Thursday, September 7, 2017

Dudley in the Garden

All of you out there in the Central Valley will appreciate this reveal.

What did I do wrong this past season in my garden and how have I learned from my mistakes?

We've finally been here more than a year so I have the benefit of hindsight. What did I do right and what did I do wrong? The growing season is changing from summer to winter so I reflect on what mistakes I've made and what I've learned. Since this is a share and share alike endeavor I'll give you some of my insights and hopefully you'll share some of yours and we'll all get brilliant!

An oasis of green in an otherwise brown landscape.
Dudley Do-wrong

Plant the wrong plant in the wrong place. I planted my Walla Walla onions where they did not get enough water. I had the mistaken idea that they would do just fine on one section of  drip line. Oh no. They wanted a lot more water than they got. What happened? My onions grew some but not very much. What I was expecting? Great big giant onions sweet-as-pie. What did I get.? A bunch of medium to dinky onions not at all sweet-as -pie. Usable. Disappointing.

Plant too far apart. I could have maximized my yield by planting a lot more. I wound up with a lot of extra space in between my zucchini, herbs and peppers. I thought the zucchini was going to sprawl all over the place and it didn't.

Improper planting. I did not plant my onions deep enough. The combination of this and not enough water and next thing you know the tops fell over, the bulbs were stunted and the plants themselves struggled. Plant a little deeper next time.

Plant at the wrong time of year. This was something that occurred right after we arrived in March 2016. It was already too late to plant in May. Only three little carrots came up.  Oh, brave souls. The force is strong in those ones! It just got too hot too soon for the rest of them. That sun! 93,000 million miles away and so hot!

Improper watering. You would think that here in the Central Valley you can't water too much. Guess what? You are right! Trick question! What you can do is not water enough! And don't let Bermuda grass have its way around your plants as it will steal water from the important plants. I got lazy and now I regret it. My lovely California Pepper tree looks like it's had it. I'm taking steps and hoping that it will rebound once the weather gets cooler. 

Improperly timed watering. When it's hot it's easy to get your timing off and next thing you know everything is wilted. Luckily, I did not get distracted to the point that my plants were not able to come back. (except for maybe the Pepper Tree). Everything else did come back but it was by the skin of my teeth. I had to do battle with white flies on stressed plants. I think a timer will be a good addition.

Dudley Do-right

Prepare the soil prior to planting. I have learned so much about this I could burst a blood vessel. Wherever I've lived in California I've found horrible soil. Yes, I know California is supposed to be the veggie capital of America but let me tell you something. It's not the capital everywhere in California. Wherever I've been it's been cattle country or graded over housing tracts where they've scraped off anything that might have even slightly been good soil. So I've learned that I really have to add compost and minerals. Recently we made a trip into the Sierra and made off with some nicely decomposed granite. I'm really curious to see if this is a good addition to my soil with a lot of organic matter added to balance it out.

Install a sun screen. When the weather got very hot a simple sunshade really helped with water retention and sun protection. As soon as I had a forecast of triple digits we put it right up.

Mulch. I mulched like a son of a gun. There must have been 5 inches of old straw and cow hay that I piled over a layer of corrugate and then let it over winter. Boy, did I get a great crop of earthworms and toads! Yahoo! When those little guys are there you know something is right.

Fertilize. I added fish emulsion to my watering can and my little crape myrtles, dogwoods and redbuds trees are doing great!

Do a soil test. This is how I knew that I needed calcium and organic matter. Last year I sent away my samples to a place in Ohio and it was well worth it. I also did a simple 24 hour sedimentation test so I found out how much sand and clay was in it. Know your soil! It's the basis of everything that grows. Without good soil you might as well forget the whole thing and go buy your veggies at the farmer market. Otherwise you can be doing a lot of work for little return.

Pick the Right Vegetables. I picked vegetables that can handle our conditions. Know your conditions and then pick the plants that can handle those conditions. Otherwise you may be fighting a losing battle.

Here are my "must-haves" in the order of importance:
1.       Good soil.
2.       The right amount of water perfectly timed.
3.       Plant the right things at the right time.

Growing is a life-long learning process. I've suffered my share of disappointment and I've learned from all of it. The journey is the goal.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Astounding Carizzo Plain

Last weekend we joined our Central Valley Hiking Meet-up Group for a trip over to the Carizzo Plain National Monument in southeastern San Luis Obispo County. I hate to even tell you because there's a good chance the flowers are starting to die back but if you have the ability to jump in your car and go today you will not be disappointed!

 The Carrizo Plain is a large enclosed grassland plain, approximately 50 miles long and up to 15 miles across. It contains the 246,812-acre Carrizo Plain National Monument, and it is the largest single native grassland remaining in California. It includes Painted Rock which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2012 it was further designated a National Historic Landmark due to its archeological value. The San Andreas Fault cuts along the length of the plain.

There she be. Big, bad San Andreas fault. Right lower corner, goes diagonally up and slightly to the left. Waaaay off in the distance at upper left corner is Soda Lake which is full of water right now but normally full of alkali.
State Route 166 passes the south entrance to the Carrizo Plain, and State Route 58 crosses through the northern portion. Connecting them is the narrow Soda Lake Road, the only road that goes through the plain. It can become impassable during or soon after a rain since the middle portion of it is gravel.

It almost hurts your eyes. The color is so intense.
The hills are alive. With the sound of COLOR.
I'm telling you. If you can drop everything. DO. And go.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

On The Trail of Joaquin Murrieta in Western Fresno County

Fresno and Madera counties are really big. On the east we go all the way up into the Sierra Nevada at Yosemite, Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon. In the west we go past I-5 and up into the coast range. In this western part we find an interesting story about the infamous Joaquin Murrieta. And it was there in the western part of Fresno County near Cantua Creek that Murrieta supposedly met his maker.

A really good book
I became fascinated with Murrieta after I read a book by Isabel Allende called "Daughter of Fortune" in which there was a fictional character,  Joaquin Andieta. In the story we find that Andieta, originally from Chile, moves to the Gold Rush to escape disappointment in love and to prove to his love his true worth. In America he changes his name to Murrieta and becomes a bandit after tragedy strikes. I didn't think much of it until I discovered Murrieta was a real person. I wanted to know more. Then I found out that Murrieta had stayed for a while in Hornitos, California and soon after that he had met his end in western Fresno county near Cantua Creek also known as Arroyo Cantua. Now I was on a quest to experience the history first hand.

Interesting parallels exist between Murrieta and Jesse James. In both cases close relatives formed the core of the outlaw gang. Both bands were spawned in the economic and political upheaval of a society disrupted by war. The gangs were sheltered and protected by citizens who were threatened by the new economic and social order. Strangely, in both cases, it was also newspapermen who built these outlaws into sympathic victims of an unjust society.

We know from church records that Joaquin was born in the Mexican state of Sonora in 1830 to Joaquin and Rosalia Murrieta. His mother had been previously married to a man named Carrillo. In later years Joaquin sometimes called himself Joaquin Carrillo, which led to much confusion and helped create a "many Joaquins" theory. The young Joaquin married Rosa Feliz in Mexico and they, along with Jesus Murrieta and Rosa's three brothers, went to California to strike it rich in the gold fields. Rosa's brother, Claudio Feliz, began gold mining near Sonora while Joaquin and his bride moved to Niles Canyon, then part of Contra Costa County. In these early years there is evidence that Joaquin worked as a vaquero near Oakley and Brentwood and as a mestenero  or mustang wrangler.
In 1850 when Joaquin was 21 they all traveled to the Sierra foothills. They set up a small farm and began to work a claim near Hangtown which is now known as Placerville. However, in the same year as their arrival, a Foreign Miner's Tax was imposed in California and greedy neighbors tried to evict them by telling them that it was illegal for them to hold a claim. This is where fact and legend begins to blur.

Some say Joaquin and his wife were attacked by the other miners. The story is they beat him, lynched his brother and raped his wife. It was after this, the legend goes, that Joaquin turned to a life of crime, along with other similarly abused miners, who began to get revenge on those who had forced them from their claims. Bad stuff like this most certainly happened in the lawless mining camps so it's not a totally farfetched possibility. Who knows for sure what actually happened?

The man himself
On the more factual side we find from court records and newspaper accounts that the beginning of Murrieta's life of crime began when he joined up with the Feliz gang. Rosa's brother Claudio Feliz was the leader of one of the most vicious bands of outlaws to have ever preyed upon the Anglo, Oriental and Hispanic inhabitants of California. 

The first known attack by Claudio Feliz's gang occurred in Contra Costa County at the John Marsh Rancho during the night of December 5, 1850. Ten days later the ranch of Digby Smith near San Jose was hit. The banditos were moving south. In February Feliz struck again at the rancho of a native Californio, Anastacio Chabolla, two miles from San Jose. This time his intended victims were on guard and the well-armed vaqueros fought off the outlaws. Feliz's band of killers escaped to the Sierra foothills where they committed numerous robberies and murders. 

It was in 1851 that Joaquin, along with Reyes Feliz, who was Claudio's brother,  joined the gang and began learning the killer's trade. Feliz was never shy about robbing and murdering whoever he happened upon. His victims were mostly Chinese, Anglos and even one unfortunate Black person. As pressure from the law mounted, Joaquin left the Feliz gang for the safety of Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, in September 1851, Feliz raided the Kottinger ranch in Pleasanton but was thwarted. Then Feliz made a fatal mistake by leaving the wrong robbery victim alive. This was a Hispanic man named Agapito who told on him immediately. In California, the old Hispanic families were politically powerful and deadly serious about enforcing the law. By robbing a fellow Hispanic, Feliz lost the protection of his fellow countrymen and his gang was quickly cornered. During the ensuing gun battle Claudio Feliz was shot to pieces and killed.

Leadership of the remaining members passed to Murrieta. Claudio's brother, Reyes, joined Joaquin in Los Angeles. Soon after that Joaquin and Reyes were  implicated in the shooting death of one Gen. Joshua Bean, a major general in the state militia. The vigilante posse arrested Reyes but Joaquin escaped and abandoned Reyes to his fate while he hightailed it to the gold camps. Reyes was subsequently executed and shortly afterwards in January 1853 there began the short, bloody crime spree that was to make the name of Joaquin Murrieta infamous throughout California.

Because they tended to be unarmed and powerless which made them docile, Chinese miners were a favorite target of Joaquin's gang. There also appears to have been racial hatred associated with many of these crimes. Many Chinese were killed; apparently just for the pleasure it gave the outlaws. Protected by the large Hispanic population, Joaquin and his gang killed 22 men in two months, most of them Chinese. By now Joaquin's face was too well known in the mining camps for his personal safety. Three months after they started their campaign in March 1853 the gang vanished into the wilderness of the remote western San Joaquin Valley that was to become Fresno County.

Los Tres Piedras is high above the Valley floor

The area as seen on a map
The posse hunting for Joaquin was led by Harry Love, a California ranger, bounty hunter and mercenary.  They had no success until they captured Jesus Feliz, the youngest and last remaining Feliz brother. The place where Joaquin and his bunch hid out was near a large rocky outcropping called Los Tres Piedras near Cantua Creek. It is now identified on some maps as Joaquin's Rock. This is a large rock formation at the top of  the mountains above I-5. The Three Rocks are relatively easy to see from the valley when you are looking southwesterly as you drive south on I-5. But if you're coming up from LA on I-5 you will miss it unless you turn around and look back behind you. It might as well be Tora Bora. Finding a bandit way up there where they can see forever and see you coming would make this an excellent stronghold.

Modern day Cantua Creek as seen from Coalinga/Mendota road. Tres Piedras in the distance.
So it took an informant to bring the bandits down and it happened to be that Jesus Feliz told the posse where the Murrieta gang's hideout was. Some have speculated that he may have blamed Joaquin for abandoning his older brother, Reyes. Based on the information from, Harry Love's California rangers captured the gang on July 25, 1853 and killed 2 of them during a running gunfight near today's intersection of Interstate 5 and Highway 33 just south of Panoche Pass and north of Coalinga at Cantua Creek. Out in the valley there is a little village called Cantua Creek so don't get it confused with the actual creek that flows down out of the area where Joaquin and his bandit gang hid.

Sheriff Love cut off the head of the captured bandit and preserved it in a bottle of alcohol. In the days before DNA, fingerprints or mug shots, this was the most practical means of proving identification. The head was carried through the mining camps where Murrieta's face was well known. There was nearly universal agreement that it was, in fact, Joaquin. The preserved head was on display in San Francisco until 1906 when it was destroyed in the great earthquake and fire.

Soon after the grisly remains went on display reports started to come in that Murrieta was seen in various places in California alive and well. In August 1853, an anonymous Los Angeles-based man wrote to the San Francisco Alta California Daily that Love and his Rangers murdered some innocent mustang catcher and bribed people to swear out affidavits.

The myths began to form. Twenty six years later in 1879 a woman came forward who claimed to be Murrieta's sister. She stated emphatically that the displayed head was not her brother's because it did not have the characteristic scar. At around the same time, numerous sightings were reported of Murrieta as an old man. These were never confirmed. 

His legend grew the most when the first  account of his life appeared in a book by John Rollin Ridge called  "The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murrieta". Ridge portrayed Murrieta as a folk hero who had turned to a life of crime because of the injustices he suffered. According to Ridge, Joaquin was a dashing, romantic figure who swore to avenge the atrocities committed upon his family. To his Mexican compatriots he was generous and kind, giving much of his ill gotten gains to the poor, who in turn helped to shelter him from the law. Over the years, the Mexican outlaw began to be called the Robin Hood of El Dorado and take on a symbolized resistance of the Mexicans to the Anglo-American domination of California. His legend is even said to have inspired a Hollywood version. Yes, you know him as Don Diego de la Vega and the legend of Zorro.

In the end the legend of Joaquin lives on and we are left to speculate, enjoy a bit of California history and learn from it. Vive!

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Ghosts of Hornitos

About 13 miles west of Mariposa and 31 miles east of Merced lies the small community of Hornitos. I originally got interested in Hornitos because I was researching the story of Joaquin Murietta who was one of California's most notorious bandits. I had read a novel by Isabel Allende called "Daughter of Fortune" where one of the characters could have been Senor Murrieta and it made me want to know more. I love going places where characters in novels might have lived and here was one right on my back yard.

Hornitos is Spanish for "little ovens". In the early days the Mexican inhabitants placed their dear departed in what looked like the little square ovens used for everyday baking. None of the oven shaped tombs exist today. They were made of adobe clay bricks and have long since disintegrated. They might have looked like this.
Little hornito-like tombs
Felicita Cruz, nacio 1857, fallecio 1976, only 19 years old.
The community was founded by Mexican miners in 1848 and when settlers were evicted from the nearby mining town of Quartzburg they came over to Hornitos. Most of those people were ruffians and ne'er-do-wells. They changed the character of Hornitos almost overnight. Instead of a sleepy little Hispanic village it quickly became rough and tumble. The streets were lined with fandango halls, bars, gambling dens, and more than a couple bawdy houses. A thriving Chinese section formed to the east of town and nearly 2,000 people lived there. Business was thriving as $40,000 in gold was shipped out on a daily basis. 
A portal in another time and place. Just step through.
The only way to keep up with the many people killed on  a daily basis in gunfights was to dump the bodies into a gully appropriately named Dead Man's Gulch. Famed Mexican bandit, Joaquin Murieta, frequented the fandango halls and was rumored to have been almost captured in the town in the 1850's.
The Pacific Saloon was built in 1851
There's someone haunting this house. Can you see them at the window?
Eventually the gold ran out and the people moved to other places in search of a livelihood. At its heyday in 1859 the population was around 15,000. But in 1932 the population dwindled to 60. Today the population is about 75 and Hornitos is considered one of the best preserved ghost towns in the Mother Lode country with ruins of an old Wells Fargo office, a Masonic Hall, an old jailhouse and even the store where Domenico Ghirardelli got his start before moving to San Francisco to get rich and famous making chocolate.
The ruins of Domenico Ghirardelli's store.
A General Store
Near the town square the ghosts of two prostitutes, who fought to the death with knives, can still be felt to this day some say. They say if you stand still in the town square and listen you can still hear the screams of the women as they fought and the cheers of the miners who stood around egging them on.Or maybe that's the neighbors.
Can you imagine being pulled through that tiny window?
The old jail house is haunted by a miner who died there. The brick structure still stands today and is about 12 feet by 12 feet with two 1 foot square windows. Accused of stealing a horse, the miner was incarcerated to await trial. Several drunk cowboys saw the miner in the jail and decided they were going to rescue him. They convinced the miner to tie a rope around his waist so they could pull him through the window to freedom. The miner did so and the cowboys pulled and pulled but couldn't get him through the small opening. They pulled so hard that they eventually broke his back. The miner later succumbed to his injuries and died.
This person lived and died just like the rest of us.
Another spirit, a young Mexican girl, haunts the local cemetery. She died during an epidemic and wasn't given a proper burial but instead was placed on top of the ground and covered with bricks and stones. Through the years tourists have taken the stones and bricks from her grave. From time to time she is seen searching the cemetery, looking for what no one knows. Maybe her bricks and stones.

Hornitos is rich in history. Both from the gold rush era and in ghost stories. It's a great day trip for those who like ghost towns and western lore.

The Stone Houses of Raymond

One of the things I like best about Real Estate is discovering new places. I like walking into an old house and pondering its history. Who were the people that lived here? What were their joys and sorrows? Did any tragedy befall them? What happiness and contentment did they find?

I like to imagine them in their daily life, walking around in the very spot I am walking now. What would we say to each other? What would be the fragrance in the air? What would we would hear? What would it feel like?

On the way to Yosemite one day we passed through a little town called Raymond. I had heard that there was a granite quarry there and that was the big industry of the area. Driving north in the rain on road 600 we saw the quarry and numerous stone foundations and then actual houses, a church and an old burned out store. The very first sunny day we had we went back to visit the local museum and there we discovered the whole story and more. 

The Raymond Museum is in the preserved house of Charles Miller. It's in private hands now and the owners Lynn Northrop and her husband are a wealth of information. Charles Miller was the young agent sent there to establish the town. He lived there only 7 years from 1886 to 1893 and then he succumbed to pneumonia. Raymond itself was named after a travel agent for the Raymond & Whitcomb Travel Agency in Boston but who had hotels in Pasadena. These entrepreneurs decided to develop Raymond as a more reliable route for visitors to Yosemite. Visitors took a train from Madera and then went by stagecoach to Yosemite itself. Even Teddy Roosevelt made a stop in Raymond. At its peak about 3,000 people lived in the area.

The museum is open on Sunday.
The area is beautiful. You find rolling hills and open pastures just right for horses and it's not far from Madera being only about a half hour drive north on paved road. There is also Oakhurst which is a bustling little town with all the amenities you might need about 30 minutes farther up on road 600 and Hwy 41. Lynn says one of the nicest things about the area is that you can ride year round. The ground is mostly decomposed granite and it drains super fast.

On the way to Knowles and the quarry.
This is what remains of Dapelo's Store, the Parthenon of Raymond.
St. Anne's Catholic church still holds mass every Sunday morning.
What's left of Peter Bisson's house.
The quarry off in the distance.
An interesting point to note was the actual acquisition of the quarry site. The site was originally purchased by a man by the name of Luke David who got it very reluctantly. All he wanted was the spring and a certain piece of creek bottom. To get the spring and creek he had to take what he deemed was a worthless pile of rock.  It  is now conceded by granite men, taking into consideration accessibility, quality, quantity and ease of working, to be the largest and best building granite in the world. The Post Office in San Francisco, for example, is built of Raymond granite. The stone is called "Sierra White".
This is one of a pair of stone lions that grace the entrance to the quarry.
There are a lot of properties for sale around the Raymond area. If you're interested in checking them out just drop us a line or give us a call.