The Agony and the Ecstasy epub free

Fresno, with a population of nearly fifty thousand, has quadrupled in size in the last twenty years. It is thoroughly metropolitan in appearance and in public and private improvements. The Hotel Fresno is an immense fireproof structure of marble and concrete that will compare favorably with the best hotels in many cities ten times as large as Fresno, and here on our first visit we proposed to stop for the night, but changed our plan when we found that a road out of the town crosses the mountain ranges to the sea. We had not forgotten our failure to see San Antonio and La Purisima on our upward trek-and determined to seize the opportunity to get back to the coast. Paso Robles seemed the only satisfactory stopping place for the following night, but if we stayed in Fresno we could hardly hope to reach the "Pass of the Oaks" the next day. The road cuts squarely across the desert to Coalinga and we found ourselves wondering what kind of accommodations we should find at Coalinga. A garage man said he had been there once-a place of five hundred people, he guessed, and there was a pretty good boarding-house down by the depot. Not a very attractive prospect, to be sure, but Coalinga was the only town between Fresno and the mountains. It was some sixty miles distant, and by hitting a lively pace we could reach it by dark-if we had no ill luck.

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For ten miles out of Fresno we followed Palm Drive-a splendid boulevard between rows of stately palms, the largest we had seen in California. At the end of the drive we turned sharply to the left following an unimproved road into the desert. This road is as level as a floor-a perfect boulevard in dry weather-though abandoned ruts indicated pretty heavy work after the infrequent rains. For the entire distance there was little variation; about midway we came to a green belt of pastures and trees along Kings River, and a new railroad was being built through this section. A native at a little wayside store-the only station on the way-told us that this desert land, counted worthless a few years ago, was now worth as much as twenty-five dollars per acre and that it was all capable of being farmed. It certainly did not look so; a white, alkali-frosted plain tufted with greasewood and teeming with jack-rabbits stretched away to distant hills on either side. The road meandered onward at its own sweet will and when it became too rough or dusty in spots it was only necessary to take another tack to have an entirely new boulevard. We did some lively going over the hard, smooth surface, which made forty miles seem a fairly moderate pace, but we were at a sore loss when we came to a branch road in the middle of the plain, with nothing to indicate which led to our destination. We had just decided to take the wrong one when an auto hove into sight and we paused to inquire.

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"Straight ahead on the road, my brother; you can't miss it now and when you get to Coalinga go to Smith's garage, and God bless you."

We concluded that we must have run across a peripatetic evangelist, but when we went to Smith's garage-only it wasn't Smith's-after dinner to get an article from the car, we found our pious friend manager of the place.

As we came near the range of brown hills beneath which the town lies, we saw a row of oil-derricks running for miles along the side of the valley, for here is the greatest oil-producing section of California. The oil fields have made Coalinga, which we were surprised and pleased to find a live-looking town of several thousand people, with an excellent modern hotel quite the equal of the best country town hostelries.

Coalinga is full of California "boost;" our friend at the garage endeavored to enlist our sympathy in a movement to put the town on the state highway map-though I failed to see how we could be of much use to the enterprise.

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"O, a word from tourists always helps, my brother. You can write a letter to the commissioners and tell them that we need the road and I reckon you'll know that we need it if you cross the hills to King City, as you propose. You'll find it something fierce, I can promise you; crooked, rough, stony, steep-lucky if you get through without a breakdown. There are one hundred and fifty fords in the sixty miles-no, I don't mean Ford automobiles, but creeks and rivers. It's shoot down a steep bank and jump out, and the sharp stones won't help your tires any, either. There are some grades, too, I want to tell you, but your rig looks as if they wouldn't worry her much. But when you get across, write a line to the Highway Commission and tell them something about it. So long! God bless you all."

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When we waved our pious monitor adios and resumed our journey, it was still early morning. Of course we took the one hundred and fifty fords as a pleasant bit of exaggeration-we couldn't use a stronger term in view of our friend's evident piety; but we found, in slang parlance, that his statement was literally "no joke." We kept count of the times we crossed streams of running water and there were just one hundred and eighteen, and enough had dried up to make full measure for Mr. Smith's estimate, with a few to spare. And fearfully rough going it was-sharp plunges down steep banks, splashing through shallow streams, over stones and sand, and wild scrambles up the opposite side, an experience repeated every few minutes. At times the trail followed the bed of a stream or meandered closely along the shores, never getting very far away for the first dozen miles. Then we entered a hill range, barren at first, but gradually becoming wooded and overlooking long valleys studded with groups of oak and sycamore, with green vistas underneath. There was some strenuous work over the main mountain range, where the road was a narrow shelf cut in solid rock, with a precipice above and below. It had many heavy grades and sharp, dangerous turns; we all breathed a sigh of relief when we found ourselves in the valley on the western side of the range. Here were more streams to be forded-one of them a sizable river, which we crossed several times.

At last we came out into the King City highway and paused a moment to look ourselves over. The car was plastered with sand and mire from stem to stern; tires had suffered sadly from the rocky bottoms of the streams, and a front spring was broken. We agreed that crossing from Coalinga to King City was an experience one would hardly care to repeat except under stringent necessity.

The run to King City, after we had left the hills, was easy, enabling us to make up somewhat for the time consumed in crossing the range. A flock of more than two thousand sheep, driven along the highway, impeded our progress for half an hour and served to remind us of one of the great industries of the Salinas Valley.

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A little foraging about King City provided a passable luncheon, which we ate under one of the mighty oaks at the foot of Jolon grade. In repassing this road, we were more than ever impressed with the beauty of the trees; thousands of ancient oaks dotted the landscape on either hand, some standing in solitary majesty and others clustered in picturesque groups. Dutton's Hotel at Jolon is nearly a century old, portions of it dating from mission days, and the proprietor is an enthusiast on historic California, having collected a goodly number of old-time relics in a little museum just across the road from the inn. Most of these came from San Antonio and the inn-keeper is anxiously looking forward to the day when he can return these treasures to the restored mission-though this, alas, does not appear to be in the near future.