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Up and Down California in 1860-1864;
The Journal of William H. Brewer:
Book 2, Chapter 5

Camp at Clayton’s—Measuring the Height—Raphael Pumpelly—War-Time Shudders—Geology of Mount Diablo Region—Corral Hollow—Rumors of Coal—Return to Mount Diablo.

San Francisco.
Sunday Evening, September 29, 1861.

For over a week I have been entirely too busy to write to anyone. I arrived back here from Sacramento, Friday, September 20, and the next two days were spent here, active and busy. Monday I rejoined my party with Professor Whitney. They were camped at the foot of Mount Diablo, on the north side. We found a noted German traveler, a Mr. Jagor,1 from Berlin, who has been on a tour of four or five years to Asia, the East Indies, the Philippines, etc. He spent several days with us. He was a quiet, inoffensive, and unassuming man. He has taken elaborate notes and sketches of the countries visited and has over 1,700 drawings.

Mount Diablo is a bold peak nearly four thousand feet high, which rises quite abruptly on the north side, and is one of the most extensively seen objects of the state. Because of its central position and the great distance that it is visible from every direction, a point on the top is the starting point of all the surveys of the state. The Coast Survey determined its position—latitude and longitude—and the land surveys started from the same point, a base line and meridian being run through it.

Tuesday, September 24, we ascended it. It was the easiest mountain to climb we have yet had. A pretty good trail runs to the top, so we could ride our mules most of the way. We carried to the top a new barometer, one made for the government topographical engineers, and an aneroid barometer of the finest construction, to test the accuracy of the other instrument. We found it far less accurate than the mercurial barometer, and it required just as much care to carry it.

The view from the summit was remarkably fine, but the day was not clear and the distant views were shut out. There were no clouds, but a haze or smoke in the air shut out everything over fifty miles distant. But the bay, the valleys of San Joaquin and Sacramento, and the mountains around were fine indeed.

As an instance of how dry this climate is, I found a four-bladed knife on the top that must have been lost by some previous party weeks, or possibly months, ago—there was not a speck of rust on the new and polished blades!

Wednesday Professor Whitney and I climbed on foot a side spur, very steep and rugged, some 3,200 or 3,500 feet high, a much harder day’s work than the last, and a much hotter one.

Thursday Averill and I visited the hills to the north and ran a line of barometrical observations across a number of hills and valleys in order to get an accurate section across from the mountain through the coal mines that are just now attracting much attention here. It was a laborious day’s work, making many miles of hot walking and climbing.

Coal on the Pacific Coast is a great desideratum, where anthracite coal for ocean steamers has sometimes sold for fifty dollars per ton, and often for over thirty dollars, and is now, I think (not sure), over twenty dollars. Bituminous coal is cheaper, of course, but brings ten to twelve dollars per ton, if good. The true “coal measures” do not exist, in any probability, west of the Rocky Mountains. But in various places a kind of soft coal known as “brown coal” and “Tertiary coal” is found, especially up in Russian America. It is now being discovered in this state, the most valuable deposits thus far found being near Mount Diablo. I will reserve a description of the mines until I pay them another visit.

Friday we visited the hills east of the mountain. One of the localities visited was a so-called “borax spring,” for which we were told the owner had refused $17,000. We examined it, found it only a salt spring, and a poor one at that, not worth 17,000 cents at most.

The region north and northwest of Mount Diablo is a beautiful one—pretty valleys scattered over with oaks, many of enormous size, with wide branches often drooping like the elm. The rugged mountain rises against the clear sky, and when illumined by the setting sun is an object of peculiar beauty. Our camp was in a very pretty place, with great trees around, and the mountain in full view.

Friday evening we had a little incident. We were camped near a Mr. Clayton’s house. His dog treed a large coon close by camp, up a very large and wide-branching oak. Mike and Pete built a fire under it, we all got around but no coon could be seen. Pete climbed the tree, no easy feat as the trunk was four or five feet in diameter. Up in the branches—still no coon—built another fire—it lit up the foliage, and the scenery around—caught a glimpse of him—Pete followed him out to the end of a lofty limb sixty or eighty feet from the ground and shot him with his revolver. It was exciting, as he got higher and higher, shooting and missing, in the dark, until he had but one more load left, then following him out to near the end, and that ball brought him. He was a huge fellow, much like our eastern coon, but rather larger, and of a different species.

While in the city I had caught cold and I had slept badly, but the clear sky and ground soon brought sound and refreshing sleep. This is no affectation, but plain truth. I have now caught cold five times, each time very hoarse and with more or less sore throat, each time that I have slept indoors for the last ten months, and these are the only colds I have had, and each vanished as soon as I took to the open air again! I have slept in the open air, under the open sky, for the last three months—sometimes with fog like rain—I have slept in the rain itself, slept in wet blankets for night after night, and not taken cold, yet go into a house, sleep in a bed, and I am sure to take cold! And my case is not peculiar. It is the general experience here—need we stronger proof that colds are owing to a close and artificial mode of life? It has long been known that those who sleep in small or close and warm rooms are more subject to colds than those who sleep in large and well-ventilated rooms.

Camp 58, near Martinez.
October 1.

I returned here last night and have spent the day among the hills and the evening in closing up the last month’s accounts. For six weeks I have kept the accounts of the party, but as Averill has returned to camp he will keep them hereafter. It is quite a job—I have written six large “cap” pages, added the long columns, and balanced all.

It was necessary to have barometers. We bought one new one, and hearing that we could get tubes, the Professor and I went to San Francisco Saturday to fill some for the old cases. Sunday we went to work—the tubes were so poor that only after trying and breaking three did we at last fill one, taking us nearly all day; but it broke of itself before Monday morning. So much for Sunday work!

Monday I got stores, etc., and returned here. I met Blake,2 an old classmate, in San Francisco. He has accepted a place to go to Japan, to aid those people in developing their mines there.

We go again to Mount Diablo tomorrow. I am glad to get in camp—but the season flies—as I lie in my blankets at night and see the Pleiades rising so high in the clear sky I am reminded that winter is at hand—and what a terrible winter for our country—I tremble to think of it. I have been anxious and low spirited much of late over our unhappy troubles—the end looks dark. I would rather see the nation reduced to poverty and a million men perish than see the Union broken—but what will be the end? God only knows, and in Him we must put our trust.

Clayton, at the foot of Mount Diablo.
October 4.

This is my first chance to write in camp during the day time for a long while. We made Mount Diablo higher than it is marked on the maps, so wished to make another and more careful measurement. We sent Averill to the top with barometer this morning, to observe today, while I stay here in camp and observe another barometer. I have been making calculations all day and will now write—with the necessary interruption of having to note observations every fifteen minutes.

We have a pretty camp, on the north side of the mountain, about five miles from the summit in direct line. Fine oaks shade our camp, and the grand mass of the mountain looms up in front of us. When lit by the evening sun it is a magnificent object.

The Californians tell us that once in olden time they had a battle with the Indians here; it was going hard with the Spaniards, when the Devil came out of the mountain, helped the Spaniards, and the Indians were vanquished.3 I cannot vouch for the truth of their story, but the story gave the name to the mountain, and the rocks certainly do look as if the devil had been about at some time. There is a breaking up and roasting of strata on a grand scale.

We are having lovely weather here now—days and nights clear, not a cloud to be seen for week in and week out, days warm (70° to 80° in shade, but the sun is scorching) yet with a delicious breeze every day from the bay. The nights are cool (it has been down below 40° the last two nights) but without dew—glorious nights to sleep under the clear sky, only a little cool.

As I have read home letters telling of “dry weather,” “very dry spell,” “no rain for six weeks,” I often compare that with this climate. There was a heavy rain here last April, but none since. I have seen no heavy rain since early last January. We had slight showers later, but not a drop since a slight shower at Monterey late in May (possibly the first week of June). Think and try to conceive, if possible, how dry it must be—everything, except trees, parched and sere, watercourses but dry beds of sand, roads two to eight inches deep of the finest dust, soil everywhere cracked to the depth of two to six feet, the cracks often wide enough for the foot to slip in when walking, and indeed, the whole surface fissured with cracks one to three inches wide. “Dust thou art and to dust shalt thou return” extends to the soil here as well as to its inhabitants.

A young man of whom I have long heard much has just returned from Arizona. His name is Pumpelly,4 originally from Owego, New York, then in the Scientific School at Yale after I left, then at Freiburg and other European schools. A year ago he went to Arizona as engineer in one of the mines of that country. You have seen enough in the papers of that region—a region of vast mineral wealth, but the most inhospitable part of America—desert, hot, parched—producing only thorns and cacti—with here and there a fertile valley—cut off from the world—inhabited by the Apaches, the most treacherous and bloodthirsty of American Indians—with Mexicans, more treacherous but less honorable than the Indians. Twice in the history of that country, before its purchase by the United States, the Apaches expelled and exterminated the Mexican race from the territory, and now they have expelled the Americans—the first place on the continent where our race has had to resign territory once occupied. But the treachery of the United States officers, the withdrawal of troops, the inciting of the Indians to murder by the Southern Confederacy, has inaugurated scenes of horror in that country for which the early history even of the eastern states shows no parallel for cruelty and atrocity.

Every superintendent of mines in the country has been killed, men, women, and children murdered, their dead bodies always mutilated, many tortured, others burned, and no means of redress for the present. Pumpelly, with some others, escaped, as if by miracle, traveling six hundred miles across deserts with only panoli (roasted corn or wheat, pounded) to eat, and is now safely here. A terrible responsibility rests on the heads of those who inaugurated this war on our country. It makes me lose my patience to hear them excused or even palliated.

I must fear trouble in this state. I know that the state as a state is loyal—it has shown it at the last election, it has shown it at the recruiting offices. But we have a large desperado population, most of whom belong to the Secessionists—men ready for anything, who care nothing for the cause of either North or South in the abstract, but who would inaugurate war for the sake of its spoils. Then there are others of southern birth and southern sympathies to lead them. A large Mexican population, but semi-civilized at best, and who, as a class, hate the Americans with an inveterate hatred, is being incited by the Secessionists, especially in the southern part of the state. Already, over a large region life is very insecure, unarmed men stand no chance, robberies are daily committed by armed bodies calling themselves Secessionists. This does not extend here. It is mostly in San Diego, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles counties—an immense region, sparsely peopled, and containing much desert. It is the worst in San Bernardino, and while I hope for the best, there is just cause of apprehension for a terrible state of affairs yet in this state.

We came here from Martinez day before yesterday. A fair (County of Contra Costa) was in progress at the village of Pacheco, and we stopped for a few hours. It was the poorest fair I have ever seen—some poor fruit, half a dozen poor cattle, and some good horses made up the exhibition, for which a dollar admittance was charged. The town was overrun with gamblers—faro and monte tables and similar establishments abounded everywhere, with all their attendant scenes of drunkenness, swearing, and vice.

We then came on here, and yesterday Averill and I took a tramp of twelve or fifteen miles over the coal mine region—a long and hot walk, over steep hills and through hot canyons.

Pumpelly goes up with Ashburner, working without salary for the rest of the season, when he will probably be employed as an assistant.

Clayton (formerly Deadfall).
Sunday, October 6.

Still here, and a lovely day it is, but warm. I am writing this in a lovely “bower.” By our camp runs a watercourse, the bed of a considerable stream in winter and spring, but all dry now. The bed is three or four rods wide, sunk a few feet, covered with gravel, and shaded overhead with large oaks and here and there willows and grapevines. A pretty place here is shadowed and festooned by vines, under which I am writing, a gentle breeze plays through, very pleasant, but it blows my papers—the thermometer in this cool place is 80° F., but in the sun, laid on the dried grass, it is 120°. Pete is making a couple of pies for dinner, the rest are lounging about in the shade, birds flit and sing overhead, and quail trip around near me.

We have had delightful nights lately—I wish you might be with us once. As I sleep less than the rest, and the evenings are getting longer—they go to bed at eight or eight-thirty—I sit in the tent and read until cold, then go out and sit by the fire, warm myself, gaze into its embers and reflect on distant scenes and distant friends, take a quiet smoke (for I smoke in camp), then retire. The brilliant shooting stars, so common in August, have almost ceased—but here the sky is clearer, like our clearest winter’s night, and the stars twinkle as brightly. The oaks are grouped around with their drooping branches, and the stars twinkle through them—while in the southern sky loom up the bold and grand outlines of the majestic old mountain.

The strata about Mount Diablo are of most enormous thickness, in all probability not less than one and a half or two miles! I think even more than the latter number. With the elevation of the mountain these were broken up—the central mountain mass roasted and baked, yet perfectly stratified often, but on all sides the strata only broken—the broken edges stuck up, forming ridges 1,500 to 2,000 feet high, the strata dipping at a high angle, often entirely perpendicular. Scattered through these are many fossils, and in this great mass is a bed of coal over four feet thick. The bed, like the strata in which it is found, is inclined about forty-five degrees. Several mines are opened, and companies have formed with capital to the amount of some three or four millions of dollars. They are now getting perhaps a hundred tons per day and making preparations for more extensive work.

We took a piece of wood only partially decayed from a stratum of clay under the coal. The stick was some six feet long. We got out one piece fifteen or sixteen inches long and four or five in diameter, quite perfect, with the knots in it—it seemed like a piece of wood that might have lain a few years in wet mud, partially rotted, the rest sound, yet this lay in a stratum that must have had nearly or quite a mile of rock deposited over it after it was placed there, then thrown up at the raising of the mountain! The mind vainly tries to grasp the ages that stick must have been thus buried, now to be dug out by moderns. It was about a hundred feet from the present surface.

I rode over the hills, leaving the party, to a hill several miles northeast, nearer the bay. Here I found some pretty fossils, mostly shells; but the most interesting was fossil wood, trees silicified as hard as flint, but with the whole structure preserved in its minutest details. The grain was pretty. I cannot compare it with anything but curled maple, yet finer than that.

I collected as much as I could carry, then rode back to camp, arriving after sundown. As I rode up the valley the old mountain never looked so gorgeous before, tinged in purple with the setting sun.

We expect a “Pony” today, and are anxious for the news.

Corral Hollow.
Sunday, October 13.

If you look on the map, southeast of Mount Diablo, you will find a valley, “Corral Hollow,” watered by a curved river, enclosed in the mountains. If you are posted in newspapers you have heard of the “rich coal mines” in said Corral Hollow. Well, here we are! As distance lends enchantment to the view, just believe it a lovely spot; but as we are here, we find it a most Godforsaken, cheerless, inhospitable, comfortless region.

I will not anticipate, however, but keep on the even tenor of my story. Monday, October 7, we sent Averill to Martinez to take barometrical observations, to determine the height of our camp at Clayton, the basis of all our observations about Mount Diablo. Professor Whitney remained to take observations at camp. I took my mule, to visit the hills eight or ten miles to the north and northeast of camp. A very lonely ride, first through the Kirker Pass, then among rounded hills, almost bare of grass or herbage, in places entirely so—no trees to cheer the eye, no water in the many canyons and ravines. I found much of geological interest, quantities of fossil wood—of the hardest flint, yet the finest grain of the wood preserved in the minutest details—fossil shells of more than ordinary beauty, immense beds of sandstone, and thick strata, over a hundred feet thick, of volcanic pumice stone and lava. I had no lunch along, and found no water for self or mule, except some alkaline springs which neither mule nor I could drink. The day was hot, and it was long, too, being without either water or lunch. I got so many specimens that I packed them on my saddle and led my mule, walking eight or ten miles back to camp, where I arrived just at sundown. Didn’t my supper taste good, and a drink taste better!

A few clouds were in the sky during the day, light fleecy clouds, and the barometer fell rapidly and all prophesied rain, for it is now getting time for it. Night came on and the clouds vanished. No rain, but instead, a windstorm. Whew! how it blew! The wind just shrieked—clouds of dust—dried leaves—pieces of grass—etc. It was hard work to keep one’s blankets on, and the wind blew through the blankets, cold and rheumatic. The ground is so dry that a wind raises much dust, and in the tent it is much worse, for the tent flaps in the wind and raises an “infamous” air. Professor Whitney slept in the tent and came out in the morning looking decidedly grimy. He reported a miserable night inside.

Tuesday we left that camp, Averill remaining to observe barometer. We went on ten or twelve miles, crossing a pass on the east side of the mountain, and camped in a deep canyon, where we found good water, a stream that came to the surface for two or three miles. The wind was very high during the day, and the air so filled with dust that at times nothing distant could be seen. The old mountain was at times obscured, at others stood out faintly in the thick gray air. We slept among a few trees that grew near the water in the canyon, but the wind howled throughout the night, blankets seemed but a partial protection, and every rheumatic joint would almost creak as one turned and turned again to keep his blankets over him.

Wednesday the wagon returned for Averill and to bring the rest of our things. Professor Whitney returned with it, much to my regret, for we were now on our way to a hard region, its geology complicated and its “accommodations” horrible, but he thought it best.

Hoffmann and I visited a high ridge southeast of Mount Diablo, a ridge over 2,600 feet high. The wind was high, but it died down about noon, and in two hours more we had a fine view of the surrounding country for many miles—not clear, however—but we got the bearings we desired from the summit. To the south of Mount Diablo the range is depressed in the middle and there is a great valley basin, of probably two hundred square miles or more—a great plain, once probably an inland lake. It is the Livermore Valley. Livermore Pass is on the east side. The valley is not marked on the maps. It is a great basin, branching off into several valleys—Calaveras Valley, Amador Valley, San Ramon, etc.—but the streams do not follow them at present, so great have been the changes in modern geological times. This great valley was spread out beneath us. We had seen it before from various points, and had been in its western edge from Haywards, but this was the best view.

Thursday, October 10, we came on to Camp 60, in the entrance of Livermore Pass. First, down the canyon about eight miles to a Mr. Marsh’s ranch. He has a fine stone house, by far the finest in this whole region. As this was the last water, we stopped two hours, lunched, and I visited a “quicksilver lead” of his, which proved to be no quicksilver at all, but a red clay. He gave us some fine grapes.

We had expected to get across through the hills, but found it impossible—we must take the plain. It is about thirty-six miles to the coal mines, water to be found in only one place on the way, sixteen miles on.

We strike out on the plain—oh! what a tedious plain—league after league stretches away—it seems as boundless as the sea—we go slow, for it is sultry—but we pull up into the hills at the place directed and find a little tavern at a spring, with a few stunted willows around, the first trees we have seen for over a dozen miles.

The San Joaquin (pronounced San Waugh-keen') plain lies between the Mount Diablo Range and the Sierra Nevada—a great plain here, as much as forty to fifty miles broad, desolate, without trees save along the river, without water during nine or ten months of the year, and practically a desert. The soil is fertile enough, but destitute of water, save the marshes near the river and near the Tulare Lake. The marshy region is unhealthy and infested with mosquitoes in incredible numbers and of unparalleled ferocity. The dry plain on each side abounds in tarantulas by the thousands. These are spiders, living in holes, and of a size that must be seen to be appreciated. I shall try and catch some to send home, but I have seen them where two would cover this page, as they stand, their bodies as large as a half-grown mouse, their hairy legs of proportionate size, their fangs as large as those of a moderate sized rattlesnake. Pleasant companions! We never think of pulling on our boots in the morning without first shaking them, for fear of tarantulas—but luckily they seldom travel by night. They bite vigorously when provoked, and their bite is generally considered fatal, although I have heard of but one well-authenticated case of death resulting since I have been here; but the bite generally proves a painful and serious affair.

The Diablo Range is skirted on the east side (I think its whole length, certainly for 150 or more miles) by ranges of barren hills, sinking into the plain, and sometimes rising to the height of 1,500 feet, mostly rounded, nearly destitute of water. Barren, very barren, few trees—often one will have a prospect of a dozen or even twice that number of square miles without a tree or shrub large enough to be seen, the ground either entirely bare or with a very scanty vegetation of stunted grass and low weeds.

A few cattle feed among these hills or on the adjacent plain, knowing where the water is to be found in the ravines, or going to the river. Hundreds of trails here lead to the river. Cattle go down in the forenoon, linger near the water until near night, then start in droves, single file, for the hills. They will thus go six or eight miles for water each day, going to the hills to feed and to keep away from the mosquitoes. The streams that form in these hills in the spring all sink when they enter the plain, and as summer advances they dry up farther and farther until they all disappear. Such is an immense region, such it must ever remain, supporting a scanty population.

Our camp (No. 60) was at Zimmermann’s Mountain House at the entrance of Livermore Pass. The hills near had been extensively prospected for coal, but nothing of importance found. We spent Friday there, and Hoffmann and I visited a peak about eight miles distant, 1,700 feet high, while Averill went to the river to observe barometer at the same time.

Saturday morning we started for our present camp. We were told that it was seventeen miles. First out on the plain, hot, sultry, tedious, four weary leagues were made, when we struck up the canyon of Corral Hollow. Here we followed up the dry bed of the creek; sand and gravel deep, often dusty, the air close, no wind, hot and sultry. It was but 85° in the shade, but it seemed much hotter. We were heavily loaded, for we had, besides our regular baggage, barely for our mules, for nothing can be got here for them to eat. Our seventeen miles proved over twenty, which took us seven hours to accomplish, with no water on the way save that in our canteens, which was a little salt and alkaline and got warm, say 80°, and was insipid and nauseous enough.

We arrived at the mines, and an hour was spent looking for water before we came to camp. Water to drink had to be carried by hand from a canyon a mile distant. Our mules could drink the water that ran from the mine, a little stream where the teamsters watered their horses. It was half a mile from camp, and it was awful, contained alkali and sulphur, and the poor animals refused it until driven by keen thirst. There was a deep well at a house, but it was insufficient in quantity to supply the people and too alkaline to drink. The woman told us: “It is good water, we can cook some things with it and make coffee, but it spiles tea.

Under these disadvantages we camped and got our dinner at sunset after the day’s fast. We concluded to move camp this morning down the valley again to a spring. So after breakfast we packed up and moved down the canyon three miles. Here is a spring, tolerably good water, but not enough. We will stay here, for this will do for cooking and drinking, although we must take our mules three miles to the mine to drink.

A few trees grow in the bottom of this canyon. We are camped under some oaks, a good enough place if we only had water. We have spent a quiet afternoon, a quiet Sunday, but with more fasting than prayer, I am afraid. Our mules drank the muddy spring so dry that we could get no dinner until night, and then the tea was gritty with the mud. But we are used to going without dinners as well as to other discomforts.

Alas, how little we appreciate the blessings we enjoy amid the comforts of a home, where we have food when we are hungry, water when we are thirsty, shelter in the storm, and beds when we are weary; where we can sit and talk with those dearest to the heart when the day’s work is done, can be cheered by friends when we feel sad or lonely, comforted by them when we feel troubled, advised when we are perplexed. Ah, my dear friends, you little appreciate or know what you enjoy—they are so much matters of everyday life that they cause no thought.

All are asleep but me—my “claim is located,” the stones picked out of my bed, my blankets spread on the rough gravel and invite to sleep. The sky is unusually murky, the wind howls down the canyon,it feels like an unpleasant night. A year ago yesterday I left home.

Corral Hollow.
Tuesday, October 15.

I find what I wrote about the San Joaquin plain may be misunderstood. There is water in the river that runs through it, but from the river to the hills on each side, especially the west side, a distance of four to fifteen miles, there is no water—fifty or sixty miles might be passed on the plain between the river and the hills without crossing a stream of water, for those figured on the map are all dry now.

Corral Hollow runs up west into the mountains, then suddenly turns southeast, the canyon much narrowing at the same time. The coal mines are near the curve, about nine miles up. The sandstone that forms the hills is broken and thrown up, and there a few seams of poor coal are found. There is but one mine of any account or that has as yet sold any coal, and that not over three hundred or four hundred tons at most. I question if any mine here will ever prove profitable. But there are several companies, and many thousands have been expended, as well as much money spent in prospecting. One company spent $11,000 I hear, and got no coal worth speaking of—not a ton of workable coal. I have spent most of today in the mines.

Yesterday Averill, Hoffmann, and I visited a hill to the southwest, over three thousand feet high and over two thousand feet above camp. We rode up the canyon, then mounted a ridge and crossed several knobs, but the air was so filled with dust that we could see but a few miles, scarcely ten in any direction. The first hills crossed were over the sandstone, but the soil is clay, dry and cracked.

A fine rattlesnake sounded his alarm and then retreated into one of the cracks in the soil. I punched him with the tripod of our compass, the only stick we could get, until he ceased rattling, but we could not get him.

We soon struck other hills, where the sandstones had been twisted and baked by volcanic heat for miles, and here the scene changed—some trees scattered here and there, canyons more narrow, and hills more sharp.

We took a circuitous route up, which we thought we could shorten several miles on the return by descending into the Corral Hollow canyon above its curve and following it down. We descended into it, a narrow gorge more than a thousand feet deep, down a very steep slope, our mules sliding and getting down as best they could—it was too steep to ride them—a slope of thirty degrees or more—then struck down the stream. We got into a fix.

The gorge got narrow, huge rocks had fallen in and choked it up in places, but we got our mules down nearly to the road, when the route became absolutely impassable. We spent two hours in getting them about a mile through the rocks, and then had to get them out by making them climb a slope having a average incline of forty-seven degrees, and in places over fifty degrees, for five or six hundred feet. Think of that! But they did it, and we got out safely.

We were without lunch yesterday and got no dinner until dark, and far from a sumptuous one then. Our coffee has given out, the last “fresh” meat, in an advanced state of blueness and beginning to have a questionable odor as well as color, was eaten for breakfast, but bacon yet remains. We get no good pork in this state. Our sugar gave out this morning, but as bacon and beans are very nutritious, there is no danger of starving.

In the beds of sandstone a mile or so north of our camp we found today the finest fossil leaves I have ever seen. The rock was filled with leaves of several species of trees, most minutely preserved, as fine as the finest paintings, black in the light colored sandstone, with many hundred feet of sandstone resting on them. They were in a deep canyon. Much fossil wood abounds. We found one tree, or rather stump, erect, its stony roots still in the bed containing the leaves, once soft mud, the stump sticking up into the sandstone strata above—all now flint, but with the finest markings of the grain of the wood.

All this shows that true coal cannot exist here, only “Tertiary” coal, which must be, of necessity, an inferior kind; while the way the rocks are broken and tossed about must make following the beds very precarious and uncertain. Most of the coal stands nearly perpendicular, all at an angle over forty-five degrees. To follow such seams far one must go very deep, and the beds are cut off by the breaks or faults in the strata.

Friday Night, October 18.

Every night now is windy, the days warm (about 80°—84° F.), hazy, or dusty—I cannot say smoky—but the air is thicker than in our thickest Indian summer. It interferes with the work of our topographer very seriously.

We will leave tomorrow. I sent Averill on today for barometrical observations to connect with this camp. I have been hard at work every day, and provisions getting lower. Peter shot some quail and rabbits, and we have had two or three “potpies” that vanished before our attacks like dew on a summer’s morning. But small game is scarce (except tarantulas) and this morning we bought half a deer of a hunter.

This hunter, by the way, is an old companion of “Grizzly” Adams.5 His cabin is near our camp. We are camping by Adams’ spring, the ruins of his cabin are within a hundred yards of me. This man came here and lived with Adams before he left, and has hunted ever since, but he complains that civilization has interfered seriously with his sport. “We had good times before the settlers came,” he says, and he bears terrible scars, the trophies of contact with grizzlies. He told me this morning that he had killed seven or eight hundred deer here since he came, but they are getting scarce now. He was so badly used by a bear last spring that he has hunted none all summer and is just beginning again now. His venison was very acceptable, for our “table” has not exhibited a great variety of late—tea without sugar or milk, bread, pork, and beans. We have tea for only two days more, and water too bad to drink alone.

For the last few days we have been hard at work here, exploring the hills, and will be off in the morning. I shall be glad when we can get stores again, hear the news, and get a drink of good water. I assure you the last is no little item. But such things are incidental to our work and are most cheerfully borne.

Much of the region around here is practically a desert, not called so, but really so. The bed of this stream tells of a large stream at times, but often years pass without any water flowing down it to the plain, much less to the river beyond.

The region is thrown up into hills from one thousand to three thousand feet high. These on the north are all rounded and furrowed with canyons, but almost destitute of springs, and at the present time are dry beyond anything you can picture to your mind. Sometimes the soil is cracked, in other places dry sand, and in others a dry clay-loam, as dry as ashes, into which the mules sink to the fetlock at every step. There is scanty herbage here and there, but large patches are as bare as a dried summer fallow. I have been on hills today where there were such soils, with here and there scattered bushes—artemisia, sage, etc.—living, yet the leaves so dry that they crumble with the slightest touch.6 They are reduced to dust in the hand in an instant if you rub them, yet they are alive, and with the first rain these same leaves will show that they are alive. They are not shed every year, only dry up. I picked some low green herbs—small, to be sure, but perfectly green—in one place, on a soil as dry as if it had been dried in an oven, a soil that had been exposed to this scorching sun for many months without either rain or dew. There is no dew here now, the nights are as dry as your dry days, and things will dry as fast.

I wished to preserve some tarantulas—I will send you one when I can—so a day or so ago I caught a couple. This incited the boys—yesterday they caught some and made them fight. I tried it this evening. One of the boys went out and caught four near camp, huge fellows, and placed two near each other and irritated them. Soon they closed in—such a biting—they clasp each other firmly, then bite until one or the other dies. You can see the poison exude from their jaws. Pleasant fellows to find in one’s boot or coat sleeve! They live in holes in the ground, and, on the whole, are not dangerous.

There is a large blue wasp with orange wings, a wasp two or three times as large as the largest hornet of the East, that is the natural enemy of the tarantula. I have never seen a field battle, but we caught one yesterday and made him fight a tarantula in a box. In this instance the tarantula was victorious. In the field the wasp is—he lies down on his back, and as the tarantula pounces on him, he stings him and suddenly glides out, and soon kills his bigger foe.

The wind is roaring down the canyon, a stiff breeze, and not comfortable for sleeping.

San Ramon Valley.
Monday Evening, October 21.

After I finished writing on Friday evening and went to bed, the wind howled all night—a tremendous wind. I had to pile boots, saddlebags, etc., on my blankets while I rolled myself up in them to keep them, and then the wind blew through them. It was by no means a comfortable night, and I often thought of a bed at home. The moon shone bright, the sky was clear, the wind in its fury. When we got up in the morning—with eyes and faces full of dust, hair and beards full of sticks, pieces of grass, and leaves, blankets in the same fix—could you have seen us you would have thought us a rough set, to say the least. We packed up, and I sent the wagon on, clouds of dust following it down the canyon.

A pass leads over the hill into the Livermore Valley, and could we get over it it would be but six miles to Livermore’s. As it is, it is over thirty, and we must take the long road. Buggies can get over the pass, and light empty wagons. A hundred dollars would fix the hill. There is but one hill, about 1,760 feet high, or 890 feet above the valley. It rises this 890 feet in about three-quarters of a mile—somewhat steep, surely, but all the rest is a good road.

Hoffmann and I stayed in camp until noon, observing barometer. I took the time to visit a prospecting shaft near, where they are looking for coal. The shaft is a miserable hole, scarcely larger than a well, very insecurely timbered, and 150 feet deep. To hang on a poor rope, much worn, stranded in several places, and thus be let down that distance into such a hole was decidedly suggestive of accidents, but I concluded that if they could trust it for themselves, I could. I stood on the bucket and they often stopped to give me a chance to examine the strata as I went down. The worst was in coming up, for the bucket would catch against the timbers and would have to be lowered a little and tried again. Their work is folly—they never will get a profitable mine there. One seam of coal two feet thick was passed, standing nearly perpendicular, and I think that it is all they will find. The ground is so broken up by the forces that have upheaved and twisted the strata, that even if they find more, mining there must ever be risky.

Another uncomfortable night at Zimmermann’s. The wind swept through the pass, not a tree or shrub to break its force, everything dusty. The wind died down in the night, and in the morning heavy clouds hung overhead and enveloped the mountains. All prophesied rain. We were in a sorry plight to meet it there, out of provisions and no wood—we used dried “buffalo chips” for fuel, but as there are no buffalo here that means cow chips, or in camp parlance “counterfeits.” Money was reduced to less than twenty-five dollars, so I ordered a start, although it was Sunday. The whole camp was decidedly in favor of it. It is the first Sunday that we have traveled all day, although twice we have traveled a few hours, and the previous Sunday had moved our camp three miles.

First our way lay through Livermore Pass, about eight miles, among rounded hills over a thousand feet high, then we emerged into the Livermore Valley. We crossed the plain about fifteen or sixteen miles, a tedious ride. At Amador we stopped, fed our mules, and got our dinner. Here are two taverns, a grocery, and about two houses besides. A horse race was coming off in the afternoon, and a mixed crowd of fifty or a hundred Americans, Mexicans, and Indians had assembled—decidedly a hard looking crowd—drinking, swearing, betting, and gambling. After dinner we came on here, where we camped some five weeks ago—at Major Russell’s.

Today Hoffmann and I have been up about eight or ten miles on the ridges at the foot of Mount Diablo. We passed over the edges of perpendicular strata, standing perfectly on edge, for two or three miles, showing that these strata have that enormous thickness. They contain shells in abundance at intervals through the whole of that immense thickness—oyster, clam, and other shells. We were on a ridge over two thousand feet high, with these shells on the top and in the rock. Last week we were on a ridge 2,200 feet high, where wagon loads of immense oyster shells might be picked up. Today I found also the joint of a whale’s backbone! These are some of the marvels of Californian geology.


1. Friedrich Jagor (1816-1900).

2. William Phipps Blake, graduated from Yale Scientific School, 1852; geologist and mineralogist for the Pacific Railroad Survey, 1853; a candidate for the position as State Geologist ultimately given to Whitney; Professor of Mineralogy and Geology, College of California, 1864; later at the University of Arizona.

3. See also Bret Harte’s “The Legend of Monte del Diablo,” one of his p and American Legends.

4. Raphael Pumpelly (1837-1923) made extensive geological explorations and was in charge of important surveys and mining enterprises in many parts of the world. In Across America and Asia (1870) he describes his Arizona experiences and his work in Japan, referred to by Brewer. On page 67 he says: “In preparing for this journey I became indebted to many kind friends, especially to Professor J. D. Whitney, of the State Geological Survey, and to his Assistants, Messrs. Brewer and Ashburner, as well as to Messrs. Louis and Henry Janin, of the Enriquita mines.” Further references are found in My Reminiscences, by Raphael Pumpelly, 1918.

5. The Adventures of James Capen Adams, Mountaineer and Grizzly Bear Hunter, of California (1860), by Theodore H. Hittell, is one of the classics of California literature, Adams captured and tamed wild animals, specializing in grizzlies, several of which—Ben Franklin, Lady Washington, and Samson—were especially famous. They were exhibited in San Francisco, 1856-59. In 1860 he took his animals to New York and exhibited them under contract with Barnum. Adams came to Corral Hollow in 1855, where he made a bargain to hunt with a man named Wright. The experiences in Corral Hollow are told in The Adventures, chap. xiv.

6. Sagebrush (Artemisia californica) and sage (Salvia mellifera) are both found here (Jepson).

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