We arrived at Blythe, Cal., at 1 o'clock by my time but found I must turn my watch back an hour. This town lies in the center of an irrigated section which gets its water supply from the Colorado river. It is a very fertile region seemingly, but at the edge of it the desert sets in and the dividing line between the valley land and the desert is clearly and sharply marked. We stopped at a meat market, thinking to get some fresh meat for our supper, but found it closed. A Mexican came hurrying up, but when he arrived he informed us he "No spik Angleesh" so his services in an advisory capacity were quite limited. It was New Years day, which accounted for the store being closed. We drove around to the largest general store, where I made inquiry as to the road. I was referred to a man who had made the trip frequently. Among the first questions he asked me was "What kind of a car have you?" I told him a Ford, and he replied,, "Oh well, you'll make it all right." While this was reassuring it also contained a note of foreboding, for there were evidently some bad roads ahead. He advised me to be prepared to carry ten gallons of water, for after leaving here it was 100 miles to the next town, a mere railroad station. This town of Blythe was 40 miles from a railroad. After some discussion he decided it would not be necessary to carry ten gallons, for the weather was not so hot, and the rains had packed the sand. My waterbag held three gallons and a half, and I bought a canteen holding two gallons. I also purchased more gas here at 40 cents per gallon, then drove around to a blacksmith shop to have my radius rods straightened, as they were getting so bad it made steering very difficult, and I didn't care to get out on that 100 mile stretch of desert with anything wrong. This repair work necessitated some delay and it was 2 o'clock when we left. From the valley we entered the desert by way of two mesas, or plateaus, the second being about a mile and a half from the valley's edge, and the two of them resembled two giant steps.
There is no way I can describe the appearance of this country, nor convey to you the feeling of awe we experienced upon entering this stretch of 100 miles with possibilities of not seeing a human being, except at two places, and small hope for relief in case of accident. The possibility of a stranger getting off the road is very great, because of diverging routes, so subtle in their divergence that one can scarcely determine which is the one of main travel. At the foot of the first mesa I inquired at a ranch house the proper road and was informed we were going right, but on top of the second mesa we were not to follow an auto's tracks leading off to the right, for these were the tracks of their machine, made on a trip to a mine in the mountains the day before. This was good advice, for inasmuch as we had been following the tracks of the two autos mentioned, we would in all likelihood have taken the wrong road. And when we reached here we found the plainest road to be the one marked by the auto. This instance will illustrate one of the many difficulties one may encounter. A short way from here we came to a ranch house, known as "Patterson's ranch." Here we looked to our water supply again and made inquiries as to the road, and were soon on our way again. We found the roads bad and very slow going. They were crooked, rocky and had little washouts, and others not so little. The surrounding country was in many places covered with greasewood, then perhaps a barren patch of a few miles, then a grove of mesquite. Now the road wound closer to the foothills on rocky and rougher ground. Then it descended to the lower level, occasionally through a section of soil that looked to be fertile if it had water, but these places were very few, most of the route being over pure sand and gravel, gritty, rough and hard on tires. We made better progress about 4 o'clock and continued to drive until dusk, when we found a good mesquite tree behind which we could camp, and according to our speedometer must be within 13 miles of Gruenbeck's. I soon had a blazing fire and Mrs. Whitaker prepared a delicious supper. I gathered sufficient wood to run us through the night. After the meal I busied myself with plugging up some holes in the casing which the rocks had cut, and Mrs. Whitaker retired early. I shall never forget the grandeur and vastness of that moonlight scene on the desert. I sat on the edge of the cot, not watching it so much as absorbing it, and thinking of how lonely it all seemed and yet how I utterly lacked any feeling of loneliness. All afternoon we had conjectured on the consequences to one in case of accident, because of the infrequency of travel, and agreed we could breathe easier when we were across this section of the desert. And just as I was thinking of this there appeared far back on the trail and to the left a blaze of light. I surmised this was some one else camping where night had overtaken them, and the blaze of light, which immediately subsided, had been caused by replenishing their camp fire. But soon I caught it again, and because it had shifted to the other side of a tree I knew it to be the light of an automobile on the road. Immediately it occurred to me to see how long it would be in reaching our camp. It was then 8:15 o'clock. I continued to watch the light, as it now flickered into sight, then gone for a period, reappearing in a new place. For a while it was gone so long I had nearly concluded it had taken one of the branch trails to the mining camps. But presently it came to view again and returned more frequently, gradually getting closer, until I could hear the noise of the car. It was then 9 o'clock, and at 9:15, exactly an hour from the time I saw the light, the car passed us, a big gray car, stripped down as a roadster and carrying three men. The car was undoubtedly averaging 18 to 20 miles per hour, and must have been four or five miles away when I heard the engine. This gives some idea of how sight and sound travel on the desert.
I retired soon after this and about 12 o'clock was awakened by another car coming from the other direction. This was a touring car with five or six people, who waved and called a cheery greeting as they passed. And I was obliged to reflect that here where we had expected to be most lonesome we had encountered more traffic than any day or night on this lap of the trip. I was disappointed, for it took away all the "spooky" flavor of the occasion.
"... The car itself was a 70 horse-power Lozier, which had but lately acquired some fame by turning turtle with its driver and owner, a son of the Duke's mixture tobacco man of St. Louis, in a Utah river and drowning him."
Next morning we reached Gruenbeck's early and refilled our water vessels. Here we found the car whose lights I had seen. It was a party who had come out from Blythe to bring parts for a truck that had broken down near Gruenbeek's, and had been laid up for ten days. The car itself was a 70 horse-power Lozier, which had but lately acquired some fame by turning turtle with its driver and owner, a son of the Duke's mixture tobacco man of St. Louis, in a Utah river and drowning him.
Gruenbeek's is an interesting place, a little oasis in the desert. Mr. Gruenbeck and his good frau were very amiable and sociable people, and Mrs. Gruenbeek was quite delighted to get to talk with another lady, as she seldom sees one. They had entered a government desert homestead of 320 acres, built a very neat cottage, dug a well and equipped it with windmill and tank. From the tank water is piped over quite a garden area. He has consulted the state experiment station freely and has found this desert soil quite well adapted to dates, and has several thousand (late palm plants coming on. It grows oranges and lemons quite well, too, and the prospects for this hitherto barren waste look very favorable.
Our next stop for water was Shaver's Wells, about 40 miles ahead. This portion of the journey was without incident other than the observation of a surveying gang. At Shaver's Wells we came upon their camp and met their car, an Apperson. They were getting ready to move their base to Gruenbecks, and were surveying this for entry.
From Shaver's Wells our trip was mainly down grade for 12 miles, winding between great sand cliffs and through the deepest sort of sand, known as Chucwalla wash, emerging from this onto a wide expanse of great sand dunes about two miles from Mecca. This is at the north end of the famed Imperial Valley, and to our left we could see the large body of water known as the Salton Sea, caused several years ago by an enormous overflow of the Colorado river. Here we were 22 feet below the sea level. Our range on the trip had, therefore, been from 22 below to nearly 10,000 above.
At Mecca we found another irrigated section, and had graded roads for 17 miles. There were wide areas of tillable land here, and The American Date Company has many acres of date palms planted. In a few years imported dates will be a rarety in America. We followed the railroad (Southern Pacific) for many miles after leaving Mecca, through the stations of Durbrow, Thermal and Coachella, and passed Indio to our right a quarter of a mile. Just before reaching Indio we had an experience that was quite amusing, but came near being disastrous. Our route lay due north from Mecca until near Indio, and over well graded roads. As this was the first we had seen on the trip from Phoenix, I was anxious to make good use of them. We came up behind an elderly man in a Jackson of the vintage of 1910 or 1911, and from the wobbly manner in which he was driving I surmised he was a beginner. As I wished to make better time I pulled around and went ahead. Shortly afterward I heard a thundering noise as though an armed host was bearing down upon us and turned to see the old man coming in his Jackson, with the avowed intention of putting dust in our eyes, evidently much peeved that a Ford should have passed him, and bent on retrieving his lost honor and prestige. He wore a wide brimmed sombrero, which wag flattened back against his forehead by the breeze he created, and a flowing beard of which he was the proud possessor was deftly and neatly parted in the middle by the self-same breeze. From the right corner of his mouth hung a straight stemmed pipe of the cob variety at an angle of about 45 degrees, and the general appearance of man and machine reminded me immensely of Old Doe Yak.
With the idea of having a little fun with the old man I began to speed up. The road was nice and smooth for more than a mile ahead, where it turned, and I thought to give him chase until the turn. I soon had the Ford at 35 miles per hour, and at places the speedometer indicated 40 miles. I never knew a Ford could go so fast. We had enough baggage to give us good ballast, and I have no doubt the old man was as much surprised as I at the speed the Ford attained. When we neared the corner I slowed down and allowed him to go ahead. Immediately around the corner was considerable dust, but the old man seemed determined to convince us his steed of steel had not displayed its best efforts and he proceeded to open the throttle to the limit. About 20 rods up the road in front of a house an awful clowd of dust was thrown in the air, as though by an explosion, and the old man, machine and all the scenery beyond were lost to view. Mrs. Whitaker exclaimed, "Oh, he has turned turtle." I hurried up to the scene of disaster, but had to wait for the cloud of dust to subside. When the atmosphere bad cleared, there sat the old man in his machine, with its nose jammed into a fence post, one barb wire stretched taut across his headlights and radiator, and another about two inches from his face, on a level with his nose. Had the car gone a foot farther he would have been badly cut up. He was so astonished and scared he hadn't moved from his seat until I came up. To his right a few feet was a large telephone pole, which, if he had hit, I am confident would have been the last of the old man. As it was, his steering mechanism was bent, crankshaft broken, and a headlight demolished. There may have been other damage upon closer examination. I tried to help him out of the fence but found it useless. A lady from the house mentioned came out and told Mrs. Whitaker he was a character in that section, quite addicted to drink, and I had discovered this to be the cause of his troubles as soon as I went to his help. I hauled him up to a cross road leading into Indio, and we have often wondered what became of "Old Doc Yak."
Just beyond Indio we crossed a trestle bridge and entered more sand and desert roads. It was real hot this day and we blistered our faces (January 2nd), although on our left and ahead of us we could see snow on the mountains. In dry weather, the road we were now on would be extremely heavy going, and Blue Book instructions were to use ropes around the wheels in the washes and get in low gear and keep going. The rains had been of benefit here, too, so we did not need the ropes, but it did require considerable low gear. We had one stretch that lay in a straight line for over a mile, and was considerably down grade, yet the sand was so heavy we had hard pulling. At the end of this we curved around the base of a mountain and for 10 miles had heavy roads. We reached Palm Springs about 2:30 or 3, and replenished our water bags. Here are some medicinal hot springs, and near here is the Canon of a Thousand Palms, where a large number of palms grow in their natural state.
For 12 miles this side of Palm Springs the roads were very heavy. The soil here is of silt and gravel formation, and as bad as sand. In one place where passing was very bad we met a party in a Lozier, and as they were afraid to try the sand out of the track they got out and boosted us around-another advantage of a Ford.
After we emerged from this 12 miles of silt and gravel we began gradually getting to a higher elevation, entering San Gorgiono Pass thru the San Bernardino Mountains. At 59 miles from Mecca we arrived at Banning, a very nice little town, and we could tell from its appearance and that of surrounding country we were out of the desert. We were also on good roads now, and as we were anxious to get into Los Angeles next day we decided to keep going as long as possible. Beaumont is six miles west and north of Banning, and we reached there shortly after dark. We continued on and camped about six miles west. This was not a good camping place, as it was in the mountains, cold and but little fuel.
We were out quite early in the morning and drove into San Bernardino for breakfast, some twenty miles. The road through here was very pretty as we were in the orange and lemon belt. The views of mountain and valley, the orange and lemon groves, the green verdure and numerous and prosperous looking homes and good roads are at any time a pleasant sight, but to one who has emerged from the desert over night, this view breaks upon them with the day with an unusual charm and welcome.
We breakfasted in San Bernardino and drove out upon the state highway to Los Angeles. This is a veritable boulevard, called the Foothill boulevard, which follows the foothills of the northern side of the valley, the entire distance to Los Angeles, 64 miles. It was our introduction to the boulevard roads of California and I made good use of them. This is a very beautiful route, passing through the richest fruit section of California, and the vistas to be had of valley and mountain are entirely beyond my descriptive ability. This section is quite thickly settled and towns were almost adjoining, they were so numerous. Land brings a fabulous sum and at Pasadena is the home of many millionaires, who have been attracted by the climate and have helped to make this a most beautiful city.
We arrived in Los Angeles about 11 o'clock. We spent considerable time looking up a location, which we finally secured about 2 o'clock, and we spent the afternoon in bathing and "creaming" our sun burnt faces.
We have now been in Los Angeles about two months and I naturally have been able to form a few opinions about this section of the country. It is pleasantly located in a large valley, and has an equable climate. We have been here through the rainy season. They have some very hard rains, but never any wind with them, the average wind velocity being but about 10 miles an hour. It is inland from the coast about 25 miles. On the coast they have this year had severe storms that have done considerable damage. The heaviest rains on land have seemed to occur simultaneously with storms out at sea and the breakers on occasions have been 40 feet high, getting into the buildings on the ocean front at all the beach resorts, and wrecking the piers. There are several of these beaches: Ocean Park, Santa Monica, Playa del Rey, Manhattan, Hermosa, Redondo, Clifton-by-the-Sea, Long Beach, Seal Beach, and then the harbor of San Pedro which has been annexed to the city and now receiving considerable attention from the United States government and the city, to make it a prominent port of call, the second at this end of the Panama canal.
Los Angeles has grown so fast it seems to me it will have to stop for breath and wait for itself to catch up. Everybody is real estate crazy, and the people have given attention to it to the exclusion of industries, with a result that the city has an enormous army of unemployed. Business conditions are as dull here as anywhere, and while I am no reliable judge of such matters, it seems to me this country must have some manufacturing industries to give employment to its labor population. Not all of them can be "Little Landers," even if they could afford to buy the land at $1,000 per acre up. Besides one would have to unlearn, as well as learn, considerable to make a success of such a venture here, for all conditions affecting it are different than is usually found, including the handling of the soil, the season of planting and the method of marketing.
I imagine this account has been lengthy enough already to overtax one's patience to read this far, and for purely humanitarian reasons I am going to close. I may say that our entire trip was enjoyable beyond description. We have seen some of the scenery of the west and when we return we shall return in the same manner, by another route. I see no reason why one should not "See America first" and I am certain that many who journey to the Panama-Pacific Exposition at San Francisco, will find as much wonder and delight in the trip as in the fair.
SAMUEL N. WHITAKER,
Los Angeles, Cal.
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| PHOENIX, ARIZONA, Dec. 7, 1914 | LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, Feb. 19, 1915 | MOLINE, ILLINOIS, May 27, 1915 |
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