California trip 1948
by Catherine E. Park
After we had passed Brampton the wheel-dragging snow drifts gave way to slush, many inches deep in places. After fourteen hours on the road we had covered four hundred miles to reach Woodstock.
In Woodstock we couldn't attract the attention of our intended hosts either by ringing the door-bell or by phoning them from next door. Finally a kindly neighbour donned spats, coat, hat, and tobacco pipe, made his way under a well-known open window and announced our arrival. Results were almost immediate, since only the competition of Judy Canova and her radio gang had prevented our being heard.
Sunday morning came clear and cold, and except for chopping the frozen slush in front of our tires in order to get our car into motion, we had an easy morning's travel. Amazingly we found our road bare and dry, the farm fields showing through the snow blotches, the roadside snow banks dwindling into nothing. The fall wheat was giving a glow of green to the springlike countryside, while even a few crows were flapping about in the sunshine.
After very welcome spiritual and bodily refreshment at brother Clifford's in Chatham we made our way to and across the Canada-United States border.
No sooner were we over the border than superlatives began to crackle at us from all sides. Every large grocery store was a super-market, the finest, largest, and best of everything clamoured for our attention from innumerable posters and billboards. We noted in passing both the world's largest gun collection and, farther along, the world's largest collection of live reptiles. Beside a modest signboard announcing Warsaw [Kentucky], Pop. 900 was a flamboyant one: City Limit, Speed 25 miles, Enforced. One Michigan sign bore the exhortation, with appropriate splattering of colour: Harold's Club, Reno, or Bust!
Kentucky, with less fertile soil than Ohio, is largely rolling brush-land and pasture-land. Trees are small almost until the Tennessee state line is reached, but the farther south we traveled in these two states, the more we noticed how dense in growth the trees are. With few sleet storms to carry on an annual thinning process, even old friends like the maple and the oak have a very different look from those we see in Canada. The branch silhouette of each tree was completely filled in by a network of fine twigs. Every wooded hill, as our road wound along, showed a soft and feathery contour line because of these myriad leafless branches.
In Kentucky and south the evidences of erosion were tragically common. Every little hill or bank of earth had had its crest carved away into innumerable diverging runlets. From Louisville on a great deal of the soil was bright red, an unbelievably dark, rich colour in places, especially when wet. Every farm had its water-hole, some of them banked with earth, stones or a concrete wall. In the red soil areas these muddy water-holes, like every road-side puddle, were almost an orange colour.
Every hundred miles southward turned the calendar back a week by comparison with our Canadian (Ottawa Valley) standards. Soon after entering Kentucky we heard our first meadowlark, while robins and other spring birds made music from the trees around our auto court at Elizabethtown, Ky.
Rivers play an important and often disastrous part in the life of Tennessee and Arkansas, Here we say evidences of flooding over many miles of flat riverside lands. High-built road-beds and railroad banks, even a high foot-bridge leading over the road ditch to one Arkansas rural home, showed that the flood menace is a factor which has to be reckoned with continually. Lighthouses had been built along some stretches of the Ohio River to guide river craft, the broad Mississippi gave us a glimpse of a flat-bottomed barge powered by two propellers, and on the White River we say flat-bottomed house-boat homes. The common practice of using an arrangement of concrete brick, (rarely wooden) posts in place of solid foundations or house-sills pointed to a need for avoiding wetness. Lightr cauld be seen under a great many of the smaller houses.
The unfamiliar flora and fauna of the southland were a constant source of interest. Among domestic animals the hardy mule was much in evidence, hauling wagons or form implements, or working in land-clearing operations. We say very few of the famous Kentucky race-horses but passed by a form specializing in raising Shetland ponies. Farther south there were may small Indian(?) Ponies. Very frequently we noted a patch of gray-buff fur where a luckless opossum had been run down by a car. In Texas we even saw the New Mexico state bird, a roadrunner.
In Kentucky golden broom sage glowed along the roadsides and sometimes across whole fields, the persimmon tree and gum tree were pointed out to us, green holly bushes, and later green magnolia trees which had kept their broad leaves all winter, and green clusters of mistletoe were all about. And the buttonwood, or sycamore trees were adorned with may dangling button-like balls. Near Atwood, Tennessee we passed our first field of last year’s cotton stalks, tobacco warehouses and “loose floors” soon became a frequent sight, and then came the immense cotton flats of Arkansas and Texas. Unfenced fields of 50 or 100 acres stretched sometimes to the skyline on both sides of the highway, broken only by the rows of cotton prickers’ cabins, a few trees, and sometimes a cotton gin and cleaning plant almost on the edge of some cotton farm. Greenville, Texas, took for its slogan: “The blackest land and the whitest people”, and this city was obviously the centre of a very rich cotton-growing area. In Greenville we explored a little of one shed in the huge Greenville Compress where perhaps 100,000 bales of ginned cotton stood waiting to be shipped away. These bales, enclosed in jute sacking with metal bands encircling them at about 8-inch intervals, measure roughly 5½' x 3' x 3'.
After Greenville we traveled through semi-desert county where sage [and] tumble-weed abounded, and scrubby little oak trees, wild, but so evenly spaced that they resembled old, neglected orchards in many places. The desert plants such as cactus and yucca became more common. The flat lands gave way for a time to gently rolling land, red soil again, and abrupt eroded hills beyond the farm fields which for many miles were cultivated into long ridges for the raising of sorghum. The cotton grown here was small and poor and large areas were mere dry waste land. Nearly every river bed and draw was dry. The trees in these areas were smaller and smaller as we journeyed on, until nothing higher than sage and mesquite bushes was to be seen, except where trees such as cottonwood trees had apparently been set out around towns or farm homes. Yucca and cactus were every where, and fences were often choked with tumble-weed.
A desolate country indeed, yet here was some of the richest ground in the world. Under it lies the black gold, the oil which turns the billions of wheels of our modern way of life. We stopped to inspect a drilling outfit near Abilene, and the engineer in charge, with true southern kindliness and the broad southern accent to which we’re gradually becoming accustomed, invited my husband and me to climb a metal stair into the small metal cabin, which was on a level with the engine floor of the drilling tower and contained the records of drilling depth, geological findings and so forth. That morning the bit on the drilling machine had reached about 2500 feet down through soil and rock and was grinding on, with such a clatter of machinery that we had to shout to be heard above it. In that area, we learned, 3000 feet was the usual depth at which oil is struck. A trench had been dug near the foot of the drilling tower and from this a high-powered pump was forcing a thick fluid down the drilled hole and out again to a rotating filter which removed the coarser part of the pulverized rock ground loose by the drill point. The fluid was thick not only with mud, but also I believe by the addition of some chemical compound, a supply of which, in heavy paper bags, was piled near the trench and protected by a tarpaulin.
Near Odessa, Texas, we saw a plain dotted with hundreds of oil-well towers as far as the eye could see. Many completed oil wells had motor-powered pumps about 15' high operating constantly. Natural gas abounded all through the oil territory, being used to heat even the cabins of the motels or tourist courts. We saw several flames waving high in the air at the end of slender stacks, where escaping gas was being burned night and day.
At two places, a dense smoke screen was rising from a many-gabled manufacturing plant, possibly carbide factories.
I have not said much about the houses we found along our route, but architecture, too, showed marked differences from place to place. The buildings of Ontario and the northern states, from cottage to skyscraper, presented no novelty, but as soon as we got into Kentucky the typical so-called colonial style of architecture became very common. The tall front pillars two or more storeys high gave charm and dignity to homes and public buildings alike. In fact there were comparatively few houses that didn’t feature pillars or posts of some sort in their architecture. White was the favourite colour of paint for the frame houses, often with green shutters for the windows. This colour scheme fitted harmoniously into a landscape of white wooden fences and fields and trees at least beginning to look green.
All through the states where the coloured population is most numerous the homes of this depressed, deliberately underprivileged class of people were in painful contrast to the homes of the white people. The negroes lived in small houses, some of them mere patched-up shacks or hovels. One group of such shacks lined the highway at frequent intervals on the way to the Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. The owner of each dilapidated dwelling had nevertheless a gay array of articles on display for the tourist trade.
Arizona brought a new variety of Indian home, hemispherical or oftener cylindrical with a round roof, made of mud and sticks or logs, usually with the door facing eastward-a tradition among the Navajo Indians of the region.
The smooth-faced architecture was almost general in southern California, usually white with a gay ....
One interesting interlude occurred in Western Texas where we picked up two hitch-hiking ranch hands. They were teen-age boys, very mannerly, and very glad of a ride, since there was very little traffic on that long, straight highway, through bare, dry, empty, expanse of flat land. The lad who did most of the talking, in broad southern accent which often kept us guessing at what he meant, described the ranch work which he and his companion did; building corrals, branding cattle, and vaccinating calves were among their duties. "Only kids", our informant told us, rode horses around there because of the difficulties presented by wash-out holes and gopher holes in that very light soil. The boys pointed out a potash mine to us, the "largest in the United States", and the spokesman waxed almost eloquent regarding the beauties of Carlsbad Caverns in his home state of New Mexico. Several coyote carcases hung on a ranch fence were called to our attention but they had been there a year or more which does not seem to indicate that the coyote is a very numerous pest. Much more troublesome to the ranchers was the prolonged drought of 1947 and 8. The resulting shortage of pasture was so serious that cattle had to [be] fed on purchased fodder or shipped away. We saw hardly any cattle until we were well north in New Mexico.
We could easily tell when we were traveling through cattle-raising areas, not only by the road signs like: “Open range, look out for cattle”, “Cattle drive 500 ft.”, or “Cattle guard”, but by these cattle guards themselves. A cattle guard consisted of a deep cut across the road bridged by an open grill of railroad rails laid at right angles to the road and four inches or so apart, the ends of the rails being set into a concrete wall built at each end of the cut and extending a little above road level. A fence probably a line fence dividing ranches would stretch away from each end of the cattle guard across the open expanse of the range.
Another peculiarity of southern highways is the dip, a depressed portion of the road which would allow water, if any, to run across the pavement, thus taking the place of a culvert. A sign, DIP, would warn the motorist to slow down when approaching one of these depressions, unless he wanted to be bounced off the seat temporarily.
After the flat or gently rolling lands of Arkansas and Texas we began to climb to the plateaus and canyons of the Rocky Mountain highlands in New Mexico. Since we were still east of the highest mountains we found the vegetation that thrives in a dry climate, piñon trees which bear edible nuts in their cones; small, straggling juniper trees, sage, cactus of many kinds, salt brush, rabbit brush, and wiry grass. At higher altitudes the trees were larger and more healthy-looking. Here we saw the beautiful western yellow pine, much like our red pine in appearance, but with needles usually in clusters of three instead of two, and often with bright orange bark. We identified the mountain mahogany also, but always to leeward of any lofty range, like the San Francisco Peaks in ____ we would find only dry-land plants again, even if they were decked out in white from the light snow-fall of those eastern slopes.
When we set out one morning, March the eighth it was, we found snow on the cactus plants which I had always associated with heat-parched desert sands. The elevation of 6000 feet above sea level accounted for a good deal of the cold that day. We rolled into one rural village which looked like a little piece of fairyland in its coat of sparkling frost crystals; every roof, every post, every twig on the lacy cottonwoods and sage brush, every blade of grass was gleaming, twinkling white.
The landscape in New Mexico and Arizona often presented a surprising variety of land forms all at once. We would be driving over flat land in some broad river valley trough with steep, gravelly little hills rising here and there, flat almost horizontal table-land or mesa on either side of the valley, and beyond that again towering tree-clad or snow-covered mountain peaks.
Another surprising feature of the uplands was the variation of colour in the soil, gravel, and rocks all around us. All the tones of gray, buff, and brown were there, with black, red and sometimes even green for colour contrast. We stopped to photograph one mesa which showed three colours-red at the top of the cliffs, then a layer of gray-buff-coloured rock, then flaring buttresses of black stone, with a brightly-painted red-and-white diesel locomotive slipping along the railroad track at its base. We Saw many of these sleek, silent, almost smokeless diesel locomotives in the west. Incidentally they are the only kind which are to be allowed in the city of Los Angeles, California three years hence.
The coloured rock and sand reached its climax of extent and variation in the Painted Desert of Arizona and the Grand Canyon in the same state where the Colorado River and its tributaries have cut channels a mile deep in places, channels broadened by erosion and carved along their rims into beautiful and fantastic shapes like towers and temples. The part of the countryside not yet carved away is flat table-land over 7000 feet in elevation. From this great height one can look down on a rushing river, 300 feet wide, and 40 feet deep, but it looks like a narrow brown with mud creek, flowing sluggishly over a winding course.
Many of the rivers marked on our maps of the southern United States proved to be only river beds, broad but either dry or with a small stream creeping along the middle of an expanse of bare or weed grown sand. In Texas a stream was often called a “draw”, farther west and north the name “wash” sometimes appeared on the sign-boards. The Little Colorado River is a mere expanse of mud flats in its upper reaches, yet has cut itself a very impressive canyon down near where it empties into the Colorado River. The larger rivers are so often spanned by flood control or power dams, or both, that after such prolonged drought they were reduced to insignificant streams before reaching the ocean. It was an agreeable change on our way home to cross rivers that were rivers, broad, smooth and silvery between crowding bushes and willows on their banks. The Platte, the Missouri, the Iowa, the Illinois and Ol’ Man River himself, the Mississippi, all are beautiful rivers.
One of the most interesting localities we explored during our trip was the ancient city of Santa Fe, or Holy Faith, founded in the 17th century by Spanish missionaries to the Indians of that region. Now the capital of the state of New Mexico, it has passed through days of Spanish government, a period of Mexican government when as part of Mexico the land which is now New Mexico threw off the tyrannical rule of Spain, through the revolt of the Pueblo Indians and through a time of American territorial rule, all before New Mexico became a state of the Union. During the Pueblo Revolt its famous Palace of Governors with its three to five feet thick mud walls, flat roof and long colonnade of wooden pillars, was used as an Indian pueblo or community house. Later this same building was once more used by governors of New Mexico and now houses the state Museum.
Not only the Palace of Governors but almost every house in Sante Fe, with the exception of its churches, is built in the Indian-Spanish style of architecture which was developed to suit the needs of that part of the world. The flat roofs and protruding ceiling poles were used even by the prehistoric Indians, the ruins of whose homes are to be found along the cliffs of many a canyon in New Mexico or on the valley floors. The cliff-dwellers developed a type of community dwelling which was an ancient apartment house, sometimes four stories high in places, but still entered by the aid of ladders and roof doors. They had their ceremonial caves or circular buildings separate from their homes. These were called kivas, and were used for religious ceremonies, and governmental meetings, and often for weaving as well, because the holes for the frames of their upright looms are still to be seen in many of the kiva floors. The Indian community unit or village was called a pueblo, and the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico not only claim descent from the cliff-dwellers but still live in pueblos and still use the same type of upright loom which served those prehistoric inhabitants of our continent.
We visited modern Indian pueblos and in one of them, San Ildefonso, saw on excellent example of a kiva. The unkempt but mannerly children who were playing about the open court of the pueblo spoke good English but among themselves talked in some other language, whether Indian or Spanish I don’t know. Spanish is so widely used in that area that many signs are printed in both English and Spanish. The men of the pueblo, incidentally, travel each day by bus from San Ildefonso to Los Alamos where they are employed in the Atomic Energy project. We met one man, however, an Indian artist, a tall, good-looking, bronzed individual, speaking perfect English who was planning to open a studio in San Ildefonso. He introduced his mother, Marie Martinez, whose unsurpassed skill as a potter has brought her wide fame. She has been making clay vessels for over 40 years, since she was 12 she told us, and does not even use a wheel in the shaping of the beautifully symmetrical bowls, jars, and plates. We saw some of Marie’s pottery in various stages of manufacture, from the reddish unfired dishes to the decorated and glazed completed articles. A special white pigment is painted on the clay with a bush made from a chewed yucca leaf. In the firing these white designs turn a dull black while the red part bakes to a hard black that takes a polish when rubbed by hand with a smooth polishing stone. The firing is done in a sort of bonfire in the backyard sometimes under an old piece of sheet-iron. The only parts of the potter's work which we did not see were the laying of the clay coils to build up the desired circular shape, and the smoothing of the raw clay article by the use of the hands and a hard gourd dipped in water.
[Here the account carefully handwritten with pen and ink ends. Penciled notes in the same hardcover notebook indicate that Catherine had hoped to continue by putting down her recollections, from the same trip, on the following topics: Meteorite Museum Pet. forest Hoover Dam Las Vegas - apple trees in bloom Mfrg plants on Salt(?) Lake Burro with bell Mojave dessert Golden Canyon 92°/Death Valley 87°, dust storm over dunes Nevada dessert Death Valley Los Angeles Rural California-avenue of honey locust, citrus orchards beyond, wrapped orange trees Stanford The Plange The Sunrise The coast San Francisco The redwoods & sequoia Reno, Nev. Salt Lake City Highlands and plains Dehydrators Wis.-America’s Dairyland Home scenes March 17, 1948 entry in her Five Year Diary says "To San Diego Naval Base and back with Wilford and Aunt Addie.]