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9780871560841-usT.H. Watkins’ book On the Shore of the Sundown Sea, published by the Sierra Club, tells of the T.H.’s experience camping with his big family at Salt Creek, exploring the southern Orange County coastline during the post WWII years to the passage of Proposition 20 in 1972.

I was introduced to T.H. Watkins’ book by reading writing excerpts in Orange County. A Literary Field Guide.  This compendium of poems and samples, published by Heyday Books, was compiled by Lisa Alvarez and Andrew Tonkovich and a complete review is available at The Daily Pilot.

Writings are organized by Orange County regions:  Anaheim, Irvine, Santa Ana and Orange, Santa Ana Mountains and Canyons, and the Flatlands, and the Coast and Beach Towns.  T.H. Watkins’ prologue is one of about twenty chapters and verse in Orange County each describing sandy beaches, surfing, and driving the Coast Highway.OCOUcover_web800px-200x300.jpg

In a 1939 eight-passenger Buick, named the Yacht, the Watkins family loaded up “six kids, two parents, one dog, camping gear, clothing, and a three-week supply of food and drove the seventy miles between the little town of Colton and the coast.”  The drive on the two-lane highway was a southern California “not yet coalesced like some particularly virulent biological culture, and its air was not fouled by what Wallace Stegner called the “taint of technology”.  The family passed through orange groves, dairy pastures, vineyards, and alfalfa fields.  “Two miles dead west of the village of San Juan Capistrano, we would come to the Coast Highway and a decision:  should we drive five miles to the south for San Clemente State Park, simply cross the highway for Doheny Beach State Park, or turn north for Salt Creek Beach?  The last lacked amenities, but the campsites were on the beach, and anyone could choose their camp spot as there were no assigned sites.

From these camp trips a connection to California’s coast drew T.H. to every cove and stretch of the coast road.  He supported Proposition 20 and considered its commission, the create of the Coastal Commission, to be a “profound shift … from mindless worship of the growth ethic” to an ecological movement.  In T.H’s time he saw planners and developers “had put wealthy tacky-tacky on the bluffs of Salt Creek Beach, and laid a parking lot for boats in the cove below Dana Point, and the citizens of Big Sur forced Caltrans “from jamming a multilane freeway through the ancient mountains that meet the sea.”  He mentions San Mateo county coast residents fight against Caltrans and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “decided that the area could support a population in excess of one hundred thousand people” … and laid plans to build a dam on Pescadero Creek with an expanded highway system to accommodate “these nonexistent thousands of people.”

On the Shore of the Sundown Sea ends with T.H. musing about freedom and illusion.  “Landwreckers” have been held back, but for how long is the question?

Earl Thollander, the artist who provided us the Back Roads books, drew the pictures for On the Shore of the Sundown Sea.FullSizeRender

How to buy:

Orange County. A Literary Field Guide site. or at Heyday.  or Amazon.

On the Shore of the Sundown Sea.  Amazon.  Abe Books.

It’s been one month shy of two years since I posted a book review on this blog (not for want of California coastal books, of which there are many terrific titles released), because I was otherwise occupied and neglected this site.  After reading Chris Chapman’s Stories of Arroyo Hondo, the end has arrived for this book review drought and I’ll post some favorite reads from the past two years, but first, Chris Chapman’s art and history book of a little canyon on the Gaviota Coast.

As we know Arroyo Hondo today, it is a nature preserve managed by the Land Trust of Santa Barbara, located about 30 minutes north of Santa Barbara or about 10 miles south of the Gaviota Pass on U.S. Highway 101/California State Highway 1.  Visitor access for hiking its short trails is limited to two weekends each month and the preserve rents for events of up to 100 people.  Five streams form as the headwaters and converge and flow as Arroyo Hondo Creek under the highway and Southern Pacific’s trestle to the Pacific Ocean.  You can jog down the stairs to the beach and walk the 6 miles of sandy beach from Arroyo Hondo to Gaviota at low tide.storiesofarroyohondo

Stories of Arroyo Hondo begins as Tucumu (later, Tuxmu), a Chumash village recorded by Cabrillo during his contact with the Santa Barbara channel in late October through early November of 1542.  Chris Chapman writes, “Radiocarbon dates from artifacts such as pestles and projectile points indicate initial occupation of 3,000 B.C.”  In the 225 years from Cabrillo’s contact, Tuxmu was a vacant site by the time the Portola Expedition journeyed this coast.

Arroyo Hondo was a section of José Francisco Ortega’s ranch, a grazing permit named Nuestra Señora del Refugio.  Ortega enjoyed only three short years at La Nuestra.  “He became obese and eventually could not mount his horse without help.”  The Ortega family continued life on the rancho and one son petitioned for legal title from the Spanish, and then Mexican governments, but the family did not receive official title until 1866.  Bit by bit the Ortega family sold portions of the rancho.  “Arroyo Hondo was the last of the Refugio lands to remain in Ortega hands.”  Stories of Arroyo Hondo displays black and white photos of the Ortega descendants, their adobe houses, a grist mill, and a schoolhouse.

“In 1908 W.W. Hollister’s daughter Jennie Hollister Chamberlain Hale purchased the 782 acre Arroyo Hondo ranch” from E. Cordero, to whom the rancho was sold previously in 1889.  “The Ortega family continued to live at Arroyo Hondo,” through both Cordero and Hollister-Chamberlain-Hale ownership.

Transportation developments are covered in both text and black and white photos starting with stagecoach travel, then the effects of the railroad and herding of cattle by the Hollisters, and the automobile.  “Vicente lamented that the cool ocean breeze could no longer drift up the canyon,” once the Arroyo Hondo Creek culvert and highway closed the canyon at the coast.

Chris Chapman and her husband John Iwerks painted Arroyo Hondo while they ranch-sat for the Hollisters.  Watercolor landscapes and pastel coastscapes by Chris and oil roadscapes and beach scenes by her husband generously fill many pages of Stories of Arroyo Hondo as a colorful and “lasting gift.”

Stories of Arroyo Honda would make a nice holiday gift!  Purchase at:

Book Loft in Solvang
or in Santa Barbara at Chaucer’s Books, and the Presidio gift shop (Trust for Historic Preservation)
or Montecito, at Tecolote Books
and of course at Arroyo Hondo Preserve in the Ortega adobe.

Retail is $19.95 plus tax.  Shipping is possible if you cannot visit the above locations.

Note: I do not personally know the author, nor do I receive any benefit from book sales.  I think people should know about these California coast books and I’m happy to write about them.


Whatever Happened to the Hippies? by Mary Siler AndersonIn my never-ending search for writings on the Coast Road, I discovered this little book that documents the people who moved to the Mattole and Eel watersheds, the “Mateel,” located in southern Humboldt County (SoHum). Twenty-three individual narratives intertwine to tell the stories of settlement, stereotyping of hippies, rednecks, loggers, straights, and the rowdy bikers, conservation and restoration of anadromous habitat, establishing Sinkyone Wilderness SP, and C.A.M.P.

“Between the years of 1968 and 1977, several hundred people migrated to the remote southern portion of Humboldt County, California,” writes Mary Siler Anderson, the author of Whatever Happened to the Hippies? These people moved into a landscape reshaped by seventy years of logging and two one hundred year floods that further eroded the hillsides, filling the rivers with sediment. “We didn’t know what the land looked like before and so didn’t recognize the signs of ecological distress all around us. We came from cemented-over human-constructed landscapes that lacked life and the wild naturalness of this place was beautiful to us.” Heart of the Mateel by M.J.M. 1990

Most of the people did not settle in the small towns, but instead bought 40-, 60-, 80-acre parcels, “which in the beginning could be had for little or no money down. Land was very cheap when we first arrived, because it had all been heavily logged.” If it weren’t for real estate agent Bob McKee no one would have sold land to these long-haired newcomers. Rumor had it that Bob was “giving away land out by the ocean,” which was hyperbole. Land was inexpensive, but not free. Written in the chapter by Rick, Bob “wrote letters to the editor in those days, saying, ‘Why don’t we give these new people a chance because the land’s been logged over and deserted and no one else wants it anymore except these people.'” In another chapter written by Peter, “We negotiated a very good deal, largely because of Bob’s generosity, concern, and genuine interest in having a community center and a school.”

“Smoking marijuana was as common to our lifestyle as love beads and brown rice, only more important,” writes Mary II of the early days of the SoHum marijuana economy and culture. “When pot first began to be grown for sale, we had our Jeremiahs predicting disaster from earning money in this way. The lure of being able to finish your house or replace your broken-down vehicle was just too great.” Earning an income by growing marijuana “was stronger than the will to question what we were doing to our environment by using rat poison and chemical fertilizers that washed into our creeks, … We were beginning to be more like the rest of America, staying in our comfortable houses, watching our color TVs, eating imported food, all things that we couldn’t afford before.”

Growing pot wasn’t the sole income opportunity. David, who had previously worked for the Defense Department as an electrical engineer, moved to the country to build a house and make his own electricity. David and Roger opened Alternative Energy in Briceland, selling hundreds of solar panels to the amazement of their then-supplier, Atlantic Richfield. A competitor came out to meet them, asking if they’d try his solar panels. David and Roger placed an order for 40 panels, to which the guy said that, “as long as he’d been working for that company, he’d never sold 40 panels at once.” David writes, “We have a big wholesale business now and sell solar panels around the world. We’re still selling more solar panels than anybody else.”

Whatever happened to the hippies is a question answered in Mary Siler Anderson’s book. The hippies created new communities and retained some American comforts; they both improved and damaged fish habitat: the conservationists versus the pot growers; and they continue to be active in the community as writers, watershed professionals, and caregivers.

Many still have long hair.

Buy the book.

This post written by Anneliese Agren

After reading Where The Road Begins, I wonder why I’ve never seen on cars of Big Sur residents’, bumper stickers protesting, “To Hell With Ansel Adams!”

The author of Where The Road Begins, Peter Gray Scott, is a resident of the Oakland Hills, born and raised in Berkeley, and educated at Stanford.  Mr. Scott is an architect who wrote this three-part book,  Where the Road Begins: The Saga of Big Sur’s Pioneer Families, and Environmentalism in America.

The first part provides the history of American settlement in Big Sur, initiated by English-American William Brainard Post and his Ohlone-Rumsen wife, Maria Anselma Onesimo.  The second part focuses on the building of the coast road through the Sur in the 1930s, and the effects once the world rushed in and “discovered” Big Sur.  The third part, with only two short chapters, is about the new people in Big Sur, “. . . who were financially secure or whose income came from somewhere else.  They may have come for the beauty of the place, but they had no essential dependence on the land.”

Mr. Scott details a “Golden Age” on the south coast of about 70 years, from the 1870s to the 1940s.  This Golden Age grew out of an American idealism of individualism, self-reliance, and the pursuit of frontier and wilderness as one’s destiny.  The early settlers considered land stewardship their obligation to community: “Protect the water supply, mitigate erosion, avoid uncontrolled fires, handle waste appropriately, tend the essential plantings, and ensure the livestock had enough to eat without destroying the pasture.”

The Golden Age was an insular time when few outsiders passed through, and those who came and went, were provided food and shelter at a ranch, so long as they worked for their supper and bed.

The highway creation itself was a State-managed project, with no environmental impact reports and no strategic planning.  Promises were made to residents of culverts and bridges, and promises were broken.  Rights of way weren’t paid to residents, yet the residents’ were paying the taxes that went to the road being dynamited through their land.

Once the highway was built, the Sur opened to the world.  With the highway construction completed, the Big Sur economy changed from a dependence on the land, to a tourism economy, now comprised of serving meals and providing lodging for the many post-World War II automobile travelers.  “The highway that brought the tourists was also the breach in the fortress-like geography that had protected Big Sur for nearly a century.  The dead-end residential road morphed into a link in the State’s transportation system.”

The obligations remain the same, though, “Protect the water supply, mitigate erosion, avoid uncontrolled fires, handle waste appropriately, tend the essential plantings, and ensure the livestock had enough to eat without destroying the pasture.”

“Save Big Sur?  From what?  For whom?”

And then came Ansel Adams.  Ansel was one of the directors of the Sierra Club in the mid-sixties when he moved to Carmel Highlands.  Ansel was never a resident of Big Sur, nor did he ever ask the opinion of any of the 800 Big Sur residents, but Ansel decided that the Sur needed saving and proposed the “Big Sur National Scenic Area.”  A National Park like Cape Cod, except that Cape Cod National Seashore, with its 40 miles of wide sandy beaches, eleven nature trails, and three acre residential lots, isn’t like Big Sur.  Imagine a one acre parking structure, built ten stories high, in Big Sur, and, if truly emulating Cape Cod National Seashore, then include picnic areas, comfort stations, shuttle buses and additional parking lots.  Also, carve out a municipal airport.  All these amenities were to accomodate an anticipated twelve million annual visitors*.

How did the Sur escape such a fate?  Buy Where The Road Begins: The Saga of Big Sur’s Pioneer Families, and Environmentalism in America.

Henry Miller Library
Nepenthe’s Phoenix Shop

*Current estimate is about three million annual visitors.

This post written by Anneliese Agren

I want to experience uncrowded beaches in California, when the only hazard might be a sloth of grizzlies feeding off a whale’s washed-up carcass.  I’d like to regard old growth redwood forests, when they weren’t yet old, and certainly not pockmarked by logging.  I’d like to see skies blackened by birdlife, including a condo of condors.  I want to see 10 pound smelt and 60 pound salmon swimming our creeks and rivers.

If you too want to travel back in time, then A State of Change, Forgotten Landscapes of California by Laura Cunningham is the sweetest prehistoric treat you’ll ever find.  Laura Cunningham presents a California from the good old days.

A State of Change looks like a textbook, and is heavy like a textbook, but it is a beautiful, artfully-informational book.  A State of Change represents Laura Cunningham’s life work.  She spent the past 30 years sleuthing, “Since 1980 I have traveled all over the state tracking the remaining vestiges and relictual pieces of semi-pristine landscapes in order to flesh out the narratives that I found.  The clues to the past yet remain, if one is willing to patiently seek them in the field.”

Laura Cunningham is an illustrator and a paleontologist.  She attended UC Berkeley (paleontology) and UC Santa Cruz (natural science illustration).  California’s Historical Ecology is her thing, “The lack of animals that were once called abundant, the new weedy plants, even the lowered water tables all call attention to profound changes that mark a major discontinuity in the long flow of California’s ecology.”

A State of Change considers both the hedge nettle (described as a “very leafy sweet marjoram” in Fray Crespi’s diary from his overland exploration to 55° north with Pedro Fages in 1772) and both acorn and buckeye pestled by natives as a dietary staple.

A State of Change informs us of grizzlies too.

The earliest written documentation, provided by Spanish explorer Vizcaíno in 1602, Monterey, “…beached whales scavenged by grizzlies.”  In 1769, Pedro Fages’ diary notes from a location a few miles west of San Luis Obispo, “In this canyon were seen whole troops of bears; they have the ground all plowed from digging in it to find their sustenance in the roots which the land produces.”  William Brewer, botanist of the California Geological Survey in the 1860s, found at Monterey, “a whale…stranded on the beach, and the tracks of grizzlies were thick about it.”  Laura tells us that “herds” of bears roamed the “coastal prairies of the San Francisco peninsula.  A grizzly was found swimming to Angel Island in 1827.  In the 1860s settler Jonathan Watson once saw three hundred grizzlies in a single valley in the Santa Cruz Mountains.”

“All of this abundance of food may also explain why grizzlies in California did not hibernate like their Rocky Mountain cousins,” writes Laura.

The grizzlies’ large population and perennial presence explains how the grizzly became extinct within only 50 years after the mass migration of the California Gold Rush, bringing seekers and settlers, overland and across the Isthmus from America, Europe, and Asia.  The Spanish already had abused the privilege of living amongst the grizzly, “Soldiers and gentlemen lasso a grizzly up in Loma Prieta by the paws and neck, muzzle it, and drag it back to the bull pit (Corralitos or, “little corral”) to celebrate Easter or some special occasion, such as the inauguration of the governor.  The bear’s leg would be tied to a pole, or to the leg of the bull, and a fight would erupt.  Sometimes the long-horned bull would win, goring the bear.  But another time, the bear would swing a mighty paw and knock the bull off its feet, killing it.”

“Many bears were poisoned with strychnine and trapped by stockmen.  In the Santa Cruz Mountains, grizzlies held out into the 1880s, then were gone.  By 1888 grizzly numbers had declined noticeably in the Santa Ana stronghold, and by 1898 bears were considered “shot out,” though isolated reports of grizzlies continued until 1913.”

I leave it to you readers to pursue locating Laura Cunningham’s book and examine its contents further.  A State of Change covers a range of prehistoric and historic flora and fauna.  Also check its sources:  the Bibliography runs from page 319 to 343 in a dense 6 pt. font.

A State of Change is a Heyday book.  A website dedicated to the book is located here.  A preview of this beautifully illustrated work is found on Google books.

Whizzing along at 55 mph, another bronze plaque, a California Roadside Historical Marker, half-hidden behind azalea shrubs, is only noticed after passing the turn-out.  One day you must remember to stop and read what took place there.

In the meantime, it’s cold, you’re busy, and getting out of the car to read some historic plaque isn’t going to happen during your drive-about.

Check out Marael Johnson’s “California Why Stop?  A Guide to California Roadside Historical Markers.”  Similar to Ruth Pittman’s Roadside History of California both books make for either good armchair reading to anyone encumbered by wanderlust, but unable to physically get out on the road, or, as planning tools for your next California cruise.

I won’t list every marker along the coast, only the Top 5, from south to north:

1. San Clemente: La Cristianita – The first Christian baptism in Alta California, performed by Padre Gomez, a member of the Portola Expedition in 1769. Placed by State Park Commission in cooperation with Orange County, 1957.

2. San Pedro: Casa de San Pedro, Hide House Site – The first known commercial structure on the shore of San Pedro was built here in 1823 by the trading firm of McCulloch and Hartnell to store cattle hides from the San Gabriel and San Fernando missions.  Richard Henry Dana described this hide house in Two Years Before the Mast.  Thus began the development of the Port of Los Angeles.  Placed in cooperation with San Pedro Bay Historical Society, 1979.

3. San Luis Obispo: Site of Ah Louis Store – Here in 1874 was established Ah Louis Store.  The first Chinese store in the county.  It sold general merchandise and herbs, and served as a bank, counting house, and post office for the numerous Chinese coolies who dug the eight tunnels through the mountains of Cuesta for the Sounterhn Pacific Railroad, 1884-1894. Placed in Cooperation with San Luis Obispo Historical Society and Sons and Daughters of Ah Louis, 1965.

4. San Francisco: Entrance of the San Carlos – The first ship to enter San Francisco Bay, Aug. 5. 1775, the Spanish packet San Carlos, under the command of Lt. Juan Manuel de Ayala,became the first ship to enter San Francisco Bay.  A month and a half was spent in surverying the bay from its southernmost reaches to the northern end of present-day Suisun Bay.  The San Carlos departed Sept. 18, 1775.  Placed in cooperation with San Francisco Twin Bicentennial, Inc., 1975.

5. Trinidad: Tsurai – Directly below was located the ancient Yurok village of Tsurai.  A prehistoric, permanent Indian community, it was first located and described by captains Bodega and Heceta June 9 – 19, 1775.  The houses were of hand-split redwood planks designed for defense and protection.  The village was occupied until 1916.  Placed in cooperation with Heritage Trinidad and Humboldt County Historical Society, 1970.

La Nostra CostaIvano Franco Comelli‘s La Nostra Costa (our coast) sticks an Italian flag in the coast north of Santa Cruz.  Ivano Comelli is “un figlio della costa (son of the coast), born and raised on a brussel sprouts rancio.”

Ivano’s family lived on the Coast Road from 1937 to 1953 amongst other ranceri and amici della costa. “Italians who lived on or near the Coast Road would often say that they lived su per la costa, up the coast.” The family home was located on The Gulch Ranch, Il Golce.

“Our single-story batten and board-house had only about 1,200 square feet of actual living space and was separated from the Coast Road by a small patch of lawn, which in turn was surrounded by three sides by a hedge of tall juniper plants. These thick, woody plants shielded the house, somewhat, from the dusty wind, but did little to mitigate the constant noise that was generated by passing vehicles. There were far fewer vehicles on the road in those days; however, it still had a significant amount of traffic.”

Southbound cement trucks traveling the Coast Road to Santa Cruz from Davenport’s Portland Cement Plant would “descend into the gulch and climb a steep grade on the other side. Our house was located right at the top of the grade where the trucks completed their climb. Many times a truck going by was so noisy that our single wall house literally shook on its foundation. Mercifully, when the highway was rebuilt in the latter part of the 1950s, this particular portion of the gulch was mostly filled with rock and sand. The present roadway has a slight dip, but no longer does it have that steep descent.”

La Nostra Costa provides old photos and tells stories of daily life along the coast ranches and in old Davenport. Some things change, some things remain the same: access to beaches bordered by privately-owned land, nudism and sex on the beach while being spied upon from above by boys on the bluff, automobile accidents on the Coast Road, good food and Localism.

During World War II, being immigrants without U.S. Citizenship, these Italians were not allowed west of the Coast Road. “The entire coast from the Oregon border to just below Santa Barbara was declared off-limits to enemy aliens effective February 24, 1942.”

La Nostra Costa may be found at Bookshop Santa Cruz and via a few other venues.  Ivano also maintains a blog.


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Days until manuscript completion

Final DraftNovember 30th, 2013
Dot i's and cross t's.