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Katherine "Kate" Stephens (c. 1853-1954)

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Diary Excerpt, 1902

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Diary Excerpt, 1902

Witch Creek, San Diego County

May 5—Started this morning for a four months collecting trip for the Biological Survey Department of Agriculture. A fine day, got off without mishap about half past nine. Our party consisting of myself, three horses—George, Dick and Flora, the little dog Bobs, Carl Field the cook and teamster, and Mr. Stephens our head, called in the official papers "Field Specialist", but to us our leader and our sole dependence for we are as helpless as sheep in everything pertaining to camping out and hunting. Our [turn out] looked uncommonly fine our wagon with its new coat of black and yellow paint and brand new white duck cover. While Carl came gaily behind draging poor little Bobs with a string tied round his neck. A short visit to the courthouse and many good byes and good luck as we are really off our faces headed north we travel the main road. Dick our new horse has lived in a pasture for several months and is trying now to out travel all and everything. Mr. Stephens has to try to hold him in all the time tho the horse does not act bad at all, only very eager to go. And Flora who is in the wagon with him is an old horse whom we only expect to play third fiddle anyway. In the afternoon we twice see a kangaroo rat dead in the road. A man stoped and gave us a paper in which I see that Queen Willemina is likely to die and a bad battle with the Moros in Mindano. We did not go to Delmar thinking the main road north might be the best road. There is just a few Torrey Pines to be seen on the top of the blufs after leaving Soronta* on the left-hand side of the road. (The Torrey Pine grows on one of the Pacific Coast Islands and from La Jolla is about 20 miles north of Delmar. Being one of the most restricted species of trees known.) I may as well say here that these Torrey Pines are a species found nowhere but on the California Coast. They are not a handsome tree as most pines, as living on the top of blufs close to the ocean the wind beats against them and contorts their branches and head till they look skruby trees. They are also very difficult to raise from seed so that it is quite likely that in a few years they will be extinct. Late in the afternoon we were caught in a great swarm of starving mosquitos. They made a great meal off us and the horses. These mosquitos are very large; they must be twice as large as the ordinary kind that come in the houses. They flew around till we went to bed. Set out a few traps. Traveled 22 miles.

*Editor's note: Sorrento

Photo of Kate Stephens in camp, SDNHM Archives

May 6—Off early pass through a country that is planted with a good deal of corn some of which must be a foot high. Some places have a prosperous look, but some few places are abandoned. The farmers have just commenced cutting hay not a very large crop. This morning we passed a large patch of Cholla there was one empty cactus wren's nest in one but we saw no birds. Frank tells me that this kind of Cactus wren is practically extinct. The nests being easily found the boys hunted them till now they are one of the rarest birds. There seems to be more black birds in this part of the country than where ever I have been before, a good many real black birds also plenty red shouldered blackbirds. Flowers and plants seem familiar but one digression. Up at Witch Creek there is a kind of Mimulus that has a salmon colored flower, but nearer the coast—and I think as far back as Mussey Grade—the flowers are red and untill we got into the cañons on Santa Margarita Ranch or Grant they were all Red but at that place we saw quite a few of the salmon colored ones. I saw an Anthony's Green heron about mid day but further than that nothing much. We only passed through the outskirts of San Louis Rey so I was unable to visit the old mission which looks a fine large building restored. Drove to the top of the cañon and camped where there is fine grass for the horses. No traps put out tonight. Traveled 3 miles.

May 7—All day driving through Santa Margarita Ranch we were told there is 10,000 cattle on the Ranch and we are not yet out of San Diego County tho I believe very nearly. We still see many black birds. The grasshoppers will be bad this year for there is a great number of half-grown ones now and we saw many hawks feeding on them. This morning we passed San Onofre. Here there is a large walnut orchard. The trees are apparently only lately set out there must be several acres, a somewhat sandy place. At noon we came to the ocean a nice sandy beach with round boulders at near low tide had a few minutes collecting. I think it would have been profitable to have had a good hunt there. I have collected nothing but a few beetles which I saw eating the wild convulvus*. Cockchaffers seem to be plentiful, there is four or five on and around my book as I write. After camping we were turned off our place by the caretaker as we had camped near to where the cattle come to drink and we have to camp now at a regular camp ground, which is never quite so nice as being alone. There is one wagon and two bicyclers here tonight. Here we have our bed clothes filled with stickers and we see a goffer come to the surface of his hole. It seems quite unheed the light of the lanthorns and we try to trap it but it filled the trap with dirt and after awhile something frightened it and it went down not to come up again. This place is called San Mateo Creek. We can hear Sea Lions roaring and hope to catch a glimpse of them tomorrow. We also hear that there is deer to be found in the mountains round. Frank has set traps tonight for mice and shrews. Traveled 16 miles.

*Editor's note: convolvulus

May 8—Had three meadow mice in the traps this morning. [All 9] Gambles mice but no shrews. Stayed in camp till half past ten to skin. Shot a gopher but did not skin it. About half a mile from camp we crossed the boundry of San Diego and Orange Counties which is also the boundry of Santa Margarita Ranch and Foster Ranch. We hoped to have passed near the sea lions but the road took us too far in land. Tho we could see the sea lions rock but it was too far out to make much out. A pleasant drive along the beach. (We heard afterwards that somewhere along here there is fossil bones - Frank says it is 15 miles south where the bones are.) One time I thought I saw a whale but it was too far out to be certain and it went under and came out too regularly. I think it sank under water while I could count 12 or 15 and remained above while I could count 20. If it was a whale it was traveling northwards. And now in front of us comes in sight the high clift that Dana speaks of in his book "Two Years before the Mast." Readers of that most interesting book will remember that at San Juan Capistrano he helped throw raw hides off the clift to the ship below and that at one time he let himself be lowered down the clift to pitch some skins that had lodged on it. We were not able to go as far as the clift turning off to the right and passing through the town which stands back a mile or two from the beach. The old mission is very picturesque and quite a little modern town seems to have grown up around it. The little railway station is built in mission stile. After leaving San Juan Capistrano we came uppon grain fields thousands of thousands acres all looking in beautiful condition. The formation of the country is much the same as on the Santa Margarita Ranch that is smooth round topped hills or [?]. There does not seem to me to be any reason why the one place should grow such beautiful grain and the other bare pasture for cattle. There is hardly a tree to be seen for miles round, but wherever trees are planted they do well. We passed one Walnut orchard at San Juan Capistrano with large trees perhaps six or eight inches through them all leaning a little in one direction away from the sea. Our camping place tonight is a patch of cactus and a few trees that seem to be in a little dry creek or wash about ten miles beyond San Juan Capistrano. Traveled 20 miles.