Glimpses of Three Coasts

Produced by Melissa McDaniel and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at (This file was
produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive)

Transcriber’s Note:

Obvious typographical errors have been corrected. Inconsistent spelling and hyphenation in the original document have been preserved.

Footnote 2 has an anchor but no footnote text.






Copyright, 1886,
By Roberts Brothers.

University Press:
John Wilson and Son, Cambridge.


Outdoor Industries in Southern California3
Father Junipero and his Work. I. II.30
The Present Condition of the Mission Indians in Southern California78
Echoes in the City of the Angels103
Chance Days in Oregon129
A Burns Pilgrimage153
Glints in Auld Reekie175
Chester Streets196
Bergen Days221
Four Days with Sanna245
The Katrina Saga. I. II.277
Encyclicals of a Traveller. I. II. III.322
The Village of Oberammergau384
The Passion Play at Oberammergau402





Climate is to a country what temperament is to a man,—Fate. The figure is not so fanciful as it seems; for temperament, broadly defined, may be said to be that which determines the point of view of a man’s mental and spiritual vision,—in other words, the light in which he sees things. And the word “climate” is, primarily, simply a statement of bounds defined according to the obliquity of the sun’s course relative to the horizon,—in other words, the slant of the sun. The tropics are tropic because the sun shines down too straight. Vegetation leaps into luxuriance under the nearly vertical ray: but human activities languish; intellect is supine; only the passions, human nature’s rank weed-growths, thrive. In the temperate zone, again, the sun strikes the earth too much aslant. Human activities develop; intellect is keen; the balance of passion and reason is normally adjusted: but vegetation is slow and restricted. As compared with the productiveness of the tropics, the best that the temperate zone can do is scanty.

There are a few spots on the globe where the conditions of the country override these laws, and do away with these lines of discrimination in favors. Florida, Italy, the South of France and of Spain, a few islands, and South California complete the list.

These places are doubly dowered. They have the wealths of the two zones, without the drawbacks of either. In South California this results from two causes: first, the presence of a temperate current in the ocean, near the coast; second, the configuration of the mountain ranges which intercept and reflect the sun’s rays, and shut South California off from the rest of the continent. It is, as it were, climatically insulated,—a sort of island on land. It has just enough of sea to make its atmosphere temperate. Its continental position and affinities give it a dryness no island could have; and its climatically insulated position gives it an evenness of temperature much beyond the continental average.

It has thus a cool summer and a temperate winter,—conditions which secure the broadest and highest agricultural and horticultural possibilities. It is the only country in the world where dairies and orange orchards will thrive together.

It has its own zones of climate; not at all following lines parallel to the equator, but following the trend of its mountains. The California mountains are a big and interesting family of geological children, with great gaps in point of age, the Sierra Nevada being oldest of all. Time was when the Sierra Nevada fronted directly on the Pacific, and its rivers dashed down straight into the sea. But that is ages ago. Since then have been born out of the waters the numerous coast ranges, all following more or less closely the shore line. These are supplemented at Point Conception by east and west ranges, which complete the insulating walls of South, or semi-tropic, California. The coast ranges are the youngest of the children born; but the ocean is still pregnant of others. Range after range, far out to sea, they lie, with their attendant valleys, biding their time, popping their heads out here and there in the shape of islands.

This colossal furrow system of mountains must have its correlative system of valleys; hence the great valley divisions of the country. There may be said to be four groups or kinds of these: the low and broad valleys, so broad that they are plains; the high mountain valleys; the rounded plateaus of the Great Basin, as it is called, of which the Bernardino Mountains are the southern rim; and the river valleys or cañons,—these last running at angles to the mountain and shore lines.

When the air in these valleys becomes heated by the sun, it rushes up the slopes of the Sierra Nevada as up a mighty chimney. To fill the vacuum thus created, the sea air is drawn in through every break in the coast ranges as by a blower. In the upper part of the California coast it sucks in with fury, as through the Golden Gate, piling up and demolishing high hills of sand every year, and cutting grooves on the granite fronts of mountains.

The country may be said to have three distinct industrial belts: the first, along the coast, a narrow one, from one to fifteen miles wide. In this grow some of the deciduous fruits, corn, pumpkins, and grain. Dairy and stock interests flourish. The nearness of the sea makes the air cool, with fogs at night. There are many ciénagas, or marshy regions, where grass is green all the year round, and water is near the surface everywhere. Citrus fruits do not flourish in this belt, except in sheltered spots at the higher levels.

The second industrial belt comprises the shorter valleys opening toward the sea; a belt of country averaging perhaps forty miles in width. In this belt all grains will grow without irrigation; all deciduous fruits, including the grape, flourish well without irrigation; the citrus fruits thrive, but need irrigation.

The third belt lies back of this, farther from the sea; and the land, without irrigation, is worthless for all purposes except pasturage. That, in years of average rain-fall, is good.

The soils of South California are chiefly of the cretaceous and tertiary epochs. The most remarkable thing about them is their great depth. It is not uncommon, in making wells, to find the soil the same to a depth of one hundred feet; the same thing is to be observed in cañons, cuts, and exposed bluffs on the sea-shore. This accounts for the great fertility of much of the land. Crops are raised year after year, sometimes for twenty successive years, on the same fields, without the soil’s showing exhaustion; and what are called volunteer crops, sowing themselves, give good yields for the first, second, and even third year after the original planting.

To provide for a wholesome variety and succession of seasons, in a country where both winter and summer were debarred full reign, was a meteorological problem that might well have puzzled even Nature’s ingenuity. But next to a vacuum, she abhors monotony; and to avoid it, she has, in California, resorted even to the water-cure,—getting her requisite alternation of seasons by making one wet and the other dry.

To define the respective limits of these seasons becomes more and more difficult the longer one stays in California, and the more one studies rain-fall statistics. Generally speaking, the wet season may be said to be from the middle of October to the middle of April, corresponding nearly with the outside limits of the north temperate zone season of snows. A good description of the two seasons would be—and it is not so purely humorous and unscientific as it sounds—that the wet season is the season in which it can rain, but may not; and the dry season is the season in which it cannot rain, but occasionally does.

Sometimes the rains expected and hoped for in October do not begin until March, and the whole country is in anxiety; a drought in the wet season meaning drought for a year, and great losses. There have been such years in California, and the dread of them is well founded. But often the rains, coming later than their wont, are so full and steady that the requisite number of inches fall, and the year’s supply is made good. The average rain-fall in San Diego County is ten inches; in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Ventura counties, fifteen; in Santa Barbara, twenty. These five counties are all that properly come under the name of South California, resting the division on natural and climatic grounds. The political division, if ever made, will be based on other than natural or climatic reasons, and will include two, possibly three, more counties.

The pricelessness of water in a land where no rain falls during six months of the year cannot be appreciated by one who has not lived in such a country. There is a saying in South California that if a man buys water he can get his land thrown in. This is only an epigrammatic putting of the literal fact that the value of much of the land depends solely upon the water which it holds or controls.

Four systems of irrigation are practised: First, flooding the land. This is possible only in flat districts, where there are large heads of water. It is a wasteful method, and is less and less used each year. The second system is by furrows. By this system a large head of water is brought upon the land and distributed in small streams in many narrow furrows. The streams are made as small as will run across the ground, and are allowed to run only twenty-four hours at a time. The third system is by basins dug around tree roots. To these basins water is brought by pipes or ditches; or, in mountain lands, by flumes. The fourth system is by sub-irrigation. This is the most expensive system of all, but is thought to economize water. The water is carried in pipes laid from two to three feet under ground. By opening valves in these pipes the water is let out and up, but never comes above the surface.

Pages: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 ... | Single Page