It was lunch time when we reached Sequoia, though we were only
twenty-nine miles from Yosemite-a pretty insignificant showing for a
half-day's run, from a mileage point of view, but it had been strenuous
enough to make us tired and ravenously hungry. And hunger proved a very
good sauce for the meal which we got at Crocker's Hotel, which is about
all there is of Sequoia. And I am not complaining of Crocker's Hotel,
either. I think they did very well when one considers that all their
supplies must be hauled eighty miles by wagon road-naturally, canned
stuff and condensed milk prevailed.
Beyond Crocker's the characteristics of the country were about the same. A rough, dusty trail, winding through pine-clad hills with occasional heavy grades, carried us along for a good many miles. We occasionally passed a remote little station with a general store and "garage" bearing evidence of its origin in an old-time blacksmith shop. Colfax Gate, Smith's, Garrett, and Big Oak Flat-which showed little reason for the distinction of giving its name to the road-were all the same type, with nothing to invite even a casual glance from the tourist unless he needed gasoline or oil.
At Priest's there is a country hotel, a haunt of hunters and ranchmen; but we recall Priest's chiefly because it gives its name to one of the most beautiful bits of road engineering in California. It follows the very crest of a giant hill range overlooking a beautiful valley some two or three thousand feet below. Alongside there is nothing to break the full sweep of one's vision-not a tree or even a shrub intervenes between the roadbed and the precipitous slope beneath. Although the road is wide enough for easy passing at any point, the very baldness of its outer edge is enough to give a decided thrill to nervously inclined people and our driver received more advice and caution from the rear seat than had been offered him on far more dangerous roads with occasional rocks or trees alongside.
At Jacksonville the road comes down almost to the level of the Tuolumne River and we found ourselves on the border of the old gold-mining region made famous by the tales of Bret Harte. There are still several placer mines in operation along the river-the road passes a very large one at the foot of Chinese Camp grade, and the river is sullied for miles by the muddy washings from the mill. Chinese Camp grade is one of the worst encountered on our entire trip; it is steep and terribly rough, and dust a foot deep hides the ruts and chuck holes, so we were compelled to "go it blind." It was a four-mile plunge and scramble around sharp curves,-half smothered and blinded by dense dust clouds which rose before we could get away from them, we made slow progress over the dreadful road. At the hilltop, however, we were rewarded for our strenuous scramble by a magnificent view of the river canyon and a wide panorama of forest-clad hills with the emerald thread of the Tuolumne winding through them.
A short distance over a stony trail brought us into the main street of Chinese Camp, if we may so designate the wide, dusty section of road lined with wooden shacks of which every other one seemed a saloon. The appearance of the buildings warranted the guess on our part that there has been little change in this primitive hamlet since Bret Harte visited it, nearly a half century ago. Not far from here are many other camps and villages which found enduring fame in the stories of this most representative of all earlier California writers. Sonora, Angel's Camp, Tuttletown, San Andreas, Mokelumne, and other places familiar in Harte's pages may all be reached in a detour of fifty miles or so from the Big Oak Flat road. Most of these towns, like Chinese Camp, have made little progress since they were mirrored in the tales which appeared in the old Overland and Argonaut of San Francisco.
Beyond Chinese Camp we encountered the worst stretch of road of the entire day-a mere trail winding through a rough, boulder-strewn country seemingly having no end or object in view except to avoid the rocks too large to run over. No effort had been made to remove the smaller stones from the way and we had an unmerciful jolting, although we crawled along at a dozen miles per hour. Fortunately, there are no steep grades, and occasionally smoother stretches afforded a little respite. It would be hard to use language, however, that would exaggerate the relief which we felt when, on ascending a sharp little rise, we came upon a splendid paved highway which the road-book declared would continue all the way to Stockton. I think that the last forty miles into the city consumed less time than any ten miles we had covered since leaving Yosemite that morning.
We certainly presented a somewhat disreputable appearance when we came into the town. The car and everything about it, including the occupants, was dirty gray with dust, which I noted was two inches deep on the running boards and perhaps a little less on our faces, while it saturated our clothing and covered our baggage. California hotels, however, are used to such arrivals and we were well taken care of at the Stockton, despite our unprepossessing appearance. A thorough cleaning up, a change of raiment and a good dinner put us at peace with the world and we were soon exchanging felicitations over the fact that we had done Yosemite by motor car.