge anything, for the breeze here was positively Scorching, and seemed to sear one’s eyeballs. It was not a specially hot day, either, as days in this valley go, but jfoalaaA-jawflß know, th© like.
Five o’clock brought first a “city dumping ground” —a disgraceful collection of old tins and refuse of all kinds, carted out into the fields and left there—then a river •bed without a river; and going to be without a river until the fall rains come (when maybe it might flood), and lastly a “ city ” —a little country town, so like, with Its straight streets, its shops, andMts railway station, to one of our large New Zealand country towns that it made me feel homesick.
TRAVEL-PICTURES, Issue 15632, 24 October 1914
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