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Granite Crags (1884) by Constance Gordon-Cumming



Clarke’s Ranch,
Near the Mariposa Big Trees,

Sunday Evening, April 28.

We arrived here this afternoon, having done more than “a Sabbath-day’s journey,” in that we travelled from sunrise till 4 p.m. ere we reached this haven of rest in the midst of a beautiful forest. We have had a magnificent drive, and found comfortable quarters awaiting us here in a cosy group of one-storeyed houses, with separate cottages for bedrooms—everything clean and pleasant, kind people, and none of the stiffness and insouciance of a regular hotel.

We are now 6000 feet nearer heaven than when I last wrote to you, and are fairly on the Sierras, which close us in to-night, and look down on us from above the tree-tops. I have just been watching a glorious sunset. The tall pines stood out clear against the golden light like pyramids of burnished ebony; and long after the evening shadows had enfolded this peaceful homestead, the snowy peaks caught the last rays of the vanished sun, and towered, glittering, as if suspended in mid-air far above the mellow mist.

Then a clattering of hoofs announced the approach of a troop of horses and mules driven in from their forest pastures to their night quarters in the corral, to be ready for our use in the early morning.

Now it is so chilly that I am delighted to find a blazing fire of good pine-logs—pitch-pine I think they are called; anyhow, they burn cheerily, especially when a resinous knot blazes up with a bright clear flame.

I must tell you all about our journey so far. As you know, we left San Francisco on Friday afternoon. First we drove to the Oakland ferry, and a large steamer took us across the Bay of San Francisco to Oakland, which is one of the gigantic city’s great babies—in itself a city of pleasant villas, which already numbers about 50,000 inhabitants, 10,000 of whom are computed to cross the ferry daily by the magnificent steamers which ply to and fro every half-hour.

It must be rather inconvenient for the San Franciscans always to have this break at the beginning or end of a journey; but everything is arranged like clockwork to facilitate travel. For instance, a Baggage Transfer Company took possession of our luggage at the hotel, and restored it safely on our leaving the train. I believe that freight-cars are run bodily across the ferry; and a huge boat is now being built which will carry twenty such vans, and enough cattle to load twenty more, at each crossing.

This was my first experience of an American railway, so of course everything was novel, beginning with the engines, with their huge chimneys to allow of burning wood, and also the “cow-catchers” or projecting fence of iron bars, which is intended to sweep wandering cattle off the line—“varra awkward for the cow!”

Instead of carriages divided into compartments, as in England, the cars are very long, like a church aisle, with about a dozen seats—each fitted for two persons—on either side of a middle passage, along which any one who chooses may wander from one end of the train to the other,—a privilege of which so many persons take advantage, that they seem to be for ever passing and repassing, slamming doors, &c. Ladies go to the fountain to drink iced water, which is supplied freely in all carriages; gentlemen pass to and from the smoking-carriage; and men selling cigars, books, newspapers, fruit, and sweetmeats, endeavour to find customers among the passengers.

This extreme publicity doubtless has its advantages, in preventing any possibility of danger from bad or mad companions; nevertheless, I think a comfortable corner, in the seclusion of a luxurious English carriage, is preferable to even the much-vaunted Pullman cars, in which, as in the ordinary cars, you must perforce sit up all day without any support for weary head and shoulders. The height of luxury is attained in the drawing-room car, where each passenger is provided with a comfortable arm-chair, which, though a fixture, is constructed so as to turn in every direction.

The railway carried us through the great San Joaquin Valley as far as Merced, a distance of 150 miles. As this may not convey very much to your mind, I may as well explain the lie of the land.

This grand State may be roughly described as a magnificent basin, encompassed on the right hand and on the left by mighty mountain-barriers. On the west, the low Coast Range runs parallel with the shores of the Pacific, while on the east towers the glorious Sierras, crowned with everlasting snows—a true Alpine range—in which upwards of a hundred peaks average 13,000 feet in height, while Mount Whitney, one of the southernmost points, attains nearly 15,000 feet.

The Coast Range only averages about 4000 feet, and its highest peaks are about 8000. The two ranges run parallel for a distance of 500 miles, then converge, both at the northern and southern extremities, thus enclosing the wide tract of level land which lies between these mountain-ramparts, and forming one vast fertile valley.This is watered by two majestic rivers, which rise among the blended spuurs of the two ranges—the San Joaquin river in the south, and the Sacramento river, at the base of Mount Shasta, in the north. The San Joaquin flows northward, and the Sacramento southward, each receiving a multitude of tributaries. These two grand streams meet half-way in the Great Valley, and together flow into the Bay of San Francisco, and thence through the Golden Gates to the Pacific.

From these rivers the northern half of the valley receives its name of Sacramento, and the southern half that of San Joaquin. Each of these valleys is on so gigantic a scale that the eye receives only the impression of a vast plain bounded by distant hills. Each is about 250 miles long by forty in width,—an Elysium for farmers, where the fertile soil asks neither for water nor manure (here called fertilisers)—at least this is true as regards the northern valley; but in the central and southern region, where the rainfall is infinitesimal (in some places amounting only to from two to four inches in a year), artificial irrigation is found to be a necessity, and every spring and stream must be treated as a feeder for innumerable canals and ducts, which shall transform the parched and thirsty land into the richest green fields.

I am told that Sacramento Valley contains five million acres of arable land, which, however, produces heavy crops even in the driest years, and never needs irrigation. In proof of this,the case is cited of a year of great drought, notwithstanding which the oats (in fields of 1000 acres) grew so rank as to reach far above the head of an average man. The climate of Sacramento is mild, but winter has frost and occasional snow; whereas San Joaquin is rarely touched by frost, and the southern extremity of the valley is wellnigh tropical. Nevertheless it is necessary to wrap up young orange and lemon trees in thick coverings of straw as a protection against possible autumnal frosts.

It is reckoned that (including the fertile foot-hills and small valleys to the south) San Joaquin possesses ten million acres of excellent arable land, of which scarcely one-tenth is as yet under cultivation, though many vast farms are already established, and some men hold tracts of 100,000 acres on lease from the State, all laid out in wheat.

One firm (Messrs Haggin, Carr, & Tevis) own 400,000 acres near Bakersfield, on the Kern river. They are said to have acquired this vast tract for a very trifling sum, as being an arid desert; but by the magic of irrigation they have already transformed much of it into fertile land, and now let it out on short lease in tracts of several hundred acres to small farmers, several of whom sometimes club to rent and work a tract in partnership. The owners supply the tenants with a dwelling of some sort, abundant milk, and the use of an artesian well, and receive one-third of the crops as their rent. In harvest-time this great firm employ about 700 labourers, to work agricultural machinery of every conceivable variety. They started one gigantic plough, which was to cut a furrow five feet wide by four deep, and was to be drawn by a whole herd of oxen: this, however, was found to be too large for practical use even in California!

Wheat-fields of from 1000 to 5000 acres are common, but occasionally a man of large ideas determines to outvie his fellows, so he makes one colossal field of many thousand acres (I have heard of one field of 40,000 acres!). Of course this is considered rather speculative, as the failure of one such crop would probably involve ruin. But this great wheat-plain is exposed to comparatively few risks in this perfect climate.

I only wonder that half our farmers do not emigrate and settle here, instead of struggling year after year with our fickle skies. Here all moves as if by clockwork. In the beginning of December the land is just scratched over by gang-ploughs, which consist of six or eight ploughshares fastened to a strong wooden framework, drawn by eight horses. Its work is very superficial, merely turning over the upper soil. These ploughs have no handles, for the ploughman merely guides the team, and the ploughs follow. In front of them is fastened a seed-sower, which scatters the grain, and the plough lightly covers it. One such implement ploughs and sows ten acres a-day.

But on heavy soil, where deeper ploughing is necessary, a larger team is attached to fewer ploughshares, and gets over less ground. A separate machine is then employed to sow the grain, scattering it forty or fifty feet, and getting over 100 acres a-day. After this the ground is harrowed, and now (in the end of April) the crop is well grown, and the country is all one sheet of the loveliest green. Much of this wheat and barley has been sown for present use as fodder, or for hay, and is now being cut; and the same ground will, in the end of June, be planted with maize, and will yield a second heavy crop, sometimes (especially if the land is irrigated) growing to a height of eighteen feet, and yielding ninety bushels to the acre, in the form of immense corn-cobs.

If, instead of cutting the wheat green, it is left to ripen, it is fit for harvest by the end of May; and as there is no rain after April, during the whole harvest season the farmer has no anxiety, but works at his leisure, requiring no barns or granaries, nor fearing any injury to his grain from exposure to weather. With the aid of a machine called a “header,” the wheat-heads are cut off on the field, and the straw is left piled in stacks. Three of these “headers,” escorted by nine waggons to collect the heads, are worked by eighty horses and a couple of dozen men, and can easily go over 150 acres in a day. Sharp harvesting!

The grain is immediately threshed on the spot, and securely sacked; and the sacks lie in heaps in the open field, safe from all molestation, till the farmer finds leisure to remove them to the railroad, which is now open to the southern extremity of the Great Valley, and carries its golden crops to San Francisco, whence California’s surplus goes forth to feed the nations of the world.

The crop having been thus secured, the field is next lightly ploughed over, only to a depth of about theree inches, just to turn in the dropped grain. Perhaps a little more is added, and ere long a “volunteer crop” springs up, which is even more profitable than the first, having cost less.

Most of these particulars, and many more which I can-not recollect, were given me by a most comfortable-looking farmer, who was our travelling companion as far as Merced, up to which point we were passing through a corner of the vast wheat-field, which runs north and south for a distance of about 600 miles. Throughout a considerable part of that wide expanse not a fence exists, except those running beside the railway, to keep off the cattle, which are turned loose to graze on the stubble after harvest. Here and there are scattered small farmsteads—homes of men who cultivate from 20,000 to 40,000 acres of this great wheat-plain.

My friend the jovial Californian farmer has land in the south, and says there is no such place in the world for a young fellow to settle, provided he is sent out to the special care of some experienced person, who can save him from buying his wit too dear. I thought of all “our boys,” and for their benefit treasured the words of wisdom which he was so ready to impart.1 All Californians seem to delight in giving statistics, by which to impress on one’s mind the vastness of every detail. They are proud of their big country, as well they may be.

[1I have, however, deemed it advisable to add various details of more recent progress.]

Years ago some one summed up the creed of the West in one clause—namely, belief in a Future State, that State being California! Now it is no longer a matter for faith, but a gigantic present reality, since her wheat-fields already supply the markets of Britain and Australia, and many another land.

Just imagine that this San Joaquin Valley alone has an area of 24,000 square miles of fertile soil, all of which was, till recently, given over to cattle and horses—rich pasture-lands for vast herds. Multitudes of “cattle-kings” thus amassed wealth without owning one acre.

Now, however, this old order changeth, and small farmers (a class known as pre-emptors,1 and hateful to the cattle-kings) are allowed by Government to pick out desirable tracts of 160 acres wherever they please, provided they at once settle on the spot and cultivate it. Many such small patches united, soon change the pasturelands to broad wheat-fields; and so the great cattle-owners, who have heretofore reigned supreme, and fed their countless herds at large, though without any definite right to do so, must now either herd their flocks so as to prevent their trespassing on unfenced farms, or else drive them farther south into the mountain districts.

[1The pre-emptor of California answers to the free-selector in Australia. Both are alike hateful to the original settlers, and both have a fair opportunity of doing well for themselves. The free-selector in Australia is allowed to pick out a tract of 640 acres, one square mile, wherever he pleases. He may select the best sugar-growing soil, which becomes his own on payment of twenty shillings per acre, divided over ten years. If he wishes for a smaller estate, he can take less. Such farming certainly seems to offer greater advantages than renting land in Britain.]

Practically, however, it is found so impossible to enforce these conditions, that most farmers are driven to fencing in their lands, as their only sure protection. The immense firm whom I mentioned as woning 400,000 acres, have thus expended £100,000! Pretty well for one item of outlay!

Nor can it be supposed that the pre-emptors are always allowed to take up their selected ground in peace. Many a hard struggle has there been on this subject. As a matter of course, the best lands, commanding good water-springs and streams, were the very first to be taken up, and the fortunate possessors jealously guard their water-rights; nevertheless, even these find that the wide, shallow Californian rivers cannot be relied on for a permanent water-supply, as many wholly dry up in summer, so that, in common with their less fortunate neighbours, they find the question of artificial irrigation a very serious one. In the last few years canals have been dug in all directions; and though this systematic irrigation is as yet only in its infancy, it is calculated that already upwards of 3000 miles of canals have been made in various parts of California.

Any land thus supplied rises enormously in value, and in Fresno county, lots of twenty acres are offered for sale at £10 per acre, the purchaser paying an annual water-rate of £2, 10s. for the use of as much water as he chooses to lead over his land from the main ditch. The price sounds high, but the returns amply repay it.

To those who are content to take the thirsty land as it stands, and make their own arrangements for irrigation, millions of acres are now offered by Government, at a low price, to induce settlers to cultivate it. It is, however, to be feared that in many instances the new-comer may find the water question a really serious difficulty, possession being, in such cases, something more than nine points of the law—in truth, a most stubborn fact, and one which has given rise to some serious fights.

Nevertheless, when I think of the toil which I have seen expended on clearing even a corner of a Highland farm to yield a miserable crop of oats, which might, as likely as not, have to be cut green in October, it sounds too good to be true, to know that here is rich soil, which needs no clearing of brushwood or drawing of stumps, no costly buildings, no barns, no storing even of fodder, for a quarter of an acre devoted to beets will feed two cows for a whole year, and an acre of alfalfa—i.e., Chillian clover—will support ten sheep all the year round.

A quarter of an acre of alfalfa will yield sufficienty hay to keep a cow. One sowing of this clover lasts for twenty years, and yields very heavy crops. Its roots pierce the soil till they reach water, and if the land is irrigated, it annually yields fifteen tons to the acre, being ready for cutting six times a-year!

Equally precious is the native grass, alfilleria, which is said to be the finest known food for cattle. The soil has only to be ploughed five inches deep, and, as if by magic, the land is clothed knee-deep in rich succulent grass, whereon the flocks and herds fatten and rejoice.

Does not the thought of starting a dairy farm in such a country strike you as a favourable opening for some of the rising generation?

Hardy people, accustomed to cold northern winters, declare that the climate of the south is so mild that fire is only necessary for cooking; but chilly folk crave a little artificial warmth both morning and evening. The little firewood required will, however, grow of itself in the farm fences, which are merely sticks of sycamore, eucalyptus, and willow or cotton-wood. These being stuck in the earth in December, at once take root, and in the second year supply sufficient firewood for the kitchen. The eucalyptus grows from ten to fifteen feet in a year, and in the course of eight years, trees have been known to attain seventy-five feet in height, and four feet in diameter.

Everything else grows in proportion. A peach-orchard bears in the second year after planting; apples bear the third year, and yield a crop in five; while vines bear rich clusters of grapes the very same year that they are planted as cuttings. After two and a half years they yield five tons of grapes to the acre, and after five years the annual crop is ten tons to the acre, and the average market-price £4 to the ton.

Apparently the best paying farms, and certainly the most attractive as homes, are those which grow a little of everything; and while the household is abundantly supplied with all good things, the surplus of mixed produce finds a ready market in the omnivorous capital. My jovial friend had tried this himself, and found it answer, so now he recommends it to others. You can bear it in mind as a useful hint for some one or other.

Well, to return to our journey.

It was 10 p.m. ere we reached Merced, where we left the railway. We slept at a good hotel close to the station, which bears the name of El Capitan, in honour of a mighty granite crag in the Valley. The house was very full on account of a ball, which was kept up most of the night, and somewhat disturbed my slumbers.

We were all ready for breakfast at six, when I had a pleasant and most unexpected meeting with an old friend from whom I parted three years ago in the coffee districts of Ceylon. He was just returning from the Valley, having been its first visitor this spring. A large open coach was waiting for us—fitted, said the proprietor, to hold twelve people and any amount of luggage. The fitness proved a tight fit, and supremely uncomfortable; but, like good travellers, we all made the best of it.

Seeing our baggage lying in the dust, Mr David, with marked politeness, requested the conductor to have it stowed away; whereupon the latter, also most politely, turned to an exceedingly shabby-looking hanger-on, saying, “Mr Brown, will you be kind enough to hand up that man’s beggage;” whereupon Mr David told me of a gentleman who had said to a ragged, wretched-looking man, that he would give him two dollars if he would carry his portmanteau. “You will?” said the man; “I will give you an ounce [gold dust] to see you do it yourself!” which he immediately did.

We were particularly fortunate in the fellow-passengers who shared our section of the coach, and with whom we had already commenced a pleasant acquaintance. One is a naval officer, in command of one of her Majesty’s ships; the other a French naturalist and sportsman, who has lived in Cashmere for the last twelve years.

With a team of six good horses, we rattled over the ground, and tried to forget how we were being bumped and shaken, and to think only of the interests around us. When we escaped from the monotonous wheat-fields of civilisation, California was herself again—free, beautiful, wildly luxuriant; broad natural meadows, and gently undulating hills, all clothed in the fresh verdure of this early spring-time. The rich tall grass is of a peculiarly lovely light green, like reflected sunlight; you really envy the happy cattle which luxuriate in such pastures. And this exquisite groundwork blends in one harmonious glow the masses of brilliant scarlet and gold, crimson, purple, and blue, which are freely scattered on every side, as one flower or another has gained the mastery.

Now you pass a broad patch of yellow and orange, where the eschscholtzia reigns alone; then a belt of richest blue marks a colony of larkspurs; then comes a tract where a quaint scarlet brush divides the land with a daisy like white flower; next a field of lupines: but all are embedded in the same delicate soft green, and to the eye appears smooth as a carefully tended lawn inlaid with flower-beds, though in truth both grasses and blossoms are growing in rank luxuriance, and the cattle stand more than knee-deep in these delightful dainties.

We halted for luncheon at Hornitos, at a house kept by a cheery couple from Glasgow, Macdougal by name—hospitable and friendly. Everything was very clean and good, and we were thankful to rest our battered bones, ere starting again to complete our twelve hours of violent shaking and jolting over loose stones, and roads not yet repaired after their winter’s wear, with holes here, and rocks there, and general bumping everywhere. We tried all possible devices to steady ourselves, and to avoid concussion of the spine, which really sometimes appeared inevitable. As it is, we have escaped with moderate bruises and contusions!

The afternoon drive was altogether beautiful, up hill and down, yet ever gaining ground, winding round about among the foot-hills, which in places are clothed with chaparral (the dense brushwood which includes so many flowering shrubs), and elsewhere are grassy and park-like, adorned with scattered groups of noble live-oak and buckeye, which, being interpreted, are ilex and Californian horse-chestnut. And far and near, the grassy slopes were tinged with rainbow-hues, purple and blue and yellow; deep gold and crimson and scarlet, where the bright sunlight played on banks of wild flowers.

My attention was called to a curious little pine, scarcely recognised as such,1 which grows abundantly in that district, and which, though not ornamental, is valuable to the Indians, on account of its bearing edible nuts, which they collect in autumn as part of their scanty winter store.

[1Pinus sabiniana.]

We have seen two or three parties of Pah-ute Indians, and have not been impressed with any admiration for these, the old lords of California. Some of the men were dressed in robes of rabbit-skin of a very peculiar manufacture. Instead of whole skins being stitched together, as in preparing an opossum rug, or an ermine or squirrel cloak, these rabbit-hides are cut into narrow strips as soon as the animal has been skinned, the fur being left on.

Several of these strips are sewed together, to make up the length required for the cloak. Each strip is then twisted till it is simply a fur rope. These are woven together by means of long threads of wild hemp, or sinews of animals, or strips of willow bark, forming a sort of mingled material, in which the fur ropes act as “woof,” and the hemp, or bark, is the “warp.” Perhaps it would be more accurate to describe these curious productions as being a sort of network, inasmuch as the texture is so very coarse that you can pass your fingers through it at any point; at least, so I am told. I should be exceedingly sorry to experimentalise!

It must require a good deal of patience and trouble to manufacture one of these very unpleasant-looking garments; but once made, they are very durable, and stand any amount of wear and tear. They are the handiwork of the squaws, who, however, are apparently not allowed to wear such precious robes, but are generally wrapped in dirty blankets, while the fur robes adorn the braves, who do their part by catching the rabbits.

This they do by netting, on a very large scale. They prepare exceedingly long narrow nets, made of wild hemp or willow bark. These are set in the form of a great V right across some favourable feeding-ground, if possible in a pass or valley. The nets are set on the same principle as a seine for fish; the lower side is weighted, while the upper edge is upheld by sticks.

The favourite season for these rabbit-drives is the late autumn or early winter, when the first light snow has fallen. The nets being spread, two or three Indians remain on guard, while the others—men, women, and children—steal silently away, so quietly as not to disturb the ground. So they proceed for several miles.

Then forming themselves into a large semicircle, they return towards the trap, shouting and yelling, beating the bushes, and waving their blankets. The poor startled rabbits, greatly alarmed by this Pandemonium, scamper off towards the net, where the other Indians lie concealed; these suddenly start up with a wild yell, and so bewilder the terrified creatures, that they rush straight at the net, which is so coarsely woven as to let their heads well through. And thus the poor conies are held prisoners till their enemies arrive and secure them.

Then follows a great feast, and abundant material is provided for the manufacture of many robes. Indeed I am told that about 1000 rabbits have sometimes been captured in this way in one big drive.

The Indians also wage war on the large grey ground squirrels, which dig holes in the earth, burrowing like rabbits. They are pretty animals, with a very large brush, and are said to be very good eating.

It was near sunset before we reached Mariposa Valley, which, in the old mining days, was a large settlement—a real gold-digger’s town—but now has dwindled down to a mere village. The hotel was very full, but every one was most civil and obliging and quarters were found for us, We were too tired to be particular. After all, we had only travelled fifty miles since morning; but then twelve hours of incessant and violent tossing on the most angular of knife-board seats is a weariness altogether independent of mileage—and our route was all up and down hill, which gave us a chance of walking a good deal.

You can fancy nothing more “disjaskit” than a deserted mining town, with its desolate tumble-down shanties, once crowded with a mixed multitude of all nations, keen energetic men, whose whole longings centred in gold—the precious gold they hoped to extract from the Mariposa quartz-mines, which to so many proved a snare and a delusion. This was one of the famous gold-districts which passed through many vicissitudes; and the name of Mount Bullion still clings to one high summit, which was pointed out to us yesterday as we came through Bear Valley.

So these now silent forests once teemed with eager life, and passionate hopes and fears—and it all proved vanity and vexation of spirit: so the miners forsook these diggings, and went in search of more remunerative fields; and the wise among them turned their pickaxes into gang-ploughs, and reaped golden crops from the great wheat-fields, and grew richer and happier far than their pals who had “happened” on big nuggets, and then gambled them away, till they were left empty-handed, to begin life afresh.

This morning we made a very early start from Mariposa (which, by the way, I am told is the Spanish for a “butterfly”). Our road lay through more beautiful scenery, but the jolting and the bumping were even more trying to our aching bones than they were yesterday; and we were thankful for an hour’s respite when the coach pulled up for luncheon at a very clean little inn, kept by a tidy, pleasant couple, whose Cornish accent was at once detected by our naval friend, and great was their delight when they recognised in him a son of their old squire in Cornwall! They had much to tell and to hear in this tantalising short interview; but we had still a long drive before us, so had to be up and away.

At last we entered the true forest-belt, and anything more beautiful you cannot conceive. We forgot our bumps and bruises in sheer delight. Oh the loveliness of those pines and cedars, living or dead! For the dead trees are draped with the most exquisite golden-green lichen, which hangs in festoons many yards in length, and is unlike any other moss or lichen I ever saw. I can compare it to nothing but gleams of sunshine in the dark forest. Then, too, how beautiful are the long arcades of stately columns, red, yellow, or brown, 200 feet in height, and straight as an arrow, losing themselves in their own crown of misty green foliage; and some stand solitary, dead and sun-bleached, telling of careless fires, which burnt away their hearts, but could not make them fall!

There are so many different pines, and firs, and cedars, that as yet I can scarcely tell one from another. The whole air is scented with the breath of the forests—the aromatic fragrance of resin and of dried cones and pine-needles baked by the hot sun (how it reminds me of Scotch firs!); and the atmosphere is clear and crystalline—a medium which softens nothing, and reveals the farthest distance in sharpest detail. Here and there we crossed deep gulches, where streams (swollen to torrents by the melting snow on the upper hills) rushed down over great boulders and prostrate trees—the victims of the winter gales.

Then we came to quiet glades in the forest, where the soft lawn-like turf was all jewelled with flowers; and the sunlight trickled through the drooping boughs of the feathery Douglas pines, and the jolly little chip-munks played hide-and-seek among the great cedars, and chased one another to the very tops of the tall pitch-pines, which stand like clusters of dark spires, more than 200 feet in height. It was altogether lovely; but I think no one was sorry when we reached a turn in the road, where we descended from the high forest-belt, and crossing a picturesque stream—“Big Creek” by name—we found ourselves in this comfortable ranch, which takes its name from one of the pioneers of the valley, though it is now kept by a family of the name of Bruce. It stands on the banks of the South Merced river—another pretty Spanish name.

Here we fell in with some friends from Scotland, who have just arrived here viā New Zealand. I must go and have a chat with them over the cherry wood-fire, which is blazing most invitingly—so now good night.

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